Thursday, May 29, 2014

Late to the table: Betrayal at the House on the Hill

Generally speaking, the point of this exercise is to play through all the games in our collection with an eye towards assessing their playability and in many cases answering the question "why do we never play this game?" One would hope that would be less of a question with new games that we pick up, but I like that these reviews also serve as documentation of our game collection, so we're going to add new games to the list as we get them.

For the sake of continuity, it would be nice if we could only buy new games that start with letters of the alphabet that we haven't got to yet, but that's not always going to be practical, so we will occasionally be backtracking. All of which brings us to Betrayal at the House on the Hill.

A friend of ours who isn't really a gamer visits us to play games every weekend. We've tried out many of our games on him, and he likes most of them, although he tends to favor less complex games like Blue Moon City or Tokaido. He also really likes haunted houses. He bought a copy of Betrayal at the House on the Hill, and, reasoning that he probably wouldn't play it with anyone else, he gave it to us to keep in our collection, with the understanding that it will always be available for him to play with us.

Each player takes on the role of an iconic horror movie character such as the dumb jock, the twitchy professor, or the precocious kid, exploring a haunted mansion by laying down tiles that represent different rooms and hallways. Each new room entered requires the player to draw a card, either an Event that has a one-time effect, a useful Object such as a weapon, or an Omen that moves the game's plot along. After each Omen is drawn, the player who drew it rolls the dice, and if they roll less than the number of Omens that have been drawn so far, the Haunt begins.

This is where the game gets interesting. When the Haunt is triggered, the players refer to a scenario book, cross-referencing the specific Omen that triggered the Haunt with the room it was found in to determine which of 50 different storylines will now be played out, and which player has been revealed as the Traitor.

The Traitor player is now working against the other players to fulfill whatever goal the Haunt requires. Sometimes the player's character turns into a giant two-headed snake whose goal is to destroy the house, sometimes their character stays in the game to assist whatever monster has been revealed. Meanwhile, the other players are given a specific goal they need to reach to defeat the Traitor, such as killing the monster or finding a particular object and taking it to a particular room.

As of this writing I've played Betrayal at the House on the Hill three times, and I've been the Traitor every single time.

There is a lot of suspense in the build-up to the Haunt, with all the players knowing that one of them could be revealed as the traitor at any moment. Much like many horror films, once the monster is revealed, it becomes an action-packed race to either destroy the monster, escape the house, or fulfill whatever goal has been assigned to the players.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) A fun romp that has some of the feel of Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness combined with the paranoia of Battlestar Galactica, but without all the complexity.

Date played: April 27, 2014

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