Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Halloween Reads

This blog post will be the third and last one in anticipation of Halloween. If you're curious as to what I will be doing this year, I won't be baking or reading or even playing board games - shocking, isn't it? I have an excellent reason though, as I will be in London during the weekend and on Halloween night I'll be attending a Voltaire show in Camden Town. Let me know if you're going too and please come say hi!

Autumn is the absolute best season to cuddle up with a hot beverage, a comfy jumper, some blankets and pillows and most importantly, piles and piles of books. I'm not sure what it is about Halloween that just makes me want to read all the time, but I just can't help myself. Obviously, there's only one genre that's really fit to read around Halloween and that's terrifying, blood-curdling horror (don't worry, some light-hearted spooky novels will do fine). If you're new to creepy literature or are just looking for some reading inspiration, this might be just the post for you.

The Complete Fiction
H.P. Lovecraft
I can't help recommending anything and everything written by Lovecraft. He has created more than a few stories that make my hair stand on end every single time I read them. Lovecraft's writing style does not exactly make for effortless reading but I promise that actually making the effort will be worth it. The stories are not merely horrible blood-and-gore-wise, but they reach deep into the unconscious and shake the reader on a psychological level; the atmosphere gets to you. The focus of most tales is fear of the terrible unknown.
Good stories to start with are At the Mountains of Madness, The Call of Cthulhu, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Shadow over Innsmouth or The Colour out of Space.

The King in Yellow
Robert W. Chambers
If you have already read and enjoyed anything written by Lovecraft, you should probably give The King in Yellow a try; Lovecraft himself was heavily influenced by this collection of short stories. Chamber's The King in Yellow revolves around a play that makes any of its readers insane - much like our beloved Necronomicon. Every single one of the stories in this book has something to do with insanity, making the reader unsure of the narrator's intentions and goals and especially of his trustworthiness. It is a shame that Chambers is not being read as much anymore, because his writing is at least as good as Lovecraft's, if not better.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Alvin Schwartz
You might remember the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark novels as the scariest tales you have read as a child but now they are just good fun and drenched in nostalgia. I have very fond memories of these stories as even here in tiny Belgium, some of them were favourites at sleepovers and other children's parties, which means they were told every time our parents had closed the door and wished us 'good night'. For an adult the tales are not exactly terrifying, but they are definitely fun to reread and maybe even to tell your own children.

The Complete Tales and Poems
Edgar Allan Poe
To be completely frank, I did not like half of Poe's stories. Many of them were boring and long-winded and not even written that well. However, those few fantastic tales are more than worth it. If you have time to spare, be sure to dig through Poe's complete tales and decide for yourself which ones you like. However, if you don't feel like skimming through a book of a few hundred pages long, I can recommend some of my personal favourites: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Black Cat, The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar all left me with shivers up my spine.

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman
I seem to include Neil Gaiman in every single list I draw up, sorry about that. The Graveyard Book tells a simple but endearing, and at times quite scary story about a boy who lives in a graveyard and gets raised and taught by its inhabitants. Although the concept is cute and quirky, the story does get darker and bleaker as the plot progresses. 
Little tip: the audiobook is fantastic and read by Neil Gaiman himself; don't hestitate if you can get your hands on it.

J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Carmilla in my eyes is one of the absolute classics every vampire literature lover should read, as the protagonist of the same name can be considered the original female vampire. Carmilla is a short story from a collection named In a Glass Darkly and can easily be read in a couple of hours. Those of you who have also read Dracula might find it interesting to detect clear similarities and discover where Bram Stoker got some of his inspiration from; and if you want to know more about the history of vampires in (pop) culture, pick up Our Vampires, Ourselves sometime; it's a fascinating read.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Seth-Grahame Smith, Jane Austen
If you are a fan of some tongue-in-cheek humour and don't take your classics too seriously, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might be the novel for you. Think 18th century England, romantic intrigues and fabulous balls, with added zombies and martial arts - because Elizabeth Bennet still doesn't need a man to save her.
Most of Seth-Grahame Smith's adaptations of classic works of literature are quite enjoyable, although the concept does get old after a while; don't read all of his novels in a row because you will suffer from a serious overdose.

Finally I would like to recommend both Cthulhurotica and The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. Even though I own both, I haven't had the chance to read them myself. Both books are collections of (short) horror stories, for those among us who don't want to commit to a single book and want to read more than just one author.

A bad picture of some of my horror collection. Some of these books were complete and utter crap, but I'm still keeping them because I can't seem to part with them.
I hope you enjoy some of these as much as I did (or more than I did, for some cases). I have tried to lay off the classics because I am sure most people have heard of Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, The Monk, Mysteries of Udolpho and The Castle of Otranto by now (look at me sneakily mentioning them anyway). That does not mean that they are not some of my favourite novels - but don't touch any other of Bram Stoker's works. No seriously, don't.
Have a happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Halloween Board Games

It's time for a second post in anticipation of Halloween! Normally next week will be the last article on this theme so if there is anything you absolutely want to read, be sure to drop me a line.

If you're still panicking about what in the name of all that is evil you might possibly do at your Halloween party, look no further; you have stumbled upon the perfect solution. Board games are great at parties and provide for much more interaction than watching films (my second go-to Halloween activity). Since plenty of games have sufficiently creepy themes, I'm here to propose a couple of appropriate Halloween games. As always when I recommend something, I have test-drivenplayed all of these (not counting the variants!) and I love every single one of the games on this list. 

Arkham Horror
Board game - 1 to 8 players
The town of Arkham has never been the quietest place around, but now things are really turning around for the worst. You and a couple of aquaintances have the feeling that something bad is about to happen, so it is up to you to investigate every part of Arkham in the hopes of solving the mystery, or at least stop those strange gates from opening. If you're lucky, no ancient deities will devour you; if you're very lucky, that is.
Tip: rulebook-wise, this is a challenging game so it helps having someone around who already knows Arkham Horror. Otherwise, having the BoardGameGeek forums nearby will also help.

Blood Bound
Card game, party game - 6 to 12 players
The clan of the Beast and the clan of the Rose have been at war for ages and are now looking to finish their feud in the bloodiest way possible. To win Blood Bound, you will need a couple of helpful clan members, good deduction skills and a talent for bluffing. The goal of the game is to kill the elder of the opposite team but that is easier said than done; one small problem: the only thing you know is whose team you're on and whose team your neighbours claims to be on, so you'll have to be careful when you get stabbing...

Card Game - 2 to 6 players
I always like describing Ghooost! as 'UNO for goths' but that does not do it justice by far. The rules are slightly more complex, there's actual artwork, the theme is spooky and the characters on the cards are references to existing horror stories. The goal of the game is for every player to get rid of the cards in their haunted mansion as quick as possible. The best part of the game: the loser has to make a ghastly sound.

Card game - 2 to 4 players
The goal of Gloom literally is to have your given family die as miserable as possible. To make that happen, a series of utterly terrible events has to occur. Or, if you're feeling like annoying someone, you can thwart your opponents by making their families live happily ever after. 
Tip: the game is even more fun if you narrate your family members' shenanigans instead of just playing the cards.

Mansions of Madness
Board game - 2 to 5 players
Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's stories, Mansions of Madness is one of the most intense, atmospherical horror games I have ever played. There are several scenarios in which you and your friends play investigators that have to unravel the mysteries of a certain location. Working together is vital if you want to find the clues and expose the secrets of the game.

Card game - 3 to 6 players
The Munchkin card game series has so many expansions and editions that there are plenty of options, even for a Halloween party: Munchkin Bites!, Munchkin Zombies and Munchkin Cthulhu can all be played as stand-alone games or can be mixed up if you would like to be, say, a slow voodoo cultist with black lipstick and goth boots of the elder gods. Hilarity is unavoidable.
The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow
Card game, party game - 8 to 18 players
A small village is tormented by werewolves. It is time for the villagers to take a stand and find out who the real werewolves are - and get rid of them. However, no one knows for sure who they are because during daytime, they look just like everyone else. Every player, villager or werewolf, has to use their best convincing and bluffing skills to make sure the village is safe... one way or another.  
Tip: you can also play The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow without the cards: here's a simple guide.

Zombie Dice
Dice game, party game - 2 to 99 players
Zombie Dice is one of the silliest, fastest and funnest horror games ever. You're a zombie and obviously, you're hungry. The goal is to be the first to eat thirteen or more brains. Sounds easy enough for any decent zombie, but sadly, 

Board game - 2 to 6 players
The zombie apocalypse is upon us and you and your friends are looking to escape from the dreadful town you're stuck in. However, you really only care about your own safety - the other can gets their brains eaten, for all you care. Basically, the goal of the game is to survive and be the first to get to the helicopter that will fly to safety. 

I have attempted to keep my Lovecraft obsession within bounds for this one, so maybe one of these days a 'Lovecraft Board Games' post will pop up, you never know. Be sure to leave a comment if I've forgotten your favourite creepy board or card game.