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Board Game Review: Horrified

I have been playing board games since I was a kid. Chinese Checkers, Chess, Monopoly, Clue, Skipbo, Taboo, and Pictionary  were in regular rotation on our table when my parents and I or my friends and I sat down to play. Into my adulthood, and over the years since, I have continued to enjoy these games. And then, about ten years ago, I was introduced to "serious" board gaming. I began to play board games from small publishers where the designer and artist are a topic of discussion, as are game mechanisms (e.g. worker placement, area control, etc.), weight of the board game, replayability, and other concerns. I started with Settlers of Catan and then fell for PowerGrid, Puerto Rico, and Robinson Crusoe. Then I joined a few board game meetup groups in my community and my passion for the hobby really bloomed. 900+ games in my collection later, I've come to understand there's a bit of snobbery in board gaming circles. The games I knew and loved as a child are lumped into a category referred to as mass market games and sneered at by the board game elite. What defines a mass market game?  Typically published by a major toy company (vs a dedicated board gaming publisher), it has a lower price point, cheaper components, uncredited or corporate designers and artists, weak narrative, and is light to medium weight in complexity. I have several mass market games from yesteryear in my existing collection and am happy to play them with anyone who asks, so I don’t consider myself a board game snob. On the other hand, I don’t purchase new releases in this category anymore so maybe I’ve got one foot in the elite circle?

Recently, Ravensburger sent me Horrified . Released in 2019,  the game garnered high praise from Tom Vasel, who raved about it on Dice Tower. That piqued my husband’s interest, and he asked me to request it for review. Horrified  is easily classified as a mass market board game but since I’m no board game snob, I looked forward to playing it.

Spoiler: turns out I am becoming a little bit of a board game snob.

If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that theming and narrative backstory are important to me. Why has my character come together with others in the story setting laid out in the game? Do the game objectives make sense in the context of the story? What drives the behavior of the bad vs good guys in the game? What era in time do we exist in? Where are we geographically? None of this is explained in Horrified . In this cooperative game, players just find themselves dropped into a nameless town, fighting a hoard of monsters and escorting villagers to safety. How did we get to this town? Where is this town? When is this happening? Why this particular grouping of monsters? Turns out the answer to the last question is: because it’s a bunch of Universal Studios IP mashed together (but that doesn’t provide an in-game narrative explanation).  “Universal Classic Monsters is a name given to the horror, fantasy, thriller and science fiction films made by Universal Pictures during the decades of the 1920s through the 1950s. They were the first shared universe in the entire movie industry in Hollywood and around the world” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Classic_Monsters). The monsters include Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride, Wolf Man, Creature From the Black Lagoon, and The Invisible Man.

I had additional questions on why our characters would be in this cookie cutter town (I played the archaeologist, whose picture clearly indicates he belongs on a dig somewhere in Egypt) but my husband was able to explain that the characters are straight out of the Universal Studios movies (mine is from The Mummy)  and it only made sense they would be in town if the monsters were also in town.

Setting my problem with the narrative aside, let’s talk about the components. A portion of them are poorly constructed - there are flimsy cards and monster mats that bend easily and there are cheap plastic figurines without much detail – but most of the components are just fine. The cardboard player tokens are well made, there are custom dice (nice touch), and the central game board is easy to read, well laid out, and features bright colors. The rulebook is orderly and sensible and player aid cards are included (always a plus – I get irritated when publishers leave these out). And good news, there’s a fix for shoddy figurines. Someone came up with the brilliant idea to use Funko Pop! Universal Monsters Series mini figures in place of the included figurines and it really elevates the game. Unfortunately, there’s no fix for the flimsiness of the cards, so if you want to play regularly, you’re going to need to sleeve them.

The artwork is simple and cartoonish. I wouldn’t describe it as beautiful, realistic, or haunting; more like family friendly and what you’d expect from a mass market game.

What about the gameplay? I’d sum it up like this – it’s a lot like Pandemic but here we are dealing with monsters instead of ambiguous diseases and the gameplay is less complex. It’s engaging and fun. At the beginning of the game 2, 3, or 4 monsters are selected and placed on the board. On each player’s turn, after the player completes their actions, new items are spawned in various locations on the board (items are gathered by players and used to defend against and defeat the monsters), a special action occurs, and then the monsters move and attack. One of the special actions that can occur is to place a named villager in an assigned location. These villagers add additional depth to the game – players must escort them safely to their designated destination location and then are rewarded with perk cards that offer special abilities. If villagers are left to fend for themselves and are attacked by one of the monsters, they die, and our terror level goes up (terror level also goes up if any character is attacked and doesn’t have enough items to discard to fend off the attack). If the players defeat all the monsters, they win. If the terror level gets to the farthest point on the terror track, or if the monster deck runs out, the players lose. The whole game plays in less than an hour, it’s simple enough for kids to understand, and it plays up to five. The player count is a big plus for us as we have five family members once you count the three kids and so any four player games force us to leave a kid out. Because there isn’t a lot of complexity in Horrified , there isn’t much of a problem with analysis paralysis. Turns flow smoothly and quickly. There are several monsters to choose from when setting up monster combinations at the start of the game and each monster must be defeated in a unique way (thematic to the movie plot from which the monster is borrowed), so there is a good degree of replayability inherent in the box.

Providing a review rating for Horrified  is proving difficult. I’m realizing now that I have become a bit of a board game snob and so the flimsy cards and cheap plastic figurines really turn me off (the Funko Pop! minis fix the figurine problem but I resent having to go track them down at extra expense). And the lack of narrative really irritates me. So for my readers who are serious board gamers and only play with other serious gamers, I think a single Oui! is fair. On the other hand, the gameplay in Horrified  is much better than in your average mass market game. Its monster theme is different from all the other monster themes in the board gaming community (which mostly trend toward Cthulhu or space aliens). The gameplay is engaging – especially for my kids – and so it makes me happy to play it again with the family or with casual gamer friends. For those audiences (families and casual gamers), I’d give it a Oui! Oui!

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Players: 1-5
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): about 45 minutes per game
Game type: dice rolling, cooperative, pick-up and deliver, mass market

Veteran Board Gamer Rating:                                          

review-OUI

Casual Gamer and Family Gaming Rating:

review-OUIOUI

Rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

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