Dicebreaker Recommends is a series of monthly board game, RPG and other tabletop recommendations from our friends at our sibling site, Dicebreaker. Check-out their full round-up of the best horror board games to play this Halloween.
If you imagine the entire back catalogue of Hammer Horror films and every episode of The Twilight Zone combined into a single interactive experience, you've effectively described the experience of playing Betrayal at House on the Hill.
Taking place at a suitably creepy manor house, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a board game that celebrates the most recognisable horror tropes in history, from teenagers exploring a dilapidated house to ghosts haunting a graveyard. The game takes its derivative setting fully in its stride and encourages players to revel in its incredibly goofy nature, like an old ghost train ride on a pier in Skegness.
Players assume the roles of characters typically found in a horror story - such as the plucky young child, the mysterious fortune teller, the brave himbo - who have decided to investigate the titular house, only to discover that it is just as cursed and haunted as they'd been warned. Though the initial turns of the game are fairly straightforward as players gradually uncover more of the house and encounter various frightening happenings, it's the second half of Betrayal where things really kick into gear.
Every time that somebody enters a room containing an omen they must take a corresponding card and read it aloud - preferably in a spooky voice - before placing it in front of them and performing a haunt roll. Should the player roll under the number of omen cards currently in play using the game's unique dice (they only go up to two pips and they have multiple blank sides), a haunt event is triggered. In Betrayal, haunts are essentially the storyline for that current playthrough of the game. They range from classic monster-movie fare, such as an undead mummy or a nest of giant spiders, to scenarios involving angry ghosts and even weirder stuff like the sudden appearance of a dragon.
The haunts in Betrayal don't only change the pacing of the game from explorative to objective-focused - they're capable of altering the entire dynamic of the player group as well. Whilst some haunts in the game are entirely cooperative, the majority of scenarios involve the players splitting into opposing teams of survivors and a traitor. Depending on how the haunt was triggered, one of the players in the party decides that they'd rather turn on their friends and attempt to do some pretty nasty things to them - whether they'd secretly been planning this for years, or because a portal to hell has opened up and they rather fancy sending someone down there.
When this happens, the traitorous player must leave the room and sequester themselves away in order to read the instructions within the Traitor's Tome. At the same time, the remaining survivors read and discuss their instructions in the Secrets of Survival book, which explains what they will need to do in order to win. The general rule of haunts in Betrayal at House on the Hill is that the traitor is given some sort of advantage - whether that's allies, a new ability or some outside force to aid them - whilst the survivors are counting on their superior numbers to carry them through. However, if Betrayal has a distinct weakness, besides the quality of its miniatures, it's the game's difficulty balancing.
There are over 50 different haunts included in Betrayal at House on the Hill, not counting the game's expansion Widow's Walk, which means that there are quite a lot of different gameplay mechanics. Additionally, a haunt could happen as early as the very first turn of the game, if the dice happen to roll that way, meaning that the players or the house may not be best prepared for a haunt to happen. All of these factors can lead to players having a very inconsistent gameplay experience.
Betrayal at House on the Hill has several randomised aspects to it - such as the layout of the house, the types of items that spawn and the haunts triggered - which, as is the case with many video games containing procedurally-generated elements, means that things don't always go to plan. Whilst some games of Betrayal are brilliant enough to become seminal moments of a tabletop gaming friendship group, others can have the unfortunate fate of being dreadfully disappointing thanks to a mixture of poor timing, unbalanced gameplay mechanics or just plain bad luck.
As long as players can acknowledge its flaws - and with a little help of a couple of house rules - Betrayal is still a bloody brilliant game. Its willingness to fully embrace the horror theme in all its cheesy glory, the variety of scenarios and the potential for replayability - all of these aspects come together to form the perfect Halloween board game. Any true lover of horror will find something to admire in Betrayal because it's basically just a greatest hits of the genre, like a playable episode of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, or Goosebumps.