Ahhhh, listen to them. The children of the night, what sweet music they make! Welcome everyone, to a new installment of countdown to Halloween, my weekly feature where I am slowly creeping forward to the night of terrors on october the 31st. It’s been a while since I’ve written about a boardgame on my blog, which is why this is a perfect opportunity to feature one that falls into the horror category. I think most people have heard about the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons, especially since it’s also been a feature in the Netflix fan favorite series Stranger Things. In that game people take on the role of adventurers that go on all sorts of quests in a fantasy setting. Since the release of the game, there have been many different worlds that have been created for it, and one of them is Ravenloft. The Demiplane of Dread, another cheerful name it is known by, is a dimension that consists of a number of pieces of land called domains that are brought together by a strange force called the Dark Powers. One of these domains is ruled by the powerful vampire Strahd Von Zarovich, and I guess we can say he’s a bit like Dracula if you want to compare him to someone. This boardgame takes place in the castle that he rules from, a fortress where no one seems to escape from alive….or with their sanity still intact!
If there is one thing I love about boardgames, it’s the way that some of them look once you bring them out to the table. Colourful components, cool boards, and other stuff like that really is one of the aspects of this hobby that makes it such a rewarding experience. This game is no exception to that. Inside the box you will find lots of stuff that bring this game to life, which considering this features a lot of undead creatures is kind of a weird way to put it. The board itself is modular, which means it’s made up of a bunch of dungeon tiles that fit together like puzzle pieces. Each time you play, the board is different, as the tiles are selected randomly. More on that below. The highlight of this game though are the awesome miniatures, that mainly represent the creatures that infest Strahd’s castle, as well as the brave heroes that venture inside it’s walls. Zombies, skeletons, huge spiders, and a bunch of other lovelies are all included 47 in total. The centerpiece is the huge undead dragon also known as a Dracolich, which looks absolutely amazing, and makes for a great piece to put on display. Also included are whole bunch of tokens that represents various features in the game such as traps, as well as decks of cards and a cool 20 sided die. These cards are used to select encounters the heroes must face, the monsters that they will stumble upon, and the treasures that can be found. Can’t have a game without rules, so of course there is a rulebook. It is clearly written and explains everything in perfect detail, with lots of pictures and examples. And rounding out the set is a quest book.
In Castle Ravenloft every player takes on the role of a brave adventurer that enters the castle of the undead vampire lord on a quest. In total there are 13 quests that players can undertake and have various degrees of difficulty. The opening mission for example, which is meant as a tutorial, finds you waking up in Strahd’s tomb. With the sun slowly setting outside the castle, you have to escape before the evil ruler wakes up, and causes all kind of pain. The game is cooparative and can be played solo as well. This means that you all have to work together in order to win. Once you have selected the quest you want to play, you set up the components you need (each quest has it’s own set of rules for that), pick an adventurer, and you are ready to go! The game is played in a series of player turns that consist of three phases. In the first phase, the heroes get to either move around the board, make an attack on a monster or a combination of these. The second phase is known as the Exploration Phase. Here players reveal new tiles, by selecting one at random from a stack of these, and place monsters on them. You never know what will be revealed next, which makes it very exciting.
As the tiles are randomly selected, as well as the monsters that are placed on them, no game is ever quite the same. One time you might be overwhelmed by some of the most powerful creatures the game has. While at other times, things ease up on you. Well, I guess that is a bit of an exaggeration, as easy would be taking things too far. Last but not least is the Villain Phase. Here it’s the turn of all things evil to start attacking our hapless heroes, but also for nasty things to start happening. Sometimes one has to draw Encounter Cards, and this is usually very bad news for our heroes. Traps might get activated, monsters might become even more powerful than they already are, in short if things weren’t already difficult enough, these cards make life for our adventurers even more miserable. But the heroes aren’t defenseless. No matter which one a player has chosen, all of them have special abilities that help them survive the game. Some heroes are good at fighting, others have healing powers, and then there are those who can use spells to overcome the various creatures. The game continues until either the heroes die, or until they accomplish the quest that they have set out upon.
This game has a very low learning curve. As mentioned the rulebook does a great job of explaining the rules, and provides loads of clear examples. It’s also a game that really isn’t complex or filled with a huge bunch of rules. The same can’t be said about winning the game though. Even the tutorial mission, which is meant for new players to learn the game, is very difficult to beat. Of course that is part of the challenge of the game, and makes it more fun. Each hero comes with it’s own strengths and weaknesses, and as such require different strategies when you play with them. Even though this game has the name Dungeons and Dragons on the box, you don’t need to have any familiarity with the roleplaying game. This game stands on it’s own, and while players that have played the roleplaying version might find some things have the same mechanics, that’s where the similarities end. Overall this is a game that can be enjoyed by both novice boardgame players, as well as veterans. It also serves as a great introduction to players who might at one point want to try the roleplaying game, but want a lower entry point.
The Castle Ravenloft boardgame is a very nice looking and easy to learn game. It’s known as a Dungeon crawler which means that it’s focus lies on fighting against monsters and gathering treasures to become more powerful. The 13 quests that the game contains are all different and have it’s own set of challenges for the players to overcome. With the set up of the dungeon layout being different every time, it’s replayability factor is pretty high. That said, it’s also a game that can become a little bit repetitive. Basically for the most part the game consists of fighting against creatures, and exploring the dungeon to fight more creatures. At times the game can also be a tad bit unfair. You can be unlucky enough to encounter a whole bunch of some of the strongest monsters the game contains early on, and become overwhelmed. This luckily doesn’t happen very often though. However, overall this is a fun game, especially if you are a fan of horror/fantasy style boardgames. It might be good to know, that next to Castle Ravenloft there are also other Dungeons and Dragons boardgames that have these same mechanics, but contain different monsters, heroes and setting. In this way the game can also be expanded if you want to. Either way this is a game that I definitely recommend checking out if you want to experience Dungeons & Dragons, but don’t want it to become too complicated.
I give the Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft Boardgame a 8 out of 10 score.