Overview: There’s an old haunted house on the hill, so naturally you must explore it. That’s what you do in this updated version of the fan-favorite board game from Wizards of the Coast imprint Avalon Hill. You and your fellow heroes wander the mansion room by room until the house decides to take one of you over. Then the betrayal begins and that one player turns against the rest.
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Rating: Unique gameplay with fun B-movie theme, but some mechanical flaws
Who Will Like It? If you dig old Hammer horror films or the oeuvre of director William Castle, you’ll dig the thematic goodness. If you get caught up in game balance and mechanics discussions, you might have some problems.
Prepare to Punch
The game has a lot of bits. Be warned.
- 6 pre-painted plastic Character miniatures and corresponding Character cards
- 80 cards (Event, Omen, and Item decks)
- Traitors Tome booklet
- Secrets of Survival booklet
- Game dice
- 45 Room tiles
- Over 100 game tokens
I’m pretty sure that “over 100 game tokens” is an understatement, because I was punching out game tokens for a solid 15 minutes. There are tons of these suckers. Make sure you have lots of plastic baggies on hand, because you’ll want to separate out the various monsters and polygonal tokens.
The miniatures are smaller than standard 28mm figures and have the standard less-than-ideal paintjobs. There are a total of 12 characters to choose from, 2 for each miniature.
The rulebook is a quick read and the Traitor’s Tome and Secrets of Survival are meant to only be read at a specific point during the game known as “the haunting.”
“That creepy old place on the hill…”
As in all old horror movies, haunted houses were made for breaking and entering. Gameplay begins with character selection–each character has different strengths and weaknesses, as determined by four stats tracks on their cards — and proceeds immediately to the exploration of the haunted house.
Everyone starts off in the main entrance tile and, based on your character’s speed stat, you can move a certain number of tiles. Reach a new door and you can explore beyond it, drawing a new tile from the stack and placing it down on the table. Some tiles have special icons that indicate that a card must be drawn.
Event cards harm your character in some disturbing fashion (hideous shrieking that prompts a sanity roll, or a gaggle of hanged corpses that turn into dust, causing your character to choke). Item cards give you (usually) beneficial equipment like dynamite, which lets you attack enemies in other rooms, or an idol that you can rub to add dice to your rolls. Omen cards aren’t typically as bad as Event cards, but they push you one step closer to the haunting.
“Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.”
Eventually, the Omen cards pile up and the house comes to life. You get out the Traitor’s Tome and Secrets of Survival and determine who will be the traitor. That player leaves the room and reads one book, while the heroes stay and read theirs. Each new faction develops a strategy to beat the other. Then gameplay recommences.
This is where the game really shines. There are 50 scenarios that take place during this haunting phase. You’re never quite sure which one you’ll play, so there’s a ton of replayability in Betrayal at House on the Hill. We played the Witch scenario, where the traitor aided a witch who wanted to turn all the heroes into frogs and let her cat eat them. The heroes had to scramble to find a spellbook and a spell component to get rid of the witch’s invulnerability before killing her. Next time we play, it might be aliens or some hideous Lovecraftian nightmare.
New and Improved?
This is the second edition of the game, which includes new haunt scenarios, a “hidden traitor” mechanic and some new items. Aside from these additions and some much-needed clarification in the rulebook, it’s the same game as before.
Even so, we hit some snags with the rules. Based on our interpretation, our heroes were able to pass around the spell components and the spellbook while in the same room, which meant that we could attempt to cast the game-ending spell against the witch multiple times per round. The poor traitor didn’t have a chance.
I’ve seen complaints of flimsy cardstock components, but it all seems good to me. The miniatures are fun, if not prone to a little warping, and I like the character cards and their little tombstone sliders. The map tiles are very detailed and fun to look at when they’re placed on the playing surface.
I’m a fan. I enjoyed our first playthrough and I’m really looking forward to giving it another go. The game reminds me a lot of Arkham Horror without the significant time investment. The same general fluff–unspeakable evil making things hard for normal, average Joe heroes–with simple dice-based combat and cards as a random element.
Wired: A heavily thematic romp through an old-school haunted house with traps, hidden doors, and evil monsters. Scenarios that change every time you play.
Tired: Some of the rules in the book are unclear. Extremely tough to win as the traitor.