What should you do with your free time this summer once you’ve caught up on your Netflix account and cleared out the digital recorder?

It’s game time.

No, not sporting events. Hands-on games. But these are not your everyday, fun-for-the-whole-family, Milton-Bradley entertainments. Below you’ll find amusements tainted with horror elements. Diversions to inspire mind-searing madness and soul-shredding mayhem. Games you can proudly put on your table next to the black candles.

Invite some other human-types over and get into these:

Shadows of Esteren

Shadows of Esteren

A medieval role-playing game with themes of Gothic horror. Originally produced in French, the game finally has an English translation. The tone of the game is one of hope versus despair, survival, sanity, and moral dilemmas. SoE is using the literary definition of Gothic horror: things seem commonplace at first, but a sense of dread and unease creeps in, changing everyone involved. A new supplement to SoE, called Occultism was recently funded in Kickstarter, showing the game has gained popularity. Download a PDF copy of Book 0 – The Prologue for free to see if it’s for you.

Don’t Turn Your Back

Don't turn your back

A board game from Evil Hat Productions. Usually a producer of RPGs, this is the Hat’s first foray into the physical game, based on its eerie, chill-evoking RPG, Don’t Rest Your Head, coming later in this list.

Steal dreams and use them to buy favors from Nightmares, the natives of the Mad City, and skillfully wind your way out of the 13th District. Try to win favor with those in power like Mother When and the Wax King. Maybe you’ll be able to escape. But maybe another player will sell you out, leaving you to a fate possibly worse than death. Like being trapped in an office with people you despise. Five days a week. Until your mind snaps permanently, or you can afford to retire.

Betrayal at House on the Hill


At about an hour’s playtime, this game is perfect to while away a sun-drenched afternoon without getting mired in one all-weekend-long game session. BHH is a strategy tile game where players create the mansion and explore it room by room to learn its secrets. Add your own spooky soundtrack and some blackout curtains to amp up the suspense of exploring the creepy mansion, and to drive home the fright of spirit encounters. During the game, one of the players betrays the others, and the innocent are left to try and stop the evil. If they can…

This is one of those board games that you can play again and again, without getting…well, bored.



gloom game Not a fan of board games? Weirdo. Well, pick up Gloom. It’s a darkly disturbing little card game, where you are one of a family of oddball, Edward Gorey-esque characters. You goal? To inflict happiness on others as you try to accumulate misery through experiencing the most horrific tragedies imaginable—Pursued by Poodles, perhaps?—before you die. Lovely, isn’t it?

The cards are clear plastic so you can easily see what effect additional cards played on top of each other have. Clever, and especially useful to those card lovers who have ever had to search under a miniature mountain of cards to determine a point value, only to have it slide everywhere, making you want to destroy everything. Oh, is that just me? Nevermind.

Last Night on Earth


One of Flying Frog Productions’ collaborative horror games, which give you the feeling of working with others to survive in extreme circumstances: morbid fascination mixed with cuticle-chewing frustration. In this survival scenario, you can choose if you’d rather be #TeamHero or #TeamZombie. As a hero, you’ll need to collab with other upstanding citizens to find a way to defeat the brain-sucking hoard. Good luck with that! Should you choose zombie, you’ll become master over these mindless munchers, all the while sowing seeds of dissent among those meddling heroes. LNoE is fast-paced, maybe an hour play time, and it includes a modular board, so you can construct a new town layout for subsequent games, because you’ll want to play this again.

Black Sun Deathcrawl

Black sun deathcrawl

Think our yellow sun is bad? You may be tempted to bask in it after reading about this RPG. You play this game as one of The Cursed, doomed human residue left over in a dying world. Well, aren’t we all? There are no names, no races, no classes, and one goal: dig into the Earth to avoid the warping rays of the Black Sun. Eventually, the Black Sun will kill you all, but who can live the longest? BSD is a setting supplement for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPGs, a series of d20 open game licensed adventures, reminiscent of the old school days of D&D, where your team was there to kill things and loot treasure. BSD is a version that will resonate with any of the dark-hearted: life is meaningless and we’re all going to die. A PDF of BSD is available at the above link for a pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth price.

Don’t Rest Your Head

Dont rest your head

Another great game form Evil Hat Productions. I can’t say it better than the website: “A sleek, dangerous little game, where your players are insomniac protagonists with superpowers, fighting—and using—exhaustion to stay alive.” Try to escape the Mad City before the clock chimes thirteen again.

An RPG perfect to make you forget the sun is outside. Frightening, monstrous characters stroll the Mad City and they know your nightmares. So don’t fall asleep. With this one you’ll need a game master that likes to give a bit of theatre to a game session, and players willing to contribute some storyline of their own. DRH feels like open roleplay, features its own play system, and is contained within one book. Get it. Now.

None of these your thing? Put your suggestions to good use and create your own game by entering Game Chef’s annual game design competition. The 2016 challenge starts soon.

Eden Royce

Eden Royce

Eden is an author, editor, ex-debutante, and part-time hoodooienne. She makes a mean cheesecake.
Eden Royce
RT @SaundraMitchell: I love foreign covers! New Italian paperback of SHADOWED SUMMER! #giunti #l'estatedeifantasmi https://t.co/oup3fMhhr9 - 7 hours ago