I’m something of a traditionalist, I like it when the good guys win. Sure, sometimes I like rooting for the anti-hero or the bad-guy-gone-good. I usually like the guy who hangs on the edge of morality between the light and dark. But in the end, I want the winner to be good and (somewhat) righteous.
And yet, here I am, the bad guy. Or, I was on Saturday night. By invitation, my better half and I went to a friend and fellow author’s (Vincent A. Alascia) house to play the tabletop game Betrayal at House on the Hill… Oooooo….. Scary.
Actually, the game was pretty creepy. I mean, you go into it feeling pretty cynical, ‘cause it’s a boardgame, right? But the descriptions and events are pretty well written and worthy of some genuine creepy and grossed out vibes.
Anyway, the game starts off as a fairly standard clue-like house exploration game with a solid horror slant. (In one room, the walls come alive and are living flesh breathing and pulsing with your character’s heartbeat. That’s kind of gross—and awesome.) As you explore the house, you find new rooms. Since the game board is modular and each piece only appears as you discover it (rooms are on cards that you draw from a random pile), no game is ever the same.
Most of the time, a new room has one of three sigils: Event, Item or Omen. Events are fairly straight forward. Something creepy happens, sometimes it is beneficial and sometimes not. Items can be either a weapon or something else, like a rabbit’s foot. Not all of those items are COMPLETELY beneficial. A few of them have not-so-pleasant repercussions when used.
Omens, however, are the real trick. Like their category name, Omen cards are signs and portents pointing to the darkness. They can include small events or items. In a way, Omen cards tick down to what is called The Haunt. Now The Haunt is…well…hehe. I’ll come back to that.
Throughout the first part of the game, I had acquired a few items. My favorite of which was an old pistol (The Colt, anyone? Hello? Supernatural? Nevermind.) This particular weapon allowed me to attack whatever baddies were coming my way from several rooms away, so long as I had a clear line of sight.
Okay, so… The Haunt. Up until now, all of the characters are on the same side. They are simply The Explorers looking to delve into the mysteries of this haunted house. But, when The Haunt happens, the game changes. Dramatically. From here on, it’s kill or be killed. One player turns into The Traitor, determined by The Haunt itself. Once The Traitor is determined, everyone is against that player.
I can’t really explain what The Haunt is, specifically because it changes. In fact, there are many, many haunts that can happen. Each one is determined by the particular Omen that triggers it. Ours was the Ring of King Solomon. And I was the Traitor.
So, once The Haunt starts, I had to leave the room to read over my part of the story while everyone else read their part and made their plans. As it turned out, my goal from here on was to open a gate to Hell. But I didn’t have to do it alone. As the gate opened up, it spit out a Demon Lord and four little demon minions.
Of course, the demons have specific rules for behavior, so I don’t get to use any real strategy. To be honest, from here on most of what happened was pure luck. My character still was able to act according to my plans, but the minions and Demon Lord were kind of automatic. Still, with The Haunt in motion, off my little demons went.
Now, I just want to be clear. What happened from here on, was almost all luck. Sorry, Jaimie. I’m not skilled at flicking my wrist just right to get beneficial rolls.
Back to the game. My little demons sprinted off, going after the nearest of The Explorers. Awkwardly, that turned out to be my wife. And not just one or two. All four of the little buggers took off and ganged up on her. It wasn’t pretty. Though, to be fair, she did really well.
My friend’s wife ended up being the one to take on the Demon Lord (whom defeating was the only way for them to win). She did a pretty good job. But, in the end, she was no match. While the little demons kept my wife’s character busy, the Demon Lord started chipping away at her. All the while, my character is a few rooms away taking pot-shots at her with the pistol.
Vinny did his best to help, first with the little demons attacking my wife, then with the Demon Lord. Unfortunately, his chivalry ended up getting him killed first. A couple turns later, his wife was felled by the putrid hand of my Demon Lord. She mostly lost because of bad-luck roll after bad-luck roll. Meanwhile, I had some brilliant scores on the dice. Given how good my rolls were, I’m surprised I didn’t kill her sooner.
In the next turn, my wife’s character died by the thousand cuts of one of the little demons. And that was it. I had won.
At last, as I had prophesied from my earliest days, the madness and horror had come. The Hell Gate, was open.
The screams of pain now echoing through the house on the hill, were just the beginning.
Overall, I had a really great time. I’m not a huge tabletop aficionado. Though, with games like this I might just become one. Betrayal at House on the Hills is fun and deep. The structure demands that no two games will be the same. Unlike the boardgames most of us grew up on, BAHOTH is all about the story telling. And that’s important to me. It keeps me engaged and interested. I’ll probably pick up a copy of this game.
But until then, I’ll just have to hang out at Vinny’s more often.
Oh, and for those who want to see the game in action, check out the two episodes of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop where they take on BAHOTH. Suppose I should actually thank that show. Our hosts had recently seen these episodes, which spurred them on to buy the game and invite us. The first of the two episodes featuring this game is here.