Betrayal at House on the Hill – Board Games: In Review

By: Kyle Grubb

It’s been a while since I’ve tackled a Board Game review, and since I’m just waiting for Game Day to start at my house, it only feels appropriate.

In Life:

Just like with The Resistance, Betryal at House on the Hill was a game I was introduced to through Tabletop on Geek and Sundry’s Youtube channel. These were the first two games that the show convinced me to buy, and both were instrumental in both igniting my love in Tabletop Gaming and starting up Game Day. I got this game right before Halloween two years back, and took it to a small gathering I went to at my friend Susan’s house. As we all gathered around and tried to figure out the game, we all realized just how interesting and fun this game was. While The Resistance was the game that truly gave birth to Game Day, since we needed to gather larger groups just to play it, this game is probably the most-played. It’s a favorite with quite a few of the regular attendees, and is crap-loads of fun every time.

The best thing about this game: I’ve played this game over 30 times, and I’m still uncovering new content.

It just doesn't end!
It just doesn’t end!

In Review:

You see, there’s this house up on this hill. It’s super spooky, probably haunted, and nobody lives there any more. A bunch of people apparently decide that the best thing to do is to go up and explore it. What most of them don’t know, though, is that one of their number has ulterior motives for being there. Entertainingly, for the first half of the game, the player controlling that character doesn’t know either. Eventually, something happens that changes everything. Awesomeness usually ensues.

See. It's ensuing.
See. It’s ensuing.

That is probably the most succinct and basic way to explain this game as possible. Betrayal is a 3 to 6 player co-operative game with a traitor. It’s also known as an “RPG in a box,” whereas you play the role of various unique characters, each with their own stats, and everything you need to play comes bundled together in one package. Each player selects one of the characters, usually the one that best suits their play-style, and then work together to explore the house. After a time, inevitably the game changes dramatically, and one of the players betrays the rest. From then on, the remaining players must band together to prevent the traitor’s plans from coming to fruition while the traitor does everything in their power to achieve their victory in one of 50 different scenarios.

Yeah, you read that right: 50 different scenarios. Included in the box are three different instruction booklets. Don’t get scared now, just bear with me for second. One book details all of the basic rules of the game, particularly for the first half, the “Exploration Phase.” The other two books, the Survivor’s Guide and the Traitor’s Tome, break down the special rules and victory conditions for each of the 50 Haunts for both the survivors and for the traitor. Each group isn’t necessarily aware of all of the different conditions the other is working with, and must observe the game to find out exactly what the other team is trying to accomplish and how to stop them.

Pictured here: all of the Survivors putting together a fun victory plan.
Pictured here: all of the Survivors putting together a fun victory plan.

The name of this game is “replayability.” Not only does the game come with 50 different haunts, many of which change the way the game is played, but every time you play the game, the house itself is randomized. As players explore the house, they draw room tiles to match up at doorways that haven’t been opened yet. Collectively, the players are essentially building the house as they play. Because of this, the house will always have a very different layout, and these layouts can drastically effect the way the ensuing Haunt plays out. You’ll never play the same game twice, even if you end up repeating a Haunt.

Players, on their turn, are allowed to move as many rooms as their speed allows until they uncover a room with a card that needs be drawn. Most of the rooms contain one of three symbols signifying which kind of card needs to be drawn: event cards, item cards, or omen cards. Event cards are interesting events that usually require the player to make a roll with one of their stats. Typically, if they succeed the roll, they get stronger. Failure, though, usually weakens them. Other events can create secret passages around the house or give out various effects to the rooms they’re drawn in. Item cards are fairly obvious, containing items that players can take with them. These either increase character abilities or allow them unique skills that they can use. Gathering up a large amount of items can really help a character survive a dangerous Haunt. The last type of cards, Omen cards, are the most important. Each usually is an item that provides the player with a unique ability, but every time an Omen is drawn, the player must make what is called a Haunt Roll. Using the game’s special dice, the player must roll a number greater than or equal to the number of Omen cards that have been drawn. The farther into the game the players are, the harder this roll gets, until it eventually becomes impossible to succeed. Then the Haunt begins. The Haunt is determined by which Omen card was drawn, and what room it was drawn in. One character, usually depending on if they were the haunt revealer or depending on the characters’ stats, is revealed to be a traitor. Each team is given their respective rule set, and then must make a plan on how to achieve their victory conditions.

Pictured here: the filthy, stinking, evil traitor. Probably scheming or something.
Pictured here: the filthy, stinking, evil traitor. Probably scheming or something.

Many of the Haunts play drastically different from one another, and require the players to gather certain items or succeed in various stat roles to achieve victory. The layout of the house, and the various rooms within it, usually have quite a lot to do with it too. There are some Haunts that have the players try to fight off a seemingly invincible monster, or one where they need to burn the bones of a ghost that is attempting to possess one of their friends, and yet another where they need to gather up parachutes and escape from the house because it’s now being carried in the talons of a giant bird. Each time you play a new Haunt, there’s always a joyous sense of discovery and mystery. Each is also fairly balanced for both sides, though items and house layouts can give advantage to one side or the other.

The unpredictability of this game, combined with the abundance of content, makes this a great choice of game for most groups of people looking to play something a bit different from the usual board game crowd. It’s also a great introduction to more complicated tabletop games in this vein, as, despite the three rule books, the game is actually extremely easy and quick to learn. Most new players typically understand how the game works after only a few turns. The biggest problem with the game is that sometimes the rules for how things work for some Haunts can be slightly confusing. In that case, I usually find that a fair group of players will figure something out.

Or just be jerks and prepare each other for the real world.
Or just be jerks and prepare each other for the real world.

The game also functions best with 4 or 5 players, as only 3 players seems to give advantage to the traitor, and 6 players tends to give the survivors the upper hand. The Haunts do attempt to counteract the difference in players to balance things, but it doesn’t always work.

In Summation:

Betryal at House on the Hill is a great way to pop people’s Tabletop cherries. It’s fun, varied, deep, but easy to learn. You can play the game a whole 50 times and have a different second half every time. Even if you find yourself repeating a Haunt, though, the layout of the house and the stats and items of the various players will make it so that the same strategy probably won’t work a second time through. This game is an amazing value, and worth every penny I’ve spent on it. Years down the line, I’m still excited to play it every time. Everyone in my group of friends is. It’s hard to recommend a game more than this, especially if you have the right amount of players.

We drew straws, Jim. Now leave.
Sorry, Jim, but you’d throw off the balance.

Final Score: 9/10

For those interested in learning the rules, Wizards of the Coast has a small demo (really just a guided tutorial) on the structure of the game and its rules. It’s useful to get an idea of the game’s flow, but doesn’t explain everything super well. Every part of it is completely pre-determined, too, so don’t expect too much. It probably takes about 5 minutes to get through. The link for the demo is down below.


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