At a Glance: Betrayal at House on the Hill is a scary blast! Even as my #1 favorite game, I know it’s got quirks, but it reminds me of what games are ultimately always supposed to be about…FUN.
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a tile-laying, semi-cooperative, story-driven Horror adventure set in a weird haunted house filled to the brim with pretty much every horror movie trope you can think of. In the first Act of the game, 3-6 explorers will be discovering new rooms, acquiring new items, and experiencing creepy events. Then, at a certain point unforeseen to the group, the Haunt will begin. In the Haunt, one of the explorers is revealed as a Traitor and the rest of them (then known as Heroes) must work together to defeat the Traitor. At the start of the game, you are simply building the house by exploring rooms. Each explorer has a character card that has 4 stats listed on it: Speed, Might, Sanity, and Knowledge. Speed and Might are the Physical traits and Sanity and Knowledge are the Mental traits. Each character has a starting value for these stats with a different possible number range, and you will be gaining and losing from these traits throughout the game. Many rooms have an icon that corresponds to a card that you draw. These could be Events, Items, or Omens. Events have narrative text on them and often involve a dice roll to see what happens. Items are useful objects or weapons that will help you, especially during the Haunt. Omens are objects or companions that may help you at some point too, but they carry greater significance, because every time an Omen is found, you make a Haunt Roll. The Haunt Roll determines when the Haunt begins. You roll 6 dice and must roll at least the number of face-up Omen cards on the table. The dice only have faces for 0-2 by the way, so after several Omen cards have been found, the Haunt Roll becomes tougher and tougher to accomplish. Once the Haunt Roll is failed, that’s when the Haunt begins. The game comes with 2 books: Secrets of Survival for the Heroes and the Traitor’s Tome for the Traitor, and within these books are 50 different scenarios that might be triggered depending on what the last Omen card was and in what room it was found. The Traitor goes to a completely different room (literally) to read what he must do to win, and the Heroes consult their book and discuss what their strategy will be. I won’t spoil anything, but you never quite know what to expect for the Haunt scenario. Pretty much every classic horror movie trope is represented in some way plus some other truly unique storylines. Whoever fulfills their special objective is the winner.
Betrayal just screams imagination and creepiness if you lose yourself in the story. There is some personal bias here, as Betrayal was one of the games that got me interested in more unique games. I remember thinking, “Games can be a hobby? Hm.” Some of my fondest memories of playing board games have been when playing Betrayal: crazy storylines, a bit of funny role-playing, and creepy atmospheres. Occasionally, the Haunt ends up being a dud, just due to how the House was laid out, who has what items, and where the explorers and Traitor are located. But when Betrayal is good, it is the BEST in my view. I’m not going to pretend it’s a perfect game…sometimes the explanations in the individual Haunt texts raise some questions, sometimes specific situations require a more, shall I say, flexible interpretation of the rules, but generally you do your best and have fun. And that is what this game is all about: FUN. There are times when I am in the mood for a really serious, “thinky” abstract or a casual light card game, or a word game, or a heavy strategy Eurogame. Betrayal is perfect for a candlelit, immersive, exciting experience. I enjoy all the different rooms and how the house will be different from game to game. Then you add all the different Haunt scenarios (100 with the expansion!), and this game has so much variability. As far as the mechanics, the action system is simple, and many times you just read the cards and do as they say. Here is where being a cooperative game is so helpful, because it is a breeze to teach, as everyone can discuss and work together, and the only thing you are doing for the whole first Act is building the house and exploring. We actually have a house rule too where you cannot be the Traitor if you have never played before. This really takes the pressure off newcomers, so that way they don’t have to try to navigate the Traitor’s Tome all by themselves.
The components are good and plentiful. There are so many tokens it can actually be difficult to find exactly what you need if a certain event calls for it, so an organizer helps. The painted miniatures are nice too. The event cards are interesting and written fairly well. Some are genuinely creepy. They released the Widow’s Walk expansion in 2016, and if you like Betrayal, this one is excellent, at the least for all the new scenarios, cards, and rooms. Other games might be more consistent, but the fun and unpredictability of Betrayal make it my favorite game of all time.
Super affordable now too!: https://amzn.to/2GOI766