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Tony Graham
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Review: Ravingspire by Vorpal Chainsword Games

While scrolling through Facebook back in April of this year I stumbled upon a post from CMON that was promoting their latest game on KickStarter called Masmorra. Up until that point I never knew there were board games on KickStarter, let alone board games where you get a crazy amount of extras and exclusives for helping them fund the game. Needless to say, I was hooked…more like addicted. I pledged for Masmorra then I late pledged for Arcadia Quest: Inferno, I will talk about those experiences in another blog in case you are not familiar with my displeasure with those experiences. Then I spent hours drooling over which game to back next. This is when I came across a unique dungeon crawler called Ravingspire. I love dungeon crawlers so I was in heaven scrolling through all the game videos and content. What pulled me in was this guy, Cory, who was so excited to bring you his game. A unique game that is part board game, part puzzle, part deck builder, part RPG, and all kinds of fun!

My KickStarter excitement slowly faded away as delay after delay pushed Arcadia Quest: Inferno well into next year. I was bummed. Here I had backed several games and at this point I’m starting to realize the downside of KickStarter...delays. Massive delays! My 4th game backed, Ultra Tiny Epic Kingdoms, announced a two month delay. Ugh! I feel like I am never going to get my games! Through all these delays though Vorpal Chainsword Games kept releasing positive updates about Ravingspire. Pictures of expansion cards which were never promised to be ready for the launch but ended up arriving in every KickStarter game, plus production updates kept backers in the loop. Through these constant updates Cory assured us backers that delivery was still on schedule. The estimated delivery date was October, and on October 8th Ravingspire was delivered to my door! I was in awe. My first KickStarter game ever! My faith in humanity, well Kickstarter, restored! Could it be that there are still designers and publishers out there that truly care about their backers? I was nervous opening up the package. I had high expectations for Ravingspire and I didn’t want to be let down. I can honestly say the game exceeded my expectations! It was beautiful! There in the box was this beautiful looking wood book. The game box is actually made of wood and designed to look like an ancient tome. I didn’t know a board game box could be such a beautiful work of art. The components were high quality too with amazing detail and art. The battle mats are awesome. There it is, Ravingspire. Now it is time to play!

Game Play

The insert for Ravingspire is well done and designed to make setup very quick and easy. You pull out the game board, select your character and corresponding battle mat, and retrieve the foe battle mat. All the different cards; tower, encounter, loot, and starter, have their own area in the insert so creating the initial decks takes very little effort. You create an encounter deck, loot deck, tower deck, and starter deck for your character, then shuffle the foe cards and place them on the foe mat. You are now ready to play Ravingspire! It takes about 15minutes from the time you open that sweet box lid until you are wandering the tower. I guarantee five minutes of that time will be deciding on what character to use. Each character has unique abilities, battle mats, and starter decks.

Each level has room for five encounter cards. On your turn, you draw an encounter card and either try to acquire the card just drawn or another card on the encounter ring. If you can’t acquire any of the cards then you lose sanity. Sanity is the life of each character. Each character starts with ten sanity points. Madness is tracked as a group. Madness starts as the number of players plus two. Each time a player’s sanity drops to zero the madness track drops by one. When the madness track reaches zero the game is over and all the characters have gone mad. Adversaries must be dealt with accordingly when encountered in the encounter deck. Players will lose sanity if any adversaries are in the encounter ring at the end of the round.

The player rolls for movement, draws and deals with an encounter card and then has a chance to rotate the board. Rotating the board and aligning the steps with the doors is how the players advance to the next level. The goal is to reach the locked door on the spire, which is the top level, but to open the door you will need a key. How do you obtain a key? You defeat a foe. Foes are powerful enemies who are out to stop you from escaping the tower. They are brought to the board through chaos cards in the encounter deck. You must acquire better cards than what is in the starter deck to defeat a foe. Defeating a foe is a dangerous task but the rewards are necessary to defeat the final boss. Defeating a foe not only gets you a spire key but allows you to gain valuable loot from the loot deck. Acquiring new cards is not the only way to strengthen your deck. You can use the “well of souls” to banish weak cards in your hand. You need a card equaling 1 skill, 1 charm, or 1 fight or a total value of 5 to banish a card. A strategic combination of gaining strong cards and banishing weak cards is the key to success at Ravingspire.

Once a player has made it to the locked spire door with a key, and a strong hand, he is ready to battle the final boss. A sealed spire card is selected and revealed. Hopefully a combination of skill and luck will allow a victory. If not, well, better luck next time!

Acquiring item cards and defeating foes is done through a battle matrix. A battle matrix consists of a skill value, charm value, fight value, and a brute force value. This is a unique system, and I love it. If a card in the encounter ring has a fight value of 4 and a charm of 5 then you must use the cards in your hand and/or what is slotted on your battle mat to equal or exceed those values to acquire the card. The value and associated matrix icon is located in the upper right hand corner of the card. Battling adversaries and foes uses the same battle matrix logic. If a foe has 11 skill and 4 fight then you need to equal or exceed both of those values to defeat the foe. Foes can’t be beat with brute force making them very dangerous to encounter. Encounter cards have brute force values which allow the player to use any of the matrix types to win. If a player encounters a card with 2 fight, 2 charm, 4 skill, and a brute force of 12 but doesn’t have enough fight to acquire it he can use the brute force value. He will play 1 fight card, a 3 charm card, a 2-charm card, and a 2 skill card from his hand and a slotted loot card with a value of 4. Loot cards have a gold number and no associated matrix icon signifying they can be used as any of the matrix. All the cards used are placed in the discard pile.

Final Thoughts


I’ll be honest, I love dungeon crawlers. I really love dungeon crawlers, especially ones which don’t require a ton of time to setup, don’t have a million extra tokens to keep track of, don’t require a PHD to learn and explain, and don’t have so many rules that you are constantly flipping through the rule book. Ravingsire is all that and more! I will say, the rule book isn’t the best and leaves a lot of unanswered questions. However, the videos on www.vorpalchainswordgames.com are amazing, and are a must view before playing the game. Watch the videos first! Trust me, watch the videos and have the rulebook by your side for the first play through and all will be smooth. In case you didn’t catch that, watch the videos first!

Ravingspire holds a place in my heart since it was my first fulfilled KickStarter game. Cory ran an amazing campaign, and he was in constant communication. I always knew the status of this game and I never went more than a few weeks without an update. He delivered all four expansions packs with the game which was something he wasn’t sure he could do during the campaign. If there was an issue he addressed it immediately. I can’t emphasize enough how awesome Vorpal Chainsword Games ran this campaign.

I would label Ravingspire as a medium/light dungeon crawler with the focus being on the deck building mechanic. The battle matrix is a fantastic concept. You can’t focus on just one or two of the matrix types and expect to succeed unless you select a character that has an ability to let you use one type for another. The game sets up fast and plays under an hour for solo and under an hour and a half for 2 to 3 players. The replay-ability is huge on this one. The encounter deck has so many cards that you only use about half each game. There are nine characters to choose form and plenty of foes to keep games fresh. The deluxe edition was shipped with four expansions that included more characters, foes, and encounter cards. Three of the expansions add new settings such as steampunk, Wild West, and a Goblin Queen story. For those of you buying retail you will be getting some expansions in the future. The rotating game board is a nice touch and keeps the board game aspect of Ravingspire in touch with the theme. You will go mad trying to get the die rolls you need to align the stairs and the doors.

I would easily say this is my current favorite dungeon crawler. I love the game. Using the battle matrix to build your deck is fun and challenging. The characters and the foes are unique and all have different abilities. The boards and battle mats don’t require a lot of room. A small kitchen table will work fine. Ravingspire sets up quickly and doesn’t have any fiddly components. I highly recommend this game!

Tony’s Pros and Cons


Pros: Quick setup and teardown. Unique rotating game board. Unique battle Matrix for acquiring cards and battling foes. Awesome game box! Battle Mat lets you save cards. Everything has a place and is well marked. Great fantasy art. Fun! Fun! Fun!

Cons: Foe and character cards have inconstant art. Rulebook is not very good at explaining everything needed to play the game.

Tony’s Epic Scale:3(Lots and Lots of cards!)

*Epic Scale is on a scale of 1 to 5 and is a combination of number of components and complexity of rules)*

VALUE: 9
– KickStarter edition was a bargain!

ART: 8 – I love the encounter cards, battle mats, and box, but character cards are a little weak.

SETUP/TEARDOWN: 8
– Fastest of all my dungeon crawlers.

RE-PLAYABILTY: 9 – This came close to being my first ever 10! Probably a 9.5. I may have to introduce decimal scoring after this one.

FUN-FACTOR : 9
– I can’t stop playing it but I may still be in the honeymoon phase.

OVERALL: 8.6

For pictures of Ravingspire and other reviews:

http://firsttimethrough.weebly.com
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Dave Horn
United States
Coeur d Alene
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Good review. Thanks for posting!

I've played a single solitaire game and I share many of your thoughts.

Its funny you mention the inconsistent art. I assume you are talking about the kickstarter exclusives primarily... or maybe totally... It might be worth mentioning that if you are. For whatever reason, they various mini expansion packs that come with the kickstarter edition each have a theme which is cool, but the art was totally changed to go with that theme. I don't like that either, but its just a minor grip for me in what is otherwise a fine game.

If I had any other gripe it may be I found my one and only game so far a tad easy. I like my solitaire games to kick my butt quite a few times before I win. Maybe I got lucky, maybe I randomly picked a strong hero, maybe I played something wrong... who knows at this point. Take it for what its worth, which isn't much at this point. Having said that, my hero did go mad once. So I can easily adjust the difficulty by saying madness = instant loss. Or adjust the number of times the hero can go mad before losing the game. So the difficulty can easily be adjusted if I find it necessary. My hero (forgot name) got a free reroll per turn, that went a LONG ways to helping get the tiers aligned so I could fight my way up to the spire.

I think your final thoughts are spot on though as far as describing the game. Not my favorite dungeon crawler, but I like how fast and easy it is to set up and and tear down and I like the unique mechanics it offers. And I love the huge number of encounter cards and the variety they offer! The pretty much is where all the set up time is... properly shuffling 250ish small size cards. That is pretty much it and you are playing the game.


 
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Tony Graham
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Thank you for the comment! Yes, I was talking about the difference in art the expansion heroes had. They went from almost a drawing to a real picture. You are correct, each expansion pack does a great job capturing the theme though. Not too shabby of a game when I have to get picky to find cons.
I also experienced the same situation on my first solo game. I made it through the whole game with only losing one sanity. I now always play, including multiplayer, with the tower already awake including chaos cards which makes it a much more difficult game. After about 6 solo games I am finding the differences in the heroes abilities really changes the dynamics of the game. Some provide an easier solo experience than others and each one plays slightly different.

 
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Jonathan Franklin
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Seattle
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How similar is the luck level to a game like Talisman? Does the system give you a sense of control, or is it more an experience/wild ride?
 
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Tony Graham
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I think the there is less luck in Ravingspire. The key to Ravingspire is building a deck that compliments your character. I make sure to use the well of souls to banish my weak cards and this can be critical in the early rounds. There is no rolling dice for combat so it truly relies on how well you build a deck. Now, a character heavy in charm that faces a foe or Spire card that is heavily Fight can be downer. However, there are ways to turn certain abilities into other abilities so the main factor for success is your deck building skills. Granted, there is still some luck in drawing your cards. I like Talisman but I feel more control in Ravingspire.
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kos blaat
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so, what is your fav dungeon crawler?
 
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kos blaat
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I loved your story about the delays and excitement over KS, totally can identify with that!

But now on topic:
I appreciate that you like the stuff you got, but I'm not 100% sold by your review.

From what I saw on the vids a single die was used, that is a uniformly distributed value generator of 1 up until 6. Throw a 1 and you lose 1 sanity. This is what I call luck based. I tend to avoid dice games, a good game needs no die.

The vids by the maker gave a very convoluted, confusing, non-intuitive feel of the game. The decision to allow only one enemy seemed to me shallow.

In games like shadowrift you have villagers to hire and protect. In games like shadowscape and andor you have monsters with their own AI. Here: just move 1 space. How is that fun?
 
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Tony Graham
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the die is only used to determine sanity loss. The entire combat is resolved with zero die. It is based off of how good of a hand you have acquired. If you are a good deck builder then you have minimized any luck. No chucking dice and comparing totals with modifiers.

The fun is trying to align the different levels so you can continue up the spire before losing too much sanity. You dont move just one space. You roll for your movement. So while you are trying like heck to align the passages you also have to keep your level clear of any enemies that turn up. You can only have one foe but your level can be filled with many weaker enemy cards (adversary cards)from the encounter deck. Trying to deal with a foe while clearing your level of adversary cards can get tricky. Remember, for every adversary card remaining at the end you the turn you lose sanity. So you have to make room for the new encounter card and that is where so tough choices can come into play. Do you try and take an encounter card that can really boost your deck or deal with an adversary so you dont lose sanity. Add chaos cards and a foe and all of the sudden there is a lot to deal with.

If your not deck builder fan then this is probably not for you. As far as my family goes we love this much better than talisman because we feel more in control of our fate.

As far as my favorite dungeon crawler, this is up there on my list because of the unique style. After playing Dark Souls at Gen Con I would have to say that is my top. I cant wait for March/April when we will finally get it to the table. Out of my current selection WarHammer Quest ACG is my top crawler. And yes, I am currently backing Shadowscape. It looks good but I question the replay-ability based off the low number of items and enemies currently offered.
 
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kos blaat
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thanks, well put. I'll consider it.
 
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