Craig J, and the perfect set of circumstances.

“I got into Jyhad at the beginning. I’d been playing Magic for a little while already, and had some of the Vampire: the Masquerade roleplaying books (although I hadn’t played it yet). When Jyhad came out I was super keen, and luckily managed to get some of my friends hyped about it too. Then one of my friends had another group of friends who were playing it, and so I managed to finagle my way into that group, which led to another group through new mutual friends.

As much as I loved it, Magic was still my main game at that time. Jyhad was one of many games I was trying in our the mid-1990s, like Netrunner and Battletech. Then my love of the Followers of Set saw me pick up a box of Ancient Hearts; it was the first time I’d ever done that for any CCG. Not long after that I split a box of The Sabbat with a friend. In the years since then, while others have come and gone, VtES has remained my most favourite and constant card game.

In those early days, I didn’t really get what made for a good VtES deck. I just kinda played whatever seemed fun. I remember my first ever deck was a Nosferatu/Ventrue multi-discipline deck that really sucked. But as I played more I tended to gravitate more towards stealth-bleed, simply because I wasn’t a massive fan of combat back then.

I started to branch out a little when I picked up a bunch of Setite cards in ‘96, but I still play a lot of stealth-bleed… a fact that I continue to be ribbed about to this day! While Setites have always been my favourite clan, my favourite discipline would have to be Dementation. My all time favourite deck is still my ‘Demented Thaumaturgists’, a stealth-bleed deck that relied entirely on both Dementation and Thaumaturgy for its stealth (with some Auspex for flick/defence, and Thaumaturgy for combat/evasion).

Newcastle was a pretty varied scene but combat tended to be a staple of our casual games. It was hard for bleed-oriented decks to survive in that meta. I enjoyed playing tournaments in other cities because you saw more variety in deck-building, and my decks would go very differently as a result.

Before 2002, the only tournament I’d been to was in Canberra. From memory it was not long after Ancient Hearts released; I remember taking my Setite deck down to see how they ran (not too well as it turned out). For the inaugural National Championships in 2002, I went straight up stealth-bleed with a Malk/!Malk deck. It bombed in the first couple of rounds at the Championships games, only picking up a single victory point. Thankfully, I managed a table win in the last round that was enough to sneak me into fifth place and the finals table. I wasn’t confident going in, as there were two Tzimisce decks that I was sure would just rip me to shreds with intercept. As it turns out though, everything about that finals table just fell perfectly into place for me.

David V sat as my prey, with a weenie/mid-capacity Gangrel deck that would always wake to block, and then fail to stop me due to not enough intercept. That allowed me to cycle my hand perfectly (a fact which everyone else on the table noticed and were very annoyed with). Even if David couldn’t slow me down that much, he was exerting a lot of pressure on his own prey, Ashley (who was playing Ventrue Vote). That meant that when I finally took David, Ashley was crippled enough for me to take him easily. I figured that those two VPs would be all I’d see, as I now had a Tzimisce on either side of me.  My new prey was Dom’s Tzimisce, and all game Merto has been hassling me with his Tzimisce as my predator. The good news was, since both were playing essentially the same deck, they had been doing a lot of contesting throughout the game (with them contesting both Meshenka and the Hunting Ground). This meant that it wasn’t as hard as I feared to get through them – although it still wasn’t easy! So the perfect set of circumstances got me my first tournament win, and with it a drive to actually be more competitive in my deck construction. Of course, the win didn’t stop me from creating decks that relied more on disciplines rather than clans. I’m still a sucker for trying to make weird combos work.

I haven’t played VtES for a while, as the Newcastle scene has been in torpor for a while. I still play some card games – Star Wars: Destiny and most of the Fantasy Flight living card games – as well as a lot of board games. Nowadays, I mostly play with my kids; when we have a few people together it’s more often for ‘weekly’ roleplaying than card gaming.

Unfortunately I think it’d take a fair effort to get the Newy scene happening again. We still have people who are interested, but finding the time to play is a large hurdle. Most of us only get one night a week and it tends to get taken up by other pursuits. I think that the odd night of games here and there wouldn’t be out of the question but a consistent scene, especially with a view to tournaments, is sadly something that’s probably passed us by.

The thing I’ve always loved about VtES is the level of interaction with the other players. Sure, you interact with players in any game, but the intensity and *need* for that interaction is just turned up to 11 in Vampire. It’s very hard to play a game without any kind of wheeling and dealing, whereas a lot of other games can easily be played with very little back and forth or ‘table talk’ between players.”

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