In Betrayal at House on the Hill, which has spent the last 15 years as a board gaming staple, the players explore a haunted mansion with – at least at first – no particular idea what is going on. Then, at some point during the game, one of the players turns traitor and the game becomes one-vs.-many. Games can be drastically different, not only because the tile-based layout is randomized every game, but because the very nature of the ‘haunt’ varies drastically from game to game – there’s no way of knowing in advance what sort of macabre plot is afoot.
Scooby-Doo! Betrayal at Mystery Mansion (releasing on July 24, 2020 from Avalon Hill) takes this successful framework and applies a Scooby Doo theme (of course) and a number of modifications to make the game work better with a younger audience (Betrayal at House on the Hill is rated for 12+; I played Betrayal at Mystery Mansion with a six-year-old and a nine-year-old, although the box says 8+). The basic re-theme works very well – wandering around a seemingly empty mansion with no real clue what they’re doing is right up Mystery Inc’s alley.
Betrayal at Mystery Mansion supports up to five players, taking on the roles of Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby. Each character has values in Might, Courage, Brains, and Speed, plus a special ability – Fred comes prepared with an Item, Daphne gets extra Scooby snacks, Velma gets benefits on Brains rolls, etc. When the characters attempt a task, they roll a number of custom dice equal to their appropriate attribute (each side shows 1 success, 2 successes, or blank), with the number of successes translating to an outcome. For example, a character might encounter a shadowed figure and roll Courage – if they roll well enough they stand their ground and gain Courage, while if they roll poorly they run away (losing Courage but gaining Speed). Scooby Snacks allow re-rolls.
The first phase of the game sees the gang explore Inside and Outside the mansion, adding more rooms and more pathways out from the starting Entrance Hall and Mystery Machine tiles. When discovered, some locations will have an event (which requires one a test), some will have Items (which usually provide a single-use benefit), and some will have clues. Most clues provide a permanent benefit, but more importantly a haunt roll is made every time a clue is found. Somewhere between the third clue and the ninth, this roll will trigger the game into its second act.
Once the haunt begins, one of the players is chosen as the “monster” (when playing with kids, this allows the option of always having a parent play the monster). The players then consult two books – Secrets of Survival and the Monster’s Tome. Although regular Betrayal has these examinations conducted separately (so there might be a lot of secrets kept from one side or the other), Betrayal at Mystery Mansion allows both to be examined together. The former character for the monster player will disappear (probably one of those hidden revolving doors), and now the meat of the game begins.
What exactly that is depends on the scenario. Maybe there’s a UFO, or a witch, or a werewolf … or maybe it’s someone pretending to be one of those things in order to scare people off so they can make a fortune. And they would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling kids! Or maybe they do get away with it, although the haunts seem to favor the meddling kids. There are a total of 25 haunts, and all of the tokens you can see in the game components (except for Scooby Snacks) are used for those various haunts – ghosts, keys, pizza, and so forth. It was nice to see a stack of distinctive tokens. They and the components generally were sturdy and functioned well. The one exception was the clips used to track changing attribute scores. They were slightly too thin, making it hard to slide them onto the player boards without causing damage – and once they were on, they obscured the attribute names.
Overall, Betrayal at Mystery Mansion thoroughly succeeds of transforming Betrayal at House on the Hill into a game that captures the spirit of the original while reaching a younger audience. Some of the ways that’s done have been mentioned above. The game is also shorter, the haunts can be more goofy than scary (consistent with Scooby Doo), none of the Mystery Inc. gang actually turns traitor, and the haunts are only semi-random (there are 25 haunts, but you choose a complexity level at the start and you’ll get randomly get one of the 5 haunts associated with that). For those who aren’t familiar with Betrayal at House on the Hill, those adjustments aren’t relevant, of course. But, regardless of whether folks have played Betrayal at House on the Hill before, Betrayal at Mystery Manor will appeal to Scooby fans looking for a lighthearted game, especially those with kids in the 8-12 age range.
Promotional consideration provided in the form of a review copy.