Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Boardgame
Cooperative Boardgame for 1-5 players, ages 12+
The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner-and you are invited! Evil lurks in the towers and dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and only heroes of exceptional bravery can survive the horrors within. Designed for 1-5 players, this boardgame features multiple scenarios, challenging quests, and cooperative game play. Castle Ravenloft includes the following components: ' 40 plastic heroes and monsters ' 13 sheets of interlocking cardstock dungeon tiles ' 200 encounter and treasure cards ' Rulebook ' Scenario book ' 20-sided die A D&D Boardgame by Bill Slavicsek and Mike Mearls
COUNTER MAGAZINE REVIEW:
1-5 players, 60 minutes designed by Rob Heinsoo, Peter Lee, Mike Mearls & Bill Slavicsek reviewed by Simon Neale Having (mis)spent part of my youth playing Dungeons and Dragons, and especially enjoying the original Castle Ravenloft scenario both from a player and a Dungeon Master (DM) perspective, a board game version of D&D that does not require a DM and plays in around an hour sounded too good to be true, so I ordered my copy of Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft as soon as it became available. To set the scene: Perched high above the fog bound land of Barovia, Castle Ravenloft is the ancestral home of the vampire Count Strahd who holds the people of Barovia in his thrall. Through a series of heroic adventures players will destroy Strahd and his minions, free the Barovians and gain fame and fortune. The game certainly fits the heavyweight category from a postage perspective, and on opening the large box, I was impressed. The components are very good quality with heavy cardboard used for the jigsaw style board tiles which join together to form the dungeon floor plan, sub-divided into squares for movement control, and depict corridors, doors, fountains etc. Also included are some very detailed plastic miniatures together with suitably thematic card decks, markers, counters and the like. The world of D&D has moved on considerably since my first Basic D&D Set which comprised of a book together with a cheap-looking set of dice. As I unpacked the hundreds of components, I felt that I had made a good value purchase. Castle Ravenloft comes with a Rule Book, covering how to play the game, and an Adventure Book detailing the various scenarios that can be played ranging from solo play to adventures with up to 5 players. The approach taken in writing these books was that a rule or component would only be explained when it was actually required for playing a specific Adventure. Whilst this might have appeared a sensible way not to flood players with unnecessary information, I quickly became confused (not difficult these days!) when I tried to get started as there were symbols on the board and components which applied to later adventures that were not explained on reading the starter adventure scenarios. The confusion continued in the rule book with a lack of clarity over character/monster movement and positioning during combat. That said, after reading the many threads on Boardgamegeek.com from other players as confused as myself, I had the game sorted and ready to go. An adventure is chosen from the Adventure Book and the instructions followed for game set up. Some specific board tiles are shuffled into the rest of the tile deck at a certain position (thereby ensuring the adventure will end after a fixed number of tiles have been drawn) or placed out on the table as the dungeon layout. Adventure specific Villains and components (e.g. traps, tokens etc.) are also selected. There are Rules for the Adventure including the victory and defeat conditions. Defeat occurs if one member of the party dies and cannot be revived, so co-operation is the name of the game here. To set the scene there is some flavour text to be read out at the start of the adventure and when the villain is discovered, adding more atmosphere to the adventure! With the dungeon waiting, it is time to select the Heroes to descend into its depths for glory and reward! The choice of Hero characters range from a Dragonborn Fighter to an Eladrin Wizard. Each player selects Power Cards for their character and these can be one shot (e.g. Daily Powers) or unlimited use (i.e. At Will Powers). Each character has a special ability and statistics covering Armour Class, Hit Points, Speed and Surge Value (being the number of Hit Points that are regained by use of a Healing Surge Token). Using a Healing Surge Token a character that has been reduced to zero Hit Points can be revived. The players decide at the start of the adventure the number of Healing Surge Tokens that will be available to the party, the fewer tokens the tougher the Adventure will be. With the Heroes placed on the start tile, the exploration of Castle Ravenloft is ready to commence. Each player's turn comprises of 3 Phases: Hero, Exploration and Villain. At the start of the Hero Phase a check is made for 0 Hit Points and a Surge Token is used if one is available, otherwise the Adventure will end with the death of the Hero. Assuming the Hero is still alive (at least for the time being) then he can perform one of these series of actions: Move (a number of squares on the floor tile upto his total Speed) and then Attack; Attack and then Move; or make 2 Moves. Attacking involves using one of the Powers selected at the start of the game and involves targeting one or more Monsters/Villains. Some of the attacks can be used to heal Heroes or transport Heroes to other locations. The Exploration Phase allows a Hero that is positioned at an unexplored edge (unconnected edge) of a floor tile to draw a new dungeon tile from the stack and place it next to the unexplored edge. Arrows on the tiles show how the new tile is to be connected to the existing one. A Monster card is now drawn and the relevant monster is placed on the new floor tile. The Monster card details the Monster's actions, powers and statistics and is kept by the player who drew the card. This action completes the Hero Phase. Now it is the Villain Phase, where the denizens of Castle Ravenloft try to rid the Castle of the intruding Heroes. Firstly, if the player had not drawn a new tile in the exploration phase or had drawn a tile with a black arrow, then the player now draws an Encounter Card. This is invariably bad news for the Heroes and can affect their fighting ability, teleport them into greater peril, damage them or just limit their effectiveness. So this leaves players a difficult choice: explore the dungeon and get another Monster in an attempt to avoid an Encounter or take the effects of an Encounter and avoid a Monster! Remember the Adventure needs continual exploration to get to the climax of the scenario with the tiles that were placed deeper in the stack during game set-up! No-one ever said that taking on an evil vampire Count would be easy. The Villain phase continues when the Villain himself (if in play at this time) is activated. Activation of a Villain or Monster involves reading the Villain/Monster card which will detail what actions that character will take, and usually involves moving towards a Hero and attacking! After the Villain has had his turn, all the Monster and Trap cards that the player controls are activated, resulting in more attacks against the party. The Villain Phase is now complete and play passes to the player on the left, who starts with his Hero Phase. Play continues with the Heroes moving deeper into the dungeon until the Adventure end conditions are met with heroic victory or defeat and despair. All combat is resolved by a D20 whose rolled value is incremented by the attack bonus of the power being used. If this value is equal to or greater than the Armour Class of the targeted character, then the attack is successful and the targeted character takes hit points of damage equal to the Damage Value of the attacking power used. This system works quickly and with a D20 involved the outcome is far from certain! The different powers, abilities and certain treasures add variety and some strategy into the combat and the players have to cooperate closely to get the most effective Power use both in attack and defence. If a player defeats at least 1 Monster during his turn he takes a Treasure Card, which will have a beneficial effect on one or more Heroes. The party also gains the defeated Monster card which is worth a certain amount of Experience Points for the party. If a player rolls a natural 20 during an attack and spends 5 of the party's Experience Points, then that Hero can level up from first to second level, gaining more Hit Points, Surge Value and Armour Class. This is the only character progression that occurs during the game. The party can chose to spend 5 Experience Points to cancel an Encounter Card when it is drawn, which although expensive can save the party from defeat. To win through, players need to cooperate closely understanding each of the Hero's abilities and Powers, to keep the ever increasing waves of Monsters from sweeping the Heroes into oblivion. Continual exploration and destruction of the more potent Monsters before they activate for a second time is the key to survival. When the Villain appears the party needs to be prepared for the climatic battle and dispatch the Villain quickly, as he will activate on every player's turn! I have played the game solo, with 3 and 5 players and all the games have been tremendous fun despite over half of them ending in defeat! To me this game captures some of the theme and atmosphere of the D&D RPG which spawned it, and without the need for a DM, completion in around an hour or less, and solo play it is incredibly successful. But (and there is always a ``but'') the game is very much a ``dungeon bash'' where you fight monsters again and again and again. There is minimal character development and with a limited selection of Monsters the games can feel a bit ``samey''. However, there is plenty of fan developed material, both Adventures and Monsters, available to keep Castle Ravenloft fresh and get continuing trips to the gaming table. This game is not a typical ``Gamer's Game'' but should appeal to those who grew up (or are still growing up) with D&D and fancy a short ``hack and slay'' session. So dust off your chain mail, sharpen your battle axe and descend the cold, stone staircase into the deep, dark dungeons under Castle Ravenloft.
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