Tabletop Tuesday: ‘Betrayal At House of the Hill’
Publisher: Avalon Hill, Wizards on the Coast
Style: Adventure, Exploration, Horror
Play Time: 60 minutes
Time for our fortnightly session of clearing the table and rolling dice. Most people who routinely play tabletop have encountered this popular title at least once. This is featured more for people hoping to get into the hobby or want one or two sets to break out when a small group of friends are round for beer and pizza. If you liked Cabin in the Woods this will be right up your alley.
Players take on the role of one of twelve characters represented by six playing pieces (each character card is double sided). There’s a professor, priest, jock, gypsy, creepy girl, boy scout…all the staples of the genre. As a group they enter the haunted house (on the hill) and set out to explore. Each room is on an individual card that is drawn randomly every time a character enters a new room, meaning that the exact configuration will change with every play. A staircase in the entry hallway leads to the upper floor, while the basement can’t be explored until a passage has been located. Working co-operatively the characters uncover has many rooms as possible, building their stats and finding items that will help them later in the game.
Characters have stats for Might, Speed, Sanity and Knowledge, with items increasing the stats and various hauntings potentially reducing them. During the first half of the game the characters cannot die but if the stats drop to zero after the exploration phase the characters will be killed. During encounters with spirits and other threats the stats will determine how many dice the player rolls to launch an attack or defence.
You may have noticed that we refer to different phases of the game. At a random point during the game the ‘Haunt’ occurs, and this is the most unique selling point of the game. Most rooms will require the player to draw an Item, Event or Omen card. Items are generally good, being weapons or occult artefacts that will help you defend yourself (using Knowledge to crack the vault on the upper floor gains two, so get in there if you can!) and Events can go either way, although most will need a decent roll to avoid the bad stuff like losing sanity to ghosts, being attacked by a burning man or getting caught in a giant web.
When an Omen is drawn the player obtains an unusual item and makes a Haunt roll. After rolling six dice if the total is less than the number of Omen’s drawn thus far (the dice only go up to two and features blank sides) the Haunt begins! Using the Haunt guide to line up the room the Haunt started in and the item that triggered it you find out which of the players is the traitor and the scenario to play out in the second part of the game. From here one player is an evil betrayer who has lured the other players into the house to kill them and the rest have to work together to defeat him. So how does the traitor try to kill the players?
That’s the best part! The game comes packaged with a massive FIFTY different scenarios covering horror movie tropes a plenty! Perhaps Lord Dracula is being awakened in the crypt, zombies are descending on the house, Old Ones are breaking into our world through a portal, your friend has been buried in the basement and is slowly suffocating, the traitor is a witch and wants to turn you into frogs to feed to cat, the house is sinking into the swamp, there are aliens, there are werewolves, there are poltergeists, there are demons, there is a mummy…every time you play it you get a totally different story with a different set of goals to complete.
The mechanics are simple, and the RPG elements are as basic as they get but the Haunt aspect of the game makes things all kinds of fun. You explore the house room by room, finding weird shit with the tension slowly cranking up as every omen brings you closer to the reveal of the traitor, who could be you and you just don’t know. When that happens the two books come out, one for the traitor and one for the survivors and the traitor heads off to another room while each faction reads their new instructions and everything turns violent and horrifying.
It’s not a perfect game, the random arrangement of the house and reveal of the Haunt can throw the balance out of whack. The plastic clips used to track the very small printed stats can be easily knocked loose and make things annoying. But with a couple of beers, dimmed lights and a fun attitude you’ll get plenty of play out of this set.