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Six great tabletop games to play on Halloween

Quick and spooky board games, plus some excellent one-shot RPGs

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Buffy, Angel, Willow, and Spike miniatures in Unmatched.
Unmatched: Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Image: Charlie Hall/Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

This year presents a Halloween like no other. With many sensible folks still stuck at home on account of the global pandemic, many are looking for alternative ways to celebrate the spooky holiday. A Halloween night packed with tabletop games — costumes optional, but encouraged — is a great alternative to the standard activities.

Whether you’re quarantined at home with the kids, or grouping up with a small bubble of friends (and trying to avoid the trick-or-treating masses), here are six great tabletop games to pass the time — three new games, and three modern classics.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game — Starter Kit

Award-winning publisher Free League has another hit on its hands with Alien: The Roleplaying Game, winner of this year’s Ennie Award for best role-playing game. It brings to life a setting that people at the table should be familiar with, even if only through cultural osmosis. The secret is an extremely lightweight ruleset that builds tension quickly, and resolves the action with definitive consequences. It’s a setting custom-made for a high-stakes one-shot adventure. You can pick up the core rulebook right now, as well as the first published adventure. The official Starter Kit comes out later this month.

Unmatched: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

I was first introduced to Unmatched — a wild collaboration between Mondo and Restoration Games — at Gen Con 2019. It’s a fast and addictive skirmish game that plays quickly thanks to systems borrowed from classics Star Wars: Epic Duels and Tannhauser. What pop culture fans get out of the it is a lavish presentation — complete with washed miniatures and epic card art — in an affordable package. Pair the new Unmatched: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy, Angel, Willow, and Spike) set with Unmatched: Cobble & Fog (Sherlock Holmes, Jekyll & Hyde, the Invisible Man, and Dracula). While the latter is available now (including at Amazon and your local game store), Buffy will be shipping from the publisher by next week before a retail release in November.

Curse of Strahd Revamped

A softcover version of Curse of Strahd Revamped, plus a DM’s screen, supplementary booklets, and a deck of cards. There’s postcards as well... which will never leave the valley until the curse is lifted muhahahahaah. Cough. Image: Wizards of the coast

One of the most beloved RPG settings of all time, Castle Ravenloft is home to none other than the vampire Strahd von Zarovich — one of Dungeons & Dragons’ most iconic villains. The 5th edition adventure Curse of Strahd is among the best around, and Wizards of the Coast is celebrating it this year with a pair of new deluxe editions. You could also opt for 2015’s core campaign book (which features online errata for both cultural sensitivity and game balance), the $99 Curse of Strahd Revamped boxed set, or the super-deluxe version from Beadle and Grimms for $399.99. The latter two items begin shipping this month.

Note that if you’re not interested in running the entire campaign (my group spent about a year on it) there’s also a great one-shot dungeon for low-level players in the back.

The 7th Continent

The Kickstarter campaign for The 7th Citadel is making lots of noise right now, racking up more than $2.2 million in crowdfunding. Why not play the original “choose-your-own-path” exploration board game? The 7th Continent is back in print, and it’s an easy-to-learn, Lovecraft-inspired, cooperative adventure that looks great on the table. It also plays well as a solitaire game. There’s even a handy smartphone app to speed things along.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

A selection of the content inside Widow’s Walk. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a modern classic board game that practically screams out to be played on Halloween. Players lay tiles to create a random game board, before triggering the haunt and turning on each other in one of 50 B-grade horror scenarios.

Of course, there’s no reason you should feel yourself limited to the original. Widow’s Walk runs $24.99 or less and includes 50 new scenarios to play. You could also try Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate for a D&D-inspired version of the classic, or pick up the brand-new Scooby-Doo in Betrayal at Mystery Mansion to enjoy with kids eight and older.

Also, know that if you find yourself sitting on a vintage copy of Betrayal there’s a handy dandy upgrade kit now available from WizKids. It includes all-new character art, and does away with those janky hit point markers that always fall off.

Last Night On Earth — The Zombie Game

A movie poster features human actors as characters from Last Night on Earth. Image: Flying Frog Productions

Lots of folks enjoy a good round of Zombicide, and if your friends are monsters at tactical games then you could do a lot worse. But, for my money, I love the theming and the art from the “original” zombie board game — Flying Frog Productions’ Last Night On Earth. It comes with a number of scenarios that are great for an evening of light gaming. Also, be sure to check out the expansion titled Growing Hunger, which adds plenty of new characters and scenarios to this modern classic.