Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate

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How long will it take before you find the evil that is lurking in Baldur’s Gate? My bet…. too long!

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate
Designers: Chris Dupuis, Mike Mearls
Publisher: Avalon Hill Games, Inc., Wizards of the Coast
Players: 3 to 6
Ages: 12+
Time: 60 Minutes

First off, I’m sure that a lot of people will already know that Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is a re-skin of Betrayal at the House on the Hill. I realize this, and don’t really care! I’ll get to my reasons for this towards the end, but want to hit a brief overview of the game before that.

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All that you need to fight evil.

In Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, you and your friends are trying to track down an evil force that is wreaking havoc in the town. The setting for the game, Baldur’s Gate, is from the Dungeons and Dragons mythos, and as such there are a ton of tropes, in jokes, and just general knowledge that D&D players (like myself) will absolutely love.

But while we are here in this city, how will we go about tracking down this evil? Well the party meets in the starting location, and usually begins by ignoring the first rule of D&D by splitting the party (but it’s much more justifiable in this game). The players will start exploring the city by proceeding through the doorways marked on the game tiles, and laying new tiles to build the board. The tiles will fall into three categories, and which one you place is based on the color of the door you are going through. The three types of tiles are buildings, streets, and catacombs. This doesn’t make a lot of difference to the game play considering you can find the same card types in any tile type (explained below).

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The starting tile, and the areas that can bee found by exploring the city.

You can continue your movement until one of a few things happens. First is that you run out of movement. Second is you choose to stop. And third is that you draw a card of some kind. Most often, this last option is what stops you. What card type you draw will be indicated on the tile that you just explored. Now before we talk about how these cards work I need to briefly touch on stats.

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Three of the six character tiles.

In this game, you will pick a character before starting play. Each character has a different set of the four main stats, and a special ability. The stats are speed, strength, sanity and knowledge. These stats can be boosted or damaged as play progresses, and certain characters will be better at different tasks (don’t ask the barbarian to go solve the wizard’s riddle, it’s just not going to work). Each player card has these skill tracks listed on them as well as that player’s skill. So give them a look before making your final decision on who to play.

Okay, now that we’ve talked about the stats, we can move on to the three card types. The first is the simplest of the three, and these are items. Basically items will be a major help (mostly, but more on that later), and give you special abilities or boost stats. These can be traded between the players if they are on the same time and both desire to trade. The second type of card are events. The events range from helpful to harmful and have wonderful flavor text to set the mood (make sure to use your best epic narrator voice!). The effects and all conditions will be listed on these cards and are really easy to understand.

The third type of card are the omen cards. The omen cards do a few things. First is that they act somewhat like a cross between and item and an event card. They usually have an event that happens with the card, but is localized to just the player who drew it. The omen then usually stays with the player acting like an item, providing some stat bonus or effect. The second thing that an omen does is that it triggers a haunt roll. What’s a haunt roll you ask, well it’s what helps you find the traitor among you!

That’s right unknown to the party, the evil force you have been tracking has been tagging along the entire time! That being said, the traitor isn’t decided until a haunt roll fails. Essentially, to make a haunt roll, you roll as many dice as omen cards that have been drawn, and when the total of that roll is higher than 6, the haunt begins. It’s also worth noting that the dice in this game cannot roll any higher than a two, so you can’t start the haunt until at least the third omen.

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Oh so many ways kill or be killed in Baldur’s Gate.

So how does the haunt work? Well if the roll fails, you grab the instruction manual, which has a table with all the omen cards, and rooms with omen symbols. You basically find the intersection of the last omen and room that were drawn and that tells you the haunt number. You then look at the instructions for that haunt and it tells you who the traitor is. This can be based on multiple things, but is typically stat based (highest of x) or based on the location of who drew the omen. There are no duplicate combinations, which means each omen and room combination has a different story and set of win conditions (which adds a lot to the ability to replay the game).

Once this is done, the traitor gets the traitor’s tome, and the rest of the players get the secrets of survival handbook. The traitor then leaves the room and both sides start reading their books to figure out how to win. After both sides have read their books and understand what they need to do to win, all players come back to the table and play resumes with the player left of the traitor. Then the game will continue until either win condition is met.

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The two books that hold the key to your survival!

The end game scenarios are extremely thematic, and usually have something to do with the omen or room that was discovered (think like telling a story item “a” leads to resurrection of great evil “b”). The end game play also brings in simple combat mechanics, which are basically rolling the number of die equal to you stat of your attack type, then having an opponent do the same. Higher roll wins. And that’s basically it.

Why do I personally like this game so much? And why do I like it more than the original game? Well first is that it is a D&D setting, which brings along a well established world (and lots of inside jokes as my board game group is also my D&D group). In most games, you are in a somewhat new and isolated setting. The Baldur’s Gate setting is especially engaging as it is featured is so many published campaigns, stories/novels, and video games.

Beyond this there are a couple of things that really stick out to me. First is just how bright and colorful the game is compared to the original. The original is filled with lots of wonderful shades of blue, black and brown. Baldur’s Gate has much more to offer. Second is a minor tweak to the game board tiles. In the Baldur’s Gate version of the game, the tiles are only of one type (catacomb, building, or street). In the original, some tiles can be placed on different floors of the house you are exploring (rather than a city), so you will often have to search through the draw pile for one that will work. The next is how the haunt mechanic works. Previously, you would roll 6 dice and just have to beat the number of omens that had been drawn. It’s unlikely that the haunt would begin on the first omen, but it can happen and cut the game really short. In Baldur’s Gate, the haunt can’t possibly begin until the third omen has been drawn. And the last, each character now has a unique ability that helps them during the game.

Overall, I think this game is great and would recommend to almost anybody!

Pros:

  • Re-skin on existing game (large knowledge base, easy to learn).
  • Very colorful.
  • Takes place in a well established world.
  • Improved mechanics over the previous version.
    • New haunt roll
    • Player abilities
    • Tile types/locations.

Cons:

  • The box design leaves a bit to be desired (extra space between components and box top, so it can’t be stored on it’s side easily)
  • Lots of tokens that will never get used and be difficult to look through.
  • It is a re-skin (yes, it’s a pro and a con, you are potentially getting a copy of something you already have!).

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