Friday, October 27, 2017

Board-Gaming Review: Doom: The Board Game

"Now listen up you no-good, yellow-belly, sodden excuses for recruits!!! This is the UAC MARINE CORP!! Your missions will range from retrieval, to search and rescue, to seek and destroy. If you were expecting an afternoon of fun and games, then you should be booking your honeymoon to Beirut for this ain't it!
The whole gorram planet is crawling with demons so ugly it will make your frackin' mugs look like they could win beauty contests. You will be expected to be proficient in weaponry and multiple load-outs ranging from plasma rifles to shot guns to chain guns and yes, to big fracking guns too. You will be expected to be skilled in tactical combat, stealth manoeuvres and be able to stand your ground while Satan's hell hounds are taking a piss on your boots. So stay alert and stay sharp. From here on out forget the sweet names your mama gave you. Your designations are Alpha, Bravo, Charlie or Delta and you better get used to pain Marine cos you're in for a whole planet of it.
You make a wrong move and you die! You look the wrong way and you die! You so much as fucking blink and you die! This hell-ridden, demon-infested planet is gonna be the playground of your nightmares. Buckle up boys, we're not in Kansas anymore. This is Mars. This is DOOM!" - Marshall B Killjoy  - UAC Drill Sargent.

Fantasy Flight Quality. Sooo good!
I remember the original Doom FPS from the early nineties giving me a lot of insane, shoot-to-kill game-play and a lot more motion sickness. Not that it wasn't a fun game - it was brilliant but alas! I could only stomach about 20 minutes of it before being positively dismal and dizzy. Fast forward a few decades and those fine folks at Fantasy Flight have gone and removed all the stomach queasiness to present Doom: The Board Game - a one versus many dungeon-crawling tactical miniatures game for 2-5 players that looks like an average board game but feels like an arcade game.
Off the bat, let me say that I really like this game. It bears similarities to Descent and Imperial Assault (same designer - Jonathan Ying) but is much more streamlined and focused on quick skirmish-style missions as opposed to drawn out lengthy campaigns. One player assumes the role of the Invader while the remaining four players are the UAC marines, equipped with an arsenal of weapons including chainguns, plasma rifles, grenades, chainsaws and the ever powerful BFG 9000! The Invader has control of a host of demons ranging from Imps to Caco demons to Pinkys and to the all impressive Cyberdemon.

The all-imposing Cyberdemon. Don't piss him off!

But first, let's look inside the box...

The UAC Marines: packing the heat.
As this is Fantasy Flight you could only expect top-notch components and rightfully so. The box contains a lot of cards, mini cards, cardboard tiles, tokens and little chits and bits. Oh and three rule booklets. Yes, three. But don't be daunted by this because each booklet serves a purpose. There is the standard 'Learn to Play' guide which features as a quick set-up-and-go tutorial, an 'Operation Guide' that contains the setup for each of the 12 missions and a 'Rules Reference' guide for when you really need to reference rules. The Minis in the game, as with all Fantasy Flight games, are superbly sculpted and really deserve to be painted. They're just amazing. These minis demand a decent paint job and for guides on how to paint, check out the absolutely awesome work done by fellow game enthusiast Luke Paruman here.

Setup is fairly straightforward. You layout the tiles according to the map setup for the operation you will be playing, along with the doors, portal, objectives, health packs and weapon tokens. As this is a One vs Many game, gameplay is asymmetrical with one player playing the role of the Invader (i.e. 'Overlord' like in Descent/ Imperial Assault) and the remaining (up to 4) players taking the role of one of four UAC Marines. Each marine has a starting deck of 10 cards which enable movement, attack and defence. The marines are all more or less similar with standard issue UAC cards but differ slightly with initial weapon load outs. Each marine also gets to choose a class card granting them unique abilities and then there a squad cards for when you're playing with fewer marines. 
The Invader player has a deck of Event cards which augments demon abilities during the round, a deck of demon cards with all the stats, health and attack values for these and a per-scenario Invasion card which lists which groups of demons will be spawning from portals. 
The Invader also has a scenario-specific Threat card which, much like the marine's Objective card, explains the events which fire for the mission as well as how/ when demons will be spawned from portals. The Invader also controls the Initiative Deck which gets shuffled to determine which player (Marine or Invader) activates next.

The game consists of several mission which are quick to setup and easy to play. Unlike Descent and Imperial, there is no real 'campaign' mechanic here - its a quick and dirty fight and it works brilliantly. Marines have some or other objective to complete in each mission and the invader, well - the invader simply has to gain as many frags (kills) as is needed to win.
The one mechanic which made this game loads of fun was the 'glory kill' - If a demon is staggered (wounded to a certain point), a marine simply has to move into that spot and SQUISH! - the demon is dead and the marine has now earned a glory kill card which grants health and extra bonuses.

Game-play is asymmetric and each round is made up of a status phase and an activation phase. During the status phase the Invader prepares the Initiative deck which is basically a deck of cards consisting of either demons (one for each type of demon on the board) and one card per marine playing (or 2 if it's just one marine).
The Marine player draws his starting hand of 3 cards from his deck of 10 and the Invader 6 cards from the Event deck. Then the top card of the Initiative deck is flipped indicating which player's trun it is to activate. For the activation phase, the marine can play cards from his hand which consists of one action and an unlimited (but limited to cards in hand) of bonus actions. Without delving in to too much details, Cards will grant the marine movement and attack and are themed around the sets of weapons you selected on load-out. 
There is an element of deck-building for the Marine player as you get the full set of 3 cards (or 1 for grenades) each time you 'pick up' a weapon on the map and you can sort-of custom build your deck according to your needs. Attack is line-of-sight based, roll some dice and compare your rolls (plus whatever stats boosting you have) to the health value of the demon you are targeting. If you rolled higher, the demon takes damage. If you roll high enough, congratulations - you just roasted some demon!

The Invader player is no wuss either. He gets to activate ALL demons of a particular type and they can all attack (in sequence of course) so your marines could easily be swarmed/ chomped/ eaten. The Invader also gets to augment demons attacks with the event cards in hand and these can dish out a world of pain on the unsuspecting marines. Once the Initiative deck is depleted, the round is done and the status phase commences again.

This Game is a great one VS many quick-and-dirty shoot-em-upper tactical mins game. It's loads of fun, has the potential to be more complex but minus all the complexity. It's a solid, great adaptation of video to boardgame and plays just as well with 5 players as it does with two.
My only gripes are that the details on the game tiles are very small and every few times we needed to check and double check for line of sight, cover and terrain. I really do wish they printed bigger, clearer tiles.
Also, I did find that the first 3 missions were extremely unbalanced and in favour of the marines and needed to house-rule a bit after consulting the forums on board game geek. I am hoping that FF brings out an app (like with Mansions of Madness 2E) to enable a full on co-op experience. Our gaming group of four would really like a four player-marine-only version. But all in all a very worthy buy. For purchases, check it out on RARU - Doom: The Board Game.

Components: 9
Setup: 7
Gameplay: 8
Replayability: 8
Theme: 8
Overall Score: 8

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: The Legend of Drizzt Board Game Review

The Legend of Drizzt is 1-5 Co-Op dungeon crawler that plunges players deep into the labyrinthine caverns of the Underdark, the home of the dark elves known as the Drow. Here players will assume the roles of the most legendary Drow of all time Drizzt Do'Urden and his companions Cattie-Brie, Wulfgar, Regis and Bruenor Battlehammer as they journey ever onward towards Menzoberranzan, the City of Spiders, ruled by the terrifying demon queen Lolth. Along the way they will battle goblins and spirits, contend with trolls and spiders and overcome the nasty surprises that lurk within these mysterious caverns.

The Legend of Drizzt: The board game is the essential Dungeons and Dragons experience and hearkens back to my teenage years of rainy days indoors with a lunchbox of snacks and a thick yellow-stained library book. R.A Salvatore is the distinguished creator of the Drizzt series and his books provided me with hours on end exploring the worlds of the Drow and the Forgotten Realms. Salvatore later went on to pen an entire history for my favourite fantasy RPG video game of ALL time: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.


Onward to board games and we have The Legend of Drizzt, a sweet homage to Salvatore, designed by Wizkids and in the same lieu as Castle Ravenloft. It has the same gaming engine and pretty much the same rules. There's still the same sequence of phases: hero phase, exploration phase and villain phase except you're exploring caverns instead of dungeons and there is now a 'cavern' tile stack instead of a dungeon one. You're still fighting monsters that pop up on every new tile that gets placed. There are still encounter cards and boss-type villains to contend with and a book of preset scenario adventures. So yes, it's pretty much Ravenloft  - but in the Drizzt universe and with a few notable and worthy exceptions: Apart from strictly co-op, there are also a few competitive scenarios which has players squaring off against each other to complete some or other objective. Then there is the addition of cavern edge tiles which close off some unexplored edges, adding to the claustrophobia of the tunnel-like Underdark. And lastly, there are a lot more Heroes in this box than in both Ravenloft and Ashardalon. Many of these heroes only make an appearance in later scenarios (i.e.Artemis, Jarlaxle) and while the adventure book is pretty much self contained, there is a strong feel towards a story-driven campaign.


The Heroes of the Underdark!
It's another giant box with 42 neatly sculpted unpainted miniatures,  200 cards and lots of cardboard tiles, tokens, items, chits and bits. Oh and, as per usual, really awesome artwork..Each of the heroes and villains have their own stats card which includes their respective abilities and by thunder, do these heroes have abilities! Drizzt,for example, can do two attacks in his hero phase and the introduction of stance tokens makes for a very interesting dynamic. Drizzt can even summon his ever-faithful panther Guenhwyvar!


Troooool!!! In the Dungeon!
As before, there's usually a special tile that needs be found to trigger the end of scenario events and it's usually placed after the 8th tile in the stack. Some scenarios call for a pre-built cavern complex but apart from these, setup is the same as with Ravenloft.


Check my Castle Ravenloft explanation on game play. The mechanics are exactly the same for Drizzt.

Final Thoughts:

Like with Ravenloft, this is a perfect game for players (and especially younger players) wanting an entry into the world of Dungeons and Dragons but without being boggled down by a dedicated Dungeon Master. It's a fun game, easy to teach and has loads of references to the Drizzt books series which, if you a fan of as I am, will provide you with hours on end of entertainment. The game also features my favourite Clan Battlehammer dwarf : Bruenor and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with him almost as much as I did with the titular dark elf. Drizzt can also be combined with Ashardalon, Ravenloft and the Temple of Elemental Evil to for one hefty campaign.
That said, Drizzt has a few set backs. However, most of these are minor and can be overlooked. I did find the heroes very over-powered compared to other iterations. I also found the adventures and boss-type monsters in CR to be more engaging and challenging that those in Drizzt (albeit with one or two exceptions).
Still, this is D&D, and its Forgotten Realms which makes it one of those games that I will constantly replay. Particularly on a dark winter's day when the gloom of the weather makes for a solid afternoon of exploring caverns deep below the surface of the earth. I look forward to adding both Wrath of Ashardalon and the just released Tomb of Annihilation to my collection soon!

Pest infestation? Call Bruenor!

Bruenor roasting some. Sticky dragon wings anyone?

Bruenor teaching Mr Ugly the proper salsa stance.

Components: 8
Setup: 8
Gameplay: 8
Replayability: 8
Theme: 8
Overall Score: 8

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: The movie you need to see NOW

Ask anyone who truly knows me as to what my favourite movie of all time is and they will answer without hesitation: Blade Runner. Ridley Scott's 1982 neo-noir cyberpunk scifi is the one movie I religiously turn to, again and again - for escapism, for deep mental immersion, for suspension of disbelief, for science fiction themes and awareness and for the tropes of cyberpunk. While there are a number of movies that have classified my personal genre of geekdom, there are very few that stand out as 'definitive' movies. The original Alien (another Ridley Scott marvel), Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the original Star Wars Trilogy, Akira and a few more all fit into this genre. Movies that I find myself returning to time and again, year after year. Of these, Blade Runner is Number One - The quintessential science fiction masterpiece, a movie that I simply have to watch at least once a year - normally on a rainy winter evening after a drive through the neon-lit, rain drenched urban sprawl.

35 Years later and Director Denis Villeneuve has crafted Blade Runner 2049. Set some 30 years after the events of the original film, the new Blade Runner arrives at a time when a slew of reboots and sequels have hit, overcapitalised by studios ever eager to exploit our nostalgic revelry in favour of that devil of demons: commercialism. So, the question: Does Blade Runner 2049 live up to its predecessor and does it deserve an honourable spot in my list? Or has it fallen by the wayside, and will many just see it 'just like any other machine - neither a benefit nor a hazard.'?

From the outset, Blade Runner 2049 is visually spectacular, a remarkable and fascinating masterpiece of cinematography to behold. It captures all of the elements that made the original such a pleasure to watch. From the gorgeous opening visuals of a futuristic agricultural landscape, to the burnt orange glow of a radioactive wasteland to the dark, grimy, yet synthetically sexy dystopian Los Angeles. The movie manages to not only capture the atmosphere of the original but build onto it in a way that unshackles the visuals from mere nostalgic fan service. I must commend Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins for their spectacular work here. Every scene is perfectly shot, every camera angle superbly rendered. If this is not Oscar-worthy material, then don't bother with the Oscars at all.

While this is the same world of the original Blade Runner, much has changed in the last 30 years. Replicants are still being manufactured, but not by the Tyrell corporation. In 2049 that prestige goes to Jared Leto's Niander Wallace, who's poetically-menacing Ozymandias-like complex inspires a sense of mysticism and fear. The themes from the original are still present and the eternal question as to "What makes us human" still resonates throughout the film but with a deeper, more profound meaning. And while Harrison Ford may have stolen the show as the trench-coat wearing Blade Runner Deckard, it's Ryan Gosling's 'K' who takes centre stage in 2049. While we speculated (and possibly speculate still) as to whether Deckard is a Replicant or not, we know from the very outset that K is indeed a manufactured newer model - created to simply obey.
Gosling simply shines in this role and his progression, from his easy-go, gun-toting Replicant hunter to a deeper, complex and morally challenged  character is the standout performance in the movie. Oh, don't worry, Ford's Deckard is along for the ride too and, true to his character, he is still chugging the whiskey - albeit in a slightly more upmarket post-nuclear wasteland Las Vegas hotel than his old dingy LA apartment.

Without spoiling any of the plot, the 2049 narrative is masterfully written. Even though it uses a plot device to drive the story forward, it is not so much the 'where are we going' as opposed to 'how did we get here?' and in this, I believe, it shines. A few movies have followed similar paths, abandoning the need to exhaust all aspects of the mythology in favour of a better story line (thinking of you Logan :-) For me, this is what makes a movie: a simple, yet solid plot line, that refuses to bow to closure. Because closure in cinema discards all room for mystery, for open-ended discussion and makes the annoying presumption that the audience is stupid and incapable of drawing its own conclusions. Blade Runner 2049, like it's predecessor, does nothing of the sort: It leaves room for interpretation, for pondering and for absorption. This is one movie that you will be thinking about days after and in the end, how you perceive it is your claim to your own 'human-relativity'. The score, while not quite as evocative as Vangelis, is still an audible delight and will be on my track-list for many moons to come.

Apart from Gosling, Ford and Leto, there are a number of excellent performance. In fact, second to Gosling's K, is Ana de Armas's Joi. Her AI holographic character has one of the most complex roles with undertones which border on the philosophical and emotional and manages to capture every scene with powerful beauty. Sylvia Hoeks is poignantly ruthless as the Replicant Luv and Robin Wright's Lieutenant Joshi has some of the best dialogue in the movie. There's even a cameo by Edward James Olmos and yes, he's still folding origami. Dave Bautista's character Sapper Morton is imposing yet gentle and his reference to a miracle is perhaps the underlying reference to the movie as a whole. 

Blade Runner 2049 is indeed a miracle of a sequel. A miracle of a visual and narrative spectacle. Definitely one for the geekdom list. 9.5/10

Be sure to checkout the 3 Blade Runner shorts which prequels the events of 2049, especially the absolutely amazing anime Blackout 2022 by legendary anime filmaker Shinichiro Watanabe (yes, he of Cowboy Bebop fame).

  1. Nexus Dawn:
  2. 2048: Nowhere to Run:
  3. Blackout 2022:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Board-Gaming Retrospect: Fifty Shades of Dungeon Crawling

To say that we confined to the norms of society would be blatantly inaccurate. We were normal - as humanly normal as would be possible but not that kind of normal. Not the 'my normality defines me and makes he holier-than-thou' kinda normal. I mean, everyone has a dark side too. Their Sith-loving, axe-wielding psychopathic inner demons that want to lunge, pounce, bite, snarl and burp at the peak hour traffic. But yeah, normal as can be.

So, when the subject of role playing came up a serious discussion between two consenting adults, I had no idea of the beast I was about to unleash on our unsuspecting normal lives...

Be warned. What follows is definitely NSFW.

(Not Suitable For Wizards)

Perhaps it was the weather, all bleak and gloomy and darker that your average day. Perhaps it was the music, all synth and dreamy or perhaps it was beasts and stranger things that eschewed from the TV. Whatever it was, it all culminated into five words. Five glorious words that would define the non-stereotypical genre of our mid-thirties.

"Take me to your dungeon", she said.

It was all innocent at first. Me, dazedly taking her by the hand and leading her to my play room. We paused at the door, my fingers on the polished silver door handle, hesitating. I turned towards her, my eyes staring fixedly into hers, studying the cat-like curiosity that hid beneath her ever-playful demeanour. "Before we go in, there's something you should know. Many have come before you and entered here. They are changed. This will change you. You will not be the same after."
"I'm ready," she half-whispered and I noted the hint of longing in her voice.

I nodded and turned the door handle...

We sat down on the leather chairs at the great wooden table opposite each other, our eyes locked and her breathing rapid, the excitement clearly visible on her face. I could feel her heart beat reverberating across the smooth polished wooden surface as I reached for the box.
She let out an audible gasp. "It's so big!"

"Open it," I ordered and watched as her trembling hands undid the cardboard lid, the sound of the escaping air breaking the ice with a rude box-fart. She gulped then giggled. We unpacked the components and laid out the dungeon tile stack.
There was something different about her that I could not place. Perhaps it was the way she laid out her HP tokens, or the way she playfully ran the D20 die across her palm - it seemed surreal, almost familiar. She bit her lower lip as I placed my muscled Dragon-born fighter on the starting tile. "Been working out?" she asked roguishly as her raven-haired slender Rogue character crept up next to mine. I shuddered as I felt her soft pale hands run over my buff arms. "Been killing things," I replied in voice that echoed through the quietness of the dark corridor ahead.

"I'm going in," I added gruffly as I drew my battle axe and proceeded down the stone stairs.
"Ooh, such a gentleman!" she mocked and with a light leap bounded up ahead of me. I grunted and grudgingly followed. We ran into a pair of skeletons who came running up to meet us, rickety swords and shields clanging against their bones. I swung my axe but before I could land a blow, a flash of steel and my Rogue partner had swiftly dispatched the two bumbling undead creatures into a pile of doggy treats. I gaped as she walked coolly on. "Didn't expect that?" she asked grinning at me, "Well, come on - don't just stand there with the boner." Bone puns. So humerus. I rolled my big red eyes and followed her.

At the next corner we bumped into a gargoyle which seemed less interested in us than it did in staring out into nothingness. "He's stoned," my partner punned on roguishly. The next corridor was a nasty surprise: a pack of howling wolves led by three speared kobolds. Arrows whizzed past my head before I even had time to draw my axe and the kobolds lay dead. I made for the wolves but was stopped by my companion. The wolves had ravenously began to rip apart their former kobold masters. Puke!
"No need to kill them, they're just hungry" she smiled grimly. "Besides, they make for very loyal pets and I always loved me a little doggy." She winked and set off again. Who was this woman?

Next we ran into some zombies, followed by a trio of spiders, a blazing skeleton which hurled giant fireballs and a few more kobolds. Each time my mischievous companion would waltz into the midst of all this danger, daggers barraging through flesh and bone, stealthily evading all manner of attacks and traps while I only managed a few random punches and cleaves. All the while she would throw off a few one-liners and jokes as the blood of our enemies ran down the stone floors.
I shook my head in disbelief. This was not the same woman I had known for the past few years of my life. The dungeon had not changed her at all. It had exposed her, the cloud which held back her true nature had lifted. I was seeing her for the first time: In all her battle-clad, knife-wielding, arrow-shooting glory.
And it was sexy as hell.

I expected some hesitation on her part when the hiss of a zombie dragon came echoing from the fetid den up ahead but no. My companion merely laughed and inclined towards me: "Okay, big boy, let's see what you got". The terrifying beast came hurtling towards us, its eyes blazing fire and fangs dripping blood.
I reached for my axe and rolled. A dismal 5. Damnation! "What's the matter, can't get it up?" she mused but there was no missing the slight look of disappointment in her eyes. This was a woman who would not be satisfied by low rolls.

"Come on!", I thought to myself, "I really need to get this!"
I steadied and used my one re-roll and swung: A glorious natural 20! She let out a sharp ecstatic cry of "Oooohhhhh!" as my character levelled up and my brute strike came crashing down, slicing the unholy beasts neck in a mighty cleave. It heaved, then spluttered, then lay motionless and dead. A few zombies came ambling up to us but my companion was ahead of me again. Shouting madly, her eyes filled with battle-lust and excitement she quickly laid the zombies to waste. There, in the darkest of dungeons, in the wake of the dragon's ruin she turned towards me, her breathing rapid, her chest heaving, a wild look of total abandonment on her face as I felt her body press against mine: "Hmm, seems like your skills are not the only thing levelling up," she whispered. I leaned in closer and as my eyes met hers I saw something else...for the very first time that evening...a look of pure, unabated terror! She backed away, her body swaying slightly.
"So many of them! All grey! Fifty fucking shades of grey!" and she screamed and fled.

I stood momentarily confused and then turned.  Coming down the dungeon hall toward me was a skittering sound of tiny feet. A rat swarm.

"Rats?!!" I yelled after her, "You're afraid of rats??!!"

But my companion was well out of ear shot and on her way out of the dungeon. I stomped on the rats as I followed her, half dismayed and half pleased that something had at least scared her. I found her, rather pale and shaken sitting on the dais in the cool air outside the castle dungeon. She was trembling. I reached for her and held gently her as we walked back into the normality of our lives.

"Never again," she whispered as we shut the box and dungeon door, "Never again. No more Boards, Dice and Some Magic. I prefer the normal BDSM thank you".

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Custom Campaign

After spending countless hours traversing the dark dungeons of Ravenloft, our party of avid adventurers finally managed to lay waste to Strahd and his evil minions. We cheered, we feasted and celebrated our victory amid the ruins of this once mighty castle and then, sadly, we all went home.

Until one fateful day, when I took pen to scroll and decided to dabble in a bit of custom campaign building. Suddenly the halls of Ravenloft awoke once more, the cheery cries of anguish and torture reverberated in the air like the sounds of birds being mauled by overly large cats. The adventurers came hurrying, eager to put undead neck to blade once more.The Castle had come to life for one final adventure...

So, this being my first custom campaign, it is most likely rife with error and human stupidity. That said, I have played through it a few times and it actually (remarkably) works. I wanted a challenge, so I opted for a semi-pre-built board (explained later on) and almost ALL of the components. Yes. ALL.

Castle Ravenloft Custom Campaign

The Madness of Kavan: A Castle Ravenloft Custom Adventure

Years have passed since the defeat of the defeat of Strahd, the former master of Ravenloft. In Barovia, all is at peace and the fear long forgotten. But the presence of evil still permeates from within the forbidden castle and one villager in particular find himself drawn to the darkness. Kavan, having been tainted by the vampiric curse in the past now finds himself mad with a blood-lust that has him wondering the dark dungeons of Ravenloft. The evil within the abandoned castle has awoken. It senses the presence of a new master. Kavan seeks to reclaim the throne of Ravenloft as his own!

When You Start The Adventure, Read:
Driven by madness & bewitched by sorcery, Kavan plans to unleash the full fury of Ravenloft upon the village of Barovia. To do so he needs to enter into the crypts below the castle and complete the dark ritual to transform himself into the Vampire Lord. The cleric of Barovia, sensing the awakened evil, has magically secured entry to the crypts with an ancient spell by hiding seven ethereal orbs in the darkest corners of the castle.
“His madness has blinded him and he is searching wildly for the orbs. As he is already tainted by darkness, Kavan needs to collect only three of the orbs to break the binding spell and enter the crypts!” the cleric explains. “You must enter the castle and seek a passage to the crypts before he does. Bring five of the orbs to gain an entry to the crypts and then destroy all the crypt tombs to end the dark magic of Ravenloft once and for all. Also, deal with Kavan!”

Objective: Collect 5 ethereal orbs and break the binding spell, allowing you entry to the crypts. Then desecrate all the tombs to end the darkness of Ravenloft for good.
NOTE: A single hero may only carry up to three Orbs at a time. You may however, drop orbs on any tile to collect later on. But note that should Kavan reach that tile, he will claim the orb for himself!

Number of Heroes:
Group play: 2-5 heroes. 4 Healing surge tokens.
Solo play:  2 heroes double handed. 3 Healing surge tokens, Follow a similar setup as in Adventure 7 but with 2 heroes instead of 1. When a hero dies, complete the current villain phase and place a new hero on the start tile. A dead hero’s corpse may be salvaged by visiting the tile where the corpse lays. All items, including ethereal orbs may be picked up and assigned to a new hero.

Adventure Setup:
Crypt-level setup
For this adventure the crypt level is pre-built as per the image above. Remove the following tiles, shuffle them face down and set aside:
The Arcane Circle, Fetid Den, Dark Fountain, Laboratory, Rotting Nook and Workshop.
This pile forms the ethereal deck. (see image alongside)
Dungeon tile stack and Ethereal deck
Shuffle the remaining dungeon tile stack. Then, from the start tile, draw three tiles and build on to two unexplored edges of the starting tile.Then draw one tile from the ethereal deck and add it to any unexplored edge of the third tile. Draw three more tiles, alternating with one tile from the ethereal deck and building up the dungeon lair at random until you join up with the crypts.

Monster tokens: Shuffle all monster (not villain) tokens and place them on each normal (not ethereal) tile after the start tile until you have exhausted all tiles (Be sure to include the crypts as well but omit the start tile and the secret stairway tile).

Villain tokens: Shuffle the Kobold Sorcerer, Young Vampire, Werewolf, Flesh Golem, Howling Hag (use only 1 token - see her special rules under the villains section), Zombie Dragon and Dracholich tokens and place one face down on each of the special ethereal tiles. See the villains section for special monster rules.

Ethereal orbs: Place one of the seven orbs on each of the ethereal tiles.
Item tokens: Shuffle all item tokens and place them on each normal tile after the start tile until you have exhausted all.

Kavan token: Place the Kavan token on the tile just outside the barred crypt entrance. Kavan activates after a full day-night cycle.

Kavan activates at the end of one full day-night cycle and moves one tile in a random direction (see the Kavan villain card for rulings on his movement). Kavan may move through walls. If Kavan lands on an ethereal tile, he gains the orb. If he collects 3 orbs he gains an entry to the crypts.

When you encounter Kavan: (When a hero lands on a tile with the Kavan token) Replace the Kavan token with the Kavan figure* and card. Kavan activates at the start of each hero’s villain phase.

Kavan Villain Card:

The Dungeon-level Kavan villain card

The Crypt-level Kavan villain card
* For the Kavan figure I used a Drow Duelist from the Drizzt Boardgame as my figure

Special Adventure Rules:
This adventure occurs over a day and night cycle. Use the time tokens to keep track of a cycle.
One full cycle = when all heroes go through two full phases (hero, explore, villain etc). One phase being a day phase and the other a night phase.

Adventure Board Layout

Dungeon Tiles:
Whenever a hero lands on a dungeon tile with a monster token, flip the token as part of the hero’s exploration phase action and replace it with the appropriate number of monsters. A hero must either explore if there is a monster token on that tile or draw an encounter card.
Whenever a hero lands on/ explores a tile with a black arrow,an encounter card is drawn.
If a hero ends his hero phase adjacent to an item, he may collect it and take the items’ treasure card for himself.

Special Tokens:
Mirror: Illusion: Use this item when any undead monster/ villain attacks you. The attack misses and you may place the creature within two tiles of the active hero. Discard this item afterwards.
Portrait: Pacify: Use during your hero phase on Villains only. The villain does not activate this turn. Discard the item afterwards.
Skull: Ancient Bones: Use during your hero phase. Each undead monster in play takes one damage. Discard this card afterwards.
Food: Sustenance: Use during your hero phase. Roll 1D6. Your entire party regains hit points to the value of that roll. Discard afterwards.
Animal: Fear of Cats: Whenever you would place a new monster you may instead place the animal token. Any monster that moves onto the tile with Fear of Cats takes 2 damage.

Ethereal tiles with Orbs (we used beads)
Ethereal Tiles:
Ethereal tiles are ‘guarded’ by a villain. Whenever a hero explores an ethereal tile to claim an orb, the villain is awakened. Replace the token with the appropriate villain figure and card and the villain activates at the start of each hero’s villain phase. Kavan does not awaken villains when he explores ethereal tiles. No encounter cards are drawn for exploring ethereal tiles.
A hero may spend 5XP to ‘reveal’ a villain token. The token remains face-down afterwards.

After a hero gains an ethereal orb, you may spend 5XP to use the ethereal magic of the orb:
Freezing cloud (D1-D15): Any Monsters within one tile of that hero do not activate this turn.
Sun token (D16-D20): 2 Damage to undead monsters and vampires (or one damage to other monsters) within two tiles of a hero.
Note: You may only use ethereal magic once per orb.

Special Villain Rules:
The Howling Hag has some custom rules
  • Howling Hag: Because all the crypt tiles are sealed, the Hag's teleporting curse instead pushes a Hero DX tiles in a random direction where X is the number rolled on a normal D6 die.
  • Howling Hag: If the Hag has no path to a hero, she moves one 1 tile in the direction of the closest hero.
  • Gravestorm, Zombie Dragon and Flesh Golem may not occupy a tile with another villain.

When You Enter The Crypts, Read:
The magic of the orbs breaks the ancient binding curse and the passage to the dark crypts opens...behind you the screams of rage and evil howl as Kavan summons his dark horde to attack! Make haste to Strahd’s tomb!

When you enter the Crypts:
Roll a D6 and randomly select that many monsters (minimum of two). Place the monsters and Kavan two tiles from the crypt entrance tile and replace the Kavan token with the Kavan figure. The castle is seeking a new Master! Kavan activates at the start of each hero’s villain phase.

Desecrate the Tombs:
To stop Kavan from completing his final transformation, destroy the coffins by performing an attack action (like with Gravestorm’s phylactery).
Draw an encounter card for each black arrow tile inside the crypts.
If Kavan is on any tile with an undesecrated tomb at the end of the current hero phase, Kavan gains the vampiric undead power of that tomb. Place the coffin on Kavan’s card. If Kavan has 6 or more coffins on his card he transforms into the ultimate Darkness and the heroes lose the game.
Note: Villains may also enter into the crypts to hunt you.

The Heroes win the scenario if all the tombs and Kavan are destroyed.
Things can get dangerous!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game Review

"Dungeon crawling: You have to experience it to realize it!"

Dungeon brawling. That's probably the best way to describe our first play through of Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft the Boardgame. Having played the more traditional D&D way back in my yonder years, the feels and nostalgia of the classes, spells, races and monsters were all present in this immersive co-op board game, coupled with hints of dungeon claustrophobia and sheer awesomeness.

I received this beauty of a game as a birthday gift from my beauty of a wife and after about 11 plays in, is on my list as one of the most re-playable & enjoyable games I own. I enjoy games that a highly thematic and Ravenloft delivers. You actually feel as if you're in Strahd's castle, descending the dark deep dungeons as you and your party of heroes strive to complete your quest. But beware! Evil lurks behind every corner, every door and wall and the Vampire Lord of the Castle stirs in his sleep...

The little town of Barovia needs your help in defeating the scourge of the villainous Vampire Strahd Von Zarovich and his hordes of monsters. You are to descend into the depths of Strahd's castle, Ravenloft, defeat his monsters before facing up to the vampire lord himself and finally putting an end to him...once and for all.

I do suggest some heavy lifting before cranking open this baby because boy is this box huge! Filled to the top with components, cards, cardboard, chits, bits and lots...and I mean LOTS of miniatures which, if you're a fan like me, there are 42 of and they are beautifully sculpted pieces of hardened plastic. The minis are all unpainted so feel free to indulge your artistic selves with whatever palette your deem appropriate. The hero minis are the typical D&D archetypes but still really cool. You have the Rogue, Wizard, Cleric, Warrior & Ranger all with the accompanying stats cards and powers/ skills. The two enclosed booklets are the rules and the scenarios and both are fairly straightforward to follow. There are 13 scenarios to play through (2 solo) with each scenario varying in length and difficulty.
On average, expect a scenario to playthrough in about 40-50 minutes. The cardboard for the dungeon tiles is thick and sturdy and even after a good number of plays, has not diminished in the least. Warning: Be prepared to punch out a lot cardboard for character sheets, dungeon tiles and chits and token which are used to track hit points, movement, damage and for various items in the scenarios being covered. The 200 card deck has cards pertaining to monsters, encounters, hero powers and treasures. If anything, the only disappointing part of the components is that the cards aren't all that aesthetically pleasing as they lack artwork but still hits home in terms of gameplay. And of course there is the essential cornerstone of every D&D game: the D20 die.

Get you one of these for storing all your minis!
Since this game is scenario-based, you will basically be playing through each scenario and arranging the dungeon-tile stack accordingly. Essentially, each scenario has you and your band of heroes explore and uncover the dungeon in order to meet a particular objective. This can range from something small such as trying to find the 'chapel' to defeating the harrowing Gravestone, Strahd's monstrous Dracholich. The start of the game has each hero receiving their character cards and starting power/ skill cards which vary from re-usable 'at-will' powers to once per game 'daily' powers. Each scenario has its own particular setup (such as shuffling the dungeon tile stack) and it's own particular set of villains to deal with (in addition to monsters).

Get a bigger table - the dungeon grows!
Gameplay consists of a series of turns per hero and each turn is broken down into 3 phases:

1. The Hero Phase: Allowing your hero to move and attack/ attack and move/ make two moves. Movement is based on character's range (essentially the number of squares you may progress on any given tile) although some cards and powers to allow you to 'teleport' from one tile to another. Attacking a monster involves using one of your hero's powers to boost your die roll (D20). If your roll + boost is higher than the monster's armour class (AC), that monster is defeated and you gain a treasure card and XP. Gain enough experience points (XP) and you character can progress up a level!

Gargoyles: As long as you're standing in front of 'em you're fine!
2. The Exploration Phase: Allowing your hero to draw a new dungeon tile from the stack if you're on the edge of you current tile (Think of it as you progressing down the depths of the castle, one room at a time). The explored tile is revealed and extended from your current tile and then a monster card is drawn. Now, unless the scenario rules state otherwise, monster cards are ALWAYS drawn when a new tile is added. The monster mini that is attached to that card gets placed on the new tile's bone pile. The monster is controlled by the hero who explored and drew that monster. Defeating any number of monsters during your Hero phase will gain you a treasure card which can be very useful as you progress through the game.

3. The Villain Phase: This is the phase that normally brings all the hurt. If you drew a dungeon tile with a black arrow or did not explore in your previous exploration phase, then you first get to draw an encounter card. Encounter cards generally mean bad things happen. And by bad we mean traps, obstacles or some or other form of hurt. After resolving the encounter cards effects, you activate each villain in turn (villains normally being the boss of that scenario - each with their own special set of rules attached to their respective character cards). Then you activate each monster, in the order you drew them and resolve their attacks on you and your party.

After the villain phase, it's the next hero's turn to delve into the dungeon and so the cycle continues: move, attack, explore, evade possibly and take a few punches as you dig deeper into Strahd's labyrinth.

Final Thoughts:

Castle Ravenloft has certainly grown on me and has become something of a game-night essential for my group. Its highly thematic, challenging and above all - it's fun and has all the makings of an 80s D&D campaign in a boardgame. The solo play is also well structured but I do encourage group-play as it really captures the feel of the dungeon. Like with Ghostbusters, it's also an easy game for kids to pick up on and my 9yo is well on her way to becoming that Level 2 Dracholich-slaying Ranger. Ahh, those proud geek dad moments :-)

Components: 8
Setup: 8
Gameplay: 9
Replayability: 9
Theme: 8
Overall Score: 8