Do you know how to stop Dracula from making late 19th century London even more bloodthirsty and dark, or will you show your teeth?
Dracula vs Van Helsing is a new two-player game from Mandoo Games. You may already know the Korean company Mandoo Games as the publisher of Jekyll vs Hyde and Jekyll & Hyde vs Scotland Yard. Dracula vs Van Helsing continues the trend of two-player games based on classic horror literature. What will the next game be?
This time Dracula and the Dutch professor and vampire hunter Van Helsing take center stage. A little background on Bram Stoker’s Dracula is in order. Dracula is a classic horror novel written by Irish author Bram Stoker and was first published in 1897, which is 11 years after the publication of the aforementioned Jekyll vs. Hyde.
The book is largely about the titular Dracula, a count who hides in his castle in Transylvania with a dark secret. His dark secret is that he is a vampire. Young lawyer Jonathan Harker receives an invitation to visit his client the count at his castle to assist with a real estate transaction. However, Harker discovers the earl’s dark secret. Harker attempts to step the count, is locked in the castle and Dracula leaves for London with a comfortable coffin and 50 boxes of potting soil.
Dracula travels to London to find and convert new victims to his vampire family or just to snack on their dark red blood. The book is written as a collection of diary excerpts, letters and other documents. It follows the attempts of lawyer Jonathan Harker and Dutch professor Abraham van Helsing and others to stop Dracula. The novel gave new life to the vampire genre and (re)introduced new elements to vampire mythology that are now a standard part of modern stereoptype.
Goal and setup
As in Bram Stoker’s classic book, Dracula travels to London to recruit some involuntary souls. Van Helsing tries to stop the vampire before all of London has turned either dead or vampire and push a wooden stake through the count’s heart once and for all. Dracula wins when he wins over a district of London, and Van Helsing wins when Dracula runs out of life points.
At the beginning of the game, players lay out the board with London, place civilians (vampire side down) on the various districts and place next to the board the board where the order of colors is kept. Each player receives a card holder and about five cards (by the way, these are of a lot thicker paper and rather a chit) and the remaining cards form a central draw pile. Dracula receives life points and may always start.
The five cards on the card holder correspond to the five districts on the game board (and players’ facing cards thus ooo correspond to each other). At the end of a round, players check their facing cards. The player with the highest number that round wins that district. If players have the same number then the number in the highest color wins. If Dracula wins a district, he may convert a citizen to vampire by turning over the chit. If Van Helsing wins a district, Dracula loses a life point. A total of 5 rounds are played.
Each turn, the active player draws a card from the draw pile and may swap it with one of the cards on his card holder and discard the replaced card or discard the card just drawn. The discarded card then activates an effect. These effects allow players, for example, to swap cards, change order of colors and reveal cards. Once there are at least 6 cards in the discard pile, instead of playing a turn, players can end the round with the opponent getting 1 more turn.
Dracula vs Van Helsing is tight and dynamic game for two players. Comparing values and trump colors is somewhat akin to a stroke game, without actually being a stroke game. The game play is somewhat akin to a combination between games such as Libertalia, Fantasy Realms and Oriflamme. Players secretly swap cards, so there is a good deal of bluffing involved, and the playing of cards and their effects creates a lot of dynamics and reactive game play. Players must weigh which cards they keep and which ones they play correctly for effects and also at what point they end a round making Dracula vs. Van Helsing a small game with a hefty dose of gameplay.