The clans of Vampire: The Masquerade - Vendetta are a thirsty bunch; for influence and territory, certainly, but even more so for blood. It's a precious resource that fuels the card-based tabletop game, which demands you acquire it while giving you plenty of ways to spend it. And if you run out, that's when the Beast comes out and ruins all your devious plans.
Despite being a tactical card game, Vendetta's still got plenty of the trappings of the tabletop RPG. The aforementioned frenzy system is one of them, where starvation makes a vampire lose control of themselves, fly into a rage and maybe even snack on a mate. Instead of worrying about a single vampire, however, each player runs a Chicago clan, competing with the others by playing cards that represent their undead powers and abilities in locations they want to control—all so they can gain enough influence to overthrow the current Prince of Chicago.
The art, language and the abilities each of the Camarilla clans afford players are all authentically Vampire. There's all the intrigue, magic and factions trying to one-up each other that you'd find in Vampire too, just without the roleplaying. Vendetta didn't actually start out as a licensed game, but the World of Darkness was always in its DNA.
Charlie Cleveland is best known as the design director and CEO of Unknown Worlds, the studio behind the inviting aquatic sandbox of Subnautica, but he's always had an itch to create a board game—that it ended up being about vampires, however, and connected to the World of Darkness, was largely by chance.
"When I was in high school, which was 20 years ago, I would play the White Wolf roleplaying game," Cleveland tells me. "And when I was trying to make this board game I immediately jumped into vampires. It was just kinda random because I knew I wanted variable player powers, and I figured the game wasn't going to go anywhere and went with vampires without really thinking about it."
He kicked around the idea for Vendetta for a long time, and he couldn't shake it. Eventually, a friend introduced him to Bruno Faidutti, the creator of the popular Citadels card game, among many others. Faidutti has decades of board game experience, including solo projects and ones he's worked on with other designers. In 2016, after a few years of developing the game, Cleveland sent him a print-and-play version. Not long after, the pair began a collaboration.
It was the arrival of Horrible Guild that finally turned Vendetta into a Vampire: The Masquerade game. The publisher said it could get the license if Cleveland and Faidutti were willing to convert it, and suddenly Vendetta found itself part of another universe. The shift wasn't too jarring. "It was basically their world, it just wasn't official," admits Cleveland, so some of the work adapting it had already really been done. One of the more significant changes was the switch from a setting that jumped from era to era—starting hundreds of years ago and ending in the modern age—to one focused exclusively on modern Chicago. It's more in line with 5th Edition now, as well as other new adaptations like Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines 2.
As well as publishing Vendetta, Horrible Guild has also had a big hand in designing it, introducing features from the roleplaying game like Diablerie. This is when a vampire drinks the blood of another vampire; an act considered extremely taboo. In Vendetta, committing Diablerie three times knocks you out of the game entirely. This will only happen if you lose all of your blood and haven't got human allies to feed on. It's dangerous, but it can also be advantageous. Players can even choose to flip a Diablerie token over, as it also nets them a blood token that they can immediately use.
You need blood if you want to continue your unlife, but it can also be spent to increase your strength, and thus your chances of success when competing over territory. Chicago's districts can change hands every round, with the victors claiming new allies to bolster their pools of blood and influence. Blood can be used to deceive your opponents, too, letting you play cards face-down so they won't be sure what will happen if they decide to square up to you.
"Blood is your life, of course, but it's also power, so you could lose your blood, increasing the chance that you'll die, but you gain power, which is a way to gain influence," Cleveland explains. "And of course Diablerie is the exact same way. It's kind of this brinkmanship. You're increasing the chance that you're going to lose the game, but you're basically getting free blood every turn that you can use. So there's this whole risk versus reward."
Vendetta's clan decks are quite small—nine cards each, including the two that you start with. If you're playing as the Brujah, you'll be able to play more aggressively thanks to the power level of your cards, and you can batter your opponents and make them go into a frenzy. The Malkavian clan, meanwhile, can pinch cards and trigger unexpected effects. So rather than having lots of neutral cards, you get more distinct cards that offer clearer playstyles.
The blood economy, the Diablerie system and allies both vampiric and human contribute additional layers of complexity. You're not going to drown under the pile of cards and tokens, but there's still a lot going on. Cleveland had tested similar systems previously and discarded them because he was aiming for more of a mass market game, but Horrible Guild wanted to make it a "gamer's game."
Though Cleveland considers creating a Vampire: The Masquerade game a "dream come true," he gets a bit wistful when he discusses some of his original ideas that are no longer recognisable, though he believes it was necessary and that the game's better off now that more designers have become involved. It's a process he's familiar with, after coming up with Subnautica and being its first developer.
"It changed so much. It was a good process, but it was like five years of constant change," he says. "And in the end, the game is so much better because so many people contributed to it, but I really was hoping to make a game that was just like mine. I could have made that game, and I did make that game, and I got to play it, but with a bunch of other people the game is ten times better. So it's a little painful because I don't have a game that's mine, but I birthed it. And now it's way, way better."
Vendetta's Kickstarter campaign started earlier this month and smashed its target by nearly $85,000. Instead of just locking stretch goals behind pledge totals, Horrible Guild has been running a social narrative game where, each day, it posts an update with a snippet of story and an accompanying choice. Each of the two daily choices unlocks a specific stretch goal, from new cards to a nicer game box. Though the estimated delivery date on the Kickstarter isn't until December, anyone can give it a go now. It's completely playable already, so you can download a print-and-play version. You can also check out digital versions through Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator.