Fury of Dracula was originally published by Games Workshop back in 1987. It was eventually licensed to Fantasy Flight and updated in 2006. Last year Fantasy Flight decided to update it yet again and release a third edition of the classic game. And thank god they did.
I went into Fury of Dracula completely cold. I usually do a healthy amount of research into board games before purchasing one. I might even watch an entire playthrough on YouTube to help me get a feel for what the game plays like. This game, however, was different. Fury of Dracula has been one of the highest reviewed board games since time immemorial. From what I’d heard the third edition release of the game was a worthy successor. So I made a leap of faith and got the game knowing next to nothing about it.
In Fury of Dracula players are split into two teams. One player, alone on their team, controls Dracula. Dracula is madly running around the board, trying to evade the hunters and spread news of his deadly coming (represented by a steadily increasing Influence Tracker). Meanwhile the other players are the hunters. They’re madly running around the board trying to catch Dracula and put him back in the ground.
The core mechanic through which all this mad running is facilitated by hidden movement. The game’s board is a stylized depiction of Victorian era Europe. Cities connect to each other via roads, rails, and waterways. The hunters each have a figure representing what city they’re in. On their turn a hunter can move from city to city. They can walk along roads, skip over cities using the rails, or take longer journeys across open water.
Dracula, on the other hand, does not put his figure on the board- at least not right away. The board has six places along the side called the Trail for Dracula to put down cards. At the beginning of the game, Dracula picks his starting city and puts a corresponding card on the first spot of the Trail. Every round Dracula chooses a new city to move to, at which point he pushes every card in the Trail down one slot and puts the new card down at the front. If a hunter moves onto a city that is on the Trail, Dracula must reveal it. The hunters then know Dracula was there, and how long ago that was. If they’re in the same city as Dracula himself he finally puts his figure down on the board and a fight ensues.
This mechanic leads to a brilliant game of chase. Dracula is trying to angle himself around the board, avoiding detection and perhaps misleading the hunters. They, in turn, are trying to stay on the trail, guessing Dracula’s path and cutting him off so they can fight him. The fight doesn’t always end in death, and Dracula is capable of escaping and becoming hidden once more.
The chase is not so simple, however. Every time Dracula moves he places encounter cards face down on the trail. These are traps he places at every location he visits. Hunters that stumble upon them unprepared can find themselves severely hampered. These encounters are varied and interesting. Wolves damage hunters unless they are fought off. Bats carry the hunters away, disrupting movement. Bandits can steal items out from under hunter noses. Fledgling vampires, the worst of all, are dangerous mini-bosses akin to fighting Dracula himself.
The hunters can’t simply ignore these threats, however. There are only six spots on the Trail. If a city falls off the Trail, then the Trail has gone cold there, and it no longer provides clues to the hunters. Worse, any encounters still on that location “mature”. A matured encounter often creates a dangerous or tricky situation for the hunters. This varies from stalling movement around that city to increasing the Influence Tracker and bringing Dracula closer to winning.
Finally, combat in the game is handled in an interesting and unique way. When combat begins the hunter assembles their hand of cards. These include one each of the basic combat cards, as well any items they’ve acquired. Dracula meanwhile draws a hand of five cards from his personal combat deck. Both players simultaneous choose a card and reveal them. Both cards will have symbols listed on them, and the first step is to see if the two cards have matching symbols. If they do, the hunter has interrupted Dracula, preventing him from acting. Then, any uncanceled cards resolve. This can damage one or both players or have some other effect as well.
This system is both novel and brilliant. The various symbols lend the game a strange feeling of rock-paper-scissors, but with six or seven choices and additional abilities stacked on top. Combat feels like a delicate dance. You’re trying to utilize your abilities while outthinking your opponent. It rarely goes exactly the way you’ve planned, but when it does it feels immensely satisfying.
Plus, the flavor is fantastic. Dracula has a card that mesmerizes his opponent by staring into their eyes. The hunter cancels it if they play a punch card, cause they hit him in the face.
All of this comes together in an amazing and engaging way. The game hits the theme and flavor perfectly. Dracula feels like a monster running around Europe, and the hunters feel like desperate underdogs seeking him out. There’s always this sense of danger and tension. “If I go there, will I find Dracula? Will I even want to?”
The game has a definite arc to it. Early on, a solo hunter that accidently stumbles onto Dracula will not do well. The elder vampire is a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with. It creates this weird sort of middle ground. The hunters want to get more gears and items, but don’t want to lose track of him either.
A number of other smaller mechanics play into this as well. There is only one card to represent each city, so Dracula can’t revisit on a city until it’s pushed off the Trail. This creates a strange sort of snake mini-game where Dracula has to be careful not pin himself into a corner. Additionally, Dracula can’t use the railways. Smart hunters can utilize the faster movement to get ahead and cut him off. Dracula can move across water, but it both hurts and partially reveals him. Hunters have the option of triggering events on their turn. During the day these events will always be good, but if they trigger one at night it might accidently help Dracula.
Every individual component added to the game feels good. None of them are complicated, and though it eventually borders on too many, they all bring something to the table that makes sense.
Playing as Dracula is a total blast. You have a little more downtime than other players, but everything you do is immensely satisfying. Successfully slipping the net after being hounded for several turns feels sneaky. Watching a hapless hunter fall into a potentially deadly trap gives you a wicked grin.
By the same token being the hunters is fun in a different way. Working together towards this goal gives a real sense of comradery. When someone stumbles on the Trail your team converges on Dracula to pen him in. There’s a sense of hunger for the hunt. The game manages to instill the semi-mad desire to kill the head vampire.
The components, additionally are amazing. The board is gorgeous and solidly constructed. The art on all of the cards in phenomenal, often bleeding the edge between beautiful and horrifying. The tokens are all solid cardstock, and each is evocative and unique so they don’t get confused.
All in all, Fury of Dracula is a vibrant and exciting game. Skill is a major factor, so one team being more experienced than the other can lead to some skewed games. In general, however, each game plays out as a beautiful balancing act of dangerous decisions and daring bluffs. It’s fun in a very social way, and one of the few competitive games I’ve played where players never really get irked at each other. I had no regrets adding it to my collection, and writing this review has made me desperately want to play it again.