Fifth Edition now in stores – Lead designer Ben Peal explains design goals and talks about future products
Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Fifth Edition is now available all over the world. The new box set is both playable as a stand alone game AND compatible with any older cards, so the creation was a challenge. We asked the lead designer Ben Peal, also Product Director at Black Chantry Productions, a couple of questions…
What was the general design idea of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Fifth Edition? – We had a lot of design goals for this box set. The biggest one was to create a quality, replayable Vampire: The Eternal Struggle experience within the contents of the box itself. As such, we wanted the decks to have solid themes, to be effective, and to be reasonably balanced amongst each other.
We also had goals with respect to thinking “outside the box”. We wanted the decks in the set to be individually useable in games with your local playgroups. The contents of the deck also serve as a toolbox for building your own decks, as they provide the bulk of the core cards you’ll need.
There has also been growing demand from the player community for a new, alternate tournament format for the game, using only newer cards. Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Fifth Edition also serves to lay the foundation for that format, including the introduction of Group 6 Camarilla vampires. Don’t worry, the existing Standard Constructed format will remain in place – the new format will provide an option for both newer and veteran communities to work with a more manageable pool of cards.
Additional design goals included updating card texts to reflect the new rulebook and current rulings, reprinting needed cards that have been more difficult to acquire, and the creation of some new library cards to bolster some areas of deficiency, particularly with the Nosferatu clan.
What was the goals concerning the actual vampires, the crypt cards? – I certainly invite you all to read the core books for Vampire: The Masquerade Fifth Edition, as they serve to inform Vampire: The Eternal Struggle of the overall metaplot and the shape of things to come. The emergence of the Gehenna War, the Beckoning, the Second Inquisition, and the resulting collapses and abandonments of many Kindred domains have resulted in power vacuums that will inevitably be filled. We’ve begun that process in Fifth Edition Vampire: The Eternal Struggle with the introduction of many new Kindred who will establish the new core of the Camarilla in our game.
One of our goals with Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Fifth Edition – and looking forward from that – is to bring the “world” back into the “World of Darkness”. Kindred society always lurks in the shadows behind the Kine. As such, we’re expanding the scope of Kindred domains to include more regions around the globe. This will continue with subsequent expansion of the Camarilla as well as their conflicts and clashes with the Anarchs. Some of the characters in our Fifth Edition are drawn from the current sourcebooks for Vampire: the Masquerade while some are newly introduced through Vampire: The Eternal Struggle.
A new year is here – what’s next for Vampire: The Eternal Struggle? – We have a very busy schedule coming up for 2021! Right around the beginning of spring we’ll have two releases. The first is a mini-expansion about the Fall of London, based on the recent Vampire: the Masquerade sourcebook. Mike Nudd is the design lead for that one as he is also one of the writers of the Fall of London book!
The other release is the next wave of preconstructed decks: Brujah, Gangrel, Banu Haqim, and the Ministry. These will reflect the developments in Vampire: The Masquerade, with Brujah and Gangrel leaving the Camarilla to join the Anarchs. In an event known as the Vermillion Wedding, the Banu Haqim (formerly known as the Assamites) joined the Camarilla through the marital union of Tegyrius and Victoria Ash. The Ministry (formerly known as the Followers of Set) attempted to join the Camarilla but were prevented from doing so, with rumors of sabotage interfering with their efforts. Licking their wounds they chose to cast their lot with the Anarchs.
With the releases of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Fifth Edition and the upcoming preconstructed decks, we’ll need to round out the crypts for the respective clans and give them more depth. We’ll also want to further develop their library options and explore the developments in the story for Vampire: the Masquerade. We’re now in development of a follow-up set to cover all of this and we’re aiming for a Q3 release. We understand that we’ve been feeding you a steady diet of preconstructed decks, so we’ll be changing things up for this release, likely in the form of smaller, fixed-content bundles.
Of course, a new wave of promo cards is coming, as well. They’re designed and we’re in the middle of procuring artwork for them. The original plan for their release was to coincide with the 2021 season of continental championships. However, as we’re all still waiting to get our Covid-19 vaccines so we can meet up and play in person, we’ll look to get these released when larger events can take place.
Likewise, the replacement cards for the cards which were banned over the summer have been designed and artwork is coming in for them. We’ll have a clearer picture on their release in the coming months but it will be a mixture of cards in new release bundles and as print-on-demand at Drivethrucards.com.
Another wave of legacy reprints is coming to Drivethrucards, as well. We’re waiting for the arrival of the printing proofs for the Followers of Set, Giovanni and Lasombra bundles. Once those are received and approved, we’ll make those bundles available immediately. Look for them towards the end of this January. Work has begun on the next wave updating templates and art as required.
Lastly, we’ve received approval for publishing the previously PDF-only sets released by the Vampire: Elder Kindred Network as a legacy set. We’re in the middle of getting some new artwork to replace some of the pieces. Once all that’s received we can get these out as a physical product.
Fifth Edition now in stores – An interview with art director Ginés Quiñonero
With Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Fifth Edition now in stores, we continue to peek behind the scenes. Something that generally render praise is the card illustrations of the game. This is the domain of Ginés Quiñonero.
Ginés, you are an artist and art teacher, but also the art director of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (VTES) at Black Chantry Productions. What exactly do you do as an art director? – My job mainly consists of these activities: • Commissioning new art. • Creating art myself when I am motivated by a specific art description or card. • Finding new artists in order to increase the variety of VTES art. • Writing some art descriptions. Most are written by Ben Peal. • Keeping track of any art projects for VTES products, which means having art contracts signed, sketches approved, deadlines met, final artwork delivered, artists paid, etc. • Submitting art to Paradox Interactive for approval. • Preparing art files containing old VTES art for future projects, for example updating color space, resolution and aspect ratio when necessary. • Ascertaining which cards need replacement artwork. • Designing logos for any expansion sets. • Supervising our graphic designer.
The “mothergame” of VTES is Vampire: The Masquerade, which has changed its art direction with the most recent edition. How has it changed, and how does that affect VTES? – Previous art directions were more eclectic style-wise. The current one places more emphasis on the dark horror mood of the World of Darkness, and on making it believable to the audience. That immediately rules out comic-like styles that look childish, for example, which were becoming more and more present in VTES over the years.
Under the current art direction, adult themes are of the highest importance, and therefore need to be properly depicted with the dramatic lighting and contrasting colours they deserve. Now, some acceptable art styles for VTES are: concept art, photo art, artistic graphic novel art, traditional art, etc.
The impact this new art direction has on VTES is conspicuous in any new cards or in any old cards with new art published by Black Chantry. Their art has to adhere to the above-mentioned criteria and to the current World of Darkness lore. A clear example of that is the difference between the previous art of Govern the Unaligned, released in Heirs to the Blood, and the Fifth Edition replacement art for that same card.
Especially for VTES Fifth Edition, what was the general art direction for the new art? – The most important thing was basically making sure the art guidelines mentioned earlier were met. However, I am well aware of some issues that negatively affected some artists’ performance in the White Wolf era (2000-2010), that I try to avoid. Therefore, I tend not to overwhelm artists with many art comissions to be delivered within a short period of time, so I give them enough time to complete their illustrations and provide them with flexible deadlines when possible, if asked for.
For this project, I hired artists who were proficient either in photo art or in human figure and/or in urban landscape drawing, who were capable of creating believable portraits of vampires as well as dramatic scenes.
When you discuss with the contributing artists, what are the most common issues? – Fortunately, I seldom have to discuss any issues with the contributing artists. But when I have to, the most common issues are: misproportions, inadequate lighting, inconsistent perspective and the need to make an illustration look more pictorial, with visible brushstrokes.
You are a VTES artist yourself, with many contributions in recent years. How do you work? Your technique has changed, right? – My early illustrations for VTES were oil paintings: Masai Blood Milk (2005), Gran Madre di Dio, Italy (2006), Claudio Severino (2010), as well as the ones I created later for the Danse Macabre set (2013). However, even though I had more time available back then, I realised those pieces would take me too long to complete.
So I decided to use a faster technique, pastels and colour pencils, in the sets The Unaligned (2014), Storyline Rewards (2015) and Anarchs Unbound (2016). This time it took me an average of 6 hours to complete an illustration (not counting sketching time). However using pastels also had its drawbacks. Colours changed a bit after fixing the painting.
After that I opted for using acrylics in the Lost Kindred set (2018), a technique that was not ideal, because acrylic colours can change a lot after drying off, but which was fast enough for me. For example, I had to create replacement art for Field Training and Under Siege in two days for the Berlin Anthology, which were urgently needed for print.
Due to the dark nature of VTES illustrations, taking photos of some of them to create image files was really a pain, because of the constant reflections appearing in the darker areas. Regardless, photos never looked exacly like the painting.
Therefore I finally decided to use a Wacom tablet, that I already had at home, and the ArtRage software for natural painting. So I went down the path of digital art! It is even faster than pastels, and I do not have to waste any time taking photos to the final piece. It also provides me with a plethora of tools that make painting an even better experience. My first digital illustrations were released in Lost Kindred (2018) and subsequent sets.
When I have to create an illustration, I write down any ideas that come to my mind after reading the art description, and then start sketching until the composition of the illustration pleases me enough to proceed with the final piece.
Afterwards, I try to find any references that can be useful, and then I start drawing and painting in ArtRage, following these steps:
My style has been evolving over these years because I have always been looking for inspiration in the artists I admire, among whom are several VTES illustrators. Most recently I am trying to make my illustrations look more pictorial with evident brushstrokes.
Fifth Edition now in stores – An interview with original designer Richard Garfield
Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Fifth Edition is now in stores! It´s been a long time since the original game designer Richard Garfield was involved in the game – he has been busy with many other creations; Magic: The Gathering, Netrunner, Roborally, King of Tokyo, Keyforge, to name a few. We at Black Chantry Productions of course owe him enormous gratitude and we wanted to ask him some questions about the game and game design in general. Gladely, he agreed to answer!
Let´s start from the beginning, back in the early 90´s. How did Vampire: The Eternal Struggle begin? – When Magic: The Gathering was published and a great success, the first publisher Wizards of the Coast was completely on board with the idea that trading card games were a new form of game, of which there could be many versions. They anticipated many trading card games made within the hobby industry and we wanted to use our expertise to make some of them. I think the first license we got was with White Wolf for a game set in their World of Darkness. I was more interested in working on a new trading card game than working on Magic, so I threw myself into this project – and it became my first design based on another company´s world.
I probably couldn’t have had a better license to work with – role playing worlds are very deep so there are a lot of resources to use for a card game, and those resources were flavorful and filled with exciting possibilities. The company we were working with, White Wolf, was open to reinterpreting and adding elements to the world that would make it as good as possible for the card game. In future projects I would learn that this was not always the case, some companies are less interested in the card product being good than it reflecting other expressions of the world. I did my part as well as I could – trying to honor the spirit of the World of Darkness with as few impositions as possible.
I don’t remember ever getting any pushback on the designs, though it is long enough ago that I might not remember. It certainly must have helped that many people at Wizards were enthusiasts of the World of Darkness and so I could check my work without necessarily involving White Wolf.
How did you feel about the assignment back then? How was the mood in the team? – I think we worked hard but I don’t remember hurrying. As a personal goal, I wanted to explore the possibilities trading card games had to offer – I was not interested in using standards created by Magic. It was exciting testing the possibilities this game form opened up – and it was a really new experience for me to be limited by someone else’s world but at the same time have so many world resources to draw on.
Since that time, I have learned to appreciate standards that have been laid down by previous designs as useful not only for the designers and developers – but also the players. Were I to go back now I would think twice about changes to this game relative to Magic – making sure it was worth the player learning something new in each place that I broke the norms. However, I doubt I would have reigned myself in much, the temptation to explore was probably too great – and, honestly, the players probably wanted to see what else was possible as well.
The “replace each played card immediately”-mechanic in Vampire: The Eternal Struggle is rather odd and stumps many who are used to other card games. How did you come up with that? – I believe it is only odd because it breaks the standard that Magic presents. There are many ways to manage hand size, and I played with many of them in various prototypes – including systems like are used in deckbuilders today – where you draw a complete new hand every turn, or like we see in Keyforge – where players fill their hand to a particular size at the end of their turn. It is good to see some variation in these methods because the method of accessing cards can dominate the sorts of strategies that emerge. Immediate replacement makes the game more about using what you have as best you can – rather than saving it to the best effect.
Nowadays, we use a 2-hour time limit for games in tournaments, but in the first rulebook there was no time limit. How long did you expect a game to take? – I estimated that it was about half an hour per player – at least that is what I remember, things have changed a lot since then. It certainly was not designed for tournaments, though any game players love to play can be adapted in some way or another for that purpose. A game played in a tournament typically needs to make some sort of time rule.
While I think a half hour per player is a fine length for boardgame standards I think it is also something that somewhat undercuts Vampire: The Eternal Struggle as a trading card game. After its publication I realized and began to appreciate the ability to play many games of Magic in a sitting and modify my deck between and missed that in Vampire: The Eternal Struggle – where the games typically ran too long to do that. Once people are into a game – that is fine – the time frame over which they modify their deck is just longer. But when people are getting into the game, if they only play it once they are missing one of the fundamental parts of a trading card game – varying your tools.
How do you remember the first reception of the game? – I remember mixed reactions. Part of this is inevitable, we were just learning back then how one could not measure a trading card game against Magic’s success, that it was almost always going to fall short. The other negative reaction would have come from some enthusiasts of the World of Darkness who were role playing devotees, and while they may have been excited about a product like this in principle, role playing and tactical style card games like this are two very different things, and there were bound to be players who didn’t want to do both.
On the other hand – there were a lot of players who didn’t care for the two player nature of Magic, who liked the flavor of the World of Darkness and were keen to experience that as opposed to Magic, and who liked more lengthy and deep play sessions that hours gave them rather than the 20 minutes a Magic game would have. These players flocked to the game and found something they liked a lot – and many of them have made it clear to me that it is a favorite of theirs that they always return to given the opportunity.
How come you left design of the first expansions to other people? – For the same reason I left Magic design, I was more interested in seeing what else could be done with trading card games than what could be done with a trading card game that had already been designed. Also, I believed that for any game like this to reach its potential it was required to get more people in on the design and my presence on the team would limit them. I made myself available for feedback on all the games I started but I wanted designers to take ownership.
There are a lot of rumours about what order your first games were designed, of what came first and took ideas from what etc. What is the true order of those first games – Magic, Vampire, Roborally, Netrunner, etc.? – Roborally was designed first, then Magic, Vampire, Netrunner, Battletech… and somewhere in there was Great Dalmuti. Maybe after Magic. It is always guesswork, however, because my designs always are influenced by each other and the roots go back very far – so – for example – my first Magic themed games that had some of the trappings of Magic appeared about the time I was first doing the Robot themed battle and race games that became Roborally.
What do you think distinguishes Vampire: The Eternal Struggle from other similar games? – As far as I know this was the first game that used ‘attacking left’ as a rule to allow a large group of players to play a very interactive game without being dominated by politics of who to attack. We certainly tried this in Magic, but it wasn’t a very big part of the game, and, of course, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle was built around it. It never really caught on with Magic, the more social games are generally more free-for-all, but I think giving players natural targets makes the game more social. I know that when I play a very interactive game, I don’t want to target anyone because I don’t want to make enemies – and that is not a fun way to play if everyone plays that way. Giving me a target gives me a place to start.
I think this game was unusual in the length of time it allowed itself. As I mentioned above – I think in general that is the wrong decision for a trading card game, but it has its merits – you can get a game that feels more epic when you play it. If Magic is a hand of poker, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle is a poker tournament.
Are there things that you think were especially good in Vampire: The Eternal Struggle that you have used in later games too? – The attack left mechanic – certainly – is one that comes up again and again. It isn’t a cure-all for the problems with a free-for-all game, but it is a good place to start and for a casual player it is just fine.
Something I particularly liked in Vampire: The Eternal Struggle that I have not used since, but will if appropriate, was the voting. I liked the flavor and mechanics of cards being put up for vote during play.
During 2019, 210 sanctioned Vampire: The Eternal Struggle tournaments were played all over the world. Some annual tournaments have over 100 players. Black Chantry Productions has published the game in English, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish and French, and Italian and more translations are coming. Why do you think the game is still played, all over the world, 25 years after its birth? – I guess the flavor and strategy built into the game spoke to a lot of players and didn’t have much offered in the same game-space. It is gratifying to see my work have such endurance and I am happy some players take pleasure in it.
We thank Richard Garfield for these answers and wish him good luck with his current endeavors, most recently the trivia game Half Truth together with Ken Jennings, and his ongoing project Keyforge.