Norman B, and the eternal Christmas present.

“I got into collectable card games in 1994, when ‘Legends’ was released for Magic: the Gathering. I picked up Jyhad as soon as it was released that year as well. During that era there was a new CCG every week with a different theme: D&D, angels, hackers, cars… the list goes on and on. Jyhad had a narrow theme of vampires, as opposed to Magic‘s theme of everything.  I had read some of the clanbooks for Vampire: the Masquerade prior to learning Jyhad, but hadn’t yet had a chance to play the RPG. Jyhad stood out from other CCGs as the minions were much more durable. In the other games you just removed killed minions from play, while in Jyhad there was more to them. They became enmeshed in the game once they were put into play, and they had personalities, backstories which you could relate to.

I enjoyed the early days of Jyhad, and was a huge Tremere fan at the time. I had a Tremere wall deck that I thought was really good, as it could stand up to the popular Malkavian decks. It was a terrible deck by modern standards, but it could generate 3-4 intercept pretty easily. During that era, it was very hard to get more than three people to play at a time. There were just so many other, faster games that convincing someone to play Jyhad was difficult. The real catch to getting new players was to get them when they were frustrated with Magic and were going to quit. If you could time it just right then you could get them to jump in wholeheartedly.

I’ve had a lot of playgroups in my time playing Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, and have had a part in creating about six different playgroups. I was into my third group when Wizards of the Coast stopped publication after The Sabbat in 1996. It pretty much killed that group as the cards became unavailable. During that ‘Dark Age of V:tES‘ in the mid to late 1990s, I found a New Orleans player, Chris Boget, and I would drive down on Sundays and play there. The internet had become a thing where people could find each other to play, so we were able to put together a playgroup and host our first tournament. This was around the time of the first 7/7 rulings where all the cards were updated and errata’d. There were competing ideas around rules organisation on the internet at this time, one with LSJ and one with Bernie Bresnahan, which made it interesting times for the game.

At our second tournament, I got my first taste of a multi-city environment. I met Jeff Thompson and Ethan Burrow from Austin, Texas. We made great friends with all the Texas players from that time – Eric, Devin, Oscar and many more – and we built a little region where we would travel back and forth for tournaments. We grew and grew. We reached out and made contact with the Atlanta group: David Tatu (Robyn was still in Los Angeles. It’s funny to remember before they met), Mike Perlman, Todd Bannister, Derek Ray, and Patrick O’Shea. We would go to their tournaments and they would come to ours. We learned all sorts of great strategies from the cross-pollination between the various playgroups. I learned about weenie potence and Brujah Princes, and the excellence of Immortal Grapple was literally beaten into me. Tzimisce were completely unknown to me too – I had never seen a Tzimisce deck until my second tournament. I was so busy learning about all the different deck types and styles, and I really learned combat by being on the receiving end of it. I would love to build new decks, and would post them to the newsgroup.

We were having a great time making new friends when White Wolf announced they were going to take on the license and republish the game. There was much cause for celebration! Steve Wieck, who was the president of White Wolf, was super-nice to everyone and would even play in tournaments. I remember his predator dismembering his vampires at a tournament, and someone whispering in his predator’s ear, “Go easy on him. He’s the guy who is going to reprint the game….”. When White Wolf relaunched the game with Sabbat War, there were tons of players who came back out of the shadows. It was the Renaissance of Vampire: the Eternal Struggle.

In terms of my approach to deck-building, I am always exploring the fringes of deck design. I like to cobble together different ideas into a better, stronger deck. I absolutely adore Anarchs. The three-way cards allow you to stitch together completely disparate crypts that appear to have nothing in common at all until you see the singular thread that binds them together. The most recent Anarch expansion really breathed new life into one of the weakest concepts that was introduced to the game. Do you know there are more vampires with a Prince title than there are vampires who are default Anarchs? It really is surprising how slow Anarch decks are to gain access to maybe a handful of competitive cards. But those cards, when used correctly, are absolutely fantastic.

I also have a very good Basilia multi-rush deck (with Trophies) that I just can’t seem to take apart. What I really like about multi-rush is that is overwhelms combat defenses by rushing you 2 and 3 times per turn, or more. It strips out combat defense until you can take down whole swathes of vampires in a single turn with a single minion.

The concept of playing to win, a central aspect of Vampire, is something that I find utterly abstract. Your experience in the game, or the illusion of experience, will guide you in how you understand concepts like table balance, card-cycling rates, and relative deck strengths. Experienced players dread the unfamiliar and unpredictable. It is part of the challenge of deck design to be able to offer something in the way of currency to the other players at the table, whether it is votes or something more tangible, like Owain’s special. A key to playing V:tES is being able to use soft influence to gain interaction with the table. Cross-table action that help players usually reap bigger rewards later in the game, but cross-table friction, that destabilizes the table, can also be equally useful, especially if the table threat is across the table from you.

In terms of where I’d like to see the game go in the future, I would like sect-changing (i.e. Going Anarch the Hard Way) to be opened up for all sects in the rulebook. So if Arika wanted to become Sabbat, then she could for a cost of 1 blood (2 blood if you don’t control any Sabbat). I would also like intercept to be easier to access (which leads to more combat) which in turn would weaken cards like Vessel/Blood Doll/Minion Tap/Villein as you would need the blood to survive combat, not just shove it back into your pool as fast as you can like some blood-sucking accountant. Overall, I think that fewer restrictions are better than more. Let the game be played.

Back in 1994, the core game of Jyhad had so much more to it than any other CCG I had seen. The original game had 8 clans (if you include Caitiff), 10 disciplines and 9 card types. It had politics where you would vote and titles that gave you votes. There was just so much space to explore in the game. Having played V:tES now for close to 25 years, what makes me keep coming back is that the game is a mechanism, wrapped in a contraption, inside a machine. Every time you turn the handle something different happens. Each game is like opening a Christmas present. It never ceases to surprise me. It was the most ambitious card game to date in 1994. It probably still is.”

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