Go Straight to Hell, Do Not Pass Go: The World of Horror Board Games
Like all good things, our toys coverage comes to a trilogy capping third and concluding part with a look at horror related board games.
You may think that horror games would be better set within the video game world, with their ability to scare as you are immersed within that digital world and you take control of the avatar from a first person perspective, but board games are in the middle of a revival right now and the horror genre has more coverage than ever.
But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? You know, with the classic; the grandfather; the original.
The Ouija board was first introduced in the late 19th century as a parlour game that was completely un-associated with the occult. Although some spiritualists used a similar board as a way to try and contact the dead, the use of the board itself was not popularised until the period around World War I when it was used as a divining tool. Usually a wooden board with the letters of the alphabet, numbers 0-9, the words yes, no and goodbye on it, it was simplistic and pretty simple to recreate. As a result the man who produced the boards, William Fuld, sued lots of companies who were creating their own versions. In 1966, long after his death, his estate sold the business to Parker Brothers, but as they were themselves taken over by Hasbro in 1991, the Ouija board as a brand is now owned by the same parent company that also make Transformers toys! Can’t say we’ve seen a Ouija board in our local Toys R Us, though.
It was during the 80s where genre themed board games truly took off, however. First, there was the frankly simple but brilliant I Vant To Bite Your Finger (yes, it was spelt like that), again from Hasbro (spotting a trend here), which involved the players taking it in turns to try and sneak around a board trying not wake up Dracula, who sat at the top of the board. His cloak was folded over his face and you had to turn a clock beside him, like a safe if you will. If you woke him, his cloak would flick open and you would be made to stick your finger into his mouth wherein he might bite you—albeit with two red felt tip pens which left marks on your finger that resembled the marks left by the Count on a victim’s neck.
During this time there was also Ghost Castle, from MB Games. This had previously been released under different titles, such as Which Witch? and Haunted House, but is much better known by its final moniker. In this, you had to travel through four rooms in a 3D model house and reach the finishing point first to win the game. However, there was a central chimney through which a marble (or Whammy Ball) could be dropped. This marble could take out anyone’s player token and they’d have to go back to the start of that particular room. Judging by a quick consensus that we took on Facebook, this game is remembered pretty fondly. There was even a version that was released to tie in with the animated Real Ghostbusters.
Although not a board game as such, there’s no way that we could possibly leave out the Jaws game, which was essentially a reverse Buckaroo. However, instead of loading items onto a horse’s saddle, you were tasked with removing items from Bruce’s mouth before he decided to chomp down. What was great about this was that the items you had to rescue tied in with the scene in the film where Hooper and Brody cut open a captured shark to see if it’s the killer. Items included a boot, anchor, bone, skull, and a hand amongst others.
The next notable game to come out was Atmosfear (aka Nightmare). In this, you had to play the game in real-time alongside a VHS tape that housed a character called the Gatekeeper. The aim of the game was to collect six keystones to defeat the Gatekeeper and face their worst fear. If this could not be achieved before the video finished, the Gatekeeper won. There were quite a few expansions to this, some of which featured different characters to beat on the screen and was even given a makeover and released on DVD.
Tie-ins have also happened, but not as often as you’d expect. Freddy has appeared in two A Nightmare on Elm Street related games in which you, unsurprisingly try and avoid being killed by the Dream Demon. One is based in Freddy’s house and the other involves a maze of some kind where you can try and control Freddy so he kills your opponents, whilst trying to avoid their attempts to stalk you. There is a game coming out this year called Last Friday which is clearly an unofficial knock off of the adventures of Jason Voorhees with clichéd guidance counsellors and a lakeside setting, but damn, it looks good.
Perhaps the most surprising of all, though, is the tie in board game for Romero’s seminal zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. The board itself had a passing resemblance to a Cluedo board, with you having to navigate a shopping mall. It was even given an overhaul and re-released more recently. Even Candyman got his own game with a tie-in to Farewell to the Flesh and, believe it or not, there was an Alien tie-in too from Kenner in 1979 as well as a game for Gremlins, who also appeared more recently as a strategy Heroclix tie in.
Heroclix have also covered quite a few of our favourite horror icons—calling the line, quite simply, Horrorclix—from Freddy and Jason to zombies and clowns and even a 16” Great Cthulhu figure.
More recently, with the explosion of table top gaming and it not being viewed as just a geeky way for Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts to spend their Saturday nights (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), there have been a plethora of titles released, each with their own expansions and sequels.
Probably the best known is the Zombies!!! series, which has numerous sequels and features gameplay that involves you trying to survive different zombie apocalypse scenarios. The great thing about the sequels is that it allows you to expand your starter board and create a whole town to try and survive. There was even a pseudo brethren in Humans!!! where, as a zombie, you try and escape those pesky humans.
Last Night on Earth is another variation on the zombie survival theme and there have been quite a few Lovecraft related releases, such as Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror to name but two, and there have been themed Monopoly and Risk board games too, mostly for The Walking Dead, although there is a host of unofficial fan created versions including Scream and other genre properties if you search around online. If you pop into any comic book shop or visit any well stocked online retailer, you’ll find that you are really spoilt for choice these days with horror titles.
The list of horror based board games out there is truly exhaustive, and we’re all too aware that we’ve no doubt forgotten or omitted some ‘classics’ from your childhood. We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below about it. What were your favourite horror games that you ripped open on your birthday or at Christmas?
Most importantly though, if you have a small group of like-minded friends then we would heartily recommend getting together, take it back to old school and have a horror game night. Even if you choose to eschew the recommendations above, there are plenty of horror card games out there that would tie in nicely too.
So, turn those cards, roll those dice and enjoy—just try not so summon any demons, okay?
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- They Don’t Come Home Anymore by T.E. Grau
- A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman
- The Visible Filth by Nathan Ballingrud
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- Water For Drowning by Ray Cluley
- Chalk by Pat Cadigan
- Roadkill by Joseph D’Lacey