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Betrayal at House on the Hill is a game by Bruce Glassco where 3-6 players explore a spooky old mansion until things take a darker turn and one betrays the others.

The box for Betrayal at House on the Hill
The Betrayal box

Components

The components of the game laid out on a table.
Note: Some of the tokens in the bags pictured are from the Widow’s Walk expansion

The game comes with 3 rulebooks, 1 for general game rules, 1 specifically for traitors, and 1 specifically for explorers. It also comes with 45 room tiles, 30 slider clips, 6 character cards, 6 character figures, 8 dice, 1 tracker (relevant only to certain scenarios), 22 item cards, 13 omen cards, 45 event cards, and 149 assorted tokens.

I love the tile-laying system and creating the board one piece at a time, however it does take up a lot of table space, especially since you have to manage three separate boards that keep growing.

The sliding clips that go on your character boards  are a good idea in theory. The ones that actually fit are great, but most of them are very loose and slide around way too much. The slightest movement could cause you to completely lose track of your stats. I would recommend instead using a piece of paper, your phone, or maybe some dice instead. I’ve heard that there are a few unofficial apps that work really well for this but I haven’t personally tried any of them.

A lot of the marker tokens look pretty much the same, and there are a lot of them. It makes finding any specific token a huge pain.

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A pile of assorted tokens in various shapes. Some are dark grey with white text and others are light grey with black text.
A sea of grey

The box is big. It generally fits everything pretty well, but it still takes up a lot of space. I think the space could have been used much more efficiently, especially considering that the extra components from the Widow’s Walk expansion have a hard time fitting in the box as-is but fit just fine when you use a different insert.

Gameplay

Setup for a four-player game of Betrayal.
Setup for a four-player game. Two of us chose to use dice for tracking while two others chose to use their phones.

The first part of the game is the exploration phase. All players start in the entrance hall and explore the mansion by laying tiles to go to new rooms. As players travel through the house they will collect items, experience events, and encounter omens. Each time an omen is encountered, the players make a haunt roll. If the players roll greater than or equal to the current number of omens, they continue exploring. If they roll less than, the haunt phase begins.

The layout of the board before the haunt phase began in one of our test games.
The board state before the haunt began

Players consult the chart in the traitor’s tome to figure out what scenario they’re playing and which player is the traitor. The traitor will be given the traitor’s tome and sent off somewhere else while the explorers consult the survivor’s guide. Each scenario has a unique set of rules for both the traitor and the survivor, and each side often has rules that are to be kept secret from the other until it becomes relevant.

Thoughts

This game is a ton of fun and has lots of replayability. The board is never the same twice, and with the large number of scenarios it’s highly unlikely you’ll come across the same one twice in quick succession.

The theme is on-point. It captures the vibe of moving through a spooky mansion nicely. The impossible layouts that wouldn’t make any sense in a real house help mimic the feel of a horror movie. I’m reminded of The Shining, Rose Red, and that H.H. Holmes murder hotel.

There are some issues with the rules, though. For instance, several cards affect “outside rooms” and “rooms with windows” but the rulebook doesn’t specify what rooms these are. People can miss things, or simply have different interpretations, so it always helps to have terms laid out in the rules to settle any potential conflict. Because it’s a random game with a lot of corner-case interactions, it can be difficult to find answers to specific rules questions. There are also places where the rules aren’t explained very well, so while the rules are technically there, they’re hard to understand. An FAQ with a little extra detail would have really helped.

As a small nitpick, I don’t like that the haunt table is only in one book. I think it should have either been in both side’s rulebooks or just in the basic rules manual.

As fun as the randomness of the game can be, it can cause some trouble. Players can be stuck in rooms they can’t leave, find themselves in no-win scenarios, or otherwise just have some really rotten luck that can sour the game. To be fair, this is a problem in a lot of games, but because this game is explicitly designed to be very random, luck-based mayhem is both more common and more noticeable.

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A few instances of particularly bad luck from the test game most of these photographs are from:

  1. Turn 1 I discovered the collapsed room & fell into the catacombs, which require a sanity roll of 6 or higher to leave. I placed myself on the side of the room opposite the basement landing. Next turn I explored and hit a dead end. I never left the catacombs.
  2. A player found the dog omen. The rules on the card say the dog can’t use rooms that require a roll. They found it in the junk room, a room that requires a roll to leave. The dog never left the junk room.
  3. The traitor had to get a certain number of monsters out of the house in order to win. They & their monsters were trapped in the basement with all of us, with only the mystic elevator (a room that allows you to roll to go to a random floor) as a way out. Only 1 monster left the basement.

Do You Need the Widow’s Walk Expansion?

The Widow’s Walk expansion comes with a brief rules sheet, 2 new rulebooks (1 for traitors, 1 for explorers), 20 room tiles, 8 omen cards, 11 item cards, 11 event cards, and 76 assorted tokens.

An important thing the Widow’s Walk expansion includes is some much-needed rules clarifications, such as specifying which rooms are outside & which have windows.

There are 50 more haunt scenarios to play, but they’re all written by different people, so the tone can vary a bit. While they are all mechanically interesting, thematically they’re very hit-and-miss. You also get an entire extra floor to run around on, and the new dumbwaiter mechanic which makes it a lot easier to move between floors.

Overall, the expansion isn’t required to fully enjoy the game, but at the very least you’ll want to look up the rulebook and note down those rules clarifications. If you find yourself playing the game a lot and want a little extra variety I’d say it’s worth it.

Verdict

This game gets four out of five cthulhus. The game is fun and the theming is spectacular but the rules are a little too clunky in places. You can check it out, along with the expansion and the Baldur’s Gate variant, at the links below, but remember that was are an Amazon affiliate and if you buy anything through the links provided we will get some $ back.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Gaming

Heretic’s Fork Review: Punish Sinners Like it’s Your Job (It Is)

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Welcome to your new corporate job. It’s Hell. No, really. In Heretic’s Fork, Punish sinners, chat with your co-workers, and don’t forget to check your email before you clock out!  

Heretic’s Fork is a 2023 video game by 9FingerGames and published with Ravenage Games. 9FingerGames is a one-man studio run by Stevie Andrea that is also responsible for titles such as Zapling Bygone. While only out since September, Heretic’s Fork has already garnered several accolades. These include selection for Fear Fest 2023 and The Mini Indie Showcase as well as making Rock Paper Shotgun’s Bestest Bests list.

Watch the Heretic’s Fork Release Trailer here!

Heretic’s Fork is a deck-building, tower defense, bullet-hell (ha) game where you take on hordes of souls trying to escape Hell. To begin, you choose an employee to help you in your task. Each employee has a special ability (and variants) that do everything from nothing to stat buffs to adding whole new mechanics. For example the starting character, Intern Ruby, gives no bonuses. But, Gilbo Gibbins introduces a luck-based wheel that encourages you to gamble your cards away for potentially big rewards (and risks).

Screenshot from the character select screen featuring some variants characters.

As the game progresses, you build and upgrade structures to bolster your defenses against the increasingly difficult hordes of sinners. You also have a deck, through which you upgrade your stats and gain special abilities. With rogue-like elements, you are able to unlock new cards and characters by completing goals, using coins, or finding secrets. This leaves a lot to uncover as you work your way through the circles of Hell. While your screen quickly becomes bullet hell, your structures are more or less automated and do all the sinner punishing for you. The real strategy comes in what cards (and structures) you play, upgrade, and get rid of as the game progresses. 

Screenshot of Heretic’s Fork game play from Endless mode.

I have a soft spot for rogue-like deck building games. Heretic’s Fork is no different. I love the diversity of game play through the many structure, character, and card options. The mechanics really complement the game play choices, making each run feel unique and rewarding.

It was easy to spend hours at a time achievement hunting and exploring the hidden secrets buried in your file systems. In fact, I easily put 20 hours into Heretic’s Fork within two weeks of buying it! It also helped that it was an easy game to play on the Steam Deck, despite it not being created with the Steam Deck in mind. That being said, endless mode did stretch my Steam Deck to its limits (but my PC did just fine). It is also of note, that since September the game has been regularly updated with both paid and unpaid bonus content. It feels like every time I’m ready to move on, something new drops and I’m forced to dive back in!

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If you are a fan of tower defense, rogue-like, or deckbuilding games, Heretic’s Fork is definitely worth checking out! It’s only $10 on Steam, which is well worth the price for an interesting gaming experience.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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The Thing in Review, Movie 1, Movie 2 and the Board Game

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The Thing… Where to start? I guess we’ll start at the beginning, or the first movie as it were, in 1982…. (Note: for all that it is based upon the same book, I am not including the 1951 The Thing from Another World in this review as it is very different from the later iterations. Nor am I reviewing the book itself.)

1982 movie poster detail
1982 movie poster detail

Movie 1

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a cult classic film and a staple of the horror genre despite its original release to lackluster attendance. It focuses on a small group of Antarctic researchers desperately trying to piece together the mystery of what happened at a neighboring outpost before succumbing to the horror itself. Seems that some “thing” was unearthed from its burial in the long frozen ice and has been released to roam the desolate Antarctic wasteland in a ravenous bodyshaping doppleganger frenzy.

The Good

The psychological thriller aspect of this film is laid on thick, with distrust sown between the scant trapped crew remaining, trying to figure out who is and isn’t affected. The characters don’t act irrationally based on tired tropes, making somewhat reasonable choices based on what information they have and learn over the course of the incident, save for acting solo or in pairs despite known risks.

Paranoia reigns supreme and the implications of the circumstances the crew finds themselves in are not lost in the shuffle. This elusive us-versus-them setup is the film’s best quality. And as for another film great, I totally want MacReady’s helicopter flying hat. That is some grand fashion, if I do say so myself. But I digress…

MacReady's noteworthy hat
MacReady’s noteworthy hat

The Bad (or at least, The Ugly)

I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will mention that the alien being appears in numerous gruesome scenes. Personally, I feel that this is where the film falls short. I get that we had to see its evolving body horror nature to better understand the implications of what the alien can and cannot do as its abilities are revealed.

But it starts to fall into the campy uncanny valley bordering on comic relief when there is too much focus placed on showing the intruder. In my opinion, such vagaries are often more terrifying when left unseen, for the viewer’s imagination to run wild. That said, I will remind everyone that this was before CG, and it was a wholly different world of special effects then. So, for 1982 amidst the shiny happy wonderment surrounding E.T., The Thing was freakishly damn creepy.

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I give the original film 4.0 Cthulhus.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


Movie 2

On to the prequel, the 2011 version of The Thing exploring exactly what had happened at the Norwegian base camp, as seen in the setup in the John Carpenter release…

2011 movie poster detail
2011 movie poster detail

So, despite all of the mixed reviews out there, I rather liked the prequel. I thought it did pretty well conveying the same moods and story as the 1982 release.

The Good

As expected, the prequel did use a lot more fancy pants computer generated content to depict the sheer terror of the Thing itself. Although it relied heavily on this, I think it used the new capability rather well while still paying homage to the original. The scene developing the two-faced monster was wonderfully creepy in much the same spirit as the 1982 release. The psychological distress revved up very convincingly, with the characters’ paranoia escalating in ways that made sense internally. And the jump scares and grotesque features were good.

The Bad and the Ugly

The way that the events panned out and how the characters interacted within their circumstances was unfortunately less developed than in the original film. As a prequel, not all of the actions led into the 1982 film in ways that were believable, and thus beg the question of when all that research was conducted with the videos made and written records chronicled. The timeline just doesn’t feel at all consistent. Did this occur over a day, two days, a month, or even a few months’ time? This is not wholly clear. The movie plays out as if everything happened within 48 hours but that doesn’t naturally follow with all of the setup.

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And the 2011 release relied more on typical horror tropes like scientific secrecy and splitting up in ways that don’t entirely make sense. A lot of the characters behaved less rationally even despite being shown to process the information at hand quickly. It’s almost like they were trying to set themselves up to be jump scared and assimilated. Who knows, maybe they were?

But my biggest beef with this film is the weirdness with the alien spaceship. I won’t spoil the plot by giving it away, but suffice it to say the alien’s capabilities seem more influenced by how quickly the humans learn what they can do rather than what they are actually able to accomplish, which creates a sort of unique dysfuntion all its own. I’d have shrugged this off if not for the spaceship but instead was left feeling like the movie just had to push for an Iron Man moment (like in The Martian). I guess sometimes we need a big red sign on the wall that says “Bang head here” in the form of a WTF movie moment.

So I give the 2011 prequel only 3.0 Cthulhus. If I had seen this first I don’t know that I’d have gone out of my way to see the 1982 release, and it really just wasn’t as good as the original despite the psychological tension and creepy factor. I know I started off this mini-review stating that I rather liked it, and I genuinely did. But then again I also rather liked parts of The Minions movie from the Despicable Me enterprise (it had me laughing any way; what can I say, I’m easy sometimes), so you do the math…

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)


The Board Game

And finally, The Thing the board game, based on the 1982 film. Note: there are previous games along themes of The Thing, but I have only played the recent 2022 release. All of the versions have had mixed reviews, mostly being compared to the Battlestar Galactica game of hidden identities, often held as the pinnacle of this “hidden role” game style.

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I really like this game. I love that you can sow paranoia as you try to figure out who is and isn’t human. And if you don’t have enough players to really delve into the psychological aspects of this, with every man out for himself, you can play cooperatively against the game itself as the harsh environment, sabotage and alien infiltration take their toll. And as many of you know, I adore cooperative games.

Game Structure

The board game is a hidden identity structure featuring characters from the 1982 movie. Player characters do not know whether the others are human or are alien-imitating-fake-human trying to assimilate them into the alien threat. Everyone is acting upon their own motives and suspicions as they try to get the hell outta Dodge back to the civilized world. I have not been able to approach this in the full version as my tabletop game group is small, but the cooperative version does still offer some sense of the terror and urgency felt.

The game mechanics are a bit chunky but they aren’t overly complicated and the game doesn’t generally outlast its run time of around an hour once you get the hang of the actions and how the phases play out. Again, we’ve played it cooperatively and this may or may not hold true depending on your game group. First off, you have to account for the weather, which always comes first in such an inhospitable environment as Antarctica. Next, player characters determine where they are going and theoretically what they are doing, though this doesn’t reveal itself immediately and doesn’t necessarily make it apparent who is and isn’t human. Then the alien threat is established and the leader takes a role in determining what happens where. Eventually, food is eaten, tests are administered, and the dogs get out and wreak havoc.

Some pics of The Thing game setup, hanging out in the rec room, and alien attack!
Some pics of The Thing game setup, hanging out in the rec room, and alien attack!

Rulemongering

The art is lovely and hearkens to the original film. And the game is fun. But the game mechanics and rules are not entirely well-explained in all circumstances, including the translation between standard and cooperative play, and the playbook raises more questions than answers. There is much heated debate over the interpretation of this, and my group was not exempt from the discussion around when exactly the dogs get out.

Returning to the film does not offer a better explanation, as the game deviates from the movie in enough ways to create possibilities around actions too far gone, such as blood testing or repairing the communications to call for help. And the original monstrous dog has a big role at the start of the film, pretty much going wherever it likes, so are the dogs supposed to be in or out? Unsure. So expect to get bogged down in this discourse for awhile, especially if you don’t all agree on how the game should be played.

The Fine Print

Because of this extra confusion, sowing dissent for reasons that have nothing to do with the movie or theme and everything to do with people having their own ideas of how the rules and setup should be interpreted, I give the game only 3.0 Cthulhus. Lack of definition in these circumstances is not a boon, and should not be left to the imagination (unlike the portrayal of monstrous creatures which can benefit from not revealing too much). And since everyone is paranoid and self-serving, it only muddles up discussion of how to interpret the rules more, depending on what side you’re on, human versus alien threat… That said, the game is fun and, if your gaming group isn’t full of a bunch of rules lawyers like mine is, hopefully you won’t get too bogged down in the fine print.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

And for follow up, we decided to ignore the forums and make a house rule that one dog begins outside of the kennel sowing confusion and the location deck is interacted with from there to see if the other dogs are released. This seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of the original film, for whatever that’s worth. The other dogs weren’t even shown to be at risk until that dog is taken to the kennel, so maybe they shouldn’t come out to play until exposed. And here we go again…

More Game Reviews

If you enjoyed this review and want to explore another creepy cooperative game with lots of character motive, feel free to read about Dead of Winter. Or you can delve further into the survivalist genre with Ravine.

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Fear & Hunger (2018), a Game Review

Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen, using RPG Maker for a dungeon-crawling horror.

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Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen. This RPG Maker game brings to life a dungeon-crawling horror set in a grimdark fantasy world. Published by Happy Paintings, this game remains available on Steam and Itch.io.

You are one of four adventurers tasked with uncovering the truth of a dungeon simply called Fear and Hunger. Fighting through the horrors, you must manage your hunger, health, and sanity. But with fate stacked against you, how can you hope to survive?

Five people stand side by side. One man in leather armor, another man with long hair and black robes, a man in bulky steel armor, a woman in slimer steel armor, and an outlander in wolf skin
The Mercenary, the Occultist, a prisoner, the Knight and the Outlander

What I like about Fear & Hunger

Despite the plethora of RPG Maker horrors, Fear & Hunger stands out in nearly every way. While it looks like an RPG Maker game, the aesthetic provides a uniquely decrepit and haunting visual uncommon even among the horrors.

Fear & Hunger wears its inspirations on its sleeves. Any casual search on the development, even the aesthetics, will reveal these influences. However, it weaves these inspirations to add something new.

This game is excruciatingly hard and unfair in the best of ways! I tried a few runs with specific tests in mind. One was on the default experience, or “easy mode.” This mode affects how much damage monsters can take before dying but doesn’t notably affect your “luck” rolls. It’s these luck rolls that truly make the experience. Every step can lead to danger, forcing you into rolls that may cost your life.

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Many factors lead to abrupt endings or benefits, making each playthrough unique. Each level has a few different potential layouts. While not procedural generation, this provides variety throughout playthroughs.

There are several options and ways to play that I enjoy indulging in, following the structural choices akin to Souls-like games. While there are no inherent right ways to play, there are easier options and tactical decisions. This truth applies to character selection. In fighting, the Knight gave me the easiest introduction. The Dark Priest requires more tactical gameplay but companionless potential if played to their unique strengths. The Barbarian can provide the easiest food resource and competent combat. Lastly, the Mercenary acts more like a rogue, so try and avoid initial confrontation.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Triggers

The most important trigger to mention is sexual assault. This game, unfortunately, includes several examples of sexual assault and abuse. While these often lead to blackout screens, the game leaves nothing to the imagination. The creator took the feedback to heart and made drastic changes to the sequel to minimize these moments. However, this doesn’t change the first Fear & Hunger.

If you get squeamish by pixelated nudity, then it’ll be hard to overlook the quantity found in Fear & Hunger. There’s more male nudity throughout the game. This point is especially the case when concerning enemies. Regardless, it remains ever-present. A game option might even turn you into a nude abomination.

As a sanity meter implies, characters can have mental breakdowns. Characters must indulge in various activities, including drug use, to survive.

A black screen with "Fear & Hunger" written in white text
Fear & Hunger Loading Title

What I Dislike about Fear & Hunger, or Food for Thought

Failure often leads to punishment. Where most games provide a game over, Fear & Hunger forces you to play. In these moments, the character is usually bleeding out and crawling, with little hope for salvation. I don’t exactly understand this gameplay decision. You lost to die again? There are likely ways to survive these scenarios, but some moments seem impossible and unrewarding.

I’ve heard mention that this game “hates you.” While I disagree with the wording, I will say that chance plays a heavy role in your survival. You can do everything right, but a few uncontrollable rolls can doom you to death. These dice rolls even affect when and if you get a saving book or can rest (to save), which likely means you lose progress.

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Despite the innovation in gameplay mechanics, this remains an RPG Maker game. Movement remains linear, requiring the keypad to adjust to specific angles.

Final Thoughts

Fear & Hunger remain terrifying. As one delves further into the dungeon, harder choices force the character into more desperate acts. Few games truly make these decisions necessary, like Fear & Hunger. While mechanics are a bit janky, and the material does shock for the sake of shocking the viewer, it captures a darkness few games dare to cross.
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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