Game Review: Betrayal at House on the Hill

pic828598_mdBetrayal at House on the Hill
Wizards of the Coast, 2004, 2010

Betrayal at House on the Hill is the ultimate haunted house mystery game. The game starts as with cooperative play, as the players explore the house, creating the game board by placing tiles for each room in the house. As the players explore, the encounter creepy events, find useful items, and uncover evil omens. When the players discover an omen, they make a haunt check by rolling 6 dice (each as 2 blank sides, 2-one pip sides, and 2-two pip sides). They must meet or exceed the number of omens on the table or the "haunt" happens. As players uncover more rooms and discover more omens, this roll gets harder, and eventually someone will fail. Each player has a character card and stats which tell them how many dice they will use for their rolls, and determines their speed of movement through the house. Will you play the mad scientist, the little girl or the brute? There are 12 characters to choose from (6 double sided character cards).

When the haunt happens, based on the room that the player was in, and the omen that happened, the game takes a sinister turn as one of the players at the table becomes the betrayer. A chart in the book determines the scenario that will play out from that point. The betrayer takes the betrayer tome and discovers their goal for the rest of the game. The rest of the players take their scenario book and determine their goals for the rest of the game. The gameboard gets set up with scenario specific detaila and the game restarts with the player to the betrayer's left and play continues until either the players or the betrayer meets their winning conditions.

Between the variations possible through the large number of room tiles, and the over 50 scenarios that can happen, the re-playability of this game is near infinite. You may play the same scenario more than once, but due to room configuration, missing rooms, different number of players, item discovery and other variables, it will play out very differently every time. The creepy wording of the cards and the thematic rooms give a fantastic horror movie feel. If you like creepy horror, then this game is sure to become an instant hit that you will bring out again and again. It is well-balanced and almost every game is a tense race to the finish. It is possible and even probable that your character may perish during the game. We usually play with the house rule that if you die before the haunt happens, you may turn your character over and start again with the other character. That way everyone stays in the game until the fun really starts to happen.

It can happen that the haunt roll fails early, which gives the betrayer a distinct advantage, but this doesn't happen often and can still offer a very fun experience for the players. Want an extra creepy game? Play by candlelight in a dank basement, at night. This is an awesome game that is a must have in any game library, and is especially fun to bring out for a Halloween party. A definite MUST play!

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Game Review: Mystery Rummy

pic592086_mdMystery Rummy
US Games Systems, Inc. 1998

Do you like to play Rummy, but are bored by the same old game every time? Check out this series of Rummy games. In Mystery Rummy, you not only play rummy, but are also trying to be the first to solve a mystery. You can find Mystery Rummy in five variations: Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld, and Escape from Alcatraz. First published in 1998, these games have been a favorite of mine since their first appearance.

By playing victim, scene, suspect and evidence melds, you build a case against your suspects to convince the authorities of their guilt. Whichever suit has the most cards played when the player goes out is the guilty party, but if all the victims come out first, then the murderer escapes!

Mystery Rummy has a lot more strategy than regular rummy. You want to build your case, but can't take too much time, and have to manipulate the game to make sure your suspect has the strongest case when you go out.  The games cards have nice artwork and great historical detail and are easy to distinguish so game play isn't interrupted by the historical overlay. And it isn't just a "skin" on a standard game. Mystery Rummy offers a great thematic variant, with enough standard gameplay to make it easy to learn, and enough theme to make it interesting and more challenging.

Each of the different variants gives a different flavor. Pick up Al Capone for your gangster game fan, Murders in the Rue Morgue for your horror fan or Jack the Ripper for your Mystery Crime fan. Each one gives a slightly different experience, so pick up the whole set for a unique game experience each time. Highly recommended.

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Double Exposure Envoy Program

envoyDo you like to play games and show them to others? Are you a game store or convention that wants people to come do demos? Check out the Double Exposure structured play program at

Double Exposure works with game companies to get games that they offer to individuals in order to have them run and demo the games and game stores and conventions. Many larger companies have "outrider" programs to reward individuals who run their games at these venues, but smaller companies often aren't able to offer this type of program. Double Exposure's mission is to offer a group of outriders to these smaller companies, and help facilitate with conventions and game stores to get the word out.

Individuals register with Double Exposure, and have a quick video interview to qualify for the program. Then they can choose the games they would like to run. If you own a copy of the game, you may use yours, or you can request a free game from the company. Either way, you will run a video demo of the game to certify on it. This way the game companies can be assured that they are getting people who really know the game. If you get a free game, you have a required number of appearances that you need to do over the year with that game. If you have your own copy, those requirements are waived. There will be prizes that you can earn with the "points" that you get for your appearances as the program develops more.

I joined the program and have certified on four games: Cutthroat Caverns, Sutakku, Qin and Volt: Robot Battle Arena. I am impressed with the organization and dedication of the folks running the program and highly recommend it to others. They assisted our convention library with support, and made sure that our GM's were certified on their games before the convention. They also facilitated with the companies that I work with (R&R Games and Smirk and Dagger) to get me T-shirts for those games, a Double Exposure T-shirt, a pin, pen and other swag that I can use to put myself forward as an envoy for my games.

I highly recommend you check them out if you have ever thought of being an outrider for a game company. There are some great games here that aren't as well known, and could use the PR.

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Game Review: Qin

R&R Games, 2012

Wow, that was a lot longer hiaitus than I originally planned. Miss me? This week, we'll take a look at Qin from R&R Games by Reiner Knizia. Loosely based on the Qin dynasty over 2000 years ago in China, the players colonize the Chinese hinterlands by founding provinces and absorbing remote villages into their empires. They build pagodas as a sign of their authority. The first person to place all of their pagodas wins.

The large game board has 2 sides. For the initial game it is recommended that you play the slightly easier "bird" board. This board has grassland spaces, where you place tiles, provinces (in red, yellow and blue) that are the start spaces for players to begin expanding their empire and villages that the players will attempt to conquer. The more difficult "lion" board adds in ponds that block tile placement.

Tiles consist of two squares each (variations of red, blue and yellow combinations). Each player will start with a number of pagodas based on number of players and three tiles. The game suggests that the youngest player plays first, but any arbitrary means will suffice. On their turn, each player will place a tile, and place pagodas to claim territory. By placing a tile you can create a province if you have created an unclaimed territory of two or more same colored province spaces (placing one pagoda), or they can expand a province that they already own. If they expand their province to 5 or more of the same color, they can place a 2nd pagoda. If their province lies adjacent to a village, and they have more pagodas adjoining the village than any other player, they may claim that village. Or, if they join two separate provinces of the same color, and their province has more spaces that the one they join, then they can absorb that province into their own. The game ends as soon as one player places their last pagoda. They win! There are a few more fiddly bits to the rules, which you can figure out when you purchase the game.

This is a really nicely balanced game with a fair amount of options and strategy, yet is deceptively simple. If a player happens to get a double color tile (two blue, two red, etc.) often, this can shift the balance in their favor, which is the only complaint that we have. Might have been a little better with fewer doubles, to make it more challenging, but that is nitpicking, as it isn't a big problem, and can be overcome by smart play. I've seen a couple reviews of this, and should note that no province can ever have more than two pagodas, so you have to spread out and work many different areas of the board in order to win. One review stated that you could keep stacking pagodas, which would be a variant you could try, but isn't in the rules.

The game is well crafted, with nice art and lots of cute little pagodas that are fun to play with. A good helping of strategy without mind-numbing boredom. In most games like this, you have to play tiles next to the same color as the one you are playing. That is NOT the case in Qin, which can trip up seasoned players a little.

Overall, a really nice game. Plays quickly and easily. Recommended.

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