Aside from the “holiday season” (Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanza / New Year’s Eve Revelry / New Year’s Day “oh god why did I drink the whole bottle of Cantaloupe Schnapps??” Celebration / etc.), no time of year is better suited for board gaming than Halloween. And, for years I have been meaning to write a comprehensive guide to horror-themed games in honor of the occasion. Unfortunately Halloween always creeps up on me, and it’s typically October 26th or so before it occurs to me to sit down and write the thing–much too late for readers to acquire the games on the list in time for an All Hallow’s Eve gaming bash. (This is also why, for a Halloween costume, I typically wind up just grabbing a Sharpie and writing “John Hodgman” on my t-shirt minutes before heading out to a party I’ve known about for months.)
So this year I’m starting the Halloween Gaming Guide early. Part I looks exclusively at zombie games, in part II we will cover vampires, and part III will showcase the rest of the best.
Please note that I am only featuring games that are currently in print and available in English, as this is intended to be a buying guide and not just my personal musings on the best horror games. Which is a long way of saying: don’t email me and inveigh about the absence of The Slime Monster Game or whatever.
And so, ladies and ghouls, without further a-boo …
Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game: Though a relatively recent addition to the genre (it came out last year), the growing consensus is that this is the best zombie game on the market. LNoE puts some players in the role of Heroes and the rest as Zombies, fighting tooth and nail (and, of course, chainsaw) in the heart of a small town. The best thing about LNoE is it’s replayability: the game comes with five different scenarios (with more available online), each of the playable Heroes is unique (the Hot Nurse can heal, the Sheriff always has a revolver, etc.), and the rulebook includes an “Advanced” section in case the basic game just doesn’t include enough dynamite for your liking. Plus, an expansion was just released, ensuring enough variability for many Halloweens to come.
Zombies!!!: HOLY SHIT THREE EXCLAMATION POINTS????!! Prior to Last Night on Earth this was indisputably the reigning king of Zombie boardgames, and many prefer it to the johnny-come-lately. Feign off the undead hordes as you make your way to the helipad and rescue. Note that, unlike Last Night on Earth, Z!!! is a cut-throat game of competition–in fact, the other players are often more hazardous to your health than the monsters. That’s why some people like Z!!! better–and why others, like me, find the cooperative aspect of LNoE to be vastly more enjoyable.
Mall of Horror: And besides, if I’m going to play a screw-your-buddy Zombie game, I want to play one that will sow discord and ill-will between me and my fellow players for decades to come! You know, like Mall of Horror, in which you don’t fight the zombies, you just try to survive them. Every player has three characters; on each turn someone must die, and the unlucky victim is decided by popular vote. That’s right: you decide the fate of your fellow players, and they decide yours. A game that could have easily gone onto my list of Friendship-Enders (and, in fact, is similar is spirit and mechanics to the game Lifeboats) which was second on that list).
Give me the Brain and Lord of the Fries: Light, simple, inexpensive, and funny, Give me the Brain and Lord of the Fries differ from the games above in pretty much every respect save one: Zombies remain the stars of the show. In this case, you and your undead companions are workers in a fast-food restaurant that specializes in the grisliest of fare. Both titles are fairly straightforward card games despite the theme, and each has a significant luck component (so steer clear if that’s not your thing). Still, the ease of learning and playing make these the most “family friendly” of the games on the list, and the grotesque elements of the artwork are tempered with enough humor to make them palatable to almost anyone.
Zombie in my Pocket: Got no friends and/or money? Head over to Jay Is Games and read my review of Zombie in my Pocket, a free, solitaire zombie game that only requires a printer, a pair of scissors, and 15 minutes of your time. Quite an addictive little pastime.