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Betrayal at House on the Hill’s card game betrays what makes the board game great

Different in everything but name.

An image of Explorer cards in Betrayal: Deck of Lost Souls.
Image credit: Avalon Hill, Hasbro, Dicebreaker

My initial reaction to the announcement of a Betrayal at House on the Hill card game was that of confusion - the narrative-focused series doesn’t seem like an obvious fit for a card game - but minor interest: this could be good! However, I’m disappointed to say that Betrayal: Deck of Lost Souls is not good. Rather than being a fun little diversion from the classic horror-adventure board game, Deck of Lost Souls feels like a poorly executed cash-in on the Betrayal name.

At its core, a Betrayal card game is not a bad idea. Besides its swingy gameplay and emphasis on style over the cerebral just not being some players’ cup of tea, arguably the biggest criticism of Betrayal at House on the Hill is the time it takes to play and a large amount of table space. A card game version could provide an alternative for people who want the light-hearted spooky fun of the original board game, but with far less commitment. When I heard of the Betrayal card game, I imagined a title in which players could draw cards from a deck and react to them, sort of like the storytelling card game For the Queen. This would allow players to enjoy the narrative and atmospheric aspects of Betrayal’s haunts without as many of the gameplay mechanics: perfect!

Instead, Betrayal: Deck of Lost Souls is a baffling entry in the series that flagrantly monopolises on the good will towards its older sibling without any right to do so. There are obviously basic similarities between Deck of Lost Souls and Betrayal at House on the Hill apart from the shared name: both titles feature semi-cooperative gameplay with a traitor element, and both are themed around horror. However, while Betrayal at House on the Hill provides players with a haunted house playground to explore and make gaming memories in, Deck of Lost Souls presents a repetitive and monotonous gameplay loop that offers absolutely nothing new.

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In Deck of Lost Souls, players take the role of curse-breakers seeking to nullify a malicious incantation through discovering and using a collection of strange artefacts. One of these curse-breakers is not who they say they are, and will be working against the others to make their mission as difficult as possible. Unlike in Betrayal at House on the Hill, players’ roles are assigned to them in secret right from the very beginning of the card game, with the traitor player having the entire game to unravel the group’s efforts to collect the necessary items.

Honestly, I didn’t even have the chance to play this version of the game because it took us so long to play the introductory version of Deck of Lost Souls - which does not include a traitor player - that my group was left too frustrated to even play another round. The introductory version of the game is almost exactly the same as the normal mode, except there is no traitor and players work together to beat all the curses, instead of deducing the correct curse and defeating it.

The game’s rulebook is poorly written, with a lack of specificity that extended the amount of time it took for us to begin playing.

Despite how simple Deck of Lost Souls’ gameplay loop is, especially in the introductory version - with players taking turns to play, discard or exchange cards from their hands - learning to play it was a painfully arduous experience. Some games merit the length of time they take to set up and learn - such as Twilight Imperium or Gloomhaven - but Deck of Lost Souls is not one of them. The game’s rulebook is poorly written and incoherent, with a lack of specificity that artificially extended the amount of time it took for us to actually begin playing. Even when we were several rounds into the game, we still weren’t sure we were playing correctly and had abandoned the rulebook after multiple attempts to decipher what we might have been doing wrong.

An image of item and curse cards from Betrayal: Deck of Lost Souls.
Players can play item cards featuring "hints" alongside the appropriate curse cards to work towards the overall goal of the game. | Image credit: Avalon Hill, Hasbro, Dicebreaker

Each round of Deck of Lost Souls is split into two phases per person: the player phase and the omen phase. The player phase sees the active player choosing to either play an item card in front of them, discard an item card for the one on the top of the deck or give their card to another - with the chance for that player to then give one back in return. This first phase is focused on players working towards their overall goal of playing cards to help them determine which of the in-game curses could be the one they’re supposed to be breaking. They do this by playing item cards with the “hint” keyword next to their assigned curse card; whichever curse card has the most hints next to it by the end of the game is the “true” curse.

The omen phase then requires more of an immediate reaction to the threat of whichever omen card players decide to play from their hand. Omen cards range from minor to major, with the major kind sometimes requiring multiple items to dispel them and having more negative effects if left unresolved that round. Other players are able to contribute their own items to dispelling omens, either those played in front of them or from their hand. However, players will also need to factor in the overall goal of finding and breaking the curse, so may let someone else help or simply decide that this omen is worth skipping in favour of the bigger picture.

Consider the barriers of a poorly-written rulebook, a monotonous core gameplay loop and a disconnect between what a Betrayal game should be and this.

All the while, the traitor player is supposed to be making subtle decisions to steer the players away from the correct curse, as well as withholding cards or playing less efficient options during their turns in an effort to push the group towards failure. The group loses if they break the wrong curse or if a player has no items to hand or in front of them when they play a major omen card. Alternatively, if the traitor is able to split the difference in hint cards between two curses they’re able to use their own traitor identity card to switch things in their favour, making a different card the “true” curse and forcing the other players to lose. This gives the traitor various opportunities to sabotage things, whether they choose to more actively cause problems or play the longer game.

An image of minor and major omen cards from Betrayal: Deck of Lost Souls.
Omens present an immediate threat that players will need to react to, or face the negative consequences. | Image credit: Avalon Hill, Hasbro, Dicebreaker

The traitor can be revealed by an accusing player but there are consequences for accusing the wrong person - forcing players to discard item cards - so it’s always a risk. Alternatively, a traitor can choose to expose themselves if they feel an accusation is imminent and want to gain the benefits of doing so: causing all players to give you their major omen cards and deciding which of the curse cards is the “true” one early on, turning the game into a race between the curse-breakers defeating the “true” curse and the traitor forcing them to run out of items.

Having played Deck of Lost Souls without the traitor and curse-guessing gameplay mechanics, it might be that the game’s appeal doesn’t translate to players without them. It might be that these elements add enough variety to the gameplay that it stops it from otherwise becoming very boring, very quickly. However, I’m doubtful that the inclusion of these elements would make me want to play Deck of Lost Souls any more than I already do - which is not at all, considering the significant barriers of a poorly-written rulebook, a monotonous core gameplay loop and a complete disconnect between what a Betrayal game should be and what this is.

The joy of Betrayal at House on the Hill is in its atmosphere-building and storytelling, making for a trope-filled celebration of the horror genre. Deck of Lost Souls has none of these, making it little more than a betrayal of the series.

Buy Betrayal: Deck of Lost Souls on Amazon.

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