I’m a big fan of cinema and have always had a special spot in my heart for monster films and creature features. That’s why when I got wind of a new board game called Horrified that was themed around the classic Universal monsters, I was definitely interested. It’s not H.P.Lovecraft and Cthulhu, a personal favorite mythos, but there’s something to be said for the archetypal monsters from 1930’s cinema. You know who I mean; Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster (remember, Frankenstein was the scientist), the Invisible Man, all of those “dangers of science and evils of nature” creatures.
Ravensburger generously sent me a copy of Horrified to check out, and I have to admit, I’ve played it quite a few times since because it’s excellent. Light, easy to pick and understand, borrowing some co-op concepts from more complex titles like Pandemic, and with a fun and family-friendly theme. Indeed, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Bride of Frankenstein are bad guys in the game and your goal isn’t to kill them but to teach them what it means to be fully human, then introduce them to each other so they can live happily ever after.
Let’s start out with the game board. It’s definitely colorful and visually interesting:
The board above is already set up for a game so you might notice that there are four coffin tokens approximately on the four corner locations (the challenge to overcome in order to defeat Dracula), the Museum (lower left) has a special overlay token tied to The Mummy, and there are a variety of “items” on the board in three colors: red, blue and yellow. Red represent physical objects like a torch, blue are intellectual items like an invention, and yellow are spiritual, like a cross.
The board represents a small medieval village that’s plagued by these monsters, and an important facet of the game are the villagers who pop up and need to be escorted to safe locations, typically far across town. Forget to do that and the monsters will claim their victims, pushing the Terror Track forward. It’s on the top left of the board, and if it reaches the skull, you’ve lost and the monster have overrun the town.
Having played Horrified multiple times with a group of three other players, I decided to try the solo game. That’s why in the photo above the Terror Track marker is already at 3: Solo mode becomes harder by having less leeway. There are six monsters included with the game and a typical easier game has you trying to rid the town of two. I randomly selected Dracula and The Mummy:
The top portion of each card shows the challenge you must overcome to defeat them and the monster’s special power, which is triggered if you roll a “!” on the attack dice. The middle portion gives you space to set up and track the defeat requirements: Notice that each time I want to destroy one of Dracula’s coffins I need to drop a set of red items that add up to 6 points or more. Once I’ve done that, I can overcome Dracula by dropping six or more yellow (spiritual) items when I’m in the same space as the legendary vampire. The Mummy’s more complex to overcome because I have to get to the Museum then drop yellow items to move the scarab tokens into clockwise ascending numeric order. Once that’s done I then have to drop nine points of red items. If you’re thinking “that sounds like it’s going to take a lot of work” you’re right.
Each player — or just you if you’re playing solo — randomly chooses from amongst 7 heroes. I choose the Professor (the purple badge in the photo below) which gave me 4 actions per turn and a special power of taking an action to move any hero or villager a single space, regardless of my own location. For actions you can choose from move, guide, pick up, share items amongst players, advance your fight against a monster, defeat a monster or utilize your special action. Move and Guide also allow you to interact with villagers; you can drag as many as you want with you as you move around or you can guide them from one space away into your space or push them from your current space into an adjacent spot one away.
Here’s my setup a short ways into the game:
The small standees on the top right (not on the board) are villagers. The white backed cards are “perks” and they’re really helpful: You start with one and can earn more by returning villagers to their safe locations. The dark cards are your nemesis, Monster Cards, that propel them forward. Let’s have a closer look at both…
This is a problem: Dracula is at the Mansion but so is our dear Elizabeth, a villager who is in danger until brought to the Tower (you can see it’s listed on the top of her standee). If Dracula goes, he’ll immediately attack Elizabeth, overcome her, and the Terror Track will move one step closer to me losing the game!
The Monster Cards – one is drawn after each hero’s full set of actions are used – are a bit more complex, but key to the game:
This Monster card caused me to place Elizabeth, our “worried fiancee”, at the Mansion. The “3” on the very top means that three new items are randomly added to the board (and they’re critical to collect so you can overcome the monsters, so any time more are added it’s good). The bottom requires some explanation: It’s the Monster Strike information for this turn. Icons represent each monster (in this case it’s Frankenstein and his Bride to be) and the flame triggers the “frenzied” monster (denoted by the frenzy token on one of your monster cards). Since I’m not playing with Frank or Bride, those two icons are ignored, but the frenzied monster is Dracula! The right side of the Monster Strike info says what to do: the monster moves up to 1 space from the current location towards a hero or villager, then attacks with two dice. Sorry, Elizabeth, you’re toast.
To offset the constant threat, I’ve collected quite a few items and even have two Perk cards I can play as needed:
This is important: When a monster attacks a hero, you can discard an item to compensate for each hit. All those blue items I’ve collected? None of them are going to help me defeat Dracula or The Mummy, so I’m hoarding them to make myself more invulnerable to the bad guys. The Perks on the right can be played once and are then discarded, so I save those for a critical moment too.
That’s basically the entire game. You and your fellow heroes are roaming the village, trying to collect items to defeat the monsters and shepherd villagers to their safe spaces. Meanwhile, the monsters are trying to follow you and overcome villagers too. Since all heroes are working together, it’s a pleasant co-op that will appeal to hardcore gamers while still being very accessible to neophytes. You can also up the difficulty by choosing different monsters, or increasing the number of monsters, or both. My friends and I learned the hard way: We tried to defeat the three hardest monsters, Frankenstein & Bride, The Invisible Man and The Wolfman. And lost resoundingly. Sorry, villagers.
Solo play was a bit imbalanced, however, though it’s easily solved by changing the starting setup. With a multiplayer game, you start by spreading 12 items around the village, but for a single hero, that’s way too much (witness my substantial collection in the photo above). Dial up the difficulty by lowering that number. I’ve tried starting with 6 which makes it much more interesting and now want to give zero starting items a try to see if I can survive. Horrified is a really fun game and recommended both for solo play and definitely for groups or families. It’s also entirely fun and appropriately themed for tweens, though very young children might be freaked out by the behaviors and threat of the monsters themselves.
Disclosure: Ravensburger sent me a copy of Horrified for the purposes of this review. Thanks, Ravensburger! Also, the Amazon links I include in this piece are affiliate links; you pay exactly the same, but they give me a tiny commission on the sale.