The chair creaks as you settle onto it. The candlelight flickers. All around you the ravenous faces of your so-called friends twist in delight as you slowly open the box laid out on the table. Welcome to Dangerous Games! Each week, we'll feature a horror/thriller/monster tabletop game you should be playing. Don't be scared… roll the dice… what's the worst that could happen?
The mists of Castle Ravenloft are just as immaterial as the legends and myths that surround the decrepit castle. You and your traveling companions have stumbled upon this crumbling palace in the dead of night. You're well-armed, hardened adventurers, but something seems off about the place as you creak open the front gates. Is it deserted? Is it true that its lonesome host still roams these ancient halls? A crack of lightning alights the sky, and you think you can see a silhouette of a figure in the window. Well, fortune favors the bold. Time to tighten up your boot straps, dust off your spell book, and see just how haunted this "haunted castle" really is!
An officially licensed 'Dungeons and Dragons' product, 'Castle Ravenloft' (released 2010) gives adventurers a taste of what playing a game of D&D is like… without all the roleplaying, stat-checking, and storytelling. So why is this of interest to the average horror fan? Because this game takes place in a spooky, haunted, mansion that an evil Vampire Lord calls home. Sweet! One to Five adventurers make their way through the dungeon, exploring new rooms and encountering new monsters, retrieving relics and slaying creatures of the night. Do you have the mettle to tangle with Castle Ravenloft?
Players start by "building" their characters. This process, streamlined and simplified when compared to a straight-up game of D&D, involves choosing a character and his or her powers. The characters are classic fantasy fare: a Wizard, a Ranger, a Rogue, a Cleric and a Fighter. Each character then selects different "powers," from a pool. These powers are either things that character can do every time, sometimes, or once a game. Once all players have selected who they want to play as it's time to select a scenario. There are twelve scenarios ranging in difficulty. You may have to steal an ancient relic from the castle, survive for a certain amount of time, or track down and kill the vampire lord.
But the castle is full of monsters and traps. There are stone gargoyles who streak through the sky towards adventurers, there are skeletons and zombies, there's a "flesh golem" (D&D's equivalent of a Frankenstein Monster), and even a zombie dragon. Yes, you heard that right, a zombie dragon. Players explore the dungeon by flipping over random tiles to create the dungeon, and fight monsters using their powers and rolling a twenty sided die. If everyone plans and works together, they may just make it out alive.
This game is inherently random, which some may complain about but which I find only adds to the replay value of a game. You never know which dungeon tile you're going to flip next, and you never know what monster may be lurking in that room. It feels like a creepy crypt-crawl, and every game I've played has been tense and fun. Plus, there are twelve scenarios, and only the first few are easy to blast through. The rest take a few failed attempts to get right. Difficulty and random board construction: the easiest way to make your game replay friendly. Plus, fans of the game have created plenty of alternative scenarios to play through. So when you've made your way through the printed material it's only a quick google to find more scenarios for you and your friends.
This is a very fun game. And it's sort of a gateway game, too. It's not so horror that your non-horror friends won't want to play it. It's spooky, not grisly. And it's not so Dungeons and Dragons that your non-nerdy (read: non-awesome) friends won't want to play it. It's tactical, not theatrical. The miniatures in this big ol' box are awesome, and the board is sturdy and well-made. This is a blast to play, and it's another example of an awesome coop game. Guard your neck, flee the vampire lord, and if you steal some treasure along the way… all the better for you!