Like a sports car with a powerful engine and a sleek body, Bloodsuckers from Fireside Games takes a solid gaming mechanic and gives it a delightful theme of something most everybody enjoys: the eternal war between vampires and vampire hunters (okay, sports cars don’t do that but they are delightful and things many folks enjoy). Great art immediately draws the eye to the battle portrayed on the front of the box with a nosferatu creature leaping toward a fit young lady bearing a handgun and a stake. Who will win? That is up to the players to find out.
Players divvy themselves into a vampire team and a vampire-hunter team. The board in this board game is really just a series of locations with counters helping the players keep track of what battles have been fought and what time of day (or night) it is. There are no pieces; rather, combat takes place on another “board,” the Guide Mat, a folded sheet where cards are played. We ended up cutting our Guide Mat into columns to make them lay flat, which disrupts a little of the experience but proved handy in making the cards stay put.
The learning curve on Bloodsuckers is steep, but the game quickly becomes second nature. Players pick the battle location, lay out the number of “Bystanders” accordingly, and then play what characters out of their hands they wish to use in a fight. Each area of the Guide Mat is known as a “Column,” giving a touch of the spatial element while distinguishing who fights whom over each Bystander. A round of Day and Night is played with each player taking a turn in a different order and with different powers as the vampires become especially mighty at Dusk.
Each player is able to perform three actions per turn, enabling them to do a variety of tasks like playing cards, moving between the columns, or playing an Adrenaline/Blood token for further bonuses. Up to two actions that are not used may be banked, which can make for epic second rounds as strategic players give it all they have. Most actions are taken by playing cards, which have Attacks that give points toward winning the Bystander. There are Strike cards that directly attack the opponent, as well as Dodge and Impact cards that act as modifiers. With so much variation, no fight will ever go the same way, making Bloodsuckers a game with high replay value.
The battle continues until each player has four turns (or two if playing in teams). Turn order proves to be extremely important as the person who goes last can cleverly play a Terrify/Molotov Cocktail card, causing an opponent’s counter to drop to zero and destroying all he or she worked so hard to accomplish.
The counter on the back of the Bystander card keeps track of players’ points. Whomever has the highest number on the counter wins that Bystander, whose card is flipped and rotated to become either a Hunter or Vampire. It is a clever use of art which also makes the game more efficient as well as spooky, showing what each person could become if undead. Whomever has the most Bystanders wins the location. Whomever wins the most locations wins the game. This scenario of battling over a town called Blackwood adds spice to what is at heart a “best three-out-of-five” card game taken to the next level.
Advanced rules give each character special abilities that allow an already complex game even more ground for strategizing. A page full of alternate rules give another level as well, granting more characters, allowing Vampires to add “turned” Hunters to their deck, or creating bonuses for each location, upping the stakes, if you will, for each battle. Players can also control the length of game by choosing ahead of time how many locations to play. Folks in a hurry can play only three locations or even just play a single battle, giving Bloodsuckers a flexibility not seen in most other games.
Bloodsuckers is a game for two to four players ages 13 and up that can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to play. While the rules take some getting used to, it is something advanced gamers will enjoy not only for the artwork but for the chance to strategize in an unending battle that never repeats itself.