Radio Review #29 – Vampire Empire

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(2012 – Stronghold Games, White Goblin Games)

 

“Come downtown to see them go….into the den of the Vampires of New York….”

 

Originally designed by Filip Milunski (Magnum Sal) as a Battlestar Gallactica themed card game pitting players against one another as Human versus Cylon, Vampire Empire released in 2012, merging bluffing and deduction mechanics with asymmetrical gameplay, such as those found in Mr. Jack, Revolver 1 & 2, and Netrunner. In this 2-player card game, each player is provided with a specialized deck of cards according to their alliance (Human or Vampire) and while overall balanced, each side provides a unique set of strategy and gameplay.

In Vampire Empire, one player takes the role of the Vampires and the opposing player, the Humans. Among the 9 Characters in the game, 3 of them are secretly Vampires, hiding amongst a city of unbeknownst Humans. If the Human player can discover and kill these 3 Characters before the end of the game, the city is safe, and all is well with the world. If however, the Vampire player succeeds in taking out the Humans one-by-one, the city is overrun, and the Vampire Empire established.

 

 

Components:

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– Noble Character cards (Lady, Lord, and Officer)

 

 

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– Servant Character cards (Butler, Cook, and Maid)

 

 

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– Clergy Character cards (Bishop, Monk, and Nun)

 

 

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– Card Sleeves for Character cards

 

 

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– Character tokens (1 of each character type)

 

 

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– Human Deck of cards

 

 

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– Vampire Deck of cards

 

 

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– Attack/Defense tokens

 

 

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– Cloth Bag

 

 

 

Setup:

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Once it has been established as to who is playing which side, the Vampire player will secretly select 3 Character tokens from the cloth bag. This will determine which 3 Characters are Vampires. These tokens are kept face down in front of the Vampire player. Next, the Human player will secretly select 2 Character tokens from the cloth bag. These Characters are known to the Human player as trustworthy citizens who could not possibly be part of the Vampire Order. They are placed face down in front of the Human player, while the remaining Character tokens and bag are discarded back into the box.

All Character cards are 2-sided, one side depicting a Human version of the character, while the back side depicting its Vampire counterpart.

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Human vs. Vampire

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These 9 cards are placed into the designated card sleeves with the Human side face-up. Once shuffled, these cards are placed face down as a deck in the central play area representing the City. The top 3 cards are drawn off of this deck and placed into the central play area. These cards represent the Characters that are currently in the Castle.

Each player then takes the corresponding deck according to which side they are playing. The Human player’s deck depicts a sun (daylight) on the back side of the cards, while the Vampire player’s deck depicts a moon (night). Each player draws 8 cards from their respective decks to form their player hand. The Attack/Defense tokens are also placed to the side of the play area. After setup is complete, it should look something like this:

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Gameplay:

The game begins with the Vampire player taking the initial turn. Players with take their turns back and forth until one of the end-game conditions are met (which I’ll go over in a bit). A turn consists of the following steps in order, some optional and one of them mandatory:

 

A.) Discard and Draw Cards – As the first optional step, a player may choose to discard any number of cards from their player hand and draw back up to 8 cards from their player deck. Unlike most card-oriented games that include a draw pile and a discard pile, Vampire Empire also has a “storage” pile of cards called the Cellar. The Cellar is a pile of cards that can be used once the draw pile is extinguished. When a player takes the option of discarding cards, he can choose whether to place them in the discard pile (and out of the game), or into his Cellar deck as storage, for possible later use.

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For instance, Player A (Vampire player) starts his turn with 5 cards in his hand. He chooses to discard a Coffin card and a Garlic card.

 

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He decides to place the Garlic card into the Discard pile (far right), while placing the Coffin card into his Cellar (far left). Since he only has 3 cards remaining in his hand, he draws 5 more cards from his Draw deck to bring his total hand count up to 8 cards.

 

 

B.) Reveal a Vampire (Vampire Player Only) – The next optional step can only be taken by the Vampire player on his turn. The Vampire player can choose to reveal a Vampire by turning that Character’s token face up. If that Character is currently shown amongst the 3 characters in the Castle area, then its card is flipped to the Vampire side. Otherwise, the Character’s card is not flipped until it is drawn from the City (draw pile) and into the Castle.

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There are various reasons why the Vampire player may want to reveal one of his characters. One end-game victory condition for the Vampire players occurs when all 3 characters in the Castle are revealed Vampires. There are also Vampire Combat cards in the deck that can only be played with a revealed Vampire.

 

 

C.) Perform an Action – The only mandatory step that a player must make on his turn is to perform an Action. Each player has 3 different Actions in which they can choose and perform 1 of them on their turn.

 

Hide a Character (Vampire Player Only)

As an Action, the Vampire player can play 3 Vampire Combat cards from his hand and choose to place one of the Characters from the Castle, back into the City. When doing this, the Character is placed on the bottom of the City deck, and a new Character card is drawn from the top of the City deck and placed into the empty Castle space.

Any Character can be hidden this way, whether they have been revealed as a Vampire or not. Sometimes a player may bluff by hiding a Human Character into the City, while other times he may want to hide a revealed Vampire to keep them from immediate danger.

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Player A decides to hide the Butler back into the City, by playing 3 Vampire Combat cards. Player B may be suspicious by this action, by assuming Player A is trying to keep the Butler hidden as a Vampire. In reality however, and unbeknownst to Player B, the Lord and the Monk are both secretly hidden Vampire currently in the castle. Therefore, Player A’s real motive is to try and get his 3rd Vampire into the castle, so that he may reveal all 3 and win the game.

 

 

Use Holy Water (Human Player Only)

As an Action, the Human player can play 2 Holy Water cards and inquire if a particular Character is a Vampire or not. This Character does not currently have to be in the Castle area, and the Vampire player must reveal the identity of the Character in question. If the Character is in fact a Vampire, the Vampire player flips the character’s token over. If the Character’s card is in the castle, it is also flipped to its Vampire side, otherwise it is not flipped until it is revealed from the City deck.

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If the Human player has successfully revealed a Vampire in the castle, he is immediately allowed to take a Combat action against that particular Vampire (discussed as the next action, below) and can use the lower value of the 2 Holy Water cards as the initial attack card.

 

 

Combat

As an Action, a player can choose a Character in the castle to attack another Character in the castle. The Human player can only attack with a Character that is not revealed as a Vampire. The Vampire player must attack with a revealed Vampire character if at least 1 of them is in the castle. Otherwise, the Vampire player may choose to attack with any Character.

When Combat occurs, the attacking player must choose Combat cards from their hand to make the initial attack. For the most part, these cards must match the specific profession of the attacking Character. Professions are categorized in the following way:

– The Nobles (purple) – Lord, Lady, and Officer
– The Clergy (brown) – Bishop, Monk, and Nun
– The Servants (green) – Butler, Cook, and Maid

 

A player’s deck of cards consist of 2 different types of cards; Combat and Support. There are 5 different types of Combat cards that match the particular professions of the Characters:

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– Nobles (Purple)
– Clergy (Brown)
– Servants (Green)
– Vampire (Red)
– Holy Water (White)

 

Some cards in the deck are two-colored and can be played with either Character matching either color on the card. Holy Water (white) cards can only be played by the Human player when attacking a revealed Vampire character, while Vampire (red) cards can only be played by the Vampire player when attacking or defending with a revealed Vampire.

Combat consist of 2 rounds. In the initial round of combat, the attacking player will place any number of cards down in front of the attacking Character, where the cards match the color of the Character’s profession. The number on the top of these Combat cards equal 1 Attack point each.

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For instance, Player B decides to use the Officer (Noble, purple) to attack the Monk (Clergy, brown) whom at this point has been revealed as a Vampire. For the initial round of Combat, Player B plays a Hunting Knife (purple/green) and a Pistol (purple) for a total of 4 Attack points.

 

After the attacking player has placed his cards for combat, the defending player has a chance to place cards for defense according to the profession of the defending Character.

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Player A decides to play a Holy Bible (Clergy, brown) and two Vampire Combat cards (red). Therefore, the total for the Monk is 5 Defense points.

 

After the initial round, if the attacking value is higher than the defending value, the defending Character dies. If however, the defending Character survives the initial round, a 2nd round of Combat is played. Another round of attack and defense cards are played by both players, with the total sums added to the initial round of Combat. At the end of the 2nd round, the totals are matched again. If the attack value is higher than the defense, the defending Character dies, otherwise the defending Character has survived the Combat, and no more rounds are played.

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Continuing with the above example, Player B can attack for a 2nd round of Combat. Although he no longer has any more purple Combat cards to play from his hand to match his attacking Officer, he does play a Holy Water card with a value of 2 Attack points. He can play this card since he is attacking a revealed Vampire. Player B’s total Attack value is 6 (initial round +4, and 2nd round +2).

 

 

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It is now Player A’s turn to defend for a 2nd round. Although he has a Vampire Combat card with a +2 value, he chooses to play one with a +1 value instead, since he only needs 1 more defense point to defend his Monk character for this turn of Combat. He plays his Vampire Combat card with a value of +1. This gives him a defense total of 6 (initial round +5, 2nd round +1).

 

 

Pass

Though rare, there are times when a player may choose as his mandatory Action, to pass and not play any cards for the round. If he does this however, he must choose to discard 2 cards from his hand into the discard pile (these cards can not be placed into the Cellar), and his turn ends.

 

 

Support Cards:

As noted before, there are two types of cards in a player’s deck; Combat cards and Support cards. Support cards are specialized cards that can be played by either player, whether it is currently their turn or not. Usually, these Support cards can be played after the Vampire player has chosen whether to reveal a Vampire (step 2 of a turn), and/or before or after Combat (step 3), however there are a few cards that will allow a player to play them during Combat, and noted as such on the card.

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Each Support card has a set of Sun and Moon icons in the upper left corner of the card. The number listed is how many other cards a player must discard from their hand to play that particular Support card. If the Support card is played during the Human player’s turn, the player must discard the number of cards listed by the Sun (day). If played during the Vampire player’s turn, the number of cards discarded is listed by the moon (night). Let’s take a look at some examples of Support cards:

 

Claws (Vampire Player Deck)

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– This Support card can be played during Combat and can be played to match any profession. When it is played, it counts as a Combat card with a value of 3. Whether played during the day (Human player’s turn) or at night (Vampire player’s turn), 1 other card must be discarded to play this Support card.

 

 

 

Lady in Waiting (Vampire Player Deck)

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– This Support card can be played in order to place a +1 Attack or +1 Defense token onto a Noble (purple) Character in the castle. If this Character is the Lady, a +2 token can be placed instead. This token only takes effect during the initial round of Combat and stays on the Character as long as the Character remains in the castle. If the Character is ever placed back into the city, the token is discarded. While this card can be played for free during the Vampire player’s turn, 1 card will need to be discarded to play it during the Human player’s turn.

 

 

Sacrifice (Human Player Deck)

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– This Support card can be played during Combat, and 2 other cards must be discarded from the player’s hand in order to play it (both during day and night). When played, it immediately cancels the effect of any card just played by the opponent.

 

 

 

Herbalist (Human Player Deck)

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– This Support card can be played right after a Human Character has been killed. Instead of discarding this Character from the game, the Character is instead shuffled back into the city deck. Whether played during the Human (day) or Vampire’s (night) turn, it require 1 other card to be discarded from the player’s hand.

 

 

 

End-Game Conditions:

There are 4 different ways in which the game may end:

– All 3 Characters in the castle have been revealed as Vampires (Vampire Player wins)

– All Human Characters have died (Vampire Player wins)

– All Vampire Characters have died (Human Player wins)

– If both players run out of cards from their player decks and Cellars, points are awarded to determine the winner. Based on surviving Characters in the castle and city areas, the Human player receives 1 point for each Human survivor, while the Vampire player receives 2 points for each surviving Vampire.

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Thoughts:

As an asymmetrical game, Vampire Empire provides a balanced, yet varied style of gameplay between the Human and Vampire roles. The majority of bluffing in the game is administered by the Vampire player, strategically attempting to keep the Human player guessing as to the alliance of each Character. The Human player on the other hand manages a more deductive style of gameplay, attempting to weed out the identities of the Vampire crew, since he may only attack them once they have been revealed.

While there are 6 Human characters versus only 3 Vampire characters, the Vampire player is provided with advantages in combat, with higher special combat cards and the ability to attack with Human characters. At the same time, the Human character is provided with stronger Support abilities, quite beneficial towards victory when timed correctly. I should also note the importance of hand management in Vampire Empire. With a set amount of cards to use during your own turn, as well as during your opponent’s turn, choices must be made as to what cards you’ll use for attacking or save for defending. Using 5 cards in your hand to attack with for instance, may only leave you with 2 or 3 cards to defend with during your opponent’s turn. Coordinating profession colors is also something player’s must manage, depending on the professions of the characters in play. However, while there seems to be a lot to manage in the game, the rules and mechanics are quite simple and streamlined, which makes it easier to teach to new players, while not compromising the level of strategy involved.

Vampire Empire should interest those that enjoy 2-player asymmetrical gameplay. The variety of player-specific cards mixed with elements of hand management, bluffing, and deduction provide players with a wide range of strategy and enough variety to remain fresh over time.

 

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