Posted by : David Guyll August 30, 2010
It's late, but I finally managed to snag it a day before its new release date.
Ravenloft in its board game incarnation seems to be a rules-lite D&D-ized variant on Descent/Arkham Horror: you tour around a randomized dungeon layout killing monsters while trying to achieve one of many objectives, such as killing a specific monster (the "villain") or trying to lift as much shit from Strahd's castle as you can before he shows up. You can get the rules online for free, and I recommend checking them out before committing yourself to the $65 price tag.
(Don't forget to look underneath the black plastic container; there's another four sheets of tiles and tokens hidden there. I only noticed because I was trying to find the "start" tile and failed.)
As an overview of the components, all of the minis are unpainted reprints with the possible exception of four of the hero minis (so if you hate D&D Minis, you'll hate these, too) and the tiles are as sturdy as your typical Dungeon Tile. The tiles have jigsaw-type edges so you can clip them together as you drop them to help fasten them into place. The tokens are made of the same shit and are legion: there's tokens for hit points, tracking healing surges, recharging monster abilities (like breath weapons), items, monsters, etc. It reminds me a lot of Arkham Horror, except I don't think it'll take a weekend to setup and a year and a day to play.
I haven't played the game yet and I won't tell you in-depth (that's what the freely available rules are for), but basically turns play out like this: you get to move your hero about and attack monsters, if you're at the edge of a tile and not head-butting a wall you get to expand the dungeon by drawing a tile at random (or draw an Encounter card if you are busy head butting the wall), and then the monsters try to get their comeuppance by running at you like lemmings and frantically trying to pry off your hit point tokens like jawas snatching parts at a droid mosh. I joke, but having preprogrammed actions is probably good because monsters only have to take down one player in order to do the job proper.
The game handles somewhat similarly to actual D&D, but some things get changed to better accommodate the differing presentation. For example, attack rolls handle the same, but hit points are greatly reduced (the dwarf cleric has eight) and healing surges act more like a universal pool of extra lives: if a player goes down, you burn one and they get back up, but everyone has to share. Other mechanics are made even more abstract than before, such as the dragonborn fighter's breath weapon being able to target every creature on the same tile regardless of position or being able to spend XP in order to automatically avoid traps and special events.
Some of the objectives are pretty lame if you attempt to append a story to them. One involves a hag isolating everyone in different parts of the castle so that she can complete a ritual, because placing the characters in locations that they can just walk out of never bites you in the ass. Another has Strahd for some reason kidnapping everyone and putting them directly outside his coffin. Oddly, the goal here is to try and escape the castle instead of dragging his slumbering corpse outside and tossing it into the sun. Why he didn't just kill everyone or put them in an actual dungeon is beyond me. Some are more straight forward, such as barging into the castle to stake Strahd or prevent a specific number of monsters from escaping.
Like both Descent and Arkham Horror, you can also find treasures on the pre-rotted corpses of your enemies that help even the odds, in addition to leveling up if you have 5 XP in the bank and roll a nat 20. You can only do this once (since the hero cards only have two sides), but that's okay because I think it's humorous that 2nd-level characters can ruin Strahd's day. At a cursory glance it looks like it'll be a lot of fun. I've enjoyed other fantasy board games that have a similar play style and feel, so I've got high hopes for this. Personally I'm hoping for expansions that will add more heroes, monsters/villains, objectives, and environments (again, similar to how Descent did it).
Next up, an actual play report.