After a decade of obsession with “European” boardgames, I have a rekindled interest in American-style fare, games steeped in theme, more confrontational than their cordial cousins from abroad, and requiring several hours to play. Part of it is just the swing of the pendulum, part of it is spill-over effect from my (continuing) infatuation with Twilight Struggle, but a lot of the credit (or, from a financial standpoint, blame) goes to a single game company, one that has released a tsunami of awesome titles onto the market: Fantasy Flight Games. They are responsible for the aforementioned (on this site) Doom: The Boardgame, Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Descent and War of the Ring. And my latest FFG acquisition, Fury of Dracula, has rapidly become one of my favorites.
When I introduce Fury of Dracula to new players, they often exclaim, “hey, this is like Scotland Yard!!” I am always gratified to hear this, because (a) it’s nice to know that so many folks were exposed to that great game as kids, and (b) it greatly simplifies the explanation of rules. As in Scotland Yard, players in Fury are divided into two teams, with one player as the hunted and the rest as the hunters. Here, the hunted is Dracula himself, while the Hunters are composed of the characters from the book who sought Ol’ Toothy’s destruction: Lord Godalming, Dr. Seward, Van Helsing, and Mina Harker.
The board shows a map of Europe, with cities connected by a web of roads and rails. Each Hunter starts in a city, as shown by the initial placement of the corresponding figures; Dracula also begins in a city, but his location remains a secret. The Hunters careen around the countryside, searching for clues as to his current whereabouts; once they have located Dracula they move in for the kill, hoping to reduce his “blood” to zero and win the game.
But although Dracula spends much of the game on the lam, he is not without a few tricks up his sleeve. The game is divided up into “day” and “night” rounds (three of the former followed by three of the latter); as you would expect, Dracula becomes an exponentially tougher foe once the sun goes down. In fact, the Hunters typically spend the days trying to corner and kill Drac, and the nights fleeing for their lives. All this makes for a tense game of cat-and-mouse, with the roles of feline and rodents swapping at regular intervals.
Dracula can win the game by amassing points; he does so by “defeating” Hunters (they are never entirely killed, instead limping off to a hospital to recuperate from their wounds), creating new vampires, and simply surviving from day to day. The longer the game lasts, the more likely Dracula is to win–and the more desperate the Hunters become to stop him before he does so. This gives the game a narrative feel, with a distinct beginning, middle, and end.
Fury of Dracula takes three to four hours to play. The rules are so Byzantine that you will refer to them constantly during your first (and second, and third) game. And the match is lopsided, with Dracula getting his goose cooked more often than not. In other words, this is not your elegant and scupulously balanced “European” game, and will therefore not be to everyone’s liking. But if you are willing to buckle down and master the rules, if you can talk a few of your friends into joining you for a looooooong game, and if you don’t mind an “unfair” fight, you are in for a treat. Fury of Dracula is a showcase for all that I love in “American” style games: a clever system married to a superb theme, one that so immerses you in the atmosphere that you feel as if you are not just playing a game, but living out the sequel to Stoker’s classic novel.