Whoa, I guess I forgot to post to this blog for a month? It’s suddenly October and lots… hasn’t changed. I’m still in quarantine with the family, still obsessed with horror, still plodding along and hoping that our nation/planet doesn’t completely collapse in the next few months. That said, the season has now aligned with my evolving sense of continual dread, and I might as well share that with whomever reads this.
So, this will be the first of several posts this month where I will talk about seasonal things of various kinds. Typically media-oriented, sometimes not, but all spooky/autumnal/horror-ish as that’s what I’m thinking about, like, all the time these days. I’m taking a major cue from Laura Hall’s wonderful 31 Days of Halloween newsletter — this is the sixth year she’s been sending off a seasonal email every day for the 31 days of October. I highly recommend it! Laura’s got great taste and an infectious attitude toward the creepy season, posting pictures, links, and (lately) online Halloweeny events to attend.
So, here’s my pale imitation in my own fashion… I’ll start off talking a bit about games, as, well, games have been on my mind. (When aren’t they?)
I think I mentioned a few posts ago that I’ve recently been obsessed with Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and have in recent weeks blinged out my Arkham game in some fun ways. I’ll have more to say about that, especially since the most recent big box expansion just arrived yesterday: The Innsmouth Conspiracy.
But rather than let this first spooky post be (s)hogg(oth)ed by that one game, I think I’ll start off discussing a variety of things I’ve been playing with the family.
We just received Horrified in the mail yesterday and have already played it a couple of times. I’m a bit surprised to say that it’s already become one of my favorite recent board games! Horrified is a completely collaborative board game themed around players stopping up to six different monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein(‘s monster)/the Bride of Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. In other words, the classic Universal Monsters. I’m honestly surprised there haven’t been any other games (that I know of?) that have focused on these iconic horror movies, but I’m glad this one exists.
Horrified was designed by Prospero Hall, a Seattle-based studio who seems to employ a shockingly large number of people and whose design resume seems to be almost entirely media tie-in games with high production values. This game is no exception, clearly, and it wears its inspirations on its sleeve: It feels a bit like a simplified Pandemic mixed with, well, Arkham Horror. And that’s a good thing! It’s got monsters that inexorably hound you and will eventually kill you and/or the random villagers that spawn in the town. Unless, of course, you (playing the nameless Archaeologist, Scientist, Professor, Courier, etc.) team up, collecting weapons and bit characters from the classic Universal Monsters movies, and advance the tasks needed to get rid of them.
The way each monster is dispatched is something I absolutely love about this game. Each monster has its own little minigame you have to complete in order to beat them — each is unique, and uses unique mechanics. The Creature from the Black Lagoon’s is a bit like Candy Land, but in a good way: You expend resources of specific colors to move yourself on a little track toward the Creature’s lair. Dracula requires you to find and destroy (using only red resources) each of his coffins, dispersed across the board, before you can take him on. Wolf Man’s, shown below, makes you expend resources to find a cure for his lycanthropy before you can defeat him. It’s clever and I can see it making each matchup of two or three or four monsters really fresh and fun.
My son and I played the demo matchup (two players versus Dracula and the Creature from the Black Lagoon) and it was pretty fun! Not too difficult on this setting, but still hard to complete completely unscathed. Horrified is just a charming little game — it’s, again, lighter than Pandemic and Arkham Horror: The Card Game by a long shot, but its love for the source material and refined, and its simplified mechanics are really nicely done. It’s a rarity: A thematic, media tie-in board game that I actually enjoy, and I anticipate we’re going to play it every Halloween from here on out (and perhaps more often in the short term, since quarantine appears to be never-ending).
A quick aside: I suspect we are the target audience for Horrified, as we are also fans of these original movies. Every Halloween, we dig out this beautiful Blu-Ray set I picked up a decade ago or so.
Horrified has some great connections to these movies, including a number of secondary characters from them as the villagers, and a bunch of the objects. Prospero Hall seems to have a lot of affection for the Universal Monsters, and included a lot of cute touches, including this amazingly cute bit printed on the back of the game board, which is the first thing you see when you open the box.
This is, of course, the cold open for Frankenstein, which you can see here:
And, incidentally, this is how Mark Gatiss opened his (generally excellent!) first episode of A History of Horror, a documentary series from the early 2010s about a, well, history of horror. The first episode focuses a great deal on the Universal Monsters, while subsequent episodes and the sequel Horror Europa focus on Hammer, 1970s American horror, and the rise of European horror. It’s worth a look, if you haven’t seen it before.
I would love to see Gatiss revive this series someday, focusing perhaps on Japanese and Korean horror, as well as whatever people are calling the movement of recent directors like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster. (Edit: I guess people are calling this “elevated horror?” Okay.)
Anyway, back to games: We’ve also been playing a lot of Ghooost! — yep, three Os. It’s a game by Richard Garfield, the brilliant designer of Magic the Gathering, King of Tokyo, the original Netrunner, RoboRally, KeyForge, Artifact, etc. This game ain’t as brilliant or as strategic as any of those other games, but it’s a fun enough way to pass the time. I picked this up years ago, when our oldest was still a baby and I was obsessed with finding out what other more obscure games Garfield had made. Hadn’t really played it until recently, and it’s… not terrible?
Basically, it’s a themely Uno with some special cards and twists, as well as clever naming of piles of cards that should be familiar to anyone who’s played Garfield’s card games. Though it took a few reads of the poorly written instructions to figure it out, it’s pretty simple: You have to put a card number higher than what was just played in the Graveyard, or you can take all the cards in the Graveyard, or take your chances that the top card of the Crypt is going to be a valid card to play. You play cards to the “graveyard” (a location on the fold-out box; a nice touch), draw cards from the “crypt” (a open-gravey looking card holder in the box) and then banish cards to the “discard.” Your goal is to get rid of all of your cards, plus all of the cards in your “mansion,” a reserved deck of cards that serves as a clock to end each round.
Each round is supposed to take only 20 minutes or so per round, but perhaps because I’m primarily playing with an almost-seven-year-old, they’ve taken a lot longer. That’s okay, the kids love it — it’s a game where an almost-seven-year-old and a four-year-old can easily figure out their way, as it’s, well, still basically Uno, and they just need to know what number is great than another. It’s a fun filler game for our family, and beyond how easy it is to pick up, it’s got cute spooky art, plus the kids love the idea that the box becomes the board you play in.
I’ve also been itching to dig out some old horror videogames that I haven’t played for various reasons. Perhaps because of my recent revisitation of Lovecraft, I’ve been drawn to finally check out Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. I’ll be honest — I bought this an egregiously long time ago. I think it was, along with the first Animal Crossing and Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, one of the very first three console videogames I ever bought, way back in the autumn of 2002, though I didn’t play this very far in. (I can’t think of a better three games to encapsulate my early taste in games, either).
During quarantine, we converted a space at the bottom of one of our stairs into both a “play zone” for the kids initially and now it’s also become our eldest’s virtual classroom during the week. But it’s still full of my old games spanning the last two decades, and we just got a little cart to put a projector on, along with the old GameCubes, PS2s, Wiis, and N64. In the process, I found not just Eternal Darkness but the Prima guide I’d picked up from a Half-Price Books in the late 2000s — so, I really have no excuse to not play this, do I?
If you’re unfamiliar, this was the cosmic horror game for the GameCube. Many loved Resident Evil, sure, but this was a generation-spanning, cult-featuring, sanity-tweaking game that attempted to mess with the player in novel ways. Instead of simply mimicking Call of Cthulhu and other games explicitly adapting Lovecraft —where you’d have a decreasing amount of “sanity” level akin to health, mana, or some other simple metric — this game would also genuinely try to mess with the player, breaking the fourth wall. It would tell you that your save file was corrupt when it wasn’t, it might flash “VIDEO 1” repeatedly on the screen, making you wonder if your TV or remote was broken.
I’ll be playing on an old thrifted projector, so that last bit won’t be very effective for me, but I’m looking forward to finally digging into this game this month. And, perhaps, again on the Switch sometime soon, if Nintendo filing a new trademark this summer means what I hope it means.
Finally, speaking of Nintendo, it’s also time for a new update to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ll be honest that we haven’t played the game much in the past few months, having binged enough of it for a while back in April. But the opportunity to grow pumpkins, get new Halloween-themed costumes, and to give candy to island residents? Yeah, we’re down with that.
As you can see in this perhaps-too-dark picture here (also now the header image for this site), I hopped on this morning and redecorated one of my rooms in as spooky of a fashion as I could manage with what I already had. I look forward to further spookifying over the next few weeks with whatever comes my way. I have, sadly, partially dismantled my Victorian/Sherlock Holmes room to make this sparse little creepyhole, but sacrifices had to be made. Someday, I’ll write a longer post on how my summer obsession with Sherlock Holmes led me to spookier territory.
Oh, and one final, final thing: I couldn’t resist trying my best to bring John Carpenter into the lovely world of Animal Crossing. If you were playing Animal Crossing and trying to make it seasonal, what melody would you pick for your town theme?
I mean, can’t you just imagine this guy shopping at Able Sisters?
That’s all for now. More soon — probably in just a few days, when I’ll regale you with stories of how much I just want to watch Vincent Price movies.
Stay spooky, my friends.