Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Castle Ravenloft and Dungeons & Dragons

I'd say about when I was 12 I tried to figure out Expert Dungeons & Dragons (blue box). I never properly got the hang of it. But it did set the stage for long enjoyment of games of all sorts. D&D has changed dramatically since then. Gary Gygax is dead. The mighty TSR publishing was bought by some unknown upstarted called Wizards of the Coast--a cheesy card game maker! WotC rose to lofty heights to be deftly devoured by massive Hasbro. D&D has progressed in to today's world of MMORPGs. WotC has even struggled to make D&D work and I think they have finally hit on the means to keep it going. TSR discovered that once you published your books and your target market had bought them... you were basically stuck. You had to find some excuse to print a new revision to have a new product to sell. Customers hated this and it mucked up the way the game was played. WotC has the same problem, but now that they have teamed up with Hasbro, a toy manufacturing giant, they realized they could pump out game accessories.

Now we see the market full of pre-painted plastic miniatures, game tokens, plastic fold-out maps, handy reference cards and we are sure to see more of these game aids. They let WotC keep a steady product stream without constant re-writes to the rules. Now we see another money-making spin off in to board games like Castle Ravenloft.

In the US, Castle Ravenloft retails for about $50--making it one of the most inexpensive "dense" games out there. The box is packed full of cardboard printed dungeon tiles, cards, plastic monsters/heroes, and tokens. All of these are immediately resusable by the "real" Dungeons & Dragons game (should you choose). This game works on the same basic mechanics of D&D only greatly simplified to be a board game. But it quite conveniently prepares the players for the jump to full RPGs by acquainting them with battle mechanics, movement, and map tactics. It is a fully cooperative game where no "Dungeon Master" is required. Everyone gets to be a player. It is really a brilliant game and product for WotC.

WotC has pushed their table top game to be more like the undeniably successful World of Warcraft MMORPG. Class roles are more regimented and level dependent powers are now ubiquiteous across all classes. But this is not a move without controversy. The departure from the D&D 3.5 rules is massive and essentially un-convertable. No old 3.5 character could really be transfered cleanly to the new rules. In the gulf an old/new publisher, Piazo, has created Pathfinder.

Pathfinder is a mini-step improvement on the D&D 3.5 rules. It follows all the same conventions with a few modifications. Piazo is the old publisher of Dungeon Magazine and has been around since the TSR days. Out of the blue, they appear to be taking the customers left behind by WotC. As a print publisher, they have cranked out dozens of new books full of glossy print and fantastic art. Piazo knows the print business. But will it endure? Who can say?

I bought Castle Ravenloft about a month ago and have played it over a dozen times with adult gamer friends and with the family at home. It is a great, fast, fun game to sit down to. I definite gateway game for those gamer dads trying to rase gamer children!

Game on!

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