The Problem of Card Availability

Greetings Methuselahs,

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:


Rose Tatu Productions

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

Universal Cards

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

Potomac Distribution

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

Hill’s Wholesale Gaming

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.

Noble Knight Games

Again, they have a few random boosters (that cost upwards of $10), and starter decks (that cost upwards of $40). Terrible selection and prices.

Amazon

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.

Ebay

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.


Walch & Nusser (Europe Only)

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.]

Fantasiapelit (Europe Only)

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,

Brett

 

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.

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11 thoughts on “The Problem of Card Availability

    • Those are awesome! I’ve actually been putting together some “jump=-start” decks myself for new players, but I haven’t gone as formal as you have. I really love those boxes! Any chance of seeing deck lists for those? Also I haven’t had the chance to thank you for that awesome play guide – I’m going to be using it for a demo that I’m running in a few weeks.

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      • No deck lists for those, part of the idea was to have generic boxes / with easy to build archetypes is that they could be knocked up fairly quickly without thinking about it too much. They’re typically 60 – 70 cards with 10 or so masters and a few rares. I could put together deck lists for the ones I still have (and eventually the ones I need to recreate).

        If any one is interested, here’s the specs for the boxes etc…

        The cardboard boxes were fairly cheap and I just found a good size:

        Diecut Box 100mm x 75mm x 37mm

        From there I just used a standard label sheet (8x labels per A4) the specs are:

        LC8 105 x 74mm A4 8 labels per sheet

        And another small label linking to Meet up group: http://www.vtes.co.nz and the VEKN.

        The labels are available here (8MB):

        https://www.dropbox.com/s/wowflwqj6d7z90y/Quick-Start-Decks.pdf?dl=1

        They could probably just be printed on an A4 sticker sheet and cut out.

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      • Thanks for posting those labels! It sounds like you’ve done a great job of expanding your playgroup (39 players!), I’d love to have a chat with you about how you marketed the game and then got the interested people to actually start playing regularly.

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  1. Great article Brett! I am surprised that you didn’t even mention Lackey, the online ccg program that I play on all the time. I think it really is a fantastic way to get new players introduced to VTES, is realtime and very similar to a live game if you use skype (built in to the program) or Google hangouts or whatever. No problem with card availability at all. I can’t even fathom why more players don’t try it out. Besides a few bugs here and there and the fact that you don’t have real cards in your hands and the ability to look at your opponents’ facial expressions, it is just about as good as playing live with every card at your disposal. I suggest you check it out before publishing your next article and ponder how an organized marketing entity could use it to get new players into VTES.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very good point, Mark! This article was really just trying to convince people that there IS a problem with card availability and that we’re going to need to solve it. As great as I think online play is, face-to-face play is how I suspect most people will be introduced to the game, and it will be there that we keep or lose people. But I agree that we should do more to promote online play – you interested in writing a “how to get started with Lackey” article? 🙂

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  2. I have an extensive collection, with lots (and lots) of “extras”, and I sell people new to our playgroup “starter decks” for $ 5. I’ve had one person start their collection by accumulating 10 x $ 5 starters, and they moved on to boxes of Jyhad, Keepers of Tradition, and Anarchs.

    (This player is coming over from Magic, and likes the fact that such a high percentage of cards in the game are, in our casual playgroup, playable – and that we consider an “expensive card’ to be $ 25.)

    I do think this is a potentially terminal problem, though. At least one obvious solution presents itself, but I’m not sure what the legality of the solution is. But there were “not for resale” learner decks printed at one point (pardon, I’m not up on my V:tES history) – would that be considered sufficiently “promotional” to allow for downloadable PDFs to exist?

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    • Thanks for your thoughts! I frequently hear stories like yours – I think our community is doing a great job of getting customized starter decks into the hands of new players. I think the difficulty for a new player is what to do after that if they want to keep playing. And I agree there is an obvious solution… I’ll be talking about it soon – stay tuned! 🙂

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  3. I agree.
    I had wanted to play vtes for a while. (2006 I first heard about it, 2012 I was interested in playing but only found Potomac distr and concluded the cards were too expensive)
    In Jan 2015 I stumbled across a person selling his collection 9000 cards (400€) on second hand.
    When I got in contact with the local play group it became clear I had bought a filtered set and most of the good and multifunctional cards had vanished from the collection (No governs/freak drive/second trad/etc).
    So I bought from Walsh and nusser for 200€ all kinds of starters (5 boxes of 8 starters), then from walsh and Nusser for 170€ LOTN and EK booster boxes (2 Lotn, 1 EK), then I paid 50€ + 40€ for a few rare singles. Then I sold all my +4 vamp and +12 lib cards for 50€.

    So I have spent in 9 months time about 810€ (Which I think is a lot of money) on cards and I find myself lacking 50 to 70% of rares in almost all sets while I usually only miss 10% of the commons and 30% of the uncommons.
    This makes deckbuilding difficult because I find I’m always lacking that 1 card that completes the deck. (Like Ponticulus / The great Symposium / Command Performance etc)

    Luckily the players in my playgroup are kind enough to let me borrow the real cards I still need for the tournaments.

    I’m losing track of my point here…
    So yeah, card availabilty is poor. I’ll have to take peace with it that I’ll probably never see the Ancient Hearts, Sabbat War, Bloodlines, Third Edition, Keepers and HTTB cards without paying significantly for it, in the order of money I’ll never spend on a piece of paper.

    I also think buying the cards second hand is a double edged sword, because yes, I get some cards, but I’m getting the cards from a quitting player, making the people playing this game fewer.
    And as you very correctly pointed out: Losing the 5th or 4th player left is likely to cause all to quit.

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    • Wow, thanks for that story – this is exactly what I’m talking about, and I’m so sorry that you had to go through this! As a community, we can’t allow such a huge barrier to entry into our game. Not if we expect the game to survive. Just out of curiosity, does your local play group allow printed proxy cards in your casual play? That wouldn’t help with tournaments, of course, but it would allow you to play the game and have fun with it without laying down more cash.

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      • Yes, we play with proxy cards, but most people don’t.
        For me and on other player it’s because we don’t own the card, for others it’s the Danse Macabre/Unaligned expansion proxies, but for most players the reason to use proxies is that they don’t want to dissasemble their other decks to get the card. (Eyes of argus, Ossian, Heart of Nizch,..)

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