Modern board games are often split up neatly into the competitive and the cooperative, but
Betrayal at House on the Hill defies that.
This horror-themed game sees each player step into the shoes of one of 12 characters exploring a sinister mansion. Room tiles are drawn at random to fill out the map across three floors, and range from the expected (dining room) to the more sinister (furnace, underground lake, pentagram chamber).
As you enter each room you draw either an event, item, or omen card, each of which triggers some horrific scenario that usually requires a dice roll to determine if the effects are good or bad for you.
The group of you work together to explore the house and evade traps at first, but each time someone draws an omen card it triggers a ‘haunt roll’, and the more omen cards are in play, the more likely this is to trigger the haunt: one of a series of twists to the story, drawn straight from classic horror books and films.
These range from the angry undead to science experiments gone wrong, but almost all have one thing in common: one of the group is a traitor. They’re given separate rules and win conditions, and the game shifts gears to be one vs. many, with each side trying to both figure out what the other’s goal is and how to stop them.
It’s great fun, and the niche horror references are always entertaining to try and spot, but the sheer level of randomness in house layout, cards, and haunts means that the end-game can occasionally be hopelessly unbalanced. That’s the price you pay for the otherwise welcome unpredictability.
Best expansions: Right now there’s only one expansion for Betrayal:
Widow’s Walk. This adds a selection of new cards and room tiles, including a new roof floor, but the main addition is 50 new haunts, written by a selection of writers with serious nerd cred.
It’s an expansion that’s more about adding new content than it is about shifting the core game mechanics, so we wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve already worked through most of the 50 haunts in the base game.
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, a spin on the original set in the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons, which also boasts a few welcome quality of life improvements. This is a full separate game, though, rather than an add-on for the original.
• 3-6 players | Ages 12 and up | Takes 60-120 mins | Difficulty: Medium