Designer: Rob Daviau, Bruce Glassco, Bill McQuillan, and Mike Selinker
Publisher: Avalon Hill (Hasbro)
Date Released: 2004
Number of Players: 3-6
Age Range: 12 and up
Setup Time: about 10 minutes
Play Time: about 60 minutes
Betrayal at House on the Hill plays like the movie The Cabin in the Woods and every haunted house story caught in a blender.
Each player picks a character. But each of these characters has varying stats that will help them navigate the house. Speed, might, sanity, and knowledge come into play with the random encounters you face, and when you take damage, you take damage in one of these stats. If any stat reaches zero, you’re character dies.
All the characters are on the same team in the beginning, but as the name suggests, someone will betray the group. No one knows who’ll be the betrayer. That’s decided randomly when the haunt begins, but the haunt doesn’t begin until it’s triggered. And how can you possibly trigger the haunting when, at the start of the game, there are only three rooms: the entrance, the upper landing, and the basement landing.
Players explore the house, laying down a new tile adjacent to a door space in the room they currently occupy. Most of the rooms have icons on them, and these icons indicate whether you pick up an item, trigger an event, or get the heeby-jeebies and draw an omen card.
Omen cards stay in play and are linked with triggering the haunt. Most of these cards are pretty useful, granting the character that pulls them with a great ability, but after every drawn omen, you have to make a haunt roll. The player who drew the last omen card counts the total number of omens in play, and then they have to roll a higher number on the dice than there are omens.
Once the haunt begins, Betrayal transforms from an exploration game where everyone’s cooperating, to a competitive game of everyone versus the traitor and whatever evil has just been unleashed. There are only fifty or so combinations of omen cards to rooms with an omen symbol. When the haunt begins, you match the room with the omen to determine which haunt you’ll play. The explorers are given one book, while the traitor gets another. Both sides know certain things about the other, but most of the haunts don’t give away too much of either side. You are literally taking the point of view of either an explorer or a traitor.
Taking on the point of view of a character is the beauty of Betrayal at House on the Hill. I’ve played several games where the traitor thinks one thing about the explorers, but the truth the traitor knows about the explorers is way off, and at the same time, what the explorers think the traitor is trying to do is not what they’re trying to accomplish. Mayhem ensues, a win condition is met (variable with each haunt), and usually you’ll be tickled to see how wrong you were about the other side.
Betrayal is very text heavy, so younger players may have trouble. Plus the theme of a haunted house may not go over well with really young players—there is some graphic but not foul language—but for those who love horror movies, this is a must play.
Most major horror movie archetypes—and even some obscure ones—are represented with Betrayal’s fifty haunts. But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of strategy until after the haunt begins. I will say that a larger house makes it easier for the traitor, while a smaller house—or at least finding a route to and from the basement—makes stopping the traitor easier. But who knows who will be the traitor?
Verdict: Fantastic theme game that nails the feeling of exploring a haunted house, and then stepping in some bad juju with the house coming to life.