Salem, and coming in at the ground floor.

In 2018, I was lucky enough to interview ‘Salem’ via email. Salem is perhaps one of the most respected members of the broader Australian VtES community, and was pivotal in creating and encouraging the early tournament scene for the game. Whilst he’s now all but retired from Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, Salem’s enthusiasm for the game remains undiminished.

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“I was a Vampire: the Masquerade roleplayer with one group of friends, and another group of friends had just started playing Magic: the Gathering. I was leaning towards getting into Magic when one of my friends mentioned there was a similar card game coming out soon, but based on the Vampire RPG. So I held off buying all those first edition Magic cards, and instead dove head first into Jyhad when it hit. From there we set up a club at the Australian National University where we’d just started attending, and basically grew the Canberra scene from there.

We were definitely in at the ground floor for the tournament scene. I won’t suggest we were the first, but I’d be certain we were among the first. We had our club at ANU which was our primary recruitment vehicle. We had a good relationship with the Milsims of old [Editor’s note: a popular Australian hobby wholesaler, aka. Jedko] who’d ship us boxes of cards for prize support, as well as Wizards of the Coast themselves. Friends invited friends to play, and I regularly hosted game nights at my place that could get two full tables at the same time, once a week, during the peak years.

The meta was really fluffy to begin with, although we didn’t realise it in those early days. It evolved once we got a few more serious players playing regularly. Then we had a Sydney/Newcastle crew come down for an event and they all but slaughtered us. That triggered a huge step up for us in our competitiveness.

The first cancellation after The Sabbat didn’t faze us – we just kept playing. We’d absolutely gorged on clearance stock so had plenty of everything up to Dark Sovereigns and enough Sabbat to keep us interested. While the scene started to wind down, as it did everywhere, for the most part we just kept playing through with the same core people, with others circling through and back out over the years.

In my VtES heyday I was mostly a Tremere/Tremere antitribu or Tzimisce player. Wall or toolbox decks in the main, although I did have War Ghoul, Rock Cat and Nephandus decks which generally brought groans to the table. I got less concerned with winning as I went on, and instead focussed on interacting with people in the game and socially.

I didn’t really stop playing until the most recent torpor of the game; the shine had begun to wear off after Heirs of the Blood and I sold off everything that wasn’t still in a deck. Saying that, I still have around 20 decks of varying degrees of competitiveness.

My interest in card games has been replaced more with board games, and recently I’ve rekindled an early love of war gaming. I played Warhammer Fantasy Battles 3rd Edition as a kid, but now I’m really enjoying Kings of War.

My favourite aspect of VtES, which I miss the most, is the multiplayer dynamic. It makes it a social game rather than an insular one. And the predator-prey relationship, victory point mechanism, and the mechanics of default action targets made it multiplayer without the chaos of a free for all where kingmaking was a main aspect. Sure, kingmaking is still possible, but the game mechanics limit it and stop it being the driving force in any game. It all just feels so elegant.”

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