We knew we were screwed when Crimson Jack walked in during Betrayal at House on the Hill 2nd edition. You see, he's a serial killer. And even though that would normally be enough cause for concern, there was an even bigger problem: we'd already killed him. Yet here he was, waltzing through the front door as if we hadn't shot him dead a few moments before. Worse still, one of our teammates had turned traitor to help Jack pick us off one by one. In other words? Things weren't looking good.
Figuratively speaking, anyway. It's hard not to have a great time in Betrayal at House on the Hill 2nd edition. Innovative, memorable, and unsettling, it's one of the best board games out there by a long stretch. Sure, it's now been superseded by Betrayal at House on the Hill 3rd edition. But there's still life in this ghost story yet.
What is it, and how does it work?
You're the star of your very own horror movie in Betrayal at House on the Hill. A co-op adventure for up to six players, each of you takes control of a silver-screen trope (the air-head jock or creepy kid, for example) before being let loose on a spooky mansion. This isn't a game about exploring, though. Something's waiting for you within the house, and it's hungry for blood.
In a cool twist, you won't ever know what that 'something' is before it appears. That's because there are 50 possible scenarios - or Haunts, as they're known here - to play through. The one you end up with is decided by the rooms and items in play at the time.
Besides upping the tension, this increases Betrayal's replayability no end. I've been playing this game with friends for years, and we still haven't seen everything it has to offer.
It's the same story with the board itself. Because each room is revealed at random, you're getting a different layout every time you play. Throw in narrative descriptions bookending your story and you end up with one of the more immersive experiences this side of the best tabletop RPGs.
That isn't the real draw, though. Instead, you'll stick around thanks to its brutal backstabbing. Don't mistake the title for an idle threat - it's a promise. Most scenarios have one or more of you betraying your allies, and these traitors must complete secret objectives nobody else is aware of. This results in a compelling us-and-them struggle that sets Betrayal at House on the Hill apart from rivals like Mansions of Madness.
Is it any good?
There's a reason Betrayal at House on the Hill has endured for 20 years; it has one of the best hooks in the business. Although some scenarios feel unbalanced, most of them hit the spot. A lot are goofy enough to be remembered years after the fact, too. Maybe the house begins to sink into a swamp, forcing you to race for a boat in the attic. Perhaps you'll be transported to an alternate dimension where the air is poisonous. We even had a giant bird fly off with the mansion once, leaving us to fight over the only parachute.
Basically, Betrayal's missions are eerie, frequently bizarre, and almost always brilliant. It's a shame that you aren't given context for why your characters are wandering this very-clearly-cursed mansion, but the quests you'll go on are memorable enough to make up for it.
Should you pick up the revamped set instead? We break it down in our guide to Betrayal at House on the Hill 3rd edition vs 2nd edition.
The traitor system keeps you on the edge of your seat, too. You'll never know what your opponents are trying to do, so most scenarios become a gripping tug of war as both sides try to outsmart each other.
This adds a unique extra dimension to the game not seen anywhere else. It's one thing to battle creatures controlled by die rolls or an app, but it's quite another to lock horns with a player who's every bit as cunning as you (which is why you're better off avoiding this one if you're seeking chilled-out board games for families).
Even if you're not battling a traitor, good teamwork is essential to overcome the threat; success lies in coordination and maximizing your actions, especially because time is often of the essence. That in itself makes for one of the best cooperative board games (actually, it gives the otherwise-essential Pandemic board game a run for its money). Make no mistake, lone wolves won't last long here.
Concerned about all these layers making Betrayal too complicated? Don't be. It's fairly easy to get your head around, and the rules are clear. Yes, newcomers may feel intimidated by it, but the investment pays off. And I mean investment in the best possible sense - it'll keep you going for months, to say nothing of the Widow's Walk expansion or the Legacy edition that adds long-term consequences for your actions.
While it's true that a chunk of this time will be spent sifting through the game's many tokens (there are definitely too many, a good proportion of which you won't ever use), everything else is engrossing. Quirky character backstories. Painted miniatures full of personality. Unexpected treasures that can boost your stats or turn the tide. The joy of exploring, even if it'll inevitably go wrong. There's a tremendous amount of fun to be had here, and few board games for adults can match it.
Should you buy Betrayal at House on the Hill 2nd edition?
Betrayal at House on the Hill has more than earned its spot in the board game hall of fame. It's unpredictable, thrilling, and never boring - your run-ins with the likes of Crimson Jack will stay with you for years to come, for better or worse. While I'd recommend going for the newer 3rd edition if at all possible (it provides the same experience but with new artwork, mechanics, and missions), there's life in this older version yet.
How we tested Betrayal at House on the Hill 2nd edition
I tested this game over a period of weeks spent playing with different groups of varying sizes. I also put it side by side with the new edition of Betrayal at House on the Hill to highlight any differences in art and gameplay to reach a more informed decision about which one is worth getting.
For more information on our review procedure, check out our guide on how we test board games and tabletop RPGs at GamesRadar+.