Monday, June 05, 2006

Fury of Dracula Review

Vampires are an incredibly potent and enduring example of a monster: often painted as charismatic and seductive individuals, they’re alluring as well as dangerous. Through modern media they have survived and evolved way beyond the most famous literary example – which is of course Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. A little known fact of Stoker’s lore is that vampires are not immediately killed upon contact with sunlight; rather, they are merely weakened by being out and about during the day. It’s a detail that is not forgotten in Fury of Dracula (itself set up as a sequel to Stoker’s seminal tale), in which Dracula can move freely around Europe as much as he likes during the day, but is found to be much more powerful at night.

Fury of Dracula is another update of a long out of print game from Fantasy Flight, this having previously been released by Games Workshop back in 1987. The new edition is gorgeously illustrated with superb painted artwork, which is to be expected from Fantasy Flight. Having never played or seen the original game, I can’t comment on the update too much, although I am reliably informed that the artwork has been nicely overhauled (and the cover art is certainly a lot more appealing than the cheesy - in my opinion – art on the original).

In Fury of Dracula, one player takes on the role of Dracula, and up to other four players must take control of the hunters who have vowed to take care of the Lord of the Vampires once and for all. Dracula uses a location deck to play cards face down into his 'trail', moving secretly around Europe as the Hunters do everything they can to track him down and kill him. Visiting larger cities reaps rewards for the Hunters, as they can draw more items to use in the coming battle against Dracula, but can also lead to drawing events for Dracula to use against them. If they manage to track Dracula down and end up in the same space as him, they get to fight: combat is handled in an interesting, card-led manner with participants choosing a weapon, attack or method of escape secretly, then revealing them and rolling a die to determine the winner. The result depends on which card combination was used, and it’s all dealt with in a thematic, logical way. To win, the Hunters must simply find and kill Dracula – but Dracula wins if he survives long enough to skulk around Europe and create six vampires along the way.

The game is full of tense moments for Hunter and Dracula alike, with the vampire desperately trying to keep himself hidden from the four Hunters (all four are always in play no matter how many players are involved), and the Hunters trying their best to work quickly and track down the devious vampire. Dracula does have it quite tough though - once he’s found, it’s easy for the Hunters to wear him down and kill him within a few turns.

It’s a lot of fun for the most part for both Dracula and Hunters, but it can drag on and become frustrating for the Hunters if Dracula is being particularly lucky or devious and evading them all the time. Likewise, if Dracula is found the game can be over very quickly, especially if he is found during the day (when his combat options are incredibly limited) and is unlucky in his combat rolls. Which leads me to another problem with the game: the card combat is great, but the rolling-to-win is deeply unsatisfying, and doesn't really fit into the rest of the well-designed gameplay.

Fury of Dracula is also very clunky for two players to play, as one player has to keep track of all four Hunters – admittedly, there’s not too much to keep track of, but it still slows things down a lot. The game moves a lot faster and smoother when there is a player available for each Hunter, strangely – with two players the game really seems to slow to a crawl during the Hunter player’s turn.

Aside than those problems though, Fury of Dracula is a successful and enjoyable game of deduction and evasion, and as is usual with Fantasy Flight games the theme is deeply intertwined with the mechanics. This creates an experience that adds up to far more than the sum of its parts, especially for fans of Dracula or vampire mythology in general.

Summary

Presentation: The usual hard to fault Fantasy Flight design is all present and correct, with gorgeously moody illustrations and well-made cardboard components. 9.6/10

Clarity of Rules: The rules are well written but it is sometimes hard to track down a clarification on a difficult to remember rule – although the obligatory FAQ is already available from Fantasy Flight’s website. 7.3/10

Game Length: Games can drag on for hours, but they can equally be over very quickly. With four to five players, the game length seems just about right – as long as Dracula is being devious enough! 7.8/10

Value: Games don’t seem to vary too much as the tactics don’t really differ from game to game. Tip: keep it fresh by rotating your Dracula player for every single game you play. 7.6/10

Overall: Those looking for an original game of Gothic detective work and bloodsucking Counts will be well served by Fury of Dracula, as long as game length is not a problem. Its unique hide-and-seek mechanics easily raise it above average as a game but the time it sometimes takes to play (and the fact that it is best with no less than 5 players) definitely works against it. 8.3/10 (not an average)