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Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition Review

The original Fury of Dracula was a seminal game of my childhood. Whisked off the shelf as a curio on a trip to get some gaming miniatures, it quickly became a staple. Van Helsing and his pupils spent hours sweeping Europe, seeking for the Count. Instead they often found feral wolves and savage gypsies as the vampire secretly spun his wicked web of intrigue across the continent.

That copy is tattered now, worn down by love. The chits are soft at the edges, the box battered and the figure of Dr. Seward snapped off at the knees. He still struggled manfully after his quarry, those paired feet creeping into my adult years like the memory of childhood sins. Yet a little of the magic had gone. The game could be frustratingly random, and it needed an aggressive Dracula player to make it work.

A second edition fixed those problems at the cost of bloated rules and play time. It wasn’t a worthy trade off. Worse, the balance had shifted toward the hunters. Dracula was constrained by bizarre rules that made it hard for him to double back on himself, so the hunters had an easier time to box him in. He didn’t seem much of a Prince of Darkness when he couldn’t even cross his own trail to escape.

Here, now, is a third edition. The box cover might a laughable vampire Liberace but I had such hopes for the contents. Somewhere in the fog between the those two flawed editions was an incredible game. A game that smoothly wove deduction and strategy with thrills and theme. I knew that game existed, but I wasn’t sure there was a designer on the planet who could tease it out.

Inside the box, disappointment. There was still a location deck. There was still a six-card trail. Yet promise gleamed at the bottom of the card stack in the form of special power cards. There are several ways now for the Count to confuse his pursuers by moving twice or not moving at all. The best is Misdirect, a new card that not only lets Dracula double back but removes a link in the trail. Many unsuspecting hunters can stumble in the resulting hole in the chain of clues.

This is just the start. It seems that the developers thought the best way to get the best of both previous editions was to re-arm Dracula. Not with greater strength or fangs but with the powers of lies and obfuscation. At each place he visits, Dracula can place an encounter. Some of these are there to hurt the hunters but others exist to thwart or bamboozle them. They can lose turns, get moved away, prevented from searching the town for vampires. One, if allowed to “mature” by spending six turns on the board, even clears out half the card trail, leaving the hunters chasing after ghosts.

I would never have thought that adding misinformation was the way forward for this game. But it works. It works brilliantly. The hunters are grasping at endless tendrils of data with a variety of tools and cards to help them get more. Everything they need is there, but piecing it together demands method and skill. So much so that having one player run all four hunters can be too much to handle, remembering who found what, where. The Count meanwhile is doing everything in his diabolical power to muddy the waters.

Combat has had a major overhaul. Hunters now only fight vampires and Dracula himself. This allows the combat system to be boiled down to simple icon matching with a few special effects. It’s crude but effective, allowing a balance of luck, bluff and skill without slowing down the game. Facing a vampire at night is a stream of hot terror, cards flashing past and damage accumulating at lightning speed.

Dracula felt too weak in the previous edition. Initially, it felt like he’d gone too far the other way in this one. With his newfound combat prowess and slippery box of tricks he ruled our first games like the dark prince he ought to be. It seemed unbalanced, frustrating for the hunters. But it’s a testament to the skill of this design that we wanted to keep searching. Not just for Dracula, but for a way to beat him.

When we found some, it revealed yet more layers of excellence to the game. Dracula can coast against unskilled hunters. They, in turn, have the harder time of it, and never get an easy win. They have to learn to behave like pawns in a chess game. As a group, they can triumph, but only by making individual sacrifices when needed.

When they learn this, games become agonisingly tight. By the end Dracula will have been lost and found repeatedly and Europe will be awash in the blood of hunters. Although the focus seems to have moved away from action to deduction, this edition might actually be the most brutal of the three.

The production evokes a fine sense of gothic grandeur. Yet the real period feel comes from the way that the mechanics evoke the characters of hunters and Dracula alike. The former are puritans, calculating efficiencies, working through probabilities, forming plans to ensnare their quarry. The latter is the very devil. A terrible, charismatic liar who must use all their powers of cunning, bluff and misdirection to put his pursuers off the scent.

This version of the Fury of Dracula is a triumph. It’s become something greater than the sum of its previous editions. Where one was short and the other long, this walks a satisfying line between. Where one was cast as a hunt and the other a chase this can be both. Where one was seen as a combat game and the other a deduction title this can be both. And as the game captures your imagination like the mesmeric eye of the vampire, you can be sure of enough repeat plays to see it in every one of its many guises.

DungeonQuest Revised Edition Review


DungeonQuest is one of my all-time favourite titles. A fantasy adventure game in which your hero isn’t heroic, but pathetically grateful to escape the nightmarish dungeon alive with a mere handful of gold coins. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s fast, funny and frantic for all that it lacks much in the way of strategy.

So I was thrilled when Fantasy Flight got the licence for a reprint, and sad when it looked like they’d botched it. The expansions to the original game were full of tiny niggles. Like new characters with mismatched power levels and a tedious catacomb under the main dungeon that was largely empty. They had the opportunity to create a definitive version of a classic, and in most respects, perhaps they did. It’s just that no-one cared because they replaced the simple, speedy combat with a deeper but slower system that felt out of place in such a fast, chaotic game.

Now they’re back again with this Revised Edition. The good news is that they learned from their mistakes. The combat system has reverted to type, and the rulebook slimmed down to just six pages, which is all the game needs. The better news is that in terms of all the other changes, they nailed it. This is the nearest thing to a definitive version of this classic.

There’s almost nothing to DungeonQuest. Players create a dungeon as they play by drawing tiles, and then cards to see what’s in the rooms they uncover. The variety is massive, so there’s a thrilling sense of probing the unknown. What’s revealed is almost always pain, death and destruction.

Some rooms can kill you if you fail an attribute test, just like that. Some potions are literally kill or cure depending on the result of a die roll. Some monsters are nigh-on impossible to defeat. All this can happen to you on the very first turn on the game. This isn’t a game for anyone that wants meaningful decision making. It is a game for anyone that wants to be entertained with meaningless carnage.

It works because it’s fast and simple, yet clothes the bare bones mechanics with as much narrative flesh as possible. Games last a maximum of an hour, and are often much shorter as hero after hero succumbs to the terrors of the dungeon. They can start again, if they dare. Or sit out the remainder as a spectator sport. Or perhaps take on the role of a monster using a neat variant from FFG’s previous edition, not included here.

Anyone who makes it to the central dungeon chamber randomly draws cards again to see if they avoid waking the slumbering dragon. If they’re not barbecued, there’s another draw to see what treasure they find. In a great addition to the basic formula, the treasure deck now includes magic items alongside gold. So you can gain things like a magic carpet to fly over bottomless pits, or a quicksilver potion for bonus turns.

That’s right. Even if you make it to the middle, you still have to make back to the entrance alive. Otherwise your haul doesn’t count.


Almost everything else that FFG have done improves on the original Games Workshop edition. The cartoon art has been replaced with something darker and better quality. The annoying, un-shuffle-able geometric card decks are now a uniform rectangle. There are useful icons all over the place. The best dungeons tiles and cards from the old catacombs expansion have made it across. And the previously empty catacombs are now filled with thrilling encounters.

It’s not all there, however. Veterans will miss the amusement value of amulets. These were potentially lethal magic items with secret trigger conditions that were held by the player adjacent to the finder. The snotlings have gone, as have the vampire and the giant spider. Small omissions: but in a game that relies so much on variety, their absence is still felt.

One thing that has seen substantial change is the character selection. Like everything else in the revised edition, they’ve been given a Terrinoth makeover. But the alterations are not just cosmetic. The original had bland knights and adventurers. Its “heroes” expansion was full of confusing and unbalanced additions. But these new characters all have special abilities that are fun to use.

There is one unfortunate outlier: Tatianna, who is so under-powered that you wonder if she was playtested at all. But that still leaves you enough characters for a full game complement.

At first glance the game looks a bit softer too. Attribute tests are now made on the graceful probability curve of two six sided dice instead of the blunt twelve-sider of the original. If you fail one, you get a determination token which you can spend for a bonus on the next. The game sometimes offers long-suffering heroes a bit of extra time with a randomly determined end turn. In practice it’s just as brutal as ever it was. Two dice and the promise of a token won’t help if you fail a bottomless pit test on the opening turn.

Fans of the original Games Workshop version won’t find enough reasons here to upgrade. Indeed some seem to be vocal critical of the changes. I think that this Revised Edition is the best edition of this classic we’ve yet seen. And whatever your opinion is, you should be glad something so much fun is back in print, regardless of minor quibbles.

Cracked LCD- Warhammer Quest IOS in Review

Warhammer Quest shot 1I’m not the one to ask if Rodeo Games’ Warhammer Quest adequately simulates or replicates the out-of-print and outrageously expensive board game upon which the app is based. Confessional, I never got a chance to play it. By the time I had caught up with wanting to play the widely beloved and venerated dungeoncrawl- regarded by many to be the best of the genre- it was already priced out of my willing-to-spend range and most of my owning friends had moved on to other games. But I also wouldn’t be able to tell you because Rodeo Games willfully back-ended all of the board gamey stuff and turned out a video game based on a board game, most definitely not a “port”. Thankfully, that means there are no silly animations of clattering dice or digital card decks flippity-flapping around. But that also means that the game is often maddeningly opaque and mechanically obscure.

The good news, however, is that Warhammer Quest is an awesome board game-influenced video game. It’s also a perfect fit for the iPad or iPhone because it isn’t nearly as hardcore as you may be inclined to think it is. A dungeon-delve is a ten minute affair, tops. It’s easy to jump in, slaughter some Snotlings, and then go back to your day job. It’s also tremendously addictive. Looking at my save game file, I’ve put in 12 hours toward the game in a week, and that’s about 12 times what you might spend with lesser apps. Heck, it’s twice as long as I spent with Bioshock: Infinite.

It’s compellingly uncluttered, straightforward, and it never bogs down like even the best turn-based strategy games often do. Although some of the finer mechanical details are shuffled away behind a curtain of accessibility and immediacy, it remains a simple game about moving warriors in a dungeon and attacking bad guys. As a reward, you might get a new piece of equipment or money to spend in one of the towns dotting an overworld map. The dungeons themselves are simplistic and even repetitive, although there are also narrative events that occasionally happen in both the dungeons and towns that add some much-needed world-building and story.

It starts off fairly easy, even on the harder difficulty settings, and you may think your warriors are overpowered. But give it time, and suddenly you’ll realize that the game was just saving up for you to hit level three or four. This is primo hack-and-slash, with your team often facing random appearances of ten or eleven enemies at once. It’s totally badass, in classic Warhammer style, to watch your Archmage just melt a room full of guys with Arcane Unforgiving or to see your Trollslayer Deathblow every enemy he’s adjacent to. But get cocky and rush into a room when your Mage has a low Winds of Magic draw or when your Warrior Priest’s prayers are weak, and you might find your guys downed or dead. There is a permadeath option if you want to ramp up the sense of risk.

What strikes me the most about Warhammer Quest, which is itself a very influential game in the lineage that extends from Magic Realm to Heroquest to Descent, is how well it acquits itself as both a video game and as an example of the best qualities of a tabletop dungeoncrawl. It never denigrates into the kind of tactical number-crunching that a game of Descent always seems to, and it’s much less niche (or abusive) as a typical Roguelike. It’s like this kind of twilight zone game, existing between tabletop and video game, but definitely skewing toward the latter.

That said, it’s a shame that Rodeo seems so hell-bent on hiding the more board gamey parts. There should have been an option to see the die rolls, target numbers, and effects. I still have no idea what actually triggers a random event or what determines when a Deathblow occurs. I have no idea if the enemies operate on an AI or if they are on a triage system that would likely be in the GM-less board game version. There should be an option to bring all of these elements to the forward for those who want to know why things are happening.

But in a video game, you usually don’t care about things like that and so I don’t find myself complaining too much about it, in the long run. 12 hours invested into the game indicates that it doesn’t bother me that much. So here again, it totally works as a video game- not just as a port of a popular game. That’s pretty important, I think, to the success of the app.

By now, 781 words into the review, I’m sure you’re asking yourself “when is Barnes going to mention the IAPs”. Here it is. The base game is $4.99. You can buy two additional characters at $2.99 a piece and an additional campaign area that also adds Skaven for $4.99. This parceling out of content is a huge mistake because each constituent piece is, by App Store standards and not in comparison to AAA video games, overpriced. None of the IAP is really essential, but anyone that plays and enjoys this game- which I think is going to be just about anyone with the wherewithal to download it- is going to want the additional content. And the game definitely has hooks to get you interested- that awesome armor you just found? Oh yeah, only the Archmage can use it.

Rodeo should have had the confidence to either reduce the base game to 99 cents, reduce the IAPs to 99 cents, or to sell the IAPs as a bundle for a discount. As it stands, I recommend you view your purchase of Warhammer Quest as a $20 one, not a $5. I’m not saying that you won’t have hours of fun at the $5 price, but you will be missing some neat things that are worthwhile, including the ability to field a more dynamic and varied team and additional enemies.

Finally, to address a common complaint, rotating the screen to see the inventory menu is great. It’s unobtrusive and it leverages a feature of the iDevice not commonly used for this kind of purpose. But there again, Rodeo should have given players an option to do so with an on-screen button. There are a lot of minor oversights like that throughout the app. For example, I can’t stand that there is no comparison of new versus old equipment and there are a couple of areas where the UI could be improved- but there’s nothing that’s an unfixable deal-breaker, and nothing that ultimately sullies an otherwise terrific game.

Cracked LCD- Relic in Review


The answer to your first question about Fantasy Flight’s Relic is “yes, this game is pretty much a mildly redeveloped Talisman with Warhammer 40k illustrations and text”. The answer to your second is “Yes, in some ways it’s actually better than Talisman but not quite as expansive so both are worth having on your shelf.” Thirdly, “No, it’s not any shorter so expect to spend at least three or four hours flipping cards, rolling dice at them, groaning, and laughing.”

If you’re already a Talisman or Warhammer 40k fan, that’s probably all the review you’re going to need to validate a $60 purchase but there are some important details that are worth mentioning. First off, this whole, bloody and really quite beautiful production has been overseen by John Goodenough, the FFG company man also responsible for bringing Robert Harris’ classic adventure game design into its fourth and current edition with a few respectful and now indispensible tweaks. I think he was the right man for both jobs. He gets it. “It” being what has kept the Talisman name in the minds of fun-first gamers for decades.

I won’t bore the seasoned reader with describing how the Talisman engine driving Relic works. If you’re not familiar, it’s a very long and rather capricious roll-and-move adventure game. If that doesn’t drive you away, the short version is that it’s a super-light RPG where the goal is to maneuver your way through three tiers of locations to get to a central objective while you gain levels, equipment, allies, and other helpful abilities along the way.

Mr. Goodenough has taken the core of Talisman and bumped up the complexity ever so slightly by giving characters three upgradable skills, a more robust leveling mechanic with character-specific rewards, a built-in short-term goal concept by way of mission cards, three different types of color-coded adventure cards that give players a touch more choice about what kinds of challenges they’ll face, and power cards that let you use a flat number in lieu of a die roll or as a special effect. Most importantly, there is now the sinfully tempting taint of corruption that often lures players into damnation in exchange for bloated appendages, extra arms, or other abominations of the mind, body, and soul. It’s also another way to get eliminated- get six corruption cards and you’re lost to Chaos.

Although the only PVP is handled (very well, actually) by some mission cards and certain powers rather than direct attacks, it’s a highly competitive race. You’ve got to keep up with the power curve as players move toward the center and the final, grueling gauntlet to reach the ultimate goal- which is obviously no longer the Crown of Command, but 40K-specific objectives. There’s also no longer a need to find a Talisman- instead, you get a titular Relic for completing three of your mission cards and that grants you access to the game’s final stage. As in Talisman, the strategy comes from gauging your strength and taking calculated risks. The drama comes from misgauging your chances and blowing the odds with bad die rolls. There are noticeably more choices, whether strategic or not, laced throughout the game. Many events, for example, allow players a benefit in exchange for one of those oh-so-alluring corruption cards.

The 40K material is rich, vast, and thorough. Everything from Cadian snipers to the Sisters of Battle are represented, Orks and Eldar sharing table time with Space Marine Tech Priests and Genestealers- there’s even a Space Hulk location on the board. The artwork is exquisite, the board looks amazing, and the graphic design is wonderfully baroque, as the Emperor commands. It’s a pity that FFG apparently isn’t allowed to produce full miniatures for the game and instead we get these very nicely sculpted but terribly implemented character busts of the 10 heroes.

There’s a part of me that wants to blast this game for being, effectively, a reskinned fifth edition of Talisman. There’s a part of me that wants to get angry that the really great changes that Mr. Goodenough has made aren’t in the already well-expanded Talisman product line. And there’s a part of me that bemoans the fact that I’ll helplessly buy every expansion for this game that FFG flogs.

Because ultimately I do love it- stupidly, completely, and shamelessly. Like Talisman, it feels like an irresponsible fling even though it’s a few IQ points over its progenitor, it’s the very epitome of the old school “beer and pretzels” style game. You don’t play it because it tickles your intellect, makes you feel smart, or engages you with “clever” mechanics. It’s Big Dumb Fun. But this year’s model is Big Dumb Fun carrying a Storm Bolter, and I am totally down with that.

Warhammer Quest coming to iOS

Classic games workshop dungeon crawl Warhammer Quest coming to iOS in 2013

There are relatively few classic board games of the 80’s and 90’s that haven’t seen a modern reprint in some form or other. High amongst the list of those that remain is Warhammer Quest, the culmination of a series of dungeon crawl games from UK publisher Games Workshop. But it’s not going to be on the list for much longer.

Mobile developer Rodeo Games, responsible for the acclaimed Hunter series of games, has announced it’ll be releasing an iOS version of the game some time in mid 2013. Given that it has a famously high random factor and is well suited to solo play, this looks like a shrewd move.

Games Workshop have been characteristically tight-lipped about the possibility of a physical Warhammer Quest re-release following widespread speculation in the wake of its surprise re-issue of acclaimed classic Space Hulk a few years ago. Still no news on that, but it seems possible that hot iOS sales may tempt them into considering a re-working of the tabletop version.