Review: Renegade Games – Vampire The Masquerade: Rivals

Vampire The Masquerade: Rivals
Vampire The Masquerade: Rivals is an expandable card game set in Vampire: The Masquerade, developed by Matt Hyra and Dan Blanchett and published by Renegade Games.
By Aaron T. Huss

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Vampire The Masquerade: Rivals is an expandable card game much like A Game of Thrones and Call of Cthulhu of old. The base set provides 4 different “starter” decks that provide an opportunity for 2-4 players to play against each other. This is not a cooperative game and you are not playing against some type of ongoing, uncontrolled menace such as what you may seem in other card games. It is purely every player for themselves, although it’s probably not unheard of for players to team-up at least temporarily. There is one caveat though… the game is set within Vampire: The Masquerade and all the canon that goes along with it as part of Chronicles of Darkness. This last fact is quite important…

Vampire: The Masquerade, along with many other settings withing Chronicles of Darkness, is quite unlike many role-playing settings out there. It’s not hack and slash, move and shoot, investigate the cosmic horror, delve into the dungeon, etc. type of setting; it can be some of that in some regards, but overall it’s really not. It can be about the long game, the machinations within machinations, subterfuge, drama, maneuvering, crushing your opponents, etc. Considering everyone is an immortal being, it only makes sense that “action and adventure” is not the style of game it attempts to create. When creating a card game firmly planted within that well-developed setting with decades of experience, you cannot stick to the typical card games. You have to find something that captures the spirit of at least some aspects that make Vampire: The Masquerade unique.

Rivals is clearly designed with all that in mind. Each deck portrays a different faction within Vampire that has its own unique style. One style may be to crush your opponent, another may be political maneuvering, and another may be to gain the top street cred. 4 factions, 4 different goals, each one with a different way of winning the game. This isn’t a matter of employing different goons to achieve the same goal, this is a matter of achieving a completely different goal and ensuring you have all the right resources to reach that goal. But you can’t just reach a goal and win, you have to stop your opponent in a way that promotes your agenda.

This brings you to the second major aspect of the game – your opponent. As part of the game set-up, a single opponent is chosen as your opponent for the game; this is who you target to promote your agenda that brings you closer to reaching your goal first, allowing you to win the game. Everyone else is a roadblock, interference, annoyance, or even a possible target that is attempting to stop you (because although they may not be your target, you might be their target). Except in a 2-player game, then it’s a bit more straightforward. Honestly, I think the excitement truly begins when you have 3 or more. Why? Because instead of having an opponent who is opposing you directly, you have two opponents that may directly or indirectly oppose you at multiple occasions during the game. This happens as each player must play both offensively and defensively to ensure they reach their goal first.

So what are the goals? Sorry, but I won’t get into those details; you’ll just have to play the game. It could be combat, it could be social, it could be political, you get the point. But the best part is that with an expandable card game, you can create new factions with completely new goals and completely different agendas for reaching those goals. The beauty of Vampire is the quantity of factions that are already an integral part of the setting.

Don’t forget the mechanics! There is blood that serves as health and prestige that serves as your ability to play cards. There has to be balancing mechanics of course; you can’t just go wild. Oh yeah, and there are vampires; each one is effectively a unique character with no two vampires being the same in play. This increases the importance of each character and really adds to the ability to expand the game by providing new opportunities for players to switch out the vampires in their deck to match their play style (in the future; not with the base set). There are a lot of support cards to push those agendas; gear, titles, mortals, conspiracies and more and the entire game takes place in San Francisco, so there are location cards as well. To make a move against another player, you have to move out to the street, a common area where you move your cards for the action to occur. But each player also has a haven where their cards are safer, allowing you to flex your skills and tactics to win the game; it’s not just about the luck of drawing the right cards. You need to know when to make the right moves.

Maybe someday Renegade Games will introduce a new location, or maybe they’ll stick to new factions until a core set of factions is available (you know, you have to grow the core before you explore the boundaries). As of the writing of this review, there are expansions out there, but we’ll get into those at a later time. For now, we’ll ignore those and consider only the base game. Given that limitation, there is a limited amount of replayability based only on the base game (although honestly I think you’d get a lot of games in before it starts to feel redundant). There are only 4 factions and each one has a predesigned deck to play with. Thankfully, they did think about that ahead of time and included a bonus set of cards for you to open up and customize your decks after you’ve played the game and become much more familiar with the rules. But even then, I don’t know how long that will last. That is kind of why it’s an expandable card game as new expansions increase your replayability, provide new options, give you new factions to explore, and who knows what else they’ll throw at us!

I think Renegade Games did an excellent job of capturing the essence of Vampire: The Masquerade and turning it into a card game with lots of opportunities! I like the format, I like the mechanics, I love the artwork, and I like the anticipation of what they’ll release next!

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