Review – Wrath of Ashardalon from Wizards of the Coast – Descent killer?

Review – Wrath of Ashardalon from Wizards of the Coast

Designed by – Peter Lee, Mike Mearis, Bill Slavicsek

Many thanks to the awesome folks at Rules of Play Game shop in Cardiff for providing me with a copy of this game for review purposes. To order this game, go to  – http://www.rulesofplay.co.uk/

Yeah, I am a complete sucker for fantasy boardgames. Anything involving Elves, Dwarves, Warriors, Mages… you know the drill.  I’ve played quite a few over the years and of all shapes and sizes from the elaborate to the quick and dirty. Heroquest, Advanced Heroquest, Dungeons & Dragons boardgames, Talisman, Runebound, Descent, etc. and so on. Nothing like a good ol romp in a dungeon or other treacherous and confined space where there’s just enough room to swing a sword, cast a spell or two and kick Monster butt and take names while shouting “It’s clobberin time!!! ” You can keep your Euros with their pansie resource management, route building, and cutsie little wooden cubes. Give me some fresh Orc meat… Arrrrggghhhh!

Interestingly enough, I’ve always been interested in Role Playing Games and Dungeon’s & Dragons as a role-playing game but never got acquainted with a group of friends who would play. I played earlier D&D system board games which I thought were a bit meh, with my favourite dungeon bash games being Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest. What? I hear you say. Don’t you worship at the altar of the behemoth that is Descent? Well, to be honest, Descent is cool but just way over the top for me. Too much detail, too long to play, and plain hard work. Nice mini’s though…

So what is a soul like me to do? Check out the latest D&D Game, Wrath of Ashardalon of course!

Boy, this one comes in an oversized box and it is packed to the rafters with all kinds of goodies. I’m not going to list it all but let me tell you that the mini’s immediately stand out as quality figures. Adventurers and monsters (orcs, kobolds, snakes, etc. including the best named monster ever, the “Gibbering Mouther”. The daddy of the game is the Dragon Ashardalon which is simply awesome. Having said all this, I would have thought that WOTC should have provided full painted minis. I doubt it would have cost much more and would have added to the experience in a big way. This is more than a mere quibble. For the price of the game, full painted figures should have been provided.

There are lots of stuff – dungeon floor tiles, lots of cards (which are a bit bendy I’m afraid) for treasures, encounters, monsters, powers. Tiles and chits for wounds and different information that you will need to carry out various missions in the dungeons that await you and your fellow adventurers. There is a rule booklet and an adventure booklet with the preset adventures which are organized in an order of increasing difficulty.

Wrath of Ashardalon is the follow-up to Castle Ravenloft and has enhanced the system for an even better game experience. It is playable solitaire (this is an excellent feature…) and with up to 5 players, aged 12+. It is, in essence a co-operative game where the players help each other to defeat the nasties. Either you all win, or you all lose.

Gameplay

This is really a simple game system, more than just a game and this is where the real value can be found because not only do you have a number of preset missions, but there are loads of variations as you randomly pick monsters and treasures to face. Tons of replay value. Lots of opportunity to create your own missions as well!

The rules are quite simple. Especially when compared to the deeper and more complicated Descent. And to me, that’s the charm. After choosing an adventure, you choose a character to play and the powers that your character can use. You also start off with a treasure which will be a randomly chosen and assigned weapon. Yes, you and your buddies can decide which starting weapon goes to which character to best help the team.

Be warned, if you are looking for a deep role-playing game extended into a board game format this will not meet that need. However if you are looking for relatively fast and simple fun, with more monster bashing but little in the way of time-consuming role-development and story line, yet a great introduction to the genre, this is just the ticket.

Each Hero takes their turn as follows:

Hero phase – They can move and attack

Exploration phase – new passages and rooms are discovered along with their inhabitants!

Villain phase – Villains get in on the fun, Monsters and traps are activated

The heart and soul of the game is the card based system. Whats’ really well done are the clear instructions for what the heroes and monsters can do. The choices of weapons, spells, movement and attack are minimal but enough for a simple game. The programmed instruction of the Monster AI is good and works well. It is a clean system. No muss, no fuss.

As you open up new path/room tiles, new monsters pop up. There is a reasonable variety but it can seem a bit repetitive. Again, this is a simple, entry level game and the limitations on the monsters and abilities are fine. The limitations on the heroes abilities and the ability to improve or become a higher level character with a bit more “oomph” again is reasonable bearing in mind the simplicity of the game.

There is a good selection of Treasure cards to help you and the variety of Encounter cards will keep you guessing and worrying what may befall you and your company of heroes. I really like the mechanic of shuffling the dungeon tiles and choosing them blindly as this again adds continued freshness to your games. There are some small problems with some of the encounters which are not logical. An example is the boulder which can come down the hallway, wounding the heroes along the way. It seems that the boulder can have a life of its own and change direction on its own as it has to move towards the nearest hero. Not logical, and a sign that a bit of sloppiness slipped into the rules writing. These issues are minor and with a bit of common sense, can be adjusted.

As you kill monsters, you can gain experience points which can be used to cancel the effects of nasty Encounter cards and also you can cash them in to become a level 2 hero to add more to your prowess. Of course, the monsters attack the heroes and along with a number of dangerous Encounters, the heroes need to maintain their health because if one of your party begins a Hero Phase without any hit points left, GAME OVER!

There are extra rules that can be added for choosing powers, Boon cards which add more tactical challenges for the heroes to overcome, chambers which need to be scoured of extra monsters and doors.

To top it all off, there are 13 Adventures which add layers of difficulty. Adventures 4 and 13 have 14 adventures in them and Adventure 6 has 3 linked adventures so what’s that, 41-ish? PLENTY of value for the money.


Did it work for me?

Finally, a successor to the glory that was Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest! This is a really good game and I highly recommend it for those who need a dungeon bash fix but don’t have the time, the inclination, or the funds to get into Descent which is really for a harder core audience. To me, Wrath of Ashardalon fills the gap of wanting a simple, gorgeous, fun, dungeon cooperative game. Sure there are some small quibbles but all in all this should be a must buy if you like the genre. Get a copy before it goes out of print! In fact, this game could be a Descent killer, bringing fun dungeon bashing to the masses!

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 9 out of 10

Family Friendly?

Well maybe… Easy enough but will the whole family like it? 12+ is definitely the right age. Its really a game you would expect early teens and above to love.

For more information about Wizards of the Coast go to – http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=ah/welcome

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2 thoughts on “Review – Wrath of Ashardalon from Wizards of the Coast – Descent killer?”

  1. Which gets a strong thumbs up?
    Wrath of Ashardalon or Castle Ravenloft
    Now that we have two teenage boys in the house I’m tempted to start in on one of these games.

    Like

  2. Hey Trent, I haven’t played Castle Ravenloft, but from what I’ve read Wrath is definitely a better game. Great intro to Dungeon crawls for teenage boys!

    Like

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