The Entrance Hall, where everyone begins, is the only tile in the game that shows several rooms -- the Entrance Hall, the Foyer, and the Grand Staircase. All the other tiles show one room apiece. Three tiles begin the game face-up, one for each floor -- the Entrance Hall tile for the first floor, the Upstairs Landing, and the Basement Landing. These get spread out widely across the table because each one will be the central hub of an entire floor. All the other tiles are placed face-down in a single stack.
The initial Entrance Hall tile where all the characters start has several doors leading off it. If you want to begin by exploring the first floor, you can move your character through any one of these doors. Then, look at the back of the top tile in the big stack of tiles.
This tile would be fine to play if you were on the upper floor or down in the basement, but you’re on the first floor, so you can’t use it. (Maybe it’s a sinister chamber like the Laboratory that the house’s original residents wouldn’t have put right out front for passing encyclopedia salesmen to peek into!) Put that tile in the discard stack without looking at it and draw another -- repeat until you find one that states Ground Floor on it. This keeps the house developing in a reasonable way, with the Crypt in the basement and the Attic upstairs where they both belong.
Once you’ve found a room that’s appropriate for the floor you’re on, place it so that one of its doors is adjacent to the door you just came through and move your character onto it. You must place the room as logically as you can, with doors facing doors and so forth. After you’ve gone through the whole stack of tiles, the discards get reused so you can keep exploring. That might be important if you need to lure a monster into the Chapel but no one has found it yet!
At the beginning of the game, you can go right up the Grand Staircase if you feel like checking out the view from the upstairs windows. From the top of the Grand Staircase you move to the Upper Landing, and from there you can explore the upper floor.
Getting down to the basement is trickier. Bad things can happen in the basement's murky gloom, so it’s not a place that characters want to visit right away. That’s especially true because the first few people who explore the basement probably won’t go there voluntarily and won't know the way back upstairs!
There are several ways to become the first explorer in the cellar. Worms have gotten into the timbering of one of the ground floor rooms, and if you walk through that door you’ll likely plummet through the floor into the basement. There’s also a Coal Chute that can send you to the Basement Landing and a Trap Door event card that can plunge you down from almost any room in the house.
Once you’ve explored enough of the basement, you’ll eventually find the Stairs from Basement that allow you to pass up and down through the trap door in the Foyer. Hope that you aren’t still desperately searching for that staircase while the Crypt is disgorging its contents!
There are a few other ways to get around the house. One of them is a rattletrap old Elevator.
The buttons don’t work very well, so you have to roll dice to find out what floor the elevator takes you to. Eerily, it moves horizontally as well as vertically, and when it comes back to the floor it started on, it may not return to the same doorway. Still, sometimes the elevator is just the ticket when you need a quick escape from a pursuer.
Several other rooms have unique special abilities. The Chasm, the Catacombs, and the Tower all provide barriers that are difficult to cross -- very inconvenient when they're between you and safety while a werewolf closes in from behind. The Crypt’s sinister influence weakens heroes who fight in it, while the Furnace Room sends out fiery sparks that burn anyone who explores it. The Vault can be used to capture monsters, but sometimes it captures unwary explorers, instead.
In the next article, we'll examine Items, Events, and Omens -- cards, that is.
Bruce Glassco is a professor of English who has also been a gamer since the early ‘80s. His werewolf story, “Taking Loup,” was in the 1999 edition of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Other of Bruce's stories and poems have appeared in the magazines Realms of Fantasy and Weird Tales. House on the Hill is his first published game.
Catch up on any previews you missed!
- Fifty Doorways to Doom
- History and Mystery
- Cast of Characters
- What's Behind Door Number One?
- House of Danger, House of Treasure
- Omen, Omen, Omen, Haunt!
- Sheer Evil
- Selfless Acts of Heroism