Posted on February 27, 2007 by Monica Valentinelli
Card Game by White Wolf Game Studios
Vampire: Dark Influences is a stand-alone card game set in the world of Vampire: the Requiem, designed by Michael Miller and David Raabe and developed by Ken Cliffe and Steve Wieck. First and foremost, this is a strategy game that includes several thematic elements from the RPG. You’ll notice that the artwork is consistent with the corebook; many of the same signature characters are used for gameplay.
Dark Influences is stand-alone game that is heavily based on strategy. You play with (and against) your friendly neighborhood vampires in a bid for the Prince’s throne; there are several physical elements to the game that stir up conflict as you fight your way through 6 rounds. Pacing is essential to this game—you feel the desperation of the players as the competition heats up when suddenly it dawns on you—you and you alone have the power to stop another player from winning.
Before the game begins you have to choose your character card, an unnamed archetype of each of the five clans. If you’re familiar with the setting, you’ll recognize the faces of the Unholy, Persephone, Scratch, Solomon, and Loki. Each card gives specific play modifiers; two give an edge for combat, two for allegiances, and one for both. Once you pick your character, you then receive 10 double-sided blood tokens, imprinted with your clan’s symbol in red and white. These tokens represent your blood pool, and are easy to recognize throughout the game.
Next, you and your fellow players set up the game board by placing random cards in rows in order to build a pyramid; the top card represents the reigning Prince whom you are trying to dethrone. These cards represent characters within the different covenants and clans; they also have points listed on the cards that will come into play later. The only suggestion about this part of the game that I’ve heard since playing it, is that the writing is somewhat hard to read for larger groups; since the writing is vital to a player’s strategy, the typeface could have been larger, black and bold. After your pyramid is built, each player gets one random event card from a pile.
To start the game, players bid from their blood pool (one token at a time, white-side up) for their starting Covenant—this is extremely important and determines the path your character will take to rip the throne from the prince. You’ll need at least 5d10 to play; so break out those dice and get ready to roll because each blood represents one die. After all the blood is placed, then you get to figure out who goes first by counting up how many blood you didn’t spend—the player with the most blood goes first.
Here’s where things get crazy, chaotic, and fun. Once you get through the phases (one per round of play) you roll to gain a vampire’s allegiance. Successes are 8 or higher, depending upon what your player’s “discipline” (or modifier) adds to the roll. You’ll have to think carefully, because the only way to advance to the Prince is by gaining allegiance with other vampires and having a Covenant aids you on your way. Here’s the chaotic part—not only can you lose allegiance from other vampires entering into a combat phase with your character, but event cards can be played at any time following their instructions. The player with the most allegiance by the end of the 6 rounds (points multiplied by row added all together) wins the game.
In one of the games I played, it was extremely apparent that in some cases good strategy is more than just bidding blood points, it’s knowing when to play event cards and having a decent board layout in your favor. There are enough random elements in the game that attempt to not skew the odds in either direction, but I will say that playing a sample round or two (on a “dummy” layout) is essential to improving a player’s learning curve for the real thing. Like any other game, when its flow slows or stops because of rules confusion, it does not make for a fun experience. One of the things that helped the learning curve was a “Rules Summary” card; it was so helpful, in fact, that I wanted it printed on the back of my player card for easy reference. The rule book is quite small; but once you learn how to play the game you’ll only need the “Rules Summary” as a refresher.
There are quite a few design elements in the game that I really like. After playing a game, I was amazed that all the pieces fit neatly back into its original box. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve played/reviewed that don’t. It’s small, it’s compact, and it is definitely never the same game twice—something that can get tiring if you’re familiar with the standard games on the market. I also thought that this would be a good game for people who don’t normally play RPGs; because the mechanics echo a Requiem game non-players might be interested in joining the RPG.
Overall, I thought that the design, artwork, and packaging were extremely intelligent and a great addition to the Requiem line—especially since the maximum time commitment is about an hour. I also found it impressive that the feel of the game did not focus solely on combat; even though this is a game based on a horror theme, it does not alienate younger (or non-horror) players by being too gory. Although it can be played with 2 players, this is a game that works well for players of 3 or more, if only because it adds additional conflict and power struggles.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Vampire: the Requiem, Vampire: Dark Influences is a well-designed game that may just bring out that powerful vampire in you.
Reviewer: Monica Valentinelli