Sometimes we like to step away from video games and play games of a physical type. This column will take a look at a different board game every week. This is The Board Game Fanatic.
I have a dirty secret: before PAX East, I never played Betrayal At House On The Hill. That weekend alone, I played it three times.
One of the beautiful things about Betrayal is that every game is different. I’m not just talking about the way the board will be setup, even though that’s a true fact. The scenario and outcome will change virtually every time you play. There are dozens upon dozens of different events that will occur. Combine that with the randomly generated board I previously mentioned and Betrayal becomes a game with an already high replay value.
But perhaps the best part of the game is its simplicity. Sure, the game may seem complex to some: a range of characters with four different skills exploring three levels of a mansion, working together to explore and equip themselves for the horrors that await. Yet the game isn’t necessarily “heavy,” compared to, say, something along the lines of Eclipse, which requires approximately twenty minutes to merely setup. There’s also the fact that I was able to explain the rules only after having completed one game. I’m normally awful at explaining rules; I have no idea how to properly explain 7 Wonders even though I’ve played it countless times.
Let’s talk about the actual game itself. You’ll be able to pick one of the available characters. Characters will have four different skills: might, speed, knowledge, and sanity. Each character’s basic information is given too, such as their date of birth and hobbies; they may come into play later on in the game, hence why they’re given out. The game itself consists of two phases: exploration and the haunt phase. Players begin the game by moving in accordance to their speed stat. If you have a speed of four, you’re able to move four spaces. The mansion grows by walking through doors into unexplored rooms. You’ll pick a face-down room from the pile and turn it over, though some rooms may not be able to be placed. You can’t put a room that’s only good on the top floor in the basement, for example. Once the room itself is turned over, various events may occur. An item may be lying on the floor to pick you up, an event might occur, or there may be an omen. Regardless of what happens, you’ll draw the appropriate card and take the appropriate action. Should an omen be drawn, you’ll roll six dice to determine whether or not the haunt begins. Once your roll is lower than the number of omens in play, the haunt starts and you’ll enter, as you may have guessed, the haunt stage.
That sounds like you’ll have plenty of time to gear up, right? Wrong, because the highest number on the dice is three and lowest is zero, so you’ll need to be on your toes.
Whoever triggers the haunt becomes the traitor. They’ll then leave the table and read their objective, keeping it a secret from the remaining players, who will simultaneously read their object. The game will continue until a winner is determined. These objectives range from ensuring the abyss doesn’t swallow the entire mansion whole to being overrun by zombies. You know, traditional survival horror fare.
What makes Betrayal At House On The Hill work so well, other than its simplicity, is the team environment it fosters. Alliances will be quickly formed, and sometimes broken, to help ensure survival. Strategies are needed and must be malleable enough to be altered; proper item usage is key during the haunt phase to the point where you’ll need to endanger yourself just to get that necessary item to ensure victory. It’s this combination of simplicity and strategy that make the game so appealing. It also helps that the game doesn’t taken multiple hours to finish; 30-60 minutes is the recommended time and its pretty accurate.
I’ve often heard friends or co-workers describe game such as Settlers of Catan as gateway board games. They’re accessible enough to bring you in and leave you wanting more. That’s what Betrayal At House On The Hill feels like to me. While I don’t necessarily care that much about accessibility at this point of my board game career, others will. Plus it’s nice to know that playing a round or two won’t take up my entire night.