“I could only find lists of horror-themed games for Halloween. However, I wanted something family-friendly. So, I researched games and developed my own list.”
– Heather Swanson
Fall, my favorite time of the year! I love everything about this season. Depending on where you live the air starts to feel crisp and enlivening. It’s the time for cozy clothes and autumn leaves. Along with the chill in the air comes a cornucopia of apples and pumpkins. The smell of cinnamon and baked fruit pies wafts through grocery stores. After you are done gorging on all the goodies you can handle, you might have to settle your stomach with some pumpkin spice flavored Pepto Bismol.
However, this article is not about the woes of pumpkin spice everything, fashion trends for Fall, or baking. Something else comes along in Fall which gets kids and families excited for candy and costumes. Pumpkins turn into Jack-o’-lanterns and ordinary kids become super heroes and princesses.
Halloween is an exciting time for many families. However, our culture seems to be pushed towards a never-ending hunger for gore and horror. The sense of an innocent ‘spooky’ night is hard to find. It inspired me to find family-friendly board games for Halloween. All I seemed to find on the internet were lists of games with the best horror theme. So, I set out on a mission to find games I don’t have to wait until the kids are in bed to pull out to the table. Here is some of what I found:
Blood Pumping Games – Escape: Zombie City
Escape: Zombie City (2014)
2-4 Players, 15 Minutes, Ages 10+
Get your adrenalin going with Escape: Zombie City. It is a very similar game to the popular Escape: The Cursed Temple. It’s got a different theme and a few little differences. While playing you keep a 15-minute sound track running which gives you clues to how much time you have left.
Fight off zombies while collecting supplies. Race back to your vehicle and get the heck out of dodge. Will you make it before the timer runs out?
Autumn Themed Games – Tyler Sigman’s Crows
Tyler Sigman’s Crows (2018)
Junk Spirit Games
2-4 Players, 15-45 Minutes, Ages 10+
I just love this game. It is fun to play with the whole family. I like the tile laying strategies involved and the idea of trying to attract crows to shiny objects. In 2018 they updated the game with new artwork, components, and a couple of changes in play. While the cult of the new attracts me, I love the 2010 version I picked up new for less than $5.
Games in the Dark – Shadows in the Forest
Shadows in the Forest (1985)
Think Fun Games
2-8 Players, 15 Minutes, Ages 8+
The joy I get out of this game is in watching my kids have so much fun. There are cute little shadowlings that players must move from tree to tree to keep hidden in the dark. If they are exposed, they lose their mask and have to stay put until another shadowling can get to them and unfreeze them.
The lantern is moved around by one player who is searching for the shadowlings. They roll a die to see how far to move through the forest. All the shadowlings much meet together in one place if players are to win.
Games in the Dark – Labyrinth Glow in the Dark
Labyrinth Glow in the Dark
2-4 Players, 20-30 Minutes, Ages 7+
Labyrinth has been around for quite a while and they have made several versions of the game. I think the glow in the dark version is one of the best.
Tiles are placed randomly at the beginning of the game on a board face up. It creates a labyrinth with all kinds of twists and turns. However, this maze changes each turn. First, a player takes the one tile not placed on the board and slides it into the maze. This in turn pushes a tile out the other side.
Once the maze has changed, the player can then move their piece as far as they desire as long as there is a path to travel on. The goal is to reach certain treasures on the board before other players reach theirs. Each player has a hand of cards listing these treasures which they keep secret until reaching a treasure.
The nice twist on the glow in the dark version is that once the first player has found all of their treasures, you turn the lights out. Then, new treasures and treasure cards reveal which glow. It is a whole new maze hidden in plain sight. These glowing treasures are worth more than their day time versions.
Brain Eating Games – Exit: The Abandoned Cabin
Exit: The Abandoned Cabin (2016)
1-6 Players, 60-120 Minutes, Ages 12+
This game is a once and done experience for 1-4 people. It is like an escape the room but in a board game format. There are puzzles to solve to get out of the cabin before the creepy guy who locked you in returns. If you get stuck, there are hints. They will just count against your final score.
This game could hit its mark at a small party with enough quiet to allow players to really focus on the puzzles. Lock the kids out of the room if you don’t want to be interrupted every ten seconds. There is nothing in the game that kids should not see but, speaking from experience, kids prevent clear headed thinking.
You can play some spooky background music while you play the game to get into the mood. Kosmos Games has an app that allows you to download a thematic timed soundtrack. It will certainly help to get the blood pumping while you try to beat the clock!
Old School Halloween – Horrified
1-5 Players, 60 Minutes, Ages 10+
Horrified is a cooperative game for 1-5 players. It has a classic Halloween feel with the old school creatures from Universal Studios. There are monsters like the invisible man, Frankenstein, and Dracula.
In this game you will be saving townspeople and escorting them around town while trying to accomplish quests that will lead to the defeat of 3 monsters. Getting a town folk to their chosen destination results in some perks. Leaving them high and dry with a monster leads to terror!
Each of the 6 monsters have different requirements or puzzles to solve before you defeat them. Players will move around the town collecting items and using them to block monster attacks or accomplishing tasks.
Because there are 6 monsters, and you use only 3 at a time, replayability is good. As well, you can never be sure what the monster cards will reveal. Which monster will move and how far? How hard will they attack?
Each time you defeat a villager or a hero the terror meter increases. If this happens 7 times, you lose the game! Can’t handle the terror? Get out of town!
Old School Halloween – Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger
Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger (2018)
1-99 Players, 60 Minutes, Ages 10+
Need a spooky bed-time story? If you are old enough, you will remember the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. I simply loved trying every combination in these books as a kid. Now you can play the book… er… book-game.
This game feels just like the book but with a few additions. There are card items and a tracking board. Being low on the tracking board can prevent you from doing some things as the game progresses. Also, missing certain items can hinder game progress.
You never truly die in this game. You get to try again just like the Choose Your Own Adventure books. You are also given the chance at the end of a Chapter to go back to certain locations if you still wanted to do more exploring.
This is a very light cooperative game. I can see this being the most fun for tweens or teens having a very late-night spooky story. Perhaps lighting some candles and playing a spooky sound track would make it the most fun. It would need to be played over several sessions, however.
Family Time Games – Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters
Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters (2013)
Korea Board Games
2-4 Players, 30 Minutes, Ages 8+
I made this list of family-friendly games with a few qualifiers in mind. I didn’t want games in which players are the bad guys. I also didn’t want to go heavy into witches, ghosts, and horror. This game is an exception with ghosts.
I have 4 kids but one of them is overly sensitive to scary things and has a strong imagination. He is the one who fears the dark and being alone at night. I am much more careful with what I expose him to. I can keep this game on a light-hearted fun level.
Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters is a cooperative game that is actually quite a challenge. It is fun to play with the kids but it is difficult enough to play with adults. Some overly simple kid’s games can drive me nuts. Any game that I can play with the kids and not be bored out of my mind is a win for me.
This game has nice components and game mechanisms. The ghosts and characters are high quality. The art is pleasant and the rules are easy to understand. Even so, the game is substantial and fun. At the time of this writing, it is ranked #3 out of all children’s games on Board Game Geek!
Popular Games – Smash Up: Monster Smash
Smash Up: Monster Smash (2014)
Alderac Entertainment Group
2 Players, 30-45 Minutes, Ages 12+
Smash Up is a fairly quick card game with an ever-growing plethora of expansions. I wanted to point out that the Monster expansion might be a good choice for a Halloween themed evening. This box has everything you need for a 2-player game. Otherwise, this set can be combined with any other of the Smash Up games to go up to 4 players.
Popular Games – Munchkin Zombies
Munchkin Zombies (2011)
3-6 Players, 90 Minutes, Ages 10+ Munchkins is another line of games that has a crazy number of expansions. What would a game with a gazillion expansions be without some zombies? Don’t worry, there are not nasty scary zombies in this game. In fact, this game falls in the humor category. Munchkin Zombies is a slight twist on the Munchkin theme. Players actually start as zombies and the ‘monsters’ are people like soccer moms and firemen. The goal is to level up before other players. However, fighting a ‘monster’ that is too powerful and losing can cause ‘bad stuff’ to happen.
Popular Games – Tiny Epic Zombies
Tiny Epic Zombies (2018)
1-5 Players, 30-45 Minutes, Ages 14+
There are many Tiny Epic games on the market these days. The games are known for their full-sized play in a tiny box. As long as you don’t mind using tweezers the price is great for what you get. Okay, so the tweezers are an exaggeration…almost.
Tiny Epic Zombies fits an entire customizable shopping mall into a little box. Players are survivors who need to collect supplies and get out of the mall in a get-away vehicle. Just to be even more epic, there are 5 different ways to play this game! Want to play as zombies? Covered. Want to be the humans? Got it. Want to play competitively? Cooperatively? Solo? Yes, yes, and yes.
This game has a lot going on. To win, players must complete 3 objectives. If a player dies, they turn into a zombie and must choose another character. However, if this happens too many times you lose the game. Players will need to balance shooting for objectives and eliminating the ever-growing horde of zombies.
This game has so much! There is a motorcycle, police car, bullets, zombies, barricades, and a whole bunch of little weapons that can actually be equipped on the meeples! How cool is that?? Just don’t sneeze or the whole mall will fly away.
Blood Pumping Games – Castle Panic and My First
Castle Panic (2009)
1-6 Players, 60 Minutes, Ages 10+
My First Castle Panic (2019)
1-4 Players, 20 Minutes, Ages 4+
My First Castle Panic with kids is so much fun. You can work them up about the monsters coming onto the board. They hover their hand over the next card in anticipation and beg the air for it to be what they want. They start hopping up and down the closer a monster gets to the castle.
The tension is just wonderful in both the young kids version and the regular Castle Panic. You need to fight off monsters before they tear down your castle walls. Work together with other players to adjust tactics. Be prepared! You never know what might come along next!
Autumn Themed Games – Pumpkin Patch: Bad Seeds
Pumpkin Patch: Bad Seeds (2019)
1-3 Players, 10-20 Minutes, Ages 8+
Here is a pocket-sized pumpkin patch game that packs a punch. Well, I wish it were a little bigger. It plays just the same at any size.
There are some creepy looking gourds and pumpkins growing in your field and you want to keep them growing while garnering more seeds as points. Sometimes harvesting them with card abilities yields many points. This has to be balanced with growing pumpkins on your plot to the largest size possible. Once that happens, the game is over.
The cards are numbered one through eight. There are more lowered numbered cards. Each card has different abilities as well. Pumpkin plots can be started with a seedling card with the number one. After that, each subsequent card played on that plot needs to be the next higher sequential number.
Players can block each other with crows that move each turn. Also, strategically using card abilities can stretch the game out or shorten it depending on whether a player is in the lead or falling behind.
Brain Eating Games – Dungeon Petz
Dungeon Petz (2011)
Czech Games Edition
2-4 Players, 90 Minutes, Ages 13+
Need a challenge for your Halloween gaming night? Then look no further than Dungeon Petz. It is probably the most complex game on the list.
So, what is the premise you say? You own a pet store supplying top quality dungeon pets. You first need to buy them and raise them until they are ready to go to customers. In the course of your pet’s growing years it will need to be caged, fed, played with, and nursed to health when sick.
You need to manage your resources of gold and imp servants to do you bidding. Caring for dungeon pets is difficult. They poop, they get mad, they may even have magic skills capable of breaking down their cage. If you don’t take care of them well enough, they might even suffer.
Part of the difficulty in this game is being so restricted on actions. This means your pets are more than likely going to become displeased at some point in their lives. And, of course, they poop and you need to clean that up.
I think this is a game you are either going to love or hate. My theory on why someone won’t like it is partly the complexity of all that is going on but also because things don’t always go the way you want them to. I look at it as a game challenge not a negative. You just have to mitigate the negative factors.
This game is tough and I love it!
Old School Halloween – Dicenstein
2-4 Players, 45-90 Minutes, Ages 14+
I love Dicenstein for so many reasons. It’s a great game. It has a classic Halloween feel. There are tons of dice! The theme really works nicely. I mean, this game just rocks!
There are all kinds of classic Halloween creatures buried in a graveyard. Plus, there is a bonus unicorn just for fun! Players send a generic henchman into the cemetery to dig up the bones (aka. Dice) and bring them back to the secret lab.
As an evil scientist you take all the old bones and stitch them together to make better and stronger henchmen. Watch out for other henchmen who may attack you. Don’t worry too much though. Your henchmen don’t really die. You can recycle parts to build new monsters.
You can earn victory points through hidden agendas, defeating other henchmen in the graveyard, or turning in certain sets of dice. You will reveal hidden agendas at the end of the game so no one really knows who is in the lead.
Another cool aspect about this game is that depending on what monster parts you used to build a henchman you will have different abilities. If you use the maximum amount of different dice that means you could have up to 4 different abilities.
The dice rolls determine the strengths of your character. You will have health, mental strength, scavenging abilities, attack power, and how far you can move each turn. After you roll all the dice you have dug up from the graves, you assemble your own monster based on the desired traits and body parts.
This game has seriously been overlooked! It came out in 2017 and somehow; I didn’t know about it until recently. This is like the perfect family-friendly Halloween game!
Old School Halloween – Boss Monster
Boss Monster (2013)
2-4 Players, 30 Minutes, Ages 13+
Speaking of monsters and old school, it would be horrible to leave Boss Monster out of a list like this. Sure, there are a gazillion monster games, and dungeon games, and monster and dungeon games but there is something special about this one.
I grew up watching the invention of video games. It was kind of a big deal once the scrolling game design came along. You had to run to the right while fighting through bad guys and problems only to arrive at a big boss at the end.
Boss Monster is a card game that mimics a scrolling video game but you are the video game designer trying to attract and defeat adventurers. You start with a fairly simple design and then add new and improved rooms to your dungeon.
Adventurers face each room of your dungeon one at a time. Hopefully, you will hack away at their health as they go. If you manage to take all their health points, you get them as a trophy.
By the way, how you design your dungeon will cause which adventurers are attracted to your game. Your opponent will compete with you to attract victims. These so-called heroes are lining up in town just waiting to defeat your boss. Attract wisely!
Family Time Games – Stuffed Fables
Stuffed Fables (2018)
Plaid Hat Games 2-4 Players, 60-90 Minutes, Ages 7+ Speaking of stories, Stuffed Fables is perfect for families with children in the 7-tween range. It is a story you play like a game. It brings parents and kids together to play cooperatively. It also has discussion points that address many issues kids face. The characters in the game remind me of a combination of Pooh Bear and friends and the tortured toys from Toy Story. The stuffed animals belong to a young girl who is trying to sleep. The scary toys are from under the bed. The players of the game will take on the roles of the different stuffed animals. They will fight off the scary toys and try to let the little girl sleep soundly. Sometimes, when they are damaged, they lose stuffing. All the while, new maps and stories will develop as the game continues. This game can be great for building family memories. It is especially tantalizing and special if game-friendly treats are served. Perhaps some pop-corn, pretzels, or M&M will do the trick?
Family Time Games – LEGO Ramses Pyramid
LEGO Ramses Pyramid (2009)
2-4 Players, 20-40 Minutes, Ages 8+ Here is a game you might not have heard much about but it has mummies! What would Halloween be without a mummy or two… or in this case, a flock? The goal is to climb the pyramid and defeat the mummy king. However, the roll of the dice can cause the pyramid to rotate. Color coding on the pyramid can make it hard to climb unless you already have the corresponding gem at your tent or know the color of a gem in a secret temple. There is a little more to the game but not much. Mummies come after you and the cool Lego die has unique sides which cause game effects. At the end of the rule book they encourage you to take on the role of game designer and try out some new mechanisms. Of course, they offer good advice which is to change only one thing at a time. In the end, if you don’t like the game or can’t make one you like, just play with the Legos! Unless you have some great game ideas, this will be a simple roll and move kind of game.
Popular Games – King of Tokyo: Halloween
King of Tokyo (2013)
2-6 Players, 30 Minutes, Ages 8+ King of Tokyo is one of my favorite games to play with the family. Every age seems to enjoy this game. The big chunky dice are fun to use. The cards and art are wonderful. The Halloween expansion adds in two new characters and some other goodies. With this expansion comes Halloween costumes and evolution cards to improve your characters. Best of all, this box includes big chunky orange and black dice!
Popular Games – One Night Ultimate…..
One Night Ultimate 3-10 Players, 10 Minutes, Ages 8+ Here is a great party game that has really exploded in options. You can play werewolves, aliens, vampires, superheroes, or super villains. There is an app that can be downloaded to facilitate your play as well. The One Night Ultimate games are social deduction games that can be played at a high player count in a short amount of time. A wide range of ages can play them. Put all that together with the theme and you have a great Halloween party game!