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Every Day Is Halloween at Trick or Treat Studios

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Publisher: Trick or Treat Studios
Chris Zephro, president and co-founder of Trick or Treat Studios in Santa Cruz, California, has been a gamer for as long as he can remember. "I bought my first D&D box set in fourth grade," he says.

In junior high, he met and befriended Luke Gygax, son of Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax, who was temporarily living in Los Angeles because Marvel Productions was working on a Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series. "I met him on a Friday during roll call in sixth period," says Zephro. As soon as he heard the name "Gygax", Zephro approached Luke to confirm that he was indeed related to Gary Gygax. "I said, 'My name is Chris, and I'm spending the night at your house.'"

After spending two decades working for various corporations, in 2010 Zephro and artist/sculptor Justin Mabry founded Trick or Treat Studios, which initially focused on designing and manufacturing Halloween masks and costumes. "We always knew that we would branch out," says Zephro. Over the years, the company added to its catalog: weapon props, action figures, home decor, jewelry, air fresheners, and much more. "Tabletop gaming was always on the list."

Board Game: Creature Feature
Trick or Treat Studios debuted its game line at Gen Con 2021, albeit only with demo copies. "The original plan was to have the games out by Halloween," says Zephro, but the manufacturing and shipping issues that have been plaguing the game industry, as well as pretty much all industries, since Covid-19 hit in early 2020 have affected them as well.

At this point, the first four titles from Trick or Treat Studios are scheduled for release in the first half of 2022, with many others planned through 2024.

• One of those first titles is the card game Creature Feature from Richard Garfield. Says Zephro, "I reached out to all my favorite designers, and they all got back to me. I always assumed that designers like Richard Garfield would have a jillion publishers banging down their door, but it's more common for designers to be the ones doing the pitching."

Creature Feature plays out over three seasons of movie-making, and in a season each of the 3-6 players has 8-10 cards in hand that they will use to audition for a spot in 4-5 movies. Cards range in value from 1-11, with some of them having special powers. To play, you reveal a movie worth 2-6 points, then each player chooses a pair of cards in their hand to audition for the star and co-star spots in this movie. Everyone reveals their co-star card, then in turn players have the option to withdraw from the movie to instead audition for a short film worth half as many points as the movie (1-3 instead of 2-6); you can even withdraw from that competition, moving your cards to the "fold" space on your player board.

Once everyone has decided to fold or locked in their audition spots, players reveal their stars to see who has the higher sum of actors for the movie or the short. One twist, however, is that your actors are ignored if your co-star has an equal or higher value than your star — unless this is true for everyone who has auditioned for the same spot. Whoever wins the movie spot claims that tile and all actors who auditioned for that spot. These actors are score face down and worth 1 point each — unless you won the spot with a star that didn't outrank the co-star, in which case your actor cards are scored face up, with them being worth 2-5 points each.

Board Game: Creature Feature

After you play through a hand of cards, you've completed a season, record your points on the scoretrack, then shuffle the cards to prepare for the next season. The deck includes helper cards that you can play while placing star and co-star cards, while resolving cards, and during other situations, with a helper replacing itself immediately so that you can have enough actors to fulfill all possible movie roles.

Board Game: Blood Orders
Blood Orders is a game from newcomer Nick Badagliacca in which 2-4 players "each take on the roles of powerful but disgraced vampires, exiled from a centuries-old order and hoping to build a new underground kingdom of their own in an unfamiliar city. Players visit locations in disguise to gain resources, perform arcane rituals, and hypnotize the citizenry...but most importantly, to turn hapless victims into fresh, bloodthirsty vampires under their command!"

In more detail:
To build your new order, you must manage a continuously evolving hand of vampire cards at your command, sending them throughout the city to visit locations, perform arcane rituals, bewitch victims, and recruit new vampires, all over the course of nine rounds (days). All of these activities take the form of cards activated by your order tokens on the board, allowing you to amass critical resources, perform useful actions, and earn points. However, as your power grows, so does fear within the city, making your quest increasingly difficult as the days go by.

Board Game: Blood Orders

At the end of the ninth day, the vampire player with the most points reigns supreme!
And in still more detail: Blood Orders takes place over three acts, with each act consisting of three days, with rituals, locations, and victims being divided by act.

Each day, you secretly program three order tokens (dawn, dusk, night) based on whether you want to visit the altar to select a ritual, the catacombs to have a garden-variety vampire join your order, or a specific quarter of the city, where you can carry out the effect of a location, pay influence to use a victim's ability, or acquire a specific victim for your order. You use your vampires to overcome the fear values in city quarters, and you must feed vampires blood to recover them from torpor at the end of a day.

Board Game: TrollFest
TrollFest is another 3-6 player game, this time from Bruno Faidutti and Camille Mathieu, and the best description of the game might come from Faidutti himself, who posted a diary about the game on his blog in September 2021:
A game of TrollFest is made of three phases. At the beginning of the game, players draft action and musician cards and build an amateur band of at least four musicians: a singer, a drummer, a guitar and a bass guitar player.

Every group then leaves its starting city for a big tour around the country, moving from town to town, holding concerts, sometimes recruiting additional or better musicians, sometimes even hiring dragons for the final light show. The main way to score points during the tour is to give concerts. The most successful ones are in the cities where the local crowd is most receptive to your musical style — basically, dwarves like dwarven music played by dwarven musicians, trolls like troll music played by trolls, etc. While playing elf pop in orc city halls makes little sense, multicultural big bands can have some success everywhere, especially if they also recruit a few exotic characters, like a siren or minotaur.

Board Game: TrollFest
Sample cards

Unexpected events such as disagreement between musicians, snow storm, or yellow vests blocking the roads sometimes interfere with the band's well-planned tours. Nothing is more classy, of course, than to arrive on a dragon's back to end one's tour in one's home city.
In spirit, TrollFest seems like a blending of Ticket to Ride and Elfenland, with players starting the game with 10-16 tour tokens and choosing one of the 25 cities as their hometown, that is, the starting point for their band.

On a turn, you move along a road to a neighboring city — collecting a dragon token if one awaits on the side of the road and you don't already have it — then you conduct a tour in that city if you haven't already done so, scoring points based on the band members that match that city's named species, with bonus points if you're the first one to hold a concert there (as recorded by the depositing of a tour token). Some cities let you draft a new action card or draft a new musician for your band, thereby letting you adapt to future cities on your travel itinerary or prepare for varied endgame bonuses based on your band's authenticity; diversity; collection of dragon tokens and light shows; and attribute scores in energy, charisma, and skill.

Board Game: World-Z League
World-Z League is a straightforward zombie-killing game from David Gregg for 1-4 players, with those players using rubber bands to shoot at targets.

To set up, take turns placing a building and a zombie, an obstacle and a zombie, then your final two zombies. The game includes rules that cover all the details of placement, but in general you need to leave at least half of your first two zombies exposed and all of your last two zombies in the open. Zombies have different point values on the back, and when you strike down an opposing zombie with a rubber band, you also score for zombies that have been knocked down by their owners.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• Regarding the look of games from Trick or Treat Studios, Faidutti wrote this about TrollFest: "Their graphic artist, David Hartman, also works with Rob Zombie, a metal musician and horror movie producer. [Hartman] made the video clips for the movies Lords of Salem and American Witch, and the art for his albums. His style is of course dark and gore, but also light and full of humor, and he visibly had great fun drawing the musicians for TrollFest, which he did incredibly fast. It's different from what we are used to in the boardgaming world, but I think we will see it also in other games by Trick or Treat Studios."

Zephro confirms this, noting that the company has used plenty of great artists over the years who will now bring their talents to board games. "It's like a breath of fresh air because no one has ever seen their stuff", he says.

Board Game: TrollFest
TrollFest game board

Combined with the desire to bring a new look to their games, Zephro and project manager Andy Van Zandt are excited to have their games featured in new locations. Says Zephro, "We have established channels in the collectibles market for horror and costuming. We sell in tattoo shops, auto shops, toy stores, and elsewhere, so you'll see games in Hot Topic and other non-traditional channels that focus on horror, monsters, fun, and fantasy."

These new markets and new artists will be combined with familiar designers as Zephro notes that Trick or Treat Studios is also working with established talent like Richard Launius, Banana Chan, Tom Lehmann, John D. Clair, Emerson Matsuuchi, Scott Rogers, and Reiner Knizia. "We're doing both original IPs and a number of licensed IPs as TTS has worked with over 150 licensed IPs," he says, specifically mentioning Child's Play and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Board Game: Specter Ops
Board Game: Nightfall
• So what will you see from Trick or Treat Studios in years to come? Says Zephro, "I love Specter Ops, and Emerson [Matsuuchi] and I talked about how cool it would be to have a game like that based on Halloween. One character is Michael Myers, and everyone else is trying to escape from him."

"Richard Launius was working with Mondo on a cool game called LA-1," says Zephro, but Mondo is now out of the picture, with Trick or Treat Studios being in. "It's the version of Arkham Horror that you've always wanted that game to be, and it takes place in a Blade Runner/The Fifth Element-type of universe."

Launis also has a co-operative game based on the original Halloween film from 1978, and Zephro says one of the challenges of selling games into markets that don't normally carry games is that you have to help them understand that despite this game having the same license as the Matsuuchi design, the games themselves stand on their own. "They're mechanically different", he says. "I've had to do a lot of explaining."

Aside from World-Z League, designer David Gregg is working on a new version of the deck-building game Nightfall, with Zephro describing it as a 2.0 version that will feature Universal classic monsters.

Finally in this short list of teasers we come to Reiner Knizia's Dream Factory, a.k.a. Traumfabrik, a.k.a. Hollywood Golden Age. Zephro says that they've transformed the game into Nightmare Factory, with the game featuring all new art and with players now creating horror movies. "The artwork is spectacular", he says. "We're definitely going to make a big splash."

Board Game: Nightmare Productions
Board Game: Nightmare Productions
Board Game: Nightmare Productions
Board Game: Nightmare Productions
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