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This post gives a short description of play and then discusses what I believe to be the biggest selling point for Betrayal at House on the Hill (BaHotH) and the largest potential drawback. Hopefully this discussion can help people decide whether they might like BaHotH.
Short Description of Play:
At the start of the game each player selects one character, each of which has a short bio and 4 attributes, Speed, Might, Knowledge, and Sanity. The game is divided into 2 halves.
During the 1st half of the game, the characters explore/build the house by drawing and placing square room tiles as they enter unexplored locations. Some tiles indicate that the character discovering the room should draw a card of an indicated type. Event cards describe an event and often have the player make a choice followed by a dice roll, to determine an outcome, good, bad, or neutral. Item cards give the character an item that he may use when applicable. Finally there are Omen cards. An Omen card is like an Item card in that it indicates an item the character keeps. In addition, after each Omen card is drawn, a dice roll is made to determine if the Haunt begins. The more Omen cards previously drawn, the higher the likelihood the Haunt begins.
The 2nd half of the game is the Haunt. The Omen card that triggered the Haunt and the room where it was found determine which of 50 Haunts is to be used and which character is the Traitor. The Traitor leaves the room and reads the instructions in the Traitor’s Tome for the Haunt. In the meantime, the rest of the players (Heroes), read and discuss the instructions in the Survival Guide for the Haunt. The instructions will give the win condition for that team’s side, but usually not for the other side. The instructions will also give rules specific for the Haunt including monsters that may be part of the Haunt. However some rules may only be given to one side and will only be revealed to the other side as situations occur using those rules. Once both side have read (and in the case of the Heroes, discussed) the Haunt’s instructions, the game continues which each side trying to achieve its win condition before the other side does. Some example win conditions: killing all the Heroes (for the Traitor) or collecting a given number of objects (with rules for how to find the objects).
Biggest selling point for BaHotH:
What makes BaHotH neat is the mystery of the Haunt. When the Haunt begins you know approximately what your side needs to do to win, but you may only have a vague idea of what the other side is up to. This is more than just not knowing what lies ahead, it is not even being sure of what the possibilities are. It’s something you’re more likely to see in an RPG than a board game.
Largest potential drawback with BaHotH:
At the point when the Haunt begins, the ease of victory varies a lot. In some games, once the Haunt begins it may be almost impossible for the Heroes to win. In other games, it may be really easy for the Heroes to win. And all shades of difficulty in between. I don’t think this is because some Haunts are inherently a lot harder or easier than others. Rather for many Haunts, what room tiles and/or what Item cards have been found during the 1st half of the game, even what characters are Heroes and which character is the Traitor, can have a large impact on how easy or hard that Haunt will be.
Some call this a balance problem, although I’m not sure that’s the right word because I’m not sure how to define balance for a coop (with traitor) game. Whatever it’s called, some people find it very un-fun when they realize that once the Haunt started, it was almost impossible for them to win. While this only happens occasionally, it can leave a sour taste in some people’s mouth.
Hopefully this review of the biggest selling point and largest potential drawback of BaHotH may help in deciding whether or not to give it a try. Does the unknown element of the Haunt sound intriguing? Do the occasional near impossible to win Haunts sound off putting? How someone answers these questions may help predict whether they will like BaHotH.