Ghoulish Games to Add Homebrewed Horror to Your Halloween!

[Image courtesy of Chris Loves Julia.]

Halloween is but a few days away, and many puzzlers and game enthusiasts are in the mood for a fun, spooky round of seasonal board game shenanigans. A fellow PuzzleNationer asked if we had any recommendations for scary or atmospheric games in the spirit of the season, and we are happy to provide some.

Buckle up, fright fans, we’ve got some choice options for you today.


[Image courtesy of Dicebreaker.]

Ultimate Werewolf / Mafia / Salem 1692

All of these games are variations on the same idea: you have a group of people, and one or two of them is secretly the enemy. You must figure out who the bad guys are before they strike. Social deduction games like this are perfect for parties or group gatherings, because they’re easy to learn and they’re heavy on the replay value. (The viral video game Among Us is just the latest iteration of the concept.)

Whether you’re hunting for villainous mobsters (Mafia), hungry werewolves (Ultimate Werewolf), or crafty witches (Salem 1692), you’re bound to find a fun time. (With regards to Salem, our group often plays it a little differently, protecting the coven from secret overzealous witch hunters.)

[Image courtesy of Ravensburger.]

Horrified

If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly game with a spooky theme, Horrified is a great place to start. In this cooperative game, your group of heroes is pitted against some of the classic Universal movie monsters like The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. You must work together to complete specific tasks in order to defeat the monsters.

Horrified is more welcoming and less daunting than many co-op games, and that makes it a terrific starter game to introduce young and experienced board gamers alike to both spooky games and cooperative gameplay.

[Image courtesy of Geeky Hobbies.]

Mysterium

Nothing makes a game atmospheric like a murder to solve, and Mysterium goes way beyond Clue by having players work together to find the murderer. But there’s a twist, as one of the players is a ghost, and cannot speak. Instead, they offer visual clues to all of the other players, who are psychic mediums.

The mix of clever communication and immersive storytelling makes this an excellent choice for a macabre night of gameplay and murder-solving. And with a mix of suspects, weapons, and locations to choose from, there’s plenty of replay value here.

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

Nyctophobia

There’s perhaps no fear more primal than the fear of the dark, and Nyctophobia uses that to its advantage, plunging all but one player into darkness. (Blackout glasses are provided for the players.) The now-blind players must try to escape a dark forest, while the one player who can see stalks them, removing them from the game one by one.

When properly executed, there’s no board game more immersive and scary than this one, as players have to navigate the game board by touch and be very careful with their spoken communication, since the villain is close by. It takes a little getting used to, but this unique horror-inspired game is unlike anything you’ve played before.

[Image courtesy of Tabletop Bellhop. ]

Dead Man’s Cabal

Sometimes it’s hard to gather friends and loved ones for a party. Well, in Dead Man’s Cabal, that’s not a problem, since you can simply raise the dead and make them attend your party!

As players compete to gather the most undead partygoers for their event, they can affect not only which guests arrive for their party, but the queue for other players’ resurrected guests as well. The dark tongue-in-cheek humor of the game only enhances the experience, making for a raucous and ridiculous time for all involved.

[Image courtesy of Research Gate.]

Gloom

If you’re looking for a darkly fun game with shades of The Addams Family or Edward Gorey, then Gloom is the game for you. In Gloom, each player is the head of a spooky family, and it’s your job to make them miserable in hilariously ghastly ways before they croak. And as you do so, you regale your fellow players with the ongoing tragic tale of their fates.

Not only that, but to ensure that your family has the most gloriously horrendous story, you can play cards on your opponents’ families that cause GOOD things to happen. Turn their misfortune into good fortune for your own gain!

The gameplay is accentuated by the beautiful clear playing cards, which allow you to stack different events and effects on your family characters and still be able to see what’s going on! For a silly and sinister time, Gloom is an absolute treat.


Those are some of our favorites, but here are a few honorable mentions to check out, organized by theme. (And we’re marked our personal favorites in bold!)

  • Kid-friendly games: Disney Villainous, Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters
  • Zombie survival: Dead of Winter, Zombies!!, Zombie Dice, Last Night on Earth
  • Spooky survival: Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove, 10 Candles
  • H.P. Lovecraft-inspired horror: Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, The Doom That Came to Atlantic City
  • B-Movie-inspired survival: Monster Slaughter, Mixtape Massacre, Betrayal at the House on the Hill (which now has a Scooby-Doo version!)
  • Escape room style: Unlock!: Squeek and Sausage, Exit: The Game: The Abandoned Cabin, Exit: The Game: Dead Man on the Orient Express, Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse

Do you have any spooky recommendations for Halloween board games, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Relaxing Games: More Tranquil Than Tactical

Everybody has a copy of Monopoly lying around, but that’s not really the most relaxing game experience, is it?

Most of the classics, however fun, are also pretty competitive. But what about games that help restore your spirit, ease your anxiety, and put you in a good mood?

As much fun as co-op games like Forbidden Island, The Oregon Trail Card Game, and Castle Panic! can be, they can also be a little stressful. And if you’re looking to relax, those might not be the games for you.

So today, I thought we could turn our attention to games that will help you enjoy a more calming gameplay experience.


Now, before I get started, I’m well aware that you might not have these games at the ready. Maybe you’re a jigsaw family and you find calmness and distraction in placing those last few satisfying little pieces and completing the image. Or maybe you like making your own fun with pencil and paper.

Whatever your jam, as long as you’re engaging in play and passing the time in fun ways, you’re already ahead of the game.


When I asked fellow game enthusiasts for games that are mellow and relaxing, the first one that always comes to mind is Tsuro.

In Tsuro, up to 8 players adopt the role of flying dragons soaring through the sky. Each player chooses from the tiles in their hands in order to build paths on the board, representing their paths through the sky. Naturally, these paths will eventually intersect, and you need to be careful to avoid colliding with another dragon or following a path right off the edge of the board. (Both of those scenarios cause you to lose.)

Despite the potential for competition, most Tsuro games are peaceful affairs as everyone enjoys watching their dragon token loop and swirl across various intersecting paths, hoping to be the last dragon standing on the board. It’s a beautiful, simple game that only takes about twenty minutes to play, and it’s the perfect palate cleanser after a more stressful round of some other game.

beforetherewerestars

[Image courtesy of Board Game Geek.]

Some of the most enjoyable and low-key game experiences are storytelling games. I could recommend one with high-fantasy flavor like Once Upon a Time or one with a tongue-in-cheek Addams Family-esque humor like Gloom. But the one that piques my interest the most is based in mythology and sharing stories around a fire.

In Before There Were Stars…, players claim constellation cards to use in crafting the origin story of the world itself. Each player shares how things were in the beginning, at the dawn of civilization, when a great hero emerges, and at the end of days. Along the way, players grant each other points — little star-shaped point tokens, naturally — for their favorite story moments, as everyone encourages each other in creating epic mythologies.

Although there can be a winner based on points, playing this game always feels more like a storytelling session than a competition, and it can lead to some unforgettable gaming moments.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

Tokaido is another game about movement, but in a very different vein. Players in this game are all travelers, journeying across Japan’s famed East Sea Road from Kyoto to Edo. Whereas most travel-based games are about reaching a destination first, Tokaido is about reaching a destination with the widest array of meaningful experiences.

Along the way, your character can meet new people, enjoy new cuisines, collect souvenirs, visit hot springs, and visit scenic locales. You add experience points for these events (and acquire achievement cards) that represent your traveler partaking of these experiences.

This elegant game bypasses traditional competition entirely, building a unique game mechanic out of living your best life.

[Image courtesy of Board Game Quest.]

Sagrada is another wonderfully visual game about individual accomplishment. In this game, each player is building a stained glass window using different colored dice. No dice of the same color can neighbor each other, so you need to be strategic about how you place the dice you roll.

Each window is different, and has certain rules for maximizing points. (A certain pane can only be a certain color, or a certain die value, etc.) The players can boost their scores by selecting cards that reward them with points if they create certain patterns within their stained glass window.

Except for competing for the best point total at the end, there’s virtually no interaction between players. You’re all simply working simultaneously on the best window, which is a gameplay style that breeds camaraderie more than competitiveness. It’s genuinely encouraging to see fellow players make good choices in dice placement to create the most beautiful, elegant window patterns.

[Image courtesy of Starlit Citadel.]

For a change of pace, let’s look at a game that’s more about interaction with other players. Dixit is a gorgeous card game where each player is given a handful of cards, each depicting a different, unique, evocative piece of art.

Player 1 will choose a card from their hand and say a word or phrase to the other players that has some connection to that card. It could reference color, or part of the imagery. It could be a joke, or an idiom, or a song lyric. The goal is to be vague, but not too vague. The other players will then each select a card from their hand that could also be described by Player 1’s statement, and the cards are all shuffled face down so no one can see who submitted what card.

The cards are then all placed face up, and each player (except Player 1) votes on which piece of art they think Player 1 chose. Player 1 gets points if some (but not ALL) players chose his card. (If every player chooses it, the clue was too easy, and Player 1 gets no points.) And any other player’s card that earns votes also earns that player points.

This sort of associative gameplay really encourages your imagination and teaches you about how the other players think. There’s no other game quite like it on the market today, and it makes for an intriguing, low-key gaming experience.

Finally, let’s close out today’s post with a classic tile game that mixes Uno-style color- and pattern-matching with Mexican Train Dominoes-style gameplay. Qwirkle is a bit more competitive than the other games on today’s list, but it’s still a game more about collaborating than outdoing your opponents.

By placing different tiles onto a shared play area — either by matching colors or matching symbols — players earn points. If you complete a Qwirkle — a pattern of all six colors for a given shape or all six shapes in the same color — you earn bonus points.

The lighthearted gameplay style lends itself to friendly competition rather than the cutthroat mien evoked by games like Monopoly. Qwirkle’s not about grinding the other players down, it’s about adding to a colorful world in interesting, inventive new ways.


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Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest!


The first (and puzzliest!) entry in today’s list is a reinvention of something PuzzleNation Blog readers already know: Eric Berlin’s Puzzle Your Kids subscription service.

Eric realized that the clever puzzles he was creating worked for both younger AND older solvers, and has reimagined the subscription service to provide all sorts of quality variety puzzles to solvers.

Now known as Puzzlesnacks, it’s the perfect way to keep the puzzler in your life busy with fun, unique variety puzzles, no matter what their skill level.

With 23 days to go, the project is already funded, so any further funding just means more puzzles and even greater quality going forward!

Our second project is something for the murder mystery fans in the audience: A Note for Murder.

This game plays on classic murder mystery tropes, as players piece together the crime —  identifying the suspect, the murder weapon, and the scene of the murder. The twist? The crime hasn’t happened yet!

Plus you’re competing with your fellow players. Although it takes working together to solve the crime, only one person can get the credit for preventing the crime. Will it be you?

With 23 days to go, the project is one-third funded, but I suspect this intriguing spin on traditional murder mystery board games like Clue will meet its funding goal.

Our third campaign celebrates the history of one of the most unique game companies in the market today: Cheapass Games.

The company originally marketed its games by selling only what you need to play the game, allowing you to save money by scrounging up your own dice, tokens, and more from the games you already have. It was a genius approach that led to dozens of fantastic, unusual gaming experiences.

And now, they’re bringing that history to life with Cheapass Games in Black and White, a book collecting the rules and histories of every game offered by the company during the Black and White era.

The book is already funded, but with 21 days left, this project is still worth your time.

We delve into a peculiar true story from history with our fourth entry: Potemkin Empire.

As Empress Catherine tours the towns and villages in her domain, each player competes to convince her that they have the most prosperous and worthy village. And a bit of chicanery is needed, as everyone is setting up empty building facades to enhance the look of their individual towns.

The game quickly becomes a battle of cons, ruses, bluffs, and betrayal, as players try to expose the fake buildings of others while concealing their own false fronts. This looks like a terrific strategy game with some devious poker elements, built in the same vein as Sheriff of Nottingham and other social games.

There’s less than 36 hours left in the campaign, so contribute now. The game is fully funded and pushing towards some worthwhile stretch goals in the home stretch!

Our fifth and final entry today adds a macabre sense of humor to an iconic storytelling world.

Gloom of Thrones combines the mystique and grandeur of Game of Thrones with the namesake card game’s twisted humor and clever gameplay. As each player takes control of a noble family, they endeavor to make them as miserable as possible to score points, and then kill them off when the time is right.

The transparent cards allow for all sorts of playing combinations as you torment and mistreat the parody characters. And naturally, you can derail the other players by causing nice things to happen to their characters. There’s really nothing quite like playing Gloom.

With 20 days to go, the game is fully funded and pushing onward toward stretch goals, so don’t miss out on this hilariously brutal spin-off.


Have any of these projects hooked you? Let us know which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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PuzzleNation Product Review: ThinkFun’s Kaleidoscope Puzzle

[Note: I received a free copy of this product in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Clear, or transparent, cards are a rarity in puzzles and games, but they offer a terrific gameplay mechanic: the ability to stack cards without obscuring information.

The clear cards in the storytelling game Gloom allow players to add and subtract points from various characters as the grim and whimsical stories unfold. The quick-play pattern-matching game On the Dot — which was part of last month’s Tabletop Tournament — challenges players to properly arrange four clear cards — each with randomly-placed colored dots — in order to match a given pattern before their opponents do.

Now, the creative minds at ThinkFun have put a wonderful, vibrant twist on the clear-card genre of puzzles and games with their latest release: Kaleidoscope Puzzle.

[Two of the six kaleidoscope tiles.]

In Kaleidoscope Puzzle, you have six octagonal tiles, each with its own pattern of tinted and clear quadrants. It’s up to the solver to arrange either two or three of the six tiles in order to recreate the patterns on the challenge cards.

First off, I want to say that this might be the most aesthetically pleasing puzzle I’ve ever solved. Just turning the kaleidoscope cards in my hands in front of a light is enjoyable, letting the snowflake-patterning on each card blur and come into focus anew as the cards line up, each time matching and mixing the various colored quadrants to create eye-catching effects. It’s brilliant in its simplicity, and unlike any color-based puzzle I’ve seen on the market today.

It almost feels like putting together a stained-glass window, particularly as the challenge cards progress and the patterns grow more elaborate.

[One possible combination of those two tiles.]

The Beginner challenge cards help to familiarize you with the gameplay. You quickly figure out placement and color combinations. As you transition into the Intermediate challenge cards, the patterns grow more elaborate, and honestly, more beautiful. It’s amazing the combinations you can conjure with just two of the six possible kaleidoscope tiles!

Halfway through the Intermediate challenge cards, they ratchet up both the possibilities and the difficulty, as you now have to create the patterns with three kaleidoscope tiles. Now you’re trying to cover all four quadrants with color patterns, and it becomes about maximizing what each tile offers.

But it’s in the Advanced challenge cards that the game really separates itself from On the Dot-style solving, because Kaleidoscope puzzle has the color-mixing element as well. Not only are you manipulating the kaleidoscope tiles to place the basic colors where you need them, but you also need to create green, orange, and purple patterns as well.

Toward the end of the Advanced challenge cards, you start to deal with eighths instead of quadrants, divvying up the field into increasingly more complicated designs, reminiscent of pie charts.

Sometimes, you might discover alternate ways to form the patterns, which is very satisfying indeed. It also speaks to how adaptable the six kaleidoscope tiles are, since you can arrange them in seemingly endless combinations.

By the time you reach the Expert challenge cards, you’ll be turning, flipping, and rearranging these tiles like crazy to form the intricate patterns on the cards. It’s an unexpectedly relaxing form of puzzling, a meditative mix of challenge and aesthetics.

[The same pattern coming to life under a desk lamp.]

I cannot say enough good things about this puzzle. Mixing the resource management of how to get the most out of each tile you choose with the striking visuals of the kaleidoscope tiles makes for a unique solving experience.

Puzzles that are as satisfying to look at after the solve as they are to solve in the first place… that’s a true rarity. What a treat.

[Kaleidoscope Puzzle is available from ThinkFun and participating retailers, starting at $9.99!]


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Kickstart Halloween edition!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And in today’s post, I’m returning to the subject of puzzly crowdfunding campaigns!

Two weeks ago, I spread the word about several puzzly Kickstarter campaigns that I thought might interest my fellow PuzzleNationers!

But with Halloween fast approaching, two more campaigns with a more humorously macabre style caught my eye.

The first is Kill Doctor Lucky, by our friends at Cheapass Games.

In this relaunch of the original board game, players compete to dispatch Doctor Lucky before the other competitors, but to do so, you must sneak around Lucky Mansion, acquiring weapons and securing a solid hiding place.

You see, not only are your fellow players conspiring to ruin your plans, but Doctor Lucky is surprisingly difficult to kill. (They don’t call him Doctor Lucky for nothing, after all!)

This is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek take on whodunit games like Clue, and 19 years of playtesting since the original release have resulted in tighter rules, more flexible gameplay, and a wickedly fun puzzle experience.

And Kill Doctor Lucky has already blasted past its initial goal, so if you support it, you’re guaranteed to get the game!

The second game is Don’t Die, the card game where death isn’t the end of the world, it’s just inconvenient.

Players in Don’t Die take turns pulling from a deck of hazard cards that could easily kill them, and try to avoid dying by passing cards to the other players or rolling the dice to escape that particular demise.

The game is over when one player has died ten times, and whichever “surviving” player has the fewest deaths is the winner!

I am a huge fan of games that play with established conventions, and a game where dying is just part of the play experience is a terrific twist. (It reminds me a bit of Gloom that way, both in some of its mechanics and in its lighthearted take on a grim subject.)

Don’t Die is more than a third of the way toward being funded, so it could definitely use your support.

Both of these games look like great fun, and represent the board game and card game crowdfunding renaissance we’re experiencing right now. I highly recommend taking a little time to surf the puzzle and game pages of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, because you never know what terrific and unexpected products you might help bring to life.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: TableTop Day edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of puzzly holidays!

Saturday, April 11 is the third annual International TableTop Day, a day that has been set aside for family and friends to get together and play games. Board games, card games, role-playing games, puzzles… anything that involves gathering in person and having fun around a table fits the bill!

Although the actual holiday is tomorrow, we’re celebrating early around here! The PuzzleNation Crew is getting together with our friends from Penny/Dell Puzzles for a few hours of TableTop Day fun this afternoon!

[A few of the games we’ll be partaking in today.]

I’ll be posting pics on social media throughout the day, and there will be a full recap in Tuesday’s blog post!

Not only that, but we’ve added two new collections to our library of puzzles for in-app purchase for the Penny Dell Crosswords App! The April 2015 Deluxe Set has 35 puzzles to challenge you, and Collection 5 has a whopping 150 puzzles to choose from! Just in time for TableTop Day!

 

Will you be participating in tomorrow’s festivities, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let me know! I’d love to hear about your plans!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!