Avalon Hill is set to release Betrayal Legacy, a new version of their classic haunted board game Betrayal at the House on the Hill, and WWG was one of the first to get a taste of this terrifying update to a fantastic game.
For me, Betrayal at House on the Hill was one of the first games to reveal that the tabletop gaming medium had a lot more to offer than things like Monopoly or Risk. The game was designed so that each playthrough was different, with the house and terrifying haunts changing each times, and part of the fun was the "one against all" play that emerged once a player turned traitor, even though no one knew who the traitor was or when the turn would come.
Next month, just days after Halloween, Avalon Hill will release Betrayal Legacy, an updated version of the game using the "Legacy" format that transforms how the game is played each time. The game is divided into 13 chapters (plus a prologue) that has players control one of five families whose destinies are intertwined with the house. Each family has different strengths and weaknesses, and each chapter features a new generation and new threats to discover.
Avalon Hill invited me and a handful of other journalists to the haunted Red Lion Pub in Chicago for a playthrough of the first two parts of the game with designer Rob Daviau. Daviau was one of the designers of the original Betrayal at House on the Hill and helped come up with the innovative "Legacy" design that added new depth to games like Risk and Pandemic.
At its heart, Betrayal Legacy is a "short story generator" and players who allow themselves to get caught up in the terrifying horror of each chapter will get the most out of this game. I also love that Betrayal Legacy uses multiple horror tropes, often corresponding with the year in which a chapter takes place. You might experience witches in the late 1600s (in parallel to the Salem Witch Trials) or vampires near the turn of the twentieth century when Bram Stoker's Dracula was inspiring millions to close their windows at night.
Opening up Betrayal Legacy might feel a bit overwhelming. There's multiple books detailing the rules, haunts, and storylines, along with hundreds of cards, stickers, and components. Despite this, the gameplay is remarkably simple and straightforward and the game is designed to ease people into both the turn by turn mechanics and how the Legacy format works.
The core mechanics of Betrayal Legacy are mostly similar to the original game. Players have four base stats - speed, might, sanity, and knowledge - that also double as their hit points. As players explore new rooms of the house, they add tiles onto the board, almost all of which are marked with an item, event, or omen symbol. Players roll special "three sided dice" equal to one of their stats to satisfy certain event or action requirements and take damage by lowering one or more of their stats. Players can also take an unlimited number of actions - although each individual type of action can only be taken once per turn.
To add to the uniqueness of each playthrough, players also get a random trait for their character at the beginning of each chapter, which gives them certain benefits unique to only them. Depending on how the chapters go, more potential traits are added, some of which add a creepiness to their characters.
The "Legacy" format means that each playthrough of Betrayal Legacy is completely unique. The decisions and actions made in each chapter will make a permanent impact in the game,whether its adding ghost stickers to the room in the house where you died, or adding different Event or Omen cards into your game's ever-growing decks based on the results of certain chapters.
The Legacy mechanic is controlled mostly by a Legacy Deck, a pre-arranged card deck that tells people when certain events are triggered or when to add certain cards to other decks. You'll likely be familiar with this setup if you've played Pandemic Legacy, but the cards are easy enough to understand even if this is your first Legacy game. Because this is a Legacy game, players will write on cards, place stickers on tiles, and keep track of their player's fate on their character boards. That might take a hot second to get use to - but marking the boards and cards is part of making each playthrough of the game entirely unique.
The Legacy format also means that players can "heirloom" certain items, which gives them an extra benefit in future playthroughs. Players mark the item card with a sticker with their family crest and sometimes give the item a unique name. Players have a limited amount of heirloom items, but they represent one of the few ways you can give yourself an edge in future chapters. Also - the "winner" of each chapter is presented with the deed to the house, which gives them a one-time secret passage to essentially teleport from one part of the house to any other tile.
While chatting with Daviau, I asked him about whether the game addressed balance and other problems discovered by fans of the original Betrayal at House on the Hill. Daviau explained that the chapters were each designed to give players at least one turn before haunts were triggered, and that some of the rules were better worded for clarity. He also mentioned that by limiting the game to five players, it took away some of the overwhelming craziness from the game. The Legacy format of the game also helps to keep players invested, even if they suffer a grizzly fate early in a particular chapter. After all, you never know if your ancestor's mangled body will come into play in a later chapter!
Daviau estimated that the campaign part of Betrayal Legacy would take about 24 hours to complete, depending on what haunts were triggered. When the campaign ends, players can still play the game in a "free play" mode - which essentially gives players a slightly modified version of the original Betrayal at House on the Hill when they wrap up the game.0comments
It's very easy to lose yourself in Betrayal Legacy. Playing as a cursed family continuously drawn to a house that wants to kill them has a horrific beauty to it, and you'll soon find yourself coming up with personalities and histories for your characters...even though they might die minutes after getting introduced to them. This is a great update to a classic game, one that adds new flavor and balance without taking away what made the original Betrayal at House on the Hill so unique. Not only is it the perfect gateway to the world of campaign tabletop games, it's the perfect way to delve into the darker parts of yours and your friend's psyches.
Betrayal Legacy comes out on November 9th.