Monday, October 30, 2017

There's Nothing Scarier Than A Bad Rulebook - "Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game"

Well, with Halloween upon us, it's time for me to review another spook-tacular themed game. So, I present to you: the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game.

What? C'mon, it's got vampires and wolves and skeletons and zombies and spiders and rats...what more do you you want?

"Well, how about a decent, legitimately-scary board game that doesn't involve your irrational fetish for dungeons and / or dragons, ya colossal nerd!!!"

Hey, this is my board game blog and if you don't like it you can get the fudge out!

Ahem. Sorry. For those of you who want to stick around and roll up a character, here's a DM-style opening preamble to our spoopy little adventure, courtesy of Board Game Geek:

"The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner – and you are invited! Evil lurks in the towers and dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and only heroes of exceptional bravery can survive the horrors within. Designed for 1-5 players, this boardgame features multiple scenarios, challenging quests, and cooperative gameplay.

"Each player selects a hero; a ranger, rogue, warrior, cleric, or wizard. On their turn, each player can explore further into the dungeon (turn over new tiles), move through the already explored parts of the dungeon, and fight monsters. When a new dungeon tile is revealed, there is typically an encounter of some sort, and new monsters to fight are added. Slain monsters reward the players with treasure, and experience points, allowing them to level up and increase their skills during play. Players must cooperate to stay alive, slay the monsters, and achieve the goal of their quest. Each scenario has a different goal - from retrieving a relic, to slaying a vampire lord."

Looking to delve into the full Players Handbook? Then click on the following link to start power gaming right away!




Powers: Dragon's Breath, Unstoppable, Cleave, Brute Strike
Starting Treasure: Dragon's Breath Elixir

Powers: Sneak Attack, Stealth, Backstab, Dagger Barrage
Starting Treasure: Thieves' Tools

Powers: Dispel Magic, Fey Step, Fireball, Magic Missile
Starting Treasure: Necklace of Fireballs

Powers: Healing Word, Bless, Lance of Faith, Flame Strike
Starting Treasure: Glyph of Warding


Arjhan moves five spaces north. This puts him on a square adjacent to an unexplored edge, so he places a new Dungeon Tile which is revealed as a basic corridor. The tile has a white triangle, which means that no Encounter Card will be drawn but he stills draws a Monster. It's a Rat Swarm which he places on that tile's Bone Pile. The Swarm then moves to the Bone Pile next to Arjhan and attacks him, rolling a 16 + 7 = 23. It's a hit, causing a point of damage!

Kat sprints four spaces north so that she's next to the Rat Swarm. Notwithstanding both the logistics of this as well as the inadvertently hilarious mental image, she attacks the Swarm with her "Backstab", rolling 17 + 7 = 24 for a hit, killing it. She then draws a new tile which turns out to be a T-intersection corridor with a white arrow. The Monster she draws is a Kobold Skirmisher, which immediately moves to the closest Bone Pile next to Arjhan and Kat. To determine who the Kobold attacks, I roll randomly: 1 to 10 for Arjhan and 11 to 20 for Kat. A 13 comes up so the Kobold goes after Kat, rolling 14 + 9 = 23 which hits for a point of damage.

Immeril remains in place and attacks the darkness (*snicker*) with a "Magic Missile", rolling a 16 + 8 = 24 which is a lethal hit on the Kobold Skirmisher. He then moves five spaces north east, revealing a new tile with a black arrow. He draws a Monster Card which turns out to be a scary Wraith ("OooOooOooo!!!"). Since the tile has a black arrow, he's also required to draw an Encounter Card, which is an Event called "Summoning Circle". Since this would immediately introduce a new Monster to the board, Immeril uses his "Dispel Magic" Utility Power to cancel the card. He flips it face down to indicate that it's been used. The Wraith then moves one tile west onto the Bone Pile. Since it now has two targets to choose from, another random roll is required: 1 to 10 for Arjhan and 11 to 20 is Kat. An "8" comes up so it goes after Arjhan. The attack roll is 16 + 6 = 22, which results in three points of damage to the Dragonborn Fighter!

Thorgrim surges four spaces north and ends up adjacent to the Wraith. He then attacks the fiend with his "Lance of Faith" and rolls a 20. Not only is this a hit, it also gives the Heroes an opportunity to Level Up, but the group hasn't compiled enough Experience Points yet. So he just deals two points of damage to the creature, wounding it. Since Thorgrim didn't reveal a new tile, he's forced to draw an Encounter Card. It's an Event / Attack called "Gray Ooze". The creature rolls 3 + 8 = 11 which is a miss on Thorgrim. The one-shot attack is then discarded.

Back to Arjhan. He uses his "Unstoppable" Utility Power to regain two Hit Points, flipping the card face-down to indicate that it's been used. He then attempts to attack the Wraith but rolls a 6, which is a miss! Undeterred, he moves four spaces past his compatriots to reveal a new tile. It's a Crypt Corner with a white arrow so he draws a new Monster: a Wolf. The Wolf moves onto the Bone Pile next to Arjhan and attacks with a "Pounce". The wolf rolls a 20 which hits for a point of damage and also causes Arjhan to suffer the "Slowed" Condition.

Next up Kat attacks the Wraith with a "Backstab", rolling a 6 + 7 = 12 which is also a miss! She then moves four spaces west to reveal a new dungeon tile. It's a Crypt with a black arrow, so first she draws a Monster which turns out to be another Wraith. Rather than face two of these spectral bastards at the same time, Kat uses her "Stealth" Utility Power to discard the Monster Card instead of placing it. She then flips this power card face down to show that it's been spent. Since the tile she placed has a black arrow on it, an Encounter Card must now be drawn. She gets "Spirit of Doom" which reads "each Hero can immediately move up to his or her Speed and after this move each Hero on a tile with no Monsters takes one damage." Both Immeril and Thorgrim move onto the same tile as their compatriots which results in no-one being on a Monster-less tile, so no damage is dealt.

Immeril uses a "Magic Missile" on the Wraith but rolls a 1 and misses. He then moves four spaces to reveal a simple hallway with a white arrow. Immeril draws a new Monster: another Rat Swarm. Now the Monsters attack! The Wraith only has one target so it goes after Thorgrim, rolling a 13 + 6 versus AC 19. This hits, causing another whopping three points of damage. Next up the Rat Swarm moves to the Bone Pile next to Immeril and attempts a nibble, rolling a 6 + 7 for a miss!

Next up Thorgrim attacks the Wraith with his "Lance of Faith", rolling a 7 + 6 = 13... a miss! He then moves three spaces, revealing a Workshop tile with a white arrow. Thorgrim draws a Monster Card, specifically a Gargoyle. Since it wouldn't be adjacent to Thorgrim if placed on the next closest Bone Pile, I just move it to the closest space adjacent to the dwarf. It then attacks with a vicious "Whirlwind of Claws" rolling at 2 + 8 = 10. Another miss!

Arjhan begins his turn by taking a swing at the Wolf, rolling a 7 + 6 = 13 which is a whiff. Knowing that he can only move two spaces due to the "Slowed" Condition, he decides to chip away at the horde of enemies now threatening to swarm the group. He decides to quaff the "Dragon's Breath Elixir" which says: "attack each Monster on your tile". He attacks the Wolf again, rolling 10 + 4 = 14 which hits and kills the Wolf. He then moves two squares north west to stand next to the Gargoyle. Since he didn't draw a new tile, he's forced to pull an Encounter Card called "Frenzy"which reads: "each Monster you control activates twice during your Villain Phase". Mercifully, with the Wolf dead, Arjhan no longer controls any Monsters. He jettisons the "Slowed" Condition to signal the end of his turn.

Kat hauls ass six squares into the Workshop so that she's flanking the Gargoyle and then attack with a "Backstab". She rolls a 7 + 7 = 14 but the Gargoyle's Armor Class is 16 so her blade fails to pierce the creature's stony hide. Since she didn't reveal a new tile, Kat is forced to draw an Encounter Card called "Neglected Passage" which reads: "draw a tile from the bottom of the Dungeon Tile stack and place it adjacent to the unexplored edge that is closest to the Start Tile. Place a new Monster on the tile but don't draw an Encounter Card". The Fetid Den tile is added to the east branch of the Start Tile and the new monster, a Ghoul, is placed on the Bone Pile. The Ghoul then lopes one tile towards the adventurers. 

Next, Immeril fires a "Magic Missile" at the lingering Wraith and rolls a 20, finally destroying it. In addition, he discards five Experience Points from the group's communal pool to Level Up! He then moves six spaces north to flank the Gargoyle. Since he didn't draw a new tile, he's forced to pull an Encounter Card called "Patrina Velikovna" which reads: "Attack each Hero. After the attack, place each Monster that is not on the same tile as a Hero one tile closer to the closest Hero". First the creature attacks Arjhan by rolling 18 + 7 which is a hit so Arjhan takes two points of damage. Next Kat is targeted but the roll of 3 equates a miss! Unfortunately, the creature's attack is so uncanny, it still causes one point of damage on a miss! Immeril is next on the hit parade. A 2 is rolled, which is also mercifully a miss, though he still takes a single point of damage. Finally, Thorgrim is targeted, and with a roll of 16 + 7 = 23, he takes the full allotment of two damage. Then the Rat Swarm moves one tile east towards the Heroes, ending up on the Bone Pile and the Ghoul is moved one tile west onto the Start Tile. Finally Immeril activates his Monsters. The Rat Swarm doesn't move to the Crypt Corner's Bone Pile since it wouldn't be adjacent to any Heroes. Instead, it moves into the space next to the closest Hero, Arjhan, and attacks, rolling a "2" for a well-timed miss.

Thorgrim starts his turn by casting the Utility Power "Healing Word" on himself, recovering four Hit Points. He then goes after the Rat Swarm with his "Lance of Faith" but rolls a pitiful 2. Next he moves three spaces north east through the Workshop to reveal a new Dungeon Tile, the Rotting Nook, which features a white arrow. This also reveals a new Monster, specifically a Blazing Skeleton. Next, Thorgrim's Monsters activate. To determine who the Gargoyle attacks, I roll a six-sided die: 1-2 is Kat, 3-4 is Immeril, and 5-6 is Arjhan. I roll a "2" and the subsequent attack roll of 15 + 8 = 24 means that Kat takes two points of damage and also gets the dreaded "Slowed" status. Next the Blazing Skeleton attacks. It's Tactics indicate: "if it's within one tile of a Hero it attacks each Hero on the closest heroes tile with a ball of fire". Unfortunately both Thorgrim and Kat qualify for that. The  Skeleton attacks Thorgrim first and rolls a "3" which is normally a miss but it still deals a single point of "splash" damage. It then attacks Kat, rolling a 14 + 7 = 21 which is a hit. She takes two more points of damage and is only two Hit Points away from having to use a Healing Surge.

It's now back to Arjhan. He lashes out with an attack on the Rat Swarm, rolling a 9 + 6 = 15 for a hit! The Swarm takes a point of damage and it's destroyed. This activates Arjhan's "Cleave" special ability which says if you hit your initial target, "choose another Monster on your tile and move adjacent to it. That Monster takes one damage". Arjhan is already adjacent to the Gargoyle but can technically move into another adjacent space, so he does this, delivering a single bonus point of hurt. He then moves five spaces and reveals a new Dungeon Tile which turns out to be the Chapel they seek! This also introduces a horde of defenders to the same tile. First off, each player draws a Monster Card and places that creature on the Chapel Tile. Arjhan draws a Skeleton, Kat reveals a Kobold Skirmisher, Immeril pulls a Ghoul and Thorgrim introduces a Zombie. This is in addition to the normal Monster which has to be drawn for the tile, so another Skeleton is placed on the Chapel's Bone Pile. The Icon of Ravenloft token is also dropped on the altar space. Since the rules don't specify where, I naturally place it on the space closest to the Heroes. The Skeletons then charge towards Arjhan and, since there's no available Bone Pile to move onto, they just move adjacent to him and attack with their "Charging Slice". The first roll is  16 + 9 = 25 a hit! This causes two points of damage. The next roll is 14 + 9 = 23 which is also hit for two more points of damage. Arjhan is just one hit away from death. Zounds!

Kat decides that it's time to break out her Daily Power: "Dagger Barrage". She targets the Chapel Tile and attacks every Monster on that tile. First she fires on the Ghoul, rolling 6 + 7 =  13. That's a miss, but this power still causes a point of damage! Ergo, the Ghoul is  destroyed! She then targets the Kobold and rolls a 16 + 7 = 23 which is a hit! It's also killed. Next she fires at the first Skeleton, rolling a 17 + 7 = 24 which is another lethal overkill hit. She then aims at the second Skeleton and rolls 17 + 7 = 24 so it's also wrecked. Finally she flings a mitt-full of daggers at the Zombie and rolls 12 + 7 = 19 which pastes the Filthy McNasty. She's literally cleaned out the entire tile in one attack! Unfortunately, she can only move two spaces due to the "Slowed" Condition, so she backs away from the Gargoyle. Since Kat didn't reveal a new Dungeon Tile, she's forced to draw and resolve an additional Encounter Card. The first is "Sliding Walls" which she decides to cancel by spending five Experience Points. The second is "Alarm" which says: "place the Alarm marker on the active Hero's tile. Trigger the Trap during your Villain Phase. Place a new Monster on the unexplored edge that's closest to the Alarm Marker." The Alarm activates but there are technically three unexplored edge spaces "closest" to the Alarm Marker so I make an executive decision and place the Blazing Skeleton in the Rotting Nook right next to Thorgrim instead of on the Chapel Tile. This new Blazing Skeleton activates, targeting every Hero in the Workshop. The attack role on Arjhan is 4 + 7 = 11 which is a miss. Unfortunately, it still causes a single "area of effect" point of damage which means the Dragonborn Fighter goes down in a heap and will require spending a Healing Surge at the start of his next turn. Next up, Kat gets attacked but the creature rolls a "1", leaving her with a single Hit Point. Then Thorgrim takes some heat, but the roll is 7 + 7 = 14. It's another single point of damage but it could have been much worse! Wait a is worse since Thorgrim's Blazing Skeleton also activates. Kat is targeted with a roll of "20"...a solid hit. Kat is dropped which means that she will spend the group's last Healing Surge on her turn! Finally Thorgrim gets nailed for two points of damage courtesy of an 18 + 7 = 25 attack roll.

Sensing that the end is in sight, Immeril uses his Daily Power and casts "Fireball" on both Blazing Skeletons. The first attack is 6 + 7 = 13. That solid hit causes three damage, destroying the first Blazing Skeleton. The second roll is 14 which also connects, annihilating the second Blazing Skeleton. Immeril then flips the "Fireball" card over to show that it's been cast. He then moves six spaces next to the Chapel's altar and picks up the Icon of Ravenloft. Since there are no active monsters on the Chapel and the Icon has been recovered, the Heroes win the scenario!



  • The Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game is a miracle of production design. The figures are top-notch, the puzzle-piece tiles actually work well and the Monster and Character cards are all wonderful. I just wish there were some cool, evocative illustrations on the Treasure and Encounters cards as well as the Trap Tiles, which are just boring ol' square instructional tokens. Damn, if only Lizards of the Toast had access to a virtually-boundless library of pre-existing D&D art. Oh...wait...
  • The game isn't complicated. Pick a scenario, chose your Heroes, drop 'em down on the Start Tile and just follow the turn steps. 
  • There's a surprisingly tactical quality to the game. You really have to work together to have a hope in hell of surviving. Judicious timing when it comes to the use of your powers is also key. 
  • I love that there's no Overlord in the game and the Monsters are programed to move and attack. That way, the game is truly co-operative with all players on the same side instead of Descent's one versus many.  

  • Yes, the rules are deceptively simple. That is until you try to play the game. When that happens you're immediately faced with the prospects of house-ruling a bunch of stuff because the core instructions are so effin' vague. I'm 100% sure that someone who owns this game and plays it constantly and is all brushed up on the FAQ and Board Game Geek forums will read the play-through above and point out at least three or four things that I royally fucked up. For example, when a Monster moves it's supposed to move onto a Bone Pile. If the Bone Pile is covered up then I believe that the Monster is placed anywhere on that tile according to the player's discretion. I thought that was sorta goofy, so I just moved the Monster to the closest Hero "as the crow flies". This is also probably wrong since it often results in the Monster not moving onto a new tile. I also assume that if Monsters have multiple targets to choose from, the players can decide what Hero gets attacked. I decided to go with a random roll instead. Given the fact that the Monster's actions are supposed to be "programmed", you really need to have this simple, fundamental stuff locked down cold. And it isn't just a problem with Monster. For example, the "Cleave" special ability reads "After you land a hit, choose another Monster on your tile and move adjacent to it. That Monster takes one damage." Does this mean that this power only works if the Hero starts it's turn not being adjacent to its second target? Or can you move from one adjacent space to another adjacent space? This game would drive a rules lawyer madder than Dwight Frye's Renfield in Dracula
  • All of the rules vagaries make a victory in the game feel hollow. In the example above, if I'd placed the "Alarm"-summoned Blazing Skeleton on the Chapel Tile instead, the scenario would have worn on. And since I was about to burn through two Healing Surges and Thorgrim was getting pretty beat up, the scenario could easily have been a loss. Without the game's rules clarifying these things, can you every really feel as if you won?
  • This game bears about as much similarity to D&D as Happy Death Day does to a horror movie. Where are the doors? Where are the rooms? Why aren't our characters equipped with weapons and armor? Why aren't we looting bodies and then spending the money we find to improve our gear? Why are Traps only introduced via random Encounters? Why do Monsters always get the jump on Heroes? Why aren't we "rolling for Initiative"? I know the designers wanted to abstract a lot of the more esoteric RPG minutia but they went so far as to make D&D feel like Gauntlet: The Board Game. I.E. a boring slog in tedium. Pretty sad when a modern game like Ravenloft gets out -D&D'ed by a nearly thirty year old game like HeroQuest.      



Confession time: even though I'm a hopeless sucker for dungeon crawl board games, I've thought about unloading both Castle Ravenloft and its sister game Wrath of Ashardalon on more than one occasion. The only thing that's stopping me is the fact that I use the figures and tokens in my regular D&D games!

The life-long D&D nerd in me harbors nothing but contempt for just how dumbed down this thing is while another part of me finds the game's promise of quick n' easy co-operative adventures very appealing. Unfortunately, the conveyor belt of incessant threats via the Monsters and Encounter Cards is more depressing than exhilarating and the poorly-fleshed-out rules quickly drains the fun out of the proceedings like Strahd sucking on a virgin's neck.

The Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game scores three pips outta six with a tilt down towards the keep's bottomless catacombs.


Wanna see where that over-sized bat is flapping off to? Then click on the image below to learn more about the Castle Ravenloft board game and help this blog fashion a sassy necklace made out of garlic!  


  1. One of the "Rules vagaries" I have been curious about was the monster cards. I have never been able to figure out if you reveal a new monster very time some one lands on a tile or just after the first person reveals the tile. The rules seem mute on this bit of minutia. The rules simply state that when a hero lands on a new tile they pull a monster. Well, is that just the first hero, or all heroes that land on the tile?