Betrayal at House on the Hill
Players: 3 – 6
Time: 60 minutes
Times Played: 25~
It is Friday the 13th and what better way to celebrate that then by releasing two horror-themed board game reviews today! First on the list is Betrayal at House on the Hill, a co-operative (for the most part) horror exploration game.
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a very divided game among the board game community. This rings particularly true in our household. I am fine playing this game but it is not a favorite whereas my fiancee probably has this in her top five (Edit: Pandemic, Barenpark, Imhotep, Betrayal, Patchwork). That is not to say that this is a bad thing. As previously mentioned, I think Camel Up is amazing but I did get burnt out on it. It happens.
In Betrayal, there are several characters that are exploring a haunted mansion. There is no rhyme or reason as to why they are doing this, but just go with it. With the movement of the characters, new rooms are discovered and explored, where items and events can occur that may, or may not, benefit the characters. There are certain items and events, called “Omens” that can occur on some of these rooms that will require the player to make a “haunt” roll at the end of their turn. The haunt begins if the dice rolled total less than the number of visible Omens that are owned by the players.
The haunt is where the game truly begins. Using the Omen that triggered the haunt roll and the room where the Omen was found will lead to the haunt book, which includes fifty scenarios that turn a player (not necessarily the one that triggered the haunt) into a traitor.
Both sides, heroes and traitor(s), will have separate victory conditions as detailed in their rulebooks. whoever fulfills their objective(s) first is the winner.
Betrayal offers a litany of tiles that make up the first floor, second floor, and basement of the creepy mansion and an absolute smorgasbord of chits and tokens for the various rooms, items, monsters, stats, etc. that are needed to keep track during the game. The cardboard is of decent quality and I really don’t have any complaints about any of the cardboard components. Could they be thicker and nicer? Of course. But the current state of them does not distract or impact the game in a negative fashion.
There have been stories of people’s floor tiles warping with age but that has not happened with us…yet (knocks on wood).
There are also six painted miniatures for the characters that the game provides. You will notice that there are actually twelve characters but while they differ in name and stats, their appearance is similar so the model acts as both people. With the miniatures comes a double-sided player token and plastic clips to track their stats and progression throughout the game.
These clips and the cardboard tokens suck (at least in my version of the game. I am unaware if this has been updated). They are fiddly and don’t adhere well to the cardboard. For the price of free, there is an app that you can download that tracks your stats much more efficiently. I implore you to download the app and ignore the tracking tokens. If you don’t want to use the app, bobby pins are a great substitute for the clips.
There are also three decks of cards and eight unique dice. Each dice is the same: two blank faces, two faces with one pip, and two faces with two pips. These are the dice used for skill and haunt rolls (and there will be a lot of rolling).
I think the key to Betrayal, and what makes it more enjoyable for me, is to not think of it like a normal board game. There are winners and losers, yes, but if you play it as more of a story-telling vehicle and experience, you’ll have a lot more fun. If you try to go in with a strategy, you’re going to have a bad time as the game is simply too random with the modular board, card draws, and dice rolls. If you want to plan ahead, it is as simple as which direction you want to go.
Betrayal is a game where you can really have fun if you immerse yourself in the lore. Betrayal offers character bios for each playable person and they all have interwoven backstory’s. I have had the most fun playing as I think the character would. A young child scurrying away to explore on his own, the big jock leading the way for his friends, the calculating professor, and so on and so forth.
I also think Betrayal is the best horror game I have played. There is a caveat to that though as I have not played that many. Of games I’ve played or that are in our collection, I enjoy Dead of Winter but think Betrayal edges it due to being more beginner-friendly, I haven’t played City of Horror enough to judge one way or another, I did not enjoy Ghost Stories at all and ended up trading it, I don’t consider Zombicide or Last Night on Earth horror games, Arkham and Eldritch Horror were both too fiddly for our liking, and Last Friday can be read about here.
That does leave two other games that I am unsure of their category. Letters from Whitechapel and Broom Service. I don’t think either fit the horror genre (although I see them on such lists) but both would be superior to Betrayal. In fact, if this was just October or Halloween games, Broom Service would be my number one. But that’s for another time.
Back to the House on the Hill, the game is the best horror game as it easily creates a frightening atmosphere while being a simple(ish) game that most importantly plays in a reasonable amount of time. The game is co-operative for the most part but since no one really knows what or when the haunt will occur, no one player can quarterback the team and make decisions for everyone.
It’s also a mechanic that people will either love or hate. You are playing a game but you don’t know what you are trying to do. The decisions you make could be incredibly meaningful or absolutely wasted.
Betrayal, since it is random, could also result in Haunts happening very early in the game where no one is prepared for what is about to happen or very late in the game, where every character is overpowered with items. This could result in a lack of fun but since the game is not overly long, it really hasn’t soured us.
I do want to mention that there are rulebook revisions and FAQ’s online that are basically necessary to play this game (at least for my version, which is several years old. This may have been updated in more recent editions). You can play this as is with the standard rulebook, but there are some discrepancies and areas that needed clarification (and possibly further playtesting). That being said, this is more about the aura and story-telling than the actual gameplay, so it was not a big deal for any of us.
What could be a big deal to you however is the dice rolling involved in this game. Every meaningful action besides moving requires a dice roll. It’s a lot of dice rolling and as the die are custom to the game, you are forced to pass them back and forth from player to player. I don’t necessarily mind chucking dice over and over again but there are some people that hate the randomness and the actual action of it.
As mentioned, Betrayal is defined by the Haunt phase and there are fifty different Haunts available in this game. Not even taking into account the fifty Haunts, with the board being modular and the random cards and different characters, even if you triggered the same Haunt back-to-back, you would have completely different circumstances around it.
Truthfully, there are some Haunts that are better than others. That happens due to the amount of them and the various ways that they can be triggered. We’ve played Haunts where we had to explore every room in the house to find an item and we’ve played Haunts were the item needed to win was in the hand of the traitor and signaled the end of the game immediately.
I’m also okay with the lack of balance because this game is about the story, not about the end result. We’re not going to remember wins and losses but we’ll remember when Father Rhinehardt accidentally doomed Peter Akimoto to being trapped in the basement as the stairs were never found. Having the traitor be the most resourced character can also make games memorable.
I also cannot say if one side is better or not. I feel as if our games have been mostly a 50/50 split in who wins between the heroes and the traitor. Even if I’m off, it’s not by much.
Splitting the group can cause anxiety as now it might be a one versus all mentality. Plus, with the ambiguity of the rulebook, the traitor may have no one they can ask for clarification or guidance which might result in confusion and a bad time.
Betrayal lives and dies on its theme and how much the players embrace it. This isn’t a video game like Outlast, where the ambiance and jump scares are there to ensure you only play a little at a time but the cards, the text, the design, the mechanics, all of it supports and harbors this horror tension that the game was aiming for.
I like to think that Betrayal is like a generic B-movie with some Scooby Doo mixed in for flavor (I actually just googled this and many people have found or made minitatures and stats for Scooby Doo characters for Betrayal. Genius.). And just like any B-movie, it’s the cast (aka your gaming group) that will make or break the experience. If you are sharing and helping during the cooperative section of the game and the traitor knows how to handle themselves as the “bad guy”, then you’re in for a good time.
Betrayal lasts around an hour or so, which, for a fun and thematic game, is not a bad time investment. It unfortunately does not play at two so you’re looking at three or more to play. I honestly can’t say that there is any discernible difference between three, four, five, or six players besides time to completion. Turns are not arduous and do not take a lot of time or thought so really the added length of gameplay is from moving and reading cards.
There are more serious haunted mansion games available (although I have not played them) and there is an expansion, Widow’s Walk, for Betrayal that adds twenty-five additional Haunts to the game. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on that expansion at this time either. The base game just offers so much content that we are still experiencing Haunts we haven’t seen.
One added bonus of Betrayal is that it can be found at some major retailers, like Target. Target will also price match Amazon so if you really want this game, you can typically snag it for under thirty dollars, which isn’t a bad price for all the components and such offered.
I think Betrayal is worth playing, especially if you have a group that could immerse themselves in the theme. If your group is into more dry and strategic games, I would stay away though as this will only frustrate you.