Thursday, 5 June 2014

Good Times at Haunted Hill High - Betrayal at House on the Hill review

Today we have another guest post, this time from Jay aka Nerd Speaker, he's a brilliant blogger specialising in reviews.  Jay has kindly volunteered to write a review of tabletop game Betrayal at House on the Hill - I must organise another tabletop gaming day!

Good Times at Haunted Hill High

Have you heard the one about the priest, the gypsy, and the little Asian boy who get lost together inside a haunted house? Well, it’s no joke! It’s a common scenario in Betrayal at House on the Hill from Avalon Hill games. Designed by Bruce Glassco and previously featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, this game puts you in the shoes of a plucky explorer who must wander with his or her companions around a house uncovering creepy events and omens. Once enough omens have been revealed, it becomes apparent that one of the explorers is actually a traitor, and the rest of the heroes must then work together to fight against that player and all manner of evil nasties. It’s a fun and tense game with fifty different haunt scenarios to keep the game fresh and engaging, though some haunts are better than others.

Right off the bat I really enjoy exploring the house. Each time you play the house looks completely different since it is made up of turned down room tiles in a stack that are only placed upon passing through a doorway. Rooms will offer the chance to draw an event, item, or omen card. The flavor text on these cards is well written and must always be read out loud in a dramatic / spooky voice. Events cause all manner of glory and mischief, sometimes helping you to find items or level up your stats, and sometimes causing you to fight a deranged voodoo doll with a spear or get pinned by falling debris, not unlike real life. If you’re into balanced play, you might get frustrated when you get beaten to a pulp through unlucky event draws and dice rolls before the haunt even begins. Items make you feel godly, and omens too are generally items of great power. Every time an omen is drawn, that person makes a haunt roll, and if the number of pips is less than the number of omens on the table then the haunt begins (if the haunt happens early… good luck, non traitors).

At this point the haunt and its traitor is revealed in The Traitor’s Tome by cross-referencing the omen that caused the haunt with the room it was revealed, and then following the instructions. Your good mate Ox, with whom you’ve weathered the hard times, turns out to be an occultist. Shit luck. The traitor then gets all sorts of powers, and often control over monsters, while the heroes generally get bubkiss and have to band together or die screaming.

Traitor and Heroes each get their own manual for the haunt and sequester themselves to read up on their abilities and objectives. There’s a short narrative in the manuals that add some context to the haunt, and they’re fun to read (and give you the opportunity to get in character). It is highly suggested that you don’t read the haunts in advance so that they’re fresh, and so that there is still an element of mystery – the traitors don’t know what the heroes need to accomplish to win a haunt and vice-versa. Information sharing is very much on a need to know basis, and you’ll have fun and aggravating times trying to figure out just where and why the traitor player is hauling a corpse.

The haunt is generally a tense time for everybody. Success or failure in an action is determined by a roll of the dice, and the amount of dice you’re allowed to use is dictated most often by your stats, which sometimes just aren’t high enough. There was a time where my friends and I were stuck in a room trying to light a damn candle but our knowledge was just too damn low (durr… *throws candle against wall*). In some haunts the rules are so strange and contradictory to normal play that it causes no end of disputes and the looking up of things on Yet strangely it’s these frustrating and tense times that make the game so much fun to play. You’ll have countless arguments and “I don’t think you’re allowed to do thats” and it’s oh so satisfying to be deemed right. Whether you’re the hero or the traitor the odds generally seem to be stacked against you, and unless the traitor had so many items before the haunt that he or she is essentially the German ubermensch, the game could always go either way. For all the chaos of dice rolls, however, the game does reward those who have a good feel for strategy, so take heart. Since there are fifty haunts though, they can’t all be winners – some are just plain unbalanced and stupid (you know it’s true if even the winner says so).

So basically if you like a game with a narrative, a blend of strategy and chance, arguments, and nearly endless replayability, this is one to look out for. Oh, also, if you win, you get to give a victory speech. ‘Nuff said.

Jay Borenstein AKA Nerd Speaker is a friend to the cosmic owl and the keeper of one of the keys to your heart. He lives on the internet.


  1. Each game is like a different horror story, and (incredibly), the mechanics make you FEEL like you are really in the mansion. High stakes dice rolls, frustration over injuries/traps, and conflicting ideas/strategies give rise to emotions that I have experienced when watching a horror flick.

    Fantastic game and amazing review.

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