Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snack Review: Weird Pringles Potato Crisps Flavors

Some things should never happen. I know the trend lately is for potato chips to come out with strange, unique flavors (I'm looking at you, Lay's Cappuccino Flavored Potato Chips). I'm also never opposed to that in principle, because I've tasted some very awesome things that otherwise sounded disgusting.

That said, let's take a look at some new Pringles flavors: Milk Chocolate, Pecan Pie, and Cinnamon Sugar.

Pecan Pie: I don't care for pecan pie, so my expectations were low on this one. I was pleasantly surprised. The flavor is strong, but not overwhelmingly strong, and it does taste a lot like pecan pie. Unfortunately--since I don't like pecan pie--it didn't do much for me, but if you're the sort of person who likes to have a bowl of glazed sugar crammed full of stupid nuts then have at it. It's really good at what it does, I just don't like what it does.

As much as Pecan Pie tastes like pecan pie, Milk Chocolate tastes nothing like milk chocolate. It almost tastes like a slightly sweet Pringle. It doesn't taste much like milk chocolate at all. At best, it's a slight aftertaste, but in either case I can't really recommend it for either chocolate lovers or Pringles lovers.

I will admit that I cheated a bit. There was another flavor, White Chocolate, and I passed it over in favor of Cinnamon Sugar. I knew full well I was going to have White Chocolate, and in retrospect I'm sure it's not much different that the Milk Chocolate. Cinnamon Sugar is OK; they're tortilla chips, not potato chips, so it's a little different. They're not particularly strong, and this is the one flavor where it can afford to be a little strong. SO while they aren't bad there are other snacks out there that do cinnamon sugar a lot better.

Sadly, I can't recommend any of these. Pecan Pie would probably be a decent choice for anyone who loves pecan pie, but I would pass on the other two.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Beverage Review: Weird Carbonated Drink Edition

While finding new and odd flavors of candy aren't all that uncommon anymore, finding strange drinks is a little more...interesting. Below, I'm going to review three drink flavors that are out of the ordinary: Coconut Wave, Moxie, and (wait for it) Chocolate-Covered Maple Smoked Bacon.

Moxie: Moxie is a famously old-fashioned drink associated primarily with New England and Maine in particular. The name--Moxie--is now a legitimate word that means determination and spirit. While it's not sold much anymore outside of the northeast United States, you still see it pop out now and then in popular culture. Anyway, I'd never tried the drink, and since it is a distant cousin to sarsaparilla, I figured it was worth giving it a try.

Perhaps things are best left as theory. Moxie taste like--well, there's no better way to put it. It tastes like carbonated cough syrup. Oddly, it's actually not that bad: it's not very sweet (despite sugar being a main ingredient) and it's very light. I can easily see why people get addicted to it; I know enough people that have a love-hate relationship with the taste of OTC medicine. It is not, however, what I would consider the taste of determination to be. If I could find a diet version, I could see this being an occasional indulgence.

Chocolate-Covered Maple Smoked Bacon: This one deserves a close-up:

"Breakfast In A Bottle" indeed. I've had chocolate-flavored pop before (verdict: Just go eat some chocolate instead) but I've never had bacon-flavored. I've had bad luck with bacon-flavored things lately; most of it just tastes like the fake smoke you put in toy train sets. (Not that I'd know, of course.) Of course, adding maple into the mix is a game changer, although I'm not sure what game it's changing to.

First thoughts: it smells delicious. But that's mostly because all you smell is chocolate. And it tastes...not bad, but mostly because all you taste is chocolate. You can clearly tell that there's maple in it once the aftertaste kicks in, but I barely noticed a hint of bacon. Once I took a few swigs (more than sips, less than gulps--you have to pace yourself with this sort of thing unless you want it to end up on the floor) I could taste all three things--bacon, chocolate, and maple--and it wasn't altogether bad. Not great, mind you--I couldn't drink more than a fifth of it before I said quietly to myself, "OK, that's enough," but if you want to win any bets with your friends you could do a lot worse. Even so, it's worth buying and trying just to say you did it.

Coconut Wave: While I was able to find the other two items in a small, disposable bottle form, I wasn't able to find a third item to fit the theme. However, Wal-Mart, of all places, provided me with a good choice: coconut-flavored soda.

At first, I thought it was weird, but, really, how is it all that much different than, say, a lemon-lime drink? And that's sort of what I expected with this--a light drink that tasted sort of like coconut, much like Sprite kind of tastes something sort of like lemon-lime.

However, I couldn't get behind this drink. It actually tastes exactly like Sprite, except the aftertaste, which tastes like artificial coconut. This isn't really a drink I'm interested in--even if it was in diet form, where the artificiality of it might not be so bad, I don't think the novelty of it would stick after a few sips.

Final Verdict: If you are going to sit down and drink a coconut, chocolate-covered maple bacon, and cough syrup cocktail in one sitting, be fully prepared for some burps that are nothing short of Lovecraftian.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Board Game Review: Forbidden Desert

Forbidden Desert puts you and your crew crash-landed on a vast desert landscape. It's up to your team to piece together your escape vehicle and get away from the steampunk-inspired lost city that you've discovered alive. Forbidden Desert is designed by Matt Leacock, the same designer of the much-heralded game Pandemic.

Like Pandemic, this is a cooperative game. Each player takes on the role of some sort of specialist, like a Navigator or a Meteorologist. Players are looking for four parts of their vehicle which are a propeller, an engine, a sundial-type thing, and a...spiky orange thing?

Whatever that orange thing is on back, I want no part of it once it gets me home.

The game starts off with a bunch of desert tiles placed randomly in a 5 by 5 grid, with the center tile missing. There are also piles of sand all over the place. Most tiles look like nothing but dunes, although some have a small icon noting the possible presence of water as well as the starting point. Players travel around these tiles, excavating them and taking any bonuses they get. There's also a sand storm marker to note how bad the sandstorm is.

A desert landscape with a few of the tiles turned over. Note the piles of sand (the plus-shaped tokens) and the "eye of the storm" in the middle. 

Each player, on their turn, can take four actions. This can be a combination of moving, digging out piles of sand, excavating a tile, and picking up a part. After they take their actions, the sandstorm moves.

The sandstorm moves in such a way that it will shift the tiles. In the image above, the yellow card with the red arrow is a "shifting sand" card; it means that the eye of the storm (the space without a tile) is going to move two spaces to the right. To do so, it simply shifts the two tiles to make room for it. Every tile that gets shifted also gets a pile of sand on it. Since multiple cards are drawn as the storm gets worse, the eye of the storm will probably shift multiple spaces in multiple directions each turn.

Players are trying to excavate as much as they can, because the goal is to find the missing parts. These are found by excavating two different tiles: one notes the column while the other notes the row, and where the two intersect is where the part is. Of course, since the sands are constantly shifting, where the part was last turn may not be where it is this turn, so it can be a bit of a chore. In addition, all that shifting sand is producing a lot of piles of sand--all of which require valuable actions to dig out. In addition, players simply can't enter tiles with a lot of sand piled up on it, and many players may find themselves buried in the sand with no recourse but to dig themselves out!

Occassionally, a "Storm Picks Up" card is revealed; this will increase the intensity of the storm. There's also a "Sun Beats Down" card that will cause the players to get thirsty--each player has a certain amount of water, and when they need to take a drink and find their canteen empty, they're dead (and the game is over). Thankfully, there are several wells in the desert, although coordinating everybody to be in the same spot can waste valueable time, and one of the water spot is actually a mirage.

There's also a few other items. Tunnels connect two parts of the map, and can protect you from the sun. There are also cards can be drawn to aid you in your quest. There are quite a few ways to end the game in failure--if there's too much sand, not enough water, or if the storm just gets too out of control. Winning simply means collecting all the parts and getting everyone back to the launching pad.

What I Like About The Game:
  • The "shifting sands" concept is very innovative. It's so simple, and yet once you see it in action it's amazing what it does to the board.
  • The part clues mechanism is also very clever. It's one of those things that has a small amount of information with a big impact. A lesser game designer could have made it significantly more complicated for no reason.
  • It's a nice, short game; an easy game takes less than half an hour. It's incredibly easy to teach and, since it's cooperative, easy to help players along.

What I Don't Like About The Game:
  • It may be a touch too simple. For players used to the intensity of, say, Pandemic, there just isn't as much tension flipping over shifting sand cards. It's certainly not bad, and this is a game that can stand on its own, but it may leave some players unsatisfied.
There's not a lot of downsides to this game. Not everyone loves cooperative games, of course, and if you aren't a fan this game won't convert you. And the theme and lightness of it can sometimes feel a little unsatisfactory. But the fun-to-time ratio is just about perfect, and it's hard to find too much fault with it. I'd give this a solid B+ grade. I can't say I'd want to play it all the time, but I doubt I'd ever turn down a game.

Monday, November 24, 2014


There's a lot to pick apart about this news item concerning a new television series.

First off, this piece is about a comedy series called Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, about a young girl who escapes a doomsday cult. Here's what you need to know:
  • It was created by Tina Fey
  • It stars Erin the secretary from The Office
  • It is going to Netflix. 
Okay, maybe that's not a mix for instant comedy gold, but those ingredients have all been used before with excellent results, so the outlook is hopeful.

Setting aside the talent pool (it also includes Carol Kane and some other solid character actors), the real news, I guess, is the move to Netflix after NBC had it. (It's telling that NBC let it go because it didn't fit in their "drama-heavy" schedule, which is not normally a good thing; having a decent mix of all sorts of programming is ideal. It's particularly notable since NBC's bread-and-butter has always been comedies; a who's who of the best comedies of the last 30 years is overwhelmingly from the peacock network.) Netflix isn't perfect, but it's becoming an increasingly legitimate avenue for content. Setting aside the unusual format (all episodes of a season drop at once), it also gives new series a chance to breathe. Had Unbreakable had its debut on network TV, there's a pretty good chance that if it didn't find an audience in, like, three episodes, it was as good as dead. Via Netflix, they're guaranteed to have a specific number of shows in the bag.

Still, there's a chance that Unbreakable won't click. It does seem pretty gimmicky, and I'm not sure exactly how much humor they can wring out of that premise. Some of the cast are from things I don't care for, and sometimes throwing a bunch of good talent together ends up just being an unfocused mess. Still, it's an ambitious and promising projects, so we shall see.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dead Man Blogging

I died last night.

Well, not really.

I was involved over this weekend in a dinner theater/murder mystery. A Murderous Affair, it was called, written and directed by Rhiannon Bowser. I was, of course, the victim.

My acting skills in action.

The story involves a rich head of a family, Victor Elm, whose interests include running a dog shelter; his wife, Samara Elm; their live-in French tutor, Armand; whiny sister Vivian; and the daughter, Storm. Add into the mix a crazy cat lady and an animal rights activist, and you have a very...tense fundraiser. Victor uses the opportunity to talk to the family about the will, which he plans on changing due (in part) to the screwed-up nature of the family.

When the lights go out, Victor is found dead, beat over the head with a candlestick, and it's up to the inspector (along with two trusting cops) to solve the murder. A lot of people seemed to have wanted Victor dead; the animal rights activist thinks Victor uses his dogs for fighting; the cat lady would rather the money go to her own cat shelter; the sister is upset she's no longer going to be in the will; the wife and the tutor seem smitten with one another and would seemingly love to have Victor out of the way; and everyone's upset that the will is going to Armand, who isn't even in the family.

As in true dinner murder mysteries like this, the audience got involved as well. Random members were given cards with information on them (such as Victor's sketchy lawyer, or ever sketchier tight-lipped mobster friend) and they improvised an interrogation. After the second act, audience members could vote on who they thought did the deed. And cast members spent the intermissions working the room in character, trying to drum up suspicion and deflect blame. (Except me, of course. I had to hide in the corner. I had planned on spending the rest of the play behind the scenes, but the only place was a scary, cold storeroom. So I just hid in the corner and played games on my phone. It's so much fun being murdered.)

Murder mysteries can be tricky. The plot needs to be complicated enough so that enough evidence can be presented so that there are several reasonably likely suspects, but not so complicated that the audience can't follow it. The audience needs to be engaged; if they aren't, the parts of the play that can be the most fun--the interaction--can fall flat. Thankfully, both the script and the audience worked masterfully together. When the audience voted, the votes were fairly evenly distributed, so no one character came across as obvious.

One of these people killed me. OR DID THEY?

The entire experience was fun. I'm not an actor by any means, but everything ran smoothly and the audience enjoyed it. Our performance is over, but I strongly recommend you attend one of these whenever you have the opportunity.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Candy Review: Russell Stover Big Bite Candies

It's a bonus review! This wasn't going to be part of the regularly scheduled candy review program, but when I saw them at the store I couldn't resist. Russell Stover has released in the past a line of what they call Big Bite candies, which are essentially candies larger than what you'd find in a box of candy, but smaller than an actual candy bar.

Unbeknownst to me, there's actually an entire line of these things, including Pumpkin Pie, S'Mores, and Red Velvet. It's probably best I just saw these first.

The Cookie Dough candy is pretty good; it tastes like actual cookie dough, not some weird cookie-dough-style-flavoring. The Apple Pie is really, really good, except for some reason that slice of graham cracker at the bottom isn't attached; it's just kind of there. (My package basically had graham cracker dust.) Still, the candy itself was excellent and I can honestly saw that if you feel like having apple pie but don't want to actually get an apple pie, this is a reasonable substitute. Finally, Caramel Apple is good, although my least preferred, mostly because the apple flavoring isn't particularly strong. To me, it just tasted like a thick, caramel candy, which certainly isn't bad.

I haven't tried the other candies in this line; I'm hesitant on some (I don't care for pecans, and some of the other flavors seem pecan-heavy) but more than willing to try others. But these candies are really, really good. They don't suffer from the artificial flavor that most specialty candies do (they are artificial; they just don't taste like it). The biggest negative is the price; I couldn't find these for any less than $1.50, and for a candy that's less than half the size of a standard candy bar that's a little too steep for a casual dessert. (Basically, they're half the size and twice the cost.) But they are high quality, and I'd say they are worth it for an occasional snack. If they could be consistently found around a dollar or so, they'd certainly be worth picking up more often.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Nero Wolfe Project: The Doorbell Rang to Death of a Dude

This is the ninth installment of the Nero Wolfe Project.

In this post, we're looking at The Doorbell Rang, Death of a Doxy, The Father Hunt, and Death of a Dude.

The Doorbell Rang is arguably Stout's best-known work. After reading a (real-life) book, The FBI Nobody Knows by Fred J. Cook, a rich woman contacts Wolfe concerning her relations with the FBI. She had purchased 10,000 copies of that book and sent them to prominent people across the United States, including government officials, and now she feels as if she is under surveillance. Wolfe takes the case, having read the book, in return for a huge retainer. Archie, initially ambivalent at such an open-ended prospect with a huge organization such as the FBI, soon falls in line, especially after Inspector Cramer meets with Archie secretly. Cramer has an unsolved murder that he believes was the work of the FBI, and--after getting a request from the FBI to revoke Wolfe and Archie's licenses--knows that something is up. The pair soon solve the murder, but also plan an elaborate trap to embarrass the FBI. Then begins a showdown between Wolfe, Cramer, the FBI, and the murder suspect.

This is not only one of Stout's most famous works, but in many ways his most politically charged. Generally speaking, aside from offhand statements, Stout largely strayed away from politics in his books, notable especially given his real-life reputation. This was an exception; it's a broadside fire against the FBI as an institution, and the time frame (1965) was when the FBI (and J. Edgar Hoover specifically) was just starting to come under heavy criticism.

At first, it seems a little awkward--the impression one gets is that the client is there just to set up a situation where Wolfe/Stout can pen an anti-FBI screed. But it soon melds into both a standard murder mystery and reasonably seamlessly weaves in the FBI's involvement. In many ways, it's a refreshing change of pace: Cramer is largely acting in good faith; Wolfe is practically jubilant at the end (more than just "very satisfactory"), and the writing is tight and top-notch. Some of the individuals are acting out of character (justifiably, given the situation), it's hard to recommend this as an initial book to read. But otherwise is one of the best.

In Death of a Doxy, Orrie Cather is implicated in the death of a woman. She was upset that Orrie was going to marry another woman, and used a fake pregnancy to pressure him into leaving her. When she winds up dead, or course, Orrie is the main suspect. Wolfe--along with Archie, Saul, and Fred--can't imagine that he would do such a thing. When it turns out the victim was the mistress of an extraordinarily wealthy man, Wolfe has to go through great pains to prevent his identity being known--not only because it would cause their case to fall apart (although it would free Orrie) but also because of a promised fee. Wolfe and Archie weave an intricate tale that manages to find the murderer while also protecting different individuals from getting different information.

In The Father Hunt, a young woman approaches Wolfe about finding her true father--and after he finds out her father has (indirectly) been sending her immense amounts of cash, they undertake the  case. The cash was sent after her mother's death, which ended up being a hit-and-run, so (of course) murder is involved. After their first two attempts at finding the father fail, a rigorous interview with a former colleague nets a small piece of information that soon allows them to let everything fall into place. This book sounds like it will be a companion piece to The Mother Hunt, but they are quite different. Notable in this book is the increased presence of evidence detection--paternity and advanced fingerprinting is mentioned. Again, the conclusion is solidly constructed and the plot moves quickly.

Death of a Dude is one of the longer, more complex mysteries (albiet only about 30 pages longer than most other novels). Archie is spending his month off with Lily Rowan in Montana, only to have a local man murdered. Archie, convinced he is innocent, writes Wolfe to say he's taking a leave of absence; this, of course, prompts Wolfe to make a cross-country trip to help out. Being away from the brownstone complicates things, as the local police and attorneys know little of his reputation and chafe against his non-Montananess. Things come to a head when yet another man is murdered and Archie is thrown in jail. A little help from Saul, and Wolfe and Archie manage to catch the killer. While this is a fantastic story from a character development standpoint--having Lily around helps things out--and having everyone out of their element is fun, the murder mystery itself isn't terribly satisfying. Still, who cares? The threadbare evidence is simply a frame with which to hang everything else at this point.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Great Gallifreyan Ass-Pull

I finally got around to watching the entire season of Doctor Who.

If you're not a Doctor Who fan, this post won't make much sense to you. If you are and you haven't watched it yet, there's spoilers ahead.

I won't go into the details of the season, although I'd like to make a few points about it.
  •  Peter Capaldi is awesome as the Doctor. He chews the scenery, his personality is fine-tuned enough that he's his own Doctor, and his interactions with everyone are exactly what you'd expect. He was a good choice and exactly what the storyline, fan base, and writers need.
  • I've never been sold on Jenna Coleman as companion. Yeah, yeah, every single companion is horrible because they're not exactly like the previous companion, but usually after a few episodes they sort it out. This never happened with Clara Oswald. She's...merely okay. She never seemed to have much of a personality, and I always kind of resented that the end of Matt Smith's tenure had her do so many important things even though she had been a companion for such a short tie. (She's very much like Martha Jones to be--serviceable, but her character is flat.) There was no emotional payoff with her, and when she glided in full season with Capaldi her romantic subplot just seemed awkward. I'm glad she's gone.
  • The scripts this season were downright dreadful. As in, if my goal was to turn new people on to the wonder that is Doctor Who, I would never tell them to watch anything from this season first. Some stories were fine, but over half were just downright...just bad. So, so bad. This is the key reason why I just now got around to watching them--my wife and I just had to stop halfway through the season.
  • Building from that. Steven Moffat has to go. I don't know if he's spending too much time on Sherlock or whatever it is that he's doing, but the writing (and, to be honest, the "arc storyline" of this season) was just horrifyingly bad.
  • A special mention has to go to Kill The Moon, which is hands-down one of the worst things I've ever actively watched. A plot that makes no sense--even by Doctor Who standards--a clumsy allegory that even the dim-wittedliest Dalek couldn't miss, and horrible dialogue all coalesced into a train wreck of an episode. My wife and I actually stopped watching for a while, because it was so embarrassingly bad. It's frustrating to get excited by a series such as Doctor Who just to be disappointed week after week. 
To be fair, you have to suspend a little bit of disbelief with Doctor Who. The show has never shied away from clumsy plots, nonsensical stories, or any sort of continuity. But the sharp writing, brilliant acting, and general adherence to the mythos has always held it together. You could stomach the blatant symbolism, the artificially introduced deus ex machina, and the narmy plots because at the end of the season it all made some sort of sense, and at the very least the ride was fun along the way. (This happened a lot during the Pond years--yeah,a  lot of stuff didn't make sense, but the chemistry between Rory, Amy, and the Doctor made it just plain fun to watch even if the plot derailed on itself five minutes in.) Season eight was not a fun rid; in fact, I couldn't wait to get off.

Hopefully a new companion, a decent Christmas special, and a new writer? (fingers crossed) will help for future seasons.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Candy Review: Weird Roadside Candy Bars

There's nothing more American than the kitsch of a roadside attraction. I'm self-aware enough to know that most of these are tourist traps, and yet I'll admit I have a soft spot for them. On a recent trip we ran into Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium, which is exactly what you think it is. They have...lots of candy. Lots and lots of candy. And very little of it is of the mass-market kind. Here's a small sampling of what I found.

Since I occasionally do candy reviews, I generally like to peruse places like this to try out weird and new candy. And since it is, you know, a candy emporium, I was able to pick up a bunch of different candy bars. Unknowingly, four of the five are from a company called Annabelle's Candy, which the clerk told me was based out in the west. (I went back later to get the fifth.) I've never heard of any of these before, but perhaps out west they are more common.

Abba-Zabba: This is a chewy taffy bar with a thin layer of peanut butter in it. It's not bad--in total, it's certainly flavorful--but it didn't have a whole lot going on for it. The taffy itself was rather bland, but it was a good contrast with the PB.

Big Hunk:This candy bar was a little deceiving. Despite the fact that it comes in a dark brown wrapper and has a name that sounds like it should be a big hunk of chocolate, there is no chocolate to be seen here. It's basically a big bar of nougat with a lot of shaved peanuts pressed into it. While it wasn't bad, it wasn't particularly satisfying, either. It's worth a try but I wasn't a huge fan.

Look!: And yet, here we are with the Look! bar. Which is basically a Big Hunk dipped in chocolate. This is what I thought the Big Hunk was going to be, and it was pretty good. I'm not sure I like the whole "long strip of nougat" concept that both of these have, because they effectively are big bars of taffy...which is difficult to eat. The Big Hunk wasn't bad, but for this one there was chocolate everywhere. Still, this was one of the better of the bunch.

Rocky Road: This was an oddly satisfying candy bar. Most rocky road bars have a graham cracker, then just throw a thin layer of marshmallow and cover it with chocolate. Not so with this one; the graham cracker and marshmallow are chopped up and the entire thing is dipped in chocolate. This was by far my favorite candy bar of the lot, and I'm not normally a fan of marshmallow in candy bars.

U-No: (Not Pictured) When I realized that I only had 4 of the 5 members of the Annabelle candy line, I figured I might as well get it to try it. It's...ok. It's almost like a Three Musketeers Bar, only the chocolate inside tastes more solid and more like chocolate. The consistency, however, wasn't particularly appealing. Not bad but not to my taste.

Idaho Spud: This was the only non-Annabelle candy bar in the bunch, and...well, I don't know what they were thinking. First off, it claims that its the candy bar that makes Idaho famous"--uh, no. Nice try, but no. But the bar itself is made up of some unholy concoction of corn syrup that tries to pass itself off with the consistency of a potato, covered in chocolate. Kind of. It's hard to describe. No, it's easy to describe: disgusting. Even the coconut on the outside couldn't salvage this one.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Board Game Review: Betrayal At House On The Hill

Mummies creeping out of closets? Lurking horrors stumbling down the creaky hallways? Vampires emerging from the shadows? If you're looking for a reliving of every schlocky B-grade horror flick you've ever seen, you need to check out Betrayal At House On The Hill.

In Betrayal, players are exploring a haunted mansion. Players take on the persona of a stereotypical horror film victim--a creepy old priest, a precocious child, a mesmerizing dame, and so on. Each has a simple set of stats--Might, Speed, Knowledge, and Sanity.

At first, the game is somewhat cooperative: players are basically exploring the mansion, finding hidden rooms and creepy dens and gross laboratories. Most rooms will trigger an Event (something weird happens with an immediate effect); an Item (a strange object that will help you in some way) or an Omen (something daunting that may be good or bad or just weird.) Other rooms grant some sort of bonus, or require a die roll to escape, or something to that effect. Character stats fluctuate based on different things. And so on. The board is modular, so the game will look different each time you play. There is an upstairs floor, the ground floor, and the basement.

There's a small set of rules that cover things like attacks, and stealing items, and movement restrictions once the traitor is determined. 

Any time an Omen is triggered, the player who triggered it rolls some dice; if the result is equal to or less than the number of Omens that have occurred, the haunt begins.

When the Haunt starts, the game shifts in tone. One of the players is now the traitor and they turn against the other players. Exactly how this plays out changes from game to game; there are over 40 haunts listed in the manuals. One time, it might be a vampire who has to turn all the other players into vampires, while the other players have to survive until dawn. Or maybe it's a tentacle that has overtaken the house, and must pull its victims to its arms to kill them. The rules change drastically from game to game, so it's literally an entirely new game once the haunt starts. The non-treacherous players, of course, have to use whatever Items, Omens, and other resources they've been accumulating the first half of the game to defeat the traitor.

The thing is, neither side knows what the goal of the other side is. The game comes with both a survival guide (for the heroes) and a Traitor's Tome for the traitor. Each side takes their respective booklet and reads up on what their side needs to accomplish, what restrictions they have, and what special abilities they now acquire. They may or may not tell the other side, depending on the scenario.

Because the second half of the game is so different, the goal is different each game as well. It may end after a certain number of turns, or it may not end until someone kills all the other players. Or whatever.

What I Like About The Game:

  • The first half of the game is simple, quick, and fun. Players are basically exploring the house, turning over tiles, and resolving conflicts. There's very little pressure; players are just getting the "feel" of the house. (And, yes, that's a thing--it's creepy when you realize that, say, one segment of the house is blocked off from the rest.)
  • The haunt rolls get increasingly more tense. At the start of the game, the chance of a haunt is small, and people are comfortable. But as the Omens stack up, everyone starts freaking out that they aren't prepared--and guess what? You're never prepared, and it's eventually going to happen! The tension that this simple die roll makes is fantastic. 
  • It's very creative. Once the haunt begins, there's a huge pool of material to pull from. And no two games are ever going to be alike: not only because each scenario is vastly different from the others, but the house itself is going to be different each time. The characters develop much differently each game--in one game, the scientist might have gotten a lot of Might bonuses and a bunch of weapons, whereas the next game he might be a borderline lunatic. 
  • The entire concept of having two sides who have information the other side doesn't is just fun. Having one person scurry off with the Traitor's Tome to read secrets in another room--there's just something amazingly awesome about doing that. 
  • The format of the game lends itself nicely into teaching it. In the first part of the game, players are all helping each other, more or less,so it's easy to discuss rules without consequence. By the time the haunt begins, players are familiar enough with how things work that the few "extra" rules (how to attack, for example) will be easy to teach.

What I Don't Like About The Game:

  • Because of its two main selling points--a modular board and a new "rule set" in each scenario--it can become very unbalanced. Many scenarios require having a certain item, or going to a certain room. If you happen to lose that item, or if no one has it, you're in for a long game; whereas if you do have it, it's going to be much easier. It can be very frustrating when you need to get one specific thing and all you can do is sadly roll dice until it happens. Thankfully, most scenarios give you multiple routes to accomplish things, but it can still be a huge pain.
  • Also, because of the fluctuating rules, the haunt can be intimidating for new players. It's hard to guide someone when you aren't supposed to know all of the stuff they need to do, especially if they aren't familiar with board games in general.
  • Board game purists are going to hate this game. It's very luck-dependent and, because of the huge divergence in rules, there's going to be a lot of times where players just have to come up with the best solution of an ambiguous problem. Most things require a simple common-sense sniff test, but if you're the type of player who needs clarity and well-defined boundaries you're not going to find it here.
Betrayal isn't just playing a board game--this is definitely an experience game.Strip away all the wonky rules and die rolls, and you can really feel a story being told. Every single game I've played of this has been a memorable experience, so much so that I immediately wanted to play again. As I mentioned, the sort of gamers who need to win within specifically delineated rules aren't going to have much fun with this. But if you're a fan of horror movies and can paper over some rough patches, Betrayal At House On The Hill is a fantastic game. I'd grade it a B- as an actual board game, but a clear A as an "experience."