Betrayal at House on the Hill: A look at the game

Betrayal_9547Betrayal at House on the Hill is a thematic game and an impulse buy.   Its about nosy characters trespassing a haunted house, pilfering items and having psychedelic yet dangerous encounters from room to mysterious room.  No two games will be alike due to its mechanics of map building and its unknown plot.  Full of twists and turns, its “fun factor” depends how much imagination and enthusiasm players are willing to invest in it.  We’ll go over why would anyone want this board game and what you can expect out of it.

Offered by Avalon Hill / Wizard of the Coast, Betrayal at House on the Hill is strangely familiar to its Dungeons and Dragons boardgames. If you’re familiar with them, you’ll see many similarities.  Instead of exploring dungeon tiles, you’ll layout rooms.    There is an easy-to-understand mechanic connecting rooms to one of three different levels; ground, upper, and basement.  The game play is simple; explore, experience, collect stuff, discover the “payoff”.

What’s the point of the game?
Working backwards, the goal of the game is unknown in the beginning.  While its takes 5 minutes to set the game up, it may take an hour to figure out why you’re there.  There are literally 50 scenarios to play out.    This means 50 unique nuances to the game depending on who does what and where.   Each game will choose one opponent who becomes “traitor” to the others.  But who it shall be isn’t revealed until the game finishes doling out random occurrences.

Who am I?
Six may play choosing one of six plastic figurines that come with the game.  However, there are 12 personalities.  Each figure has two different names and traits to choose from.  This is a nice and cost-effective technique to give the game a little variety.   Every character has four meters making up their emotional and physical health status; might, speed, sanity, and knowledge.  As the game progresses before the final showdown, in-game experiences move meters up and down.

What am I doing here?
In an over analysis, the exploration of the haunted house is your random generator determining; the floor plan, your final health status, your possessions, and the plot.  If you were a wet blanket, you could come up with a logical distribution method determining everything at the beginning of the game and jump straight to the finale.  But what fun is that?

Like Dungeon and Dragons, most every new room explored determines an action that ends your turn.  It generally means a draw of the cards.  You may draw an item, an event, or an omen.   An event is similar to the encounter cards in Dungeons and Dragons and Arkham Horror.   You’ll take risks and make dice rolls based on one of your four traits.  The more healthy and strong you are the more likely having a beneficial outcome.  The omen cards are much like an event.  It may grant you an item or a weird, haunting experience.  As you explore more rooms, it is inevitable you’ll find more omens.   The omen, is the game’s analog, non-linear countdown timer.  Every omen brings an opportunity for the “haunt”.  The haunt is the game’s payoff, its finale, the rules determining who wins.

How do I get out?
Once the haunt starts, there will be a chosen traitor among the heroes.  You’ll read a secret book’s matrix to figure out the story.    The game may have vampires, zombies, or man-eating cats.   There are two secret books, in fact.  One for the hero and another for the traitor.  It pits one against the group in a race or combat.   Both the heroes and the traitor have separate, conflicting goals to victory.  You’ll need to read carefully as additional, unique rules come into play.


Sounds like Arkham Horror?
Not too far off.  While Arkham Horror has its abbreviated cousin, Mansions of Madness, “Betrayal” is a house of haunts.  Both have investigators, characters that are graded by physical and emotional health.  Each puts excitement into encounters.  Most parallel is each has their unique dice rolling rules determined on strengths of trait.   You’ll discover Betrayal’s 6-sided dice are uniquely designed with blank, 1, and 2 pips.

Enough already!  Will I have fun?
This is for you, if you’re a fan of Dungeons and Dragons board games and want a break from the mechanical game play.  This is for you if you want to get more into imaginary excitement of Arkham Horror without investing hours setting up hundreds of cards and re-reading the rule book again.  You may find it easier to “get into it”, imagining being inside a creepy house than the caverns of Ashardalon, or the Other Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft during the 1920’s.

The truth is the game is about the experience, reading the cards as if you were reading a book or watching an old black and white film.  The haunt mechanic is only a means to end the game in terms most of us understand.  Either you win or you lose.   Either you leave the house with sweat on your brow or you’re dead.



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