Betrayal at House on the Hill is a board game by Avalon Hill for 3-6 players. Each player chooses a playing piece which corresponds to a “character card” that has the character’s statistics and vital information, as well as an illustration. The cards are two-sided, and each side has a different character that will work with that playing piece. The characters have four “stats” that define their strengths: Speed, Might, Sanity and Knowledge. Little plastic clips along the side of the card allow you to easily track your character’s stats. To begin with, the players are all working together to explore and survive the creepy, dangerous old “House on the Hill”. They do this by moving from room to room or through doorways, drawing a new tile and placing it in the empty space behind the doorway. Some rooms are just hallways or are otherwise uninteresting, but most have either as symbol, text, or both. The text contains special instructions that the player must follow each time they enter, leave, or perhaps end their turn on that room. Some are beneficial, but many are detrimental and possibly dangerous. The symbols correspond to cards that you can draw: Item, Event or Omen. Items are well, items, such as rope, a gun, a crystal ball or more peculiar things. While some can be a bit double-edged, they are all theoretically useful, and if you don’t want them, you can drop them or give them to somebody else. Events are things that happen to you. Some are good, some are random, but most are bad. However, even the bad ones usually reward you for overcoming them. Omens are very much like items, as a rule, but are specific to certain scenarios. Each time a new Omen is drawn, a roll of the dice determines if things if things go horribly wrong and the “Haunt” begins. Depending on where the triggering Omen card was found, and which card it is, a certain Haunt happens. This usually involves one player turning “Traitor” (thus the “Betrayal” at House on the Hill) but not always. From now on, it’s “us” against “them” as the remaining “Heroes” attempt to survive and/or defeat the Traitor and often a passel of his evil minions/monsters. Victory conditions are defined by the Haunt, and while the Traitor can often win by killing all of the Heroes, the Heroes usually have more complicated victory conditions. Whoever meets their victory conditions first wins!
The quality of the components is pretty nice. The game comes with eight special dice, each of which is numbered from 0 to 2, twice. There are, of course, the room tiles and the character cards (which are of the same thickness as the room tiles) and there are about a bajillion counters. Now, you don’t need all of these counters at once, as many are specific to a given Haunt, but there are quite a few to dig through when you need them. The box also contains a thin rulebook, and the “Secrets of Survival” and “Traitor’s Tome” books, the latter two containing the special rules and victory conditions for each Haunt from both the Heroes’ and Traitor’s perspectives. You’re supposed to keep your information secret from the “other side” but even if you don’t it doesn’t take much away from game play. These two books, the crux of the game’s fun, however, are horribly flawed. They are both so full of typos as to make some Haunts plain unplayable. With a little common sense and/or an internet connection, you can get around them reasonably well, but it makes you wonder if they used that ten minutes of playtesting to its fullest. And that’s truly a shame because the game itself is great! I was a little sick with frustration that the game has a 16 page FAQ/Errata. It’s really hard to introduce a game, especially to a mainstream audience, when you have to refer to the “FAQ” every time you play. Still, it rocks, so I’m playing it anyway. The other issue, which isn’t quite as embarrassing, is the “Underground Lake” tile. It is unfortunately marked as an upper-floor tile. I’d just ignore it, as the image has missing floor stones, and you could just say that it’s a steep drop into the underground lake, but at least one of the Haunts requires the card to be in the basement where it belongs. I just marked the back of the tile with the proper information. You will, unfortunately, know which tile is coming, but so will everybody else, and it will rarely have a significant effect on the game. That said; let me remind you that this is a very fun game.
The game is designed for 3 to 6 players, but I’ve played with two before. There may be balance issues that way, and there are some Haunts that just won’t work with two players, though I suppose a player could play more than one character in a game. The game also says that it lasts for about an hour, and I’d have to say that that is about right, although I imagine it might take longer if you’re playing your first game.
Overall I’d recommend this game if you like the idea of exploring a building with friends and then trying to survive when one of your number turns against you, but remember that you’re going to have to “patch” the game before it will function reliably. If I rated these things on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it an 8, but with the “issues” that it’s having typographically, I’m going to have to knock that down to a 6.