Board Game Published by Avalon Hill
3-6 players, ages 10+
8 on a d10
So you play a board game. You enjoy your game, you finish your game, and most likely you move on to a new game. It can get a bit old to play the same board game twice in a row. Unless you’re playing Betrayal at House on the Hill – then it's never quite the same game.
Betrayal at House on the Hill keeps the game fresh and interesting through several games by introducing random elements while leaving the rules consistent. Here are the basics of the game:
- The object of the game is to win. Before you roll your eyes, there are different ways to win the game depending on how the game goes. One person will become the Traitor and the rest of the players Good Guys, pitted against each other in some epic and awesome scenario. More on this later. For the beginning, just enjoy exploring a creepy mansion.
- Each player uses a figurine to move through the mansion represented on the board. The board is not pre-set; it consists of tiles depicting different rooms, which are randomly pulled from a stack of tiles as the players explore the mansion. Some of the rooms do need to stay on certain floors, but the actual layout changes with each playthrough.
- Each room asks the players to draw a card and follow the instructions on the card. These instructions have the character either cause an Event (that he has to deal with), collect an Item, or discover a mysterious and haunting Omen. Sometimes the card will ask the player to roll dice and deal with consequences of the result, sometimes not. These cards are shuffled before game (common to basically any game involving a deck of cards). Since each tile on the board asks the player to do the same thing, i.e. the player must always collect an Item in the larder, but since the tiles are randomized, there’s no telling when you’ll encounter said larder. In addition, since the cards are shuffled, it’s highly unlikely that the same Item will be found in the same room twice. You do not automatically gain a healing drink when you enter the larder. It’s exciting!
- Haunting Time!
The greatest strength in this game lies within what they call the Haunting. Once a certain number of Omens are discovered (meaning the Omen cards have been collected and a roll of the dice decrees it so), a certain thing the Haunting occurs. There are 50 different Hauntings, each of which declares a Traitor in an original way and each with an original plot. After the Haunting, the players consult the rules to see which player is now the Traitor. The Traitor is not chosen before the game; I really do mean that one of 50 different plots emerges and there is no way of telling who the Traitor will be before the Haunting unfolds the plot. The Traitor and the Good Guys are then given their own separate rulebooks which explain the scenario and very clearly describing how to win the game. And so the real game begins, pitting the Good Guys against ghosts, zombies, giant amorphous blobs, sentient plants, giant cats, and other creepies while the Traitor skips through the mansion attempting to further his goals.
With all these random elements, it could be difficult to play the game, but once you understand the basics, it’s really not. While every scenario changes, the basic system remains the same, allowing players to focus on the new and exciting parts rather than rearranging stats, sorting through different dice, etc.
I love this game. Playing either Traitor or Good Guy is a lot of fun and even though everyone is against the Traitor, you all explored the mansion together. Because of that previous team work, a sense of comradery continues through the game; rather than feeling like it’s Us versus Them, it’s more “Let’s do this!” The changing boards means the game can be played seven days a week and be different each time. Even if you find yourself playing the same scenario, the roles of the previous Good Guys and Traitor can be switched and the board will be different.
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So why only an 8? For one thing, each of 50 different plots uses 50 different cardboard cutouts. These cutouts are very sturdy, very well made, and very hard to keep track of if you’re not careful. I recommend snack sized baggies or prescription bottles.
For another thing, while all of the plots are interesting, a few of them are grossly unbalanced. Either the Good Guys will need a compilation of items so specific that it’s impossible to collect them before the Traitor slaughters them all or the Traitor will be so hampered by his specific rule set that he won’t have a chance. Overall, they’re wonderful, but there have been a few times when we read the scenario and realized we didn’t have a chance. It's rare, but still happens from time to time.
Overall, it’s a great game, worth buying and playing twice in a row. Later, you can take it out twice in a row again. Maybe this time you get to be the Vampire Bat Lord or the Doppleganger.
Tips for this game
- Explore as much as possible before the Haunting starts; it's beneficial for both Traitor and Good Guy.
- I've found it's most fun with 4-5 players, but see what works for you and your friends.
- Bring snack baggies for the pieces. Bring lots of snack baggies.
- Use a flat, even surface with room for an expanding board. Dining room tables work well.
- Remember that the goal of the game may have nothing to do with your particular character (plastic figure, whatever) surviving. Often the Good Guys only need one person standing at the end, so if you die, you can root your fellow Good Guys on, perhaps even win as a team and be lauded for your bold sacrifice. If you're the Traitor, often your evil minions or other baddies will continue your work after your piece is dead, so you can keep playing even if your particular piece is out of commission.
- When referring to the game, just call it Betrayal or Bathoth (Betrayal At [The] House On The Hill). Otherwise you’ll find that no one can remember the name of the game. Really, who wants to say Betrayal at House on the Hill over and over again?