Monday, January 3, 2011

Castle Ravenloft: The Product

After hearing numerous good things, I finally got my hands on a copy of the Ravenloft board game in the wake of the holidays. It is, first and foremost. a very big box. It's the usual square 11x11 box, but it's about half again as deep as the ones I'm used to. And it needs to be. The box is absolutely packed to the gills with fun stuff.

To back this up a little, I have always been huge fan of adventure boardgames, the ones with just enough RPG trappings that play is all about fighting monsters, gaining treasure and such. A mostly blame Talisman for this - I cannot even begin to estimate how many hours of that game I played in my youth. It's not a great game - arguably it's not even a very good game - but it planted a seed. An *expectation* that boardgames might be able to deliver this kind of fun.

Better games eventually came down the pipe, especially the fantastic Buffy the Vampire Slayer board game and the classic Space Hulk. Some were great but just more work than I was ever willing to engage (Arkham Horror is the poster child for this). I missed a few - I never got to play the D&D board game that came out in the 3e era - and found some winners in strange places - the cardgame The Testimony of Jacob Hollow is a favorite. Most recently I've been impressed with the games from Flying Frog, creators of Last Night on Earth and A Touch of Evil.

Ravenloft lands solidly in this space, providing an interesting contrast with the Gamma World boxed set, which was released at nearly the same time. Where GW streamlines 4e play to the point of being pickup-play friendly, Castle Ravenloft streamlines 4e right out of the realm of RPGs and into boardgames, keeping just enough to keep it recognizable. Some might feel this is no great feat, considering that 4e is full of board game influences, but it's trickier than it looks. Knowing what to get rid of is always harder than knowing what to add.

Someone, Chris Hanrahan maybe, suggested that CR might be a better introduction to 4e than the red box, and the the truth of that becomes apparent as soon as you crack open the box. The minis are 4e minis. The map tiles beg to be used in a 4e adventure. Many of the tokens, even some of the cards, suggest easy repurposing. For all that WOTC may seem to be erratic in their search for a strategy for their games, they've really managed to get their hands around the idea of usefully synergistic content. Like Gamma World, Castle Ravenloft suggests fruitful ideas for 4e play (and 4e in turn makes the CR experience richer).

All this from just opening the box? Well, yes. It's interesting to me as a product as well as a game. But since most of you are curious to play the game, not the product, I'll get into my play experience a bit tomorrow.


  1. That "less than one hour play time" is key to its appeal and I wish more fantasy adventure games would follow suit. That's what tends to keep Talisman off the table.

    However, Ravenloft really is showing issues with long term replayability, which Talisman always has. It's not just the mission-approach that's limiting it, it's that most missions play the same until you hit the key tile, and even then. Plus with only the five character available, you see the same mix of talents without much new at the table.

  2. As Dave says, the real one hour play time is a huge win. I love Descent: Journeys in the Dark, but 6 or so hours is a huge block of time to arrange. (D:JitD claims 2-4 hours, which is still a big block of time and is also a huge lie.)

    The limited classes do call out for an expansion. I believe Wrath of Ashardalon will include different characters compatible with EtCR. The common card backs, with exceptions for racial abilities, suggests the ability to mix powers.

    I was struck by the way EtCR took 4e and made it even more abstract, but it still works and is fun. Things like monsters moving in "tiles," and the players have some freedom in monster placement. It slightly reduces the tactics, but pays off in speed.

  3. I pretty said the same thing: that between the release of the Castle Ravenloft board game and the Red Box Essentials for Dungeons & Dragons, the best introduction to Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition was this board game. Not a hard judgement to make though, as the original Starter Set for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition really was a thing of thick-headedness.


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