I’ve been doing some serious thinking about the future of our beloved game, most of which has centered around the basic idea that attrition within the player base is natural and to be expected. We can’t possibly keep every player indefinitely – players move, priorities change, and people slowly drift away from the game. Unfortunately, attrition (like so many things) has a way of gaining momentum. If one player leaves a large and active play group, the loss of that player likely has no significant impact on the rest of the players. But if you have a play group of 4 and somebody leaves… well now you can never play the game as intended, and you have a very good chance of loosing the remaining three players.
The solution to the attrition is to have a steady influx of new or reactivated players. And this is what I’ve been thinking and talking to my local players about – how can we market the game, get people interested in VTES, and then get them playing? I’ll have a lot to say about this in future blog posts, but for now, I want to talk about just one of the barriers standing in the way of a new player picking up the game: card availability.
So lets assume we have the very best scenario on our hands – a new player has become excited about the game. They went to the VEKN site to find out some more about the game, and that put them in contact with their local Prince and playgroup, allowing them to get in a demo game or two. Now they want to dive in. If they want to do anything other than borrow decks from other players (which is a possibility), they are going to need to acquire cards. And not singles, but cards in bulk to allow them to start their collections. A few years ago (like when I started in 2011), this wasn’t that difficult. Sure, I never saw Heirs to the Blood or Keepers of Tradition (sigh…), but most everything else was available, and I was able to cheaply purchase booster boxes and slowly build up my collection.
But this is no longer possible. Although there is a thriving secondary market for VTES singles, the availability of starters and boosters is extremely low. Long gone are the days of $20 boxes of Jyhad. Indeed, you’d have to get lucky to find a box of Jyhad boosters outside of Ebay these days! In fact, if you live outside of Europe, you are extremely unlikely to find booster boxes for any set save Nights of Reckoning. And, while some starters are still readily available (Black Hand and Third Edition), most can’t be found except for the rare Ebay offering which sells them for as much as $40 or more! This situation means that we are condemning new players to play only with cards from the few available starters and what they buy as singles off the secondary market. That’s a pretty bad situation and certainly not one that is welcoming to new players.
Don’t believe me? Well, I recently took a look at all of the retailers listed on the VEKN site (most of which don’t exist any more – VEKN: please update your links!). I then looked at every CCG retailer I could find using google. Finally, I looked at Ebay. Here’s what I found:
The king of VTES sales in the US since White Wolf dissolved, David Tatu has extremely good prices for the product that he still has (which isn’t much). But he remains a great source for singles (just email and ask), and he is the only place that you can get tournament prize support outside of Europe.
- Boosters: Nights of Reckoning
- Starters: Black Hand, Third Edition
- Other: Blood Shadow Court, Promos
We’re already scrapping the bottom of the barrel – these guys actually do have some sealed product, but it’s all very expensive (>$100 for Jyhad starters, >$200 for Ancient Hearts). They also have a few individual starter decks and boosters, but they go for more than MSRP (>$30 for a starter).
- Boosters: Nights of Reckoning, Ancient Hearts
- Starters: Jyhad, VTES
These guys mostly have promos as well as individual boosters and starter decks which all go for more than MSRP. They have some boxes, but they are pretty expensive ($80 for Jyhad starters, >$200 for Ancient Hearts)
- Boosters: Ancient Hearts
- Starters: Jyhad, VTES
They have a few booster packs (Dark Sovereigns, Final Nights, and Sabbat War) and starter decks, but no boxes. All of their product goes for significantly over MSRP.
Again, they have a few random boosters (that cost upwards of $10), and starter decks (that cost upwards of $40). Terrible selection and prices.
Well, amazon does have a number of VTES products, but with very few exceptions, it is just the above retailers selling through amazon. This site doesn’t offer anything in terms of new products or lower prices.
Obviously, the offerings on ebay are going to change on a day-to-day basis, and it is mostly used to sell singles. However, there are currently a few boxes of cards being sold. They are listed below with their prices (which include shipping). As you can see, the prices are pretty horrible. Since MSRP for any of these boxes would be <$150 ($4 x 36 packs = $144), that means that all you could buy for less than MSRP would be Dark Sovereigns and Nights of Reckoning.
- VTES Booster Box – $130 / $182
- Nights of Reckoning Booster Box – $86 [Update: sold]
- Dark Sovereigns Booster Box – $127 [Update: sold]
- Ancient Hearts Booster Box – $222 [Update: sold]
- Twilight Rebellion Booster Box- $307 [Update: sold]
- Keepers of Tradition Starter Box – $250 / $313 (open)
- Black Hand Starter Box – $113 (open)
So, if you are anywhere in the world except Europe (don’t worry, I’ll get to the Old World in a second), the only cards you can get for around MSRP are Jyhad (which admittedly includes some nice staple cards), Dark Sovereigns, Nights of Reckoning (let’s never mention that set again!), Blood Shadow Court, and starters from Black Hand and Third Edition. While that might sound like a decent way to begin a collection, I want to remind you that these are all the cards AVAILABLE to purchase at decent prices. Once a player bought those cards, that would be the end (not beginning) of their collection unless they purchased singles. If I saw this kind of barrier for entry into VTES, there is a very good chance that I would not be writing this blog right now because I would not be playing right now!
Ok, lets move on to Europe – the one spot in the world that resembles the card availability when I first started playing. Let’s look at the two stores in Europe that I could find that offer VTES cards.
First on our list is the VTES giant – the store that seems to have all of the cards. They have plenty of sets that are flat our unavailable in the rest of the world, and they have a lot of great starters. Remember those $300 Keepers of Tradition starters you could buy from Ebay? Yeah, these guys sell them for 50 euros (~$57). The problem is that they won’t ship outside of Europe. They instead suggest you go to Rose Tatu (who, as mentioned above has great prices but almost no product). Now, I’ve heard rumors of people in the US ordering from them, but the site very specifically says they won’t ship anywhere outside of Europe. Even if they did ship world wide (and did so cheaply enough to justify buying from them) it would, at best, be a temporary solution to this card shortage.
- Boosters: Black Hand, Ebony Kingdom, Gehenna, Kindred Most Wanted, Lords of the Night, Nights of Reckoning, Sword of Caine
- Starters: Black Hand, Keepers of Tradition, Legacies of Blood, Lords of the Night, Third Edition
- Other: Blood Shadow Court, Promos
[Update: Walch & Nusser has temporarily closed down. Their website claims that they will reopen in December for a “final mega sale.” The owner has also indicated that the store will permanently close after that. This is a huge blow to card availability, and it also very much leaves open the question of where Europeans will get prize support from. Hopefully all of the promos and some boosters will find their way into the hands of somebody who is willing to continue offering tournament kits.]
This site isn’t in English and so I originally couldn’t figure out their availability, but the store owner contacted me through VEKN to provide me with the information. They have an amazing selection – sets you can’t find elsewhere for any price. Their prices (~100 euros for a box of boosters and ~50 for starters) are pretty good considering the scarcity of the cards. But their shipping is expensive and because of that they only sell to Europe.
- Boosters: Anarch, Black Hand, Ebony Kingdom, Gehenna, Kindred Most Wanted, Lords of the Night, Nights of Reckoning, Sword of Caine, Third Edition, Twilight Rebellion
- Starters: Legacies of Blood, Keepers of Tradition
- Other: Blood Shadow Court
So, if you are a new player and you want to get started with this old (some might say dead) CCG, your options appear to be limited to the following:
- Cheaply acquire the few starters you can and just play with those
- Invest a lot of money to get cards from random sets that don’t even feature the same clans
- Buy predominantly singles (assuming you know what cards are good)
- Move to Europe and buy from Walch & Nusser
- Prowl Ebay for a lucky deal as somebody unloads their collection
I think we can safely agree that none of these are an ideal way to get somebody hooked on the game. We want players to be able to get involved in the game cheaply and easily – we want them to spend their time focusing on how fun the game is, and now how difficult it is for them to get started. As far as I’m concerned, the only part of the present situation that actually helps achieve this goal is the great and repeated generosity of the player base. My collection got started by a generous donation of old cards, and I know the same is true for a number of players (especially those who started the game after 2010). I also know that there are several people in my local area (including myself) who have cards set aside for new players and that if anybody started playing in our local area, they would have many people shoving cards their way.
But that isn’t enough. We can’t rely on all play groups having people with cards to spare. And note that I said that my collection was started by other players. It’s grown rather significantly since, and with the current availability of cards, new players would be stuck using only those cards that were given to them, with very few ways of acquiring more cards cheaply.
I hope that I’ve managed to convince you that we have a card availability problem, and that it prevents new players from getting involved with the game. What I haven’t discussed is that this problem may also impact the current player base. I have no idea how many players leave because they can’t grow their collections, but I know that there are some. This is a significant problem facing our community, and its one that we need to address if we want to game to survive. In my next blog post, I’ll present three ideas (or rather one idea with three levels of implementation) that I have to solve this problem. But in the meantime, if you have any thoughts on this problem or know of a store that sells VTES that I missed, please post below!
Until then, may your bleeds never be bounced, and your votes always pass,
Update 10/29/2015 – card availability has gotten significantly worse since I originally published this article, so I have made some modifications with the “update” tag.