The Castle Ravenloft Board Game is a game from Wizards of the Coast that uses the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition rules in a board game format instead of a role-playing game. The rules have been slimmed down tremendously from the original form, and allow 1-5 players. That’s right, you can play solo. Castle Ravenloft is the first in a line of board games that will be completely compatible with each other. As of this review, Wrath of Ashardalon, the second game in the series, is due out at the beginning of 2011.
The Castle Ravenloft game is a wonderful cooperative dungeon delving game – I dare say it’s the best dungeon delving game I have ever played. The game truly shines in production quality, boasting a box and components that are top notch. The box is full of tiles, miniatures, tokens, cards, and other pieces. The box is also made so all the pieces have their own places so as to fit perfect and not slide around or tear apart when moved. The game rules are quick and easy to learn. My brother, who sometimes has a harder time learning game rules (at least non video game rules), jumped right in and learned it within minutes. The game is full of strategy without causing playing time to skyrocket. My first game was an hour and a half with every game since averaging around an hour. It makes a perfect game for when a key player doesn’t show up for the regular D&D game, or as stated before, the perfect gateway game for those who have shied away from Dungeons and Dragons.
Before jumping into the meat of the game itself, I feel I should mention all of the components that come in the very thick box. The Castle Ravenloft game comes with: 40+ interlocking tiles; 40+ miniatures; 200+ cards for monsters, encounters, and treasure; 100+ tokens; a rulebook, and a scenario book.
The game’s tiles are like puzzle pieces so they all can interlock with each other. Each one has an arrow on it to show which way to connect them so that no impossible wall situations can occur. The miniatures are of the same quality as later sets of Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures, though they are not pre-painted. Though they are not painted the plastic is color coordinated so that the type of creature is quickly recognizable. The tokens may seem like a lot, but most of them are for specific scenarios, and are not needed for every single game.
Castle Ravenloft is cooperative in its play, and all monsters are handled automatically by the rules and the information written on the monster’s card. There are five heroes to choose from: Dwarf Cleric, Dragonborn Fighter, Eladrin Wizard, Human Ranger, and a Human Rogue. Each hero has a deck of power cards to choose their starting powers from. Players can usually choose two at-will powers and one of both utility and daily powers. The heroes all have four major stats of AC, HP, Speed, and Surge Value. AC stands for Armor Class and is the number a monster needs to beat with a d20 roll plus their attack bonus to hit the hero. HP is the number of hits the hero can take before dying. Speed is the number of squares a hero can move with each move action. Finally, Surge Value is the number of HP the hero gains back when they use a healing surge. This should be quite familiar to D&D players.
Each hero’s turn has three phases: the Hero Phase, the Exploration Phase, and the Villain Phase. The Hero Phase is when the hero can move and attack. The Exploration Phase is when a hero can open up a new tile if they are on a tile edge (except for the Ranger, who can open new tiles from anywhere in the tile that has an unexplored edge). If a new tile is opened, it is placed with the arrow on the new tile facing the edge that opened it. If the arrow is white, a new monster is drawn and placed on the new tile; however, if the arrow is black an encounter card is drawn on top of placing a new monster. The last phase, The Villain Phase, is when the player draws an encounter card if they did not open a tile, activates all their monsters and follows their actions listed on their card, and activates the scenario’s villain if one is in play.
Every attack and power in the game gives a certain bonus to a d20 roll. This roll is the base mechanic for all combat in the game, 1d20+bonus versus the target’s AC. When a monster is defeated the active hero gets to draw a new treasure card, and gets to put the monster’s card into the group’s communal experience pot. Experience is used to buy-off encounter cards to keep them from happening, and to level the hero from level 1 to 2 if the hero rolls a natural 20. When a hero is brought to 0 HP, and is still at 0 at the beginning of their next turn they must use one of the group’s Surge Tokens to heal themselves their Surge Value in HP. If no surge tokens are left, the hero dies, which means the game is over and the heroes lose.
Each scenario presents different exceptions to the rules, and gives the heroes their mission to accomplish for the session. These goals can range from trying to find and destroy a magical artifact to trying to escape the vampire Strahd’s castle before sunset. On top of providing a book of numerous scenarios, the game is designed to let each scenario be replayed over and over again. Two sessions will never seem the same session due to the random tile placement and random monster drawing. Also through my play experiences also proved that part of the fun is seeing what combination of heroes works best for each scenario; it is not always obvious like one might think before giving it a try.
After having played several sessions of the game I can honestly say that I love it. Each session has been a lot of fun, and not just for me, but also several of my family and friends that do not play Dungeons & Dragons. My brother now has my D&D 4E core set in his room because this game made him interested in seeing the full game. He said it reminded him a lot of playing the old Heroquest board game when he was little, except that he had more fun with Castle Ravenloft and its cooperative play without a GM. I can’t wait to see what else is coming in future games in the line. If you are a D&D player who is looking for a quick fix, a D&D player looking to hook others, or even a board gamer who enjoys dungeon-delving games, the Castle Ravenloft Board Game is a perfect purchase for you.