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Who’s the top horror movie monster? This rowdy mix of Cabin in the Woods and Betrayal at House on the Hill lets you decide


Image credit: Level 99 Games (preview, subject to change)

Alien vs Predator. Freddy vs Jason. Dracula vs Frankenstein. Almost as long as horror movie monsters have been gracing our screens, the battle to decide which monster is the spookiest, scariest or downright deadliest has been hotly contested. In upcoming board game Spooktacular, it falls on you and your fellow players to become the beasties, bursting out of the screen and into the cinema itself to terrify and gobble up humans to prove you’re the meanest monster on the silver screen.

Spooktacular is the next game from Level 99 Games, the studio behind the likes of the hard-hitting Guilty Gear Strive board game, the tabletop adaptation of horror video game Dead by Daylight and exceptional puzzler series Bullet. The publisher’s developer Marco De Santos and marketing lead Crystal Tsui joined me and Alex from the Dicebreaker team to run us through a digital demo of Spooktacular on Tabletop Simulator last week ahead of its reveal.

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De Santos compared Spooktacular to the all-out monster mash at the end of Drew Goddard’s lovingly playful tribute to horror films, The Cabin in the Woods. Each player takes control of a different monster inspired by cinema classics - film buffs will spy nods to everything from The Blob and horror legend Vincent Price to Stephen King’s killer car Christine - captured in original movie posters spanning almost a century of cinema from around the world. (De Santos added that designer D. Brad Talton wrote synopses for each of the made-up movies, adding to the feel of thoughtful homage.)

Just as no two monsters scare in quite the same way, each of Spooktacular’s 20 movie monsters are unique in how they play. During our playthrough, I took control of Screamin’ Eagle, a monstrous American football mascot carrying a decapitated head under its arm like a pigskin. Alex, meanwhile, became the ‘80s-styled Doombox, armed with a deadly set of speakers. De Santos and Tsui faced us as an evil killer car called, uh, Killer Car and gunslinging cowboy Outlander.

Spooktacular's 20 monsters pay homage to classic movie monsters, such as Stephen King's killer car Christine. | Image credit: Level 99 Games (preview, subject to change)

The monsters’ asymmetrical gameplay comes through their differing decks of cards, made up of both generic actions and a set of abilities only that monster can use. Each monster’s player board adds extra variety between them, mixing up the order in which they perform the basic parts of a turn - moving, drawing cards and playing cards - and introducing unique minigame-like rules.

Spooktacular has a party game-like feel - the ideal kind of thing to play on Halloween during a break in your movie marathon.

The differing strategies and powers, without piling on the complex rules of an asymmetric game like Root, brought to mind the fast and loose chaos of horror toybox Betrayal at House on the Hill, with the group’s selection of monsters shaking up the way that every turn can play out. Though the rowdy, player-on-player interaction won’t be for everyone, the lighthearted theme and breezy ruleset keep things moving at a fast enough clip that Spooktacular has a party game-like feel - the ideal kind of thing to play on Halloween during an hour’s break in your movie marathon.

The players' monsters must scare guests around the cinema and even devour them to score points. | Image credit: Level 99 Games (preview, subject to change)

Though each monster may go about it in a different way, their aim is ultimately the same: earn the most points by scaring or devouring the helpless guests fleeing between the rooms of the cinema building on the game’s main board. Spooking guests out of your monster’s room - something that put me in mind of Pixar gem Monsters Inc, albeit with schlocky B-movie monsters - earns points for each guest that can go through a different doorway, while guzzling them down with a devour action works towards completing a set of guest pawns in five different colours, which earns you a cinema ticket with a random points bonus for the end of the game.

On top of the basic moves, each monster gains their own extra methods of racking up points and messing with their rival creatures. My Screamin’ Eagle added an extra set of guests to the map that only I could devour - counting as wild guests of any colour for sets - while Alex’s Doombox skipped through the tracks of different playlists as she munched guests, activating bonus effects and Tsui’s Wild West Outlander gained additional actions based on the colour of guests swallowed, some of which also saw her lose points. The full roster of monsters range from beginner-level abilities to adding more complex rules, inviting ways of letting newcomers and more experienced players compete against each other while catering the game towards the way they like to play.

Spooktacular will crowdfund this summer ahead of a release in 2025. | Image credit: Level 99 Games (preview, subject to change)

Though each player starts out being only able to play one card on their turn by default, the card you play and your monster’s unique powers provide the chance to string actions into pleasing combos. Certain cards require you to follow them up with a second card - whether you want to or not - while your monster’s unique turn order presents the chance to carefully plot out the most effective turn for moving between rooms, spooking guests, devouring others and then disrupting your opponents’ plans. Those who’ve played Level 99’s other games will see glimpses of them here - Bullet’s pleasing puzzle-like manipulation of pieces as you shuffle guests around, Guilty Gear’s single-action turns that extend out into impressive strings of abilities and the top-down horror hunt of Dead by Daylight. Those who are totally new will be able to jump in just as easily, though - Spooktacular very much aims towards the easygoing end of board gaming.

Those who relish in the joy of watching their best-laid strategies fall apart and the satisfaction of screwing over their friends will find a lot to love.

Even over Tabletop Simulator, I had a real blast with Spooktacular, quickly getting to grasps with the basics of how to play before enjoying the sense of working out how to best use my monster’s unique abilities for maximum spooking and devouring. The ease with which you can push your fellow monsters around - shoving them between rooms, shooing valuable guests away from them, hoovering up those left behind - means that it’s highly competitive and often chaotic, but in that way that feels entertaining and equally fair-unfair for everyone on the board. This isn’t a game about planning two or three turns in advance; it’s a game about reacting in the moment to your opponents’ moves, often throwing a wrench in their own plans at the same time. Those who relish in the joy of watching their best-laid strategies fall apart and the satisfaction of screwing over their friends will find a lot to love - and keeping you on the edge of your seat only feels right for a game steeped in a love of the cinema.

Every monster has a unique set of abilities and rules to keep things varied. | Image credit: Level 99 Games (preview, subject to change)

Spooktacular is due to launch a Kickstarter this autumn, ahead of a planned release next year. The physical game will include unique screen-printed meeples for each monster - even as Tabletop Simulator pieces they captured the playful sense of the game - with an official lo-fi soundtrack remixing fictional horror themes to go along with the atmospheric feel. De Santos added that while future expansions could introduce additional monsters to the fray, all of the monsters developed by the team so far were included in the box.

As someone who loves the ghost-train rollercoaster feel of Betrayal at House on the Hill’s just-about-on-the-rails gameplay and is a sucker for loving pastiche of classic movies, Spooktacular struck the perfect balance of thoughtful tribute and careening party game. I’m not sure you’re meant to laugh quite so much during a horror movie, but it’s hard not to smile when you’re having this much fun.

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