Okay, so today I wanted to share one of my favorite board games of all time: Betrayal at House on the Hill. The term “board game” is a bit of a misnomer, since there isn’t really a board, but it’s close enough that I’ll still call it one.
Basically, the core concept of the game is this: A group of people (3-6 players) are exploring a creepy, abandoned house on a hill, packed full of horror tropes, when, at some point during the exploration, one of the players betrays the others. Each player chooses a character card (double sided so that each card has 2 characters on it), and uses that individual to explore the house. The characters have different stats, and stats can go up or down during the game. The game progresses by having each player move their character through rooms. As each new room is explored (by exiting an empty door of an explored room), new room tiles are lain down. This means that the house is never the same twice. There are three “levels” to the house, upper, ground, and basement, and certain rooms can only be placed in certain floors (or one of two). As each new room is explored, creepy events, disturbing items, and strange omens are encountered (which are represented by three stacks of cards). When enough omens have been revealed, the “haunt” starts and the traitor is revealed. Basically after every omen occurs you roll some dice, and if the number on the dice is less than the number of omens revealed, the haunt triggers.
And that’s basically all you know until you play the game. There are upwards of 50 separate haunts that can happen, each one based on the particular omen that triggered the haunt and the room it was triggered in. Then whoever is marked as the “traitor” takes the “traitor’s tome” and goes into a separate room, while the other players stay seated and read the “survivor’s guide”. DO NOT READ THESE AHEAD OF TIME! It totally ruins everything. Essentially the traitor and the survivors are given different accounts of the same event, and neither group knows everything the other one has to do to win.
This game is so good because it is never the same twice. I’ve played it so much that I’ve had some haunts happen multiple times, and others still haven’t happened at all (I need to spend more time in the basement to get the basement only trigger rooms), but even so, each game is unique. Some haunts are incredibly easy if too much of the house has been explored, and that happens sometimes, but usually there’s a good balance. The traitor is usually completely overpowered but is also usually outnumbered and has a lot more to accomplish by him/herself.
This game can be frustrating, but never in a bad way. Terrible things happen to your character, but you can’t die until the Haunt starts, so in the end it doesn’t really matter. Most of the time a character dying doesn’t end the game, so if one or two survivors fail to….well, survive, then it’s okay.
Sample haunts (without ruining anything) include demonic summonings, zombie redneck families, magical aging rituals, ghostly possession, and mad scientists with shrink rays and hungry cats. And also, something with a “toy robot” in it, but I’ve never had the haunt that uses that token, so I’m not sure exactly what it is for, but I hope to find out soon.
Once upon a time (read: 5 years ago), this game was out of print and went for $200 on ebay, but Wizards of the Coast bought it up and released a second edition (the one I own). The quality is a little crappy in some ways (the room tiles are bent because the gloss finish on each side didn’t dry evenly), but not in any way that affects gameplay. Plus, the second edition clarified some of the rules that needed it (you can no longer stay in the gym pounding away on the treadmill to raise your speed stat ad infinitum, or the larder to increase strength, etc…), and streamlined the tokens so that you don’t have 12 pages of them to punch out (now there are only 4, I think). All in all I’d say it’s just as good, if not a little better, than the first printing (though those extra tokens sure were cool).
Anyway, if you can find a copy, it’s a great game. They go for 40-50 bucks in most stores, though online prices will probably be more expensive. We’ve got a game shop in town that I got mine from but I’ve seen it at Toys R Us (briefly), and on Amazon for a decent price as well.
If anyone has any recommendations for similar games, let me know. I’d love to hear about them. I may do a review for Arkham Horror at some point, but since nobody likes playing that game with me I don’t have as much experience with it (it’s a great game, just has a ton of setup and is slightly complicated to learn).
Thanks for reading