Betrayal at House on the Hill. Betrayal at House on the Hill. Betrayal at House on the Hill. It just doesn’t sound right. THE Betrayal at THE House sounds more natural surely? Well, thankfully for us grammar pedants it’s a sideshow to XCOM which, now I think about it, doesn’t make sense either.
XCOM: The Board Game
Players: 4 (Plays 1-4)
Duration: 2 hours
Like the video game it draws its inspiration from, XCOM is about a special task force that is desperately trying to save the Earth from extra-terrestrial invasion. Players take one of four distinct roles (Commander, Chief Scientist, Central Officer and Squad Leader) with rounds broken into two phases (a timed phase and then a resolution phase) both of which are controlled by a free companion app which players must download to their smartphone, tablet or PC. The aim is to complete a final mission before the XCOM base is destroyed or two continents descend into total panic (continents move up and down a panic track depending on player actions).
During the timed phase the app will rapidly assign task after task each with a strict time limit. The Central Officer is in charge of relaying information from the app to the team, placing UFOs on the world map and assigning satellites into orbit, the Chief Scientist decides on, and assigns scientists to research projects, the Squad Leader deploys soldiers to the current mission or garrisons them to base defense and the Commander tracks the budget, draws crisis cards and assigns fighter ships to defend against UFOs.
Once the timed phase is finished play moves to the resolution phase and players get to see where their frenzied and headless decision making has got them. This phase uses a push-your-luck dice mechanic where dice are rolled to determine success. Players can keep rerolling for better results but when they do the risk of failure goes up (determined by an 8-sided alien die).
During the resolution phase the Commander resolves crisis cards and balances the budget. Assigning satellites, fighters, scientists and soldiers takes money and any overspend pushes the most panicked continent event further down the panic track (any money left over can be used to buy new fighters or soldiers). They also roll to see whether fighters are successful in shooting down UFOs over continents to which they have been assigned. Failures result in fighters being destroyed and UFOs not shot down send the continents they are hovering over further down the panic track. The Central Officer also does this for satellites to knock UFOs out of higher orbit.
The Chief Scientist rolls for their research projects with success granting new technology and additional powers to the team. Failure exhausts scientists meaning they can’t be assigned during the next timed phase. Finally the squad leader rolls those accursed dice to complete missions and defend the base from direct alien assault. Fails result in dead soldiers and less time and resources to get to that final mission.
XCOM is stressful. You never have enough resources to do everything you need and are constantly trying to balance global panic with the need to complete missions which is how you ultimately complete the game. The team juggles research and defense so the squad leader can get to and then complete the final mission. I was the squad leader and it didn’t go well. In the end we actually failed on multiple fronts as the world descended into a terror-fuelled chaos and our base was infiltrated and destroyed by an aggressive alien assault. It was tough. What made the loss even harder to swallow was that the next table also playing XCOM managed to carve out an impressive victory with a pile of incredible technology that saw them tear through the final mission in one round. No doubt they are terrible cheats*.
XCOM is pretty much everything that a good co-operative game should be. Player interaction is high but strict time limits mitigate the alpha gamer problem where one player controls the whole thing. It’s difficult but not unfair and I felt that it would be beatable given another shot (although I should note that there are three levels of difficulty above the easy setting that we played on). The dice may be a sticking point for some. Naturally the good rolls average out with the bad but seeing a four man team getting wiped out by bad luck can be frustrating. However, I would gleefully jump at the chance to suffocate under the inexorable alien tide once more. Welcome to Earth.
*they’re not, we sucked.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
Players: 6 (Plays 3-6)
Duration: 90 minutes
Betrayal (sorry THE Betrayal) is a game where 3-6 players explore a creepy mansion, building it as they go with tiles randomly drawn from a pile that includes kitchen, dining room, graveyard and laboratory. Nice. At a certain point called ‘the haunting’ the game changes and depending on various factors a scenario is chosen which sees one player turn against the others. I believe there are about 50 scenarios in total and they are all totally different.
In the one that we played one player was revealed as a life sucking monster that was trying to kill the other players to keep her youth. The good guys needed to reach 5 rooms and complete a ritual that would send the monster back to her grave. We started pretty well as 4 of the rooms were out already but eventually time got the better of us as at the end of the monster’s turn we aged ten years and slowly died one by one. As the holder of some magical macguffin I was immune to the monster’s aging witchcraft but it became strengthened by each other players death and I was finally bludgeoned to death in a showdown over a bottomless chasm. Usual Monday stuff.