I was torn about what game to buy.
On the one hand, there was Can’t Stop. I keep hearing about it, this “press your luck” classic from 1980 with a stop sign shaped board where you roll dice to move your traffic cones across.
On the other hand, there was Spookies, a cartoony ghost-filled game somewhat like Can’t Stop where you’re daring a group of kids to go farther and farther into a haunted house.
A couple of things sealed the deal. One, I played an online version of Can’t Stop and wasn’t totally feeling it. Two, Spookies was on sale on Amazon for about half as much as Can’t Stop and I had a promotional credit that was about to expire.
Spookies came out in 2015 from HABA Games, part of an effort to expand from their traditional dominion of children’s toys into the broader world of family board games. They kicked off with a lineup of three titles: Adventure Land, Karuba, and Spookies.
Spookies is clearly the black sheep of those three initial releases. Karuba was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, the highest award in board gaming. Adventure Land already has one expansion and has received repeated praise from noted YouTuber Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower. Spookies, on the other hand, is just… around.
But Spookies was always the one that intrigued me. My heart abides at the spooky intersection of silly and scary. Could this be the Halloween game I’ve been looking for?
Spookies is a game for two to five players where you’re exploring a haunted house. Each turn you roll a special die to see which kid (or dog) you will control for that turn. Then, you choose to roll two, three, or four dice to attempt to move that kid higher into the house. Each level of the house requires a higher number to advance (for example, you need to roll a six to move through the front door and a seven to move onto the second floor).
If you successfully make it to the next floor, you get point chips based on how few dice you used and how high you are in the house—and you can choose to roll again to go even higher. If you don’t make it, you must leave behind some chips, go down to the floor you did roll, and your turn ends. The winner is the person with the most points on chips at the end of the game.
I gotta say, having played it, I love Spookies. You’re constantly evaluating whether you think you can make it to the next floor and whether the chips you might get make it worth rolling again.
I love the ghostly artwork. I love the double-sided wooden pieces and the enormous wooden dice. I love the thrill of rolling and rolling and rolling, trying to get all the way from the courtyard to that pile of chips in the attic on a single turn. It’s even got a dog piece that kind of looks like my dog.
The only weird thing about Spookies was there was this humongous sticker on multiple sides of the packaging that said “Game Night Approved.” At first, I thought this must be something like the Golden Geek, Dice Tower Seal of Excellence, or any of the 500 logos emblazoned on the boxes for Concept and Wits & Wagers.
Curious about what website, podcast, or other self-appointed arbiter of taste had designated it as “Game Night Approved,” I went looking on the internet and found… practically nothing—except for a couple of promotional posts from HABA itself, including this statement:
“HABA family games all have one thing in common; they are ‘game night approved,’ meaning that they were tested in several gaming rounds of friends and families… all of whom gave all three games a big thumbs up.”
So basically… it’s just a made up thing for advertising purposes.
C’mon HABA. This is just sad. Your games are sustainably manufactured in Germany to the highest possible standards of quality… and then you slap this mountebank accolade on the box? You don’t have to stoop to making up emblems. Your games are amazing. Karuba was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres! Stefan Kloß and Michael Menzel, the designer and illustrator of Spookies, are both literally award-winning. Plus, everyone loves Spookies. I love Spookies. Actual reputable bloggers love Spookies.
Let me help you out.
This is something I never do, but this is just too much of an injustice for me to let it stand. Here’s an official award:
Yes, I’m proud to announce that Spookies is the very first recipient of the coveted Existential Reviews Meaningful and Independent Nod of Endorsement, also known as the Silver E.R.M.I.N.E. (or affectionately just as the “Ermy” for short).
This is an actual, for real award that is definitely not something I just made up because I’m feeling bad for Spookies because it got bupkis while Karuba was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres. Unlike other logos that are just marketing jibber jabber or other gaming “awards” that are given out based on totally subjective evaluations of loosely formulated criteria, the Silver Ermine carries unmatched prestige because it is only given to games that exemplify the resilience, staying power, and perniciously irrepressible spirit of the invasive ermine weasel for which it is named.
Yes, just as the ermine is a “top 10 invasive mammal,” games that receive the Silver Ermine™ are practically guaranteed to slowly and relentlessly take over as much of your heart, mind, board game shelf, ecosystem, and/or wallet as they possibly can, resulting in complete displacement of any vulnerable, defenseless, endangered, or otherwise less worthy games therein.
So please join me in giving a hearty congratulations to Spookies! You can take that fake award off of the box now, HABA. And other publishers, don’t lose heart, I know it’s disappointing that you didn’t win this one, but there’s always next time!
Also note: there’s a printable mini expansion for Spookies (and Karbua and Adventureland, too!) that you can get from HABA’s website—except their link is broken so you’ll have to get it from an Internet Archive cached version instead. I haven’t tried it because I’m too cheap to buy a new color cartridge for my inkjet printer and also life is too short to try to figure out how to get this to print double sided or whatever. But it does look like it could be fun!