When I think about the quality of a game, I often start out by thinking about whether the game is strategically deep, whether the design and components are nice, whether the game is well-balanced.
But some games, like Betrayal at House on the Hill, are fun against all odds. The premise of the game is that you and your friends are exploring a creepy house, picking up random items and experiencing random events. Eventually, however, a haunt will begin, and one of you will turn into a murderous traitor. The exact circumstances of this betrayal are unknown at the start of the game, and there are 50 different possible scenarios for you and your friends to experience.
The truth is that as a board game, Betrayal is awful. If the haunt doesn't start soon enough, the exploration phase of the game will drag. If it starts too soon, the betrayed players are usually screwed. You can't guarantee that you'll get good items during the game, and sometimes terrible events keep happening to your character that mess you up long before the actual betrayer appears. If you're the betrayer, you won't even know that until the haunt begins, so all of your investment in the team can suddenly go up in smoke. There is no set strategy that will keep you alive, and there is no guaranteed path to success. This is not a game for people who like to develop strategic paths to victory. Even the components are pretty bad—the little clips that go on your character card to track your current stats slide all over the place and are essentially useless.
If any (or all) of these things keep you from playing Betrayal at House on the Hill, however, you've missed the point of the game. Every my friends and I pull it out, we have an amazing time, no matter what happens or who wins. This is because Betrayal is more of an experience than a game, and if you're open to having a goofy horror adventure with your game group, you're going to have a ton of fun with it. My gaming buddies still talk about the time that one of us turned into a giant snake, or the time one of us blew the house up with everyone still in it. Also, because the rules are very simple, it's easy to play Betrayal with an inexperienced gamer (although it can be more difficult if that person turns out to be the traitor).
Just like the B–movies to which it is a loving homage, Betrayal at House on the Hill is more than the sum of its low-budget parts. It's fun, and it's the sort of game that will hit the table again and again over the years. As long as you go into it with the right expectations, it's worth your time and money, because you'll have fun every time you play.
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My name is Liz Davidson, and I play solo board games. A lot of solo board games...