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Chris Engler
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Introduction
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a semi-cooperative horror-themed tile-laying game based on the tried & true premise of a bunch of people exploring a haunted house with a series of supernatural events taking place. Players assume the role of an investigator with a series of RPG-like statistics that are measured on a sliding scale. At some point during the exploration based on the rooms explored and some die rolls, one of the investigators becomes a traitor and “the haunt” begins. The traitor and investigators are then assigned competing goals and victory conditions and the first side to fulfill their victory condition wins.

What You Get
The game comes with a variety of components. There are six pentagonal cardboard character cards which have a different character on each side for a total of 12 different characters. Four of the sides have numeric tracks for the characters’ statistics (speed, might, sanity, and knowledge) and the game comes with plastic sliders that clamp on to the sides to keep track of the stats’ current values. Corresponding to the six character cards are six painted plastic miniatures that the players use to represent their investigators.

The game playing surface is a series of tiles, each of which represent one room in the “House on the Hill.” The backs of the tiles dictate on which storey of the house the tiles may be laid (ground floor, upper floor, or basement). There are three special tiles which are always laid out at the start of the game: the entrance hall (where the investigators start the game), the upper landing (a tile indicating the first location at the top of the flight of stairs from the ground floor to the upper floor; a very well-designed way to easily distinguish the upper floor from the ground floor), and the basement landing (this location is not reachable at the start of the game but is placed on the table for the point in the game when/if the basement becomes accessible).

The game also comes with dozens of specially labeled counters that represent the multitude of phenomena that manifest themselves inside the house (everything from skeletons to monsters to markers of secret/hidden locations).

Eight six-sided dice are included with the game but instead of the normal enumeration of one through six each die has two blank faces, two faces with one dot, and two faces with two dots.

Three decks of cards also come with the game: the “omen” deck (represented by the “raven” symbol), the “item” deck (represented by the “cattle skull” symbol), and the “event” deck (represented by the “spiral” symbol).

There are also two manuals which should not be read by the players: the survivor’s manual and the traitor’s manual. Once the haunt begins these manuals give each side their instructions on how to win the game.

Game Play
At the start of the game, the players choose their investigators and place each of the four sliders on their character cards at the starting value which is in green (all the other numbers are white). The three starting tiles are placed on the table along with the omen deck, event deck, item deck, and stack of face-down room tiles. The investigators all start the game together in the entrance hall.

On a player’s turn he/she may move his/her investigator a number of tiles equal to the investigator’s current speed statistic but the investigator cannot move through the same room more than once on the same turn. Additionally, if a room requires an investigator to draw an item, omen, or event card the investigator’s movement stops in that room and is over for that turn.

On the room tiles there are doors that lead to other rooms. The first time an investigator moves through a door a new room the player looks at the top tile on the stack of room tiles. If the back of the room tile has the storey (basement, ground floor, or upper floor) on which the investigator is currently on printed on it then the tile is turned face up and placed so that one of the doors on the newly turned up room is adjacent to the door on the room through which the investigator just walked. If the back of the room tile does not have the current investigator’s storey on it place it face-down in a pile next to the main pile and keep drawing tiles until one with the correct storey.

Some rooms have the raven, cattle skull, or spiral symbol on them. If the room just placed has one of those symbols then the investigator is done moving for the turn and draws a card from the deck corresponding to its symbol:

- Raven: draw an omen card.
- Cattle skull: draw an item card.
- Spiral: draw an event card

The player reads the card aloud and follows the instructions on it. Omen and item cards usually stay face-up in front of the investigator that drew them and confer some kind of game effect. Event cards have specific instructions on them and can have a variety of effects on the investigators and the game board. Some rooms have special game text on them that give the characters chances to receive bonuses while others have obstacles on them that need to be overcome.

The player can keep moving through rooms (even newly placed rooms) until they have moved through a number of doors equal to their speed statistic. The player is only compelled to stop moving his/her investigator if a room that was just placed this turn has one of the three symbols listed above (i.e. the player can move his/her investigator through already-placed rooms with symbols on them). Whenever an omen card is drawn the player that drew it must make a “haunt roll.” This is done by rolling six dice and comparing the number of dots that the roll produces to the number of face-up omen cards on the table. If the number of dots is less than the number of omen cards then the haunt begins.

Frequently, the characters will be asked to make “checks” corresponding to one of their four statistics (speed, might, knowledge, and sanity). This is done by rolling a number of dice equal to the applicable statistic’s current value on the investigator’s character card and adding up the dots that the dice produce. For example, if your investigator’s current sanity score is four and the game requires you to make a sanity check then you would roll four dice.

The four statistics are divided into two categories: physical (speed and might) and mental (knowledge and sanity). Sometimes your investigator will suffer physical or mental damage. When your character suffers physical damage you slide your speed and/or might sliders a number of notches down equal to the damage you suffered. Similarly, when your character suffers mental damage you slide your knowledge and/or sanity sliders a number of notches down equal to the damage you suffered.

For example, if your character suffered two physical damage you could either slide your might down two notches, your might and speed down one notch each, or your speed down two notches. One notch below the last number on each statistic track is a skull icon. Before the haunt, if any of your character’s stats are at the last number and your character suffers further damage the slider stays at that last number. Once the haunt has started, if any of your character’s stats are at the last number and your character suffers further damage then your character dies.

There are times when your character has to fight denizens of the house (or even the traitor once the haunt starts). This is done by having both participants in the fight make might checks. Each participant adds up their “dots” and the character with the higher total does an amount of physical damage to the opponent equal to the difference.

The Haunt
Once the haunt begins the players look up in the manuals which haunt occurs (this is determined by a grid that correlates the omen card drawn and the room in which it was drawn when the haunt begins; each haunt has a distinct number). The grid also identifies which player is the traitor. The traitor is then given the traitor’s manual and the remaining investigators are given the survivors’ manual. Each side reads their entry for the haunt in private and is given the details of what they know about the haunt and what they need to do to win. The game now begins in earnest and the side that accomplishes their victory conditions first wins.

Review
This game is very quick to learn and fast-moving. There are very little rules to explain at the outset and the only rule that new players need to know to start playing are the movement and tile-placement rules. This makes Betrayal at House on the Hill a great “gateway” game for people that you are trying to introduce to the hobby.

At the start of the game, players don’t have to wait long for their turns and things happen in a hurry which will help to keep people’s interest. There shouldn’t need to be a lot of flipping back and forth in the rulebook before the haunt comes out. Any time the action is quick like this in a game I think it’s a good thing.

The game does definitely stop to take a deep breath once the haunt starts. Both sides of the haunt (i.e. traitor and investigators) should make sure to carefully read and understand the implications of how they need to play out the haunt before proceeding. One potential pitfall I can see in this game would be for an inexperienced player to be designated the traitor. The haunt will be ruined if either side knows each other’s victory condition at the outset. If a true novice is nominated to be the traitor it may be advisable for a more experienced player to swap investigators with the novice at that point just to make sure that the haunt plays out as it should.

I have a few production-related gripes about this game. Many of the components require plastic sliders to be attached to them but I found the sliders’ “mouths” were too narrow to fit on the cardboard. Granted, this is a better dilemma than the mouths being too wide but it did result in some of my brand-new cards getting chewed a bit. I would suggest having something handy like a pair of needle-nose pliers to pry open the sliders to fit them on the cardboard so your game pieces look their best.

There are a zillion counters in this game to accommodate the variety of haunts but many of them look very similar and are only distinguishable by very small text labels on the counters. I understand that this was probably much cheaper on the production side than illustrating every counter but I think something could have been done to make it easier to find them. Even enumerating the counters would allow players to organize them in a stack and then quickly find the counter needed.

To be fair, there are some definite pluses on the production side as well. The omen, item, and event cards are some of the most durable I’ve seen and will stand up to years of shuffling and handling.

Although I really enjoy this game there are a few elements of the premise that bother me. I’m totally on board with the notion of people exploring a haunted house and I like the whole “the door slams shut and you can’t get out” premise. What bugs me is that the plot of the game has the investigators entirely content to dawdle around the house until the haunt starts. It would have made more sense to me if it were at least remotely possible for the investigators to escape from the house before the haunt starts or if there was some reason that the investigators were in the house in the first place aside from curiosity (e.g. searching to find a treasure, investigating the disappearance of someone, etc.) that would compel them to stay in the house without escape being their number one priority. These are, admittedly, purely narrative elements and don’t hamper the game play per se but in a game that’s so heavily theme-oriented I would have liked a little more effort in this department.

The investigators are largely in the hands of fate. Lucky or unlucky die rolls greatly affect the outcome of the game and how the investigators fare. Strategy in the pre-haunt is relatively limited because, until the haunt is revealed, neither the investigators nor the eventual traitor know what they need to do to help them win. While this may not appeal to players of deep strategy games I’ll go back to my assertion earlier that Betrayal at House on the Hill should be treated as a gateway game to pique the interest of people who don’t know the world outside Monopoly.

The replay value of this game is very high, which should appeal to everyone. The game comes with dozens of haunt scenarios that would take many months to cycle through entirely. It’s also clever in the way that it blends competitive and cooperative elements in the same game (i.e. the investigators working together against the traitor). As long as having a healthy does of fate in a game doesn’t materially affect the amount of fun you have then you’ll likely enjoy Betrayal at House on the Hill and find it worth the financial outlay.
 
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Swood
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Quote:
There are a zillion counters in this game to accommodate the variety of haunts but many of them look very similar and are only distinguishable by very small text labels on the counters.
Besides the need to download and print an incredible amount of errata for this game, the process of finding a counter is the worst part about this game. I love the game, but locating a specific counter is just painful.

Betrayal is a game that would benefit tremendously from a "Deluxe" reprint by some other company. Imagine each counter as a plastic mini! Holy crap that would be awesome.

Quote:
It would have made more sense to me if it were at least remotely possible for the investigators to escape from the house before the haunt starts or if there was some reason that the investigators were in the house in the first place aside from curiosity
This is where your group should step in with a story. Since I almost always (fatally) play the Professor, my favorite story line is that I'm taking a group of students into the house to investigate... er... something.

I do really like the game though. It helps if the group gets "into" the atmosphere and reads the cards with drama.

For instance, in my last game, I was the traitor and I was killed in the Underground Lake with the Dynamite. The group created a story to have it make sense. There were other players in the Lake room with me and they were not harmed because they rolled well. The story was that their partner threw the Dynamite into the room... and they dove into the lake to avoid the blast. I was too slow and got blown up. It was pretty cool.

 
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Justin
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Skadar wrote:
Besides the need to download and print an incredible amount of errata for this game, the process of finding a counter is the worst part about this game. I love the game, but locating a specific counter is just painful.
there are updated guides at avalonhill.com that have the errata integrated.

Quote:
Betrayal is a game that would benefit tremendously from a "Deluxe" reprint by some other company. Imagine each counter as a plastic mini! Holy crap that would be awesome.
that would be pretty cool.
 
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Merric Blackman
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astroglide wrote:
Quote:
Betrayal is a game that would benefit tremendously from a "Deluxe" reprint by some other company. Imagine each counter as a plastic mini! Holy crap that would be awesome.
that would be pretty cool.
And terrible, terribly expensive. I really don't think it'd be worth it.

I keep all my counters in ziplock bags by type (hexagonal, small round, etc.) and it's very fast to find them now.

Cheers!
 
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Jason Watson
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In addition to the updated guides, I highly recommend using wickline's "Counter Storage" system (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/fileinfo.php?fileid=10622), which separates the counters into several boxes/baggies and provides an index to the necessary baggies for each scenario. This initial investment of time greatly eases the delay and search for counters when the haunt is revealed.
 
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Kelly Krieble
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Regarding the counter situation....

My gaming group has little patience for "fiddling around" and is not particularly anal about having the "right" counters for the situation. We'll look around for, say, the "rowboat" counter, but if we don't find it within a minute, someone will say "OK, here's the "dracula" counter...this will be our rowboat counter, everybody remember that". Honestly, for each haunt there's not too many counters to keep track of at any one point in time, so we just improvise. It's just easier than looking through the hundreds of counters and doesn't detract from the game one bit as far as we're concerned.
 
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