The Fury of Dracula (and he was FURIOUS)

English: A screenshot from Dracula (1958), an ...

English: A screenshot from Dracula (1958), an Hammer Horror production (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve played a few more games of Fury of Dracula since I last spoke of it. You know what? I getting to like it more and more.

Early advice, and games, indicated the best strategy for Dracula was to run, run, run. Many people bemoaned “Fury of Dracula is a bit of a misnomer. Shouldn’t it be The Fleeing of Dracula?” Well, let me just tell you how these couple of games have panned out.

The first was a bad one for me. I was Dracula and the very first card the hunters drew for me was Evasion. This is the big, key, “get out of jail free” card for Dracula. I can teleport to any city on the board… but drawing it first? Useless! I was nicely squirreled away in Eastern Europe and without even a full turn finished yet, that was something the hunters certainly couldn’t have known.

I decided I’d pretend to evade, so if they found my starting city they’d think my trail was broken (but it wasn’t!) Next, the hunters drew Newspaper Reports which reveals the last city on Dracula’s trail. Since all I’d done at this point was faked using Evasion my starting city was revealed. The annoying thing here was Newspaper Reports says that if the card would reveal Dracula’s current location, it doesn’t work. So this would have done nothing for the hunters if only I’d opted to NOT use Evasion!

Map of Eastern Europe as defined by the 2007 T...

Map of Eastern Europe as defined by the 2007 Time Almanac (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other thing here is if I’d decided to bounce to the other side of the board with Evasion – just because I could – Newpaper Reports would have revealed exactly nothing about my whereabouts. My brother correctly surmised I probably didn’t go far from my starting location so turned to Eastern Europe to corner me. Well, long story short, he was sharing my city on practically the next turn. It was ridiculously uncanny that he guessed that I’d faked Evasion and which city I’d ended up in. So we fought during day time, and I lost a huge chunk of health before slipping away.

By then, though, they were hot on my tail and I was hurt. I probably could have made it to a port, slipped out to sea and gave them a merry chase for 2 hrs but there was really no point. They would have got me in the end. There was no opportunity to drop a New Vampire and I couldn’t survive for 6 days and nights to secure victory. So after just 20 mins, I conceded.

We jumped straight into another game, since that one went so quickly. This one went far more normally. It went for 2 hrs and I had decided to start in Ireland. It was a game of “double-think.” You see, Ireland only has two cities, so after two moves I’d have to take to sea (which they’d see.) However! I had correctly surmised that they’d know, that I know that… and therefore would assume I’d be anywhere BUT Ireland, pretending to be in Ireland. Unfortunately for me they drew a card early on that let them check any city on the board. They just checked one of the Irish cities (just to be sure) and confirmed I had, in fact, just boarded a ship from Belfast.

Well, after that I dropped on Mina who was looking for me in London, and I successfully bit her. This gave me two points. That same turn a vampire I’d left to mature in Belfast matured (just a turn before Val Helsing would have arrived to stop it.) That gave me 4 out of 6 points.

Meanwhile I’d taken to sea and fled to Spain. My opponents calculated I could have disembarked at any one of up to 13 cities… but it’s really quite amazing how quickly they can work you out with a process of elimination.

I had considered circling around the UK and landing back in London, but they seemed poised for that move. So, as I said, I fled to Spain and Portugal figuring that while the most obvious move, with all the other options on the table they couldn’t possibly cover all their bases.

English: Map of Spain

English: Map of Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was right. They decided they simply couldn’t check the UK, so abandoned it. (CURSES!) Then made a bee-line for Spain, as the most likely drop-off point (clearing up other possibilities on the way to eliminate them.) Not long after I landed the next day dawned and gave me 5 out of 6 points. I only had to make it until the next dawn to get my final point.

Well they had me cornered at one point, so I used Wolf Form to slip past … but they guessed what I was doing and then proceeded to surmise the city I’d skipped to. My brother’s ability to predict my moves is ridiculous. At the time they worked out my Wolf Form trick AND which city I’d run to, they actually hadn’t seen any of my trail since London. Simply through a process of elimination and guess work they more-or-less knew where I was. We fought in Bordeux and I bit him. Unlike Mina, this doesn’t kill my opponent outright – but it does let me fly up to two cities away (even though they’d tried to play garlic to keep me in place.) The two city headstart was all I needed to finish off the day and win. Scarily enough, a second hunter could have entered Bordeux the same night, so if I hadn’t successfully bitten him, I would have had to survive battle with him for 3 more rounds then faced a second (who I believe was packing garlic too.) Even with such a tremendous start I still could have lost it there.

We have played once more since then. In that game my brother bit Mina twice and survived 2 days to win the game. The amusing thing is that I had coaxed my fellow hunter to move into Paris then out of the blue said: “Well I’ve been keeping this to myself, but I suspect Dracula is actually hanging out in Spain. Why don’t you catch one of these fast Paris trains down there and surprised him?” Mina did and amazingly dropped right into the town Dracula was in. (That’s how she got bitten the first time.) So it seems a brother’s uncanny ability to guess cities cuts both ways.

The other take-away after those two games is that Mina is a real weak point for the hunters. We knew she would be, but so far it seems like the strongest Dracula move to play is to try and bite Mina on the first night, and even possibly on every night. Everyone else had recommended fleeing and trying to mature vampires but we’ve found it impossible to shake the hunters once they pick up the trail, and they always do on the first day or night (and if not, it’s the first thing they do with the Resolve they get on the start of the second day.)

Good times!

I’m going to see if I can supervise a game at a Halloween party this weekend. Let’s see how it goes, shall we?

Cylon Fleet Board Fails Me Again

Ugh. I don’t get it. Everyone seems to LUUURV the Cylon Fleet Board (CFB) that came with Exodus, and are so-so with the rest of the expansion. I quite like the rest of the expansion, but the CFB just sucks, sucks, sucks.

It fails on multiple levels:

1. It’s not as thematic. In some ways, it’s ok. It is “pursuing” the humans. But! It is entirely possible for the human fleet to “jump away”, only to have the Cylon Fleet arrive the very next action. Of course – this happens with the Cyclon Attack Cards (CAC) as well, but the silly thing about the CFB is you can SEE it is about to jump in, so the correct Human response – IS TO TRY AND DELAY JUMPING. Their best bet is to let it jump in, then instantly jump away. It’s stupid.

2. It encourages enormous amounts of “gaming the system.” Board games can only capture the theme so far. Afterall, as Anders I used my Longshot ability to make a Cylon raider blow up a viper. How does that work, exactly? But, come on! When I get to pick the destination, and it includes a basestar – shouldn’t I be saying “Whoa! Do I really want to tangle with a basestar right at the start of the jump cycle?” rather than: “You little beauty! A basestar! Now the CFB doesn’t work at all!” It was just gravy that it was a crippled basestar without a hanger:

If you don’t realise it: that means the only cylon activation icon that does ANYTHING AT ALL, is “basestars fire missiles.”

Not an isolated incident, either. Earlier in the game we had this fun scenario:

3. It makes life easier for the humans. This is yet another statement I’ll happily admit is NOT corroborated by the forums, but in my experience the CFB makes things much easier for the humans. Our group needs that, but the other annoying issues ends up turning us away. Not only is it reasonably easy to game the board, but when you see the fleet is inevitably going to arrive, the humans are ready. The ridiculous ability of vipers to escort civilian ships off the board (combined with civilian ships appearing on the board before the fleet arrives) means with a quick Executive Order (XO), the CAG can clean up most of the civvies. Next, the fleet arrives (to chase a measly 1 or 2 well-placed civvies) so the humans instantly nuke it (with Strategic Planning that’s nearly 40% chance of wiping the vast majority of the fleet away) or use some other tool at their disposal (e.g. Best of the Best to simply roll a dice, and destroy that may Raiders. Better than a nuke, sometimes!)

Meanwhile, with CACs, you can never be entirely sure when a good time to nuke, or use Best of the Best will be. You could blow up ships, only to have new ones jump back in at any time. If a lame attack occurs, and the humans aren’t worried about it, a new attack could fall on them at any moment. They have to be constantly thinking about the space area. With the CFB, the humans certainly have to pay it some attention, but it mostly just to game it, to make sure it’s not going to be a problem.

I admit – it CAN be a problem, despite the gaming of the system. If the humans get stretched too thin, a CFB attack could be just what sends them over the edge. OR, even better, is if a cylon can bring the fleet in, but that rarely happens.

You make me sad, CFB, and I will miss the CAG title and Viper mark VIIs… but you are being packed up and not used again.

This! Is! Spartacus!

So let’s talk Spartacus.

I’ve had the chance to play it twice over the weekend – one a “quick” game, and the other a “standard” length game… there was certainly nothing quick about either length. There seems to be some mechanics I’m a little dubious about, but all in all we all had a lot of fun, and it is really quite a good game.

I actually walked away from the table feeling like I had to compare it to Game of Thrones (GoT), but perhaps that is just due to the length. As I have said before , GoT always takes my group over 6 hours to complete. Spartacus’s “quick” game (which, in our defense, was our first) took somewhere around 4 hours, and the standard around 5 or 6.

The big difference between Spartacus and GoT, though, was with Spartacus I walked away not regretting those hours.

So let’s look at Spartacus in some depth.

The game is designed to allow plenty of back stabbing and betrayal, but like GoT I didn’t really find that was the case. I maintain that for there to be any meaningful betrayal you need to believe the betrayer is on your side – until the sudden but inevitable, of course. In both GoT and Spartacus there can only be one victor, so you can only ever secure one-shot agreements. It’s more like trade. “If you attack him, in return I’ll attack her.” Or, “If you don’t attack me, I’ll split the tie in your favour.” It might be phrased differently, but essentially it boils down to one-shot deals, rather than a lasting relationship.

Spartacus really handles the whole thing a lot better, thematically and mechanically. The game is more about striking deals, bribing, and extorting than it is striking alliances (which doesn’t work.)

So the way the game works is this:

First you have a basic Upkeep phase. Flip cards up, heal gladiators, that sort of thing. The main thing here is that you get 1 gold per slave, and pay 1 gold per gladiator. So get enough slaves, and you have an income. Have too many Gladiators, and you end up having to pay an upkeep cost. You’d think getting together a tidy economy here would be key to the game, but as I’ll explain shortly – that’s not really the case.

Next up is the Intrigue phase. This is the only point in the game where simultaneous turns don’t occur and as such it slows things down a little. It’s not too bad, though, because the intrigue cards and abilities tend to be fairly simplistic. This is the main place I have some mechanical concerns though. The general idea is you draw 3 intrigue cards, then play them or keep them for later. They might increase your influence (the “points” you need to win), lower someone else’s, give you money, or otherwise harm another player (i.e. poison a gladiator, or free a slave.)

Next is the Market phase. This allows you to trade things with other players (like gladiators, weapons, slaves, or guard) but more importantly an auction takes place. This is where most new items are added to the board (slaves, gladiators, etc.) The auction is a fairly classic blind-auction. You put gold into your fist, and when everyone is ready, you open your palm and whoever bid the highest gets the item. Every round one of the items up for auction is the “host” token, which allows you to host the gladiatorial battle.

Lastly is the Arena phase. In this phase the host invites two players (potentially himself) to send gladiators to fight in the arena. It’s a fun combat system and the way it ties into all the other phases of the game is pretty clever.

So. The concerns.

It more or less ties to the Intrigue phase seemingly overshadowing all other phases. For example, if you get really good, late in the game, you might have an income from your slaves of 6 gold. More likely it’ll be closer to breaking even, or 2 or 3 gold.

In the Intrigue phase, you regularly get cards that just flat-out give you money. Looting the Dead gives 3 gold, just like that. Joint Venture gives 7 (admittedly you have to cajole another player to help you, and that usually means splitting the gold.) So it is pretty easy for the money you make in the Intrigue phase to vastly over-shadow the money from the other phases.

The same goes for influence. Being the host of the Arena phase gives 1 influence. Winning the gladiatorial battle gives you another. So potentially you can get 2 influence in a turn. Or… in the influence phase you might just pick up a card that gives you 2 influence. Or even 2 cards that give 1 influence each. Which means you could easily get between 0 and get 3 influence just like that. It’s all pretty easy to do – it’s not uncommon for someone who is well behind on influence to suddenly shoot up 3 influence in the intrigue phase.

It all evens out in the end: People will also reduce your influence on their turns, most likely, and you can go several turns without getting any influence cards. Ah, but the rub is this:

Your treasury and influence fluctuates wildly in the Intrigue phase. Sometimes not moving, sometimes going backwards, sometimes shooting up. Long-term, it evens out, but it does seem to over-shadow the more reliable Upkeep and Arena phases and more importantly: it’s completely luck-based. If you draw cards with +influence, then good on you. If not – too bad. You certainly have some control – many times you’ll find you need to turn on the charm to get someone to help you play a scheme for influence or gold, or you might need to pull a tricky move with a combination of cards and abilities, but for the most part someone will simply say: “oh – I drew two Loot the Dead 6 gold for me!”

After the first game, I realised that Spartacus can suffer from “bash the leader.” As soon as someone gets to 10 or 11 influence (12 needed for the win) you can expect everyone to start targeting you. I later realised this was the point of guards – discard one and you have a 50% chance of foiling schemes targeting you. That means if you can get a nice stock pile of guards, you become largely immune to last-minute attempts to bash your influence off 12.

So how do you get guards? … You draw them randomly from the Intrigue deck. My brother ran into a problem of several +influence cards early in the game, and not enough guards. This made him an easy target. You can buy guards off other players, but his fortunes with treasure was largely prone to the whims of the intrigue phase as well.

Having said all this, I did say I was only “a little dubious.” You see, most of these mechanics you have at least some control over. If you’re not getting guards, presumably you’re getting influence or gold cards instead. You can use the gold to buy guards from other players (at no doubt an inflated price, but still it’s possible) and if you get a glut of influence, it’s usually possible to cycle cards for ones that won’t make you a big target (or you can keep them in your hand for later.)

The problem is if someone gets a good balance of gold, influence and guards from the intrigue deck they have a significant advantage over everyone else in all stages of the game. I don’t really like Euro games’ complete eschewing of randomness, but being largely dictated by it is no good either.

Spartacus treads mighty close to the line that differentiates between a luck-based game, and a strategic one.

Also, it takes a really long time.  Yes, the “quick” game is faster, but having tried both, standard is much better balanced. It was obvious that the mechanics are designed around this sort of game… but it requires a lot of work to keep the game running quickly. For my group it will be pulled out again, for sure, but we will have to be ready to commit an afternoon and evening to it.

Some Many Games, So Little Time

I picked up 4 games this weekend. Well – ordered – most haven’t arrived yet.

Space Alert: The Final Frontier. I already really like Space Alert, and I couldn’t really imagine an expansion being worth the money… but I’d heard SO MANY GOOD THINGS. Too many good things. It was sold out ages ago. So imagine my surprise, when stumbling around the boardgamegeek boards I saw a reference to a little Australia store that happened to have 1 in stock! Well, I wasn’t about to take any chances, so I ordered it.

Battlestar Galactica: Daybreak. I have talked about BSG and it’s expansions quite a bit. It would have doubled the cost for me to order this box from the US (due to shipping costs) so I waited until one of our Australian stores got it in. I was fairly impressed – I was expecting a longer turn around, or higher price, but those guys get it in in bulk, I guess, and mitigate the shipping costs. If you want the game the moment it is released, it’s still a tough wait, but a few weeks to get it in store isn’t too bad. I can’t wait until it arrives.

Spartacus: Thanks to the ever-popular Dice Tower, I watched this review and immediately went hunting for a copy. The game itself was easy to find, but the expansion seems to be completely sold out. I guess that’s probably a good thing until I know for sure I love it. Also… I’ve never watched the show, and now want to. I may or may not have gone and grabbed the first series…

Fury of Dracula: I’m a huge fan of Fantasy Flight Games, of course, and this game looks to simply ooze awesome theme. Unfortunately, it looks like basically a co-op game – which I’ve talked about before except instead of being against the board mechanics, the four hunters are against another player – Dracula. So the hunters are going to play by committee – but in this case I think it is at least a little mitigated by needing to out-think Dracula.

The thing about Fury of Dracula is that it has been out of print since 2009 (I think?) and for those who like it… well, they already have it. And those that don’t like it, traded it away long ago.

If you dig you can find a few copies floating around, but nothing I could get here in Australia… until, this weekend, while at a Fete, I wandered past a little comic store. I decided to pop in. They had a small selection of board games and lo! Behold! Fury of Dracula. Due to it’s dubious co-op mechanics, and the fact it was basically impossible to get I had given up on it. I didn’t let the opportunity pass,though, and picked it up. I just need to get my mates around for a game, now.

What do you all think of these games? I haven’t really had a chance to play any of them. Are they all as good as I’ve heard?

Getting My A-Wing On

My newest addition, an A-Wing and TIE Advanced (for those not in the know, this is Darth Vader’s boat in A New Hope.)

So now I have quite good variety in my forces. I can’t quite do a “spam” of TIE Fighters yet (they’re still as rare as hen’s teeth, and I can’t get my hands on any) but I can do a nice mix of Rebel fighters and, as my brother proved, drop a sizable fleet of mixed TIE’s for them to shoot at.

So my brother and I had two battles. I played as rebels first, and imperials second. Neither went too well for me but it was nice to get so many mini’s out on the table.

Rebels – yay! Empire – boo!

First up I went with a mix of Rebel ships and flew them in tight formation. My idea was to use the abilities of pilots like Biggs and Dutch that give allies within range 1-2 advantages. The biggest problem I found with doing this was the Y-Wing really slowed the A-Wing and X-Wing down… also the imps had WAY MORE GUNS! The extra skill of my pilots was largely off-set by “swarm” tactics that elevates pilot skill and Darth Vader’s ability to give low-ranking pilots an extra action… that was all on top of the fact that Soontir Fel and Darth Vader have better skill than most Rebel pilots anyway. So the only advantage I had was in my pilot’s special abilities, and they just don’t cut it against nearly 2:1 odds.

The biggest problem my brother had was his own ships. This is why you should fly in formation, boys.

The A-Wing is pretty damn hard to hit, so it survived until the end, but we hardly made a dent in the TIEs. I tried to get them with an Assault missile – I had the perfect opportunity to damage every single ship in one shot, but the force was not with me.

On the other hand…

The next game I wanted to see how Darth and two TIEs would go. Wanting to have a fairly elite squad, I opted for two TIE Interceptors to assist Darth.  I even gave Darth an engine upgrade so he could boost with the INTs and they could stay nicely in formation – hopefully for the whole battle. My Brother also had 3 ships – an A-Wing flanked by 2 X-Wings.

My brother’s formation fell apart almost immediately, and I was able to get my squad looping around and behind him… unfortunately a couple mistakes (such as not correctly understanding how “turning while keeping formation” works) meant my formation broke down. As my ships broke off to engage individuals, I made a grievous error with Darth and he (effectively) lost two turns crashed into an asteroid. (NB: I think a lot of people play this rule incorrectly. If you hit an obstacle, and the front guides are not fully through the asteroid, when you move, the maneuver template will overlap the asteroid for the second turn. That means if you end up largely in the MIDDLE of an asteroid, as Darth did in my game, you have to roll for damage two turns in a row, and you get no actions two turns in a row. Particularly for Darth Vader who gets 2 actions a turn… that’s painful.)

There was a dramatic turn where 3 ships blew up. The below two images shows the before and after.

So there I was. One on One. Interceptor vs A-Wing. They’re very similiar, the two ships, but my brother’s A-Wing had an unbeatable combination of higher pilot skill, and “Push the Limit.” This meant that no matter what maneuver’s we picked, he could correct by boosting twice to ensure that he was out of my arc, or get me into his. It was a little ridiculous actually.

Truth is, though, if I hadn’t driven Darth into an asteroid for two turns, there is very little chance he could have avoided those two in combination. Oh well. Next time, I guess.

City of Horror in Action

Another game I got to pull out last weekend was City of Horror. This is really a great game. The basic idea is this:

There has been a zombie apocalypse. A bunch of survivors are holed up in a section of the city, waiting for a rescue helicopter that will arrive in 4 hours. The zombies are coming. You control 3 or 4 of the survivors. You need to collect an antidote for each one of your survivors, and then have the most points by the time the helicopter arrives.

Meanwhile, the zombies are coming and there is basically no way to stop them from eating someone … the question is simply – who? For that, the players must argue, negotiate, swindle, form voting blocs, secure power, bribe and generally do anything possible to make sure it’s not their character’s corpse slowing the zombies down one more hour. The few items that the survivors have cobbled together – guns with precious few bullets, cans of food, the antidotes, molotov cocktails, flares, they can be used to try and stave off the inevitable, or used in the negotiations…

I really like the look of this game. It starts like this:


and ends like this:

IMG_3156 IMG_3157

To really appreciate it, though, you should see it in action. You just can’t explain the way the desperate negotiating works without an example. We recorded most of our game, and I have edited together the best bits for your viewing pleasure! Captions and Annotations are your friend!

Weekend Games – X-Wing again!

I quite like X-Wing Miniatures, but really I’m just trying to get my money’s worth out of them.

I had a couple of games with my brother again. We take a novel approach to force-building. First we randomly pick a side, and build a 100-pt force for that team. Then, we randomly pick which team we play… so you only have a 50-50 chance of actually playing the side you built. This works pretty well because you have to take a fairly serious approach to building the force, as you might end up with it … but at the same time you can afford to play around a bit, because you’ve only got a 50-50 chance of having to play with your own crap.

So I built the Rebel Alliance and I decided what would be cool would be Luke Skywalker in an X-Wing, then Han Solo and Chewie in the Millenium Falcon. I built Luke quite defensively, and Han quite offensively both had maximum bells and whistles.

Meanwhile, Scott had decided it would be cool to load Boba Fett in Slave I up with pretty much every expendable item available – homing missiles, proton torpedoes, proximity mines, you name it. For escort he had two fairly blank TIE fighters – Dark Curse and “Black Squadran Pilot.”

My tactic was to try and keep Boba Fett at range so he could use all the missiles and bits and bobs Scott had saddled him with, and use the two TIE fighters as bait. So I swung a path through the asteroid field that took me generally away from Han and Luke. I had planned to drop a mine somewhere there in the hope they’d fly into it when trying to follow me, but I totally forgot.

The bait worked well enough. The no-name TIE fighter came under heavy fire and was all but destroyed… when, on 1 hp, he pulled off an amazing 3 evades vs 3 hits that kept him alive one crucial round longer.

He used that turn to pull out of range, and Dark Curse became the target of choice. Meanwhile, Boba Fett had looped around and started to unload missiles and heavy cannon fire.

Luke was the first to blow up due mostly to Boba Fett’s fire, but Dark Curse got in some key hits as well. In fact, Luke was having so much bad luck I’m not at all convinced the force was with him one little bit.

Shortly afterwards 1-hp “Black Squadron Pilot” came back into range and Han finished him off. We were 1 loss for 1. Great odds for the empire.

As the fight drew on, I spent several turns hot on Han’s tail, shooting him with my primary weapon. I had him locked, but was saving it for a proton torpedeo – if he ever pulled away that is! Dark Curse had over-shot the Millenium Falcon and was weaving back and forth in front of him slowing him down a lot. In fact, things got REALLY tight there between Dark Curse and Han several times.


Eventually Boba Fett over-shot Han and dropped his proximity mine, but Han utilised a house rule to pull away and both free himself from Dark Curse and dodge the mine. (The house rule is that ships can spend one turn outside the bounds of the board, so long as they are fully within the bounds of the board at the end of the next turn.)

With some breathing room Boba Fett did a Koiogran turn which put him out of range but the up-side was that he’d soon be able to fire the proton torpedeo. Han, meanwhile, was able to dispatch Dark Curse with that same breathing room.

Things were pretty even with Dark Curse gone, but in the same turn Han dispatched the final TIE, Boba Fett fired the proton torpedo, and it did tons of damage to the Falcon. Due to the sustained damage, and that final hit, Han ended up having something like 4 damaged components. His agility had been reduced to 0, he couldn’t do any red manoeuvres without risking damaging his ship further, his console was on fire (potentially adding 1 more damage each turn until the fire was extinguished) and he’d been nailed with a direct hit which counts as 2 damage.

Slave I and the Millenium Falcon passed each other head on. Han shot with his 360-degree turret, but although it brought Boba Fett’s shields down, it did no damage. Boba returned fire with his rear-firing gun, and blew Han Solo away. Empire wins!