Draculas, Frankensteins, Woofmans
Every year, Amabel Holland designs a freebie game for Hollandspiele’s Hollandays sale. In the past, certain of these freebies have even been among the year’s best.
Watch Out! That’s a Dracula! might be my favorite yet. And not only because it treats Dracula like an absolute doofus.
I’ve gotta say, hidden roles are the cranberries of board games. There doesn’t seem to be anything you can’t sneak them into. In this case, Holland has created what I believe to be the world’s first hidden role auction game. And we’re talking real auctions here, not “every game is an auction game” auctions. Much like Count Chocula of Bram Stoker’s Chocula, your goal is to purchase a house. Many houses, in fact. Cue some very ordinary auctions.
Except these very ordinary auctions are overlaid atop some abnormal occurrences. For one thing, everybody at the table has a different goal. Sure, houses are worth points, but maybe your character especially likes windows. Now every house is worth its raw point value plus its windows. The cards, which have all the charm of something done up in MS Paint, accentuate the tone nicely. If you’re averse to reading numerals, you can count the possible point-earning windows, flowers, and bats right on the cards.
The problem is Drac himself, because one player will always assume the Count’s identity. His goal acts as an upset for the rest of the table. If Dracula owns more houses than anybody else, he wins outright. Oh, and he gets a free card from the housing market at the end of the game. By eating its previous occupant, one presumes.
The result is a tonal masterpiece. While the auction proves surprisingly serious, the event cards, characters, and general absurdity respond with a whimsical ease that makes it rather difficult to get too upset when all your best plans are foiled by a poor draw. That and it’s a ten-minute game.
Still, it’s hard to overstate just how pleasantly silly the whole thing is. Someone will bid all their cash on Frankenstein’s house — drawn with little nobs protruding from its “neck” — only to later have it repossessed by a rather put-upon Frankenstein. The appearance of a Woof Man or Legally Distinct Whip Guy will reassess the value of everybody’s property. Or Lord Godalming shows up and insists that everybody’s cash be worth points at the end of the game.
The one word of warning I’d offer is that it’s a little too easy to win as the vamp. Thus it behooves players to approach the game as a 50/50 split of auction and social deduction, rather than giving in to instinct and weighting it more toward the former. It’s helpful to know the roles, who wants which features, and spend some effort trying to suss out which player is trying to snake all the low-value houses.
If anything, like many of Holland’s freebies I very nearly wish Watch Out! That’s a Dracula! could have been a fuller experience. Give me a stake to drive through the devil’s heart and a wreath of garlic to hang round his throat, at the very least.
Then again, I suspect that might rob the game of its homebrew allure. Despite being a mere nugget, this is an unexpected treat, as sharp as a dogtooth and contagiously silly. Happy Hollandays.
(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)
A complimentary copy was provided.
Posted on November 16, 2022, in Board Game and tagged Amabel Holland, Board Games, Hollandspiele, Watch Out! That's a Dracula!. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.
What other games blend hidden roles without it being the central mechanic? The only other one I can think of off the top of my head is that upcoming one from CGE that has the devil as a character
A Study in Emerald is quite good. It’s also an auction game in a sense, although not as directly as this one.
Off the top of my head, there’s also Shamans (trick-taking) and Dead of Winter (survival).
The game Container I guess technically has hidden roles, except they’re pretty boring compared to these (likes orange boxes, likes white boxes, etc.).
Seeing those coins, it would be neat to hear some updated thoughts on the game now that it has shipped. I really enjoyed your original piece and a lot has changed since then.
I plan on writing about it soon.
Pingback: Space-Cast! #23. Watch Out! That’s an Amabel! | SPACE-BIFF!
Pingback: Best Week 2022! Mind’s Eye! | SPACE-BIFF!