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[Review] Dracula's Revenge

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tomvasel
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Joined: 03/23/2011

Many people have a fascination with vampires, and Dracula in particular. I must confess that I’m not a huge fan of the “modern” vampire; but the original story of Dracula I find fascinating, if a little morbid. At the same time, I enjoy games such as Hero Quest; and when I heard that Dracula’s Revenge (Green Ronin Publishing, 2004 - Matt Forbeck) was “Gothic Space Hulk”, I was quite interested. When I received the box, I was surprised by how heavy it was and how small it was (about the size of a computer game box). When I opened the game and saw all the components, I was a little concerned, thinking that the game wouldn’t ever fit back in the box. The components seemed to be of top quality, yet I had never heard of the company before; so I was interested in trying it out. (Okay, I’m interested in trying any game out, but a pseudo-miniature game always excites me a little more.)

I enjoyed the game quite a bit, although sadly, the game was only for two players. (Although more can be accommodated, it really doesn’t work that well.) The bits in the game were top notch, while the rulebook was lengthy and interesting - though not the clearest in places. I thought the game ran fairly quickly and had a large dose of luck, but it ran smoothly and efficiently and most importantly had a good scoop of fun involved. It won’t necessarily be the first miniatures-in-a-box game I’ll pull from my shelf (currently, that would be Heroscape), but it’s certainly the only horror game of this genre. It does the theme justice; so it certainly will interest many fans.

Dracula’s Revenge’s theme is that of Dracula and his minions fighting Van Helsing (the one from the novels, not Mr. Jackman) and his friends. Each player chooses whether they will be the vampires or the hunters and sets up one of the scenarios outlined in the book. The board is formed from several interchangeable pieces, forming some type of building composed of a grid of squares. Each player takes the characters for their team that the scenario decrees, receiving a token with a picture of the character on one side, the player’s stats on the other side, and a matching card with the same statistics. The stats listed for the character are a close attack bonus (+0, 1, 2, or 3), a ranged attack bonus (none, or +1,2, or 3), a defense bonus (+0, 1, 2, or 3), action points (6 or 9), and a special ability (crucifix, crossbow, or mesmerize). Icons representing each special ability are also located on the cards to help facilitate game play. Players set their characters up according to the scenario; and the game begins, lasting a set amount of rounds or until one side has been eliminated - whatever the scenario dictates. Characters include stakers, crossbows, priests, and Van Helsing for the hunters and she-wolves, Nosferatu, Vampiresses, and Dracula for the vampires.

Each round has three phases, starting with each player secretly rolling a “reaction” die (a normal six-sided die), keeping it hidden behind a screen they have. This die + 6 = the amount of reaction points they have in a round. The number of reaction points they spend are marked by two dice that are kept in front of the screen. The players then create an “action timeline.” This is done by players, in turn order, placing one of their character cards face down on the table in a row or passing. If both players pass, then play begins, otherwise this continues until all the cards have been placed. Starting with the last card placed, players turn over the cards in order on the timeline, activating the character on the board who matches the card.

The player who controls the activated player can use the action points on the character (six on humans, and nine on vampires) to do things with their character. These include:
- Movement: which allows the character to move orthogonically and turn, costing one point per space.
- Turning without movement: One point.
- Turn to mist or solid (only vampires): Four points
- Open or close doors: One point
- Close attacks: One point
- Ranged attacks: Two points
Players can also add some of their reaction points to their characters total action points, as long as they mark the points spent with their dice (they cannot exceed their total reaction points). Reaction points can also be spent to move characters during other character’s moves (yours or your opponents). This allows players to react to the movement of others by firing at them, etc. Players cannot react twice in a row; but other than that, the rules place no restrictions on reacting. When attacking, a player must be able to strike their opponent: Close combat attacks must be made on one of the three squares directly in front of the character, and ranged combat attacks have a range of six. These attacks must be made in a cone of spaces formed by the character’s line of sight and cannot be made at someone directly adjacent to the shooter. The attacking player rolls a single die and adds the appropriate bonus to it, as does the defender. If the attacker’s total is higher, the defender dies, and they and their card are removed from the game. If the defender’s total is higher, nothing happens, except that the defender gets a free spin to face their attacker.

Some special abilities exist in the game, affecting the characters:
- Mist: In some scenarios, vampires can turn to mist. Their character is removed from the board and replaced with a mist token. Misted vampires cannot be affected or attack anyone else, but can move through doors and other characters.
- Feeding: When a vampire kills a hunter in close combat, they can “feed” off that character, becoming a higher ranking vampire, if possible. (She Wolf --> Nosferatu --> Vampiress)
- Mesmerizing: Some vampires can mesmerize their opponents, which is a ranged attack. Everything is handled in the same way, except that a character with a crucifix gets a +1 defensive bonus. If the attack is successful, the character is replaced by a “minion”, who is now under control of the vampires.
- Crucifix: Besides the bonus vs. mesmerizing, crucifixes add +1 to all close combat attacks and allow the character holding it to possibly “save” a minion by making a successful close combat attack vs. it, removing the minion and restoring the character to the game.

After the character has taken his actions, players continue to add cards to the timeline until another character moves, or until all the cards are played. Once a character uses it’s action points, it can no longer move that round (except with reaction points). After all characters have moved, player’s reveal their reaction die numbers; and play continues until one side has been eliminated or until the goals of the scenario have been met. The player who does so successfully is the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: I had a bit of negative premonition when I first saw the game box with a picture of Dracula’s face showing him directly after feeding on someone. It was pretty gory and made me wonder just how gory the game itself was. However, the artwork in the box, while gothic in nature, was tremendously less gory than the box, paling alongside other games such as Zombies! The boards were fairly bland but didn’t really need much, as they provided a stark background for all the characters to run around in. The cards and player tokens (which were stuck into plastic stands) were made of very, very durable plastic - extremely high quality. The pictures on the cards were nice, and I was glad that they differentiated between characters of the same type (Staker 1, Staker 2, etc.) but wish that the characters had a little bit more differentiating features, such as different colored shirts, or something. Still, the cards were really nice, considering that I had to punch all of them out of frames. The board tiles were fairly thick, each about the size of a CD, and slid into the box fairly snugly. As I mentioned in the beginning, I wondered how I would fit everything back into the small box, seeing how tightly packed it was when I opened it. It turns out; however, that once I punched out all the cards, that everything fit in - tightly, but not too difficult a squeeze. So I was pleased with the size of the box and the amount of game that was included, although I’m not sure I’ll keep the disgusting (to me, at least) cover prominently displayed in my collection.

2.) Rules: The rules, including scenarios, were in a booklet of 32 pages, roughly the same size as a CD booklet with illustrations, examples, and a LOT of flavor text. I wasn’t totally content with the layout of the rules. They had rules in sections and didn’t often refer to each other; so I learned the game piecemeal and had to keep flipping through the book at first. The action card timeline, in particular, wasn’t intuitive (I haven’t run across a mechanic like this in many, if any games) and it took me a game or two before I fully understood it. Still, the game is simple to teach, especially since all the player statistics are printed out on the tokens and cards.

3.) Scenarios: I was a little disappointed that only five scenarios were included with the book, but more are included at the web page online, www.draculasrevenge.com, with player’s submissions welcomed. In the book each character is given a certain point cost, and some guidelines about creating your own scenarios are given; so creative people would be fairly happy about that. Several of the scenarios seem to favor one side or the other; and sometimes if a player plays out of character, they could win by default. For example, in the first scenario, the vampires can win by escaping after four turns. If the vampires run and hide in the back corners of the labyrinth, they can easily win. Yet the scenario specifically seems to indicate that the vampires are guardians of Dracula’s keep. Therefore, it would seem logical that they would attack the hunters, fighting bloodthirstily until the end. This is how I played the game, and it went well; but I could see how a “rules-lawyer” could twist it to their advantage.

4.) Luck: There is certainly not a shortage of luck included with the game. Even with Dracula having a +3 defense bonus, it’s not unlikely that a lowly staker could take out Mr. Vampire himself with a fortunate die roll. I didn’t mind this, because the scenarios were fast, painless, and not very fiddly. There were only a few special abilities, and the one hit = death idea worked very well. Players who despise luck influencing their win would have a hard time with this. Luck plays a part in the reaction dice, also; but because six points are given to each side by default, I didn’t really see this as a big problem (like it was in other games, such as Tenjo). The rules listed a few optional rules that players could do to strategize the game more, but I didn’t really find any of them necessary.

5.) Players: The game is designed for two players, although the rulebook says that three or more can play with each player controlling a group and the whole thing deteriorating into some kind of Gothic free-for-all. This doesn’t really appeal to me, so I’ll just keep it as a two-player game on my shelf for when a friend and I want to play a “dark” miniatures game.

6.) Miniatures and Fun Factor: Some folks don’t like these type of games, but as long as there is a grid of squares, simplistic rules, and nice graphics; I enjoy these type of games. I don’t have to paint them, read a tome of rules, or argue with a munchkin about the exact distance they moved their character. The simplicity of this game may turn off some, but the quick death rate made for a rapid game; and therefore, the game lasted just long enough for us to have fun.

The game isn’t perfect, and pure strategists will most likely despise it. At the same time, it’s a miniatures game about Dracula with some engaging and unique mechanics. Fans of the horror genre will probably dig the game, as well as anyone who likes games along the lines of Space Hulk or Hero Quest. The rules were a little confusing to read but in actuality ran quite smoothly, and it was a lot of fun! It’s an interesting thing to see a primarily role-laying company design a board game, but the back-story and other thematic flavor to the game really shows up in both the rules and game play. If you like short, tactical combat games with a healthy dose of luck and theme, then Dracula’s Revenge is for you.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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