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Christopher O
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Concept & Overview



Vampire: Prince of the City is a "modern Gothic" board game for three to five players, depicting the struggle for dominance of various vampire clans after the Prince vampire of a archetypical city has been destroyed. Set in the Requiem version of White Wolf's "World of Darkness", this game has a long pedigree stemming from the Vampire RPG to the Jyhad CCG (later re-titled Vampire: The Eternal Struggle), scaled down somewhat from the global scope of Jyhad and tightened up for play in a board game format.

Each player plays a Primogen of their clan, powerful elder vampires who formerly sat upon the ruling council of the city, second in power only the Prince who had final say in all affairs of Kindred (the term vampires use for themselves). With a limited amount of time to conduct clandestine warfare before attracting mortal notice to their activities, the Primogen fight a shadow war of influence, complex mind games, vicious back-alley fights and high-society social manoeuvrings. One Primogen must establish himself through a combination of personal prestige and influence over the mortal affairs of the city to be the most powerful vampire in the city and succeed as Prince. At the same time, the clans are forced occasionally to deal with the interfering activities of other mortals and Kindred within the city itself.

The game can be played with minor modifications as a two-player game, but since much of the intrigue flavour of the game depends on co-operation, negotiation, alliances and betrayals, the gameplay experience would be much different.

The game is played on a 56cm x 56cm (22" x 22") two-fold game-board with 36 hex-shaped location zones divided into eight domains with matching colours, supplemented by a deck of 100 cards, five vampire miniatures, reference cards and various markers and tokens.

Game Mechanics



Vampire: Prince of the City uses a turn-based system divided into five phases. The first player (determined by die roll in the first turn, and by the highest score of prestige in subsequent rounds) begins, and play continues clockwise from this player, titled the "Regent", in keeping with the game's theme. Game length is set at the beginning of the game, with a beginner six turn game clocking in at ninety minutes to two hours, and the longer nine or twelve turn games likely taking three and four hours respectively.

The game is asymmetrical in that each player's Primogen has distinct and different "disciplines", abilities that allow for certain game effects to be altered or controlled.

Each player has a pool of "vitae" counters, representing the blood and vital energy of the undead vampires, essentially "hit points", but also useable to execute the disciplines. The players also have personal prestige, counters which represent the personal standing of the vampire in terms of his or her ability to confront other vampires and eliminate internal and external threats to the city"s Kindred population. Think of them as score markers not related to your success at controlling zones on the board.

In the resource phase, each player conducts two resource actions, choosing from drawing a new card, hunting to regain vitae, consuming a retainer (mortals held in thrall by a vampire represented by a card), and recovering or rescuing other vampires from torpor, a comatose state which vampires regress to if deprived of all of their vitae. Cards represent equipment, retainers, strategies (usually special scoring options), activation cards (special abilities conferred by control over a location zone) and events, which are flipped over and affect all players as soon as they are revealed by their special card-back.

In the movement phase, players may move to any location zone in the city, occasionally limited by cards played by other players or events, such as a National Guard enforced curfew.

The challenge phase allows for one challenge of another player in social, physical or mental categories (each Primogen's ability varying with their clan) or a challenge of Event cards which are currently affecting all players. Challenging in the three different categories offer different rewards - physical challenges allow for stealing three vitae or one equipment card, mental challenges allow the theft of a strategy card or an influence card in a subsequent round and social challenges permit the victor to steal a retainer or two personal prestige points. Success in a challenge of an event card discards the card and gives a reward of personal prestige; failure results in a loss of an equal amount. Challenges are resolved by a single die roll, modified by ability, disciplines, equipment and other cards played.

The influence phase contains the primary scoring gameplay - players bid influence tokens to control location zones within the city. The player with the most influence tokens on a zone has control of the zone. Influence contests are resolved by die rolls; the number of dice rolled is modified by how many tokens are bid, the number of influence tokens already on the zone, whether the player's miniature is in the zone where the contest is taking place, and other tokens in the same domain, (zones in the same domain are colour coded for reference). Players score a certain amount of city influence per zone controlled, and gain a three point prestige bonus for controlling an entire domain. An additional influence token is granted at the beginning of the phase for each domain entirely controlled by one player. Play during the influence phase is one bid for a zone per player, proceeding clockwise from the Primogen, each player permitted to bid as many influence tokens as initially desired, until all influence tokens are used. This phase is where much of the negotiation, bluffing and bidding tactics come in.

During the final resolution phase, players tally their scores clockwise from the Primogen, adding together their personal prestige and the prestige gained from controlling city location zones. Some strategy cards and location activation cards may affect the total. The player with the highest prestige total is declared the Regent for the following turn. Before this declaration, all players lose one vitae (which may put a vampire into torpor) " a Primogen in torpor may not be declared Regent. The player with the highest prestige on the last turn (and not in torpor) is declared the new Prince of the City and is victorious.

Artwork and Components



The artwork for the game generally fits well with the Vampire mythos. The game box itself is somewhat non-descript, but also has a sense of mystery which is refreshing. Everything fits nicely and easily into the box, though it seems to be a centimetre or so (1/2") deeper than it needs to be.

The game board layout is workman-like - arranging the zones into hexes divided by scrawled white lines seems somewhat uninspired. By contrast, the artwork within each city zone - mysterious and brooding images of a seedy and foreboding city - are excellent. The board material is fairly standard and sturdy, but not exceptionally so. The card artwork is very good - the hand drawn Equipment and Retainer cards have a different style from the painterly expressive realism of the Activation cards. All cards are colour coded for reference. We have a colour-blind individual in our playing group, and he noted that none of the colour choices posed a problem for him. The card stock is quite thick and will withstand repeated plays, but their thickness makes it a bit difficult to shuffle them - a minor, minor quibble - more than compensated for by their sturdiness.

The miniatures are well sculpted and attractive. There was a small amount of flash present on some of the miniatures, easily removed with a blade. The player reference cards pack a lot of information into a small amount of space while remaining readable and useful. Some of the players in our group commented that they might present the information for challenges and contests more clearly, but I felt they performed well in this regard.

The black and white bond paper rulebook makes an excellent effort to be clear, providing a good number of examples and references. However, the text is somewhat dense and not always succinct. I felt it did a decent job at being clear, but I have heard other comments that some people find it a difficult read. One player commented, "This rulebook looks like it was written by Goths." Whether that's a compliment or a criticism, I'll leave to the reader.

The counters and prestige markers are decent - thick stock and easily punched. I might have made the higher value personal prestige counters larger or differently coloured, but this is a minor criticism. Another minor nitpick is that the clan insignia token for clan Mekhet is dark purple on black, which makes the symbol proper almost invisible. Fortunately it is easily distinguished from the others, so it isn't a problem. An advanced rule in the rulebook mentions that turn order may be marked with numbered turn order markers as an optional rule, but these numbered markers are not included (even though there was room on the cardboard punch sheets!).

Gameplay

Vampire: Prince of the City isn't just a scaled down version of the Jyhad CCG (re-titled Vampire: The Eternal Struggle). There is a different feel to it - while Jyhad feels like a contest to control a team of vampires and their possessions and domains, Vampire: Prince of the City feels like a turf war in a city, which fortunately is exactly what it's trying to be. Our gaming group had a little difficulty with the mechanics at first - they're a little different than most other Euros, and although we are all familiar with RPGs, which might make it easier, there's enough board-game mechanics to it that it isn't a straight up RPG export either. We had it down by the third turn, though, so I wouldn't call this a steep learning curve. A player commented that the organization of the rulebook and the wording on the summary cards makes gameplay seem more difficult than it actually is, and I'm somewhat inclined to agree. This isn't a difficult game, mechanic-wise, though I could see people who haven"t played RPGs struggle a little with it.

Certainly there are superficial similarities between this game and Jyhad - some of the equipment and retainers have a similar feel, and vitae is used in both games - but they play and "feel" differently. This game has a more "personal" flavour to it - you don't feel like you're controlling other vampire minions - you're doing the dirty work yourself. (for people familiar with the World of Darkness mythos, in this game you"re an elder Primogen vying to be a Prince. In Jyhad, you're a Methuselah controlling Justicars, Princes, Primogens, Elders, Ancillae and Neonates). To put it in a wargame analogy, Vampire: Prince of the City is a tactical scale game. Jyhad is a operational or strategic scale game.

A general comment which might have been a fluke of the card shuffling: On this, our first game, we were slapped with no less than four 18+ difficulty territorial event cards in the first two turns, severely restricting our activity (Rival Racketeers, National Guard Patrol, Media Exposure and Federal Investigation). The combination of these cards, especially Rival Racketeers, which makes it more difficult to acquire uncontrolled zones (and thus making overcoming the other events even harder), made us focus almost entirely on getting territory and working together instead of doing anything else. We had thoroughly, thoroughly shuffled the cards beforehand, but since each player drew two cards in the first two turns, I guess we went through 16 of the 100 cards fairly rapidly. This is likely a fluke, but territorial challenges are difficult to overcome initially. Event cards seem to come up quite often. A second or third play should give a better perspective on this.

Overall, the play is smooth and clear once you've figured out the mechanics, which might take you anywhere between two turns and six turns, but likely no longer. The strategy is deeper, however, and allows for repeated plays.

Summary



This game is fun, challenging and interesting with slightly above average components. A few rules questions and clarifications should probably have been discovered/answered in play-testing, but there aren't any deal-breakers, and the designer, Mike Nudd, has been very active in answering questions both in the White Wolf forum and at BGG.

If you're a fan of the Vampire: The Requiem setting, this is an excellent buy. For people who aren't already fans, this is a solid and enjoyable game, but not for people who dislike RPG-style mechanics and/or a little bit of randomness. It's a North American-style board with some good Euro influences, and although its production design doesn't quite equal the other big Gothic entry in the past 12 months, Arkham Horror, I think that this game would get played a lot more often in our gaming group.

Vampire: Prince of the City has a fair amount of negotiation and direct competition as well as conflict. It is asymmetrical and involves a lot of events determined by die roll. I recommend this game with very minor reservations to most BGG gamers. To gamers who love euro games exclusively, I would have greater reservations.
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Jeffrey D Myers
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Fantastic review, Christopher! My interest is now piqued....
 
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Miguel
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Agreed, excellent review.

As a player involved in the game Kozure described, I wanted to add one comment:

My main criticism of the game is that there was much to much "text" much too fast. The fundamentals of the game are simple enough, and work well. Unfortunately for us (or..me), between the clan powers on our cards, the cards in our hands and the rapidly multiplying "event" cards there was an unappealing information overload up front. In the future, I would recommend not using event cards or clan powers for a few rounds when teaching the game so that the basics can come through more clearly.

If we had been forced to stop the game after a few rounds, I probably wouldn't have been interested in playing again. Having carried through to the end, I've changed my mind and think that it's a good game which was unfortunately saddled with an unusual concentration of event cards at the start.

...oh, and the comparison to Arkham Horror? AH beats this game in only one way: The theme is better realized. Vampire, for all it's references to the RPG and CCG, is pretty abstract. In all other respects, I'd rather play this one for sure. I'd have to say that I still prefer the CCG by a wide margin, though (but that's not entirely fair, since it's been so long I might remember it as a better game than it was)
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Christopher O
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agent easy wrote:
In the future, I would recommend not using event cards or clan powers for a few rounds when teaching the game so that the basics can come through more clearly.


I agree. If/when I play a teaching game again, I'm going to remove all the event cards, shuffle the remainder of the deck and then count off twelve (Alternatively, triple or quadruple the number of players, i.e. 12 cards in a three player game, 16 in a four-, and 20 in a five-player game), then shuffle the event cards into the remaining 68 cards. Then I put the twelve (or whatever) "event-free" cards on the top of the deck.

This way you're guaranteed no event cards in the first turn, and have a reduced likelihood in the second. By the third, the events will come out as you might expect.

I think this will help players concentrate on other mechanics before having to worry about events on the first turn of their first play-through.

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Miguel
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I think that would definitely do the trick. Might not be a bad idea to do this in every game, not just learning ones....

Let me know how the 2nd game went!
 
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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The game I played also had a large number of Events early. Part of the problem is that players often don't have enough points in the various skill areas to overcome them early until they get some help from cards-- even when players decide to work together. I think the game needs to have a full table of players to give everyone the best chances at overcoming the Event challenges. Once the Events are in hand, then folks can start issuing the personal challenges.

Ironically, the point of the game is not to spawn more vampires or feed on the living. It's to gain control of a city. It just happens that the power struggle is among vampires that the citizens are vaguely aware of. So the whole vitae aspect seems a bit out of place, since it requires prior knowledge of what vampires _are_ to even understand why it's _blood_ they're after and not just food or even money. The effect is parallel to playing a game about gangsters trying to take over Chicago or New York with a subroutine in the game that requires the players to feed their gangsters to maintain their existence.

Maybe that's focusing too narrowly on a mechanic to criticize the whole game. But it's the only thing in it that distinguishes the actors as vampires versus, say, gangsters or political parties.
 
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Thomas R. Moen
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Thanks for the review. I just bought it, but I was somewhat dissapointed by the layout and look of the boardgame in comparison to the pictures on geek. Also, all the chits seemed pretty average. But, I just played Days of Wonders Shadows over camelot a couple of days ago, and the pieces and looks of that game is just beautiful. Of course, it cost somewhat more.

Anyays, looking forward to tryin thi game.

Edit: After playing the game once I can say that it is really fun. And the board is nice and the cards too. The chits are still pretty average and the character sheets are really curved..
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Space Monster
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Kozure wrote:
Vampire: Prince of the City has a fair amount of negotiation and direct competition as well as conflict. It is asymmetrical and involves a lot of events determined by die roll. I recommend this game with very minor reservations to most BGG gamers. To gamers who love euro games exclusively, I would have greater reservations.


I agree with most of your excellent review; however, I would not recommend this game to most BGG gamers. After reading the comments, it is easy to see there is very clear line of demarcation between those who like the game and those who do not.

I would suggest that you will like this game if:

1. You like collectible card games. The deck of cards in this game offers a very CCG feel to the game, with numerous special cards that break the rules. This is a comfortable fit for CCG players, but to non-CCG players the cards are like an endless assault of new rules and exceptions.

2. You like role playing. Make no mistake, this game is all about politics. Almost everything is negotiable, and you can't win without courting allies and you probably can't win without one or two well-timed betrayals. Because the negotiation aspect of the game is not structured, RPG players can get into character and really sink their teeth into this part of the game. Non RPG players may feel that the lack of structure makes the game drag on needlessly. They may also feel lost or bored.

3. You like variable powers. Each player will have different powers. This means you have to tailor your game play to your strengths. Some people will feel like this railroads them into a strategy.

Moreover because each player will have cards in play which effect conflicts. This means that it can take a minute to assess a situation, and while you are learning the game you will doubtless miss something. If you are prone to analysis paralysis or can't enjoy a game if you make a mistake when you failed to take something into account, this will leave a sour taste in your mouth. However, if you are familiar with playing Cosmic Encounter with 2 powers for each player, the complex interaction of powers and cards will be a romp.

4. You can live with using dice to resolve conflicts. This is a deal breaker for some people. You can mitigate your risks and hedge your bets, but ultimately you will have to roll a die and you may fail even when the odds were in your favor.

If you like all of the above and have 3 or more friends who feel like you do, this game can be a blast. Otherwise this may not be your cup of tea. Test drive it before buying.
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Patrick Doss
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I played Vampires and it was for one very long...about 3 hours for the short version. The clans are a little unbalanced, like the Mekhet has an ability where he can't be challenged and yet I was in 1st place the whole game and then I was put in torpor on the last turn and lost the game. All my hard work down the drain with 1 lucky roll of a die. It feels really cheap and not fun. I was furious and I wasn't having fun from there on out. The event cards are hard to defeat especially in the beginning of the game. And these things didn't just happen once, but they shouldn't happen the 1st time. Any game that takes the fun out of playing and makes it frustrating, doesn't earn my positive vote. It felt like the game hasn't been properly tested before releasing it. I will probably never play Vampires again because of unfun experiences and there's no real reward for being in first or owning the districts. No larger points for larger districts and less for smaller. I know because of the point value, but the larger less expensive ones are harder to keep up with and defend than the smaller districts. I am sadly disappointed because I wanted to like the game, but I don't. Everything about the game seems either unfair or cheap and that's just plain not fun to play. I give it a 3 out of 10.

One more thing: Vampires isn't really a theme. There's really not a lot of vampire feel to it. The game would work just fine with normal people and money or something. The vampire theme seems weak and not well thought out. not much biting or real vampire stuff. Eh, oh well. that's my take on it. You play if you wanna. But count me out.
 
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Brian Howe
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I agree with most of the review except for the fact most people tend to have a problem with is all of the event cards. The event cards, though rather excessive at times, they play a very important role. The prestige points that come from them can make a very large difference in the standings. Even with having to work together to beat them out, even in the early game, you can still isolate one person thus giving an advantage over that person later in the game. At the end of a game having 30 personal prestige can be huge especially since breaking up domains becomes a very strong tactic in the final rounds. Though in the very start of the game territorial challenges are a pain, after that the events become a free source of prestige for a pair of allies or even a lone player to gain. Many rounds points would be left unchanged due to influence being spent in order to protect a domain or to help in overturning power in another zone so the boost from the challenge phase is enough to keep you high on the prestige stack. Just my 2 cents though.
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Will Marks
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signjc wrote:
... RPG players can get into character and really sink their teeth into this part of the game. Non RPG players may feel that the lack of structure makes the game drag on needlessly. They may also feel lost or bored.

Was the vampire pun intended?
I like!
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Daniel Kosta
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I've played this game half a dozen times and the gaming group I play with (somewhat experienced) agree that it is very good.

The most amusing part of the game is the back stabbing and arguements that occur. For example in the last turns of the game my older brother and I had a good 20 minute shouting fest about what my younger brother should do. We were both 'acting in the younger brother's interest' but of course we were just trying to better our standing!

Also one must be very cunning in the game - be too aggressive and take the lead will mean all the other players will band together and destroy you.

Rules did take me a couple of times to truly grasp.

If you enjoy such scenarios I recommend this game.
 
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