So you want to learn to play Vampire: the Eternal Struggle (VTES), huh? Well, it’s a complicated game and there is a lot to understand. Fortunately, there are a number of resources that will help you get started. If you are looking for general information about the game, where to buy cards, or how to build decks, you’ll want to check out my New Players’ Corner. It has a ton of great information about the game.
But if you want to actually learn how to play VTES, then you’ve come to the right place! This is the introduction to a three part series that will guide you through the basic rules of the game. This guide isn’t comprehensive – there are rare situations and seldom used rules that I’ll skip through. But once you’ve read and absorbed this series, you’ll be able to use the rulebook as a reference document to learn any rules that I don’t cover. But before we dive in, there are a few basics that you’ll need to be familiar with.
VTES is a very social multiplayer game that is best played with 4 or 5 players. But 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 a Victory Point and 6 additional pool. The next player to your left now becomes your new Prey. At the end of the game (or at the end of 2 hours, whichever comes first), the player with the most Victory Points (even if they have been eliminated) is the winner!
You play the game with two decks of cards. The first is your Crypt, which includes all the lesser vampires that you can seduce into your service. These Crypt cards all have amber-colored card backs. The second deck is your Library, which includes many different types of cards that represent the potential abilities open to your vampires. These cards all have green-colored card 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 replace it unless the card instructs you to do otherwise. This means that you will almost always have a hand of seven Library cards.
One of the key aspects of the game is getting rid of cards that aren’t presently useful in the hopes of drawing useful cards to replace them. A consequence of this is that VTES is unique in that it has rules about when player can’t play cards. This prevents players from endlessly playing useless cards until they have the cards they want in their hands. I’ll carefully mention these rules as they come up. With all that out of the way, let’s get started!
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 for more than 20 years. During that time, the cards frames have gone through one major change and a number of minor alterations. The guides above use examples of the current card design. Below is an example of a old 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 game symbols, 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.
Once you finish going through the guide, there are a number of other resources that you might find useful, including:
- My New Player’s Guide to VTES, which includes everything you need to play except the rules!
- The complete VTES rulebook has been recently updated and improved. Once you finish with the above guide, you’ll be ready to dive in!
- There is an excellent demo document that walks you through a number of turns and provides pictures of cards and minions.
- There is an excellent reference sheet that you might want to download and print (which has been formatted as two A4 pages, or a single A3 page).
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!).