Monday, September 06, 2010

Castle Ravenloft

Castle Ravenloft was once a Dungeons and Dragons adventure game. Ravenloft eventually proved popular enough to spawn its own campaign setting - inspired by gothic horror classics such as the Mummy, Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, etc. Wizards of the Coast has returned to this setting in a new line of board games with the appropriately (if not obvious titled) - Dungeons and Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game. Wizards is obviously looking to tap into a new market and perhaps pull in some new players to the Dungeons and Dragons gaming scene. I don't know anything about that. I do know that this is a light fun romp with rules that are in line with Heroscape or Claustrophobia. So what is Castle Ravenloft? It is a cooperative dungeon crawl for 1-5 players. Each player takes a different class and the group picks and adventure to from the book to play. Each has their own goal for winning. Typically, losing means getting killed a couple time. On a player's turn, they can move and fight, fight then move, or move twice. If you end at the edge of the board you draw a new tile from the stack of tiles that will make up the game area. When you place the tile, monsters may or may not appear. After a player moves, that player then also executes the monster's turn. monster cards explain clearly what needs to be done and whom to attack. There are other cards for treasure and for encounters and traps that can hinder or help the players. All in all, the game is pretty well scripted so that players aren't flipping through books or looking things up on 12 different tables of numbers to figure things out.
I've played the game twice now - one solo to get an understanding of the mechanics. The solo game had me trying to find my way out before Strahd (the master vampire of Castle Ravenloft) awoke and killed me. I ran around as quickly as I could looking for the exit. Strahd awoke and chased me around quite a bit. I managed to finally find the exit and escape with 1 hit left before I would have lost. The second game was with my son and we were trying to find a chapel with a special artifact. Unfortunately, we found a lot of wraiths who kicked our butt. We finally found the chapel, but had died twice already and were easy targets for the two monsters we found inside the chapel.
So, what do I think? Its fun. It doesn't outstay its welcome. Games are about an hour, which makes this one instantly appealing over something like Descent. Does this mean I should throw Descent away? No. This is different. In fact, it almost feels like Claustrophobia for 1-5 players. Combat is super straightforward and in fact, the exploration piece doesn't really give you an option for which way to lay a tile - you always point the printed arrow towards the area that you are exploring from. There isn't the same feel of gaining treasure like in other dungeon crawls and experience and leveling is a limited deal, but you don't have the overhead of other dungeon games either. The tile mechanism is neat, but the tiles are pretty generic and the maps tend to look just like the last one. The minis that come with the game are ok - they are basically unpainted versions of the D&D:Minis that have been out for a while. One of the hero models is new, but the rest have been seen (that doesn't make them bad). The tiles are nice and there are lots of cards (though the cards aren't the thickest, so I'm not sure how they'll hold up to lots of playing). Wizards of the Coast already has another boxed set coming out which is supposed to be compatible (ie, new monsters and heroes that can be used with either set). I'm not sure how many scenarios you can put together - there can only be so many variations on run through catacombs for some reason or another, but this isn't a bad game so I can see getting both if one gets played enough.

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