Betrayal at House on the Hill vs. Arkham Horror

I was up way too late last night, but we got the best of all possible outcomes.

It was RPG night, and our GM for Legend of the Five Rings was out sick, so we decided to play board games at my place. We picked games in which the players are cooperating against the board, and which have strong genre-fiction elements -- in this case, Betrayal at House on the Hill (2nd edition) and Arkham Horror (2005 edition).

Both games have vast piles of chits, pieces, tokens, and cards, but Arkham's piece-count dwarfs Betrayal's by at least a factor of 3. Win or lose, we knew we were in for a long night.

We played Betrayal first, and our merry band of six explorers began investigating the house, laying tiles and having encounters as we opened doors and discovered rooms. The Haunt began about half an hour in when Zack rolled too low after drawing an Omen card. This particular Haunt didn't have a specific traitor, but could have multiple traitors if explorers failed enough sanity checks. And so it was that both Bob and I did our best to put a stop to the explorers and their noble plan to end the haunt. We failed, the explorers succeeded, the haunt ended, and we all lived. After just 45 minutes of play we'd had the best of all possible endings -- average game length for Betrayal at House on the Hill, but that conclusion was spectacularly unlikely.

How much fun did we have? LOTS. Bob and I role-played our traitorous mania gleefully, and we adopted puzzled, sad expressions when the source of our insanity was removed. The others struggled heroically (and quite cleverly) to get us all to that happy ending, and it really was a near thing.

Our seventh friend arrived during the haunt, so we opened Arkham Horror next. I last played this game shortly after its release in 2005, and remember it being so long that we didn't finish. I attributed that to the fact that none of us knew how to play. This time around we had a seasoned expert, Bob, so I figured we'd be done in maybe three hours.

It ended up taking almost six.

I've scared you away. I'm sorry. They were six very fun hours, though there was a little bit of tedium at times when we allowed ourselves to get distracted.

We began our runnings about in the city of Arkham, and very quickly found ourselves with big piles of monsters guarding gates that needed to be closed. Our first turning point came when we realized that my character was great at closing gates if we buffed him for evading monsters rather than fighting them. And that strategy got us halfway to the finish line, but the streets quickly filled with monsters we weren't killing. The terror level in the city rose, and it looked like one of the Old Ones was going to emerge.

The next turning point came when we realized that we really could sweep the streets if we got the right stuff into the hands of the right characters. This slowed the advance of the elder menace, and gave us more time to seal gates. We had to work together very, very cleverly, using every scrap of advantage afforded by our various abilities, items, spells, and clues.

The most important point of the game, though, was when we realized that the "First Player" token, which passes clockwise, was an indicator of responsibility. Specifically, it is the First Player's responsibility to move game-play along quickly. Once we got this down the pace picked up, and we packed a lot of fun into each of our remaining three hours.

We succeeded in closing and sealing the gates before something unpronounceable emerged to eat our faces, and the final gate run involved people racing across town at no small personal risk to get the right stuff to the right person. 

Both of these games scratch the same sort of itch, and are worth looking into. They both have lots of replay value, with different plot and story options unfolding randomly. They both reward cooperation, and encourage players to be clever. I recommend the 2nd edition of Betrayal at House on the Hill -- it's much clearer than the 1st, and the piece count is easier to manage than it used to be. Arkham Horror requires a lot more commitment of time and energy to learn, let alone to play, but I'd definitely play it again, too.

I just need to make sure to start at lunch, instead of after a late dinner.

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