Fury of Dracula
Teaching Time: 15 mins
Playing Time: 120-180 mins
Setup Time: 10 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Fury of Dracula has had a little bit of a storied time of late. This is because it was part of the Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop partnership which recently ended. Since then its popped in and out of print, with prices and availability fluctuating accordingly. However, I’m working on a hidden movement game, so I’ve been playing and studying quite a bit of Fury of Dracula (FoD from here on in) and thought that a review would be appropriate.
Anyone who knows Fantasy Flight will know that elegance in mechanics is not a deal breaker in their designs, as such laying out the gameplay for FoD could take several times the length of this review. Still, let’s take a shot. One player takes the part of Dracula and up to four others the parts of some of the Dracula hunters from the novel. Hunters deploy wherever they like across a map of Europe and activate in periods consisting of days and nights during which they can travel or stock up on supplies in the day or just stock up during the night, if they land on Dracula they can battle with him. Dracula meanwhile moves secretly by laying out a set of location cards face down and attaching cards that amount to booby traps of a sort. Battles involve playing cards out where the hunters have a range of symbols that can cancel Dracula’s card if they match and otherwise cause damage to either side. If Dracula is killed the hunters win, Dracula scores VPs by killing Hunters or simply by staying alive long enough and having Hunters unable to find his trail.
In hand with the fact that Fantasy Flight tends to have a lot of exceptions, tokens and card effects, it does have a lot of atmosphere. If you’re familiar with the original novel you’ll find a lot to recognise in the game. Ironically, part of that is an issue since in the novel Dracula is ultimately just stabbed to death with a bowie knife (as a metaphor for the vigour of the new world fighting off the threat of the corruption of the old). The upshot in the game is that while some people might be expecting Dracula to be the deadly predator of movies, he’s much closer to a somewhat fragile old man who struggles badly when cornered by a single mortal with a decent range of equipment picked up and gets totally slaughtered if he’s pinned by more than one person.
That comment about tooled up hunters being able to batter Dracula talks to one of the other issues with the game. At the start of the game there’s very little indication of where Dracula is, meaning that staying still and grabbing equipment and events is really the only sane option for the hunters, short of blundering blindly around a Europe that has a Dracula who is as powerful as he’ll ever be right at the start of the game. As such quite often the first four or five turns often boils down to the Hunters sitting around doing some shopping while Dracula tours Europe in secrecy. Mostly the Hunters are waiting on a break, an event card that forces Dracula to reveal himself.
That’s one of the other big issues with the game. Other hidden movement games tend to have specifically paced moments for revealing the location of the hiding pieces to make the game play out at a predictable and interesting pace. In FoD, Dracula is generally revealed by players bumping into a card that pops him or his trail up on the map. When that happens can totally swing the rate and balance of the game, whether early or late. When its late and the mid game is spent by hunters stumbling around Europe hoping to hit a trail the game feels pointless and muddled, when its early and Dracula gets pinned down and beaten half to death on turn five of the game it feels insanely one sided against the creature of the night. As mentioned before, the other big issue with the pacing of the game is that players are best off settled in for the first few turns stocking up on weapons and events, it’s a mystery as to why hunters aren’t given a hand of pre-set starter cards to speed up the dullest part of the game and control the pacing in an intelligent manner.
The final problem is the way the game finishes out. The hunters win by killing Dracula, which isn’t as tough as you might imagine, but its pretty hard to do on a single encounter. Generally, Dracula either then limps away from an encounter bleeding and whimpering to just be pinned again and again, leaving the climax to dribble out or in a tough game Dracula manages to escape in bat form and skip out, leaving hunters to feel as though they’ve been reset to zero with all their efforts made pointless. Rather than the game laddering it then has a spike in the middle that droops off at both ends. When Dracula wins its generally by timing out, which is often predictable several turns before the end and never feels like a climactic ending. In theory, the ending should be a set of hunters, tracking and pinning down Dracula, converging on him in a co-ordinated assault and taking him down in one go. This happens extremely rarely and the game does nothing to help it occur.
That list of issues and complaints rather implies I don't like FoD, which is a pity because I do, though I suspect I like it despite myself, or because I inherently love hidden movement games. When it happens to work, which is probably one game in five, its a tense game of cat and mouse with a deadly prey followed by high action all or nothing combat. There are hidden movement games that do this more consistently with less overhead, Scotland Yard scores better on both counts for one and even on its best day FoD is still weirdly paced and spotty. But if you're willing to put up with more misses than hits and occasional lulls in your enjoyment, FoD is a narratively rich Ameritrash version of both a much loved and thrilling game format and novel.