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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Can you survive the Betrayal at the House on the Hill?

by Ken Newquist / July 18, 2009
  • Betrayal at the House on the Hill
  • Players: 3-6 players
  • Play time: 60-90 minutes
  • Publisher: Avalon Hill
  • MSRP: $39.99
  • Style: Semi-cooperative
  • Official web site

Betrayal at the House on the Hill is a collaborative board game in which players explore an ancient house on a lonely hill, seeking to unlock its secrets ... and its horrors.

It’s a dynamic game whose map is randomly generated each game using a series of tiles representing the basement, first floor and second floor of the house, with a new tile drawn every time a player enters a new room. Players take on the role of one of several adventurers tasked with exploring this haunted house. Each adventurer is represented by a stat card representing key abilities such as speed, strength and will. Different adventurers have different strengths -- the preacher is strong in will but weak in physical abilities, while the boy explorer has a high speed, but low willpower.

The players quickly begin exploring the house, an act that will inevitably bring about their doom. Each time they enter a new room, an omen card is drawn. This causes some supernatural event to occur ... and which may provide the player with bane or benefit. After drawing an omen card, players must roll dice to determine if the game’s namesake betrayal occurs as the evil in the house overwhelms their character. If the total rolled is greater than the number of omen cards in play, nothing happens. If it is less, then the evil awakens.

Exactly which evil awakens depends on certain pre-set conditions (tiles in player, characters in the game, etc.). To determine exactly what’s happening, the players consult two books. The first, for the betrayer, explains what when wrong and one terrible conditions now exist in the house ... as well as what monsters are now the traitor's to command. The other tells the surviving adventurers what they must do to either put things right or escape from the house. The conditions are different each time, and with four dozen or so scenarios its unlikely you'll see a repeat one anytime soon.

I picked up this game cheap at the mall gaming store, and while it hasn’t become one of my group’s staple board games like Settlers of Catan, Risk 2210 or Arkham Horror, it is one that we pull out every few months when we need a change of pace.

The collaborative nature of the game is appealing to us, as is the fact that it can be played quickly (unlike our other big collaborative game, Arkham Horror, which is anything but quick). Games last 30 to 60 minutes, and rarely go over an hour. It has good production values with quality plastic and sturdy cardboard pieces, although the cards did feel a bit sticky to the touch. Setup time was 5-10 minutes (which is another big difference from Arkham Horror, which can take 20-30 minutes to setup depending on how many sets you’ve got in play,).

Another point in the game’s favor is that it’s one of the few games I own that can be played with three players, which makes it great for those Game Days when our regular D&D or Star Wars campaign doesn’t go off because of too few players.

On the downside, games can be over too quickly -- we've heard of people finishing a game in 10 minutes when the haunt was revealed on the third turn thanks to some incredibly bad rolling. On a geek parenting note, the game’s not suitable for young children – heck, they shouldn’t even be in the same room when you play it. This is a game of murder, horror and mayhem, and it’s nothing you’d want little kids around.

In theory kids 10 and up can play it, but in truth this is a function of their maturity and ability to handle adult themes. If you’ve watched a few horror movies with them, and they get the tropes of the genre, then it could be a good geeky family game, but if not, go with Settlers or something similarly benign.


Too bad the game's out of production, doubt anyone could find it for under $100 these days. Wizards should get off their ass and reprint it.

I think this is one of those games that kind of slid under the radar when it was released, and never did quite as well as it should have. Now, years after the fact, people are playing it, liking it ... and having an impossible time finding it.

That said I don't know that it's ever coming back. Aside from a few Axis and Allies games, it seems like the Avalon Hill line has up and died. It's too bad -- Risk 2210 remains one of my gaming group's favorites, and they turned out a number of quality games (Betrayal, updated Acquire, updated Cosmic Encounter) during their resurrected run.

I just wish Wizards would do what their fans wanted, for once. If there's a game that a number of people are looking for, Wizards should be seeing an opportunity to make money and make people happy, and reprint it. Similarly, I know almost no one who PREFERS 4E D&D to 3.5 and has played both--almost all of the exceptions are DMs. But a lot of people really have a problem with it, you'd think Wizards would apply the excellent balancing in 4E to the gameplay system in 4E and make the PLAYERS happy.

It's good that 4E sucks (sux, for those who do like it) because it saves me lots of money.

I think 4E's just going to be one of those games that forever divides people. I've played enough of it to see the appeal (as least from the GM side) and truth be told I'm looking forward to our Revenge of the Giants 4E megashot later this month.

My avenger is going to kick ass and take names.

But ... ultimately it's not really where my headspace is as far as games go right now. And honestly, I could say the same about Pathfinder. While I love that the ol'3x branch is kicking around out there, and that will always be "D&D" to me, I prefer the streamlined nature of Star Wars and the quick-and-dirty toolbox design of Savage Worlds.

I still fully expect Wizards to release D&D Classic one of these days, maybe as a special edition or some sort. They're leaving money on the table, and hell, can you really see Hasbro passing on the opportunity to cash in on some nostalgia revenue?

What I'm really interested in though, is what Paizo might do with a lightweight fantasy game. Erik Mona mentioned being interested in something like that, but who knows how long it will take for interest to transform into an actual product. That said, a d20 lite game from Paizo could be pretty damn cool.

I believe that the phase is - right on! If you ask evilgenius, he'll confirm that I often as DM let the extra crunchy rules of 1st through 3x D+D slip to allow for a quick and dirty story. He maintains that I cheat, I just try not to let little things like rules wreck my story. I don't see why, with a little effort, SWSE cannot form the basis of a good fantasy game.

It could in a heart beat. In fact, I got the Fantasy Companion book at Origins (a Savage Worlds Explorers Edition-size folio that reprints the fantasy toolkits) and after reading it, I think I could easily run a kick ass sword-and-sorcery style game.

BUT ... when it comes right down to it, Savage Worlds isn't quite crunchy enough for some people in our group (and as you might guess, Evil Genius is one of those people. :))

Yes, Maylock, you always broke the rules in your favor so that you could throw 50' blue kobolds at us. :) Big. Cheater. :P

But you'll be happy to know that I learned from you and took a similar approach when I would DM for the Blackrazors. And they gave me JUST as much grief (if not more).

As for StarWars:Saga or Savage Worlds powering a fantasy campaign, yes either one could do it. But as Ken notes, Savage Worlds just isn't crunchy enough for me. I could see the appeal of a few one shots (even though I've avoided playing in them), but that's about it.

Saga:Fantasy would be a little closer but I don't think the Force system would be deep enough to replace a Magic system, at least not in the way that I would find interesting enough to delve into. However there are several 'Saga Innovations" which I think would really help out a 3x D&D system.

"I think 4E's just going to be one of those games that forever divides people. I've played enough of it to see the appeal (as least from the GM side) and truth be told I'm looking forward to our Revenge of the Giants 4E megashot later this month."

Agree with forever divides. :)
Curious; are you looking forward to the one-shot because you're looking forward to 4E (the rules), or because you're looking forward to a "D&D" game, or even more generally, a Fantasy game?

I'm looking forward to the 4E game mostly because of the rules; I've never actually had a chance to *play* 4E -- I've only ever GM'd it. So this will be a nice change of pace for me, and it will help me see the rules from that perspective.

My enthusiasm for playing games in the fantasy genre is low right now. It'll be nice to return to the genre for these one-shots, but honestly I'm quite happy with Star Wars and sci-fi right now.

But the 3E spell crunch is exactly why I'm tired of playing 3E. On the player side it may not be a big deal, but it's frustrating to spend four hours putting together an 18th level archmage, complete with a wide assortment of spells with their effects pre-calculated, only to have the party demolish said enemy in 4 rounds.

The Assault on Turrosh Mak is a prime example of that. I think we all had a lot of fun with that adventure, but three weeks of game prep for two night of play? That math just doesn't work.

The advantage with Savage Worlds power point system for spells, as well as Saga Edition's Force powers, is that the system isn't nearly as overwhelming. On the player side, you get just the powers you want, and on the GM side, you're not statting out 18 levels worth of spells for a combat ... unless you want to.

I think a fantasy Saga Edition with a Force-inspired Magic System would give me about the level of crunch I'd want while retaining the ability to have an uber mage ... IF you want one. I mean hell, look at LancerX's Force Wizard - Rade Gasa has what, 12 force powers right now? And he could have twice that many by 16th level?

Do you really need more than that? (assuming you could cherry pick said powers?) I mean, from a practical stand point, just how many different spells does your average cleric or wizard cast on a regular basis? Port over 4E's ritual system for those irregular spells, and I think you'd be able to cover your basis and still have a system that's significantly less complex than 3x.

I understand your point with the spell system. That is a perfectly valid complaint. I just don't happen to feel the same way. I'm not interested in 'rules light'. Which is also okay.

These truly are dark times in which we live, for I must agree with Bob. 'rules lite' for magic is not what I desire. I, after 20+ yrs of D+D, didn't really have too much of a problem fitting out a high lvl spellcaster (18th lvl wizards have, with tweaks for flavor, a standard compliment of spells). Plus, as DM, my NPC's arn't bound by the player's rules.

That's the real problem. Being gamers with 20+ years of experience also means that most of us have kids, careers, homes to maintain, yadda yadda.

Players only really need to stat out their characters in the beginning, and once in a while when they level. DMs have to do it EVERY WEEK.

Between that consideration, and the fact that many of us are so much more interested in story than hack-em-up these days, I'm all for exploring the new "rules lite" games. Not only are they easier on the GM, but most also mechanically reinforce roleplaying, creativity, and narrative contribution from the players. More better.

People in this thread will happy to know that the game was re-released about 3 weeks ago.