Ravenloft Board Game By Jeremy Salinas

I should preface this review by stating that I’ve personally been really excited for Castle Ravenloft for some time now. With growing anticipation of its release, coupled with getting an actual chance to sit down and see the game early at GenCon this year only elevated my desire to delve deeper into what I believed would become a pseudo D&D experience wrapped inside a Boardgame exterior.

Last night I received the game on my door step thanks to CoolStuffInc and proceeded to quickly tear open the packaging, punch the numerous thick cardboard sheets full of chits, and set up the miniatures for my eventual HD Components Breakdown Video shoot seen here: Drakkenstrike’s Component Breakdown Video in HD

When I originally shot the video, I had not had a chance to play through the game in any length, nor complete any of its given scenarios, and my GenCon experience with the title was limited to discussions with the Developers and an introduction to the components themselves. Everything I had seen up unto that point though remained enthusiastic and promising. Here was a game with a good abundance of Components, Fantastic Miniatures, a Theme that was not only officially licensed Dungeons and Dragons material, but one that also revolved around one of the most beloved and Iconic D&D pieces ever created…..Castle Ravenloft.

Prior to the games release, I spent a lot of time reading through the rules and making sure I was well versed in the mechanics of the game. But before we get to that, let’s first discuss the Components in a little more depth.

Components
The game ships in one gigantic box which can be seen in my Components Breakdown Video, and inside the box is a conglomeration of Cards, Chits, Modular Boards, Character Sheets and Miniatures.

The 13 total Thick Cardboard Sheets that house the Hundreds of Chits and Player Tokens in the game are all well printed, colourful, and what feels to me like a durable solution for extended play. The 200 Cards in the game are a bit flimsy and not typical of usual WotC card stock used in other of their games like Magic the Gathering. It is my opinion that all 200 cards should be sleeved, and for those gamers with similar tastes as mine, sleeving your cards is a no brainer anyways. The miniatures are all wonderfully sculpted in my opinion. There are definitely in line with other games of this type, such as FFG’s Descent and it’s numerous expansions. They are of much higher quality than other games like Talisman, Defenders of the Realm, Fury of Dracula, etc. I guess what I am trying to state is that for me, they fall in line with some of the better Dungeon Crawler miniatures out there, and that’s a real draw.

The minimalist art style that is used throughout the majority of the components though is something that needs addressed in this review, and something that may detract some gamers from purchasing the title. I really enjoy most of the throwback art as it really harkens back to the origin of D&D itself, but when laid side by side with similar games like FFG’s Descent, it gives the appearance that its production values are inferior throughout many of its components, and to be honest, they are. For instance, many of the Modular Tiles are incredibly bland, uninteresting, and unattractive to say the least. None of the Item Cards have images of any kind. The Encounter cards likewise lack any type or attempt at proper artwork at all. It is just extremely hard for me to understand how a universe as rich and numerous in its years as Dungeons and Dragons can release a product with so little artistic energy. How hard would it really have been for the Designers to put forth a little effort in finding proper artwork in D&D’s vast catalogues? Theme in a game is so very important, and for this, Castle Ravenloft needs to look to it’s inevitable future expansions for remedies to what I consider a huge oversight on their part.

Castle Ravenloft Board Game Gameplay
The appeal for most gamers like myself when looking at Castle Ravenloft is the simple fact that it is a Cooperative Game that concentrates solely on team unity and tactics rather than on competition. For that, and it’s ability to execute that basic mechanic so perfectly, it scores really high marks from me. Having played 4 of the 13 scenarios that shipped with the game, I’ve discovered that unlike most cooperative games, (ie. Defenders of the Realm) there is no sole Elite Character that can continually be used/abused to control the flow of the game to your advantage. The game is Hard, and with that difficulty comes an inherent need to adopt and change tactics that utilize each of your parties strenghts and weaknesses to their fullest.

For instance, the Ranger is incredible at exploring the unknown dungeon tiles as well as picking off monsters with 1hp remaining with one of her At-Will Powers, but we soon learned that putting her on point to do so created huge tactical issues with her inherent low AC. Monsters were just ganging up on her far too often for our liking. So we quickly learned that to have her use her abilities to our advantage would still involve her leading our group of Heroes, but behind the protection of our fighter who would absorb the attacks from the freshly placed tiles and monsters that spawned on them. It was one of many simple tactical decisions that we were forced to make together as a team to allow for the journey to be achievable.

The game has an incredible amount of ebb and flow to it, much of which comes from traps and encounters that are simply too unpredictable to plan for in any capacity. This again is something I consider to be a real plus to the game. Cooperation is so key, and knowing the abilities and strengths of your team are what will make or break all of the scenarios for you.

The greatest thing is that Castle Ravenloft is actually a very simple game to play and understand. The game takes place over a series of Turns, with each turn containing 3 unique phases for each player. At first glance even, it would appear that the game is almost too simple in its execution, but it’s a bit deceiving really. There is alot of hidden complexity in the game for gamers to discover on their own, and they won’t really discover that until they too have tripped an “Alarm Trap”, a “Spear Trap”, are surrounded by 2 Spear Throwing Kobolds and have another Zombie paralyzing your fighter. It’s what makes the game so enjoyable and interesting for me.
I’ve read the review hear on BGG that says the game is dry and boring, lacks tension and tends to be a bit repetitive. I would agree only with the “repetitive” part of their argument, and that is only because the game ships with a limited amount of monsters, encounters, and treasures in its base set. This is a game that will obviously expand in the future, opening up a breadth of possibilities, but since we are only grading the game on the here and now, I can see the reviewers point.

For me though, the game is packed with tension, theme, and elements of gameplay that are missing in other Cooperative games. It’s incredibly challenging yet highly rewarding, and has a suprising amount of depth in it’s gameplay that are hidden away to all but those who take the venture into the Castle for themselves.

Review first published in Boardgame Geek by Jeremy Salinas