Can You Survive a Night at the House on the Hill?
I buy many games a year. Some I play often, some I play once, and some I have never opened. Betrayal at the House on the Hill holds a special place because it is such a great game for Halloween. It has become a tradition in our home to play the game at our Halloween parties, but the game is fun enough to played any day of the year.
Betrayal takes place in a haunted house, and each player assumes the role of a stereotypical horror movie character. The house is randomized every time you play, and you reveal rooms as you progress through the corridors. The first part of the game is meant to gather items and grow stronger (and avoid getting weaker!), but once an Omen card is revealed the Haunt may start. When the haunt begins, one player is revealed as the traitor and must leave the room for a few moments to study his diabolical plot.
In one of my favorite haunts, a witch had turned the heroes into mice. Their only escape from the house was to fly a toy airplane out of the attic window. They were pursued by her cat while they tried to find batteries. In another game, they had to survive until morning to collect an inheritance, but the traitor wanted the heroes dead so he would not have to share any of the money. There are a wide variety of haunts that cover the whole spectrum of horror. With fifty possible haunts and a randomly explored house, the game is never the same twice.
Sometimes the haunt can seem unfair or unbalanced, but winning and losing is not the point. Betrayal has light roleplaying elements, and exploring the house and revealing the haunt tells a shared story. As you explore the house you will meet creepy ghost children, receive telephone calls from your future self, and walk through doors that bring you to the other side of the mansion. The random situations make the game fun in the same way as Z-Man’s Tales of the Arabian Nights, for example.
Betrayal at House on the Hill was published after Hasbro bought Avalon Hill, and put it under the Wizards of the Coast banner. It was released along with Monsters Menace America, Sword & Skull, Nexus Ops, and Vegas Showdown. All of these games have been discontinued, and Avalon Hill only lives on through the several Axis and Allies games still in production. Since its discontinuation, Betrayal has gained a reputation in the gaming community, for good and ill. Many people love it because it is dripping in theme, but people also dislike its sloppy rulebook. The game is notorious for errors like an underground lake in the attic of the haunted mansion. Despite its flaws, it is still great to play.
Because of its reputation and rarity, it is an expensive game to acquire. It is currently averaging around $75-100 through the secondary market, and I have even seen copies go for $300. I would recommend getting a copy if you find it for less than $100. The game has fantastic replay value, and the components are worth it too. I think I spent $50 on my copy, and that is a steal for this game.
Betrayal at the House on the Hill is in desperate need of a reprint. The game is just too awesome to be kept away from the world. If Wizards receives enough feedback about it, they could be motivated to publish it again. I tried to email them myself, but the email form on their customer support website wouldn’t work for me on three different browsers. Fortunately you can still reach them by phone or snail mail.
There are some Facebook pages claiming to be dedicated to reprinting the game, but they seem to be focused on tips of where to buy the game and sharing homebrew material. There is a strong community for this game that creates new haunts and variants. One interesting variant has printouts for turning the character cards into the gang from Scooby-Doo and I think you could make some great Buffy the Vampire Slayer mods as well. An official expansion is out of the question, and until a new edition, we are left to our own devices.
Betrayal is one of my favorite games, and I recommend that everyone track down a copy. Better yet, flood Wizards of the Coast with requests for a reprint. They might even listen. Thankfully, many games have been released since Betrayal that contain themes of distrust and exploration, though none are so appropriate with a good Vincent Price film. Happy Halloween!
You can call Wizards of the Coast at 425-226-6500. You can also send them physical correspondence to:
Wizards of the Coast LLC
PO Box 707
Renton, WA 98057
They could be emailed from their help page, but good luck getting it to work.