Yes... I still like 'em 32 years later...
This review will intentionally not go into details on how the game is played. After all, the rules are available online and the game has been out for a few years now so you should know what it is about.
If you haven't read Bram Stoker's novel in some random mandatory school homework yet, you probably picture Dracula as an all-powerful bad guy. Well, guess again, because the novel is all about the Count running away from the Hunters. And, without spoiling anything, let's just say the final confrontation is far from being a flashy and lenghty showdown of garlic, stakes and silver bullets (Wait, those are for werewolves) flying around.
Well, guess what? The game is just like that. Sure, Dracula can fancy a Hunter or 2 during the night (Especially Mina) but come the Small Hours, you will already be sweating and anxiously looking at the Claws/Dodge/Escape (Man) combo you will be stuck with shortly if you don't escape.
Most of the Event cards carry some flavor text straight from the book that really add to the involvement. I especially like the one from Sense of Emergency : I rode, Darling, I rode like the Devil was behind me... and perhaps he was. And what about Re-Equip? "Put it away!" hissed Van Helsing. "Have you forgotten what it is that we face?" The art is Okay, I like the way the character cards have been done, with this antique yellowish touch. The board is fine, as are the Item cards and the 5 minis.
When you hear things like "Take the train to Berlin while I cut him off with my Fast Horse in Prague so he can't set sail in Hamburg", you know there is more at stakes than plastic figures chasing another. A great theme, the box is oozing Gothic and if that's your cup of tea, you're in for a treat.
Much to talk about here. The first few turns will typically be pretty fast, with the Hunters gearing up for the long days ahead. This will feel like
Hunter player : "Okay, I take the train to Saragossa, is there something here?"
Dracula player : "No."
But just when everyone around the table is wondering why the heck they accepted to play this game, someone stumbles upon a city in Dracula's trail and from then 'till the end of the game a few hours later, you won't see anyone looking at their watch because this is a thrilling ride indeed. The Hunter players will try to figure out the city in which Dracula started as well as where he could be right now.
The game lasts as long as the players want it to. I've seen turns where Hunters will discuss at length what they will do, all under the cunning ears of Dracula who "has many spies". Be warned that, as involving as this can be, some players are men of action and might be put off by so much planning. There might be some "bossing around" as well since the hunters work as a team and if a lone ranger decides that it's best for him to move to a big city to get items instead of doing his part in cutting off Dracula's escape route, the good guys are in for a tough one.
The mechanics that are particularly original include the drawing of event cards from the bottom of the deck. I've seen what I call "high-powered" games where Hunters would draw events every single turn, with one flashy and unexpected coup de théâtre happening after the other as well as "low-powered" games where every drawing of an Event card was carefully pondered in a "Is it absolutely necessary?" way.
The fights will be confusing at first but if you will allow me to give you an advice, just tell a new player to use common sense and the rest will flow pretty smoothly. Don't get into the somewhat fiddly mechanic of "You play a card, we roll the dice, highest roller looks up his opponent's card on his and apply the results." Just sum it up : You try to punch me when I use my rifle, you're in trouble. Think a pistol is good against Dracula? Guess again. And no, Garlic is of no use against an Eastern European ruffian unless he really has a bad breath phobia. After a few fights, new players will realize the "guessing game" behind what they thought was initially just some random luck.
The powers of the Hunters are varied and flavorful. The same can be said of the encounters that Dracula can plant at the cities he visits. They add some spice to the game and give the Hunters a sense of accomplishment that is necessary in such a long game. Speaking of which, I think the designer almost assumed that Dracula would kill at least one Hunter or mature at least one Vampire because, quite frankly, if you go the distance with your gaming group, that is, if Dracula gets to 6 Vampires without one of these things happening, the game drags a bit.
Solid game design, good amount of interaction, interesting mechanics.
I have played this game 20 times and even though the dreaded cult of the new has seen new boxes being piled on it, this is still a gaming experience I can't say no to.
Of course, once you've played Dracula, it may not be as fun to play a single Hunter in a 5-player game, pretty much like being a player vs a Game Master in a role-playing game. But depending on your gaming group, you might have some grudges against a Hunter who was able to wait for you in Manchester and stake you 3 times in the middle of the day so you could see this as an opportunity for payback.
Optimal number of players
With a brand new group, I'd definitely play this one with 5 people, with the one most familiar with the rules taking on Dracula's role because it is by far the most complex. For this game to be fun, the Dracula player has to be cunning and resourceful. We had an unofficial "rite of initation" in my gaming group where one would have to play a Hunter at least twice before having a shot at playing the Count (And even then, this was a highly contested die roll at the start of the game, with everyone in the running hoping that this would finally be their turn).
With experienced players or a mix of newcomers and veterans, this is a very flexible game that can be enjoyed with anything from 2 to 5 players, mainly because someone can easily control 1 to 4 Hunters. I've played it with my long-time gaming friend controlling 3 Hunters and a casual gamer who took on the role of Lord Godalming while learning the ropes.
The bottom line
I had to wait that long before referencing my review title but now's the time : If you've played Scotland Yard then well, this is Scotland Yard times 10. This is Scotland Yard with something actually happening between the turns where Mister X reveals himself. This is Scotland Yard with rats, thieves, assassins, wolves, bats, stormy weather, wild horses, hired scouts and all sorts of flavorful Gothic stuff.
It deserves a spot in your collection because you will want to play it quite a number of times and then you will want your friends to try their luck at being a better Dracula than you. So what are you waiting for? Sharpen your stakes and hunt the bad guy with more than just buses and metro tickets.
Thank you for the excellent review.
Ive been eyeballing this game for a while now but it keeps getting pushed back on my to buy list since my wife and I are running a pretty tight budget this time of year.
You have helped me make up my mind though and most likely I will be picking it up.
HEY! That TICKLES!
A great theme, the box is oozing Gothic and if that's your cup of tea, you're in for a treat.
Isn't that the truth? Even the plastic insert is blood-red instead of plain old black.
I was just browsing to find a new and interesting game but your review has made me think about putting this on my wishlist.
Great review; I've played Fury of Dracula quite a few times myself, and it really is a great game. You're right about the flavor text; it's top notch.
I gotta defend Scotland Yard though--I love that game! It packs a lot of fun and tension into a one hour play time. I do, however, enjoy how FoD takes the core find-the-invisible-moving-thing mechanic and soups it up with tons of chrome and theme.