Out of all the things I've covered on this site for Halloween over the years, there's probably nothing older than this: the Haunted House board game from Ideal (the same company that later brought us fine toys such as Robo Force). It came out way back in 1962, and while I wasn't even born yet, my mom was enjoying her youth and all of the spooky Halloween things that were out at the time. Somehow she managed to hold onto this board game as it was her favorite one, and introduced it to me when I was a kid. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I played this thing when I was younger... there was just something about it that just clicked with me.
So here we are, 45 years after the release of Haunted House, and I think it's high time that the rest of you get to learn about this long lost classic. And maybe for some of our older readers, this will bring back some great memories for ya.
For a board game, this thing came in a huge box... easily twice as tall and wide as your average one these days. Then again, the board itself wasn't your typical rectangular shape, but we'll get to that soon enough. First you gotta just appreciate that classic spine-chilling artwork on the box... everything about it just screams classic Halloween. Yes indeedy, they don't make 'em like that anymore, that's for sure. The lil' features section in particular is truly noteworthy:
I love how the kids are drawn here; innocent as can be and extremely excited to see what wonders can be found within the Haunted House. I swear that little boy looks like the long lost brother of Richie Rich. As you can see, the game has exciting features such as an owl spinner, spooks behind doors ("that's racist!") and a hidden jewel in the attic. I'm not really sure what a jewel in the attic has to do with haunted houses, but it is a board game, and you gotta have some kind of goal when it comes to these things. Plus, the toys were a bit more innocent back then (well, except for the fact that kids were often given firearms as presents), so it's not surprising that you'd have a jewel in the attic instead of a vampire orgy or whatever the hell they'd stick in there nowadays just to try to keep a child's attention span from wandering off to the latest video game.
You may have noticed that the owl spinner image appears to be a sticker rather than stuck on the actual boxes. Interesting story behind that: Originally, the owl spinner wasn't just a piece of cardboard with a metal pointer that you spun around. No, it was actually a plastic owl box with a lever 'n everything. Really nice actually. Unfortunately, from what I've heard, the original owl spinner boxes had a tendency to break - probably because some kids would yank the lever too hard or something. So, they eventually replaced the plastic lever owl spinner with the cardboard one instead. Of course, let's not forget that this was also a more cost-effective solution for them too. While Ideal wanted to make it a fun game for everyone to play, they were still trying to run a business and I'm sure they welcomed the opportunity to cut costs wherever they could.
On the back of the box, you can see where one of the stickers wore off and it shows the kid still playing with the original owl spinner. It's kinda funny that they never just reprinted the boxes entirely, because even though the sticker covered up the feature section, the original owl spinner was still featured prominently right on the front of the package hooting away. Whooo,whooooo, whooo. I imagine most kids would've been a little disappointed to see that on the box and then find this:
It's not a bad spinner or anything, and they at least threw in a few spooky graphics, including an owl who doesn't look too pleased about having a rusty metal spinner attached to his face. But in all reality, it's just not as good as the original. Fortunately, I have both versions of the spinner so you can see exactly how they compare, and the fact is...
...there is no comparison at all. Not only does the original owl spinner work better, it looks a hundred times cooler. The menacing black owl has the future of your game twirling around in its belly, and to the left of it you see a gothic arched window of sorts. But that's no mere window my friends. When you pull down the lever to see how many spaces you get to move forward, it actually hoots at you! Watch this video of the owl spinner in action to see and hear for yourself... it's a hoot!
So yeah, as you can see, any kid who got the cardboard spinner with this game was truly missing out on one of its greatest features. But as cool as the owl spinner box is, nothing tops the actual game board itself:
There she be, in all of her spookish splendor. I always loved the paint job they did on this thing to make it look aged, almost to the point where it appears to be covered in dust and soot. Now I know it looks a bit confusing at first glance in a "Where the hell do you start!? Where the hell do you go!?" kind of way, so allow me to show you the route through this Haunted House.
Pardon me, I meant "The Secret Route" through the Haunted House. A route so secret that it can be found both within the instructions and on the board game itself! As you can see, it's a twisty path all the way up to the attic, and even then your journey through this madhouse isn't over. The main objective of the game is to get the jewel in the attic before the other players do and then make it to the final victory escape spot. Along the way, you'll encounter a variety of creepy creatures and macabre monsters who will interfere with your progress in the game, but are still polite enough not to kill you. In all reality, this is not a game of skill, it's a game of chance. You obey the owl selector and move your player peg forward into the correct slots and hope to avoid any mutants along the way.
I also took the liberty to scan all of the instructions on the off chance that some of you will want to read them all. After all, there really is a lot of talk about SLOTS and HOLES in the instructions and I know that's enough to interest some of you perverts. You can view the full-sized instruction scans here. Keep your hands off of my STOP HOLE.
Even without the instructions, the path you need to take in the game is still fairly clear as long as you follow the orientation of the gold-painted arrows. But as I stated before, there are a variety of baddies in your way.
If you happen to be so unfortunate as to land on one of the "STOP" slots, you will encounter one of those ghouls whose sole purpose is to thwart any headway you've been making.
Simply insert the peg into the slot and then slide it up and a hidden door will pop open, revealing one of those creeps such as this dastardly phantom. I bet if he could speak, he would even talk in one of those cliché "Goooooo baaaaack tooooo geeeeeee!" ghostly voices full of high-pitched vibrato. Good times. So before we move along, here's a quick gallery of some of the other baddies you can encounter:
While Frankenstein, the cat and the ghost are all great in their own way, my favorite of all the baddies has to be the Nosferatu-vampire. Not only is he depicted very much like "The Count" from Sesame Street, but when I was a kid I always used to laugh and call him Mister Banana. This is because I was convinced that he had a bundle of bananas on his chest.
While I'm sure this wasn't the artist's intention, you gotta admit, it's easy to see how that kinda looks like a bundle of bananas... especially to a kid. So yes, Mister Banana will forever haunt my memories of playing this board game.
Anyway, moving right along, not all of the "STOP" points in the game are bad. There are several (neon red) doors, safes and a fireplace that you can land on. Don't let the vampire bat scare ya, because if you are lucky enough to land on one of these spots, they will tell you to move ahead a few spaces. And then there's the most important "STOP" point of them all...
The treasure chest in the attic. In here you'll find the shiny red jewel and while it looks just as mouth-watering as a candy Ring-Pop, it's not for you to consume.
Let's be realistic here for a second... if a kid is left alone playing a game and they see something that looks as shiny as this jewel, I guarantee that it will be swallowed within mere seconds. Fortunately, I usually had a pretty good stash of candy at all times during my youth, so I never once tried eating the jewel. I'm not denying that the thought didn't cross my mind though. Hell, it still does.
So once you have the jewel, it's up to you to make it to the final escape spot at letter "I" before somebody else steals the jewel from you. If you make it to the "I" spot, the foggy window will reveal a message to you when you insert the peg: YOU WIN!
And that's pretty much the Haunted House game in a nutshell. For those of you who are interested, I see them for sale on eBay here 'n there, but finding one that's actually complete with all the working parts and nothing broken will often cost you in excess of $200. But you can often find incomplete versions of the game for far less and substitute some of the missing pieces with other stuff lying around your house. Either way, it's a great classic board game and one that should be a part of everybody's seasonal Halloween activities. And if you don't believe me, well then perhaps I'll have to tell Mister Banana to come pay you a visit.
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