Ravensburger and Prospero Hall strike again!
I don’t want to spoil it too much, but when you open Horrified, another great game from the Ravensburger/Prospero Hall team, it’s packaged in such a way that you get a fun little surprise that is about as on brand as possible for a game based on the classic stable of Universal Monsters. And I don’t want to give it away, but there is a famous comedy duo that kind-of-sort-of makes a cameo appearance. It will bring a smile to the face of any monster kid like me that revels in the vintage Hollywood horror of Karloff, Chaney, Whale, and Browning (but not Lugosi, thanks to a long-standing prohibition in using his likeness as Dracula). Indeed, Horrified is a super fun monster mash mashed into a simple, pick-up-and-deliver co-op design with an appropriate family-friendly level of rules weight and length.
But since this is one of those Ravensburger/Prospero Hall games, they had to go and get all clever on us. In Horrified, you effectively create a scenario by mixing and matching the monsters your wonderfully diverse and inclusive team of scientists, investigators, and other pro monster hunters must face while defending their village. Each monster has a couple of sequential requirements to defeat them, and each offer unique gameplay within the basic pick-up-and-deliver concept including specific activation cards that give each monster a unique flavor. You might find yourself delivering key evidence to the police to reveal the misdeeds of the Invisible Man. Or, you’ll have to commandeer an expedition to find the Gill-Man’s lair. Maybe you’ll be deciphering the Mummy’s riddle. My favorite is teaching Frankenstein’s Monster and the Bride to be more human while preventing them from meeting.
This stuff is just absolutely adorable, and I love that the game’s difficulty is set by which monsters – and how many - you choose to square off against. It can get really tough with some of the more complex monsters and more of them, and in fact our last game ended with me apparently being singled out by Frankenstein’s Monster for punishment – the dude quite literally waited outside of the hospital to pummel me. If the monsters manage to kill the randomly generated, roaming villagers or the monster hunters too many times, it’s game over. The challenge is for the players to use their actions and abilities to defeat each monster while also keeping the villagers safe.
On a turn, each player gets four actions (except the Mayor, she gets five) and these are used to travel from point-to-point around an Arkham Horror-like board. Along the way, you can pick up three different categories of items, which in general need to be delivered to specific points on the board or to battle certain monsters. Villagers appear, and you will need to escort them to the safe locations printed on their standees. All of this makes me wonder if this design originated as a train game and in fact mechanically it feels like a very simple example of the genre.
When the monsters move, they will head toward a player or a villager and they execute a die roll to see if they do damage. If a player is attacked, they’ve got to discard an item to ward off damage. Otherwise, they go to the hospital. In my case, so that Frankenstein’s Monster could wait there to ambush me. In the event of a KO or a slain villager, the terror level increases and you are that much closer to losing.
This is not a complex game by any stretch of the word, and it is not a deep or meticulously detailed one. To this end, I believe that those who come into Horrified looking for an experience like one of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Files game are going to be disappointed. But to be blunt, that’s their own fault, not the fault of the game. I’ve played in one group where the sentiment was expressed that it was “boring” that each item didn’t have a specific game function, but my retort is that the item’s type (spiritual, scientific, or physical) is what matters – not if something gives a +1 to a roll or has some other setting-specific effect.
Like Jaws, Horrified is a highly streamlined, highly refined design that slices away bulk and filler and leaves behind the elements that matter the most. Yet, there is still room for the detail that each monster and their specific ways of attacking provide, as well as within the neat multi-piece scenario concept that is reminiscent of Donald X. Vaccarrino’s concepts regarding modular setup. The narrative elements rest atop, yet integrates into, a well-crafted chassis of solid game mechanisms.
I love the approach that Prospero Hall took with this game as it could have easily turned into the kind of morass of overcomplicated, overwrought hobby game tropes that “thematic” games tend toward. But this is a mass market game designed for maximum accessibility and appeal rather than something aimed at culty, initiates-only hobbyistas. Yet the designers, who are shamefully uncredited by name, are clearly aware of trends and successful ideas in the hobby gaming world and they’ve leveraged that knowledge to maximum effect. Horrified is a smart, spooky treat that should see plenty of table time with Halloween just around the corner.