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Ghost Review: Dracula’s America: Shadows of the West

Guest Writer: Kevin Birge

An Ace Up The Sleeve:

Father Lynch fled through the fog down the railroad line. He was sprinting, and up ahead he could see the caboose of the freight train. The locomotive was still slow chuffing, barely any throttle, just powering up for her trip west. He dared a fast turn of the head to look behind, and stumbled, nearly falling over a railroad tie, losing valuable time. If he did not catch the train, he would surely die.

And that which he feared was visible through the fog, her ungainly bulk the only ally that Father Lynch had. She wanted to rend him, to tear out his jugular with her newly-grown fangs, to defile his office and end his life. The priest felt his heart breaking. She had been his last parishioner, and when he had tried to administer the last rites, his cross had grown as hot to the touch as iron from a forge. She had risen, then, and he had fled.

The priest was exhausted, but the vampire fledgling that pursued him knew not of weariness. He stumbled again, going down hard onto his left knee, and when he rose again he was hobbled. She was nearly upon him, and he could hear the locomotive picking up steam. She was pulling away.

He turned around, more terrified of the fate that awaited him if she could infect him than of death itself. His cross was gone, only blistered fingers remained to remind him of it. Still, he had one weapon left. As the crazed vampire closed the gap between them, he pulled the small glass bottle from his pocket and removed the stopper. He had time for only the briefest, muttered prayer. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

As she shrieked her triumph and lunged for him, he splashed the holy water toward her in the sign of the cross.

“In the name of the Father!” The vampire shrieked as the water struck her flush like acid.

“And of the son!” White fire began to catch on her clothing, and she failed blindly as Father Lynch’s posture straightened and became more commanding.

“And of the Holy Spirit!” She fled, then, trailing noxious smoke that burnt at the eye like cayenne pepper.

The sound of the train whistle was drawing away. Father Lynch felt the full weight of the horror he had just experienced drop upon him. His heart hammered in his chest, and sweat poured forth and soaked his vestments. This, then, was what the newspapers had been calling The Terror. He had told his flock to be faithful and pray, that God would preserve them from the corruption and evil that had enveloped Washington. Be strong, he said, and Baltimore would be spared.

He began to weep. His flock were all gone, and he wondered if God could ever forgive him. Shaking and heartbroken, Father Lynch began walking west down the railroad line, away from Baltimore, away from his empty church, fleeing the terror that had taken everything from him.

Box art for Dracula's America: Shadows of the West

Box art for Dracula’s America: Shadows of the West © Osprey Games

Welcome to Dracula’s America, a skirmish game that can be described as Wild West Gothic Horror. Pull up a seat, have a drink, light up a cigar, and make yourself at home. I think you’re gonna like it here.

The year is 1875. Count Dracula has assassinated President Lincoln and his cabinet and is President-For-Life. Horrific creatures from the old world are crossing over into the new. Voodoo and Black Magic, the undead, and sheer hell have been unleashed.

If you’ve played skirmish games, you’ll be right at home. The rules are efficient, easy to learn, and move play along fast enough to keep the game engaging. You have some arcane powers, you have supernatural creatures.

And gunfighters, and posses…and….

The rulebook is hardcover, beautifully illustrated, and of very good quality. Haythornthwaite has written a readable, well formatted rules set which does a fine job of evoking the setting. I am assuming the minis are equal in quality, though I could not obtain examples for purposes of this review. This is because the game is still very new and production on the figures is still in the embryonic stages at the time of this writing. I have seen pictures of them, both in the books and in other places online, and they look excellent.

For those who would like to peruse what’s available, I provide the following links: http://northstarfigures.com/list.php?man=248&page=1

http://www.artizandesigns.com/list.php?man=3&page=1

These two sources will get you what’s available right now.

I am quickly noticing, aging Luddite that I am, that these games all seem to have different factions. DA is no exception. The book provides six to start with. The Twilight Order,The Red Hand Coven, The Skinwalker Tribes, The Crossroads Cult, The Congregation, and The Dark Confederacy. Without going into too much detail, these six give your posse of figures a good selection of powers and abilities.

The factions also add some depth the world in which these battles take place. The Twilight Order are a holy order devoted to warring with supernatural menaces, The Red Hand Coven are servants of Dracula, The Skinwalker Tribes are shapeshifting Indians. All of the focus is on the western part of the country, although an expansion that brings you back east would be very intriguing. There is a campaign mode, as well, and the logical endgame would be for a posse to take out President Dracula.

Maybe in an expansion. But not in this tome.

Haythornwaite has staked out a claim, and while the nugget we have in hand is indeed lovely to behold, the vast seam of gold directly beneath his feet is in dire need of further examination. Dracula’s America needs to be released as a roleplaying game. The premise is brilliant, the concepts mesh perfectly with American history. Marvel Comics flirted with the idea of Dracula getting his hands on political power in the United States back in the 1970s but never really explored the concept.

Moving the idea backwards into late 19th century America is a stroke of genius. Giving the setting such incredibly short shrift in the rulebook may have been necessary for the sake of brevity, but the reader cannot help but want more. Much more. You get a timeline, with a very loose sequence of events. You get enough to see what a rich, potentially vast setting this is. But it’s a glimpse. And just a glimpse will not do.

So, would I recommend this game as is?

Yes. It’s original enough and well designed enough that it’s a no-brainer for fans of this style or gaming, especially if you already have a stash of western themed minis and scenery at hand. (Worth considering even if you don’t, but you have to have the money to commit to it. These games are at their best when you have all the fixins.) The game is also new enough that there is a “first kid on the block factor” involved here. I certainly get a thrill out of wowing my group with a cool new discovery when it come to gaming.

But as good as it is, this game only hints at the potential greatness waiting to be unolcked. This is Chainmail waiting to become D&D. We need more details. Expansions are in order. We need maps. We need sourcebooks. We need adventures.

Great job on the skirmish aspect of this. I’m a hard sell on skirmish games, and I found myself genuinely liking this one. I’ll like the narrative RPG version even better.

Now get to work.

 

The wind blew hard and bit like a serpent. The day was waning and the gray, low hanging sky threatened to dump snow. Wyoming. Father Lynch had been riding the plains for days, sleeping by night alongside his horse for warmth. A fire out in the open was too risky. He could see a town silouhetted off in the distance. He allowed himself a cautious smile. A warm bed and a hot bath would be glorious.

Night had fallen and as the priest approached he noticed that no lights were coming on. Above the scream of the prairie wind, which had grown both stronger and colder, he could hear the persistent banging of some door or shutter left to swing. Even at a safe distance, the town felt wrong and uninviting, invisible now in the near total blackness. He dismounted and began to lead his horse on foot. He would sleep out in the cold, again.

He was leading his mount off the road and into the tall grass, where at least they might have some cover, when he nearly bumped into the sign. The darkness was too thick to read, but he risked striking a wooden match for a second’s worth of illumination. What he read made him laugh out loud, bitterly and with no humor at all.

The sign read

ABSOLUTION AHEAD

 

Supernatural Hired Gun

Father Lynch

Vampire Slayer To Hire: 40 dollars Retainer: 10 dollars Rank/Grit: Veteran

Special: Father Lynch will not hire to any posse which has undead or demonic units. Nerves of Steel and Hard To Kill. Father Lynch does not employ a weapon, but any vampire fledgling or zombie (i.e. the lesser undead) he is in contact with are destroyed and removed from play. If Father Lynch destroys a vampire fledgling in this manner, he gains Slick until the following turn.  If he is in contact with a Harbinger, or any greater form of undead or demonic figure, that suffers a -1 to saves and Fight Tests every turn it remains in contact. This is cumulative.

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