The Gamer's Codex

The Gamer's Codex

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Second Edition

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Second Edition

From: Wizards of the Coast

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

In the horror genre, there is probably no set piece more frequently employed (some might argue overused) than the Creepy Old House. Because whatever form a horror story’s villain takes, it should have a base of operations which befits its status. It is this mainstay which Betrayal at House on the Hill means to exemplify.

From the rulebook:
As you explore the house, you discover new rooms. Each time you enter a new room, you might find something… or something might find you.”

Betrayal at House on the Hill employs what is probably the most frequently used impetus for entering a creepy old house; a combination of automotive trouble and inclement weather. Though if you wish to account for such things, there’s probably poor cell phone reception as well (seeing as how creepy old houses tend to be in out of the way locations). Initially, the board consists of the Entrance Hall, the Basement Landing, and the Upper Landing. But it won’t stay that way for long, as players will add new rooms through exploring the house. Many of the rooms can only be placed on certain floors, which are indicated on the back of the tiles (after all, it would be pretty silly to have the Master Bedroom in the basement, or the Furnace Room on the upper floor).

There are twelve characters for players to choose from, representing a wide range of traditional horror archetypes. Each has four traits; Might, Speed (which also determines the maximum number of spaces you may move in a turn), Knowledge, and Sanity. A series of four arrow clips are attached to the character card to keep track of each trait’s current value. A particular advantage to this is that, if you have a pet which likes to jump on your table and knock your gaming stuff askew, it’s one less thing to worry about. Frequently during the game, you’ll be required to adjust one of the traits. This involves moving the corresponding arrow clip the indicated number of spaces along a track of trait values. The actual trait value may or may not end up being adjusted by the same amount, if at all.

When most rooms are first discovered, a card must be drawn. Usually this will be from the Event Deck. Most of these will provide an encounter of some sort which often requires a trait roll. This involves rolling dice equal to the trait’s current value, with the result determining the outcome (generally higher is better). The majority of these encounters will adjust the character’s traits for better or for worse. Other times an event card will add a traditional “creepy old house” feature to the room, like a rotating wall or a secret passage. Other times, you may draw from the Item Deck. This provides a wide variety of goodies which can help improve your character’s chances of surviving. Most important however is the Omen Deck. The bulk of these cards provide some mystical artifact which may prove to be essential to victory. What really matters is that every time a card is drawn from the omen deck, a Haunt roll is made by rolling six dice. If the total is less than the current number of omen cards in play (including the one just drawn), the Haunt Phase begins.

You may be asking yourself why you would even bother making a haunt roll the first few times it comes up. The reason is that the dice included with the game are not your standard six-siders. On each one, two sides are blank, two have one pip, and two have two pips. So it is in theory possible (though not terribly likely) that the Haunt Phase could begin after the very first roll.

Once the Haunt Phase starts, a chart is consulted and the omen card and room tile which were drawn are cross-referenced to determine which one of fifty scenarios is used. These scenarios represent a wide variety of horror story types. Typically, either the omen or the room in question will be key to successfully resolving the haunt. The haunt scenario will also indicate which player is the traitor (hence the “betrayal” in the game’s title). At this point, the traitor character leaves the room to consult the scenario in one of the haunt books while the other players (henceforth referred to as the survivors) consult the other haunt book. These provide each side with the details on what they must do to win. A general idea of what the opposition is attempting is also provided, but no specifics. This point is probably the biggest intrinsic weakness of the game, as gameplay comes to a grinding halt while everyone consults reference materials. The side which manages to successfully complete their objectives wins. However, game balance during the Haunt Phase is far from guaranteed. Each scenario is internally balanced, with most providing the traitor with some form of minions to counter the superior numbers of the survivors. However, the random nature behind how item and omen cards are obtained can make one side look hopelessly outmatched from the get-go. Still, sufficiently clever players can potentially come up with tactics to counter such disadvantages.

The Haunt Phase is also when combat becomes a major factor. This is conducted with opposed trait rolls between the two parties, with the higher result winning. In most cases, the trait used will be Might. However, the attacker may possess an item card which allows the use of a different trait. If the losing side is a traitor-controlled minion, the results will be as described in the scenario. If a player lost in combat, the difference between the two die rolls is applied as physical damage (if Might or Speed was used) or mental damage (if Sanity or Knowledge was used) as appropriate. Damage is applied by moving the arrow clips of the associated traits down their respective tracks, either applied to one or split between the two as desired. Should the arrow clip of any one trait reach the lowest point on its track, that character is dead.

From the back of the box:
Take a deep breath before you enter. It might be your last.”

Interestingly enough, the game encourages players to follow what is possibly the most disdained trope in horror fiction, namely splitting up. Sticking together can result in a highly linear path with few options for maneuvering later on. Plus, when the Haunt Phase begins, it’s for the best to not be too close to anyone else in case you find yourself with a foe who is better equipped than you for combat. Also, depending on the nature of the scenario, the survivors may have to accomplish multiple tasks in different areas of the house. So it’s for the best to ignore your metagaming instincts.

In conclusion, it’s kind of a shame that the switch to the Haunt Phase has such an adverse effect on the game’s momentum. It’s due to this fact that I knocked off a couple points from the rating. Still, it can be seen as a necessary evil, as the wide range of scenarios combined with the randomly generated game board give it a ton of replay value.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Second Edition

From: Wizards of the Coast

Type of Game: Board

Game Design by: Bruce Glassco

Developed by: Bruce Glassco and Bill McQuillan

Cover Art by: Shelley Wan

Additional Art by: Hillary Husted, Mike Demaine, Ryan Sansaver

Game Components Included: Rulebook, 2 Haunt books, 44 Room tiles, 1 Entrance Hall tile, 6 Explorer figures, 6 Character cards, 30 Arrow clips, 8 Dice, 1 Turn/Damage track, 13 Omen cards, 22 Item cards, 45 Event cards, 12 Large Monster tokens, 91 Small Monster tokens, 14 Event/Room tokens, 14 Item tokens, 18 Trait Roll tokens

Retail Price: $49.99

Number of Players: 3-6

Player Ages: 12+

Play Time: about one hour

Website: http://www.wizards.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

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About the author

Sitting Duck

Sitting Duck was first introduced to tabletop gaming back in the seventh grade, when a friend brought his copy of the AD&D Monster Manual 2 to school. Since then, he has dabbled in a wide range of games. His current go-to RPG system is Savage Worlds, and he has a particular fondness for Lovecraft themed games, both serious and silly. You can also find him hanging around the Pinnacle Entertainment Group forum

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