Horrified: American Monsters
- Designer: Michael Mulvihill
- Publisher: Ravensburger
- Players: 1-5
- Age: 10+
- Time: 60 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Ravensburger USA
- Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3Tq3k74
Horrified: American Monsters is a standalone game that features gameplay similar to 2019’s Horrified, which challenges players to overcome the “Universal Monsters” from classic films. In this co-operative game, you face off against classic American nightmarish beasts: Bigfoot, Mothman, the Jersey Devil, the Chupacabra, the Banshee of the Badlands, and the Ozark Howler. The more creatures in the game, the harder the challenge, with players needing to use their unique powers to figure out how to defeat each monster.
In this game, a group of Investigatores work together in the most haunted village in the world, battling against some of the most infamous creatures of American lore. Your group will fight against 2-4 of these baddies, who for some reason have decided to descend upon your little town at the same time. Each Monster has specific and unique defeat criteria – and in order to win, the team must vanquish all the Monsters. The players will lose if they let the Terror Level get too high or if they run out of cards in the Monster deck (meaning they have taken too much time to defeat the Monsters).
The board shows a map of Cross Creek, aka “Smalltown, USA” – and the 20+ possible locations in thattown. Each player chooses a Investigator (or is randomly given a Investigator) and takes the Reference card for said Investigator. The mover starts on the space listed on the Reference card. The Investigator card also tells you the unique special ability of the Investigator as well as how many actions he/she gets on a normal turn. Each player gets one Perk card at random.
The Item tokens are placed in the bag and 12 are drawn out – each placed on the board at the location stated on the token itself. The group then decides what level of difficulty they want in the game, and then choose 2, 3, or 4 monsters to fight against. The corresponding Monster mats are laid out in Frenzy Order (this value is seen on the upper left of each monster mat).
A deck of Monster cards is shuffled and placed next to the board. The Citizen tokens are also placed next to the board. During the game, they will be placed on the board. In order to gain Bonus Perk cards, you can move these Citizens to their safety location as shown on the top of their figure.
Turns are taken around the board, and in each turn, there is a Investigator Phase followed by a Monster Phase. In the Investigator Phase, the active player takes actions up to his limit, using any combination of:
- Move – Move to any adjacent space, you may take any number of Citizens with you
- Guide – Move a Citizen into your space from an adjacent one, or push a Citizen from your space into an adjacent space
- Pick Up – Take any or all Items from your current space
- Share – Give/Redistribute items amongst any/all Investigatores in your space
- Advance – Use an Item to Advance a Monster’s Task – Any items of the same color can be played together in a single action
- Defeat – If the Monster’s Task is Complete, use the appropriate Items to defeat the monster – Any items of the same color can be played together in a single action
- Special Ability – use the Special Ability on your Investigator card
Perk cards are special – there is no action cost to play one, and any player can play one in any Investigator Phase. To do so, you discard a Perk card and do what it says. In order for everyone to know what the possible abilities are, players should keep all their Perk Cards face up on the table in front of themselves.
In the Monster Phase, the top card from the Monster Deck is drawn (there are 30 total in the Deck), and the three parts of the cards are done from top to bottom. First, the large number in the top center tells you how many item tokens to draw from the bag and distribute on the board. Then, read the event in the center of the card; if this involves a specific Monster (it will be color coded to help you identify this), you do the event ONLY IF the stated Monster is in your game.
Finally, the bottom strip tells you which Monsters move and attack. Monsters always move towards the nearest Citizen or Investigator, and they will stop if they reach a space with a human in it. Then, if they end their movement in a space with a human, they will roll the number of dice stated on the Monster Card. The results might trigger the special Power of the Monster (marked on the Monster Mat) or they could inflict a hit on the human target. Most times, there are multiple monsters noted – if the depicted monster is not in your game, you simply ignore their movement/attack. The cards also refer to a Frenzied Monster – there is a Frenzy token which is shuttled amongst the Monsters in your game, and whichever one has the Frenzy token on it gets to act when the Frenzied icon is seen.
If a Investigator is hit, they can choose to lose an Item token per hit. If they are out of Item tokens or choose not to lose an Item, the hit defeats them. The terror level increases by one, and the Investigator is moved to the Hospital space where they will start their next turn from. The defeated Investigator does not lose any items (and this is why you might choose to be defeated rather than losing an Item). Citizens are automatically defeated if they are hit, and they are removed from the board. The Terror Level still increases by one when a Citizen is defeated.
Once the Monster phase is over, play moves to the next Investigator who then goes through his Investigator Phase followed by another Monster Phase… The game is won by the Investigators if they are able to defeat all the Monsters in the game. The players lose if they either run out of time (no more cards in the Monster deck) or if the Terror Level reaches the maximum (7th space) on the track.
My thoughts on the game
This is the followup game in the series, with the original coming out in 2019 – in the original Horrified, six different classic movie monsters are available (Dracula, Frankenstein and his Bride, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, WolfMan, the Mummy and the Invisible Man). This game is very similar in the basic rules, so if you have played the original, you’ll be able to jump right into this one.
The monsters are different, and the rules for the monsters are unique as compared to the original version – so you will have acquaint yourself with the special powers and win conditions for the cryptids that you face in this game.
Overall, this remains a nice entry-level cooperative game, and given the target market (big box shoppers) – this is a perfect fit. There are some decisions to be made, but a lot of the strategy is streamlined. Each monster has a fixed set of criteria needed to defeat it, and knowing these from the start of the game really helps keep people on task. While the identities of the monsters can change from game to game – the way to beat each particular monster never varies.
As with most co-op games, there is an element of quarterbacking that you could encounter, but our group was very alpha-free, and we all were able to chime in with our thoughts. One thing which helped a bit was that there was a monster phase at the end of each player’s turn, and with the changes to the board caused by each Monster phase, there was constant re-evaluation of what players should do. This is really what good cooperative games require – discussion amongst the players as to the best plan; and you’ll constantly have to be re-assessing your plan in Horrified: American Monsters.
Like the original – the rules offer no scaling for different player counts. The game continues to alternate between Player Phases and Monster Phases, but there are just fewer Players on the board. The number of cards in the Monster deck stays the same, but some of them fizzle as there is no special action caused by the card if the Monster shown isn’t in the game. However, this is no different than if you have 5 players; so essentially no scaling here. Additionally, as there are no extra Investigators in the game, it is harder to collect stuff and trade stuff because the size of the board doesn’t change and you have fewer Investigators to move; each has proportionally more ground to cover. I suppose you can just see this as a built in difficulty system, and a 2p group should feel good winning against 2 cryptids; but man, if you’re new to the game and only have 2p, you are pretty much at a serious handicap to a 4p group of newbies playing the same starting pair of the Banshee and Chupacabra.
After a few plays of the new version, and recollection of my experiences with Horrified (long since removed from the game collection) – the sweet spot for me is 3 players. With 5 players, there were a few turns where players didn’t have much to do – if the Monster card didn’t poop anything out near them (and they had already saved any nearby citizens) – then really you’re just moving to an area where you hopefully can’t be attacked by a monster. Furthermore, the game has a weird inverse tension. As you partially win the game, it actually tends to get easier – because any defeated monsters are removed from the game – which means fewer monsters move/attack in the monster phase AND more monster card effects can be skipped because there are fewer monsters in play. If I’m going to play this, I’m going to want a bit of a challenge, and it’s too easy in the endgame if you have 5 Investigators running around.
The graphics are sharp, and most of the cards and chits are easy to read. There is a weird typo where some of the items refer to the Police Station; while the board and the majority of the bits refer to the Sheriff’s Station. I’m guessing it’s a simple typo; but one that is surprising to have gotten thru the development team at Ravensburger. My other other quibble is that I’m not a fan of the nylon-ish bag for the items. It’s crinkly and never sits up right, and makes me miss a simple black cotton bag. But, in the end, it does its job by holding the item tokens; so it’s probably not that big of a deal.
I do like the overall art-direction with the campy 1950s-ish style art. It is like looking at the art in old school pulp novels. Some people have complained about the fact that the colors kind of blend together, but surprisingly, I haven’t had that issue at all. Though I often have problems with colors in games, Horrified: American Monsters gave me no issues at all.
This would make a great entry into the cooperative game genre, or if you are used to only roll and move games, this can definitely show you that there is more out there than that. If you have the original, do you need this? Well, honestly, if you still have the original, I’m guessing you liked it – and this is more of the same. The monsters are different, and that is probably enough reason to get this as you’ll have new bad guys to defeat.
For experienced gamers, this is fun to play for the theme – it made the list for our Halloween/horror themed night – but the straightforward strategies and low level of difficulty will probably make this more a novelty than a regular thing. And that’s fine, and I’m pretty sure Ravensburger doesn’t mind, because this game isn’t meant for you. Just as in the same way that Council of Shadows or Puerto Rico 1897 isn’t meant for the people who are more likely to love this.
Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3Tq3k74
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor