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The story of the haunted house always begins the same way. A small group of friends explore a mysterious, run-down building. The floorboards creak and groan. Light is swallowed whole by the damp, dark corners of each room. Angry spirits smack people in the face with shovels.
This is standard haunted house material, but where “Betrayal at House on the Hill” starts and where it eventually ends up are two surprisingly different, yet seamless stories that define the creativity that can arise from a board game.
Players begin the game as one of six explorers standing inside a foyer, with four open doors and a staircase leading up.
Players explore the House by discovering different rooms across three floors, drawing a random room tile according to which floor they’re on. Most rooms have some kind of action trigger, such as drawing some kind of event or escaping a collapsing floor. Every time a player draws an Omen card, they roll the dice to see if that moment will be when the “Haunt” is revealed. The Haunt is one of fifty different scenarios in which a player turns traitor and tries to win the game using anything from vampires to alien attacks to making every player dance. Each Haunt has different rules and different win conditions, so no two games are exactly alike.
There is a bit of a learning curve in the beginning.
Many of the rules are in place to cover specific situations in addition to the broad structure of the game, and they’re compounded further by the rules of the haunt reveal. The Traitor gets their own special rulebook called the Traitor’s Tome, and the Hero characters share a separate rulebook called Secrets of Survival. Both books contain information that can’t be shared with the other side, to produce tension and varying levels of strategy. This can be a slight problem if the players aren’t veteran gamers- they just won’t interpret rulings the way this game expects them to and can get lost. Once you get past the curve, though, Betrayal at House on the Hill becomes a game night staple.
Each game has its own niche in a gamer’s library. Betrayal has a versatile horror flavor, but wisely has less gravity and more levity than games like Arkham Horror or Silent Hill.
It’s a strong contender for small or rotating gaming groups, much like Settlers of Catan or the Walking Dead board game, and gives lots of replay value for a $60 price tag (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy XIII). Fans of the Buffy side of the horror scale will love this game especially, but gamers of all sorts will enjoy it once they embrace it. It should be part of any serious gamer’s collection.