Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of those games that, in my experience, has always been really hard to, A) find an open seat to get in on a game, and B) find someone who actually owns a copy of the game. I’ve been to a number of conventions where the game was being played, but the games were always full, and I could never find someone at home who had it. I understand it’s sort of a niche game.

So, I’ve been kind of looking forward to trying it, but I’ve also developed far more realistic expectations for board games since I started dissecting them. All games have their share of bugs, and there are few to no exceptions (I haven’t found any yet). I won’t say I was disappointed, ’cause I didn’t have really high expectations.

Unless you’re familiar with my critique style, it might sound like I’m being unfair to the game. I’m not. I have impossibly high standards, and every game fails at something. Even (and especially) some of my favorite games. It just so happens that some of my favorites fail in ways that I find acceptable, versus many ways that are unacceptable.

Betrayal (or BaHotH, I suppose) is kind of fun. It’s a cooperative exploration and roleplaying game that turns competitive about halfway through a session. My first criticism, as stated before, is the character cards. They’re fiddly. The art isn’t terrific, either. The whole game has a really low-budget feel, and not in a good way.

Next, it suffers from the same problem that every game with a variable board has, and that’s the fact that it has a variable board. Randomness can offset a some broken and/or untested gameplay, but it only goes so far. By the way, if you don’t have five years for development or a horde of playtesters, incorporate lots of random elements.

The scenarios are inconsistently worded and poorly balanced. From reading just one Haunt, I can see there are some pretty serious wording issues. The game documents need a lot of formatting revisions, and they need to use more formatting than just the paragraph breaks and bullet points. (At least it had those…)

You know what the game really excels at though? Mood. While it might be a pain to adjust the skill sliders whenever an Item or Omen is picked up, the Omens are well chosen to evoke the game’s horror themes. The characters, while generic, are very versatile archetypes. I want to read more Haunts to see how Omens are utilized.

I have some ideas from playing that I’d love to work out through additional sessions. The Omens, for example, are really great horror archetypes, and I wonder if perhaps they can be further distilled, or somehow refined to be even more versatile. Perhaps even to the point they can transcend the haunted house genre.