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The Betrayal Legacy Chronicles, Part Two

When we started playing Betrayal Legacy last year, I decided to chronicle the entire adventure, to detail how the game has changed over time, and how its co-op and Legacy elements worked. The Betrayal Legacy Chronicles, Part One discussed the first four adventures, while this continues this series with Chapters Four through Six. And this is going to be it, because we’ve decided that seven sessions is enough, for reasons that I’ll talk about toward the end.

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

Chapter Four: 1797 — The Haunted Furniture

The ghosts increasingly haunting the house possess the furniture this session, and we have to burn it in a fire before it kills us. We do.

In fact when we’re down to our last piece of furniture, it’s increasingly obvious we’re going to win, which is never a great thing a round out in a co-op game. Overall, we have a good time early in this game, again because of the increased length of the early game, but the fight-focused Haunt feels a bit rudimentary.

Figure 4-1: Our biggest house ever?

Co-op: We do something we haven’t before: we actually cooperate a bit before the Haunt, primarily using a special skill that allows us to somewhat select the house tiles coming up. So, we select for items and against omens, under the theory that it’s 80% likely to benefit each of us. And then we get to the haunt … and there’s no “traitor”. We all win or lose as a group. So, go us.

Mind you, the Haunt feels a bit more rudimentary than the last two, because it’s all tactical combat. However, there is a bit of depth: we can stun the furniture while fighting, then drag it to the fire, and we can also INVOKE to move it on its own. This allows some strategic work, as some players are fighting, some are dragging, and some are magically moving. But it still feels a lot more one dimensional.

Figure 4-2: We always remember the previous Omen cards, but the rest of the decks have almost no Legacy meaning to us.

Legacy: We’re back to the core Legacy play being relatively shallow, though our cooperative play helps a few of the Legacy items get to the right people. But even when we pull up events that I am pretty sure came from the results of other games, I’m not sure what they’re evoking.

Our only big surprise is finding out more about the helm, as we learn it can be used to select a player, which means that players that use its power more are more likely to be selected. That’s a pretty cool Legacy element, because it ensures those past choices have future results, which is what you really want in Legacy.

Chapter Five: 1830 — The Mirror Invasion

This time, one of our number is possessed by their mirror copy from another dimension, who then tries to assimilate the rest of the characters (or else kill them).

To a certain extent, Betrayal Legacy is starting to drag for us. The pre-Haunt play rarely feels long enough to be fulfilling, and then we descend into yet another variant of combat, and that’s what happens once again. Oh, it’s slightly different combat, as you SMASH mirror creatures to make it easier to close the portal to the mirror dimension, but it’s just variants of the same themes.

Figure 5-1: The Basement got plenty of attention this time.

Co-op: We actually spend most of our time roleplaying rather than cooperating in the early part of the game, which is a fine alternative. When we get to the Haunt it’s again tactical combat. Sadly, it’s again pretty rudimentary cooperation. There is a pair of linked actions: PREPARE, then SMASH, which you can use together to gather a bunch of mirror monsters together before destroying them … but one player can do it all, eliminating the possibility of strategic cooperation between the players. There is still some strategic play, with several players running around and smashing so that a final player can INVOKE to close the portal, but it’s still a big step down from Chapters Two and Three, which had multi-stage strategic cooperation that we thought would be the new normal for the game, but which has largely disappeared in the games since.

Figure 5-2: The Deed to the House is an example of the very weak Legacy elements in this game.

Legacy: Yes, we continue to recognize cards and tiles. We’ll probably find the new additions from this game even more memorable, because there are a few mirror-related events as well as a tile that actually gets stickered over(!). But, as noted before, it’s minor.

The major bit of Legacy in this Chapter is that we get a whole new major mechanic. That stickered-over tile, The Chasm, is an entrance to the Otherworlds, which appear as 28 new cards that we add to our box. No, we still don’t know what this means, but we’re told the next Chapter will be Part II of the game. Rules additions are a major element of Legacy games, and they can add a lot … so we’ll see what the next game brings.

Chapter Six: 1849 — The Disease

We come under attack from a disease, which sends us search the Otherworlds, because that’s the new mechanic. We maximize our health tactically, and that lets us find the cure in the nick of time.

We had decided that this would be our last play of Betrayal Legacy unless the Otherworlds was sufficiently innovative to revamp a gameplay that had gotten stale and never lived up to its Legacy potential. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.)

Figure 6-1: One last house.

Co-op: The cooperative play of this Chapter is back to the multi-stage strategy that we’ve been missing. First, players must recover reagents in the form of curses and items from the Otherworlds; then they must STUDY them; then they must PREPARE an antidote. The problem is that there’s not much cooperation other than the group’s accumulation of resources toward success. That’s because there’s no way to provide help in the Otherworlds, and once the resources are recovered, they’re mostly in the form of curses that can’t be traded away. So, players are strategically cooperating, but there’s very little of the more interesting tactics which occasionally appeared on the peripheries of previous adventures.

Figure 6-2: Our last rules addition, the Otherworlds, were disappointing (and frustrating).

Legacy: The big Legacy element of this Chapter was the introduction of the Otherworlds, and to be honest, they were overwhelming. Certainly, the addition of any new rules system is to a Legacy game’s benefit and the addition of new places to explore even moreso. So, the Otherworlds could have been the best of the best.

The problem is that they’re very punishing, often causing damage, often pushing the players ever onward, hoping to avoid the worst. Certainly there’s some good tension here, which is what you need for a horror game to work, but it’s not enough to offset the pure unfunness of being punished from every exploration.

In other words, we’d wanted to see if the Otherworlds were interesting enough to get us to continue play, and if anything, they moved the game in the opposite direction.

Final Notes

Here’s an admission: none of us were fans of Betrayal at House on the Hill going into our Betrayal Legacy campaign. We often found the original game too random, and we felt like the long turns and variable length games often resulted in some or all players never getting off their feet, and so not getting to really experience the adventurous elements of the game. And Betrayal Legacy was just more of the same.

But we’d thought that the Legacy elements of the game would help it to rise above those elements, with a long-term campaign offering the opportunity to both offset randomness and to create the longer stories that we sometimes felt denied in the original Betrayal. But Betrayal Legacy didn’t. Instead, most of the Legacy elements were confined to cards and tiles, which might or might not come up in future games, and which would likely be forgotten by the time they did. The Bloodied Room was a rarity that we really remembered every time it returned, but most of the ghosts and scares just faded away into a deck of ghosts and scares, thus denying us their Legacy.

Another problem was a lack of player agency, not just in the game itself (always a problem in Betrayal), but in the campaign. In most Legacy games, like Pandemic and SeaFall, players are driving the explorations and many of the other changes to the game. Certainly, there’s a plotted story that they’re interacting with, but they can still look at the game and the board and see the changes they chose to make. Even in Charterstone, which has some problems with simple play enforcing player tactics, players can at least see the buildings they constructed. But in Betrayal Legacy, all players can do is choose whether to mark Legacy items (which they do if they can) and whether to win or lose (but that’s scarcely a choice).

In summary: fans of the original Betrayal will like the Legacy version. The cooperative and storytelling elements are as good as they were before. But we didin’t feel like the Legacy added much to the original game, and if anything, it really underplayed and underused its Legacy elements.

So our Betrayal Legacy play ends here, alas.

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