Review: “Castle Ravenloft”

Evil beckons!

Since one of my best friends decided to start hosting weekly Game Nights, I’ve been exposed to all manner of board games that I’ve never played or even heard of.

One of those not-heard-of-games was one that we played a few weeks ago: “Castle Ravenloft”. “Castle Ravenloft” (CR) is loosely based on the 4th Edition rules set of Dungeons & Dragons. It is basically a dungeon crawl – explore rooms, find treasures, kill (or be killed by) monsters – but with many different possible scenarios to complete.

The basic setup:

You are one of 5 pre-generated characters: a Fighter, Wizard, Cleric (healer), Ranger (distanced fighter with a Bow and Arrows), or Rogue. Each character comes with a set amount of Hit Points (HP), Armor (AC), and Speed (SP – how many squares you can move per turn), as well a “Surge Value” (explained a little more in a moment) and extra character-based skill. For the first play-through, I played as “Kat”, a Human Rogue:


The characters are headed to Castle Ravenloft, owned/controlled by the game’s main villain, Strahd. I haven’t found out what Strahd exactly is, yet, but there are big hints that he is at an accomplished wizard. Maybe not completely Human.

Each character has 3 small decks of cards to choose from, granting them powers that they can use: a choice of one Utility Power card (such as a bonus to a Rogue’s Sneaking ability or a Cleric’s Healing ability), two At-Will Powers, and one Daily Power (once you use that Daily power, it’s gone from the game, with some rare exceptions). The game actually offers you suggestions on which cards you should choose for each character, in each scenario, but you aren’t required to listen (which I didn’t on 2 of them).

In the (likely) case that one or more of your characters gets shot, zapped, bonked on the head, or fell victim to a trap, and had his/her HP reduced to zero, there are 2 (3, in ‘Easy’ mode) “Surge Tokens” available for the group. These tokens will restore HP, up to your Surge Value; in my case, in the picture above, I would have 4 HP restored.

Game Play:

The scenario that we played sent our little party heading to Castle Ravenloft to kill an annoying Kobold Sorcerer, Klak, as well as an artifact that he had. The game turns progresses in 3 phases:

  1. “Hero Phase” – during this phase, you can either:
    a) attack, then move

    b) move, then attack
    c) move twice
    You cannot attack twice, unless one of your Power cards allow it.
    Movement is restricted by your SP.
  2. “Exploration Phase” – When you move to the edge of a tile, you draw the top tile from a stack and place it next to where you are standing. Two events then happen:
    – you “encounter” a monster on the new tile, by drawing from a set of Monster cards; these can be anything from a swarm of rats to a Skeleton to a Wraith

    – depending on the scenario you are playing, you draw an Encounter Card: maybe you heard an unearthly scream, maybe you stumble into a room and trip a trap, maybe you spot a bundle on the ground, which turns out to be a pile of gold and gems
  3. “Villain Phase” – this is where the game gets good… and evil. During this phase, the monsters that are currently on the board because of you (through exploration or bad card luck) attack. If the villain of the scenario is discovered – Klak, in our case – it attacks, also. That could be a spell attack or a summoning of allies. (The monsters and villain also move.)


We found Klak (above, top-left, grey figure) and his artifact. We also found, via exploration, 3 Gargoyles (white figures) and a summoned Rat Swarm. Gargoyles don’t act until they have a clear line-of-sight on a character. Our Cleric and Warrior found that out the hard way. 

Once all three are completed, for villain and heroes both, you start back with the Hero Phase. The game continues in this fashion until the conditions of the scenario are met or the heroes are dead.

With our scenario, Klak used the “stick and move” strategy: he would hit you (if you got too close), run away, otherwise. Here are his stats, courtesy of Wikia (he is a canine, not a reptile, like the article states): Klak StatsHe ended up summoning enough monsters to keep us occupied, while the Gargoyles methodically cut us down. It was a bloodbath.

This was a very entertaining game! The figurines were well molded; the board tiles were simple – it is a castle, after all – but not too simple. There was a sense of customization with each character, due to the Utility, At-Will, and Daily card decks, although I think that there could have been more added to it. For example, have maybe 8 Utility, 12 At-Will, and 6 potential Daily cards per deck, with the option of choosing 2 Ut. / 3 A.W. / 1 Dly. cards. The scenario itself was fun; we had enough creatures and encounters to keep us challenged, but not so many that it felt like we were drowning in hopeless evil. There are more than enough potential board layouts to keep the scenario we were on fresh (since our strategy did not work the first time); I am guessing that the other scenarios would be the same way. 

If you are into board games and the Fantasy genre, especially Dungeons and Dragons, then “Castle Ravenloft” should be on your purchase-and-play list. If your aren’t a Fantasy fan, then maybe give it a play, for the amount of horror that could potentially happen in a scenario. Wouldn’t YOU be scared, if you opened a door and a Flaming Wraith is looking at you from across the room? 😉

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