I love board games that are able to incorporate story and for me, Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of the best. Rob Daviau was one of the designers of the original game, but since then has spent a considerable amount of time perfecting his “Legacy System” that has become one of the most revolutionary mechanics in board gaming.
Among its success is Pandemic Legacy which skyrocketed to number 1 on Board Game Geek forum a number of years back and has seen many developers seek his advice and abilities in creating their own masterpiece using the system. Now Rob moves back to one of his earlier success and utilises the Legacy System for Betrayal at House on the Hill.
However, while Pandemic has a simple and repeatable play style Betrayal has complications that would stifle the Legacy System. Among the concerns would be the unpredictability of who the betrayer is, which story will be encountered and the fact that characters die. I put these concerns to Rob who graciously responded.
Can you describe your connection to horror as a genre?
I was a casual fan of horror growing up. I grew up in Maine in the 70s and 80s so Stephen King was almost part of the school curriculum. I watched some horror movies but it wasn’t a passion for me. I worked on the original Betrayal at House on the Hill in 2000-2001 and spent a lot of time-consuming horror movies during that time. Slasher films, classics, obscure. It was a strange sort of homework but pleasant.
When I started on Betrayal Legacy, the team started a bit on what might be inspiration for this one. We settled on folklore, which we could research casually. Since the game is about myth and unreality, we didn’t have to be 100% accurate to facts but we tried.
Can you elaborate on the legacy part in a game where the majority of players may die each game?
That was an early design problem and we figured out our solution fairly quickly. Players play members of a family and each chapter is a different generation of that family. This allowed some continuity between chapters but allowed for the inevitable deaths of some to all of the players in each chapter. That led to the heirlooming rules and family crests and it sort of all flowed from there.
How do you effectively link the legacy system to a game that is loved for its unpredictable story and player driven outcome?
We have a different way of starting the haunt in earlier chapters, when the house is smaller, and there are fewer omens. This (hopefully!) ensures that players have a round or two or three to explore the house. We also looked at each haunt and tried to make it impossible for the heroes to win in the first round, which means that everyone always gets a least one turn to react to the haunt.
But, other than that, the players can do as they like. At the end of it, each haunt will have a winning side and a losing side. What happens in the middle is less relevant to the legacy system. We just had to design the legacy system around the parts we knew were going to happen (haunt is triggered, one side wins, etc) rather than all the things we had no control of or even visibility to.
Thanks to Rob for answering our questions. I have already pre-ordered my copy, make sure you get in quick if you don’t want to miss out on this (fingers crossed) hit game.