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Monday, December 16, 2019

Drac’s Back…With a Fury

by | published Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Night descends quickly – the hour is short and a vicious, blood-sucking monster has been stalking Victorian Europe leaving despair, suffering and newly created vampire spawn in his bloody wake.

Four brave people, bound together by their knowledge of the truth behind this bloodshed, have taken up the hunt for this devil-spawned aristocrat. The privileged and wealthy Lord Godalming; the ever-prepared and brilliant physician Doctor John Seward; the elderly badass Abraham Van Helsing; and the now vampiric target of Dracula’s affection, Mrs. Mina Harker (who, although drained, is psychical bound to the dark one himself). Our stalwart heroes begin gearing up and are hot on his occasionally literal tail. Drac moves in secret, constantly out of reach always a few steps ahead, often slipping into the shadows. From a hand of cards he plots drac2aand schemes, leaving nasty traps, hoaxes, ferocious packs of animals, and Szgany henchmen, and he’s still out for fresh blood to join him with an array of new vampires that he seeks to mature. All this combined with him being a monstrous creature to encounter in the dead of night – unless one is prepared – makes for a rousing experience. Our resolute vampire-hunters must be clever, coordinated, and properly equipped to put him back in the grave. They blindly search while Nosferatu listens and reacts to their frantic and bewildered conversations and yet, our unwavering saviors are ever closing in. The race is neck and tooth while time grows shorter and days spin to night. The Count will reign supreme if his dark influence over the land hits the mark of thirteen, sealing the world’s black velvet-draped fate forever more.

Quickly approaching the game’s 30 year anniversary from its original release by Games Workshop in 1987, Fury of Dracula has sadly been slumbering in a deep printing torpor for what feels like decades, garnering hefty price-tags in the secondary market. Now risen from the grave and back in circulation, it’s returned to the table with claws sharpened and fangs brandished. Each iteration of the game has been theme-steeped and truly captures the feel of certain sections of the novel. This new offering from Fantasy Flight (the previous publisher of the fanatically revised second edition) takes what was already a solid game and smoothed out a few mechanics. It features all-new art assets that in their rich sepia-tones and deep scarlets have quickly grown on me. The darker colour scheme carries through all components, meaning it’s slightly overwhelming with the wrong lighting. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the box art which is the antithesis of the rest of the game. In blues with an awkward 1920’s Derpula who seems to be dead and loving it, complete with a goofy grin (especially sad given how this game reflects the novel and not a film adaptation). Second edition’s cover featured a rousing carriage chase with the Dark Lord fleeing torch- and stake-brandishing pursuers, which summed up the game’s theme perfectly – but alas, it’s no longer to be.

Fury of Dracula has always been a game of thematic mechanics, and this version is no different. In fact, I’d argue it’s in many ways superior to my cherished Second Ed. The biggest flaws have always been that it pretty much needs five players, and has always been a longer but mentally-engaging game, with a significant learning curve. While the game may still take a while to play (depending on your players), this new incarnation has a clear improvement in regards to its speed. The game takes place over a virtual month, each hunter-turn composed of both a day and a night phase, followed by movement and deception from our nocturnal nemesis. Every week a novel “despair token” is added to the sun counter, which grows more slowly more frightening, and limits the game to a finite number of turns. Each week adds a brilliant sense of desperation for the players as Vlad grows ever more effective at gaining victory. Previously the hellion’s pursuants could move and perform an action with the game taking the span of days, three rounds in the day / three rounds in the night. Now each round features a day and night phase with more options. It also spans a week (which is, needless to say, richer in the the realism of the events). While there’s no longer the pressure of multiple rounds of day and night, the duality of the turns (with hunters active during the day and both the bloodsucker and his pursuers active at night) is an improvement, and certainly one I was initially wary of. In our game we actually initially erred in this system, but it felt improved immediately upon our scrutiny.

The thrilling chase remains much unchanged through the years, with the exception of the removal of train dice. The original cards were very clear when our crepuscular creep was at sea, on land, or at Castle Dracula – in this version it feels less so with the covering of the cards with Encounters. The Encounter tokens themselves have been replaced with cards. I’m of two minds about this: the tokens sitting in the middle of the cards was great and it cut down for the need for yet another deck of cards. However, I always find it sort of a pain in the neck having to get a “monster cup”, fiddle around with a card-like hand of tokens and have to read out references each time for the pictures out of the back of a rulebook. A new rumor mechanic allows the Undead Transylvanian to place a token on the cards to garner more influence points or to bluff the hunters (throwing them off the trail), which is fantastic. The encounter deck feels more streamlined and effective, yet somehow less engaging. The cards are clear and concise, allowing for a greater variety of interesting confrontations. Personally, I rather adore that I’m flush with new vampire options (replacing the old Szgany in their master’s service) – it makes the combat more engaging and serves as a buffer for when facing the big guy himself. However, while many cards have returned, they did away with Lightening, Plague, Assassins, Ambushes, and Thieves; which is a shame since the new card system feels like there’s more room to enrichen the tapestry with variety and complexity. I’d also like to add that Mina’s new ability is region-based with Europe broken into different regions; her stalker’s influence upon her is even more of a double-edged sword – after all, he’s always loved her in vein.

What we really need to talk about is combat, because gee–whiz is it especially improved and considerably more dynamic. A very dramatic simplified improvement over the original dicefest, it has been transformed into a game of scheming, prediction, and assumption (you know, like everything else in the game). The intrepid vampire-hunters must still scrounge equipment across Europe to prepare for the final encounter, crafting a deck of cards to effectively take down the the dark Prince of Wallachia. Our dastardly gaunt malefactor has a hand of ever-changing powers and the hunters need to attempt to counteract his cards with their own. In combat, both play cards, trying to find the others weakspot and take advantage. This particularity shines in group combat where The Count is beset by two or more players; drac3aeach plays a card then Drac wisely tries to figure out whose he should attempt to prevent, allowing the other to lunge into his back with a crucifix, or punch him right in his stupid smug pale face. Dracula may attempt to throw out a fast claw at his opponent and deal some damage or leap in head first for a bite, leaving himself open to all manner of injury. This new system is seeping with action that the original was lacking; it’s similar but swift and effective. Dracula still has all his underhanded tricks, such as transforming into mist or bat to escape the hunters’ clutches. Even the fun humorous aspects of the original carry over here in this edition; I’d have it no other way. There’s so much uncertainty that lends itself to what sort of showdown this is going to be, which is brilliant. Theres also a very minor change to the event deck that I found interesting. Events occur as the hunters attempt to arm themselves for this final battle, cards were drawn from the bottom of the deck which caused doubt since many of them were for their nemesis. During the day they are now drawn from the top, which if showing an event for the Vampire Lord, is a wasted action discarding it. That alone makes this return of this classic entirely worth purchasing. If you want a game that seriously doesn’t suck, don’t make the “mist-stake” of passing this by.

As a professional game instructor (Game Guru) I often get asked by people what my favourite game is. To be honest, it’s a question I’ve struggled with, often answering out of a list of 30 that has shifted and rotated. Getting asked this hundreds of times, I grew tired of this question ages ago as it was more often than not irrelevant to those asking me. Eventually I just just settled on Fury of Dracula: Second Edition, lauding that it’s amazing and no one else working would answer that way. Needless to say, Fury holds a special place in my heart as a fangtasticly gothic bat-and-mouse hidden movement game. And now, it’s returned… with a Fury.


One thought on “Drac’s Back…With a Fury

  1. Avatar Matt M says:

    A brilliant game. Had the honour of being taught this by the comparable Daniel himself and have to agree that it is incredibly dynamic, unique and engaging. A must play for any dedicated gamer.

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