The horror-themed board game Betrayal at House on the Hill became an almost instant classic when it was released many years ago. It was clever in so many ways, letting players construct the mysterious mansion tile by tile so that every game was different. And, of course, at some point one of the players switches sides and becomes the monster trying to eliminate their former allies. It was a game that appealed to both role-players and boardgame lovers. And while it was a little bit advanced for most non-gamers to jump right into, it was accessible over time, especially if you had a good guide to show the way.
The success of that game led to other versions that used the same basic format but with added flavor from some other property. A perfect example is the Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate Game which came out a few years ago thanks to a partnership between Avalon Hill and Wizards of the Coast. That game was really exciting because Baldur’s Gate is one of the most beloved cities in the D&D multiverse, and it could pull monsters and magic items from things like the Monster Manual and Player’s Handbook to add even more flavor to the game.
The GiN Gang was able to get together and review Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate many years ago, and even recorded the entire, hour-long game for a YouTube video. Please note that this was years before the COVID-19 pandemic when people could still get together and have fun. So in addition to showing how the game works, it can almost be considered a historical video at this point. Anyway, enjoy the video and then we will move on to the boardgame we are reviewing today.
So the one thing you will probably notice about the video is that all of the participants are adults. Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is a bit of a dark game, even compared to House on the Hill, so its not really something that kids and parents can enjoy together, unless you want your kids having nightmares about zombies and other horrors rising up from the stinking Baldur’s Gate sewers.
That is probably why Avalon Hill decided to go a slightly different direction with this next game, introducing Scooby-Doo, Betrayal at Mystery Mansion. Make no mistake that all of the clever and cool elements from the House on the Hill boardgame are present in this one too. It’s a full game with all the whistles and bells. It’s just aimed at younger players, or those who are young at heart. A group of adults can have a fun time with it too, but they could also play alongside their kids without worry.
Scooby-Doo, Betrayal at Mystery Mansion follows the Betrayal at House on the Hill format, and to a lesser extent Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate. There are only five characters in Betrayal at Mystery Mansion, with each player taking on the role of one of the Mystery Gang. So you have Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Fred. You can play with just three people, though fuller games are more fun. Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, but all are good to play. You can also have a dungeon master if you want who keeps track of things in the game and interprets rules when needed. I tend to play that role for my friends (that is me being the DM in the Baldur’s Gate video) and while being the guide is probably not as much fun as playing, I enjoy it and I think seasoned game masters probably will too.
To test this game we had to get everyone together virtually because of the pandemic. We put a webcam on the playfield and I drew the cards for everyone. It was less than ideal, but still pretty fun. As players explore the Mystery Mansion, it gets built just like in the other games, so it’s fun to see what kind of mansion develops as tiles connect differently and of course also come up in different orders. Players roll dice and draw clue, item or event cards depending on the room they build and the roll of the dice.
Betrayal at Mystery Mansion is not an exact copy of the House on the Hill game. It’s has been simplified for younger players and also made less violent. There are only 25 tiles for the play area, so the house itself is simpler to build. Combat is a lot easier, and players are never eliminated from the game but instead can keep playing even after losing a combat. Also, and this is pretty important, the haunts (where a player switches sides and the true goals of the game are revealed) are very straight forward, as are the win and loss conditions. In Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, some of the haunts required a lot of study and even some debate as to how to run and interpret them. You wont have that problem with Mystery Mansion. So it’s a much more simple game, but maintains the same clever basic format.
Avalon Hill says that the game is appropriate for kids eight and up, and that is probably about right. Even with the simple rules, it can be a little complex for younger players, though they might be okay with an adult partner helping out. And yes, there is a horror element, but it’s very lighthearted. If your kids are okay watching the Scooby-Doo cartoons, then the board game won’t give them nightmares.
Betrayal at Mystery Mansion is a great idea to make such a fun and clever game series accessible to younger players, while also appealing to adults. Really, given how dark the world is these days, I think I would rather play Scooby-Doo Betrayal at Mystery Mansion than some of the other more serious games at the moment. It’s a great boardgame that almost anyone can enjoy.