Tim S, and turning chaos to your advantage.

”My very first introduction to Vampire: the Eternal Struggle was back in the 1990s, back when I was playing Magic: the Gathering. A friend and I had some Jyhad cards floating around, but we never played it properly. Fast forward from there to 2009, and I’d arrived back to Australia from the UK and found myself short on things to do. My cousin Aaron C recruited me to the ‘Succubus Club’, which was the Facebook group for the Adelaide VtES scene. Aaron schooled me on Vampire: the Masquerade lore regarding Methuselahs and the clans. I hadn’t had much exposure to the World of Darkness; I remember watching the Kindred: the Embraced TV series, but never pursued a deeper knowledge of how it all fits together.

While I had played a lot of Magic: the Gathering in high school, it was only with friends. VtES was my first CCG that I’d ever played competitively against strangers in tournaments. I went to my first tournament in 2010, and remember it being an extremely nerve-wracking experience. I pulled up to the tables, physically shaking with nerves while I drew my hand and crypt. I had to sit back from the table and avoid leaning on it, just to keep calm. It took a few turns before I could steady myself. I went well despite the nerves. I made the finals of the Saturday last-chance qualifier with a Lasombra bruise bleed before losing to Nick M, and made the final of Sunday’s championship event with Lutz Malk/!Malk S&B before being ousted by Nick again. My deck choices that weekend meant there wasn’t a lot of negotiating to be done or complex decisions to make, but I remember making terrible decisions on the finals tables on both days. I over-thought and changed how I played my decks, like not bringing out Lutz first or fishing for over four rounds for my star Lasombra when any vampire would have been fine.

It’s stressful playing in tournaments, but very rewarding. I’ve felt mentally drained and full of adrenaline, but it’s such a good feeling. I like the challenges each tourney brought. Every decision seems critical on the day and could make or break you getting to that final table. And I like the people and personalities. I didn’t know anyone interstate, so getting to meet new people, observe different styles and quirks, and learn who’s who was great. Listening to deals, what’s being proposed and what gets accepted was always very intriguing and insightful. From that I have realised there’s certain people and playstyles that I’ve always enjoyed being on a table with and there’s others whom I dread.

You can’t underestimate the power of table talk at a tournament. Dealing is king; card flow and seating order is a bonus. Table talk in VtES is not just what you do, but how or when you do it. Handling that interaction has an impact on your success: asking “can I please borrow your Powerbase” compared to just announcing “I’m taking the Powerbase” has hugely different consequences.

I’ve moved around a bit and experienced a few different Australian scenes. First the Adelaide group, later regular games with Sydney group with Nick and co. Then a few games in Paramatta with Andrew C, which was a wild and random scene. And now I’m in Canberra, playing with whoever we can wrangle.

Adelaide was very social. Random levels of decks and ability coupled with ‘local feuds’. I remember my cousin Aaron and his close friend Rene were always so volatile in a predator/prey relationship. I’d always love being the grand predator/prey to them, because it was a guaranteed wait and clean up the mess once the powderkeg went off.

Sydney was awesome, playing with Nick and that crew would always mean a nice, polite, quality thrashing. Nick never seemed to experiment with first drafts, or at least his decks were so tuned that it wasn’t obvious. I think this quality lifted the quality of decks brought to that table. I learned a lot playing with Nick and my effectiveness went up a few quick notches thanks to spending time in Sydney.

I honestly don’t know tonnes of cards. I’ve never really got my head around learning all the ins and outs. I stick to what I know and hone, play, playtest and stick with a deck for a while. That said, I have copped some heat for the decks I play. My evolution cycle of preferred decks went from Malkavian stealth-bleed, to Lasombra stealth-bleed, and then onto a Vignes deck that combines block denial and power bleed. People associate me with Dominate and stealth; someone in the VtES group chat accused me of playing Kiasyd signature, but I don’t think I’ve ever even played Kiasyd. I can say I’ve never stooped so low as to play Dominate weenies at least. I’ve had someone at a tournament call me ‘Cheese’ for playing Bleeding Vignes and I was like, mate you’re playing a Lasombra S&B Dominate deck!

I’ve really enjoyed the broader experience around traveling interstate to play. It becomes bigger than the event: being hosted by Steve in Brisbane or playing Friday night games at Jason’s, having a go at a VtES draft, being introduced to new board games and drinking beers around the Championships  – it is such a massive highlight for me, and I’ve always really enjoyed traveling for the tournaments when I’ve been able to.

I’m attracted to VtES for the endless combos and possibilities and I love to think of Vampire as a game I want to game, so to speak. But realistically, all the cards, combos, and deck flow aren’t enough to win a final. The beauty of the game is in the variation. The permutations and combinations are endless. The randomness of decisions by players with unknown motives or un-explainable rationale clearly drives some people mental and can be exasperating, but turning chaos and confusion into your advantage is hugely rewarding. It is the acute awareness of all action and equally inaction has a flow-on effect and consequence to someone on the table. Some of it comes down to that 1% of the game, like asking politely for a Powerbase, or not doing an action simply because you have a spare vamp left over and feel “she should do something” which results in table hate or an angry cross table “non-buddy”. And then there’s watching the great players who always seem to have camped on that DI or Sudden Reversal for the whole game to use at the exact, critical time. I remember thinking over and over “Did he really have that DI the whole time?? Bullshit! What a bluffer!… But maybe he did…”

There’s so much I love about this game. I love crunching decks in ARDB. I love flicking through cards, endlessly. I love making decks just to go out and get nailed for a couple of hours and either turf the deck or tune in a different angle. I love the banter in the Facebook group. It is my lifeline. I get jealous and envious of the games going on around Australia, but love looking at the photos, hearing who played what and who won.

Personally I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted VtES to be as big as Magic: the Gathering when walking into the local game shop. I like the closeness and interpersonal-ness of 4-5 player games that we can have within the Australian/NZ community. I’ve never been worried about the game not being in print or which company is or isn’t doing anything with VtES, because our community is so tight and dedicated.”

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