Betrayal at House on the Hill Review

Betrayal at House on the Hill Review

There’s a rumour circulating the industry about us reviewers, about how some don’t post negative reviews. I won’t get into that here as it’s up to the individual reviewers to create content as they choose. We at Polyhedron Collider, however, are certainly not above or below putting the boot in, especially me (Andy), as we firmly believe an honest opinion is far more useful to you, our vast and knowledgeable readership, so you can make a more informed judgement as to where you spend your hard-earned pennies (or not as the case may be).

I make this statement as the subject of this review, Betrayal at House on the Hill, isn’t exactly high on the list of “must buys” here at Collider Towers. Both myself and Steve have played this indelible stain on the gaming world many times (heck, I even owned it before I knew better and sold it) and suffice to say, we’re hardly enamoured by it. Well, let’s not beat about the bush. Personally, I’d rather attend a three-day accountancy seminar on the benefits of triplicated documentation than endure another game of that decisionless dross. Which is not a statement I say lightly given Steve is a bit of a dice-fiend, but even he will concede that House on the Hill is…lacking in any real thought. Although we both agree that Jon will probably like it.

Despite our differences in taste, Steve and I both believe that to make a game “good” requires the player to make meaningful decisions – so that they feel part of the game and that their presence matters. Otherwise you might as well be replaced by a computer and head to the pub, which in this case is a far more preferable strategy. Betrayal at House on the Hill removes almost all decision making from the players by basing all the encounters in the game on dice rolls. Even exploring means drawing the next card in the pile, no matter which way you turn so you don't even get to decide what room to step into. The most difficult decision you make is where to put the tile, although it hardly matters.

The disappointing thing is, the premise for Betrayal at House on the Hill is actually quite enticing. A bunch of typically American teenagers/early 20-somethings decide to go to explore and investigate a haunted house and at some point, bad things start to happen, one of them goes on an extended trip to La-La Land and turns against the group in favour of promises made by whatever shambling grotesquery gets unleashed in the final act.

The problems with Betrayal start right from the off, before you’ve even begun the game. The miniatures are quite low quality to the point that one of them was bent right out of the box. Avalon Hill aren’t CMON and it’s not an expensive game, but some care in packing wouldn’t go amiss. Also, the stat markers that supposedly clip to the side of your character cards are looser than the morals of a hired mercenary and fail to stay put no matter how many times you swap them out, which is unhelpful when a bad guy is running towards you brandishing a dessert fork.

Playing the game is quite straightforward; each player takes it in turn to reveal the next tile in the pile (you don’t get a choice in the matter) and then take a kicking from the new room. You could mix it up by going up or down stairs, but you’re still picking the next tile from a pile. The events are pretty much always the same as you’re rolling dice to determine the outcome and again, you don’t get a choice. Take your medicine and pass to the left. That’s it. It’s not exactly Twilight Imperium in its complexity, which is fine, but at no point does it feel that a human is required.

After a certain (random) amount of the house has been explored, the game changes as the “Haunt” begins. This is where one of the party (usually the current player) gets turned against everyone else and the Big Bad rocks up to a trumpet fanfare, a shower of streamers and an English butler reading out their name.

Unfortunately, instead of kicking off a bit of planning and decision-making, this is where the game falls flat on its already dirty face. Either the players have received such a kicking prior to the Haunt that they’re in no shape to mount a resistance or at least one of them is so over-powered that the enemies present no challenge and any strategy is launched from the game as if from a trebuchet without so much as a tip of the hat. Not to mention some of the haunts are less interesting than an extended discussion on the optimal length of grass for one’s lawn.

So we have a bit of a thoughtless, low quality mess that, with a few small tweaks, could have been so much better than it is. A bit more provision for decision-making and you’d have a decent, budget version of Mansions of Madness 2nd edition. It’s fair to say that the games are hardly comparable financially, but for the price of two Betrayals you can get a game that actually gives you choices, consequences and a much better experience.

Despite the great idea of the teenage Hollywood horror, Betrayal at House on the Hill was executed with Neolithic incompetence and I’d sooner recommend nailing your tongue to a high-speed train.

Bring on the Lovecraft.
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