The best board games tell stories. Victories and defeats occur in dramatic fashion. It wasn’t simply a roll of the dice that decided the fates of the players, it was the cunning move to trade this resource for that. To turn two other players against each other. To corner a section of the board and hold it against all comers in a valiant stand.
Or, in the case of Betrayal, to unleash a horde of hellbats and murder your hapless former friends as they flee into the dark crannies of a haunted house.
When we have a number of people over, Betrayal often gets more than a cursory mention because of its story-telling ability. The minute-to-minute gameplay is often slow and, without sufficient enthusiasm for the atmosphere, the group can find themselves wishing for the game to end not long after it’s started.
A potential turn: A player moves the jock character into an unexplored part of the house. Flips over a tile. Announces that it’s the kitchen and, say, draws an event. He reads out that there’s a ghostly gravedigger whose coming at him with a shovel, and then he rolls a dice to see if the gravedigger happens to hurt him. Everyone else sips their drinks, checks their phones. Plays with the cats.
But with the right group, Betrayal can become a hauntingly fun experience.
Let’s take our potential turn and goose it up with a bit of the adventure that can make this game so much more than just flipping tiles and rolling dice:
Flash, the track star, goes exploring because he hasn’t found anything useful yet, and when all Hell breaks loose (and it will), he’s gotta have something better than his fists to fight with. Turns out, through door number one, is the kitchen. Not, perhaps, a fantastic source of weaponry, but hey, there’s an event. Flash takes the top card and reads slowly, in the best voice he’s got for a jock scared beyond all reason. A gravedigger, menacing and rotten, crawls out of the floor. Stares at Flash with dead eyes. Flash is frozen to the spot with terror, the disgusting remnants of meals long since served decaying in the kitchen around him. Without warning, the gravedigger charges towards Flash. The jock resolves to stand his ground. Does he, or does Flash Thompson, king of the school, run in terror?
This could be every turn in Betrayal – one short story after another. That’s without getting into the eventual traitor element where, based on what parts of the house you’ve explored and what trinkets you’ve found, a different scenario will occur. You’ll never play the same game twice.
Sometimes I want something faster. Sometimes I want a different theme. But when I have a group that wants stories, that wants to find themselves late at night in an adventure they may not escape alive, I haven’t found a better choice.