As flames lick our shadows under the dark void of the night sky, we share stories that straddle the thin line between terror and joy. Little compares to the disturbing tradition of the campfire ghost story. Film, art and music have all captured this ritual in their own unique way. Yet board games offer a shared narrative experience that can be awe-inspiring. These tabletop designs physically connect you to their gruesome settings and provide a tactile path to the carnage that ensues.
Nyctophobia Pandasaurus Games is one of the weirdest tabletop games ever created. In this survival experience, four players work together to escape a dark forest while chasing a bloodthirsty killer. The scary twist is that players who are being hunted must wear sunglasses with opaque lenses, blocking their vision. These are his characters wandering in the dark, unable to find their way. Participants must feel their way around the maze forest, relying on the sense of touch to navigate their turns and try to find their lost car.
Meanwhile, the hunter runs the game, whispering in the players’ ears and basking in the thick fog of confusion that spreads across the table, immersed in the role of psychopath. They are responsible for moving their own piece, getting close to the survivors and trying to trap them in the maze.
The result is a tabletop experience that is completely unique. It occupies a space between traditional board games and serious performance art. Although unsettling and at times confusing due to the nature of limiting your vision and accidentally falling into pieces while feeling your way around the board, this is a match no one will soon forget. It is a very boring affair for those who are being hunted, because it is difficult to work under such intense stress for 45 minutes. This makes the game a once-a-year spectacle that promises to leave its mark on those who try.
Psycho Riders A horror simulation experience. This means it eschews the traditional sense of balance for one-sided asymmetric conflict. The setup is familiar. It’s 1978, and four friends find themselves alone on a quiet street in the middle of nowhere. Then all hell breaks loose as a black van comes up the hill. The chase begins in the middle of the game, with hunters fighting for their lives as the hunter comes barreling through the brush.
As a board game, the mechanics are heavily rooted in old-school hex and counter wargames. It’s a terribly simulative affair, heavily devoted to random chance as you refer to weather, events and charts for brutal conflict. Those playing as teenagers have little chance, relying on simple stealth mechanics and weak counterattacks as they try to reach the very edge of the map. Raiders, on the other hand, seem overwhelming and fearsome, tearing their victims apart with various tools if they can catch them.
Everything is lo-fi, the game itself is bundled in magazine format, and you need to cut the cards by hand. But there’s a malevolent indie feel, and you half-expect some officer to come out the door to confiscate the stuff.
This zine design was created by the mystical publication Emperors of Eternal Evil. It has released several oddball titles featuring underground heavy metal motifs, but Psycho Riders It was the debut title in his Horror Folio line. It’s a very strong and singular tabletop game and is worth coming back to as a terrific experience.
The Fury of Dracula
The Fury of Dracula The most mainstream and established horror title on this list. This is one of the most prolific hidden-movement board games, in which a participant takes on the role of Dracula as they sneak around Europe and try to evade a group of hunters. The rest of the table tries to pin down the undead terror, slowly gathering his trail and eventually cornering him.
It can be a very thoughtful experience. Dracula moves around using the cards, hiding their location from the rest of the group. They set traps in their place, like ferocious wolves or vampires. Hunters destroy these lesser threats before finally gathering supplies and preparing themselves for the final battle.
It’s a tense experience as the chase nears its conclusion. The setting and themes explored are evocative and rich, with an exceptional hidden movement system that transfers the frustration of the hunt directly to the players. It’s remarkable how accurately it captures the feel of the cat-and-mouse chase from Bram Stoker’s classic story.