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When it comes to balancing a cooperative board game, designers have to pull their fingers out to enable enough memorable clutch moments without seeming unfair. Horror board games can afford to come across a little more aggressively in this regard, as the prospect of near-impossible odds can only serve to heighten the existing fear-factor (Eldritch Horror is a good example of this).
But this was far from the case in my first game of Horrified, an officially licensed Universal Pictures board game, possibly intended to tie in with the Universal Monsters Universe (now nothing more than a dessicated husk after 2017’s The Mummy promptly took a nosedive into its own sarcophagus). In Horrified, players become a group of unlikely heroes living in the most monster-ridden town this side of the nine hells. These monsters include beloved Hammer Horror classics such as Dracula, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and more, all decked out in their pulpiest incarnations. Our heroes must cast out these monsters by successfully fulfilling the requirements listed on each of their cards; for example, Dracula is defeated by smashing his coffins and destroying his mortal form once and for all.
My first game of Horrified was a bit of a cake walk. This is because the game recommends new players start with just two monsters out of a potential four. However, this is a poor way to play the game, so just ignore it. Once you begin playing with three or more monsters activated, things get interesting and you start experiencing those clutch moments. See, you’re not just working against the monsters, who can simply end the game by killing enough villagers or maiming enough heroes, but you’re also working against the clock in the form of a monster deck (which is drawn from after every hero turn, and determines which monsters do what). Having multiple ways of losing, including two that can just happen in the space of a few turns, makes playing Horrified a suitably tense affair. Throw some additional monsters into the mix, and you’ve got a really engaging game that provides a nice variety of objectives in one incredibly pretty package (there’s that Universal budget we’ve been looking for).
Horrified isn’t anything particularly original; it has certainly borrowed a good few leaves out of Pandemic’s rulebook, and owes plenty of its stylistic elements to other horror games that came before it (such as Mansions of Madness). Nevertheless, Horrified is a game that begins and ends with its monsters, giving them the spotlight they deserve, both visually and mechanically, so you can’t help but love ’em.
The game is currently out in the US and Canada, while its UK release date is TBC. If you can’t stand the wait, then it is available from Amazon.com with a fairly reasonable shipping fee.