July 23, 2011 by brennon
I started off my love of Dungeons & Dragons with the board game from the 90′s. To this day, me and my group have not completed that game despite claims by many that it is one of the easiest D&D games out there! We think we must have been doing something wrong! However, I still remember how fun it was playing with all the plastic miniatures and through an entire dungeon in the space of a few hours. So, when I picked up Wrath of Ashardalon I was reminded of those good times; but the icing on the cake here is that the game is really, really damn good!
The Components in Wrath of Ashardalon are vast in quantity. You have tokens for everything you could think of, including health points, monster wound markers, traps, treasure and everything in between. Its great to see that Wizards of The Coast thought of this since one of their previous games (Inn Fighting) was lacking in basic components. The components come on about 13 huge thick boards and are of nice quality and not flimsy in the slightest. These tokens are meant to be used over and over again and will not be falling apart of snapping any time soon.
As well as the smaller tokens there are a vast amount of puzzle like dungeon tiles. These are similar in look to the tiles you get from packs for the actual roleplaying game, with nice detail and they fit together perfectly – and unlike another one of Wizards of the Coast’s games (Betrayal at House on the Hill) they are not warped! Its refreshing to have a game where the tiles that you play on will essentially be different every time you play as well. With the way the game works, you take tiles at random mixing up the dungeons through various cards and actions before finding your end tile and either escaping a dungeon or fighting against the big boss – its like Diablo on the table top!
You also have a wealth of nice, glossy and hard wearing cards to play with too. These cover heroes powers, treasure, monsters, encounters, enemy specific attacks and plenty of other things in-between including NPCs. These are nice, and can suffer a bit of bending and throwing around and certainly wont rip. They also are incredibly colourful and the text on them is written clearly and with everything in mind, you really won’t go wrong with them as gaming aids.
The biggest plus of the components, and one I haven’t mentioned yet are the amazingly well sculpted miniatures. Yes, as the front of the box shows you get a blooming huge dragon! As well as this you get all kinds of monsters from the manuals of the main game – most you would rarely see in typical games, and of course some amazingly well made hero miniatures as well. The difference in quality here between what Wizards of The Coast was producing before, and what they are now through these games is amazing and they really do look the part. They also are detailed enough to paint them – and I think I will be doing that at some point.
I will give you a quick run down of the rules now – and really, once you have played one or two games the rules come to you insanely quickly and you won’t be referring back to the manuals at all after a while.
The game is split up into three phases. The Hero Phase, The Exploration Phase, and the Villain Phase. In the Hero phase you can choose to do three main things. Move and Move again – Move and end next to a tile edge – or Move and Attack. If you choose to Move and Attack then you simply move next to the monster and like all D&D games roll a d20 and choose which power you want to use. There are other cards and powers you can play during this period which can heal allies and move monsters about, but essentially it boils down to those choices.
Now, if you moved during your Hero Phase to the edge of a tile you enter the Exploration Phase. At this point you take a tile from the top of the stack and put it down with the arrow on each tile facing away from you, joining up the tile as sensibly as you can. Once this is done if the tile has a ‘Scorch’ mark on it you draw a monster card from a deck to the side and put that monster down on that tile – you keep that monster card next too you.
There are some difference to this sequence however. If you draw a tile with a black arrow on it you also have to draw what’s called an Encounter Card. An Encounter card can vary in type from an immediate attack, an ongoing trap, an environment card (something like lava dripping walls) or even cards which summon more monsters to the area or reveal new tiles immediately. This means in essence you NEVER have any down time while you are walking through a dungeon. You will also be drawing an encounter card if you DID NOT reveal a new dungeon tile that turn, so you can end up with a lot of things all going on at once; but thankfully its not too hard to manage.
After this Exploration phase, in initiative order you resolve the monsters attacks. On each card it shows you what monsters will do on a given turn, and in what situations so its incredibly easy to follow. Despite the fragility of some of the foes you face they can do some serious damage if you don’t work out a plan of attack. The game really emphasises a focus on teamwork and without it you really will not survive. Once all monsters have attacked, it goes back to the Hero phase and starts all over again.
Now, the important stuff of combat and of course winning and losing! If you fell a monster you get to draw a treasure card and add it to your characters tableau, and by Avandra you will need them. When I was playing the solo adventures, the armour and weapons I discovered while deep in the dungeon saved my life and got me out of there. But yes, onto winning and losing. Winning is simply a case of fulfilling the adventures parameters. This could be destroying a boss enemy and getting out of a dungeon, or simply slaying a certain amount of foes. Dying is just as simple. You start the game with two healing surge tokens. At the start of a Hero phase if your hero has been felled by an attack and you have one of these tokens free then you use it and apply the healing surge value, standing back to your feet. HOWEVER, if you have NONE of these tokens left and your hero was downed last round that’s it, you ALL lose. I did say teamwork was a big part of this!
As good as this game is, there is a few things that are a bit lacking. The rulebook while glossy and packed with information sometimes does not explain the rules very well. The basics are there, but you have to use your own intuition to deal with a few of the problems that come up. It never explains what a few of the tokens even do and I had to figure that out by simply playing the game. There are a few other things that the book doesn’t cover, but with common sense I was able to work out what they wanted me too do. While this is fine, for younger players it could get incredibly confusing and end up scratching with them heads for a while. There is an FAQ on the back of the rulebook, but it doesn’t cover everything you will be wondering, trust me.
The heroes. While the heroes are very nice and the characters are pretty original I feel like the game could have done with a few more of them to spice up the different adventure parties you could have. Yes, you can use the heroes from the previous Castle Ravencroft game but as some have pointed out there isn’t much difference. You can get some community made heroes from various forums and they are very good and come with well made .pdf prints and model suggestions but its something I would have thought Wizards of the Coastwould have thought about.
Summing up, Wrath of Ashardalon is pretty amazing. Its certainly made a lot more appealing to most average D&D players by the sheer simple fact that it includes a dragon with the box. It plays like a simple version of a proper campaign and it will be a fantastic addition to the collection of any veteran D&D players and new people coming into the hobby for the first time. Once you have got through the first few niggles concerning the rulebook and clarified some parts of it for yourself you can sit down and have a very enjoyable Dungeon Crawling game going with a pretty good story behind it too.
Solo Adventure (1h to 1h 30mins) 2 to 5 Adventures (2h to 3h)
Have any of you picked up Wrath of Ashardalon and if so what are your thoughts on it? Maybe you picked up Castle Ravenloft or plan to go for the upcoming Legends of Drizzt game instead?