Castle Ravenloft is one of the most popular Dungeons & Dragons board games that manages to condense classic D&D experience in a one-hour format. Take up to four companions with you and explore Count Strahd’s castle filled with dangers in this cooperative dungeon-crawler. Let’s dive into our ultimate Castle Ravenloft Review!
Brief Overview of Castle Ravenloft
There’s not a person in the world that hasn’t heard of D&D. Whenever you ask someone what’s holding them back from playing through a campaign, the answer typically comes down to the lack of spare time and difficulty of getting the group together each night.
Castle Ravenloft solves this problem by capturing the essence of D&D into a game that goes on for an hour or less. It is an approachable game for players new to board games or D&D, while not disappointing the veteran players. Choose one of the five classes, explore the castle and cooperate with other players to defeat the monsters and stay alive!
Unboxing Castle Ravenloft
Inside the box you’ll find:
- 1 adventure book
- 1 rulebook
- 1 die
- 1 “Start” tile
- 40 interlocking dungeon tiles
- 42 figures
- 214 cards
- 24 markers
- 178 tokens
The most notable features of Castle Ravenloft are the figures, and you can tell a lot of work went into their design. The hero figures have a lot of detail to them which will definitely add to the immersion of the game. It gets even better once you see the monsters, especially the Gravestorm Dracolich model.
Several times larger than the hero figures, this giant dragon is captured in an intimidating pose showing all of its features. Once you take it out of the box, it might not ever find its way back in it, and instead, become a decorative piece on your shelf.
The other monsters are just as detailed, from gargoyles and ghouls to Count Strahd himself. The most interesting piece for me is the 3 rat swarms, which look like standard tokens with dozens of rats running on them.
For the players of the classic D&D, the figures alone make this purchase worth it even without ever playing the board game itself. Getting 42 pieces for just over a buck apiece is one of the best ways to enhance your monsters and heroes collection.
If you’re a casual player, be aware that all of the figures come unpainted. This is a common practice as the painting of the figures would raise the price of any board game through the roof. Still, it’s worth considering if you dislike the monochromatic look, and have no interest in painting the pieces yourself.
How to Play Castle Ravenloft
To get ready for your first adventure, you’ll need to pick out the necessary pieces, as you won’t be using everything from the start. Shuffle the monster, encounter, and treasure decks, and give each player a Sequence of Play card for quick reference.
Once you’ve placed the decks, figures, and die in reach of all the players, pick an adventure scenario from the Adventure Book. It will tell you how to create the Dungeon Tile stack, as well as the victory conditions you need to achieve. Place the Start Tile in the center of the table and two Healing Surge tokens beside it.
Now it’s time for you and your friends to choose your Hero. As it is a cooperative game, it’s important for everyone to be satisfied with their choice, and you can always rotate for the next session. Each of the players takes the corresponding Hero, Treasure, and Power cards, and places their figure on the Start Tile.
The game starts with a player of your choosing and progresses clockwise. If you can’t decide, roll the die and start the game with the player who rolled the highest. Every player gets to complete three phases on their turn, in the following order:
- Hero Phase – Move through the dungeon, and attack encountered monsters.
- Exploration Phase – Add new Dungeon tiles, draw Monster cards, and place monsters on the board.
- Villain Phase – Play Encounter cards and activate the Villain (if present in the scenario) as well as any Monster or Trap card in front of your Hero.
The most important part of finishing an adventure is slaying the dangerous monsters of Castle Ravenloft.
Combat begins by targeting an enemy close enough for your character to hit. The AC (Armor Class) of a monster or hero represents how difficult it is to hit them, while the Attack Bonus can affect the likelihood of making a successful strike.
To make an attack, roll the die and add its value to the power’s Attack Bonus. If it’s equal or greater than the target’s Armor Class, you’ve made a successful hit. The damage is dealt in full, and if it brings the monster’s HP to 0, you have defeated it, otherwise use the Hit Point tokens to track the damage. Some of the monsters can heal their injuries through their powers, much like the heroes.
Progressing Through the Dungeon
As you defeat monsters, you’ll gain experience points, which can be used to either cancel an Encounter card or level up your hero to make it more powerful. You’ll find powerful treasures and face dangerous encounters, making you tread carefully with each step.
Encounter cards can be traps, events, dangerous environments, and other threats with effects that activate as soon as the card is drawn. There are many types of Encounter cards, each with its own special rules:
- Active Hero – Refers to the hero controlled by the player who drew the card.
- Environment – Changes the dungeon crypt and applies to all heroes.
- Events – Represent a random occurrence which may include an attack roll against one or more heroes.
- Hazards – Slows the progression of the heroes through the dungeon.
- Traps – Traps act like Hazards, but heroes have an option to disable them.
Treasures can be magic items or other valuables that you can gain as a reward for slaying a monster (once per turn) or find them in the dungeon. Combining multiple treasure effects can significantly boost your hero’s power and give you a fighting chance in an otherwise grim encounter. The three types of treasure cards are:
- Blessings – Play immediately, lasts until the end of your next turn, providing benefits to the whole party.
- Fortunes – Play immediately for an immediate benefit, which might not always occur.
- Items – The items give a long-term benefit to the hero who owns them. The player that draws an item can choose to keep it or give it to a more suitable companion.
Your First Game of Castle Ravenloft
There’s a lot to take in when you first get into Castle Ravenloft, especially if you haven’t played much D&D. Luckily, the game comes with a few tips and guides to make it easier to figure out all of the mechanics.
For the very first game of Castle Ravenloft, pick the ‘Find the Icon of Ravenloft’ adventure if you’re playing with friends, or ‘Escape the Tomb’ if you want to try it out solo. By playing them, you’ll get a good feeling of what the game is about while not being overwhelmed with every variable.
It’s also recommended to pick Power cards recommended by the adventure book until you get a good grasp and make your own deck. If you were not successful in your first run, you can increase the number of Healing Surge tokens to make it easier. Healing Surge tokens are basically extra lives and are used to revive a downed player.
Keep in mind the range at which your hero can attack to avoid missteps. It’s always a good idea to keep the rulebook handy in case you draw a card with complex effects. Now you’re ready to take on the corridors of Castle Ravenloft and do your best to achieve victory!
Pros & Cons
- Quick to grasp rules
- Has a solo mode
- The progressive difficulty of adventures
- D&D experience wrapped in one hour or less
- High-quality miniatures
What I love about this game is how easy it is to get new people brought up to speed and playing effectively. Since you’re not playing against each other and all of the cards are visible to the entire party, when a player is not sure what to do, everyone can help them decide their next move.
Once you’ve finished your first few adventures, you can progress the difficulty and also start choosing your own Power cards for the added depth. To make the game more challenging, remove one of the Healing Surge tokens, and when you get tired of the Adventure book scenarios, you can take a look on the official website for more free adventures.
I know I’ve already mentioned the miniatures, but they really deserve the praise. Not only do they enhance immersion in Castle Ravenloft, but they can also just as easily be used in other board games or classic D&D adventures. A unique and interesting aspect this game has is that so many people bought it just for the miniatures, but ended up spending dozens of hours playing the board game itself.
One of the things I found to be missing in Castle Ravenloft is the roleplay that D&D is well known for. This could’ve been handled by having party dilemmas sparked by an event with two difficult choices, decided by a diplomatic vote.
If you’re not a fan of dice-based combat, then I can’t really recommend this game to you. The heavy reliance on successful rolls does take away some control and strategy from the game, and some adventures might even fall apart on a few chained bad rolls.
Castle Ravenloft Review (TL;DR)
Castle Ravenloft is a cooperative dungeon crawler in which up to 5 players form a party and engage in D&D style combat against monsters to level up, gain new items, and achieve victory. It is an easy game to learn but has a lot of depth, with progressive difficulty determined by adventures. Unlike classic D&D, Castle Ravenloft can be finished in under an hour, making it perfect for fans that don’t have enough time for a full-scale campaign.
I’ve quite enjoyed my experience playing Castle Ravenloft, and I’ll definitely play more of it with my group. Among the cooperative games, it’s one of the most entertaining, and the charm of the setting truly makes you want to play it again.
If you have friends who’ve always wanted to get into D&D, but are too intimidated by its complexity, get them to play Castle Ravenloft with you. It might be just what they need to break the ice and get into the proper campaigns with you. And if not, you’ll still have a way to enjoy the D&D universe with them.
From the mechanical aspect, the dice rolling will be what makes or breaks a purchase. Personally, I’m not a big fan of it, as I prefer systems where strategy and planning ahead give you a greater chance of succeeding. If you’re like me, but would still like a board game based on the D&D universe, then I can wholeheartedly suggest one of my favourite board games: Lords of the Waterdeep.
We hope you enjoyed our Castle Ravenloft review. Have you tried Castle Ravenloft? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this D&D board game. Drop a comment below!