Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Recent Trend - Part 2.

If you read part 1, you already know what this entry is about, for the rest of you here is a brief summary.

I noticed over the past few game nights that I have been playing games that are thick with thematic elements that drive the game. I'm talking about each game individually and discussing what about each of them is appealing to me.

Next up is Fantasy Flight Game's Fury of Dracula.

Fury of Dracula was one of the few games I've bought without at least seeing it played somewhere first. Of course I had read about it on BBG and the original game from Games Workshop has a devoted following that were also looking forward to this one coming out. I ordered it from Boulder Games as soon as they had it available and anticipated it being a good game. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be a great game.

The game pits 1 player as Dracula against up to 4 others who control the group of 4 hunters tracking Dracula across Europe as he tries to sire more vampires to dominate mankind. Dracula moves in secret using a deck of cards that correspond to every possible space on the board. These cards are laid out in sequence along the edge of the board - one card per turn (Dracula's Trail). As each new card gets added, the other cards shift to Dracula's right and the new card goes into the left most spot slot - which is Dracula's current location. Each turn, the hunters get to move individually to a new location as they scour across Europe to search for Dracula. If they end up on a space that is the same as one of the cards Dracula has already played on his trail, they have to resolve the encounter there before anything else occurs.

The encounters are actually small chits that Dracula can play from his hand on top of each card as he places that card on the board. Most encounters are only meant to hamper the Hunters, while a few of them are actually Vampires that Dracula is trying to mature to gain points. Whenever a location card is shifted off the board (as a new card gets placed), Dracula can either mature the encounter chit on top or place that card and encounter into the catacombs - meaning they stay active and are additional threats to the hunters if they land on them. Vampire chits that mature earn Dracula 2 points and considering he only needs 6 points to win, letting one mature is fairly risky for the hunters.

This is a really clever mechanism as Dracula is trying to stay one step ahead of the hunters and evade them long enough to mature Vampires as well as let enough time pass to gain points. The longer the hunters fail to sniff out his whereabouts, the more time passes and the more chance that one of the maturing encounters will be vampires and score points for Dracula. This cat and mouse game is what drives Fury of Dracula and it creates some of the most intense moments I've ever experienced in ANY game.

Thematically the game is even richer than A Game of Thrones is. There is a time marker that is half day and half night and Dracula is much stronger at night than during the daylight hours. The hunters desperately want to catch him somewhere when the sun is out and because of this, they often will overlook some key element when trying to deduce where he is, as they they know time is running out as Dracula gets an additional point for every full day that passes.

Dracula on the other hand, must use his cunning and stealth to avoid the 4 hunters as they track him down - he only wants to fight them in the black of night when he can use all of his devilish powers to weaken them. The momentum in the game is constantly changing back and forth in favor of each side and there has yet to be a game played that wasn't talked about for hours after it was all over.

The hunters have item cards they can collect and there is an event deck that can help both sides as well. The cool thing about this deck is that only the hunters ever draw from it - the deck is 2/3 cards for them and 1/3 for Dracula. The other really neat twist is that the cards are drawn from the bottom and any Dracula cards must be given to the count!

There are all kinds of card effects, some make Dracula reveal cards in his trail, other cards let each side gain allies (alter an existing rule), and others let Dracula slip through the hunters fingers to name just a few. The flavor text on each card is very appropriate to the card's effect and as the game is played, it really feels more like a fantastic story is being told than a board game being played.

For me, this is Fantasy Flight Game's best effort so far, BY far. My gaming group is a bunch of 30-50 year old men and it quite amusing to see them argue over who is going to play Mina (who can be hypnotized to reveal Dracula's location from their unholy blood link). The graphics and artwork REALLY contribute to the dark atmosphere in the game and FFG is to be commended for such a fantastic job.

I've played 4 times as Dracula and 3 as the hunters and I've enjoyed myself immensely each time. Our group leader ended up buying his own copy so he wouldn't have to depend on me to bring mine each time. Fury of Dracula is a great game that I can't recommend enough. As a matter of fact, last week Fury of Dracula was played again by half of our group while the rest of us played DOOM: The Boardgame.

Which is what the next entry is about. See ya then.

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