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5 spooky board games for Halloween

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 6:25 p.m. MDT

Aliens vs. Zombies is a zany, light war game from Victory Point Games. (Victory Point Games) Aliens vs. Zombies is a zany, light war game from Victory Point Games. (Victory Point Games)

Are you looking for some genuine chills this Halloween season? Do you want to experience the frightful thrill of being chased by zombies, hunted by vampires or battling all manner of ghouls? You might want to look into board games that offer both scares and safe, good times for your holiday.

The following is a list of five fright-filled board games that will alternately have you laughing and sweating with terror. Just keep telling yourself, “It's only a board game. It's only a board game.”

These games are suitable for families with older children. Because of scary themes and artwork, they are generally only appropriate for ages 12 and up.

Aliens vs. Zombies

Imagine an alien invasion that wipes out 99 percent of the Earth's population, only to see them rise from their graves to exact vengeance upon the invaders. Aliens vs. Zombies from Victory Point Games imagines just such a scenario. One player takes on the zombies, while the other is the aliens in this zany light war game.

Play utilizes a game board, components, and dice in Aliens vs. Zombies, from Victory Point Games. (Cody Carlson) Play utilizes a game board, components, and dice in Aliens vs. Zombies, from Victory Point Games. (Cody Carlson)

Played on a small board depicting a devastated city, each round the zombies may draw more ghouls from the graveyard and the aliens may receive reinforcements. When alien units kill zombie units, the zombies go to the dead pit. When zombies kill aliens, they move one of their dead pit units back into the grave. After eight rounds, however many zombies in the dead pit determines the winner.

With asymmetrical powers, dice combat, and hysterical artwork and theme, Aliens vs. Zombies is a whacky, fun-filled game that meshes genres brilliantly.

Witch of Salem

The horror-filled world of H.P. Lovecraft provides the backdrop for Mayfair Games' Witch of Salem. The “Witch” is actually a learned scholar who needs your help to shut down interdimensional portals throughout the city of Arkham. These portals, if left open, will allow a host of monsters to take over the world.

Players work together to defeat the forces of evil in Mayfair Games' Witch of Salem. (Mayfair Games) Players work together to defeat the forces of evil in Mayfair Games' Witch of Salem. (Mayfair Games)

In this cooperative game, two to four players must move to various locations around the town, locating portals and gaining items necessary to fight the forces of evil. Monster cards appear to deal damage to the heroes, and the Necron track steadily advances throughout the game. If the players can't close all of the portals before the Necron reaches the dimensional rift, all is lost.

Witch of Salem is a teeth-clenching race to beat the forces of evil. Players will have a field day encountering the ghouls and monsters, and the mechanics ensure that a healthy dose of logic and deduction must be applied every turn. A very unique and tense board game experience, Witch of Salem will keep you and your fellow players on the edge of your seats.

Dead Panic

Game play in Mayfair Games' Witch of Salem takes place in the H. P. Lovecraft universe of monsters and ghouls. (Cody Carlson) Game play in Mayfair Games' Witch of Salem takes place in the H. P. Lovecraft universe of monsters and ghouls. (Cody Carlson)

Defend a cabin in the woods from legions of the undead in Fireside Games' Dead Panic. The board presents a circle with the cabin in the center and several concentric rings emanating from it. The cabin itself is made of fun, three-dimensional walls that the zombies can knock down if they get too close. One to six player must utilize weapons and items to keep the dead out of the cabin long enough to call for help. Once survivors have arrived with pieces of a radio, a rescue van is called for to take the players to safety.

On the surface Dead Panic appears to be a simple cooperative zombie game in which a position must be defended. That would be too easy, however. If one of the survivors takes too many injuries, he becomes one of the zombies and turns against his fellow players. Additionally, the turned zombie can select various powers to make himself more deadly.

Players must work together to defend a cabin in Fireside Games' Dead Panic. (Boardgamegeek.com) Players must work together to defend a cabin in Fireside Games' Dead Panic. (Boardgamegeek.com)

Boasting fun characters with special abilities, a truly unique board and mechanics, and an endless stream of zombies, Dead Panic offers a ghoulishly good time.

Castle Ravenloft

The evil vampire Count Strahd casts a long shadow over the people of ancient Barovia, but now heroes have arrived to infiltrate his castle and defeat the forces of darkness once and for all. In Castle Ravenloft from Wizards of the Coast, one to five players take on the role of a hero intent on defeating Strahd and his minions in this cooperative adventure. They must be careful, however, as monsters and ghouls hide behind every corner.

In this inventive dungeon crawl, various scenarios can be played and players explore the castle by randomly drawing and laying down tiles, ensuring that no two games will be the same. Once events are triggered, monsters appear that are then controlled by the player who activated them, though not in ways that they would like. The monsters themselves range from rats, wolves and wraiths all the way up to a skeleton dragon and the evil Count Strahd himself. Victory conditions vary with each scenario.

The zombies threaten to break down the cabin walls in Dead Panic, from Fireside Games. (Cody Carlson) The zombies threaten to break down the cabin walls in Dead Panic, from Fireside Games. (Cody Carlson)

Castle Ravenloft succeeds in creating a haunting, claustrophobic experience as players penetrate deeper and deeper into the castle. The fun game mechanics, artwork, and theme here are excellent, but Castle Ravenloft really shines with its intricate, stunning models. These models really add to the terror and foreboding every time you dare to venture into the catacombs of Castle Ravenloft.

Zombicide

Imagine what it would be like to be downtown in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The reality couldn't be terribly different from Cool Mini or Not's Zombicide. One to six players must work together and fight the endless hoards of the undead as they must complete missions in various scenarios. Each time a player kills a zombie his talents improve. As your characters get more powerful, however, the numbers of zombies increase.

Castle Ravenloft from Wizards of the Coast is a cooperative dungeon crawl adventure. (Cody Carlson, Boardgamegeek.com) Castle Ravenloft from Wizards of the Coast is a cooperative dungeon crawl adventure. (Cody Carlson, Boardgamegeek.com)

Players take actions each turn like search for weapons and helpful items, attack zombies, and move. Players must be careful, however. If one player kills a lot of zombies before his compatriots have a chance to catch up, the armies of walking dead will become legions, and most players won't have the ability to stay alive. Careful planning and team work are the watchwords here if the players are to be successful.

Perhaps more than any zombie game out there, Zombicide succeeds in creating the sheer terror of a zombie apocalypse. The hoards do not stop coming, ratcheting up the fear factor every turn, and it forces players to consider every action very carefully. If you're brave enough, you may just want to wade through the sea of Zombicide's undead.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. Cody has also appeared on many local stages including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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