Board Game Review: Betrayal at House on the Hill

For Christmas, I got the family a few board games. (Yes, even though I already have about 2 closets’ worth. You can never have too many board games, folks. Just don’t ask my wife.) But of course, since we’re all busy, it’s taken some time to actually getting around to playing them. Sunday evening, we corrected that. First up? Betrayal at House on the Hill.

So it’s got a bit of a strange name. It scoffs at things like simple grammar. I bought this one because I’d heard it was a classic in the cooperative/competitive vein: you start out the game all being on the same side, and then at some point, one of you betrays the other, and from then on, it’s everyone vs. the traitor to see who wins. It’s a mechanic I loved in Battlestar Galactica, and this was supposed to be a sleeked down, simpler version of that.

Sign me up.

Our first game was a five player version–TRC, DC, Denisa, me, and a friend. I read over the rules ahead of time, and then of course it took a fair bit of time to teach the rules and learn the game. In total, the first session probably took around 2 hours. DC dropped out as an active player a bit of the way through. It might be a tad long for 8 year olds. But the rest of us soldiered on, and we really enjoyed ourselves.

The game plays out fairly simply, once you get the hang of it. You start out in the entryway of a large haunted house, the door locked behind you. You’re not sure what’s going on with the house, but you know you want to get out. If only you knew how . . . So you start exploring, witnessing creepy events, stumbling over haunted artifacts and weapons, and trying to find an escape. The house grows as you uncover room after room. (Each game, the house is different, ala Settlers of Catan.) At last, something triggers the haunting to manifest fully.

At that point, you find out who the traitor is, and you  play one of 50 different haunting scenarios.

For us, the first game involved a long exploration phase. We’d seen most of the house before the haunting began. In our case, it involved me turning out to be Dorian Gray, essentially. I had an evil painting that was granting me eternal life, and the others found out about it and decided to paint over it to kill me. That couldn’t happen, of course. I couldn’t let them do something like that. It was a mad scramble across the house we’d uncovered, with them searching for materials to destroy the painting and me trying to stop them. In the end, I prevailed, but it was pretty close for a long while.

I loved it. Better yet, TRC and DC loved it too. (DC had hung around, watching it all unfold even if she didn’t want to actually play.) Denisa is typically lukewarm to games the first time through, but she enjoyed it well enough. The best sign of a good game? The kids asked to play it again the next night. And the night after that.

We’ve gone through it three times now, and the other games have been much quicker. Probably about an hour each. The rules are fairly straightforward, and I love the storytelling aspect to the game. Better yet, each haunting we’ve done has given each game a very distinct feel to it which, coupled with the ever changing house, adds loads to the replayability factor, it seems. True, the initially creepiness of the first session is blunted some, since we’ve already seen a lot of what the house has to offer, but it still feels like each session is new and who knows what horrors await?

Hard to give the game a final rating just yet, but I’d say right now it’s an easy 4/5, with the potential for a real 5/5 on my hands. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a fun way to spend an evening telling a story as a group. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but in the end it’s easy to get the hang of, and a lot of fun to play out. Give it a shot!

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