12 Jan 2012

Castle Ravenloft Board Game

 With 42 plastic miniatures (conveniently made at 28mm scale), several sets of tokens, a set of interlocking dungeon tiles on which the game is played, four decks of cards to provide random encounters and events and a twenty-sided die, the Castle Ravenloft board game is an excellent way to introduce newcomers to role-playing games.

The most appealing thing about the game is that it is set in a well-known campaign, familiar to most old time Dungeons and Dragons fans - the fictional realm of Barovia, which is based on the Transylvania of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The main villain of the piece is the master of Castle Ravenloft, Count Strahd von Zarovich, a vampire who also appeared in the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons module, which was titled "Ravenloft". In fact, the setting became so popular that Ral Partha actually produced a Ravenloft line of miniatures, which even included a set of demi-human vampires (an elf, a dwarf and a halfling one), for use in the campaign setting. The Ravenloft setting remains popular, and even has a wiki dedicated to it.

The rules of the Castle Ravenloft game are fairly straightforward. New players will not have to spend hours understanding arcane concepts like Armour Class and Hit Points, because the game comes with five ready made player characters, each with its own corresponding miniature, with all the necessary values worked out and printed on an attractive Hero Card. You just have to unpack the game and PLAY.

Although there have been some negative comments posted about the game on the web, much of this seems to come from those who already play Dungeons and Dragons complaining about the game lacking depth and complexity. One opinionated reviewer, for example, complained that there was no "cohesive story". He also grumbled about the fact that the characters were not in a campaign setting, and had to restart at first level everytime a new game was played.

However, it is important not to judge this game as though it were yet another module for use by experienced role-players. The target demographic of the Castle Ravenloft game seems in fact to be younger kids, and those who have had no previous experience with role-playing games. It has therefore been designed to be accessible to anyone who is able to roll dice and has played some kind of board game before, and not to appeal to hardcore fantasy fans who expect a complex and bewildering array of encounters. It is not designed to be played in lieu of a Dungeons and Dragons module, but in place of a simple board game like Monopoly, by people who have only an hour or two to spare and who are not going to be obsessive about whether or not the treasure that they gain from killing a monster will be useful to their character in the next adventure.

The game may also appeal to more mature players who have played role-playing games before. Anyone who actually played the original Ravenloft module in the good old days (as opposed to those who may have simply read the Wikipedia page as research  prior to posting a video review) is bound to feel a twinge of nostalgia on coming across the Dungeon tile with the Crypts of Barov and Ravenovia, which may seem quite pointless to the uninitiated because it is not linked to any of the scenarios in the Board Game, but will be full of resonance for old-timers ("What do you mean there is nothing there? Its the lowest chamber in the bloody dungeon!").

One valid complaint about the game, however, is the limited choice of player characters. For example, if you want to play as a female character, you have to be human and can only be either a rogue or a ranger. This is, of course, unavoidable if you want to have pre-made characters that are ready for gameplay straight out of the box. However, it would be easy for the game manufacturer, Wizards of the Coast, to provide optional heroes for use with the game, so that a player who really wanted to play as a male elf ranger or a female human cleric, for example, could buy the relevant miniature and Hero Card in a separate optional pack.

The Castle Ravenloft game has been so successful (it won the Best Board Game Award for 2011 from the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design), that many players have come up with additions to the game, like this Minotaur warrior. Such additional heroes can be inserted into the game, although not everyone might want to go through the trouble of printing out the relevant cards and buying suitable miniatures to fit them. Many additional adventures have also been created by fans for use with the game. Some of these are available for download from the official Wizards of the Coast website. You can also download a campaign with three adventures, called "The Hunt for the Fiend" here, or from this post.

A 'reversion' of the game has also been created by one fan. This is essentially a set of rules that allow players to play Castle Ravenloft according to the 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons rules, and even to roll up their own player characters for use in the game. You can download this set of rules here.

Here is one very positive and enthusiastic review...

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