24 January 2024
Dark nights bring in the Monsters, but we've got the tabletop games to help you take the fight to them...
Words by Matthew Vernall.
One of my favourite evolutions of the Pandemic-style ‘work together to share resources and save the world’ games, Horrified tasks your table with overcoming various monsters of film and folklore, scouring the board for various items or going to specific sites to fight the fearsome foes. Both the original Universal Monsters (my personal favourite) and the sequel American Monsters (ideal for fans of Mothman and other fun Cryptids) feature a roster of unique villains that each require their own slightly varied approach to overcome. With plenty of replay value through mix and matching monsters, it’s a cool co-op series full of creepy creatures.
Probably one of the most important movie monsters in history, the board game version of Jaws captures the same thrilling suspense that climaxes in an all-out man-versus-shark showdown, as one player controls the titular terror of the deep, swimming around Amity Island scoffing on swimmers in secret, as the other players try to deduce where Jaws is in order to then battle the shark to the death. It’s a literal game of two halves, with the cat-and-mouse first half giving both players the thrill of the hunt, followed by a dramatic finale of shark-shooting and crew-crunching. Silly but satisfying, play with the soundtrack for the best experience.
A more recent take on the “monster versus hunters” premise, one player will decide to control one of several beasties that’s been preying on sheep and settlers for too long. This game also features hidden movements, as well as clever communal card draft mechanic, where both man and beast will choose from the same selection of cards but be able to use them differently, adding an extra layer of decision making. Whilst the Beast might have a hard time overcoming the others (though the moments they do snack on a hunter are especially thrilling), it’s still fun to feast on fantasy folk and fauna.
Betrayal at the House on the Hill
Probably the ultimate haunted house board game that’s perfect when no-one can decide who has to play the bad guy. Betrayal has you slowly exploring a spooky mansion of indeterminate size, as you search the upper and lower floors looking for loot. Whenever anyone uncovers a special omen item, there’s a chance that it will trigger the haunt, whereupon one player will suddenly become the villain in one of 50 different spooky scenarios. It’s a great game for fans of schlocky horror films as well as folks who love to revel in chaos, as you never know when friend will become foe.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
The best social game for hunting bad beasties, traditional Werewolf works well for a full evening’s entertainment, with its slow player elimination and rising tension, but for folks looking for a faster experience the One Night series captures everything that makes the hidden role “who’s on which side” comedy of errors so fun in a fraction of the time. Everyone is trying to work out who amongst you is a furry fiend after a night of mischief (which can even cause your role to change) as you eventually vote on who to eliminate after a flurry of lies, betrayal and hilarity in less than 10 minutes. Great for back-to-back replays and murdering monsters.
Dark Souls: The Board Game
For those who love their miniatures games but don’t have the time to commit to a full campaign like Kingdom Death: Monster, this venerated video game adaptation of fighting impossible odds where you’ll die, die and die again in the hopes of slaying the fearsome foes you face is fantastic for an evening of grim adventure. Steamforged Games have been working hard on many monster hunting miniatures games (including Bloodborne and, naturally, Monster Hunter World) that all deliver a slightly different monster slaying experience, but for my opinion Dark Souls is a little more immediately engaging with its tactical positioning and dramatic dice rolling, as well as dripping in grungy atmosphere that’s perfect for the season.
The Witcher: Old World
A more recent adaptation of a beloved fantasy series that’s seen its fair share of books, games and television episodes. The Witcher: Old World is the latest (and most well received) tabletop attempt to adapt these works, as players race to be the first to accrue enough trophies from gaining renown, solving disputes but, mostly, from slaying monsters. Players slowly develop their own monster-killing deck and array of equipment to outwit any opponent in this almost sandbox-like experience. An ideal game for both fans of the series and players looking for an engaging game that mixes deck-building and adventuring with monster mashing.
We couldn’t have a list of monster hunting games without at least one set in the Cthulhu mythos. Eldritch Horror sees players travelling across the globe in a desperate attempt to stop the Old Ones from emerging. Each turn players will head off on mini adventures, fighting creatures, procuring artifacts and a variety of other occult-related activities that risk injuring their body and mind. No matter how hard players work to stamp out these threats, another monster will emerge or cult will form that makes winning feel impossible. Great for an evening of working together against a seemingly undefeatable foe, making success so much sweeter when eventually accomplished.
Monster of the Week
For fans of TV shows like Buffy and Supernatural who want to tell their own tales in a similar mould, Monster of the Week uses the ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ RPG system (roll two D6 and hope to score high or your successes will come with a cost) to let players chain together their own series of slaying stories, as each session/episode sees you face another foe designed in such a way that the narrative need never end, until your playgroup decides they want to arrange a spectacular send-off finale. Great for newer players to RPGs as the ‘pick up when you want’ vibe makes it great for one-off campaigns or irregular play sessions.
We all know that the real monster is man, especially those men who decided that genocide against various indigenous groups was a perfectly normal thing to do. Spirit Island lets you take the role of what creeps in the wildlands to fend off the heartless invaders, as you co-operatively create a combination of primal card powers and slowly spread your influence across the board. Each spirit has its own strengths and weaknesses which only through working together can you protect your land and its original inhabitants, sending the seemingly endless hordes of plastic miniatures back to whence they came. Or into the belly of a hungry leopard. Both work just as well.
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