Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A quick look at the rule book Dracula's America

I got in the mail today the skirmish rule book Dracula's America: Shadows of the West, from Osprey Games.

Nice solid hardcover, glossy sturdy paper and 140 pages. Quality you would expect from Osprey. 

The premise of the book, to copy from BGG:

It is 1875, and Count Dracula is President of the United States of America.

In the wake of the Civil War, with the country struggling to regain its balance, Dracula seized power. 

The Count's thralls assassinated President Lincoln and his entire administration in a single night and, in the ensuing chaos, their master made his move. Dominating the Senate, he declared himself President-for-Life, and now rules the Union with fear and an iron fist. His vampiric progeny, the Coven of the Red Hand, infest every strata of society, and enforce Dracula's will with ruthless efficiency.

Drawn by the shadows gathering across the nation, secretive cults and evil creatures emerge from their lairs to thrive in the darkness of the new regime. Fleeing from the oppression and menace of the East, hordes of pioneers head to the West, hoping for a new life.

Dracula's greed, however, knows no bounds, and his reach is long…

Dracula's America: Shadows of the West is a skirmish game of gothic horror set in an alternate Old West. Secret wars rage across the country - from bustling boom-towns to the most remote wilderness - as cults and secret societies fight for power and survival. Players will throw their support behind one of these factions, and will lead a Posse in fast-paced, cinematic battles for dominance and survival.

Clearly, the author has been influenced by the movie Abraham Lincoln Vampire hunter, a movie I enjoyed, especially the Confederate Vampires.

I am a history lover, and indeed, have a graduate degree in American history, specializing in exactly this period, from the antebellum period just before the Civil War to the Old West afterward. I know it very well and love it, and couldn't resist buying the rule book.

In this gameverse, the Civil War drags on past 1865 and the South is fighting a guerilla war.  It seems Drac baby at this time wormed his way into Lincoln's administration as an advisor until the President and his entire cabinet were assassinated in a single night mysteriously. Gallant Dracula, following Honest Abe's last wishes,  assumes control of the country while laying blame on the Confederates.

Hell follows with him, as vampires from the Old World come to America in droves, presumably at the behest of a certain Romanian count. They need to f.f.f.f.f.f.eed after all, and the Old West suddenly is seeing more refugees from the East Coast fleeing, with vampires following.

This is where the game lore becomes interesting.. There are both demonic and mystical cults and secret societies galore, battling it out in the Old West, along with the usual preachers, runaway slaves and hired guns.

There is the Twilight Order, an anti-evil secret society who remind me of the Templars..


to be thwarted by thralls of Dracula, called the Red Hand Coven

and allied (?) by a demonic cult, the Crossroads Cult, serving demonic masters masquerading as wealthy rail barons out East..

,,,to be countered by native American Skinwalker tribes using shapeshifting magic (you just saw this coming a mile away)..

Let's not forget the Dark Confederacy, who use necromancy so the South can rise again, in more ways than one, with the aid of ghostly Revenants.. 

Confederate necromancers! Love it!

On top of all these guys jostling for power, you got zombie and vampire outbreaks and a whole bestiary of minis to face, including of course, Sasquatch, the Chupacabra and the Jackalope.

Frostgrave, a popular Osprey skirmish campaign game, is downright plain compared to the premise of Dracula's America what with the Vampiric cowboys, hellhounds and pale riders home on the range, and some magic.

In the campaign game, you generally have one of the above type of warbands, called posses naturally enough, to go forth and battle, and level up and acquire dollars to buy equipment and members and hired guns (like the Carpathian Guard from the original Dracula novel). Unlike Frostgrave, where the goal of leveling up is for your wizard to ascend, there doesn't appear to be an end goal in mind in Dracula's America, other than collecting victory points. More likely, you will level up until you get bored of the campaign, or retire your group, much like a traditional RPG. 

I thought for sure when I ordered the book that I would find steampunk tropes, but there aren't any. The equipment in the game is Gothic. Miniatures come armed, in addition to shootin' irons, dynamite, shotguns, etc, with Holy Water, Silver bullets and such.

In terms of game mechanics, the game uses "successes" (a common mechanic with such companies as Two Hour Wargames), with a success being a roll of 5 or better on one stat called "Grit".  A miniature's Grit is based on his level of expertise, novice, veteran or Hero. Novices roll on a d6, vets on a D8 and Heroes on a D10. Sounds simple enough and perhaps not as "swingy" as Frostgrave. 

Initiative in the game is based on a standard set of playing cards. When I read this, I thought for sure it was for use of the poker trope you see in Westerns, but it's not. Each player has his own deck, and generally draws a hand on the number of minis on the board. To determine who goes first, players pick a card from their hand, with the higher number card going higher.. however, black cards always trump red cards, even if lower. 

In this example, the player with the Jack beats the player with the 5...

but in this example, the player with the 2 beats the player with the Jack.

This is the most interesting game mechanic that I can see. Initiative, which can be crucial, can be wild and very unpredictable, and harder I guess for opponents who are card counters.

I ordinarily am not a horror guy, but both my friend Jeff and I like the Old West background. Throw in magic and vampires, coupled with firearms, and the game looks interesting. The only thing holding me back from playing is that I don't have Old West terrain, but I guess some cheap mdf buildings for the town Jail, Dry Goods store, etc, can solve that. 

Very interesting rule book. I look forward to trying this out one day. 

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