Thursday, 23 December 2010

Gaming Reviews

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft
Board Game
Wizards of the Coast

Available Now - £79.99
Review by Brad Harmer

The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner – and you are invited! Evil lurks in the towers and dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and only heroes of exceptional bravery can survive the horrors within.

Castle Ravenloft was much anticipated and much hyped – the first straight board game that Wizards of the Coast had released in many a long year. So, how does it feel?

The miniatures are soft plastic, but still look great, and are full of detail. The cards and board sections are also fantastic. The board is actually on giant jigsaw pieces, which are turned face up as you explore the dungeon. This means that the levels are different every time you play, which obviously helps tremendously with the replay value.

If you’ve been playing games for a really long time, then you’re probably going to have a easier time adjusting to Castle Ravenloft than someone who is a relatively newcomer. This isn’t anything to do with the complexity, you understand. At its base level, Castle Ravenloft is a doddle. Bar the usual couple of gaffs in your first game, you’ll be playing all the way through without referencing the rulebook by your third game.

It is its tone that makes Castle Ravenloft feel decidedly “retro”. If you remember games that were dungeon exploring and monster slaying purely for the sake of dungeon exploring and monster slaying, then this is going to feel like a real “blast from the past”, but with awesome components. If, however, your only experiences are with more recent releases, then you may find this a bit much. Again, this isn't the complexity; it’s more that the feel of the game is given over much more to the sort of monster bashing that was popular in the mid-eighties to mid-nineties. There’s no respawning, there’s no awesome powers to save you: it’s like you’re in a fourteen year old’s dungeon again. And it is awesome.

To top all this off – it’s fully co-op. No one needs to be the GM/Morcar/Overlord character. The AI is controlled by the monster/trap cards themselves with a simple but realistic acting flowchart that determines how the denizens of Count Strahd’s dungeon are going to act. The AI is fantastic (certainly the best I’ve seen in a board game this side of Arkham Horror), and feels like a real old-school RPG.

So, how does this hold up against Fantasy’s Flight Games’ Descent, the current King of the Dungeon Crawl? Well, it hasn’t toppled the King, but it’s certainly a great alternative. With its rapid set up time, zero preparation and no GM, Castle Ravenloft is a great mid-week alternative to FFG’s monster. If you can only have one, get Descent. If you think you can find room in your life for both...then you won’t be disappointed. 8/10

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