BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Weekend gaming columns aren’t just for focusing on the most recent developments in card and video game history — they’re also a place where we can shine a light on unusual board games that would be perfect for your next family night or game session. The catch, however, is that they need to be something out of the ordinary and unusual worth focusing on. Today, we’re discussing the Betrayal line of board games from Avalon Hill.
In this series of games, players typically take the roles of a group of people (ranging from children to professors to high-school track stars) who have come across an abandoned house on the hill. However, as they explore the house and encounter different items and events, they can also find Omens — useful items that warn of an encroaching disaster. After gathering enough Omens, the second half of the game, known as the Haunt, will begin. The question, then, is what exactly this Haunt entails.
You see, depending on the exact Omens gathered and the room the Haunt begins in, players will be subjected to one of many random horrific events, ranging from giant spiders to alien invasions or even devilish realtors. One player will often take on the role of the Traitor, and the rest must band together to stop them. However, thanks to separate guidebooks, neither the Traitor or the Survivors are fully aware of one another’s abilities or goals — meaning it takes a lot of cooperation and inferences to properly predict and avoid your opponent’s schemes.
The huge amount of Haunts is certainly a draw to the game — but how many versions of this game exist, and how many spooky scenarios are possible?
Contrary to some beliefs, the game did not originally appear as it does now — in fact, it’s seen two updates since its original inception. First created in 2004, the original version of Betrayal featured 50 Haunts, as well as the original idea of the house. The second edition of the game featured not only redesigns of some scenarios and game components, but introduced a few new Haunts to go with it. In between the first and second editions of Betrayal at the House on the Hill, an unofficial, fan-made series of Haunts (set as Haunts 51-70) were designed by game designer Jeremy Lennert — eight of which were adapted into official scenarios to replace a dropped eight from the first edition.
After the release of the second edition, the Widow’s Walk expansion was released in 2016. This added another 50 entirely new basic scenarios, all created by guest writers (including the creator of the cartoon Adventure Time and the founder of Wizards of the Coast). This also added a whole new set of floors and levels (the Roof and adjacent tiles) and included the game’s ‘Final’ haunt — known as ‘Seasons of the Witch’, where players attempt to survive in the house for an entire year (in game time, of course) while confronting its creator.
Eventually, in 2022, a third version of Betrayal was released, this time sporting a new, brighter look and a whole set of new scenarios and game pieces. This time, the scenarios took on simpler goals and rules, helping to mitigate some of the confusion present in the previous games, as well as overall less grisly details in a majority of the Haunts and cards. This version is notable for also including backgrounds — where players could choose why exactly their characters were investigating the house in the first place (ranging from a real estate deal to searching for a lost friend), resulting in them experiencing specific Haunts instead of picking from all 50 at once. A smaller expansion, known as Blood on the Moon, adds another five scenarios and background.
These wouldn’t be the only entries into the Betrayal line, however — over time, the series has grown more into a franchise than a single cult classic. New versions of the Betrayal system have appeared in other licensed games produced by Avalon Hill — including Betrayal at Mystery Mansion, a kid-friendly version of House on the Hill featuring Scooby-Doo characters, and Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, which uses the same mechanics in a more fantasy-based setting (complete with special powers and new rooms). For those who favor longer, more in-depth games, there is also Betrayal Legacy — a version of the game that takes place over multiple generations, and involves playing through a set ‘Campaign Mode’ with permanent effects on any games played using the board and pieces in the future (including completely destroying or removing certain cards or endings from the box).
While each version of the game has its own pros and cons, one thing that is almost universally praised is the number of Haunts available for players to experience. Even the smallest version of the game boasts 25 different possible second halves, and with a huge combination of players and items that can be in play when these Haunts occur, the possibilities are massive. But 25, or even 50 possible endings might not be worth an article in itself — so let’s do the math and see just how many scenarios can befall the unfortunate investigators playing an instance of Betrayal.
To start calculating just how many potential options are available, one can look at the already-existing 109 haunts of the first/second edition of Betrayal and Widow’s Walk. Adding in the third edition’s exclusive haunts brings the total to 164 across every main-line Betrayal game. This number can be raised even higher when discussing the spinoffs, including the 25 scenarios from Mystery Mansion, 50 from Baldur’s Gate, and another 50 from Legacy. Even without taking Lennert’s unadapted Haunts or any other fan-made ones into consideration, this brings the minimum number of available scenarios in Betrayal at the House on the Hill to a massive 289 — each with its own different stories, mechanics, and strategies. For a box so small it can be confused for any other board game, there’s an unexpectedly enormous number of possible nightmares to experience. What makes this especially impressive is that through substitution and piece mixing, a majority of them (save for some requiring the roof) can be played using any version of the game.
The game itself, while praised for its huge number of possible endings and gameplay paths, also has its fair share of detractors — many of whom criticize how some scenarios can be heavily in favor of one side or the other, or potentially give an already ahead player even more advantages with the luck of the draw, as well as citing sometimes confusing rules and messy Haunt specifics. On the popular game-rating site BoardGameGeek, the original and second editions of Betrayal at the House on the Hill have a respectable score of 7.0, with the third edition scoring somewhat higher at 7.5. Legacy is the most well-received of these games, receiving a score of 7.7, while Mystery Mansion has a slightly lower 6.7.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of scenarios and rules at play when it comes to a game like Betrayal –but there are a few easy places for everyone to start. We’d personally recommend Betrayal at Mystery Mansion for beginners, and the Third Edition for those looking for a longer experience. The different versions of the game all appeal to different markets, and whether your table is exploring a family-friendly mystery mansion or a more mature environment that will leave a legacy on your play table, we’d highly recommend checking out this unusual game for yourself.
To learn more about Betrayal at the House on the Hill or any of its variants, visit Avalon Hill’s website.