Let me tell you a story about an Audible addict. At University, he studied English Literature and Creative Writing and, during that time, had to consume a lot of pretentious books. Dickens, Chaucer, whoever wrote North and South – all books that, as much as he hates to say it, have had absolutely no impact on his life to date bar the fact he had to write essays on them for his degree. Now, several years (too many years) after University he has taken to reading far more enjoyable books and thus he discovered The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
That person, by the way, was me and man, did I used to be pretentious back then or what? It took me five years after writing, three years into a job that involved freaking writing to realise that I needed to forget everything I learned about writing in the cosy halls of University to actually get people to read what I had written – but that is a story for another time and another place (I’ll tell you over a pint sometime).
Anyway, yes, The Dresden Files is, for want of a better phrase, one of the best book series I have ever read/listened to, narrated on Audible by the venerable James Marsters (who played Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). It is told in the first person by a character called Harry Dresden, who is Chicago’s only Wizard in the Yellow Pages. He acts as a detective, consulting with the police to solve supernatural cases, as well as working freelance, taking down black magic users, vampires, demons, fey, and all kinds of other ghoulies who are looking to tear the mortal world apart.
So, when my girlfriend found that it had been made into a card game and purchased it for me for my birthday – well – I was beyond exuberant (sorry, the English Grad comes out in me sometimes). I was so freaking happy, that we played it right away and, I have to admit, several times since.
The Premise of the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game (also known as the DFCG) is a cooperative card game based on the Dresden Files universe, released and produced by Evil Hat Games, who also make Fate. The game lasts around 30 minutes per round, and is for 1-5 players.
Each round the players take control of one character (in a game of three or more players), two characters (in a two player game), or three characters (in a one player game) as they work their way through missions based around the books in the Dresden series. The core box, of which this is a review, contains the first five books, which are: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, and Death Masks.
It is worth pointing out that so far I have only played a series of two-player games. It is also worth pointing out that you don’t need to have read The Dresden Files to enjoy the game. My girlfriend hasn’t read it and she enjoys the game possibly even more than me (and she hates anything cooperative). It’s great to see, as all she knows is what the cards tell her and I am sure if she read the books now then the card game won’t deliver too much of a spoiler – not in the base set at least.
Each book contains 12 mission cards, placed in two tracks of six cards in spaces ranged 1-6. Depending on the mission these are split into four types of card – Case, Foe, Obstacle, and Advantage. The goal of the game is simple – solve more Cases than there are Foes left on the board at the end of the game. It’s that easy.
Only it isn’t. It’s really hard and takes a lot of teamwork.
So, how do you solve Cases and defeat Foes? This is where the game gets really neat.
Each character has a deck of 12 cards (if you are playing with two or fewer players the decks get shuffled together) of which a random number is drawn each game. These are 4 cards in a five-player game, 5 in a four-player game, 7 in a three player game, 9 in a two player game, or 12 in a one player game. Once those cards are drawn, there is no other draw phase in the game. Unless a card specifically allows you to draw a card then that is it. This forces you to choose your cards wisely. The cards are split into four different types of card – Attack, Investigate, Overcome, and Take Advantage. These are, needless to say, the exact polar opposites to the cards in each mission.
As well as this, each character has one Stunt and one Talent. Talents are passive and give effects throughout the game. Stunts are one-off events that provide incredible bonuses, once.
To begin the game there are a certain number of Fate points available, and each card costs a certain amount to play. Sometimes these costs vary and Fate dice need to be rolled to determine the true cost. There is a 1/3 chance it will remain the same, a 1/3 it will increase in cost, and a 1/3 it will decrease in cost. Cards can be discarded for additional fate points when they run low, but this mechanic means you really need to think about what you do. You can’t just unleash hell, but need to work as a team to get the best possible outcome.
The way Foes and Cases work is very similar. Each has a set number of clues or hits needed in order to complete it. These are dealt with by Attack and Investigate cards. Each card has a range on it, which is how far up the track they can affect cards, and when cards are removed from the track everything behind it moves up one. So, defeat the card at range 2, and ranges 3 onwards shift up, so the old range 3 is the new range 2.
Once the players can’t do anymore, or at a moment of their choosing, the Showdown phase begins. In this phase, they can spend any additional Fate to give them an advantage, and trust the dice as they get to roll for each viable Case or Foe still on the table. It means there is a chance to finish something off right at the last moment when the hands have been played.
Of course, like all card games, wherever there is a rule there is a card to break that rule, and the DFCG is no different. Cards have really nice thematic effects, and some Foes/Cases rely on other cards to be taken off the table first. Advantages bend the game to favour the player, whilst Obstacles bend the game to favour the game. It is a very simple and very effective game.
Effectively, you have cards to play hands to beat a hand already placed on the table. It could be seen as that easy. It’s not, but it could be.
The Quality and Components of The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
One of the interesting things about The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game is how it comes with a board. Like games such as Legendary, the DFCG has a proper playing field with special spaces laid out for each card. Everything has its place.
The tokens, let’s talk about those before moving on to the cards, are standard cardboard tokens. They’re sturdy enough, but they are nothing hugely special. The physical card itself is (again) fairly standard.
What I love about this game though is the artwork on the cards. The back of each case has the book artwork for each book on it, with the front using a more cartoony card that (I believe) comes from the graphic novel series. Some may have been drawn specifically, but either way, it is a really colourful game. Each deck is unique to the character, and that character bleeds through their deck to make it unique. Each character has a different combination of the four basic card types, with characters like Susan Rodriguez, the journalist, having more Investigation cards than Billy and Georgia, the Werewolves. Harry Dresden is more offensive and investigative than Michael Carpenter, who is also very good at overcoming obstacles.
The characters all feel unique, and both my girlfriend and I have enjoyed putting the different combinations together to see what mix and match in a two player game. I make combinations that are seen in the book…and my girlfriend just goes with “what seems cool”. It’s nice the game accommodates both.
It is worth saying that the game comes with eight Fate dice, which are good quality. These are used for the various rolls throughout the game.
The box is a bit weird, and probably bigger than it needs to be. It contains room for all the expansions and then some. This is presumably because, to my understanding, the Dresden Files book series is still ongoing (I’m currently on Book 8 and there are at least 7 more to go). As more books get released, so will new expansion packs. One thing I don’t overly appreciate is place cards for the Kickstarter exclusive packs in the box, as I will now have to buy them from the Evil Hat website. I mean, I’m willing, but if I didn’t know about them I wouldn’t feel the need.
What is it like playing The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game?
If I were to summarise the game in two words I would say “fun” and “challenging”. There are a lot of card games out there, and cooperative card games at that, and personally I enjoy The DFCG more than any others that I have played so far, and I think this is because it takes out the luck of the draw.
Yes, okay, that sounds weird. Yes, you draw a number of random cards – but there are no inherent weak cards like there are in deck building games like Legendary – instead, there are just cards that you need to decide how you will use them. This takes away that moment when you draw a hand and go “oh crud, these are all rubbish”. Instead, it encourages cooperation within teams as you discuss what the best way to win the game is and what the best way to tackle each challenge may be.
The fact the characters are unique is also a huge benefit and bonus to the game. You get into the role and feel of those characters whilst playing, and it is easy for fans of the series to slip into feeling like the DFCG is an extension to the universe of the books.
For non-fans of the franchise, The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game is a great introduction to the universe, although it does contain spoilers (as you can imagine). They minimise exposures to spoilers by making them vague, but they do still exist.
Due to the short playing time, of only 30 minutes, it is possible to fit in two or three games; however, The DFCG may also count as a sorbet game. It may also be that game between games that you play on a gaming day and that is really cool.
One interesting aspect to the game is the use of Fate, which as a spending mechanic makes sense; however, the dice roll during the Showdown phase comes across as a bit random. To be honest, it has me a bit split as to whether I like that part of the game or not. It feels very basic, and like tossing a coin at the end of the game to see if you win. Of course, there is more to it than that, and I am massively over simplifying, but the case still stands. I suppose it is thematic, but it also feels like a bit of a plug for the Fate RPG system.
That being said, it has got us both excited to play more Fate so I guess it worked to that degree.
One thing I do really like, however (despite awesome characterisation, great art, and really fun gameplay), is how the game can be played in campaign mode or it can be played with one-off scenarios. What is more, once you’ve played all you can create new decks out of Side Job cards which add more variety to the game and can be put together in any combination. We are currently working our way through the campaign.
Conclusion about The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
All-in-all, and this is the conclusion, The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game is a lot of good fun. If you are a fan then it is an absolute must, purely so you can yell Fuego as you zap a demon with fire; however, it is more than just a fan game. If you like cooperative games (or solo games, although I haven’t played it solo yet I can imagine it is very good) then The DFCG is also worth considering.
To give you an idea, I’ve now owned this game just over a week and we already have two of the expansion packs. It is ace.
So, are you a fan of the series or of cooperative card games as a whole? If so, what kind of cooperative card games do you enjoy? Let me know in the comments below.