Sit Down & Play: Betrayal at House on the Hill

It’s difficult to find games that change on almost every playthrough — especially games that fall outside of the deckbuilding genre. (A la Dominion or Ascension.) There are great games that have variations on a central idea, like Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness. But Betrayal at House on the Hill takes the haunted house trope and makes it even more compelling.

Betrayal at House on the Hill was originally published by Avalon Hill way back in 2004, though an update was released five years back (by Wizards of the Coast) to correct a few of the logical issues within the structure of the game and the house tiles. (Underground lake in the attic? Er…) It’s won a couple of awards (rightly so) and has often been lauded for its creativity and attention to detail.

Mike and I picked up the game during PAX Prime — it’s been one of those games where every time we go to purchase it at a con or at the local board game store… it’s sold out immediately after it arrives. We lucked out and picked it up our first day. And it was, in fact, an exceptional investment of our cash and our time.

Over the course of our three nights at PAX Prime, we played Betrayal at House on the Hill no less than eight times. Eight. We had a ton of other board games to try, but we just couldn’t stop ourselves from playing Betrayal over and over again. Betrayal does something that Arkham Horror just couldn’t seem to: it put the game entirely in our hands. Sure, part of it is “luck of the draw” (oops, Collapsed Room in the first draw — hello Basement!), but a lot of is creating your own game board, amping up your characters, and feverishly unearthing omens.

It’s those additional cards — the Events, Items, and Omens — that add a lot of the flavour to the game. As you move through the rooms, the rooms trip events, provide items, and even reveal omens; anything from puzzle boxes to a mysterious madman all the way to bleeding walls — Betrayal has every variation on the Haunted House trope that you could possibly fit into your bursting brain meats. (Spoiler Alert: I recently played a chess game with Death during Betrayal.)

The characters that are stuck in the haunted house are just as varied as you’d expect: old smart dude, wizened woman, teenage girl, a jacked-up bro, and a couple of (creepy) little kids. They all have different starting stats that afford them different opportunities throughout the game. So, old smart dude is best at knowledge tests; jacked-up bro is best at fighting stuff; and the little kids move super quick (and fairly decent sanity). Depending on where you go in the house and which challenges the house presents, the characters either excel or dismally fail. (Grey area? Please.)

 

There are fifty different ways that a haunting can go. Five. Zero. (Damn.) Depending on where you reveal the final omen that trips the haunt, it builds the story. And that, dear humans, is where the game really gets going. There’s nothing quite like sussing out the traitor that makes a group of nerds jacked-up on adrenaline a little bit frenzied. The stories within Betrayal half-hinge on luck, of course, but the other half is all about the players and their play style.

There is so much variety and joyful terror that’s involved in playing a round of Betrayal at House on the Hill. It’s got something for absolutely every kind of gamer — regardless of your background in tabletop games, it’s easy to pick up and even easier to fall in love with. (Just don’t fall down the Coal Chute.)

(Original Post: The Daily Crate)

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