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The Betrayal Legacy Chronicles, Part One

One of the joys of a Legacy game is seeing how it changes over time. I love that idea, which is why I’ve been so enthusiastic writing about the category’s Legacy Play, Legacy Venn, Legacy Mechanics, and Legacy Emotions in past articles.

As I’ve seen my own groups’ games of Pandemic Legacy: Season Two and SeaFall expand, I’ve regretted not chronicling that expansion over time. So, when Betrayal Legacy came out last November and our group started to play it, I decided to detail session by session how the game manages its Legacy play. And, since Betrayal Legacy is a overlord-style co-op, I also decided to chronicle how its co-op play changes over time, as a complement to my work in Meeples Together.

Obviously, there are spoilers here for Betrayal Legacy, but each entry should only talk about the surprises up to that date.


Prologue: 1666 — Witch Hunt

In the prologue, we explored the House for the first time, then when a Chalice of Insanity was uncovered, we all tried to kill each other — under the (false) theory that we were cooperating to kill a hidden traitor. 

This first session almost turned us off the whole game, because we felt manipulated in a clumsy and obvious way.

Figure P-1: Our first, small house

Co-op: Betrayal is always a bit of a weird cooperative game in its pre-Haunt phase because you’re individually exploring and don’t really want to help anyone else when anyone could be the traitor*. But the Prologue didn’t have any late-game cooperation either, since everyone is just trying to kill each other. Oh, theoretically you might have a temporary tactical alliance when you’re all working to kill a certain player, but you might not. As it turns out, the cooperation of Betrayal Legacy ramps up in complexity and meaningfulness over the first four or so sessions of play, but this was not a great first look for a game that was supposed to be a co-op.

* Betrayal at House on the Hill (2004) and its derivatives uses the word “traitor” for their evil players, but it’s not a traitor as we define it in Meeples Together. We define a traitor in a co-op game as someone who’s purposefully lying in wait, trying to wreck the cooperation. The “traitor” in the Betrayals is a player who’s suddenly selected to become an openly evil player halfway through the game. It’s what we’d call an “overlord” (like the oppositional player in games like Descent or Mansions of Madness 1e), not a proper traitor (like the oppositional player in Shadows over Camelot and Battlestar Galactica). Nonetheless, this article uses the word “traitor” because that’s what Betrayal does.

Figure P-2: By design, the action was all outside

Legacy: Obviously, all you can do in the first game of a Legacy campaign is set up Legacy elements.

Part of that was learning the story elements that will return in future games, including the rooms that make up the house (and its grounds), as well as items. The most important is the Chalice of Insanity, the Omen that closes out the first game. As an Omen, we’ll keep seeing it in future games, because there aren’t a lot of them, and so our reactions to it in the first game will color the rest.

There were two more interactive Legacy mechanics. First, players got to claim items for their family. They not only name them, but also put stickers on them that will provide special benefits in future games — but only if they actually draw the items, or are given them. Second, players got to mark ghosts on tiles where they died. This will create particular areas in our house that are haunted.

The way the haunt ends could be used to as a Legacy element in future games, but that doesn’t occur in the Prologue because it’s a total railroad, which means there’s only one way for it to end. Still, we’re always going to remember the murderer who took over the house. (Michael.) His family crest is clearly marked on the Deed to the House if we forget.

Chapter One: 1694 — Axe Murderer

Back to the house. This time one of the characters is possessed by an evil axe-murdering spirit. The game once more degenerates into a big fight, but this time it’s us vs. him, instead of everyone for himself.

Honestly, we’re still not thrilled: this second Haunt is so basic.

Figure 1-1: Our second house sprawls more

Co-op: As the axe murderer is known, there’s opportunity in this second game for some simple, tactical cooperation among the cooperating players. Mind you, Betrayal Legacy suffers somewhat from the lack of task stabilization discussed on page 88 of Meeples Together: every time someone attacks a foe, the foe gets an opportunity to attack them back. More attacks means that the foe can do more damage. Still, it also provides more opportunity to wear down the foe’s resources.

With that said, our cooperative experience was a bit subpar: our haunt happened very early, which means that we didn’t have much time to collect weapons beforehand. This left us with no practical way to cooperate, because no one could do much against the axe murderer. Not a great second look for a co-op game.

Legacy: This second game suggested that a lot of the Legacy in Betrayal Legacy is going to be story-related. Not only does the plot of Chapter One paint all of the other families as remembering the massacre of the Prologue, but we also roleplayed it, while the owner of the home, 30 years older, proclaimed her innocence. Meanwhile, we also knew the house and thus were aware of things like there was an Omen space in the Outside and that the last Ground Floor tile was going to reveal a secret door.

The more mechanical Legacy elements didn’t impact our play much. We didn’t see many of our Legacy items due to a very quick haunt, and weren’t able to get them to the right people. Though the distribution of ghosts probably affected our play, it wasn’t very overt.

small bit of additional Legacy was introduced in this second game because the game (theoretically) could be won by either the traitor or the cooperators. As we discovered, this results in different cards being added to decks (for future play) depending on who won this particular game. So, we’ll see repercussions of this game, mainly in new ways that the house is haunted, for the rest of our campaign. (Mind you, I’m not convinced that the particular cards added were that evocative of what happened, but we’d see better use of this element a few Chapters down the road.)

Figure 1-2: Our main legacy elements to date: named cards, specifically introduced cards, and the deed

Chapter Two: 1729 — The Secret Cult

This time around, we discover there’s a secret cult working out of the house, and we need to discover and kill their leader.

We end up screwing this game up, but it feels better than the others mainly because it’s got some clever mechanics that allow us some agency — and because we use that agency to screw up. In other words, it’s totally on us.

Figure 2-1: The rooms are familiar, but the layout is never quite the same; maybe we’re just confusing by the winding corridors?

Co-op: This third game introduces a new mechanic: non-player personas who show up in the house at specific rooms. There are a cook and a farmhand, who we name “Octavia” and “Ed”. They’re also integral to the third Haunt, which (thankfully) adds a second level of complexity to the cooperative play. We now need to discover which one is the cult leader (step i) before killing them (step ii).

The discovery is managed by a clever little mechanism where each of these peoples’ cultiness is defined by the sum of three hidden number chits. We get to look at them one at a time. This allows our first bit of strategic cooperation, as we run to different locations in the house to reveal these clues.

Our first clue is a really big number on Octavia (we think it’s a “9”, but it turns out to be a “6”). We’re terrified of the traitor, so we immediately move on to step ii, where we engage in tactical cooperation (like we theoretically could have in Chapter One if we’d been better equipped) to kill her. Oops! The number was actually a “6” and her other two numbers were low! We killed an innocent cook! The traitor wins again.

Figure 2-2: These characters will remain with us (when we don’t murder them)

Legacy: On our third outing, we’re just not feeling the Legacy. Sure, over the course of the game we see a few Legacy items, but they again never get to the right people. The Omen cards are the most familiar, but that’s our main continuity. We do have a bit of fun, talking about how there’s always a secret passage off to the left of the front door, and sure enough. But we can’t keep making our own fun.

One weird Legacy item does show up at the end of the game: a helm that we can place our family crest stickers upon. It’s kind of intriguing, but not something we actually experienced in this game.

Figure 2-3: Our family histories are another minor bit of Legacy

Chapter Three: 1763 — The Bloody Doll

This time around there’s some bloody doll that’s trying to do some blood ritual to become all powerful, or something like that. Honestly, it’s not the most interesting storyline, but the gameplay makes up for it.

This is the first game that entirely clicked for us, and that’s in large part because the amount of time before the haunt has been increasing each game: there was only one omen in the first game, two in the second, and three in the third, pushing the Haunt back a little each time. This game, we actually don’t initiate the Haunt until the fourth omen symbol comes up, and that means that we’ve mapped out a large number of rooms.

Figure 3-1: It’s pretty cool that the increasing number of tiles and omens is leading to larger houses in these later eras; but for once, the Hearth is on the wrong side of the hall!

Co-op: The co-op rules have also been getting more complex, and this time we non-traitors have a three-part process: (step i) find and memorize runes; (step ii) make a crib for an evil baby; and (step iii) kill the evil baby. This level of complexity is nice because it increases the possibilities for strategic play, allowing for some asymmetric cooperation. We split up trying to solve runes while at the same time keeping our big Knowledge guy in the background to make the crib. Once we’ve got that in place, we also do some strategic work with some characters blocking the traitor’s movement to protect our guy most able to kill the doll. We do, he does, and the good guys win for the first time ever.

Legacy: The Legacy elements also feel more interesting in this game. Not only do we get a  Sickle of War Legacy item to its appropriate family … but the player then uses it to kill the evil baby! This immediately led us to an outcome-based Legacy that was more meaningful than the cards that we’ve been adding to the deck based on previous results: the Guest Room where our killing occurred got replaced with a “Bloody Room”. This was a great bit of Legacy because it felt like it permanently changed the house in a way that nothing else did before. We may not remember the loss of the Guest Room, but we will remember the killing of the Baby every time this Bloody Room shows up.

One other new bit of Legacy showed up in this fourth game: we learned more about the weird helm that we got at the end of Chapter Two. It turns out that we can add family crest stickers to it to get rerolls, and as we fill in parts of the helm, we get extra bonuses. Every one of us is convinced it’s a trap … but every one of us put a sticker on it this game, and it may well be why we beat the Haunt. Next game we’re going to see our stickers on the helm, we’re going to remember our usage of this item, and maybe feel like we overdid it. So, it’s more of a Legacy element than most of the ones we’ve seen before.

Figure 3-2: Let’s be frank, this Legacy helm isn’t going to go anywhere good

Conclusion

One of the difficulties of Legacy games `is that they tend to start off with simple rules, then make them more complex game by game. It’s a good model for teaching a game in parts, but the danger is that you start off with a game that’s too simple and so doesn’t interest players.

In Betrayal Legacy it felt like this slow ramp-up negatively affected two crucial system: the Legacy elements and the cooperative play. There just wasn’t enough Legacy at the start: it took until our fourth game for us to feel like a Legacy item was effective and to get elements like the helm and the changing house. However the ramp-up of the cooperation may have been more problematic, as we moved through: (p) no cooperation; (1) tactical fighting; (2) minimal strategic cooperation; and (3) multi-stage strategic cooperation.

But now that we’re four games in, we’re more looking forward to seeing how things advance, because it feels like the Legacy and the co-op play are clicking in a way that they weren’t early on.

(At least that’s my hope; I do still have some concern that we might have just gotten lucky with our Legacy elements in our fourth game … but I’ll check in with you in three or four months to say for sure.)

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The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples