By Ainy Rainwater
My favorite monster when I was a kid was The Creature From the Black Lagoon. We lived a few houses down from a large drainage gully and not all that far from the Texas Gulf Coast, so an aquatic monster creeping across the backyard at twilight was a lot more plausible than, say, some monster from a lightning-struck castle, Transylvania, or pyramids. I’ve never lost my love of classic monster movies, and my husband loves them too, so when I saw a board game based on all those monsters I had to get it. It’s been less than two years since I started getting back into board games as an adult and the pandemic and consequent lockdown put an end to the 4-6 player weekend board games with the extended family, so I started looking for games my husband and I could play together. If it could play well with the whole family in the post-pandemic era, all the better.
Horrified checks off so very many boxes for an ideal board game that it basically became an instant favorite. First of all, it’s fun. I was attracted to it because of the theme: a co-operative game in which the players try to defeat an assortment of classic monsters and save the villagers. The artwork is good, with a slightly retro feel. Actually, the whole game has a slightly retro feel. Some of the game mechanics are clearly of the modern era, but you’re moving your Hero figures along pathways on the board to reach goals on the board, which is classic game-play from 75 years ago. You play as a randomly selected character who has special abilities (except for The Mayor, who has extra actions). My favorite combo so far is The Explorer and The Courier. Each character has a varying number of actions you can take during the Hero phase of your turn.
Actions include moving, fighting monsters, picking up objects to defeat the monsters, and grabbing hapless Villagers and dragging them along to their safe locations. The reward for saving a Villager is drawing a special Perk card with actions which can help you. After each person does an action phase, they draw a Monster card. First, they draw the number of object tiles from the black bag and place them on the board, then, if the monster is one that’s on the board, the monster does whatever it does. There’s possibly a fight, depending on where the monsters are, and whether there’s a Frenzy marker on the card on the monster. Sometimes instead of a monster action, you’re instructed to place a Villager in a specific location.
The standard game, by the way, is two monsters. The total number of possible monsters is seven. (Creature From the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Wolfman, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Bride of Frankenstein, all of which are minis, which you can paint if you so desire. The Heros and Villagers are represented as standees.) So the game is scalable in difficulty depending on how many monsters you use. Also, some monsters are easier to defeat than others. Instead of having player mats, you have monster mats, where you take action to vanquish the monster (Frankenstein’s monster and The Bride share a mat.) This is where the game is really clever: each monster has a different mechanic for defeating it. Between the different combinations of monsters, the different ways of defeating them, the different combinations of Hero characters, and just the way the cards (and dice when there’s a monster attack) play out, the game has almost infinite replayability.
Because the game is so character-driven, with Monsters, Villagers, and Heros, it’s almost impossible not to interject story elements as play progresses. Sacrificing Villagers, taking Monsters shopping with me, venturing into Caves or Graveyards for items to defeat monsters, sleeping in The Barn or the Inn. It can get quite silly, and that’s part of the fun.
The game is fully co-op. Each player takes a turn, but if you don’t do a good job of laying out a strategy and coordinating your actions, the Monsters will defeat you. Losing a fight with a monster doesn’t mean game-over; you respawn in the Hospital at the beginning of the next round. Losing the game can happen two ways: either you or Villagers are defeated enough times that the Terror Level reaches maximum, or you draw the last Monster card. The deck of Monster cards isn’t as thick as I’d have liked: when the last Monster card has been played the game ends whether you’ve defeated all the Monsters or not. Sometimes you just run out of time, the remaining deck has fewer and fewer cards, and you know that you have only a few moves left to win. This isn’t a game that can drag on all day. To be honest I lose all track of time when we play (a sign of a good game), but even at our most disorganized I don’t think our first game took more than a couple of hours with 2 players. The length of the game is largely decided by how long it takes the human players to figure out what’s the best thing to do and do it. The Monsters always know what to do! Players who work well with each other and have a good sense of humor will enjoy this game the most. Game play is smooth, fun, and at times, way too exciting! We’ve taken hits, sacrificed Villagers, and watched the Terror Level go up while the Monster deck goes down. The box says 1-5 players, but there are 7 monsters and 7 Hero cards, so there’s the potential for even bigger group mayhem.
Once lockdown is over I want to try this with five players and varying numbers of monsters because this game would be awesome fun with my usual extended family game group. I suspect the game designer had a good reason for the five player limit. For one thing: the more players, the faster you go through the deck of monster cards. That deck tick-ticks its way down like a time bomb even if the Terror Level isn’t going up. You can pay a tile and avoid taking a hit in a monster attack, which helps manage the Terror Level (Villagers are at the mercy of the dice) but every monster card on every turn takes you closer to the end of the game. Tick. Tick. Tick. Choose your moves and actions wisely; you have a limited number of them!
The final thing that the game has going for it is that it’s easy to learn. Winning can be difficult depending on the Monster combination and the Hero combination because some Heroes have better special abilities than others and some Monsters are tougher than others. (The Invisible Man is super-annoying and we have no great love for The Mummy, either.) As for the Creature From the Black Lagoon? Yeah, he’s still my favorite.