Tag Archives: Games Workshop

Justified and Ancient – Relic review

 

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The splendid Chris O’Regan returns, this time to take a look at Fantasy Flight’s latest release purloined from the Games Workshop universe. Relic takes Talisman and drags it kicking and screaming into the 41st Century. It certainly looks pretty enough but… it is any cop?

RELIC! There is only one way to say the name of this game and it is with a gruff English voice and to be cried out in true Warhammer 40,000 like manner. Relic is the 40K take on Talisman, a now 30 year old board game. Like its predecessor, Relic requires players to move around the play board until they reach the centre. At which point the end game stage is initiated and varies depending on what end condition has been chosen. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and the emperor doesn’t like those who possess the power of prescience now does he?

Relic is set in the world of the 41st Century where the Human race somehow manages to hold onto vast tracts of the Milky Way, despite the myriad of threats both externally and from within. The players take on the roles of various people who are seeking to serve the Imperium. During their duties they have found themselves in the Antian Sector. Up until recently this inconsequential corner of the galaxy was of little interest to the Imperium, that is until an Eldar Craftworld drifted into it thanks to the appearance of a Warp Rift. As the force of Chaos spew from it, the enigmatic Eldar attempt to investigate the origin of the rift. All the while rampaging Orks and Tyranids are causing terror throughout the region and it is up the agents of the Imperium to put a stop to all xenos threats.

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With the setting out of the way, Relic essentially a highly modified version of Snakes and Ladders. Hey where are you going? Come back! Oh come on! Don’t be like that! OK I get the ‘disengage brain’ when playing Talisman and there is an element of that in Relic but that being said there is an element of depth to the game that is a teensy bit more than your average puddle. Just a bit mind, but it’s there. Really it is!

Relic is a race to the centre of the playing area, just as Snakes and Ladders is a race to the top…oh please come back. Look I promise not to mention the ‘S&L’ game ever again. No really, I won’t. Probably.

Anyway the sequence of play is split into four phases: Movement, Exploration, Engagement and Experience. Movement entails players rolling a six sided dice and moving their playing piece that number of spaces in either direction around the board and where ever they land they carry out the instructions on the board. Yes that’s right, this game is a roll and move game. Players who are familiar with a game that features vertical access steps and scale covered creatures with no legs may have encountered this form of movement before. I KNOW I PROMISED! I didn’t name it did I? DID I?

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Moving swiftly on, the next phase is Exploration. This is where players either encounter what is written on the playing board itself or take card(s) from one of three coloured threat decks. It is at this point Engagement occurs. Typically this consists of combating a creature that has been drawn from a threat deck. These are coloured red, blue and yellow and typically contain creatures with attributes that match that colour. Red is strength, blue is will power and yellow is cunning. These attributes are compared against the player’s and dice are rolled whose total is added to the base attribute. In Relic the concept of exploding dice is added, with a result of ‘6’ being added to the combat result and additional rolls made. If subsequent exploding dice rolls occur, these are added to the total. This little mechanic can result in the loss of a battle that would from the outset seem to be a cake-walk.

Relic_04 Once the combat is over the aftermath takes place in the form of Exploration. If the player won the combat they collect the creature as a trophy. For every creature with an attribute of 6 or more the player can trade these trophies in for a level. Gaining levels are a key component of Relic as it’s the primary means of increasing attributes and thus improve their chances of facing mightier foes and challenges in the middle and central tiers of the play board.

In addition to trophies, items and other random bonuses can be used during this phase. This is dependent on what either drawn from the threat card decks or what is present on the board prior to the player landed on that space. The final check is to see if the player completed a mission at the conclusion of their turn. All players have one and only one, active mission. At their completion they earn a reward and potentially gain access to, wait for it, a RELIC!

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Relics or ‘RELICS!!!’ are extremely powerful items that can only be collected once 3 missions have been completed and traded in. Missions vary from a simple ‘kill an Ork’ type to entering a space containing a certain player. The boons gained by relics are unmatched by any other item as they are from the Dark Age of Technology and hence infused with powers beyond the wit of even the most knowledgeable of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Another modifier card that is introduced in Relic is the Power Card. These are cards that serve two purposes. They can be used to modify a player’s action or those of their opponents. They also sport a number at the top, which can be used instead of a die roll. This means that if a player wants to land on a certain space, they can use a power card to roll that number instead of rolling a dice.

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Another card type is the Equipment Card. These can be bought in exchange for Influence, the currency of Relic from a seller on the player board or picked up at random from the threat deck. Some of these cards have a certain number of charges and they are placed on the card as they are used. Once all the charges are gone, the item is lost and the card discarded.

The final card type is the most interesting of the bunch: the Corruption Card. These cards represent the corrupting influence of Chaos that is seeping into the Antian Sector. These cards modify the player’s abilities, for good or ill. They are acquired in a variety of methods, typically they are in exchange for attribute gains. For example an event card from the threat deck will allow all players to gain some points in a certain attribute in exchange for taking a Corruption Card. This acts as a risk-reward element of Relic as if a player exceeds a certain number of Corruption cards, typically six but it can be higher depending on the character, the player’s character is eliminated from the game and they must create a brand new one. This is far more devastating than simply losing all of a character’s life points, as they simply reappear in the hospital minus trophies, influence and power cards.

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Relic comes with a 10 characters, all with unique abilities that are balanced to suit a player’s style. The usual selection of Space Marines and their supporting military units are present as well as some of the more unusual and lesser known members of the Imperium. There are however no alien races present, which I found to be a little disappointing, but no doubt they will appear in an expansion. Each come with an accompanying highly detailed bust figurine that is crying out to be painted.

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They are fixed to coloured pegs, which correspond to the attribute dial card for each player. All characters have varying limits on the number of power cards they can carry and have special abilities that are unique to them. These can significantly alter the base set of rules of play and in the hands of an experienced gamer can enhance their chances of success exponentially.

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Relic also comes with five end game scenario cards, which are placed in the middle of the playing board. These vary from a simple ‘oooh look, you made it to the middle! Get you! YOU’VE WON!’ to ‘You’ve found an ancient ship. Proceed to bombard with its vast array of weapons the rest of the players until they are very dead.’. They do add a great deal to the variety of the game and are clearly an avenue for future expansions of the game.

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Relic is an extremely well constructed game. The level of quality is beyond what I have encountered in most other titles, including those made by Fantasy Flight Games. It would appear both they and Games Workshop have put a significant amount of effort in making this game a beauty to behold. Everything from the artwork on the character sheets to the board itself is something to be marvelled at. But is this is a case of smoke and mirrors? Are Fantasy Flight Games actually trying to deflect our attention from the fact that there really isn’t very much to Relic? Well that would be a cynical viewpoint, but it is an accurate one.

The major gripe I had with Relic is that it is a long game with poor pacing. Once players become familiar with the phases of their turn, they start to rattle through them to the point where people can and do become impatient as they wait for their next turn. It can become so bad that players start to take their turn over other player’s just to pick up the pace of the game. This inevitably results in players missing key elements of their turn as they are forced to make quick decisions at the urging of the proceeding player. The only way to counter this is the enforce the right of the player to take their turn and give them space to do so. As the game reaches its end phase the sense of urgency to complete it becomes ever more apparent and once again players are urged to complete their turns ever more rapidly.

The pacing and apparent simplicity of Relic are its failings and there is little that can be done about them. If you enforce a players right to take their full turn in an appropriate amount of time, the game will eventually grind to a trudge and in a four player game last in the region of 3-4 hours. This can be maddening as the downtime between each turn can be interminable, to the point where the phrase ‘is it my go yet?’ is the most commonly used while playing Relic.

Ultimately Relic suffers for its approachability and as such should be played with 3 people rather than 4. This reduces the down time and doesn’t result in marginalising one of the players, which can happen if a player is struggling to master the special abilities of their chosen character.

On the plus side, it’s a great deal more entertaining than Snakes and Ladders. DAMMIT!

Relic is a Fantasy Flight release and was designed by John Goodenough. Between two and four can play with games taking a good two or three hours. Copies are available from all good stores including the excellent Gameslore who will sort you out a copy for a mere £40.99. Thanks to Chris for his write-up – you can follow him on That Twitter where he’s surprisingly known as @chrisoregan!

 

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Episode 41 – Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Top Ten Games

A special episode taken live from the UK Games Expo 2012 held in Birmingham at the end of May. I was lucky enough to present Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone as they discussed their Top Ten Games of All Time as well as getting a few insights into their long careers. Beginning with getting Dungeons and Dragons into the UK, they then launched Games Workshop and began the Fighting Fantasy adventure game books line which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this coming August. Get ready to hear about some interesting choices and some truly intriguing tales!

This episode’s links:

Direct download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/9cqjzy/LMD_Episode41.mp3

UK Games Expo site – http://www.ukgamesexpo.co.uk/

Fighting Fantasy – http://www.fightingfantasy.com/

Zombies At Your Heels indiegogo page – http://www.indiegogo.com/zayh

Special Effect, the charity supported by Zombies At Your Heels – http://www.specialeffect.org.uk/

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Game On – Blood Bowl Team Manager review

 

 

 

Matt is back with another epic review, this time the deck-builder based on the Games Workshop classic Blood Bowl. Have Fantasy Flight played it right? Will Matt be bowled over? (Sorry.)

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When I first heard that Fantasy Flight was going to be exploiting its licence for Games Workshop properties by doing a Blood Bowl deck-builder I was wildly excited. I haven’t yet found a deck building game that’s interested me greatly, in spite of being impressed the the cleverness of the concept, and it seemed such a natural fit for the theme. Well, many months later the game has hit the shelves and it’s not looking much like a deck-builder at all but something rather different. Fantasy Flight sent me a copy so I could find out myself whether the transformation has done it any good.

It’s just occurred to me that reviewing a card game which is supposed to be about a fictional game and in which players play player cards representing fictional players in said fictional game could get confusing fast. You’ll have to bear with me here.

The concept behind Blood Bowl is simple yet devilishly endearing: it’s a supposed sport, a little like a no-holds-barred, ultra-violent version of American Football played by fantasy teams in Games Workshop’s Warhammer universe. The original board game on which this card game is based is a highly-regarded classic in GW’s range and, given it’s wacky subject matter, manages to be a surprisingly cerebral game. But it’s limited to two players and the aspect of the game that everyone idolises above all – league play, where you manage and gradually improve and grow the same team over repeat seasons – is such a time-sink that most Blood Bowl players have only scratched its surface. As a fan of the original game one of the first things I wanted to find out from Blood Bowl: Team Manager was whether it might manage to fill in these gaps. It starts out well – the card game plays 2-4 and, it scales pretty well. To my surprise the two player game works well, three is best, and four turns out to be a little over-long but perfectly playable. So strike one for Team Manager for giving us a multi-player fix of fantasy football.

The Set-Up. That's a lot of cards. But then, it is a card game.

The game isn’t especially complicated but you need to read the rules carefully and follow the game turn procedure carefully else you can run into trouble. Each player starts with a deck of 12 cards representing their team members – there are six different teams to choose from, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Each turn a headline card is chosen which either represents a high-stakes knockout tournament or an event which affects all the players for that week only. Then a number of “highlight” cards are turned over, each one of which represents a particularly exciting or decisive moment of a match. Players then draw a hand of six player cards and take it in turns to play one card into a highlight or a tournament, using classic Blood Bowl skills such as block, cheat or sprint as they do so in an attempt to grab a ball counter and tackle players already assigned to the highlight or tournament. Once all cards are assigned the total value of the cards are added up – ball possession gives extra points and tackled players have lower value – and the winner claims rewards in terms of power ups, new players or fans. After five turns of this the highest fan total wins the game.

At first I was pretty dubious about whether this was going to work terribly well in thematic terms. It just seemed a bit feeble, reducing entire games to “highlights” and whole tournaments to a single card, and then only using a fraction of your available players each round. I was wrong. It’s a genius idea that works brilliantly. The idea of a momentary, but vital, game highlight which only involves a few players is an awesome way of abstracting down a whole game and whole team into something that can be resolved in a few minutes and thus keep a lid on the playtime to a manageable 20-30 minutes per player for the game as a whole. And all the cards are cunningly designed, well chosen and illustrated with a variety of well executed and delightfully brutal artwork to suck you into the theme. Highlight cards such as “Unnecessary Roughness” and “Rolling Cage” convey the flavour of the sport to a tee, and most also carry amusing snippets of fictional commentary to get you into the right frame of mind – these are easy to miss but are totally worth reading out as the highlight cards are dealt to add to the atmosphere. As it turns out, tackling and injury is rather more common in the card game than the board version and Blood Bowl:Team Manager sits closer to the line between abject chaos and careful planning than its more demanding big brother. Indeed I always felt that the strategic nature of the board game sat awkwardly with the chaotic nature of the sport it was supposed to simulate. So on the whole, bizarrely, I actually found Team Manager to be more thematic and atmospheric than the board game. Strike two for the card version.

Very pretty. I'm feeling covetous.

Laying down players from your hand onto highlights our tournaments is a fairly straightforward process. You need to look at the relative ratings and skills of the players you’ve got in your hand and assign them in a tactically sensible order. This can get a bit fraught late on in the round as players begin to run out of cards: you’ll have decided by this time which match-ups are must wins for you and you want to assign your cards appropriately, but you’re unlikely to be sure what the best play is because of unknown factors like hidden cheating tokens and, unless you’re going last, what other players have remaining in their hands. This can lead to the tactics of the game feeling more involved than they actually are, and analysis paralysis can creep in, rather pointlessly since you can’t really make good decisions based on hidden information. Personally I feel it’s more the long-term strategy where the game really shines in terms of choice. You need to learn to make the best use of your teams’ strength and minimise its weaknesses, being aware of the specific upgrades it can get from its own special deck. And after the first round when you’ve started to collect specific and generic upgrades you can choose and play into match-ups that maximise your ability to use and collect points from those upgrades, whilst at the same time trying to foil your opponents from doing the same thing. All in all the game strikes a very good balance between strategy and tactics, and randomness and choice, giving stronger players and edge whilst still offering luck-based leg-ups for the inexperienced. However to get the most out of the strategy everyone needs to keep a careful eye on what upgrades everyone else has, and to this end the game procedure includes the slightly bizarre but important ritual of reading out your new upgrades at the end of each round, a necessary annoyance that slows the game down and spoils its pace somewhat.

There’s been a lot of debate regarding the level of strategy and tactics in the game and I think that’s partly down to the different nature of the teams. Games involving aggressive teams that do a lot of tacking (which involves dice rolling) and cheating (which involves hidden counter draws) are going to owe a lot more to randomness in deciding the outcome than those which don’t, and if it really worries you then you can always play up the goody two-shoes teams to minimize it. But it’s interesting to note that the design goes to some lengths to allow in some randomness but minimise its impact. If you’re tackling a weaker player there’s a paltry one in thirty six chance of knocking down your own player instead, and if you look carefully at the cheating tokens, some of which cause a player to be removed or to gain two power, most of them actually add zero or one power so are unlikely to be game-changers. But they do add a fantastic element of tension and uncertainty to what could otherwise be quite a dry and analytical game like its big brother often is, without having a major impact on balance. Personally I’ve found the staff upgrade deck to be the biggest culprit in skewing games – some of the rewards you can get from it add big fan payoffs, and many of those are, in turn, dependent on you being lucky in drawing other cards such as a certain number of star players with a particular ability.

This is an especially important issue with this game because it’s at its best when it’s played in a fast and furious manner, and yet it positively encourages you to sit and work stuff out. If you play it quickly then the rapid pace suits the subject matter and no-one minds terribly if, once in a while, the dice or the cheating tokens leap up off the table and kick you in the face. If you analyse the hell out of it, which you certainly can by toting up the star players on each side of each match-up and carefully sifting through your hand and your upgrade cards and working out the probabilities of what’s likely to happen on each one if you play that player just there and use this match-up action then you’ll be there a long time and the game will last ages and everyone will end up hating everyone else and the game as well. But the good news is that it’s perfectly possible to both play quickly and in a properly tactical manner, it just takes a little experience (about two games’ worth). You might at first think the game is slow, or just a dice-fest, depending on which way your group defaults when you first play it. Stick with it.

They're no Gouged Eye but the All-Stars are a decent second favourite.

The game structure is supposed to be like a season of Blood Bowl. You play matches and a couple of big tournaments and tot up the score. You acquire star players and new staff and your team gets better. It’s fun and worthwhile and the gradual upgrades add to the options and the strategy on offer but one thing it doesn’t do is manage to convey the theme on a meta-level. In other words there’s no great sense of gradual improvement and, especially, there’s no sense in which your original player gain new skills and abilities. This is partly down to the star player decks which either give you generic, faceless “freebooter” players that replace your existing players or named star players that can come from any properly aligned race – so an elf team could end up with human or dwarf stars on its roster. That can be tweaked a little with house rules if it bother you but it doesn’t help a lot. Basically, when it comes to the crunch, this isn’t going to be a substitute for those longed-for Blood Bowl leagues we all planned and anticipated and which collapsed after two matches.

But still, Blood Bowl: Team Manager checks two of the three “want” boxes I had lined up for it when it was delivered into my greedy hands, and checks them with considerable style. And it’s an excellent, fun, medium-light game in its own right so perhaps I shouldn’t insist on comparing it with the board game quite so much. Keep it fast, keep it loud, and you’ll have a ball.

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Matt Thrower is a fighter, not a lover, and can be hunted down on Twitter like the dog he is: @mattthr

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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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