So sorry that this article is late – the holiday weekend kind of messed up my writing schedule. Anyway, last week I started to review the library cards from the very first VEKN print-and-play set Danse Macabre which was released near the end of 2013. The set focused on the Sabbat, home of all five of the five weakest clans in the game. Let’s take a look at the last six library cards and see what effect they’ve had on the game. As a reminder, I’m rating cards in a bit of an unusual way. Cards are rated on a 1-5 scale with 1 reserved for cards that have actively made the game worse (perhaps by supporting already very powerful archetypes), cards that have had little to no impact on the game will get a 3, and cards that open up new strategies or help define flavor in a useful and novel way will get a 5.
Before I talk about this card, I have a confession to make: I don’t like the Black Hand. Splitting the Sabbat crypt between Black Hand and non-Black Hand was a mistake in my opinion (especially since you can’t be titled and be part of the Black Hand, putting high capacity vampires in an odd position), and I don’t understand what the trait is supposed to do. What sets the Black Hand apart mechanically? What might entice me to make a Black Hand deck? Well, I guess there’s untapping… but the effect that shows through most strongly is the fact that younger vampires can influence the allegiance of older vampires (as shown by Reunion Kamut). Now I have absolutely zero idea why this should be true other than it’s a strong effect and the Black Hand is a weak trait. Is the Black Hand known to be an organization where the neonates hold great sway over their elders? If you can’t define a thematic and mechanical core to a new concept you have for the game, you likely shouldn’t included it.
But the Black Hand was made, so let’s look at this card. It’s clearly a variant of the Nosferatu clan card Kindred Intelligence. The difference is that you gain a free counter on it if the crypt card is Black Hand. This is a little like Mesu Bedshet, which gives 2 blood, but only if the card is a younger Follower of Set at the cost of 1 blood from the acting vampire. Actually Kindred Intelligence was the only free “de-crypt” action card in the game prior to this card. But the real difference here is context. The Nosferatu have almost no way to get counters onto uncontrolled vampires, meaning that there is a limit to how many vampires they will be able to influence out. The Black Hand have no such restriction. Reunion Kamut ensures a plentiful supply of counters meaning that this card functions much better for the Black Hand than Kindred Intelligence ever did for the Nosferatu. Recruitment Excercise works so well that I think it’s a problem – it causes players to build decks where the vast majority of actions are dedicated to pulling out more vampires, putting very little pressure on their prey until they hit critical mass. In short, the combo of Recruitment Excercise + multiple Reunion Kamut essentially means that the player is encouraged to play a little game of solitare until their force is built up enough. Encouraging this sort of strategy is, in my view, a mistake. The fact that 7 tournament winning decks since the beginning of 2014 (which is all of the winning Black Hand decks) have included this suggests to me that my conclusions are at least on the right track. I’d give this card 2/5 – it’s a very powerful card that helps a weak archetype, but it encourages a style of play that I view as being detrimental to the game.
Being a Potence/Obfuscate card, this was clearly designed to help Nosferatu and Nosferatu Antitribu combat decks. The inferior effect (maneuver to close or press to continue) is certainly interesting because Potence has access to so few maneuvers. The press is less exciting only because Potence has ready access to these, but the flexibility to use either option shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s the superior effect that is the strange part of the card. If you are blocked and you knock the opposing vampire into torpor, you can burn a blood to continue the action. So let’s count the conditions that need to be met in order to play this card: 1) You have to be acting. 2) You have to be blocked (despite the fact that you are playing the best stealth discipline in the game). 3) You have to send the opposing minion to torpor or burn them. 4) You have to have been doing a meaningful action that you want to continue. 5) You have to have a blood to spend. That’s a lot of conditions. Sure some of them are easy to do (like the first and fifth), but others are at the very least non-trivial. But the big question here is what blockable action might a Nosferatu / Nosferatu Antitribu be doing that is worth continuing?
Well, Computer Hacking is good, but I don’t think it’s good enough to make a Bruise & Bleed deck out of. I guess you could be calling a political referendum, but why not just play with more stealth? The only situation I can think of that this card would be useful is in a rush deck that dedicates the vast majority of it’s cards to combat and can’t afford to pack much stealth. So you rush, get blocked, send one vampire to torpor, continue the action and send a second vampire to torpor. Or at least that’s the dream. Good luck pulling that off! If this is actually the case, it means that the card is designed to help combat decks send even more vampires to torpor. Too bad that it doesn’t help these combat decks actually oust their prey. Ok, so what impact has this combat card had on the game? Well, it’s been featured in 1 tournament winning deck since 2014. And that deck had exactly 1 copy. It wasn’t even a Nos or Nos Anti deck, it was yet another Nana Buruku deck. Given this, I have to give it a 2/5 – it’s a combat card that helps combat do what it does best but fails to make it viable. If it works to it’s full potential it would only make the game more annoying.
So we all know how I feel about Black Hand cards, so you can already guess that I’m starting out slightly less than pleased about this card. That having been said, the contract mechanic is woefully underutilized and it’s nice to see some cards trying to make it better. In this case, it’s a trifle contract that allows all your Black Hand vampires to stealth rush the vampire with the contract. If combat was a decent strategy to win this game, this card would likely be a pretty good one. I honestly think the designers did a much better job making the contract mechanic functional with Priority Contract, which gains you 3 pool when you fulfill it, meaning that your combat ability is also providing you with a modicum of defense. Looking at all the tournament winning decks since 2014, this card has appeared in only 2 decks, neither of which features more than 2 copies of the card. Given how powerful this card is, I suspect that this is more a commentary on the weakness of the Black Hand trait and combat decks in general than it is a condemnation of the card itself. Combat clearly needs help in the game, but giving Black Hand vampires more efficient ways to enter combat isn’t going to accomplish this. I give this card a 2/5.
EDIT: It was pointed out to me that this card works particularly well when paired with Open Dossier. Shakar: the Hunt allows all of your Black Hand vampires to access this situational but very awesome reaction card. It effectively gives you access to Second Tradition. This usage is pretty awesome, and because it provides an effective means of defense, it bumps my rating of the card up to 3/5.
This is another clear attempt to help the Bruise + Bleed archetype. It’s existed since the beginning of the game but is widely considered to be ineffective, or at least sub-optimal. My guess is that this feeling stems from the number of cards that you need in a specific order for any action (bleed action followed by a long chain of combat cards – Torn Signpost, possible maneuver, Immortal Grapple, and Taste of Vitae). That means that ~5 cards in your hand need to be the right cards. For each of your actions. So giving these decks any way to reduce the number of specific cards they require will help with the flow of cards. Show of Force attempts to give you the benefits of a Presence bleed card with the combat efficacy of a Potence card. It (potentially) removes the need for Torn Signpost, meaning that you need one fewer card for your action chain.
The fact that the extra strength is optional is pretty nice – if your bleed gets bounced, you aren’t forced to rough up your ally. But this benefit comes at the cost of making the card a lot more complex. The wording on the card would be so much cleaner if it was just “Bleed at +1 bleed. This vampire gains +1 strength in the resulting combat if this action is blocked.” I’m not sure if the utility of the card is worth the additional wordiness, but I think I’m much more concerned about card complexity than the rest of the community, so perhaps it’s not a problem. The real question is how effective the card is at helping the Bruise + Bleed archetype. Well, since 2014, Show of Force has appeared in 2 tournament winning decks – it has been impactful, just not overly so. Despite this, I like that the card is trying to push a non-standard archetype, so I’m willing to give it a 4/5.
A card trying to provide a viable defense to a clan that hasn’t done very well? And it doesn’t require a separate action forcing the player to choose between defense and offense? I’m liking where this is going! If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that I have a pet theory that weak clans stay weak not because they can’t oust, but because they can’t survive long enough to do so. The real question is if this card provides enough protection to make the Brujah Antitribu viable. Well, gaining 1 pool and 1 blood for a successful directed action does sound pretty sweet, although getting a successful action through may or may not be a trivial thing. The problem is that 1 pool is just not enough of a buffer in a world of Dominate bleed, especially if you are being bled by players other than your predator due to bleed bounce cards. I’d honestly be much happier if this card was put into play and could be burned to cancel a reaction card that would redirect the target of a bleed to you. Maybe something like Two Wrongs. Then again, I’ve advocated for giving bleed bounce to everybody, so I might not be the best person to suggest changes to this card.
How much of a difference has this card made? Well, it’s been featured in 3 tournament winning decks since 2014, which certainly isn’t bad. Far more impressive is how the set as a whole has helped the Brujah Antitribu. From 2007 through 2013, there are 8 Brujah Antitribu tournament winning decks. That works out to 0.57% of the winning decks. But from 2014 to the present, there have been 5 Brujah Antitribu tournament winning decks, which works out to 5.1%. That’s a pretty sizable increase, and indicates to me that Danse Macabre helped rekindle interest in this clan, and helped them power-level wise. Now Spoils of War doesn’t deserve all the credit for that, but it is a factor, and I’m more than happy to give the card a 4/5.
They certainly saved the best for last! This is true in terms of power (man is this card good!), the flavor the card brings to the sect, and the fact that it strengthens a number of previously weak clans and deck types. This card gives you a reason to actually play Sabbat (which is something long missing from the sect), and it really helps Bishops. It’s even in keeping with the flavor of other cards requiring titled Sabbat like Eternal Vigilance. And of course it’s a nice Sabbat version of Second Tradition. Really, the only thing I don’t like about this card is that it’s unique. Sure, no player should be able to have more than one in play at a time, but I’m not sure why they need to contest each other. But since the Sabbat are still the underdogs in the game, it’s unlikely that you’ll get multiple Sabbat decks at any table so contests should be kept to a minimum, I suppose.
This card can found in 18 different tournament winning decks since 2014. Sure the card supports some strong archetypes like Ventrue Antitribu stickmen and Tzimisce intercept combat, but it’s also used as a great defensive option in very tool-boxy decks. It has provided a defensive option strong enough to allow people to diversify their deck builds. This is a well designed card and it’s great to have it in the game. 5/5 – great job design team!
So how did the set do over all? Well, if you simply average all my scores together, the result is 2.9/5 – not exactly a good result. But the reason for this low score is a few offensive cards (Instantaneous Transformation), and a number of cards that have had little effect on the game, but which might push people towards strategies that I consider poisonous to the game (Recruitment Exercise and Shadow Boxing). But as I just said, this second category of cards really hasn’t had much of an impact on the game as of yet, and so it might be unfair to harshly judge the entire set because of them. The set does include some very well designed cards (Show of Force), and some very powerful cards designed to help the weakest sect (Under Siege). The set also provides new players some cards that can be easily slotted into the Third Edition starter decks, which appears to be the most plentiful source of new cards at the moment. So over all, I think the game has been more improved by the set than it has been damaged, so I’d rate the library cards in this set as a 3.5/5.
Before I leave this topic, I have two final quick comments. The first is that writing criticism like this sometimes makes me feel a bit cheap – not because I’m inventing reasons to write negative things about cards, but because judging a card as a player is so trivial in comparison to the extremely difficult process of creating the card in the first place. In the back of my mind, I just keep remembering a quote from the Pixar film Ratatouille, where the food critic / villain reflects on his work near the end of the film: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” And finally, while I am not the biggest fan of many of the cards in Danse Macabre, I think the designers did a much better job with their second set: the Unaligned. I’m sure I’ll get the chance to talk about that set some another time, but suffice to say that I think the VEKN designers learned a lot from making Danse Macabre, and that shows in their future work. I very much look forward to seeing what they do for the bloodlines in 2016, and hope that they consider coming back to the poor Sabbat in 2017.
Until next time, may your bleeds never be bounced, and all your referendums be successful!