Thursday, May 11, 2006

Furious, after all... (Fury of Dracula, Transamerica x2)

It's good to be back.

First off: Congrats to Shemp (& Hilaria). This week we played at their new house! It's a big step, and I for one am very happy for them.

In my absence, I managed to accumulate a number of new games. The group was kind enough to indulge me this week and I was able to choose a few of them to try out. I picked Fury of Dracula and Transamerica as filler.

We started out the evening with Transamerica as people slowly arrived. Shemp, Hilaria and I started, but we dealt in the other two as they showed up (fairly easy to do with this game). This is a very light game with a train theme. Every player is dealt 5 random destinations on the USA map and hope to be the first to have all of them connected by railroad tracks. On a turn, a player can play 1 or 2 segments of track, depending on the terrain. Tracks aren't "owned", so as you connect to the tracks another player has previously laid, you are free to use and expand from them.

The heart of the game is trying to second guess where your opponents are headed. If they are going somewhere which is useful for you, you let them spend their turns laying tracks to go there while you expand the network in a direction which is advantageous to you. It's very easy to play, and I like it for what it is (and it's handy to have around for younger gamers or others who aren't too enthusiastic about complexity). I think there is some skill despite the high luck, because I lose so many of the games I am sure I am "bad" at it. Online, I often see the same people winning fairly consistently. Predictably, in both this game and the second one I came in last.

The main event was Fury of Dracula. This is a new version of a game released by Games Workshop in the 80s (none of us have played the original). Essentially, it involves one player, assuming the role of Dracula, traveling through Europe in secret as a group of 4 hunters try to track him down and defeat him. Another way to look at it would be to say that it's similar to Scotland Yard, but Dracula bites back! The board and bits are very nice and definitely evocative of the theme.

The execution of the hidden movement is interesting: Dracula travels the board in secret by playing a face down card on each turn which represents where he has traveled to. He then plays an encounter on to that card to represent a trap for the hunters should they ever travel to that city. Dracula's trail can only get 6 cards long, though. After that, the trail runs cold. As new cards are laid, the oldest cards drop off. If a hunter travels to a city on the trail, Dracula must reveal the card and the hunter must face the encounter the Count has left behind.

Dracula wins by getting 6 victory points. Points are gained each day he evades the hunters, each time he sends a hunter to the hospital and each time he matures a new vampire. Hunters win by destroying the Count.

It sounds fairly simple and straightforward, but as is often the case with games like this the basic system is supplemented/ complicated by a wide variety of special rules, actions and events: Time progresses through day and night, and Dracula's abilities change accordingly. Movement options include road, rail and sea (each with their own rules and conditions). Dracula has a number of powers he can use instead of playing a regular location. Combat has it's own sub-system of rules. Hunters can search the towns and villages they travel through for items to use in combat to supplement their starting hand. An "Event" deck contains cards which allow all sorts of things to happen (some to be used by the hunters, others by Dracula). The "traps" Dracula leaves behind all have their own effects. Etc, etc. None of these things are bad, and in fact I'd say the flavour of the game is pretty spot on. I'm just saying that opportunities to play a game of this complexity and length aren't going to be as frequent as I had hoped for a game with such a cool and engaging theme/ presentation.

Being the most familiar with the game, I played Dracula. The 4 hunters where split up amongst Shemp, Luch and Kozure and we started. Their initial placement had them spread out across eastern and western Europe, but they didn't play anyone in Spain so I started there. My secrecy didn't last long, however... By sheer luck, Lord Godalming found me on the 2nd turn in Madrid. Luckily, without equipment, he was powerless to defeat the minion I had defending me. It was a rough start, and things only seemed to go downhill from there! I had a poor hand of encounters, so I took the time to play the "Dark Call" card and got a few vampires and the assassin. I went south to Alicante and set out to sea. My plan was to head to Cagliari and sire a vampire, then head elsewhere to distract the hunters. My inexperience bit me hard. I though I'd be really clever and double back to Cagliari through the Tyrrhenian Sea, hoping to trick the others into thinking I had gone farther than I did. The hunters, being a methodical bunch, weren't fooled and found me anyway (immediately destroying the vampire I had sired). Problem was, all paths leading out of Cagliari were already in my trail! I was blocked. Thankfully, night fell at the start of my turn and I was able to use my "Double Back" power to cross my path and escape. Out of desperation I went all the way north by Sea and landed in Plymouth. The hunters fanned north, having already narrowed by location down to a few locations. I succesfully fooled them into thinking I was heading to Eastern Europe through Amsterdam by playing my power cards as though they were hot on my trail. It worked long enough for me to sire a vampire in Swansea. I went north to Edinborough for an escape out to sea again just as the hunters had discovered my ruse and were closing in on me.

By now, it was only day 2, but I was already in very dire straights. I had played poorly in the start, costing me my location and a lot of blood at sea. The hunters were very lucky and had been drawing event cards nearly 4 to 1 in their favour. My dice rolling in combat could not muster a success for the life of me.

I was down to 6 blood when Mina went to Cadiz to try to block any escape plans I might have had through Spain . Thankfully, my vampire successfully matured and I was within 2 points of winning. A single bite on Mina would win me the game. It was night, I had a few good cards and the rest of the hunters were still in Northern Europe. I gathered all the Fury I could muster and rolled in from the Atlantic to attack her.

What followed was quite a battle. You see, a more intelligent/experienced Dracula would have noticed a few things:

1) The hunters had an ally which prevented me from playing Fangs or escaping without paying 2 blood each time.
2) The hunters had 2 points of resolve to come join the battle.

My initial battle with Mina was terrible. 7 rounds and I was never able to roll a success when it mattered. I was down to 3 blood, she was unaffected. One by one, each hunter "teleported" to Cadiz using resolve (and one event card) and fought me. It was then that I discovered that my luck wasn't bad at all... A whole game's worth of luck was being saved up for this very moment! I not only survived the onslaught of a well equipped Lord Gadalming, Dr. Seward AND Van Helsing, but I managed to kill a previously healthy Mina through physical damage for the WIN.

Fury of Dracula turned out to be quite a fun game. There is skill in playing the characters, but there is also quite a large amount of luck to the way it plays out. At least for our first playing, it made for an immersive and compelling experience, with good tension. At various points, I thought things were hopeless, and others I felt I had the upper hand. There is no doubt it's long, however. We only made it three quarters of the way through the 2nd day when I made my "go for broke" move and the whole thing still clocked in at 2 1/2 hours! Things could be shortened through experience and faster play, but the fact is that strategizing is fundamental to the game for the hunters... so I doubt it will shorten substantially.

P.S. I discovered we did play a few things wrong, minor and major.
1) When I matured the vampire, I should have cleared my trail of cards. This would have given me many more options to escape out of the North Sea. Oh well.
2) When Dracula is at Sea, time does not advance. Estimating I was at sea 8-9 times means we would have been back a full day... affecting my victory points and the hunter's resolve. That's a big one!
3) The hunters should have each payed a cost of 2 health to use the resolve power, but that wouldn't have changed anything in the end.

Fury of Dracula:8

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