Just when you thought you had escaped, you hear a new rumor about the mysterious House on the Hill. You feel compelled to go back. That about sums up my experience with Betrayal at House on the Hill, actually. Originally made in like, 2003, after much fan clamoring, Betrayal recently received an expansion.
In Betrayal, you are effectively a team of adventurers drawn to the mysterious House on the Hill for reasons unknown. As you enter, the door slams shut behind you, locking you inside. Rather than take this as a pretty clear sign that you should break a window and just get out, you press forward. Maybe it wasn’t luck that brought you to this house, though — maybe it was something evil. Widow’s Walk, is, as mentioned, an expansion that adds even more scenarios (“haunts”) to the game, giving players even more variety (and, just this once, something … pretty unexpected). Can you survive the house? Can you escape? Or was that … never your plan?
Setup is very similar to Betrayal at House on the Hill — it is also pretty lengthy, so bear with me.
You’ll first notice two books:
Don’t open or read them until you need to.
There are also three kinds of cards:
These are present in the base game, but Widow’s Walk (WW) adds a few more of each. Shuffle those and set them aside.
Next up, you’ll see a stack of room tiles:
Each of these has various floors on the back of them. There will, however, be a few tiles with blank backsides:
These are known as landings, and those will be important throughout the game. Set those aside, for now.
Now, shuffle and give everyone one of the characters:
Note that these are double-sided, so pick whichever one you prefer. They have some stats that I’ll talk more about in Gameplay, but they’re all on average identical. Each one also has six Explorer Tokens (new to Widow’s Walk), so give each player their six:
Once you’ve done that, find these:
They don’t really work, but put them on the character cards at each of the green numbers. They’re kind of stat trackers, but they’re a bit loose. I’d say some clear nail polish or tape or a bit of paper will fix them, though. Haven’t tested, but they need to be a bit thicker.
Take an extra one, because you’ll need one for this:
This is called the Turn / Damage Tracker, and it’s generally used in the second half of the game. In the first half, we use it to track how many omens have been drawn, for reasons.
You’ll also find a bunch of other tokens:
Maybe keep those handy, but you don’t need them straight away. Lastly, you’ll find some dice:
Set those nearby. Once you’ve done all that and shuffled everything, your play area should look something like like this:
If so, then you’re ready to start.
Alright, so, here’s the thing. Betrayal at House on the Hill has some RPG-esque tendencies. Namely, that of stats. Take a look at a sample character:
On the left side, you have the physical stats: Might and Speed. On the right, you have the mental stats: Knowledge and Sanity. Over the course of the game, you’ll use these stats to attack, defend, and progress through the house. As you do, you might gain or lose points in those stats. To gain points, move the marker up one for each “point” you gain. To lose, move the marker down one. Note that sometimes moving up or down doesn’t actually change the value. For instance, if Zostra gains one Knowledge at her base 4 she will move up one to … 4. Hooray. Also, for the first half of the game, if you would hit the skull symbol, just leave the value at the lowest value above the skull symbol.
But how does your turn work?
So, on your turn, you need to explore the house. How do you explore? Well, you can move a number of rooms equal to your current Speed trait. For most players, that will be somewhere between 3 and 4 to start. So, move between rooms until you find a door that’s not connected to another tile and move “into that room” by putting your piece in the space adjacent to that door. When you do, flip a tile corresponding to the floor you’re on (it should have that floor, at least, illumniated on the back) and add it to the house. You’re welcome to rotate it if you need to, so you should try to get as many doors as possible to line up. If some connect to other rooms that don’t have corresponding doors, that’s fine — it’s a false door, which is at least 31% spookier from a variety of studies conducted by independent experts.
This is actually one interesting place that Widow’s Walk diverges from the base game: Any tile that can be played on the Upper Floor (so it has “Upper” [at least] illuminated on the back) can be played on the Roof as well. I assume that’s so you can’t always guess which tiles are new just from looking at the stack.
So, you explore a room. If there’s no symbol on it, you can keep exploring (unless you find the Mystic Elevator, in which you should follow its instructions immediately). If you find a symbol, draw a card corresponding to that symbol:
Events are generally bad. Sorry! In them, something spooky or bad happens (usually something falls on your head) and you usually need to make some kind of trait roll. Take a number of dice corresponding to the trait you need to role (so if you have a “4” in Knowledge, take 4 dice) and then roll them. If the value you roll is higher than the check (you roll a 5 on a Knowledge roll of 3+, for instance), you succeed! Either way, check the card for specific information. Not all Events are bad, just … most of them. Widow’s Walk added a few new Events, but surprisingly few, relative to the entire stack’s size.
Items are interesting things you might pick up while exploring the house. A Revolver? Sure. An Axe? Why not. A cursed amulet? Yup! All things you can find. With maybe two or three execptions, items are generally good. So, that’s nice. Most items can be dropped, traded, or taken (with permission), but if you pick up an item, you can’t “use” it the same turn you pick it up. If it has a passive effect (like raising your stats), that’s totally fine, though. WW added a few more of these, as well, so keep an eye out for new ones. I won’t tell you which, though, for spoiler reasons.
Omens are like items but a bit spookier. They might be a skull or a spear or … a dog? Either way, they’re ill portents of what might be to come. When you get one, do what the card tells you, and then take six dice and roll them. If you roll greater than or equal to the number of omens currently out for all players, nothing happens. If you don’t, well… we can talk about that in The Haunt. New omens appear in Widow’s Walk as well, so get excited.
Also new to Widow’s Walk is a cool movement rule: Dumbwaiters!
When you see a room with this symbol (the non-item symbol), it means you can move to the landing of the floor either above or below (not to be confused with Above and Below) you for one additional movement (so normally 2 movement, unless otherwise stated). Note that, if you’re moving to the ground floor, any of the three rooms (Entrance Hall, Foyer, or Grand Staircase) can be reached via a dumbwaiter in either the Basement or the Upper Floor.
That’s most of the basics. You’ll find that certain weird things happen, like rooms moving around or weird connections forming between rooms; just roll with it. Honestly, that’s kind of the overarching rule for this game. So, let’s go back to the Omen card dice roll. I talked about what happened if you succeeded; now, let’s talk about what happens if you fail.
The Haunt Begins
So, you’ve failed the Haunt roll. Now, take your handy Widow’s Walk guide:
And consult the Haunt chart within:
You just drew an Omen (let’s say the Dog) in a room (how about the Rookery?), so use that combination to determine the Haunt (57, in this case, so there’s no traitor), with two caveats:
- If you don’t want to do the current Haunt (you’ve played it before, or you only want to do Widow’s Walk haunts), just put the current omen card on the bottom and draw new ones until you find a Haunt you want to do. Then, discard the other unused Omens and shuffle the Omen deck. Should work out.
- If you, by some weird luck, happen to fail the Haunt roll in the Drawing Room, you’ll notice that it doesn’t appear in the chart. Draw room tiles until you find another Omen room, place your explorer in that room, and then use the chart.
So, the Haunt begins. As you might guess from a name like Betrayal at House on the Hill, this is probably when one of your group is going to reveal that they are … a traitor! It’s fine if you gasped when you read that. If you didn’t, well, you’re clearly not getting into the narrative experience of reading a review, enough. That’s on you. Anyways, this means that the remaining explorers are (usually) on a team against them and they’re trying to stop the team (now called Heroes) from winning! The Heroes will get the Secrets of Survival book, and the Traitor gets the Traitor’s Tome. Consult the page for your numbered Haunt for more information. There are a lot of different Haunts — most have a Traitor, some have multiple, some have hidden Traitors, and some have no traitor at all! That’s always very exciting.
Once that’s done, play proceeds from the left of the Traitor (bascially, the Traitor goes last). If there’s no Traitor, then play continues normally from the Haunt Revealer.
A few rules change during the Haunt:
- The House is on the Traitor’s team. This means that the Traitor can choose to ignore Event cards and negative text on room tiles. Note that if you choose to go for an Event (say, “Make a Knowledge roll” — if you choose to do so and it doesn’t go well) you still suffer the penalties. You can also do weird things like climb up the Coal Chute or summon the Stairs From Basement if you can’t get out of the basement, since a horror movie isn’t quite as scary if the monster is just kind of trapped downstairs. For more information, check the rules.
- The Traitor can move anywhere in the Mystic Elevator without rolling. Turns out it just works.
- If the Traitor has monsters, they take their turn after the Traitor. If they have a Speed stat, roll that many dice. You apply that result to all monsters, so if you roll a 5, all monsters have 5 Speed that turn. If you happen to roll a 0, all monsters can move at least one space.
There’s also one more thing:
You can now attack other players.
Let’s talk about that.
- To attack another player, make a Might roll in the same room as them (under normal circumstances). This can be changed based on the Haunt or certain other conditions. They defend with their Might, unless otherwise stated.
- If you win by 2 or more, you can choose to steal an item instead of dealing damage. We generally consider Omens to be items after the Haunt starts, so, you can take those too. It’s a good time.
- You can’t use weapons when defending an attack. Well, except for one, and only if you make the noises.
- You slow your opponents. In order to leave a room with an opponent (traitor; monster; or for the Traitor, Heroes) you must spend an additional point of movement per opponent. Note that you can always move one space on a turn.
Player Count Differences
So generally speaking I find that higher player counts introduce more variance into the game. You tend to be a bit closer to your base stats (since you haven’t had as many opportunities to individually explore rooms and such), you have a bit more downtime between turns, but you have about as much of the house explored (on average) when you trigger the Haunt. I find that it’s a bit swingier at six, so I prefer it at four.
At two, what I usually recommend is having each player take two characters and play them in order. When one player ends up becoming a traitor, then shift their non-Traitor character to the other player and make it 3v1. This doesn’t work for hidden Traitor games, so just … don’t do those haunts.
I’ll add a bit here for standard Betrayal, but also for Widow’s Walk specific things if I can come up with them.
- Generally, the bigger the house, the better it is for the Heroes. That means you’ve explored more, generally gotten more omens and items, and might be better equipped for the Haunt.
- Know your rooms. For instance, you should know which floors tend to have the stat-boosting rooms (Menagerie, Study, Library, Chapel, Larder, and Gymnasium), because:
- Stat-boosting rooms are generally pretty great. The only time you might avoid them is if it wouldn’t change your trait’s value, in which case you might wait until you need a boost or something. Generally speaking though, I recommend to get the boosts as soon as they’re available.
- Sanity and Speed are really important early-game. Generally, Knowledge and Might are most important once the Haunt’s started (lots of haunts require Knowledge rolls and you usually have to fight), but early game you’re hitting lots of events, so Sanity’s a bit more useful. Speed just helps you explore the house, so it’s very useful in the early part of the game as well.
- Use the dumbwaiters for added mobility. Often dumbwaiters can really help you get around different parts of the house, which is super useful. Remember that the Traitor can use them too, so be careful about being too close to the landings.
- Avoid crappy rooms, and don’t force your teammates to go through them. Bad rooms are rooms like the Junk Room, where you have to make a roll to exit (or lose a stat / don’t move that turn). If you explore past those rooms, then your teammates will have to go through there and risk losing stats. This is great if you’re the Traitor, but other than that it sucks. There are even more “bad” rooms now, like the Cave and the Dungeon, so be careful with how you lay out the house.
- Sometimes the best you can do is slow someone down. Not everyone makes it out of the house alive, so you might have to throw yourself in front of the Traitor and slow their movement (or, at least, until they kill you) so that your friends can escape.
- Father Reinhardt is a bit of an advanced character, in my opinion. He has super high Sanity but terrible other stats. I’d recommend Professor Longfellow instead until you’re familiar with the game.
- It’s good to keep the group together, at the start. There are some cards that essentially require another player to come help you, so if you’re super far away, bad things happen. Keep that in mind.
- Play to your strengths. If you have high Knowledge, try to be the person rolling to open the Vault or the Safe. If you have high Sanity, try to be the person who holds the Ring. High Speed? Use a Revolver. High Might? I hear the Spear is pretty great. Generally though, just try to be good at something.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- It’s more Betrayal. I wanted more haunts (having played all [but one, I think] of the 50 haunts in the base game), and there are more haunts. If you wanted more Betrayal, this is certainly that. I already enumerated a lot of Pros in my review of the base game, and those (as well as the cons, to be fair) still hold.
- The increased mobility seems positive. I’m not 100% sold on it yet, but it seems handy. The dumbwaiters + the Spiral Staircase all seem like good ways to let you get around the house faster, and that allows the house to be a bit more expansive. Which is, all in all, pretty cool.
- I like pretty much everything that’s been added. The new floor is cool, the new rooms are great, and the new Events / Items / Omens? Well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. When I got the game I immediately shuffled them into the base game’s cards so that I didn’t see any. I think that’s honestly the best way to do it.
- Adds another 50 haunts. That’s crazy! That’s at least 50 more games. And I’m going to try them all.
- It really seems like Betrayal embraced what it could be with this expansion. It seems a bit more whimsical / comedy-horror rather than just serious-business horror in this game, which I really appreciate. I think some of the original ones were vaguely comical, but this one seems to have really internalized all the crazy and come out better for it. It’s a Betrayal that’s grown a bit, narratively, and I appreciate that.
- Weren’t a ton of new cards or tiles. There are another 50 haunts, which is preposterous, so I can understand maybe not spending as much time adding new cards, but after 3-5 games you’ll probably start seeing cards you’ve played before again. It’s a tiny bit disappointing, but it’s hard to be too bummed with all the amazing haunts.
- No rule fixes / clarifications for the base game. It would have been nice to have included an updated rulebook for the base game with some clarifications for things that were a bit confusing; instead, the expansion’s added cause for even more errata. Alas.
- All the content kind of fits in the original box? There are probably three or four cards too many to make it work — it’s a bit frustrating. I need to get an insert.
- Some of the new haunts are pretty … fiddly, as well. To be as fair as possible, I said in my previous review that if you’re playing this as a highly strategic game you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, and the expansion continues that. I think there’s only so much balancing you can prepare for with a game like this, so I’m not surprised. That said, there are definitely some places in the haunts where they use different words to describe actions for different players, so it’s unclear if “Open” for the Heroes means “Destroy”, as far as the Traitor’s concerned. This has caused us some consternation in the past.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, Widow’s Walk is a triumph, in my opinion. People have been clamoring for an expansion to Betrayal for years, and finally it’s here. I was following it near-religiously when I first heard about it because Betrayal was, to be perfectly honest, one of the games that really “clicked” for me with the hobby. It’s what got me deep into gaming (so, I guess, my wallet should probably hate it) and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. Is it fiddly? Yes. Can it sometimes be non-strategic and already solved? Yes. Do I care? No. I think it’s a great experience, a super-cool concept, and I think Widow’s Walk is a worthy follow-up with some incredible haunts from some incredible people.
Plus, for those of you who recognize it, this symbol:
should be enough to terrify you.