The friendly local game store has been getting in a lot of new games in the lead up to xmas and just the other day I saw them putting Castle Ravenloft up on the shelves. And after a few days of procrastinations I just couldn’t resist any more and went and got a copy.
This game is HUGE. It comes absolutely packed with cards, counters, tiles and miniatures.
The miniatures are “reprints” of existing D&D miniatures which ensures their compatibility with their skirmish game. To keep the game price down though the miniatures come unpainted, which is something I’ll rectify one day. A nice touch is that they’ve used harder plastic for these miniatures so they don’t suffer as much of the bent sword syndrome that most of the D&D and Star Wars miniatures have.
I think I’ve best heard the rules described as “D&D 4th Edition Lite with No Added Role Play”. This game has dungeons and it comes with dragons but “Dungeons & Dragons” it aint. It’s basically a dungeon crawler, all combat - all the time. Now this isn’t a bad thing and the rules keep things moving along at a brisk pace that makes sure the game never gets dull. The game also has a few elements that I found quite innovative and refreshing:
- When a character ‘explores’ a new section of the map a new dungeon tile is placed and a monster is spawned. That monster is represented by a miniature on the table and a card that is placed with the player who spawned it. That monster (or mosters) are activated during the “Villian” phase of that player. It works with ease and creates an initiative process that “feels right”.
- The second innovation is what allows the game to be played solo or cooperatively: each monster card has a list of conditions and actions that you evaluate in order each time the monster activates. It may be something like “If the monster is 2 or more tiles away from the nearest hero it will move adjacent to that hero and attack with a pounce attack”. Followed by “If the monster is adjacent to a hero it will attack with a bite”. It’s simple and it makes it quite clear what each monster will do.
The dungeon tiles are laid out almost randomly. The adventure guide will state which tiles will be used for the dungeon entrance and most will state to place certain named tiles in certain positions in the tile draw deck. When placing a tile you must place the tile so that the edge with a black or white triangle matches up with the edge of the tile you are currently standing on. It’s simple enough that my five year understood within minutes.
The game comes with an adventure book with a dozen or so adventures all themed around Castle Ravenloft and our favourite Vampire Strahd.
The first adventure is a solo quest and I took the opportunity learn the rules and get all nostalgic about adventures past.
I took the Dwarven Cleric and had to escape the crypt before Strahd woke up. Each tile I placed with a white triangle increased a timer that marked sunset.
A quick shot of most of the cards, tokens and status markers. The pile of dungeon tiles is HUGE.
A shot of the game on the last turn. I only just made it to the exit in time.
The game took a little getting used to, I’m a second edition player myself. High armour classes are good now, (no more THAC0’s – woo hoo!) so it’s a case of roll d20 and add attack bonus to beat armour class… easy. Each attack does a fixed amount of damage and state effects like “slowed” or “immobile” are automatic so no saving throws required.
At the first read through of the rules I was a little disappointed and kept thinking “this isn’t D&D”. But after playing the game I realised that “it is D&D” but it’s “not roleplay”. All the staples are there: brick fighters and wizards with magic missiles all running to the clearic for help when things get rough. You need to play as a team and coordinate exploration otherwise you’ll get overrun with monsters.
What I Liked
- Playing with my kids. We were on this adventure together, we’d all win or we’d all lose. My eldest loves the game and got most of the concepts from the get go, I think we’ll be playing a lot. My youngest struggled to maintain interest for the whole game but picking up his character didn’t slow the game down and it’s likely we’ll play with two characters each from now on anyway.
- Fun: this game takes the best parts of D&D combat and puts it all in a retail box. And lets face it, we played D&D because it was cool to kill imaginary monsters and get lots and lots of imaginary loot.
- It’s D&D: or the closest I’ll get to playing D&D for a while.
- Miniatures: lots and lots of miniatures
What I Didn’t Like
- I would have liked to make my own character but it’s probably nothing swapping the mini out wouldn’t fix anyway. I’d just like my rogue to feel like “my rouge”.
- Loot: you don’t get much. I’m not asking for a Vorpal Sword or a Holy Avenger here. A short sword +1 will do for starters. Could easily be fixed with some home brew cards but I’m hoping an expansion will remedy this.
- Only first and second level characters? The game is pretty harsh on the characters and life expectancy isn’t too high but let players get to 10th level and they’ll keep trying.
- There isn’t too much about this game I’m that I’m really not happy with but if I had to pick something I’d say that once again the designed have designed a box insert that simply doesn’t expect the players to put sleeves on their cards. There’s a spot for everything in this box and it holds everything perfectly, until you put sleeves on the cards and they no longer fit.
Yes please! There’s the Wrath of Ashardalon coming out in 2011 which I’m sure to snap up. But I’d like to see a set of cards made available that allowed the use of at least some of the miniatures already available.
Some more interesting tiles wouldn’t go astray either. The game as-is has plenty of scope for some fantastic adventures but I hope the game gains enough popularity (cough sales) that Wizards pays this game the attention is desires.
Or if they wanted to be really cheeky they could put articles and cards in their magazines Dragon or Dungeon. I’d buy a subscription if it got me new stuff for the games.
It’s not the Strahd I remember but it’s defiantly the fun that I remember. I may even pick up the Red Box to see what all the fuss over fourth edition is all about.