Wrath of Ashardalon versus Castle Ravenloft

I love Wrath of Ashardalon. I’ve been thinking about why I do love it, and I think it boils down to this: it’s quite a good boardgame replica of a rogue-like dungeon crawl game. Yes, in that kind of game you explore a bit, and then monsters come up, and then you fight them. But a good crawl has more than that; it needs

  • A good variety of monsters with different strategies. While some monsters simply attack you with different weapons, others have different effects, and still others should do different things—like Wrath of Ashardalon (WoA) sentries, who expand the dungeon from the bottom of the tile stack and alert more monsters to your presence; or the Legion Devils, who show up all at once in a pack to beat your ass. Castle Ravenloft (CR) isn’t as good in the latter respect.

  • An expanding dungeon that changes topography every time you play, with variety in types of areas. WoA has that in spades with its tile mix, ranging from hallways to dead ends to open areas (a good thing, especially when Walls of Magma comes into play). The chambers are especially a nice touch and easily used to introduce rooms that do different things. Again, CR doesn’t have as much variety, but it was going for a more claustrophobic feel.

  • A good variety of items. Leveling is rare enough (and random enough) in the game, because great items do a lot to effectively level your character. In fact, items in WoA can level your character to the point where, as you get more skilled in the game, you need to turn to the Treasure Tokens to reduce the amount of items. Once more, CR had fewer items, and those items are relatively weak compared to WoA.

  • Doors. I know this is a small thing, but they do affect how you wander through the dungeon, and are a staple in many rogue-likes. CR doesn’t have these.

  • Neat events and environmental effects: traps, triggering more monsters, changing the rules of combat and movement, etc. Unfortunately, both WoA and CR have simple damage cards comprising 1/4 of the deck (for instance, some random arrow comes out of the darkness and hits you). In a way, it’s a bit of a relief to not have a monster generated, but in other ways, it can seem a bit too random (and that’s in a game full of random). WoA encounter cards are more forgiving than CR’s, but that’s probably a design decision to turn CR into horror and WoA into a D&D crawl romp.

  • Character skill variety. Both games have this in spades, with the different character powers that can be chosen at the start of the game—and that variety increases wonderfully when you combine the two games’ powers, yielding a wide selection of 20 cards to choose from for all but two of the Hero classes (the Paladin and the Ranger, if you’re curious). Every character also has a special power printed on their card, but most of the time it’s the powers that change the flavor of the game the most.

  • Boss monsters. Both CR and WoA excel.

  • Different scenarios in terms of rules and goals. I think CR and WoA are evenly matched, as WoA depends on chamber cards for most of its variety and CR has a wider range of scenarios. Combining CR-variety scenarios with WoA’s components seems to be a winner (such as in the official bonus adventures). Add one or two WoA chambers with the proper theme, and you’ve got yourself a harder, varied scenario with WoA’s bonuses.

While some people complain that WoA and CR turns are the same process over and over (move/fight monsters, draw tile and place new monster, monsters attack), I’ve seen a lot of other games do the same thing—the difference being that some games favor long-term strategy, and others favor short-term tactics, and still others favor both. Crawls are all about tactics, and it’s game element variety that makes or breaks a crawl.

To that end, I think in the future I’ll always tweak my scenarios to have the best of WoA and CR. I’ll see if I can write up session reports or at least report on the failure/success. To that end, I’m going to use my encounter/monster deck generator and player team generator.

This will all be in the name of science, of course.