Players: 2 - 6
Game type: Drafting
Time to set up: 2 minutes
Time to play: 30 minutes
Average price: $25 / £30
The Haunted Mansion board game has a difficult task ahead of it. How do you make a fun tabletop experience out of a beloved - but unavoidably passive - Disney ride? That's what the Jungle Cruise board game struggled with; it was a sweet but flat adventure which doesn't have much staying power.
This spookier alternative is different, though. Much like Disney Villainous or the Jaws board game, it has a sharp focus on what makes the ride so iconic. The Haunted Mansion board game also applies that to the rules in a smart, engaging way, making it the new gold standard for theme park adaptations.
Welcome, foolish mortals
Much like the ride's song, your aim in The Haunted Mansion: Call of the Spirits is to 'socialize' with the house's ghosts. In other words? You've got to collect as many ghost cards as you can. This is how you score points. However, it's not quite as simple as that. Some give you a handful of points right away, while others offer a massive payout when you complete a set. That's where strategy comes into play. Do you choose cards that get you fewer points immediately, or should you risk building a collection that may or may not pay off in the long run? Everyone will approach things differently, so keeping an eye on what your opponents are doing is important. This helps you plan ahead, be it to boost your own collection or scupper their strategy by stealing the ghosts they need.
Those who don't watch the bigger picture as well are due some trouble, though. Getting in your way are the three famous Hitchhiking Ghosts, and they'll be roaming the board's rooms at random in a bid to escape. If they pass through your token, you have to draw a random 'Haunt' card. These range in value from one to three, and players with the highest Haunt score at the end of the game will be penalised. Because these are kept secret from everyone else, you can never tell how many Haunts your opponent is sitting on.
Besides keeping you guessing, this adds something for you to juggle. You can use an action each turn to remove a Haunt card and decrease your chances of having the most Haunts, but you only have three actions to begin with. As such, clearing the deck wastes precious time that could be spent collecting the ghosts you need to win.
Happy haunts materialize
Still, there's a silver lining. The Hitchhiking Ghosts also give The Haunted Mansion board game a duplicitous edge. If your go is after someone else, for instance, you can use an action to move yourself and your opponents somewhere different via the spinnable, never-ending corridor. This makes sure the ghosts have the maximum chance of passing through other players.
Similarly, you can duel for an opponent's ghost cards as well. Indeed, whoever bids the highest number - from zero to three - wins or keeps the ghost card. The catch? Unfortunately, both players must then take a number of Haunts equal to their bet. While it's an unusual system (we didn't end up using it much as it didn't seem worth the hassle), it does add an element of risk in theory. How desperately do you need that one ghost, and how far are you willing to go in order to get it?
That's the Haunted Mansion board game all over: it's a game of risk and reward. The cards that decide how many spaces those hitchhiking ghosts move may add bonuses or disadvantages. Certain ghost cards can add or discard Haunts when collected, too. There's a lot to consider, yet not so much that it becomes overwhelming.
This gives you time to appreciate the game's artwork. It's absolutely gorgeous. Much like the Hocus Pocus board game, it's rich in color and shade; its cards, the board, and tokens are beautifully crafted. There are plenty of references to its namesake as well, ranging from the singing busts to the ride's stretching room painted on the inside of the box. Essentially, it's everything fans of The Haunted Mansion would want it to be.
Not that you need to be a diehard park-goer to appreciate The Haunted Mansion: Call of the Spirits. It utilises the ride's ideas in engaging, intelligent, and entertaining ways, cementing its place as one of the best board games for those who like their tabletop creepy yet friendlier than horror classics like Betrayal at House on the Hill.
If Disney ever wants to turn other rides into board games (Pirates of the Caribbean or Space Mountain, say), this is the one to take inspiration from.