One of the inherent tensions in the game is balancing exploring with slaying monsters. If players don't actively explore, they draw from the encounter deck, and this includes events that are usually much worse than new monsters. Traps can kill weakened characters outright, magical warps can split up the party at the worst times, or Strahd might simply call for more minions to join the fray. Encounters can be backbreaking, but players can choose to spend experience points (earned from slaying monsters) to cancel any encounter. Experience points can be saved to level up, too, but you cannot do so unless you roll a 20 to attack, and only one time. In most cases, spending experience to counter nasty effects is the best option.
Combat is Castle Ravenloft is fast and easy. Players choose an attack, roll a die, add on a modifier, and compare it to the monster's Armor Class. There's no rolling for damage or additional effects at all. Some might find this too simplistic, but with so many different attacks available, and different variables to consider, it works out well. We found that the game struck a nice balance between enjoyable complexity and reasonable playtime. An adventure book with thirteen unique scenarios lets you dungeon crawl a bit differently each time, and most scenarios can be completed in around an hour or so. All manner of fan created scenarios are available to extend the fun even further.
The presentation of Castle Ravenloft deserves mention. The tiles and tokens used are thick and sturdy, and should last through many sessions. The cards are a bit flimsier than I'd have preferred, but since they are usually played on the table instead of in hand, it's not a huge issue. The best aspect of the game is the miniatures. Quite simply, they are fantastic. They are not painted, but cast in a variety of different colors of plastic; still, the level of detail is superb, and there are quite a lot of miniatures included for a relatively low cost when compared to similar games. The huge dracolich figure is especially jaw-dropping, and quite intimidating in play as well.
For fans of co-op, there's a lot to love in the huge box full of awesome that is Castle Ravenloft. It's a great way to replicate the old school Dungeons & Dragons experience without having to purchase a library of rules books and expensive maps and miniatures. Castle Ravenloft is deep enough to appeal to all but the most experienced board gamers, yet the excellent presentation, especially the figures, give it casual player appeal, too. For about the price of a new release video game, you can purchase this excellent boardgame and enjoy hours of cooperative fun in the horrific lair of an ancient undead evil. Just don't forget to bring the garlic!
Thanks to BoardGameGeek.com for the pictures!