During the month of July, I began to notice a sharp upturn in my notifications and updates from Kickstarter from many of the Board Game campaigns I had backed. Quite a few of the game companies I had supported were rushing to deliver their wares before GenCon arrived so that they could begin selling their games with a clear conscience and happy supporters.
So, in the days leading up to the convention, the boxes started coming in. Truly, this phenomenon started about a month ago, but the shipments have steadily increased as of late. To make this exciting experience even more fun, I’ve decided to do a small segment where I will highlight the new additions that arrive, focusing on the premise, quality of the components, and gameplay (if we’ve been able to get it to the table already.)
This week, we’re going to go back a little further even to the May delivery of Transylvania: Curses & Traitors by WIBAI Games.
I wanted to make sure I included this game because, quite simply, it’s a great game. While playing Transylvania with friends, I’ve heard it compared to Betrayal at the House on the Hill and Arkham/Eldritch Horror. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Inside the Box
One of the first things I noticed about this game was, of course, the artwork. The board tiles are each beautifully illustrated and nicely set the atmosphere of the land. The player characters range from expertly drawn gothic fantasy portraits to some that seem eerily…”off”. This is most likely due to Kickstarter backers lending their faces to most of the characters. I find that, when people add their likeness to a game, the results can vary wildly. Thankfully, in this case, I think the majority of the images work to make them feel more like… real people (not surprisingly).
As you feel the various components of the game, you can’t help noticing the sturdy thickness of the boards and tokens, the custom dice, and the interesting flexibility of the character cards. In stark contrast to the tiles, which seem to be very strong and durable cardboard, the Character cards are a very thin, but flexible PVC. At first, I was concerned about them, but soon found them to be very resilient. I even bent them so that two opposite sides touched and they bounced back to their original form without any evidence or curvature to suggest I had bent them.
Transylvania has a lot of die rolling built into its events, combat, and the exploration/discovery mechanic… and they’ve come up with dice that serve a few purposes. Each die has 6 sides, three of which have 1, 2, or 3 pips, and the other 3 sides have an image of a wolf howling at the full moon. For most rolls, the wolf icon would be equivalent to a ‘0’. Under the right circumstances, it could mean a stronger monster on the board.
Premise & Gameplay
The main idea of this game is that all players start off as explorers of one type or another, and their job is to acquire some basic knowledge about the 3 monsters: Vampire, Werewolf and Zombie, and return with that information to the church. The first explorer accomplishes the task is the winner. Of course, this wouldn’t be a survival game without some form of a threat… As players explore the land, they will invariably have to draw an Event Card, which could be a trap, something to explore for treasure, a decision to make, or a monster attack. Usually, these cards will result in the player rolling a number of dice determined by the appropriate trait (attribute), and they have a range of possible outcomes depending on the result.
In some cases, a player may be holding the right cards at the right time (or may simply die while holding them) and become one of the 3 monsters discussed above. Each monster has its pro’s and con’s. The Zombie can spawn minions which will act to swarm players, the Vampire can move through secret tunnels, and the Werewolf rolls 1 die every turn for a 50/50 chance to get a Wolf icon and gain extra movement and attack for the turn.
Once a player becomes a monster, the rules of the game change slightly… suddenly, the Monster is out to defeat half of the number of players rounded up to win the game. Likewise, the first Explorer to defeat any monster immediately wins. (These new win conditions are in addition to the original Knowledge quest.) Now, even though this game relies on defeating other players as a monster, I should note that, once an explorer is defeated, they either re-spawn as a new explorer, or they become one of the remaining monsters (depending on their circumstances.) This was a very smart design choice and ensures that all players are able to enjoy the game until its conclusion.
During our most recent play through all players did their best to avoid death or transformation. We all agreed that, while the game was fun to play as we explored, made discoveries and reacted to the event cards–it could feel a bit slow at times. That all changed, however, once the first person became a monster. Our first predator was the Vampire, who quickly defeated another player, who was transformed into the Werewolf, and the two began competing to take out the rest of the explorers. With the Monsters on the board, the game became a very fast-paced and frantic race to the finish.
Although the rulebook may seem a bit imposing at first, once you get the basics down, the game is fairly straight forward. Transylvania: Curses & Traitors may not have the same wonderfully insane number of storylines or possibilities as a game like Betrayal at House on the Hill, but the game feels balanced and there is a lot of replayability here between the different paths you can follow and the placement of the tiles, the event cards (which feel like mini choose-your-own-adventure cards), and the monster transformations.
Overall, I really enjoyed this game. I would highly recommend Transylvania to anyone, especially adventure game lovers and classic horror aficionados. I never felt that anything was over the top for a PG or PG-13 crowd, however, the game can be pretty text heavy, so they may need some help or guidance to get going. Transylvania: Curses & Traitors is available from their website for $49.99.