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Bruce Markusen Lists His Top 6 Favorite Vintage Horror Board Games



Bruce Markusen Lists His Top 6 Favorite Vintage Horror Board Games

There has been virtually nothing good to come out of the coronavirus pandemic—with the possible exception of the creativity that so many of us have had to show in keeping ourselves occupied and entertained. Many horror fans have made the adjustment to participating in horror and sci-fi conventions through virtual means, though thankfully we are already starting to see many of the conventions return to an in-person format—the way that they were meant to be.

Some fans have also found other entertainment options that can be enjoyed within the confines of their homes and apartments. One way involves a return to the vintage horror board games that were once so prevalent and popular in the 1960s and seventies. Prior to the advent of video games and long before we were lucky enough to have streaming services, young horror fans entertained themselves with a wide range of inventive and diverse board games.

While video-based games have retained their place in pop culture, there are a few old diehards who have found some joy in re-living the board-based games that involve dice, spinners, and other mechanisms of chance.

Here are six old favorites among these vintage board games. Some have neat devices, while all feature beautiful artwork and all show a genuine passion for monsters, ghosts, and even the occult. In some cases, the games can still be found at reasonable prices on the internet, while a few of them have become so scarce that they now carry a high price tag. Either way, we can still love them.

Creature Features (1975)

Creature Features Game 1975

Produced by a company called Research Games in 1975, Creature Features is essentially the horror version of Monopoly. In fact, the written rules that accompany the game state quite clearly, “This game plays similarly to the famous Monopoly game.” I’m guessing that Research Games must have reached some sort of agreement with the producers of Monopoly in order to avoid any copyright infringement.

Instead of trying to obtain properties like “Boardwalk” and “Park Place,” each player’s goal is to produce horror films that star monsters from the 1930s to the 1970s, including Universal Studios icons like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. As players make their way around the rectangular board, they try to purchase the various movies and sign up film stars. Some spaces are labeled as “Tombstone Award” and “Dead or Alive,” prompting players to draw cards, much like the “Community Chest” cards in Monopoly. There are also spaces labeled as “Ghoul Agency,” in which players can purchase cards of actors that they want to star in their films.

One of the real draws to the game is the artwork; the center of the board is occupied by an image of Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster, against a blood red background. The board spaces include classic black-and-white images from all sorts of films, everything from King Kong and The Bride of Frankenstein to Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. The draw cards are also colorfully done and include drawings of a skull and crossbones, a gravestone, and an image of Tor Johnson from the Ed Wood film, Plan 9 From Outer Space.

For some reason, the game did not sell well and was soon withdrawn from the market, which makes it hard to find today. Perhaps the 1975 release came too late to fully capitalize on the horror market, which had started to turn from the classic monsters to blockbuster movies like The Exorcist and Jaws. Or perhaps fans saw it as a game that was too much like Monopoly, and not creative enough in its own right.

Either way, the game is a nice piece of memorabilia and fun to play. While it is relatively rare, it can be found at various sites and generally runs in the range of $100 to $150.

Dark Shadows Game (1969)

Dark Shadows Game 1969

This is another good vintage board game with a direct connection to monsters, but rather than pulling its source material from feature films, it draws from a TV show that became a major part of popular culture in the late 1960s. In fact, Dark Shadows became such a sensation that it prompted two different board games connected to the Gothic soap opera that aired on ABC.

This is the second of the Dark Shadows games, and it came out in 1969, one year after the original game. The specific impetus for the second release was the growing popularity of Barnabas Collins, the anti-hero vampire who saved the show from cancellation. When Milton Bradley issued this game, the company made sure to prominently display the name of Barnabas on the box while also showing a colorized image of the tormented vampire, as played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid.

As a child, I especially loved playing this game—at least until it became lost when our family moved one too many times—and I wasn’t around to supervise the care of my horror-based treasures.

Let’s begin with the artwork featured on the box cover. The image of a fanged Barnabas, including his trademark wolf’s head cane, dominates the left side of the cover. To the right, we see a green-toned drawing of the Collinwood Mansion. And to the right of that is a drawing of three children playing the actual game. It’s all beautifully arranged against a black backdrop.

The game itself is pretty cool, too. Each player is supplied with a small coffin that is filled with parts of a skeleton—made from plastic, and not actual bone. Each player takes a turn using a spinning device that indicates which skeletal bone can be put “into play,” and that becomes part of a skeleton that players try to assemble on a small scaffold. The first player to assemble a completed skeleton wins the game—and the honor of wearing a pair of vampire fangs. (We recommend thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the fangs after each usage!)

For kids like me, the game parts were a major part of the fun. I particularly liked the miniature coffins and the small skull used to top off the skeleton.

Admittedly, it’s a simple game that can become somewhat boring if played too often. But as a once-in-a-while party favor, it’s an amusing diversion. And the box itself makes for a beautiful display item.

Not as rare as the Creature Features game, the Dark Shadows game can be found fairly easily. A few of the games are available online at reasonable prices, some under the cost of $100.

Green Ghost (1965)

Green Ghost Game 1965

This game has become especially popular among collectors and horror fans. I never actually played Green Ghost, if only because I didn’t start becoming interested in such things until about 1972, several years after the game’s release. But it’s a game that fans rave about, and one that must be included on the list of vintage favorites.

Green Ghost was mass-produced by an obscure company called Transogram in 1965. The company maintained rights until 1970, when it went out of business and sold all of its board games rights to Marx Toys. The game would become incredibly popular, motivating a reissue during the 1990s.

Thanks to its glow-in-the-dark game parts and board, Green Ghost was billed as the first board game “designed to be played in the dark.” That alone motivated many youngsters to beg their parents to buy it.

The game has other cool elements, too, including a large green ghost spinner that looked something like The Blob. And then there is the board itself, which features the imagery of a ghostly town and has a three-dimensional quality. The board is elevated onto six stilts. Underneath the board there are three boxes, or pits, which feature locking trapdoors. Whoever drew up the blueprints for the game knew exactly how to appeal to children and young fans of horror.

Designed for up to four players, the game supplies each player with a pawn, which is either a bat, a cat, a rat, or a vulture. Players take turns spinning the “Green Ghost” device, which indicates how many spaces could be moved. Each player then uses “trapdoor keys” in order to collect so-called “ghost kids” from the pits. Once all 12 of the ghost kids have been retrieved, they are inserted into holes on the Green Ghost spinner. One of the players then spins the Green Ghost a final time; the device points to one of the retrieved ghost kids, who is identified as Kelly, the Green Ghost’s child. Whichever player found that particular ghost kid is declared the winner.

On its surface, the game sounds a little bit silly—and I have no idea how they came up with the name of Kelly—but the quality of the artwork and the innovative structure of the board make it highly desirable among collectors. A number of Green Ghost games can be found for sale at various sites, but they generally run a minimum of $140, and some that are listed in better condition can fetch more than $500.

Mystic Skull: The Game of Voodoo (1964)

Mystic Skull The Game of Voodoo 1964

This is one of the truly great vintage board games dealing with the theme of horror. Created by the Ideal Company in 1964, Mystic Skull features terrific artwork on the box cover, a colorful board filled with elaborate markings, and some truly outstanding game artifacts: a large bone, a cauldron, small voodoo dolls, and a skull that would slowly turn. The skull, cauldron, and bone in particular were all well-made, making this one of the better games of the 1960s.

I never had the chance to play Mystic Skull, which was released at a time when I was still so young and not quite ready to partake in parlor games. By the early 1970s, this game seemed to have completely disappeared from store shelves. But I’ve received feedback from people who did play Mystic Skull, and they absolutely love it.

Here’s the object of the game. Players use a bone (a toy bone, that is, not a real one) to stir up a cauldron. By doing so, a suspended skull (the Mystic Skull itself) moves around the board onto a variety of voodoo-related spaces. Depending on where the skull lands, the player is either instructed to place pins into another player’s voodoo doll, or to give up one of your tokens so that you can remove one of the pins from your doll. The object of the game is fairly simple: try to fill the other players’ voodoo dolls with pins before they fill yours with the same. Once a player’s doll is filled with pins, he or she is out of the game. The last player left standing wins the game.

Somehow I don’t think a game like Mystic Skull would pass muster with today’s censors. I could see some parents objecting to a game centered on voodoo, where the object is to put pins in the other player’s doll. A game of torture, even imagined torture, might not receive much acceptance from parents or federal agencies. But I must say that the game still looks like loads of fun.

Mystic Skull is no longer produced and is hard to obtain as a complete game. Fans are far more likely to find individual game parts, or perhaps a game board. So if you’ve got a vintage edition of The Mystic Skull, take good care of it.

Séance (1972)

Séance Game 1972

First produced by old reliable Milton Bradley in 1972, this game is simply known as Séance. A tape recorder game, it was designed as a sequel to another Milton Bradley game called Voice of the Mummy, which was issued in 1971. The artwork used in creating the board, which looks like a three-dimensional den or study, is nicely done and probably worth the purchase price by itself. The game also features a small séance table; inside of the table is the record player.

This is one of the more creative concepts among vintage board games. Each player essentially becomes a descendant of old Uncle Everett, who has recently passed away and is leaving his worldly possessions to his family members. Each player, who starts with $20,000 in play money, then makes bids on Everett’s possessions, which include a car, pieces of jewelry, and a coin collection among other items.

After all items have been bid on and acquired, the players listen to a recording left behind by Uncle Everett. He explains what each item is worth, or if the player will be penalized by having to pay taxes. The player who has the most cash at the end becomes the winner and then turns out the lights in the room, revealing a surprising feature to the board.

One flaw to the game is the record player, which can be difficult to operate, especially given how many years have passed since the game was manufactured. Outside of that, there’s a decent amount of fun to be had from Séance.

A few of the Séance games can be found online, with prices ranging from $100 to $300, based on condition.

Which Witch? (1970)

Which Witch 1970 Game

For me, there was no better board game than Which Witch? First created in 1970 by Milton Bradley, Which Witch? has a fantastic board set-up, which consists of a three-dimensional haunted house, complete with four rooms, colored footsteps, creepy walls, and a Gothic-looking chimney in the middle. All that’s missing is the roof, but that would only get in the way of players moving their player pieces, which at times consist of colored mice!

The game itself is fairly primitive, but enough to satisfy the six to 12-year-old mind (and possibly older). Each player rolls the dice to move ahead within the house, which consists of the “Broom Room,” “The Witchin’ Kitchen,” “The Spell Cell,” and the “Bat’s Ballroom.” To win, a player needs to reach the space known as “The Charmed Circle.”

The primary obstacle comes after each dice roll, when a player has to draw a card that depicts one of three witches. A “Ghoulish Gertie” card mandates that the player drops a steel “whammy ball” into the chimney, from which it will land randomly into one of the rooms and possibly knock one of the player pieces off the board, forcing a return to the start line. A “Wanda the Wicked” card turns a player piece into a mouse, forcing a temporary stall to the player’s movements.

But it is the visuals that truly made this game a must-have back in the day; it is so artistically done that you want to keep the board intact and display it like a museum showpiece even after you finish the game.

Which Witch? is not as hard to find as some of the other board games featured here. A number of “Which Witch?” games can be found on eBay, ranging in price from $90 to $250.

While these five games rank at the top of my personal list, there are plenty of others that have drawn their share of the audience. Boris Karloff’s Monster Game (1965), Voodoo Doll (1967), the Haunted Mansion Game (1972), and Superstition (1977) are just a few that deserve at least a mention. They are all part of arguably the most creative era in the history of board games—a throwback to a time when we couldn’t rely on the internet, cable TV, and streaming services to provide us with horror-related fun.

And even as we start to return to normalcy, these games may be spending less time on the shelves and more time on our dining room tables.

Be sure to check out more horror content from Bruce on his Facebook page: Ghostly Gallery.