The biggest hurdle for board games over video games or movies is the amount of “buy-in.” You need a group, and you need them to agree and sit down and listen to rules. But fear not! Halloween is the perfect time to kick things off with a themed game night, and we’ve got just the right monster-filled games to get your friends started. We’ll start with the most accessible and work our way up. Here we go!
Welcome (Back) to the Dungeon
2-4 players, 20-40 min, $14.99
I don’t know about you, but my experience with Dungeons & Dragons was incomplete. Plenty of promise about dungeon delving, followed by a lot of never making it outside of the local tavern. Welcome to the Dungeon gets straight to the dungeon delving, and does it in half an hour. Its unique twist is that players are bidding and bluffing on whether characters will even survive, and just how appropriate is that for a spooky Halloween game night?
Players take turns adding monsters (face-down!) to the dungeon or removing equipment from a particular character until everyone passes. The last one to pass must send the character into the dungeon, but he only knows what he contributed to the mess the adventurer must face! You score a point if your adventurer succeeds, but take damage if he doesn’t. You’re out if you take two damages; otherwise, the first player to score two points (or the last one standing) is the winner.
The game has absolutely incredible artwork, simple rules, a fair amount of bluffing, and quite a bit of variety. The four characters (barbarian, warrior, rogue, mage) play very differently, and the recent sequel Welcome Back to the Dungeon adds more advanced monsters in addition to ninja, princess, bard, and necromancer characters. It’s a great way to begin or end a game night, and either set can be had for $10-15.
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King of Tokyo / New York
2-6 players, 30-60 min, $39.99
Nothing says “monster game night” better than having players act as the actual monsters, smashing the city of their choice (Tokyo or New York). King of Tokyo has been a huge success in the five years since its release, even garnering a shiny new second edition just this summer. King of New York is the big, more complex brother of King of Tokyo. Both have the same core and are good games in their own right, but King of Tokyo is a considerably simpler game to learn (and just as fun).
King of Tokyo builds on the simple dice-rolling mechanics of classic Yahtzee, but the faces of the dice correspond to the kind of awesome things that kaiju monsters should be doing. You can buy powerful cards with energy or score points for demolishing the city. You can also attack other players in a “king of the hill” style battle that rewards you for spending the whole round as everyone else’s punching bag, at which point you get revenge on everyone all at once!
As with Welcome to the Dungeon, publisher IELLO proves here that they are masterful at components and artwork. Everything screams fun, from the crazy pictures on the energy cards, to the giant monster standees, to the huge, chunky dice. The game has a bit of a learning curve the first round or so, but everyone should understand before the game is over—and be ready to play again. I still remember the first time I took this to a game night; we played five times in a row!
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2-4 players, 45-75 min, $29.99
Smash Up is a non-collectible card game without any rare chasing. In fact, all you need to do to build your deck is to take two factions and, well, smash them up! This “shufflebuilding” allows for tons of geeky variety without any setup time or extra money beforehand. Do you want to be Pirate Ninjas? What about Dinosaur Robots? Zombie Aliens?
The possibilities for this game are endless. If you find yourself wanting more, there are several expansions for it, but of course this week we have to recommend the appropriately-named Monster Smash, featuring Vampires, Werewolves, Mad Scientists, and Giant Ants. The crazy possibilities also mean the game becomes pretty complicated as the many different cards interact. However, if your friends have experience with card games like Magic: the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh!, jumping into Smash Up won’t be difficult at all. It can also run a little long, so I recommend always using 3 bases and playing to 12 points instead of 15.
For well over a decade before I got into hobby board games more generally, I played Magic: the Gathering extensively and exclusively. On a personal level, I’m glad to be clear of that now, but a good 3-player session of Smash Up takes me back to our 4-hour games of Commander multiplayer in a shorter and simpler package. If you and 1-3 friends want to dedicate game night to a few rounds of a particular game and you all love to beat up on each other, Smash Up is a great choice for a deeper dive. If you’re on the fence, you can also check the game out now in digital form on Steam, and there’s even a free demo version!
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A Monstrous Task
Halloween is a great chance to kick off some board game sessions with a themed game night, so we hope that these are some helpful ideas to get you started. While getting started requires some rules reading and teaching (and subsequent rules-checking), board games were a wonderful way for me to bond with my family and meet new friends in new cities. More than anything else, make sure you and your group are having fun!
I've been a board game reviewer since 2011. I love card-driven games and party games. I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics and teach the subject at Taylor University in Upland, IN. My wife and kids are my favorite gaming partners.
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