I remember seeing a designer's name a while back, Prospero Hall, and thought 'That sounds a bit posh.' It wasn't until I read an earlier review of Horrified that I learned Prospero Hall was a team of designers. A quick search on BoardGameGeek revealed a prolific design house specialising in converting IPs (Intellectual Properties) into board games, particularly at a mass market price point while retaining hobby gamer sensibilities. 'Cool', said I, and bought the game.
Horrified is a cooperative game for 1-4 players that takes 45-75 minutes, with three levels of difficulty. The rules would likely be a little daunting to a family on their first foray into hobby gaming but are actually quite simple and clearly presented, tho' a little wordy. The components are decent, with good art styled to mimic a 1930s cinematic experience. That's because the bad guys in the game are all from Universal Pictures' classic horror movies: Dracula, The Wolfman, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Mr & Mrs Frankenstein's Monster. The players are tasked with saving the Village and its inhabitants before the Terror level becomes too much...
The board is set up with some item tokens drawn from a bag and, at normal difficulty, three of the six monster boards chosen. Players can then select their Hero with accompanying special ability, before grabbing an item and a Perk card, and they're good to go. Each turn a player's Hero usually takes four Actions, choosing to move - with or without accompanying Villagers; pick up or share Items; or use Items to take special actions as described on the monster boards. These can be to smash Dracula's coffins, solve the Mummy's puzzle, or keep the Frankensteins from meeting. All active monsters must be defeated to win.
So far, so Pandemic (Z-Man Games). Well, yes, Horrified does owe a debt to the most prolific of modern cooperative games: movement, actions and 'firefighting' are a common staple of the genre. But it is a take on the 'Progression of Evil' phase from Shadows Over Camelot (Days of Wonder) that is the telltale heart of the game. After a player's turn, the top Monster card is flipped; it will likely add some Items to the board and will always have a special event that either spawns a Villager or triggers something negative if the matching monster is in play. Villagers need to be led to safety by the players; each one lost to a monster raises the Terror level, each one saved rewards with a Perk card. After the event, one, two or three monsters might move and attack; the AI is simple, towards the nearest Hero or Villager, player's choice if tied. As well as killing a Villager or potentially knocking out a player - both of which raise that Terror level - a dice roll can cause a Monster's special attack to come into play, which can be pretty nasty.
There is another nice wrinkle to proceedings: one of the Monsters that can be triggered by a card is the current 'Frenzy'. A marker starts on the easiest Monster and moves occasionally; if the Frenzied Monster gets to act it acts as normal, even if it has already done so this turn, meaning it moves and attacks twice, which can really mess up the players' plans.
Horrified is an excellent entry-level cooperative game that gets the players working as a team, saving Villagers, gathering items, holding off disaster, while trying to defeat the Monsters... all against the 'clock'. The length of the rules might be initially off-putting for newcomers but hopefully the handy tips, superb theming and evocative art will see them through. The plastic miniatures are colour coded; tho' the plastic is not the highest quality (but note the game's competitive price-point), the sculpts are decent and they scrub up well when painted. It is rare that things go according to script, which is just the kind of plot twist a game like this needs.
There are two knocks against the game as far as I can see: firstly, it's a little procedural. Well, yes, but so is Pandemic and it's not like that has struggled to make a mark on the industry. Good stuff then bad stuff is quite common in many of today's cooperative games and, until someone really shakes up this design space, I don't feel it's something to complain about too much. The other is that the touted variable difficulty, which in theory should add replayability, does not quite pan out that way: at two monsters, the game is no challenge; at four monsters, it's nigh on impossible! Mind you, even if you stick only with playing with three monsters, the six in the game can be combined in 10 different ways - adding to the game's replayability.
Horrified has been a terrific success for Ravensburger and the design team of Prospero Hall, so much so that a standalone sequel is due, Horrified: American Monsters, which uses almost identical mechanics but a new map and different beasties. We'll show it off here on Board's Eye View as soon as a copy lurches our way. If you like cooperative board games and are either attracted by or not repulsed by the theme, then you can't go far wrong here. There may not be quite the longevity in it that Pandemic evidently has, but it is a great gateway to more complex cooperative titles as well as a frighteningly good time in and of itself.
Addendum: An enlightening conversation with Chris Rowlands of Prospero Hall can be heard in Episode 224 of Ludology. https://www.dicetower.com/game-podcast/ludology/ludology-224-putting-fun-funko
(Review by David Fox)