Betrayal at House on the Hill is a strategy role-playing game, designed by Bruce Glassco and published by Avalon Hill Games (Wizards of the Coast). The game's first edition was released in 2004 (no longer in print) and the second edition was released in October 2010. The game has an expansion (released in October 2016) called Widows Walk, which does not change the core concept of the game but extends certain elements.
Betrayal at House on the Hill combines some of the tabletop's favourite mechanics; tile-laying, dice, traitor players, and miniatures, to create an atmosphere where the feeling of imminent disaster is always hanging over your head. Enter the mansion and see if you and your companions can escape with your sanity, and your humanity, intact...
Components And Setup
The game consists of rule books (rule book, traitors tome and secrets of survival); 44 room tiles (to expand the mansion); a specific set of starting tiles; six miniatures and characters to represent players; eight dice; a turn counter; 13 omen cards; 22 item cards; 45 event cards; and a slew of tokens to represent unique circumstances within the game.
The components in Betrayal at House on the Hill are well made, and the miniatures are detailed. Some of the components seem overbearing and clunky but serve a purpose during the journey through the house. The artwork is thematic and contributes to the sense of fear while exploring the mansion.
To set up, each player selects a character card and chooses a side, before attaching plastic clips to indicate character values for their attributes. Character attributes are Might, Speed, Knowledge, and Sanity. The player also takes the miniature to represent their character.
The Traitors Tome and Survival Secrets are set aside for later use. All cards are shuffled and stacked in their specific piles (Omen, Item, and Event). The three starting tiles are located and placed.
The room tiles are shuffled and prepared to draw from. All miniatures will start in the Entrance Hall.
From this point, the object of Betrayal at House on the Hill is to explore said house and strengthen your character to prepare for the inevitable conflict.
Betrayal at House on the Hill is split into two phases, Exploration and the Haunt. The exploration phase is used to build your character and collect inventory items to assist you. The Haunt is the second phase where the traitor is revealed and the conflict begins.
In either of the two phases the following set of actions are allowed, in any order and as many times as your cards and traits allow:
- Move - Move through a discovered room for each point of Speed (trait) your character has.
- Discover - Move through a door and place a new tile in the room to discover it (uses a movement point to enter the room).
- Use Objects - Use items or cards that have been drawn from the deck if they are useful at that point.
- Attempt a die roll - Make a die roll for various elements in the game: Combat, Equipment, Haunt Rolls etc.
After the haunt starts, one additional action is available once per turn:
Make an attack
As you explore the house, items will be collected from rooms as indicated on the new tile placed. Not all rooms will grant items. When you draw a card (of any type) your movement ends. The various cards are obtained from the following:
- Events - When you place a tile with an event symbol (spiral) on it, you will draw the event card and complete the event as described. This could result in one of many aspects of the game.
- Item - When you place a tile with an item symbol (bull's head) on it, you will draw an item card. Follow the description of how to use the item in the current or subsequent turns.
- Omen - If the tile placed has an omen symbol (raven) on it, you will draw an omen card and complete it as indicated. Once your turn has ended, make a haunt roll.
Item cards can be traded, used, or dropped, with certain limitations. For each individual item you can Use, Trade, Drop, Steal (combat rules) or pick up an item, but only one of those actions per turn. Making an attack with an item is considered as using it.
Die rolls in the game use a number of the eight dice which have the following sides: zero, one or two dots. The die rolls work differently for different scenarios:
Physical damage from rolls is detracted from Speed or Might. Mental data from rolls is detracted from Sanity or Knowledge. The damage is equal to the number you roll.
Example - Two die of physical damage. Roll two die, count the number of dots, then subtract that number from either or a combination of Might and Speed.
Trait rolls are executed against a trait specified by the event, room, or action. You roll a number of dice equal to the trait and have to reach a certain number, indicated by the event.
Example - Sanity Roll of three required, your explorer has four Sanity. Roll four dice and count the number of dots. three or more will be a successful role in this scenario.
When attacking, select dice based on your might trait (unless something different is specified). Your opponent will do the same. The damage dealt is the difference between the two rolls. For a tie, no one is hurt. Additional special attacks will be possible and described in other details of the tome.
Haunt rolls are made by rolling six dice. The total number rolled needs to be equal to or greater than the number of omens that have been discovered. If this roll is failed, the haunt will begin and the second phase is initiated.
The Haunt will be revealed based on the room you are in and the haunt card drawn. This creates a unique, repayable experience with up to 50 different haunts possible. During this phase, a traitor will be revealed (or a hidden traitor exists).
Each member of the party will then attempt to complete the objective for their respective tomes (Traitors Tome and Secrets of Survival). Movement and exploration can continue as normal, but winning the game will ultimately be determined by who can complete their objective first. Both the traitor and the survivors will be given unique and hidden information to assist in achieving their objective, and should only be shared between party members if they are known not to be the traitor.
The traitor will often gain new abilities and increased traits as well as additional minions to assist in destroying the survivors. This helps to balance the second phase when the traitor is often acting alone.
This is the most thrilling aspect of the game where you are pitted against one another and all of the items you have acquired will help you to achieve your objectives. This section appeals to RPG fans, where having the best items and traits could make you stomp the opposition and see them fear for their lives.
Final Thoughts On Betrayal At House On The Hill
Betrayal at House on the Hill is an in-depth, well-designed game, but it is not without its flaws. This game should not be played by inexperienced or new board gamers, since some of the rules that make up the second phase can be complex and confusing.
That said, for any RPG fans or experienced gamers, the process can be extremely rewarding. And it will almost never get boring since there are so many variations in the second phase. The game also fits well with Halloween based themes and should be part of any serious player's collection.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on September 19th, 2017. Updated on October 26th, 2021 to improve the information available.