Why Castle Ravenloft?

CastleRavenloft-ReviewWhy Castle Ravenloft?
It’s a question we never answered after years in the collection.  I take a little time to think, ponder, and review this board game from the Dungeons and Dragons franchise.

Why did I buy it?
A big fan of D&D role playing from the 1st edition generation, I wanted to get back into the genre.  Knowing that endless nights of dungeon mastering and map-making was out of reach in my adulthood, I turned to the next best thing.  With the Dungeons & Dragons nameplate, artwork, and an AI system, it looked promising giving at least a taste of yesteryear.

Describe the game, thematically
You’re one of five heroes, of D&D lore, exploring the castle dungeon of Count Strahd von Zarovich.  With many challenges to choose from, your party explores the twisted dungeon passageways while fighting off monsters and surviving one deadly encounter after another.   Between monsters, spirits, traps, and villains, we experience the excitement of Dungeons and Dragons!

Describe the game, mechanically
It’s an easy to understand, yet rigid system.  You move and fight monsters, explore new tiles, get hit with a random encounter, and monsters fight you.  You keep repeating watching your health dwindle hoping you’ll finish before its too late.

How close is it to the role playing game?
You’ll have to use your imagination, a lot, to get somewhere but nowhere near the feel of a human-led dungeon mastery.  There are preludes to read when you start and finish your adventure.  You get to roll a 20-sided die, and if lucky, level up once.  While there is randomness, you can anticipate the end.  The open-ended strategy is not to be found in a box of finite parts.  You and your heroes will invest too much time trying to weather the mechanics; choosing or not to explore versus surviving the next encounter card.

What’s the best part of the game?
What you have when opening the box is a tool set.  If you had the time and were so inclined, you could make your own adventure with the many tokens, pieces, and roundels.

The game scales well.  Most adventures are geared with 2 to 5 heroes, but a solo quest is available too.  The mechanics, as predictable as they are, works well with multiple players.

What’s the worst part of the game?
The rule book.  The overly terse book tried to save money on ink and paper and left many players confused.  However, with sequel’s FAQs, and forums on boardgamegeek.com, it’s not as bad.    There are number of issues that needed clarification or, at least, consensus.

That’s not what I meant.  What’s the worst part about playing the game?
For its first edition of D&D, the game is considered stingy with its treasure items.  There is little to cheer.  Furthermore, the encounter cards are brutal!  They can be divided into bad, worse, and catastrophic.  You’ll have to look hard to find a random encounter that doesn’t equate into pain.

Enough! Is it fun?
Yes, provided you have the imagination to make it so.  You have to get into the flavor text and put heart choosing your power cards.  Having fun with the few opportunities to customize your character, is essential.  Otherwise, its just turn after turn to see how fast you can be bruised.

Replay value?
High.  Considering there are four sets (at the time of this posting), and each differs from the prior, its nice to go back to the origin.   The heroes here have not the extraordinary powers later versions have.  It’s a simpler game without many of the experimental mechanics trying to add more variety.


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