Betrayal is a tile-building game where 3 to 6 explorers venture into an old, abandoned house situated at the top of – you guessed it – a hill. Each turn, players can perform any number of actions, from moving through rooms, using items, and more, as they seek to understand and fully comprehend the mysteries of the house. The game will start with several tiles already placed: the Entrance Hall, which is directly connected to the Foyer and the Grand Staircase; the Basement Landing; and finally the Upper Landing. Any time a player enters through a door that has not yet been opened, he or she will draw a card from the pile of the appropriate floor (Upper, Ground, or Basement), and lay that tile down in an adequate and as logically-possible fashion.
Some floors are safe, with just the old creaking bones of the house baying in the wind. But most floors contain something else. Upon entering one of these rooms, the player’s movement is immediately halted and he or she must draw the corresponding card: an item, an event or an omen. The item is always going to be something useful, more than likely to serve a greater purpose in the second half of the game (which we’ll get to shortly). Event cards can change the pace of the game dramatically in the early goings, and generally have negative or positive effects on either the person who discovered it, or someone else in the house. But the omen cards are when things start getting interesting.
An omen can be any number of things: a useful item, a discovery, another person (referred to as a companion, whom you find in the house – why they’re already there, who knows), and more. But that’s not all. Every time you discover an omen card, you must perform what’s known as a haunt roll. Several dice are included with the game contents, which are used to determine many actions as designated by cards and later, to perform attacks or blocks. Six among them are used during the haunt roll, which is the sole determining factor that distinguishes the first and second halves of this game, and ushers in the start of the haunt.
What is the haunt, exactly? Well, it’s the namesake of the game – the betrayal. You see, one person among your merry band of explorers is actually a traitor, and (unbeknownst to any of the players at the start), once the haunt begins, makes it his or her life’s intent to murder the ever living hell out of the others. How does this happen? With the haunt roll. Every time you draw an omen card, you inch ever closer to someone’s sudden but inevitable betrayal. You must roll a number equal to or higher than the total amount of omen cards that have been discovered to prevent the haunt from starting. You might be thinking, “With six dice? That’s easy,” but here’s the catch: four sides of every die are blank, and the only two sides that have pips on them have a one and a two, respectively. Roll less than the total of identified omens, and the haunt begins.
The likelihood of starting the haunt early in the game after the first omen discovery is minimal, but not impossible. Which makes every draw of a card that much more stressful as the game goes on. The person who initiates the haunt roll that begins the haunt is not necessarily the traitor, however; that’s when two nifty little booklets – also included with the packaging – come into play. These two guides, one titled the Secrets of Survival and the other Traitor’s Tome, are your go-to resources once the haunt has begun. They will tell you exactly which haunt occurs, based on what room you were in when it started and what item was discovered that caused it, and they will also tell you who the traitor is (either a specific character, or if that character is not in play, then based on a stat).
The traitor will take his or her guide into another room, flip to the specific haunt, and discover what must come next, while the survivors do likewise and reveal just how to put an end to the madness. Every haunt is different, some radically so: there are 50 different types of haunts in the game, adding a tremendous amount of replay value on top of the randomness of the tiles that form the skeleton of the house. Players cannot attack each other until the haunt has begun, but you may still receive damage prior to it, depending on any cards drawn or trap rooms that are discovered. Once combat begins, each haunt generally has a specific rule in which to follow, and the included rule book will cover the basics of attacking/defending, and the importance of stats. All of the previous rules still apply; that is, players may still continue to explore new rooms as they see fit in hopes of finding more (or any) items to help them in their struggle. But make no mistake, killing the traitor and whatever minions he or she has spawned into the house is probably your number one priority. Conditions for victory are laid out in the appropriate guides. Survive the night, or become the demon.
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a robust game that combines many elements of classic tabletop role-playing games with just the right amount of B-horror tension. The sheer variety of room tiles and potential placements alone make this a game worth its weight in replayability, but the haunts are the real star of the show. 50 terrifying and imaginative ways to spice up a night with friends, until one of you turns on the others and goes on a killing spree. I hate when that happens.
Not everything that glitters is gold, however; Betrayal is better than the sum of its parts. And its parts are underwhelming: tiny, flimsy character miniatures; cheap stat boards with sliders that fall off way too easily; a poorly designed box with very little storage potential outside of “throw it all in a zip lock bag.” Some of these issues are alleviated by outside means: the zip lock bags, as I’ve mentioned, are a board gamer’s best friend, and there’s an app for either iOS or Android that allows you to neatly keep track of each character’s stats, rendering the provided boards completely unnecessary. Nothing makes up for the crappy miniature models, though. Those things are awful. It’s unfortunate, because despite all that, Betrayal is still so much fun.
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Set up/Clean up Time: Average/Average
Component Quality: Cheap
Final Verdict: Good