It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Dungeons & Dragons. Just a click or two around the site will make that pretty apparent.
Having said that, I’ve always wanted a board game that captured at least a little bit of the D&D feel, but without the need for a large chunk of time to be set aside to play, and without the need for a complex rule system.
So, it was with great anticipation that I ordered the Castle Ravenloft board game, which is part of the D&D Adventure System series of board games.
I’ve long been fascinated with the idea of board games with a theme based around exploring a dungeon or a castle. The premise of the Castle Ravenloft board game is exactly that; one or more adventurers explore a haunted castle while fighting off monsters in pursuit of one of a number of possible objectives.
Castle Ravenloft is a tile based “build as you go” board game, meaning that you create the board as you play, rather than starting the game with a predetermined or pre-built board. It can be played solo or with a group. One great thing about this game is that it is a co-op game, so it’s great for those times when you want to take a little break from competitive games to go on an adventure either by yourself or with friends.
The game sort of acts as a Dungeon Master in the sense that it gives you a predetermined script to follow for any monsters that you will be controlling. Game setup is fairly straightforward, and doesn’t take too long, which is great compared to games that have a 15 or 20 minute setup time. You start by setting up several card decks, choosing a hero, setting up a deck of castle/dungeon tiles, and placing a starting tile. Game play progresses with each player going through a series of 3 phases on their turn; 1) a Hero Phase, 2) an Exploration Phase, and 3) a Villain Phase.
The Hero Phase allows you to move and attack any monsters or traps that are on the board, or to just move twice. The Exploration Phase has you add a new tile to the board from the previously shuffled deck of tiles, provided you are on the edge of an existing tile and are in a position to “explore.” The Villian Phase has you possibly draw an “Encounter” card (depending on how the exploration phase played out), activate any special villains on the board, and then activate any generic monsters that you control. Once the three phases have been completed, the next player takes their turn.
The game comes with an adventure book that provides multiple scenarios. For example, one adventure may have you simply trying to escape from the castle before the Vampire (named Strahd) can wake up, chase you down, and eat you (or do whatever it is that vampires do to adventurers). Another adventure will have you enter the castle and try to find a powerful artifact that must be destroyed before it can be used against the nearby village. These various adventures, combined with the fact that the dungeon tiles will never be placed in the same positions in any two games, really make for a lot of variability, and make each time playing feel unique.
As far as characters go, there are five different good characters to choose from. Each one has it’s own set of unique abilities and stats. For example, a dwarven cleric allows you to provide healing, a dragonborn fighter can breathe fire on enemies, and a human rogue excels at disabling traps. Each character also has a unique set of power cards that give them attacks and special abilities that can be used throughout the adventure.
In addition to all of this, there are Encounter cards that cause the environment in the castle to change and either cause damage to the heros or just make their task more difficult. There are monster cards that determine which monsters you fight as you explore new areas, and there are treasure cards that give you useful items, fortunes, and blessings to make your mission just a little easier.
Speaking of “easier,” I do need to mention that this game is, by design, extremely difficult to win. I’ve heard it said, and I’ve said it myself, that it’s better to lose a really good, intense game than to win an easy, boring game. The Ravenloft board game’s difficulty level is high enough that most players will lose more often than they will win, but that just makes winning all that more satisfying.
Games last anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the specific adventure being played. And as I mentioned earlier, if you’re having trouble getting a group together, you can play this one by yourself. There is at least one adventure specifically designed for a single player, but any of the scenarios can easily be played solo just by controlling the characters yourself.
This is one of my new favorite games of all time, ranked up there with Space Hulk at the top of my list. If I want to play a competitive game with a large board made up of tiles, I’ll go for Space Hulk. If I want to play a tile based co-op game, I’ll go with the Castle Ravenloft board game.
Even if you aren’t specifically a Dungeons & Dragons fan, but you enjoy strategic board games with lots of replayability, you might want to check this game out. If you love the idea of a good dungeon crawl or castle exploration in board game form, this game is an excellent choice.
Thanks for taking time to read about my experiences with some cardboard tiles and plastic figures.