Thursday, March 09, 2006

I Don't Want the Whole City, Just Your Half

Tonight we played the Illuminati New World Order CCG and White Wolf's new offering, Vampire: Prince of the City. I spent far too long writing the review and session report for Vampire, so I'll leave it to someone else to describe the Illuminati game. I posted a detailed game review at BGG. For brevity's sake, I'll only post the session report:

Giovanni Grimani, Primogen of the Ventrue, stared fixedly across the smoke-filled room at Sal “the Bulldog” Di Falco. He despised everything about the man, from his shoddy Armani knock-off suit to his butchering of the beautiful Italian language with his thick Sicilian-American accent. Grimani twisted a gold ring around on his finger, a personal gift from the Doge of Venice in 1789 in thanks for his help with a small Gangrel insurgent problem. He considered briefly the possibility of simply leaping across the massive teak table and ripping Di Falco’s throat out with his fangs. Sal’s mob of petty gangsters had disrupted Kindred operations in the city at a most inconvenient time – the succession of the Prince. In another time and place, Grimani would’ve simply killed Di Falco at a distance with a flock of bats, or perhaps a dire wolf or two. He couldn’t stomach even the thought of drinking Di Falco’s putrid and cocaine-laced mortal blood.

Today, though, they were here to talk business. Grimani had the Daeva to worry about, and he couldn’t spare the vitae to deal with small-time crime bosses right now. The Ventrue steepled his fingers and composed himself before speaking in the cultured tones of his own Venetian-accented Tuscan dialect.

“Signore DiFalco, my interest in the operations of police precinct 4 is strictly business related. We’re seeking to ensure the safety and security of the honest man on the street.”

Sal grunted and blew out a long stream of sickly-sweet cigar smoke. His consigliore, a thin man slouched in the shadows nearby, shifted uncomfortably.

“Listen, Grimaldi or Grimani, or whatever your name is. My paisan and I have always had our thumb on the cops in this town. You… your chalky-white crew comes in here throwing money around and roughing up my boys. I don’t think you got the interest of any guy on the street in mind at all. I think youse is trying to take over the joint, and whatever else weird and unsettling that is going on all over the place is part of your doing. I got people disappearing in Nobility Hill, turning up whiter than a sheet in nightclub back rooms, and I haven’t heard from my insiders at City Hall in weeks.”

Grimani leaned forward, adjusting his signet ring again.

“I don’t know exactly what you’re implying, Signore,” he began.

“I’m not implying nothin’, padrone. Fari vagnari a pizzu. Let me wet my beak too, or I’ll be blowing the whistle on you and your animales. I’ve heard what’s going down in this town. You guys ain’t what you seem to be.”

Grimani was just about to summon up the vitae to bend the little crime lord to his will when the window to the back alley blew inward in a shower of glass shards. Chen Weimin, the dreaded “Black Dragon”, primogen of the Gangrel, landed in a cat-like crouch near the center of the table. The mortals fell backward in surprise and shock, but Grimani stood and assumed a defensive stance.

“So,” the Ventrue Primogen smiled, “you’re not going to let me put the police in my pocket so easily after all, Chen?”

“I don’t know why you even wasted your time with these Kine, blue-blood,” snarled the Black Dragon, “but I’m going to mess up that expensive suit of yours. Maybe even mark up that pretty face. This won’t be like Chicago in ‘31. You may control the arts district and city hall, but I’m going to take the cops away from you.”

“Come and try it, Gangrel,” Grimani spat, and the Danse Macabre began another round.


We had our first play-through of Vampire: Prince of the City last night. It’s an interesting game. With four players and a first time through, we chose a six turn game length. We dealt out the clans – I received the Daeva, Hapi was the feral Gangrel, Agent Easy received the horrifying Nosferatu, and Shemp took the regal Ventrue. Seating order was the order introduced above, and I offered to take Regent for the first turn so I could demonstrate mechanics.

Turn 1

Everyone drew new cards in the first turn, and a number of events popped up, including National Guard Patrols, Rival Racketeers, Media Exposure and Philosophical Debate. Suffice it to say, this curbed our intial activities somewhat. We decided by group assent that maybe the cards hadn’t been shuffled properly and discarded National Guard Patrols so that we’d at least be able to move around properly in our very first turn. No one wanted to try their hand at an event challenge yet, and no one was in range for player challenges except Hapi and Easy, and neither wanted to risk the media exposure (forgetting we had no personal prestige to lose yet). I proceeded to the Cathedral and influenced it and the Synagogue. The Ventrue bolted for the arts and entertainment district and captured a few of its locations unopposed, despite the mob troubles. Curiously, the Nosferatu and Gangrel decided to fight over areas in the tranportation domain, with the rail station and underground being prime contests.

Turn 2

I maintained Regency, and the game continued. On the next turn, I cemented my hold on the Religious domain by taking the mosque and made some inroads into the Business domain. The Gangrel and Nosferatu continued to hold each other up in the Transport domain, with the Nosferatus gaining the upper hand and the Gangrel switching focus to the Industrial domain. The Ventrue had a number of lucky rolls and grabbed the entire Arts and Entertainment domain, then getting two zones in the Government domain Exclusive Salon, Federal Investigation and Command of the Harpies events came up during the turn, but we defeated collectively the Philosophical Debate event and the Daeva and Venture banded together to beat the Command of the Harpies.

Turn 3

Shemp jumped into the lead by getting the domain control bonus as well as a lot of personal prestige, and took over the regency. Some people hunted and others drew cards this time during the resource phase, as vitae loss started to tell on the Primogens. We had enough territories to challenge Media Exposure, which we did easily, but no one trusted each other enough to get rid of the Federal Investigation or the Rival Racketeers yet. Shemp finished taking over the Government district as well as a zone or two in the Reseach district, then I took over and solidified my hold on the Business domain and increased my presense in the Religious. Hapi grabbed most of the rest of the Industrial domain while Agent Easy contested a few locations in the Transport, not quite gaining domain control. Federal Investigation popped up around this turn, further making our use of Activation cards difficult. Shemp wisely played Master of Defense as his strategy, and the Gangrel played Mentalist and Supporter. I unwisely played Master Strategist early, not realizing that it’s better to play once I actually have other strategies in hand. There were a few challenges in this round, but nothing decisive.

Turn 4

This was mostly a consolidation round, with players picking up various zones around the city. To be perfectly honest, I can't remember exactly what happened in this round, so some of the events of Turn 5 may have happened in Turn 4, and Turn 6 events may have happened in Turn 5.

Turn 5

Shemp was still in the lead, so he continued as Regent, but I was close behind. Drunken Vandal and Local Security turned up during card draws as well as Vitae Curse and The Danse Macabre. I traded City Services Domain to Hapi, hoping that it would encourage him to fight Shemp in both the Medical Centre and Easy in the Metro Underground. The number of events was getting ridiculous, so we banded together again on Easy’s challenge to get rid of Federal Investigation. Shemp took out Local Security. A few influence contests had popped up in the turn previous in the Government domain as people figured out Shemp was extending his lead, so the Ventrue, Gangrel and Daeva popped up nearby each other to fight over the Police Department (described in narrative above). I had already been forced to run in a previous turn by Agent Easy’s Vigor-using Nosferatu, so I was cautious to only try a social challenge. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about Shemp’s Master of Defence strategy, so I only gained two influence while Shemp effectively lost none. Similarly, the Gangrel attack only succeeded in giving Shemp more personal prestige. Influence contests were popping up in the Community domain, and Shemp demonstrated that he had managed the High Society Domain strategy giving him another domain. Fortunately, the Gangrel and Daeva wrested control of the Police Department and the Morgue respectively from the Venture, and their domain control was broken over that area. Going into the final turn, Shemp was still in the lead, however, with me a close second, and Easy and Hapi gaining ground behind us. Vitae Curse came up during the round.

Turn 6

On turn 6 the gloves came off with a flurry of player challenges. Leech Troublemaker event came out to compound the danger of the Vitae Curse, and no one wanted to bother with the Danse Macabre, since it technically affected the Regent more. Unfortunately we were all too focused on taking each other out to bother with the four remaining events.

I foolishly played Consolidator, thinking it would get me bonus prestige for the Master Strategist card as well as protect my two domains, but Easy promptly stole it from me in a mental challenge. I was worried about the Gangrel hitting my domains, so I used my Traffic Controller retainer to send him to the Slums. Shemp sat in the Police Department zone for the final round, not wishing to mix it up with anyone, having a low vitae count.

The Ventrue’s dominance having been broken up by the other three clans, the Nosferatu tried to take me down by taking away the Mosque and Mercantile Sector zones from me, eliminating my domain control in both. I regained the Synagogue but lost the Merchantile Sector, but I still had control over the Religious domain. In the end, the score was Shemp 39, Kozure 36, Agent Easy 32 and Hapi 25. However, Shemp was put into torpor by last round blood loss (there was a Vitae Curse). In addition, the Leech Troublemaker event had also recently come into play, and Kozure (me) with one vitae left after the vitae curse, rolled a 3. Fortunately, Agent Easy rolled a 2, and we were spared the indignity of the third place finisher coming in first due to bad die rolls.

At first it looked like the Ventrue were going to run away with the lead, but leader-killing tactics and the disadvantage of moving first brought Shemp down far enough for me to whittle away at his lead. Poor vitae management forced him into torpor in the final round, although I almost met a similar fate.

Curiously, 12 of the 20 event cards came up during the game, which seemed like quite a bit. We’ll have to shuffle the deck even more thoroughly next time.

An exciting and challenging game, with the final winner decided in the final moments of the game.

Clarissa Dubonnet, primogen of the Daeva, stepped over the torpor-stricken body of Giovanni Grimani. She peered around at the gathered Kindred with her beautiful grey green eyes and smiled the smile that was partially responsible for the English Civil War.

“I am now Prince of this city,” she said imperiously, concealing carefully her near-torpor fatigue, “and I spare the Unlife of this Primogen, so lately my opponent in the Danse Macabre. I expect all strife and conflict in this city to cease by midnight, by my decree.”

Chen Weimin, primogen of the Gangrel, and Facilitus the Unseen, primogen of the Nosferatu, bowed their heads in deference, but Clarissa could sense their seething resentment. Facilitus especially had come close to toppling her careful house of cards.

“The Masquerade is re-established. Let all Kindred in the City know that I am their master, and my word is law.”

The Masquerade went on, but so did the Danse Macabre. There would be another reckoning someday.


  1. Kozure,

    Your memory is excellent! I couldn't recount events that clearly unless I videotaped them...

    Vampire seems to be a good game. I was a little put off at first by my inability to grasp the rules, but as time went on I came to realize that they are actually quite simple! The event cards which came out like wildfire at the beginning gave the illusion of a much more complex game than it is. I still hold that against the game to a certain extent, as it seems like an otherwise reasonably elegant game is clouded by all the special abilites and card text. A further strike against it is that despite all this card text, the game remains surprisingly abstract. You storytelling is very nice to read, but I felt nothing like this while actually playing the game. Arkham Horror, for all it's faults, does a better job of immersing players in a develloping story line.

    Don't get me wrong, by the end I liked the game. Though luck plays a significant role, I think that there is a lot of room for good play to carry the game. Compared to Arkham horror, Vampire shows a lot of restraint as a game design. Gameplay centers on a few important game mechanisms which work together to give players real choice and real control over their destiny and strategy. I'd actually compare this to Way Out West... another game which combines an abstract strategy game with a level of randomness and chaos which feels a little incongruent but remains fun.

    I'm looking forward to playing this one again, with a clearer idea of what I'm trying to do from the beginning (and hopefully with fewer events at the start). I'm defintely now looking forward to revisiting my Jyhad CCG (IMHO better than any other horror game I've played, including this one... though that could be my fond memories talking. It did feature player elimination and was rather long and wordy...)

    ..oh, and I think that if the 3rd place player (me) had won through unlikely die rolls, it would have been just fine!

  2. Excellent post, K-man. I'll step up to do the INWO half of the evening.

    Two things, lesser first:

    Shemp did NOT lose through poor vitae management. The Ventrue clan have a Resiliance ability, which means any Vitae loss only has a 50% chance of actually occuring. I was spending Vitae left and right to maintain first place. Knowing that you would likely be prudent enough to NOT get in Vitae trouble, I needed to end up with the most points to win. Which I did, barely. After that, it was a 50/50 die roll, which unfortunately, went against me. If I hadn't taken that calculated risk, I think that I would have ended up third at best. Beneath Ventrue dignity, that is. CALCULATED RISK!

    2) I hated this game for the first round, because it was way to fiddly and confusing, I thought. Each round got better, though, as the logic behind the phases and actions became apparent. By the end, I was really enjoying it. Especially pleasing was the overall closeness - I think things will tighten up even more in future games. Can't wait to play again.

    BONUS Third Item:

    Reminds me of Power Grid, in a way. One player is clearly in the lead each turn, and things are clearly more difficult for them (in terms of turn order,etc.) then the other players. It helps keep things tight, and forces a little more strategic thinking on the players. One doesn't necessarily want to get out in the lead - Planning a couple of turns ahead will become vital. I like that, because it works to reduce the dread "analysis paralysis", IMOO, anyway.

    Cheers, and good job on the post again. Mine will follow -- soonish, or something.

    Slacker Shemp.