Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

HALLOWEEN (Quined Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $69.95)


I have always been a fan of horror stories, novels and films.  For some reason, I enjoy the tense, impending doom atmosphere that they usually evoke, including the nervous “butterflies” in the pit of one’s stomach, the hair rising on one’s neck, and the “close your eyes because you simply cannot bear to watch” moments.  Of course, that jump out of your seat and audible shout of surprise or terror is also a delicious treat! 

Now when I speak of horror books and films, I much prefer the traditional scary monster or unseen evil forces themes.  I do not enjoy “slasher” films, and am not a big fan of the gory zombie films and television series that are all the rage.  Give me a good—or rather, evil—vampire, werewolf or poltergeist and I am a happy, albeit terrified fan!

I guess it is only logical that I am also drawn to horror themed board games.  However, just as with films and novels, while there are dozens and hundreds of horror themed games available, there are few good ones.  Indeed, although I have played dozens and dozens of games in the genre, only a few remain in my collection.  Still, I continue to be strangely attracted to any new game that promises to evoke the feel and atmosphere of a good horror novel or film.

One of the more recent additions to the genre is Halloween by designer Angelo de Maio and Quined Games.  The game is part of their bookshelf line of games, and the dark, fiendish  cover art depicting a glowing-eyed specter promises a sinister experience. The game is filled with twenty-five impressive ghost miniatures in five different types and poses.  The ghost and scare tokens also have evocative artwork.  The artwork on the board, however, is dark—and I don’t mean creepy or sinister—making it difficult to see the various symbols.  I understand and even admire the goal of evoking a sinister atmosphere, but I think it is a bit too dark, somewhat hindering the functionality of the proceedings.  In spite of this, the components are quite impressive.

Unfortunately, with all of this promise of a truly dark and foreboding experience, the actual theme of the game is rather light and silly.  It is Halloween and the ghosts are out and about.  The goal is for them to scare humans and haunt the buildings of a small town.  In the process, they are competing—and sometimes fighting—other ghosts in their quest to become the scariest Demon Lord.  Note that this not necessarily a poor theme; it is just not the darker theme the box art promises and the one for which I was hoping.  However, don’t let this not-as-scary-as-hoped-for theme disguise the fact that this is a fairly deep and challenging game that requires careful planning and cleverness. 

The central board depicts six buildings which the ghosts seek to haunt.  In addition, there is space for the eight action cards that will be available during the game, as well as a score track ringing the perimeter.  Three blue ghosts begin on the police station.  Each player receives a player board whereupon they will track the actions and status of the three ghosts they can activate each turn.  Players receive a supply of action discs and spheres. 

An important concept of the game is the power rankings of the ghosts, which come in five colors of increasing ferocity:  blue, green, yellow, orange and red.  Each level (color) has five ghost miniatures that are available.  As a ghost advances in level, it can accomplish more nefarious deeds and score more haunt points.  Players can activate three ghosts per turn, and they track the levels of these three ghosts on their player board.

A player may perform three actions per turn.  With each action, he must use a different ghost section on his player board.  With each action performed, he may select any ghost on the board, but may only use a ghost that is of a level equal to or less than the current level of the ghost section he is using on his player board.  For example, if a player uses the first section of his player board and has reached the level of a yellow ghost on that section, he may only activate a yellow, green or blue ghost on the board.  Since the effect of an action tends to be greater when using a more advanced ghost, a major goal of the game is to quickly advance the levels of all three sections on your player board.

There are seven different actions that can be performed:

Summon.  If two ghosts of the same color occupy the same building, the player may summon a new ghost of the same color to that location.  The player is rewarded with a ghost token of the corresponding color.  This is a way to get new ghosts on the board and earn a ghost token. Ghost tokens are needed to claim the benefits of the action cards.

Scare.  A player may “scare” some humans and collect scare tokens equal to the level of the ghost he uses to perform the action.  Scare tokens are needed upgrade ghosts.

Upgrade.  To advance a ghost to the next higher level, the player must spend scare points.  The higher the level, the more scare points required.  When upgraded, the former ghost figure is replaced by one of the next higher level.  This also allows the player to advance on the three ghost sections on his board to the same level, and earns him a ghost token of that level.  For example, if a player upgrades a yellow ghost to a orange ghost, he must spend four scare tokens, after which he replaces the yellow ghost figure with an orange ghost.  Plus, he may advance one—any one—of this three ghost sections on his player board to the orange level.  When carefully planned, the player may be able to use this new ghost again to perform an even more lucrative action.

Move.  The player moves a ghost to an adjacent building.  Getting ghosts to the proper buildings is important for summoning new ghosts and ultimately more important for haunting those buildings. Further, if the player is the first to move a ghost into a building, he gets the bonus token located there. These tokens provide a variety of benefits.  However, they are not activated immediately.  Rather, they are placed on the player board and require the use of an action disc to activate.  These discs are not returned to the player until he acquires and activates three bonus tokens.  This reduces the supply of action discs a player has available to perform other actions, so there is an incentive to activate bonus tokens quickly so the discs can be retrieved.

Fight.  Apparently ghosts of different levels do not get along.  A player may use a ghost to battle another ghost of a different level located in the same building.  Battles are a simple affair of rolling the appropriate sided dice, one for each ghost involved in the conflict.  If the attacker wins, he gains a ghost token of the defeated ghost’s level.  No ghosts are removed from the board, so it clearly isn’t a fight to the death…I guess because ghosts are already dead!

Haunt.  This is one of the major goals of the game.  A player may haunt each building once.  When haunting, the player places one of her haunt tokens onto the building at a level equal to the level of the ghost being used to haunt.  Of course, the more advanced the ghost doing the haunting, the more points that will be earned.  For example, the most fearsome red ghost will earn the player 10 haunt points, while the lowly blue ghost will only earn 2 points for haunting.  Once a player occupies a haunting position on a building, no other player can haunt in that building at that level.  So, if a player haunts the church with an orange ghost, thereby earning 8 points, no other player may place a token on the orange haunt space there.  If they do haunt there with an orange ghost, they must place their haunt token at a lower level, earning fewer points.  Evil ghosts!

Rest.  When a player takes an action using one of the three sections on his player board, he marks that action with a disc and cannot use that action on that section again until he rests.  Thus, the actions available gradually decrease until a player rests that ghost section.  Resting clears a ghost section of the player’s choice, retrieving all those discs.  A player may rest multiple ghost sections on his board, but each one costs one of her three actions.

As mentioned earlier, there are eight action cards available to use each game.  There are over 50 cards, so the replayability are great.  These cards provide a wide variety of advantages or end game points.  However, in order to place an action disc on a card and thereby be able to gain its benefits, the player must spend the depicted number and type of ghost tokens.  This is why collecting those ghost tokens is so important.  The action cards can be extremely beneficial, and sometimes the powers on the cards can be combined to allow extremely powerful abilities.  However, it does require the player to permanently use one of his action discs, reducing the number he has available and requiring her to rest more frequently in order to reclaim those discs. 

The game concludes at the end of the round when one player haunts all six buildings or occupies five of the eight action cards.  Players add any bonus points earned from the end-game action cards, and the player with the most haunt points wins the game and becomes the new Demon Lord.  The latter is not a goal I aspire to!

Halloween can be difficult to learn, as it gets confusing remembering the correlation between the ghost levels achieved on a player’s board with the ghosts that can be used on the board.  It takes awhile to get accustomed to this and may be off-putting for some players.  I believe the effort is worth it as the game is a lot deeper than it initially appears, especially from reading the rules, which are written in a lighthearted and humorous fashion.  It certainly is a game that takes awhile to understand its intricacies and how the various actions, ghosts and cards can be combined to optimum advantage.

I enjoy the feature wherein performed actions are no longer available in a ghost section until the player rests. Fortunately, each player has three ghost sections available each turn, so the player may be able to perform the desired action by using a different section.  However, this also requires that the level of the ghost in that section is at the required level, otherwise the player may be stymied again.  All of this requires careful planning and sometimes clever maneuvering.  This can be difficult and frustrating, particularly for players new to the game.  Clever stuff, but it does require some effort and work to understand and implement.

It is also clever that players must carefully plan and balance the use of their action discs.  Each player has a supply of 12 discs, which are used to perform actions in the three ghost sections, activate bonus tokens and claim action cards.  Discs used to activate bonus tokens are tied-up until the player acquires and activates three tokens, after which the discs are once again available to the player.  Discs used to claim action cards are gone for the remainder of the game.  A player can quickly deplete her supply of action discs, requiring her to rest more frequently.  Careful planning is required here.

Halloween is deceptive in that the theme makes one believe it will be a light affair, but in reality it is a rather deep and ponderous game requiring careful planning and balancing.  It does take most players awhile to get their head wrapped around the mechanisms and understand how to properly integrate and perform the available actions.  Those with persistence, however, will be richly rewarded.  The game intrigues me more each time I play, as more and more possibilities and subtleties become evident.  The wide range of action cards means that different abilities and combinations will be available each turn, insuring that the game should not grow stale or predictable.  There is even a “Master” variant included that adds more difficulty and options.  While I may quibble over the lack of a horror atmosphere to the game, I cannot argue with the richness of the design, challenges it presents, and the enjoyment it delivers.  This game is certainly more of a treat than a trick! – Greg J. Schloesser

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