Dresden Files and Evil Hats
It’s fair to say that Evil Hat Productions have done well by the Dresden Files license.
The Dresden Files RPG was the flagship title of their Fate Roleplaying system a few years ago and easily took the world by storm. With innovative mechanics, a fantastic approach to design topped with one of the best, most well-written source books in recent memory, the game quickly cemented itself as one of the best RPGs on the market.
Not content being one of the indie RPG worlds darlings, Evil Hat has turned their sights to the card game world with their newest release, The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game.
Books, Mysteries & Mechanics: Dresden Well Interpreted
When you first open the box, you’d be forgiven for being a little confused as to exactly what kind of game this is. It looks like a deck builder, but uses the Fate system’s language with its Fate points and Talents. Once you get started though, what takes form is essentially a unique cooperative resource management puzzle.
The game works like this:
You select a “Book,” which represents one of the Dresden Files books. This is a small deck of cards consisting of Bad Guys, Mysteries, Advantages and Drawbacks. You randomly place these on a board until you have 12 cards laying in front of your team.
Then, you pick characters. Each are based on Dresden Files characters – Harry himself, Karen, Michael, Mouse, etc – and each with a unique deck of cards designed to deal with one of the above problems.
Some characters are loaded with attacks, some are better at handling mysteries, some are very good at pulling book cards closer to the players or pushing them away, and some are more support based characters that enable others abilities.
On top of this, each character comes with a Talent and a Stunt. Stunts are powerful, one-use abilities that can change the game, while Talents are designed to be used almost as often as possible.
Complexity Most Divine
So far so simple, but what makes this game so unique and so marvelous is its inclusion of resource management.
To start, the hand you draw is all you get for the entire game. Outside of a handful of rare chances, there is no drawing in this game. On top of that, each card costs a certain number of Fate points. These Fate Points are very limited, with only 13 available on the easiest difficulty.
Cards can be discarded to regain some Fate Points, but that cap is present for the entire game, so you can’t simply discard a bunch and build up a surplus. The game ends when you’re out of cards, when you decide you’re ready to finish up or if you play a card you can’t pay for.
What emerges from these rules is a complex, stupendous experience.
Each character is synergistic with one another in captivating ways, and your first couple of games are guaranteed to be failures where you realize three turns too late that if only you’d done x, then the person to your left could have done y and then you’d be able to kill the Demon on your turn. You’ll curse yourself as you notice there’s no way you can kill off enough Foes before the game’s done.
Discerning, Delectable Difficulty
You’ll plan and scheme and pray and deduce and guess with your party to try and figure out a path that leads to sweet victory, and hey, maybe you’ll actually pull it off.
Dresden Files is a brutally difficult game, and something Evil Hat are proud of, but it’s a very different ‘difficult’ than I’ve ever encountered playing a board game.
I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but it’s not like the X-Com game, or Pandemic or some of the harder LoTR LCG games where it feels like your loss is unavoidable, or even grueling.
Partially, it’s how quickly a game goes by – 30 minutes or so – that means the game never quite becomes that slog that difficult games often end up being.
Some of you may be turning your noses up at that 30 minutes figure, and I get it, I’m usually no fan of short games either, but this feels like an hours’ worth of choices squeezed into half an hour. It’s fiendishly addicting, even writing these words, I want nothing more than to crack open the box and give the book my group is stuck on another go – which I could do, because it also features a supremely well done solo mode.
Only Minor Maladies
There are a few bum notes. For starters, I’m not sure how I feel about micro-expansions being advertised on the side of the box I just paid full price for.
The game began as a Kickstarter, and I get that stretch goals and higher tier rewards are required for that sort of thing, and you can’t just give all that stuff away for free with the base game, but it still seems a little off to advertise expansions before I’ve even opened the box.
The usage of the Fate RPG language was a little confusing for some of my group who had just finished a Fate RPG campaign, though I personally enjoyed it. The rulebook is stridently well-written and worded, which is a staple of any Evil Hat product, but some of the text of the cards is a bit unclear. It’s strange that one or two characters have Talents that work differently than everyone else’s, but it’s nothing that can’t be straightened out with a quick game.
Ultimately, what Dresden Files does well that I struggle to find in almost any board game is Flow. It’s not just fast-paced (though it is that) or quick to set up and play (it’s that also), it’s got beats and it has a rhythm to it.
From the moment you place the book cards and your party begins puzzling the best characters to use, to the opening turns, trying to optimize the board, to the little moments of randomness when it’s time to roll the dice to, and finally, the Showdown Phase, where you place all your hopes and dreams on the Fate Dice, you are constantly buckling in for the nail-biting adventure.
It’s the board game equivalent of something like Fury Road, The Social Network, 12 Angry Men or Predator – it has an unmatched sense of pace, and that seems truly rare for a board game. I could write a whole review on this sense of pacing, this flow, but I’ll cut it short there.
Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game is an excellent game and would make for a perfect addition to anyone’s shelf, especially those who enjoy an encompassing puzzle or are looking for their next great solo experience.