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Cody K. Carlson
In Cthulhu Wars, from Sandy Peterson Games, players move large Cthulhu models around the board for combat.

Halloween is always a special holiday for thrills and chilling good times. It's a great time for playing a tabletop game with your friends and family of all ages, and there's no shortage of great board and card games out there with scary themes. Here's a brief list to help you and your own ghoulish gang have a safe and fun Halloween season. Because these games contain some scary images and themes, they're probably not suitable for very young children.

Dark Gothic, from Flying Frog Games, is a deck-building card game set in colonial America in which players attempt to defeat a host of monsters. Two to six players use cards to purchase more powerful cards from a common card lineup, then cycle through so that their deck becomes more powerful over the course of the game. A few things set Dark Gothic apart from other deck builders, however: It boasts three different types of currency, making for some really fun and interesting card combinations. As it is based upon Flying Frog's board game A Touch of Evil, it also features photographs rather than artwork. There's even a dice-rolling mechanic that one does not usually find in deck builders.

Dark Gothic is for ages 12 and up and plays in about 60-90 minutes.

The X-Files, from IDW Games, is a game for two to five players and is based upon the TV show by the same name. Up to four players take on the roles of Mulder, Scully and other FBI agents, while one player takes on the role of the smoking man, the evil puppet master of various conspiracies. The FBI agents must move around the United States, solve mysteries and fight aliens and monsters in order to put together Mulder's iconic “I want to believe” poster puzzle before the smoking man meets his objectives. The game really catches the eerie theme of the TV show and is a great all-in-one game to boot.

The X-Files is recommended for ages 12 and older and plays in about 90 minutes.

Cthulhu Realms, from Tasty Minstrel Games, is another deck builder, although it is a bit lighter. Here, two to four players can purchase cards out of a lineup, making their decks stronger, but players can also use their cards to attack other players, knocking their sanity down. Each player begins with 50 sanity points that they can keep track of on a sideboard. If ever a player gets knocked down to zero sanity points, they are out of the game. Players can also use various symbols on their cards to make fun and interesting combinations. The last player left standing wins the game. Based on H.P. Lovecraft's horror stories from the 1920s and ’30s, this game boasts fun and creepy cartoonish artwork and doesn't take itself too seriously.

Cthulhu Realms is recommended for ages 14 and up and takes about 20-45 minutes to play.

At first look, Dead of Winter, from Plaid Hat Games, appears to be just another zombie board game, but there's a lot more going on here. Two to five players become members of “The Colony,” the last bastion of survivors after a zombie apocalypse. The survivors must leave “The Colony,” however, to collect supplies in various locations around town where they are vulnerable to a zombie attack. What's worse, one of the players is a traitor who wants “The Colony” to fail. Since every player has his or her own private objectives needed to win, no one knows who the traitor is. Additionally, the crossroads game system means that whenever certain conditions appear on the board, a special story is read and a choice has to be made, making for a wonderful narrative game experience.

Dead of Winter is recommended for ages 14 and up, though there are instructions to remove some cards which contain more adult themes from the game. It plays in about 1-4 hours, depending upon the scenario.

Cthulhu Wars, from Sandy Peterson Games, is also based upon the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft. In this game, two to four players take on the roles of Lovecraftian monsters after they have taken over the Earth and begun warring amongst themselves. Players must not only defeat other players in dice-driven combat but also meet their own unique objectives, which force conflict. With huge monster playing pieces and great gameplay, Cthulhu Wars is one of the most inventive and original light war games in years.

Cthulhu Wars is recommended for ages 12 and up and plays in about 90 minutes.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. An avid player of board games, he blogs at thediscriminatinggamer.com. Email: [email protected]