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Betrayal at House on the Hill

An interview with the game's designer, Bruce Glassco

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Betrayal at House on the Hill

Betrayal at House on the Hill

Image courtesy of Avalon Hill / Hasbro

In Betrayal at House on the Hill, published by Avalon Hill (a division of Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast), 3 to 6 players explore a haunted house which is revealed during the game by the addition of new tiles to the existing board. Each tile represents a room, hallway, staircase, etc. Each player takes on the role of a specific character, and each character has specific strengths and weaknesses, physical and mental.

Initially, the players work together as the house is revealed. But one of the characters betrays the rest of the party, and the innocent players must then defeat the traitor before it's too late. At the end of the game, either the traitor or the innocents win. Betrayal at House on the Hill takes about 60 minutes per game.

Shortly before the game's release in 2004, designer Bruce Glassco answered a few questions about it.

Q: Can you give us a summary of the gameplay?

You go into the house and split up to explore it. Then at some point, you trigger the Haunt. A table will tell you which player will then become the Traitor, [and that player] controls all the monsters.

The play is then all the rest of the players against the traitor. The good guys read from one book about what their goals and victory conditions are, and the bad guy reads from a different book -- so each side won't necessarily know what the other side wants to accomplish.

Q: What elements did you start with (theme, modular board, multiple scenarios, etc.) and when did others get added?

I first had the idea for the game after playing Blackmorn Manor. I liked the theme and the way you didn't know at first what was haunting the house, but there were a bunch of things that I was disappointed with. I didn't like the fact that all the characters were functionally identical, so I wanted them all to have different strengths and weaknesses. I also didn't like the fact that the house didn't have any staircases -- who's ever heard of a haunted ranch house? And I wanted a house that could develop beyond just the basic square.

I envisioned the whole game from the beginning -- lots of the development has been trimming stuff away. The biggest changes were when the number of floors got reduced for six to three, and when the traitor changed from being optional to a central part of the game.

Q: When did you decide to create a wide variety of scenarios, and how difficult was it to come up with them all?

The different scenarios were the most fun to come up with. The general idea was to come up with threats that could be defeated, not by pounding on the monsters, but by avoiding the monsters and finding items that could defeat them.

When I submitted the game there were around 50 scenarios. During the development process some of mine got dropped and other developers added some, and there are still 50. The lower-numbered ones tend to be mine. Lots of the new ones are great, though.

Q: This is your first published game, according to Boardgamegeek.com -- is that correct? If so, this is quite an ambitious debut. How difficult was it to convince a large company like Hasbro to publish it?

I've designed a bunch of games, but this is indeed the first one to get published. The original Avalon Hill accepted it back in 1995, but went out of business before it could put it out. Then Hasbro planned on putting it out through AH for a while. When they shuffled AH over to [Wizards of the Coast], they kept it and had Rob Daviau working on it for a Parker Brothers release. Then they decided to give it back to AH, where Bill McQuillan and Mike Selinker worked on it. So it's had lots of talented designers.

Now I just have to find a way to parlay this game into getting companies interested in looking at my other designs!

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