Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 45-90 mins
Setup Time: 10 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Betrayal’s none legacy version is a crowd splitter of a game, some people love it, some people hate it. It is probably the most extreme version of an Ameritrash game that could be imagined, heavy on theme and with almost gleefully willfully unbalanced scenarios in which it is not unusual to be eliminated as soon as the story becomes possible after several turns of blundering around without aim. The Legacy game leans into this tendency, if you hate Betrayal, you’ll hate Legacy, if you love it, you’ll love its Legacy.
In Legacy players take on the role of a classic horror story victim blundering around a haunted house. The first parts of the game involve moving through a modular board, adding rooms with each move, most of which trigger events or bring items. Generally, the strategy of the game is to try and pick up enough weapons and increase stats at this stage until a certain amount of ‘omens’ are found, triggering the ‘haunt’. The haunt will come with a set of specific goals and rules outlining some or another form of horror style story, usually designating one of the players as a ‘traitor’, turning the game into a one against all situation. The distribution of items and omens is random, omens triggering the haunt is random and the tale selects its traitor randomly. The haunts have a huge range of non-standard rules and goals, usually requiring players to engage in dice-based tests and combats with pick-up and deliver mechanics providing a lot of the drive.
The game quite accurately represents being involved in a horror story, with all the problems as well as benefits that entails. Players might end up engaged in a battle of wits with an ancient evil, but they might end up the first victim of the killer, Betrayal includes player elimination and its often fast and brutal. On an average probably one in three games a given player will have little or nothing to really do with the main plot line, either being practically or actually eliminated. If you can involve yourself in the spirit of the story or are happy giving advice and support from the sidelines even when you have little or no power to change anything and appreciate being immersed in a surprising story, then you might enjoy this process, if not, its something of a torture.
As I mentioned above, Betrayal: Legacy really doesn’t even try to change the core features of the game. You’re as likely as ever to be slasher fodder one game and hero of the day the next with no real way of telling which or why. Happily, it doesn’t really matter too much because there are no real long-term negative effects or positive ones, for you as a player. In Betrayal: Legacy you play as a family drawn back to the house over generations, so being hacked into quivering chunks one game doesn’t matter one jot to the well being of your son, daughter or third cousin once removed. There is the option to make certain items you find into ‘family heirlooms’, making them more powerful for you in future games, though the rewards are generally quite minor and the odds of picking up the items often low, the heirloom process is more for flavour than power (it is Betrayal after all). Much more the ongoing effects are about building the house and its story for you and your group, with your choices adding or removing cards of every type so that your final set will be totally unique to your group. This is a decision that makes sense with the feel of Betrayal, its always been more about the house than the players and it allows the story to be as outlandish and blood soaked as it ever was.
A quick word on components. Famously the stat sliders, the plastic trackers used to measure player stats, on original Betrayal were worse than useless. In Legacy they’ve gone a little the other way with plastic clips so tight that they’re best stored on the player boards because taking them on and off would wreck the card, but that’s preferable to losing track of stats in the middle of a heated playthrough. The other famous Betrayal issue are the tokens, Betrayal has a lot of tokens, often only identifiable from one side, and often asks you to identify them out of the heap at the most exciting moment in the game (it can’t really tell you to pick out all the rat tokens during set-up, because it doesn’t know you’ll need them then). Betrayal: Legacy has made no real effort to deal with this, so unless you’re okay with a break in the action, lots and lots of little plastic baggies are a must early on. As an aside, the quality is high, but the number of mis-prints rendering some tokens confusing or useless is greater than would be expected by a company of this size, and there are one or two haunts that are badly affected by this. Most are addressed in online FAQs, so be sure to find them and take a quick check during set-up and haunt reveal each game.
If there is a significant mis-step taking the game on its own terms (there are huge and appalling mis-steps if you’re a Euro gamer for example, but attacking the game for that is a waste of everyone’s time) its that the Legacy haunts neither connect together understandably enough nor change the house memorably enough, or that the vaunted period theming isn’t as visible as I would have liked. First of those last, much was made of the fact that Betrayal: Legacy begins set in the 17th Century and moves through the decades with the haunts in each decade connected to the classic fears and horror stories of the time. Each period comes with three possible haunts depending on the triggering conditions and I’ve only played through the campaign once so its possible that some of the classic tropes were buried and will be seen in later playthroughs, but while our campaign hit many of the classics (witches, Frankenstein and Lovecraft) most of the haunts still felt like they had little to do with the specific period they occurred or their place in the sequence in the campaign. Even some of those that did felt weirdly placed, with a menace from the stars story being played for sixties hippy trippy laughs rather than 50s red menace threat, and the 80s being skipped entirely. I’m a fan of classic horror and appreciate being chased by a possessed doll as much as anyone, but not having a slasher flick or zombie horde represented felt pretty odd.
As for the connection, because the game offers three haunts for each period, each with at least two endings its understandable that the following game doesn’t much mention what went before and certainly doesn’t offer specific haunts, but the three haunts each time are still related, centering on the same omen for example and with the same other elements. As such it’s a shame that so often it feels like there is little or no connection from point A and point B. One game you’ll open a rift to another world, next game rather than dealing with that rift or what comes from it you’ll wander off to the woods and deal with a rift beastie three games later. Games that climax in the basement are followed by ones that start in the grounds, for a game where theme is paramount a little bit of thought with even just the ordering of the existing haunts would have given a sense of story to the campaign itself. As it is there is a sense of disconnected chaos about what will be happening when, which is probably fine because, you know, its Betrayal, but it is disappointing at times. Also, the main thread of the plot is quite behind the scenes and does little to tie many of the haunts together, certainly not more than a bare minimum.
Lastly, the lack of leaving your print on your game. Choices made during games will affect the house, particularly winning or losing games. But very few of them change things mid game, most being added at game end, and most consisting of new cards being added or old ones destroyed. I may be alone in this, but if a card is added during game wrap up with a little bit of flavour text explaining why, I make very few connections to it. For example, new omens are added when haunts trigger and connect centrally to the haunt, they are generally given to the traitor and so stick in the mind when played with, when they turn up in later games the table (at least our table) reacts well. Cards added after a haunt might not show up until two or three games, and two or three weeks, later, they end up not connected to the events that triggered them and feel much more like random happenings. Also, cards added during end game clean up due to things that happened in the game always feel distant, whereas the few cards that you alter or power-up mid-game due to player actions always got a huge reaction when they turned up during play. Sadly, given that the house is the star of the game, there is very little in the way of player action triggered mid-game alteration to the rooms of the house themselves. A few more big moment stickers actively added to rooms would have been very welcome and in many cases would have saved everyone from the token sorting that plagues games of Betrayal.
The haunts themselves vary, as Betrayal always does, with a few barnstormers, some that go down like lead balloons and generally something between. I will say that in our group (3-4 quite hardcore gamers) in games with a traitor the traitor had a huge win rate with them losing only one or two games all campaign, and of course that’s with the traitor role being randomly shared around the group.
I will try to standardize my Legacy reviews by using several categories: Legacy Presentation, how does it physically present its Legacy aspects during the game; Legacy access, what level of elements can players reasonably expect to unlock through play and what will be lost; Life length, specifically re-play value before, after and during the campaign mode; Advancement satisfaction, whether the upgrades given to players during campaign mode come at a rate that feels worthwhile; Rules Progression, whether added rules slot in naturally or come and go at such a rate that players never manage to settle into play; Group consistency, how necessary it is to keep the same gaming group from game start to end and Storyline, Legacy games generally present an overarching story which can be successful or not.
There is a Legacy Deck which drives the story from decade to decade, with a connected ‘purgatory’ deck which contains cards to be added in after chapters or destroyed if the story does not take that path. In addition to the typical Betrayal Traitor’s Tome and Secret’s of Survival (the guides for the Traitor and Heroes during haunts) there is an additional Bleak Journal with entries unlocked by Legacy Events and the Legacy Deck. The game has sticker sheets for tracking family heirlooms etc, a sheet of window stickers to unlock and several planks of additional punch card rooms for the house. As such the presentation is well within what is now the Legacy standard and should be easily followed by anyone familiar with the format.
Half the point of the game is that there are cards that will never be part of player’s stories or their house, however these usually amount to only 2 cards per game, and then only in later games, so probably there are an average of a little under 20 cards that the group will never see. Two thirds of haunts will remain unplayed during the campaign, but that’s no hardship because the game remains playable after the campaign is over.
This is one where Betrayal: Legacy is extremely good. Not only can you play the set after the campaign is over, you won’t have seen the majority of the haunts when the campaign is done, so the game actually has the bulk of what it has to shown you unseen at the end of the campaign. While the Legacy transformation elements are mostly (but not entirely) over with when the campaign ends, continuing to play will not be more of the same in the way that it would be in Risk: Legacy (the main other Legacy game that continues to be fully playable after campaign finish).
As good as it is for Life Length, Betrayal: Legacy offers very little in the way of satisfying advancement for players. There is a constant sense that the house is changing and you’re usually a part of that, but you have very little direct control and you’re never really advancing your family or your corner of the house. If you appreciate the process of building your own copy of a game and being part of a half collaborative story half roller coaster ride then it’s a lot of fun, but its not generally satisfying progress.
Betrayal inherently adds new rules every single game, only to drop them the game after, as such there are very few permanent additions to the overall rule book and (from memory) only one post the first couple of campaign games. Any rules confusion is no more than the standard for Betrayal.
The game cares little or nothing whether players are consistent across games, certainly if they are willing to take over each other’s ‘families’, the only reason not to do so is thematic. Particularly for a group with less than 5 regular members a family can be left over for casual players to hop on and off of quite easily.
Betrayal: Legacy has an over-arching storyline, however there is a strong sense that the game by game stories have very little connection to each other and little connection to the overall story. The final story can be failed or beaten but the whole arc can’t be significantly directed by player actions.
In conclusion, if you have played all the haunts in your basic copy of Betrayal (and especially in Widows Walk) then you’ll love Betrayal: Legacy (but then you probably have it). If you’ve played and enjoyed Betrayal and like Legacy games you’ll enjoy Betrayal: Legacy. Other than that, Betrayal is an odd beast, its Ameritrash turned up to 11 and its Legacy version cranks it to a solid 12+ and if you’re unsure if you’ll like it then you probably won’t. But if you’re willing to be disappointed/enraged in return for a chance of being delighted and you’re willing to give up on balance in return for gloopy great dollops of theme then Betrayal might tick your boxes, plus its been out long enough now to pick up at a more reasonable price for a roll of the dice.