If you want to learn how to play Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (VTES), then you’ve come to the right place! If you are instead looking for general information about the game, where to buy cards, build decks, etc, you’ll want to check out my New Players’ Corner.
Two notes before we begin: First, this guide isn’t comprehensive – there are rare situations and seldom used rules that I simply skip. But once you’ve read and absorbed the information presented below, you’ll be able to use the official updated rulebook as a reference document to learn any minor rule that I don’t cover. Second, I highly suggest that you go through this guide with a printed cheat sheet. There are two that I suggest you consider:
- Black Chantry Productions has made official helpsheets to accompany each of their decks. For our purposes, you’ll want the second page, which walks you through a turn.
- Ke Carlton created an excellent reference sheet which can be printed on one A3 (“Legal size” in the US) or two A4 pages (“Letter size” in US). This was made in 2015, so it says “tap or untap” where it should now say “lock or unlock“.
VTES is a social multiplayer game that is best played with 4 or 5 players. Unlike most multiplayer games, it isn’t just a free-for-all where anybody can attack anybody. Instead, the player to your left is your Prey. They are your one and only target, and many of the game’s basic offensive actions can only be directed at your Prey. This dynamic means that the player on your right, called your Predator, is trying to kill you.
Each player starts the game with 30 pool (as in “pool of influence”) which is your life total. Pool is spent in a number of ways such as bribing vampires into your service, gaining control over important locations, and purchasing equipment. If your Prey is ever reduced to 0 pool (regardless of whether you killed them or somebody else finished them off accidentally) they are eliminated from the game, and you gain 1 Victory Point and 6 additional pool. The next player to your left now becomes your new Prey.
The game ends in one of two ways: 1) when only 1 player remains (in which case that player receives 1 Victory Point) or 2) at the end of 2 hours (in which case all surviving players receive 0.5 Victory Points). Whoever has the most Victory Points at the end of the game is the winner! Even if you have been eliminated, you are still eligible to win!
You play the game with two decks of cards. The first is your Crypt, which includes all the lesser vampires that you can manipulate into your service. These Crypt cards have amber-colored backs.
The second deck is your Library, which includes many different types of cards that represent the abilities available to your vampires. These cards all have green-colored backs. Your hand of cards will only contain card from your Library. Furthermore, each time you play or discard a card from your hand, you immediately draw another card to replace it unless you are instructed otherwise. This means that you will almost always have a hand of seven Library cards.
This simple rule makes VTES play very differently than most card games. Players will try to “cycle” their hand to ensure a steady influx of useful cards. They also attempt to “choke” their opponent, forcing them to sit with a hand of useless cards. One consequence of this is that VTES has rules about when players are NOT allowed to play cards. These are designed to prevent a player from endlessly playing useless cards until they draw the ones they want. I’ll carefully mention these situations as they come up.
I have broken the guide into three parts, which are linked to below. The first covers how your minions take actions and how other minions react to these actions. This ebb and flow of actions and reactions lies at the very heart of the game and is correspondingly the most difficult part to understand. Once you have mastery of these concepts, I move onto the full turn sequence, and finally I describe combat.
Hey, my cards look different!
If the example cards used in the guides above don’t quite look like the cards you own, it’s due to the fact that VTES has been around since 1994. During that time, the cards have gone through several significant changes. The guides above use examples of the current card design from Black Chantry Productions. Below is an example of a Crypt card (old and new), and a Library card (old and new):
As you can see, the old and new cards contain the same information and use (almost all) the same iconography, but the position of the information and the card backgrounds have been altered. The only icons that were changed are those denoting the cost of a card (pool versus blood). I’ve included the old and new icons below.
Wait, I have questions!
Everybody who plays this game runs into rules questions at some point. This is especially true when you are first learning the game. If you are playing with experienced players, make sure that you ask them whenever you are confused. Most VTES players are very friendly and will happily explain how a card works or how it interacts with other cards. If you are playing with a group who are learning the game, I suggest that you write down your question, do what makes sense at the moment, and then post your question on the Official VTES Discord server. Remember that the whole point of the game is to have fun. If you ever get into a rules disagreement with another player, consider rolling a die to resolve the matter. Then look up the official answer after the game.
Many thanks to David Corson-Knowles and Mark Jasper for their in-depth edits of this guide, and for minor corrections by many members of the VTES community – their collective improvements have helped to bring clarity and simplicity to this complex game (and ensured that everything I’ve written is accurate!).