Aug 9, 2010

Gen Con Aftermath: Castle Ravenloft Board Game

Having been home from Gen now for two days (I had to cut my visit short as I had family obligations on Saturday), I thought I should jot down some of my experiences, and thoughts.

Originally I planned to draft a long post covering all the things I saw, played, and thought during the three days I was there (from early Wednesday through late Friday), but rather than one catch all post, I've decided to write up a number of short posts, all under the "Gen Con Aftermath" title, on various topics related to the convention. Up first was the first game I played at the con... the new Castle Ravenloft board game.

The first thing to note is that many of the game mechanics are based on the D&D 4th Edition game. Heroes are based on the races and classes from D&D--for the game, I played a Dragonborn Fighter, while the other players had similarly familiar races and classes. Each character had a stat card (on very thick card stock--the same as the dungeon tiles sets). On one side were stats as a first level character, on the back, stats for a 2nd level version. I started out at 1st level, but a mechanic in the game allowed me to advance to 2nd level during the session.

In addition, I had a number of ability cards to review and select at-will, utility, and daily powers. This is just one of the ways that the game is customized each time you play. Another way each game can be unique is that the box offers several different scenarios to play.

The box includes several scenarios, setup instructions for each, decks of cards for encounters and monsters, miniatures with molds reused from the D&D miniatures line (though these minis are unpainted and made with cheaper plastic), and cardboard tokens for hit points, items, and condition markers like slowed and immobilized.

In addition to all that, the game includes a stack of connecting tiles that represent the rooms and corridors of the castle. When a player token is about to walk off the known game board, a random tile is pulled from the pile and added to the board. This is another way that insures the game never plays the same twice, even if the same players go through the same scenario.

The random tiles also determine if random monsters, encounters, or other events occur when a new area is first explored. Thought the victory conditions are the same for each scenario, the route to get there, and what is encountered along the way, are unique with each game play.

For our scenario, we had to retrieve an item from the castle chapel and kill all the monsters in that room. There wasn't a boss monster in this one, unlike some of the other scenarios which features hags, werewolves, and even Count Strahd himself.

As we moved through the castle, we encountered creatures like rat swarms, zombies, and a kobold in one case. Combat played out like an abbreviated version of D&D combat--use one of your at-will, utility, or daily powers along with a d20 roll to hit. If you exceed the monster AC, it died (there were a few monsters that took two hits to kill). As players defeated monsters, they received treasure cards that could be anything from a potion, to a magical enhancement to a weapon--and treasures could be shared among the party for maximum effect.

For monsters attacking PCs, things were a bit different. Each card had a series of conditions; if X condition, then the monster would do Y (allowing the monsters to have basic behavior without the need for a DM). For example, if there was a player in the same tile, it would move to the closest one and attack. If the monster's attack roll hit, it would do hit point damage that the player would keep track of.

None of the encounters were so hard that any of the characters died, though we did have to use one of our two group healing surges to keep one player alive. The final encounter had the potential to be lethal, but the group was strong enough for everyone to survive.

Overall, I thought the game was very enjoyable, with a fast pace that would allow a few scenarios to be played during an evening around the table. I also think the D&D rules lite mechanics makes it easy for any current player to dive right in with little preparation. I think this would make a fine addition to any gaming bookshelf, a great thing to pull out one evening when the whole group can't get together. Lastly, since the minis and tiles are compatible with D&D minis, creative DMs could use this during a regular D&D game.