Tuesday, October 11, 2016

MK Review: Betrayal at House on the Hill

MK Review: Betrayal at House on the Hill

MK Tabletop Talk is starting our October Spooky themed reviews today with one of my longest standing favorites, Betrayal at House on the Hill! This game has been a staple of our Halloween board game experience ever since the day I tracked down the out of print first edition. I had a chance to play it over at my friends house one fine October evening. I loved the game so much I began hunting it down as soon as I had the cash. To my unfortunate surprise, the game had gone out of print. I could not find a copy of it anywhere ...except Ebay.
While I may have spent a bit more money than the product initially cost, and received the first edition, complete with confusing rules and much needed online clarification erratas, I am still thrilled to say I own the game! I had no idea they would be doing a second edition printing as it was not on the books when I bought mine. Having done the whole "I'll wait until the price comes down/why did the price only go up" game before, I payed a bit more to assure I didn't have to pay a LOT more later. I am still OK with this.

Back to the topic at hand...                         The Premise

You and a small group of your friends decide/get talked into going to that old House on the Hill to have a look around. Sure, you have heard all of the rumors, but urban legend! ...right? Each Player chooses a character from the provided options. One of the fun parts of this game is that each character card has a variant on the back! Same look, different name and slightly different stats. It adds more options for start of play, which in turn gives it more replayability!
You have the old Professor, the buff Jock, the pretty Lady, the odd Woman, the little Boy and the Little girl, each with a variant.


Your chosen group walks right into the House on the Hill and the game starts. After determining who goes first via chosen characters birthday (printed right on your character card) each player takes turns moving up to their Speed exploring new rooms. Your turn ends when either of two things happens first: you run out of movement, or you flip over a card.

This game is played with a tile laying mechanic. For those of you who may not know what that means, when a player Explores a room they draw a tile from the appropriate Floor deck. There are three Floors: Ground Floor, Upper Floor, and Basement Floor. The tiles will look something like the ones pictured here. Printed prominently on the card is the name of the room (Tree House or Bathroom). Any special instructions for the room will be written under that. In order to place the room, line up the doors as best you can without creating doors that open into walls like the Winchester Mystery House. Other than the awesome artwork, the only other key factor on the tile is the Symbol (if any). Both rooms pictured here have the Event symbol, so you would draw a card from the event deck.

The Card Decks

After flipping over the event card, read it aloud and do whatever the card says you need to do. In the case of the pictured Event card, "Bloody Vision" you would make a Sanity roll and take the results listed. Having now flipped over a card and handled the resulting effects, your turn would be over.

One of the most important symbols and cards to pay attention to are the Omen cards. These will tell you when the game scenario begins. You remember you entered with a group of friends? Well, it seems one of those folks wasn't actually so friendly...
For each Omen you find you make a Haunt roll. The more Omens you have revealed, the harder it is to succeed. Eventually someone will fail, and the Haunt begins! Taking note of the room it was triggered in, cross-referenced with the Omen card that triggered it, you check the chart in the rule book find out which one of the 50 possible stories you are about to be smack in the middle of. Most of the time one of the people you entered with has Betrayed you! From Vampires and Werewolves, to Black Magic Rituals and Holes Ripped in Reality, there really are 50 scenarios in this one game! Talk about giving a game longevity!

As with all Betrayals, located in a House on the Hill or not, you will almost always need to find the correct items, or equipment in order to take out the Big Bad. This is where the last of the card decks comes into play. Sometimes you find it in a weird place, other times you just took a moment to crack the vault and grab whats in it. Either way, you have found an Item! They all have a specific purpose in the game. The one pictured here, "Lucky Stone" gives you a one-time chance to re-roll any portion of the dice you just rolled. Each item is unique. Some like this one, are one time use items. Others, like "The Spear", you get to keep and use throughout the whole game giving you a great bonus to attack. There are scenarios that require certain items to be used in order to win.

How to Win

There are too many games where you know someone has played the game a dozen times more than you and will be winning before you have all of the rules figured out. This game makes that all but an impossibility. Even if you had played the game through all 50 scenario options, memorized them and knew every card and tile as if you had created them yourself, you would be no closer to winning than someone who is sitting down to play for the first time. You see, knowing exactly where these rooms are going to fall in the random tile placement on the board, where exactly in the deck the card you need to win is, precisely which of the Haunts you will play, and who will be named the Betrayer is not something you are likely to know. I don't care how many times you have played the game. If you can name all of those randomly generated results from the start of the game ...you stacked the decks. The only way to win the game, is to play the game. 

Final Thoughts

I have lost this game more times than I can count. I have never regretted playing it. I have never thought "I wish we had picked a different game". Every time I play the game, win or lose, I won the moment I sat down to play. Throw in the fact that we are in the perfect season for the Theme of the game, how can you lose? I have described this game as "Cabin in the Woods" the game. But if you think about who came first... "Cabin in the Woods" is the movie of "Betrayal at House on the Hill". A serious Five Star MK Rating.

One extra exciting thing about this Classic Horror/Suspense themed game? They knew how much content they had created. They knew it would take years to play it to the point where you might start wondering what else there is out there. Before we get to that point, they come out with the long awaited expansion! Hitting shelves (at least virtual shelves) in just a few days on October 14th, Prepare yourself for "Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow's Walk".

Until next time ...Game On!