The geek-monopolising empire that is Wizards of the Coast have just released a third board game (The Legend of Drizzt) in their recent 'Adventure System' series. The dust is just starting to settle on these games, and since no dedicated thread has appeared on tLatD for any of them as of yet.. here we go!
For the uninitiated: The games are touted as a fast-play dungeon-crawl with miniatures for 1-5 players (note the 1; meaning solo play). They are set in the D&D universe, designed to be be playable without a DM within around one hour. Most of these selling points were carefully aimed at the cries of board gaming geeks who either A) didn't have a group to play with, B) were sick of always having to be the DM, or C) were high-flying executive geeks and limited in their amount spare time.
What has been produced meets these goals pretty well and is, in my opinion, a fun co-operative game which is light enough for 'normies' to enjoy without too much eye rolling, and has enough meat to keep seasoned fantasists fairly sedate. The games, however, lack depth in the role-play department due to the fairly abstract nature of the rule mechanics. (I must say that I own both Ravenloft and Ashardalon, and have had a fair amount of fun from them due to the great success in getting my less goblin-centric friends and family involved in the action.)
Before I go any further, lets have a look at the three recent nerdy offerings from WotC of which I witter:
1) CaStLe RaVenLoFt - (released Aug 2010)
There was much ado when this game was announced. It was hailed as the coming of the new HeroQuest/WarhammerQuest/InsertWhateverYouLikeQuest. Some searchers for 'The Ultimate Dungeon Crawl' were crying out: "Could this be the one!?". Men wept with joy openly in the streets (okay I made that last bit up). Excitement. When the first reviews and play-tests came in there was division. Some D&D role-play enthusiasts were not amused. They hated how mechanically driven the game was, and felt there was not enough room for theme, or the role-playing they loved. Others seemed to take the game as it was, and loved it for bringing some dungeon crawling action back into their lives.
2) Wrath of Ashardalon - (released Feb 2011)
The next game in line was delayed, perhaps in response to some of the criticisms of Ravenloft. The result was a campaign system of sorts, doors, and larger chambers for boss battles. The general consensus was that it was an improvement on its predecessor.
3) The Legend of Drizzt - (released Oct 2011)
The most recent game of the lot cashes in on the popularity of the famous character Drizzt Do'Urden. It brings caverns, cavern edges (for sealed dungeons), PvP, and lots of more powerful heroes. From what I gather, this is said to be a further improvement over its predecessors.
I've played my way through all of Ravenloft with my group, and we've played a hand-full of missions from Ashardalon so far. Our games tend to go on for around two hours due to the set-up time and amount of chatter going on. One thing my group likes is the interaction between us all. We always discuss what we think is the optimal strategy for what ever situation we're in. Its beardy heaven. Games often feel close and brutal from the outset to the end.
My feeling is that these games will be fairly influential. The method for controlling the monsters by using in-built commands and cycling their activation around the players is good, as is the semi-random dungeon construction, but as a fan of games like HeroQuest /WarhammerQuest/Mordheim etc., I can feel slightly empty after a game. Should we have concerns about the plight of DM-ing and roleplay if this is the direction that board gaming is going? Will a generation miss out? ..Don't look at me.. I don't flippin' know!
I have to stop typing now and get on, but I'd love to know what you guys make of it all.
TLDR: These games are cool, especially if you are limited for time and have £40 burning a hole in your pocket.
Excellent write up of the series so far
I myself own CaStLe RaVenLoFt - which Madam M got me for X-mas last year. My group play it from time to as a kind of 'lazy'/'spur of the moment' game because it requires no preparation, you can just open up the box get the parts out and play.
In so far as the dungeon goes it reminds of WHQ with it's random generation method and also rather strongly of Twilight Creations's Zombies! boardgame. The combat mechanics are of course the same stripped down D20 system seen in the Star Wars Miniatures game and the system for placing monsters is slightly reminiscent of the Blips in SpaceHulk.
Although the D&D 4th style 'Healing Surge' and lack of any real role-play is rather irritating the number one thing that bothers me above all else is the way the monsters move - and it's not so much the IF THEN program-like behaviour-instructions each monster type follows (despite it's restrictive nature this is very useful for solo-play and at least makes each monster's behaviour different) as the fact they have no movement rate and just move 1 tile (4x4 square board section) at a time until they end up in range of (or in an adjacent square to) the nearest PC so they can use their attack (the PCs however do have a traditional square-based movement rate). This takes away a lot of the strategy of dungeon crawling as there are no real slow or fast monsters and it also begs the question of why the board is grid based at all. I mean why not just have 1 square per tile like DungeonQuest? And then have the PCs move 1 or 2 tiles a turn like the monsters? After all if you're on the same tile as a monster you're usually in combat with it in one way or another.
The extremely abstract nature of some of the rules, especially some of the PC's abilities also I feel strips away further levels of strategy that you have in other dungeon crawler type games.
Having criticized it this much so far I must also explain that CaStLe RaVenLoFt still a fun and fast playing game – it's also very easy to learn and several quests can be played end-to-end in the time it takes to a play single quest of most other dungeon crawlers.
CaStLe RaVenLoFt's no GM game-play (hehe that always reminds me of those 'GM free food' sticker you used to see on meat packets a few years ago) makes most veteran players of dungeon crawlers a little uneasy, but most seem to forget that WHQ was designed to be played without a GM and having a GM running the game was considered part of the 'advanced rules' and consigned to the Role-Play Book.
My group tends to play CaStLe RaVenLoFt with one person acting as the GM, this actually requires far less rule changes than you might think – all you need to do is read 'Controlling Player' as GM and 'Active Player' as 'PC who's turn it is' and ad-lib anything unusual that turns up. We also PCs to move and attack in which ever order they like in the same way as HeroQuest, D&D and many other games do. I think the next logical step will be to sit down with a 3.5 or 4th edition Monster Manual and make a reference sheet for the different monster's movement rates.
CaStLe RaVenLoFt of course makes for a great introductory game to D&D – earlier in this year I used it to introduce a group of young wargamers to D&D, after a few weeks of playing during which they worked their way though the campaign in the booklet, I brought along my D&D 3.5 box set and we played the adventure that came with it. Needless to say they were much less intimidated by a full RPG system buy that point and it only took a little guidance to get them role-playing their characters.
In the future I will be seeing about getting Wrath of Ashardalon or The Legend of Drizzt (or maybe both) to expand the game and I will most likely mix and match monsters and floor-pieces between the games.
Lastly it goes without saying the miniatures in the CaStLe RaVenLoFt game are rather nice (despite being made of that stupid rubbery plastic WotC insist on using) and once painted up find use in many other games. Like wise the modular nature and in-built randomization mechanic of the dungeon tiles makes them very easy to use in other games you want to do a bit of random dungeon crawling in.
PS I may add pictures to my contribution to this ranting at a later date
~The ravings of a single mad Goblin is bad enough, but such a power-hungry, malice-filled creature as Mortis can never hope to be understood~
In reply to this post by SamuelF
Solo-play? *ears prick up*
Is it like WHQ? Is it WHQ? Is it like WHQ?
(I was very intrigued when I saw that Mortis had been bought the vampy one... I mean it's DnD4 supposedly...)
*Now very intrigued*
I've been suspicious of this game and have only read reviews by DnD fanboys so far.
Sounding good so far...
*Now feeling slightly depressed and empty ...*
Ah, bugger the DM. He only ever wants to kill me ...
I guess that's the point, and we've covered a bit of ground on this here on DMs in boardgames, intro games and big book RPGs. In HQ, it's the DM vs the players. In AHQ and WHQ the DM could be considered to be a sort of "talking" option (I swear GW took great pleasure in reducing role-playing role to and handful of quotes and strategy - which seems similar to DnD4 play today, but hey, I used to play RPGs because I liked talking, and some people play because they like battle planning - nowadays I'm grateful if I get to play anything along a fantasy theme.)
Thanks for thoughts about these games, guys - it's like a perspective in a language I understand.
I've played the second one and thoroughly enjoyed it. the game is pretty tough, something bad happens on everyone's turn, but for £40 its excellent value just for the amount of stuff you get, especially all the minis.
The whole grid/tile thing does make sense based on events. We had one where touching the walls causes damage, so moving needed to be done carefully. How the monsters move also works from a non GM point of view and helps with tactics. The event per turn thing keeps the game moving, there is no standing about recovering, you have to keep pushing on.
Overall, an enjoyable game you can play over and over.
You don't stop playing games when you get old, you get old when you stop playing games.
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