CCG Design Resources

Greetings Methuselahs,

I’ve been thinking about CCG design recently.  It’s incredible to me just how many games have been released in the genre, and while it’s an undeniable fact that many of them are terrible games that were made simply to join in the cash grab that followed in the wake of Magic, there can also been good design elements in an otherwise terrible game.  I’m blessed to have ICL in my local playgroup who has played a huge number of different CCGs, and can readily describe the merits and pitfalls of each.  Anyway, I recently decided to take a look at what actual designers were saying about CCGs.  Below is a list of resources that I’ve found that discuss the topic in general.  Next week I’ll talk a little about what thoughts these resources have provoked in me about VTES, for for the time being I’ll just post these here for your enjoyment.

Ludology: CCGs and DBGs – a podcast episodes featuring guest star Mike Elliott (designer of Quarriors and Thunderstone, who has done design work for Magic and other card games).

Ludology: the ABC’s of CCG’s – a podcast episode featuring guest star Mike Fitzgerald (designer of Wyvern, the Mystery Rummy series, and Hooyah, who has also done significant design work for Magic, Pokemon, and other games).

Hearthstone: 10 Bits of Design Wisdom – a lecture given at the GDC conference on some of the things that the Hearthstone team learned while they were designing the game, and goals they had for their game.

Remaking Magic – this is an awesome podcast series on game design through the lens of Magic: the Gathering.  If you aren’t familiar with Magic, you might have a hard time following it, but it has some excellent insight on game design in general, and the lessons they talk about apply to games beyond Magic.  I’m just discovering all the wonderful topics they’ve covered, and you can bet that some of those topics will be featured in future posts on this blog!

Rarity and Power: Balance in Collectible Object Games – an article by Ethan Ham from his experience designing an online CCG called Sanctum. is run by the designers of games like Puzzle Strike, Codex, and many others.  They’ve written a number of excellent articles on the topic of CCG design, including:

Eric Lang (designer of several LCGs) put out a series of tweets on game design.  They have been collected into this article.

A very interesting article on the drawbacks of Rock-Paper-Scissors design.

An article from Richard Garfield about designing VTES along with excellent commentary from the Stockholm Jyhad blog.

Boardgamegeek has collected a fantastic list of online resources for making cards and card games.

Edit: Here are a few other resources that I recently came across:


Do you know of any other good resources on designing CCGs or other card games?  Post them below – I’d love to listen/read whatever you find.  Until next time, may your bleeds never be bounced, and all your votes pass!



Outferior Disciplines II

Greetings Methuselahs,

Last week, I discussed outferior disciplines and my belief that the effects exist specifically to support crypts that mix bloodlines with so called “ally” clans.  After all, if the outferior was simply a way to allow you to cycle the card out of your hand if you didn’t have any bloodline vampires out, they could simply be given a Burn Option.  I went through the five clans that the VEKN are going to focus on during the upcoming set, and the unique discipline associated with those clans last week.  Today, I’ll do the same with the remaining bloodlines and their unique disciplines.

To recap, I’ll be giving each discipline two grades – one to represent the choice of outferior disciplines (and how much these disciplines are useful to ally clans), and how powerful or useful those outferior effects are.  The best cards will be those whose outferior discipline is held by an ally clan, and whose effect is at least somewhat desirable.  I confess that I missed the power level on some outferior effects last week, but the commonality among these cards is that their outferior effect is situationally good enough to be included in decks without the bloodline discipline.  While it’s great that outferior effects like Transfusion see play, I will be basing my review on the degree to which the outferior effect encourages mixed crypt decks.  Alright, let’s get started!



Feral SpiritWith Animalism, Presence, and Spiritus, the Ahrimane find their natural ally in the Guruhi (ANI, POT, PRE).  The Guruhi help to strengthen their ties to the Ahrimane through Sobayifa who is the only non-Ahrimane in the game with Spiritus.  However, the game also includes a number of cards like Feral Spirit and Spirit Claws that attempt to link the Ahrimanes to the Gangrel / Gangrel Antitrubu.  This link is also seen in the choice of out-of-clan disciplines that the Ahrimanes have: 4 have at least basic mastery of Protean, and there are 3 who have either Celerity, Fortitude, or Obfuscate.   This access to Obfuscate also ties them a bit to the Nosferatu / Nosferatu Antitribu – there’s even one Ahrimane who has Potence!

Given these allies, I would assume to see a few outferior cards for Celerity, Fortitude, and Obfuscate, and a lot for Potence (to help out the Guruhi) and Protean (to solidify the link with the Gangrel).  Below are the disciplines picked by White Wolf for Spiritus cards:

  • Animalism (6)
  • Auspex (1)
  • Celerity (2)
  • Fortitude (2)
  • Obfuscate (2)
  • Protean (1)

I’m a bit surprised to see so many Animalism cards (especially considering that there are no Presence cards), but I’ll let that slide.  As expected, there are a few outferior cards for loosely connected disciplines (CEL, FOR, OBF), but the real shocker is that the two disciplines most closely aligned are either missing (POT), or represented by only 1 card (PRO).  Admittedly, Bloodlines came out before the Guhuri existed, but why was no card with a Potence outferior effect published in Heirs to the Blood?  The only real mystery discipline here is the lone Auspex card.  I’d give the choice of disciplines a B.  They hit a lot of the right points, but let me down on some crucial areas.  I’d highly suggest any future Spritus cards focus on Potence and Protean for their outferior effects.

Then we come to effects.  By my estimation, there are 5 cards that possess effects strictly inferior to what the outferior discipline provides, 5 cards that provide effects on par with the outferior discipline (although some of these are pretty weak – burn 1 blood for +1 intercept for PRO and ANI, both of which are given intercept with a downside, but these are steep downsides!), and 4 cards that provide totally new abilities (some like Nose of the Hound are handy, but others like Vulture’s Buffet are extremely situational).  I’d give the outferior power level a C.  Passing, but not exemplary.

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Outferior Disciplines

Greetings Methuselahs,

Given the recent announcement that the next VEKN set will focus on certain bloodlines, I’ve been thinking a little about them.  Having only recently acquired enough bloodline cards to really build decks, I’m not at all qualified to talk about what each clan does or does not need (for a great article about this written just prior to the release of Heirs to the Blood, check out this post on IcLee’s blog).  But a series of posts on got me thinking about the purpose behind the outferior effects on bloodline cards, and how much the current cards meet those goals.

Although I don’t know the stated reason for the introduction of outferior effects, but one obvious benefit is that they allow bloodlines to be mixed more easily with other clans.  Sure, only some of your crypt can use the strange and wonderful effects offered by the new bloodline discipline, but the rest of your crypt can at least use the card, allowing you to cycle it.  This prevents the card from ever being “dead” in your hand.  I see this as being particularly critical for the Scarce clans who were clearly designed to be used sparingly.  If this was the major reason behind the outferior effects, then it stands to reason that the disciplines chosen for outferior effects would fit a clan which shares other disciplines with the bloodline.  For example, if you were designing a card for the Salubri, you might notice that they share two disciplines with the Ventrue Antitribu (Asupex and Fortitude) and conclude that a great outferior discipline for an Obeah card would be Dominate.  Such a card could be played by your Salubri for a more potent effect, but would still be useful for any Ventrue Antitibru in your deck.

To my mind, this consideration – allowing bloodlines to get additional crypt support from other clans – is the most important.  It’s clear that some outferior disciplines were selected for flavor reason.  The outferior abilities often relate in some way to the effect offered by the bloodline discipline, and there seems to have been some attempt made to select a discipline in which that effect would make sense.  For example, the majority of reaction cards (especially those that offer intercept) present in bloodline disciplines use Auspex (the king of reaction cards) as their outferior discipline.  And while this makes some degree of sense, I think that it serves no particular purpose in the game.  It forces the card to either only be played for the bloodline discipline effect, or it gets included in decks that can’t use the bloodline effect just for the outferior effect.

Aura Absorption
+1 intercept for 1 blood… for Auspex?

But the selection of discipline is only one part of the equation.  The other is the power of the effect.  If the outferior effect is strictly inferior to what the outferior discipline can already accomplish, then there is no reason to play with this new card.  Consider Aura Absorption – it’s outferior discipline is Auspex, and it’s power is to allow you to burn 1 blood for +1 intercept.  Any random Auspex card is vastly superior to this!  Is the flexibility of the outferior discipline really worth a whole blood?  Or would this card be functionally identical if it didn’t include any outferior effect?  I suggest the later – that the card would be played exactly like it is today if it simply didn’t include the outferior effect.  Having powers that are so weak as to become meaningless is a failure of the purpose of the outferior system.

In summary, my ideal scenario is that the outferior discipline be one that is possessed by an “ally” clan (meaning a clan that shares 2-ish disciplines with the bloodline), and that the effect of the outferior ability be at the same power level as basic effects already offered by that discipline.  So how did White Wolf do with the existing bloodlines cards?  I’ll start off with the clans that will be focused on in the upcoming VEKN set, and in a future article I’ll cover the other clans.  For each, I’ll give a letter grade for both discipline choice, and the power level of the outferior effects.  Let’s get started, shall we?

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Massive VTES Card Sorting

Greetings Methuselahs,

Sadly I haven’t had a lot of time to write about VTES this week, so there won’t be a full article.  Why, you ask?  Well mostly because I just acquired the collection of a former VTES player and my VTES time this week was sent meticulously sorting cards. Now I should mention that this was a collection that was generously donated to me after it had been thoroughly picked through by all the players at our annual January tournament weekend.  So while all the rares and exciting cards had been removed (and are hopefully making their way into local decks), there were still plenty of staple cards that I think could really benefit a new player.  But it’s hard to put together demo decks or send out packs of cards to new players if my inventory isn’t sorted.  Plus I’m a little OCD, and I like organizing things.  So yeah, free time this week was dedicated to taking an almost completely random set of cards and organizing them.

Library cards were separated by discipline or discipline-less card type, with cards in each category organized alphabetically.  Crypt cards are sorted according to their clan, then group, capacity, and finally alphabetically.  This means that the lowest capacity vampires from group 1 within a single clan come first, followed by all the rest of the group 1 vampires in increasing capacity followed by the smallest group 2 vampire, etc.  Yeah, it’s now super easy to find cards.  Anyway, after sorting all these cards, I just had to take a picture:

VTES Collection

The stack on the left (~45,000 cards) are those that I’ve set aside to give away to new players.  Plenty of staples in there!  Plenty of moderately expensive cards that I want new players to have access to.  The stack on the right (~20,000 cards) are the cards in my personal collection.  How many Enhanced Senses does one man need?  I’ve decided the answer is 20 (which is likely too high…), which means that all the rest have gone into the left stack.  Point is, I’ve got tons of cards just waiting to get into the hands of new players.  Check out this page for more information!

Before I go, I want to point you to two other resources.  First, I’ve finally finished my VTES Quick-Start guide, and I encourage you to read it over and to tell new players about it.  Second, there is a new and fantastic site called VTES Worldwide.  While you won’t find new content on this blog, you will find a great list of VTES articles there, as well as information about other VTES blogs (like this one) and the content that they are publishing.  It’s a great way to discover new VTES blogs, and to stay abreast with everything that is being written about our favorite game.  Go check it out!

Alright, I think that’s all for today, so join me next time as I dive into the world of outferior discipline and effects.  Until then, may your bleeds never be bounced, and all your votes pass!


2015: A Retrospective

Greetings Methuselahs!

Today I’d like to take a look at all the tournament data from 2015 and compare it to previous years.  Why have I waited four full months to talk about this?  Well, partially I was waiting for the Tournament Winning Deck Archive to be updated, and partially I got distracted with the the tantalizing news that White Wolf and the VEKN had been in talks.  But now I’m finally ready to discuss the 2015 tournament scene – including taking a look at tournament attendance, and how the various clans fared.

Now before I begin, I should note a few things.  First, the TWDA is not complete as there are undoubtedly tournaments which were never reported, and others that took place with 9 or fewer players.  That means that all the numbers below are likely to represent only a majority (possibly a vast majority) of the world-wide VTES tournaments.  I think that’s good enough to start making some inferences, but it’s important to keep in mind that we likely don’t have all the data.  Second, I’m not comparing the 2015 data to the entire history of the game for two major reasons – it wouldn’t be fair (think of all those tournaments before Bloodlines that the Baali weren’t allowed to win), and I only have data cataloged from 2008 to the present.  So just note that the rest of this article effectively ignores data from 2007 and before.  If you are interested in looking at my raw numbers, you can find them on this google doc.

Let’s start at with the basics.  While tournament attendance and the number of events are not perfectly indicative of the health of the game, I think they are correlated.  So how’s our game doing?  Well, in 2015 there were 136 total tournaments.  Unfortunately, that’s the lowest number of events on record (2008 to present).  It represents a ~24.5% reduction in the number of events from 2014 (180), which itself was a ~25.9% reduction in the number of events from 2013 (243).

So that’s the bad news.  The good news comes when looking at attendance.  2479 people participated in those 136 events from 2015, which works out to an average tournament attendance of 18.23 participants.  That average figure is higher than the last two years (2014 had 16.43, and 2013 had 17.37), and is quite in keeping with the average attendance from 2008 through 2014 (19.37).  One likely explanation for this is that attendance at the very largest tournaments has remained relatively static (Continental Championships held steady or saw increased attendance from 2014, National Championships mostly held steady), while the small 10-person events are slowly vanishing.

This indicates to me that small play groups are slipping under the 10 player threshold needed to have a tournament that gets recorded in the TWDA.  But when looking at a national scale, the number of participants seems to be more static.  I suppose this means that the hardcore dedicated players are staying, while the players who only attended small local events (like me!) are starting to drift away.  While that state of affairs isn’t ideal (I’ve stated many times that growth and new blood are the keys to the future of VTES), it actually seems to be pretty descent for a game that has been out of print for more than 5 years.

Now there are two major exceptions to the trends above that should be pointed out.  Brazil had it’s largest National Championship ever – 43 players!  There has also been a significant increase in the number of tournaments held in Brazil, which indicates to me a strong and growing player base.  Spain also had a fantastic year: 54 players attended their National Championship, making it the largest Spanish NC since 2007!

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Combative Thoughts

Greetings Methuselahs,

I’ve been thinking about combat in VTES lately.  I’m sure that you already know my position on the matter (I’ve been pretty vocal), but allow me briefly spell it out for those who haven’t had the opportunity to read my other article on the topic.  I think that combat in VTES is the very best and most incredible combat system I’ve ever seen in a CCG, and is one of the best I’ve seen in a boardgame.  There is so much flavor and imagery that can be evoked by the cards played in different phases – it really gives you the chance to turn an encounter into a story.  But the current goal of combat is to put vampires into torpor in order to deplete the number of acting or blocking vampires that stand in your way.  Even the cards designed to support combat like Fame, Dragonbound, and Tension in the Ranks all require that you put vampires into torpor.

But I honestly think that this design philosophy hurts the game.  It’s a philosophy that results in game denial: “You can’t play this game because I want to kill all your vampires.”  While it is certainly true that many CCGs feature analogous strategies, the successful games that I’m aware of have taken efforts to curtail them.  Take Magic: the Gathering as an example – it includes land destruction (which prevents the opposing player from playing cards), and counterspells (which negates the cards as they are played).  But both of these effects have been substantially toned down since the early days of the game.  Both strategies have largely been relegated to support strategies, rather than ones you can build an entire deck around.  Why did they make this choice?  Because strategies like these treat fun as a zero sum game.  The only way that I get to have fun is if you don’t have fun.  And this isn’t how games should be designed.  Games are here to allow us to have fun, not to allow us to take it away from others.

Before I move onto my thoughts on the matter, I should mention that I’m a player who likes combat in VTES.  While I don’t play many rush decks, I play a fair amount of intercept combat, and the majority of my decks are toolboxy with solid (although not dedicated) combat plan.  So I’m not whining about my how my “zero combat card” decks lose when they go up against dedicated combat decks.  And I’m not trying to complain that my mono-Vicissitude rush combat deck can’t reliably get past Strike: Combat Ends.  I’m trying to point out that the game needs to find a way to turn combat into a strategy that can win without actively taking fun away from others.

How can such a thing be accomplished?  Well, I’ve got three thoughts, which I’ll outline below:

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Turn Sequence

Greetings Methuselahs,

My apologies for going dark last week.  Lost of craziness here as I start to prepare for my Summer departure from California for mysterious eastern lands.  Anyway, I’ve finished the final part of my VTES guide.  Please look it over and provide any feedback!  Once I integrate your suggestions, I’ll compile all three into a full guide and will provide a link to it on the beginner’s corner.  In the meantime, if you have any good ideas about how to put together demo decks for the Independent clans, I’d certainly be interested – the Ravnos in particular are proving to be vexing.  Next week, I’ll get back to my usual articles.  But that’s all for another time – for now, enjoy part 2 of my VTES guide (you can also check out part 1 and part 3):


Part II: Turn Sequence

Alright, now that you know how minions take actions, modify their actions, and react to the actions of other minions, it’s time to discuss turn order.


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.

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