In honor of Halloween, we made a push for horror-themed games at Tuesday board games this week. Well, some of us made a push — namely me and Brennan — others chose to stick to their usual fare; Power Grid and Le Havre hit other tables. I brought Arkham Horror, still kitted out with Innsmouth Horror, and Brennan brought a whole stack of Halloweeny games: Fearsome Floors, Chez Goth, Give Me the Brain! and Zombies!!!
What we wound up playing was quite different. Joe’s a gamer from Barre who’s visited our game night before. He meant to drop in a week or two back, but couldn’t make it. This week he made the drive north, bringing Fury of Dracula and Last Night on Earth with him. My own preference was for Fury of Dracula, having heard a bit about it on Boardgamegeek and RPG.net, enough to think it could be a game I would dig: story and adventure-oriented with characters, equipment and the element of mystery. We would up playing Fury of Dracula if only because Joe’s copy of Last Night on Earth lacked its cards and the store copy appeared to have gone AWOL.
Fury of Dracula bears a resemblance to other products by Fantasy Flight Games — Doom: The Board Game and Descent: Journeys in the Dark, namely — in that it pits one player against the rest of the group, who work cooperatively to win as a team. In this case, the antagonist player takes the part of Dracula himself, while the team plays the parts of characters from Bram Stoker’s novel: Mina Harker, Dr. Seward, Lord Godalming and Van Helsing himself. While Dracula flits from city to city, trying to bring new vampires to maturity, the protagonists all roam around the continent, hoping to stumble upon his trail and eventually track him down to engage in a final battle.
It wasn’t quite what I expected. I knew the cooperative players had to find Dracula, but I was hazy enough on how that worked it didn’t occur to me it would be a matter of deduction. When Dracula moves, his player places a card corresponding to the location to which he has moved in a queue. Each turn, Dracula can move to a city connected by road to his current location, or he can travel by boat, which costs him blood points. The kicker is that the good count can’t immediately backtrack. He has to wait for a location card to fall off the queue before it returns to his deck of choices.
Eventually, one of the hunters stumbles upon some clue of Dracula’s trail. Dracula’s player reveals the city card and, depending on where along the track that card is, the hunters have a better or worse idea of where the vampire could be now, given the restrictions on his ability to travel. Then the hunters descend on the likely possibilities as quickly as the roads and railroads allow.
Dracula also has the opportunity to make difficult for the hunters by laying traps. Lightning strikes, thugs and particularly newly converted vampires. Encounters are placed on location cards. When an encounter slides off the end of the queue with its location, it’s said to have matured, and scores Dracula victory points. Between that and the day-night track, which scores Dracula victory points every time a day passes, players have plenty of motivation to hustle around the map.
I really didn’t expect the level of option evaluation and logic that Fury of Dracula requires from the hunter players. I thought it would be more of a general adventure game. Often, I found myself hustling to catch up with the other hunters, who already had assessed and evaluated where Dracula might be on a given turn and what were the optimal choices in terms of picking a city to check.
There was some psychology as well, on the level of thinking through what Joe, as Dracula, may be doing and then second-guessing that. “Surely Dracula wouldn’t bottle himself up on the Black Sea, with all adjacent cities occupied by hunters or already in the queue?” In that instance, it turned out he had doubled back after trying to fake everyone out by throwing a false lead to the west.
It’s a fun game. I can see value in replaying it with a group of regulars. Then it becomes as much about learning a particular person’s strategies when they play Dracula as it is maximizing probabilities and narrowing down possibilities.