Designer: Rob Daviau
Artists: Scott Okumura, Ben Oliver
Publisher: Avalon Hill
Time: 45-90 minutes per game
Times Played: The entire campaign plus several post-campaign haunts
Betrayal Legacy is the greatest game ever published. You’re free to disagree, of course, but you would be wrong. And please note that I’m not limiting the discussion to board games. Card games, video games, lawn games, whatever games – Betrayal Legacy is the greatest of them all.
I recognize the fact that (though on some deep level I do not understand why) not everyone will enjoy Betrayal Legacy. Not everyone enjoys Citizen Kane, Don Quixote and Daredevil, either. That doesn’t mean they’re not the greatest film, novel and comic book series of all time.
No other game has so perfectly combined luck and strategy, theme and mechanics, agency and narrative. From the first time the components are spread out on the table, players take themselves on a wild ride through the history of one very haunted house. Generations of families will return to this place decade after decade, century after century, and they will discover mostly terrible things.
If you’re familiar with Betrayal at House on the Hill, you’re familiar with the core mechanics. (If not, I encourage you to go play Betrayal at House on the Hill. It’s the second greatest game ever published.) Things have been changed to make gameplay smoother and better. Fifty new haunts have been written. Legacy elements have been added.
Halfway (give or take) through each game, the haunt begins and (usually) one of you becomes a traitor. The traitor is given a different victory condition than the rest of the group. Occasionally, the traitor will be so well-positioned when the haunt begins that victory seems all but assured. Occasionally, the traitor faces an uphill climb that feels like the big mountain in the background of the Machi Koro box.
Some people don’t like that variability. Those people tend to complain about “broken” haunts. There are no broken haunts. If you can’t stomach the idea of an unbalanced game every now and then, Betrayal Legacy is not for you. It’s all right. Not everyone adores the elegance and power of a 1950 Château Lafleur.
The primary thing that elevates Betrayal Legacy is its use of story. The players, of course, have storylines that develop over time. And the game has an overarching narrative that unspools in delightful and surprising ways that often pay homage to – and play with – the tropes of classic horror films. But the home itself becomes a character here. The original 1666 house expands through the years, occasionally with renovations and upgrades but mostly with tragedy and death. It becomes ever more haunted and terrifying.
A smaller piece of Betrayal Legacy’s brilliance is the heirlooming of items. Few things are as enjoyable as claiming a pitchfork, then finding it in a later game and being able to take advantage of its full power because it is your pitchfork.
Finally, let’s talk about the dice. The wonderful, infuriating dice. (Yes, these are the same dice found in Betrayal at House on the Hill. Nonetheless, they deserve an abundance of praise.) At first glance, they look like normal six-sided dice. But they are, in practice, three-sided dice. Each die has two 1s, two 2s and, most importantly, two 0s. It’s a masterful distribution. When you roll four dice, the potential outcomes range from 0 to 8. The potential emotions range from unmitigated despair to unrivaled elation.
Without descending into spoilers, there’s not much more to say. I will point out that, as of this writing, the users of BoardGameGeek have rated 566 games higher than Betrayal Legacy. The users of Internet Movie Database have ranked 548 movies higher than the original 1933 version of King Kong. Insanity.
Betrayal Legacy may not be to your taste. I get it. Genius is not always appreciated. But make no mistake about it, Betrayal Legacy is genius.
Full disclosure: I was one of the many who playtested Betrayal Legacy.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Patrick Brennan: It seems one of the Betrayal Legacy envelopes may have contained a serious hallucinogenic! If only it could have kept me interested long enough to get to it ;-)
Frank Branham: It seems that you misspelled Middara. You should fix that.
The legacy aspect and story are handled well, but I actually prefer the legacy aspects of Seafall more. With Betrayal, the story is a weird pastiche of horror tropes that doesn’t really form a cohesive whole. Although, the fact at the end you have a fully-customized copy of the best version of the Betrayal game is a nice bit of icing.
Brandon Kempf: Seriously, you weren’t supposed to ever open that box/envelope. Five sessions in, and I don’t really care if I ever see the end of it. I understand why folks love this game, it’s the epitome of these types of narrative, dice chucking, swingy, luck fests. But it all seems to be lost on me. I honestly wish I did understand and even enjoy it, but I haven’t, at all. So it sits on my shelf of unfinished Legacy games, along with Charterstone & Pandemic Legacy Season 1. I’m sure Machi Koro Legacy will be the one to buck that trend, right?
Mark Jackson: We are enjoying Betrayal Legacy immensely… then again, I’m playing it with 3-4 teenagers and myself (who has the emotional range of a teenager), so it’s not a surprise that we’re digging this one. Granted, I’m a huge fan of Rob’s legacy games (we were playtesters for the earliest versions of SeaFall), so your mileage may vary. A lot.
Brian Leet: The clock has struck eight on our journey through the campaign, so I have a bit to go. I wouldn’t go so far as Erik in my praise, but I am loving the experience, and the twists, to this game. Each session is a fun romp through some horror story with a satisfying blend of familiar tropes and clever twists. There is a real feeling that easy decisions today may have painful consequences in future games. If you don’t care for the original game, nothing here will change that, but if you enjoy it at all this deserves your time.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! Erik Arneson, Mark Jackson, Brian Leet
I like it. Frank Branham
Neutral. Patrick Brennan
Not for me. Brandon Kempf