Hello, readers of the Fandomentals. Time for yet another trip down the memory lane with yours truly. This time, we’ll reminisce about the Heroes of Might & Magic series, which sadly looks to have been run into the ground by Ubisoft. But before we get to that depressing episode, let’s go all the way back to deep nineties…
Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest
The first game in the series, but not the first one I’ve played. Let’s stick to the actual chronology, rather than my own, though. The first Heroes game was, as I understand it, something of an indirect sequel to the even older King’s Bounty game. I can’t say much about it, though, sadly, having never played it.
But from what I know, many elements of this ancient game made their way into Heroes. For one thing, the four factions, each with their own hero – Knights, Barbarians, Sorceresses and Warlocks. These are the eponymous heroes if might and magic. Might for the former two and magic for the latter, obviously.
Each faction has its own town, with six units going from weakest to strongest. Knights go from useless peasants through archers, pikemen, swordsmen, cavalry and paladins. Barbarians have goblins, orcs, wolves, ogres, trolls and cyclopes. Sorceresses use pixies, dwarves, elves, druids, unicorns and phoenixes. Warlocks field centaurs, gargoyles, griffins, minotaurs, hydras and dragons.
Of course, you’re hardly stuck with the faction you pick at the start. As you expand, you’ll conquer other cities and you’re free to use their units. However, units do get morale bonuses when their whole army consists of the same faction. Mixing more than two conversely results in morale penalties.
Factions aside, individual heroes play a central role. They lead armies, and you can’t field units without a hero. They gather experience and gain levels, which increases their attack, defence, spell power and knowledge attributes. The former two enhance the units under their command, while the latter two enhance spellcasting. The four classes have different affinities, but even might heroes will learn some magic to support their troops. To gain spells, you must build a mages’ guild in your towns, which contains a random set of them.
However, heroes do not take part in the battle. They cast spells and enhance their troops, but don’t fight. Once all the hero’s units die, they disappear. Sometimes they’ll resurface in a town where their former faction or another one can hire them. They can also flee, in which case their employer can rehire them immediately, or surrender, which costs money but retains their units and artifacts.
Heroes 1 set down what would become the core gameplay of the series. You expand from where you started, gathering resources and conquering new towns to build up your forces. Unlike in some other games, there’s no way to build more towns on your own. Resources consist of gold, ore, wood, sulfur, gems, crystals and mercury.
Unfortunately, the balance of play wasn’t so great. The knight faction was weak, while the warlocks dominated the game once they got their hands on dragons, their ultimate unit. The Knight’s peasant unit is, as I mentioned, worthless. It has the lowest stats possible and mostly wastes space in an army. It’s apparently a callback to King’s Bounty.
The plot of the game was fairly rudimentary. Four leaders, one for each faction, vied for power over the land. It’s all pretty simple, but it kicked off a massive series of games. Let’s see where it led to…
Heroes of Might and Magic 2: The Succession Wars
The first game of the series I played… one of the first games for me, period. It’s a very direct sequel, with four of the factions being implemented more or less directly and two new ones appearing. Those would be wizards and necromancers. The first faction has halflings, boars, golems, rocs, mages and giants. The second uses skeletons, zombies, mummies, vampires, liches and bone dragons.
The other four remain unchanged, but enriched. The sequel introduces upgrading units – after building the original dwelling we can upgrade it to provide us with a better version. It doesn’t apply to every dwelling – the knights can upgrade all their units except peasants, but other factions have four or three upgrades.
You’d really think they’d have made peasants less completely worthless this time around, but I guess a running gag is a running gag.
Heroes 2 doesn’t really take away or change anything the first game had. It adds things. New factions and unit upgrades are one thing, but another one was skills. Heroes can learn them when they level up – they range from wisdom to learn spells to leadership that increases unit morale or pathfinding that helps you cross difficult terrain. Much like spells in mages’ guilds, they are random, but different hero types have different affinities.
The balance remains wobbly. Dragons still dominate, but they’re now in competition with titans. They’re the wizards’ strongest units, once you upgrade them from giants. They don’t fly, but they throw thunderbolts at range, rivalling dragons in sheer power. Generally, the player who gets their hands on one or both of those units will have a major advantage.
The graphical style of the second game is much smoother, more realistic and less cartoony than the first one. The campaign followed that of Heroes 1, where the leader of the knight faction won… somehow. He had two sons, one of whom tried to usurp the throne from the other.
Heroes of Might and Magic 3
And now for the crown jewel of the series. This is the iconic part, that people still hold up today as the best. And… well. Normally I scoff at people holding on to an older part of the series as the Holy Grail, but in case of Heroes 3 it’s hard to argue. The game just distills the experience of Heroes into a solid, ever-lasting package.
Heroes 3 brings about much more significant changes to the game. It doesn’t use the exact same factions, replacing them with eight new ones… but you can clearly see elements of the old ones anyway. The factions are good, evil or neutral, but much like in Heroes 2 it mostly matters in the campaign. Which takes place in the same setting as Heroes 3, but a different land.
The Castle faction is the successor of Knights. The Rampart resembles Sorceresses, while the Tower inherits some of the Wizards’ roster, but with new additions. The Inferno is a new addition, while the Necropolis resembles Necromancers and the Dungeon incorporates elements of the Warlock. The Stronghold has several of the Barbarians’ units while the swampy Fortress is likewise new.
Each faction has seven units, rather than six, and each of them has an upgrade. The towns also have many more buildings available, unique to each faction. All of it contributes to a much greater variety and complexity.
The Might/Magic split now applies to every faction, which has two kinds of heroes. The Castle has Knights and Clerics. The Tower Alchemists and Wizards. And so on. Some factions still skew towards one or the other – for instance, the Stronghold and Fortress factions only have three levels of magic guild, where other factions have four or five.
The Castle, I should mention, no longer suffers from the dead weight of the peasant. Its replacement, the pikeman, is among the toughest tier 1 units. The crown of the weakest unit goes to imps from Inferno, but even they have their uses in sufficient numbers, unlike peasants.
The balance is still not perfect, but better than it was. Interestingly, where in the first two games damage-dealing magic was potent, in Heroes 3 it fails to scale properly and can’t keep up with tougher units. There’s a lot to write about the finer points of the balance and competitive play, but that would take a while and I don’t feel competent to do that.
Now, the expansion packs… here is where things get a little hairy. The first one, Armageddon’s Blade, introduces quite a lot of content. Whether or not it’s good is a matter of debate, except when it’s not. There’s a bit of a story behind it, as well. The expansion was originally going to introduce a new faction, the Forge. It would have had a strong sci-fi vibe, bringing the game closer to the plot and lore of the Might & Magic RPG series, which had always had those elements.
But it was not to be, as the fans reacted poorly. Many Heroes players had little to no idea about the lore of the RPG series and for them, the sci-fi elements were an intrusion with no place in their game. I was one of those people. I was young and stupid back then, but honestly… even today I still don’t know if it would have been such a good idea. The series had always had a fairly tenuous connection to the RPGs, and suddenly giving us a full sci-fi faction, with blaster-wielding goblins and naga driving tanks was always going to be odd.
But, perhaps, preferable to what we eventually got. Which was Conflux, a city of elementals. Which means that four out of its seven units were already in the game, as neutral and summonable creatures.
The result was… clearly thrown together at the last minute, sloppy and imbalanced. Because the original elementals were close to each other in power, their versions in the new town were very strong at first (air elementals at tier 2, water at tier 3) but weak later (fire elementals at tier 4, earth at 5). I can’t really speak about the quality of the other creatures, but apparently their top unit, phoenixes, get the town banned in competitive play, so take that for what you will.
Armageddon’s Blade also had quite a few neutral units, including new species of dragons. Which were hideously powerful, with the strongest handily ousting black dragons and titans from their throne. Conversely, it brought back peasants, this time as nothing more than a joke.
The other expansion pack introduced no new factions or units. It centred around artifacts, introducing the concept of artifact sets – once you gathered them all, you could combine them into a single potent item.
Following those two, Heroes 3 saw a series of mini-expansions that were essentially campaign packs. It’s hard to see them as anything but cash-grabs, seeing as fans could and did create their own campaigns. It was perhaps a testament to the troubled fate of the developer in their last days.
Fans did much more than create campaigns, though. Heroes 3 boasts two entirely fan-made expansions. Wake of Gods is a major overhaul of the whole game, introducing a plethora of new features. Many of which radically change the game, so the expansion is very modular and allows us to pick and choose. Horn of the Abyss introduces a whole new faction, a pirate-themed one.
And thus ends the golden age of the series. It’s going to be a bumpy ride from here on out.
Heroes of Might and Magic 4
This one… well. It was controversial at the time. Very much so. Heroes 4 follows the plot of Heroes 3, where things finally come to a head and the two swords, Armageddon’s Blade and Sword of Frost clash… which prompts a cataclysm. Whoops.
As the entire world of Antagrich is destroyed, portals open to a new one, where many refugees from the dying planet end up.
But that’s the story. In terms of mechanics, Heroes 4 changed things up considerably. There’s six factions now – Haven, Perserve, Academy, Asylum, Necropolis and Stronghold. Each of them corresponds to a school of magic, respectively Life, Nature, Order, Chaos and Death. Then Stronghold is a Might faction, using no magic.
Moreover, heroes now take to the field as if they were units. In connection to that, they don’t need to be part of a stack. They can wander alone, and units can move without heroes. Needless to say, this is a major departure from the status quo.
Adding to that is a more elaborate skill system, with many skills allowing heroes to take a more hands-on approach. Heroes also gain new classes by combining different skills, with… mixed results. Training in combat skills also allows heroes to become hilariously lethal powerhouses, punching four dragons to death in one go.
As far as units go, a few things were different. They had more special powers and abilities, some of them even able to cast spells from a book, like heroes. Moreover, they can in four tiers, not seven. You had both of your town’s tier 1 units, but on the upper tiers, you had to pick. Building one dwelling locked out the other – though you could build it in another city if you wanted.
A severe overhaul to the mechanics aside, Heroes 4 lacked polish. It showed signs of a rush job, even in its graphics. Some units looked great; some were hideous. The mechanics were frequently janky; the battlefields weren’t as clear and easy to navigate as they used to be. Siege battles in particular were very poor. “Janky” generally describes the game; there’s many elements that just don’t seem to fit together entirely.
The expansions were somewhat unremarkable. They added new neutral creatures and campaigns. Which… I never played them much, but one of them involved a man by the name of Spazz Maticus. So I’m not sure what to think of them. It’s especially odd because the original campaigns have solid writing and characters. Gauldoth Half-Dead, in particular, serves as a solid example of a sympathetic necromancer.
I cannot condemn Heores 4 the way many others so. It has a lot going for it, even if it didn’t quite work in the end. Regardless, an era ended here and made way for a new one.
Heroes of Might and Magic 5
If Heroes 4 was controversial, this one wasn’t going to help. The series moved on to another publisher and development team and entirely abandoned all previous lore in favor of a new setting. It also moved into fully 3D graphics. To say that the players didn’t take to it well would be an understatement.
At the time, I hated it. Soooo much. It was an affront to everything Heroes stood for. Nowadays… I can see things more clearly. The graphical style remains goofy, but underneath is basically the Heroes 3 gameplay, with some refinements and possibly improvements. Heroes disappeared from the battlefield, but had their own initiative track and could attack enemies. That was unlike in Heroes 3 and before, where they could cast spells at any time during their units’ turns, but only once per a full round of initiative.
The graphics had their upsides and downsides. Some units looked good, some… well, gargoyles hit enemies with tablets and genies had hands larger than their heads, because they did not strictly speaking have the latter.
That being said, the new setting didn’t do the game any favors. Nor did the writing. The world is a generic fantasy setting, about as deep as a puddle and about as original as a coffee shop AU fanfiction. I won’t spend a lot of time talking about those.
What is worth noting is that Heroes 5 continued the trend towards a tighter aesthetic and deeper connection of setting/story and gameplay. The days of haphazard mix-and-match factions were over and they were more thematic now.
Which wasn’t so say they were radical departures from Heroes 3. Some towns followed their counterparts very closely. The Haven resembled the Castle. The Academy was even more similar to the Tower. The Inferno and Necropolis were more distinct from their Heroes 3 incarnations, but similarities remained. The two elven factions, Sylvan and Dungeon, were perhaps the most distant from the Rampart and Dungeon, but not entirely so.
The factions also had their unique skills, making them even more distinct. While in Heroes 4, magic skills were available to other factions, these were really specific. And… sometimes weird. The knights of Haven had the “Counterattack” skill, which let them retaliate to attacks against their units, but also let them train their human units into higher tiers.
Another example is the elven heroes’ ability to select favored enemies, which their units them strike more effectively against. But they can only pick one unit per level of the skill, and have to swap their picks in a city. Which means that the skill is at the mercy of happening to run into that one particular unit you’ve selected.
Other faction skills are better, to be fair. The Inferno’s Gating skill allows their heroes to summon extra units onto the field and feels like the best take on the concept. The Academy’s heroes can create mini-artifacts to enhance their units. The Dungeon’s warlocks can deal more damage with their units and spells by picking the right targets while the Necropolis’ Necromancers… well, they do what they do best.
Skills in general were more elaborate. They largely followed Heroes 3’s model, but apart from the basic tiers of skill proficiency, each of them had several secondary skills. Their availability was often dependent on factions and keyed off each other.
Heroes 5 saw two expansions. Hammers of Fate gives us the dwarven faction, which I found visually and thematically dull and never played much. Maybe I’m not fair to it. Their unique skill lets them cast special runic spells using resources, which was reportedly too strong at first.
The second expansion, Tribes of the East, is much more interesting. It introduces the orc faction, with the usual addition of goblins and cyclops, as well as some other creatures. Their special skill is Blood Rage, which lets them build up rage as the battle goes on, becoming stronger. Their heroes did not use spells – not even a little, like other Might Heroes did. They used warcries instead, which functioned in the same way but were unique to their faction.
Another major innovation were alternate upgrades. They resembled the tier choices of Heroes 4, but were not mutually exclusive. Once you upgraded a dwelling, you could recruit both versions. Unfortunately… the choices weren’t balanced. Many new upgrades were plain worse or better than the original ones.
Heroes 5 with Tribes of the East is a contender for the “ultimate” Heroes experience, along with Heroes 3. Not many would agree, I imagine, but to me it offers enough different ideas while retaining the core features of the series to stand shoulder to shoulder with Heroes 3. The setting is still paper-thin and the story is daft, but you can’t win ‘em all.
Might and Magic Heroes 6
Or, as some would tell it, the beginning of the series’ final decline. I wouldn’t put it so harshly, but it’s hard to deny the game is missing something. I really tried and wanted to like it, but couldn’t. While I am inclined to side with innovation over tradition… there’s always the inherent risk that innovation won’t work. And here it did not.
The first change I noticed and didn’t particularly like was boiling down all the “rare” resources to one – sulfur, crystals, gems and mercury became just crystals. One could make an argument that each faction in the past games had one rare resource it relied on the most… but you still needed others. And you might not use only one faction.
Which, incidentally, is another sign of encouraging you to stick to your starting faction, which has been going on since at least Heroes 5. To the point where you can spend resources to convert cities you conquer to your faction.
Resource-gathering has changed in another way. Namely, instead of flagging every mine, we control entire areas. While we still need to capture resource mines in it, an enemy cannot steal them from us while we control the area. It does reduce the frustration of a low-level hero riding around with a handful of units and snatching them from us, but… doesn’t that lose some of the series’ spirit?
Another major change is that much like Heroes 4, Heroes 6 flattens unit tiers. Each faction has three common troops, three elite units and one champion unit. This alters the dynamic significantly.
Acquiring skills is no longer random. Heroes simply gain a point each level that they spend on skills, spells or warcries. Yes, spells are no longer randomly given out by mages’ guilds. And Might heroes gain their own category of active skills. I do like the latter part, but the whole change once again feels like taking something away.
There’s many other, more subtle changes. For instance, troop conservation is much easier. While we obviously always want to lose as few troops as we can, Heroes 6 makes it possible and desirable not to lose any units in many battles. Healing is much more potent, and can bring back dead units without the need for a separate resurrection effect. There is also more units that can heal, including low-tier ones like the vestals from Haven. Who, incidentally, die like fruit flies the moment an enemy chooses to attack them.
Faction skills are still around and fairly prominent. Of note is Necromancy, which no longer raises undead units. It heals them, instead, making the Necropolis faction shockingly durable. Once again, something’s lost. But on the other hand, the traditional Necromancy skill was always too powerful.
All of this adds up to an image that is still Heroes, but different. I feel that while I can appreciate those changes from a more theoretical perspective, they really tried to make Heroes into something it isn’t. That’s ever the risk with such innovations and Heroes 6 paid the price.
Might and Magic Heroes 7
Here we come to the final chapter of the tale. I have not played it, but I followed the development. Some of the ideas looked interesting. They kept the flatter tiers of units, but brought back random skills. Unit abilities aren’t as elaborate as they used to be. It seems to be trying to bridge the developments of Heroes 6 with earlier games. A common preoccupation of developers after a previous game’s changes did not land.
Unfortunately, I never did get to play it, because by all accounts the game was a near-unplayable mess upon release. The multiplayer mode did not work at all. Patches were quick to follow, but we know how that goes. After one expansion, the development of the game folded quietly and nothing has followed.
Perhaps by now patches have rendered the game playable, so maybe I will try it someday. But, sadly, it looks like the series has ended with it. Another casualty of Ubisoft, or perhaps the blame doesn’t lie solely with them. But the old, venerable series is over, at least for the time being. Nonetheless, all the older games are still here. I hope I inspired you fine folk to try them out. They’re worth it, each and every one of them.
Images courtesy of UbiSoft
Overwatch in a nutshell
How do I talk about a game that should have been dead about a year ago, but is still going strong? If you didn’t get that, the game I am talking about is Overwatch. A game that is strictly online, which means no story mode to find out the lore behind this game. If you want to learn about the lore, then join the line buddy. Players have to wait months til another origin short comes out about their favorite hero, which makes sense if you want to keep an online game alive. Recently a new “hero” has been announced called Ashe, and we got a bunch of clues about who she is from a McCree short.
Even though Overwatch came out in 2016, they are still releasing new heroes. According to a video by Your Overwatch, there are 5 new heroes coming out within the next couple of months. Once a new hero comes out, there is a good week or so before they are available to play. That means you have little time to master this new hero before they are out in comp. If you didn’t notice the error in my previous sentence then I will repeat it: a hero that is made to counter certain heroes. Do I believe this statement? Of course not, because Overwatch is about skill and luck at the same time. You need enough skill to be able to counter your counters with any hero, but you also need luck in order to group with a team that also has enough skill to carry its own weight.
The lowest ELO I have gone down to is bronze in Overwatch competitive and that is the lowest you can go. I had the worst luck in getting grouped with players that didn’t use mics. Now using mics doesn’t automatically guarantee a win, but it increases the chances. It is better to try and formulate a plan to win against your enemy, than to try and blindly attempt to understand your teammates actions. So, if you do decide to play competitive mode, then please try to talk to your teammates.
So, when do you believe that people will stop playing Overwatch? In my opinion, I believe the game is already dying, but you have players like me that come back to the game after months of quitting, just to see if it became a little less toxic. I quit because I was tired of the toxic players that kept throwing games and leaving so that you were missing a teammate. Something that Overwatch needs to work on the most is leavers. If you never played this game, then you wouldn’t see the problem with someone leaving, because you would get a new teammate right away. No, that would be common sense and common sense doesn’t work in Overwatch.
If they leave in the first 30 seconds to a minute, then the game is cancelled and no one loses anything, but any later than that then you have to hope that the player comes back. Leavers don’t make sense, because they still receive a loss from leaving, but there is the rare exception where someone just disconnects. If they do, then they have a chance to come back and help out the team. That is the only way you get the blank spot in your team filled.
The game will die when they finish releasing heroes and when we get the origin and shorts for every hero in the game. Then again, they are releasing new heroes every few months, so that day won’t be anytime soon. Blizzard makes money from the ever-growing Overwatch league and from the new players that joined because of sales and new heroes. I only bought the game because some friends wanted to play with me. The sad thing is, that I haven’t played with them since I bought the game because we have different play styles. I am a support main and I can’t play with someone that charges into a battle and doesn’t expect to protect the healer that is keeping them alive.
Should you buy?
So, what is my take on this game? I actually hate it more than anything else, and I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to others. It is a fun game to play with friends, but once you start playing with randoms, that is when the stress happens. I am not in a high ELO and I will take a quick break until next placements just so I can get my third gold weapon. The main reason we play comp is to say we have a high standing and to also say that we have a gold weapon for this hero, so praise us.
So, buy a mic, don’t get too stressed and remember unless you are on PC—you aren’t going to find yourself in the Overwatch league.
Hopefully you enjoyed this review. Comment to let me know what game you want me to review next, and I’ll see if I can play it!
Image courtesy of Blizzard
Let’s Unpack This: Star Realms: Frontier Unboxing
Also, say hello to our new video wing of the Fandomentals over on YouTube, Fanfinity!
In this video, I’m taking a look at White Wizard’s newest addition to their Star Realms series of deckbuilding games, out now at your local game shop.
Image courtesy of White Wizard
Tabletop Terror: The Fandomentals Guide To Halloween Gaming
The spooky times are upon us folks. In just a couple days the spirits of the night will take hold, and the world will descend yet again into the darkness and horror that is All Hallow’s Eve. And for most of us, that means Halloween Parties. Maybe you’re hosting one, or maybe you’re just attending one. It’s always good to have board games ready for a party, to bring people together and have some fun that doesn’t require cramming around a screen. But how do you please everyone at your party? If one guest only likes fun and campy spooks, while another is in to Halloween for the guts and gore, you may find yourself struggling to select games to bring to the dinner table this year. But fear not! Games writers Cat and Dan have teamed up to bring you a curated list of games, each selected especially for some of the most troublesome ghoulies who might haunt your Halloween fête.
Best Game To Play With Your High Goth Friend
They’re the first to arrive and the last to leave. This is their time of year, and they have gone all out. White face paint, black clothes, a frilly shirt. This is standard for them year round, but there’s something different about them come Halloween. There’s a spring in their step, a twirl to their parasol, and a twinkle in their eyeliner. They will accept only the darkest and most dramatic activities this Halloween.
Our Recommendation: Fury of Dracula
Fury of Dracula has been a classic staple of horror gaming since it debuted in 1987. The 2006 reboot, and its 2015 revision, have done nothing but increase its popularity. Based on, what else, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the game places players right into the gothic world of Victorian Europe. One player takes on the role of the infamous Count, and the other becomes one of his hunters: Jonathan Harker, Lord Godalming, Dr. John Seward, and Mina Harker.
The game is largely one of deduction, with the hunters using clues and signs to follow Count Dracula as a he carves a bloody swath through the continent. You gather items, defeat the minions of Dracula, and contend with the Count himself as he misleads, obfuscates, and lies as only he can to throw you off the scent. The game ends when Drac or the hunters bite it, he completes his dark mastery of Europe, spreads his vampiric curse, and survives. Winning requires smarts, cunning, and a flare for the dramatic even Dracula could appreciate. In the novel, Dracula was killed and the world freed from his dark presence. Will the same happen to you?
Best Game To Play With Your “Psychic” Friend
They “knew” you were going to have a party, after you made the Facebook event, and they “knew” you needed more napkins, even though you had plenty and would have preferred they bring more snacks. They keep you updated on your horoscope, carry a tarot deck in a belt holster, and will almost certainly get very drunk and predict someone’s doom tonight. You should make sure the game you pick ensures that the doomed person won’t be you.
Our Recommendation: Mysterium
Our choice of Mysterium should be no surprise to board game fans, as the game of guessing and ghosts is already considered a classic by many despite its youth. One player in this game plays as the ghost of a murdered servant and the rest are mediums summoned to their master’s house to find out who did the deed. Think of it as a cooperative Clue, with someone playing as Mr. Boddy. The ghost, who is otherwise silent, hands out clues to the mediums to help them guess who the killer was and where and how they did it. If they can figure it out, and agree on their choice, in time, then the ghost will be set free to enjoy his eternal rest. If they can’t? They’re doomed to roam the halls forevermore.
Best Game To Play With The Scooby-Doo Fan
They may not be as into the guts and gore as other people, and they may have a thing for the campier side of horror, but this guest is one of the most enthusiastic year in and year out. They make great sandwiches, kick butt at charades, and rock a mean ascot. As well, they’ve probably got the best costume at the party (though your goth friend will fight them over it). They’ll want a game that isn’t too spooky, one that captures all the fun and silliness they love about the holiday.
Our Recommendation: Betrayal At House On The Hill
You can’t beat Betrayal for sheer classic Halloween flavor. Taking the roles of stock horror film characters like “The Professor” or “The Little Girl,” players enter a creepy old mansion that you don’t know the layout of until you begin to explore it. All sorts of strange things can happen as the house grows, from ballrooms in the basement to a balcony-adjacent kitchen. Players gather items, deal with mystical events, or are visited by dark omens that presage the dark presence in this house. When enough omens are drawn, or the players are highly unlucky, the game shifts and becomes a new challenge as they race to defeat a new and powerful enemy.
This “Haunt” changes based on where the Haunt was triggered and by what omen, and you will almost never get the same one twice. They range from a mass shrinking to an outbreak of werewolves to a full on demonic summoning, and often require a player to turn traitor and kill, transform, or delay their former friends as they try to escape. It’s a great game with infinite replay-ability and is just cartoony enough to keep it from truly scaring anybody. The 2016 Widow’s Walk expansion adds to the potential with all sorts of new monsters, haunts, and rooms for you to explore.
Best Game To Play With Your Gamemaster
They’re still miffed they had to move your session this week for the party, but they’ll get over it when they find the snack table (a DM’s one weakness). You’ll have to deal with them turning their nose up at games that allow for “structured” play, or stories that are “already written.” How do you please the lover of RPG’s when you only have one night to play?
Our Recommendation: Vampire The Masquerade 5e
It’s difficult to pull off pen-and-paper in a one time setting, but we at the Fandomentals are firm believers in the power of one-shots to capture all the fun of a good tabletop session without the long term commitment. And one of the best games for that, on Halloween or in general, is White Wolf’s newest edition of their classic Vampire the Masquerade. As Cat covered in her review, the new edition goes along way to update the game and improve its accessibility for a new generation. At its core a heavily story and character-driven game, Vampire doesn’t require quite as much minute number crunching other games do. It also fits quite well with Halloween, allowing you to craft a dramatic tale of horror and tragedy around one of the most classic monsters of all time. The only real question is, which clan are you going to be?
Vampire the Masquerade: 5th Ed. is available at most local game shops, from World of Darkness, and on Amazon, where the physical book retails for $42.95. And keep an eye out, as the Camarilla and Chicago by Night books will be releasing soon to supplement your vampiric experience.
Best Game To Play With The Bookworm
They showed up dressed as someone from the 19th century, and are offended when nobody gets it. It’s not their fault nobody’s read the marginalia of Poe. They can tell you which books every horror movie is ripping off of, and they hold a grudging respect for Stephen King (even if, they say, he hasn’t been good since he wrote IT). They want a game that scratches their love of literature, while keeping things as bone chillingly spooky as their favorite dark novels.
Our Recommendation: Masque of The Red Death
One of our favorite games coming out of GenCon this year, Masque is a truly unique experience in the board game world. The game is a mix of strategy, deduction, and planning as you attend the famous ball given by Prince Prospero at the locked Abbey. Just as in the story, which is helpfully printed in the rules, players must gain favor with the Duke even as the plague known as the Red Death ravages the countryside. Fritter your time away with idle gossip and petty insults while secretly plotting your own survival. When the ebony clock strikes midnight, your only hope for survival is your ability to remember. It’s got beautiful art from Gris Grimley that makes even the box look like a Halloween decoration, and the gloomily colorful board and Ebony Clock standee make a bold statement at any party. Hopefully yours ends up better than Prospero’s did…
Best Game To Play With The Horror Film Snob
They’ve already gotten into three arguments with the Bookworm over the IT adaptations, and they brought a stack of beat up VHS’s in lieu of the bean dip you asked for. You don’t even OWN a VHS player. Nobody has heard of any of the movie’s they’ve brought, and you’re scared that one of them may end up being a snuff film. Any film you suggest is derided as pedestrian, cliched, and, worst of all, not scary. So how do you make them happy at the tabletop?
Our Recommendation: YOU Are The Maniac!
He’ll already be itching to play this based on the box, a beautifully designed thing built to look and feel exactly like the old VHS’s so many classic slasher flicks came in. It even has the wear and tear that signifies that yes, this is an original. But inside is not B-grade scares and badly done makeup. Instead, YOU Are The Maniac contains a well paced strategy card game that allows players to step into the shoes of their favorite slasher villains. Played across three “films,” you compete to rack up the highest kill count among all the slashers in the game. Chasing down victims, acting out scenes with the Maniac deck, handling the various plot twists, and killing the Final Girl at the end of the movie; it’s all in a days work for the killers in this game. It’s fun and darkly hilarious, working well as a fast-paced party game you could even play while watching one of the movies that inspired it!
YOU Are The Maniac! is published by Counter Culture Cards and can be purchased on their website for $24.95
Best Game To Play With The History Geek
They know the complete history of Halloween and will happily spend all night telling you exactly why and how candy corn came to be. They’ve been to Salem dozens of times, and complains that the rituals in Hocus Pocus aren’t historical accurate. They obsessively find old newspaper clippings from one hundred years ago to send you. They want a game that’s fun, scary, and has well sourced historical backing, dang it!
Our Recommendation: Salem 1692
Salem:1692 is a fantastic replacement or addition to your rotation of deduction games that you’ve been playing for years. Unlike standbys like One Night Ultimate Werewolf or Are You A Werewolf, Salem grounds itself in the real Salem Witch Trials while maintaining all the suspicion and plotting we love. As Dan said in his review, Salem is a well researched and fun game that is visually stunning to boot, and you can read more about it in the previously linked review. Your history snob friend will never expect you to pull the next game straight out of the bookshelf!
Best Game To Play With That Guy Who Takes RISK Way Too Seriously
There’s a good chance this person is also your Gamemaster, and they’re certainly in your group, but they aren’t in it for the roleplay. No, this guest wants to prove that they are so much smarter than anyone else at the table. They have probably seen Patton too many times, and an entire wall of their apartment is covered in maps. But there isn’t really anything scary about Risk or Stratego (except for their length), so how do you make the tabletop general happy?
Our Recommendation: Eschaton
While the dark fantasy setting of Eschaton doesn’t at first seem to have the trappings of Halloween, the eldritch plot and beautifully grotesque art make it fit right in with its more seasonal friends. Taking on the role of a cult leader in a world on the brink of Apocalypse, players must battle for territory and the favor of the Dark One as they recruit men and monsters into their unholy ranks. Only one cult can walk at the side of the Dark One when the Eschaton comes, will it be you?
Best Game To Play With Your Hungry Friend
This guest will not leave the snack table, and always fills a plate when the party moves away from it for any reason. They’ll probably suggest a Taco Bell run sometime around midnight. Yet they always seem hungry, famished even. Are they looking at your skull? Why do they keep trying to steal your hat? Why are they moaning like that? Wait, where’d the bookworm go? Do you smell blood?
Our Recommendation: Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game
There are A LOT of zombie games out there, and it was really hard to narrow it down. But there’s only one game that captures the full experience of the living dead, and that’s Flying Frog’s Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game. I mean c’mon, it’s in the title! Now celebrating ten years in the gaming world, Last Night on Earth is as much an ode to Romero and his ilk as YOU Are The Maniac is to Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter.
Playing as zombie movie cliches like high school kids, scientists, teachers, and more, most players must navigate the dangers of a zombie apocalypse. One or two players, however, get to play as the brain-hungry zombies. Each playable scenario is different, whether you’re rescuing a fallen friend, trying to escape, or just trying to “not die,” it’s easily re-playable. And with ten years under its belt, its had a lot of time to come out with expansions and supplements (22 as of this writing), including a spin-off Timber Peak and a spin on the cliche alien movie with Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game. Load the shotgun, keep your cool, and always remember to double-tap.
Best Game To Play With The Pescetarian
This guest really likes fish. They haven’t just cut meat out of their diet, they’ve cut nearly everything that else isn’t aquatic from their diet as well. You can’t get over the strange and salty smell that comes off of them, though, or how cold and clammy their hands always are. Sometimes you catch them mumbling to themselves in a strange language they keep insisting is just Polish. They’re quiet and a little odd, but they make great sashimi, so it’d be a shame not to have a game that caters to their unique self.
Our Recommendation: Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu
A spin-off of the popular Pandemic series of worldwide disease simulator games, Reign of Cthulu replaces the science and medicine with chaos and madness. Players take on the role of a 1920’s investigator working to stop the return of the Old Ones from their cosmic prison. They must defeat monsters, gather items, and seal the portals before the most ancient of evils can bring doom to the world. It’s a mix of strategy and teamwork as you and your fellow investigators move through classic towns like Innsmouth and Dunwich in search of an end to the evil. But beware, there are things man was not meant to see, and one’s mind does have a tendency to get lost in the darkness.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu is published by Z-Man games and can be bought from their website for $49.99, as well as most retailers.
There you have it! Ten games we guarantee to spook and surprise, entertain, and ennervate in equal measure. Now all that’s left for you to do is finish your costume…but wait…is someone early? Better get the door, that growling sounds awfully impatient.
What games do you like to play for Halloween? Did we leave any off that we shouldn’t have? Sound off below!