Great Obscure Halloween Board Games Lurking in the Shadows
As much as I appreciate that they put the Reptile woman in the game (the drawing in the bottom right quadrant), and as great as the figurines look, the game is awful. (Left to right) Abraham Van Helsing, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster (from “Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell”), and Father Sandor (from “Dracula,” “Prince of Darkness”).
It’s Halloween time once again, and that means it is also time for my annual Halloween games roundup. I was raised on a steady diet of horror movies, horror books, horror toys and other horror media, so for all my life I’ve been a Halloween kid. But the funny thing is that when you’ve got a bathroom decorated in vintage horror posters and a Vincent Price movie marathon is a typical Thursday night, the once-a-year novelty of the macabre that most folks experience is sort of lost. That doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate, though, and there are plenty of tabletop games out there with terrific Halloween-appropriate themes that can contribute to that spooky October vibe.
But specifically for Halloween ’13, I wanted to highlight some collectible British horror games. I’m a huge fan of British horror cinema and, in particular, very Victorian, gothic horror. These games would be a fine addition to any gentleman’s or lady’s parlor.
The game’s box cover and the 12 fantastic, fully painted statuettes of the characters, bearing fairly decent likenesses of Lee, Peter Cushing and other Hammer actors.
First up is a game that is actually quite horrible, but not in the good way that Frankstein’s Monster or Dracula are. However, it is quite an interesting collector’s piece, especially for fans of British horror cinema. The game is The Hammer Horror Forbidden Territory Board Game, published in 2006 by Britannia Games. The game celebrates the films, characters and settings of Hammer Studios’ most beloved horror classics, drawing material from its earliest films such as “The Curse of Frankenstein” and “The Horror of Dracula” up through their more lascivious 1970s vampire fare. I love these films, being more of a Christopher Lee fan than a Bela Lugosi one, so when a couple that I game with (both horror nuts themselves) got a copy, we had to try it out, especially since it came with a DVD of sound and video clips to accompany the gameplay.
It’s a terrible adventure game where the players are trying to wander around various regions to gather implements to kill Dracula. The graphic design is crude and represents the worst of licensed board gaming, despite plenty of stills from the films. There’s virtually nothing to recommend the game other than the subject matter. Oh, and 12 fantastic, fully painted statuettes of the characters, bearing fairly decent likenesses of Lee, Peter Cushing and other Hammer actors. The figures alone might attract horror fans who may never play the game (smart move), but this is a tough game to track down. I’ve never actually seen one for sale, although I would expect that in England it might be easier to come by. My friend paid $80 for it a couple of years ago, and given its value as a Hammer Horror collectible, I wouldn’t be surprised if it has appreciated over the years.
Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb
Another English horror game that has an undeserved bad reputation (likely from folks who’ve never played Forbidden Territory) is Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, a 1988 Games Workshop title that was usually advertised alongside the more well-known Fury of Dracula game. The theme is obviously plundering an Egyptian pyramid. Players have to help their astute British archaeologists alive long enough to find treasure while avoiding the titular mummy, as well as a wide range of traps, tricks and other creatures. Many gamers believe that it’s all too random and capricious, with players having to spend randomly drawn movement cards to get around, but for me that’s one of the things that makes it fun.
Great artwork, cool components, fun gameplay. What more could you want? Apparently a lot of more serious gamers find this title lacking. It’s not as good as designer Stephen Hand’s previous title (Fury of Dracula) but it’s a nice follow-up and a great example of English horror games.
Like most Games Workshop games, the figures for the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb are all metal miniatures that can be painted to the owner’s specifications.
What’s even more fun is the gameboard: it’s a three-tiered cardboard structure that stands tall on the table, with player miniatures rushing about to get to the top. Like most Games Workshop games, the figures are all metal miniatures that can be painted to the owner’s specifications. It’s a neat-looking game with some fun gameplay. It’s fairly rare, with aftermarket pricing in the $80-$100 range with the primary concern being that the pyramid tower is prone to damage (specifically crushing) and Games Workshop’s cards at this time were made of this odd, slick cardstock about as thick and durable as two magazine pages glued together.
The Gothic Game
Finally, I present what may be the most quintessential English horror game—The Gothic Game. This is a rather obscure roll-and-move game published in 1992 by a tiny publisher called Tolmayax games (which may have only produced this one game). The designer is Robert Wynne-Simmons, a playwright probably best known for writing the film “The Blood on Satan’s Claw.” The box features a quote from Monty Python’s Terry Jones, for what it’s worth.
The Gothic Game. This is a rather obscure roll-and-move game published in 1992 by a tiny publisher called Tolmayax games. I’ve played this game at least 50 times and I’ve seen someone escape that staircase in the middle once. Also, beware the Great Hall, as on one of the cards is a chandelier that falls and kills you instantly.
The game is actually quite great. Players move pawns throughout a castle, encountering bizarre and weird adventures in various rooms that definitely have an Edward Gorey-ish sense of the macabre. The goal of the game is to kill all of the other players, typically by finding various weapons and torture implements and then chasing them down. There are some really fun rules—such as an adjacency one where you can actually select where a player goes if they begin their turn next to you. So you can send them off into the endless staircase or into the path of the roaming vampire. The vampire comes out when a player enters the crypt and places a large, hollow black pawn over their piece, turning them into a vampire for several turns.
I’ve held two copies of this game in my life, and both were part of permanent collections with no hope of negotiating a sale or trade. I’ve seen copies sell for as high as $200, but more reasonable estimates put the value around $75, but I think that’s a low figure for a fairly well-regarded game that may only exist in triple digit quantities worldwide. Several years ago, I contact Mr. Wynne-Simmons to see about possibly purchasing reprint rights to the game and publishing an updated, slightly modernized version of the game and he was interested in pursuing the opportunity, but unfortunately, momentum was lost and nothing came out of it. But perhaps The Gothic Game was meant to remain obscure, lurking in the shadows.
Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.
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