Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tommy's Take on Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game

A couple of years ago, I became a big fan of The Dresden Files, in turn turning my wife into a fan of The Dresden Files. I own the RPG (though I have never ran it), but when Evil Hat announced a cooperative card game, I was intrigued.

I was so intrigued, in fact, that I spent almost as much as I'm pledging on the Kickstarter in order to have the Print and Play core game printed up to try it out.
So, in the weeks since then, I have played this game a LOT. I've done two player and solo, and the short version of it is: I dig the game. I'll be sick of the core set by the time the core set actually releases.

Luckily, the expansions funded.

And Mouse. If you're not a Dresden Files fan, that means nothing to you. If you are, you know that's awesome. We're getting Mouse as a playable character.


So what is the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game?

It's actually part puzzle, part game, but it does have replayability. At its core, there are 12 card decks for each of the first five books in the Dresden Files novel series. The cards are a mix of Cases (to solve), Foes (to beat), Obstacles (to overcome) and Advantages (to gain). All 12 cards are in play every time you play the game, but they are arranged randomly, which can have a huge impact on what you can play and when you can play it. The board is in two rows of six spaces, and you have to generally knock out the cards in the earlier spaces in order to get to the cards in the later spaces (though you can go at either row at will). As an example, in the Fool Moon book set, one Obstacle keeps you from placing Hits on foes with the "Loup Garou" in their if you don't remove that obstacle, you can't eliminate those guys, meaning you probably can't win the game.

So how do you do this? Each character deck has Attack Cards (for placing Hits on Foes), Investigate Cards (for placing Clues on Cases), Overcome cards (which remove Obstacles) and Take Advantage Cards (which let them, er, take Advantages).

And the whole time, you are racing against a clock. You have to solve more Cases than you have Foes left on the field. If you run out of playable cards, you have to move to the Showdown, in which you get a last ditch chance to solve Cases you already put Clues on, or defeat Foes that already have Hits on them. This is done by rolling a number of Fate Dice as specified on the Showdown card, but be warned...Fate rolls are not an efficient way of doing business.

This is all balanced by Fate Points, which you spend to play cards. Running out of Fate Points? Someone needs to discard a card to gain more. The upside is that they also have a Talent they can activate when discarding (like placing a Clue on a case, a Hit on an enemy or boosting the Range of one of their cards). Harry's Talent is particularly vital, as he can move cards along the board, bringing Obstacles and Advantages into reach.

On the player side of things, you have five decks to choose from (with 8 more unlocked in the Kickstarter): Harry Dresden (star of the series and pretty much necessary in every game), Karrin Murphy (tiny...but fierce), Michael Carpenter (the Fist of God, and utterly awesome), Susan Rodriguez (occult reporter) and Billy & Georgia (leaders of The Alphas...and werewolves). Each character deck has a Stunt that they can use once per game (like Michael smashing a foe with Amoracchius and sending them running, or Harry using his Blasting Rod to finish off a weakened Foe).

Each character deck includes 10 cards of the aforementioned types, and it's not all just an even spread. Indeed, each of the decks feel thematic to the characters. For instance, Michael has Take Advantage and Overcome cards that not only allow him to remove Advantages and Obstacles, but to also place Hits and Clues on adjacent Foes and Cases. Harry is a wrecking ball, able to place 2 Hits on every Foe on a Row, or Consult with Bob to place two Clues on all Cases in one Row. The Alphas can do a lot of legwork on Foes or Cases, but have a harder time finishing them off, while Murphy is a great "finisher", who can generate additional effects for stopping Foes or solving Cases.

As mentioned above, you do have a "time limit", as you only get to draw so many cards at the start of the game (based on number of players), and you only get redraws if you encounter a card effect that allows it...which means those card effects are huge. These are often Advantages in the Book decks, but they do pop up elsewhere.

Now, I do have one more thing to talk about, and that's the Side Jobs Deck. The Side Jobs Deck is a random case generator, if you're tired of playing the Book Decks over and over. It includes three Showdowns (pick one randomly), and then roll 2 Fate Dice and cross reference with a chart to determine the number of Cases, Foes, Advantages and Obstacles to add to the Book Deck, then randomly place as normal. If you've read the Side Jobs anthology, most of these will jump right out at you, but they will rarely appear in the manner you remember from the books. What's more, each new expansion is adding five more Side Jobs cards, so the number of variations will grow.

The Kickstarter is WELL funded at this point, and only has four days left to go. Shipping is not until next year, but will now include three expansions (if you pledge high enough), including two character decks per expansion, two book decks per expansion and five Side Jobs cards. (The unlocked characters for the expansions are: Sanya, Molly Carpenter, Butters, Thomas Raith, Carlos Ramirez and Capt. Luccio. Additionally, Mouse and Ra (from Sentinels of the Multiverse) were unlocked as Kickstarter stretch goals.)

Six Points:

  • The lack of true back and forth combat has been criticized. The counter argument is that, no matter how much Harry or anyone else gets smacked around, the main characters are rarely in danger until the very end (which is the Showdown here and where success or failure is decided).
  • The interplay between the cards is thematic and neat. For instance, in Death Masks you can acquire the Judas Noose Advantage, which lets you immediately add Hits to Nicodemus, if he's still in play.
  • Variant cards for Harry and Susan have been unlocked, including "Vampire Susan" cards to replace cards from her deck, allowing you to show her as a Vampire or as a Reporter.
  • I've never had a game take longer than 30 minutes. It's short set-up, tear-down and quick play.
  • The proof was in the fun for me. I read the rulebook and was unsure, as much as I love The Dresden Files, but getting it into play sold me. My non-gamer wife loved it, too.
  • The two player rules are the hardest sell for me, as it involves each player combining two characters' decks. It just doesn't feel as thematically coherent as the solo decks, though if you get a card draw that wildly favors one character, I suppose you can assume that the other is just taking a very minor role in the story.
I should also mention that shipping is free at this point, thanks to the Stretch Goals.

Four days left to get in on the Kickstarter, and if you have a good printer, you can pledge, download the Print and Play, and see the game for yourself. For me, the game wasn't exactly what I expected, but I'm very pleased as a Dresden fan and as a tabletop gamer.