Sean Torrens
United States
Myrtle Beach
South Carolina
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NOTE: For information on me as a gamer and my background, check out the blog post entitled Reviewer Background

I bought Castle Ravenloft when it first came out thinking it would be the game to fill the void left by one of my favorite games of all time, Warhammer Quest. WHQ was so great because you didn't need a game master or any sort of preparation like most other board games of it's type, and the replayability was HUGE.

After buying and playing Castle Ravenloft about 6 times I came away feeling unfulfilled and it kept me from trying out Wrath of Ashardalon until this week. The lack of a campaign game or any sort of continuation just made it seem like another quick hit dungeon run. I had read reviews about how Ashardalon was different but I didn't feel confident enough to spend the money to get a copy. This week I discovered that a friend, who I don't game with that often, had bought it a while back and managed to borrow it to try it out with my game group.

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So what did I think about Wrath of Ashardalon before I played it?

Prior view of the Exploration Theme: d10-0 This is one of my favorite things about dungeon exploration-type games. The "what's around the next corner" tension and having to overcome whatever obstacle is presented is great to me. In fact, it's the one aspect I look forward to the most in Massively Multi-player Online games as well. Board games sometimes have trouble making this work as well, though. There is usually a lot of set-up and prep time directly proportional to the amount of exploration you get but too much of the set-up (for any game) always takes away from it's rating to me.

Some prior experience with Exploration Theme: Betrayal at House on the Hill (6), Niagara (6), Lost Treasure (6), Doctor Who: The Game Of Time & Space (6), Mansions of Madness (7), Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game (7), Incan Gold (7.25), Nexus Ops (7.5), Merchant of Venus (8), Tobago (8.5)

Prior view of the Fantasy Theme: d10-6 I've been a Dungeons and Dragons roleplayer since 1979 when I was exposed to 1st Edition at the age of 8. The theme stuck with me and I was in constant search to find other ways to venture into that kind of world, which eventually took the form of board games. Recently, I've noticed the non-stop killing of orcs and goblins, rescuing princesses from dragons and saving kingdoms from marauding giants has gotten a bit stale for me. New games of this type can often briefly re-ignite this spark though.

Some prior experience with Fantasy Theme: Talisman (4.5), Elfenland (5), The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (5), Summoner Wars (5.5), Castle Ravenloft (6), Dark Tower (7), Kings and Things (7), War of the Ring (7.75), Small World (8), Warhammer Quest (9)

Prior view of the mechanism of Co-operative Play: d10-8 I love co-operative games, but like many other players, I hate the games where one person tells everyone else what they should do on their turns. I try my best to not be that person so that I don't taint others' opinions of the specific game and the genre as a whole. Games where you have a specific role in the group and relying on others to fill their role while they rely on you for yours... too cool.

Some prior experience with Co-operative Play: Ghost Stories (6.75), Lord of the Rings (7), A Touch of Evil (7), Mousquetaires du Roy (7), The Isle of Doctor Necreaux (7), Arkham Horror (7.5), Shadows Over Camelot (7.5), Space Alert (7.75), Defenders of the Realm (8), Pandemic (9)

Prior view of the mechanism of Modular Boards: d10-9 As mentioned earlier, Warhammer Quest set the bar pretty high for me. It was the first time I'd seen modular boards in a board game and really liked the amount of re-playability and flexibility it allowed. I rarely think this mechanism can be done wrong in a game, though sometimes it is not optimized to take full advantage of it's design structure every time.

Some prior experience with Modular Boards: Dominant Species (3), Stratego: Legends (5), Pitchcar (6), Battle Cry (7), RoboRally (7), Deadlands: Range Wars (7), Tikal (8), Invasion from Outer Space (8), Runewars (8.25), Memoir '44 (9)

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Review of Wrath of Ashardalon

Since I had played Castle Ravenloft and this game is SO similar to it's predecessor, I will often compare and contrast to it. If you have played neither of them I'll do my best to explain.

Components: (d10-9) Much like it's predecessor Castle Ravenloft, the amount of material you get for the money is really quite worth it. 42 plastic mono-chrome figures, 200 cards and bunches of boards and chits. If the figures had been pre-painted it would have been beyond worth the price, but I'm sure the price-point would have had to go up and they would have cut into the sales of the secondary market on D&D minis. Not a good idea to alienate the stores that make money with those.

Card quality is decent but repeated shuffling of the Monster and Encounter decks will show wear quickly without sleeving. Sleeved cards won't fit back in the box very well though as there are pre-molded spots in the insert for the cards to go that cradle them pretty snug as it is.

The thick card-stock board design (thicker than Memoir '44 terrain tiles) is very hardy in composition. The boards are quite clever in their 'puzzle-locking' design and allows for significant replay, while still allowing for variety in walls and pillars for terrain in each hallway and room.

Artwork/Layout: (d10-5) Well, the image artwork is pretty sparse. Some stock images from the Roleplaying Game's Player's Handbooks of the characters (though this can lend familiarity to players who have tried one and are reluctant to try the other). The only other art is on the monster cards in the form of black and white representations of their figure. There are NPCs that you encounter for specific scenarios that somehow merit the only splash of color artwork in the game's cards. Magic items and Encounter cards have no artwork, but then again, this isn't a collectable card game and trying to make artwork for all of those cards would only raise the cost of the game in the long run.

Theme: (d10-9) C'mon, it's Dungeons and Dragons. It's a time-tested theme and this game does a great job of continuing that feel. I make sure to read all the flavor-text on the cards and in the scenarios to make the theme even richer. A game that makes you want to 'roleplay' your character and speak as though he or she would? In a board game? That's a sign of good, immersive theme to me.

Rulebook/Player Aids: (d10-8) The rulebook got much more clear in this game and I really like the addition of the FAQ on the back page (and noting that they collected the questions from players after the Ravenloft came out). We used it twice in our two games. Some of it is based on the overall rules, some on monsters and cards specific to Wrath of Ashardlon.

The player aids were unchanged from Ravenloft and do a good job of detailing a player's choices with the use of one double-sided card per player. This keeps the game flowing, but I'd love to see designers put page numbers on player aids, where specific sections can be looked up quickly, for greater detail, when a question arises.

Gameplay: (d10-8) At it's root, this is a distilled 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Roleplaying experience in board game form. Gameplay got way better since Ravenloft with the addition of Chambers and Campaign mode, though.

The chambers make the dungeon experience more visceral. Ravenloft had tile after tile lain together to just create really long hallways. It didn't matter which way you went, the tile you needed to get to would also pop up between the 9th and 12th tile. In Ashardalon, the tiles can get pulled from the bottom of the deck and put on top, severely hampering your progress. This has the effect of making you want to play quicker and smarter to explore the deck from the top down before it gets diluted with tiles from the bottom. Ashardalon also adds a simple game mechanic: doors. They may be open or closed, depending on scenario and your Rogue will earn his pay picking locks. Once you get to the chamber tile you seek for that specific scenario/adventure it'll create a much larger room out of pre-set 'chamber tiles.' Good stuff.

Campaign mode is really what sells this game for me. Presenting the chambers as a series of on-going adventures in which you may carry gear from adventure to adventure is perfect. The gold value on the bottom of the cards which allow for purchase of gear "between adventures" also is fantastic, but a bit of a disappointment as the Ravenloft treasures have no such values.

The added ability to switch power cards between the adventures, essentially 'training', allows for inclusion of powers from Ravenloft if you are playing one of the four classes shared amongst both games. We felt the class powers in the new game were a little less powerful, but the monsters more so.

Overall Rating: (d10-8) This game is a much more rich experience than Castle Ravenloft and really seems to bridge that gap I was looking for between pen and paper D&D and Warhammer Quest. It plays faster than WHQ and has less prep than D&D. No Dungeon Master is needed, much like WHQ. Carrying your character forward into another adventure with the accumulated treasure and gold to see if he or she can survive again is very addicting. "C'mon! Let's go do just one more chamber tonight!" Sure, if I want a ROLEplay experience I'll play D&D, but if I want a ROLLplay experience and a fun dungeon crawl, this is my game of choice now. It's what I was expecting with Ravenloft, honestly.

I really liked this game. I ended up buying it from my friend who says he had gotten it for his group and they never even wanted to give it a try.

Wrath of Ashardalon has renewed my interest in the Fantasy genre (about a 7 or 8 on the scale listed above after playing it), got me to take Castle Ravenloft off my "For Trade" list and made me eagerly look forward to purchasing and playing Legend of Drizzt in the coming months!
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Alejandro Rascon
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I liked this review.
Though, I cannot see properly if the score given to exploration is a 0 or what. And just as a general question, how would anyone improve the exploration system and maintain the game's simplicity and DMless?
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Sean Torrens
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Myrtle Beach
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morgothrond wrote:
I liked this review.
Though, I cannot see properly if the score given to exploration is a 0 or what.


Yes, it is a 0 but it means 10. On original 10-sided dice, a 0 was put on the die to denote a 10 and this is the same format that the image on the geek shows.

morgothrond wrote:
And just as a general question, how would anyone improve the exploration system and maintain the game's simplicity and DMless?


I think this is one of the best simplified systems to date in this respect. The old Warhammer Quest system of making a 'dungeon deck' is the only thing that I think trumps it, due to the fact of the possibilities of T-junctions. These cause for actual choice by the players as to which path to pursue. The wrong choice can lead to valuable wasted time and resources and dangerous backtracking. I'm not sure this would be possible in Wrath without some sort of card-driven system and a special T-shaped tile.
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Julio

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Nice review, I liked you pointed out the aspects you enjoyed the most.
 
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Kenneth Chan
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Conway
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Using the Die as a scoring system makes it difficult to read, at least for me. Have you thought about using Stars like I see in many other written reviews?
 
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Sean Torrens
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The problem with Stars is I want to grade on a 1-10 system and that would mean a lot of counting by the reader. I'll see what I can do differently for future reviews.

Thank you!
 
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