“Alright gang, we’ve seen some pretty spooky stuff tonight. Tony, I don’t know what you were thinking when you jumped off that balcony, but I’m sure you’ll be alright, just walk it off. Susan, I wish you would put that skull you found in the graveyard down, it’s giving me the willies. I think that sign said something about an ancient Indian burrial ground. Anyway, I know it’s been a bit more of a drag than we thought, and I know some of us are hallucinating pretty bad… You can all see that little girl over there right? Look, I don’t think it would be a good idea to just leave this creepy mansion right now. I KNOW the walls are breathing, but I get carsick driving at night and I’m not about to let any of you yokels drive my dad’s civic. I think a better option is to just split up and search every nook and cranny of this house. Why? I think the better question is why not?! Alright, let’s split and if you see anything funny jus- ooh! Some kind of ceremonial knife!”
And so Betrayal at the House on the Hill throws players into every horror trope in the book (plus about 49 more) and dips the whole party into a harrowing theme thick nightmare that strains a little under the sheer weight of the possibilities but shines in its simplicity. The gist of this game is that 3-6 players enter a haunted house and spend turns exploring. As they move, tiles are flipped and events happen. These events can make the player’s character stronger or weaker, give them items or potentially trigger the haunt. Progressively the house grows on the table, expanding to sometimes ridiculous sizes to accommodate the various floors of the house. Players keep track of their physical and mental traits on a little dial as they go along their merry way with no real reason to be in the house other than to explore something for kicks and giggles…as one does. Every time an “Omen” room is flipped, a dice check is made and either the haunt is triggered or it isn’t. Until the haunt does trigger, the game is pretty much just explore the house and get stronger. That’s essentially the goal. Get better. Normally that would be a pretty boring goal, if it weren’t for the fact that looming over your rather near sighted expedition is the threat of a traitor. When the haunt triggers, the player that rolled the dice checks a pamphlet that will declare which player is the traitor and which one of 50 scenarios will be played. And then the best part happens! The traitor has to leave the room and read a separate win condition while the faithful read their own version of the events that are about to unfold. Now everyone has a goal and all that beefing up better pay off because Sally now wants to eat everyone else because she’s a werewolf.
This game is almost all theme. The pre-painted minis are ugly, but serviceable, the tiles are spooky and make sense when you place them, the events are thematic and devastating, or helpful you don’t know till you flip the card. And that’s the beauty of it. The game plays like a B-Horror film in which every player knows that they’re idiots for exploring this house, but their characters are blissfully unaware. Stories naturally unfold as to why you’ve gathered at the old Smith house (or whatever you call it that game) and you can easily become engrossed in a fun story with so much replayability it’s ridiculous. The base game comes with 50 potential outcomes for the haunt scenario. If you get the expansion (which you should) it adds 51 more! 101 possible outcomes!
Now, as thematic and fun as the gameplay is, it’s not the most strategically sound game. If you’re not a fan of chance then you’re going to be irked. There are dice, there are random cards and there are fantastically ill balanced end game scenarios. This isn’t a deep burning thinker, this is ameritrash at it’s finest. The beauty is that the theme is so, so strong and the gameplay so simple but attractive. The tile flipping makes you feel like you’re building something with the other players which is highly engaging in and of itself. Then there’s the looming threat that SOMEONE will (may) try to kill everyone else. And you hope it’s not the jock that just jumped up three sanity points.
- The game is a blast.
- Easy to learn with lots to do.
- Relatively short playing time.
- So, so much theme.
- A little heavy on luck.
- Strategizing can often times not pan out at all.
- ….it’s spooky, I guess (also a pro, but I know people that won’t play because of it)
In conclusion, Betrayal at the House on the Hill is going to offer a thematic experience unparalleled by other games of similar weight and length. It is engrossing and frustrating and exciting and shocking in all the best ways. It achieves all of this at the cost of being less strategic. There are only so many things you can do to defeat your enemy, and sometimes, the game just won’t allow you to win, through no lack of effort or planning. Sometimes you’re just there for the ride, so if you can enjoy it, you’ll be just fine. I mean, you’ll probably die, but otherwise, you’ll do alright.
Also check out my video review below!