Friday, 31 July 2020

Betrayal Legacy

Betrayal Legacy was published in 2018. It is based on Betrayal at House on the Hill, published in 2004. The original game already has an interesting premise. A group of friends explore a haunted house. The game starts off in a cooperative mode. They explore the house and pick up items they discover. Then something triggers a haunt, and this is when the twist occurs. One player will turn traitor, and the game transforms into a one vs many conflict. The traitor will be given an objective, and the others - the heroes - will be given a different objective. Sometimes it can be as simple as killing the other party, sometimes it can be more complicated. Whichever side achieves its objective first wins. The game comes with many different scenarios, and they are all horror stories and thrillers.

With the legacy mechanism added, in Betrayal Legacy, the group of people exploring the house will be family members and descendants from five different families. The campaign story starts in 1666, and spans 14  games - a prologue game (tutorial) and 13 campaign games. Each time you play, it will be a different year, about 30 years after the previous game. You will play a different family member, perhaps a son, daughter,  nephew or grandson. Or if the previous family member is still alive, you can play him/her again. The finale game will be in 2004, which is the publication year of Betrayal at House on the Hill. Nice touch!

When setting up a game, you lay out only a few tiles - the doorway in front of the front door, the downstairs corridor, one upstairs room, and one basement room. These tiles have doors and paths leading to other rooms and tiles, for you to discover (and add tiles) as you play. The house map grows as you explore it. Each time you play, the house architecture will be different. This may not sound logical, but hey, it's a haunted house. Or think of it as being regularly renovated or rebuilt.

In the photo above, the colours of the character bases represent the families they are from. The game supports 5 players, so you have 5 families.

Green is one of the family colours, so I picked that - my favourite colour. This is the player board. The tracks along the four edges are four attributes of your character - Might, Speed, Knowledge and Sanity. If any of these attributes fall to the skull icon, your character dies. Some equipment and events in the game modify your attributes. Might is used for fighting. It determines how many dice you roll. Speed determines how many steps you may move on your turn. Knowledge and Sanity are used to operate certain equipment. Sometimes the outcomes of events depend on die rolls, and the number of dice you roll is determined by these attributes.

There is one heirloom mechanism which I quite like. If your character picks up an item, you may decide to name it and make it an heirloom of your family. You do this by attaching a sticker with your family emblem. In future games if your family member draws this item, it becomes more powerful because it is an heirloom. If the item is drawn by another player, you can try to persuade him to give it to you so that you can unleash its full potential.

The legacy story is driven by a very thick deck of cards. They tell you what to do, which section of which booklet to read, and how to make permanent changes to the game components depending on the decisions you make. Other than the prologue, the stories for the legacy games can differ. Your decisions, and incidents in each game, will have implications on future games you play. If a character dies, he or she leaves behind a ghost icon (you add a skull sticker to the tile). In future, spooky things tend to happen where many people have died. Sometimes new cards will be added to decks, sometimes some cards will be removed.

So far I have played three games with Benz, Ruby, Xiaozhu and Edwin, and one game with Moon, Charles and Plabon. The game with Moon's group was played using the same set, just to let them experience the game. After they tried it, they immediately decided to buy a copy so that they could launch into their own campaign. The copy I bought was mainly intended to be played with Benz's group.

During play, the period before the haunt can be dull, since you don't know the story yet. You are just exploring the house and picking up as many items as you can. At this stage nobody knows who will be the traitor, so your best course of action is buffing yourself up. If you turn out to be the traitor, then you'd be strong and your odds of winning are better. If you are on the hero team, your improved skills will be useful to the team.

When the haunt is triggered, the traitor needs to go to another room to read a specific section of the traitor's scenario book. The rest of the players, the heroes, stay put to read a specific section of the heroes' scenario book. Both parties will learn what they are supposed to know about the story at that point, including how to win. The passages are usually different, and there is usually information which one party knows but not the other. Such information is only revealed at an opportune moment. I've had some such surprises sprung on me.

One difficulty my group has is the rules reading. I'm the only gamer in the group who has familiarity with boardgames and boardgame mechanisms. The rest are casual players. Usually I am the one teaching games. During play I explain the game rules when there is confusion, and I remind people about rule details. With Betrayal Legacy, I can't do this for my opponent team, because I haven't read their part of the rules. My friends on the opponent team need to read and interpret the rules by themselves, which is a little challenging. We spend quite some time digesting rules when the haunts start, sometimes even needing a dictionary. Be aware of this if your group is not used to reading English rules or game rules in general.

Dice in the game are customised - two faces with 0, two with 1 and two with 2. You roll dice when you fight and when you resolve events. This customised distribution reduces the range of possible outcomes and reduces luck somewhat. In one of our games, we came to one situation where we needed to roll 4 to win, and we only had two dice. That meant we only had one ninth of a chance. To our surprise we rolled two 2's! Everyone cheered. I was so excited I asked everyone stop for me to snap a photo.

The game comes with many different types of markers. There are many different stories and story elements, thus the need for various markers. In this photo you can see an animal marker, and a nest marker.

Spooky music coming from an unfinished room...

The water drop shaped markers are monsters. Many scenarios involve monsters of some kind, and monsters are typically controlled by the traitor.

So many monsters! We were getting overwhelmed!

The legacy campaign in Betrayal Legacy is best played with the same group of friends. It would be a shared journey, a story which spans four centuries and many generations. This is certainly an experience type game. Nothing spectacular about the game mechanisms. They are pretty straight-forward. And straight-forward is good. On your turn you typically just move some steps, then perform an action, e.g. attacking someone. The game mechanisms being simple means you can focus on and enjoy the story. There are quite many different scenarios, so you will be experiencing many different stories. By the time you play all 14 games in the campaign, it's almost like have played 14 different games. Good deal, yes? After completing the campaign you can still play in a free play mode. There will still be some scenarios you haven't seen. However the game components won't change much after the campaign is over.

When playing Betrayal Legacy, it is best to get into the role-playing mood. It is an immersive experience.

I am still halfway through the campaign. Unfortunately now it's a bit harder to arrange to meet up and play. I wonder when our next game will be.

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