Board Game Review: HORRIFIED

So so so much better than the “Monster Mash”.

It’s October. Time to get your sweaters out of storage. Everyone needs to start putting pumpkin spice into everything you eat or drink. And it is the ONLY month where we are allowed to watch horror films or enjoy other spooky things. I’ve been waiting to play Horrified since it came out in August. Now I finally can. It’s going to be a real shame when November hits and I have to put this one away for eleven months.

A whole lot of that paragraph was facetious, but I’m not kidding around about the quality of Horrified. From the outset, Horrified has the appearance of a cash-grab licensed game. Its price point, wide availability, art design and Universal Horror theme positions it for crossover success, but also feels like it could all just be surface-level branding, which certainly helps good games, but can’t help much if a game is garbage.

Luckily, Horrified is fun to play. It’s not a complicated game and it has some fundamental features that keep it from perfection, but it’s a lot more than just a cool bit of licensing. I have a pile of colorful, licensed games that I’ll never play again once their reviews are finished. Meanwhile, Horrified will likely end up in heavy rotation at my house alongside more classic games like Jaipur and Azul. It’s not just that it’s fun to play and easy to teach; it attracts people’s curiosity and offers one case where that curiosity actually gets paid off.

The game begins with you and your friends receiving your random hero character, each of whom have their own special ability and number of moves per turn. There is a semblance of balance among these characters, but some combinations work better than others. You’re supposed to dish them out blind, but what the heck, maybe just pick out your favorite. I’m not your dad.

A very crucial decision now arrives: how many monsters will you take on? Horrified’s difficulty is a very hard thing to pinpoint. I found two monsters far too easy, and four far too difficult. But it also changes depending on how many players you have. Your experiences may vary, but I found three monsters for three players to be the sweet spot. We tended to win or lose those games by very narrow margins, so narrow that when we lost it was within one damn move away from victory. Four players does not necessarily scale with a fourth monster, though. Three might still be your huckleberry. You’ll have to do some trial and error to see what works best for your group. And of course, you’ll have to amend your strategy for these changes as well.

It’s tempting to play against all the monsters. That’s what this game is about, after all. You probably know the roster already, but here it is just in case: Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the combined threat of Frankenstein’s Monster and The Bride. Each monster requires its own sort of mini-game to defeat. You need to destroy all the coffins Dracula has stashed across the game board. You have to deliver proof of the Invisible Man’s crimes to the cops. The Mummy requires you to solve a hieroglyphic number puzzle. Monsters also have their own special powers to watch out for, and a couple have tokens that can attach to a player and alter how they move and act.

Not all monsters are equal, which is another thing to consider when gauging your game’s difficulty. The more monsters you have on your board, the more likely you are to get hurt by them or lose villagers, both of which contribute to a failed game. So if you’re fighting three monsters, but one is the Monster and the Bride, that’s going to be a real handful. Monsters get their move after every player’s turn, which means they get more opportunities to fuck up your day the more players you have. This also complicates the balance of how many monsters you should appropriately fight per player.

It should be immediately obvious that your primary goal is to combine forces to take out one monster at a time, which isn’t always easy. Everything in Horrified comes down to collectible items spread across the board. They are essentially a currency used to survive monster attacks, solve monster puzzles and fight the monsters directly. Basically, your job in the game is to gather these items and then bring them to an action spot to play them, all while protecting villagers and your own ass. It feels like it should be simple and yet never is.

Destroying these monsters creates a very curious dynamic in Horrified. It would seem the game gets easier as you play, which is not at all typical. I initially equated this with the game becoming less fun as you progress, but with multiple plays I find fallacy in that. It is undeniably satisfying to clear the board of danger. And by the time you do that, you are so close to losing that one remaining monster can still pose a definite threat. Like I said above, I always win or lose this game by the seat of my pants. So while the game does get less chaotic, victory is never quite assured.

Horrified truly is a joy for casual gamers. It’s beautifully made; top to bottom the art design just attracts people. The theme is fun for pretty much all ages. Sure they are monsters, but this is not a necessarily violent game. For instance, you defeat the Monster and the Bride by teaching them to be human and letting them fall in love. Isn't that sweet? You do kill the fuck out of Dracula though. A dedicated group of advanced gamers won’t have much use for this one, but everyone else should consider it for your home collection. It’s definitely worth the price of admission.