Board Game Review

Don’t Do Dark Dice (Betrayal at House on the Hill)

Ok, Betrayal is unquestionably one of my favourite games. I’m not saying it’s the best game or the most dynamically ground breaking, but I am saying it’s pretty damn awesome!

The premise for the game is this…

  • 3-6 people enter a house, which is gradually built up as you explore using floor tiles. The house has a ground floor, an upstairs, and a basement.
  • Each player plays as 1 of 12 people who are all relatively unique. All share the same traits but with different values. Some have more might, some speed, some intelligent and some wisdom. These stats will affect how you interact with certain elements within the game.
  • As you explore you find items to aid you, events that may hinder or aid you, and omen cards that cause the actual Haunt to begin. Which haunt is played is dependent on the omen that triggered it and the room it was triggered in.
  • Once a Haunt has begun, a traitor is identified and leaves the room to find out their win condition whilst the remaining heroes establish how they can succeed in their goals. Neither traitor nor heroes know the others’ goal, only their own.
  • There are 50 haunts on the base game, each with their own unique mechanics, objectives and ways of playing.

Now I’m not going to go into details about any specific haunts, as that would ruin the element of the unknown which drives this game, but I will describe some of my experiences of quickly working in a team to trying to blindly murder those I held dear to claim victory.

So we, me, my partner and two friends, are gradually investigating the house. We split up in a traditional fashion with everyone bolting in different directions in the hope of getting the most items and omens. There’s always the chance you’ll get something great like the chainsaw or shotgun early, although I’m usually unlucky enough to find tiles with events. The events aren’t all bad, some are pretty fantastic actually, however the most prominent memory of one is when I had to chop off my left hand and replace it with the next item, which was a blueprint. Handy. But anyway, we were all scouring round looking for the goods, when every time we get one it’s not all that helpful.. Until we found the dark dice that is.

The dark dice are completely optional. I need to mention that. You choose on your turn if you want to use your items for their intended purpose, and as a rule of thumb, me and my friend said “What’s the risk!?” And rolled away. Every time we got them. Only one result is negative, and it sets all your traits to the lowest possibly values. You roll three dice and need to get all blanks.

Guess who got three blanks on the first ever roll? Wrong. It was my partner, and she was livid. Not only was she playing as the priest, an old man who moves pretty damn slowly, now she was nearly out of the game. More reason not to give in to peer pressure while exploring a clearly haunted house..

Back to the adventure. We’re all exploring and searching the house top to bottom and eventually trigger a haunt by rolling a result lower than the number of omens in play. The haunt revealed then identifies from the rules who is the traitor and which haunt is being played. Then the traitor takes the Traitor’s Tome into another room to get to grips with their mechanics of play, and the heroes read the Secrets of Survival. The stories link clearly and there is a set of objectives to complete to win for both Heroes and Traitor, although not knowing what the traitor is trying to do can be worrying. It turned out the traitor was my partner, and she swanned back into the room, ups all her traits to max, grabs some specific items from the item deck and puts them into play and starts giving us all the evil eye. Luckily we start our turn first and she has to wait a whole round before making her first evil move. We scuttled around trying to do what we needed to do, although it’s not easy to collaborate with other heroes whilst the traitor is in the room. The last thing you want is for them to know your game plan. So we silently nodded, stared, grimaced and pointed aggressively like mute madmen. Then it was her turn, and she proceeded to use her revolver to kill one of us outright. Combat is based on dice rolls, and the number of dice is based on which trait you are using to attack. My friend couldn’t even defend as the revolver is a ranged weapon based on the speed trait, and when you take damage you reduce physical traits collectively based on damage done. I won’t say more of what happened, but I will tell you that she got her revenge. Don’t dark dice.

Pros

  1. Every game will play out differently, even when playing one of the 50 haunts again
  2. Getting to know how the game plays out makes it easier to make tactics and plans
  3. Communication is an essential part of the game, but cooperating is optional! You wouldn’t want to give a weapon to someone who may lop off your face with it.
  4. The trait roles are simple enough to assume whether something is a sure bet, but random enough to keep you on your toes.
  5. The expansion excellently adds another floor to the house, more cards, and 50 more haunts.
  6. So long as you allow time, you can power through multiple games in one sitting easily. Game lengths vary, but generally speaking they’re longer than 40mins.
  7. Everyone is at risk of triggering the haunt, meaning that knowing everyone’s traits and items is essential for survival in the end.
  8. Some haunts have no traitor, some have more than one making the game more unpredictable.

Cons

  1. The game does not substitute for a simplified RPG or dungeon crawling experience.
  2. Having a bad pregame before the haunt guarantees an awful endgame.
  3. Some of the haunts are not very imaginative and some items are useless.
  4. The game demands space. Expanding one floor can dominate any play area, never mind the other floors as well!
  5. The game is not easy to pick up. Learning the game can include remembering lots of specifics, particularly if you are the traitor!
  6. There are lots of tokens and no bags provided, meaning set up and set down can take some time.