This may have been one of the first tabletop games I played as an adult. The Bruddha is very much into tabletop gaming and he’d just flown from the nest at the time; I hadn’t been to see his new apartment, so we merged the two activities into one: get the grand tour of the Bruddha’s new bachelor pad while simultaneously checking out a few of his board games.
We checked out precisely one board game, which was Betrayal at House on the Hill. It was so traumatic, we had to check it out again. And again. And again.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Type: Cooperative / Competitive Tabletop
Number of Players: 3 – 6
Release Date: 2004 / October 5, 2010
The original game was released in 2004 and is no longer in print – but never fear, the 2nd edition is almost identical to the first, with the following exceptions: (a) the rules have been clarified, (b) the tiles are thinner and more prone to warping, (c) the tiles contain text for ease of use.
Also, if you’ve never played this game before, brace yourself, it’s initially going to seem weird as hell. There’s no board, there are two manuals (one of which has Do Not Read written on the cover), and there are about fifty possible end-game scenarios to play through. Halfway through round one of getting our asses royally kicked, the Manimal exclaimed, “We’re not even doing anything! We’re getting no where, doing nothing, and we’re getting the shit kicked out of us by fucking aliens, for fuck’s sake!”
And he’s not wrong. The game isn’t really about doing anything at all; things are done to you and around you, and your part of the game is to react to those things, to choose to run or flee or stand and fight. The rules change depending on whether you are a hero or a traitor, and the win conditions change to match which side you’re playing for. And all you can do while all of this madness and mayhem is being unleashed upon your faces is react. React, react, react… until the evil possesses the house… or you… or one of the people playing with you.
Oh, yes, my friends. Betrayal is in the title, and the betrayal is real. The vile deceiver could be you. It could be the person sitting next to you. It could be half of your gaming crew. And none of you might not even known it for hours. Hell, it could be that two of you are treacherous little snakes… until about halfway through, when it turns out everyone was innocent and it was just a mutant in the attic all along.
(1) It’s a lot like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. There are a finite number of possible end-game scenarios, but there are numerous ways to reach each ending, and how you get there is the fun part.
(2) I really, really like the Traitor aspect of the game and the randomness in which it is assigned. That really just blew my mind and, since we knew nothing about the game mechanics beforehand, it was entirely unexpected.
The Bantha Poodoo
(1) It’s really easy to skew the game one way or the other, entirely at random. For example, if your group is lucky, it’s possible to find quite a few stashes and pets and boosts that can make you practically untouchable before the evil is even unleashed. On the flip side, it’s equally possible for everyone in your group to run face-first into a slew of traps, curses, and other horrors that render you all completely useless by the time the baddies show up and paint the walls of the house with your guts.
(2) Along the same vein, it’s also really easy for the baddies to be mismatched to the environment and number of players. This happened to me during our very first game, wherein it was suddenly revealed that I had been working against the other players, who immediately teamed up to destroy the beast I had ultimately unleashed in the basement. But said beast was clearly intended for a much smaller group of players in an infinitely smaller playing area, which meant all of that time we’d played to figure out what was in the house was rendered wasted, since the unspeakable and mysterious horror was vanquished in all of two rolls.
(3) If you do happen to play with only the minimum number of players (three), it can be hard to be the one suddenly on your own (if that happens – it’s not necessary and, like everything else about the game, is entirely random) while everyone else pools their talents against you. You have to leave the room while they discuss how to destroy you, and you’re on your own to figure out how to beat them before they do so. If you think you might take such a situation or potential loss personally, this might not be the game for you.
Expansions & Supplements to Date
Widow’s Walk (2016): this expansion hasn’t actually been released as of the date of this post, but it has been announced for release in the fall of 2016. Thus far, all that’s known is that it will add twenty new room tiles, create one additional floor, add 30 new cards, and 50 new haunts. Needless to say, we’re really looking forward to this one!