V:TES Interview

Where the Dead Deputy interrogates Mike Nudd, the VEKN Prince of London


VEKN Interview
Scrye 8.2 - Ventrue antitribu
Scrye 8.3 - Tzimisce
Scrye 8.4 - Lasombra
Scrye 8.5 - Brujah antitribu
Scrye 8.6 - Final Nights
Scrye 8.7 - Voting Strategies
Scrye 8.8 - Combat Strategies
Scrye 48 - Bloodlines
Scrye 49 - Harbingers

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I managed to catch Mike Nudd the alleged Prince of London a few months ago, and after deciding not to eat him or stab him, I thought I would instead pester him for more information on this card game we both play. He was happy to oblige, and our conversation went something like as I have described below.

DD: So what is so great about this card game then?
MN: Well, you should know as you play it yourself.
DD: Yes very droll. I mean what can we say about the game that would appeal to people who do not already play it?
MN: Oh I see. The game is challenging and rewarding, and it relies heavily on your general strategic and social abilities.
DD: My experience indicates that most gamers are rather short on social skills.
MN: Yes, well that maybe true of many gamers, especially those who like Magic: the Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons, but this is not generally true of the community that plays V:tES.
DD: Obviously this is just your opinion, but assuming that it is true, why do you think that is the case?
MN: I can only assume that it is some form of obscure Darwinian selection. The game appeals to sensible and sociable gamers, and certainly it is these types of gamers excel at playing and winning in tournament environments. I guess those that do not have what it takes give up pretty quickly and move on to other games.
DD: Hmm. Your description makes for a very elitist attitude.
MN: It depends on your point of view. I used to play the original Magic: the Gathering card game and although I appreciate that the game was (and still is) very good mechanically, the play environment sucks. There is a huge emphasis on winning and buying huge volumes of cards to keep up. Tournaments are won with a very narrow (and predictable) range of different card combos, and there is no encouragement of fun, creative or multi-player play. I have been to some large-scale M:tG events, and the players that congregate at these events have no interest in chatting or interacting at any kind of social level. I got sick of it all and stopped playing.
DD: So the fun element was missing?
MN: Yes that is it exactly. It was no fun any more. To me the play community that has built up around the V:tES card game is entirely what the M:tG community is not. The people are warm, friendly and sociable, and play is focused on creativity and interactivity. In the tournament environment, it is only possible to win by co-operating with your opponents or by cutting deals with them to maximise your chances of victory.
DD: To me it sounds like you are talking about the players, and but not the game. What can you say about the game itself which makes it so special to you?
MN: I like the fact that the meta-game (the core concepts and the mechanics) are very simple and clearly defined, and yet at the same time the permutations and strategies are vast. I like the fact that it is possible to build a winning deck out of purely common cards, without having to go on a huge spending and swapping spree. I like the flavour of the game and the fantasy setting which is revealed through the cards.
DD: And the social thing?
MN: Yes I also enjoy the social multi-player aspect of the game. The game is only perhaps one third how good you are building a deck. The next third is about your strategy and decision-making during play, and the last third is about how to manipulate your opponents across the table. In fact, working out what to expect within the play environment is a useful talent in itself.
DD: But how can people know what to expect if they do not have all the right connections and know all the cards already?
MN: Well it is a steep learning curve, but most players I know have risen to the challenge. As I said, the meta-game is very simple so even as a beginner there is a reasonable chance that, if you play the table well, you can still score a number of victory points.
DD: Play the table?
MN: Yes. Because the game is built around an optimum number of five players, and you can only attack to your left and defend to your right, a certain balance is established in a circle around the table. If any one player becomes too strong at an early point in the game, then he could take opponent after opponent like a stack of falling dominoes. To counter this, the other players on the table can conspire, agitate, or chill back to help restore table balance, and to ensure that the rising power player does not gain too much of an advantage. Good players who understand table balance and dynamics will often vote down or beat up other players across the table to ensure that the course of play moves in a more advantageous direction. Remember that the game is also about resource management, and as soon as a player takes his prey out, he gains another 6 pool to keep him in the game (and to spend on bringing out more minions).
DD: This sounds like an awful lot to take in.
MN: Yes and no. I think the game does appeal to a significant audience, all of which are attracted to the unique challenges that the game presents. There really is not another game like this on the market.
DD: But demand cannot be that great, though, can it? I mean, Wizards of the Coast dumped the game from their support schedule for a number of years.
MN: Wizards never really gave the game a chance. At one point WotC controlled the production and distribution of a huge number of different CCGs, and eventually dumped them all as they were not making enough money for them. I think that many of these games were not very original, and did not have much future, but those like Vampire, Netrunner and Battletech were all very good and I think lost out due to some very high-handed corporate decision-making.
DD: I recall that V:tES got a bad reputation with retailers too, as they were inundated with product that they simply could not sell.
MN: Vampire was the first Deckmaster card game to come out after Magic, and WotC at the time simply assumed that the same number of players would buy into the new game at the same level. This simply did not happen. We have already discussed how different the game is, and how it attracts a different market. Retailers simply jumped on the bandwagon with the assurance of WotC and were let down. There were many factors at work, and it was not because V:tES was a bad game.
DD: Well now White-Wolf has picked up the ball. I assume they realised that the game had potential after all?
MN: Something like that. It turned out that although WotC did not care for the game any longer, there was a huge world-wide following that kept the game going anyway. There was a surplus of stock in most retailers, so getting more product and introducing new players was not a problem. Leagues and tournaments focused on 'official' play continued to run, and some of the rules guys from the early days of the game stayed on and offered advice, ruling and errata without any strings.
DD: So this is the play community you were talking about earlier?
MN: Sort of. I was not involved then as I did not know that much of this was happening at the time. That was the main problem. Publicity and all that. The support movement became known as the Vampire Elder Kindred Network, but except for a single newsgroup, they did not have a public forum for spreading news on the game.
DD: So White-Wolf saw all this and decided to do something about it?
MN: Exactly. They were getting request after request from fans asking them to reprint the cards, that after four years or so were becoming scarce. White-Wolf agreed on the basis that the existing community would create demand for any new products released. The only card game they had tried before was Rage (and that did not go very well) and they were worried about getting their corporate fingers burned. Needless to say I think they played things conservatively, as the first limited print run of the Sabbat War set was out of stock within 6 months of release.
DD: So there are no more cards again already?
MN: Not at all. White-Wolf did a second limited print run of Sabbat War, and have since also released Final Nights. Bloodlines will be released by Christmas this year, and a set based on the Camarilla will follow next year.
DD: That is a lot of cards. Will the investment be worth it? If White-Wolf think they are onto a money spinner then surely there is a danger that V:tES will become a game ruled by corporate decisions like M:tG?
MN: White-Wolf have stated that they do not intend to flood the market with cards, and that they do hold their fans interests close to their hearts. Obviously this could be a crock of shit, but all we can do is take things as they come to see what happens. I do have a lot of faith in White-Wolf, and I have corresponded with their management a number of times.
DD: So this is what being a Prince is all about then?
MN: Kind of. Because V:tES is a multi-player game, it means that you need to build up big groups of players in different local areas, and the VEKN has already shown that the best way to do this is to nominate someone with dedication and enthusiasm as a figurehead and point of contact for each local area. When I got back into the game there was no-one organising anything in the London area so I took on that role.
DD: There is some stuff on being a Prince on the White-Wolf web site. To be honest it sounds pompous and unnecessary. Is someone having a laugh at your expense?
MN: Maybe, maybe not. The VEKN was acknowledged by White-Wolf as the official fan club and play environment for the game. To do this the VEKN has to establish that its members were sensible, honest, and self-policing. The VEKN ratings and leagues are all done by us and not White-Wolf, but are now published on their web-site. I guess someone at the VEKN drew up some criteria for Princehood to run by White-Wolf, and obviously made a bit of a mess of it.
DD: But this must be a bad thing surely? Why would new players want to sign up with the VEKN if they get such a negative impression?
MN: You have some valid points there, and I have raised them with some of my fellows in the VEKN. At the end of the day it is not too much of a problem, as timewasters are very firmly discouraged through the current literature. White-Wolf regularly send out goodies and prize support to the Princes on their list and they do not want to send stuff to people who do not do anything good for the game.
DD: And if I was a new player and wanted to find out more about the game, and about the players in my own area?
MN: My suggestion would be to ignore the hype and check it all out first-hand. If you are the kind of person who likes the way the game works, then you will like players and the way they play. If you have the balls to try the game out with a bunch of strangers, then you must surely also have the balls to ruthlessly beat these opponents regardless of what they throw at you. Even if you need a lot of practice, anyone can get there, and the rewards really are worth it.
DD: Well thank you Mike for sharing your thoughts with me. I will let you live after all.
MN: Thank you too for letting me froth about this fantastic game. Here are some articles I wrote for Scrye magazine. You might want to put them on your web site?
DD: How splendid of you. I will certainly endeavour to make them available.
MN: Cool. Right I am off to catch a train.
DD: See you at our next play session. I will crush your minions beneath my heels! Mwah ha hah!
MN: Er. Whatever. It is only a game dude.