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Subject: Comparison to Claustrophobia rss

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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Bias and ground rules
Many people say they want unbiased reviews, but I find unbiased reviews largely useless, typically containing nothing but component listings and rules summaries. Don't look to me for one of those. I understand the difference between fact and opinion, and assume readers do as well. This review has both, and I acknowledge that, despite the lack of "IMHO" in every second line. Finally, I'm no fan of the recently ubiquitous "be gentle" pleas preceding reviews. This isn't my first rodeo, and I can take it.

Why compare Ravenloft with Claustrophobia?
Despite fundamental differences, the two games have a great deal in common. Both have fantasy themes and play in an hour or less. Both involve adventurers who explore by drawing tiles from a stack and revealing them. Both have monsters and traps which may prove fatal to the adventurers, and the adventurers in both games can receive various items, spells and abilities to help them along the way. The first scenarios of the two games are nearly identical, with victory achieved via an exit tile which can only be reached after exploring 10 previous tiles. But enough about similarities, I want to focus on the differences.

Who's in charge here?
The biggest difference in the two games is that the Monsters are automatically controlled via AI decision trees in Castle Ravenloft, while in Claustrophobia they are controlled by one of the players. This in turn leads to the other key difference: Ravenloft is cooperative, while Claustrophobia is competitive.

I have no issues with cooperative games, but have less fun with stupid opponents than with clever ones, and the monsters in Ravenloft are monumentally stupid. The AI works as designed, I don't deny that, and the monsters can certainly kill you, but the rules allow you as a player to choose the details of how the monsters move. It follows that the cornerstone of tactical play in Castle Ravenloft is figuring out how to place monsters in the absolute worst tactical position, from the monster's point of view, and I find that somewhat unsatisfying.

Claustrophobia monsters, in contrast, are directed by a human brain, with all the cleverness and malevolent cunning that implies. When playing highly themed games, the ease with which you can suspend disbelief and embrace your role is crucial. That's easy for me in Claustrophobia, because I'm concerned with how my characters can fend off the fiendishly clever moves of my opponent's monsters. Immersion in my own character's role is more difficult in Ravenloft, because it's usually obvious that I should just push him to corners, so I'm not focused on him. In sum, with Claustrophobia I'm playing more within my character, while in Ravenloft, I'm thinking more about moving monsters poorly than moving my own adventurer wisely.

How do you want to play?
1) Solo
Each side has cards that are not revealed until played in Claustrophobia, and that will make solo play difficult for some. As an old wargamer, that isn't an issue for me, and I find that Claustrophobia works well solo. But I know many are happier with formal solo rules, and for them, Castle Ravenloft will serve best, as a split personality is not required.

2) 2-player
I play mostly head-to-head, and Claustrophobia shines there. Not only is play more immersive from the Human side of the table than in Ravenloft, but playing the Monsters is also a blast, and a totally different experience. This adds immensely to the replay value of the game, because the problems presented and choices available differ so dramatically from opposite sides of the table. Castle Ravenloft wasn't designed to be a competitive game, but does provide 2-player cooperative play for those who seek that.

3) Multi-player
If you're looking for a game that handles 3-5 players, Ravenloft is the answer. It is designed for that, and Claustrophobia is not.

How about the figures?
Castle Ravenloft has 42 figures cast in 21 molds, compared to 17 figures in 5 molds for Claustrophobia, so Ravenloft wins that comparison by a wide margin. However, as with other aspects of these two games, there is a quantity vs. quality aspect. The Claustrophobia figures are beautifully painted. If you want to paint your own figures, that's a non-issue, but for folks like me, it's great to get such gorgeous figures right out of the box.



Tiles
The numbers are much closer for tiles. Ravenloft has 40 single square tiles and 1 double square 'start' tile, so 42 squares of coverage all told. Claustrophobia has 36. The Claustrophobia tiles are much larger, which has led to discussions about whether they are too large. I've played many times on a 28 inch wide table, and never had a problem, although we have come close, and either rotated our dungeon or overlapped a couple of tiles in an out of the way area. The large tiles are beautiful, and provide plenty of room for figures as melees develop.

In this illustration, I've stacked 4 Ravenloft tiles on top of 4 Claustrophobia tiles to illustrate the difference in size:



The Ravenloft tiles have interlocking edges, with a grid imposed to support a clever design idea whereby the adventurers move square to square and the monsters move tile to tile. While I say the idea is clever, I don't feel it is exploited with much success. In practice, adventurers pretty much move to corners, and monsters get stuck in adjacent squares on the 'wrong' tile. I had high hopes that the square vs. tile movement would pay off in play value, but that isn't the case.

The tiles for Claustrophobia have more vibrant colors, and unlike the Ravenloft tiles, differ in meaningful ways. Most Ravenloft scenarios have a special rule for the end tile, but the other tiles, even the named ones, simply produce one monster when revealed. Exploring soon begins to feel like just one tile after another. In Claustrophobia, there is more excitement as each tile is revealed: turning up the Lair or a Demonic Mechanism might spell disaster, while a rare Stash could save the day. Less than half of the Claustrophobia tiles are simply tiles, and that adds drama. Another difference is that Castle Ravenloft tiles each have one and only one way they will be placed when revealed, while one of the players (usually the Demon player) gets to choose the orientation as Claustrophobia tiles are revealed. Again, this adds drama, with dead ends and connections having a crucial impact on the tactical situation.

Bottom line, the size, the grids, the interlocking and the graphics are all small potatoes. The big thing, for me at least, is that when you actually play, the tiles in Claustrophobia add more excitement to the game.

Other Components
Castle Ravenloft has more cards and more cardboard counters. If you're looking for more stuff in the box, it wins hands down. As with the other elements, what Claustrophobia does provide is of very high quality. The adventurers in both games have cardboard displays showing their abilities and status, but the ones in Claustrophobia come with plastic frames with holes for pegs and action dice; very nice. The adventurer cards in Ravenloft are less striking, but very nice markers are provided to track wounds and movement status on them.
The Claustrophobia cards have excellent full color illustrations, while most of the Ravenloft cards lack images (the ones that do have images are done in a single color).



Scenarios
Ravenloft comes with 13 scenarios; Claustrophobia comes with 6. There are already numerous Claustrophobia scenarios up at the publisher's web site, and I'm sure the same will soon be true for Castle Ravenloft, if it is not already. The Claustrophobia scenarios feel to me like they have more play, because playing the humans and playing the monsters provide entirely different experiences, whereas in Ravenloft you do essentially the same thing but with different characters. The greater variance of the Claustrophobia tiles also tends to generate a wider range of problems to face when repeating scenarios. When I got Claustrophobia, I played the first scenario six times before trying the second. I can't imagine doing that with the first Ravenloft scenario. In truth, this shouldn't be an area that drives anyone's decision. Scenarios are a plus factor for both games.

Conclusion
I think Castle Ravenloft is a good game. The box is jam packed with components, and if you're looking for multi-player play, or cooperative play, it's the one to get. You may also prefer it for solo play, but that will vary from player to player. It's main drawbacks are that it can quickly feel repetitive, and that your major tactical gambit will be to make the monsters move poorly. I'm not sorry I bought it, and will play it happily in the right circumstances.

I think Claustrophobia is a great game, one of the very best published in the last couple of years in any genre. The components are of superior quality, and greatly enhance the experience. It has unusually high replay value, and benefits by remarkably good online support from its designer. I'll suggest it often, and never turn down a chance to play it.

They have a lot in common, but fill different play requirements, so won't compete for play time at my house. I'm fortunate to have a large collection, and am happy to own both. For those who feel they must choose one or the other, I hope I've provided sufficient info to help you choose wisely.
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Joe Reil
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Nice review. I'm still very on the fence on Ravenloft, having determined that it's become a case where I need to try it out before I decide whether to buy it or not, but you may have sold me on Claustrophobia.
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Mike Clarke
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Great review (and despite your disclaimer it IS wonderfully balanced). This is not the first time I've heard Claustrophobia mentioned here. I have Castle Ravenloft but I'll have to check out the other!

Thanks!!
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D6Frog wrote:
They really don't play alike at all. Frankly, their themes are nothing alike either.

Now Claustraphobia vs Space Hulk is a better comparison. And Space Hulk absolutely obliterates Claustrophobia!
We all have our opinions. I don't have one yet for Space Hulk, because I won't play it until I finish painting, and can't find the time. I've heard people say they like Claustrophobia better, though, because it's faster, and because it's boring to play the baddies in Space Hulk.
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Mark Bigney
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Sphere wrote:
D6Frog wrote:
They really don't play alike at all. Frankly, their themes are nothing alike either.

Now Claustraphobia vs Space Hulk is a better comparison. And Space Hulk absolutely obliterates Claustrophobia!
We all have our opinions. I don't have one yet for Space Hulk, because I won't play it until I finish painting, and can't find the time. I've heard people say they like Claustrophobia better, though, because it's faster, and because it's boring to play the baddies in Space Hulk.

Yah, that'd be me. What Sphere said.
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Playing the genestealer side in space hulk is only boring if you forget to engage your brain. With a little thought (or some beatdowns by a good stealer player) the range of tactics available for the stealer become apparent. There is also the need to predict (and try to guide) the marine players movement to expose his squad members and break down the marine players defensive formation. Finally, the decision to commit forces is always interesting for the stealer player - too soon and your forces will be destroyed, too late and the marine object may be too close to stop them winning, trickle your forces in to keep the pressure and you might never build up the force needed to crush the marines.

I can't compare space hulk with claustrophobia as I have only played hulk but I do feel comfortable saying that the "stealers are boring" idea I sometimes see on this board is inaccurate (or more a reflection of player taste than game mechanics).
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Sphere wrote:

Finally, I'm no fan of the recently ubiquitous "be gentle" pleas preceding reviews. This isn't my first rodeo, and I can take it.

You dirt-eating piece of slime! You scum-sucking pig! You son of a motherless goat!

...

But seriously, this is a great review. And your review/session of Claustrophobia was one of the best I've ever read.

I think I'm going to go pick up Claustrophobia now...
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D6Frog wrote:
Remember, this guy says he never played Space Hulk. Thus he does not know anything about playing Genestealers. I wonder if he ever played a dungeoncrawler? If he did, he sure would not compare Claustrophobia to them!
"The guy" is in the room, remember? I wrote a paragraph titled "Why compare Ravenloft with Claustrophobia?" at the outset. If you have a problem with that, why not address it directly? This thread would be a good place to discuss those two games.
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Stig Morten
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Well written comparison, Sphere.

Nicely sums up your opinion on both games.

I have only played Claustrophobia and can echo Sphere's feelings. A great game.

Stig Morten

PS: Why are there no horses at this rodeo?
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D6Frog wrote:
Do you really feel they are similar enough to compare them? (gameplay).
If I didn't, would I have taken the time to write the review?

D6Frog wrote:
I think Claustrophobia is a good game. I just don't think it is anything like Ravenloft.
So you've played Claustrophobia as the humans? You've explored tiles, moved through them, seen Trogs and the Demons come on board, fought your way through them to the exit? And you don't think it's anything like Ravenloft?

I can't see how that's possible. I understand that there are fundamental differences in how the games play, and I took pains to make that clear in the review. If you've read it and still have no idea what I'm talking about, I guess we've reached an impasse.
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Personally, if only for the relative short window of time during which I played both of these games, Claustrophobia and Castle Ravenloft seemed like the most natural comparison I could think of from a point of, "I have some money and want an in-print fantasy dungeon crawler that plays in an hour or less. Which game do I buy?"

Castle Ravenloft and Claustrophobia are both recent releases still in print and their price tags are in the same neighborhood.

Castle Ravenloft and Claustrophobia have different specific themes, but similar general themes. They're both undeniably fantasy games with an attempted dash of what one might call "horror."

Castle Ravenloft and Claustrophobia are both dungeon-crawlers, albeit with distinguishing implementations and mechanics.

Castle Ravenloft and Claustrophobia both play in about the same period of time, 45 minutes to an hour, and have about the same overhead regarding learning and mastering the rules, setting up and playing.

Again, this was the first comparison I thought of for all of these reasons. Honestly though, you could pair any two games you wanted in a comparative review and it would be valid. This one is just exceptionally so, and I thought it was very well done.

Good work, Sphere, I like and have a use for both games, but I think your observations are spot-on.

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Nice review. I've been considering Claustrophobia for a while, but undecided on the theme (theme is HUGE for me). If it's more like the Diablo type game theme, it's one that I'd really like I think...but if it's like the theme of Hellraiser or Dante's Inferno or even Painkiller, I think I might pass (as I'd never get some of the players to play it!, especially the most important one my wife!).

It sounds like fun though.
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ad79 wrote:
Why are there no horses at this rodeo?
Low budget, but we do have a little bull.
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Sphere wrote:
I don't have one yet for Space Hulk, because I won't play it until I finish painting, and can't find the time.
You make me want to drive down to Corvallis!

Space Hulk is an amazing game, although there is something about it that makes it hard for me to get it to the table. I'm not sure I think it has fantastic replay value. The tension and atmosphere feels perfect in this game, but it definitely feels the same every game.

I have recently ordered Claustrophobia and am anxiously awaiting its arrival in 4 days.
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Thanks for the review Sphere! Nicely written! thumbsup

One of our local gamers asked me about this very game the other day and I had no background on it. It's now on my want list.

meeple
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You do love Claustrophobia, dontcha?

I think the comparison is good. Obviously there are a lot of differences, but it does seem that being the human player in Claustrophobia can be considered very similar to being a hero in CR.

A few things that I think are interesting:

Claustrophobia uses movement by tile, but it seems like a much better implementation to me than the tile system in CR. This is probably down to having no squares drawn on the tiles. When everything moves by tile, it makes more sense; when some things move by tile and some move by square, it can start to feel slightly... Odd. Also, by removing squares, figures are never considered to be on a specific "part" of a tile, and therefore line of sight rules aren't necessary, and it doesn't seem off if your miniature can shoot around a corner (you can just move him so he isn't behind that corner, because position on the tile is irrelevant).

The tiles in Claustrophobia are also designed in a much better way - they can never be diagonally adjacent (corridors don't link up that way) so you don't have to consider diagonal adjacency, and they are drawn in such a way that all corridors have a proper ending - they don't just suddenly end in a weird jigsaw squiggle.

In CR, the game piles on pressure by constantly injuring you. This is the encouragement to keep moving. Even when things miss, they can still hurt you. The health bar is like a doom clock. In Claustrophobia, you are not constantly being drained of hit points, but every injury you take is significant as it reduces your available options for the following turn. Dwindling options encourage you to move fast in the same way CR's perpetual HP loss does, but in Claustrophobia the system seems a much more thematic implementation of injury.

Finally, both games handle exploration in a similar manner: you draw from a single stack. In CR, it doesn't seem to matter which way you decide to explore, there is one stack and you draw from it until you reach the tile you want; however in Claustrophobia, despite the same single stack system being used, the direction in which you move in the caves seems much more important.

In the first mission, a dice is used to indicate the direction your team is travelling. Once you have commited to a direction, you have to keep going that way and no amount of exploring in other directions will help you get to the exit tile. If you find a dead end on your route, you are in real trouble because you have to backtrack to a different tunnel before you can start heading towards that exit tile again. Even in later missions, where the dice isn't used, a dead end appearing at the wrong time, or the demon player making the caves loop around on themselves, can spell disaster.

There is a really important power in the game that allows you to rearrange the cards at the top of the stack, and it really is the most important power you can have most of the time.

Of course, as Sphere states, most tiles also do something interesting, so there is a real moment of tension every time a tile is revealed. Exploring really feels like it matters in Claustrophobia.

Think that's about all I have to say about that.

Good comparison review.

Cheers.
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
In CR, the game piles on pressure by constantly injuring you. This is the encouragement to keep moving. Even when things miss, they can still hurt you. The health bar is like a doom clock. In Claustrophobia, you are not constantly being drained of hit points, but every injury you take is significant as it reduces your available options for the following turn. Dwindling options encourage you to move fast in the same way CR's perpetual HP loss does, but in Claustrophobia the system seems a much more thematic implementation of injury.
Good comparison, RMB. I'd say the main reason I feel pressured to move quickly as the humans in Claustrophobia is that the longer it takes, the more die rolls the demons will get on the Board of Destiny. No matter how those are used (Threat Points, Event Cards, Abilities) they are going to hurt. The way the humans start strong and get beaten down, while the demons start weak and gain strength, results in a great dynamic.
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Tor Sverre Lund
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Just need to put the final touches on my Agricola vs Castle Ravenloft review ...
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Gawain wrote:
Just need to put the final touches on my Agricola vs Castle Ravenloft review ...
[Harvest/Encounter] is coming; must [make food/explore]!
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Thanks for the review Sphere. I must have read 4-6 reviews on CR in the past and they helped take me from a 'must buy' purchase to an undecided decision. But your review has definitely put CR back to the 'try before I buy' position.

I think deep down I will still probably like it as I can take almost anything, so I don't think the repetitiveness or fact that you are always losing things (from Sean's review) will worry me. I can immerse myself in the thinnest of themes so I can still probably find the whole Ravenloft setting fun to romp through.

For me the biggest problem I have is the competition this game would have on my shelves. I have Claustrophobia, Runebound and Dungeonquest is on the way.

In its favour is the solo play however...but Dungeonquest will scratch that itch.

The deciding factor is that a friend at our club has it on the way. I can get a feel for it from him and buy myself some time to enjoy Dungeonquest before I make my decision.

Of course the ironic joke here is that despite my musings over whether to get it or not, the gamer in me will likely buy it anyway so I can experience it properly, write the review and then decide if I need to trade it.

One advantage I do see with CR though is that its rather simple play and co-op nature means the boys and I could enjoy it together...as opposed to a HeroQuest where we are always pitting against one another.

DAMMMMIT!
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Matthew Rooks
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Nice review, thanks for sharing. You make some good points. Your biggest gripe with CR seems to be the "monumentally stupid monster AI." While part of the game is using the monster movement to player advantage, you could easily solve this by moving the monsters to their most advantageous placement, rather than vice versa. I'm sure this would make things much more difficult, and perhaps make the game more enjoyable for you.
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jigmelingpa wrote:
Nice review, thanks for sharing. You make some good points. Your biggest gripe with CR seems to be the "monumentally stupid monster AI." While part of the game is using the monster movement to player advantage, you could easily solve this by moving the monsters to their most advantageous placement, rather than vice versa. I'm sure this would make things much more difficult, and perhaps make the game more enjoyable for you.
You're right about my biggest gripe, and that's a good suggestion, but I think the designers saw putting the monsters in bad spots as part of the fun, and balanced the scenarios with the expectation that players would do so.

If you played the monsters to their own best advantage, you'd need compensation to have a chance. For me, playing is fun, and play testing is serious business, so I won't go there (I've actually turned down half a dozen requests to play test games in the last year).
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Matt Olson
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Great review and comparison. Your love of Claustrophobia was well documented, but now we know exactly why. The comparison makes sense. I really want to try both. Unfortunately, I need to buy before I try.

Side note; I am disturbed by those who don't read these things through, comprehend, and then make comment. It is not a good endorsement for a game that its most vocal exponents lack reading and comprehension skills.
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Joshua S.
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Thanks for the review I have been looking for a review like this that compared the CR to something other than descent. Also completely agree with you on the tiles of CR they just don't add much to the game
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Definetly have to agree sphere that the tiles in RL weren't used to their full potential. They should have added some encounters onto tiles like Claus. I like how you pointed out corner exploit movement as well. We noticed this pretty quickly as well and wondered if they had accounted for it?

To be honest Claus, RL and Space Hulk all are essential spind on the dungeon crawl. The only difference is that one plays super solid from the base game. One needs some expansions to flesh it out and one of them only gets balanced with two out of print expansions that are not likely to ever be reprinted for it.
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