Betrayal at House on the Hill was one of those games that changed the way I thought about board games in general. Despite horror not being my personal aesthetic, I was enchanted by individual characters and their unique skill sets, the way players built out the manor in new ways every play-through, and the randomized plot twists during the Haunt phase of the game. From the go, it seemed like one of those games that would confer infinite replayability and fun at my table.
A few weeks ago, my weekly D&D group had to cancel a session and we were totally bummed! We've met nearly weekly for almost a year at this point and even if we weren't going to continue galavanting through Storm King's Thunder with our full party, the rest of us wanted to play some board games. When our DM set this enticing loot on the table, I could not have been more excited.
Betrayal at Baldur's Gate. Two of my greatest gaming loves had spawned the "game to rule them all." This title came out last year and despite being aware of it, I hadn't sat down and to play yet.
For anyone who hasn't played a Betrayal game, what happens is that each player selects a character. They all start with certain skill levels and attributes. In this iteration, the ranger is going to have a high speed while the fighter has more might and the wizard has a higher knowledge etc. Each character features a classic D&D class and unique special ability such as Inspiration or Wild Shape. Each player takes turns randomly selecting tiles to build out the city of Baldur's gate. Each time you step into a new tile there might be an event/combat encounter to be resolved by some simple dice roles determined by your character's attributes. Winning an event may award you bonuses to these attributes or even special magical items, while failure is likely to negatively impact your attributes. However, every time you draw an Omen card, you must make a dice role equal to the amount of Omens that have appeared so far - this is called a "Haunt" roll. If the result is 6 or higher, the Haunt phase of the game begins and a player at the table becomes the traitor. The tile the player was on and the Omen card that started the Haunt determine which of the 50 possible Haunts will commence. You consult the manual to reveal who has become the traitor and to learn the new rules and win conditions for party during that particular haunt.
The amazing thing for D&D enthusiasts is that these Haunts are love letters to many beloved villains and monsters from the cannon. You could face mindflayers, minotaurs, or even a Sphere of Annihilation! In our game, we faced doppelgangers, one of my favorite monsters from the Monster Manual. I won't reveal too much, but the new rules incited paranoia that anyone at the table could become a doppelganger and continue to turn the tide of battle in favor of the traitor. Our group is full of "yes-and" improvisors, so while there's not really roleplaying in this game, we played up the suspense and tension by doing specific dice rolls in a separate room so the rest of the group would be left guessing.
Certain party members are going to have advantages in each Haunt based on the items they cary, their location, and their attributes. As your party acquires items and advantages, everyone watches their backs because another player's boon could become your bane if they are revealed as the traitor during the Haunt.
This game really felt like an amazing way to scratch the D&D itch without the set up, planning, materials, and weighty roleplaying. It's a great game to introduce new players to the hobby because the first phase is co-operative across the board, making it easy to help each other get a handle on the basic rules of the game before all hell breaks loose - sometimes literally!
If you're interested in learning more, Wizards of the Coast released a video at the Stream of Annihilation last year to announce that game that will give you a real feeling for the flavor. Hit your FLGS so you can start your next adventure in Betrayal at Baldur's Gate, but don't forget to watch your back!
Have you had a chance to play Betrayal at Baldur's Gate? What are some of your favorite haunts?