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Vampire: The Masquerade - Vendetta

We recently reviewed Vampire: The Masquerade - Heritage (Nice Games) on Board's Eye View. Like VtM Heritage, Horrible Guild's Vampire: The Masquerade - Vendetta also builds on the popular Vampire: The Masquerade franchise but this is a very different game.

In Vampire: The Masquerade - Vendetta, the 3–6 players each control one of seven clans. In this tightly wound game, played over just three rounds, you'll be placing out cards and blood tokens to the three or four locations (the number varies with the player count) with the aim of securing area control and winning 'influence' and allies (humans or other vampires to add to your coterie not least as a source of in-game blood and end-game influence). It's the influence you end up with that determines the game's winner.

Each clan has its own unique deck of cards, and each turn you'll draw two cards, select one and place the other at the bottom of the deck. In a game played over just three rounds, that means that you won't expect to see and you definitely won't play every card. The asymmetric decks mean that each clan plays very differently but it's a mark of the quality of Charlie Cleveland and Bruno Faidutti's design that whichever clans you are playing against, you'll always end up feeling envious of your rivals' cards. We referred to Vendetta as tightly wound. That's not just because it's played over just three rounds but because each round you'll always be using all but one of the cards in your hand. And tho' you add to your hand each round, you reuse the cards you had in the previous round. That means players know most of the cards that are available to their rivals. This makes for a tense quickly playing game with ample scope for bluff and bravado - especially as cards can be played to a location either face up or face down (albeit that there's usually an extra cost to playing a card face down).

Players draw blood from their (human) victims and their (human or vampire) ally cards. The blood tokens can be used to bolster your position (adding points to your power at a location) but many of the cards impose an effect that require you to pay in blood. If your blood supply runs dry, you may be forced to drain one of your victims or allies. This will give you an immediate boost in blood but will reduce your influence in the end-game reckoning... Draining a vampire ally is considered 'diablerie' (seriously frowned on in the vampire community), so can be especially costly in terms of influence points.

When area control of locations is resolved at the end of each round, players use face-down tokens to indicate whether they are staying or withdrawing from the location. Stay and you remain in conflict at that location as all the card effects are applied. Withdraw and your cards and any blood you have added to them are transferred to the Prince's Haven location (the last one to be resolved). Again, this offers plenty of scope for trickery and bluff: tho' you are strictly limited in the number of cards you can place out in a round, the 'withdraw' option allows for feints. And the Prince's Haven location always offers a higher area control reward than the other areas of conflict.

Tho' it's an easy enough game to learn, there's a lot going on in this 30-minute game. Too often we play board games where the theme is a loosely tacked on veneer. Not so with Vampire: The Masquerade - Vendetta. Here the theme isn't just the setting for the game, it's baked into Vendetta's core mechanics. Tho' it's a hand management area control game, Vampire: The Masquerade - Vendetta feels and plays like a role-playing game: you'll immediately be sucked into role as a feuding clan boss. Kudos here too to Horrible Guild and artist Martin Mottet for the evocative artwork.

The game incorporates extra cards that facilitate optional rules (including one-off use artefacts and special conditions that can be applied to locations). And with seven distinct clans, each of which interacts differently with others, and players only ever using half the cards in their clan deck in any single game, Vampire: The Masquerade - Vendetta's blood banks are brimming with replayability.

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