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Alan Li Side Quest 6: Reflection on Betrayal at the House on the hill, Being balanced is better than especially good only at some traits

I played the board game Betrayal at the House on the Hill with Keita, Ruohan, and Kathy. Although we watched the tutorial videos ahead of time, figuring out game rules took us roughly 2 hours. The game is complicated but well designed with many possible endings, and I am really interested to explore other possibilities after we successfully played the first round.

The probing and telescoping part of the game is largely exploring rooms, character strengths and weaknesses, and collectible items. Different rooms have different arrangements of doors and exit rules that sometimes relate to character traits. Doors have to be present on both rooms for a successful addition, and speed limit of the character limits how many rooms each character can move/add in a single hand. My character was Darrin “Flash” Williams, who has high speed but mediocre/low in might, sanity or knowledge. Darrin was great in the exploring part and was able to open almost as many rooms as I wanted and moved freely across the house, but my weaknesses started to show when the hunt started. Collectible items are used when the room tells the character to pick an event/item/omen card, which can either help or hurt the character capability. These cards are really helpful for characters during the hunt started. Some of the cards enhances some traits and can be very helpful for some characters low on that trait.  

Decision making is a central part of this game. Before the game started, I chose my character for his absolute advantage in speed, which enables me to escape or move to ideal location much faster than any other character. And in the game, many times I have to choose whether to open a new room or stop at the current room then pick the card indicated. And some cards require sacrificing one trait for another, whether or not to make that exchange was crucial for the character’s ability. After the hunt started, decisions are even more important. As we played hunt #43, it required explorers to light candles with speed roll more than 3 and move the candle to another room with knowledge roll more than 5 to place the candle. When the candle placed is equal to the number of explorers, the explorers win. Otherwise, the traitor wins. And the hardest part to win is to deal with the immortal monster. Collaboration became crucial for winning in the hunt. My character was great in speed but weak in knowledge, which led me to light the candles and move them to Kathy’s character, who was great in knowledge but weak in speed. Even though we tried to work together, the traitor with monster was hard to defeat. Monster could move freely to any room in the house and challenge me, even with my high might (enhanced with armor card), I could only reduce might from fighting with the monster and unable to kill it even if I won. My high speed became useless while facing the omnipresent monster. Also, the traitor kept challenging me on knowledge and sanity rolls, which I was weak and constantly in the brink of dying. My luck in rolling kept me alive many times. That is when I realized having balanced character traits is far better than just being great at one or two of them. It is more likely to die and lose when the traitor keeps challenging you with your weakest trait, and your strong traits will not even have the chance to take effects. Items like the armor that makes traits interchangeable allows more variability and skills to play the game well. More uncertainty with the many hunt rules also makes the game more complicated and fun to play with.

For the argument Steven Johnson made in Everything Bad is Good For You, I think the opposite holds true after playing with this board game. While video games have the rules programmed into the software and stop the users from making illegal moves, board games are a lot harder to play by the rules, which is why it took our group such a long time to figure it out. There was no one telling us what are moves we can do or cannot do. When confusion comes, a lot of reading and explaining is needed to have everyone understand and agree on the rules. This is much more time-consuming and harder than video games.

This game is far more complicated than any other game I played before. The progress of the game is nonlinear and have many alternative paths and possible endings for players to find out. The event/item/omen cards are crucial once the hunt starts and can change a character’s ability completely when facing with different goals. Luck, skills, and collaborations are very crucial in this game, which makes this game highly unpredictable and fun to play with.


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