Bloodlines Capsule Review by Nigel Tam on 31/03/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 3 (Average)
An exciting and innovative expansion, though a little too complicated, too powerful and too hard on the wallet.
Author: L. Scott Johnson
Category: Card Game
Company/Publisher: White Wolf
Line: Vampire: The Eternal Struggle
Cost: $2.75 per booster
Page count: 11 Cards per booster
Year published: Dec 2001
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Nigel Tam on 31/03/02
Genre tags: Modern day Horror Vampire
Bloodlines is the sixth expansion for the "Vampire: The Eternal Struggle" collectible card game, exploring the eponymous bloodlines and splintered off-shoots of greater clans.
Bloodlines has 196 cards in set, making it a lot smaller than the last expansion, but it is entirely new cards with no reprints and no preconstructed decks. It was released on December 3, 2001 and became tournament legal January 2, 2002.
For those of you keeping score, this is my second V:TES review on Rpg.net. The last one can be found at http://www.rpg.net/news reviews/reviews/rev_4752.html . The official page is at http://www.white-wolf.com/VTES/Checklist_Bloodlines.html . Like the set this review is in many parts, looking first at the set as a whole then at each of the clans.
White Wolf has been good to V:TES fans. Our favourite goth-game-factory took the CCG back from Wizards of the Coast before releasing Sabbat War to critical acclaim. We waited anxiously, then they affirmed their commitment with the release of Final Nights, another excellent set. After two full-size expansions they decided it was time for a smaller one - something just for the veterans. They came up with Bloodlines.
Across a hundred forums and a thousand gaming clubs the V:TES fans debated whether Bloodlines was going to ruin the game or not. We feared that Vampire was going to get gimmicky. We worried that it was going to get ridiculous. Worst of all, we panicked that it was going to become like Magic: The Gathering.
We need not have worried. Bloodlines is a surprisingly elegant little expansion that stays with the feel of the game whilst refreshing the metagame wonderfully. It's not an expansion for first-timers to the game, it's there just for the long time players. It's there for those of us who were tired of reprints and wanted some fresh cards. For the newcomers there is a Camarilla expansion on the way, revisiting the original Jyhad set, but for veterans, this is the Methuselah's bollocks.
Bloodlines brought a lot of new concepts to the game. These included:
Split-discipline cards. With no less than ten (!) new disciplines in such a small set it was always going to be difficult to build Bloodlines decks aroudn the new clans. To make life a little easier WW have introduced split-cards, that can be used either with one discipline or another. This is a very neat idea, allowing Bloodlines-based decks to be more versatile than their more tightly focussed classic coutnerparts. My only grumble is that these new cards have added a fresh level of complexity to my card filing system... do I file under Auspex or Mytherceria? At first the power of these split cards is not apparent - they seem like more complicated versions of older cards. However, once you play with them you realise that versatility is in itself power.
Multi-discipline cards are similar, but rewards you for having both listed disciplines rather than one or the other. Again, this is a solid concept, and has made deck construction algorithms suddenly complicated again. After many painstaking hours working out how many cards of each discipline to carry in relation to crypt skills and capacities, I now have to factor in these "super specialist" cards. Burn option cards help thin out the dead wood in your deck. A player can burn (discard) the card from his or her hand if he doesn't control a ready member of the clan required. This is another good idea, especially as there are only a handful of each Bloodline so you cannot always rely on getting one in your opening crypt draw.
Scarce vampires: When a player moves a vampire marked "scarce" from her uncontrolled region to the ready region, she burns 3 pool for every other vampire in play of the same clan. This mechanic, while it ties nicely with game flavour, also makes it very difficult to use the Bloodlines in competitive play.
The Nagaraja With Auspex, Dominate and Necromancy you won't need any new discipline cards to play the Nagaraja and they slot nicely into Tremere, Malkavian or Giovanni decks. This is just as well, as they are all "scarce". Kanimana's hand icnreasing abiltiy is excellent - though it doesn't win games directly it is one of very few cards that permanently increases hand size. Le Dinh Ho's "coercion" effect is also very gnarly and disruptive. Raful al-Zarqa is tailor made for Malkavian sneaky-bleeders. All in all, the Nagaraja are excellent - a bit of spice to break up the monotony of one-clan decks.
The Ahrimanes These vampires are all very solid for their size, but their unusual discipline mix makes them difficult to slot into many decks - they do not share two disciplines with any clan. Their sterility (inability to create new vampires) does not effect the game in any significant manner. Also, the Ahrimanes don't seem to be very good fighters. Spiritus doesn't quite stand up against more traditional combat disciplines. Also, they lack fortitude or any means to beat strike: combat ends. Presence gives them more forward motion than the Gangrel have, but overall they seem to be weak. Perhaps time will show them to be more of a threat, but right now they are easily dismissed.
The Harbingers of Skulls The Lazarenes have Auspex, Fortitude and Necromancy and so go well with the Nagaraja and the Ventrue Antitribu. They are generally excellent vampires, all the mid to large capacity range and all with special abilities that make you sit up and take note. Especially interesting is Anisa Marianna Lopez's ability to burn small minions (cap 4 or less) as a directed action. The others all have disruptive effects that harass your prey. Overall, a very solid bloodline. The Gargoyles The Gargoyles are very interesting, a number of them as Tremere "slaves". These slaves cannot take directed action unless you control Tremere but can enter combat in place of Tremere. Happily most of the Visceterika cards are split with Thaumaturgy. It will be interesting to see if the bloodline works in competitive play. My only grumble is the presence of the sole antitribu slave. He seems entirely pointless and though his special abiltiy is nice I cannot see an Antitribu deck carrying any visceterika, potence or fortitude just for the sake of one gargoyle.
The Salubri Though all Scarce and all expensive, the Salubri's healing abilities make them worth playing, though it is difficult to build a deck focused enough to win tournaments around them. The V:TES fanbase is split over the Salubri, some seeing them as the second coming and some, like myself, entirely unimpressed.
The Salubri Antitribu In contrast the Antitribu are every bit as dangerous as you'd liek them to be, with all the melee tricks you want them to have. They are all over-powered for their capacity size and mostly excellent.
The True Brujah With only three True Brujah, all of which seem rarer (in distribution) than the other Bloodlines vampires and all of which in the very large capacity range it is difficult to see anybody successfully using them. This is a shame as the Temporis cards are all very gnarly. I've yet to try or see any True Brujah based decks so I can't really comment further on them.
The Kiasyd This clan is superb, synergising with your Lasombra vampiresd perfectly. Aside from Beatrice L'Angou, who is just a solid 5-cap with no special abilities, they are all very big but all have terrifying special abilities. Bartholomew cangain you a pool every turn, Julai Prima can pump her bleed, Kassiym can keep your Pander hordes filled up and Marconius pays less for Mytheceria cards. However Mytheceria cards themselves rarely cost much blood, so Marconius is not quite as useful as, say, Dragos. Many of the Mytheceria discipline cards reproduce the effect of older cards but are simply much better and are split-discipline cards to boot. Quite simply the Kiasyd are a very strong Bloodline.
The Blood Brothers Perhaps even stronger are the Blood Brothers. Richard Garfield once said that multiplication in a CCG was too abusive - with the Blood Brothers multiplication arrives in V:TES. Sanguinus is very blood hungry, but lets you do everything very well, from bleed (Walk of Caine) to inercept to additonal strikes (Octopod) to recruiting (Unwholesome Bond). Add in potence and fortitude and the Blood Brothers suddenly become potent fighters as well. A recent tourney-winning deck combined Effective Managements with Unwholesome Bonds to generate 10 pool on each action. In my humble opinion, the reason why the Blood Brothers are better than the other Bloodlines is because the designers created the cards with the intention of rewarding players who were playing a mono-clan deck, whilst too many of the other Bloodlines were designed to be splashed into other decks so simply did not work.
The Samedi Having not seen the Samedi in action it is difficult to comment, though cursory examination of the cards suggests that they are a rush deck, and that they have quite a few power cards. They seem strong overall but only playtesting and time will tell.
The Baali The Baali work well with the Followers of Set but are strong enough to work well in other decks. Their Infernal nature means you have to pay 1 pool per turn for them or leave them tapped, but they are all puissant enough to make it worth your while. Having seen the search-power of Giotto Verducci (4 extra discards per turn in a tournament game) and been forced to pay blood to block him and then being told that the block fails and I have to burn another blood due to Psychomachia, I can vouch that the Baali are well worth their demonic price. For me, the Baali are the second strongest Bloodline of all (after the Blood Brothers), though their nature means you will only ever use one of them at a time.
The Daughters of Cacophany At first glance the Daughters seem, terrible as they mostly have negative intercept. However once you realise what sort of deck works for them you will find that you rarely want to block anyway, instead relying on Telepathic Counters and Misdirections. Add in Choir, which is a superb source of non-bleed based (and therefore unpreventable) pool loss and suddenly you have the makings of an excellent clan. My only complaint is that you will have to buy two or three booster boxes to get enough Choirs to make a decent deck, and even then an intercept-happy munchkin with a spirit's touch will put the whole concept out of commission. If only the Choirs stayed in play until used rather than disappearing at the end of the turn the Daughters would become tourney-worthy. As it is they are okay, but not amazing.
Bloodlines: the Good stuff Every set has a few Power Cards that every player will want. Tzimisce players should look out for Read the Wind which is tailor made for them. Gun-goobers will like the Improvised Flamethrower, if only for the flavour text. In terms of refreshing the metagame, Bloodlines is excellent. There are many new deck types now and the dominance of older decks is being challenged.
Bloodlines: the Bad stuff I have four big complaints about Bloodlines: 1) It is a waste of time for new players. It is for veterans only as it is very complicated and constructing decks around the new cards requires experience. 2) It escalates the power level. Too many cards are simply better than older cards, either being more versatile, cheaper or more effective. This smacks a little of M:TG. Consider that up till now, this problem had been avoided as newer more powerful cards always had a corresponding downside. 3) You need to buy loads of it to get a playable deck. On the release date I bought five boosters with the intention of spicing up some old decks. I could do nothing with this. Only after buying half a booster box will you be any where near a halfway decent deck, and for tournament level decks you are looking at three booster boxes minimum. Swaps will expedite this of course, but it's still irritating to have handfuls of cards you can't use. 4) 11 card boosters. That's for £1.95 here in the UK or $2.75 for the Americans. Seeing as you can pick up Jyhad and V:TES starters for £4-£6 or 15 Magic cards for £2, it's not looking great value for money.
So 4 for Style, because its fun and cool, but not very well balanced. 3 for Substance because its overpriced, initially unsatisfying and no good for new players but still has a lot of worthwhile new cards hidden away that tournament players can't afford to ignore.