In 2003, one of the most iconic board games of all time hit the market. It earned a 2nd edition in 2010, but other than that, the world of Betrayal at House on the Hill has never been revisited. Until now! Thirteen years after players first set foot in the dreaded (and bizarrely-constructed!) house, the evil within has reawakened, beckoning us to face the horrors of the Widow’s Walk. Just in time for Halloween…
*Note: this expansion review assumes that you are familiar with the original game. If you are not, you should be! You can find information from the game developer, Avalon Hill, here, BoardGameGeek reviews here, and watch a TableTop play-through here.*
Compared with the “traditional horror” and sometimes poetic style of the original game, Widow’s Walk comes off as somewhat more modern. There are a number of easily-recognizable pop culture references, such as the Haunts “The Woods in the Cabin,” “Let it Glow,” and “Back to the Past.” A few of the cards also bring in elements of slasher and horror films set in present day or close to it, such
as a camcorder and a chainsaw as items. It is a slight and far from jarring difference in style, and does not detract from the mood of the game, although the more straightforward flavor text on the new cards is a bit harder than the old text to read effectively in a “creepy” voice. The art, however, is unchanged, and blends seamlessly with the rooms and cards of the original game.
A New Level of Terror
The most significant new feature in Widow’s Walk is the addition of a fourth floor to the house: the Roof. This floor comes with its own starting tile, the Roof Landing, which connects to the Upper Landing. Several of the new room tiles may be placed on this floor, but the rules also include the provision that any room that can be used on the Upper Floor can also be placed on the Roof. So, even tiles from the original game are very relevant when exploring the Roof, an excellent decision by Avalon Hill, which allowed them to design additions for the entire house, rather than focus exclusively on the new level.
With the house extending over four floors now, maneuvering between them could easily become an issue. In the original game, there were usually only one or two ways to get from one floor to another, sometimes including the Mystic Elevator. Avalon Hill anticipated this potential problem, and Widow’s Walk includes several new ways to navigate the sprawling corridors of the House on the Hill.
- Landings – The importance of the various Landings have been emphasized in
Widow’s Walk. The way they connect and the manner in which players may move from Landing to Landing remains exactly the same as before, but they have become hubs of sorts, with other effects leading directly to them. Note: the Entrance Hall, Foyer, and Grand Staircase from the base game all count as Landings, despite being distinct rooms otherwise.
- Dumbwaiter – Some room tiles include an elevator-like symbol on them, in addition to any Item, Event, or Omen symbol they might have. This symbol signifies that the room has access to a dumbwaiter, which players may use to move to a Landing one floor up or down. It costs 1 space of movement to use a dumbwaiter, plus 1 space to move onto the Landing. Or, put more simply, you can use the dumbwaiter to move to an appropriate room for 2 spaces of movement. Seven rooms grant access to the dumbwaiter, four of which may appear in the Basement, four on the Ground floor, and three on the Upper floor or Roof.
- Spiral Staircase – A floor tile that may be placed on the Ground floor, Upper floor, or Roof, which works similarly to the
dumbwaiter. If you spend 2 spaces of
movement, you may move from the Spiral Staircase to any Landing in the house.
- Tree House – Exclusively found on the Ground floor, the Tree House permits its discoverer to choose an open doorway on the Upper floor or Roof. The chosen tile will be considered adjacent to the Tree House for the remainder of the game, essentially functioning as a staircase.
- Cards – Several new cards from all three stacks permit, force, or ease movement in some manner. The Blueprint item, for instance, allows its wielder to pass over tiles that restrict movement more easily, as well as travel between rooms with dumbwaiters. The Letter omen grants a one-time-use teleport to another player’s position, and the Rope lets its bearer move between tiles that are considered above or below another, such as the Ballroom and Gallery, the Coal Chute, and the Collapsed Room, as well as using the dumbwaiter like the Spiral Staircase. Four different events deal with movement, three of them forcing it, and the final one, the Misty Arch, gives the player a choice with intriguing risks and rewards.
Widow’s Walk includes 19 new discoverable rooms, plus the Roof Landing starter tile. Most of these rooms have text of some sort, granting advantages or disadvantages for entering, exiting, ending your turn there, and so on. And only the Roof Landing and Spiral Staircase lack a draw-card symbol. The Drawing Room, on the other hand, displays an unique symbol, a question mark, which lets its discoverer draw a card from the stack of his choice.
The best artwork in this set can be found on the Theater and Nursery tiles. Both rooms combine a subtle beauty with a vague creepiness, making them stand out from the thematically drab or dreary locations throughout the house.
One of the room tiles shares the name of this expansion. Though nicely ominous and
alliterative, it might seem pointless to name an entire expansion after a single room tile. Well, they did not. The Widow’s Walk tile is prominent in a special “ultimate” Haunt, and the expansion is named for that challenge!
There are 30 new cards in Widow’s Walk, including 11 Items, 11 Events, and 8 Omens. These cards bring variations to familiar elements from the original game, such as rolling to determine the outcome of an Event, or Items that improve or hinder traits or act as weapons. Some of them are truly unique, however, such as an Event that forces your opposition – whether the explorers or the traitor – to read his opening and closing story text for the Haunt aloud to you, thus giving you potentially helpful information on your opposition’s motivations and goals. Overall, the new cards fit in well with the old, without devolving into “more of the same.”
Widow’s Walk does a good job of avoiding the unnecessary accumulation of tokens. The original game already has a wide selection of tokens to use, and this expansion reuses them whenever possible. Inevitably, there are new ones. 76 new ones, in fact, but the purpose of nearly half of those is to help players keep track of things their characters have completed in the game.
- Character Tokens – Small, round, double-sided pieces, with each side displaying the images from the corresponding character cards. These 6 tokens are used by the players to mark the rooms they have visited that grant benefits for “ending your turn here, once per game.” They can also be used to signify any other relevant occurrence, as needed.
- Obstacle – 24 tokens marked “Obstacle” on one side, and with a number printed on the other. These are used by Haunts.
- Plant – 6 tokens used on Haunts and to designate things on the board. An Event card and the Tree House room both require one of these tokens.
- Lock – 4 tokens, three of which are used immediately when a player discovers the
- Burial Mound – A single token, linked to an Event card.
- Fountain – A single token, used in Haunts.
- Boss Monsters – There are several specific monster tokens in the original game, and Widow’s Walk adds 4 more: a Cat, Pirate Queen, Doctor, and a Head.
There are 50 new Haunts in Widow’s Walk, triggering from the various combinations of new and old Omens and rooms, keeping everything from the original game relevant, yet fully integrated with this expansion. The rules for the latest Haunts are contained in new Secrets of Survival and Traitor’s Tome booklets, but you will still need the old booklets for the original Haunts. The new Haunt triggers are not contained in the Traitor’s Tome like they were in the original game, but are written on a small rules sheet, which also holds a few handy explanations and clarifications of both old and new content.
As for the Haunts themselves… well, the booklets clearly state on their covers, “Do not read until the Haunt scenario begins!” We will just have to see for ourselves what new and terrifying secrets the House on the Hill has prepared for us!