In the nearly 30 years since the chupacabra first emerged, it has taken many forms. First appearing as a spiky-backed, alien-looking creature, then as a mangy canid, and finally as, well, pretty much any dead thing that’s not immediately identifiable. It’s also been widely embraced by pop culture, first appearing in Puerto Rican tabloids in late 1995 and later leaping to an English-language audience on The X-Files in 1997.
Not only was the monster inspired by the 1995 science fiction film Species, but it’s also appeared in a series of low-budget horror films itself. A few years ago I even got a birthday Cameo from an ever-cool (and possibly high) Erik Estrada talking about his experience dealing with the beast when filming his classic Chupacabra Versus the Alamo.
It wasn’t until recently, however, that my favorite Hispanic vampire appeared in tabletop games. Though I created and marketed a board game in 2008 (the infamous Playing Gods: The Board Game of Divine Domination) and co-created a patent-pending folding puzzle (with my Squaring the Strange podcast co-host Celestia Ward), I admit to not being more than just a casual board gamer.
Nevertheless, I figured that if the chupacabra was going to rear its spiky-spined head in pop culture, I should check it out, soI bought three monster-themed games to explore the field. One was generic, one included the chupacabra as an optional creature, and one was specific to the beast.
3-5 players, Osprey Games
What’s Cryptid about? Let the promotional copy speak for itself:
You’ve studied the footage, connected the dots, and gathered what meager evidence you could. You’re close —soon the whole world will know the truth behind the Cryptid. A group of like-minded cryptozoologists have come together to finally uncover the elusive creature, but the glory of discovery is too rich to share. Without giving away some of what you know you will never succeed in locating the beast, but reveal too much and your name will be long forgotten!
Cryptid is a unique deduction game of honest misdirection in which players must try to uncover information about their opponents’ clues while throwing them off the scent of their own. Each player holds one piece of evidence to help them find the creature, and on their turn they can try to gain more information from their opponents. Be warned; give too much away and your opponents might beat you to the mysterious animal and claim the glory for themselves!
As this description kind of fit me and what I do (“You’ve studied the footage, connected the dots, and gathered what meager evidence you could”), I was eager to dive right in and test my investigative acumen against other players. The box art is cool and evocative (as it should be), and I opened the box to find… honeycomb-grid tiles that fit together to create a map, with different colors and designs representing different terrain (mountains, desert, water, and so on).
Instead of cool or creepy cryptid figures, there were blocks and round pieces of different colors (one for each player). Basically the monster is hidden somewhere on the board (though actually it’s not), and each player is given a clue as to where it would be. You then ask other players whether, according to their clues, the cryptid could be on a given spot, and tokens are placed on the board accordingly.
I played this game a few times and it quickly became clear that the title and theme are irrelevant to the gameplay, credited to Hal Duncan and Ruth Veevers. Sure, talk all you like about cryptozoologists, beasts, elusive creatures, and mysterious animals, but none are to be found in the game. If you’re looking for Bigfoot or a chupacabra in the game, you’ll find them to be just as elusive as they are in real life.
The game is about cryptids in name only, and the game mechanics could have worked easily as well searching for anything, from a crashed UFO to buried treasure. There’s nothing “cryptid” about it; no blurry photos, ambiguous tracks, or anything else. Cryptid is a logic game, where you rule out (or in) where X could be, and try to assemble clues from that. It’s vital that all players remember their information and accurately reveal it according to the rules, or the whole thing is ruined and you need to start over (or apologize profusely and try to undo wrongly-placed tokens).
The game isn’t bad — it just has nothing to do with what’s advertised on the box. As a board game it gets 3 out of 5 chupacabras; as a cryptid game it gets one.
Next up was a more promising find.
Horrified: American Monsters
Ravensburger, 1-5 players
I hadn’t heard of the original Horrified board game, released in 2019, which pits players against classic Universal Monsters including Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolfman, Dracula, Mummy, and more. But Horrified: American Monsters is a standalone game with similar mechanics. This version, as you can tell from the name, features American monsters Bigfoot, Mothman, the Jersey Devil, the Chupacabra, the Banshee of the Badlands, and the Ozark Howler — though as a folklorist I’ll note that technically the banshee is far more Irish than American. Of course Mothman is straight from West Virginia, and the chupacabra is an American monster via Puerto Rico (not a Mexican one).
The promo copy gives a sense of the game:
Until yesterday, the most exciting thing that ever happened to your sleepy town of Cross Creek was when Nora’s cherry pie won first place at the county fair. But now there’s been sightings of Bigfoot, the goats are being devoured by a Chupacabra, and there are even rumors that Mothman’s been spotted haunting the town. Together with a team of fellow investigators, you’ll have to track these (and more!) monsters down while figuring out how to stop them before the town is overcome with terror. Do you have what it takes to save Cross Creek in Horrified: American Monsters?
In Horrified: American Monsters players (one to five of them, allegedly) can face one or more monsters, and of course the more there are wandering the board, the harder the game. Each monster comes with its lore-specific challenge (or way to defeat it), which I enjoyed. You need to collect enough (blurry) photos to take out Bigfoot, and to survive against the chupacabra you need to save enough goats from its bloodthirsty maw. You have to not only defeat the monsters, but save citizens by guiding them to safety, for which they reward you with supplies and arms.
I played one round as the cryptozoologist (naturally), and ended up very nearly being killed by the chupacabra, which I found a bit unfair. But I survived to tell the tale, and soon saved Cross Creek (though just barely).
The art is very nice, and I also enjoyed the miniatures. The gameplay is fun, and works best with four players. I did notice a few problems, such as typos in the rulebook (I am an editor, and hey, get a proofreader to look it over before it goes to press). Also, the rules can get complicated, with lots of exceptions (for example, ones that are overridden when specific monsters are in play), so be sure to reread everything carefully. And while Horrified: American Monsters claims it works with one player, I wasn’t able to do it. Overall the game gets five out of five chupacabras.
For those like me who may want a shorter, simpler game (and/or one specifically about the vampire beast), there’s:
Chupacabra: Survive the Night
Steve Jackson Games, 2-4 Players
This is a simple dice game, and as the package says:
Turn out the lights and try to be the last mammal standing in this survival dice game based on Latin American folklore. Can you survive the night? In Chupacabra: Survive the Night, which includes 24 glow-in-the-dark dice, each player rolls six dice at the start of the game and uses their rolled Chupacabra to steal other players’ chickens, goats, and bulls. One Chupacabra can capture up to two chickens or one goat, and two Chupacabra can capture a bull — but animal packs are immune to Chupacabra so be sure to roll a lot of the same animal!
Survive the Night only goes into chupacabra lore insofar as its (alleged) victims, but that’s okay given the parameters of the game. I did appreciate the folkloric information on the back of the box, which doesn’t quote me but is clearly based on my research and book. It’s a simple, fast-paced game whose livestock exsanguinations are sure to delight kids and adults alike (though I’d have liked more art, and good luck using the dice in the dark, “glow in the dark” or not).
Comparing these three games is difficult because they’re so diverse, ranging from a very generic (yet complex) board game to a very specific (and simple) dice game. As a folklorist and chupacabra expert, I have to single out Horrified: American Monsters as the best of the lot. I expect that sooner or later this vampire will appear in other entertainment, and until then, keep in mind the biggest lesson in these games: it sucks to be a goat.
Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture.
AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.
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