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Subject: Why We Play: Betrayal at House on the Hill (6) rss

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Cole Wehrle
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Why We Play: Betrayal at House on the Hill (6)

Introduction to the Series
The topic of “owning too many games” comes up from time to time on BGG forums. Games, for a whole host of reasons, spur one to keep on buying and collecting, sometimes regardless of how much table time they get. I have been very fortunate in consistently having several gaming groups over my middle/high school and college years, often resulting in at least 2 or 3 games a week, and have played almost every game I own more than two or three times. So, in this light, I have set about a semi-massive undertaking: I hope, over the coming weeks, to review every game in my collection with respect to the games playability and appeal in various gaming groups.

The rubric I have created (outlined at the conclusion) is sensitive to playability over my personal preference and does not reflect my own score for the game.

Personal History with the Game

I should state that, initially, I had no outstanding interest in this game. It was always on the shelf of the local game store, and would crop up, from time to time, in various online stores at a somewhat obscene discount. When I was first getting to know my roommates at my dorm I discovered that many, who were turned off by boardgames, had interest in horror themed light role-playing. I kept this in the back of my mind for some time until the right online sale (I can’t remember which one) enticed me to purchase this game for a little less than 20 bucks.

Since that point it is one my most requested games, both by new players eager to really role-play their respective characters, or by experienced players as a filler.

Overview

Betrayal at House on the Hill (henceforth Betrayal) is a game for 3 to 6 players who take the role of adventures exploring an abandoned mansion. The players begin stumbling through the mansion, gathering items and omen cards until one player “trips off” the actual mission.

At this point its worth nothing a few of this game’s greatest strengths. The game relies on a modular board, ensuring no two games are ever played. This also translates into a low “bits factor,” that is to say, there aren’t that many cards/tiles/pieces on the table, which is a huge advantage over other role-playing board games that swamp prospective and novice players in a sea of cards and tokens. That being said, Betrayal still has its share of counters. However, this volume is mitigated by a very low table density; most counters, even at the game’s end, remain in the box.

The game gets away with its “best of both worlds” (variety in encounters and simplify) by a very inventive quest structure. This game, like Arkham Horror, relies on a multiplicity of quests or missions (here called haunts). However, unlike Arkham Horror, players do not realize which Haunt they are playing until about 1/3 into the game. Betrayal’s relatively bare bones design has multiple quests which constantly rejuvenate the game. Needless to say, with less haunts this game would be mediocre at best.


What brings it to the table?
Requests. After folks, newer to games, have played it once, they never want to stop. This game’s popularity never ceases to amaze me. I often won’t even have to introduce it to new players; their friends have already told them about it.

What makes players want to play it again (maybe even in the same night)?
The obvious answer here is the combination of the modular board and variety of scenarios. Indeed, I think this is a primary source of its popularity. I think there is also an element of optimization here, folks like to have characters and build up their stats. But before this game could descend into a grinding Runebound-esque experience, the Haunt comes out and everyone has to scramble to defeat it.

Components 8/10
I feel very conflicted here. Part of me loves the presentation. The figurines, rulebook, box, tiles, and cards all have a unified and wonderful look, very much in the B horror movie vein. However, there are all of those awful counters: uninspired little bips which work, for what they are, but could have added so much to the game with even the smallest of uninspired pictures. They are also impossibly numerous and escape any convenient organization. There seems to be attempts to color code and shape code the monsters, but a more unified effort would have been appreciated. The utility, if one could even call it that, of the box insert is comical.

Ease of Instruction 9/10
While this game may have lots of problems with the rules that will confuse players later on, it is an easy game to teach. The game uses icons wonderfully and within minutes even new players can understand most of the game. The only problem occurs if you get a new player who is forced to be a tricky villain. Oftentimes, therefore, if it is the first game for a set of new players, I’ll just switch spots with the player who triggered the haunt.

Game play 7/10
Easy to play but not a lot to master, this game gives a nice set of options, and seems to always provide a good experience.

Longevity
One would think that this game is built to live long. In certain respects, its variety forms the largest part of its appeal, but does not translate into a constant demand. The game, for some groups I’ve played with, gets a little tiring after they have moved to harder, more interesting things. But, it's worth pointing out, that there is a share of the gaming population (in my experience) that gets addicted to this game and will flatly refuse to play anything else.

Gaming groups this game would work for.
If you’ve got a group that welcomes new players regularly this game will seldom go unplayed. I’d recommend this for most younger groups. Though I wouldn’t have guessed it, even my friends who are more interested in Indonesia or Age of Steam adore playing this game (though they play it somewhat ironically).

If you like it, try:
A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game
Slightly harder but wonderful. I am a full supporter of this game and Flying Frog. This game is a great stepping stone to Arkham Horror.

Arkham Horror
A good game. Groups that love the horror aspect will find their meddle tried with this monster. I’d recommend this for groups who play Betrayal as the evening’s main event and are willing to put a lot of attention on a heavily themed horror game.

My Other Reviews (and personal opinions) can be found in this list http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/35027.

edit: fixed copying error
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John "Omega" Williams
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A good rundown of why you find the game interesting and what aspects you liked most and what was less so.
 
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Christopher
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Nice review!

I think you forgot to complete a sentence in your Longevity conclusion though:
Quote:
Longevity
One would think that this game is built to live long. In certain respects, its variety forms the largest part of its appeal, but does not translate into a constant demand. The game, for some groups I’ve played with, gets a little tiring after they have moved to harder, more interesting things. But
 
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Cole Wehrle
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Thanks,

I'm not sure why that sentence was incomplete. The original document was fine, so there must have been a copying error.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Did you use a "greater than or equal to" thingy after But?
As I recall the board poster program sees this as a cut off.
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