Sunday, October 13, 2013

Horror Games for Halloween

by Becky Topol

‘Tis the season once again! That’s right, Halloween is upon us. Sure, the actual day isn’t for a few weeks yet, but the spirit of Halloween extends all month as far as I’m concerned. The signs are starting to crop up everywhere: ghosties and ghoulies are suddenly crucial to interior design; you can get ANYTHING in a pumpkin flavor; and the year’s most fantastical fashions are hitting the shelves. With the trappings of the year’s best holiday beginning to infuse every facet of life, it seemed like the perfect time to talk about some of our favorite scary games. My personal favorite in the Spooky Stuff genre is Betrayal at House on the Hill. Often described as the movie Cabin in the Woods in board game form, Betrayal begins with each player deciding which pre-made character to play as, based on their ratings in various traits that may help them survive. Players then set out on an adventure to explore an extremely weird and creepy haunted house. This house builds itself from random face-down tiles as you explore it, so the house is never going to be the same twice. Each room may reveal creepy omens of doom to come, or useful (and also creepy) items which can help or harm you along the way. Eventually, based on a dice roll and the number of omens that you’ve found, the Haunt begins.
This is when things get really good. At the beginning of the Haunt, it is revealed that one of your fellow
explorers is a traitor in league with the forces of evil and out for blood. Depending on where, when, and how the Haunt is revealed, you will be assigned one of 50 unique scenarios. The traitor may become a flesh-eating blob monster driven to consume all who cross its path, or die and be replaced by a zombie lord at the head of a growing army, or be possessed by a demon and try to collapse the whole house down a portal into Hell. The traitor and heroes each have their own secret rule book and win condition, suddenly changing the game from a fairly cooperative game of exploration to a one-against-many struggle for survival. It's the kind of game where you can win by having your pet dog drop an accursed book down a bottomless chasm or lose because someone loaded an elevator full of fire bats and opened the door right in front of you. Betrayal at House on the Hill puts you in the quintessential horror situation and really makes you feel like it's a matter of life and death.
Judy's favorite scary game is an RPG: Call of Cthulhu. The game is based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, American master of horror writing whose prolific mythos made him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Most famously, he is the creator of Cthulhu - one of the ancient Elder Gods who live beyond the stars and will one day come back to reclaim the earth and suck the sanity out of its inhabitants. Packed full of horrifying monsters and dark secrets, Lovecraft's world makes the perfect setting for role playing if you're brave enough to take it on. It's an easy game to pick up as it is based on a skill system that uses only two dice. The game's
Basic Role Play engine doesn't have many restrictive rules, so a skilled Game Master with a good understanding of Lovecraft's lore and mythos is free to spin a truly creepy and creative tale. Players often take the role of investigators tempted by a glimpse of the dark, horrifying secrets that exist just below the surface of society. Since the Elder Gods are ageless, there are game settings available from the ancient Rome, to the Victorian Era, to the 1920s in America, and everything in between. Each published setting provides copious detail about the era, allowing players and Game Masters to build complex and detailed scenarios. As characters follow clues, they are often faced with horrifying and dangerous scenarios that are more than the human mind is meant to bear. As such, your Sanity stat is a precious commodity and will be threatened by everything from simple scenes of human gore to the horrifying true forms of inter-dimensional monsters too hideous and powerful to withstand. This is a horror game. You will die a lot. You will go insane. It will be great. If you're getting friends together and want to celebrate Halloween, you can do so much more than just watch a scary movie. Horror games like these present wonderful opportunities to interact with your friends and have a fun, creepy time. And there are tons of other great horror-themed games you can try! Dungeon-crawlers rife with deadly monsters, games where you can sic zombies on your friends or work together to fight your way through the horde, cooperative games with ghosts rising from the underworld to reclaim their bodies, and the infinitely variable world of role playing are all fun, creative ways to bring the spirit of Halloween horror to your gaming table. And if you're interested in trying some spooky games, come join us on October 26 for our annual scary game festival, A Taste of Horror. Check out our event page for more details!

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