Before we even got our badges, a group of bloggers got whisked away to a secret storage room in the Indy Convention Center to play Castle Ravenloft the board game, to be released by Wizards of the Coast in just a couple weeks (8/17/10).
For those unfamiliar, Castle Ravenloft is one of THE most famous vampire adventures ever. Many a D&D player has fond memories of fighting Strahd. If you know Dan from Obsidian Portal, he has an awesome Strahd story that involves a very crafty cleric and a very, very angry DM. Ask him about it sometime.
The Castle Ravenloft board game is the first in a series of new board games by Wizards of the Coast.
At a glance:
- Designed for 1-5 players (yes, you can play alone!)
- Ages 12+ (though younger geeklings could probably handle it, at parents’ discretion of course)
- Cooperative play, all players work toward a common goal
- Multiple adventures & modular board
- Includes everything you need to play, including minis for all adventurers and monsters
What I Liked About Castle Ravenloft the Board Game
D&D Feel, But Rules-Light
It definitely felt like playing D&D. The map, minis, and powers were familiar to me. I got to roll a d20 several times per turn. This was all good. What was great, though, is that all the fiddly little rules of D&D are gone. Your character sheet is streamlined down to a few essential stats. Your powers do a set amount of damage. You don’t have to worry about things like flanking or combat advantage.
If you’re looking to hook a non-gamer spouse into D&D, this is the game to play! There is just enough to do per turn to keep the veterans happy, but it’s simple enough that a non-gamer should easily get the hang of things after a few turns.
Players work together toward a common goal. With a full party of five, you have a Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, and Ranger. Each one has skills that can help the party in some way. (But again, it’s very rules-light!)
The other thing that was fun is that every player controls both their own hero and one or more monsters or traps. On my turn, if I had a skeleton that was still alive, I was responsible for that skeleton’s move and attack of one of my party members. Everyone gets to be a DM for a little bit each round.
Everything Included, But You Could Spice It Up
The Castle Ravenloft box is big and comes with everything you need to play the game, including 40 unpainted miniatures. The good news? If you lack the Dracolich mini, you’re getting one with the Castle Ravenloft board game. Woot! The other good news? If you have painted versions of the minis, you can sub them in for the unpainted ones if you want things a bit more colorful. Not a fan of the Strahd mini? Sub him out with another vampire from your collection; it’s all good.
Wannabe game designer types could probably even study the character cards and make new characters of different classes if they wanted to get really crazy. I don’t see the need (since there are choices for character powers – you don’t have to pick the same powers each time you play), but hey… some people like more choices, and I think with some work, you could probably design your own characters for the game.
Never The Same Game Twice
Modular board: The interlocking dungeon tiles get shuffled for each game and depending on where your party decides to explore, could be arranged in hundreds of different layouts. (Also, you could swipe them to use as regular dungeon tiles for your D&D game!)
Scenario book: Choose your scenario and it will determine which special tiles are in your stack and also what your party’s goal for the expedition will be. Again, different scenario = different gameplay experience!
Encounter, Monster, and Treasure cards: 200 in all! There were some encounters that nearly wiped out the party, others that were a nuisance but not deadly, and others that were (due to circumstances on the board) not a threat at all. A great balance! The monsters are your typical ghouls, gargoyles, and undead you’d expect in Castle Ravenloft, including the Burning Skeleton (I nicknamed him “Flaming Boner”). Treasure cards are drawn each time you kill a monster and can be extended use items or expendable.
In Our Game…
We had a lot of fun! At our table: me, DaveTheGame & Bartoneus of Critical-Hits, Sarah Darkmagic & her husband. Trevor Kidd, Community Manager at Wizards of the Coast, should be thanked for allowing us to play the game early. We love you, Trevor!
Again, if you’re looking for a great board game with lots of D&D flavor but light on the rules and fiddly bits, Castle Ravenloft is a must-buy. Ditto if you’re looking to recruit non-RPG folks into your D&D game. I know I’m looking forward to having a copy of this for our weekly board game nights!