Castle Ravenloft. A different review.
Greetings all, thanks for taking some time to check out my review of Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft. I will review each component of the game, in broken down paragraphs and then give my over all opinion on the game.
This game has straight A’s as far as the miniatures go. Any game that provides the same miniatures that the stand alone Dungeon & Dragons Miniatures Game provides can never be questioned. This game does just that, it provides the buyer with 41 unpainted minis that are identical to the D&D Minis line. The miniatures are a gem to paint for any of you painters out there, and the fine detail sculpted into each character or creature is excellent.
The game also ships with four decks of cards; Treasure, Monster, and Encounter, and Hero Abilities. Each of these cards are printed on quality Card Stock with a nice smooth matte finish. The cards all have rounded corners as well! (OPINION: Cards with square corners are prone to damage, as the sharp edge will eventually dull with use.) The only complaint I have with the decks of cards come in the form of graphics, or rather, lack of graphics. Treasure cards are a wall of text, when it would be a nice touch to get the player into the atmosphere of the game if when I picked up a Magical Sword, I saw what it might look like. I am instead faced with text that informs me that I picked up a sword doing X. Monster Cards give flavour to the game, with a picture of the creature and stats, none of which are in colour. Encounter cards could have some form of graphic to show the mist, or the cackling evil skull that floats out, instead another wall of text. Finally the Hero Abilities only have a generic face of the hero, with no added graphic and yet again a wall of text describing what the ability does. This is minor, yet, when a bunch of cards are in front of the players, it looks like A LOT of reading, with no graphical treat for the eyes.
The heroes and Villain Monsters (Boss Creatures) also come with larger Square Punch Out (off of Punch out Flats) Statistic Cards. These are also very well done, and the rest of the punch out pieces are very nice, continuing with the smooth matte finish.
The tiles that will create the playing board are made nice, continuing the smooth matte finish as well. However the same issue plagues these tiles as it does the four Decks of cards. They seem to generic, no life. Each tile is made up of several smaller grey squares to represent stone, with the walls being represented by a thick plain black line on the edges. Every once in a while a tile will come up with a coffin or an altar, sometimes moss or discoloration, and each tile has a square with a pile of rubble/skulls (?) that show the spawn location for a monster. But ultimately a player pulls a tile and it looks just the same as the rest of the tiles on the board, each tile doesn’t seem to add to the feel of the game. Much like Space Hulk and DOOM tiles each add to the overall layout of the base or space station feel, Castle Ravenloft fails to properly portray a castle corridor or dungeon, because it attempts to randomize the dungeon building mechanic, this works, however it doesn’t create much depth.
Lastly for components, the rule book is an easy read, yet leaves some serious questions left unanswered. Only until you read each adventure, do you understand some of the components, and even still some serious rules questions come up that are left unanswered even when searching the rules and adventure book with a fine tooth comb.
EASE OF PLAY
The game plays easy, if it doesn’t do anything else right, it plays easy. The players entire turn is summed up on a quick reference card (front and back) that is literally the size of a standard playing card. The entire game consists of three phases for each player; the Hero Phase, the Exploration Phase, and the Villain Phase. Any concerns as to what each phase should consist of is covered directly on the summary card that each player is issued at the start of the game. As long as one player knows the fine details then most of the game if not all of it will be played without opening the rule book.
The Hero phase consists of the player choosing to Move/Attack, Move/Move, or Move/Play Ability or Item. This leads to yet another question that is never answered, or explained. Why can’t a player Attack/Attack without moving? It doesn’t work smooth when so many monsters are already overwhelming the players and yet the heroes are forced to execute a single attack each turn, even when choosing to hold their ground. It should also be noted that this is the only phase when a hero can level up, if the hero rolls a perfect 20 during an attack and has 6 Experience points to spend (A lot in this game) he can level up.
After the hero phase comes the Exploration phase, which consists of further board tile placement, and monster spawning, as well as any encounter cards. If a hero lands on an unexplored edge of a tile, they can either place a new tile, and draw a monster card and spawn the monster (Guaranteed Spawn) or draw an encounter card, and skip placing a tile. The encounter card is supposed to be a gamble of good and bad encounters, however most if not a 3rd of the deck consists of debilitating or damaging events. Every once in a while a buff will get put in play, and those are weak and few and far between when they do happen. Each encounter card can be cancelled if a hero has 5 Experience Points (This is huge in this game, did I mention that?) to spend on cancelling it. You did read that right, a single encounter card requires 5 Experience points to cancel, a single card of many that will be drawn throughout the course of game. Not to mention if you are placing a tile on the edge of an unexplored tile and it happens to have a BLACK triangle, instead of a WHITE triangle on it, you have to place the tile, draw a monster card, place the monster, and in addition draw the encounter card. In essence when you draw a black triangle, you’ve lost all of any possible advantage.
The last phase is the Villain phase, which quite simply, is the phase in which Villains (boss monsters) and monsters activate. The catch here is that only monsters that you placed, either through exploration or encounter cards are the ones that you activate HOWEVER (there is a huge catch to this, that stacks up yet again, against our heroes) if you have a monster that shares the same name as a monster another player has, you activate all monsters with that name. For example, I have a monster card named Wraith and you have a monster card named Wraith, thus being 2 Wraiths on the board, I activate BOTH Wraiths, and you also do the same… it gets overwhelming VERY quick.
Overall the game flows very fast once the cycle of play is determined as there is not much to discuss with team mates or many abilities to choose to use during your Hero phase.
As with all games of this genre, I feel that combat is the make or break point. Unfortunately this is where Castle Ravenloft really breaks down. Combat is over so quick each turn that it feels like it was an afterthought. The hero chooses between several available options of attack which typically consists of 2 Daily Powers (Powers that are strong attacks that can only be used once, and then flipped over) 2 Utility Powers (Powers that assist you or your team mate that can only be used once and then flipped over as well) and 2 At-Will Powers (Your basic attacks that can be used over and over each turn). The only way to get a Daily or Utility power back once its been exhausted is to draw an encounter card or item card that instructs you to do so, which in some games that my group and I played never happened. The Utility abilities don’t lead to all that much co-op”ness” either. One ability the fighter has is “Bodyguard” and he shields his ally from one attacks damage if he is within 1 tile. This is a nice ability, however it can only be used once and then flipped over for the entire game or until the above methods to refresh the ability are met. So… in essence, my fighter, can’t protect more than one ally, once per day?
Another very huge flaw to the combat system, new monsters ALWAYS get the jump on the heroes. The Hero phase ends the second the new tile or encounter card is place/drawn, thus spawning more Monsters. Well, after the Exploration phase, comes the Villain phase, the part that the monsters get to fight our heroes, this happens in this order every turn. Caution is thrown to the wind, as is tactics and depth. Heroes must explore in order to get to the objective tile, sorted somewhere within the tile stack, usually 8-15 tiles down, and in doing so; they always get “jumped” by creatures. Most of the players in my play group would move, explore, spawn a monster, and then take damage from said monster that they could not respond to until it was their turn again. That coupled with the fact that any defensive abilities are 1 time use only, leads to a constant stream of heroes taking damage, it’s just not fun.
After a hero does manage to kill something using the 20 sided die you get experience, most monsters give 1 or 2 experience each.
The damage system explained is basically; Each attack has a +# to Attack Value, you roll the Die, and add the +# to the Die roll, and compare it to the targets armour class (AC) for example, I use CLEAVE the Fighters Ability, it gives me +7 Attack Value, and deals 1 damage. I roll my 20 sided die, and get a 10 if it is equal to or great then the AC of my target you deal that attacks respective damage, if it is less than the AC then the damage is negated… for the heroes, or most of the heroes available attacks. This is not true for a majority of the monsters. Monsters have the Attack Value, the Damage, and the AC, however they also have listed under their damage value, MISS:# (this is typically MISS:1) which means even if the AC is greater than the roll + Attack Value, the attack still deals 1 damage… this is a broken mechanic and it becomes apparent rather quickly when several of this monsters are on the field at once.
Damage stacks up all too quickly and you find yourself using the 2 Healing Surge tokens that the entire team must share, all too fast. Once both tokens are used, and might I add the surge doesn’t heal you to full Health, but most of the time only half (determined per hero). Any healing that is in the game is to rare or seldom, and the MISS:# damage is a mechanic that shouldn’t be in play when even the Cleric can’t keep a large group healed enough.
The monsters attack via “Board Game AI” in that their monster cards consist of “IF THEN” statements. If Monster X is within 1 Tile of Hero, Then it attacks with Y attack, Otherwise the monster moves 1 tile closer. Each monster has this plain method of movement and attacking, and when the heroes must travel via Squares while monsters move a tile or 2 at a time, it takes away from any hope that the Heroes can make a strategy.
This game offers little in this field, when Heroes have to move via Squares and Monsters are chasing down via Tiles, it doesn’t give any breathing room to come up with tactics or sound strategic planning. Instead it boils down to fundamentals, keep the guy with the most health in front, so the monster moves and attacks the “Nearest Hero” and that Hero happens to have the most health, then rotate, and if the Cleric is around have him try to offer healing when needed, notice I did say try.
This game doesn’t offer a Campaign mode, and your heroes reset for each new adventure, this includes levelling back down to level 1, and losing all your items. The rule book attempts to justify this by say, “Its not cheap being a hero and you need to sell your items to pay for things.” So… my magical sword was only worth a hot meal and a bed? Even when that stuff should be free because I’m trying to save the land of Barovia for the betterment of everyone…
The game plays rather quick, and after the first or second game it could play as quick as 30 minutes to an hour if the players remember the flow of each Phase. Ultimately this was designed to be a quick play Dungeons and Dragons experience, and it is and isn’t that. It is quick play, however this is NOT what Dungeons & Dragons really is, so in doing so, this game loses its true identity and loses itself behind a famous name.
This game doesn’t deserve to be compared to any other games available to this genre of Dungeon Crawl as it really isn’t in the same class. This game attempts to have “Board Game AI” and a Randomized Dungeon Every Time feature, which both create a different feel then other games that offer the same things done better. (Descent, Doom, Space Hulk, HeroQuest).
This game falls short in just about everything except for the miniatures. The sculpts are outstanding but the game play suffers greatly. This game is something marginally good for getting a young player into the flow of a dungeon crawl type game that offers little in the way of advanced strategy or tactics, while offering up some great visual monsters and hero pieces. The game loses any fun it should have from combat by making the player feel almost helpless after every turn, by allowing the monsters to get the jump on the player every single time. If you want a great Co-op game, other games do this better. If you want a great story, other games do it better, and if you want excellent combat – just about all games in this genre do it WAY WAY better. If you want tactics and depth, find something else to spend your time on. The amount of problems this game runs into and the way the Heroes truly never seem like Heroes leads me to end my review in saying this is just not worth the money, unless your into painting really cool miniatures. The heroes of Castle Ravenloft should reconsider going into the dungeon, and should in turn, take up farming crops, before one too many monsters gets the jump on them for the last time.
Thanks for reading! Hope to see some comments!
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