Board Game Night: Betrayal at House on the Hill

Thanks to Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop on YouTube, I discovered a wonderful little game called Betrayal at House on the Hill (BHH). While I had a base knowledge of the game before I bought it, I underestimated its replayability and fun factor.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a board game that makes you feel like you’re in an old subpar horror movie. You and your playmates are all playing characters that investigate an old supposedly haunted mansion. Tense situations plague the group as the house becomes bigger and bigger until you eventually learn that one of the players is actually a traitor and has brought the rest of the people to the house to commit some horrendous act of treachery.

BHH has a recommended playing age of 12 years or older, takes approximately 60 minutes to play, and is for three to six players.

In the excerpt on Stone Age, I talked about worker placement games and how different board games carry different play styles. While BHH is not a worker placement game, it has a new tag with which I was unfamiliar: traitor mechanic. It also has a tile-building mechanic.

This mechanic works exactly how it sounds. In the first part of the game, it is fully cooperative to an extent. All of the players are working together to explore a mansion. During this exploration, players gather companions, items, and more. At some pivotal point of the game, one of the players turns into a traitor, and the game play shifts into the traitor versus the rest of the players. Traitor mechanics, or betrayer games, are extremely fun to play, but they do carry a sense of unfairness to them.

The tile-building mechanic, much like Carcassonne for those familiar with it, means there is no predetermined board set up. Instead, you lay tiles out as you explore the house, meaning each playthrough of the game will inevitably have a different layout.

Picture courtesy of Board Game Geek

You take on the role of one of twelve different characters, represented by two-sided character cards for a sense of variety. Each character has four stats: speed, might, sanity, knowledge. Each character has a different starting value for each of the four stats. Speed dictates how many rooms you can move on your turn. Might is how many dice you roll during a fight. Sanity and knowledge are more for card effects later in the game, although some aspects of the game make you use your sanity to attack instead of might.

Everybody begins in the Entrance Hall, and on your turn, you can move up to the number of rooms equal to your speed. If you walk into an empty space (meaning nothing is built there, so you’re essentially walking off the starting piece onto the table), you immediately build a new room there. The room tiles are comprised of ground floor, basement, and upper floor. Make sure the piece you draw, which is random, matches the floor you’re on, and then put it in the empty space in which you just walked.

Room tiles have varying effects. Some have symbols that require you to draw a card from the pile matching the symbol. Others have text that have some effect. Others have nothing and are just empty rooms to help expand the house.

Rooms with text are simple: do what the text says. There are far too many descriptions to try and list here. One example to give you an idea is the Crypt. The Crypt says, “If you end your turn here, take 1 point of mental damage.”

Rooms with symbols are different. If you have a room with a symbol, you must immediately stop moving your character and draw a card from the appropriate pile. The piles are Omen, Item, and Event.

An event means something happens in the room in which you’re standing. These events can be good or bad. Maybe you’ll get something good like gaining a stat or a new item. Maybe something bad will happen where you lose stats or get transported to a new spot in the house. Item cards are almost always a good thing. These items will give you some kind of bonus in terms of extra stats, extra attack, and so forth. Omen cards, on the other hand, are the tide-turning aspect of the game. These cards can be good or bad as well, but at the end of your turn after drawing an omen card, you have to make a Haunt Roll.

Haunt Rolls are what eventually determines if the haunted mansion is finally going to twist and turn and show that one player is the traitor. Take six dice (all of the dice have sides with 1 dot, 2 dots, or blank) and roll them. If the sum of the dice equals LESS than the number of omen cards drawn that game so far, the haunt begins. If the sum of the dice is equal to or more than the number of drawn omen cards, the game continues like normal.

When you finally roll less than the number of drawn omen cards, everybody stops and the haunt begins. Two other books besides the rule book are supplied in the game. The first is the Survivor’s Handbook and the other is the Traitor’s Tome. Inside the Survivor’s Handbook is a table with a comparison system to see what haunt is going to take place. In the original game, no expansions included, there are 50 different haunts, each one with a different premise and concept.

The haunt is chosen through a series of matching criteria. Using the table, you discover which omen card was drawn and in which room the card was drawn, and then at the bottom of the table, it’ll tell you who the traitor is. Sometimes it’s the person that revealed the haunt with his or her dice roll. Sometimes it’s the person to the left of the haunt revealer. Sometimes it’s the person with the highest speed. You never really know which haunt it’s going to be until you get to that point in the game.

Once you figure out who the betrayer is, that person completely leaves the room and opens up the Traitor’s Tome to read all about his or her new objectives and how to win the game. The other players stay at the table and read their own Survivor’s Handbook and figure out how to stop the traitor. Neither side truly knows everything about what the other is going to try and do during their new objective. Each book will give the players some clue as to what the other side is trying to do, but most of it unfolds during the final phase of gameplay.

In the few games we’ve played of BHH, I have personally been the traitor twice. In the first game, I was at a huge disadvantage as one of the players was decked out in strong items, and the way the house was built was completely disadvantageous to my overall objective (which was opening an abyss to the underworld and stopping the players long enough to let the whole house get sucked into the abyss). I lost pretty quickly. In my second time as the traitor, I brought a very large dragon into the house and was attempting to feed the players to the dragon to appease its hunger. I still lost, but the whole scenario played out better than I expected, the final battle coming down to me, my dragon, and one surviving player decked out in really strong armor.

Overall, the gameplay is fun, quick, and easy to learn. We were able to teach a new player how to play in less than 15 minutes, and she ended up being the surviving player in the armor that defeated me and my dragon. If you’re looking for something with unbelievable amounts of replayability, constantly revolving scenarios and housing tiles, and a little bit of psychological thriller to your board game, give BHH a try. You just might find yourself all alone as a traitor with some of your best friends gunning for you.

Board Game Geek: Betrayal at House on the Hill

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