Saturday, 26 March 2011

Castle Ravenloft

Played: once, 3 players.

The Game

Castle Ravenloft is a dungeon crawl game. It's a cooperative game. Players are typical fantasy-genre characters exploring a dungeon, with a mission to complete depending on the scenario being played. There are monsters to fight, treasures to collect, bad things happening to you, etc. You try to survive long enough to complete your mission. Your character has various stats and capabilities, like health points, armour rating, attack skills, special skills. Some can be customised before a game starts. Some can be improved during the game.

The game starts with the adventurers entering the dungeon, which is unexplored except for the few starting tiles. When the adventurers explore, they draw tiles from a deck and place them onto the table to expand the dungeon. On a player's turn, he can move and attack, and also explore if he is standing at the edge of a tile leading to a dark corridor. After these are done, he does the actions for monsters he controls. Well, the word "control" can be misleading here. Whenever a player encounters a monster, that monster is assigned to him. The monster's card specifies how it moves and attacks. So the "controlling" player is responsible for executing these, but he doesn't really have much choice on what the monster does. There is a little flexibility (but not much) and the players will try to make use of it.

On your turn, if you don't (or cannot) explore, you must draw an encounter card, which usually means something bad will happen. If you explore, depending on the tile you draw, you may need to draw an encounter card anyway. Every new tile that you explore will spawn a new monster. So basically whatever you do, something bad will happen on your turn. Encounter cards have a lot of variety. There may be traps. There may be extra monsters. They may teleport a player to some far corner of the dungeon. They may introduce a long-term effect that hinders the players, e.g. a mist that slows down movement.

Monsters have a lot of variety too, in how they move and attack, in how difficult they are to kill. One thing to be careful about is to try to not let there be multiple monsters of the same type, i.e. more than one player controlling the same monster type. When this happens, on either player's turn, all monsters of the same type move and/or attack. So it's important to quickly kill off some of them.

All the monsters that come with the game.

This giant looks pretty scary, and the dragon skeleton behind it too. However apparently neither is the biggest baddest boss, which is a vampire.

Overall the game feels very familiar. You get treasures when you defeat monsters. You track health. You roll a D20 (20-sided die) to determine whether attacks succeed. All the player characters, monsters, traps, treasures and weapons are what you'd expect to see in a fantasy themed game.

The Play

Han, Allen and I played Scenario 2, since Scenario 1 is a solo scenario. The story was that we needed to explore the dungeon to find an item at the chapel. The chapel was shuffled somewhere between the 9th and 12th positions of the deck, so we roughly know how far we need to explore in order to find it. That's a little gamey, but I guess it is necessary for game balance.

Allen chose to be a fighter. I chose to be a rogue, simply because her (or his, I'm not sure) colour was green. Han chose to be the cleric, who could heal, probably because he thought we were nuts and would need someone to save our butts. And indeed the healing power turned out to be quite helpful. All of us were beaten close to death by the monsters. In particular the gargoyles, which we had two at the same time during the game, were rather tough to beat. I got myself killed once, but this scenario allowed two come-back-to-life chances for the group (although you come back with less health points). The players lose immediately when these back-to-life tokens are used up, and one character dies and is unable to come back.

My character the rogue. Is this male or female? The two cards on the top left are one-time use abilities. The two on the bottom left are always available. All four are selected from a set belonging to the rogue. You can pick what you like for each game. The card on the top right is a monster card - a gargoyle. The card on the bottom right is a reference card. The yellow shields track the damage sufferred. The long yellow token is a reminder that I am being slowed down for one turn due to a monster attack.

The two gargoyles.

We didn't really have much of a long-term plan, e.g. about whether to stay closer to one another, or to branch off and try to explore quickly. We only started discussing halfway through the game, in the heat of battle with the monsters. My gut feel is it is probably better to stay together, so that we can watch each others' backs. Also when we reach our destination, having more hands around surely will help defeat the monsters quickly.

Allen met a particularly nasty spider. Spiders attack from afar and cause much damage, so you need to get up-close-and-personal quickly to kill them in melee combat, which they are not as lethal in. In the late game, Allen stepped on some crazy teleport device which sent him to the other end of the dungeon. That was not helpful at all. Well, maybe except for attracting monsters on that side of the dungeon towards him instead of Han and I.

Allen's fighter in the background struggling with the spider. Han and I were thinking, "Come on, just step on the darn thing and get it over and done with."

Han's dwarven cleric running away from the gargoyle and the skeleton. Naaah, not really. He's attacking them with his back to them coz he's a tough guy.

We were mostly quite reactive, attending to the monsters and encounters thrown at us, trying to survive long enough to reach the chapel. It felt like a continuously evolving puzzle that we had to solve, always trying to determine what the best course of action was given a particular situation. Eventually we found the chapel, which came with 3 monsters. We had to kill all three, and also collect the relic thingy, to win. Allen was still on the other side of the dungeon. In addition to the three monsters that must be defeated, there were others heading towards Han and I. We avoided the ones that didn't need to be killed, and focused on those critical three. One of them was quite strong, and thankfully we killed it quickly. The other two didn't last long after that. We won!

Allen's first response: "That wasn't so hard was it?" Hey, remember when we were all 1 or 2 life points from getting killed?! Well, in fact I was killed. Overall I think this being an early scenario isn't too hard. We still had one resurrection token unused. Also this early scenario only has the regular monsters and not be unique, big, nasty ones.

The Thoughts

The game is easy to learn and easy to play. Not many things to fiddle with, definitely fewer than similar games from Fantasy Flight Games. Very minimal setup is required, unlike Space Hulk or Descent: Journeys in the Dark. I like how clean the system is, and how despite so it can still provide a solid dungeon crawl experience. In the scenario that we played, the chapel being shuffled into a certain position in the deck of tiles felt scripted. The experience became that of surviving an onslaught of monsters, until the chapel came out, rather than being a real exploration. We knew roughly when we would find the chapel. This reminded me of a similar aspect in Space Hulk: Death Angel that I didn't like. The players are mostly reactive, as opposed to in a game like Space Hulk, you can plan ahead and form a long-term strategy. In Lord of the Rings, also a cooperative game, you get bad things thrown at you, but you can still look ahead to see what's coming and decide how you will prepare for them. I quickly scanned the other scenarios of Castle Ravenloft, and found that most use a similar method of shuffling your objectives into particular positions in the deck of tiles. However most scenarios have something unique to them, so hopefully they will continue to be fun.

I have never been particularly interested in the fantasy genre or in role-playing games, so I'm quite neutral to Castle Ravenloft's theme. The implementation here seems to be quite standard fare, but then I'm no expert in this area.

The game does not have a dungeon master or overlord controlling the monsters, which I found unusual. I think the approach taken is successful, because it streamlines things, and also makes the game a true cooperative game rather than a many-vs-one game. There are pros and cons to having a dungeon master, but I think the way the game is designed works very well.

If you like the fantasy genre and like dungeon crawls, Castle Ravenloft is good value for money. Good components. Easy to teach and smooth to play.


荒凉。儒 said...

Played it and not into it.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Is it because you're not a particular fan of the genre? Or is it something to do with the gameplay?

Unknown said...

Nice review. As a fan of many different forms of Dungeons & Dragons I curious about this game and hope to give it a try sometime.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

thanks. castle ravenloft most impressed me with how smoothly it plays and how easy it is to get started.