We’re three weeks into this year’s Skeleton War (where the score is currently 109 to 12 – we lost Neighbor Steve in the first quarter to a concussion), so it seems like a good time to talk about Halloween gaming.
Halloween is easily my favorite holiday for one-shot gaming. There’s something so beautifully fitting about a day when kids dress up as their favorite characters and complete quests to get candy. The whole affair has “tiny gamers” written all over it.
Plus it’s one of the more acceptable holidays not to spend with family, and even gamers with small children are done trick-or-treating fairly early in the evening, so it’s typically not difficult to find players willing to sit around a table and get spooky.
So what do you play to get in the mood of the holiday?
My favorite games for a real immersive gaming experience are…
Dread is the standard go-to for many of us when it comes to suspenseful gaming. Having a Jenga tower serve as your dice pool is a fantastic mechanic for making the tension palpable at your table, and the idea that a character who knocks the tower over is a “dead man walking” lends a whole new layer of fear that classic “you die at zero HP” systems don’t offer.
Dread is by far the most versatile system in this list. You can do fantasy (a town under an evil curse), sci-fi (alien monster loose on a colony ship), modern era (80’s slasher flick) – it’s the Fate of immersive gaming systems.
The biggest drawbacks with Dread are that you need a space to play around a Jenga tower without bumping it accidentally, which means most houses with pets are kids are possibly a no-go. The other big drawback is that Jenga isn’t remotely accessible as a game mechanic, so it may be completely out of the question for your player group. In those situations, GRIN is an alternative that uses playing cards but otherwise creates a similar feel overall.
Ten Candles is a survival horror game about the world going dark, using actual candles to simulate the game setting. Like Dread’s tower falling, the candles can go out, making it less and less likely the PCs will survive to reach the end of the game. While it does require props and a dark space to play in, Ten Candles is a beautiful mood-setter for late-night Halloween gaming. For players wanting a sense of fantasy with their horror, I find Ten Candles is the best fit.
Dust Devils isn’t quite as dark as its compatriots, but it is a very immersive system for Wild West games or those with a similar aesthetic. Using actual poker mechanics, Dust Devils’ “demon” mechanic lends itself toward Southern gothic or riverboat mystery games if your group isn’t the standard zombies-and-draculas type. Bank robbers trapped in the mountains during a winter storm, sitting on top of their largest haul and considering not splitting it with the others plays particularly well with this sytem.
Speaking of Southern gothic, nothing quite tops Carolina Death Crawl in terms of games that chill the blood, at least once you realize that the horrific things inspiring your scenes are based on actual journal accounts out of North Carolina during the Civil War. Carolina Death Crawl may start with a sense of humor, but even giggly groups tend to sober quickly as each act turns and they register how the game plays. Recommended for those who want a dark, chilling adventure with emotional gut-punch along the way. One drawback: it only seats four, including the GM.
I’ve talked about One Shot a lot in how it relates to gaming at large, but rarely have I delved into the concept of the game itself. While it’s built for duet gaming, the concept of One Shot can make for an excellent Halloween game. Your player could be the vengeful ghost of someone wrongfully murdered, or someone betrayed and left behind by fellow survivors after the zombie outbreak.
The intimate environment of duet gaming should make it fairly easy to keep the mood going without any props or special mechanics needed, but a custom soundtrack may be worth trying out.
Whatever system you use or game you decide to run, good luck, and happy haunting!