4/13/2011-The Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game Review

Take a knife to 4th Edition D&D and cut down anything that hints at role-playing; leaving just the bone of having to work together.  This includes the Dungeon Master because he would add too much flavor to the game.  Then boil down all the rules to make it simple, because you have to add an additional layer of random meat to compensate the loss of the GM.  Pepper in some artwork, but not too much, and you will have Wizards of the Coast’s basic D&D board game mechanic; making The Wrath of Ashardalon, a fairly bland game. 

This is the second Dungeon Crawl board game produce by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro with the same basic system using D&D as its inspiration.  WotC obviously has the outside goals of, introducing more people to the D&D Brand and getting a piece of the Dungeon Crawl board game market by using the brand.  Unfortunately, the game does not raise interest in RPG because it is really just a tactical game.  True, my nine-year old enjoys playing it, but he admits he doesn’t want to try the RPG.  I guess there is a chance for his palate to grow.  However, there is a good chance that WotC might get enough of the board game market and make a profit to keep adding supplements. 

The Crunchy Bits

Players can choose a dwarven warrior, half-orc rouge, dragonborn wizard, half-elf paladin, or human cleric to be their hero for the game.  From there, the players can choose their heroes’ special powers, mimicking 4th edition’s mechanic of “At Will,” “Daily Power” and “Utility Power.” The “at will” powers can be used throughout the game, but all others are a one-time use.  Not all heroes or powers are created equal; the wizard is very useful while the rogue is almost pointless.  Each hero has basic stats for the game; hit points, speed, AC, and such.  Your hero can advance a level during gameplay, which gives you bonuses to your stats.  Gameplay for the heroes is a simple “move-attack” phase during your turn, with your hero rolling a D20 adding combat modifiers vs. a monster’s AC. 

There is no Dungeon Master with this board game; therefore the players have to take some additional responsibilities and there are a few minor random systems.  The players are in charge of the monsters that they draw from the deck, however, each monster have a set priories in which they act.  This surprisingly works really well; even if you mega-game the monsters to the heroes’ advantage.  The random systems involve drawing dungeon tiles and cards (monster, encounters, treasure, adventure cards and a few more). These systems might be optional add more complexity to the game.  They work well in adding more flavor and tactics to the game; however, some rules are not distinct or clear, requiring some house rules or group agreement on how to apply them.   

The game includes an adventure book that, in theory, contains over twenty different quests, but that is based on drawing cards.  The first few quests get players acquainted with the game while the others provide enough different flavors and tactics to avoid game repetition.  Oddly, there are campaign’s rules which allow players buy magical items and bring them from one quest to another.  If you are going to have a campaign, why not play a RPG?  Old dogs…

The Soft Chew

There is not much fluff to this game, yet for some reason I feel transported back to sixth grade going through the module B-1 “Search of the Unknown.”  You go down a hall and get hit by a fungal plume and when you open the door it releases a lava trap; impractical and very old school.  Players argue about tactics not motivations and the setting is defined just enough to explain why you want to play.  There is a nostalgic feeling to playing this game.  True, some people will miss the competition and strategy in playing against a human opponent (Game Master), but the random element maintains a mystery and tension for everyone playing.   

Unfortunately, the game loses the basic role-playing fundamentals that higher principles were built on; creative problem/solution and prevention actions.  Players cannot tap a 10-foot pole in front of them to set off pits before walking on them.  Heroes cannot take hours investigating a well of water or clump of mushrooms to figure out if and how they might be dangerous.  There are no GM tricks for them to out-wit.  The walls turn to magma because the card that was flipped over says so.  Without these basic role-playing options that were a given during the old school days, players are pigeon-hole into making only tactical and risk assessments for the game.  This means that they only see the hero that they are playing as a tactical tool instead of a character.  This is the one true irony of the game, D&D is the founding brand of role-playing and this game has nothing to do with playing a unique character. 

Tasty Bits

Miniatures Stuff!!!  You get 35 unpainted figures with this game, 40 interlocking dungeon tiles, and other gaming tiles with this game.  Even if you don’t like the game, you have the basic requirements to have a good fantasy RPG session.  They are not the cheap stuff that Milton Bradley produces but good solid Hasbro pieces.

Versatility!!!  I don’t know about other dungeon crawl games, but there is a wide range of stuff to apply some creativity too.  WotC has built into the game several categories and discrete intricacies into the game that a creative person could effortlessly start playing with.  For example, want a Dragonborn rogue? Then replace the Half-orc race card with the Dragonborn race card, now you have it.  Make your own powers, races or monsters.  I started house ruling during the 1st game that I played, talk about old school.  I am surprise that there is not an online presence adapting and adding to this game.

Solo Play!!!! If you do not like grinding to MMOs, then try playing this game solo. Solo play is the greatest aspect of this game.  You can get a deeper level of tactics and possible combinations of actions than any button pusher online.  Start off playing three heroes, then try two or if you want a real challenge, try just one.  If you get bored, start playing with the versatility of the game and see where that takes you. 

Bitter Bits

No role-playing-I identify more with Professor Plum more than Quinn the Cleric. 

Inheritance of D&D- Because this game is structured on D&D, it inherits some of the problems that come with playing D&D.  Most of the challenges and creativity is external; monsters, events, magic items and setting; not within the hero you are playing.  This will move many players to find new and creative external challenges, keeping the hero stagnate.  Okay, this is an abstract way to say: if you like this game, then you will want to buy supplements that give you more figures, tiles, monster and event cards. 

Conclusion

The Wrath of Ashardalon is a stew of good and bad things with nothing being exceptional.  It is bland; but none the less, filling.  It barely meets the two requirements of a game, it’s fun and you will want to play it again.  You are not going to beseechs others to play with the excitement that a typical RPG invokes.  Instead, it will be a good filler when you cannot play any real RPG. The game is like ranch flavored potato chips, it has some flavor and will satisfy your hunger, but it’s not a real meal. 

On a personal note; I would be tempted to buy supplements if they were priced right.  However, I don’t think I would spend another $65.00 for an additional and compatible game, like the soon to be released “legend of Drizzt.”  I certainly will not pay for additional adventures that are sold as PDFs. 

Rating

Content: 3 out of five-I like playing it instead of MMOs, but if I hope my friends bring a new game on gaming night.

Style: 2 out of five-The miniatures are good, but I wanted more pizzazz with the cards and tiles.

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2 Comments on “4/13/2011-The Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game Review”

  1. boccobsblog Says:

    Good review, thank you.

    Two questions:

    1.) How does it compare to the Ravenloft game?

    2.) Can you use the game board in a table top game? Is it scaled the same?

  2. phlophouse Says:

    I have not played the Ravenloft game.
    Yes, it is scaled the same.


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