Cooperative Series – Fury of Dracula

(image by ColtsFan76 @ BGG)
I’m relatively new to the board game scene so I missed out on Avalon Hill, Milton Bradley, Games Workshop and others in their prime. Thankfully many classic games from that era are finding their way into reprints and redesigns by new publishers, giving new gamers like me a chance to see what all we missed out on!

Fury of Dracula is Fantasy Flight’s reprint of the 1987 game of the same name. One player is Dracula, running around Europe hiding from the team of hunters trying to bring the Count down. Dracula will forever disappear if the hunters take too long, but defeating him is no easy task – especially once the sun sets. The hunters will need to work together to pick up Dracula’s trail and have the strength to defeat him. Dracula, on the other hand, will need to be crafty in his movements and use his available tools wisely to set traps for the hunters and throw them off his trail.

Dracula may be looking for fresh blood, but not everything about this game sucks:

+ Hidden movement – I love the mechanic of hidden movement. Playing as the hunted is usually the most entertaining as you try to outsmart your opponents, but it’s also fun for hunters to work together and try to give Dracula as few escape opportunities as possible. The game’s length and difficulty does hinge around the Dracula player, though; poor play or mistakes can make the game incredibly easy for the hunters.

(image by Jasly @ BGG)

Fury of Dracula also uses a pretty clever card system for tracking Dracula’s movement. The Dracula player has a deck of cards representing all of the location on the map. Each turn they put their next destination face down and also place an encounter marker on top of the card. The movement track is eight spaces long so Dracula essentially keeps a history of his last eight movements. This gives the hunters a chance to pick up Dracula’s trail but will have to encounter the token Dracula placed on that location card. It also means Dracula can’t double back on his trail (without the use of some special cards) as he only has one of each location on the map. It’s very clever and a great way to handle Dracula’s hidden movement.

+ Gorgeous map – I’m a sucker for maps and Fury of Dracula has one of the nicest maps I’ve seen in a board game. The design is clean and clear and I love the color palette. It is bound to turn some heads when set up.

+ Event cards – On their turn the hunters have the option of drawing an event card. Unlike most decks, they draw from the bottom because the card back designates if the event card goes to that hunter or to Dracula. It’s a clever risk-reward system as the event cards give the hunters some nice bonuses and abilities but they risk giving cards to Dracula to make him more powerful or easier for him to escape.

Unfortunately in some ways I find the concept of the game better than the actual implementation:

(image by Filippos @ BGG)
– Event cards – While there’s a fun risk/reward system for the hunters in drawing event cards, they can take some of the fun out of the game depending on the timing of certain events. For example, some events allow the hunters to scout out areas on the map without moving there. If they get lucky and pick Dracula’s hiding spot early in the game the hunters can quickly mob Dracula, resulting in a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.

– The hunt – Trying to pick up Dracula’s trail or trying to avoid the hunters is a lot of fun. Unfortunately once the hunters pick up Dracula’s trail the game can often turn into a big of a slog as they chase him down. Dracula has some tricks up his sleeve during nighttime but during the day it’s not too difficult for the hunters to corner. Yes, it will take several rounds of combat for the hunters to ultimately defeat Dracula but it often feels like just a matter of time.

– Combat – I’m really not a fan of the combat system. Ultimately it is functional but highly unintuitive and I generally have to relearn how it works each time we play. There’s essentially a rock-paper-scissors style element with card plays and some dice rolling to determine which player wins the battle. My main complaint is that between the charts, symbols and text used there’s no way you can just look at a card and even begin to guess how the combat system could possibly work. Once you understand it there’s actually some subtleties and I do like that Dracula is far more powerful at night, but I do find combat to be the least interesting part of the game.

(image by Filippos @ BGG)

– Length – Often running a solid two hours I feel like the game can outstay its welcome. Mostly this comes towards the end when it’s fairly clear the hunters will win. At that point Dracula could just toss in the towel but that takes away some satisfaction the hunters get from finally capturing their nemesis. The length can also be highly variable based on how quickly the hunters manage to track down Dracula, which isn’t always a fault of the game but can still result in an unsatisfying experience.

Fury of Dracula is at its best when Dracula manages to elude the hunters for a couple of days, giving him time to run around and force the hunters to really stretch themselves thin and cover as much ground as possible. When you get that fun game of cat-and-mouse going the game is fantastic. Unfortunately my last couple of plays have been pretty unsatisfying with Dracula getting revealed early via event cards, ending the game long before any buildup happened.

In the end I think Fury of Dracula is good to pull out from time to time for the fun of the hunt but doesn’t have quite enough going to keep it hitting the table on a regular basis.

Cult of the New: Nuns on the Run

(image by manz1982 @ BGG)
I love being surprised by new games. Often there are new releases I’ve been anticipating for months – even years – in advance. Sometimes they’ve been in development for a long time with lots of press building up to the releases, others were major hits at Essen and take time to find a publisher in the United States. Then from time to time there’s one game that seemingly comes from nowhere and really impresses you.

Nuns on the Run is a hidden movement game turned on its head. Typical hidden movement games (Scotland Yard, Fury of Dracula) have one player running around hidden while the rest move around the board trying to find them. Many consider the hidden role to be the most enjoyable as you are sneaking around trying to avoid detection. Nuns on the Run reverses the roles; most of the players are novice nuns sneaking around the convent at night trying to get whatever it is they want and make it back to their rooms undetected while one (or two) players control the elder (guard) nuns on patrol. If the guards capture the novices enough times or if fifteen rounds pass the guards win, otherwise the first novice to retrieve their item and make it make to their room wins.

There are a few things that really make Nuns on the Run work:

(image by Tobold @ BGG)

Patrol paths – The guards are not allowed to just wander anywhere; they must follow specific patrol paths on the board. Once they complete a path they pick a new one and the old path may never be patrolled again unless they use one of their two “u-turn” cards. This means the novices know exactly where the guards are going although they don’t necessarily know exactly how far they will move each turn. The paths are perfectly designed to mess with the novices and make them sweat bullets. It also forces the guard controller to think through their routes and ensure they keep their options open later in the game.

The Hunt – Novices secretly plan their movement, recording their trail on a sheet of paper. Their movement determines how much noise they make (modified by a six-sided die roll) and if they are heard or seen the guards are allowed to deviate from their path and take chase. So long as a guard sees or hears a novice they may continue to move freely and hunt them down; only if they see or hear nothing are the guards required to resume their patrol. The fifteen turn limit means the novices cannot simply sneak everywhere so eventually they will need to make some risky movements and try to bluff and outsmart the guards. I really like the noise checks as it adds a fun push-your-luck element for the novices and things really heat up once the guards are on someone’s trail. The novices also have no idea where each other are at and can often find themselves getting accidentally flushed out!

(image by GeoMan @ BGG)
The Catch – Getting caught does not immediately send the novice back to their room. Instead, they are forced to start walking back towards their room and as soon as they are out of sight they may resume sneaking around. I love this mechanic as I easily envision the novices slowly walking back, constantly looking over their shoulder to see when the guards are no longer looking. It’s thematic but also slows the novices a bit without completely ruining their game.

As much as I’ve enjoyed Nuns on the Run, I do have a couple of complaints:

Rulebook – The rulebook is somewhat of a disaster. It is too verbose and repetitive, making it very confusing to parse and almost impossible to use for reference. There’s plenty of room for confusion which is too bad for such a relatively simple game. Things start to click once you get into the game but getting there might be challenging.

Game Board – While I really like the art style the board itself is tough to read. There are lots of colored paths showing the different patrol routes but it isn’t exactly clear which routes go where. Colors are reused; there are actually three or four green paths with different destinations and the novices need to keep referencing the guards’ guards to see where they are going. Even worse are the doorways and obstacles. Line of sight is incredibly crucial and it is very difficult to tell where the doors are, especially with all the colored paths covering things up. They really should have had the doors cross over the paths to make the breaks easy to see. As much as I hate to modify my games I may try to find a way to better mark these in my copy. It’s a shame, too, because one misunderstood doorway can have major ramifications on the game. Accidentally revealing yourself on the map when you were actually hidden takes away a lot of fun.

(image by itchyrichy @ BGG)

Even with these issues I still think Nuns on the Run is fantastic. The rules are simple (although difficult to parse), the theme is lighthearted and the game is filled with lots of great tension. Once the hunt is on all heck breaks loose and the novices will sweat bullets as the guards move around the board. Nuns on the Run delivers a level of fun and excitement that few board games manage. It also supports two to eight players; while I think there’s probably a sweet spot with five or six it’s nice having that level of flexibility.

After a few plays, Nuns on the Run is easy to recommend! I think it works well with gamers of all experience levels and offers up a lot of fun. It’s one of those games you want to play again as soon as you are done.