Chris Swaffer isn’t just a mine of information who helps answer questions at the end of each episode of The Little Metal Dog Show – he’s also a splendid writer! I asked him to do a review of anything he fancied and a few days later, this arrived in my inbox. Enjoy!
Hide and Seek has got to be one of the oldest games going. Since time immemorial, we have enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, the joy of the chase, and the excitement of evading capture. Sadly, it’s hard to fit a good game of Hide and Seek into the average front room on Games Night; it only takes so long to track down who is hiding behind the sofa, after all. Once again though, boardgames come to the rescue! For a quick, family-friendly hunt Ravensburger brought us Scotland Yard, and for a more epic experience, Fantasy Flight deliver Fury of Dracula.
First released back in the early 80s, Scotland Yard delivers a rare mix of delights. A family game, simple in concept, but one which provokes thought, strategy and teamwork from the players. The premise of the game is that “Mister X”, a master criminal, is at large in the streets of London. One player takes on the role of the elusive villain while all of the other players play detectives trying to track him down. At the start of the game, Mister X decides on his starting location, but importantly, the detectives do not know where this is. Each turn, Mister X and the detectives must move from one location to another, using the transport lines that link the locations together. The detectives can see HOW Mister X is moving thanks to the tokens he takes that are printed with the various potential modes of transport – but they cannot see WHERE he moves from or to. The detectives have a limited number of turns in which to track down Mister X; to help them out, at regular intervals through the game, Mister X is forced to reveal his current location, before vanishing into the shadows again. This periodic revealing, combined with the information about HOW Mister X has travelled, allows the detectives to slowly home in on his location.
To balance the game, Mister X also has a small number of Blank movement tiles, which allow him to hide his choices from the detectives… This all adds up to a very tense game of deduction and bluff, with lots of options for both sides. It’s fair to say that the role of Mister X is rather more stressful than playing as the detectives, and a certain amount of trust is required that the player controlling him is being honest with their movements. It’s also important that the solo player takes care not to give their location away by looking hard at one part of the map while planning their next move (!), which has led to the amusing use of sunglasses, baseball caps, and even the Mister X-branded eyeshield ™ which has been packaged with some recent editions of the game!
Now we fast-forward a few years, from the early 1980s to the mid-2000s. Fantasy Flight’s Fury of Dracula has a similar theme to Scotland Yard – instead of Mister X, the players are hunting Count Dracula himself. Rather than detectives we have Van Helsing and friends and instead of central London, our playground covers all of Europe. In true Fantasy Flight style, of course, complexity is layered on top of this basic setup to make a much more detailed game. Dracula moves around Europe in secret, leaving a trail of minions, encounters, and general nastiness in every location he visits on his way. Whenever the Hunters stumble across the Count’s trail (which stretches back over the last six locations he visited) they gain insight into how close they have come to their quarry, but must also deal with the encounter the master Vampire has left behind him – something of a mixed blessing. Things get really interesting when the Hunters finally arrive in the same location as Dracula though… The Count doesn’t give up just because he has been found! In true vampire-hunting form, the players must fight it out, in a rock-paper-scissors style card-based confrontation that adds some more bluffing and doublethink opportunities.
The timing of the encounter also matters – the game starts at Dawn, and then alternates three turns of Day, with three turns of Night. During the daytime, Dracula is weak and cannot use his full repertoire of attacks, if encountered at night he is a far more formidable opponent, so much so that occasionally, the hunters can become the hunted! Fortunately for the good guys, they can obtain equipment and beneficial events from towns, leading to the need to balance finding Dracula with finding enough equipment to survive the encounter. True to form, Fantasy Flight have packed the game box full of cards and counters of good quality. Of course, as you may expect, you will need a LOT of space and a fair amount of time to play the game properly.
The thing that I like most about both of these games is the tension they provoke on both sides of the table. When playing as the Hunters, at the start of the game it seems impossible that you will ever track down your quarry. You have the whole board to cover, and there seem to be an infinite number of ways that your opponent could sneak past you to evade capture. When playing as the Hunted however, it feels as if you have an equally impossible task. There are just so MANY people looking for you, the routes past them are cut off so quickly, and you never know when one of them will chance a move towards you that will leave you trapped. Within a few turns though, it usually becomes clear that both outcomes are possible, with capture or escape often a couple of moves away. Of course, not every game will go down to the wire; a few false moves, particularly on the part of the person being hunted, can lead to ‘game over’ more quickly. Still, the series of near misses, close calls, and narrow escapes that a tight game creates, makes a very satisfying experience for me, win or lose.
Scotland Yard was originally released by Ravensburger in 1983 and should set you back around £20. Alternate versions are also available – the USA gets New York Chase (issued in 1999), while mainland Europe can try out the 2009 release Mister X – Flucht durch Europa. They’re the exact same game, pretty much, just based on different boards. Meanwhile, Fury of Dracula was released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2006 (based on the 1987 original by Games Workshop) and weighs in at a more costly £40. Also, if you want to see Fury of Dracula in action, have a look over at Robert Florence’s Downtime Town – Episode 1 is all about this fantastic game and needs to be watched!