Way back on the first Tuesday game night I had to miss (October 5), I started a solo game of Castle Ravenloft using the second solitaire scenario, Adventure: Impossible. I played for over 2 hours that night, and still had to come back a couple of weeks later and finish it up. And it didn’t end well. So what went wrong?
Let me start with some basic information about the scenario itself. The premise is that Strahd is massing for a big attack on the town, so the heroes are going in to the catacombs to take out three of his minions before they can go all nuts on the poor villagers. But the heroes are seperated and arrive individually at different times, so you play one character at a time, one after another as each one is killed. Six specialdungeon tiles (each tied to a different minion) are pulled outand arranged semi-randomly in the stack. You explore and face monsters until you find and defeat all three minions.
You’re supposed to even choose your character order randomly, so I began by using the Ranger.
The Ranger did a pretty good job of exploring, and eventually discovered the Howling Hag and Krak, the Kobold Sorcerer in ajoining rooms. That wasn’t too good, and while he eventually took out the Hag, the Ranger soon meet his doom at the hands of a ravenous ghoul.
The Dragonborn Fighter was next up, but didn’t manage to do much of anything before getting killed off as well. The Rogue did a little better, eventually taking out Klak before dying a similar death to undead monsters.
The wizard was next, and while he did a lot of exploring, the last minion was apparently buried deep in the dungeon tile stack. Even with getting off a couple of fireballs, monsters were building up considerably due to a far-too-long-ignored Alarm trap, and the magic user eventually fell as well
The dungeon as I started with my final hero. You can see the huge pile of monster cards and traps accumulated to the right…
So then I was left with only one hero, the Dwarven Cleric, and only 3 dungeon tiles in which the last minion could be hiding. Since the Wizard pulled most of the monsters to the right during his relatively short life, I had the Cleric run straight up the middle to find an unexplored edge as soon as possible. A few turns later, the Werewolf finally showed her fuzzy little head. The Cleric fought bravely, soon getting off a Flame Strike that wounded the lycanthrope and took out three other creatures as well. But what I then realized was that he had virtually no hope of ever defeating her.
You see, the Werewolf has relatively few hit points for a minion, but she also regenerates one hit point a turn. And since the Cleric didn’t have any powers that dealt more than one hit point of damage (other than the already-used, once-daily flame strike), it was pretty hopeless. I played out the next few turns, just to see if I’d luck into a treasure that let me flip the flame strike back over in time, but when it didn’t show before the Werewolf was back to full health, I threw in the towel and quit.
What I Think…
Castle Ravenloft is not well-balanced for solo-hero play. While I think that it still has a lot of potential for solo play by playing 2 or more heroes at the same time in the regular (multiplayer) scenarios, neither of the scenarios designed for solo/single-hero play worked well for me at all. It’s really a shame, because I was very excited about this scenario in particular, thinking that the one-hero-at-a-time gimmick was pretty cool and interesting. But in reality, it was just long, laborious, and ultimately frustrating and impossible.
And don’t get me wrong, It’s not about this game being “hard”. Cooperative games (and solo games, I suppose) are supposed to be hard. But this just felt broken or clunky or overlooked somehow by the scenario writer, because I literally came down to a situation where I had no chance to defeat the last minion.
I’m aching to finally write up a “real”, comprehensive review of Castle Ravenloft, but I’m still waiting to get the chance to play at least one or two of the more advanced scenarios involving some of the more interesting tweaks to the rules, expecially in regards to monster spawning and such. But what I fear now is that as the scenarios get more interesting and complicated, they will continue to also get longer and more frustrating as well. And that doesn’t bode well for my final evaluation of the game.