The Castle Ravenloft board game is a Dungeons & Dragons based board game. Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D) is an old-school roleplaying game. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a roleplaying game is different from a board game. Players take the roles of individual characters in a fantasy setting, and the gamemaster (or “dungeonmaster,” in D&D), sets the stage and plays all the other characters that the player characters interact with. People who grew up during the 80s and 90s, like me, probably thought of roleplaying games as being the next step in the evolution of the board game. After all, in a board game, you also take the role of someone else, albeit in a much more abstract manner. In Monopoly, for example, you take the role of a real estate developer. But in traditional board games, you have a limited number of choices. In a roleplaying game, you have a nearly-infinite number of choices.
So isn’t it interesting that the hobby seems to have taken a step backwards with the release of board games that are based on roleplaying games like D&D?
The reality is that the different kinds of games don’t represent steps forward or backward along some kind of evolutionary scale. Board games aren’t inherently inferior to roleplaying games, and RPGs (roleplaying games) aren’t inherently superior than board games. They’re just different. So there’s no reason that you couldn’t have a board game (or even several board games) based on D&D. In fact, you could even create a card game or multiple card games based on D&D.
The Castle Ravenloft board game is published by Wizards of the Coast, which is the publisher of D&D as well as some other traditionally “geeky” games. The game was published in 2010, and it supports play for anywhere from 1 to 5 players. (Yes, you can play with just one person, which is kinda cool if you’ve got nothing else to do and don’t feel like reading a book or watching a movie or surfing the Internet.)
The game takes about an hour to finish on average, although it might take slightly more or less time based on your circumstances. It’s also simple enough that it can be played by typically intelligent 10 or 11 year olds. But it’s interesting enough to occupy adult game fans, too. I think Castle Ravenloft is especially good for adults who used to enjoy RPGs when they were younger, but who are no longer to make the sometimes-demanding time commitment.
In a roleplaying game, the dungeonmaster usually spends as much time preparing the adventure/scenario as he does playing it, and depending on the version of the rules used, it might take an hour or more to create a character. In Castle Ravenloft, the game itself is the dungeonmaster, and characters are all pregenerated. So it’s just a matter of sitting down and playing.
Castle Ravenloft is based on one of the original “modules“, which is what RPG publishers used to call pre-packaged adventures back in the day, for Dungeons & Dragons. The characters are guests in the castle of Count Strahd, who’s the villain of the piece. The board game honors the original adventure without duplicating it, and multiple scenarios are included, which enhances the board game’s replay value. Theoretically, you could create your own scenarios for the game, too.
I enjoyed playing Castle Ravenloft enough that I wanted to dry the other Dungeons & Dragons board games, of which I think there are at least two more. The game reminded me of Descent: Journeys in the Dark, but that’s largely because the themes of the games are so similar. Descent: Journeys in the Dark owes at least as much to the original RPG Dungeons & Dragons as the Castle Ravenloft board game does.
Would you enjoy Castle Ravenloft? Maybe. If you like fantasy-themed horror, or horror-themed fantasy, then the subject matter should interest you. If you’ve never played a board game more involved than Monopoly, then Castle Ravenloft might be a lot to get your mind around. The best I can tell you is to give it a try and see. The cost of the game is minimal compared to the hours of entertainment you’ll receive if you do decide you enjoy the game. It’s definitely cheaper, on an hour by hour or minute by minute basis, than going to see a 3D movie.