The horror genre is so alluring because it lets us experience terror and dread from a position of safety. The tension and thrills are a great match for the board game format, allowing a group of friends to explore their agency in shaping a horror narrative. It’s a unique way to experience such stories and provides chilling shared memories that can hit with more force than film or literature.
There are an abundance of horror board games and many of high quality. The following entries are the strongest available, the titles sure to elicit dread. So, Halloween or not, howl at the moon and pull out some cardboard.
TL;DR: The Best Horror Board Games
Unmatched: Cobble and Fog
Unmatched, a game series in which you can mix and match figures from myth and pop culture to go head to head in a tactical fight, might not seem like much of a horror game. But Cobble and Fog takes the action to the streets of Victorian London with figures like Dracula, the Invisible Man, and Jekyll & Hyde. Each has its own deck of cards that leverages the simple rules framework with flavourful and fun special effects: Dracula, for example, can lure and hypnotise his opponents as well as drain their blood. Between them the four characters here weave a real atmosphere of gothic horror. Cobble and Fog is about the best set in the entire Unmatched series, and so is also a great introduction to its wider charms. See our Unmatched: Cobble and Fog review for more details.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
An iconic horror game that’s now 20 years old, Betrayal at House on the Hill is now in its third edition and is still beloved. The defining trait is how it begins with everyone cooperating to explore a haunted house and unveil its secrets within, then radically shifts halfway through to reveal the central mystery and one of the players becomes a traitor. The betrayer here does not know they are the villain until this final haunt phase occurs, which establishes a throughline of tension and anticipation. The haunt then is randomly selected from a large number of options. The possibilities here are wild, as the foe could turn out to be a grisly werewolf that will then hunt down the survivors, or it could be something more tricky such as a ghastly spirit that manipulates the board. This flips the game on its head, adding some new rules and interactions. It’s a wild and unforgettable ride every time.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Slaughterhouse
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Slaughterhouse is every bit as iconic and powerful as the film it’s based on. This competitive experience puts one player in the role of the deranged Sawyer family, slowly bringing additional characters into play over the course of the game. The rest of the table are playing as trespassers, unfortunate souls who have stumbled upon the property and are looking to escape. This scenario-based game is full of dread. The protagonists are unable to kill the Sawyers, and instead must sneak and scavenge in pursuit of their goal. Meanwhile, the Sawyer player is biding their time until they can get the chainsaw wielding Leatherface onto the board. Carnage erupts and the game culminates in a frenzy of desperation. This is one of the best board games of 2023, and certainly one of the best horror games ever designed.
Some years ago there was a quite brilliant board game based on the Battlestar Galactica TV show, in which players had a hidden role and the group had to try and out traitors while guiding the starship back to earth. Now it’s been reborn with a horror theme, with a steamship under attack by Lovecraftian monsters as it crosses the ocean. Players are either passengers who need to work together to save the ship or secret cultists who must quietly sabotage any efforts to avert the crises that unfold each turn. The star of the show is the way players put cards face-down into a pile that can either boost or undermine attempts to stave off disaster, leaving the group slivers of information to guess who might be the cuckoo in the nest. The stellar production values we’ve come to expect from publisher Fantasy Flight help a lot, too. See our Unfathomable review for more info.
The Thing: The Board Game
Another entry based on a film property, The Thing: The Board Game is a surprisingly well-designed thriller full of intrigue and suspicion. This is broadly in a similar genre to Unfathomable, as one player begins the game infected while the others are clean and looking for a way out of the arctic base. What sets this apart from other traitor-based games is the ability for the infection to spread organically. While players are rushing around the facility seeking to repair the boiler and electric systems in order to stave off death and call in a rescue team, they risk becoming infected and switching sides. This creates a natural paranoia as no one wants to work together or share a close space, which opposes the need to cooperate in order to succeed. There is also a solitaire mode of play, although it’s not particularly fulfilling and second-seat to the main multiplayer experience. This is an excellent game, albeit one that is somewhat rough around the edges due to a clunky and poorly written rulebook.
Real-world Australians may be outraged by the portrayal of their home as a monster-infested island, but it makes a compelling horror game. Players spend the early part of the game building a train network across the continent, defeating Lovecraftian monsters on the way to reach valuable resources and build farms. About halfway through, the pace kicks up a notch as the monsters start to hit back, destroying your infrastructure and potentially wiping humanity out completely, resulting in a loss for all players. It’s a weird combination but it works well, providing a fun theme, exciting combat and strategic route and combo building all at the same time and making the game widely appealing.
Zombicide: Black Plague
In the original Zombicide released in 2012, you play as a survivor hoping to live through a modern-day zombie apocalypse. Black Plague changes up the formula by transporting you a fantastical medieval world of magic, dragons, and… well, more zombies. You control a paladin, or a knight, or a magician, among other character types as you look to combat the death magic of an evil necromancer. This fantasy version of a typical zombie story is refreshing and novel, and there are a ton of expansions available that add new scenarios, player characters, locations, items, and more. If you want more similar options, check out our picks for the best cooperative board games.
Horrified: Universal Monsters
It’s the monsters’ world, we’re just living in it. In Horrified, it’s your job to thwart the nefarious plans of the most famous movie monsters of all time. Take on Frankenstein and his bride, the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon in this easy-to-learn cooperative game. You’ll take to the streets of a small village under duress from the monsters, and must take on the role of one of several heroes. Each one comes with their own strengths and weakness when it comes to fight off the monsters. If you’re looking for a showdown with horror’s most iconic monsters, Horrified is the game for you.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
If you’re looking for more Lovecraftian flavor, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a no-brainer. The base game comes with a small handful of scenarios that sends you directly into the jaws of cosmic mystery. You can use the suggested starter decks, or build a custom one centered around your chosen investigator’s special abilities. Gameplay sees you hopping from location to location to search for clues in order to advance the story while attempting to impede the deadly Mythos deck. Your investigator will inevitably take damage and acquire weaknesses over time that can affect future games in the campaign, making Arkham Horror: The Card Game one of the most thematic games on this list. Also check out our list of the best deck-building games.
Cthulhu: Death May Die
At first blush, Cthulhu: Death May Die looks like an overstuffed box focused more on miniatures than gameplay. That concern is misplaced, as this fully-cooperative game is one of the most empowering horror games on the market. Players take on the role of 1920s investigators intent on breaking up a cult ritual to summon a Great Old One. Each scenario is contained in a tuck-box with its own rules and components, providing a high degree of variety to gameplay. If the group is successful, they will disturb the ritual just as the Elder God appears, diminishing their immortality and resulting in a brief moment of vulnerability. This game is the epic showdown at the end of Arkham Horror-style pulp tales. Tommy Guns are blasting, fists are being thrown, and explosions are going off. It’s electric.
Dead of Winter
Dead of Winter is kind of like a board game version of The Walking Dead. The game is described as a “meta-cooperative psychological survival game,” which means that, while it is cooperative, there are elements of competition that carry through the game. Each player controls a group survivors during the zombie apocalypse, and all must work together in order to meet the shared goal. In addition, you’ll be working towards your own hidden goal as well. Sometimes that means hoarding the most medicine, or stockpiling the most ammo. Other times, you might simply want to betray the team and ruin group morale. No matter what, though, there’s no way to trust anyone at the table thanks to the group politics and interpersonal drama Dead of Winter brings.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
The game that popularized the whole “secret roles” mechanic now common to the party game scene, One Night Ultimate Werewolf will have your group flinging accusations and insults around the table. The goal is to learn who the werewolves are and expose them, but that’s easier said than done. There are other characters who can switch roles around, and even see which roles are not in play for the round. Because nobody can be sure who the werewolves are (including the werewolves themselves), each game is a chaotic flurry of accusations and desperate defenses that always end in a good time. Rounds are short, and the free phone app makes setup a breeze, which makes One Night an ideal party game.
Mansions of Madness
Mansions of Madness takes the dungeon crawling and asymmetrical gameplay of Descent and Star Wars: Imperial Assault and transports its to the macabre world of H.P. Lovecraft. One player takes on the role of the Keeper and guides the others through one of several pre-written scenarios. As players make their way through the mansion, their actions and choices may affect the monsters they encounter. There are several expansion scenarios available, which helps to make your investment more worthwhile. Set aside a hefty chunk of time, however, as Mansions demands no small amount of attention, making it a perfect game for a dedicated group of horror fans.