Last year, Wizards of the Coast dove into the high-end board game market with the massive Ravenloft box. The second in the series, Wrath of Ashardalon, continues and expands the fun with tight rules and a metric ton of odds and ends that will keep you replaying it for years.
These games come with a relatively high retail price ($65, which is still lower than a lot of Fantasy Flight Games), but it’s packed with high-quality components, and a lot of them. Each game is based on an “explore the dungeon” style, with each player drawing dungeon tiles and adding to the game board. There are enough tiles to make sprawling dungeons with multiple large chambers, tunnels, dead ends, locked doors, etc.
The rules are like 4E D&D Lite. Each player controls a character and selects a set of powers (2 At-Wills, 2 Utilities, 1 Daily), each of which has its own card. The characters reflect basic D&D classes like wizard, cleric, fighter and paladin. Players cooperate to work through the dungeon and complete whatever their mission is for that particular scenario. On your turn, you can move then attack, attack then move, or double move. If you move to the edge of a tile, you get to draw a new tile, and you’ll also place a monster there.
Monsters are drawn from the monster deck, so you never know what you’ll meet. All the monsters are represented by plastic, unpainted minis. There are roughly eight basic monsters you’ll find in the dungeons, but there are also several “boss” monsters, including Ashardalon himself, which can be found in specific scenarios. The monster cards have the stats and powers for the monsters, as well as a set of rules that govern the monster’s actions.
If you don’t explore a new tile (and sometimes even when you do), you draw an encounter card. These represent various non-monster things that can befall an adventuring party, like traps, poison clouds, cave-ins and other pleasant diversions. They can be much harder to deal with than monsters. Fortunately, when monsters are killed, they go into a communal XP pile. One use of the XP is to spend five points to negate an encounter. If someone rolls a natural 20 on an attack, they can also spend five XP to advance to level 2. Leveling up involves simply flipping over your character card, revealing improved stats. You usually also get to pick an additional daily power. There is no level 3.
Overall, the game is a lot of fun. Once you have a grasp of the rules, you can play through it in an hour and a half or so, depending on the scenario and number of players. Games scale nicely from 2-5 players since the number of monsters, and monster actions is keyed to the number of players. Having a small party can be difficult simply because you don’t have as many different skillsets among your characters, and if someone gets taken out for a turn or two by a pit trap or a Dazed attack, you can be in real trouble. Cooperation is a major element, as everyone tries to agree on what areas of the dungeon to explore and which monsters to attack. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible to play with just two or three players, and there’s even a solo scenario. You could also play solo by simply controlling several members of the party.
The included Adventure Book holds a lot of scenarios, ranging from a simple “explore the dungeon and kill some monsters” theme to rescuing captives, uncovering the ancient festering evil, or confronting and slaying Ashardalon. Many of the scenarios can be linked together to form a campaign of sorts, with special Boon cards that reward you between adventures. If you ever get tired of the included scenarios, there are so many bits and counters and minis that it would be very easy to create your own. Plus, Wrath of Ashardalon is fully compatible with the Ravenloft board game, so you can mix and match for truly epic board gaming experiences.
I’m impressed with the quality of Wrath of Ashardalon, both in terms of the components and the rules. A lot of work and attention to detail went into this, making it well worth the asking price.
To help give you an idea of how the game works, here’s a short video showing one sample turn.