- By Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley

Manchester Metropolitan University’s Games Research Network and The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies will be hosting Spooky Board Games (The Halloween Board Games Café) at the Royal Exchange Theatre on the 27th October, 11:30am – 1:30pm as part of Manchester’s Halloween in the City celebrations (Check out our 10 Highlights here). But ahead of that, Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley presents some interesting gaming information and ideas:

Why board games? And why horror?

A 2016 Daily Mash article about ‘an outwardly normal couple into board games about farming and diseases’ recently made the rounds on social media, reminding us of the increasing popularity of board-gaming as a hobby. Although many people will be dressing up this Halloween and heading out to party the night away, a sizeable number of us will be staying in the warm, cosying up with friends and family around a table covered in cardboard tokens, plastic miniatures and decks of cards.

In an article for Tabletop Gaming Magazine (“Horror at the Games Table”) Dr Paul Wake (co-founder of the Games Research Network at Manchester Metropolitan University) argues that terror and horror are often evoked in board games these days. No longer does the hobby suggest the cosy nostalgia of classic games such as Monopoly and Risk. Board-gamers today are more likely to be battling hordes of zombies or investigating Eldritch horrors.

So, which are the best gothic- and horror-themed games to enjoy this Halloween?

Betrayal at House on the Hill by Avalon Hill Games

The “traitor mechanic”

Games that designate one player as a secret “traitor” have surged in popularity in recent years. A favourite is Betrayal at House on the Hill (Avalon Hill Games Inc., 2004) that asks players to explore the rooms of a haunted house until one of them - but which one? - is possessed by an evil spirit. “Traitor Mechanic” games afford hours of “fun” in the form of bitter recriminations and rising suspicion as one player works against the rest to win. If you’re a fan of games that can potentially ruin a solid marriage, then try Who Goes There? (Certifiable Games, 2018), named for the short story that inspired John Carpenter’s cult movie The Thing (1982). Marooned on an Antarctic research base, players become vulnerable to infection by “The Thing”. But who is infected? Trust no one...

Party Game

Games for large groups of players are a handy addition to any Halloween house party. There’s nothing like a 20-person game of Werewolves to make your neighbours wonder just what the heck is going on next door. If you’re a fan of deduction, try Dracula’s Feast (Jellybean Games, 2017). You will play guests at a masquerade ball at Castle Dracula. Taking turns to ask one another questions, you must try to work which monsters are in attendance. Are you dancing with the Wolfman? Or, is it the Bride of Frankenstein? The true horror of this game is trying to remember what the other players have said...

Monster Cards from Dracula’s Feast. Photo courtesy of Jellybean Games on Kickstarter

Card Game

For all Lydia Deetz wannabes and diehard Edgar Allan Poe fans, the go-to Halloween game has to be Gloom (Atlas Games, 2005).  This is the game that asks you to triumph in inflicting grief, trauma and melancholy upon your unfortunate characters, before killing them off. The more miserable the death, the more points you gain. Work against the other players by spreading joy and happiness. Delightfully macabre, this is a game for the “strange and unusual”...

Gloom’s Gorey-esque artwork delights fans of the macabre

Survival Horror

Survival Horror board games remain a popular genre, rendering elements of classic video games such as Resident Evil (Capcom) in the analogue mode. Last Night on Earth (Flying Frog Productions, 2007) is by no means the slickest Survival Horror out there, but it might be the cheesiest. Complete with its own synth soundtrack and a cast of characters straight out of a low-budget B-movie, Last Night on Earth pits its players against a dungeon master and their horde of zombies. Make your way across the locations on the board, searching desperately for a can of gasoline to get the truck started, or try to find the shotgun shells so you can defend the farmstead. This is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously...

Zombies surround the plucky heroes in Last Night on Earth. Photo courtesy of ChildeRoland on boardgamegeek.com

Investigation / Mystery

Fantasy Flight’s Mansions of Madness (2011/2016) is perhaps one of the most popular horror-themed investigation games around. Recently reissued in a second edition, the game was also one of the first to experiment with a hybrid mode, incorporating an “app” element as part of the game play. Mansions of Madness is great if you’re a fan of Lovecraftian Horror, but if classic ghost stories are more to your taste, then try Mysterium (Libellud, 2015). In this game, one player takes the role of the “ghost” and attempts to communicate the circumstances of their death by imparting “visions” to the other players. Visions appear in the form of beautifully haunting artworks that must be interpreted by the players if they are to solve the mystery before the clock strikes midnight...

Libellund’s Mysterium boasts some impressive artwork built into its gameplay

The event

Of course, you don’t have to stay in to enjoy these delightfully creepy games. As you enjoy Halloween in the City, take a detour to the Royal Exchange (the foyer of The Theatre, from 11:30am – 1:30pm) where you can rest your weary feet and join us for a session of the best board games and creepiest card games for Halloween. No booking required. Simply drop in to enjoy a selection of games suitable for all ages.

No idea how to play? No problem. We can run through the rules and get you started. Why not battle hordes of zombies, make pacts with strange creatures from beyond space and time, blast ghosts in a haunted house, and attend masquerade at Dracula’s castle…? Stay spooky, come and play.

The ‘Halloween Board Game Café’ takes place at 11:30am – 1:30pm in the foyer of the Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Square, Manchester M2 7DH, on Saturday 27th October.