Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Castle Ravenloft

My randomizer must have known that Halloween is upon us, as the next random game from my collection to write about is Castle Ravenloft, released in 2010 by Wizards of the Coast, as the first game in their Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System, a series of board games loosely based on the 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons RPG rules.  These games are all cooperative, in that all of the players play as a team against the game.  The basic gist of this game is that the evil vampire, Count Strahd, lives in Castle Ravenloft and does generally bad things in the surrounding countryside.  The players all pick one of five characters that descend into the catacombs beneath Castle Ravenloft to accomplish some goal (determined by the scenario you play).

Each character has a number of abilities, and the player can customize these to some degree.  For example, the Rogue might get two "Daily" powers (i.e., you can use them once per game), but there are three to choose from, so you can pick the ones that you like best, or that you think best mesh with the powers of the characters chosen by the other players.  So even before the game starts, the players should be cooperating with each other to pick the best set of powers.  Or you can just pick something randomly, whatever floats your boat.

Once the characters are ready, you place your character figures on the starting tile and move through the catacombs.  The catacombs are generally randomly placed from the stack of "dungeon tiles" available for the scenario.  when a character is one the edge of an active tile, she can "explore" into the next tile, which means that the player draws the top tile from the stack and places it on the edge his character figure is next to.  Placing a new tile also means that you draw a monster card, and place its figure on the new tile.

Monsters are handled pretty well in this game.  Whoever drew the monster card keeps it in front of them, and on their turn it activates.  The monster card tells you what the monster does, using a brief decision tree format.  For example, if might say "IF a player character is within 1 tile, move next to the closest character and making a SWING attack."  The "SWING" attack would then be described at the bottom of the card.  Thus, no player needs to play as the monsters, as the monster cards instruct each player how to activate them on their turn.

You also will often draw an Encounter card each turn, which usually means some random bad thing will happen.  These can be quite random and nonsensical, but it increases the danger and provides a mechanical reason to not sit back and patiently kill each monster before exploring new tiles.  While new monsters are usually only place when a new tile is placed, you are usually drawing an encounter card each turn (and sometimes encounter cards place new monsters), so even if monsters aren't actively killing you the dungeon itself is trying to do so, so don't waste time.

The mechanic that I like best about this game is the way that healing surges (which let you keep a character from dying) and experience points (gained by killing monsters) are held in a common pool that all players use.  The game is lost by the players if ANY character is at zero hit points and there are no healing surges left, so the players really need to help each other out and kill monsters ASAP to keep people from getting whacked.  If any character is at zero hit points at the start of their turn, they have to use a healing surge to get some hit points back.  If there aren't any healing surges left, everybody loses immediately.  And with experience, you can spend them to "level up" your character using a wonky mechanic that I don't like, or you can spend them to negate an encounter card that you just drew.  You never have enough experience to negate everything, though, so there is good interplay between the players as to whether or not a specific encounter should be negated through the expenditure of experience points, or if they should let it happen.

The game comes with thirteen scenarios, and more are available online.  Add this to the variety of character types and available power cards, and this game has a lot of re-playability.  I really enjoyed my games of Castle Ravenloft so far, and I'm sure it will see more time on the table.

No comments: