Betrayal at House on the Hill (BHH) has been a tabletop staple for years now. The innovation, and creativity poured into its design has fascinated newcomers and connoisseurs alike.
It’s also frustrated many players with its awkward rules and completely one-sided scenarios,
I’ve never had a group of players walk away from the table without some kind of interesting story to tell. That’s rare for a game.
When I first heard about Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, I was intrigued, to say the least. It combines the multiple scenarios and traitorous elements of BHH but throws it into the fiction city of Baldur’s Gate in the Dungeons & Dragons universe. To say I was excited to get my hands on a copy was a complete understatement.
Did it live up to the hype? Is it a reskinned cash-grab?
Let’s find out.
A Brief Overview of Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
The city of Baldur’s Gate is one of the most important trade cities on the Sword Coast, but all is not well. The god of murder, Bhaal, has corrupted the city. Monsters roam freely and the citizens hear whispers of chaos and murder.
The Harpers have sent out the call for adventurers to rid the city of the Shadow of Bhaal, but not everyone is who they seem…
Unboxing Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
If you enjoy punching out cardboard, you’re going to have a fun time. There are a lot of tokens, board pieces, and map tiles. The quality is good, but not the best. They feel like they’re going to last, but they still feel a little thin. I haven’t had too many problems with mine, so the thinness doesn’t really bother me.
The miniatures are prepainted plastic. Chances are they’re going to be a little bent from shipping; a bent sword here or there, but nothing that can’t be fixed, and nothing too serious. They do come prepainted and they’re pretty nice looking. I’m not the best mini painter in the world, but I like to dabble.
One day, I’ll bust out the paints to see what I can do with them, but for the average player, you get good quality minis with a decent paint job. It’s not going to win a Golden Demon award, but it’s also not going to distract you from playing.
Overall it’s solid production value. The cardboard artwork looks pretty and the minis look nice. There was nothing that disappointed me, but there’s nothing that blew me away either.
How to Play Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate (just like BHH) starts out as a cooperative experience where players control adventurers in the city. As they explore the city, they open up new buildings and side streets. It’s designed to be a randomized map every game and no two experiences are ever truly alike.
At the start of the game, players wander around, exploring the board. It’ll be pretty aimless because, at this point, there is literally no objective. There’s no win condition and even if a player would be killed by an event, you cannot die before the Haunt begins.
As players move onto empty sections of the board, a new location tile will be drawn and something will happen.
There are 3 symbols that can appear on tiles:
- Items (Bull skull)
- Events (Swirly)
- Omen (Raven)
It’s very rare for players to get an item, so most of the time they’ll be forced to draw an Event card and resolve whatever happens on the card.
Every so often, players will draw an Omen tile (the one with the Raven symbol). Similar to an Event card, players will draw an omen and resolve any immediate effects. They are then forced to make a Haunt roll.
To resolve an Omen, roll dice equal to the number of Omen tiles revealed (so far) and try to get lower than a 6.
If it’s the first Omen tile, there will only be one dice to get a 6. The dice in Betrayal are different from normal 6-sided dice. A lot of the sides are blank and the others have 1 pip or 2 pips. It’s impossible to force the Haunt on the first or second Omen tile. This acts as a bit of a built-in timer to ensure the game doesn’t shift too early.
Once a Haunt roll fails, the game completely changes. Everyone takes a minute and refers to the Traitor’s Tome booklet that comes with the game. There’s a chart that you’ll need to refer to in order to see what happens in the game.
For example, if the last omen tile drawn before the haunt roll was the Cursed Statue, and you received the Dimensional Shackles, you would check the chart in the Traitor’s Tome for Cursed Statue and Dimensional Shackles.
The chart will give you a number and will tell you who is the traitor. The traitor will then go into another room and read up on their new set of rules and the remaining players will read from the Survival Guide.
The Traitor’s Tome and Survival Guide will give each team all the necessary information that they’ll need, including their new game-winning conditions.
Notice I said that it’ll give the team all the “necessary” information. You won’t know everything, so be prepared for surprises from the opposing team.
If you’re chosen as the traitor, congratulations you’re evil. It’s not the end of the world. It’s actually rather fun. You lose all of your teammates but the traitor is usually much stronger than other players. Each Haunt will grant different bonuses depending on the scenario but there are some universal rules that go along with it. Traitors can’t die, and they ignore all of the bad text on cards. If there’s a room that would normally slow down a player, the traitor can literally just ignore it and keep on moving.
It’s good to be evil.
Major Changes Between BGG & BHH
- New Haunt roll
- Character abilities
- City, rather than a house
- Door colors
New Haunt Roll
Haunt rolls work a little differently in Baldur’s Gate, although they fundamentally do the same thing. Each time an Omen card is revealed, that player makes a Haunt roll. They’ll get dice equal to the number of revealed Omen cards, and if they roll 6 or MORE, the Haunt will begin.
This is different from BHH because it eliminates the possibility of early-game Haunts. As someone who has played a lot of Betrayal, it’s kind of funny to see one of your friends standing next to you suddenly become an unstoppable monster as soon as the game starts, but it stops being funny after it happens a few times.
The new style for Haunt rolls is probably one of the best rule fixes to the game, which drastically helps balance out the scenarios. It’s a much a more polished experience.
Adventurers vs. Explorers
One of the biggest changes is that characters are much more unique than ever before. Each player character will have a different and unique ability that they can use throughout the game. The abilities can be extremely powerful and can help you out of some tight spots after the Haunt has happened. Most of the time they can be used only once per turn, but there are a few abilities in the game that are used once throughout the whole game, so make sure you don’t waste them.
The stats around the character cards work in exactly the same way, so nothing new there.
City vs. Haunted House
The board tiles that make up the city of Baldur’s Gate are all color-coded. There are 3 different types of tiles; catacombs, buildings, and streets.
- The catacomb tiles are colored with a greyish blue cobblestone floor.
- The buildings have a reddish/brown wooden floor.
- The streets have grey or yellow flagstone flooring.
The catacombs are the underbelly of the city. They can sometimes provide a quick getaway, or allow players to hide momentarily.
They’re also pretty dangerous and easy to get stuck in. Players can jump down into the catacombs through any grate that they can see on a ground-level tile but getting out is a little trickier. There are many ways into the catacombs but there are only a few ways out. Don’t get trapped!
City & Streets
The upper level of the game consists of all of the other buildings and side streets. Players will start in the Elf Song Tavern and from there, begin their investigations. The board is designed so that players will need to enter street tiles to open up entrances to new buildings.
You’ll notice that there are no longer 3 physical levels (like in BHH): basement, ground, upper floor. The designers managed to keep the same feel with only 2 levels by dividing the ground level into streets and buildings. It’s actually pretty ingenious how well the D&D themes meshed into their ruleset.
When placing a tile door, colors don’t matter. It’s only used to determine what new tile is drawn.
Sorry about the bold, but this is a rule I repeated a lot and can easily be missed. When exploring a new location, the door entrance/exit that you are moving through determines what type of tile a player draws. When pacing that tile, the doorways need to meet, but the color does not matter.
- Yellow: Street Tile
- Red: Building Tile
- Blue: Catacomb Tile
Your First Game of Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
There are two starting map tiles that need to be out at the start of every game. The larger ground level tile with the Elf Song Tavern on it and the Catacombs Landing. You may want to place them a bit away from each other because as you play, you’ll expand the board outwards from those two tiles. It’s a pain in the butt to have to stop mid-game to spread everything out to make more room.
The next step is to choose your characters. Each board is double-sided, so you can choose which one sounds cool, or you can randomly throw them at the other players. To my table’s dismay, I always see how fast I can fling them at my players (you can turn every board game into a dexterity game if you start throwing pieces).
Grab the mini that matches your character and place it in the Inn because literally, every D&D story starts at an inn.
The last real bit of setup is for everybody to get a player aid card that helps with general rules. On the player aid, there is a number. The player who has the lowest number on the card goes first.
That’s basically it. You’ll start wandering around, exploring rooms, getting injured, and picking up loot.
Normally I like to give an overview of what happened on my first playthrough, or what to expect, but the biggest selling point of a Betrayal game is that nobody knows what’s going to happen, or how it’s going to turn out. There’s literally no win condition at the start of the game.
Pros & Cons of Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
- You’ll always walk away from the table with a story
- More balanced than BHH
- Highly-thematic and meshes well with the D&D world
- Stat Sliders are better
- Still uses the Stat Sliders
- Can be one-sided at times
I’m a huge fan of the Betrayal series and D&D, and the pairing of theme and gameplay elements meshes incredibly well. Because Baldur’s Gate came out after the original Avalon Hill has fixed many of the original rules that plagued Betrayal.
There are still moments when you find yourself completely cornered and trapped during a Haunt, but it seems less often than with Betrayal at House on the Hill.
I know I keep comparing the two games and for an objective review, I need to look at Betrayal on its own (I’ll get there), but with a game that is a direct descendant you need to look at the predecessor to see the growth.
As far as Baldur’s Gate goes, it almost completely replaces House on the Hill in my opinion. It’s more balanced, and the rules are much more refined.
That being said, I still have my copy of House on the Hill and love to bring it to the table during Halloween or for a scary movie night. For a weekend gaming session, I’m much more likely to take Baldur’s Gate off the shelf than House on the Hill.
In Betrayal at House on the Hill, there’s a lot to love and a lot that will frustrate. The game is fun and full of incredible story moments, but it’s also full of irritating balance issues.
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate fixes most of the gripes I had with BHH, and remember as much as I like to complain about BHH, I love that game.
They still use the awful stat sliders, but they’re not as terrible as they used to be. If you never played the original, a small table bump would send everyone’s stats all over the room. In Baldur’s Gate, they’re stuck on a little better, but I still can imagine several ways to make them better.
Baldur’s Gate is an extremely fun game, that works very well as a gateway game. It’s simple enough that a casual player can pick up the rules fairly easily, and it’s dungeon crawler enough to get new players interested in the genre, while at the same time being not dungeon-crawler enough to completely overwhelm beginners.