The Wrath of Ashardalon board game is the second in the Dungeons & Dragons line of adventure quest board games, after Castle Ravenloft and before Legend of Drizz’t. The game is quite challenging, and well worth the MSRP of 65 dollars. The components are of very high quality, although the minis, which are the same sculpts as the D&D Minis line, are unpainted, and players who have the actual D&D Minis might want to substitute the painted versions for the monsters that come with the game.
One criticism that some have had is the supposed lack of theme compared to Castle Ravenloft. In Ravenloft, you really feel like you are in a haunted mansion. In Ashardalon, some have felt, you are in a more generic dungeon crawl. While this may seem to be the case on the surface, a perusal of the components will reveal that there is actually quite a bit of theme to be had.
First of all, the dungeon, Firestorm Peak, is alive with magama flows, heated walls, volcanic gas, earthquakes and cave-ins – all the sorts of hazards you would expect in a dungeon set inside a volcano. There are also Kobold worshippers of the Dragon Ashardalon running around, which in D&D are the standard minions of evil dragons. Meerak, a Kobold Dragonlord, leads Ashardalon’s faithful. There is a Rage Drake in the mountain, apparently one of Ashardalon’s kin. A few Human Cultists round out the religious tone of Ashardalon as a Dragon God, and a few Devils (including the Duergar, a race of devil Dwarfs which actually have the ‘Devil’ keyword in this game) bring home that this is the lair of a sinister dragon god who brooks no trespass!
A few stray monsters, such as Cave Bears and Orcs, give the game a somewhat more generic feel at times, but the other set of monsters, the various abberations, bespeak a Far Realm influence that hails back to Second Edition Dungeons & Dragons module, Gates of Firestorm Peak. Grells, Gibbering Mouthers, and even an Otyugh plague the characters, but none so much as the Gauth, a Beholder kin, who is attempting to open a gate to the realm of madness! All right under the Mighty Dragon Ashardalon’s nose. As a bonus, the Duergar are actually minions in the original D&D module, as is the backstory of the village of Longbridge being the local township from which the Wrath of Ashardalon characters hail.
And these monsters are mean! While the monsters in Castle Ravenloft could slow or immobilize you, the monsters in Wrath of Ashardalon can poison you or daze you instead. If you aren’t staggering from the lingering effects of a Cultists’ dagger or a Serpent’s bite, you just might by infected by the beak of a Grell. Even the Cave Bear gets in on the act, dazing you with a furious springing attack. Special Sentry monsters can call other monsters to their aid, and the Legion Devils appear three at a time. If you can even reach the boss monster, chances are these meanies will have you at death’s door before you can even engage it.
In Wrath of Ashardalon, as in the other two titles, players explore the dungeon by placing random tiles that spawn monsters. A deck of encounter cards makes very bad things happen, which can be a curse, an earthquake, a poisoned dart trap, an assault by invisible snipers, or even just plain getting lost. The walls can become too hot to touch, you can disappear into a pit, and you can even be buried in a cave-in. The game does everything possible to try to kill you, monsters aside.
You have to use your daily and utility powers carefully, and hope that they can recharge during the game. When you finally reach the boss monster, you are likely to be dogged by several enemies and low on resources. Chances are, you will fail.
So why play? First off, the game has some new elements since Castle Ravenloft that make it an exciting dungeon crawl. There are possibly trapped doors to be unlocked and special large chambers that require you to place up to six specific tiles at a time. In some scenarios, you determine what is in these awesomely large chambers by drawing a card from a special Chamber deck. This gives some of the scenarios extra replayability – a scenario can be, ‘Find the Dire Chamber and when you get there, draw a card to see what adventure awaits!’ That is awesome, because you might stumble into the refuse pile of an Otyugh or the lair of an Orc Storm Shaman and his minions, for all you know.
Villagers are to be found within the mountain, and you have to try to rescue them while keeping them from getting themselves killed. There are even objects, like the Altar, that you can destroy as a quest goal. Finally, there are treasure markers, indicating a monetary amount such as 100-500gp value, useful if you want to create a campaign where characters can buy items in subsequent advacntures. The last adventure actually features a campaign where you can use these treasure tokens to purchase new items from a group of Dwarven traders. The campaign even lets you swap out a power for another between adventures, much like retraining in 4th Edition D&D.
All in all, the game plays well, is extremely challenging, and allows for great campaign play and custom scenario options. It is well supported by Wizards of the Coast with online scenarios that allow for compatibility with Castle Ravenloft, and even require components from both games. The replay value is amazing, and you are sure to get your money’s worth.
Places to by Wrath of Ashardalon in or near NYC:
Compleat Strategist, Ravenblood Games, The Game Table, Twenty Sided Store
Reviews to check out:
Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizz’t