Game Review : Wrath of Ashardalon

, in Board Games

Box art
Things are not going well for the villagers that live near the dark volcano that dominates the landscape. The smoke and ash the billows from the inaccessible crater is only a minor problem, far worse are the horrible creatures that dwell in the crevices that split the mountain's flanks. And lurking somewhere deep within the lava-fulled depths - Ashardalon awaits!

First things first - Wrath of Ashardalon is an official Dungeons and Dragons game, played like you would a D&D adventure with simplified combat with the game mechanics taking the place of the DM. Still reading? Very well, let us continue...

Up to 5 adventures can play, each selecting a different pre-defined character but choosing a subset of the available abilities to start with. Each turn, the a player moves his character around the board and possibly attacks a monster if one is in range. At the start of the game, the board consists of a single 4*4 tile but if a player ends his move on an edge then pick a random tile and place it on the board, exposing a new part of the dungeon. At least one monster is placed on each new tile. Usually an encounter card is drawn as well, these have effects (almost always bad) ranging from the current player being hit by an arrow from the shadows to everyone taking damage from poison gas.

Then it is the monsters turn to move, the current player does that before ending his turn. The monsters all behave slightly differently, but the cards carefully explain what to do. Combat is very simple - roll a 20 sided dice and add the attack value to see if it meets the armour class of the defender. Most monsters can be dispatched with one or two hits so bookkeeping is kept to a minimum.

The ultimate goal changes depending on the scenario chosen at the start of the game. In our most recent game we had to fight our way through the random tunnels to find a special tile that opened into a large chamber filled with monsters led by a special "villain" monster with extra abilities. Our first attempt failed utterly but we got there in the end.

One word best describes Wrath of Ashardalon - hardcore! The box contains a vast amount of cards, tokens, thick cardboard map tiles, and 42 unpainted plastic figurines. The figurines are different from the normal D&D figures but detailed and suitable monstrous. The map tiles are very heavy card-stock and the art in nice throughout; full marks for presentation. The rulebook looks good but has a uphill battle trying to explain things, especially since many of the rules only apply during certain scenarios. It was only on our second game that we felt we were playing things correctly and even then we had problems.

The closest thing I could compare Wrath of Ashardalon to is the old Gauntlet arcade game from the 80s. The game forces you to move fast, uncovering the dungeon quickly to reach your goal. The clock is ticking since horrible events befall your party nearly every turn. Trying to mop up every single monster before continuing only leads to defeat; far better to keep moving and conserve your meagre resources as long as possible.

Wrath of Asgardalon certainly can be fun, but is really only for experienced players. The game balance is brutally stacked against the players so everyone has to be making the most of their abilities all the time. Even then blind chance can completely screw you (and everyone else) over with no chance to counter it.

Recommended only if you have a group of friends who really like Dungeons and Dragons and Losing and Restarting.