Tony W, and non-zero sum interactions.

“I’ve got to thank my brother, Steve W, for getting me into Jyhad. His RPG group were playing it, having been veterans of Vampire: The Masquerade. I hadn’t played either the RPG or any CCGs beforehand, so had little idea what I was doing the first few games.

Pretty quickly, I gravitated to the non-zero-sum multiplayer dynamic of the table, and became invested in the personality afforded to the vampires. The combination of excellent artwork and each vampire’s strengths and weaknesses (whether due to age or their mix of disciplines) helped to tell a story that was quite different than anything I’d experienced.

For those first few years, I played with the same group of friends. We went through the “starter deck phase” together; I remember a 6-7 player starter deck game that went so long we had to abandon it overnight and resume the next day. By the end I had Don Cruez the Archon with a Flamethrower!). Gradually we developed more themed decks. Initially I liked the Ventrue with their big bleed potential, but found that throwing all my leftover Potence and Celerity cards into a deck with Brujah was also fun. None of us had many stealth cards, so it took a long time for anyone to assemble the classic ‘Malk ‘94’ killer deck.

I played my first tournament in Brisbane, in 2001. It was an eye-opener! Players  were blatantly making deals about who was going to die first, and then who would concede to whom (this was before ‘play to win’ really became a thing). We had never played like that. I did enjoy the atmosphere generally though – our casual scene had too many Werewolf Pack style decks and zAnY RolEpLaYinG MalKaViaNz that focused on wacky combos rather than competitive ‘full cheese’.  I learned a lot from playing against new decks and playstyles, and took the opportunity to take the gloves off and play decks I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable about bringing to casual play.

In my earlier days playing Vampire: the Eternal Struggle I used to identify more strongly with certain clans, but nowadays I base my decks more on playstyles and strategies I enjoy, and look for clans and disciplines that will lead me to those. I also find myself thinking about strategies differently almost every year. Early in my tournament career, I’d make the mistake of trying to guess the meta, which I now recognise as a fool’s errand. I’d also try and build what I thought was the best deck possible for a hypothetical meta. But at some point I had the realisation that I was unlikely to win no matter what I played, so it was better to play something reasonably good that I enjoyed and lose, rather than something 5% better that I hated and still lose.

To this day, my thinking about strategy changes almost from tourney to tourney. I went from being very defensive and playing wall-ish decks in tourneys, to realising that you need strong ousting power (other tourney players don’t just accidentally fall over and die, for some reason!), and if you don’t have this you might as well die in half an hour with 0VP rather than 1 hour 50 minutes with 0VP.

One thing I’ve never really incorporated into my strategy is having cross table reach in my decks solely for the purpose of being able to deal with other players at the table. One of my weaknesses, for sure. I’m also a slowish adopter of new strategies. When White Wolf / CCP were still releasing regular sets in the late 2000’s, I’d quickly try a couple of new decks based on cards or vamps that looked promising. These days, I’m way behind on the new V:EKN-produced stuff.

Despite being behind, I’m excited about Black Chantry taking over the game. It’s amazing that new, tournament legal cards are being printed and sold. I think many players thought that the latest torpor period for the game would last indefinitely, myself included. It’s a tribute to the devotion this game inspires that players were dedicated enough to push so hard for so long to get this happening. And we are lucky in Australia and New Zealand to have dedicated players like Stephen H and Simon R who are taking steps to make these new cards are more accessible to us average players down here.

I think the struggle that the current scene now faces is how to recruit new players. As miraculous as these new cards are, I don’t see them being stocked in your average gaming store in great numbers. And for many groups, the weekly high-visibility game at the local gaming store has evolved into the monthly (if that!) game in some middle-aged guy’s living room. Couple that with still having to jump through a hoop or two to acquire cards, it will be difficult. But with the dedication that the game’s players have already shown, I am hopeful!

Why am I still playing? On some level, it’s my familiarity with the game and my investment – at both an intellectual, emotional, and financial level. I also really enjoy the multiplayer aspect and the non-zero-sum nature of player interactions. But the number one thing for sure is the creativity involved in deck design (and play, to some extent). I’ve always found the VtES players I’ve met to be at the more creative end of the nerd spectrum (as a gross generalisation), and I think this is the reason why. With no card limits, complex rules and interactions, and a strong personality to the vampires and cards, deck design really offers an outlet for that creative spark we all have. For me, there’s far more thought going into deck design than actual play. Those witnessing my blunders at tables can attest to this! The almost-unlimited number of deck possibilities and the different ways they interact at the table, not to mention different player personalities, is what keeps bringing me back.”

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