Betrayal at House on the Hill
- Designer: Bruce Glassco & Rob Daviau
- Players: 3-6
- Time: 60 Min
Steven – Looking for a game that combines the ever-enthralling experience of tile placement… the blood-pumping intensity of exploring a creepy, dark, derelict mansion… the undeniable thrill of running from a murdering psychopath… AND the joyous character diving we all know as role playing? Well first off, you know what to look for in a good game. We should be friends.
Betrayal at House on the Hill not only features the gameplay mechanics and themes mentioned above, but it also combines aspects from some of our favorite games here at BGPOV. Think of the mystery solving in Clue, the mayhem of Escape: Curse of the Temple and the character investment of Dead of Winter. Interested yet? Then strap yourself in tight, because this review is going to take you for the ride of your life!
Great… I went and promised too much. Now I’m nervous. This review better be good, right? *wipe sweat from my brow*
Betrayal (as it is commonly referred to as) is a modular tile game for 3 to 6 players. Each player chooses one of six character miniatures as well as one of a dozen different personas. Naturally, each character has a short back story and individual character stats in might, speed, knowledge and sanity. These stats play a role in the game as a whole, and each player can gain or lose points in each as the game progresses. Your speed stats, for example, determine how far you will be able to move around the mansion per turn. Your might and sanity levels influence your health, and if either reach zero… it’s goodnight, wandering tourist.
Once characters have been decided, it’s time for exploration. Everyone begins in the entryway of the mansion, and for the first half of the game you take turns selecting room tiles and placing them in available spaces. The tile decks are divided into main floor, basement and upstairs rooms so that players can always draw tiles relevant to their current location. Isn’t that convenient? Following the placement of a tile you will enter that room or location. Perhaps you’ll find nothing. Or maybe you’ll uncover a useful item or piece of equipment (think flashlight, weapon etc.). Items can upgrade your character in various ways via an increase in your stats. These things can all prove to be very useful during end-game confrontations. Or just maybe you’ll find a threat of some sort… or the ever worse, an Omen. These, on the other hand, are the exact opposite of what you want to find. Why? Because after finding a certain number of Omens, one of the players will become haunted; propelling the game from a cautious exploration phase into the terrifying Haunt phase. Or, as I like to call it, the EVERYBODY PANIC phase.
At this time, the game actually takes an intermission to allow the survivors and the betrayer to read up on the rules for a brand new scenario. The scenario selected is based on what room and which omen triggered the Haunt phase. Therefore, the Haunt can be very random and can often add to the suspense. Once players have read up on their news roles, gameplay continues with everyone working toward their new goals.
In my first game I was actually chosen as the betrayer, and the scenario we were assigned was called Voodoo Dolls. I selected one of 5 different voodoo dolls to secretly assign to players of my choosing and secretly selected rooms from around the mansion to hide them. I then read scripted clues from the rule book to each player (which I will point out were super creepy; I mean SUPER creepy), giving them a little insight as to the whereabouts of their hidden doll. Now it was their turn to run around the mansion in search of the dolls before time ran out.
Time? Indeed! Every time the turn order made its way back to me, each player’s voodoo doll would take effect. I assigned the player at the table who had the lowest sanity level the doll that would take away 1 sanity point per turn. The only way to prevent such a result would be to locate and destroy said doll. However, SPOILER! He did end up dying about 4 or 5 turns into the Haunt phase when his sanity reached zero.
One thing I should point out quickly is that even during the Haunt players may continue placing tiles and expanding on the various levels of the mansion. However, it now takes place without the relative ease of moving about with little consequence… seeing as how you’re now actively trying to avoid death. Another aspect to point out is that this game does in fact involve dice. They are custom to this game, and only come into effect during attack and skill check events. But enough with the tangents. Where were we? Ah, yes… Voodoo dolls.
So anyways, I would win the game if half or more of the survivors were killed, and they would win if they located and destroyed all of the dolls. In the end… they did not succeed, as I was able to successfully murder all of my friends. WOOHOO! I even got to read another terrifying excerpt from the rule book to my deceased comrades as part of my victory celebration.
This sounds pretty cool, right? Well if not, one thing that I cannot stress enough is that this was but one of Betrayal’s outcomes. The game has 50 different scenarios, and that alone can potentially provide 100 totally unique experiences. Not to mention the fact that the Haunt is unpredictable, the items are randomized and the layout of the mansion is totally different every single time. So needless to say this game has a LOT of replayability. No two games will be exactly alike. Some scenarios involve searching for dolls while others involve skeletons coming to life under the betrayer’s control. Whatever the case, this game lends itself to lots of fun, humorous and even horrifying moments to share with your friends and family.
Pros: Replay opportunities are nearly infinite. Great artwork for the tiles themselves. Brings together lots of various mechanics to create one unique experience.
Cons: Not necessarily for younger players. Rather complex for beginning gamers. The themes are pretty dark.
Want more insight? Check out Episode 6 – Snakes & Lattes from our podcast library.