VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE – HERITAGE

Reviewed by Selwyn Ward

VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE – HERITAGE (Nice Game Publishing, 2 to 4 players, ages 18 and up, 45-90 minutes; $139.95)

 

Vampire: The Masquerade began its undead life back in 1991 as an RPG created by Mark Rein-Hagen and published by White Wolf as part of their World of Darkness Storytelling System. The key innovation that separated Vampire: The Masquerade from the numerous previous Dracula-inspired games was that players played as vampires rather than vampire hunters. As later generations would learn, you could have more fun playing Spike or Angel than you ever could as Buffy or her band of Slayers.

The original RPG went through several revisions and editions, and, over the years, has passed through almost as many publishers. Its continuing appeal was its evolution of a diverse array of clans and bloodlines, each with their own particular characteristics, drives and attributes. It has spawned video games and, through recent licensing deals, there are now at least a half dozen Vampire: The Masquerade standalone board and/or card games in the pipeline. You wait thirty years for a Vampire: The Masquerade board game and six come along at once! 

I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing Horrible Guild’s imminent release of Vampire: The Masquerade – Vendetta, set in Chicago: those who backed the game on Kickstarter should be getting their copies early in 2021. However, this past few weeks I’ve been engrossed in Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage, which is an epic multigenerational game from Nice Game Publishing.

Designed by Babis Giannios, Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage is a compelling 2-4 player card drafting game where players lead competing clans of vampires as, unbeknown to mere mortals, they secretly battle for power across multiple “battlegrounds”.

Players each start by selecting a clan. This gives them a clan leader and “schemes” which can be activated with the right combination of trait icons. All the character cards, including your clan leader, carry an icon corresponding to a trait.

Gameplay is remarkably simple. In each of the game’s 10 rounds, you’ll be adding to your coterie by selecting one of the five mortal characters in a market-like display. In addition to their trait, each character also has three symbols corresponding to each of the three “battlegrounds” in play, and you’ll move markers up or down on each of the battlegrounds to represent the impact of this new addition to your clan. It’ll be rare for any of the available mortals to match your exact needs in all of the battlegrounds so this simple mechanic forces players to compromise – ceding ground on one battlefield in order to make better progress on another. Players will also have secret objectives they are striving to achieve in a specific battleground in order to satisfy the requirements of a mission.

In addition to the mandatory recruitment each turn, adding characters to your vampiric family tree, players can choose as an optional second action to activate one of their scheme cards for its special effects. In practice, scheme cards are most likely to come into play once you are a few turns in and have several characters in your clan. It’s the scheme cards that generate most player interaction, as several involve “take that” measures.

Through the course of the game, you’ll be exhausting characters in your coterie and collecting and spending power and infamy. At the end of the 10-round game, you’ll earn points (positive or negative) from your positions on the battlegrounds and for your unspent power tokens but you’ll be penalised for any infamy which you end up with.

If that was all there was to Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage, it would be a very good game. There is more tho’ – much, much more! The clue is in the “Heritage” part of the title. You can play Vampire: The Masquerade as a fast-paced standalone game that takes about an hour. To experience Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage at its best, however, you’ll want to play it as a campaign game.

As a campaign/legacy game, Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage is played as a “chronicle” of 21 “chapters” (i.e. individual games). These correspond to key periods of history from the start of the 14th Century to the end of the 20th Century so, in effect, a complete campaign game will tell the story of how the vampire clans have tussled behind the scenes throughout Medieval and modern history. All of the character cards are double-sided and come in custom sleeves, and some of the characters you recruit will be converted from mere mortals to much more powerful vampires. To upgrade a character, you just pull the card out of its sleeve and flip it to its alternate side. Stickers add a clan icon and allow you to give the character an individual name to replace its generic descriptor. More stickers allow extra powers to be added for further upgrades. You don’t get to keep the character in your next game, and anyone can still recruit it, but the character retains its allegiance to its assigned clan so can prove to be especially powerful when subsequently recruited to that clan.

The legacy game introduces specific missions that correspond to the time period as the campaign proceeds through the centuries. Different games use different battlegrounds so each game isn’t merely more of the same. And without giving away any spoilers, it’s a nice touch from Nice Game Publishing and artist Lukas Siegmon that the images on the cards represent changing fashions through the years.

Tho’ you’re adding stickers in the legacy game, you’re not destroying or irrevocably altering any of the components. Play any of the Pandemic Season legacy series (Z-Man Games) and you’re left with a board and components that can’t realistically be used further beyond the 12th “month” of the game’s timeline. By contrast, Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage can be fully re-set at the end of a legacy campaign: Nice Game Publishing have announced that the requisite reset stickers will be available from their website. The player sheets and Chronicle Booklet for recording details of a campaign are available online for free download, and you can also download the rule book at https://www.vtm-heritage.com/#1605404074288-2ce5fc06-6746

Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage was launched on Kickstarter two years ago and should be arriving with backers around now. The game should also soon be appearing on retail shelves early in 2021. As we learned with the doomed Seafall (Plaid Hat Games), it’s notoriously hard to pull off a competitive legacy game. Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage succeeds brilliantly with a smooth and elegant design. If you don’t have a KS copy on its way to you, you should get a retail order in now. This is one you won’t want to miss!  – – – – – – – – Selwyn Ward


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