The Many Incarnations of a Spooky Board Game

Welcome once again dear friends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Do come in, just be careful you don't trip over all those dropped 'h's though. Anyhow this time I've dredged up an old board game that I'm guessing was much requested for birthdays and made many an appearance on Christmas lists. It was certainly the star item - the carefully chosen big present - on one of my childhood missives to Santa, and the Bearded Gent did indeed come through for me on that one. That much anticipated item was a board game called Haunted House, and unlike many other much hankered for toys, this one did not disappoint! Looking back, I think it was my favourite childhood board game, for it was played with for many many years on a regular basis.

And my experiences with Haunted House is clearly not in any way unusual, for this is a game whose mere mention triggers a wave of nostalgia in several generations. For this is a board game that has never been long off the shelves, and indeed, it's still available in toy shops to this very day. In fact it's now 50 years old! I reckon it's only the fact that this board game has gone through several rebrandings that has prevented it from being recognised as a true classic. So then, let's have a quick wander through its long history...

This spooky treat first appeared in 1970 in the US, a creation of pioneering board game makers, Milton Bradley (later known as MB Games), under the name Which Witch. It initially came in a huge square box the size of the board itself, but was reissued a year later with a more convenient folding board, in the more familiar, slimmer rectangular box, that was way easier to get in the toy cupboard. Now the same year as the folding board made its debut, 1971, the game made its first transatlantic appearance, released in the UK by Denys Fisher. And while the game pieces, rules and box art were identical, it was now called Haunted House. And more European versions began to appear soon after too - in Spain it became Embrujada (Haunted), in France it was Le Manoir Hanté (The Haunted Manor), in German it was Spukschloss (Haunted Castle), and in Italy it appeared as Castello Incanto (Castle of Spells) and also Brivido (Shiver).

In all its incarnations, Which Witch/Haunted House sold steadily for many years. However in 1975, there came the first evolution of the game, with Denys Fisher releasing a rejigged version entitled New Haunted House. Justifying the new moniker, there was new box art, and the titular witches disappeared from the game, being replaced with ghosts. Plus one of the game's gadgets, a broom trap became a falling knight instead. However there were more radical changes to come in later years. In the mid '80s, the game would evolved again, with not only a few more tweaks to the mechanics and pieces, but it mutated into two distinct versions.

The more short-lived variant, which appeared in toy stores in 1986, saw the now venerable game re-skinned as a tie-in to The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series. And was called, unsurprisingly, The Real Ghostbuster Game, and perhaps needless to say, this spin-off edition did not last long. However its other '80s incarnation, released the year before in 1985, proved to be far more tenacious! Ghost Castle from MB Games, brought some more tweaks to the game, several of witch, sorry, which had been first seen in some of those European versions. The main changes were that the tower on the board became a more durable plastic version, the deck of cards became a spinner, and the whammy ball being replaced with a skull! A plastic one sadly, not a real one I should point out...

Anyway, since then the game has more or less stuck to its new name of Ghost Castle, and indeed the game is still available to this very day, with the current version being issued by Goliath Games. For nearly five decades now it has been providing spooky thrills to generations of children! And long may it continue!

This series of articles is also available in audio form as a podcast!

Next we're setting up the haunted house board in all its glory to take a proper look at the gameplay!

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