…let sleeping dogs lie, they say… Well, they are not wrong, I can tell you! This gaff is absolutely heaving with bloody vampire dogs… so glad they are sleeping or I’d be a serious goner!

Just so long as I tread carefully and don’t make a sound…what was I thinking coming into this abandoned building… into the thick of a vampire nest. Are ancient relics so vital?

shhhhhhh! Not a sound now!

“didaling ding didaling ding didalin ding DING!

Oh, arsing arse and colossal buggeration!

*Note to self…turn the bloody phone on to silent!!!!!!!!

(For your ambient listening pleasure, press play for a future world vampire hunting background)

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INTRO:

Into the dark, my intrepid friend, we must walk. Light is our friend, but we must take to the dark: To tread with tentative steps amongst the resting undead with in their den, in search of ancient relics, in order to aid our battle against evil.

We are the descendants of an ancient organisation, the Order, working in secrecy,

So What’s All The Fuss About?

In a moment of calm and unexpected tranquillity (during a hectic visit to Essen Spiel 18 with the 2d6EE team), I inadvertently stumbled across a giant of a chap, sporting a bald head and much facial hair demonstrating two rather dark but intriguing games set up on the Dark Gate Games stand…I sauntered over and got chatting to Philippo. he explained what the game was about and after some discussion about how a large cooperative game scales for a solo player, a copy was thrust into my hands to review.

I have taken far too long in getting round to this… so, here is a pretty huge cooperative campaign miniatures game that sets a team of Hunters on numerous perilous missions, in an attempt to irradiate the scourge of vampires residing in the world.

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The Order of Vampire Hunters is set in a darkly atmospheric world which has a strong post-apocalyptic feel to me, with its interchangeable multiple tiles, dark heroes and even darker vampires, the game sets the scene for an area to area movement world exploration, where we have objectives and goals to achieve to complete a scenario. Success results in better training and more equipment/skills to face future challenges in this game…it is littered with a multitude of nasties…so we really have to watch very carefully how we tread.

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Immersion or Subversion:

Aesthetically it is undeniably atmospheric, with its dark, brooding artwork, its campaign narrative/detailed back story and its large array of detailed miniatures. But often with games of this nature and genre, the glossy veneer and tonnage of plastic merely gloss over a weak and non-engaging gameplay…

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Without any messing about or employment of tense introductory suspense through creative writing, I have to immediately blurt out that this is definitely not the case. These things are always of a subjective nature but, for me, the twelve games I have played (I have worked my way through numerous levels of the campaign mode and also played several as one-off scenarios… all with four heroes) have all been thoroughly engaging, brain burning at times, especially when a torrent of vamps awaken because I fail to dispose of a sleeping dog vampire. The mechanics of the game make sense and fit particularly well with the game’s setting. And so this successful marriage of image and gameplay really does offer us a most  satisfying immersion into the dark underworld of bloodsuckers and of those who hunt them.

Mechanical Attributes:

I have no intentions of going through ‘how the game plays’ or even what all the intricate mechanics are because that would undoubtedly bore the undergarments off even the most steadfast of gamers. I think, instead, I would like to pick out a couple of features that have appealed to me and which make a lot of sense when applied to gameplay.

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Encounter Card and an example of a Terror Event Card

The deck of cards that governs the vampire units interests me greatly. When we explore a new room/area, we are usually required to draw a Encounter Card. These little chappies are the most simple of affairs but give us plenty of key differentiated information in the most succinct manner. They tell us which vampire will be lurking in said location and indicate which part of that location they initially populate. (occasionally reference is made to a Terror Event which is an addition element to encounters, found on a Terror Event card, it embellishes the narrative) Simple and to the point. There is a traffic light colour coding employed, which helps us scale the difficulty  of the game, too. So, imagine we choose to set up and control only two heroes, then we look for the entries with  green band on them… extrapolate that out to a four hero game, then we look for the red entry, which obviously has significantly more of the nasty stuff within its instructions.

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There is a distinct thematic aspect to deployment of vampires which is exhibited firstly by all vampires entering play vie Event Card instruction taking up a sleeping posture (lying down as would befit a night walker) then… and this leads me to my second key feature… the vampire Activation cards (Daylight and nighttime). These cards provide us with the information needed to cause the vampires to respond to our presence. They govern movement, attack and also introduce additional horror by adding previously undetected beasties who slip from the shadows. Daytime most definitely works to our advantage, so long as we don’t rouse any slumbering vampires, through noise or failure to kill. Sleeping vampires ignore activation instructions, which does us a massive favour,  but those that are mooching about the corridors set to, and give us their worst. The way activation is organised makes any vampire present, react in an apparently intelligent way without the need for endless flowcharts and ‘what if?’statements. An extra nice touch sees our heroes activating first during daylight ours before vampire activation…as, after all,  it is our dominant time… but come night fall, they activate first, as one might expect, thus giving them the upper hand over our heroes. It is at this point absorbent under wear might be a suitable form of attire… or at least make them brown to hide fear!

The allocation of activation points to our heroes and the simplified area movement mechanic keep the game flowing smoothly and at a really good pace… we are not bogged down with a plethora of movement measurements and modifiers. Whilst on the movement and board/environment layout, line of sight is equally simplified taking a centre asterisk located in each area. irrespective of model placement with in an area, point to point from area to area identifies a clear or obscured line of site.

As with many games involving ‘killing’, we are rewarded with tokens that are essentially experience points, which can enable hero development. This feature is similarly true here in Order of Vampire Hunters. Cards represent the upgrades, skills and items which usually become available at the end of a scenario although things do crop up as we wander through the vampire nests. many items and abilities come at a cost which nicely balances powers. we might kill a bazillion vampire hedgehogs but acquiring a particular skill or item will not only cost us to buy, but also cost us experience to use…unless it is a one-hit-wonder. Either way, our heroes are never too strong, always on the back foot and rely on us to formulate tactical plan of attack. This element is particularly good in my opinion,  as it will never become a level up/kill fest. We have to rely on our wits from start to finish, providing high octane entertainment throughout.

There are a multitude of small, subtle rules and game mechanics to further enhance the game, but I shall leave them for you to discover.

 

Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:

Throughout the range of components, quality oozes. The miniatures are sculpted particularly well and have been reproduced with a high level of clear detail. I have only managed to undercoat mine so far, but I am eager to get cracking with a blob of paint or two, happy that they will prove to be exciting to render. The boards, tokens and cards are all thick, sturdy components with a high quality print job.

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Visually, we really are presented with a delectable feast for our ocular delight. A real post apocalyptic near future has been created (I don’t know for sure if this is the intended visual setting but it certainly creates this feel to me… and is definitely not a typical blood/gore/Hammer House visual concept) And although very dark in nature, image and text quality has not been lost… which is rather pleasing to know, as I often play in subdued lighting, making text clarity very important.

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Meeples and Standees:

  • Game Design: Philippo Chirico, Tony Neville
  • Art: Soufiane Idrassi, Philippo Chirico, Leonado Leg Giordano
  • Graphic Design: Salandra
  • Writing: Tony Neville, Tracey Smart, Peer Lagerpusch
  • Miniatures: Alexi popovici
  • Publisher: Dark Gate Games/Maki Games
  • Playtime: (recess for those of an american persuasion) 1 hour …per scenario
  • Gangs of One: 1-4
  • Age of Consent: 14+
  • DOB: 2017

Solitarianism:

I think it would be a relatively safe bet to say cooperative games are soloable, but when there are multiple characters with multiple attributes to manage…along with equipment, weapons, items, packed lunches and delicately wrapped slices of fruit cake, and such, there is a potential cranial melt down. We are definitely in luck here. The game scales from two to four characters so as a soloist there is plenty of scope. The characters do have a significant amount of information in and around there whereabouts, but all stats, weapons, items and the like are clearly represented on cards, or as easily identifiable icons on the character board. Each character has a limited number of slots for cards so even when fully kitted up will only have four cards (three items and a special ability card) so we will never be completely over run with book keeping, chucking on a damage counter or focus counter (basically works as experience tokens). I understand that there is still a significant amount of data to take in, but during a turn each character acts in independently, so we only need focus on one board at a time. That said, we do need to be mindful of the other non-active character’s abilities before we blunder on in each turn, as this game really is about teamwork, using and influencing each other’s skills/abilities. Basically proceeding with a holistic approach is favourite.

I was happy to control the four characters necessary to complete each scenario and, considering how deep play is, the maintenance and book keeping is pretty light…and it is a seriously deep game in that the substance can hit the fan instantly so planning and optimising all abilities is key (as well as having plan B and C, just in case the world turns to crap… and by that I mean a mass of bloodsucking evil)

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I like the fact that this is so much more than a hack & slash, undead slaughter fest. Admittedly most bad things need to be eradicated from the face of this particularly dark and sinister world, but that aspect is almost a mere means to an end. Attacking vampires, especially during the day, is fraught with peril. One mistake, one poor die roll without a thought out contingency plan and the evil arises and does sport merrily with out bodies.

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As a solo venture into cooperative campaign games, I am well taken with this Order of Vampire Hunters lark. It is heavy without being oppressive. Tactical without the analysis paralysis and has proven to be a lot of fun…especially as each scenario can be, with minor adjustments, dipped into as a single one-off play.

Bots and Wotnots:

And so to the crucial part…if you are a soloist like me, then it most definitely is. The Order of Vampire hunters is not a solo game in the first instance, but is a cooperative chappie that pits us, the players, against the game its self. The devastating hell unleashed upon us is controlled purely by the game. There is no bot, no technical action flowchart.

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The game’s AI works simply but incredibly effectively during a scenario. Locating doors, objectives and the like is handled during set up with each scenario having a unique arrangements but it is two decks of cards that become all important here. They govern the multitude of in-house mechanics…which beasties pop up, where they are located, how everything reacts in relation to the heroes…and even spawning nasty surprises just as we think we have it in the bag. Obviously details have already been covered in the Mechanical Attributes section, but a nice touch, I felt, was the simplicity with which the Encounter cards not only populate and locate, but have a simple colour coding to handle differentiation of scale difficulty from a two character game up to a four character game.

So populating the board is handled, but what about meaningful actions for the game’s vampires?

We are not disappointed in this department either. After we have completed each character’s actions, a Day or Night (depending on the game timer) is drawn, which has a multitude of directions….including tests characters have to make (as part of the story telling aspect), how and which vampires must move, in which direction and which vampires attack heroes…these cards also throw us the american sports idiom…the famed curve ball …yes, there is always chance that there are vampires lurking in the shadows that we have overlooked. It is this unpredictability that drives home the importance to us that we must prepare for any eventuality…even the likelihood of a blood sucking kebab… well, at least in my story there is, at least. Interestingly, and with no regard to kebabs at all, the timer adds an additional element to the AI’s arsenal. As turns tick by and we approach the scenario’s finite end point, day, our ally, turns to night and everything comes to life…gets bigger, stronger and much. much nastier. Ahh, I nearly forgot. Each of the AI’s vampires has a stats card, not unlike the character cards, with health attack and any special abilities listed on it. this is handy for us soloists to manage, as one card is applicable to multiple figures (health tokens dropped next to figure on the board for reference)…and are reversible when night falls, to reveal the true nasty side of vamps.

I would say in a micro conclusion that the way the game has been designed, has a particularly simple and easily accessible system to provide an unpredictable opposing force for us to contend with.

The Real Nitty Gritty:

  • Winners and Losers: Early in the game, particularly if we embark on the campaign mode, life is not to hectic so long as we are methodical and calculate our risks. There will always be risks that need taking. This is no walk in the park and with each risk comes a dire consequence. Levels can be completed successfully but life can become rather tense as time ticks down. I would say there should be a 70 odd % success rate, but the level of collateral damage can be high…which could have implications for future missions/scenarios. So, yes, win-able on a game to game level,  but there is a much bigger picture to consider. There is a serious challenged set down for us.
  • Rules is Rules is Rules: From the outset.the rule book is clear and methodical. Components are explained up front and game mechanics are explained with clear illustrative examples
  • Lucky Buggers: Combat is dice base which might put some players off but there are many options, including choices of attack, equipment ect. that aid us with a plan for dice luck mitigation. Careful thought should enable us to best utilise the rolls we have. The AI deck governing vampire spawning and the Nigh/ Day cards are randomly selected according to individual scenario setup and have a range of difficulty, toughens and damned out right unpleasantness, so we will always have a random game each time… but this provides us with a necessary element for an all important, unpredictable opponent. Luck and randomness are present but are most definitely important to the way the game plays and feels.
  • Lows and Highs: From the outset, every turn is fraught with potential danger. game play is exhilarating during the Daylight turns as vampires sleep…but can be easily awakened…as for Nighttime turns, everything rises and it is an all out free-for-all. There is call for a lot of manual brain churning, but plenty of thrills and spills along the way too. I can see, having formed a bond with characters over the course of several scenarios, losing one might be traumatic, but in general this is a highly motivating game.
  • Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: The footprint is rather substantial, it has to be said. the play area requires most of the space but character dashboards and the numerous decks that require us to make multiple card draws from, need to be easily accessible. It is also useful to have space to line up the vampire models to gain easy access…I, however, simply tip them out into a vampiric mound and delve into the affray as and when necessary. I just manage to squeeze everything into a space of about 90cm x 90cm…but I imagine a full metre squared would be more comfortable.
  • Set It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: There are numerous tokens and miniatures to this game but they are relatively quick to unpack and sort. The loner process is each adventure set up. Everything required is simply and succinctly recorded in each scenario…baseboard set up, doors and stairs etc etc. The doors and such are populated on the board with speed but each game requires a different set up/construction of Daytime deck, nighttime deck, and encounter deck. this will probably be the most time consuming element. I would say all in all leave a good fifteen to twenty minutes until familiar with the game, at which point that time can conceivably be reduced by half-ish.
  • Pay Per Play: (new item) This section is more a ballpark figures section…When Order of Vampire Hunters Kickstarted, it was about $90 but i could not say what the current retail price is. Assuming the cost to purchase is not dissimilar to the campaign, it still amounts to a high figure for a game. Now I hate games and campaigns that push more and more plastic down people’s throats as a means to say “we are good value for money”. I also hate the culture of backers that has developed demanding something for nothing in games. So, with that said, this has a medium sized shed full of plastic but the actual gameplay is so much more than a pile of useless miniatures. the mechanics have been thought about, obviously tested well and make for an engaging game. I would go as far as to say the miniatures are almost incidental to the actual game. It is on the high side for my wallet (but the lower side of mid range compared to some miniature games) but the quantity of game in the box is high…not particularly from a component to cost ratio point of view, but from the fun, activity, length of play and high replay-ability. If soloists amongst our number have the spare readies to splash out on a miniatures game, I don’t thing disappointment will be on the cards with The Order of Vampire Hunters.

Me, Myself and I:

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I have several miniature games of similar genre and size, so I was not really sure how this would stand up in comparison. As it happens, I need not have worried. Yes, there are some similarities to a couple of games I am familiar with regarding theme and there are similarities to several others with reference to the use of campaign modes and levelling up characters, but this actually melded these elements into something unique in its own right. I loved the artwork whilst ME and Myself were very much taken with how the game very simply commanded the AI figures, governing movement, action, location and reaction…a simple combination of cards drawn at specific times during a round generates what is to all intents and purposes, an intelligent opponent…not totally free thinking but as good as think could be achieved with out complex flow charts that would make one’s eyes bleed and melt ones brain.

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The three of us had a blast playing through the campaign mode, but equally enjoyed the dip-in one-off method of using individual campaigns, especially as each is tailored to customise character boards to put the heroes on a par to one that would attempt a campaign having already levelled up.

It is easy to play and easy to manage, offering a continued/extended game experience with minimal book keeping and character saving. Definitely a lot of fun to play and as the scenarios increase in difficulty and complexity, there is added puzzle solving/clue finding on top of the principle mission objectives, thrown in to the mix for good measure.

Yay or Nay?

Without a doubt this title has proven to be a particularly enjoyable miniatures adventure game and despite its vast numbers of neck biters, has managed to gnaw and nibble at the BSoMT 1d8 die to suck out a very creditable (7)

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As mentioned in the Pay Per Play section, this is well worth further investigation. It is always a risk to expend such a sum on a game in this economic climate, but I think there is a lot of game in the box.

OUTRO:

…mheeeeh! I know we are close to finding the whereabouts of Kopha’s location, but really? Another locked blue door? So now i have to fight my way through a bus load of dogzombies to get to the room with the spiky wing-armed, bity zombies….dispatch that lot of snappers to then get to the room with stuff burrowing up from the floor…so I can activate the switch that opens the door to the next switch…which is guarded by even more horrors…and me only in my Wednesday slippers, coor blimey, Mate!

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Something For The Weekend, Sir?

http://www.darkgategames.com/

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