Betrayal At Baldur’s Gate is a survival horror strategy game based on the acclaimed Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill. The original was first released by Avalon Hill in 2004 and had a second edition reprint in 2010. This is the first attempt at a re-theme and is based on the city of Baldur’s Gate from the Forgotten Realms (Dungeons & Dragons), made popular by the hit video game in 1998.
I keep my red dice in a skull and my blue dice in a scooped out bladder.
Produced by the new owners of Avalon Hill’s magnificent stable of games, Wizkids and toy giant parent Hasbro, this game has all the standards you would expect from a publisher of this caliber.
Like its predecessor Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill, Betrayal At Baldur’s Gate pits up to six players against a dark and foreboding environment as they hope to survive whatever eldritch creatures should chance upon them… this time in the world of Forgotten Realms: Baldur’s Gate. Players explore the city and catacombs beneath, revealing and building the game board as they go, facing varied events and locations, harvesting items and suffering Omens. Eventually enough Omens will be revealed and a Haunt will start. During the Haunt the gameplay changes as one player betrays the rest and actively tries to kill you… fun for the whole family.
When you look at a brand new title like this you often compare it to other similar titles in its genre, or games with similar mechanics. In the case of Betrayal At Baldur’s Gate it has Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill as a direct comparison, making it simultaneously easy and difficult to discuss. So, with this in mind I’m going to start with its production values.
Betrayal At Baldur’s Gate is a very slick game. The art is simple and crisp. The character profile pictures harken back to Dungeons and Dragon’s glory days, reminding this old gamer of the D&D Animated series of the 1980’s. Classic classes are present and the graphics of the character cards retain the simple and easy to understand fonts of Haunted Hill and its 2nd Edition re-print.
The tiles that players use to build the city and catacombs of Baldur’s Gate are reminiscent of the 2D perspective in the PC game. I liked it very much, but much like in Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill the tiles, for logistics of gaming space reasons, are small. Unless you take the time to inspect them you may miss a lot of the fun details hidden in each individual piece of artwork. There are a lot of these tiles and some great work has gone into giving each one a chunk of character.
The dice and plastic sliders are the same as previous versions and nothing to write home about. The pre-painted character figures are small and have some detail, but the detail is lost by very sub-par paint jobs. Wizkids need to look at what Fantasy Flight Games does with pre-painted figures. The Paladin is essentially a silver blob that would have been vastly improved by a grey or black ink wash. All the character models are easy to identify though and because this is not really a miniature driven game the paint only matters from an aesthetic point of view
The box art is cool, showing a swordsman pushing forward into darkness, perfectly framing the nature of the game. The box itself has a linen finish, a must with all quality games. The game cards for Events, Items and Omens also have a linen finish but the game tokens do not. I was disappointed with this at first. It felt like that game was let down by the thinner gloss tokens and board tiles.
One of my crack gaming team reminded me that the linen finish on a lot of my other game’s tokens often rubbed important details off tokens while they languish in their box. An excellent point. Linen finish is rapidly becoming the hallmark of a high quality game, (Fantasy Flight Games and Cool Mini or Not do it for just about everything) but there are times when it is not the best choice. If the city tiles were linen, shuffling them for games would wreck the incredible art and remove the small text directions some of the cards have. The thicker card and higher GSM of linen finish would also make it heavier, increasing shipping costs and reducing the appeal to frugal gamers, a category that I am in.
Tightly packed like my… bag of holding…yeah that’s it.
My favorite change to this version was the vacuum plastic insert for storing the game items. It held everything snugly and meant that next time getting it out would not require de-jumbling. In this version the tokens have been better differentiated by shapes and colors. An incredibly frustrating aspect of the original game was sorting through piles of tokens with the same shape and only text names to help you find them. Finding ‘obstacle token 16’ or the Minotaur monster token is much easier with images and different sizes. Wizkids should go the extra mile with the addition of some small snap lock bags so the different groups of tokens can be stored more easily.
How’s the game play you ask. I’ll tell you…
But not in the way you’d think. It’s an excellent game. The rules are easy to understand and well written. This is their 3rd run after all. The game is fun and the stakes are very palpable. There is no way to know when the Haunt will start, what are the conditions of it… or who will betray us.
When a Haunt starts, the betrayer will read their half of the rules from the Traitor’s Tome and the rest of the party will read from the Secrets of Survival book. In Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate you don’t find out who you are until the Haunt starts, both literally and metaphysically!
This game puts the H in the Horror of learning about ones soul.
We played Haunt 45 and 30 when we got together. They were really fun. In mission 30 we had to dismantle the summoning ritual of a cult while simultaneously avoiding being attacked by said cult. It was challenging and interesting. The game is so well balanced that it was not until the last few moves that we knew we could defeat the cultists and save the city, and more than half of us had to celebrate the victory posthumously.
Haunt 45 saw one of us dead from poisoning and the rest about to succumb. The dead player became the Dungeon Master and while we left the room they placed seven more potions, three fatal and four cures, around the map. Fully two thirds of us needed to be cured to be victorious. We could drink the potions at random or test them in an as yet undiscovered location. Our city was big and we had little health left to search. Drinking them was our only choice. The first player drank his potion and died, the second lost more health when he took his chances. Fate was against us, then our party Sorcerer was successful, drinking the sweet liquor of life and gaining the cure. The spell was broken. Our destiny was ours again as the next two potions were cures too. We had to choose certainty or chance when the Haunt started, if we had chosen certainty… it was certain death.
I can’t show you my teams faces.. kobold’s tore them off. Improvement…
We had a good time. There was a lot of laughter… but then of course there should be. Two of my team own this game. We have fun every time we play it. That essentially in a nutshell is the flaw to this game.
It’s essentially a themed edition of Monopoly. The Baldur’s Gate theme is thin and even for a fan of the original PC game (I put 500+ hours into it) it’s not much of a draw. We drew more cards related to rats than classic D&D themes. The Haunts were essentially the same as the Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill ones. Omens, Events and Items are the same as well, with the exception of fantasy flavour text instead of horror.
Characters come with a special ability to differentiate their D&D classes more, but we didn’t use them and they don’t add any new dimensions to the game.
There are a few rules changes that are an improvement to the 2010 edition. To see if the Haunt will start you now role dice equal to the number of Omens in play and a haunt starts on a role of 6 or greater. Previously you rolled 6 dice and a haunt started if you rolled lower than the number of Omens in play. This meant in rare cases it was possible to start the haunt with only a few city tiles, making the game tedious to win or nigh on impossible.
The rule book says to make a pile of dice within easy reach. In this house we stack like a Pixar robot.
Placing city, street and catacomb tiles is easier and results in less likelihood of dead ends or sprawling maps and there are more ways to travel to the Catacombs, decreasing the likelihood of an unfinishable Haunt. This, combined with the new Haunt roll mechanic, makes the game quicker overall and more user friendly.
The city unfurls before you while you play.
If you own Betrayal at the House on Haunted Hill 1st or 2nd edition, don’t bother. The minor changes to the rules make this a superior version. The quality is nicer too. However, neither of those reasons could justify owning the same game twice.
If you don’t own Betrayal at the House on Haunted Hill, I recommend you buy this. Betrayal is on my list of top 5 games everyone should own. It’s fun, creative and extremely replayable. Now my list will say any version of Betrayal, Baldur or Haunted is a must own.
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate gets an 8/10.
It doesn’t leave this way… but this is how it comes.
A huge thank you to Good Games and Let’s Play Games Distribution for supplying our review copy of Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate. Head over to their online store to secure your copy now.