Why it’s Awesome: Fury of Dracula, 3rd Edition
If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I’m a big fan of cooperative games a la Pandemic and Escape: The Curse of the Temple and that I’m into asymmetric games like Netrunner. You’d think that it would be hard to combine all of these elements into a good game, but wouldn’t you know it, such a game exists, it’s awesome, and it has existed in some form or another for nearly 30 years. When I first heard of Fury of Dracula, a game where a group of hunters chase Count Dracula across Europe, I was obviously intrigued. A group works together? Check. One player operates under a different set of rules? Check. It’s got vampires in it? Check. Unfortunately, at that time the game had been out of print for quite a while, so I was stuck imagining how awesome it was for quite a while. But thanks to Fantasy Flight reprinting a new edition back in the fall, I was finally able to find out, and Fury of Dracula definitely did not disappoint.
To begin, Fury of Dracula is awesome not just because it’s a good game. It’s also really cool extension of the novel that popularized vampires. Set 8 years after Bram Stoker’s novel, in Fury of Dracula a group of one to four players controls a group of hunters trying to track down Count Dracula, who is controlled by another player. Before you even start, then, the game is already exuding this theme. You play as the characters from the novel, including Mina Harker and Dr. Van Helsing, and each character has skills base in the mythology of the book. Most notably, because she was bitten by Dracula in the novel, Mina has a “psychic link” with the count. It’s these small details that really start to make Fury of Dracula stand out. You’re not just playing some random vampire hunter; you’re playing a character central to the Dracula mythos.
Things get even better once the game is underway. In order to win, the hunters must kill Dracula before he spreads his influence across Europe by creating new vampires. Instead of engaging in open conflict, though, the hunters must first find Dracula. That’s right, Dracula isn’t actually on the board. Instead, he moves across the board in secret, similar to games like Letters from Whitechapel, Scotland Yard and the more recent Specter Ops. Unlike most of these other hidden movement games, though, instead of recording Dracula’s move on a pad of paper, Fury of Dracula has a unique and, in my mind, superior system. Replacing the pad of paper is a deck of cards that contains the name of every city on the board. On his turn, Dracula will record his location by playing one of these cards face down on his side of the board. On his next turn, he chooses another city card, moving all previous cards over one spot. This row of ever increasing cards is known as the trail and it is one of the main reasons Fury of Dracula is awesome.
Everything in Fury of Dracula hinges on the trail. It serves as the primary way for the hunters to track Dracula and for Dracula to score the influence he will need to win the game. If a hunter happens to wander into one of the cities Dracula has visited, that card gets flipped over for everyone to see. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, the hunters now have a lead on Dracula. They now know exactly how many spots away Dracula is from the city that was just revealed. For example, if the revealed city is in the third slot on the trail, you know that Dracula is two cities away from that one. This is also where the game’s asymmetry steps in. The Europe of Fury of Dracula is crisscrossed with roads and railroads. Importantly, Dracula can only use the roads, a decidedly much slower form of travel. The hunters, on the other hand, can purchase train tickets that allow them to zip around the map and potentially catch up with the vile bloodsucker. Basically, as soon as the hunters pick up the trail, the game becomes as tense as a good movie chase scene. The hunters work to catch up to Dracula, but one false move and the trail could go cold and they will be forced to retrace their steps. For his part, Dracula is trying to confuse the hunters even more, hoping that he can slip through a hole in the rapidly closing net. And, believe it or not, that’s only half of it.
Remember when I said that the trail was how Dracula scored influence? Well, in addition to just putting city cards on the trail, he also plays an encounter card at each location. These encounter cards can range from anything from new vampires that increase Dracula’s influence once they get pushed all the way off of the trail to traps that damage the hunters or impede the hunters as they try to track him down. Furthermore, Dracula can choose to spring these traps as soon as they reveal a city on the trail or he can force the hunters to spend an action to see what a city’s encounter card is. Not only does the game have well-executed hidden movement, it also seamlessly adds bluffing into the mix as well. What does it mean if the hunters discover a city on the trail and Dracula decides not to spring a trap? Is he trying to protect a new vampire? Or does he just want to make the hunters walk into a trap? It adds another layer of tension onto the already excellent game of tracking down Dracula.
And that’s pretty much it. I do have a few quibbles with the game, the biggest being that despite how cool it is to play as Dracula, it can also be kind of boring. Each hunter gets to take what amounts to two turns before it’s time for Dracula to move, which is more than enough time to plan a simple move. It can be a bit anticlimactic to sit around listening to the hunters plan and take their turn only to plop down a couple of cards. Things don’t really get going for Dracula until the hunters pick up his trail. Other than that, the combat once the hunters finally catch up to Dracula or his vampires is a bit clunky at first, but still enjoyable once you get used to it. All in all, Fury of Dracula provides a mixture of systems from across board gaming into a truly unique and definitely awesome experience.