I’ve already mentioned I’m in the middle of a low-key obsession with Prospero Hall, a game design studio based in Seattle. The game that set me off was Godzilla: Tokyo Clash, a kaiju beat-em-up that I enjoyed so much that I immediately set off to 3D print a bunch of pieces for it. Even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic bereft of Game Nights, I haven’t been able to resist getting all the Prospero Hall games I could get my hands on.
So when I found out they’d made The Haunted Mansion: Call of the Spirits, there was no point in my even pretending I’d wait to get a copy. It’s one of my top 5 Disney attractions, and the game is like a love letter to the ride, with every single detail and design element seemingly aimed directly at fans.
The Haunted Mansion: Call of the Spirits is a set collection/press-your-luck game, with the premise that the ghosts have, as the song says, come out to socialize. Each player gets a piece shaped like the bats on the end of the stanchions in the queue, and you can move between the seance room and the endless hallway. Cards representing the ghosts are placed around the board, each with a suit representing its room in the ride — the stretching room, portrait hall, ballroom, graveyard, attic (with grooms of the haunted bride), etc. You’re trying to collect ghost cards to build sets from the same suit, each with a Sushi Go-esque point value system. At the same time, you’re trying to avoid collecting too many haunt cards, which cost points at the end of the game. These are received mainly from crossing paths with the hitchhiking ghosts trying to follow you home.
A particularly clever element is that the endless hallway is represented by a rondel in the center of the board. In addition to moving from space to space, a player can rotate the piece any number of spaces, moving herself and any other players in the hallway. The only thing that feels even remotely like a missed opportunity in the entire game is the lack of doom buggies, but they’re here in spirit: riding on an infinite circular track, passing through all of the rooms of the mansion.
I’ve only played it once, but it’s fun and quick-moving. The time estimate on the box is 30 minutes, which seems about right. But there were plenty of opportunities for interesting decisions, so don’t assume that a short, licensed game is necessarily shallow.
Really, that’s exactly why I’m in love with Prospero Hall’s games at the moment, especially the ones made in conjunction with Funko Games. Frankly they’re better than licensed games have any right to be. Most of the time, especially with Disney licenses, publishers just lazily slap new artwork on top of a mass market game most people are already tired of playing: Clue, Life, Risk, or now even Catan. Prospero Hall seems to be making more interesting games based on licenses they love — if they don’t love them, they’re doing an awful good job of faking it.
Production values and art direction are impeccable. In Call of the Spirits, the ghost cards all have art that fans of the ride will recognize from paintings or animatronics. (There are some familiar paintings arranged on the outside of the box as well). There’s another nice surprise detail for Haunted Mansion fans in the box, that I didn’t take a photograph of to let players discover it on their own.
As I said, as a fan of the Haunted Mansion, there was no way that I wasn’t going to buy this game. But I think even non-fans should be impressed with what they’re doing here. They’re raising the bar not just for licensed games but for mass market games in general. The game mechanics here aren’t completely original, but it is a novel combination of some familiar mechanics, and there’s a good chance it’ll introduce players to a type of game they’ve never played before. 1Lords of Waterdeep, a licensed D&D game, was what made me love worker placement games more than any of the traditional choices for “best in genre.” Disney Villainous is the most accessible asymmetric game I’ve seen, and I still have yet to play anything else quite like it. I’d certainly rather play Call of the Spirits than Sushi Go, which is the most similar game I can think of.
I’ve only played the two-player variant, and much like with Godzilla: Tokyo Clash, I can already tell that the game’s probably more interesting with three or more. I think even if I didn’t love the Haunted Mansion, I’d have fun with this game. And even if this one weren’t for me, I’d be impressed that they’re working to make board games more accessible to more people, and better overall.