Yronimos Whateley
United States
Kentucky
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I've had both the Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon games for a few days, but finally got a chance to play them, in combination; neither I nor the other players have had an opportunity to play either game stand-alone yet.

Some of the early reviews had me a bit worried about whether this game would work out well for my group, but we enjoyed the first game a lot.

SETTING: primarily Castle Ravenloft, with some of the appropriate features from Wrath...

SCENARIO: "Icon of Ravenloft" (played twice)


NEW COMPONENTS & HOUSE RULES

> I pooled the PC's, but dropped the Dragonborn characters (they didn't seem to fit into the Ravenloft setting);

> for the monsters, I dropped the Blazing Skeletons and Kobolds, and added Human Cultists and Gibbering Mouthers in their places; these new monsters seemed very appropriate to the horror setting, and use the new rules for being Dazed and Poisoned

> most of the new Floor Tiles were added except the new chamber and special start tiles;

> the new Treasure cards were all added in;

> Doors and Coffins were used in this adventure as a "house rule" (the players asked about the doors on the first door tile that appeared, and I added these as a last-minute decision);

> I traded in a handful of Encounter cards at a roughly 1-to-1 basis, mostly trading out four or five of the more brutal events in favor of some helpful alternatives, and trading out some of the Traps to include traps like "Poisoned Dart Trap"

> new and old "Powers" cards could be used by any PC of the appropriate class or race as appropriate (the new Cleric cards could be used by the old Cleric character, and vice-versa)

> And finally, I added in any of the tokens and counters needed by the new Powers, traps, and monsters.


OBSERVATIONS:

The first thing I noticed when playing was that the player space gets very busy, thanks to the Powers, Character Card, Treasures, Monsters, Experience Pile, Hit Points Counters, and so on. It's easy to forget about various special abilities or that nice +1 magic weapon, and a couple of times we forgot to try to cure the effects of being poisoned.

The game does set up relatively quickly, though, although the fiddly aspects of the game that add options and choices tend to slow things down at first as players try to decide what Power to use and so on. That might represent a learning curve that allows for things to get faster as the players get more familiar with the game. I think the Wrath of Ashardalon "Monster Hunt" scenario (just kill 12 monsters without losing a party member) should be a great quick-start game to begin with or to play when short on time for teaching a group at a party, using little or no optional rules (like those coffins and doors), and a simplified set of Powers (maybe leave the Utility and Daily powers out for the first game, and introducing them when everyone is more comfortable.)

It's easy for the build-it-as-you-explore map to outgrow the middle of the table; fortunately, the puzzle-piece design makes it easy to slide the map around to make room for new pieces, and this scenario at least doesn't seem to have a very big map; I can imagine some scenarios or the Chamber rules might be tricky to work around.

Some of the Treasures seem very powerful. I might whittle down the treasure deck in the future to increase the ratio of those single-use "use immediately" Blessings and so on.

Our group won both of the games we played; later scenarios might get tougher, though. But for the games we played, the difficulty was just enough that things seemed to get very tense and edge-of-the-seat at the last minute. Encounters and Poison really put a lot of great tension into the game! Being poisoned in particular seemed to inspire a sense of doom and racing against the clock which seemed to fit the atmosphere of a game of Castle Ravenloft very well.

The default PC designs (using the Powers recommended in the starter games) seem to work well for enforcing some D&D team roles to play even with players unfamiliar with how they traditionally operate: the Cleric is at his best as a support character to heal other party members, the more combat-oriented characters are at their best wading into the fray to fight the monsters up close, the Wizard quickly learned to stay out of the reach of monsters to hurl spells in from a distance, the game we played without a Rogue left us wishing we had someone to disable the traps. The players started "thinking like the characters" while settling into the party roles. It wasn't role-playing at its finest, but it was remarkably good role playing for a dungeon-crawl board game, and could probably get even better with experience. The cooperative DM-less teamwork against the simple game mechanics is a nice change of pace in a board game, too.

Monster Artificial Intelligence is one of the best parts of the game, leaving the monsters as the stars of this game. The game designers who originally came up with that idea and developed it to its current state deserve raises: I was surprised how much character this gave the monsters, and provided some of the most memorable moments of the game!

For example, in the second game I played a "reveal a tile and place it on the other side of the map" Encounter, which happened to turn up the Shrine with the Icon of Ravenloft and its guardian monsters provided by each member of the group. The monsters turned out to be a Cultist, a Skeleton, and a "trained" Giant Spider. The spider charged off ahead of the cult at the speed of two tiles per turn, while the cultist and his skeleton followed behind. The spider webbed one of the PC's and kept us tied up fighting it, until the cult came into view, and the skeleton charged into the fray, while the cultist sneaked quietly in to poison the PC's. It seemed to leave a very vivid impression on the players: they talked about it quite a bit after the game. It was the sort of thing a decent DM could have invented for a full-blown RPG, but was completely random and accidental.

A complaint I've seen about the game is that the terrain doesn't seem to matter at all. However, I didn't get that feeling at all; the doors in particular made the terrain interesting and helped to give us choices of where to go and what to do (do we stop to try to get this locked door open here, or wander off down the hallway and find another way into that area? We took the long way around, which came back to haunt us later when we had to take the long journey back to the other side of the map to get to the Shrine objective.) At one point, the luck of the draw of Floor Tiles meant that a one-tile room was blocked by walls on three sides, with a locked door on the fourth, and a tough monster inside (do we unlock the door to fight the monster for the experience and treasure and risk having the poisoned rogue die in the fight, or do we take an extra turn and Encounter going a different direction to reveal a new tile and get one tile closer to the end game? We left the monster locked in its room, and every turn we joked and laughed about the monster trying to get out of the room, and this is another thing the players mentioned a lot after the game.)

While thinking of the tiles, I liked the new "Long Hallway" tiles, with their on-tile instructions to add a second tile to the end, if possible; I hope to see more of these sorts of special-instruction tiles in the future.

Monster AI also influenced the map a bit: most monsters travel one tile closer to chase PC's across the map, but Gargoyles sit motionlessly waiting in ambush; we would take the long way around the map just to avoid fighting Gargoyles, while we found those spiders would really do some traveling to get to us. When faced with multiple monsters to fight, we would do some threat assessment and base our decisions of what to do on monster capabilities ("let's risk taking a shortcut through this unexplored tile to help the Rogue take out that Mouther, and let the Spider come to us!")

The replayability, thanks to the modular nature of the components and the Adventure Scenarios, and the detail and abundance of the components (such as the fantastic miniatures and vast number of cards and map tiles) make this feel like an appropriate level of "bang" for my gaming buck; I figured that, at worst, I would have some miniatures and other components to use in full-blown RPG's if the board game didn't work out, but we found that the board game system is quite fun on its own.



The consensus in our group seems to be that these combined games appear to be a winner, with a lot of edge-of-seat tension providing just about the right amount of challenge (in spite of a couple powerful treasures), and some fun "remember when" stories to tell after the game.

The only down-sides for my group are that all the bits and options leave things feeling a bit busy and fiddly for my first-time players; probably not as bad as a miniatures-heavy game of D&D 3.5E or 4E, but bad enough for a group used more to (The New) Dungeon! and Monopoly as their board game frame of reference.
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Paul S
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DARK IN HERE, ISN'T IT?
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Really helpful review, thanks. Think this has sealed the fate of my credit card this weekend!
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Lexingtonian
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Good session report. Note that Encounters that add tiles usually deal from the bottom of the deck, so you're unlikely to get (or get closer to) a scenario-related tile.
 
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Freelance Police
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Sounds like you might want to just play Wrath for awhile. All the stuff you liked is from Wrath, and all the fiddliness comes from combining the games. Some BGG'ers commented that the "power levels" of the characters aren't the same.

OTOH, Kobolds in CR is just plain stupid and swapping monsters between sets make the theme MUCH better. Likewise, many of the Wrath adventures would be amusing with the CR bits.

Did you have a chance to play the Villagers adventure? The villager AI looks... interesting...!
 
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The Soot Sprite
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Yronimos wrote:
...the game we played without a Rogue left us wishing we had someone to disable the traps.

Any character can attempt to disarm a trap instead of attacking. The rogue just gets a bonus.
 
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Yronimos Whateley
United States
Kentucky
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Beloch wrote:
Really helpful review, thanks. Think this has sealed the fate of my credit card this weekend!


Thank you. And sorry about the critical hit to the credit card!

I know what you mean - I paid less than the manufacturer's suggested retail price for both games, but it still added up to a healthy chunk of the bonus to my paycheck. I can't help feeling like I got plenty for the money, at least


Curtis Anderson wrote:
Good session report. Note that Encounters that add tiles usually deal from the bottom of the deck, so you're unlikely to get (or get closer to) a scenario-related tile.


Ah! I think one of us didn't read the card carefully, then. Although it wouldn't have been as much if she had


spritey wrote:
Any character can attempt to disarm a trap instead of attacking. The rogue just gets a bonus.


Unfortunately, the rolls the whole group were getting on our D20's looked more like they were coming from D10's, especially whenever it came to disarming traps or shaking off the effects of poison - someone with that extra bonus to disarm the traps would have made a big difference ninja



Sam and Max wrote:
Sounds like you might want to just play Wrath for awhile. All the stuff you liked is from Wrath, and all the fiddliness comes from combining the games. Some BGG'ers commented that the "power levels" of the characters aren't the same.

OTOH, Kobolds in CR is just plain stupid and swapping monsters between sets make the theme MUCH better. Likewise, many of the Wrath adventures would be amusing with the CR bits.

Did you have a chance to play the Villagers adventure? The villager AI looks... interesting...!



Probably right about that being the source of some of the cluttered feeling, and Poison and other conditions that required some upkeep contributed to the "fiddly" impression.

On the other hand, a lot of it might have come from getting used to the game, too. I know I left about a third of the parts from the combined games out, so I don't think it's from having tons of new items added to the base set. The sprawling board, Powers cards, Hit Point Counters, Miniatures, and Monsters seemed to be the source of the worst of it.

I imagine that, as we get used to it, it will flow a little more smoothly, and we'll find ways to better manage the "real estate" around the board.

We've not yet had a chance to try out the Villagers or the Chambers, but both elements look like they would be a lot of fun. I was planning to try that out later on as an "advanced" rule to keep things interesting if the basics get too boring. I'm looking forward to introducing them


Thanks for the feedback, everyone!
 
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