Betrayal at House on the Hill is a very ambitious game. It’s a cooperative experience that becomes competitive in its second half, it’s got a randomly generated tile based game board and it includes over 50 different scenarios. But somehow, it just works.
I’ve played Betrayal countless times and almost every time I’ve come away satisfied. Sure, I’ve had a few playthroughs where room positioning has made objectives particularly difficult (or super easy!) and this can be frustrating - particularly if it’s your first time experiencing Betrayal.
But for the overall experience, it’s worth putting up with these minor complaints and is something i'm willing to accept for the variety of a randomly generated game board.
Betrayal at the House on the Hill is an exploration game for 3 – 6 players which sees a youthful group of classic horror protagonists (and a creepy old professor or priest!) traversing a spooky mansion. In the first half of the game players will work together to explore as much of the house as possible whilst collecting items, weapons, uncovering room tiles and levelling up their stats so that they will be prepared for the second half of the game known as ‘The Haunt’.
If a player enters a room featuring a haunt icon they must take a haunt card and then make a haunt roll to determine if this triggers the start of the haunt. As the game progresses it gets more and more difficult to avoid triggering the haunt and inevitably, some unlucky player is going to make a poor dice roll.
Once the sinister second half of the game is triggered, one player will be assigned the betrayer, everyone will be split into teams of good vs evil and each team will be given their own scenario book informing them of what they know and the details of their new win condition. The betrayer will usually want to eliminate their former friends whilst the group of heroes will simply want to escape with their lives.
The theme of the game is nicely realised throughout its mechanics and its impressive to see a different set of rules for each scenario. Many of these scenarios are quite self-aware (particularly in the recently released Widow’s Walk expansion) and this naturally passes over to players creating a Hammer Horror atmosphere – especially if everyone is up for a bit of role-playing. The game never takes itself too seriously and is comparable to the self-aware humour of horror parodies such as Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs Evil.
One of my favourite aspects of the game is the emergent storytelling that happens due to the random positioning of rooms, scenarios and characters. I have a vivid memory of one of my friends being attacked by a zombie in a neighbouring room to the gym; in which I was playing as a 9-year-old girl; presumably lifting weights and doing chin-ups to help boost my strength stats. Or there was the time I triggered the haunt and discovered that this latest scenario involved me being eaten by a giant octopus which I now controlled - good times!
Scenarios like this are genuinely bizarre when you stop and think about them ensuring that players will often have lasting memories of some of Betrayals more surreal encounters.
The actual gameplay of the game isn’t super strenuous and generally involves moving player pieces between rooms and then rolling dice to determine if an encounter was successful. As a result, its super easy to teach and pick up, particularly as the game itself slowly introduces mechanics as players explore deeper into the spooky house.
The sheer value that Betrayal offers players is incredibly generous and even if the game suggests a haunt you’ve already done, there’s an easy way to assign yourself a different one and it always feels like you’re exploring a brand-new house. Even after well over 10 playthroughs, each scenario always surprises me. Every time I play Betrayal it feels like the first time all over again.
However, it is by no means a perfect game. It’s a pretty universal complaint that some of the components are a bit flimsy; in particular the sliders which track each character’s stats. As mentioned earlier, if you do have a lacklustre haunt it can also be frustrating which is sadly something that happened during the first playthrough we had here in the office. However, I convinced the team to have one more play and the second run was a much more enjoyable haunt.
It’s by no means the most polished tabletop experience, but its unpredictable, immersive and the sheer number of things that happen in a one-hour game of Betrayal is so generous. There’s almost no set up time and it’s one of my go-to games for showing off just what tabletop games can do.
As far as I’m concerned, anyone with even a vague interest in board games needs to try Betrayal at House on the Hill at least once… maybe a second time if things don’t go to plan.