Outside the Box: Scary Ghost Stories
December 15, 2010 | Follow comments
According to many, this gray snowy period in late December is the most wonderful time of the year. They claim that it is a time for soirees, mobile sing-a-longs, and toasted candy treats. These same folks also assert that this time of the year is also the perfect time for frightening tales featuring ethereal and otherwise super-natural beings. Frankly I find all of the rather absurd, but nevertheless I seek to combine all of the above mentioned winter-time activities. Well…maybe just the soirees and ghostly tales. OK, and if you want to toast marshmallows while doing the other two that’s fine as well. Either way it is quite easy to combine your holiday-related get-togethers with ghost stories thanks to a new edition of Betrayal at House on the Hill.
A few weeks ago I showed you what comes in the Betrayal box, but now that I’ve had a chance to give it a go it’s time for a full review of the game. Most of my friends say that Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of their favorite games, and I agree. Betrayal has a lot going for it. So, why is it awesome? Find out after the break.
As I stated yesterday in my “#tinyreviews” tweet, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a semi-co-op B-rated horror board game. It also has some lovely light RPG elements. In these ways it is almost like Arkham Horror; however it has a definite twist-you know…that whole betrayal part.
A game of Betrayal at House on the Hill is separated into two major phases. The first phase is the exploration phase. This part of the game is completely co-op. Remember all those lovely tiles you saw in the unboxing? Those are the rooms to this haunted house that you and up to five other players explore. While the players explore these rooms they try to increase their stats, get useful items, and uncover powerful omens. At first that is all your little Mystery, Inc. is trying to do. However, at a certain point the game takes a delicious turn.
As players find various Omens they are prompted to make Haunt Rolls. These rolls determine what super-natural or B-rated entity the players are up against. Not only that, but once the Haunt begins one of the explorers has a tendency to go…a little strange. Sometimes they turn into a Mad Bomber, other times the King of the Wererats, either way it all ends the same-one player becomes a traitor. At the point, the game becomes a head-to-head battle. The team of heroes is pitted against the traitor and his or her legion of traps/assassins/vampire horde. The heroes must work together to accomplish their goal, or to thwart that of the traitor. The traitor wishes to do the same. This Haunt phase is the real meat of the game and the one-verses-many conflict becomes of the center of attention.
So, what of the actual mechanics of the game? The game has a definite RPG feel to it for the first phase of the game. At the beginning of the game each player chooses one of the 12 heroes each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and trope. There’s Professor Longfellow, who specializes in the Knowledge stat, and Ox Bellows, the Strength-focused athlete character. Not to mention Madame Zostra the mystic and Missy Dubourde the little girl. Each character explores the house, uncovering the rooms, and drawing cards.
These cards could be events that players must pass to keep from taking stat damage or helpful events that allow players to increase their stats. A player might an item card. These could be helpful weapons that increase stats or maybe a medkit that allows players to heal one another. The most powerful, and dreaded cards are the omens. Sure these can be useful like the Dog or the Spear but they also trigger the Haunt Roll. Once a Haunt Roll is failed (or passed depending on how you look at it) the Haunt begins.
When the Haunt begins the players consult the “Traitor Tome.” This booklet has all 50 of the possible haunts. Players cross-reference the Omen card just drawn with the room it was found it. If a Haunt Roll fails for the Skull and the player was in the Catacombs it triggers Haunt #37 “Checkmate.” Once the Haunt is known, the traitor leaves the room to read his or her side of the story and the traitor’s win condition. In this case the traitor is Death’s underling and is trying to steal Holy Symbols from the Hero players, while trying to win by using Death to kill the Heroes. Meanwhile, the Hero players take a look at Haunt #37 in their booklet “Secrets of Survival.” This again tells the Heroes how they can win; in this case they win by breaking Holy Symbols and then beating Death at a game of chess.
At this point the game is one-verses-many free-for-all. Players can now try to attack and kill one another. They can still explore the house and gain stat bonuses and cards, but the real objective is to satisfy their win condition. Play continues until either the Traitor or the Heroes win.
Overall, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a fantastic game with the right group of friends, or even family if you’re of the Addams variety. The game has almost unlimited replay value with its over 50 happy haunts and randomly generated map. It also has more event cards than you can get to in a single game. Additionally it is also relatively short compared to other games of the same ilk like Arkham Horror or Shadows over Camelot. A full game of Betrayal takes about an hour and leaves you wanting more. What’s more is that it’s only $30-50 depending on where you can find it, and remember that you want the 2nd Edition. The out-of-print 1st Edition will run you about $200 as well as some funky rules. My only major complaint with the game is its production value. Its cardboard pieces are flimsy, mine are already rather warped, and the manuals are on cheap paper. These aren’t deal breakers but considering it’s published by Wizards of the Coast we all know they could do better. Either way, it is a great game to play on those long cold winter nights. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll actually live up to that confusing verse in The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Reasons to Buy are: Gives Great Stories, Max of 6 Players, Good Sense of Humor, If You Like B-Rated Movies, Like Horror Games, Lots of Replay Value, Quick Play Time
Complaints that Could be Made: Low Production Value, 3 Player Minimum, Very Confrontational