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Preview: Dracula’s Feast

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draculasfeast_wholetable

Dracula’s thrown a party! What fun! Ah, but before Dracula can get his own true “feast” on, the party has been crashed by a bunch of mythical creatures, not the least of which includes Van Helsing, Dracula’s nemesis.

Apparently the monsters showed up in disguise or something, because now that they’ve all shown up they’ve got to figure out who’s who and kick the monsters out of the party – without getting caught themselves.

So get your smooth-talking notecards ready and warm up your dance moves. You’ve got to figure out who showed up at Dracula’s Feast before it’s too late.

Note: This is a paid preview of a non-final prototype of Dracula’s Feast, now on Kickstarter. Components and rules may not be finalized.

How It Plays

At the start of the game, first determine which roles are included. Dracula is required, but the rest can be random – one role per player, plus one extra. The prototype includes 9 roles, so with the full player count you use every single one. Once the roles are decided (either by group choice or simply random shuffle), randomly deal the corresponding role cards secretly, one to each player.

Who wants to crash Dracula's party?
Who wants to crash Dracula’s party?

The extra role becomes the “mystery guest” at the center of the table, leaving the possibility that the role you think belongs to a particular player might actually lie hidden, unused.

Players take turns in clockwise order, and must choose one of the four possible options: Question, Dance, Accuse, or Grand Reveal.

To question, I pick another player and ask them if they are a particular role. Example: Ruel, are you Dracula? Ruel then secretly hands me either a “yes” or a “no” card to answer, and he must answer truthfully. I may not reveal the card he gives me to anyone else.

I may also ask someone to dance. Jennifer, would you like to dance? If Jennifer refuses, my turn is done. If she accepts, we show each other our role cards. Once again, neither of us can reveal the card to any other player or say what we saw. Once you Dance with someone, you can’t accuse them for the rest of the game. (You can still do a Grand Reveal).

You can dance if you want to
You can dance if you want to

Speaking of accusing… I could accuse another player of being a specific role. The roles all have matching accusation cards; I take the appropriate accusation card and place it in front of another player. For example, if I think Alex is the Boogie Monster, I might place the Boogie Monster accusation card in front of him. If he IS the boogie monster, he must reveal his card, and he is banished from the game. If he isn’t, he simply says so. Then I would have to reveal my card, and I would be banished from the game.

The final option is the Grand Reveal. If I think I’ve guessed everyone’s role (who hasn’t already been banished), I would take all the Accusation cards and assign them to each player – including the mystery guest at the center of the table. Each player would then give me either their “yes” or “no” card secretly to let me know if my guess was correct or not. (Truth is required here, and there are no roles allowed to lie in the Grand Reveal). I don’t look at the cards right away – instead, I shuffle them up, then reveal them to everyone. If they are all yeses, I have won the game! If there is even one “no” then I have lost. I must reveal my role, and I am banished from the game, and no one knows for certain (based solely on the grand reveal) which accusations were correct or not.

But wait! There’s more! Each role has certain conditions that must be followed, and some include alternate methods of victory. Dracula gets one extra turn after being banished. Van Helsing needs to accuse or dance with Dracula. The Boogie Monster gets a free Grand Reveal attempt immediately after a second guest has been banished, but must ALWAYS says yes to a dance, while the Zombie wins by dancing with three separate players. Alucard must accept all dances, and pretends to be Dracula (and wins if he is accused of being so), and the Trickster answers all Questions with “yes” and accepts all dances. Werewolf has only to Accuse two guests correctly to win. Dr. Jekyll can’t question anyone, but as soon as he is banished takes on the role of the Mystery Guest. Finally, the Magic Mirror gets to look at the Mystery Guest card (even if controlled by Dr. Jekyll) just before attempting a Grand Reveal.

This'll be helpful
This’ll be helpful

Let’s All Stand Up

The biggest difference between Dracula’s Feast and many other similar social deduction games? There’s a lot more actual deduction going on here. This genre is packed to the brim with a wide variety of games, but most of them require lying and reading the other players more than putting together clues. They also tend to be a lot less structured, with accusations and denials flinging their way around the table at will.

But Dracula’s Feast actually forces players to carefully pay attention to what’s going on. You can’t go around shouting accusations at people – although, for the most part, there’s no rule written against it. You wait your turn, you do your action, and you watch what others are doing. Only from there can you deduce who each player is quickly enough to reveal.

In a lot of ways, this is good. It sets the game apart from others in the genre. It gives everyone more time to think, and doesn’t rely heavily on social cues. When I teach people the Resistance or something similar, they’re always looking for facts to deduce the truth, but that’s impossible. Here at Dracula’s Feast, facts are the only thing you have to rely on. I think that makes the game very accessible.

It certainly helps that everyone can see clearly what roles are in the mix, and everyone has a reference card as to what the different roles do. That way, for the most part, people can get answers to their questions without having to give away who they are.

It can be difficult to track all the information and remember who guessed who and who danced with who, but it’s not impossible.

Are you DRACULA?
Are you DRACULA?

With a strict turn structure, the game feels rather orderly. People can generally follow whose turn it is, and the lack of chaos makes it easier to keep track of the information you learn. You probably won’t miss anything due to players arguing about who’s guilty or not. In fact, the game tends to be quieter than many others in the genre due to people trying to listen and pay attention. The limited number of actions mean every clue is important.

The main issue with this turn structure is that you might have figured out what you need to know, but it’s not your turn yet. You could easily lose out on your Grand Reveal because someone else simply had an earlier turn than you, which can be frustrating. If you’re playing with a larger group, this is an even bigger problem because you’ll get so few actions. I’ve had several games where not everyone even got three actions before the game ended.

To be fair, there is a bit of a learning curve. You have to figure out how to play your role without giving yourself away; accusations happen less frequently the more you play, and people aren’t so eager to jump into a dance. Later games lasted more turns (without being that much longer of a game since people were familiar with how it works) and allowed more thoughtfulness.

Dracula's got moves
Dracula’s got moves

Speaking of roles; the game does rely a lot on the balance between roles. One overpowered role could easily become “the one that always wins.” A weaker role wouldn’t be as fun to play. Fortunately, I haven’t noticed anything standing out of the pack so far. What’s included is a nice mix of variety – different powers, different ways to win. No one has ultimate leverage, and everyone has some overlap with the other roles. That player who always says “yes” to dancing could be Alucard, the Trickster, the Boogie Monster, the Zombie… or just trying to mess with people. Just because someone answers “yes” to your Questioning doesn’t mean they aren’t lying, thanks to Alucard and the Trickster.

The reason to bring up the balance between roles, though, is that with only 9 roles in the box I could see the game becoming stale fairly quickly. Once you figure out tells and patterns, the game could fall into a rut. I’ve already seen players latch on to a few reliable tactics to root out certain roles quickly.

The main way to keep it fresh is by adding more roles into the mix, but then you run into those tricky problems of balance that could easily skew a role’s power, even one in the main box. Too many forced dancers gives power to the Zombie; not enough, and it starts to expose the roles that must say yes to a Dance.  It’s up to the designers to figure out how to increase the pool without destroying the core experience.

Another issue – depending on your perspective – is that, thanks to the orderly turn structure – it’s harder to immerse yourself in your role. There’s not a lot of paranoia, because the game doesn’t create the atmosphere for it. You don’t try to play as any character, because you don’t want to give away what you are. With a focus on figuring out actual information, you miss out a little bit on the social aspect of the genre.

You put your right fang in, you take your right fang out...
You put your right fang in, you take your right fang out…

That is less of a game quality thing and more of a play style thing, so your mileage may vary. I prefer the more immersive paranoid hidden-role games, but I had fun with this one regardless. There’s room in the field for a calmer, more thoughtful game like this, and it can be nice to switch it up once in a while even if you prefer a different style.

Dracua’s Feast is a fast game – a round takes maybe ten minutes, so most of the “flaws” are really easy to overlook. The core of the game is solid, and the only real concern I have is about the growing pool of roles. I enjoy the different approach, where you can actually gain useful information to figure out what you need to – although you will have to make some educated guesses if you want to beat everyone to the punch.

It’s not as much of a risk-taking game, though. Overall we’ve had more fun when fewer people took ridiculous risks and didn’t make early accusations. Again there’s a slight learning curve as you figure out the balance, and when to jump in without all the information solidified.

If you enjoy these sorts of social deduction games, I think Dracula’s Feast is a worthy entry. It’s a little less chaotic and relies more on actual information than bluffing and reading social cues, and that may appeal to a lot of people. There’s space to explore and learn and develop strategies, and hopefully we’ll see more roles added over time. It’s also a very short game, so you can play several rounds in a single session to really get a satisfying experience.

Dracula’s Feast is now seeking funding on Kickstarter.

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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