Castle Ravenloft is a cooperative, exploration game based on the Dungeon and Dragon 4th edition rules. It is a recent addition to the adventure game genre and owes much to what is perhaps the most famous game of that type, Heroquest. The players take on the role of heroes, descending into the depths of a dungeon, or in this case, Castle Ravenloft. Unlike other adventure games, which require a player to run the dungeon and monsters, Castle Ravenloft is totally cooperative. The dungeon is generated randomly each playthrough, increasing replayability, and the monsters have scripts to determine how they act.
The mechanics of the game are loosely based around Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, but lack much of the complexity and the roleplaying elements found in D&D. Each character begins the game with a number of powers that they can use during the adventure to fight monsters. In addition, each hero has an ability that enhances the fighting prowess of nearby heroes or helps defeat non-monster challenges. The mechanic for challenge resolution involves rolling a twenty-sided die, adding any bonuses, and comparing it against a difficulty number. If the total meets or exceeds the difficulty number, the roll is a success.
Gameplay is broken into turns. Each turn involves three phases: Hero, Exploration, and Villain. During the Hero phase, the player moves their piece through the dungeon and attacks monsters or disarms traps. During the Exploration phase a new piece of the dungeon is revealed along with any monsters or events associated it with. Finally, in the Villain phase, the monsters act.
The missions are diverse and challenge the players in a variety of fashions. There are a numerous boss fights, including one against a reanimated dragon skeleton. There are fetch quests, a defend the fort scenario, etc. One of the more difficult missions involves the players beginning isolated and unable to aid each other.
The high degree of difficulty makes Castle Ravenloft very satisfying. However, it does cause some problems. It feels necessary to always have one player take the role of the cleric. Without a doubt, the cleric is the least exciting character, but being able to heal the other players has proven, in my experience, to be too useful an ability to leave behind.
Castle Ravenloft is the first of three, so far, games based on the Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition rules and is regarded as the most difficult. There is a high degree of randomness, between the twenty-sided die, dungeon generation, monster spawning, and traps that can cause rapid and spectacular losses. That said, the more players there are, the less likely it is that a sudden Total Party Kill will occur. If you believe gaming is not fun unless it hurts, or if the idea of killing monsters and taking their stuff gets you out of bed in the morning, Castle Ravenloft is right up your alley.