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Review: The Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition

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FuryOfDracula_Boxcover

Dracula is furious, and of course you can understand why. Eight years ago, four intrepid (or you might say insolent) adventurers risked their lives in order to defeat him, putting his plans for world domination to what they thought was permanent rest.

But somehow, Dracula survived. Perhaps Dr. Van Helsing made some mistake when performing the final rituals that he thought would forever ensure Dracula’s demise; perhaps Dracula was simply more resilient than anyone could have imagined. Whatever the case may be, Dracula is back with a vengeance, and this time he’s putting his full strength into sucking dry the Hunters’ chances of success.

Only four people across all of Europe have any chance of stopping him; the same four that put him back in his grave eight years ago. Will they manage to put Dracula’s fury to rest once again? Or will they fall, one by one, until Dracula’s power becomes too great to be stopped?

In Fury of Dracula, it’s up to the players to find out.

How It Plays

There are two sides in Fury of Dracula: Dracula himself, and a team of four hunters which fans of the book will immediately recognize: Van Helsing, John Seward, Lord Godalming, and Mina Harker. The goal of the hunters is to find and eradicate Dracula, while Dracula must increase his influence on the world by maturing new vampires, defeat hunters in combat, or simply survive long enough for his power to be unstoppable.

FuryOfDracula_WholeBoard
Come on people, we’ve got EUROPE to save!

The turn structure is fairly simple: Each day, Hunters get two actions – one during the day, one at night. Then, still night, Dracula gets to move.

Dracula’s movement is tracked by a row of up to 6 cards, each representing a hideout in one particular city. Each time Dracula moves he shifts the trail one step, then places the next location card which must be connected to the previous by road. Dracula also gets to place an Encounter card, which might be a trap of some sort, a hoax, or a freshly minted vampire, among other things. It is also possible for Dracula to move by sea, which is much harder for the Hunters to track, but Dracula suffers damage when travelling over water.

Each encounter has two possible effects – one if a hunter stumbles on it and gets ambushed (or searches it out), the other if the card is “Matured” by getting pushed off the end of the trail. Maturing is how Dracula scores influence points with vampires, but other Matured effects might heal Dracula’s wounds or delay the hunters in a variety of ways.

Dracula's got his own map!
Dracula’s got his own map!

Hunters can buy train tickets, trade items, rest to heal damage, or search out Dracula’s encounters in their location. During the day, Hunters may also move by road, by spending train tickets to travel by rail, or by sea. Finally, the Hunters can Supply, which allows them to draw from the Event deck and a handy Item deck. However, the Event deck has cards for both Dracula and the Hunters. During the day, Dracula cards are simply discarded, but at night Hunters must draw from the bottom of the deck, and if they draw that frightful red bat symbol the card goes straight to Dracula’s hand.

If at any point a hunter enters a city location that is currently on Dracula’s trail, Dracula must reveal that card (and may ambush, if he wishes, with the encounter card placed there). If it is Dracula’s current location, Dracula’s figure gets placed on the board. Combat with Dracula happens at dawn and dusk.

Combat is a cleverly simple game of rock-paper-scissors. Dracula has his full deck of combat abilities available to him, and draws five cards from it, while the Hunters have a basic set of combat actions but must collect weapons and other items in order to truly be effective. Each side chooses a combat card secretly, then reveals. If any of the icons on the Hunter’s card matches the icon on Dracula’s card, Dracula’s card is cancelled and the hunter’s card resolves. If not, Dracula’s card resolves first (and often, but not always, cancels the hunter’s card).

Hunters are going to need equipment (bottom row) because the basic attacks (top row) aren't gonna cut it
Hunters are going to need equipment (bottom row) because the basic attacks (top row) aren’t gonna cut it

Combat lasts up to 6 rounds at a time, or until one side is killed or escapes the combat. Fortunately for the Hunters, if more than one Hunter is involved in the Combat, Dracula can only engage with (and block/be blocked by) one of the Hunters cards.

Each side has a few tricks up their sleeves. Event cards for the hunters can provide powerful boosts and temporary rule-breaking abilities that help to locate and catch up to Dracula. Dracula, on the other hand, has a set of power cards he can use to mislead his opponents, regain health, or even move extra distance. Also, after 3 weeks have passed, Dracula gains 3 influence points every time he moves.

The game ends when either Dracula scores 13 influence points, or the Hunters have killed Dracula.

Time is running out!
Time is running out!

Dracula is Dead. Long Live Dracula?

I had high expectations for Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition when it was announced. Though I hadn’t yet sunk my fangs into the earlier editions, I heard swirling rumors of good things. In reading previews on the Fantasy Flight website during the weeks leading up to launch, it seemed like there was a lot of thought being put into the updates for the new edition, and on top of that the beautiful board design sure caught my eye.

So it was with great surprise that after playing this game a few times, I realized this: Fury of Dracula not only met, but exceeded my expectations.

Mina's about to tear it UP
Mina’s about to tear it UP

This is a brilliant game, expertly designed and tweaked for this third edition. It’s an incredibly tense game of cat-and-mouse, wherein the mouse has sharp fangs and also the ability to turn into a bat and fly away.

Impressively, this game stays very true thematically to the book. It makes one plot concession – that Dracula is somehow alive again after being very thoroughly eradicated – but the 8 year passage of time and the previous experience of the hunters makes for a great setup. No need to explain why the hunters already know about Dracula or why things don’t play out the same way as the book; it’s a new story. But the vibe of it is there; the Hunters have a desperate, overwhelmingly difficult chase that can only end by facing a fearsome and deadly monster, while Dracula is a cowardly villain using all his abilities and whatever means necessary to mislead, stall, and destroy the hunters. It feels exactly like the second half of the book, when the hunters are chasing Dracula back to his castle and trying to do so as efficiently as possible, covering the possible paths he might take and eminently fearful that they will be too late.

Dracula's Eye View
Dracula’s Eye View

Both sides must meet an incredible challenge, and that’s where the beauty lies. Whoever plays as Dracula will feel the desperation of always being one slip-up away from complete failure. As they try their best to plot a hidden path across Europe, hoping to mature that vampire or catch a lone hunter unawares, they will always feel the stench of human breath on their necks. The Hunters will always be too close, too devious, and Dracula will have to use every tool at his disposal to succeed.

At the same time, the Hunters will constantly feel the impossible weight of being hopelessly outmatched. It will always feel like Dracula is two steps ahead, and even if he is found you will be woefully underprepared to face him. Painful risks must be taken, but the rewards feel slight. When you trigger the wrong trap, you feel the bite down to your bone. When you hand Dracula an event card for supplying at night, you feel the weight of that card.

The heroes have come home! Welcome back, you deserve medals!
The heroes have come home! Welcome back, you deserve medals!

The funny thing is, they’re both right. Dracula is always just barely edging out the Hunters, and the Hunters are always standing on the brink of losing Dracula for good. Fortunately, there are enough options to keep both sides in the game, and this feeling impressively manages to keep up for the entire two-to-three hours of gameplay.

However this happens, it is why the game is so brilliant. The system relies very little on luck, and when there is luck involved it’s generally a calculated risk, or an attempt to outguess your opponent(s). Fury seems to have found just the right balance so that there is always a chance for both sides. In fact, except for the first game (in which none of us knew what we were doing), the game has come down to a last-minute battle between both forces; in some cases, the hunters win and in others, Dracula has claimed the victory. But it’s always one step away; a single action played differently, a wrong guess when playing combat cards – just doing something slightly different could have easily changed the outcome, meaning you’ll be thinking for days about what you could and should have done differently throughout the entire game so you could have won. The system even allows for either side to make mistakes and still have a chance to win, without ever feeling cheap.

Your doom is at HAND!
Your doom is at HAND!

I love that it’s not simply a binary “find Dracula and win” system. The tension ratchets up because Dracula can escape even after being found and fought; in fact, Dracula has the option of trying to attack and kill a hunter if he should wish, though it is a risk to intentionally reveal your location. Likely Dracula will be found, fought, and then he’ll slip away multiple times throughout the game. Every encounter matters, though, because you might damage him just enough early on to make a later victory possible; or you might cut off a route, force him into the sea, or get him to run back to Castle Dracula, all possibilities that are advantageous to the hunters. Yet, these options are also potential game-savers for Dracula. The Castle, after all, restores his life, and the sea – while damaging him – makes him much harder to track, and opens up the possibilities where he might land. The point is you always have options, no matter which side you are playing.

Who's afraid of the big black bat?
Who’s afraid of the big black bat?

Oh, and combat is great too. I’m very happy they managed to get rid of the dice system from previous editions; this system feels so immersive and challenging. The focus is on out-guessing your opponent. What will Dracula play? Will he try to attack first, or mesmerize the hunter? Will he try to escape, or sacrifice hit points to bloody his opponent? It doesn’t hurt that Dracula’s vampires can engage in combat as well, potentially weakening the hunters before Dracula himself swoops in for the kill.

All of this unfolds with a great ebb and flow. The pacing comes off like a well-written book or film, with ratcheting tension up, narrow escapes, and an intense climax.

Look, wolves are great, no matter whose side they're on. Don't blame the wolves.
Look, wolves are great, no matter whose side they’re on. Don’t blame the wolves.

If there is one flaw with Fury of Dracula, it’s that your experience may depend entirely on how skilled Dracula is played. A player who mismanages his abilities, takes frequent and foolish risks, or doesn’t pay attention to their legal moves, can cause the game to end very quickly without much tension or excitement at all. You don’t have to be a grand chessmaster to succeed as Dracula, but you do have to try and think a few steps ahead. You have to pay attention to the Hunter discussion, take few risks, and do your best to remain a step ahead of everyone. Things are stacked slightly against Dracula, and his ability to escape or avoid the hunters in the first place is the spinal column of the game’s skeleton. As I said, there are plenty of tools, abilities, and options for Dracula to use, but whereas Hunter mistakes just ramp up the tension (where IS THAT DRACULA?) there are more ways to recover, Dracula’s mistakes, if too numerous, could sour the experience. No one really wants to win before the first week ends because Dracula accidentally broke a rule and had to take 5 damage as a penalty. (The penalty for Dracula making an illegal move is very strictly written out).

So much of this game is just beautiful
So much of this game is just beautiful

The other complaints I have are minor – the miniatures could stand to be a little more distinguishable. From a birds-eye view of the table, they blend in pretty well, the distinguishing feature of each generally being a tool held in their hand. Mina, of course, has a dress. Stronger silhouettes or color differences would help; I plan on simply having the minis painted. And it really doesn’t detract that much from the experience. Occassionally someone grabs the wrong pawn.

I wish I could say the rulebook was perfect. I still love the dual “Learn to Play” and “Rules Reference” books. In case you aren’t aware, Learn to Play is designed to read straight through, teach you how to play, and get you going as quickly as possible. The Rules Reference has the complete rules listed in topics in alphabetical order, indexed and cross-referenced, so that you can easily look up things you’re not sure about. Unfortunately, there are a few minor rules that are printed incorrectly in the Reference book – namely, when certain tokens are removed from the board – so you may need to check the Errata on FFG’s website. Strangely, some of these rules are correctly written in the Learn to Play booklet.

Roadblock and holy ground, oh my!
Roadblocks and holy ground, oh my!

Some might consider the length a dectractor as well – you’ll get a good 2-3 hours out of this game. Those hours will be filled with grand entertainment, but some people might not have the patience – or the time in their schedule – to embark on the adventure. As for me, I prefer longer, more substantial games so the time doesn’t bother me at all.  Also, this game is definitely best with the full 5 players so each can focus on only one hunter. It’s certainly playable with fewer, but at the very least your first few games should have 5 to get the bext experience.

Did I mention how pleasing to the eye this game is? Aside from the miniatures, everything is excellently designed here. You’ve got a very nice turn tracker with Dracula’s points right next to it, you’ve got clear and separate slots for each of Dracula’s hideouts and lairs, and you’ve got nice tokens that mark everything that needs to be marked. Dracula even has his own miniature version of the map so he can study his next move without giving away his location by his eye line.

Fury of Dracula is beautifully designed, both visually and in its excellent gameplay. If you get it to the table, you’re sure to have a thrilling evening hunting down Dracula (or trying to evade the hunters). The game is frightfully balanced between the two sides, resulting in an epic and climactic experience every time you play. I can’t recommend it enough.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Fantasy Flight Games for providing a review copy of Fury of Dracula.

  • Rating 9.5
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Summary

Pros:

  • Incredibly tense balance between the two sides
  • Refined and exciting combat system
  • Fantastic art and design
  • Excellent pacing
  • Always seems to end in a tense, climactic finish

Cons:

  • Miniatures are sometimes hard to tell apart from player's eye view
  • Some errors in the rulebook
  • Experience depends a lot on Dracula
9.5 Excellent

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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