In VTES, combat between two minions usually occurs either as the result of a successful block or a successful action to enter combat with another minion, like Bum’s Rush. Combat is essentially a separate mini-game where the participating minions go back and forth playing combat cards (which are marked with the combat icon shown to the left). However, different combat cards are played during different phases or timing windows during the battle. In each of these phases, the acting minion has the opportunity to play cards first, which gives the defender an important advantage during combat. Each player may continue to play cards during a phase until both players have passed. Note that declining to play a card does not prevent you from playing other cards later during that phase, but once both players have sequentially declined to play a card or use an effect, that phase ends. Finally, combat cards are unique in that a minion may play multiple copies of the same card during a single combat (remember that Action Modifiers and Reaction cards are limited to one per action).
Combat proceeds in four major phases: Determine Range, Strike, Press, and End of Round. But there exist a number of cards that are played during special timing windows that don’t perfectly conform to these four main phases, the result being that there are ~8 main timing windows during combat. While that might sound overwhelming, it very quickly becomes intuitive first because each card carefully indicates when it can be played, and second because most combats won’t actually use all 8 timing windows. Combat proceeds smoothly and easily if both players carefully announce each timing window and declare whether they have cards to play or not. Complications arise when one player skips a phase that the second player wanted to use.
Below, I carefully explain each timing window in turn and provide some sample cards that would be played during that window. I’ll show an example of a fairly complex combat and provide an example of how players can verbally indicate what phase they are in and when they are ready to switch to the next. Finally, I’ll discuss how to rectify play order mistakes.
Phase Ia: Pre-Range
Cards played during this phase will always include the text: “Only usable before range is chosen” (or something similar). This window is a little unique because players have the opportunity to play multiple cards in a row before giving their opponent the opportunity to play cards of their own. The acting player goes first, playing as many pre-range cards as they wish to play, and only then does the defending player have the opportunity to play their pre-range cards. If the defending player passes, the phase ends. If the defending player plays any cards then the acting player has a chance to play additional pre-range cards. Once both players have had the opportunity to play cards (and respond to any their opponent played), the phase ends.
Phase Ib: Determine Range
Combat in VTES occurs at one of two different ranges: Close (where you can punch each other) and Long (where only ranged strikes will be effective). You start this phase assuming that range will be Close, but each vampire has the chance to play cards or use equipment/retainers that grant Maneuvers. Each Maneuver takes the fight from one range to the other (Close to Long or Long to Close). This phase includes a special rule that prevents you from using a second Maneuver unless your opponent has also used a Maneuver. While this sounds complicated, it just means that you can’t Maneuver to Long range, have your opponent pass, and then Maneuver back to Close range. Since you instantly replace all cards you play in VTES, the game has a few rules like this that prevent you from needlessly playing cards just to get them out of your hand. Once both players have elected not to use a Maneuver, the range is determined, and the phase ends.
Example Cards: Flash, Swallowed by the Night, and Apportation. You can also gain maneuvers from cards in play (like IR Goggles), successful action cards (like Bum’s Rush), and reaction cards (like Spirit’s Touch).
Phase IIa: Pre-Strike
Only a few cards utilize this phase, and they will include text like: “Only usable before strikes are chosen.” Since so few cards utilize this step, the acting player commonly just asks if their opponent has anything to play before strikes, or if they are ready for strikes.
Phase IIb: Strike
During this phase, each minion declares their strike, starting with the acting minion. A minion can always declare a punch that deals their strength (usually 1) in damage if the range is at close, but they may also play a card that gives them a strike or use equipment that provides a strike. Only ranged strikes (which usually have an “R” next to the damage) are effective at Long range, but it should be noted that ranged strikes are also effective at Close range. Finally, there are a number of strike cards and equipment that give a minion a maneuver and a specific strike. If a minion uses the maneuver, they are obligated to make the connected strike. If that strike is no longer a legal option, the minion instead makes no strike.
There are two strikes that need to be specifically discussed. Strike: Combat Ends causes the combat to immediately skip to the End of Round phase. This strike resolves before the opposing minion’s strike, meaning that the other strike won’t actually connect. Strike: Dodge prevents any ill effects of the opposing minions strike (including damage and any other lasting effects). Very occasionally, a strike will be made with “first strike.” In this case, it resolves before normal strikes (but after Strike: Combat Ends, and Strike: Dodge is still effective against strikes made with first strike).
Example Cards: Undead Strength, Theft of Vitae, and Breath of the Dragon are examples of cards with strike options. Cards that provide a maneuver along with a strike include Aid from Bats, Thrown Gate, and Slam. Finally, some equipment like .44 Magnum, Baseball Bat, and Sengir Dagger will provide you with a strike.
Phase IIc: Strike Resolution
Once both minions have declared their strikes, they resolve. While this usually just means that damage is dealt, depending on the strike, it could mean that you steal equipment, break a weapon, or steal blood. Damage comes in two basic forms: normal and aggravated. Aggravated damage is caused by things that vampires have specific weaknesses to: fire, sunlight, and supernatural magics. Once damage is assigned to a minion, they must either prevent the damage by playing cards or using specific equipment, or suffer the ill effects of that damage. Normal damage is healed by burning one blood per damage dealt. If a vampire doesn’t have enough blood to heal all the damage, it will go to Torpor and combat skips to the End of Round phase.
Aggravated damage cannot be so easily healed. If a vampire takes any aggravated damage (and doesn’t prevent it), they immediately go to Torpor and combat skips to the End of Round step. They must also burn a blood for every point of aggravated damage past the first damage. So, if a vampire were dealt 4 points of aggravated damage, they would go to Torpor and be forced to burn 3 blood. If a vampire can’t burn the appropriate amount of blood, that vampire is permanently destroyed and sent to your Ash Heap (discard pile). Note that allies treat aggravated damage the same way they treat normal damage (unless their card says otherwise). If an ally is ever reduced to zero life, they are sent to the discard pile.
Example Cards: Skin of Steel, Rego Motus, and Glancing Blow are examples of damage prevention cards. Leather Jacket and Flak Jacket are equipment cards that allow you to prevent damage during this phase. Finally, cards like Bear’s Skin and Flesh of Marble are played during earlier phases, but they allow you prevent damage during this phase.
Phase IId: Additional Strikes
After each initial strike has been resolved, minions may gain additional strikes but only from a single source (so a single card played from hand, or a single equipment that grants additional strikes). Each player announces whether they are gaining additional strikes, and how many they are gaining, and then each minion with additional strikes selects their strikes (just like in Phase IIb: Strike), and strikes are resolved (just like in Phase IIc: Strike Resolution). This continues until all additional strikes have been declared and resolved.
Phase III: Press
While many fights only last a single round of combat, some can continue over multiple rounds. If a minion wishes to continue the combat, they must play a card or use an effect that grants them a Press (to continue). This can be countered by the other minion by playing their own Press (to end). Like with maneuvers, you can’t play a Press to cancel your own Press. If there is an uncountered Press to continue, a new round of combat will start after the End of Round phase. Otherwise, combat will end after the End of Round phase. It should be noted that some cards provide a Press that can only be used for one purpose. In these cases, the card will either say “Press, only usable to end combat” or “Press, only usable to continue combat.”
Phase IV: End of Round
A few cards are played at the end of a combat round, these cards will include the text: “Only usable at the end of a round of combat.” It’s important to remember that this phase happens even if one minion played Strike: Combat Ends, and even if a minion is killed or sent to Torpor. If there is an uncountered Press to continue combat, another round of combat (starting with Pre-Range) will start after this phase. Otherwise, combat is now over.
Let’s see how all this would play out in an actual game. The following is a fairly complex combat between vampires controlled by two players, who I will call Ian and Brandon. Ian controls the acting minion, so he will always have the first chance to play cards during a combat phase. For convenience, I’ll assume that all discipline cards are played for their superior effect unless otherwise noted. So let’s look to see how combat would proceed:
- Ian: ”Before range, I’ll play Carrion Crows.” (This will deal 2R damage to Brandon’s minion during the Strike phase.)
- Brandon: “I have no pre-range to play.”
- Because Brandon passed, the phase ends. But note that Ian could have played several pre-range cards before Brandon had the chance to pass.
- Default range is close.
- Ian: “I’ll maneuver to long using Aid from Bats.” (This forces Ian’s minion into a specific strike and provides an optional press for this round.)
- Brandon: “I’ll maneuver back to close using inferior Pursuit.”
- Ian: “I’ll go long using the maneuver on my IR Goggles.”
- Brandon: “I’ll maneuver back to close using Slam.” (Brandon’s minion spends 1 blood to play the card, and it forces that minion into a specific strike.)
- Ian: “I have no more maneuvers.”
- Brandon can’t play any more maneuvers since he can’t counter his own maneuver.
- Ian: “Got anything before strikes?”
- Brandon: “Just Immortal Grapple, now I’m ready for strikes.” (This prevents minions from making any strike other than a hand strike, and provides him with an optional press this round.)
- Ian: “Sigh.”
- Ian must strike with Aid from Bats, but Immortal Grapple says that only hand strikes can be used this round, so he can’t strike.
- Brandon must strike with Slam, and since its associated strike is a hand strike it is allowable even with Immortal Grapple in play.
- The Carrion Crows previously played by Ian’s vampire now hit Brandon’s vampire for 2R damage (this isn’t a strike, so it’s not impacted by Immortal Grapple). Brandon’s vampire burns 2 blood to heal the damage.
- Brandon’s vampire hits Ian’s for 3 damage (vampires have a strength of 1 and the strike did Strength +2 damage). Ian plays Skin of Rock which prevents two damage and his vampire burns 1 blood to heal the last damage.
- Ian: “I have no additional strikes.”
- Brandon: “I’ll play Blur to gain two additional strikes.” (He spends 1 blood to play the card.)
- Ian: “Ok, what are those strikes?”
- Brandon: “Both strikes will be hand strikes for 1 damage.”
- Ian burns 2 blood off his vampire to heal the damage.
- Ian: “I’ll use the optional press from Aid from Bats to continue the fight.”
- Brandon: “I’ll use the optional press from Immortal Grapple to end combat.”
- Ian: “I have no other presses.”
End of Round:
- Ian: “I have nothing to play at the end of combat.”
- Brandon: “I’ll play Taste of Vitae.” (He gains blood equal to the amount that Ian’s vampire lost during this round: 3.)
- Since the only Press to continue combat was countered with a Press to end, combat is now over.
- Ian’s vampire spent 0 blood and lost 3.
- Brandon’s vampire spent 2 blood, lost 2, and gained 3, for a net loss of 1 blood in that combat.
Misplays and Skipped Phases:
If you carefully walk through each of the phases outlined above, you should never have any problems with combat. But sometimes players make mistakes by playing a card before they should. Examples include playing a maneuver before your opponent has had the opportunity to play a Pre-Range card, or a Strike card before your opponent has had the opportunity to play a Pre-Strike card. It is important to remember that these play mistakes do not cause combat phases to be skipped and that it is always within a player’s right to protest. In the case of such a misplay, it is typical to rewind the game state until the error occurred and to continue from that moment. Here’s an example from another combat between Ian’s acting vampire and Brandon’s blocking vampire:
- Ian: “Do you have any pre-range?”
- Brandon: “Nope.”
- Ian: “I don’t maneuver.”
- Brandon: “I’m fine with close range.”
- Ian: “My strike is Majesty.” (This would end combat.)
- Brandon: “Hold on, I would like to play a Pre-Strike card.”
- Ian takes the Majesty back into his hand and puts whatever card he drew as a replacement back onto his Library. Play now resumes during the Pre-Strike phase.
- Ian: “I have nothing to play Pre-Strike.”
- Brandon: “I’ll play Immortal Grapple.” (This prevents minions from making any strike other than a hand strike, and provides him with an optional press this round.)
- Ian: “My strike is Undead Strength.” (Note that Ian is not required to keep the same strike – in this case, he’s changed his Majesty strike which would now be illegal to a permissible hand strike for 3 damage.)
- Brandon: “My strike is hands for 1 damage.”
- Combat continues as normal.
Note that while another player can’t force you to skip a phase, you can cause yourself to skip phases by prematurely using an effect that belongs in a later phase. Consider this example: you control the defending vampire and your opponent says they have no press. It is now your opportunity to press, but instead you play Taste of Vitae, which is played during the End of Round step. By playing a card from a later phase, you have forfeited the opportunity to play a card during the Press step. Another example of this is when you verbally indicate that you have no card to play. Consider this example: you control the defending vampire and just after resolving strikes you declare that you have no additional strikes or presses. Your opponent then plays Taste of Vitae, which is played during the End of Round step. You cannot then claim that your opponent forced you to skip the Press step because you already declared your intention. This might all sound complicated, but if you let common sense guide your decisions, you’ll arrive at the right solution nearly all the time.
Retainers in Combat:
Your minions may end up hiring the services of a servant or follower who is called a retainer. These retainers are attached to the vampire who employed them, and they have a life value printed on their cards. This means that they can take damage during combat and potentially be killed. When a ranged strike is made at long range against a minion who has a retainer, the striking minion may declare that their ranged strike is targeting the retainer rather than the minion itself. Retainers burn 1 life per damage dealt (and they treat aggravated damage as normal damage). If they are ever reduced to 0 life, they are killed and moved to your Ash Heap (discard pile).