Setting up the game:
You’ll need a few things to play VTES:
- Each player needs their own deck.
- Each player needs at least 30 small counters to represent blood.
- The table as a whole needs one counter to represent the Edge.
Each deck will actually be composed of two separate decks – one with amber colored backs which are shuffled together to form your Crypt, the other with green colored backs which are shuffled together to form your Library. You can find some decks specifically made with new players in mind here. Any tokens should work for blood and the Edge, but players often take the opportunity to personalize the counters they use. From experience I can suggest that if you decide to use dice, each die should represent 1 blood, not the value shown (you’ll be moving blood around a lot, and it’s easy to bump the table to have all your blood values be changed).
Once you’ve assembled all the components listed above, you should randomly determine seating order and which player will take the first turn. Each player will then set up their play area according to the chart below. Your Crypt is shuffled and set to the left, while your Library is shuffled and set to the right. You then draw four cards from your Crypt and place them face-down between your Crypt and Library (you can look at these cards, but they are hidden from the other players). These four face-down Crypt cards are in your Uncontrolled Region, which represents the vampires that you can attempt to recruit as minions. To the right of your Library is your Ash Heap (discard pile). Any time a card is played or “burned” from play, it ends up in the Ash Heap. In front of this all this is your Ready Region – once you have minions, this is where they will go. Finally, if your vampires sustain massive damage, they will be sent to the Torpor Region (which is next to your Uncontrolled Region). Vampires in the Torpor Region are controlled, but not ready. For more information about Torpor, check out the section on Combat.
Each player then takes 30 blood tokens to represent their pool (as in pool of influence). Any additional blood tokens should be set aside in a pile referred to as the Blood Bank. The Edge token should be placed in the middle of the table to indicate that it is not yet controlled. With that, you’re ready to play!
Each player will complete their turn in order with play proceeding to the left (so you will take your turn just after your Predator took theirs). Each turn consists of five major phases: Untap, Master, Minion, Influence, and Discard. I’ll discuss each phase in turn, and discuss both what the acting player does, and what the other players are allowed to do during that phase.
I: Untap Phase
During this phase, you will untap each tapped card that you control, and if you control the Edge during your untap phase, you gain a pool. You may also control cards that have effects during your Untap Phase. Warzone Hunting Ground (shown below) is an excellent example – it provides one of your minions with a blood during your untap phase. There is nothing for other players to do during your Untap Phase.
II: Master Phase
Master cards represent actions taken directly by you, the ancient Methuselah. These might include purchasing a Secure Haven for one of your vampires, or providing your minions with a Hunting Ground, or tutoring a vampire in a discipline they didn’t previous know. Master cards are indeed powerful, but you should carefully think about how many of them to include in your deck because usually you will only be allowed to play one Master card per turn. Let’s go ahead and look at a Master Card:
Like the cards shown in the last section, Master cards have a card name and expansion symbol at the top. The column on the left hand side provides a spot to indicate a clan requirement. The card above, for instance, requires that you have a member of Clan Brujah in play before you are allowed to play it. The bottom of the column provides a spot to indicated if there is a cost to playing the card. The card above requires that you pay 2 pool if you want to play this card. Finally, there is a Text Box which describes the effect of the card. Notice that the top of the Text Box will always include the word Master in bold to indicate that this is a Master card.
There are two special types of Master cards that deserve special mention. These are indicated by bold text at the top of the card’s Text Box. The first are Master: Trifle cards, which represent very small and insignificant actions. The first time each turn that you play a Master: Trifle card, it allows you to play a second Master card that turn. So you could play one Master: Trifle card followed by a normal Master card, or you could play two Master: Trifle cards. The second type is Master: out-of-turn cards. These are Master cards that can only be played on another player’s turn, usually in response to something they have played. Each Master: out-of-turn card will include instructions about when it can be played. When you play a Master: out-of-turn card, you lose the ability to play a Master card during your next turn (you “use up” your next Master Phase to play one of these cards).
Other players usually have nothing to do during your Master Phase, but they may play certain Master: out-of-turn cards which will cancel your Master cards as they are played.
III: Minion Phase
This is where your minions may attempt to take actions, and minions controlled by other players may play Reaction cards and attempt to block. This phase was explained in the first part of this guide.
IV: Influence Phase
The Influence Phase is when you may attempt to compel vampires in your Uncontrolled Region into becoming your minions. In order to accomplish this, you must transfer your pool (life) onto a Crypt card in your uncontrolled region equal to that vampire’s capacity. At the end of the influence phase, any vampire who meets this condition will be flipped face-up and moved to your Ready Region.
You are limited in the amount of pool you can move each turn. During most of the game, you will have 4 transfers, which can be spent according to the chart below. The only time when you won’t have 4 transfers is at the start of the game. To counterbalance the advantages of playing first, the first player receives only 1 transfer on their first turn. Each subsequent player will gain 1 additional transfer, up to 4. Every turn thereafter, each player receives 4 transfers.
- 1 transfer: move 1 counter from your pool to a Crypt card in your Uncontrolled Region
- 2 transfers: move 1 counter from a Crypt card in your Uncontrolled Region to your pool
- 4 transfers: spend 1 pool to move the top card of your Crypt into your Uncontrolled Region
Spending your transfers and moving pool around is most of what you will be doing during your Transfer Phase, however, they may also be effects from cards like Powerbase: Montreal that will trigger during this phase. Other players don’t really have anything they can do during your Transfer Phase.
V: Discard Phase
During your Discard Phase, you may discard one card and immediately draw a new card from your Library to replace it. Alternatively, you may put an Event Card into play. Event cards are marked by the Event Icon – an example is shown to the right. While in play, Event cards permanently alter the rules of the game. They represent global events from the Vampire: the Masquerade roleplaying game like the awakening of antideluvians or the events of Gehenna. Once an Event card has been played, no other player may play the same Event card. While other players typically have nothing to do during your Discard Phase, there are a small number of cards that cancel an Event card as it is played which are used during this phase.
While there are a number of circumstances that could arise in the game that I haven’t covered, there are two that I think deserve to be highlighted:
Contested Cards: Some cards in VTES represent unique individuals, locations, or items. While all vampires are considered unique unless the card specifically includes the text “non-unique,” Library cards are not considered to be unique unless their textbox includes the text “unique.” There can only be one copy of a unique card in play at a time. If another player successfully brings out a unique card that has the same name as a unique card in play, both cards become contested. Contested cards are flipped face-down, and they are considered to be out of play. During your untap phase, for each contested card you control, you must choose to either pay 1 pool to continue the contest, or you must yield. If you yield the contest, your face-down card is burned. If all other cards contesting your unique card have been burned, then your card is turned face up during your next untap phase, at which time you may use it as usual. Note that you may never contest a card with yourself. This means that if you have a unique card in play, you are not allowed to attempt to bring out a second card with the same name.
Contested Titles: Some vampires possess specific titles which grant them votes during referendums. While most of these titles are not unique (for example, many vampires can simultaneously hold the title of Primogen), some titles represent positions in vampiric society that can only be held by one individual at a time. For example, there can only be one vampire in charge of a specific city, meaning that if two vampires are in play who are both the Prince of Paris, their titles become contested. Note that the title doesn’t have to be identical – if there is an Archbishop of Paris and a Prince of Paris in play, their titles will also be contested. While a title is being contested, the vampires involved in the contest are treated as if they have no title. During your untap phase, each of your Ready vampires who is contesting a title must choose to either pay one blood to continue the contest, or to yield. If the vampire is not ready or has no blood, they are forced to yield. If all other vampires contesting a title with your vampire have yielded the contest, then your vampire acquires the title during your next untap phase. Check out Section 10 in the rulebook for a complete list of which titles are considered unique.
At this point, you’ve learned enough that you can start playing if you want. The only thing left to cover is combat – which happens when a minion successfully blocks an action, or when an action to “enter combat” with another minion is successful. That will be the subject of the third and last section to this guide.