Haunted-house In Your Soul
Not to put to fine a point on it but there is a special house on a hill shaped space in my heart. Betrayal was one of the first “proper” board games I played in my adult life and I instantly fell in love with it. The procedural map building, the campy B-Horror Movie vibes along with the traitor turning jolly cooperation into (at least most of the time) asymmetrical player vs player hit all the right buttons for me. You can probably guess my excitement at learning we would be getting a brand new version of the game, with reworked mechanics, new scenarios and a brand new setting. The setting of course being the legendary Baldur’s Gate.
He looks trustworthy right?
In with the old
At it’s very core the game remains mostly the same. Each player takes on the role of an adventurer in a party exploring the titular Baldur’s Gate. This is accomplished by revealing tiles that represent different locations across the town and it’s underbelly. Most tiles when revealed will cause the reveller to have to draw either an event, haunt or item card. Event cards are what they say on the tin, you enter a new location an a thing happens to you this can range from a simple mugging to a flash flood. To avoid the worst outcomes of events you will likely end up having to roll against one for your characters 4 stats, Knowledge, Might, Sanity and Speed. Each character card has its own unique stat array but they all share the same lowest value, a skull which if you end up reaching then sadly you are not long for this world. Item cards will give you trinkets or weapons that give you more options when things go south much like omens in fact but without the downside of triggering the haunt.
The haunt is the real meat of the Betrayal series, does two games and an expansion make it a series? When a player draws an omen card they have to roll a number of dice equal to the amount of revealed omen cards, so if this is the 3rd card then they would roll 3 dice. If the dice show more than 6 the haunt begins. The Haunt will be one of fifty different scenarios that change up how the game is played. Most of these will have a traitor, committing the titular betrayal and having to work against the other players to achieve their own set of goals. Traitors will often get new powers that are thematic to the scenario or a group of minions to assist them. The adventures and traitors get there instructions from different tomes meaning that they likely wont know the exact goals of the opposition but murder is quite likely.
A new class of adventurer
New to Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate however is the concept of character abilities, taking a queue from it’s RPG source material each adventurer falls into one of the main classes found in Dungeons & Dragons and also has a unique skill relating to that class. For instance Gretchen the Druid can use wild shape to turn into either a Badger, Mouse, Owl or a Tortoise, doing so will increase a particular stat by 2 points and reduce another by 1. Grusk the Paladin is able to ignore an event symbol on a tile once per turn which allows you to expand the known map much quicker and with less risk…well slightly less risk.
They have changed the clips since the original, they don’t slide about any more.
A night out on the town and under it to
Speaking of the map the tiles have returned but this time they are a little different given that you are exploring a city and it’s catacombs and not one reality warping house on a hill. Tiles now come in the following three varieties, Indoors, City and Catacombs. Indoor tiles have three kinds of doors, blue, yellow and red. Yellow doors mean that on the other side there is a street and red indicates that you are about to go inside. Blue doors are only found in the catacombs however there are blue sewer grates which allow you to drop down into the catacomb landing at any time. You can think of the Catacombs as the equivalent of the basement from the original Betrayal except this time you can go straight there before finding the coal chute or a hole in the floor.
The three different areas feel more distinct from each other than those presented in the first game. This is mostly down to certain events affecting adventurers differently depending on where they are currently standing as well as the bigger focus on movement. From the several scenarios I have had the chance to play the map has mostly ended up as a winding series of streets and buildings as opposed to the hyper-cube layout of the house.
Roll down, roll down
Exploration however is only the first part of the game, the real fun happens once the haunt is revealed. I do personally feel like the term haunt should have been switched out to something more appropriate for the setting like quest or hook, for those meta points. The way the haunt is triggered is mostly the same as in the original, whenever you reveal an omen card you man a haunt roll and if you fail the roll the haunt triggers.
This time round however you roll a number of dice equal to the amount of revealed omen cards and hope you get below 6 other wise the bad times are coming. This is a change is pretty much the inverse of the original haunt roll system which saw players always rolling 6 dice and trying to get a higher result than the amount of revealed haunts. Personally I’m a big fan of the change, it pretty much guarantees that the haunt wont happen until the 3rd omen and even then it is unlikely and it is more often triggering on the 5-6th omen.
Don’t split the party
I think it’s fair to say however that were Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate really shines is the new series of haunts. Pretty much every scenario is a playable love letter to pen and paper RPG’s and Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Some come with brand new concepts like the traitor being able to rearrange tiles or a fake out win for the adventurers. My personal favourite isn’t one particular haunt however it’s the further development of only hero haunts. House on the hill featured 3 haunts that had no traitor meaning that everyone who had been working together prior to the reveal continued to do so.
There are now 8 of these in Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate which while small in comparison to the 50 total haunts the game has to offer it does allow the game a bit more versatility. These 8 scenarios essentially allow you to play a mini 1 off Dungeons & Dragons session with people who have an interest in the hobby but are unable to pursue it. Mainly though the hero only scenarios get played by my group when we have done a traitor one before and don’t feel like playing it or just fancy having a bit of jolly cooperation.
More of the same old betrayal?
Overall I personally I prefer this version of betrayal. The new haunt roll system is a strict improvement on the old one and there is nothing stopping you from retrofitting it into your house on the hill games. The adventurer powers give players further definition between the characters the play and the rolls they fill without feeling contrived or completely overpowered. The additional fully co-op haunts make for a more varied experience between the sudden yet inevitable betrayal.
In a world littered with cash grab variants of classic board games(looking at you Monopoly and RISK) Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate rises above the rest and is simply a fantastic alternate and in my eyes slightly superior version of it’s predecessor earning an 8/10
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