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A Beginner's Guide to Playing Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (Jyhad)

VTES is a CCG of surprising depth, and daunting complexity. It has a substantial core of devotees, but most of these are old-time players -- since the game has been out of print for several years now, it doesn't attract many new players.

This is a shame, since VTES is an excellent game -- in my opinion, one of the best card games ever. It incorporates strategy, tactics, and the "metagame" (anticipating your opponents' decks and play styles, or "playing the table") in a near-perfect balance. Designing a deck is almost as much fun as actually playing it.

I hope that this page will serve as a gentle introduction to prospective new players of the game, demonstrating that VTES is a game that's very easy to get into.

I played VTES in its early days (when it was still "Jyhad"), and am only now returning to the game after an absence of several years. I am not a master player; I've never played in a tournament, much less won one. So my introduction will cover only the basics you need to know to get started, and will offer links to the advice of more experienced players.


The Basics

Premise:

VTES is based on White Wolf's roleplaying game, Vampire: The Masquerade. You don't need to play the RPG, or even know much about it, to enjoy the card game. The premise of Vampire is that the world is secretly dominated by vampires ("kindred"), who've been manipulating humanity ("kine") with their supernatural powers throughout history. Vampires are divided into a number of sects and clans, each of which has its own culture, personality traits, and supernatural powers (or disciplines). While vampires prey upon each other and humanity, they are secretly dominated by vastly powerful elder vampires, who wage war against one another by pulling the strings of younger vampires, and manipulating kindred society itself.

The players in a VTES game are these elder vampires, or Methusalahs, and their secret war is called the Jyhad.


Rules:

The rules are more complex than most card games, but less complex than an RPG. You can find them free online at http://www.white-wolf.com/vtes/rulebook/.

There is also quite a bit of errata (mostly concerning card texts), which you can find at http://www.white-wolf.com/vtes/rulings.html As well, there is a FAQ.


The Cards

All right, so where do you buy the cards, since the game is out of print? Fortunately, it's easy to buy them in large quantities on eBay. The older set (with card backs labeled "Jyhad," not "Vampire") is still perfectly legal to play, and boxes of booster packs typically go for about $20 on eBay. (A box of boosters contains 36 19-card packs, so that's 684 cards, more than enough to build several good decks.) You can also get boxes of booster packs from the expansion sets, but those are more expensive, often running over $100.

For the beginning Jyhad player, I recommend just buying a booster box or two. It is quite possible to have a competitive deck using only classic Jyhad cards that can hold its own against decks incorporating newer cards. But once you become a true enthusiast, you'll probably start wanting specific cards, or expansion set cards. These are also available on eBay, and several online card dealers sell VTES/Jyhad cards as well.


Card Lists:

You can get a complete list of all the cards in the game right here.


Basic Strategies

These are not tournament-winning strategies, but just some basic tips that may not be intuitive from reading the rules and glancing at a few cards. Hopefully they will help you climb the learning curve faster.

Clans

Below is a quick summary of the clans in VTES. Most decks tend to rely heavily on vampires from one or two clans, since this concentrates the disciplines a good deck will rely on. There is no rule preventing a deck made up of a dozen different clans, but it would be difficult to make such a deck effective. Comments about which clan is best in which deck are my opinions, and shouldn't be considered absolute -- there are always exceptions to the rule.

Other Clans

The expansion sets introduced quite a few new clans, who have new disciplines. I will list them below, but can't cover them in much detail because I'm not as familiar with them, and because this guide is meant for beginning players, and thus concentrates on the basic set.


Deck Types

One of the great things about VTES is that the "metagame" ensures that it's impossible to create an unstoppable, killer deck. There are several basic deck strategies, with perhaps an infinite number of permutations, but no one has yet been able to build the deck that will beat all opposition. Every deck strategy has its strengths and its weaknesses, and the success of your deck often depends largely on who is sitting to your right and your left. There is no "perfect deck."

Here are the most common deck types; keep in mind that this doesn't mean you can't combine strategies or have multipurpose decks, nor that other, stranger deck strategies don't exist; they do. However, the majority of VTES decks will fall into one of these categories.

Rush/Combat:

The Rush/Combat deck is designed to attack and stomp on your opponent's vampires, putting them in torpor so he's got nothing left to bleed you or block your bleeds with. These decks obviously contain lots of combat cards, and often generous amounts of Bum's Rush, weapons, and Master Cards such as Storm Sewers or Mob Connections that help create a favorable combat environment. Celerity, Potence, and Fortitude are the usual combat-support disciplines, though Protean and Thaumaturgy are also used, as they deal out aggravated damage. The classic combat clan is the Brujah, but Gangrel and Tremere also work well, and Nosferatu can help (though a pure Nosferatu combat deck would lose against a Brujah or Gangrel combat deck). Combat decks can wreck most other decks, but if two combat decks go directly against one another, they tend to tear each other apart so badly that both are too weakened to win. A combat deck also has a hard time stopping a S&B Predator.

Sneak and Bleed

One of the simplest strategies: use stealth so your prey can't block you, then bleed, bleed, bleed. The basic requirement is Obfuscate. The Malkavians are the classic S&B clan, since they combine Obfuscate with the bleed-enhancing Dominate discipline. Nosferatu can add some muscle to a S&B deck, but again, aren't very effective at it all by themselves. An Intercept deck can ruin a S&B's day, and S&B decks must be run carefully to avoid either running out of stealth cards or having too many, both of which will leave you unable to pull off the steady, big bleeds you need to win. These decks also can't do much against a voting deck.

Bruise & Bleed

Instead of sneaky bleeds, your vampires just hurt anyone who blocks them (preferably putting them into torpor). Needs Dominate or Presence so your bleeds will be big, and some combat disciplines (or weapons) to make blocking painful. Tremere are the usual Bruise & Bleeders, but Brujah, Ventrue, and Toreador can also play this game (though maybe not as well).

Weenie Horde

Another simple strategy: fill your crypt with lots of small vampires (1-3 capacity), often heavy on the 1-cap "Caitiff" (clanless) vampires, then swarm your prey. He can put some of them in torpor, but some will always get past, resulting in constant bleeding, and the gradual wearing down of his vampires as they have to fight one weenie after another. Weenie decks are very potent, but a voting deck can vote them into oblivion, they can't do much to stop S&B Predators, and a really good combat deck might put away your weenies as fast as you bring them out. A couple of disciplines work particularly well with Weenie decks: Protean (using weenie Gangrel) means your weenies can put much larger vampires into torpor, and Presence (using weenie Brujah and Toreador) means every weenie that gets past can bleed for a lot.

Voting Deck

This deck relies on political actions and Master cards and disciplines that ensure your votes will pass. You can rearrange the table, give yourself advantages, and vote for pool losses for your prey. Much fun if you have enough votes to control the table, not so much fun if everyone else teams up against you. Voting decks rely on large-capacity vampires with titles (Primogens, Princes, and Justicars), and the Presence discipline (though Dominate also helps). Ventrue and Toreador are the best voting clans, but Brujah and Tremere can also be effective. Note that Presence and Dominate are both good for boosting bleeds as well, so a voting deck is often also a heavy-bleed deck. Intercept decks that keep blocking your votes can slow a vote deck down, and rush/combat decks can put your vampires in torpor, leaving you with no votes.

Intercept Deck

The idea is to block everything your Prey tries to do. Intercept decks come in two main flavors: block and avoid (end combat as soon as it's initiated, using Presence, Dominate, or Protean), or block and cripple (intercept and then put the blocked vampire into torpor). Auspex is the best intercept discipline, but Animalism also provides some intercept (and provides a lot of untap reaction cards and combat support as well). Gangrel make the best block and cripple intercepters, Toreador or Malkavians make the best block and avoiders, while Tremere can do either. Intercept decks can't stand up to a rush/combat deck, and can be overwhelmed by a Weenie Horde.


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