Tag Archives: Fury of Dracula

The Secret Vampire Soundtrack – The Fury of Dracula and Fury of Dracula

A new writer appears! The frankly bleedin’ awesome Matt Thrower offers up the following Hallowe’en inspired review… This is also available over at Fortress Ameritrash, which you really should read as it is quite excellent.

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"Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!"

Horror is hardly a theme that game designers shy away from. When it comes round to the end of October each year, we’re pretty spoiled for choice nowadays in terms of what we decide to pick up and play to celebrate that one night when the boundaries between the dead and the living are oh, ever so thin. And yet, year after year in the decades since it was first published, one game gets mentioned time and time again, like the proverbial bad penny: The Fury of Dracula.

This isn’t going to be a review as such, although it’ll have aspects of that scattered through the piece. Rather I wanted to spend some time looking at the history of the game and examining why, exactly, it remains such a perennial Halloween classic. I’m going to assume that most of you have played one version or the other, if not, you might want to check out Bill Abner’s review on GameShark before you read any further.

The designer, Stephen Hand, is a somewhat enigmatic figure. I’ve long wanted to track him down for an interview, but all my leads have come to nothing. As far as I can tell he was a freelance game designer who submitted a variety of different designs to Games Workshop, including Chainsaw Warrior, Chaos Marauders and Curse of the Mummies Tomb none of which, it’s worth noting, are held in particular regard. He gave relatively few interviews during his time in the limelight and so information about him is rather scarce. It seems that the inspiration for Fury of Dracula was a perceived (and probably accurate, at the time) dearth of horror board games, and the original plan called for two games in one box – one similar to the game we know and love and the other a historical treatment of Vlad the Impaler. On submitting it to Games Workshop, Hand was apparently told that due to the desire production schedule he either needed to re-theme it to fit into the Warhammer world, or wait an indefinite period for release. Thankfully he chose the latter – I wonder how many nascent designers would make the same choice today?

They seek him here, they seek him there...

And so a gaming legend was born. I don’t remember now why I bought it originally – almost certainly it was simply because it involved Dracula, and I thought (and still think) that vampires are about the best meme in all of horror fiction. But whatever the reason my teenage self got a copy, played it with my friends and very quickly it established an aura of awe and expectation that was, pretty much, unmatched in my teenage gaming experience. It got played, and played again and we just couldn’t believe that game kept on giving, kept on matching the high bar it initially set for itself. It’s still semi-mythical amongst my old friends. “Can we play Fury of Dracula?” they enquire in hushed tones when we meet. Of course, with the limitations of travel, and the demands of children, we rarely can, but it continues not to disappoint those of use who first played it in those hallowed years.

Of course, aspects of it do seem rusty to a modern audience. One of my gaming friends, to whom I sold the mythical virtues of Fury of Dracula for years, has now played it three times and in each and every game Dracula has taken an early defeat thanks to an unfortunate combination of lucky hunter dice rolls, event card and weapon draws leading to him being located in daylight and staked. He’s convinced the game is awful and that I’m a liar and he won’t play it again, and given his experiences who can blame him for that? And this is an aspect of the basic flaw with the original incarnation game, that it’s dependent on a skilled, fair Dracula player with an eye for the pace of the game for everyone to have a good time. If he plays poorly, he’ll likely die quickly. If he chooses to hide away at sea or an island and turn over his encounter set looking for the vampires he needs for victory, or to cheat then the game will drag interminably and he’ll probably win. But as I’ve always said, if you find the game has these problems then what you need is a new Dracula player (and if he’s cheating or hiding, probably some new friends to game with), not a new game.

So given that it has such manifest flaws, what is it about the original that makes it so compelling? If you scour comments by fans of the game, one word gets repeated so frequently that it’s in danger of becoming a lazy stereotype when associated with the title: atmosphere. And as anyone that’s played it will tell you, it’s absolutely dripping with the stuff. But how does it manage this? Well anyone that’s seen the game will attest to the fantastic visual design, which sees board, cards and counters so thick with Victoriana you can practically smell the moth balls. But mechanically, I think it works because it nails both central components of what makes all the best horror tales tick. First it gets as close as any horror board game is likely to get to making the hunter players feel afraid. At the start of the game, they know nothing, and they have nothing. No weapons, no cards, no information about where Dracula might be or what he might be planning. If the Count gets some early cards and can quickly corner one of them at night during the early turns then he’ll likely tear the poor hunter to pieces. The Dracula player can totally dictate the game for the opening 30 minutes or so, during which time he can lord it over the hunters like the colossal creature of darkness that he’s supposed to be, tailing them, dodging them, setting nasty traps and encounters for them and occasionally attacking them himself. It’s not genuine fear, of course, but it does engender a genuine sense of powerlessness amongst the hunter players until they’ve built up a sufficient base of useful weapons, cards and information to help them feel like they’re able to take the game to the Count.

And to do that they need to leverage the second aspect of a good horror story – deduction and mystery. The hunters initially have nothing at all to go on, but they need to make use of fortuitous events and the pattern of encounters they run in to to try and work out where Dracula might be and where he might be dropping his precious vampire encounters. And while Dracula initially enjoys a total monopoly over the information in the game he’ll quickly learn a healthy respect for what, exactly, the hunters might be hiding in their little collections of cards and weapons.

Incredibly, most modern horror games don’t actually even try to re-create one of these vital aspects of horror storytelling in mechanical terms. Fury of Dracula remains the only one that manages to successfully re-create both. And that, I’m sure, is the secret of its ongoing charm and enduring appeal.

The original game had a ceiling of four players, but one enterprising fan, Bernard Slama, created a fifth player variant that was, incredibly, actually superior to the original in some respects. It called for a fourth hunter, Mina Harker, who (following on from the plot of the novel) started the game already with a vampire bite, making her a very tempting target for the Dracula player indeed and so encouraging the Count not to hide and sulk, but come out and attack. Of course the fact that there’s a fourth hunter means there’s more clues and more deduction and thus more strategy, plus it makes it a lot easier for them to find and dispatch Dracula and him minions, so the victory bar for Vlad is lowered from six to five vampires which has the happy side effect of making the game shorter. It’s a great variant and one I always use when playing with three, so that each hunter player gets two hunters each.

Beefed up for the 21st Century

It’s such a good variant in fact that Fantasy Flight incorporated it wholesale into their re-working of the game in 2006. Their version was eagerly anticipated and, as that I remember, was the first major re-publish job that they took on, and no-one was quite sure what to expect. What we actually got is almost certainly the most comprehensive re-invention of an original game that Fantasy Flight have yet attempted, and whilst it was wildly popular, it’s also wildly different. As far as I can tell the inspiration behind the changes made to the game were to make it more strategic, and to lower the risk of Dracula cheating or hiding. To this end they made the game rather more complex, made the play time more predictable but, on average, longer, and replaced Dracula’s movement chart and encounter set with decks of cards that left a much longer trail. And they succeeded – the result is definitely more strategic than the original, with a lot more to think about. The six-card movement trail means there’s more deduction and the hunters frequently have a rough idea of where Dracula is, although the devil is in the detail of course, and they can plan accordingly. The elimination of the vital and entirely random distinction between day and night in the original was done away with in favour of a clock, allowing both sides to try and time their encounters for best effect. The Dracula player is given some new powers to use, partially to compensate for his lost encounters but which also require careful planning.

But the trouble is that to some extent, what they bought in terms of strategy, they lost in atmosphere. The game was transformed from one of hiding and seeking into one of chasing and running, with the Dracula player as the pursued. At a stroke, this pretty much eliminated that rare and precious fear-factor that the original had because now it’s the hunters who are in command of driving the pace and strategy of the game pretty much from the off – it’s Dracula that’s reacting to them, rather than the other way round. It doesn’t help that there are now some very odd and inexplicable restrictions placed on Dracula, such as an inability to revisit any of the last six spaces he’s been to, because the cards are in the encounter trail, that make him seem rather less like the Prince of Darkness and rather more like a confused tourist. And while they upped the amount of deduction in the game, a lot of the mystery was lost in the process. Now, Dracula’s rough whereabouts are almost always known and there’s much less fear of suddenly running into an unexpected encounter because there are less of them on the board, and their position can be more accurately predicted.  So all that extra strategy comes at a cost. For the majority of modern gamers, that probably looks like a good exchange but personally I can’t help feeling that while the world contains plenty of exciting, demanding strategy games with a variety of different themes, the original Fury of Dracula offered something truly unique in its atmospheric re-creation of vampire hunting. For that reason I continue to believe that Fantasy Flight’s offering, whilst an excellent game in its own right, is marginally inferior to the original.

Our cast of players, both good and evil.

That’s not to say, however, that there’s nothing wrong with Games Workshop’s version. Indeed I’m sure it could learn some good lessons from Fantasy Flight’s ideas. And so I created a variant that tried to unite the best of both worlds. Dracula keeps his movement chart, and his encounters, but he leaves a longer trail for the hunters to find. He’s more penalised when moving by sea, making it harder for him to hide and stall. These all benefit the hunters, of course, so in return all the Dracula instant-kill results on the combat chart are removed in favour of massive damage, reducing the chance for lucky wins. Finally it adds a day/night track which changes the probability of the dice roll toward one or the other, rather than being an absolute value like the Fantasy Flight version, as well as point-based victory conditions to allow the game to be played to a timer rather than being open-ended. I’m really happy with the ideas in this variant but the trouble is that I’ve never play-tested it. Like most gamers I don’t get to play as often as I’d like to, and I’m terrified that my changes might inadvertently create a rubbish game, and I can’t be bothered to explain to the other players that they’re playing a variant with major changes, and explain the rationale to them to get them to agree. And it doesn’t help that I haven’t yet managed to come up with a way to apply a similar variant for people who own the Fantasy Flight version to use with their very different components, so it’s a hard ask to find other people to test it for me.

My partner isn’t all that bothered about games. She especially doesn’t like games with a heavy element of direct confrontation or combat, which is a shame since that includes nearly all of my favourite games. So I’ll be watching a horror film tonight instead of playing Fury of Dracula. But to those of you looking forward to lifting the lid on that ancient evil tonight, and letting him out of his coffin, I’ll be raising a glass of the red stuff in salute.

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Matt Thrower is a handsome and erudite chap who can occasionally be seen chucking dice around rooms and moving dudes round a map. Follow him on Twitter, why dont you? He’s @mattthr – go do it now!

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Cops and Vampires – Scotland Yard vs Fury of Dracula

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!

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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.

20th Anniversary edition of Scotland Yard - tin box! Baseball cap! Very odd!

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.

Small picture. Big game.

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.

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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 TownEpisode 1 is all about this fantastic game and needs to be watched!

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