Tuesday, 20 May 2014

31. 'Betrayal at House on the Hill' review. The Cardboard Cartographer issue 6.


Welcome to issue six of 'The Cardboard Cartographer,' here on The science of selling yourself short.

Before we begin I'd like to take a moment to apologise for the delay in the second round of issues.

After the rapid succession of the first five issues, my will to write dried up.
As I have previously said on The science of selling yourself short, if I do not want to write, for whatever reason, I will not write.
I feel that forcing myself to write is counter productive. Not only does it make my hobby a chore, but it also makes me resent it. This will be conveyed in my writing, which unless you watch people suffering (and hey, who doesn't every now and then?...wait...what?), wont be enjoyable for you guys reading along.

The urge to write is coming back, in fits and starts.

Please, bear with me. In return you will see better quality content; more pictures, more writing and a wider variety of games and topics.

I have already started preparatory work on the next few issues, which should speed up the process.

Also, on a side note. My mouse is playing up. Editing this issue has been a nightmare (Y).

On with the show!

In this issue we'll be looking at Betrayal at House on the Hill (BaHotH).

If you already are familiar with BaHotH feel free to skip the Google stage (the bit ahead in blue).
For the rest of you who have not heard of this game, well, take it away Wikipedia!

Google Fu.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a board game published by Avalon Hill. Players all begin as allies, exploring a haunted house filled with dangers, traps, items and Omens. As players explore the mansion, new room tiles are chosen at random; accordingly, the game board is different each session - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betrayal_at_House_on_the_Hill

BaHotH was first published in 2004 by Avalon hill under Hasbro. It was later acquired by Wizards of the Coast and re-released in 2010. It is a game for 3 - 6 players, whom assume the role of the explorers, searching the House for Loot and the like. Partway through the game the 'haunt' begins, where the house's influence starts to take hold and strange and malign happenings begin to occur.
 For more information head to its page on Board Game Geek - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/10547/betrayal-at-house-on-the-hill

I was first introduced to this game Via Wil Wheaton's show TableTop;

(If you would like to watch the Table Top episodes featuring BaHotH check them out:
Part 1 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MINNKyE4fjs
Part 2 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgbQwxQIhbw)

    Ever since I watched these episodes I have wanted to get my hands on Betrayal at house on the Hill.
However, due to 'the Tabletop factor' this game rapidly went from general board game obscurity to sold out everywhere.
For months it was simply not available anywhere, except eBay at crazy prices (I think the highest I saw it for was around the £500 mark).
Then, about four months ago it comes back in stock.
I managed to get my hands on a copy before it went out of stock again!

Yes, I had essentially been waiting to play this game for 6 months!
So I hoped it would be worth the wait!

First Impressions.


When first opening the box you are greeted with a vast array of colourful cardboard composite pieces to punch out, along with some very nice room tiles and nice clear, crisp cards. 

In addition to this you have some dice, and some plastic figures.
At first glance the figures look nice, but...

  What can I say?
They are in fact very poorly painted, and very flimsy.
Much like the Firefly pieces I spoke of in issue 1 (Read issue 1 here - Firefly review ), they are made from a flimsy, rubbery plastic.

So poor were these pieces, that one of them came bent; bent in such a way you know it will break in the future.

I planned on returning it but with the game out of stock again, I think I'll just deal with the damage. (The whole Amazon saga that has lead to this decision will be told in a future edition of The Cardboard Cartographer. Needless to say, I'm bloody annoyed!).

Anyway, moving on.

The character cards are pentagonal, which I thought was a nice touch.

Visually pleasing, but again another problem.
To measure your stats throughout the game you use 'sliders,' attached to these character cards (those little black plastic things attached to the sides).

These are just terrible.

They don't 'grip' the board and as such they slide around during the game, which can be annoying if you happen to knock the card/table.

The dice are a bit bland, but in all fairness they do the job they were made to do. So no real complaints there.

In short. Great visuals, full of character, but just lacking in quality in a few key areas.

Game play.

The game is fairly simple to play.

 Players take it in turns to explore the house. Every time they enter an unexplored door the uncover a new room.

  Rooms are drawn from the pile of room cards and placed accordingly. A room can only be played on the corresponding floor;

If player A; The Girl in Yellow, explores a new room on the Ground floor, then you must place a tile with 'Ground' illuminated on the back. if the tile on top of the deck is does not have 'Ground' printed on it, draw tiles until one is found.
Note: If more than one floor is illuminated that means you can use it on any of the floor that are highlighted.

Each tile takes up one movement. A player can move up to the number currently show on their speed stat, which can be found on their character card, or until a card is drawn.

In order to explain cards, we'll carry on with the above example game.

Player A has only moved once, so can move again.

Player A has entered a room with a symbol, and some text on it.

Rooms often have special symbols.
These are;
Ravens = Omens
Ram Skull = Items
Swirl = Events.

If a player is the first to enter a room with one of these symbols in, that player's movements is over, and they must then draw the corresponding card.

The player reads out the card , and employs whatever action the card states (if any).

A player may also have to do additional actions depending on the text of the room tiles.

In our example, player A will have drawn an event card.

Due to Player A drawing a card their movement ends in this room.
Therefore, once the card is resolved, Player A 'may' gain 1 point of sanity, as per the text on the room tile.

The Haunt.When exploring the house a room tile with an Omen symbol is uncovered, the player would draw an Omen card as usual. However, at the bottom of each Omen card it instructs a player to 'make a Haunt roll now.'
A Haunt roll is made using six of the dice. A player must roll equal to, or over the total amount of Omens drawn in the game so far (there is a bar to measure such things).

If the test is passed the game continues as normal.

If the test is failed the Haunt begins!!

The Haunt is where this game really gets interesting.
Up until this roll is failed, you are all fellow explorers. After this, the ill effects of the House start to take control!

Exactly what Haunt you get is randomly determined by the room the player to fail the roll is currently in, and the Omen that was drawn, so it is different almost every time!

Needless to say however, that someone in your team is more than likely going to betray you.

When this happens the 'Heroes' read the Haunt requirements from the Survivors handbook, while the traitor reads their mission requirments found in the Traitors handbook.

The game then takes on an 'us vs. them' mechanic.

While I'd happily go on talking about how the game pans out, I feel that, in the case of Betrayal at House on the Hill, revealing too much of the game sort of spoils the fun.

It is much more challenging and enjoyable not knowing what is going to happen when the Haunt starts.

Personal Opinion.

After waiting such a ridiculously long time to get my hands on this game I was apprehensive.
It would have truly sucked if the game turned out to be terrible.

  The game is a slow starter as players explore the house, but unlike a lot of games, this slow build up is a good thing.
It allows the players to get comfortable with concept of exploration, and of course, allows you to kit up a bit before everything comes crashing down.

The Haunts I've played so far are all eerily entertaining.

Needless to say there is fighting, self serving attitudes and general horror related panic/fleeing/dramatic last stands.
All of which makes for a fun and slightly cheesy horror themed game!
As for the games mechanics, they tend to be fairly well balanced.

While all the various 'skill tests' are based on luck, there is plenty of room for players to use their judgement in such cases.
 For example, items like the Blood Dagger give great benefits (massive damage bonus), but come with a price to use (literally sucking the life out of you).

My one 'balance issue' would be the it is fairly difficult for the traitor player to really punish the heroes.
This might be down to specific haunts, how players are kitted out and where the tiles are drawn and placed. As all the above are randomly generated, it isn't something that is done on purpose, and as such, is hard to plan for.
Obviously there is a flip side to that.
This is the price paid for random generation.

The random generation means that there is quite a bit of replay value to this game.
The houses layout will be different each time, as tiles are drawn randomly.
The Haunt has a similar random quality.

The only issue I have in terms of replay value is that there are not a great deal of cards, especially when it comes to omens.
Due to the limited amount of Omen cards, you will see the same Omens almost every game.

Obviously, having more would have an adverse effect on the Haunt system.
 I still think BaHotH is a game that would be ripe for an expansion in the future, however, I think that is probably an unlikely prospect.
It isn't the newest game, and it hasn't had an expansion as of yet.

I digress!

Overall I think that the wait was worth it.
This is a great game!

Easy going, simple to understand, full of flavour and competitive to a degree.
Something I'd recommend anyone wanting to play an engaging Board Game, but want to have the ability to sit back and relax at the same time.
 It is also great for those who aren't into complex games, whilst retaining enough substance to keep those who crave a bit of difficulty interested.

If you're interested in playing this game (you'll be lucky to find a reasonably priced copy mind), I strongly recommend downloading a 'Betrayal Character Sheet' app on your phone/tablet, or simply using a pen and paper instead of those black clip on sliders.
It will save you a lot of hassle.

I use this one found on the Google play store.

It is a pretty simple and elegant design.
And, it is free!
Can't go wrong really!

That's all for this issue of 'The Cardboard Cartographer.'
I hope you enjoyed this slightly longer than normal issue.

Until next time, if you want to get in touch I'd love to hear from you!

Have you played Betrayal at House on the Hill? What did you think?
What other horror themed games do you like?
Do you have any recommendations to play or avoid?

Feel free to comment on this blog, or Tweet me @DarKHaZZl3

Thanks for reading!


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