Betrayal at House on the Hill

From 1d4chan
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Board Game published by
Avalon Hill (Hasbro)
No. of Players 3 - 6
Session Time ~1 hour
First Publication 2004
Essential Books Secrets of Survival, Traitor's Tome, Rule Book

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a party board game where players take the roles of characters that are tasked with exploring a haunted house, which we can presume from the title is on a hill. The house is haunted by some sort of supernatural phenomenon of a nature unknown to the players, but evidence of a lurking evil can be found around every corner, testing each character's strength and stamina, both mentally and physically. Traps, hazards, horrible lurking creatures, lost relics, possible allies, all these can be in the very next room... but, most thrilling of all, one of the players will inevitably betray the others, causing a mad scramble to kill or be killed at the end! Think Scooby-Doo, except Fred gets dragged into a corner and violently dismembered and eaten, before coming back to life to kill the rest of the gang.

Creating the Mansion[edit]

Most of the game's early charm comes from a sort of procedural generation of the haunted house as the players explore it. This early phase of the game is called the Exploration Phase, as the players walk around the unexplored mansion and try to piece together the mystery. There are three stacks of tiles, one for each floor (Ground, Basement, and Upper). All players begin play in the Entrance Hall, which is connected to the Foyer, which is then connected to the Grand Staircase (which leads to the Upper Landing). These are the only three tiles that are always connected to one another in the same location, and they will always be accessible from the start of the game. Every other room is drawn from the appropriate stack of tiles whenever a player goes through a door into an unknown area, leading to a sort of random creation of the haunted house as each player delves further into the treacherous abode.

Each character can move a number of rooms based on their Speed trait value, but this generally only applies to moving through previously explored rooms. When moving through a door into a new room, that player draws a room tile and places it so that one of the new room's doors connect to the door the player came through. Upon placing down a new room tile the player will usually have to draw a card (which will either be an Event card [the most common], an Omen or maybe even an Item card) or sometimes follow other specific instructions depending on the room. The events that can happen are usually something bad, such as hearing a scream, or horrifying ghosts appear before you, or something similar and you have to make some sort of Trait roll to see if you endure the situation or crack under the pressure. Either way, the act of drawing a card will make you end your turn, even if you still had moves left according to your Speed, and then it is the next player's turn.

Trait Rolls[edit]

So as the players walk around in the house with hideous stuff happening to each and every one of them they will often have to make Trait Rolls. Each character has a number in each of the four Traits - Speed, Strength, Sanity and Knowledge. The characters starting value in that Trait is colored yellow on their pentagonal character board. The characters each have slightly different configurations for the Traits shown on their character boards, which generally make sense such as the little kid usually being faster than the old dude. When it comes time to make a Trait roll the game is equipped with some janky dice - strictly speaking, they're six-sided d3s minus 1, meaning they can show 0, 1 or 2 on any given roll. On a Trait roll you roll as many dice as your Trait's value and see if you reach the target number for that particular roll, or suffer the consequences. If you're lucky, your Trait values go up, and if you're unlucky, they go down. You keep track of the current value of your character's Traits with small clips that slide over the four edges of the cardboard character board (though those fucking clips tend to be a little loose, so it probably wouldn't hurt to use a bit of clear tape around the edges of the board, or some other trick, to make them a little thicker to keep those damn clips on there).

When you succeed or fail a Trait roll you will often be made to change the value in one of your character's Traits, though sometimes the game will let you pick which from either the two Physical Traits (Strength and Speed) or the two Mental Traits (Sanity and Knowledge). You will sometimes have to roll the dice to determine how many steps you have to move the marker. For example: the card message "Gain 1 sanity" means "move the sanity marker on your board up one step" which doesn't necessarily mean that the sanity value goes up. For instance, the configuration of that character's Trait might be 1-2-3-3-4-4-5 or something similar.

The lowest value on a character's Trait board will always be a 💀 skull symbol. While you would think that this means horrible instant death, characters cannot die during the Exploration phase, before the Haunt starts, so if you are told to lower Trait x below its lowest value before the Haunt, then nothing happens. However, after the Haunt starts, if any trait goes down below the lowest value, the character immediately dies. And it's these Haunts that make the game worthwhile.

Omens and the Haunt[edit]

Each time an Omen card is drawn, the game's Haunt level increases by one like some kind of spooky DEFCON level. The player who drew it must roll six of the game's dice versus the game's current Haunt level to see if the Haunt starts. If they exceed or equal the Haunt level with their roll than everybody gets to keep mucking around the house in Exploration mode; inevitably somebody will find another Omen! However if one of you clods roll less than the number of Omen cards in play, then the Haunt starts immediately. It is, at this point, when Shit Gets Real. One of the players will betray the other players (usually, though some haunts are co-op only or free-for-all) and the game turns into an "all against one," where the traitor and the heroes have different goals to pursue and it's a battle for victory.

Exactly what the Haunt is, and who is the traitor, depends on which Omen triggered the Haunt and in what room it was found. The players refer to the Scenario Book to see which Haunt they'll be facing and who is the traitorous fiend. In most cases, the player who found the last Omen will become the Traitor, but sometimes it will be chosen based on the person to that player's right/left, or the player who is closest to a particular room, or the player with the highest/lowest score in a certain Trait, or the player who has selected a specific character. Sometimes the traitor's identity may not even be announced, adding an element of paranoia into the game as well. In couple of Haunts, there's not even Traitor at all!

The player who is the Traitor takes the Traitor's Tome (the Traitor's version of the Scenario Book) and, preferably, leaves the room to read his version of the scenario and to plot his fellow player's demise. The remaining players pick up the Survivor's Manual (the hero version of the Scenario Book), read up on the current Haunt, and start to plan on how to survive and thwart the villain.

The true identity of the Haunt can be almost anything from the Traitor actually being a vampire lord trying to ensnare the other players, a mummy who wants to marry his child bride, to the mansion actually being a living super-organism trying to devour the heroes, or even that the house is sinking into Hell itself. After the Haunt has started, the heroes are now far more vulnerable and can be killed. The conditions for winning are specified in the respective scenario books, but ideally the hero team doesn't quite know exactly what the Traitor is trying to achieve, although they may have some sort of clues. Usually the Traitor's goal is to kill off the heroes, but the means by which he does this varies quite a bit depending on the nature of the Haunt. The heroes, likewise, typically have to jump through hoops to stop the Haunt, performing Trait rolls in certain specified rooms in order to achieve something, such as escape on a toy airplane after being shrunk, or they must acquire specific Items to use in a particular way in an appropriate room. With 50 Haunts in the base game, and even more ideas available online the novelty can last quite awhile, the chances of playing against the same Haunt repeatedly are very unlikely, but even if you do the random nature of the room layouts or item availability often makes playing as/against the same Haunt a little bit different each time.


The major real problem with the game is that the very nature of its randomness makes some Haunts completely unfair for one team some games and the exact opposite the next time you play it. So in one Haunt the Traitor could win on turn one and then everyone feels let down. And a few Haunts are just plain badly-designed, being ludicrously in favor of either the heroes or the Traitor. This usually results in a new game being started, which ends up being far more entertaining. The errata helps to fix this issue a bit as well as clarify some typos in the tomes.

Also, there are too many damn tokens! It's easy to lose them and hard to find the ones you want sometimes. Though this problem can be partially solved by keeping tokens separated in dime bags or ziploc bags.

In April of 2016, Hasbro announced an expansion for their second edition of Betrayal at House on the Hill, entitled Widow's Walk, and including scenarios from a number of celebrity writers. Unfortunately, like all Betrayal products, it came out in a fairly-broken condition, with some scenarios flat-out not working as intended and some just not working, and needed piles of errata and reworking to fix.

Betrayal at Baldur's Gate[edit]

For those not interested in replaying through a pastiche of every horror B-movie you've ever seen, in 2017 Avalon released a re-skinned edition of Betrayal based on the fuckawesome Baldur's Gate computer video game series. Most of the game's actual play and terms are mostly the same but are now D&D flavored. Now you play as a team of adventurers as they explore the city of Baldur's Gate instead of a haunted house. Each character has their own special powers corresponding to their class, such as the mage being able to cast Magic Missle and the monk who can roll a dice to punch more punches per punch.

Gameplay begins in a tavern now, because of course it does. There are sadly only two levels to explore now, despite there being three stacks of tiles still. The Streets and Buildings tiles both exist on the same level of play, while the Catacombs exist beneath like the Basement in the standard edition. Tiles are still connected by doors, but the doors are color coded now. Doors that connect to streets are outlined in yellow, while doors that can connect to Buildings are red. The Catacombs are accessed via sewer drains which are kind of a pain in the ass to see given the color palette and busy artwork used on most tiles, plus they are one way trips only. Every drain in the city leads to the same Catacomb Landing, and the catacombs build out from there. You explore the city and its seedy underbelly during the Exploration Phase, just like in the base game, finding stuff, getting spooked and gradually increasing the Haunt level. Rolling for the Haunt has been changed. Instead of always rolling six dice against an increasing target number, you now roll a number of dice equal to the Haunt level, which effectively makes it so that the Haunt can never be triggered before at least three Omens are revealed.



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