Ghooost! The new Richard Garfield game in which you throw the smack down on each other, via the undead, for ages 8+

Ghooost! is the newest game from veteran designer Richard Garfield. Similar to his recent King of Tokyo, Ghooost is a fairly compact, self contained game aimed squarely at a younger audience.  2-6 players, ages 8+, 20 minutes play time.

My eldest encounters her first Ghooost!
My eldest encounters her first Ghooost!

Ghooost! boasts it’s a “fast, easy-to-learn card game with a Halloween-based theme and lots of twists and turns!” I’ll go with fast and Halloween themed, but the rules are a bit cumbersome for those under the age of 10 or so.

My youngest also got her ghooost on.
My youngest also got her ghooost on.

With a whimsical undead theme, it’s simple components of cards, a few “Boo” tokens and the game box as the game board, it’s certainly attractive to kids. As soon as it arrived both of my daughters were fascinated with it. It sat on my kitchen counter for a full day before we were able to play it, and for the first time I was surprised (and happy) to learn that my eldest had popped it open and read the rules on her own.


The undead theme is something I enjoy in general, and truthfully both of my kids have been around cartoonish or plastic zombies for so long they’ve come to enjoy the genre as well. The theme is this – each player owns a haunted mansion, and they are doing their best to kick the resident ghosts, zombies, vampires and other undead out in to the yard, or better yet, into another player’s mansion.

Boiled down to mechanics, Ghooost is a hand management card game, in which you’ll get 4 cards in your hand, a number of cards in your ‘mansion’ which is a pile of cards in front of you, and a general draw pile. The object is to be the first to rid yourself of all your cards, both your hand and your Mansion. Cards range in numbers from 1-14, with a wild card and a “kitty” which has no face value.  To play a card from your hand, you must equal or beat the number currently in the graveyard (the portion of the open box where players actively try to thwart each other.

The box as a playing field, grave yard and card containment unit, all in one.
The box as a playing field, grave yard and card containment unit, all in one.

Certain cards, based on their backgrounds and/or a symbol on them also have special abilities.Yellow cards are Fearless ghosts and can always be played. Red cards are Scary ghosts and can only be beaten by other Scary ghosts (of an equal or higher number). Special ghosts do special things, like reverse play order, act as duplicates of other cards or cause the pile of cards in the Graveyard to be discarded.

You can also play doubles or triples of a single card type to earn yourself another turn. Play four of a kind, and discard those four cards and the rest of the graveyard as well. Discarding is important, too, as well soon see.

My starting hand.
My starting hand.

The game is divided into two phases, before midnight and after midnight. While there are still cards in the Crypt (the draw pile) it is before midnight. On your turn you must do one of three actions – play a card or series of cards, draw a card from the Crypt and immediately play it (if legal) or take all of the cards from the Graveyard into your hand. If you draw a card and you cannot play it, you get that card and all of the cards in the graveyard as well. At all times, you must have 4 cards in your hand, which means if you’re able to play three, you immediately draw three more from the Crypt.

As soon as the Crypt is empty, it’s official after midnight, and instead of drawing cards from the Crypt, you’re now into the meat of the game, and drawing cards from your  Mansion (that pile of cards in front of you).

The instructions come with a handy chart of what cards can be played when, and what will be playable on them. This was fine for myself and my 10 year old, but my 7.5 year old (just under that 8+ designation) couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. I think this is one of the reasons why the game has been initially poorly received, it just seems rather complicated when you first pick it up. I’m wondering if folks have given it enough of a chance. We only played it twice, and by the second time my 10 year old had a firm grasp of the game basics and was starting to work on a strategy. My youngest was catching up, but will probably need a few more plays to get the hang of it.

My eldest ended up with a bunch of cards from the Graveyard.
My eldest ended up with a bunch of cards from the Graveyard.

It’s for this reason that I’d probably say this game is better for ages 10+. Having said that though, if you’re the kind who doesn’t mind the artwork, I think this game works brilliantly as a 20 minute filler game. It has the fast interaction of Kings of Tokyo with even less setup time. The box is small and easy to carry around and lends itself to the game play. With more than 2 players, there’s a way to play several rounds as well with a scoring system, should you desire a longer experience with the game.

I feel a little like this game has a bum rap. I picked it up from Amazon for $17 or so, and it has been completely worth it so far. I know it will be a game that will see a lot of play around the house, particularly since I can grab the kids and get a full game in between dinner and getting them ready for bed.

A few less cards than her sister.
A few less cards than her sister.

The Pros

  • Once you get the hang of it, game play is pretty fast and exciting.
  • There’s some real strategy involved, and the mechanics are designed very well. They drew my 10 year old in and had her thinking strategically on the 2nd play.
  • The game itself is compact, quick to play and relatively inexpensive.

The Cons

  • At first play, there’s a lot going on in this simple seeming card game. This could overwhelm younger players and be frustrating for them.
  • While the rule book is actually quite nicely laid out and easy to follow, there’s a glitch where a paragraph just never finishes itself.

The bottom line

I like it. I’ll certainly play it again, and when based on my ‘movie scale’, which loosely asks whether or not you’d get more hours of enjoyment from a $30 movie experience or this game, it rates rather high. I spent $17 on it and have already had a good, solid hour of entertainment with my two kids. I see more of this in the future.

The game is a winner of the 2013 Mensa Select program, which must mean my kids are wicked smart as the seven year old was getting the hang of it by game two.  Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, there’s an enjoyable game here. Don’t expect anything too deep, really it’s no deeper than Garfield’s King of Tokyo. It is more compact though, in both size, components and game play.

Unlike my kids, I've seen a few undead in my time.
Unlike my kids, I’ve seen a few undead in my time.

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