This is it. The big one. These are two of the best games I’ve ever played, but which is better? The gloves are about to come off.
Where do I even begin? Basically, these two games have the same basic premise: a group of explorers has, for one reason or another, found themselves in a creepy, old, haunted house, and it is their job to explore the inner depths of the house and survive whatever horrors lurk within. Here is a more specific overview of each game:
(***Side note, in side-by-side comparisons, Mansions will be on the top, Betrayal will be on the bottom. I do not own any of the images used. All images are taken from BoardGameGeek unless linked to their original site.***)
Betrayal at House on the Hill: The group begins in the Entrance Hall of the giant house, only able to see the long hall that lies ahead of them. From there, characters take turns moving into new rooms, flipping over tiles to reveal the newly discovered room. As the game progresses, characters’ traits (Speed – How many rooms they can move through, Might – How physically strong they are, Sanity – How crazy or sane they are, Knowledge – How smart they are) change for better or worse, and, through the use of an inventive game mechanic, (usually) one player betrays all his friends. At this point, it becomes a battle for survival between the remaining Heroes and the Traitor, along with various monsters or powers he has acquired.
Mansions of Madness: From the beginning of the game, all players can see the entire board. Characters move through the house, unveiling its dark secrets by finding useful items, solving mini-game puzzles and obstacles and coming face-to-face with Lovecraftian monsters and other such horrors, all the while fighting to stay sane. In Mansions of Madness, one player plays as the Keeper, not necessarily a specific character within the story, but rather an omniscient representation of the general evil of the house. The Keeper’s job is to make the story interesting by messing with the explorers, sometimes even causing one to secretly turn against the rest. The players only have a limited amount of time to explore the house, after which, they will either win or lose, depending upon their actions up to that point.
These are both superb games. The atmosphere of play is great, and both games require a refreshing blend of strategy and imagination. Let’s talk about the specifics…
Room Tiles: The room tiles in both games are very nice (examples shown in game descriptions above). Both games’ room tiles show nice overhead views of the rooms, and tiles are very nicely detailed and fun to look at. For example, Betrayal’s “Basement Landing” tile shows the end of the Coal Chute and a pile of coal beneath it, as an explorer who enters the “Coal Chute” tile slides directly there.Mansions’ tiles are two sided, so the board can change both look and layout. Also, when the second edition of Betrayal came out in October 2010, fans were quickly disappointed to see all cardboard components quickly warping. Wizards/Avalon Hill has since fixed the problem and sent replacement tiles on better cardboard to anyone who requested it, but it just seemed to be a careless problem in the first place. Mansions’ tiles are on standard, good quality, Fantasy Flight cardboard, and are not prone to warping or damage under normal circumstances.
Pieces: Once again, Mansions of Madness seems to be better. Fantasy Flight games is known for quality games and components, and this game certainly does not disappoint. While Betrayal’s cards and figures are not bad, take a look at this comparison of monsters:
No comparison. Mansions wins, hands down. In regards to player figures, Betrayal’s figures aren’t bad. They’re nicely pre-colored, though the blue figure of Madame Zostra / Vivian Lopez has a pretty nasty lean to her in many sets, including my own. Mansions’ figures are not colored, but this is not laziness, it encourages players to custom paint their set.
How about the cards? Really, they are both very nice. Take a look.
It’s tough to pick a definitive winner, but I think Mansions probably takes this category, too. Betrayal’s cards have a nice, weathered look, but they are shaped very awkwardly. They are tall, thin, specialized cards, so it’s hard to find plastic sleeves that fit them. Mansions’ cards, though they come in two sizes, use standard game card proportions, and any game store anywhere will sell protective sleeves for them. Also, many cards in Mansions have nice color images on them, another one-up on Betrayal.
Gameplay: So, Mansions certainly looks better. But which game plays better? First, let’s start with the lengths of the games. Betrayal at House on the Hill usually takes about an hour to play. As such, for non-gamers, it’s a good choice, as it’s not mentally exhausting. Mansions, however, can easily take several hours to play, so it my not be as easy for inexperienced gamers to enjoy.
I certainly believe that, in both cases, the quality of gameplay is very contingent on the atmosphere of play. Neither one of these games are meant to be played outside over a midday picnic when it’s a sunny 75 outside. They are best enjoyed at night, preferably by candlelight, and with creepy music playing in the background. In my games of Betrayal, I require players to read text on cards in a creepy voice. Call it a silly house rule, but this simple addition to the game makes it so much better.
As far as suspense goes, I think Betrayal wins hands-down. Because characters can’t see the room that they are about to explore, they have no idea what they are getting themselves into, whether they are about to encounter an attack from something hidden in the dark or draw the final Omen card to make them the traitor. Especially for first-timers, this makes the game a lot of fun, and maybe even a bit creepy. With Mansions of Madness, the characters can see the whole house from the start, so the suspenseful element is more or less lost, or at least limited only to revealing cards hidden in rooms.
Another huge category is replay value. How much fun will the game be the second time? The tenth time? The hundredth time? Well, Mansions of Madness has 5 different playable scenarios, which certainly keeps the adventure going for some time. Also, more experienced players may be inclined to play as the Keeper, rendering the game experience completely different for them. However, I think Betrayal wins in this category, too. While Mansions’ scenarios may be slightly more in-depth than Betrayal’s, it comes down to the difference between 50 pretty good scenarios (okay, maybe there’s a few that suck, we’ll say 45), versus 5 great scenarios, not to mention playing on either “side,” as either the Heroes / Explorers or the Traitor / Keeper. Some gamers may disagree here, but I would personally be willing to sacrifice a bit of complexity and maybe even a touch of quality for some ten times the scenarios. In other words, less is not necessarily more here.
Conclusion: Betrayal at House on the Hill and Mansions of Madness are two fantastic games. They are both well worth a play or 50, but they are both very good for different reasons.
As is expected of Fantasy Flight Games, Mansions of Madness is gorgeous. The cards, the figures, the tiles, the tokens, everything. It’s a thing of beauty, and the game itself is very fun, too. Where Betrayal has that ever-lovable, hokey, B-Movie feel, Mansions is much more serious. Betrayal’s components aren’t necessarily bad, they just don’t measure up to the stunning figurines and cards of Mansions. However, Mansions doesn’t (in my opinion) measure up to Betrayal in atmosphere. I think Betrayal is wonderful, not despite its corny nature, but because of it! It’s one of those games that is just pure, simple fun. It’s much more appealing to non-gamers, as it usually takes about an hour, as opposed to several hours for Mansions, and it seems to be much simpler to learn.
Having played both games multiple times, I truly believe Betrayal at House on the Hill to be the superior game. Of course, it ultimately comes down to your personal preference. Do you like beautifully crafted, complex strategy games? If so, maybe Mansions is better for you. I, however, love playing games with non-gamers and getting them hooked on the fun of board gaming. Thus, Betrayal is better for me. I certainly don’t mean to downplay the quality or integrity of either game. They are both great, but, when put side-by-side, the House on the Hill beats the Mansion of Madness.