You begin by choosing your pre-generated character (The Nerd, The Bully, The Athlete, The Artist, The Scaredy-Cat, or The Gossip), then take turns exploring rooms in the haunted house (mapped out on the game board). When you enter a new room, the player to your left gets to draw a card from the Spooky Deck and use the prompt on it (for example, “mysteriously floating objects) to creatively narrate what you find (they get the Spooky token if they make it really creepy!).
We managed to snag a copy at GenCon before they sold out, and we were excited to give it a spin when my 12-year-old niece came to stay with us for a week. She really got into describing the scary stuff we encountered in the rooms, going so far as to get up and flicker the lights at one point, and went to town developing her “athlete” character into equal parts fearless hero and total ditz. Unfortunately, the game went a little long and we lost her towards the end – it’s too bad Dread House doesn’t include a “heroic sacrifice” option, because that’s the route she went (although not as dramatically as it happens most games of Dread).
So it might not have held its intended audience, but at least Paul and I had a blast. I think ultimately the problem was not with the game itself, but more that 3 players is just not the sweet spot for this one. There are special 2-player rules which we’re excited to try out, and a bigger crowd of 4-6 would allow for more variety in storytelling and events, but with 3 we just ran out of steam. I ended up knocking the tower over and becoming a monster (the adorable Ghost!), but with only two kids in the house, my special monster abilities weren’t as much fun as they could have been. And at that point I only needed one more of them to become a monster for me to win (hence her “heroic sacrifice” when she started to get bored). I also think that almost-thirteen might have been a little too old without younger kids there to divert the focus - perhaps we have a few more years until she's old enough to realize it's okay to think gaming is cool.
We’re excited to give the two-player rules a shot in the near future, and we also hope to eventually try it with a full group of 5 or 6, be it kids or adults. I wasn't totally crazy about the idea of the Courage pile - it's good in theory to be able to avoid a pull, but having a handful of blocks not placed back onto the tower makes the pulls that much harder anyways, so it seems like a lose-lose - we might try a play sans the Courage pile in the future and see how that changes things. It also would have been neat to see a customizable house where the layout could be different with each play, but I feel confident that the variety of prompts on the Spooky cards should be enough to keep each game fresh.
Wanting to give Dread AND Dread House a try after our reading our coverage this week? RPGNow and RPGDriveThru are currently offering the “Dread for All Ages” package, where you get BOTH games in a PDF bundle for only $17.50. It’s the perfect Halloween gift for you and your loved ones!