Three Ghostly Board Games that are both Collectible and Great for the Kids
Being a dad with two small children, Halloween has thankfully been reclaimed from the netherworld of “adult” fun that generally includes binge drinking and embarrassing “sexy” costumes. For our household, it’s back to the good old traditions of trick-or-treating, carving Jack O’ Lanterns and watching stacks of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff DVDs while on a massive candy corn high. And since my kids and I love board games, we’re also celebrating the most fun holiday of the year with some classic spooky games I’ve rounded up for them. For this year’s Halloween gaming feature, I thought I’d narrow it down to one of River and Scarlett’s favorite supernatural subject matters—ghosts!
—For Michael Barnes’ previous Halloween board game articles, check them out here, here and here.—
There are tons of board games about ghosts. In fact, when I first started researching games to buy for my kids I was surprised—even after being in this hobby for more than 30 years—at how many games feature spirits, specters and spooks. It’s a trend that reaches back decades and continues even today, but here are three of my favorite ghostly games for kids and collectors alike.
Mittersnacht Party (Midnight Party)
The 1989 edition box for Mittersnacht Party (Midnight Party) on the top and the 2013 edition on display below. Very little has changed apart from the artwork. Virtually all editions of this wonderful family have the same components, including the colorful partygoer figures and the glow-in-the-dark Hugo the Ghost figure.
A 1989 German release designed by the hugely influential Wolfgang Kramer, Mittersnacht Party (Midnight Party) is one of our favorite games year-round. The concept is delightful. Players represent the guests invited to Hugo the Ghost’s castle for his birthday bash. They spend the first half of the game dancing and wandering around a track representing Hugo’s stately home. On each turn, a player rolls a die and moves one of his party goers that many spaces or, if he rolls the ghost symbol, he moves the Hugo figure up a few spaces from his dungeon in the center of the board. Once Hugo reaches the top, he playfully chases the ladies and gentlemen around the board in a game of hide and seek.
Players then must try to get their figures into the rooms around the main track, with some rooms offering better hiding places (represented by point values) than others. But only one guest may hide in each room, and if Hugo catches a guest they have to wait in the dungeon, incurring negative points to that piece’s owner. High score at the end wins! This is a great game for all ages. The production is charming and kids immediately grasp the concepts of moving and hiding from Hugo, if not some of the finer strategy and decision points that older players will appreciate.
Midnight Party has been in print for more than 20 years, mostly in German editions published by Ravensburger and with a couple of alternate titles (most recently, Hugo: Das Schlossgespenst). Fortunately, Ravensburger games are generally multilingual publications with English rules so it’s accessible for non-Europeans. However, the game has not been available in the United States since 1992 so collector’s pricing applies. I’ve seen copies sell for prices ranging between $30 and $60. I was fortunate enough to find a copy for trade but I would have gladly spent $50 on this great game.
The 1985 Milton Bradley edition of Ghosts! This is the version I am the most fond of because it was the one I had when I was a kid. I remember getting it for my ninth birthday and the fact that the ghost on the box was very clearly styled to resemble Slimer from Ghostbusters was definitely not lost on me.
My kids are really a little too young to play Ghosts!, a classic 1980 abstract design by the great Alex Randolph, but that hasn’t stopped me from dragging out my ancient, time-worn copy. They may not yet understand the movement, prediction and bluffing strategies that this Stratego-like two player game offers, but they enjoy moving the fun plastic ghost pieces around the board and the surprise of revealing whether a ghost is good or evil.
The board is a six-by-six grid and each player has four good ghosts and four bad ghosts, marked on their backs with a colored dot. Each turn, you move one ghost one space. If a ghost moves into a square with another one, the moving ghost makes a capture. The goal is to either get rid of all of your bad ghosts by luring the other player into capturing them, capture all of your opponent’s good ghosts, to or move any ghost off the board on your opponent’s side.
In its day, Ghosts! was a mainstream release and widely available. My copy is a 1985 U.S. edition, which was published by Milton Bradley. But the game was first released in the U.K. by the esteemed Waddingtons with another spooky theme: Jekyll and Hyde. It was printed as Geister (Ghosts) in a 1982 German edition and it has seen print in many languages, most recently in a new English edition from the French company Asmodee (retitled Phantoms vs. Phantoms).
This is a simple game that anyone can play from the very young to the very old. The spooky atmosphere is fun, and the big plastic ghosts (at least from my edition) are impressive. The good news for the budget-minded is that Ghosts! In most of its editions is a fairly inexpensive game. I’ve seen thrift copies for $3-$5, but I think anything under $20 is a reasonable price for it. Like most mainstream games going on 30 years old or more, condition is a big issue since these kinds of games tend to wind up either abused or carelessly stored.
Schloss Schlotterstein (Castle Shiverstone)
Any parent that knows games knows that Haba, the German company that does all of its titles in distinct yellow boxes, makes a great product. Their games are the epitome of kid-friendly, with big wooden pieces, colorful art, simple themes and usually at least one surprisingly clever mechanic that keeps the adults interested. Schloss Schlotterstein is one of their better titles, and it just so happens to be a ghost game.
In this simple game, players maneuver a ghost figure through a castle represented by a 3D board built from the box lid and some walls with arched doorways. On a turn, a “haunting helper” turns over cards that depict paintings on the walls of the castle. It is the ghost player’s job to use the “ghosting wand” to move the ghost through the doorways and quickly find the room where that painting is. Kids love to yell “boo!” to scare the inhabitant there. The ghost can keep on scaring with the haunting helper drawing cards to provide new destinations for supernatural mischief.
That yellow box and the Haba brand mean high quality family fun. Haba never skimps on components, as witnessed by this game’s sewn, cloth ghost and tactile wooden pieces.
That “ghosting wand” is simply a magnet on a stick that goes under the board. The ghost figure has a magnet in its base as well, but you can’t really see how you’re moving the stick in relation to the walls—you can just estimate. It’s a fun little gimmick that provides a little dexterity challenge as the ghost bumps into walls and tries to get to the correct rooms in time—and in a hurry. Needless to say, there’s an irresistible novelty value to the game. There’s not much going on in terms of strategy or depth, but there are numerous variant rules provided to increase the challenge for older children.
Haba releases a lot of games (and toys) in the United States, but Schloss Schlotterstein never made it over. It isn’t a particularly rare game in Europe and it’s fairly easy to find import copies for $20-$30, but I would regard the game as domestically scarce. It was available through some online retailers when it was released, but I’ve never seen a new copy for sale from a retail source in at least a decade. The game was popular enough in Germany to spawn a couple of spin-off titles, including a “mini” version and a card game.
So there we have it, three tabletop treats for a happy Halloween!
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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