16 July 2021
Better as a dinner party than a date
I’ve had a long time to digest this game, having covered it – and played it virtually – in August of 2020. Getting the game to the table in real life came with particularly high expectations, after all it’s a card game by Matt Hyra (of the criminally underrated DC Deck Building Game) and it uses some clever and crunchy mechanisms to bring it beyond the realms of a standard battling card game.
Players take the role of the noble houses we recognise from the Vampire: The Masquerade universe and spend their turns trying to beat down other houses, claim the title of Prince of the City, feed on civilians, and general come out on top. Winning a game comes either through amassing 12 crown tokens first, or knocking out their rival. Rivals are picked randomly in larger groups, meaning it’s not always a reciprocal relationship. Naturally each house has its own characteristics that, when you play out their cards, shines through. As an attempt to capture the pure theme, Rivals is a complete success.
The main currency of the game is prestige, which, when you play a vampire to your coterie, you flip to be their initial blood value. Run out of prestige, and you’re out of the game. Influence is a resource used in social tussles, and can be accrued through titles and by using your leader’s natural gravitas. There’s a concept of the streets, where everyone is exposed, and the haven, where you have defensive bonuses known as secrecy. There’s an absolute ton of rules, and the edge cases are common enough that your first game will be slow. But once you’re in, Rivals pays your efforts back in bucketloads of black pudding.
And at four players, it might nearly be a masterpiece. Conspiracy cards let you offer a number of people around the table a chance to ‘buy in’ in the conspiracy – i.e. you can choose who to leave out – linking together the over the table meta with the actual mechanics of the game. Schemes cards are a test of influence usually giving a player something valuable, and at higher player counts can see almost-kingmaking happen as everyone votes. These are kind of ‘social take that’ elements that elevate the game to something entirely delicious. On the ground combat is efficient and sometimes deadly. You can get caught out by those you least expect, and scurrying back to your haven is very real. Equally dealing with the human threat from the city deck (a mix of a market and event deck), gains you more victory points, and can win you favour above the table.
However, and you knew there had to be a caveat on this as you can’t see a Must-Play badge on the page, that’s all at four players. At two players the games joyous mechanical complexity becomes heavy for what has to become a very ‘take that’ duelling game. Where it plays a symphony of the night at higher player counts, at the lowest end, it’s a bit of a slog.
We tried some minimal deck building from the included ‘crypt pack’ in the base game, but without full immersion into the (thriving from the look of the BGG forums) meta of the game, it’s hard to judge how successful it is. There was plenty of options for making powerful and sometimes weird decks however, which should give the game plenty of life.
Not for everyone, but for those who can guarantee four round the coffin, it’s a nearly perfectly crunchy card game experience.
Christopher John Eggett
If you have a regular group of four who would give this game repeat plays, this game really sings. If you’re likely to end up duelling, we’d downgrade this to a Maybe.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Flesh and Blood…
If you want to be at the cutting edge, or indeed piercing fang, of card gaming, then the interestingly complex Flesh and Blood offers a similar crunch for two.
Designer: Dan Blanchett & Matt Hyra
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
Time: 30-70 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 4 Preconstructed 49 card player decks
- 27 Card city deck
- 63 card 'crypt pack'
- 4 Player aid cards
- First player token
- 4 Rival tokens
- 10 'No influence' tokens
- 4 Leader tokens
- 24 Agenda tokens
- 80 Blood/Prestige tokens
- 12 Storage dividers
Want to read more on Vampire: The Masquerade?
- Read our review of Vampire: the Masquerade – Vendetta by clicking here
- Or our review of Vampire: The Masquerade – Fall of London by clicking here
This feature originally appeared in Issue 57 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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