Have you been swept up in the tabletop game renaissance yet? If you’re a fan of horror you have no excuse not to dive in, and there are plenty of games with much to offer fans of darker, bloodier material. Here are five of the best recent titles.
Designed by: Corey Konieczka and Nikki Valens
Published by: Fantasy Flight Games
1 − 8 players, plays in 120-240 minutes
Arkham Horror is a classic board game, still perfect for those nights when you want to fully immerse yourself in Lovecraftian horror. The biggest problem was how inaccessible it is. Arkham Horror is a massive, massive game that comes packed with hundreds of cardboard chits, dozens of cards (hell, dozens of decks of cards), and rules so confusing that it takes multiple sessions to get them all right. It also can take hours to play and generally ends with your entire group getting devoured by an Elder God. It’s so remarkable that it still always felt worth it, even faced with such ridiculous odds. But it is daunting.
Enter Eldritch Horror. Fantasy Flight Games has basically taken Arkham Horror (it uses a lot of the same art) and streamlined it completely, making the confusing rules much more simple and making the game play faster as a result.
It also feels more epic. Instead of playing as investigators travelling around a city to stop cultists from summoning an Ancient One (Cthulhu is the big bad of course, but there are plenty of others), this time the entire world is in danger. You’ll travel to the four corners of the globe to solve mysteries and stop these nefarious plans, or, more likely, die trying. This is a shorter, more accessible game that gives you that exact same feeling and absolutely belongs in any Lovecraft fan’s library. If you really get into it and hope that it could be harder you could always can pick up one of the many huge expansions they’re putting out, including one based on Lovecraft’s seminal ATH THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, and an upcoming one called UNDER THE PYRAMIDS that’s set in Cairo, although players will be just fine with the core game.
Zombicide Season 3: Rue Morgue
Designed by: Raphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste & Lullien Nicolas Raoult
Published by: Cool Mini Or Not
1 − 12 players, plays in 60 minutes
A pulpy, action-packed experience that comes with tons of little plastic zombie miniatures, this third installment of the massive Kickstarter success does what any good sequel does- keeps things just as fun and adds more. It takes a very, very stale sub-genre and does a phenomenial job of making you feel like you’re facing hordes of undead. Co-op play means that your friends are along for the ride, and you’ll really need to rely on teamwork to make sure you don’t all end up bitten.
There’s some debate over whether the additions make it better this version better than the previous two games. But if you haven’t played Zombicide yet, you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Rue Morgue gives you double the number of playable characters (12 instead of 6), new types of zombies to face (including wonderful crawling zombies), and all kinds of new fun weapons and items to kill them for the second time. Probably the biggest additions are the teams, which give you benefits for sticking together with your friends, as well as a competitive team mode. Shooting your friends in order to get more experience for your team makes for some really intense matches. After all, man is the most dangerous game.
Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
Designed by: Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega
Published by: Plaid Hat Games
2-5 players, plays in 45−210 minutes
Yes- it’s another zombie game, but this may be one of the best. Dead of Winter has you trying to survive with your friends through a terrible winter that hasn’t slowed down the zombies one bit. The catch this time is that one of you may be a traitor, working against the interests of the group. To make things even wilder, players pick roles at beginning of each game without knowing who the traitor is- so you may be paranoid and watching your friends’ every move for nothing. Just like with other wonderful board games that incorporate a traitor mechanic (Battlestar Galactica, I’m looking at you) this makes for an evening full of arguments and yelling as people try to flush him or her out.
Dead of Winter isn’t an easy game- it constantly throws new challenges your way, as well as useless survivors that take up room and don’t contribute to the group. While the zombies and exposure to the cold can kill your characters off very easily, the biggest threat to your group of survivors is fear and mistrust. There’s a reason this game is nearly universally acclaimed, winning awards left and right. A hugely fun time from Plaid Hat Games.
Legendary Encounters: An ALIEN Deck Building Game
Designed by: Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel
Published by: Upper Deck Entertainment
1-5 players, plays in 45 minutes
Upper Deck has taken their popular Marvel Legendary card game and brought it into the horror world, first with this officially licensed ALIEN game. The game is a deckbuilder, a style made popular by titles like Dominion and Ascension, which means that you’ll be creating a deck of cards over the course of the game. You’ll start off with a bunch of grunts and some objectives to complete and will then go about seeding your deck with new and powerful cards in order to fight off the Xenomorphs on the prowl, all while the game tries to kill you at every turn.
The game surprised everyone by being incredibly thematic, not just a reskinning of the Marvel game. It’s helped by bloody, gory card art and references to all four movies- everything from Navigator Lambert to Hicks to the Newborn gets their own cards. Even better? When a friend dies from a “facehugger” there are rules that allow them to come back as an Alien itself with its own unique deck and objectives.
Not a fan of ALIEN? A PREDATOR version of Legendary Encounters has just hit as well, which plays completely differently.
A Study In Emerald
Designed by: Martin Wallace
Published by: Treefrog Games
2-5 players, plays in 90 minutes
Based upon Neil Gaiman’s Hugo Award-winning short story of the same name that stuck Sherlock Holmes into the Lovecraft Mythos, A Study In Emerald is probably the most complex game on this list. It’s set in a Victorian England in which the Great Old Ones have taken over the world. The Royalty of Europe is actually composed of multi-armed, green ichor blood-spewing creatures, and humanity has gotten used to having them in charge. Most of them, anyway- this universe sees Sherlock Holmes as a freedom fighter leading the resistance (the “Restorationists”) against those who like things as they are, led by Professor Moriarty and his cronies.
The game offers you almost too much to do. Deckbuilding? You got it. Hidden roles, making sure you never know what the other player is up to? Yup. Zombies? Sure. Vampires? Why not, throw them in! As with any faithful Lovecraft game there’s also the opportunity to go completely, undeniably mad. All of this complexity (and a confusing rulebook) means that the game has a brutal learning curve, but also guarantees that each and every game is utterly different.
The worst part about this game is actually finding it, as it’s currently out of stock, but a second edition with new art and streamlined rules is on the way to deliver us to our new overlords with more ease. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!