“Start it, Dane. Start it. CAN YOU PLEASE JUST F**KING START IT?”
“I’M TRYING DUDE. IT’S A PAPER AIRPLANE FFS AND I’VE ONLY GOT THREE DICE.”
“Three? Why the hell are you so WEAK?”
“I’M AN EIGHT YEAR OLD CHILD WITH AN AXE, CHRIS. I DON’T KNOW.”
*Dice roll across dramatically across the table*
*An enormous cat’s paw swings through the air, knocking the plane to the ground*
Welcome to Betrayal at House on the Hill, where no two games are the same and nothing makes a whole lot of sense.
You take the role of one of a motley crew of individuals who all received a somewhat dubious invitation to a creepy house in the middle of nowhere and, in a stunning display of poor judgement, accepted it.
The characters run the gambit of B-grade horror stereotypes, from the high school jock to the mysterious hippie medium, with a kid and a priest and other old favourites thrown in the mix for good measure.
The gameplay is fairly simple – on each player’s turn you do the thing every horror movie tells you not to do – split away from the rest of the group to explore the mysterious murder mansion. The rooms are laid down in the form of tiles as you go, so the house is going to look different every time you play.
Laying out different rooms will trigger different events – these may alter your stats (such as “Strength” or “Sanity”) or give you a cool item. All of them come with a little bit of built-in narrative that you read out to the table, and usually a dice roll to predict your fate. Do you talk to the little girl in the corner covered in blood or back away slowly to see if one of the rooms has an Xbox?
All of this adds to the schlocky horror feel of the whole thing, and it’s a lot more entertaining if you allow yourself to be immersed in the cheesiness of it all. The real tension comes from the haunt rolls that happen every time you reveal an “Omen” card. You see one of you isn’t who you say you are. One of you is a scumbag traitor, who lured everyone else to the house to murder them. That traitor gets revealed the first time a haunt roll is “failed”, and it can happen at almost any time – although it becomes more and more likely as the game goes on.
The first half of the game is really setting the stage for the traitor reveal. There are over 50 different “haunts” in the game, all of them completely different. Once that haunt roll happens, the rulebook will tell you which haunt to go to, and you’ll read the narrative out loud for the first time. The traitor disappears to another room to read their own separate book on how they win, and the survivors read their own book to figure out how they’re going to make it out of the house alive.
In the haunt I was describing at the beginning of this article, my wife turned into a normal-sized cat, the rest of us got shrunk down to tiny-sized humans and we had to start a toy airplane, climb aboard and fly out an open window.
We only needed two of us to survive in order to win, so our other friend who had been trapped in the basement (after falling through a collapsing floor) looking for a way out for the last five turns was quickly left to die there, while our other friend was quickly murdered by a homicidal tabby.
We came pretty close, but ultimately got swatted out of the sky one too many times and were devoured. It was awesome.
That’s everything great about this game – let me tell you the not-so-great. Firstly, it’s not so much of a game as it is a story factory. If you’re looking for deep strategy and tough decisions, you’re not going to find it here. Games can be wildly unbalanced – depending on when the haunt happens and who has gathered what cool gear, the traitor or heroes may utterly destroy the other side. The rules are relatively simple (you could play this with non-gamers), but when the haunt comes up there may be rules conflicts where you aren’t very clear, and you’re just going to have to decide what works best and go with it, because the rulebook isn’t going to answer your question.
If any of that bothers you, this probably isn’t the game for you. This game is about getting into the characters, having a laugh with friends and creating memorable stories. It’s at its best when you embrace the narrative, role-play your character a bit and are able to laugh at the absurdity of a small child wearing a suit of armour and carrying a chainsaw.
The haunts are what make this game so unique – each one plays completely differently, to the extent that it really will feel like a different game. It’s not just a retheming of the same system, the mechanics of the game change according to the haunt. Best of all, the whole thing plays itself out in about an hour, which means it’s easy to play a couple of times in a single night.
Do I need to tie this up with a score? Alright then, let’s go with 80.
If you’re keen to try it out for yourself, you can find it in stock at my main boardgame squeeze, Timeless Board Games.