Just got Wrath of Ashardalon Sunday night, and had a chance today to sort out all the components and play a solo game.
The experience is essentially the same as Castle Ravenloft, with new monsters, heroes, traps, tricks, and treasures. The rules add some new wrinkles in: different conditions (Daze and Poison, the latter of which has a saving throw type mechanic) doors that can be opened and might be trapped, and my favorite, the Dire Chamber. When you reach the Dire Chamber entrance, you draw a whole bunch more Dire Chamber tiles to make a great big chamber- and this is usually where you’ll fight the end boss. This fixes the problem that the end boss tile often is clumped with many, many, monsters (which means attacks that target everyone on the tile can be ridiculous at the end of the game), and also introduces a nice generic adventure, where you play until you reach the Dire Chamber, then draw a card to see what’s in it and what you need to do (usually kill a bunch of monsters). My biggest complaint of the scenario design was that there were too many gimmicks- there didn’t really feel like there was a ‘standard’ scenario. The basic Dire Chamber scenario though looks to be a go-to for Wrath of Ashardalon play.
(Also, I feel a strong urge to write some Dire Chamber cards for Castle Ravenloft now.)
The new heroes include a Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, and Wizard, and a Paladin for the fifth. However, they are all fairly different than the Castle Ravenloft versions- different power cards, and different class powers. For example, the new cleric heals himself and another character for 2 each (instead of the healing surge value to one person), and ends conditions when he heals you (instead of getting a free heal for not attacking).
The game is certainly compatible with Castle Ravenloft, though some funny things might happen if one mixes the sets- for example, mixing monster decks would make the game easier due to a lower occurence of duplicate monsters. Also, the new treasure deck is just treasure cards- no boons- and I’m not sure if this is good or bad yet.
When Castle Ravenloft first came out, I heard multiple people complain Wizards was ‘dumbing down’ D&D, however, playing these games, it is clear this is not the case: they are broadening the brand, and making strong introductory games that are also fun in their own right. I’ve said it before: a one-hour dungeon boardgame is the holy grail of dungeon boardgames, and Wizards have made it. Wrath of Ashardalon builds on the structure of Castle Ravenloft, putting in a few more complications and broadens the experience.