The creak of footsteps on the stairs, the smell of something foul and dead, the feel of something crawling down your back...
Over the last several weeks I have been playing mostly one board game, Betrayal at the House on the Hill. Hardly a new game, Betrayal was originally published in 2004, when it won the Gamer's Choice award for Best Board Game of that year. More recent years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of the game, and it was featured on TableTop in October 2013, to mass appeal.
In Betrayal at House on the Hill, players each control a character investigating a haunted mansion. They deal with strange and spooky occurrences for a while before one of the players betrays the rest. On the face of things, this isn't terribly revolutionary, but lets delve a bit deeper.
There are six different archetypes to the game: the old guy, the jock, the young woman, the teenage girl, the boy-child, and the girl-child. Each character has four statistics (Speed, Strength, Knowledge, and Sanity) which improve or are reduced as they explore the house. Additionally, each character has two versions; there is a fast Jock and a strong Jock. Players are free to choose the character option that has a skill set more to their liking.
Any time that a character takes damage, they move one of their sliders to the next lower attribute. Physical damage reduces Strength and Speed, while Mental damage reduces Knowledge and Sanity. If any attribute reaches zero, the character is lost to the House on the Hill.
Each character has a miniature that is pre-painted (I might end up touching up the paint on mine) to a game-ready standard. It's a nice step up from meeples. The characters' four attributes are tracked on the edge of their pentagonal character tiles. Each is tracked by a little slider that clings to the side of the tile.
The house itself is built of a series of square pieces. As players explore new rooms, they drop a piece onto the table adjacent to the room they are entering from. In this way, the house slowly grows into a new building each time. The rooms' reverse side shows the players whether it belongs on the second floor, basement, or ground floor level. This prevents things like the Attic from turning up in the top floor.
Additionally, some rooms have simple-but-fun additional rules. For instance, players can move from the "collapsed room" to the basement by falling down 1 floor and taking a bit of damage. The dance hall on the ground floor is below the balcony above it, and so on. Rooms that don't quite line up are rationalized as being blocked doors or boarded-up windows, which works well for any haunted house.
Many rooms have symbols on them that correspond to cards. There are three different types of cards, but they mostly work the same way. Event cards and Omen cards usually cause the player to make a check by rolling a number of dice equal to their rank at a given attribute, trying to reach a target number of successes. For instance, a player encountering fire in a room might roll a Speed roll to avoid it. They would roll a number of dice equal to their Speed attribute and try to hit a particular number set on the card. If they succeed, they get a benefit (usually an attribute raise) and if they fail, they get a penalty (usually an attribute reduction).
Some Events and Omens reward the player with Item cards, which are useful tools that can help them in the haunted house. Additionally, some rooms allow the player to draw Event cards.
Omens are generally worse than Events, offering harsher negative consequences and fewer benefits for a more difficult check. Additionally, omens increase the Haunt tracker. After drawing an Omen card, the player moves the tracker up one mark and rolls six dice. As long as they a number greater than the current Haunt "level" they are okay. If they roll a lower number than the one shown on the Haunt tracker, they trigger the Haunt and somebody betrays everybody else.
Once the Haunt has been triggered, things go horribly wrong in all the best ways. The game comes with 3 rule books: the general rules, the survivor handbook, and the traitor's tome. Once the Haunt is triggered, the game gets really interesting. One of 50 unique Haunts is triggered based on which Omen card is triggered in which room. For instance, the "Spirit Board" Omen card has a better chance than most at triggering a "Seance" Haunt, but still varies depending on which room it was discovered in.
The players determine which Haunt has been triggered and (usually) who the traitor is, then the traitor leaves the room to read about their new objectives. The survivors flip to their page in the survivors' book, and determine their own strategy for how they will get out of the house alive. It might involve fighting zombies, eluding ghosts, avoiding a flood, or anything in between.
Each side of the Haunt knows only as much information as is in their book, so they don't necessarily know what the other side is trying to accomplish. The traitor might know that as a newly-turned vampire they have to kill all the survivors, but they wouldn't know that the survivors are looking for stakes and holy water in the basement.
MY GRIPE, AND MY FIX FOR IT
The one thing that I don't really like with the game is the character tiles, and specifically the trackers for the character attributes. Character attributes are tracked with little arrow clips that slide along the side of the tiles, but they don't quite grip the tiles well enough to be reliable. What I've been using instead are torn up bits of sticky notes. I just move the little adhesive bits up and down as needed to track my attributes, which works fine. My personal suggestion: Throw a pad of sticky notes into the box if you plan on playing a lot.
Interested in buying the game? You can hopefully find it here on Amazon. This is a game to shop around for; it SHOULD cost around 45 dollars, but often fluctuates to well over 125. Timing is key, but you may also find a used copy on Ebay with a bit of luck. If you can get your hands on a copy, this game is well worth playing.