Looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands.
No, not Scoob! (don’t worry). This mystery comes from designers Brian Neff, Noah Cohen, Rob Daviau, and Banana Chan — the team that solved the case of how to merge the famous Betrayal at House on the Hill board game and everyone’s favorite group of crime solvers. I spoke with Neff and Cohen over Zoom on how they took their work on Betrayal Legacy and used it to create something a little more user-friendly and a lot more “Jinkies”-inducing.
“We didn’t really need a lot of convincing,” Cohen says of their response when asked to help bring Scooby-Doo and Betrayal together by Avalon Hill and Wizards of the Coast, “They just felt like they went really well together.”
“[Fans of the original game] talk a lot about exploration, finding clues, and unexpected stuff happening. All of those things are very Scooby-Doo things so that part of it was easy,” says Neff. One major difference, it turned out, was that in Betrayal, supernatural things actually happened. There was no man in a monster mask trying to get away with a crime and when you died, you died.
Neff says that won’t happen in this game. In Betrayal at Mystery Mansion, players can no longer die, but they are still “wandering around the house, finding clues, discovering, and doing all this cool stuff that is core to Betrayal but it’s really tailored to someone who wants to play with their family.”
Betrayal at Mystery Mansion has an age rating of 8+, as opposed to Legacy’s 12+. This was done on purpose in order to bring out the best of Mystery Inc. and make the game something that even meddling kids could get into.
But actually making the game user-friendly for kids as young as 8 and incorporating these iconic characters wasn’t always fun and games. The team had to watch *a lot* of Scooby-Doo, Where are You! in order to meld the two worlds together. They started by watching the first episode and turning it into a Haunt, which is a key scenario in the Betrayal board game. They played through the Haunt and felt it worked. Next, they moved onto the second episode, which also apparently worked.
“We all sort of looked at each other and were like it can’t be this easy can it? As it turns out — no, it wasn’t that easy, we had to do a lot of editing — but as it turns out an episode of Scooby-Doo is a game of Betrayal,” says Neff. Players explore, find clues, fight a monster, and foil evil plans. Sound familiar?
The bigger challenge came from adapting the game to fit a less experienced audience. Other Betrayal games have complex rule books and take some time to master. Game play itself can take up to a few hours to complete. Cohen elaborated that in the original game, there are some rules that are simply impossible to remember and are rarely used. So, they went through each rule in the game and decided if it should stay or go. Neff called the process of simplifying rules “a little heart-wrenching” (it had taken years to write them for the Legacy game) but that they felt it didn’t take away from the essence of play.
“We tried to just get at the heart of what makes Betrayal, Betrayal, and what makes Scooby-Doo, Scooby-Doo, to make sure that we got them both in there by taking out things that weren’t the core of the content,” says Cohen.
In doing this, the team was able to focus better on the storylines, meaning 25 total Haunts based on classic episodes from the first three seasons of Scooby-Doo, Where are You!. For every Haunt you play, Neff and Cohen promise that it’s based on an individual episode.
“One of my favorite cartoon movies, not just Scooby-Doo, but cartoon movies overall, was Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. I was adamant from the very start that would end up [in the project],” says Cohen. And, of course, it made it in.
The team’s writer, Banana Chan, watched every episode she could in order to pick out the key components.
“If she wasn’t involved in this process the whole thing would have fallen apart,” says Neff. If Chan noticed a lot of scenes in forests, the team knew to include them somehow. If she noticed multiple caves, they knew to add a cave tile. They made sure to include a spooky basement, an attic, and a creepy area in the woods because of her research.
Neff says the overall response to the game is mostly just fans asking why this wasn’t done sooner. For years, people have made their own 3D characters and Haunt books in order to play as the iconic gang. As for the newcomers to gaming, Neff says the first Betrayal was his introduction to roleplaying board games, so he can’t wait to bring that to other people through Betrayal at Mystery Mansion.
“The thing I didn’t expect was the number of people who I saw online or in my real life, saying I immediately need to get this because this is how I’m going to teach my kids board games. That’s just an amazing feeling.”