Trying to Ice Skate Uphill – A Vampire Radar review

photo by W. Eric Martin

It’s the great debate.

Nature vs Nurture.

A question that has dogged science since Francis Galton coined the term in 1869 (I assume as he was standing opposite a looking glass and wondering where his liking for luxurious sideburns came from).

Are my predilections, peccadilloes and perversions the product of some haphazardly thrown together genetic gruel, or is my ever present tumescence a result of my environment, conditioning me to be turned on by oxygen molecules?

It is not a question that I will ever find the answer to, because I’m stupid, but as far as I know science is yet to fall down on one side of the fence or the other. It’s probably a bit of both, but with neuroscience casting doubt on whether we even have free will, one of the great incontestables of human identity, it seems to me that this “question of questions” will be struggled over for many years to come.

That’s why I’m not going to try and reason out the cause of my hatred of hidden movement games, but suffice it to say, I hate hidden movement games.

These are games that are specifically designed to provide untold pleasure for one person, and stultifying ennui for the rest of the poor, unsuspecting saps that find themselves huddled around the table, jabbing knitting needles into the fleshy parts of their bodies to keep themselves awake.

The player whose movement is hidden is ensconced in their own cocoon of excitement. Every utterance of the other players either sends them scattering for new strategies to prevent themselves from being revealed or, sitting back, glowing in silent self satisfaction, in appreciation of a clever strategy, perfectly executed. All this time, the other players point at the board and say “here?” repeatedly while anticipation becomes frustration becomes boredom.

None of these games provide any of the communality of experience that is the fundamental beauty of board games (I was tempted to say USP but then I remembered, that I wasn’t a marketing twat). These games offer a hugely lopsided play experience, but being the sun-filled optimist that I am, I’m always willing to be converted.

This is why I bought Vampire Radar, the pared back hidden movement game from designer Yuki Kaneko and publisher Japon Brand.

It seemed that Vampire Radar went some way to solving one of the biggest problems of hidden movement games: the length. This is a game that promised to play in forty five minutes, which, hopefully, in turn would limit the possibility of this game turning into a journey that started at Anticipation and terminated at Pissedoffville.

This is a game that promised to be stripped back to the core essence of the mechanic, not force fed extraneous bolt-ons and unwieldy combat systems until it wobbled around, unable to support itself under the weight of so much stuff (I’m looking at you, Fury of Dracula).

photo by Yuki Kaneko

This is a game that promised me things that I can happily report that it delivered.

In Vampire Radar one player is the blood drinker and the other players control four hunters each, that are seeking to bring its terror to an end (by killing it, of course, not sending it to a Corpuscle Anonymous meeting).

In a unique twist to the lore, this vampire is vulnerable to bullets and so must eat all of the hunter’s pawns, before they riddle his cold body with holes.

The map is assembled using numbered tiles. Some have walls that restrict movement and block bullets. Some have extra ammo for the hunters or healing points for the vampire, and some carry the radars, whose spelling is so maliciously mangled on the front of the box, that give a hint to the hunters as to the whereabouts of their foe.

Hunters move and shoot, and the vampire munches his way through the heroes until one side wins.

This game succeeds due to its simplicity. There are few rules and they are easy and intuitive to grasp. The map is small and the vampire has to reveal itself when it eats, and it eats often, so there are never endless turns without reward.

There is never a feeling of total mastery on the vampire’s part and never a feeling of hopelessness on the part of the hunters. The players are thrust straight into the action and expelled before they have a chance to get bored.

This game follows in the tradition of many Japon Brand games, that explore the profundity and beauty of simplicity, and it does it with consummate skill.

This is why games are constantly surprising and constantly invigorating, as they provide a platform for expectations to be subverted at every turn.

This game hasn’t cured me of my dislike for hidden movement games, but it has provided me with an example of one, that I would be happy to play at any time.

I suppose the moral of this story is that whatever you think you like, or don’t like, or whatever reason you ascribe to those preferences, there is always the option to be surprised and Vampire Radar certainly did that for me.


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