Board Games With OB #30: Betrayal at House on the Hill

Let's talk about the plot twist.

In media, a well-done plot twist can turn a so-so experience into something much more. Think about it. "I see dead people" Kaiser Soze. What they attempted to do with the last five minutes of every damn episode of 24.

That, in essence, is the critical component of Betrayal at House on the Hill. A simple, not necessarily jaw-dropping game of tile-laying and exploration of a creepy abandoned house becomes a battle of ruthless destruction versus scrappy survival thanks to the inevitable introduction of a plot twist. Adding to the suspense? Nobody knows what side of the plot twist they are on until it happens.

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Go ahead, go into the dark room. Let's play Betrayal at House on the Hill.

ETA: I did this write-up without realizing the game is currently between print runs and it might be hard to order copies online. Sorry about that. I recommend a trip to your FLGS to see if they might be able to help you out to get a copy at a decent price.

Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill
Players: 3 to 6
Gametime: 60 minutes
Designer: Bruce Glassco
Key Mechanics: Tile-laying, dice rolling, character development

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Story: That spooky-looking house at the top of the hill has been just that spooky-looking as long as anyone can remember. So, it makes sense that one evening, a group of folks from town might decide to go up there on an exploration of what exactly is in that house, because what could possibly go wrong exploring a creepy abandoned house in the middle of the night? As it turns out a shitload, because one member of this group has brought the others to the house for a very specific - and evil - reason. And when the time is right, that evil will be revealed.

What do you do? The game is divided into two main parts. The game first starts as a game of exploration. After the traitor of the group is revealed, the game turns into a phase called the Haunt. We'll talk more about that later on. For now, exploration.

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The "house" begins unexplored, so all that is seen is the hallway of the main floor, the landing of the upper floor and the landing of the basement. Each player is going to be one of the game's 12 unique characters. Characters have four attributes (speed, might, sanity and knowledge) that will be changeable throughout the game based on good or bad things happening.

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So, exploration. Each character has a certain number of movements between rooms of the house on their turn based on their speed attribute. Every room in the house has doorways of varying numbers that players can walk through. If a player goes through a doorway where there isn't a room tile on the other side, a room tile is drawn off a deck and put into place. The backs of these room tiles indicated which of the house's three floors it can be placed on during the game.

Many of these rooms will have symbols indicating that a card has to be drawn from one of three decks when the room has been revealed and placed in the house: Event, Item or Omen. Each deck is different and all are going to have some sort of influence on the game. The item deck will provide special useful items for a player. The items will often impact the player's character's attributes. The events deck is generally single-time events that could wind up being good or bad for a player and their character's attributes.

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But the big one to talk about here is the Omen deck. First, the omen could provide an item, or a companion character, or be a single-time event. Next, there is a haunt roll, which could trigger the second phase of the game to begin. Dice are rolled, and if the number of pips showing on the dice is fewer than the number of omen cards that have been revealed, the haunt happens.

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Let's assume this is what happens. Plot twist activated.

So oh noes, it's haunt time. First things first, figuring out what the game will be like from here on out. A chart, based on the room and omen card the haunt was triggered in, will reveal which of the game's 50 haunt scenarios will be played. The scenarios vary wildly. Maybe there's now a mummy on the loose. Or the house is a spaceship. Or maybe all the players have been shurnk down and have hungry cats on their tail.

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Also revealed? Which player is the dirty rotten asshole traitor.

So, at this point, the two "teams" will go their separate ways. The traitor receives a book called the Traitor's Tome, while the other players will consult a Survival Guide. Each book tells the player what the situation is, what they have to do to win, and gives some, but not all, information on what their opposition is going to try to do.

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And then, it's really game on.

How to taste sweet, sweet victory: After each side separately comes up with their battle plan, it's back to the table to do battle, each trying to achieve what their booklet has told them to do. The first side to complete a victory condition is the victor, whether they be on the side of good or evil.

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So, what makes this game awesome?

  • Variety. That there are 50 different haunts created for the game means odds are it's going to take a while before players wind up doing the same scenario twice.
  • More variety. Let's say a player winds up playing a scenario they've played before. Even in that case, because the house is constructed randomly room by room, the player is in a radically different situation because the house is going to be radically different than the last time they were in the scenario.
  • Suspense. Nobody knows who the traitor will be, including the traitor themselves, until the haunt is triggered.
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Watch it in action: Betrayal at House on the Hill was featured during the second season of Tabletop. It's a two-part episode, I'm linking part 1 below.

Board Games With OB is a somewhat profane feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.

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Previous Board Games With OB:[Takenoko] [Snake Oil] [Tsuro] [Dixit] [The Resistance] [Hey, That's My Fish!] [Ticket To Ride] [Survive: Escape From Atlantis] [Castle Panic] [Small World] [Qwirkle] [Elder Sign] [Carcassonne] [Jaipur] [Tokaido] [Blokus] [Puerto Rico] [Love Letter] [Can't Stop] [The Red Dragon Inn] [Dominion] [King of Tokyo] [Pandemic] [Spyrium] [Settlers of Catan] [Seasons] [Alhambra] [String Railway] [Kingsburg]

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Images via BoardGameGeek

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