11 October 2010

Fury of Dracula [Boardgame review]

The story is pretty simple, one player being Dracula is roaming around in Europa kicking up trouble, while 4 hunters (Van Helsing, Mina Harker, dr Seward and Lord Godalming) are trying to figure out Dracula’s current location by following his trail so they can kill him once and for all. This game features a few cool game mechanics, we have a counter showing “night & day”, and it advances each turn as time goes by. Dracula and his minions are weak at day and of course very powerful and dangerous at night. Dracula also remains hidden off table, and is not represented by a miniature until his location has been revealed by either the hunters finally tracking him down, or Dracula himself attacking an investigators. Instead Dracula uses special movement cards.

First things first though. The components.
The board itself, ranges from western Europe and reaches into German and diagonally down to Romania.  It features 60 towns and cities, all connected either by railroads or dirt trails. The map is also broken down into two rough halves, symbolizing western and eastern Europe. The difference between these two regions affect how efficient the trains are. You will be able to travel further in western Europe by train than you can in eastern Europe . Dracula may only ever move along the dirt trails – and moves one step each turn. The  hunters may chose either to walk from one location to the other on foot, one step just like Dracula, OR take a train. Taking a train requires you to roll the special “train die” to see how far you can go. The results range from “ X “ where you are delayed and your turn ends, “ 0 “ meaning you missed the train but can move along a dirt trail, and results 1-3. There is also one 2/3 result, in western Europe this means you may travel up to 3 towns by train, while you may only ever travel 2 towns in eastern Europe.

The board also features a number of sea zones, travel by sea is time consuming as you have to embark, move out into a sea zone and then disembark – moving across the English Channel for instance takes 3 turns. However, you might also travel very swiftly around the continent by boat. Whenever Dracula embark on a boat the time “freezes” and until he disembarks stays the same. Dracula will also lose 1 life every 2 turns while remaining at sea. Taking a sea trip for Dracula can be a nice way to lose his pursuers.
There are some fixed markers on the board, we have the “determination track”, after each day the hunters get 1 determination marker – which they can spend on such thing as to know Dracula’s last unknown location. Dracula has his victory point track as well, receiving 1 victory point for every day he manages to evade his pursuers, 2 victory points for every killed investigator and 2 victory points if he manages to “hatch” vampire minion long enough in a certain location for it to mature.

The hunters win the game only if they manage to kill Dracula, there is no middle ground.
The sun dial keeps track of time, as I mentioned earlier certain minions are more dangerous at night, Dracula also receives multiple additional attack abilities during nighttime. Each day is made up of 6 turns, half day and half night.

Each player gets a character sheet showing wounds and special rules, how many times they can be bitten by Dracula before they “die” (they lose all their equipment and go to St Mary’s hospital where they are brought back to health).

There are also a couple of decks of cards, but not as many as you usually get in a Fantasy Flight Game. Each player gets a few basic fight card, Dodge/Punch/Flee. Then the hunters and Dracula share 1 deck of “event cards”. Dracula has his special cards marked by a Dracula symbol, and the investigators by a cross. Cards are drawn from the bottom of the deck so that the ownership of the card isn’t known until that point (as opposed when drawing from the top of the deck…). These even cards feature allies, equipment, abilities and perks for either Dracula or the hunters.

Each player may only have 4 such event cards in his hand at any given point (there are of course variations and special rules which may expand your hand as well). Both Dracula and the hunters may also have 1 active ally in play at a time. These allies provide useful bonuses for each side but are otherwise not taking part in the fights or anything like that. There is also a supply deck only available for the hunters, containing weapons and such things as dogs and horses which may boost their abilities some.

Playing Dracula is sneaky; playing as Dracula you get 6 empty spaces along your board edge. It is here where you will place your special “Dracula movement” cards.  This is a deck of 60 cards, featuring every single location on the board; you also get a smaller deck of sea locations as well. After the hunterss have been placed on their starting location, Dracula will decide where he wants to start.

He looks through his deck of locations and decides he wants to start in say “Leipzig” – he picks out the “Leipzig” card and places it face down, not showing what it says to anyone, on the first empty space. This card now tells Dracula’s location. As Dracula moves along the trails, he has to pick new location cards that are adjacent to his previous location and place this on the board facedown. His previous locations are slowly moved to the right, and as they reach the 6th space they are flipped face up to tell what location Dracula had visited 6 turns ago. Dracula will also place small “minion” markers, which he picks at random from a cup – always having 5 at hand, on top of these location cards.

A usual turn goes as such, Dracula keeps track of time, moving the dial forwards one step as his turn begins. He then picks a new location card and places it on the board, moving all previous location cards to the right. He places one minion marker on his latest location card, and replenishes his minion hand.
The hunters will then make their turn, moving either by train or dirt trail from one location to the other, as they move into a new location they ask the Dracula player “if he has visited this location OR is in fact currently staying there”. Should Dracula have visited that particular location sometime during his movement, he has to flip that card in his movement track over, and the hunter will resolve the encounter with Dracula himself or any minion Dracula might have placed in that space.
The closer the hunters get to reveal Dracula’s current location by discovering his previous route the better their chances to actually encircle and corner him in a fight. The card to the very left is never revealed though unless someone stumbles over Dracula that is.
The minions Dracula places range from spies, dangerous animals, dense fog etc. Each has their own impact on the hunter stumbling into that location.

As Dracula’s location cards reach the 6th and final place they will “fall off” the board as the next location card is placed the coming turn and the old ones get pushed one step further to the right. Herein lies the trick playing Dracula. You are forbidden to move back into old locations unless you get your location card back in hand (once if falls of the board). You might also want to create vampire minions in certain locations far away and hope they will mature (as they fall of the board) before they are discovered and killed by an investigator – speeding up your victory.

Night time gives Dracula an edge by allowing him certain additional cards and encounter/travel possibilities. At night Dracula may feed to replenish lost health or turn into a wolf allowing him to move up to 2 spaces at once, even through locations containing a hunter or locations that he has previously visited! This is excellent for losing your pursuers as you can suddenly move through their closing ring and confuse them as where to you might have moved. These special cards can only be used once every 7 turns and need to be attached to a location card, making you wait until it falls off the board.

Finally, what it all comes down to – fighting. Be it with minions or with Dracula himself, the fights in this game use card and dice mechanics. You first pick one card in secret from your combat deck. Both players then reveal their intent at the same time. Say Dracula uses claws and Mina tries to Flee. We now know what each player intends, then each player rolls 1D6. The highest result is the winner and gets to play the effect on his/her card. The result of combat also varies depending on what cards are in play. If someone shoots at Dracula while he tries his Claws nothing happens and the fight continues. Should Mina however pull of the right card combination and win her “Flee” she would fall back from combat unharmed. If the results of both die rolls should be a tie, then each card has a “initiative value” after which the players resolve their round of combat. Combat goes on until either one player dies or flees.

Dracula’s minions only need one successful result to be beaten, as they are assumed to only have “1 hit point”. Dracula however has an astounding 15 hit points! Making him very tough. The easiest and fastest way to kill Dracula is using a “Stake”. Winning combat against Dracula using a stake reduces his life down to the closes red field on his character card. You can kill Dracula with 3 successful stake attacks very fast – if you are lucky enough. In our last game where I played Dracula I had an intense fight with one hunter (Van Helsing), managing to bite him twice – but I was also thanks to crap die rolls staked 3 times and finally killed.

So there you have it, Fury of Dracula. A fun game without too many different components to keep, and rules as well as game mechanics that are quite easy to learn and grasp. This game will work for 2-5 players. We played 3 people, me handling Dracula and my 2 buddies each played 2 hunters. There is no real difference when you play 3 to when you play 5 people.

But playing 2 players only can be a bit of a burden for the player having to handle all of the hunters by himself. Playing Dracula is hard, and the win/lose ratio favors the investigators. There are like 2-3 cards which the investigators may stumble upon early game which can reveal Dracula’s location right away – making it very hard for Dracula from the get go. Playing Dracula however is very fun, the kind of sadistic fun you didn’t know you could enjoy from a board game as you make the hunters go in circles trying to find your trail, trying to maintain a poker face as they move in the wrong direction. The replay value is quite high as no chase of Dracula is identical and allowing different players within your gaming group play as Dracula will make the game different as different players tend to go for different strategies. We once had a player who played very aggressively and attacked the hunters at every chance and actually won as Dracula. Other times Dracula has been played safe, evading all encounters with the hunters.


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