I’ve been spending a fair amount of time recently thinking about how to get new players involved in VTES – including marketing, the first play experience, and converting interested players into active ones. But the area I’ve spent the most time actually working on is demoing the game. Thus far, I’ve demoed the game to a select group of friends nearly all of whom have played in or run Vampire: the Masquerade campaigns (so I already knew that they liked the setting). But I have plans in the works to be demoing the game at local gaming stores and conventions.
When I started planning my first demo event, I quickly realized that I would need to put together a set of decks that I could use to demo the game. There was simply no way that I was going to put one of White Wolf’s starter decks into the hands of a new player. It’s hard to come up with much good to say about the majority of those old starter decks other than they are a decent way to start one’s collection (since they tend to include a number of staple cards from previous sets). So I asked myself what I wanted from these demo decks, and came up with four important criteria that I used to help guide me as I made each deck, which are listed below. Over the next few weeks, I’ll start writing mini-articles about each of my demo decks, complete with my personal playtest notes, comments that new players had about the deck, and suggestions on how a new player could expand and improve on the deck. I’ll post links to each of these decks at the bottom of this article as I publish them.
Demo Deck Building Guidelines:
#1: They must be simple to play.
VTES is pretty confusing to learn, and I want to ease that process as much as possible. This means that certain aspects of the game are removed – for example, there are no trifles or out-of-turn master cards. Cards with a lot of text or unintuitive play should be avoided. As an example, I have included Laptop Computer in some decks where Camera Phone would likely be more appropriate just because it the former is easier to understand. Cards also shouldn’t have a lot of text that isn’t applicable. So for instance, I would use Computer Hacking instead of Fiendish Tongue (except possibly in a Tzimisce deck). I also want to avoid contesting cards and titles when I play these decks against each other. Contesting isn’t exactly the most elegant or exciting part of the game, so if one deck gets a unique library card, a specific vampire, or a city title, that becomes off limits to the other demo decks.
#2: They should be able to interact with all aspects of the game.
Since these decks are made to help teach the game, they should have something meaningful and interesting to do during each phase of the game. This means that each deck should have a combat plan other than “punch for 1,” and each deck should have something to do during a vote other than automatically win or play Delaying Tactics. Each deck should include some ability to block with intercept and they should have some specialized form of bleed defense (reduce or bounce) where possible. Furthermore, each deck should have a way to interact with equipment and locations (typically by stealing or destroying them). This rule doesn’t mean that the decks have to be “toolbox” decks, but it does mean that they won’t be hyper-focused. No Dementation Bleed decks here!
#3: They must be competitive (or at least good), but balanced against each other.
These may be demo decks, but I hope to give some of them out at demo events as a way to entice new players to trying out the game. That means that these decks need to be built in such a way that a new player could bring them to a our weekly game night and be well matched against other casual decks. And frankly, I want to have fun playing these decks, too! At the very least, this means that each deck should be tournament legal with 12 card crypts and 60 card libraries. But the decks also need to be balanced against each other. It would be a shame to have a demo that ended with everybody leaving because they were immediately ousted by a well constructed stealth-bleed deck. In some cases, this requires me to swap power cards like Govern the Unaligned and Conditioning with their less powerful counterparts (Scouting Mission and Threats in this case). The balance of these decks against each other is the aspect that I feel least confident about, and I think that it will emerge over time.
#4: They are to be built from common and uncommon cards.
I hope to be giving out these decks to new players and I simply don’t have huge stacks of cards like Freak Drive just sitting around. Furthermore, I hope that other people might see these decks and want to put them together for use in their own demos. Unfortunately, this requirement does more than just prevent me from using most rare cards – I might want to include more copies of a card like Immortal Grapple in the deck, but I might limit it in order to be able to build more copies of that deck. This also dictates my crypt selection. Most of my extra crypt cards come are Camarilla and Independent vampires from groups 1 and 2. Currently, I have focused on the Camarilla clans, but I plan to develop decks for the independent clan in the near future.
Links to my demo decks:
- Clan Brujah
- Clan Gangrel (and the old deck)
- Clan Malkavian
- Clan Nosferatu
- Clan Toreador
- Clan Tremere
- Clan Ventrue
By the way, if any new players are reading this post and are looking for other great deck ideas, I suggest that you check out the Barbed Wire Project by Preston Poulter which includes one deck per Camarilla Clan (he also sells them on Ebay), and the Reasonably Priced Decks Series on VTES ONE which features decks for all the Sabbat Clans (with Independent Clans on their way!). Both are great resources and should give you some great ideas for fine decks that can be put together cheaply! And of course, keep checking this blog for my demo decks as they are unveiled!
So what do you think about these deck building guideliness? What criteria do you use to build your own demo decks? Please post your suggestions below!
Until next time, may your bleeds never be bounced, and your votes always pass!