Since I got it a few months ago, I’ve been playing a lot of the Castle Ravenloft board game.
It’s a pretty decent game, but something has bugged me about it and I haven’t been able to really explain what it is until recently. When describing the problem to my friends, I usually said it was a “pacing issue,” and I think that’s true, but I think it’s more accurately an “expectations issue.”
What I expected Castle Ravenloft would be:
I expected it to be structured kind of like the classic Hero Quest board game, or (essentially) much more like an actual game of Dungeons and Dragons. I expected the players to explore the randomized dungeons, band together to defeat encounters, and then loot the place for treasure that they could use in later encounters.
What Castle Ravenloft is:
The game is structured as a cooperative race against time. The players need to accomplish an objective before the game drains them of all their resources. The better the players are at playing the game, the better they are at rationing their resources to last as long as possible.
For those not familiar with it, a normal player’s turn goes like this:
- A Player may move
- A Player fights
- The board (through enemies, encounters, and boss monsters) drains the player, or all the players, of some of their resources. The most important player resource is health: if a player has 0 health at the beginning of his turn and no way to get it back, all the players lose.
This is actually kind of an exciting game, and it plays like other cooperative board games. It doesn’t however, play like Hero Quest or D&D.
How is it different from my expectations?
- In D&D or Hero quest the players are incentivized to stick together. In Ravenloft you are often penalized for sticking together (many of the encounters hurt everything on the active player’s square).
- In D&D you are rewarded for exploring ALL of a dungeon so you can collect as much treasure as possible. In Ravenloft you want to get to your objective as quickly as possible so you have maximum resources to deal with it.
- In D&D or Hero Quest, most player actions result in status-quo or reward conditions. You very rarely take an action that results in a penalty (penalties usually happen on the DM’s turn). In Ravenloft, the board doesn’t really have a “turn” — it just goes at the end of every player’s turn. Most of the time, when the board goes, you take damage or otherwise lose resources.
There are a number of other ways it’s different, but that’s the basic gist of it.
End result: I’d like to make or play a mod of the game that takes the basic pieces and puts them together in a way that plays more like my expectations. I guess I’ve been waiting for a game like that for a while, and while Ravenloft is fun, it wasn’t THAT game. I still want to play that game, so maybe I’ll put together a little hack and put it up here.