Classic horror premises, such as exploring a haunted house or running from an axe-wielding murder, can be surprisingly effective when translated into a board game. Perhaps because a horror story is almost always scarier when the audience has to directly interact with it.
Of course, sitting around a table with your friends (if you’re playing one of our 10 best co-op board games, for instance) is rarely the best way to get the willies, but a horror game doesn’t have to be scary to be good. If a horror game nails its theme - maybe it’s one of the best movie board games that don’t suck - and gets you invested, then there’s no better way to spend a dark and stormy night then preventing the awakening of an ancient god or battling undead hordes. At home. With the doors locked.
Best horror board games
Whether you’re a thrill-seeker looking for a night of shrieks and creaks, or just another tabletop enthusiast looking for recommendations, these board games will provide the chills and the challenge to keep you invested. So, prepare for your next fright-night by reading our summary of the top ten horror board games to play.
1. Eldritch Horror
Eldritch Horror sees its players travelling (almost) the entire globe in a desperate race against time. The ancient ones are awakening, and a team of brave investigators must use both brains and brawn to stop this Lovecraftian invasion before it’s too late. By facing a series of encounters and completing the required number of quests, you and your friends might just be able to win Eldritch Horror. But the sheer amount of tension induced by brutal mechanics like the doom clock and the mythos cards (which trigger terrible events) makes playing it nothing less than the most entertaining endurance test in tabletop history.
2. Betrayal Legacy
Betrayal at House on the Hill has long been a staple in tabletop horror, but its legacy version amplifies all its greatest strengths by 11. Legacy games are designed in the same vein as an RPG campaign, splitting the game into a series of episodes for players to tackle in sequential sessions, not unlike a series of The Haunting of Hill House. In this case, players are invited to create their own families, doomed to roam the haunted halls of the game’s titular house from generation to generation. Throwing lasting consequences into a game about doing horrible things to your friends makes playing Betrayal Legacy an equally excruciating and engaging affair – and one that stays with you long after its box is placed back on the shelf.
3. Mansions of Madness
For a more visceral and combat-heavy approach to the Cthulhu mythos, consider picking up a copy of Mansions of Madness. As with Fantasy Flight’s other Lovecraftian games, Players take on the roles of investigators standing against the threat of certain annihilation at the hands of uncaring gods. But unlike those games, Mansions of Madness makes space for a DM-like role, designed to help guide the other players through various familiar locations in and around Arkham. In the second edition, this was eventually phased out with the introduction of a nifty app, which would manage all the admin work in the player’s stead. Along the way, you can expect nail-biting encounters with all manner of cosmic abominations, before a final showdown with one of the several bosses included in the box.
Beloved abstract storytelling game Dixit gets given a suitably spooky makeover in Mysterium. A fantastic reworking of a system originally introduced in the game Tajemnicze Domostwo, Mysterium proposes a world where ghosts are real (wooo-ooo) and want to help you solve crimes. More specifically, their murder. In Mysterium, one player takes on the role of said ghost, whose methods of communication are limited to a deck of beautifully illustrated cards. With these cards, the ghost must lead the other players, or paranormal investigators, to the correct murder suspect before the night is out. Mysterium takes the initial concept of Dixit and applies a more defined ruleset and stronger theme to it, making for an arguably better game – or, at least, a more challenging one.
5. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
Mafia may be the original social deduction game, but this list’s theme is horror, so we have to talk about something spooky. And what could be scarier than making your friends and families disown you? One Night Ultimate Werewolf is like the classic social deduction game Werewolf (innocents must successfully identify the lycanthropes or lose) but, as the name suggests, takes place over a single evening (or round) instead of several. What this does is speed up the pace of the game considerably, allowing for players to take on multiple roles during a single session. This ensures that the game never gets stale, making it perfect for Halloween parties where you want to keep the ball rolling.
6. Arkham Horror: The Card Game
As you may have noticed, Cthulhu is a popular guy in the tabletop world now, so forgive us if it sounds like we’re beating the same drum. But Arkham Horror: The Card Game is unique amongst its eldritch peers for providing an ongoing series of campaigns, each one designed to be played with a deck of cards. These decks represent each of the game’s investigators, with the cards inside containing the various skills and tools unique to each one. As players encounter scenario after scenario, each more horrifying than the last, these cards become the only thing between survival and permanent death. Arkham Horror is a living card game, which means that unlike a collectable card game (e.g. Magic: The Gathering) deck expansions are not random. This results in Arkham Horror providing a more linear experience than its RPG sibling, Call of Cthulhu, whilst still giving players the freedom to craft a surprisingly deep narrative experience.
7. Zombicide: Black Plague
Playing a game of Zombicide is one satisfyingly bloody experience. This satisfaction is only increased by the inclusion of ancient medieval weaponry – which is one of the reasons why we’re recommending Black Plague over the original Zombicide, the other being the subtle tweaks made to the game’s ruleset in this newer version. In Black Plague, players embody a ragtag group of survivors who are tasked with beating back the ever-growing hordes of undead, and hunting the pesky necromancers responsible. The game may be simple in design (there’s a lot of zombie-slaying combat), but it offers a huge amount of depth in terms of playable characters and mission selection.
8. Dead Man’s Cabal
But what if you wanted the dead to rise? What if… you were one of those pesky necromancers? Dead Man’s Cabal allows you to live that dream by putting you in the moth-eaten shoes of a dark mage whose social life is entirely dead. In Dead Man’s Cabal, players must compete to have the largest gathering of rotting partygoers rise from the grave. This is achieved by cunningly negotiating the game’s unique action queuing system, selecting one action for yourself and another action for the whole group. This refreshing approach to strategy, as well as the game’s darkly comedic tone, is why Dead Man’s Cabal is definitely worth digging up.
Easily the weirdest game on this list, Nyctophobia is a co-operative horror experience unlike any other. You just know you’re going to have fun with a game when blindfolds are involved, and Nyctophobia has a lot of them (or in this case, blackout glasses). In Nyctophobia, one player adopts the role of a bloodthirsty hunter, stalking the other players through a dark forest until the last victim dies – or the remaining survivors escape. Escape is achieved through careful communication between players, and a mental understanding of 3D shapes. The game board itself is a strange beast, with plastic panels representing the trees and little divots for players to poke their fingers into. It’s a game that’s designed for physical interaction, and yet provides a surprising amount of immersion considering how initially ridiculous it might feel to play.
10. Escape the Dark Castle
Do you want an equally immersive experience without the gimmickry of blindfolds? Escape the Dark Castle could be the answer to your demonic prayers. It’s a joyfully simple game inspired by choose-your-own-adventure books, with players taking turns to encounter a gruesomely illustrated event or monster, before selecting one of several possible solutions (such as a) run away screaming or b) run away screaming in the other direction). What elevates this basic concept is how much the game encourages you to enjoy playing. Yes, you will read that card in a spooky voice, and your friends will love it. It’s also an incredibly accessible horror game, with a simple ruleset and relatively quick playtime.
If you’re in the mood for more horror, then our look at the spooky social deduction game; Blood on the Clocktower, should quench your thirst for the gross and gruesome.