Dale Yu: First Impression of Vampire The Masquerade: Rivals

Vampire The Masquerade: Rivals

  • Designer: Matt Hyra
  • Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: about an hour
  • Review copy provided by publisher

vampire rivals

Vampire: The Masquerade is the franchise that has seemingly been everywhere in the past year or two.  In this game, each player controls a group of vampires trying to dominate San Francisco.  You can win by either furthering your own Agenda or by knocking out your Rival.

The game comes with 4 pre-sealed basic decks – one for each clan: Burjah, Toreador, Venture, Malkavian.  When you start out, you simply unwrap a deck and play it.  You will split it up into a small faction deck, a haven card, an agenda card and a 40 card Library.  Once you are familiar with the game, you can later modify your decks with extra cards included in the box.   Each player gets 20 Prestige markers at the start To start a game, you take the City Deck, remove 4 Event cards from it at random and then shuffle the rest together.    Look through your faction deck and choose the vampire with the highest Blood Potency value in the upper left. Place that card on the table and mark it with a “Leader” token.  Finally, from your supply of Prestige, add markers to your Leader equal to your blood potency rating; flip the counters over so they are on the Blood side.   

After all players have determined their leader, you pull out the Rival tokens and distribute them such that all players get a marker of another player.  This player will be your Rival for the whole game.  One of the ways to win is to knock out your specific Rival.  Finally, shuffle your Library and place it below your Agenda card; shuffle the rest of your faction deck and place it below your Haven card.  The first player draws a hand with 4 cards from their LIbrary and 1 card from their Faction deck.  All players in turn order do the same, and draw one more card from their Faction deck than the player before them.

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One of the other ways to win is to get 13 points on your Agenda card.  There are some scoring methods outlined on the card; whenever the conditions match those on the card, add a scoring token to your agenda cads – this might even happen on someone else’s turn!  Defeating some cards can give you Agenda points, and each time you defeat or burn a Vampire of your specific Rival, you’ll gain Agenda points. 

The game is played in a series of turns until one of the game end conditions are met.  There are 3 phases in each turn (Beginning, Action, End)

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In the Beginning Phase, first you remove any City card from the Streets (i.e. center of the table) that have your color marker on it.  Then, play a new card from your City Deck into the Streets; If it is an Event, resolve it.  If it is an Ongoing Event, mark it with your color token.  Now look at your cards and take any “Start of Turn” effects listed on them. Finally, turn any of your tapped cards upright and return your Vampires to your Haven.

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In the Action Phase, you get to perform 2 actions from a menu of actions.  You can perform the same action twice.  Most actions will require you to exhaust (Tap) one of your Vampires.  The choices are:

  • Draw a card (do not need to tap) – can be from you LIbrary or your Faction deck
  • Recruit a Vampire (do not need to tap) – play a vampire card from your hand to the table. Move prestige tokens from your supply equal to its blood potency value.
  • Claim the Prince of the City title – only if this card has come out of the City Deck 
  • Play an Action Card – play a card from your hand, exhaust/tap one of your vampires.  Do what is on the card.  If the card is “Ongoing” place it near your Haven when done
  • Make an attack – there is a fairly convoluted (13 step) process; in short, tap one of your vampires who becomes the attacker, and then name a target – an opposing vampire or a NPC enemy on one of the cards in the Streets
  • Take an action that is on one of your played cards
  • Move a Vampire from your Haven to the Streets (do not need to tap)

In the End Phase, you first deal 1 blood marker to any of your Vampires in torpor (has 0 Blood) – if this Vampire gets back to full Blood, he will return to your Haven.   Then, resolve any “End of Turn” actions on your cards.  Now, each Special Affairs Division cards in the streets will deal 1 Aggravated damage to one of your vampires (your choice).  Finally, draw 2 cards to end your turn, and the next player can start their turn.

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The game ends when a player gets 13 Agenda points OR when any player is knocked out. 

  • You win automatically if you are the player who reaches 13 Agenda points
  • You win automatically if you knock out your Rival
  • If neither of the above two happens, the player with the most Agenda points wins.

My thoughts on the game

The game feels a lot like the Vampire: TES CCG from my youth – but this game is not collectible, and that is a big plus.  I remain surprised at just how many games have come out in this universe lately, but there must be a market for it given the continued releases.

After a few games, I think that it’s a fine starter set, but it feels like the game could get better with the addition of more cards.  However, that being said, the game is pretty complex, and I can certainly see that it might be overwhelming to try to learn all the rules to this game AND also be tempted to craft your own decks right off the bat when you simply don’t know how the cards work yet.  There are a lot of fiddly rules and exceptions in this one, so expect your first few games to be disjointed affairs where you are constantly referencing the rules or BGG.

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The rulebook is thick, and it took us quite awhile to figure all the things out.  Within the 20 pages of the rulebook, I think all the rules are there, but the arrangement isn’t great, and we did have to refer to the rules a lot in our first few games.  Now, I think we’ve got most of it down, but it was a slog to get there (Especially learning and working thru the attack sequence).  But, once it is figured out, it’s a fairly fast moving game, and most of it feels pretty familiar now. 

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The basic decks feel fairly balanced, and our plays have not shows that any one of the 4 is better than another.  At this point, we haven’t really dabbled much with the deck construction aspect of the game because we are still trying to concentrate on just getting the rules down.  I am glad to report that there are some pre-built deck lists that allow you try something out without worrying about having things be too imbalanced – https://www.vampirecardgame.com/pre-constructed-decks

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For fans of the World of Darkness, I can definitely see this as a great game to explore.  For me (who doesn’t care much about the franchise), it was a fairly complex/convoluted card game which I didn’t necessarily get involved with the underlying theme/story.   Due to coronavirus reasons, I’ve only been able to play this as a 2-player game, and honestly, I think that it’ll be a lot better with 3 or 4, mostly because the notion of each player having a specific Rival to knock out will really increase the complexity of the decision making process.  This may have also contributed to my lukewarm feelings on the game so far.

For now, I think that I’m probably done with the game in a 2-player sense, it was maybe more work than the fun I got out of it.  But, I don’t think I’m necessarily done with it – I’d like to save this for a 4-player session or two to see how it works with a higher count.  Of course, if those players are new, it’ll take them a few games to get familiar enough with the system, and that hurdle might be just enough to make me reluctant to go thru it all again.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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