Beginning Miniatures, Advanced Horror: HeroScape and Betrayal at House on the Hill

Reviewed by James Lynch

Do you want to wage war with armies assembled from the past, present, and future? How do you feel about exploring a mysterious house, waiting for one investigator to betray the others? Hasbro’s HeroScape is a fun, simple introduction to the world of miniatures, while Avalon Hill’s Betrayal at House on the Hill combines miniatures and boardgaming into a new, exciting horror experience.

HeroScape is a miniatures combat game that is fun and simple. The initial release, Rise of the Valkyrie, contains everything you need to play: numerous tiles to construct the playing area, pre-painted plastic figures, attack dice (six-sided dice with skulls on three sides), defense dice (six-sided dice with shields on two sides), a d20 for a few rolls, Basic and Master Game rules, a book with scenarios for both formats, plastic tokens, and turn markers.

If you ever wanted to pit a dragon against futuristic warriors, HeroScape gives you the chance! Warriors are varied here, from the aforementioned dragon Mimring to contemporary Airborne Infantry soldiers to killing machines from the distant future. There are two types of units: Heroes, powerful single figures, and Squads, groups of two or more less powerful figures. Information on the heroes is given on the Army cards; since the stats for the figures don’t change, there’s no need for pen and paper to keep track of Army statistics. In the Basic game, Army cards have each unit’s name, Move (how many spaces it can go in a turn), Range (the distance it can attack), Attack (how many dice it rolls when attacking), Defense (how many dice it rolls when attacked), points (used to determine the maximum army size), and what parts of the figure count for line of sight. In the Master game, Army cards get more detailed. Every figure has one or two special abilities, like the Airborne Elite’s grenade attack and parachute drop, the Marro Warriors’ ability to make a water clone, or Raelin’s defensive bonus to her allies. Units also have hit points (so your best troops can’t be wiped out in one shot), heights, and other characteristics.

Movement and combat are very straightforward. Figures move a number of tiles equal to their speed, stopping in water, using more movement to leave water, and using extra movement to go up elevated terrain. Non-flying figures stop moving when they’re adjacent to an opponent, and if a figure moves away from an opponent the opponent rolls one attack die to take a free shot at the leaving figure. When it’s time for combat, the attacker rolls a number of attack dice equal to its Attack score, the defender rolls it’s Defense in defense dice, and the defender takes a point of damage for each attack die’s skull not countered by a defense die’s shield.

Turns take on quite different forms between the Basic and Master games. In the basic game, players roll a d20 and the player who rolled highest chooses an army card, moves the figure(s) on the card, and attacks with the figure(s) on the card. Afterwards the next player does the same, and when everyone’s had a turn they start again. In the Master rules, players place Order Markers on the Army cards (giving multiple turns to the same card if they like) to show which unit(s) will go first, second, and third; opponents can’t see the turn numbers on the markers, and there’s also a bluff piece to throw off opponents. Players roll for initiative, and starting with the high roller each player moves and attacks with their piece selected first, then their second, then the third.

The scenarios offered are very detailed, giving players different victory conditions (wiping out an opponent’s forces, rescuing a figure, getting a scout to a point across the battlefield, surviving the rising poisonous mists), directions on how to set up the board, and scenarios for both Basic and Master games.

If you want to expand HeroScape, there are several expansions for this game. There have been three waves of boosters so far, offering new Heroes and Squads that include cybernetic gorillas, king-fu monks, dragons, and kilted Scotsmen. Terrain packs also provide bridges, trees, and lava to change the landscape (and a few more units as well).

How much you like HeroScape depends on how basic you like your miniature games. The rules and figures are simpler than those for the WizKids miniature games, and far less detailed than you’ll find in the Warhammer or Battletech universes; players who want to meticulously construct and paint their armies may feel bored. More casual miniatures players will enjoy HeroScape, as the figures offer a nice variety of traits and powers, and there are plenty of scenarios to play. The stackable terrain tiles work very well, creating mountainous terrains that actually show height and depth. And while hardcore players will want the expansions for greater versatility and more cool figures, the figures in the starter box are enough for four or five people to enter the fray. (The starter box is around $40, which is far less than you’d pay for figures, terrain, dice, rulebooks, and paint for most other miniature games.) HeroScape proves that a game doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed to be fun!

From the clash of mighty armies we turn to the investigators of the paranormal in Betrayal at House on the Hill, a board/miniature horror game with a twist. This game, for three to six players, has the investigators exploring a creepy house, eventually fighting its horror – and one of their own.

At the start of the game, players choose a character; there are 12 characters, two similar ones on each side of the character cards. Each character has four traits: Might, Speed, Knowledge, and Sanity. These traits start at a certain level, and events during the game can raise or lower them. Traits are used to make skill checks or combat, where a player rolls a number of dice (six-sided dice with two 1s, two 2s, and two blank spaces) equal to their trait. Every turn characters can move, attack, and use items. Players then put their character pieces at the Entrance Hall to the house, and they’re off!

Betrayal at House on the Hill can be divided into two parts: exploration and the Haunt. At the beginning of the game, players explore the house. Players move a number of rooms equal to their Speed. When a player moves into an unexplored area of the house, the player draws a tile for that part of the house (basement, ground, or upper level), places it adjoining the doorway they came from, and follows the instructions for that room. Some rooms are beneficial (ending your turn in the Larder increases your Might by one), some have negative effects (if you don’t make a Might roll when leaving the Junk Room you lose one Speed), and some have mixed effects (such as the Mystic Elevator, which moves you at random and can hurt you). Many rooms have cards; moving into a room where you draw a card ends your movement.

There are three card types in this game: events, items, and omens. (All cards have suitably creepy flavor text.) Events can affect all the players, or just the player who drew the card, in a beneficial or detrimental fashion. Items are usually helpful, but they can be problematic if lost. (Amulet of the Ages increases all your traits by one, but you lose three points in all traits if it’s lost.) Omens function like events – good or bad effects for one or more players – but they can also start the Haunt. At the end of a turn when someone drew an omen card, that player rolls six dice. If the result is less than the number of omen cards in play, the Haunt begins.

When the Haunt occurs, the player who rolled it looks at a chart in a booklet; the omen card, and the room the explorer was in when the Haunt began, determines which Haunt is revealed – along with who the traitor is. There are 50 (!) different Haunts in the game, none of which have the same object. (I’ve fought evil twins, battled a mad bomber who had strapped explosives to the heroes, and seen a lycanthrope rip through the heroes.) The traitor is also determined through different means – the Haunt revealer, the player with the highest Sanity, the player with the lowest Might, etc. – so there’s no way to tell who will be the villain.

When the Haunt begins, the game becomes a conflict. The heroes (everyone but the traitor) read the scenario in the Secrets of Survival handbook, telling them what they need to do to win. Meanwhile, the traitor reads the scenario in the Traitor’s Tome, learning what the traitor must do to win. Neither side knows the other’s goal or how it is achieved.

Once everyone knows their side’s conditions for victory, the game becomes a competition. The traitor controls both their character and any monsters that are part of the scenario. (It’s possible for the traitor to be killed and that player, controlling the monsters, wins.) Monsters are generally tougher than players, requiring a particular item to do more than stun them, and the traitor’s character can also try to hunt down the heroes. The traitor can also move about the house more freely, ignoring non-damaging card and room effects. For combat, the combatants roll a number of dice equal to their Might (or another trait, if a card allows that) and the lower roller takes damage equal to the difference between the totals. Physical damage can be divided between Speed and Might, and mental damage can be split between mental traits. When any trait reaches a skull (after the last number), that character is dead – or possibly part of the Haunt. Players can still explore new rooms, hoping to come across cards to help them win; or they can focus solely on winning,

Who will prevail? Can the intrepid heroes defeat the traitor in their midst? Or will the hidden evils of the house conquer the explorers?

Betrayal at House on the Hill is incredibly fun! The very large number of scenarios and variable methods of selecting who’ll be the traitor give this game a colossal replay value. The flavor text and scary rooms create an atmosphere of horror (in any other game having the Underground Lake on the upper level would seem like a mistake, but it fits here), and the simple combat and skill check rules make play easy.

There are some problems in this House. Since the objective and traitor aren’t known until halfway through the game, there’s really no initial strategy except to make your character as strong as possible (for when you become or battle the traitor). There are 291 tokens – including monsters, room tokens, event tokens, and item tokens – so even after they’ve all been punched and separated it can take a while to locate the tokens you need during the game. There is much errata – from the Underground Lake appearing on the top floor to requirements for winning scenarios – so players have to visit the homepage, print the corrections, and refer to it to play this game correctly. And, like Clue, you can be surprised that you’re the villain after all!

But these are minor problems with a very good game. Get some friends (and one traitor) together, put on some scary music (I recommend the soundtrack to the Evil Dead trilogy, if you can find it), and prepare for Betrayal at House on the Hill. This house may be a scary place, but you’ll keep heading back there!

Overall Grades
HeroScape: A
Betrayal at House on the Hill: A-

Suggested Links:
Betrayal at House on the Hill

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