Thursday, January 31, 2008

Miscellany: Fury of Dracula first impressions



I learned from my recent Tigris and Euphrates review that it's difficult to truly rate a new board game after only a few playthroughs, hence the cautious title of this post. The first few times you play a complex board game, you'll inevitably mess up many rules, all of which can change the play experience dramatically (that's what happened with T&E - we even misread one of the game's ending conditions). So, here's a first look at Fantasy Flight Games' remake of "Fury of Dracula."

The basic conceit is that one player controls the legendary Count Dracula, while the other players are vampire hunters trying to kill him - people like Van Helsing and Mina Harper. Dracula moves in secret through fin de si├Ęcle Europe, and the hunters track him through both the day - and the night. All the while, Dracula is laying traps and encounters to hamper the players. Should he survive long enough to gain 6 victory points, he wins the game.

Thankfully for humanity, the hunters can draw Event Cards when they explore new cities. While these can actually help Dracula, most of the time, they have beneficial effects for the hunters. Some of them reveal part of Dracula's trail, others hamper Dracula, and still others grant powerful special abilities to be used during combat. Check out the excellent Board Games With Scott video review for a more thorough rundown of the rules.


One potential problem I see is that it's very difficult for the Dracula player to actually kill the hunters in combat. Of course, if Drac manages to pull it off, he gets 2 victory points immediately, but it's insanely difficult - the hunters have tons of health and generally have several potent items that can mess Dracula up badly (stakes, crosses, holy water, etc.). Combat itself is mostly a crapshoot, since the initial opposed six-sided die roll is so random, and the attack-defense outcomes are mystifying at first.



On the plus side, the game is a lavish production, with a beautiful sturdy box and nice thick cardboard counters tracking everything. The actual game map is very pretty, as well as being easy to read. There's even a handy mini-map card for the Dracula player so he doesn't have to look at spots on the board while plotting his moves. Though the plastic figures that represent Drac and the hunters are somewhat underwhelming, the Magic-style flavor text on most of the cards injects a lot of Bram Stoker's original mood into the game. A big, full-color instruction manual rounds out the contents of the game box.


It's also a game that truly mirrors its theme. When a player gets delayed by train, only to miss Dracula by a turn or two, or when Van Helsing faces off with the Count in mano a vampiro combat, there's a certain tension there, since the luck of the rolls plays a large part in whether anyone wins or loses. Some may decry this injection of fortune, but given that this game isn't supposed to be a true strategy game like chess, it doesn't really hurt the whole package too much in my opinion.

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