Friday, 15 July 2011

Review: Dungeons & Dragons Castle Ravenloft

Well as some of you will know a fair few weeks ago I was musing on why I no longer played board games anymore, you can find that article here. Any way I decided I should really try to put this right by picking myself up a couple of board games and giving them a damn fine go. Well I'm well on my way to having a nice little collection of board games now, I started off with Dwarf Kings Hold from Mantic Games and will be hopefully getting myself the second of those games Green Menace. I also have the Gears of War game on pre-order from OG Games and Mansions of Madness should be arriving any day soon hopefully.

However none of those games are really what I'd term true Dungeon Crawlers, yep Dwarf Kings Hold is set in a dungeon or should that be a 'hold' but its an adversarial game that I've heard described as Space Hulk with Dwarfs and axes, now while I think that's not an entirely fair analogy its not a million miles off in terms of vibe, but the two games play very differently. So I wanted a dungeon crawler. I'd had a few people suggest the D&D Adventure System Games of Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, so I picked both up to see what they were like. First things first I've given Castle Ravenloft a thorough going over, and I've enjoyed it, but in the words of the tax dodging Irishman Bono 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for'.

Product Description

Lets get this out of the way right now, the production quality on this product is very high indeed and its clear Wizards of the coast have really gone to town with the components in this game. Even the box itself is a high quality product that will stand up quite nicely to the rough and tumble of daily gaming sessions. The card tiles and tokens are all on a very high quality card and have nice glossy surfaces, its all very slick. The miniatures although quite nice sculpts some of them are what lets this down. They aren't made of the nicest substance known to man and I actually think they'll be pretty naff to paint considering how bendy they all are. Its not great and its a shame, because I'd have liked to have painted them. There is however a lot of stuff in the box.

Gameplay 7 out of 10

I think its fair to suggest that I am less than enamoured with the kind of games the rules themselves seem to produce. Sure its all very slick and functions well enough and you won't ever get to a point where you're not sure what should happen. However it doesn't create the greatest atmosphere going, I've never once felt like an intrepid explorer searching through a dank, dark and dangerous dungeon. It has no atmosphere as a game and the challenge is less than I'd hoped for too, so it doesn't tick many of my personal boxes but it does at least function well as a game mechanic.

Detail 7 out of 10

The detailing on pretty much everything is consistently good. The tile artwork is clear and crisp and well designed, if a little bit too bland for my tastes. The tokens are token like and sturdy, they're clear to understand and easy to read... and a little bland. Call me old fashioned but I like a little bit of personality in the artwork that goes into these sorts of components, its all very Dungeon 101 and very generic and by the books. The miniatures themselves are your typical generic beasties and adventurers, they're not bad themselves in terms of the detailing and sculpting, but the substance they're made out of isn't for me. Sure I'm guessing its a nice and hardy substance for chucking back into the game box but that's not what I'm going to do with them.

The rules themselves are a very stripped down version of D&D I remember, its not really a dungeon crawling RPG anymore but some kind of homage to that genre in the form of an engaging enough board game. Have to be honest and say its not quite what I was expecting or indeed what I wanted. However it is fairly entertaining and with a good group of friends its a riot and well worth playing. Just don't be expecting a deep experience with character building and progression, there's none of that malarky, its just a straight up board game set in a dungeon.

Quality 8 out of 10

The quality of the card components within the box are undeniably good and quite frankly I think they'll happily take a good solid amount of gaming before they start to look dog eared or tatty. If this score was generated on those components alone I'd probably give this score a 9 or 10 because they are very hardy indeed and the rulebook and mission book are glossy enough and in full colour. What drags it all down a notch or two for me would be the rubbery plastic used to make the miniatures. Sure I can understand why they're made out of the horrid stuff, it's probably easier to pull out of the moulds and it'll not break as easy in the box. However as I hope I've established, I'm a wargamer and I like to paint my mini's if I can. So what should have been a win for them actually drags the score down, if only it were a harder plastic.

The rules are slick easy to understand and follow. The randomly generated dungeons that I've played though all seem quite similar in shape, so perhaps its not as random as first thought! Though the rules do create an engaging enough game it rapidly boils down to very basic stat team management work. Its not at all hard to rip through most dungeons in this game with a little bit of nouse and 1 or two friends to help out along the way. As a co-operative board game its quite good, as a dungeon crawler its not quite as cerebral as I'd hoped it would be.

Service 8 out of 10

Well the service I got for this particular little gem was from OG Games and I'd have to say I'm more than happy with their service. I ordered this boxed set along with Wrath of Ashardalon one evening and plumped for the free postage at second class delivery and it turned up two days later in a nice grey plastic bag wrapped in bubble wrap with corner protectors. Castle Ravenloft was fine and so too was Wrath of Ashardalon so no complaints and it all went smoothly.

Price 8 out of 10

I paid £44.99 form OG Games and I think that's a fair enough price for the game considering its RRP is £54.99. I have seen it slightly cheaper elsewhere but I trust OG Games and I know they deliver what they say they will so I'm more than happy to pay £1 or £2 more than some other places, plus OG do free delivery, whereas those other places don't.

Overall 7 out of 10

Its not bad. Its not what I was expecting and its not what I wanted. However that doesn't mean its bad. I mean after playing Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon I've actually decided to pre-order the third game in the range The Legend of Drizzt, which means they can't be too bad can they? True it isn't and never will be the in depth dungeon crawler I wanted. There isn't the leveling and there isn't the character generation, and I know for many people that will be a good thing, but for me I was hoping for a bit more of a free reign with this game. However it has kept me and my friends entertained and they do want to come back for more and its a nice diversion to Infinity and Dystopian Wars right now. Peace out!


  1. Good review. I felt much the same after playing this; once you've accepted that there's no character development or any real choices in the game, you realise it's just an enjoyable and entertaining little time killer!

    I've not played the game, but I hear Descent, plus one of the supplements would give you a lot more depth (campaign play, character levelling and skills etc.) The downsides are that it is an adversarial game and that you have to buy the original game and one of the expansions, about £90, to get the complete experience.

  2. I have also heard descent is a deeper game but it also can take a long time to play. I think penny arcade summed up Castle Ravenloft with it is like a quick game of dnd when you do not have the time to play dnd and do not want a campaign.

  3. Good read and it seems to gel with my own impressions of the game (haven't played it though). I would love to try the game, but I don't think it's anything I would buy myself.

    From what I can tell it seems like the game you're looking for is Descent. It's not entirely co-op like these but it has all the character customisation that Ravenloft lacks. Just playing the base game takes quite a bit of time.

    My recommendation is to get the Road to Legend campaign box as well. It has excellent campaign rules and you should get it just for that, but there are also lots of smaller scenarios (almost a hundred I think) that is shorter and can be knocked out in an hour or so. When you're playing the actual campaign each of these scenarios represent one level in a larger dungeon, but they can be played as standalones just fine.

    Thinking about it I would like to see a dungeon crawler using the character mechanics from World of Warcraft the boardgame paired with some kind of smart AI system (hopefully) like the upcoming Gears of War game.

  4. @Vladd309 yeah at first I was like 'well this isn't what I was after' and then after playing it awhile I thiought 'but it's not too bad you know!' It is a fun little game if you treat it as such and if you're playing people who actually know what they're doing you can actually whip through a game in an hour easily. So say for my gaming night sessions where we have 4 gamers, split my 8' by 4' board into two and get a couple of games in each we can probably squeeze in a D&D game right at the end before everyone heads their separate ways. So it certainly has a place in my gaming rituals I'd say.

    @eriochrome, I think that's be a fair summation. As I've said I actually think for me whereby I have a few gaming buddies with other half's who pop round this is a way of us involving our partners in our hobby and not having to sit through some chick flick. So you know, it gets a thumbs up from me for that alone.

    @Martin, glad you liked it mate. I've received my copy of Mansions of Madness and have given the rules quick once over and decided it looks quite fun, so cheers for the heads up on that one. I think the girls will probably enjoy that much more than D&D. Also I'm about to link that Blog in one of my Blogs going live today.

    I'd heard of Descent but don't really know too much about it so thanks for the heads up everybody. Anyone got any good links where I could read up on it? Cheers.

  5. I think boardgamegeek would be the best resource. They usually have plenty of images and video reviews.

  6. Yeah I've checked board game geek and I found a 6 part youtube guide to it by one of the guys at 'The Dice tower' this is the first one:

    very comprehensive, however I fear Jim might be unhinged. Worth looking at though if you want to know what its about. Definitely looks like the thing I'm after.

  7. A slightly more balanced view maybe of the game here:

    But by God that Michaela is annoying!!! Her voice is soooo whiny. So be warned, also not too sure she's the brightest crayola in the pack from some of her comments, what the hell is a 6 on 10? Is that some kind of orgy?

  8. While Descent has its pros and cons to my mind it's the classic-dungeon-crawler-experience-board game on the market today. Pretty much the natural evolution from Heroquest and Warhammer Quest (although that lacked a DM).

    There are other games with a similar theme out there of course. For example, while I think Claustrophobia is actually a better game it has a distinctly different feel to Descent even though they're both essentially dungeon crawlers.

    Hmm... I think I'm starting to repeat myself here. Haha! Well, check it out. I think you'll like it.

  9. Cheers Martin, I'd heard of Claustrophobia a few years back now, as I did Descent, but I never really looked at them because somehow I'd completely forgotten that board games could be cool too. It was only very recently that I remembered that I used to play a hell of a lot of board games!!! I got the D&D games over them for the following reasons:

    Descent - I honestly felt it'd be too complex and wasn't up for buying a board game that would last the best part of an evening or take a few months.

    Claustrophobia - It was sold out everywhere when I looked for it truth be told!!! lol. I wouldn't mind giving it a go if they ever re-print it or I can find a copy.

    Turns out though having played the D&D games that they are almost certainly far too simplistic to leep me occupied for long with some of my geekier friends, great for my slightly cooler friends who aren't aware of the fundamental differences between Dragons and Drakes... yeah that's how I choose to classify my friends... because I'm a geek and a nerd and proud of it!!!