Review: Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate

IMG_0852

Length 60-90 minutes

Release Date 2017

Designer: Chris Dupuis, Mike Mearls
Artist: Various
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast/Avalon Hill
Category: Exploration, Cooperative Play, Adventure
Players: 3-6
Price: $46.98 Amazon.com

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is the 2017 reworking of the classic board game Betrayal at House on the Hill. Once again published by Wizards of the Coast/ Avalon Hill, it features very similar gameplay, but an entirely new Dungeons and Dragons theme and a whole crop of new story scenarios.

Content Guide

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate takes place in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, which means it includes themes of magic, evil deities, etc. Geeks Under Grace wrote an article about Christianity as it relates to D&D, and I encourage you to read it if you have concerns about this game.

Review

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is a re-themed version of the cult-favorite horror board game Betrayal at House on the Hill. If you read my review of the original, you’ll know that I consider House on the Hill to be one of the greatest games ever made, despite a plethora of issues. I went into this new version skeptically, as any moviegoer would going to see a remake of their favorite classic.

Right off the bat, the game shows promise. As I had hoped, the rules include a handy, quick-start section for those familiar with the original. It briefly summarizes what’s different about Baldur’s Gate, and lets players dive right in. For folks new to the series, the rulebook is a drastic improvement over the original. It clears up a lot of gray areas that necessitated house rules previously. Additionally, the character cards have two simple, but long overdue fixes. Their stat tracks have clear lines differentiating one number from another, and the plastic slider clips work much better than before.

The new Betrayal game looks a lot like the old one. Naturally, the graphic design is different, but the iconography, dice, room cards, character cards, and tiles remain functionally unchanged. The game’s system works identically, except for a few minor changes. Most notably:

  • Characters now have unique abilities.
  • Adding rooms to the house works slightly differently. Doors are color-coded, and when players explore a new room, they draw a tile from the stack of the corresponding color.
  • There are three tile colors, representing Buildings, Streets, and Catacombs, but the Building and Streets are placed on the same level of the board, meaning there are only two “floors” in Baldur’s Gate.
  • The Haunt roll mechanism now requires players to roll as many dice as total Omen cards drawn, instead of a flat six. The Haunt then triggers if the result of the roll is six or more.

So how does the Betrayal system fare outside of the House on the Hill? Surprisingly well, actually.

What makes the original game so engaging is its thematic immersion. Players can always feel a palpable tension as they explore the House. The horrors that lurk around every corner play to people’s innate fears. The stories tap into that deep, dark part of the consciousness that likes to be scared. Even if they are a bit far-fetched, the narratives draw players in because it’s easy to imagine oneself in them. After all, we all remember the grim allure of that creepy, empty house on our childhood street.

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate tries to create the same immersion as as its cousin, and it more or less succeeds. The monsters are no longer the things you used to dress up as for Halloween (unless you went trick-or-treating as a Beholder, in which case you’re way cooler than me), but the tension is still there.

Of course, the most important question is how do the new Haunt scenarios hold up? I can’t believe that I’m about to say this, but based on my first few plays of Baldur’s Gate, the new Haunts may be the best yet. They are creative and interesting, and seemingly much more balanced than any before. Where the scenarios in the original were hit-or-miss, and the ones in Widow’s Walk were just all over the place, the Haunts in the D&D retheme seem to be well-crafted, fresh, and engaging.

I would recommend Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate to two specific groups of people:

  1. Fans of the original House on the Hill who are looking for new content
  2. Newcomers who are interested in trying a Betrayal game and enjoy fantasy/D&D themes

When Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk came out, I felt like it breathed new life into the game. Players finally had new stuff to explore, new encounters to face, and, most importantly, new stories to play out (even if they were somewhat lackluster). I feel the same way about Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate. It is a fresh look at a game that is starting to show its age. It sort of feels like a standalone expansion, providing the classic Betrayal experience with a new coat of paint. I think I still prefer the theme of the original, but, overall, this new version may be the strongest yet—and coming from me, that’s saying something.

A review copy was provided by Wizards of the Coast.

The Bottom Line

Betrayal at Baldur's Gate is a great reworking of a classic board game. Definitely worth checking out.

 

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