If you are an old school role player like I am, you most likely have had some encounter with Castle Ravenloft before. The domain of Count Strahd von Zarovich, one of the best villains to ever grace a Dungeons and Dragons module, is back for more. I played through the original adventure and died, I have run several groups of intrepid adventurers through it, they died, but every time I revisit it, it is with delight and wonder at the horrors that wait within.
Now we can all go to that spooky place once again, or for the first time for you newcomers. Wizards of the Coast has released a board game that lets you plunge into the dark corridors of evil, face horrific minions, and square off against some sadistic bosses just waiting to add your bones to their collection.
The first thing one should know is that this is a team game. You either win as a team or lose as a team, something that a few of my friends don’t quite grasp. I love smashing my friends in friendly competition as much as the next guy, but sometimes it is nice to play with everyone and achieve a group goal. The game can handle up to five players, and, something that an oft lone gamer like myself digs, can be played solo.
When you pop the top of the box you are greeted by a plethora of goodies, tokens waiting to be punched, tons of plastic figures, piles of cards, and stacks of game tiles. The tiles are one of my favorite components to the game. There is no traditional style board used with Castle Ravenloft. Instead, you have a collection of floor tiles that can be randomly arranged to make a different dungeon experience every time you play the game. Add in the Monster, Event, and Treasure decks and the game has limitless replayability, though I suppose that dungeon crawls do get tiresome after awhile for some. There are also 13 ready to play scenarios that come with the game.
The engine for the game is taken right from 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons, though knowledge of the RPG is not necessary. For those grizzled grognards out there that cringe at the mere mention of 4th edition, relax, it’s just a board game, and it will in no way taint your Dungeons and Dragons purity. The rules are pretty simple actually, we were playing within 15 minutes of cracking open the box. As every game worth its salt, Castle Ravenloft comes with reference cards for the sequence of play.
Ok, so the game is easy to learn and looks real pretty, but how does it play? Beautifully. Minutes after we plopped our chosen heroes on the board we found ourselves swarmed by the undead hordes. Traps lay around nearly every corner, and we greedily snarfed up every bit of loot we could find. The game moves swiftly, you draw cards every time a new room tile is put into play, presenting you with new monsters and encounters.
The player cards are a really nice touch. Everything you need to know about your hero is at your fingertips, hit points, armor class, special abilities. Once you have the basics down you can play at a more advanced level and change up the powers and abilities before each adventure, tailoring your character to your own desires and the needs of the task at hand.
There was one thing that we as a group disliked at first, that if a single hero dies, the game is lost. After further thought we agreed that it was the right call on the game designers part. Having such a harsh win condition really puts an extra emphasis on that need for teamwork. Lone wolfing it will result in a loss (with the solo game being an obvious exception).
We played through the game twice, losing the first one, narrowly winning the second. Later I played a solo game myself and fared rather poorly right from the start, though I came within 4 spaces of winning the game. All told, we had a lot of fun, and I will admit that part of that comes from the nostalgia of Ravenloft days gone by. On the d20 scale it scores a solid 17.
Components 5: Lots of great interchangeable game tiles and a pile of miniatures that literally crawl out of the box.
Rules 4: Fairly straightforward, though if you’ve never played any version of &D before there is a slight learning curve.
Replay 4: While there are only 13 scenarios you can play random adventures to your hearts content.
Cost 4: A rather hefty price tag at $65 ($49.25 on Amazon), you still get a lot in the box, and the minis and dungeon tiles easily transition for use in your tabletop RPG.
The minis also paint up really nice too.