#683 – Betrayal at Mystery Mansion [Mini]

Base price: $35.
3 – 5 players.
Play time: 25 – 50 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 2 

Finally, it’s Spooky Game Week again! I’ve been waiting for this one for, I mean, essentially a year, so glad to see we can get there. This week is a huge one, I mean, we’ve got big updates for a few classics (Betrayal and Dominion) and a new title that I think will fit in nicely to the vaunted halls of Spooky Game Fame. That said, I’ve been blessed with plenty of Scooby-Doo games lately (just finished a review of Escape from the Haunted Mansion a while back), so, I’m excited to see more titles from that franchise getting out there. Let’s take a look at the latest one!

In Betrayal at Mystery Mansion, you and the rest of your friends in Mystery, Incorporated have been tasked with solving one of five potential mysteries! To do so, you head out to this mysterious manor with your trusted Mystery Machine and some Scooby Snacks. The layout’s a bit odd, but hey, you’ve never been in this house before so you never know what you’ll find. You do know that there’s a mystery afoot, though, so you’ll need to gather Items and Clues if you want to solve it. Each turn, you’ll reveal more of the house and as you gather Clues, you’ll push the game closer and closer to the Haunt, where the Monster will make themselves known (and kidnap a player!). If you want to stop their nefarious plan, you’ll need some Secrets of Survival (thankfully, an entire guide comes with the game). Move through the house, collect what you need, avoid bad Events, and solve the mystery! Will you be able to make it out in one piece? Or will this be your group’s last meddling?

Contents

Player Count Differences

So we’ve been playing a Betrayal variant that lets us play at two, where each player controls two characters. They alternate turns (P1, P2, P1, P2) and play normally as though you had four players (for various card and game effects). When the Haunt begins, after you choose which of the two players will be the Monster, they also choose which of their characters will go missing and give the other to the non-Monster player; that player now plays 3 on 1 against the Monster. We’ve found that in regular Betrayal and Mystery Mansion this allows for fun, competitive gameplay even with only two players (and it supports online play with a few tweaks).

More generally, though, you’ll really only notice player differences once the haunt starts (beyond player downtime). The turns remain very short, and with more players you technically have a chance to expand the house faster, but as you expand the house faster, you uncover more Clues and drive the game closer to the haunt. After that, the game scales nicely to accommodate various player counts for the Haunt, so, the only thing to watch out for is as the Monster, as player count increases there are more people who may potentially wail on you to try and win the game (and more turns between each of yours). Thankfully, your defense increases as well, generally. I wouldn’t say I have a strong player count preference as a result.

Strategy

  • As with standard Betrayal, expanding the house is almost always a good call. Yeah I’m generally pro-exploring as much as possible (also because, frankly, there’s not much else to do!). You kind of need to do it to get Items and Clues, even if you’re likely going to get clowned on a bit by Events. Not all of the Events are bad, though! Having a larger house by Haunt time also makes it a bit harder for the Monster to get to you, especially if you’re spread out.
  • Depending on the haunt, however, it may be to your benefit (or not!) for the house to be strongly connected. Some Haunts benefit the Monster if the house is very wide open, and some Haunts benefit the Monster if the house is very small. In the former case, they usually need to get something and having the Heroes far away from them makes it hard for the Heroes to gang up, and in the latter case they may need to hit multiple rooms that are now much-closer together. There’s no real way to know, so I’d just err on the side of getting as much stuff as you can before the Haunt.
  • Players and monsters can’t slow each other down, anymore, so be careful when planning. That was a pretty big strategic move in the original Betrayal for both teams, since you could really gum up another player’s turn by just being in the same room as them. No longer, so don’t plan around that.
  • Giving and taking Items can be an excellent way to buff up characters. Passing things like the Signet Ring can be super useful if you need to make a lot of Speed rolls to defeat a monster. Keep that in mind when you are getting set up.
  • If you’ve got a Scooby Snack and it’s kind of necessary, reroll one of your blank dice. You don’t really want blanks when you’re trying to defeat the Monster, so, make sure you reroll if you need to. Just make sure you’re not rerolling in a situation where you really need more than two bonus pips, otherwise a single reroll can’t get you there. Monsters can’t reroll because they can’t eat Scooby Snacks; maybe that’s a clue all on its own?
  • Certain tiles will heal players; try to make a stand on or near there, if you can. It does a good job keeping you safe, but the Monster may avoid that part of town to complete its nefarious task, so you may just have to go hunt it down. Or the healing tiles may never come up, which, also a bummer!
  • Try not to leave too many of your Items or Clues unused. You can’t take them with you after the game (it’s impolite to the game’s owner), so make sure you’ve used them for their benefits before the game ends. Often, that can make the difference between winning and losing. That said, the Items and Clues are fairly situational, so you may not be able to use them all.
  • If you’re choosing who gets to be the Monster, keep in mind that their character loses all of their Items and Clues. If you start trying to use this to metagame yourself into an advantageous spot, I will say you might be taking this game Too Seriously, but it may be helpful to keep in mind if you’re playing with younger players to not let them get rid of the “strongest” character for the Haunt (unless that person really wants to be the Monster).

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I love the like, surge of Scooby-Doo-themed games coming out. I’m a big fan of the franchise, so this all kind of rules, for me. I think this in particular has been a game I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time.
  • I think positioning Betrayal as a family / kids game is actually a smart move and a better fit for the right audience. I think family-weight games are a bit more easily forgiven for having potentially inelegant interactions (which is a consequence of Betrayal’s reliance on very finicky dice), and Scooby-Doo is a perfect retheme for this game, given how many spooky situations they find themselves in. All in all, I think it’s a big win.
  • I love how much of Betrayal they’ve streamlined and decomplexified for this. The game is a lot simpler to play, and that makes everything take less time. No more rolling speed for Monsters, for instance, and no player elimination! You just are stunned for a turn, and the game doesn’t usually even last long enough for that to matter.
  • Also, making the game faster is a brilliant move. We can get through a game in 30 – 40 minutes, honestly, and that rules. It means that players aren’t left sitting and stewing on being eliminated and they’re not irritated by unlucky rolls for too long. Overall, this is the perfect length for the game, even if I do miss having three floors instead of two. Gotta make compromises!
  • And I like how they’ve added Mystery Cards for the Haunts so that you don’t need a massive Haunt Matrix to figure out what’s what. It lets them reduce the number of basically everything in the game while still preserving the randomness of Haunts, which is a super smart move. Now, you can just choose a different Mystery Card than the one you used the last time you played, and suddenly, an entirely different Haunt set emerges!
  • Giving players reroll tokens is also a nice touch. I think it prevents negative outcomes from being too negative while giving players some feeling of control, which is smart. Plus, it’s very easy to get more Scooby Snacks.
  • I love the Haunts. So much! We’ve been having a blast with them; they feel like really solid projections of classic Scooby-Doo to the Betrayal format. Again, I think this is a win all around.
  • Honestly, we’ve kind of been playing it a bit more as a storytelling game than a hard-competitive game, and I think Betrayal is the right format for that. I’ve been jokingly saying that just for playing, we’ve already won, but at the end of the game even the players that lose feel like they had a good time. It’s very much like the Mario theory that Mario and Bowser are actors playing out a role and are actually friends in real life. The player who takes on the role of the Monster isn’t actually losing the game; they’re just playing the Monster so that everyone else can team up and win. That makes this a very nice fit for families, as the more experienced player can take on being the Monster and let the rest of the family team up against them!

Mehs

  • There are still so. many. tokens, and no extra bags included for them. I made it work, but I didn’t like it. I would have liked bags for each token type, but I imagine they didn’t include them for Expense Reasons (see Cons).
  • Weirdly enough, where the previous tracker tokens were far too lose, these are … too tight? It’s kind of wild, but yeah, the stat tracker tokens are hard to get onto the character boards. Thankfully, once they’re on, you don’t really need to take them off.
  • I have a lot of thoughts about the characters’ starting stat distributions. I understand from a gameplay perspective why certain characters need Might / Speed / Courage / Brains to be what they are, but that is definitely not what I would have picked for the various characters had you asked me. Not really a problem for gameplay, just a funny thing about translating a show to a game.
  • Letting players choose who gets to be the Monster is an okay idea, but it creates weird incentives. Generally I would say to do it randomly if you can’t decide; otherwise, players may choose to let the character with the fewest items or the weakest character get eliminated to give themselves an advantage. Being real, if you’re min-maxing any Betrayal like that, you’re going to likely have a bad time sooner or later, but the point remains that the game creates the incentive to do so. I usually just frown at folks if they try to.

Cons

  • Still suffers from a few of Betrayal’s pitfalls. I mean, you don’t really play Betrayal for the balance (too many variables for it to basically ever be balanced, to be honest), but I will say that it’s sometimes unsatisfying to have the game tilted against you due to a bad roll or bad luck with card draws. That said, this is definitely helped by the game being 30 minutes or so rather than two hours. At that point, you’re just playing for the experience of being an old white guy in a costume trying to haunt a puppet show or whatever the plot of the latest Haunt is.
  • Some odd errors. This might just be me being sloppy (though after looking, this doesn’t seem to be the case), but it would be helpful if there were an explanation of the various tile symbols in the rulebook, rather than just under the movement instructions (took me a while to figure out the Cave and Laboratory). I also played a Haunt with Magic Dust, and it required … 7 Magic Dust, but only 5 exist in the game? I’m all for playing a bit fast and loose with things but there at least needs to be some errata or explanation of what to do if you don’t have enough tokens for something. I think this is a pretty common problem for Betrayal, though, and not to make excuses, but as someone who’s done a fair bit of content work if you’ve got a sprawling amount of content (as Betrayal tends to), you’re more likely to see errors because it’s hard to maintain consistency across the board within that sprawl. Just my take, but it is unfortunate to see more errors in this version, as well.
  • Gotta do what you gotta do to keep the price down, but the component quality isn’t nearly as high as the original Betrayal, which is disappointing (but understandable). As far as I can tell, this isn’t exactly a new complaint, but having minis would have been wonderful. Standees are fine. Not much to do about that, but I understand why the tiles are thinner and the cards are thinner and the like. This is a family-weight game, and the original Betrayal is $50 MSRP. I don’t normally deal too much with price, but I would assume that hitting that $35 MSRP had to come with some complex component compromises, and so this is the result. While it’s less sturdy, I think they were trying to make the game more accessible to a market that I think is better suited for Betrayal, so, I at least can sympathize with the reasoning behind the decisions, even if I don’t like them.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

Overall, while I’m very nostalgic for the classic Betrayal at House on the Hill, I think Betrayal at Mystery Mansion is a fantastic adaptation of the game! I particularly like that they’ve taken great pains to streamline the game at every level, removing player barriers (no more elimination! lower complexity) and reducing the playtime, even if I wish that they hadn’t also taken similar cuts to the component quality. What can you do, though? I think part of this comes with having (what I believe) to be an understanding of the Betrayal franchise, though: you’re really playing through an experience. It’s essentially light roleplay. The dice are cruel and finicky, the Events can really mess you up, and sometimes you just wander onto a space that hurts you for no reason. Some players balk at that because it’s hard to tightly control your character’s progression with nonsense like that happening, but I think with the right mindset, it’s really all part of the fun. I think this is better serviced by this pivot towards a family-weight game, though, because I also think that younger gamers aren’t going to be complaining as much about “balance” and “probability”; they, like me, are just going to be excited to play through a Scooby-Doo episode and finally unmask that pesky museum curator. He would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for us meddling kids. We know the lines, we love the lines. I think what impresses me most about this game is that intuitively, when someone pitches the concept to you, it’s obviously a good idea, and it delivers on that in a fantastic way. It takes the things I like about Betrayal (the exploration, the multiple outcomes, and the inherent silliness) and projects it onto the Scooby-Doo universe in one of the best licensed game pairings I’ve seen since The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena. If you’re, like me, a lifelong Betrayal fan looking for something a bit faster and lower-complexity; you’re a die-hard Scooby-Doo fan looking for a way to play through some of your favorite stories; or you’re just a fan of vaguely spooky games and want something you can break out for the whole family, I would definitely recommend checking out Betrayal at Mystery Mansion! I’ve had a really great time with it.


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