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Betrayal at House on the Hill - Review

Betrayal at House on the Hill box frontWhy do I keep coming back to this spooky old house on the hill? The house so obviously evil that its façade is a big yellow demonic face? The house where I and the assorted oddballs who venture in with me are routinely cursed, possessed, terrorized or buried alive? The house where someone falls down the coal scuttle into the basement and spends an age trying to find the way out? The house that always turns one of my friends against me, usually putting them in cahoots with an undead serial killer, a werewolf, or other similar ne'er-do-well?

I'll tell you why. Because I never know what will happen. And it's THRILLING.

At the start, we're all in it together. We inch through the rooms of this perfectly normal, not-at-all-creepy house, exploring the musty ballrooms and attics and pentagram chambers (every home should have one). We might find items like dynamite and healing salves, omens of ill-portent such as medallions or cursed daggers (or a dog), or at worst, creepy goings-on in the form of ghosts, massive spiders, or many other forms of evil-tinged jiggery-pokery. But no matter what this place throws at us, I know my friends have my back. We stand as one against the evil of the house. We're all in it together.

Until.

Until we all start to age rapidly, with the exception of the palm-reading lady, who laughs and runs upstairs faster than our now aged legs can carry us.

Until suddenly I realise there is a bomb around my neck and that only the 8-year-old girl who was accompanying me could have put it there. And now she's upstairs building a massive bomb and fiddling with a detonator.

Until suddenly the kindly priest, the sweet old man to whom I gave away MY ONLY WEAPON, drops dead and instantly gets up again as a Zombie Lord. And now the house is full of zombies and everyone is screaming and the former kindly priest is doing his darnedest to chew off my face. We're still all in it together – just not on the same side.

Such a dramatic heel-turn is the key mechanic of the game. Whenever a player moves to a new room and lays down a room, they'll either trigger an event or happen upon an item or omen. When someone picks up an omen, they have to roll the dice and get a number that is higher than the number of omens in play. Get lower, and it's HAUNTING TIME. The tension every time a haunt roll is made is wonderful – a visceral feeling of foreboding that is thematically perfect. The accompanying 'Traitor's Tome' contains fifty scenarios, known as haunts, and depending on what omen triggered the haunting and in which room, the tome tells you what the circumstances of the haunt are, and which of your fellow players is an evil traitor. From there on, it's them versus the rest of you, and they have EVIL (and a bunch of new rules) on their side. Also, since the traitor has a separate rulebook detailing their scenarios, you're never sure exactly what they need to do to win – more than once, we've felled the traitor only to discover that their death has done nothing to halt their nefarious scheme.

Betrayal at House on the Hill has incredible replayability – there are 50 different haunts, which can play out slightly differently depending on the layout of the house, or the items discovered, and that is the chief reason it's one of my favourite games ever. I never know when I start playing if I'm going to end up desperately searching for a voodoo doll of myself, or cackling maniacally and strapping bombs to all of my erstwhile friends, or turning to dust just one room away from the talisman that will banish the ancient evil.

That's why I keep coming back to the spooky old house. You should come with me.

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