A few months ago I talked about the board game Castle Ravenloft, a quick, tactical dungeon crawl based loosely on the D&D 4th Edition rules. We loved the game for being fast, balanced, and fun; you could play a whole scenario in an hour, and our evenings with the game typically spanned three or four scenarios because we enjoyed it so much. Next week, Wizards of the Coast releases the second in the series, Wrath of Ashardalon, and I’ve had the chance to play it quite a few times. I’m pleased to report that it not only lives up to the first game, it’s an improvement in many ways.
Whereas CR was set in a gothic castle full of undead, WoA is set in a mountainy cavern of some kind, filled with such classic monster types as orcs, devils, and (of course) dragons. They’ve refined the rules a bit–nothing that changes the game too wildly, but one change in particular helped fix one of our major complaints from last time (the weakness of the rogue) despite not actually altering any elements from the original game. The best new feature is what they call Chambers: large rooms in the dungeon that make for huge, climactic encounters, while still keeping to the same random engine that makes the game so balanced.
The new characters in the game are fun and unique–I was worried that included so many of the same classes as CR, which seemed lame, when they had so many to draw from, but the sculpts and powers are all new, plus they’ve made the powers interchangeable, so that a Wizard from the first game (for example) can use powers from a wizard in the second game, and vice versa. The two sets characters seem balanced against each other, and we even tried a 7-player game to see how well they combined–they combined well, and the game difficulty scaled perfectly with extra players. The game time did not, however, and adding two extra players nearly doubled the game time. Of course, doubling the game time still clocked in at half of a typical Descent session, so we still came out ahead. There was noticeable and occasionally annoying downtime, however.
My biggest complaint with the games remains the same: despite how simple the games are, the rulebooks manage to be confusing and poorly-organized. We missed several key rules that caused major problems while playing, and it took a ridiculous amount of time for four experienced gamers to comb through the leaflet-style rulebook to figure out what the problem was. We think we’ve got everything straightened out by now, but there’s excuse for that level of confusion.
My other problem with WoA was the generic flavor of the tiles. The CR tiles were covered with crypts and chapels and all kinds of creepy atmosphere, to really give you the sense that you’re exploring a castle. The WoA tiles are much more generic, and often you won’t find anything interesting at all until you come to the climactic chamber. I suppose this is an accurate reflection of what it’s like to explore a cave, but come on. It would not have been hard to differentiate these tiles a little. The doors add some variation, but overall they’re not as interesting as they should be, and it’s a poor trade-off for a dungeon with some personality.
All told, we had a lot of fun with Wrath of Ashardalon, and we’re excited to play more. For a quick dungeon crawl fix that has all of the flavor with none of the onerous baggage, it’s simply the best system out there.