Spooky Board Games for Spooky Season!

Without further ado, let’s dive into five of the season’s spooky specials.

#1: Mysterium—It's hard to get more Halloween-spirited than diving into 
the mystery
of an unsolved murder as a psychic detective on Halloween
itself, and that's where
you land with Mysterium. Years ago, the Count
of Warwick's manservant was found
dead at a party, and the trauma of
the event led the family to leave the region
forever. Now it's your
job to figure out what happened and free the ghost once and
for all.

Like most good spooky-themed games, Mysterium is cooperative. 
It's much
creepier working together in the face of an unseen force
than being able to look
at your opponent across the table. Unlike
most spooky games, the ghost isn't your
enemy here; in fact, the
reason your psychic team is investigating on Halloween is
that it's
the day when the mortal and spirit realms touch, and the ghost can
speak
to you through visions. Work together with up to five other
detectives and the
trouble ghost to suss out the possibilities
and conclude, once and for all, the cast
of the Warwick Manor Murder.

#2: Obscurio—If psychic ability isn't enough, and you're angling for
real magical
power, Obscurio might put the spark into your table.
There's still a mystery afoot,
but it's one you and your friends have
walked into unwittingly—but that's what
happens when you try to steal
magical grimoires from mighty sorcerers, kids.

There's a big similarity to Mysterium here, in that the clues you need
to escape
the Sorcerer's illusions are handed out in image form by the
Grimoire, which is
trying to free itself from the Sorcerer's clutches
just as much as you want to
free it (or, you know, "free" it). One major
departure, however, is the presence
of a traitor who's fallen to the
Sorcerer's power. It's not enough to share
information and make your way out
with the great book; you need to be careful
not to let the turncoat ruin your
group's cohesion and leave you lost in the
illusory maze forever!

#3: Until Daylight—If you're still not tired of zombies, Until Daylight is 
waiting
to leap into your loving arms and gnaw on your face. Even if you are
tired of zombies,
Until Daylight might be the thing to win you back. Ten waves
of monstrous hordes are
coming for your camp when the sun goes down, and if you
want to make it through this
nightmarish apocalypse, you can't afford
to lose anyone on your team before dawn.

Apparently based on the notion that Five Minute Dungeon was too relaxed,
Until
Daylight gives you varying (let's call them random) timers you use
to search for
helpful items before the horde comes. Winning isn't just a
matter of bashing monsters,
either; terrible human raiders come for you as
well, and survivors are mixed into
the whole mess as well. You have to pull
at least one survivor out of the horde and
keep them alive until the end of
the game to win. And if you have more than one?
Meat shield!

If you don't mind getting overrun by zombies a few times until you figure out 
exactly what it takes to beat them, and you like having a Die of Fate to roll,
Until Daylight awaits you with rigor-mortis extended hands.

#4: Villainous—Our only non-cooperative suggestion, Villainous is less about
things
that go bump in the night and more about the greatest nemeses of Disney
lore wanting
to go bump on your head. Captain Hook, Jafar, Maleficent, Prince
John, the Queen of
Hearts, and Ursula are all on deck (advantage: Hook) to battle
not only each other,
but the forces of good that won't leave them alone.

The cleverness of Villainous lies in its different style of gameplay for 
each of the
characters. You can look at their boards and see similar symbols,
but each villain
has their own method of winning, their own set of mechanics,
their own deck of cards,
and their own heroes waiting to foil their plans.
Better yet, part of your task is
to use the enemies of the other villains against
them,
drawing a bunch of
goody-two-shoes out of their personal hero decks to thwart
their neverending schemes.

In the end, sure, you still have to beat a bunch of terrible villains. But if you
ever wanted to hit Peter Pan with a stick while doing it, Villainous might be
your
type of game.

#5: Creepy Classic Co-ops—What, you thought we could keep this list down 
to five
actual games? Impossible! We stashed the perennial favorites together
in order to
shine the spotlight on newer games that deserve your attention,
but we can't let
Halloween pass without a mention.

If these game series are new to you, give them a look. If you're familiar
with them,
remember, there's always something new coming out for you to see.

Werewolf: From Ultimate to One-Week to Werewords, the Werewolf series has
existed
in one form or another for over thirty years. It's co-op… mostly;
the villagers
are definitely cooperating to ferret out the handful of
werewolves that literally
take them apart night after night, and the
werewolves are doing their best to make
sure there's no village left by the
end of the game.

Ultimate is the classic game gone big, with dozens of roles to shake 
up the strategy
game after game. One Night is the quick version; find
the werewolf now before he gets
away! Werewords is a Twenty Questions
version of the game, but the werewolf and her
eternal nemesis, the Seer,
still have to figure each other out by the end. And 2018's

Werewolf Legacy will help you answer the question, what happens
to this village if
we take more than one night of gaming to learn its fate?

Betrayal: One of the first storybook games on the market, Betrayal at House
on the
Hill gives you a haunted house, some creepy surroundings, and the ticking
time bomb
of knowing one of you will be driven against the others by the powers
at work around
you. With dozens of outcomes available, if you ever see the same
story play out
twice, you will have gotten your money out of the game multiple
times over.

More recently, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate was released for those of a D&D-friendly
persuasion, with characters much more in tune with Dungeons & Dragons lore but
keeping the same core gameplay. Like Werewolf, Betrayal also has a Legacy version
now—who's to say how powerful the evil in the house can become when you watch it
evolve over decades?

Cthulhu: Yep, it's Granddaddy Tentacle ready to sweep you into the ocean and 
break
the town of Arkham into pieces for the eighty-seven millionth time. If you
like the
Cthulhu mythos, there's almost no end to the options available. Want to
battle the
Elder Gods in Arkham? Arkham Horror. Prefer traveling the world?
Eldritch Horror.
Dice-based? Elder Sign. Small (four-max) card game? Arkham
Horror, The Card Game.
Sherlock-style mystery solving? Mythos Tales.

This is not an exhaustive list, either, but it's enough to get any fan 
of Lovecraft's
work, or anyone even a little interested, into the
game-based use of his lore.
Your friendly local game store can help you dig
further into the possibilities if
these aren't enough, or if you're a big fan
who already owns all the games on
this list.

That'll do it for our Halloween Spooky Special games run down. Take a trip down
to pick up the game that strikes your fancy today, because sales are…

...wait for it…

...boo-ming!

Wingspan

Wingspan

It’s a bird party! And I am super late to it!

Wingspan is a game about birds, birds, and more birds. Birds in the forest, birds on the plains, and birds near the water. Birds that are smol, and birds that eat the birds that are smol. Feed your birds, play your birds, and watch your birds barely survive in the wild, because “take flight” is both too cliche and too positive for what nature does to things living in it.

It’s simple to play. You have a hand of bird cards and a pile of food. Feed the birds and play their cards. Except… do you have the right food? What kind of nests do the birds make? Can some of your birds help other birds with the same nests? Do your birds want to eat other birds? Can your birds find more food for your other birds to eat? Do your birds do something right now and then just sit there like lazy buggers, or do they keep working as long as you pay attention to their habitat? How many eggs can they take care of? Who wants to eat the eggs? Should you—

AAAAHHHHH

The pieces of the game make sense. They’re not hard to learn or use. Making them work together, though, takes some knowledge of what cards you might see, how much food you might need, and so on, and that makes it a trip for first-timers to learn. If everyone’s new, it works out fine. If some people are and some aren’t, the noobs better learn quickly. There is time to suss out a strategy, thankfully, so you aren’t stuck finishing out a game that you’ve started to understand but need a second play to make that understanding work for you. But the learning curve exists.

The actions don’t take much explaining. You can play a bird to any of the areas in which it can live, if you have the food. If you can’t or don’t want to play a bird, you can use an action in a given habitat. Taking an action in the forest gives you food. The plains give you eggs, and the water gives you cards. The more birds you have in the habitat, the more of each of those things you have access to with a single action. Playing towards your specific goal(s)—you start with one and can get more during the game—and the competitive goals for each round (ie. have eggs on the most different birds when the round ends) is important for winning, but if you can find a point combo that doesn’t require those things, it could still be enough. Understanding the game, and not the “meta” strategies or the few things that will actually work amongst knowledgeable players, is how you do well, which is excellent.

Really, it’s so good. It’s hard for a game to make someone (ie. me) go from grouchy and lost to realizing what’s possible to almost winning in a single playthrough, but this one did. It’s very smoothly designed, with a lot of detail about the birds that technically weren’t needed but make the game more engaging for their presence. I usually always want to play something new, but I won’t mind a second go at this one.

4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

Corinth

Corinth

Corinth is a roll-and-write game about ancient-world trading with people who look friendlier and much, much cleaner than their probable real-world counterparts. Yay washing!

Corinth’s twist on the roll-and-write style of game is this: Each turn, the active player rolls the dice and puts them on a board of goods. There’s a set method to this; the player does not choose where the dice go. Instead, all dice of the highest number rolled go into the gold section at the top, and all dice of the lowest number rolled go into goats, at the bottom. The rest of the dice are likewise sorted by number rolled and placed in ascending order in each of the four goods districts. Each player, starting with the active one, picks a set and marks off a number of goods equal to the number of dice in that section.

This has a couple of effects that go against gamer (or math) reflexes.

  1. Although goats get the lowest dice and gold the highest, goats are not inherently less valuable, because you can as easily have fewer goats available during the course of the game than gold. It’s just a matter of how many dice end up in those sections each turn.
  2. It takes substantially fewer items to collect all the sets of goods in the higher districts, but it’s easy to underestimate how few shots you’ll get at them. To have any dice available in the highest district, all six numbers must be rolled on the nine dice (though up to three extra dice can be unlocked, which increases the odds a bit). This means that not only will it be fairly unusual to hit the highest district, there will rarely be more than two dice available, and if it’s not your turn it’s quite likely someone else will grab them first.

It creates, not a whole new road of thought, but more of an off-ramp on to a highway that leans a little bit away from strategy as we tend to think of it. You roll dice for the whole game, decide what to do with those dice, and the value of the dice never matter. It’s not complicated—once you understand that aspect, the game becomes much clearer—but it requires something different from the player, and that’s pretty cool.

As for the game itself, it plays in a pretty straightforward fashion. You get your goods, or spend your gold and goats on buildings, or move your steward around to get you bonuses. Each section has its own way to score; you also get bonus points if you’re the first to fill all the goods slots in a district, and the game is otherwise balanced enough that someone who locks up multiple bonuses stands a very good chance of winning. In four-player games, it forces people to decide if they’re all going to race for the easier districts or take a shot at picking up the more difficult ones and hope they finish their bonuses by the end of the game.

It’s a clever little game with good artwork and a requirement to think, if not totally outside the box, then over the open flap. 

3.9 out of 5 stars (3.9 / 5)

Tiny Towns

Tiny Towns

I wanted to like this game. I did. I really, really did. It’s adorable city building on a small board with a bunch of cubes and a plethora of building choices with synergy bonuses all over the map. It should be something I would enjoy.

I think I tried to enjoy it with too many people. Which is a fine way to enjoy lots of things, just not this.

Tiny Towns has a simple premise: small critters have started a town, and they need to build it up as much as possible without wasting their resources. Like most small critters, they have no background in urban development, so they haven’t learned how to stockpile everything in one spot and move it from place to place as necessary. They just dump something in each location and stop when the town is full.

The basic mechanic is simple enough. The active player chooses one of the five types of resources. Everyone takes one and puts it on their board. Each type of building has a resource pattern associated with it; once you have that resource pattern laid out on your board, you may construct that building in any of the spaces where those resources were put. This forces you to be extremely careful where you place each cube, since you can’t take anything off the board once it’s placed.

Now imagine playing this with six people, where you only control the selected resource once every six turns. Yeah.

I have not played Tiny Towns with only two (or three) people. I imagine it’s quite a bit like Downforce, in that it has a set of mechanics which work considerably better with a small group. This makes the choice to sell it as a 1-6 player game extremely irritating. The game demands a high degree of intelligent choice in how you place your resources. It’s fine to make you look at your opponents and take their probable choices into account, but when there are too many of them it’s impossible to account for everything that’s going to happen between your current turn and your next one.

That, in turn, makes certain monuments (special structures unique to each person) extremely powerful in large games. Namely, anything that lets you get around the strict placement and building rules is wildly OP. There’s a variant for new players that lets you set two resources aside until you get used to the game; I recommend bigger games be played with that in effect no matter how experienced everyone is.

The rule holds, however: games are judged on how they are out of the box, not fixed by the players.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Twice as Clever

Twice as Clever

Twice As Clever

Is the sequel to That’s So Clever, in fact, twice as clever?

No. I don’t even know how you would calculate it, but it’s not twice as clever. I don’t think it requires you to be twice as clever, either. But it does require you to be more clever. 1.3x, perhaps. I suppose marketing hyperbole wins again.

If you’re not familiar with Ganz Schon Clever, there’s a review here already, but the short version is colorful Yahtzee with way more complicated scoring and the occasional chance to screw over your friends. Twice As Clever sets up a new board, a new set of mechanics, and some colorful new dice—pink and silver—take over from purple and orange. Every color works differently, however.

There’s also a new return mechanic. When you use one, you take a die off the platter and include it in your next roll (you can only do this on your turn). Like rerolls and +1s, you gain them as the game progresses and use them when you want.

The quick rundown of the new color mechanics:

Silver: There are four rows of each non-silver color from one to six. When you pick silver, you fill in that number for any color, along with every die you have to put on the platter because you took silver. This makes silver a potential way to get a ton out of your turn even if you don’t give yourself three choices, since in theory you can use a high silver roll to use all six dice immediately. In addition, it gives you an obvious chance to use the new returns.

Yellow: There are ten numbers in yellow—one 1, one 6, and two each of the other numbers. When you use yellow, you circle one of them. Circle everything in a row or column, and you get the listed bonus. However, to score points you have to roll the number again and X over the circle. This creates a dilemma between going for more bonuses (and points elsewhere) or scoring higher in yellow itself. It’s tempting to go for a ton of yellow points because the bonuses skyrocket, but it takes a lot of rolls to make that happen.

Blue: Like before, it counts as the sum of blue and white. Start as high as you can; each number after that has to be equal to or less than the one that came before. This is like a reverse of the purple line from the original game, except there’s no way to reset the count. If you put a low number on blue, you’re not going much farther without bonuses filling in the spots.

Green: Everything in green happens in pairs. The first number you want to be high, the second low. Your score for the pair is the first minus the second. There are multipliers on each box, and you get potentially higher pairs the further down the line you go.

Pink: You can put any number in this line at any time, and your score is whatever the total is at the end. This makes it “free” to use; however, after the first two boxes, each box has a threshold you need to beat to get the associated bonus. If you’re at the six threshold, you may want to stick anything in there in order to get the fox that comes afterwards, but for the best score you want to meet the threshold each time. (Really you want to get a six each time, but the odds on that…)

Twice As Clever is the first game with a new set of mechanics. You’ll like it as much as you liked the first game. If you didn’t play the first one, this one is only 1.3x more complicated, so you’ll be fine picking it up.

4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)

AuZtralia

AuZtralia

Australia with a ‘Z’. Boy, that couldn’t mean zombies or anything, could it?

Actually…

AuZtralia is a game with everything it shows on the front: blimps, old-timey gun trucks, soldiers, and the dusty hell that is the Outback. Does it look old-school? It should, because it takes place in late-19th century Australia. The ‘Z’ is, indeed, a reference to zombies, but they only play a bit role in this game, because it’s really about Cthulhu!

Are you wondering what the hell is going on yet? Don’t worry, everyone who opens this game not knowing what it is beforehand goes through the same thing. What you get here is a semi-cooperative strategy game between players working together to stop the hordes of Cthulhu from swarming through this overblown penal colony, and working to do it better than everyone else because when it comes to saving the world, you’ve gotta keep score.

Everyone starts by setting up a port along the coast. From there you spread into the Outback, mostly via railroads you build, ferrying troops to clear out nests of zombies, cultists, and otherworldly monsters, collecting resources to keep creating railroads and troops, and building farms to feed the citizens of this… fine land. Farms are important; there are three types, and there’s a benefit to having at least one of each type, but each one requires different land to be built. Some of that land runs a little close to the nasty things, and eventually the nasty things wake up and start walking around.

What makes AuZtralia work is the time mechanic. Although you can be limited by a lack of resources, it’s usually possible to collect what you need; the question is how much time it takes. Each action takes a set amount of time, and turn order is determined by who’s furthest back on the time track (ie. who’s used the least time so far in acting). Furthermore, time ties (which are common—nothing takes more than three time to do) are broken by whoever’s token is on top of the stack, and you go on top of the stack if you get there last. So, spending three time to build that railroad you so desperately means another player might get three turns before your next one. Is that worth it? Quite possibly! But you need to make a decision about using a resource that everyone has in exactly equal quantities.

Cthulhu’s forces are locked into the time mechanic as well. Whenever it’s Cthulhu’s turn, his token goes forward one time space, and on every other time space from the moment he starts (about halfway along) until the end of the game, he acts according to a pre-determined list of rules. At the start of the game, his forces start face down; his actions affect those which are face up, and those most frequently turn up because players investigate the spaces. If you don’t remove any threat which is present, now Cthulhu’s going to start running over you harder. You always have some semblance of control over what you do before he acts, but you can only do so much, even amongst all of you.

Then he eats your food! And your cattle. And your farmers.

If you stay on top of things and keep winning your battles—dice are involved, so this is never quite a given—the game can almost seem like a walkover. But it has the capacity to snowball out of control fast if you get the wrong event with the wrong monsters walking around at the wrong time. If there’s something that might seem unsatisfying, it’s if you end up playing a game and it feels too easy or too hard. There’s some chance involved, but you have a lot of control over the outcome. For a game that used Z for Zombie messaging to get attention, then barely even followed through with the zombies, it’s surprisingly good.

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

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