Betrayal Legacy review
Betrayal Legacy is the game that Betrayal at House on the Hill always wanted to be.
Here, Rob Daviau – who contributed to the original Betrayal – threads a 13-chapter narrative through the House on the Hill’s haunted history and the players’ fated families drawn back generation after generation. It's an ingenious use of the legacy format, instilling every moment with a sense of the players' presence. No longer are playthroughs a series of random memorable moments stitched together, but an ongoing saga of action and consequence. Decide to kill someone in one chapter and their spectre might return to haunt your descendants decades later. Fail to stop the traitor's evil deeds and entire rooms might be changed – or even destroyed – irrevocably. As your individual reality forms, you must tear up unseen alternate outcomes at the game's command: "This is not a part of your story." It's brutal, devastating, rewarding – and brilliant.
You can tell the designer’s having an enormous amount of fun playing in the box of (possessed) toys, delighting in messing with the already deliberately messy formula – and the players along the way. While Daviau's storytelling is clearly unrestrained, he makes fine-tunes and smart additions to Betrayal’s gameplay – most notably a flexible keyword system to let players attack, eat, invoke, research and more in the same turn – that make this the definitive Betrayal experience. That’s especially exciting given the ability to keep playing infinitely in your custom version of the house once the campaign ends.
In some ways, Betrayal was a forerunner to the legacy genre. Every playthrough was different, with evolving gameplay built on top of an efficient core ruleset. Perhaps that, the sheer number of legacy games with Daviau's name on the box or the need to preserve the game to ensure its replayability post-finale is why the twists and turns in Betrayal Legacy feel gentler than the shocks and surprises of Pandemic Legacy and SeaFall, for example. While stickers, card destruction and new rules all make an appearance, there are only a few major things to crack open, and none had us in the same state of excited frenzy as those games.
Instead, you get the sense that Daviau’s boundless creativity was largely funneled into the game’s writing, which still excels at making the game feel personal to you and your group. Items can be designated as heirlooms by players, a custom name and sticker giving them personality and gameplay benefits for that player’s family in future chapters. The branching story, plotted along the best set of haunts in any Betrayal game, provides even more individuality, as a deck of ‘purgatory’ cards feeds into the events and items that can pop up – and other decisions permanently alter exactly what they might mean for those on the receiving end.
For all its improvements, Betrayal Legacy still suffers some of the problems of the original Betrayal. Those dastardly stat-tracking clips continue to cling on to the character boards, so tightly that scuffs and tears are inevitable. The game’s everything-and-the-blood-filled-kitchen-sink approach to offering up a smorgasbord of wildly different horror scenarios means that the deliberately loose rules sometimes have gaps the players will need to fill to keep things moving forward. If you didn’t enjoy Betrayal before, this won’t be the game to turn you around.
For those of us that fell in love with the original’s wacky charm and brazen ambition, though, Betrayal Legacy turns dials already set to 11 up another notch. It overdelivers on the promise of giving players the chance to write their own spooky story, mixing story and spectacle in a glorious gaming success. The spirit of Betrayal has never been more alive.
The House on the Hill turns out to be the perfect home for legacy storytelling. The haunts thrill, the enhanced gameplay makes this an overall better experience than the original game and the ability to put your own touch on the house’s history and inhabitants – and then explore your personal creation forever – makes for an unforgettable time.
Designer: Rob Daviau
Artist: Scott Okumura, Ben Oliver
Time: 75 minutes
This review originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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