Our "normal" campaign (if you can call it that) was canceled, so a few of us met at The Next Level Games and played a couple of board games instead.
Dungeons and Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon
Wrath of Ashardalon is a board game based on D&D 4th Edition, along the same lines as Castle Ravenloft. It uses 4e as a base template, but the rules are simplified so that players can just pull it out and play without a lot of setup.
Upon seeing this game for the first time in the store, my initial impression was, "Wow, that's expensive." But now that I've seen it opened, things are a little more clear. It comes with 42 plastic miniatures, which are unpainted versions of older D&D minis. Included among them is the "Huge Red Dragon" mini from the Giants of Legend line, which itself currently goes for around $70 on Ebay. So even though this version is unpainted, it still makes it a pretty good value. You also get some interlocking dungeon tiles, and way more tokens and cards than you'll ever want to keep track of.
It's a bit strange that this product exists, when you could always just play normal, full-on D&D. But WoA has the advantage of being simpler and self-contained. Everything you need is in the box, and a full game doesn't take nearly as long as playing actual D&D. So that's probably the target audience: people who want a quick D&D fix without the commitment. Another great feature is that you can even play solo.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that Gamma World is a simplified version of D&D. Well, Gamma World has nothing on WoA. This is probably as simple as D&D gets. You don't roll up a character, just grab one of the 5 character cards and pick their powers. Leveling up is as simple as turning your card over, revealing your Level 2 stats. I could see this game being used to give a non-gamer a taste of D&D to see if they want to learn more.
I haven't yet played Castle Ravenloft, but apparently WoA and Ravenloft are compatible board games, meaning you can swap out elements between them to customize your experience. There's also a Legend of Drizzt game coming out that will most likely be compatible as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if more are in the works.
I had a great time playing it, but I don't know if I could justify the price unless I found it on sale. I already have a lot of D&D materials, and there's not a lot of good reasons to play WoA if full D&D is available. If you just keep a few extra characters printed out, and a Monster Manual or maybe a copy of Dungeon Delve on hand, you can already run a quick adventure whenever you need to. And that's my worry: D&D fans don't need this, and non-D&D fans won't like this. Overall I thought it was pretty cool, but part of me still wonders what the point is.
I'd played Zombies!!! once before, but this time there were more players, and we got to use the "Mall Walkers" expansion. Zombies!!! is a fairly simple board game in which players try to survive a town filled with undead monsters. The ultimate goal is to be the first player to either kill 25 zombies or escape in a helicopter.
It's an easy game to learn, and it's a lot of fun. Like Wrath of Ashardalon above, the game involves randomly drawing board tiles that increase the size of the play area. But each tile brings a few zombies with it, and after a few rounds there are dozens of the creatures on the board. While some cooperation between players can occasionally help, in my experience the game is more about screwing each other over.
And that's what makes it fun. It's a harsh world, and while it would be nice if everyone could work together to defeat the zombie hordes, the fact is that only one of you is going to make it. If you want it to be you, you're going to have to treat your friends as bait.
I highly recommend this game to people who like zombies. Just make sure you have a really big table to play it on, because after a while the tiles tend to spread out all over the place.