Keeping the spirit of Halloween alive

A rare +5 Nerd Pumpkin of Awesome

Greetings, fellow gamers!

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday of the year. It’s one of those things that is the perfect amalgamation of good vibes. Aside from the obvious religious reasons for liking the holiday (and before you email me, YES, I know Christ wasn’t born on Dec. 25th), Christmas has always been that one time of the year where goodwill is a universal currency. People go out of their way to be nice to each other, and forget for even that short time that they would treat each other like crap at the drop of a hat on a different day. I like Christmas because people treat each other like humans (for once). Sure, some people get hung up and offended if you tell them “Merry Christmas” rather than be thankful for the well-wishes, but hey…some people thrive on misery.

Anyhoo, my SECOND favorite holiday is Halloween! Sure, I have a religious reason for that too, being what we Lutherans call “Reformation Day,” but it’s also been a load of fun growing up. Unless you’re Richard Dawkins or some other soul-less fun-hating douche-nozzle, humans have a natural fascination with all things paranormal. While Halloween, like Christmas, started as a pagan seasonal festival, it slowly over the years became a “secularized” holiday that remained an American tradition for decades.

Halloween isn’t the holiday I remember from my youth, however. Over the years, I tend to see less and less trick-or-treaters around the neighborhoods. When I was a lad, the streets would be hoarded by costumed youths consumed by their sugarlust for free candy. Halloween made it fun to be scared. Now, most people don’t even decorate their houses. Our society has become too hung up on sterilizing itself of anything that might offend people. A sterile society is a boring one, in my opinion.

Now, it’s up to our generation of imaginative fun-loving nerds to carry on the tradition of enjoying spooks, spectres, and sweets every October the 31st. Perhaps we can even make the next generation less anal-retentive than the current one.

HALLOWEEN GAMING

For all you Halloween enthusiasts out there, there’s exactly ONE week left until Halloween, and I’m sure you’re all in the midst of your party planning. Decorations? Check. Snacks? Check. Classic Horror Flicks? Check. Guests? Check. What could possibly be left for the Halloween-loving nerd?

Gaming, of course!

Let the good doctor give you a couple of suggestions for your Halloween gaming needs! Here’s a few suggestions for some spooky board-game action for you and all of your friends:

"Hail to the King, baby!"

Zombies!!!
by Twilight Creations, Inc.

The Zombies!!! game pits each player, a human survivor, as they desperately try to find the heliport to insure their survival. They are waylaid by hordes of zombies that they have to either avoid or kill. Sure, it’s the pretty basic Zombie horror movie formula, but it has a twist; there’s only room for a single passenger on that helicopter, and everyone is out for themselves.

This is the kind of game to play if everyone is cool with being very competitive. Each turn, a player wich choose a couple of zombies to move, essentially “siccing” the zombies on another unsuspecting player. You spend the game moving zombies to impede other players, or screw them over by playing cards to impede or injure them. If you’re looking for a little more of a cooperative spirit (pun intended) for your Halloween gaming, Zombies!!! might not be for your group.

With all of the back-stabbery aside, Zombies!!! has the advantage of being both easy-to-learn and quick to set up and play.

Board game cover, or B-Movie DVD cover? You decide!

The Last Night on Earth
by Flying Frog Productions

If you’re still hankering for a zombie jamboree, but you want a more cooperative play style, then The Last Night on Earth may be just what the witch-doctor ordered!

The Last Night on Earth pits one player, the Zombie Master, against the rest of the survivor players. Depending on the many scenarios provided in the core game set, it is the survivors’ job to kill all the zombies, or perhaps seal away zombie spawning points with fire, or perhaps gather enough fuel to gas up a truck to escape. Perhaps the players are feeling ambitious enough to just hole up inside the manor house and fight off an undead siege until dawn.

It’s the Zombie Master’s job, obviously, to kill the survivors by any means possible. Both sides have plenty of options with cards that they can use during play. The Zombie Master’s cards usually enhance the zombies in some way, making them faster or tougher, and some ZM cards can spawn more zombies, or start events that makes the lives of the survivors hell. Heroes, conversely, can find weapons, allies, events or other advantages to counter the Zombie Master and achieve goals.

The Last Night on Earth‘s learning curve is a little steeper than Zombies!!!, but it’s still relatively quick to pick up and play, and there’s enough variety to play again and again without it starting to rot.

From the producer of The Last Night on Earth...comes a Touch of Evil.

A Touch of Evil
by Flying Frog Productions

Yet another Flying Frog title, it still is a solid game to play at Halloween. A Touch of Evil takes place in a small New England town called Shadowbrook. Each player takes on the role of a unique monster-hunting investigator, racing against time  to stop a force of darkness, be it a vampire, the scarecrow, or the ridiculously powerful Headless Horseman from claiming the village. Players investigate the town and build their strength until they feel confident enough to hunt down the creature and defeat it in an epic showdown.

Each villain in A Touch of Evil is a unique experience with different powers and minions, and the game is a fun interactive experience. However, the game’s “default” setting is competitive. No, the heroes don’t band together to defeat the forces of darkness like humans NORMALLY would. While the players don’t control the evils themselves, the player cards include plenty of things to sabotage another hero’s efforts. It seems that these heroes are the glory-hound types that never want to work together. It’s like being forced to play a board game with your regular role-playing game group. Thankfully, the game includes cooperative rules.

A Touch of Evil still remains a great thematic pick for Halloween.

Scooby-Doo, where are you? No, seriously; where the Hell are you?!

Betrayal At House on the Hill
by ArtHaus Games (Wizards of the Coast)

If Scooby-Doo and The Twilight Zone had a drunken one-night stand and had a lovechild, they would slap a PG-13 label on it and name it Betrayal at House on the Hill. While the premise of the game seems innocent enough; “up to six motley investigators explore the creepy old mansion on the hill, hyjinx ensue,” Betrayal at House on the Hill delivers a far different experience than the colorful box and innocent-looking characters would imply.

Sure, your explorers could be a kindly priest, a track star, a gypsy fortune-teller, and a couple of children, and exploring a spooky mansion looks like the premise for a children’s game…

…but then you find out that one of your number is a traitor, and is trying to feed the rest of the explorers to her pet demon in the basement! Oh, that’s not all. Man-eating aliens, cannibals, mummies, vampires, devil-worshippers, Cthulhu mythos-like cultists, and the mansion itself crumbling around you and dropping into Hell itself are all possible endgames for this deceptively demented game.

The house itself is but a foyer at the start of the game, and while play progresses, players draw new room tiles randomly to create the mansion as you go. meanwhile, everyone is gathering strength and collecting precious objects to help them in their future struggle, and unveiling “Omen” cards that have an ever-increasing chance to start the “haunt,” when the game reveals who the traitor is. The game then switches modes, and the traitor gets his own set of rules and winning conditions. The other players are then given their own victory conditions, and the endgame commences. Will it be a victory, or a bloodbath?

While all of the games START the same, when the haunt is revealed, the traitor and the story are revealed by consulting a table that takes into account the Omen card drawn, and the room it is revealed in. There are 50 tales of terror in the game in total, and some are pretty damned twisted…perfect for Halloween. The only drawback is that you can’t really “choose” a story. The game and the luck of the draw choose your doom FOR you.

Still, it’s a good game, and a fun romp with friends on this kind of night.

Must go faster....MUST GO FASTER!!!

Arkham Horror
by Fantasy Flight Games

Arkham Horror is one of Fantasy Fliught Games’ biggest sellers. It has over eight expansions and even a miniatures line for EVERY investigator in the Arkham Horror line! It’s been reprinted countless times and remains a staple for any store that sells FFG products. Arkham Horror deserves its popularity.

It’s set in the 1920’s in Arkham, Massachusets where the players get to cooperatively battle against all of the horrors of the mythos. That alone should warrant a purchase!

Arkham Horror is best described by FFG itself:

Designed for 1-8 players, Arkham Horror is a cooperative adventure game of survival, horror, and investigation. Players take on the role of an investigator, each with his own unique backstory, abilities, and equipment. On their own, it’s likely they won’t make it through the night. But together, these unlikely heroes might stand in the very presence of an Ancient One and live to tell the tale…if they can retain their sanity!

Arkham Horror features a unique way for players to customize their investigators. Each investigator has three groups of two skills which can be adjusted throughout the game. When you change one skill you affect the other skill in that group. So if you prefer to have extra speed, don’t expect to sneak by any enemies that turn. Balance is key. At the start every turn players will have to plan ahead when adjusting their skills so they have the right skill for the right situation.

Mystery lurks around every corner in Arkham. Unknown threats abound and investigators must discover the truth about what they face if they hope to survive. Clues are scattered throughout Arkham, and by acquiring these clues investigators will have the means to put an end to whatever powers are trying to tear their reality apart.

There is no shortage of the macabre in Arkham. Investigators are pitted against the followers of the Ancient Ones, be they human or otherwise. Their enemies will not only challenge them physically, but mentally as well. Every investigator has a stamina threshold as well as a sanity threshold, representing the punishment their bodies and minds can take, respectively.

In order to fight back, investigators have to arm themselves with whatever weapons they can find, ranging from guns to spells to enchanted relics. These items can be found  throughout Arkham, in shoppes, chance meetings, and even in alternate dimensions!

In order to put an end to the encroaching darkness, investigators will have to close the multiplying portals that link our world to the beyond. As the Ancient One stirs, gates will spawn all over Arkham, spilling monsters out into the streets. With enough of these gates open the Ancient One will be able to overrun Arkham and the investigators will have no hope of saving the town.

To close these gates investigators will have to gather clues, investigate alternate dimensions, and then return to Arkham to close the gates. If they gather enough clues, they will be able to permanently seal the location so no more gates can be spawned. Enough of these seals will ensure that the Ancient One remains dormant and Arkham is saved…for the time being.

However, if the investigators are unable to close all the gates, monsters will swarm the streets and the Ancient One will grow stronger. If enough dark power gathers in Arkham, the Ancient One’s long slumber will come to a frightening end.

As havoc ensues in Arkham, the Ancient One gathers more power. With each catastrophic event, the investigators come one step closer to encountering a being so terrible and indescribable that they will be fortunate if its very presence does not completely destroy them.

Ancient Ones serve as the main antagonists for each game of Arkham Horror, and each one changes gameplay drastically. Not only does each Ancient One have its own unique and destructive power, but their followers gain additional abilities as well.

Additional expansions add a plethora of new options, as well as new Other Worlds to explore, and new towns in “Lovecraft Country” to visit, such as Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport.

Arkham Horror rarely gets old, and there are lots of ways to play. It’s a perfect cooperative pick for a great Halloween!

Still, there is one more game I consider to be the perfect pick for a night of fright and fun…

For the LAST time, this isn't Betrayal at House on the God-damned HILL!!!

Mansions of Madness
by Fantasy Flight Games

I will not lie; I am a FFG fanboy. I wouldn’t tout them so much if I didn’t feel that they please far more than they disappoint. Mansions of Madness definitely does not disappoint. I couldn’t really say whether or not Mansions of Madness tops Arkham Horror on my list of favorite games, but it gives it a run for its money.

Mansions is the perfect “hosted” game for Halloween, and it is sure to terrify and delight. Again, I’ll let FFG speak for itself:

Designed by Corey Konieczka, Mansions of Madness is a scenario-driven board game of occult horror and mystery for two to five players. In it, one player takes on the role of the keeper, a malevolent force working to complete a sinister plot, and all other players take on the roles of investigators, the unlikely heroes who gather to oppose him.

During each game, investigator players explore an eerie location in the hopes of solving a mystery before it’s too late. Investigators win or lose as a team, and need to keep their wits about them to find the artifacts, weapons, and clues needed to stop the keeper’s diabolical plot. The keeper’s goal is to fulfill an evil scheme, which can range from driving the investigators insane to bringing about the end of the world. The keeper’s weapons are fear, paranoia… and terrifying monsters. Can a handful of brave investigators uncover the truth in time, or will the wicked plans of the keeper come to fruition?

Every game of Mansions of Madness creates an immersive story that, given players’ decisions, can unravel in countless different and exciting ways. Included in the base game are five gripping scenarios, and each one offers a combination of plot choices to take your stories in new directions.

To begin setup, for example, the keeper secretly makes choices that will affect both the plot of the unfolding story and the gameplay objectives of both sides. Is the mysterious cult attempting to murder the investigators, or is their goal far darker? Did the master of the house go insane with grief over his dead family, or is a horrible otherworldly force controlling his mind? Only by following the trail and piecing these clues together will the investigators discover the true evil and successfully complete the story!

Based on the combinations of plot choices the keeper makes, clues are scattered throughout the various rooms that make up the board. Each clue is represented by a card, placed face down in the room in which it can be found and consisting of deeply thematic text leading investigators to the next clue card. Investigators must work together, finding the clues and discussing how best to proceed. Meanwhile, the keeper is ever vigilant in pursuing his own agenda, and if he completes his secret objective before the investigators discover and thwart it, then dark forces will prevail. The result is an engaging race between good and evil!

Unfortunately for the investigators, clues aren’t merely sitting out waiting to be found. Plenty of other items, both helpful and harmful, are scattered throughout the board as well. Additionally, clues often are guarded by the minions of the keeper, requiring combat, or locked behind complex puzzles, requiring a demonstration of intellect. As you explore the Mansions of Madness, stay with an ally who complements your abilities. Otherwise, you may quickly find yourself at the mercy of a difficult puzzle… or a blood-crazed cultist.

But whether you’re facing a rotting zombie in the graveyard, a knife-wielding cultist in the attic, or a massive chthonian on the front porch, Mansions of Madness’ components will draw you in the terrifying action. The beautifully rendered modular map tiles show every intricate feature of the rooms you’ll search, and the monster figures represent the otherworldly forces of evil in horrific detail.

The bases for each monster figure also have slots into which you can insert that monster’s token, displaying only the pertinent statistics. These components (a total of 24 monster figures), along with the eight included investigator figures, over 300 cards, over 200 tokens and markers, and nearly 70 puzzle tiles, will immerse you in a sanity-bending story of terrifying mystery.

Horrific monsters and spectral presences lurk in manors, crypts, schools, monasteries, and derelict buildings near Arkham, Massachusetts. Some spin dark conspiracies while others wait for hapless victims to devour or drive insane. It’s up to a handful of brave investigators to explore these cursed places and uncover the truth about the living nightmares within. Do you dare enter the Mansions of Madness?

What I believe sets Mansions of Madness over every other game for Halloween is the fact that it’s a story-driven game. Ghost stories are a time-honored tradition, especially on Halloween, and Mansions of Madness is not unlike playing an intricate ghost story; best played with dim lighting, some candles, and some creepy mood music. Despite its steep price tag, Mansions of Madness is a solid buy. If you exhaust the five tales of terror that comes in the core set, FFG has been churning out Print-on-Demand expansions, each with its own unique story for about $15 a piece. There are three of them available at the time of this writing; The Silver Tablet, Season of the Witch, and Till Death do us Part… with more on the way. The first “big-box” expansion, Forbidden Alchemy, is also on the way with new investigators, rooms, monsters, stories, and more!

Mansions of Madness is my top Halloween pick, and I see big things for its future. As for your next week’s Halloween party, I wish you a great one. Keep that fun-loving tradition alive, folks!

Happy Gaming, and have a happy and safe Halloween!

Bustin' makes me feel good!

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Posted on October 24, 2011, in Board Games, Text Review, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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