B: Can you talk me through how you got into V:tES? Had you been a fan of other CCGs like Magic?
G: A friend of mine introduced me to V:tES at a gaming convention in Barcelona in 1994, and I immediately got captivated by this incredible game. I was already a fan of Vampire: The Masquerade, so I was already sold on a card game based on it. I had never played Magic: The Gathering before I started playing V:tES, and I only played that other game in four occasions (four games, actually) a few years later.
What most resonated about the game when you first started playing?
I really enjoyed everything about V:tES: from its deck-building angle, to the fact of it being based on the World of Darkness and to its mechanics and many strategies. At that time I was very fond of Clan Tremere, so I decided to build a Tremere deck with the first Jyhad starter decks and booster packs I bought. It ended up being a terrible wall deck focussed on second round combat (Cauldron of Blood, Drain Essence and Walk of Flame), which was no match for a Malkavian ’94 deck my friend was playing against me during my first games (that were actually duels!). I remember a Ventrue deck a guy used to play that packed 30 Majesty! Note that the NRA (no repeat action) rule was not in effect in the dawn of V:tES, so all-mighty Sir Walter Nash could bleed several times a turn.
Can you talk me through what the scene in Spain was like, back in those first years of the game?
During the first years of Vampire I could only play in Palma de Mallorca (my home city) while on vacation (i.e., very sporadically). It’s worth noting that I was studying in Barcelona at that time, a city where I could not find any V:tES players for a few years. Luckily, in time I started to meet some people to play with occasionally, until I finally found a real playgroup in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat (Barcelona), where I was playing Vampire until 2000.
Little do I remember about the metagame during those early years, other than a wide variety of decks based on the seven Camarilla clans (such as Ventrue vote and bleed, Malkavian stealth and bleed, Gangrel rush featuring Basilia and Wynn, Brujah rush, Tremere wall, etc.). What I do remember is that (at least in Palma), many players had libraries exceeding 90 cards by far, which would make games last forever. Decks packing Minion Tap, Fifth Tradition: Hospitality and Temptation of Greater Power were quite popular back then too, as were those featuring Stanislava and other Gangrels with Dominate bleeding more than once per turn with each vampire (the No Repeat Action rule did not exist at that time, as I mentioned earlier).
A deck that I enjoyed playing back then was one featuring Etrius, Carlotta Giovanni and Grendel the Worm-Eaten, whose main strategy relied on playing the old Mind Rape on a younger vampire, and then having that vampire burn by playing the old Return to Innocence. Alternatively, I could burn (yes, burn) Etrius with the old Golconda (thus activating the Soul Gem on him and allowing me to put a younger vampire in play, since, thanks to Grendel’s special ability, I already knew the top card of my crypt) and have Carlotta Giovanni play superior Possession on Etrius to bring him back. Good times until some of those problematic cards got nerfed on the 7th of July 1998.
How did your local group respond to the torpor between Sabbat and Sabbat War, and did White Wolf’s release reinvigorate the scene?
Even though many players quit, some of us kept playing, not at a regular rate in my case, because it was difficult for me to find people to play with in a time were social networks were non-existent. Despite all this, I did my best to keep V:tES alive in Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca during that period by organizing tournaments and setting up a fixed location in Barcelona where people could trade V:tES cards and, therefore, meet other players each Sunday morning.
During those dark times, we discovered Potomac Distribution, an online shop selling Jyhad booster boxes at a very cheap price (US$19 a box). Needless to say that my play group placed huge orders of V:tES product there, which allowed our small community to keep going until White Wolf released Sabbat War in 2000.
That first resurrection of Vampire: the Eternal Struggle made the scene in Spain thrive and grow in numbers until Spain became the second country in the world with the most players.
V:tES has some phrasing that’s difficult enough for native English speakers to understand, yet the game appears to be quite popular across Europe, South America and many other regions. Are there particular challenges that the game has, for a non-native English background? What do you think could be done to improve the barrier for entry for such an audience?
What I have noticed over the years is that many players do not actually read the cards. How do they know what the cards do? They just ask another player what they do. But jokes aside, I have met several players who do not speak English and still managed to get into Vampire. In my opinion, that is possible because, contrary to what some people might believe, V:tES terms are easy enough to grasp due to their many occurrences in card texts.
Nevertheless, I understand that not everybody is willing to learn to play such a complex game written in a foreign language. That is why I tried to make V:tES more accessible to Spanish-speaking people by translating the rulebook, all card texts, the tournament rules and other resources into Spanish, and make them available online. Although these online translations are helpful, the barrier still exists and keeps a lot of people from learning the game. The only way I see this barrier could be shattered is by releasing cards in other languages.
‘Damnans’ was a pretty legendary page of the early/mid-period for V:tES, with your custom cards being a one of a kind resource to the community. What was the process behind creating the Online Card Maker, and did you spy any trends around how people were using the tool?
The Online Card Maker (also known as CreaCartas), formerly available on the defunct vtes.net website, was a project I had had in mind for years. Unfortunately, at that time I did not have neither the skills nor the money required to make it come true. However, I managed to create a database with FileMaker Pro that could be downloaded from my old Damnans’ website that could be used to make custom cards with ease. In 2008 I could finally afford to hire a company to produce that card-making tool, and many players around the world would use it for Create-A-Clan tournaments or just for fun’s sake for several years. I was not looking for any specific trends, but I loved to see the cards some users had made public (particularly, legendary vampires or vampires designed after a player).
Can you talk me through how you got involved in artwork for V:tES?
Masai Blood Milk was the first card I did for V:tES (Legacies of Blood, 2005). The story behind my involvement with art for VTES began when I met no other than Steve Wieck during a dinner with other national coordinators and players at the European Championship held in Heidelberg (Germany) in 2004. Once I was back in Spain, I sent an e-mail to Steve with a link to my online portfolio and asked him if I could create some illustrations for V:tES (he was not aware that I was a painter). Steve then put me in touch with Mike Chaney, who was the art director at that time. He commissioned two illustrations from me for the Legacies of Blood expansion – Masai Blood Milk and Guruhi Kholo – before realising that the latter had already been commissioned. So instead of doing two pieces, I ended up doing one. Mission accomplished anyway! 🙂
Are there particular challenges to V:tES art?
The main challenge to the art is to convey the World of Darkness in a way that makes its dark horror theme believable. That requires a great deal of experience with human figure drawing, colouring and lighting in order to produce realistic pieces that veer far away from a comic book style, for example.