Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of my all time favorite tabletop games. A group of players go to explore a creepy and abandoned house. Little do they know that there is a traitor in their group. Will the traitor kill all of the other explorers, or will the explorers be able to band together to defeat the traitor? In this post we’ll look at a sample play of this game, and see how the basic mechanics and gameplay works.
Each Explorer has 4 different traits. Speed, Might, Knowledge and Sanity. The Physical Traits, Might and Speed, allow the explorers to move and fight. The Mental Traits, Knowledge and Sanity, allow players to lead companions, open locked areas, and more. There are 6 double-sided Explorer Cards that introduce our players. Each one lists the Explorer’s name, age, height, weight, hobbies and birthday. Most of these facts aren’t used in the game, and they do a pretty good job of making the players feel more like real humans. The sum of each Explorer’s starting traits add up to 15. Their starting traits are in green on their Explorer Card. Without any further ado, let’s meet the Explorers that we’ll use for our sample game.
Flash has a starting Speed of 6. He moves quickly, but what he gains in speed he lacks in his other traits.
Peter Akimoto is a pretty balanced Explorer, only lacking in Might at the beginning of the game.
Father RhineHardt has very high Sanity, it starts at 6, but with a Might of only 2, he’s tied for “worst staring Might” in the entire game.
Heather has a decent Speed, but her Knowledge is where she really shines. With a Knowledge of 5, she should be able to overcome most knowledge based challenges.
Vivian is pretty average, she doesn’t really have any skills that are very good. Her Might is exceptionally terrible, at only 2. Her Knowledge is 5, which is above average, but it doesn’t really make up for her terrible Might.
Zoe is another Explorer who is fairly average. Her Sanity is pretty good, at 5. Her Might could be better, but after all, she is a little girl, so I wouldn’t expect her to be very mighty.
One of the best things about the game is the very simple setup. All you need to do is distribute Explorers (Figurines, Explorer Cards, and Explorer Tokens) grab the starting rooms, place the room stack and you’re ready to go. The starting rooms include the Entry Hall, The Upper Landing, and The Basement Landing. Note that the Widow’s Walk Expansion introduces the Roof level, and the Roof Landing is included as a starting room. All of the Explorers are placed in the Entrance Hall and you’re ready to begin!
Normally the player with the next birthda would go first, but I forgot about that during my sample game, so for this game Heather Granville will go first.
Moving, Discovering, and Placing Rooms
Players can move equal spaces to their speed. Since Heather’s starting speed is 4 so she can move up to four spaces. However, drawing a card ends a player’s turn, even if they have not traveled their maximum distance. From the Ground Floor, heather can go through any of the doors on the Ground Floor, or she has a high enough speed to make it to the stairs and go to another floor. It costs one movement to move between the Grand Staircase and Upper Landing or the Upper Landing and the Roof Landing. Heather is going to spend 2 movements to get to the Grand Staircase, 1 movement to move from the Grand Staircase to the Upper Landing, and 1 more movement to discover a room on the Upper Floor. Drawing the top tile from the room stack, heather can flip it over and resolve its effects.
On the back of each tile we can see the floors that we are allowed to add that room to. Please note that the original game did not include The Roof, but any floor from the base game that is allowed to be played on the Upper Floor can also be played on The Roof. You’ll know a tile is from the base game because the Roof will just be a black empty space on the back of the room.
Room Special Text and Drawing
Heather discovered the room “Widow’s Walk”. Some rooms have special text on them that may change an aspect of the game. In this room, when performing a Knowledge Roll, add 1 to the result, and when performing a Speed Roll, subtract one from the result.
This room also has the Event symbol, this means that Heather draws an Event Card and resolves its effect now. Heather only draws an Event Card when discovering the room, other Explorers who enter this room do not draw any cards. As a result of this particular Event Card, Heather draws one Item card.
Heather drew the item “Dark Dice”. Once per turn she can roll 3 dice, and depending on what she rolls, it will have a different effect. The dice in this game only have the results “blank”, “1” and “2”, so the maximum possible is 6. All of the outcomes are equally as likely to occur.
This then concludes Heather’s turn. The other players would then take their turn discovering new rooms, and resolving their effects. If a player moves into a room that does not cause them to draw a card, they may continue moving allowing that they have enough Speed.
Order of events, Trait Rolls, and Explorer Tokens
On Vivian’s turn, she discovers a room on the Ground Level, draws an Event Card and resolves its effects. She’ll first draw an Event Card. This Event Card requires Vivian to make a Sanity Roll, and gives the effects for different outcomes. Vivian Lopez has a Sanity of 4, so she will roll 4 dice in her Sanity Roll. For her roll, on 0-1 she attacks an explorer in an adjacent room, on 2-3 she loses 1 Sanity, and on 4+ she gains 1 Sanity. She rolled a 4, so she gains 1 Sanity. She’ll move her Sanity marker up one slot on her Explorer Card. Please note that even though a trait is increasing, the value might not change. Lastly, we’ll look at the special text for this room. The special text for a room should be resolved before drawing cards when applicable. For this room, it states that if you end your turn here, once per game you can place an Explorer Token in the room to gain 1 Physical Trait. Since Vivian’s turn doesn’t end until after resolving the Event Card, the Event would happen first. For ending her turn here, she increases her might 1 space, from 2 to 4. For rooms that have the “once per game” condition, you must place an Explorer Token to use it. So use your 6 Explorer Tokens wisely! Please note that Explorer Tokens were introduced in the Widow’s Walk Expansion, so rooms from the base game won’t say “place an Explorer Token”, even though it should still be done.
Omen Cards and Haunt Rolls
Next is Zoe’s turn, she goes up to the Upper Floor and discovers the Balcony. The Balcony has the Omen symbol in it, so Zoe draws 1 Omen Card. The Omen she drew is the Spear. It gives her 2 extra dice when attacking, but not when defending. Zoe’s Might is 3, so she would normally attack with 3 dice, but the Spear lets her attack with 5 instead, however she still only defends with 3 dice. We’ll discuss attacking and defending more later on. The last thing on the Omen Card says “Make a Haunt Roll now”. To make a Haunt Roll, roll 6 dice. Some groups may want to roll all 8 dice instead of the normal 6. In theory, this makes The Haunt start later on, allowing the Explorers to be stronger (in theory) when The Haunt begins. If the result is greater than or equal to the number of Omen Cards that have been drawn, nothing happens. If the result is less than the number of Omen Cards drawn, The Haunt Begins.
With The Haunt starting, one Explorer will be identified as the Traitor. Both teams will have a set of objectives they need to complete to win the game. They do not know the other team’s win condition, so they must be extra careful in the second half of the game.
Identifying the Traitor
To identify the Traitor, look at the room that the Haunt Revealer is in and the Omen Card the they drew. Using the Haunt Chart in the Traitor’s Tome Booklet identify the Traitor. For example, if the Haunt Revealer is in the Gallery and drew the Omen Card “Bite”, we would play Haunt Number 18, and the Traitor would be the Haunt Revealer.
At my house, we always send the Traitor into a different room so that the remaining Explorers can read their Haunt Scenario aloud, the Haunt Scenarios are found in the Traitor’s Tome and the Secrets of Survival Booklets. The Haunt Scenario will tell each team all of the information they need to win the game. Usually the Explorers’ scenario will tell them how to fight the Traitor, what rituals/actions they need to complete, or where they need to go. Most of the time, the Traitor’s goal is to kill all the other Explorers.
The House is one of the best resources available. Too weak to fight the Traitor? Try to obtain new items or weapons by discovering new rooms. A trait is low? Maybe you can find a room that gives a trait boost. The exploration continues until the end of the game, not just until The Haunt starts.
Combat and Stealing Items
For a pretty complicated game, the combat is pretty simple. If a player is attacking another player, they each roll dice equal to their Might. If the attacker has weapons they would adjust their dice total accordingly. If the attacker rolls the same or a lower result than the defender, nothing happens. If the attacker rolls a higher result than the defender, the defender takes Physical Damage equal to the difference of the two rolls. Physical Damage must be split between the Speed and Might Traits, going down one slot per point of Physical Damage. The defender can choose how to divide the damage. Some scenarios require Explorers to take items from enemies. If an attack causes two or more Physical Damage, the attacker may choose to take an item instead of inflicting damage.
Number of Players, 8/10
Betrayal at House on the Hill can support between 3 and 6 players. Personally I think that the game is more enjoyable when all 6 spots are full. Supporting up to 6 players is pretty good, most of my personal game nights include 4-5 people anyway. I think that this is a great game for a small group who know what they are doing. However, I do feel that if there were a higher number of players it would cause the game to be unfair for the Traitor and make the game an unnecessarily long ordeal.
This game is great. The creators of this game did a wonderful job of making you feel like you can do whatever you want, without making gameplay overly complicated. This game is simple enough that I’m not afraid to try to teach it to some of my non-gamer friends. I like the simple mechanics, the intuitive combat, and creating the house as you go. One factor that takes away from gameplay is rule disputes. This game has no shortage of things glossed over in the rules, but this will only affect your game as much as you let it. At my house we have a rule that I like to call the “consistency rule”. Basically if players come to a disagreement and the answer is not found in the rules, we just come to some sort of agreement, and stay consistent through the end of the game.
Play Time, 7/10
This is a long game. The side of the box says 1 hour, but I do not believe that is a realistic estimate. In real life, the game lasts about 2 hours. Possibly even more if you’re playing with the maximum number of players. Although this game may appeal to all levels of gamers, only true gamers will make this large of a commitment.
Unfortunately, most of the times that I play this game, it seems to be rigged to one side. I don’t recall any games that were “close games” or “could have gone either way”. Fortunately, I like to focus on the overall story of the game, and not winning. If you care about winning more than enjoying the game, this is probably not the game for you. Fairness is this game’s weakest area.
Replay Value, 10/10
I have never played another game with such amazing replay value. Everything from the order you discover rooms to the friends you’re playing with will make this game a new experience every single time. With 12 different Explorers, 4 floors, lots of decisions and 100 unique Haunts, there is no other game that can match the replay value of Betrayal at House on the Hill.
My final rating for this game is 8.6/10. The major area holding down the rating is the Fairness. while this is not an issue between me and my friends, this could be an issue for some groups.