We knew we were screwed when Crimson Jack walked in during Betrayal at House on the Hill. You see, he was a serial killer. Although 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 and was helping Jack pick us off one by one. Our only hope? Destroying the mystical paintings that somehow made Jack immortal. 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. Innovative, memorable, and unsettling, it's one of the best board games out there.
Time to play: 60 mins
Set-up time: 5 mins
Avg. price: $35 / £30
The ultimate haunted house
You're the star of your very own horror movie in Betrayal at House on the Hill. A board game for adults with up to six players, each of you takes control of a silver-screen trope (the air-head jock or kookie professor, 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. This is because there are 50 different scenarios on offer. The one you get is decided by the rooms and items in play at the time, and that means you won't find yourself smashing through the same mission over and over again.
Besides upping the tension, this increases Betrayal's replayability no end - as does the fact that each room is revealed at random, providing you with a different game board every time. Throw in narrative descriptions at the beginning and end of your story for one of the most immersive experiences outside of the best tabletop RPGs.
There's plenty of variety on offer with these scenarios, too. Maybe the house begins to sink into a swamp, forcing you to race for a boat in the attic. Perhaps a monster awakens in the basement, or your foe happens to be invisible. We even had a giant bird fly off with the mansion once, leaving us to fight over the only parachute. In short? Betrayal's missions are eerie, frequently bizarre, and almost always brilliant. There are some duds in there and a few ideas that feel unbalanced, but the vast majority hit the spot.
I would say that you'll be working as a team to overcome those scenarios, but that's not entirely true. 'Betrayal at House on the Hill' isn't an empty threat. More often than not, one of you will become a traitor who gets their own set of rules and objectives to read in secret. As a result, you'll spend a lot of time on the edge of your seat as both sides try to outsmart each other. This adds an extra dimension to the game. It's one thing to battle an AI creature. It's quite another locking horns with a player who's every bit as cunning as you.
Whoever's left will need good teamwork to overcome them; success lies in coordination. That in itself makes this one of the best cooperative board games, second only to classics like Pandemic; lone wolves won't last long here.
If you're concerned that all these layers make Betrayal too complicated, don't be. It's fairly easy to get your head around, and the rules are clear. Newcomers may feel intimidated by it, but the investment pays off. And it's definitely an investment; it'll keep you going for months, to say nothing of the Widow's Walk expansion or a Legacy edition that adds in long-term consequences for your actions.
Accordingly, 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.