*This guide is also available on VEKN.net – both copies should be identical, but this one is more likely to be updated in a timely fashion. Enjoy!
Welcome to Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (or VTES for short)! VTES is a multi-player collectable card game based on the award-winning Vampire: the Masquerade role playing game in which players take on the role of ancient vampires known as a Methuselahs. Considered mere legend by many, Methuselahs rule everything from the shadows, engaging in a eons-long Machiavellian conflict that encompasses political, social, and even physical warfare. The struggle is won or lost based on the actions taken by your minions – younger vampires who unknowingly do your bidding. In this way, the game can allow for deep and immersive storytelling as your minions purchase equipment, hire retainers, and even suggest legislative changes to vampiric society, all in the service of your dark plots.
Although the last official card set was released in 2010 by White Wolf, VTES is still played and enjoyed by players around the world. Tournaments still draw large groups of attendees, and some continental championships see more than 100 players attend. The game is currently supported by Vampire: Elder Kindred Network™ (VEKN), the official player organization responsible for sanctioning and regulating VTES tournaments, recording V:TES players’ ratings (and rankings), as well as designing and releasing new digital expansions featuring professional artwork.
This guide will provide you with the information that you need to quickly and easily get involved with the game.
- What kind of game is VTES, and why would I want to play it?
- How do I play VTES?
- How do I find people to play with?
- Where can I acquire cards?
- What are some good beginner decks that I can play?
- How do I build my first deck?
- What else do I need to know?
- Where can I find more information?
VTES was the second card game designed by Richard Garfield (designer of Magic the Gathering, Netrunner, and other games). It was designed to avoid some of the flaws that Garfield found in Magic: VTES does not require you to include resource or mana cards in your deck, and cards are instantly replaced when played, meaning that card draw isn’t as important as knowing when to discard or “cycle away” a card. It also has a gameplay experience more in keeping with a boardgame than a traditional card game – VTES is usually played by 4 or 5 players and games can last up to 2 hours.
Unlike most multi-player games, players in VTES do not engage in a free-for-all. Instead, each player directs their attacks to the player on their left (their “prey”) and defends against the player on their right (their “predator”). You gain victory points by eliminating or “ousting” your prey from the game, in which case the next player to the left becomes your new prey. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins (even if they have been ousted!). This arrangement makes the game a very social one – you and the player two seats to the left and right have common enemies. But if you help these allies too much, you may find that you’ve made one of them too strong, and when they suddenly become your new predator, your help has transformed an ally into a deadly threat.
VTES is also a resource management game. Each player begins with 30 points of influence called “pool” that Methuselahs hold dearer than unlife itself. If you run out of pool, you are ousted from the game. But this pool is also the way that you sway vampires to your cause. Weak fledgling vampire are easily seduced, but the older more powerful ones require more convincing, which may require multiple turns to accomplish. Once a vampire is converted to your side, all the pool you spent on them becomes blood possessed by that vampire, which can be spent to play cards that allow them to activate their unique vampiric powers. Each minion must manage their blood and you must manage your pool – spending more provides you with additional minions, but brings you one step closer to being ousted. Under- or over- investing in your minions may well cost you the game.
In short, you are likely to enjoy this game if you enjoy any of following:
- a modern, supernatural setting.
- card games like Magic the Gathering.
- very social multi-player games that involve a lot of deal making.
- games with a long play time, and with complex rules that encourage great strategic depth.
Conversely, you are not likely to enjoy this game if you are opposed to the following:
- games that include player elimination.
- long games with many layers of strategy.
- games that require a group to play.
VTES is a complicated game, and it can be difficult to puzzle it out from the rule book alone. Really, the best way to learn how to play VTES is to have an experienced player teach it to you. An excellent way to find somebody who can teach you in your area is to check out the list of Princes – these are VEKN volunteers who would be delighted to schedule a demo for you. Don’t worry if you don’t own any cards yet – your local prince or playgroup will undoubtedly have decks that you can borrow while you learn.
But if that isn’t an option, there are still a few resources available that should allow you to learn the game on your own:
- A Quick-Start Guide which walks players through individual cards and provides plenty of real-game examples. It’s really a text version of the demo I provide for new players and is the perfect place to start if you want to learn the rules.
- A demo document that walks you through a number of turns and provides pictures of cards and minions – once you know the basics, this is a fantastic guide.
- You should also download and print this excellent reference sheet (which has been formatted as two A4 pages, or a single A3 page) which was put together by Ke.
- The complete rulebook has recently been updated and improved – once you have the basics of the game down, you will find it to be an excellent resource.
Finally, there are some excellent videos on YouTube that serve as an introduction to the basic mechanics of VTES. While these videos are great, they aren’t quite enough to teach a new player how to play the game on their own, so it is suggested that you pair them with the resources above.
- An introduction to VTES by Ancestral Recall
- A thematic introduction to VTES by the Gentleman Gamer
- Discussion of Crypt cards and Library cards (part 1 and part 2) by the Gentleman Gamer
- A basic guide to playing VTES online using LackeyCCG by the Gentleman Gamer
You can discover if there is a play group already established in your area in number of ways. The first is by checking out the list of Princes – these are VEKN volunteers who serve as local tournament organizers. Check to see if one lives near you, and feel free to email them – they should be able to provide you information about whether a local group exists and how to get in contact with them. Your next resource is the VTES Player Map, which shows the location of all players who have registered on it. While this is a great resource, many active players haven’t signed up for it, so don’t worry too much if there don’t seem to be any players in your area. You can also post on the City, State, Country & Region section of the forums. It’s a great way to connect with nearby players and to see if there is a local VTES game night in your area. And finally, you should check out the event calendar, and the tournament map – both will show you when and where upcoming tournaments are being held around the world!
If you find that you don’t have a regular play group (or you just need more VTES in your life), you can also play online. There are two main platforms used for online play. Jyhad On-Line (JOL) is a web-based service that is similar to a play-by-post system where players do not have to all be online at the same time, but games take weeks to finish. There is a JOL League that you can sign up to participate in. If you want to learn how to use JOL, you can read this guide here [guide forthcoming].
The other platform used for playing VTES online is LackeyCCG, a program that you need to download and patch for VTES (instructions can be found here). It more closely mimics a normal game where all players are online and play simultaneously. There is an active community on facebook that organizes games. If you want to learn how to play on LackeyCCG, you can either watch this video produced by the Gentleman Gamer, or you can check out this guide [guide forthcoming].
If you need help deciding which platform is best for you, there is a great article about the advantages and disadvantages of JOL and LackeyCCG on VTES Consumed.
The very best place to get cards is your local play group. These days, it’s common practice for players with large collections to set aside cards to give or sell cheaply to new players. Don’t be shy in asking if anyone has done this – VTES players are well known for their generosity, and there isn’t much we like more than seeing new players enjoy the game. Assuming that your local playgroup doesn’t have cards to spare (or you want to buy other cards), your choices are somewhat limited. Perhaps the best option is to buy a former player’s collection – these occasionally pop up on ebay, and they tend to give you the best value for your dollar, assuming that you are willing to spend a lot of money all at once. People also occasionally sell collections on the VTES Swap & Sale International Facebook group.
If you are looking to purchase boxes of boosters or starter decks, you will first want to identify which sets you want to purchase. A guide on all sets, how good they are for beginners, and where to buy them is available here. One note of caution: the Nights of Reckoning set is cheaply and easily available, but it introduces a new self-contained mechanic to the game that is not supported by any other set. I highly recommend staying away from this set until you are quite experienced with the game. Once you know what sets you want to buy, you can check out these merchants:
- Fantasiapelit (Europe Only)
- Hill’s Wholesale Gaming
- Noble Knight Games
- Potomac Distribution
- Rose Tatu Productions
- Universal Cards
There are also a number of merchants who sell individual cards – you will find that most cards are quite cheap (several for a dollar), but a few are quite rare and can be more expensive. Below is a short list of recommended retailers who sell single VTES cards and where they are based (those marked with an * have cheap international shipping).
- *Bik’s Ebay Store (Czech Republic)
- CCG GAMEZ (UK + Europe)
- House Antreides (UK)
- *Idasoft’s Ebay Store (Australia)
- *Rick’s Jyhad and VTES Ebay Store (US)
- VTES.ES (Spain)
A great place for new players to start is Rose Tatu Productions – they offer starter decks from the Black Hand and Third Edition sets very cheaply. Decide which set of clans you like best (both sets feature Malkavian Antitribu and Tremere Antitribu; Black Hand also includes Nosferatu Antitribu and Toreador Antitribu, while Third Edition adds Brujah Antitribu and Tzimisce), and buy the appropriate Play Group Support Kit. For $60, you get 1 of all four starter decks and 400 support cards that you won’t find in the starters. If you want to spend a little more money, you could also purchase Blood Shadow Court (a single pack of 100 unique vampires). If you really wanted to go all out, you could get a support kit for both Black Hand and Third Edition along with a couple Blood Shadow Court. This would provide you with a really nice base of vampires and a lot of library cards that would go together nicely. It’s an excellent way to start your collection and really dive into the game, and it will run you less than $150.
A last important note is that many play groups allow the use of proxy cards (a printed piece of paper covering a normal card inside a card sleeve) for causal games. This can be a great way to experiment with cards that you don’t own before investing in them. Check with your play group to see what their feelings are on proxied cards.
Several members of the community have put together relatively straightforward decks that are built almost entirely of easy to acquire cards, and were designed with new players in mind. Below is a list of these decks, along with some information about which card sets were used in their construction. Any of these decks would provide an excellent entry point for a new player.
Preston Poulter put these decks together almost entirely from common cards that can be found in the original Jyhad / VTES sets, meaning that they can all be constructed relatively easily if you have access to cards from those sets. The few cards that aren’t from Jyhad / VTES are commons from other sets. There is one deck for each clan included in the original set (Brujah, Gangrel, Malkavian, Nosferatu, Toreador, Tremere, and Ventrue). He also cheaply sells these decks individually or as a complete set on ebay.
These decks focus on the 9 Sabbat clans (Brujah Antitribu, Gangrel Antitribu, Lasombra, Malkavian Antitribu, Nosferatu Antitribu, Toreador Antitribu, Tremere Antitribu, Tzimisce, and Ventrue Antitribu), and may soon include decks for the Independent clans (Assamite, Followers of Set, Giovanni, and Ravnos). The decks use crypts from the Black Hand, Third Edition, and (sometimes) Sword of Caine sets – all of which are relatively easy to acquire. The library cards are mostly common cards taken from the same sets, meaning that they are relatively easy to assemble. He has written an article about each deck which includes advice on how to play it, why he made certain card choices, and suggestions on what cards you could add to improve / customize it. He sells these decks cheaply, but can only ship inside Germany. If you live there, contact him to see if he has any in stock!
These decks were built specifically for use in demo situations, and Brett carries them around to all his demo events. Currently there are six decks (Brujah, Gangrel, Malkavian, Nosferatu, Toreador, and Ventrue) with more in development. They use crypts from groups 1 and 2, and primarily common and uncommon cards found in a variety of sets, meaning that they might be a little difficult to construct from a limited collection. He sells these decks cheaply, but can only ship in the US. If you live there, contact him to see if he has any in stock!
Before we talk about the strategy behind deck building, we need to go over some quick rules that you will need to keep in mind when building your decks:
- Your crypt must contain at least 12 cards, but may contain as many as you wish.
- All your crypt cards must belong to the same crypt group, or to sequential crypt groups: so you may include cards from group 1 only or groups 1+2, but not groups 1+3 (what are crypt groups?).
- Your library must contain at least 60 cards, and no more than 90 cards.
- There is no limit to the number of copies your crypt or library can have of any single card.
The next question will be how you keep track of your decks. While some players don’t use any sort of deck tracking mechanism, many utilize websites and programs that allow them to build and save decks. One of the most popular of these is the web-based Secret Library, which will also allow you to track your collection and to look at public decks saved by other people. Another is the Anarch Revolt Deck Builder, which must be downloaded. Finally, Vampidroid is a great program for Android phones and tablets.
In general, deck construction is a complicated subject, but here are a few general pieces of advice:
- Decks are usually built around themes, which are often a specific combination of disciplines. When you are selecting vampires, don’t be afraid to step outside your “core” clan to grab a vampire who matches your theme. Examples include Beast, the Leatherface of Detroit being added to a Brujah combat deck, or Suhailah being added to a Nosferatu political deck.
- The best themes include a way to oust your prey, and a way to survive. Prey ousting themes traditionally include bleeding, political actions, combat, and trick decks. Survival themes traditionally include blocking, bleed bounce, rush combat (proactive defense), and pool gain.
- Make sure that you have some way to recoup the pool that you invest in your minions. This typically means including cards like Blood Doll, Vessel, Minion Tap, Villein, or Tribute to the Master in your deck to move blood from your minions back to your pool, and some mechanism to get blood back onto your minions.
- While Master cards are powerful, you can only play one per turn, and if you include too many in your deck, you’ll find that your hand is filled with unplayable master cards. As a rule of thumb, 20% or less of your deck should be master cards (so 18 or less in a 90 card deck). There will be exceptions to this rule (like if you can play more than one master card per turn because of cards like Anson or The Parthenon, or if you have a number of trifle master cards in your deck), but in general, you should be very mindful of how many master cards are going into your deck.
- Finally, while you are allowed to have 90 cards in your library, it is rarely a good idea to do so. Having fewer cards in total makes it more likely that you will draw your most important cards. If you are having trouble with a 90 card deck, try cutting it down to 85 or 80 and see what happens – the deck might improve by quite a lot!
If you want to read some more in-depth advice on making successful decks, please check out these fantastic articles about deck building:
- Basic Concepts in Deck Construction by Gregory Williams. I think that this is the definitive article written on deck building for VTES. It is a fantastic resource and should likely be your go-to guide. It was originally posted in 2005 and was preserved by the Los Angeles and Santa Clara play groups.
- Strategy Guide For Noobs: Deckbuilding 101 by Kevin Scribner and Deckbuilding Theory by Bram Vink are also good resources, although they are both older and somewhat outdated (some of the resources they point to no longer exist). Both articles were preserved by The Lasombra.
- Happy Families is a very popular theory on how to balance the number of discipline cards with the crypt cards you have. The Secret Library deck builder also contains the code necessary to do this calculation for you.
- Here is an article written by Andrew Weston about deckbuilding for Jyhad.
- VTES Newbie, Singing VTES, and IcLee have all written excellent articles on how they build decks.
- Finally, Paul Johnson wrote a system where you can play test your deck solo. He advises that the system only be employed by advanced players. This article was preserved by The Lasombra.
Finally, if you are looking for inspiration, you should consider checking out the Deck Clinic section of the forums, as well as these two great resources:
- VTES ONE has written articles about 27 different significant deck archetypes, along with suggestions on how to build and play each of them It’s well worth checking out!
- The community keeps a listing of all the decks that have won tournaments, called Tournament Winning Deck Archive (TWDA). This archive has been organized and sorted according to clan by Brett S.
First, there is no set rotation in VTES, so all cards are legal for play at all levels (other than the very short list of banned cards). There is no other restriction on what library cards can be included in your deck, meaning that there is no limit to the number of copies of a single card you may included.
Second, some older cards have received errata, and the correct versions have been reprinted. As an example, if you have a new copy of Majesty, you will notice that it costs a blood at both levels (older versions cost a blood only at the superior level). It is important that you pay attention to which cards have received new wording and which are the same – you can find a complete list of the cards that have been updated here. Note that most of the changes are minor wording changes.
Third, there are multiple card back images for VTES cards including the original “Jyhad” cards, the new “Vampire: the Eternal Struggle” cards, and the misprinted upside-down Third Edition cards. You are allowed to play decks that include cards with more than one card back, but tournament organizers often ask that these decks be placed in opaque card sleeves so that the card back is no longer visible.
Fourth, there are restrictions on which crypt cards can be included in a deck. Only crypt cards from sequential groups may be included in a single deck. This means that a deck might include groups 1 and 2, or 2 and 3, but not 1 and 3. This rule was included for balance reasons, but it wasn’t instituted until group 3 – meaning that group 1 and 2 crypt cards do not include group numbers. The way to tell what group a crypt card with no group number is to look for the presence or absence of an expansion icon in the upper right hand corner of the card. If the card does not have an icon, it belongs to group 1. If the card does have an icon, it belongs to group 2. Check out this image for a visual guide on how to determine the crypt group for these older cards.
Fifth, new sets of cards are being released by the VEKN at a rate of ~1 per year. These cards can be freely printed and played, and they are legal at all VTES events. In order to play with these cards, they must be printed, cut, and slid in front of a normal VTES card inside an opaque card sleeve (such that you can’t see the original card). Note that for legal reasons, you may not produce or play with cards that have been professionally printed. If you have any questions about how to play with these sets, check out this FAQ.
Finally, there are a number of terms and abbreviations that VTES players commonly use to describe specific cards and strategies. VTES ONE has put together a fantastic colloquial dictionary for VTES that will introduce you to the most common of these.
If you are seeking more information on the VEKN organization, or want to learn how to get involved, please see the VEKN FAQ.
If you are having a rules question, you should go to the rules forum. There, you can search through old postings, or simply post your question. Make sure to include the card text of cards that you are confused about!
If you are looking for more information about the lore of Vampire: the Masquerade, you should take a look at the unofficial White Wolf Wiki, which is a very complete source for lore information. Another fantastic resource are the videos produced by the Gentleman Gamer regarding individual clans and bloodlines.
Finally, if you are looking for more websites that discuss VTES, please check out this list of links.