As I was wandering the wilds of the internet I came across this article by Zak Arntson on playing the Castle Ravenloft boardgame with young kids. I have played Castle Ravenloft a couple of times with my daughter and found that it can take a bit long for her attention span and increases my anxiety somewhat trying to keep track of everything so that it runs smoothly for her. To Matlida’s credit, she gives it a red-hot go, but these days I am reticent to get it out. Zak’s very simplified game got me all inspired to give it another crack, and although his rules are a little too simple for me and my 7-year-old, I think they are on the right track. Here is my take on simplifying Castle Ravenloft.
What you need
Castle Ravenloft boardgame – the miniatures, dungeon tiles and hit point tokens.
Fudge / Fate dice – 2 per player.
Tokens or beads to represent treasure – you could use the treasure cards from the game, just keep them face down.
Start by weaving a bit of a story, explaining why bold heroes have come to the dark dungeon. Based on the figures in the Castle Ravenloft box, I would probably go with something like:
A terrible Dragon made of bones has made its home below the old ruined castle, just outside of town. It comes out at night to eat sheep and set fire to the forest and farmhouses. The locals have called for brave heroes to put an end to this terrible monster and the creatures that protect it – you are that hero!
Each player chooses a hero figure. Give them a cool name! Feel free to tell a bit of a story about your hero – why they are adventuring, how they met one of the other heroes, a mighty monster they have defeated. This isn’t necessary, but I like to turn all of my games with my kids into stories.
Give each hero 6 hit point tokens. Place the rest of the hit point tokens in a pile on the table.
Place the treasure tokens in a pile on the table, where everyone can reach them.
Place the dungeon tiles in a face-down pile to the side.
Place the monster miniatures on the table in piles based on their base size- you should have three piles, one pile with bases that take up one square, a pile with bases that take up four squares, and a pile with the six square Dracolich. Base size determines how tough and powerful the monster is.
Put the start tile on the table, face up. Each player places their hero on the start tile, wherever they like.
Choose one player to begin. Play proceeds in a clockwise direction. It is important that you tell your story as you play the game – describe what your hero is doing, how they are doing it.
When it’s your turn a hero gets to Move, Fight and take an Action.
MOVE: Move your hero. You can move a number of squares equal to your current hit points.
FIGHT: Fight with your hero. If the hero is next to a monster they can fight them in close combat. They roll their Fate dice and each [+] causes one Hit on the monster. Monsters can only suffer a number of hits equal to their base size (1, 4 or 6 hits). When a monster suffers the appropriate number of hits, remove them from the tile and place them on the table so that everyone can see how many monsters have been defeated. Each [-] result on a Fate die causes a Hit on the hero. If a hero loses all their hit points they are very tired and cannot move, explore or search – they can only heal.
If the hero is not next to a monster they can attack a monster at range – this might be with a bow, throwing daggers, magic spell or other form of attack. They can only attack monsters at range if the monster is on the same tile or an adjacent tile. They roll their Fate dice and cause one Hit if they score a pair of [+]. If they roll a pair of [-] the hero suffers one Hit.
ACTION: After any combat the hero must take an action – explore, search or heal. If they explore they add one dungeon tile to any un-explored edge of the tile they are currently standing on – they can place it any way that makes sense. The player can pick one valid monster* miniature and place it so that its base is touching the pile of bones on the new tile. If there are no unexplored edges, the hero cannot explore.
If the hero chooses to search, they roll their Fate dice and gain one treasure token for every [+] rolled. If they roll two [-], no treasure is found and a wandering monster appears! The player to their left can choose any valid monster and place it in a square next to the searching hero.
If the hero chooses to heal they roll their Fate dice and gain one hit point for every [+] rolled. A hero can never have more than six hit points. A hero can choose to heal another hero on the same tile as them.
* Valid Monsters: the monsters get bigger and tougher as the adventure progresses. Players can only choose to place size-1 based models to start with. When at least four monsters have been defeated players can choose to place size-4 based models (the Flesh Golem and Zombie Dragon). When at least six monsters have been defeated the players can choose to place size-6 based monsters (the Dracolich).
When the hero has completed their action, play proceeds to the next player.
You can choose to end the game at any time, with the heroes deciding to flee the dungeon. Real victory, however, only comes after they have defeated the boss monster (the size-6 based monster). As the boss monster has six hit points and each hero can only cause a maximum of two Hits, they will have to work together to take the monster down. You might finish by wrapping up the story:
You have defeated the terrible bone Dragon and its minions! You leave the dungeon and make your way back to town, where you are greeted with cheers. The townspeople hold a great celebration to honour your deeds!
Now we have the basics, lets see if we can build some options in that increase interest and re-playability, without making it too much more difficult.
Monster moves: The different coloured monsters can have traits that affect how they interact with heroes.
- Bone monsters (skeletons, gargoyles, zombies) are typically undead, slow and/or guardians mean to protect a place. They operate as normal – they are the baseline monster.
- Brown monsters (ghouls, spiders, kobolds, rat swarms, wolves) are quick. If a hero makes a ranged attack at a brown monster but does not defeat it, move the monster into a space adjacent to the attacking hero.
- Translucent blue monsters (wraiths and blazing skeletons) are incorporeal, ghostly and difficult to properly see. Translucent blue monsters can only be attacked by heroes on the same tile – you can still make a ranged attack against it, but only from relatively close range.
- Grey monsters (werewolf, kobold sorcerer, Count Strahd, howling hag) are leaders and particularly dangerous monsters. Grey monsters are very dangerous to fight – you must re-roll one [+] when fighting (melee or ranged) grey monsters.
In order to encourage a variety of monsters being used, you might implement one of the following rules:
- You cannot place two of the same coloured monster in a row (unless they are different sizes)
- You must place one of each coloured monster before you can place another of the same colour (you have to cycle through the colours).
Re-Rolls: Let heroes spend treasure to re-roll one or both of their dice. It costs 2 treasure to re-roll one Fate die.
Level Up: As an action (instead of explore, search or heal) a hero can Level Up. The hero must have defeated at least two monsters and must also spend two treasure in order to level up. When a character Levels Up they gain an additional Fate die – they will roll 3 dice instead of two.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind extending the length of your game, Levelling Up could require players to “spend” defeated monsters, placing them back in the monster piles. This will mean it will take longer to collect enough monsters to place size-4 and size-6 monsters.
You will need to decide if a hero can only Level Up once, or if they can do it multiple times. If you allow multiple Level Ups, I suggest the second level up costs three treasure and three monsters, the next one costs four treasure and four monsters, and so on.
Valid Monsters: You can adjust the requirements for placing monsters, based on the number of heroes taking part in the adventure. For quick games, size-4 based monsters can be placed after a number of monsters equal to the number of heroes has been defeated, and size-6 based monsters can be placed after one size-4 based model has been defeated. For longer games, size-4 based models can only be placed after all heroes have defeated at least two monsters each, and size-6 monsters can only be placed after all heroes have defeated at least three monsters each.
And there we have it – a streamlined take on Castle Ravenloft to play with your kids. What do you think?