Fury of Dracula has a long and storied history. The board game was first released in 1987 and was originally a more complicated version of Scotland Yard. My history with the game is not quite as long – I encountered the fourth edition version at a board game bar this year – but it certainly left an impact.
That impression was not a good one. The board game has a lot of different elements to keep track of, the instructions and rules were badly explained, and all of us felt like we were doing something wrong. We gave up when we encountered the combat system as the instructions for those might as well be written in a foreign language.
I picked up this review copy because the concept of the game is actually really good. Four characters from Bram stoker’s Dracula have to try and stop the eponymous main character and I was hoping that the digital version could smooth over the kinks in the instructions. The good news is that it does make the barrier to entry much lower but given the game’s structure this brings its own shortcomings.
First though, the rules. The game can be played with 1-5 players (thanks to competent AI). One person will be Dracula while 1-4 players will manage the 4 vampire hunters. The objective of Dracula is to avoid detection while increasing the influence meter through traps and defeating hunters. If the influence meter hits 13, Dracula wins. The objective for the hunters is to try to figure out where Dracula is hiding and then reduce his health to zero.
Each of the players is placed on the board that represents Europe which is littered with cities and towns. In the standard rules hunters get a fixed placement but Dracula can pick any town/city they like. Each day has a Day and Night cycle. Players can travel during the day, collect a train ticket, collect vital item and event cards, and rest. Once they hit the Night cycle, they cannot move so it is worth using that time to recuperate but there are risks to this as resupplying can give Dracula extra cards. Dracula, predictably, sits out the Day cycle and at Night they move, the catch is that no one knows where. As the villain moves, they leave behind a trail that lasts for their last 6 moves, each of these cards will have a trap or another vampire waiting to catch hunters that might land on that location.
Each town and city are connected by roads, some have ports allowing access to the sea, and others are connected by railway lines that allow for travelling further. Dracula is limited to roads and sea travel, while the hunters can use the rail lines as long as they have tickets.
Ultimately it becomes a game of deduction with the players trying to land on a location that was part of Dracula’s trail then figure out, based on connected roads, where it is that they have gone to.
If and when the hunters corral Dracula combat takes place between them and the vampire. The combat is an elaborate game of rock/paper/scissors, where there are fangs, claws, mesmerising and several other actions that Dracula can perform, and the hunters involved need to anticipate cards and attempt to counter these. I will say after playing this I treasure a string of garlic even more so.
The game greatly benefits from the digital version streamlining a lot of the rules and allowing the players to focus on the decisions they are going to make rather than having to worry about whether an event card can be played, when a card should be discarded after use, or whether someone has forgotten it is Night time and they cannot move. Layered on top of this handholding are interstitial animations, which are simple but go a long way to providing a flourish to the player’s imagination. For those wanting to sit down to the board game, and have limited understanding of the rules, this digital version is a great introduction for local friends.
That said, there is an onus on players to respect other people’s privacy. There are multiple events that require all the hunters, or just Dracula, to look away from the screen at the information being provided. This can lead to 4 people sitting with their eyes closed while Dracula formulates a plan and places cards. It can also be unclear when exactly who should be looking away and for how long. This a game that is begging for a Jackbox-style device connectivity (or the long-lost Xbox SmartGlass utility) with people able to look at the cards in their hand via a phone or tablet.
Online is functional, but there aren’t any people to play with. I feel like this is an essential feature in the game but getting 5 people to purchase the title is going to be a rewarding challenge. With everyone present and chatting on mic, this is something that I think board game enthusiasts will really sink their teeth into (pun utterly intended) and during these pandemic times feels vital to be able to play with those not able to travel. I would have loved a 60–70-dollar option whereby an invite would allow players to download a free copy and join me, similar to Operation Tango’s solution for this problem.
Sadly, there are points where the digital version of Fury of Dracula lets the players down. The control system can be a little fiddly. It is hard to get both a wider sense of the board using the zoom out feature and simultaneously identify the names of the locations. The red highlight for the onscreen buttons can be easily lost and require inexperienced players to mess around to get to the option they need. On top of that, button assignment is inconsistent, with cards being activated with two presses of the A button in one place, but in combat cards are highlighted then the player must move down to a ‘play’ option to activate.
Altogether, these issues aren’t enough to hinder the experience, and my time with the digital version felt like a perfect primer for spending money on the board game version, eventually.
Fury of Dracula: Digital Edition is a wonderful way to tackle the convoluted board game. It is not without its problems but for anyone that bounced off the real life version, this is the best way for newcomers to play it.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox Series S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.