With all of the board games that I have reviewed here on Geeky Hobbies there is one genre that I really haven’t covered. That genre is the social deduction game which includes games such as Werewolf. I have always wanted to play one of these games as the premise is really interesting. A large group of players are secretly given roles. Most are peaceful villagers or bystanders and a couple are saboteurs trying to get the bystanders to turn on one another. One player is eliminated each round and the goal of each side is to eliminate the other. Despite finding the premise to be really interesting, I have never played one of these games for a simple reason. These games usually require large player counts (usually 6+), and my gaming group doesn’t have enough people. This is why I was intrigued by Vampire Empire as it took this genre and turned it into a card game that can be played by two players. This sounded like an interesting premise for a game and it showed a lot of potential. Vampire Empire is a really interesting deduction card game with some unique ideas that leads to a satisfying if not a little flawed experience.
How to Play Vampire Empire
- Put all of the character cards into the card sleeves with the human side face up.
- Put all of the character tokens into the bag and mix them up.
- Shuffle the character deck and place it face down on the table. This will be referred to as “the city”.
- Draw the top three cards from the city and place them face up on the table next to the city. These cards are referred to as “the castle”. If the castle ever has less than three cards the next card from the city will be turned up and added to the castle.
- Put all of the attack/defense tokens on the table where both players can reach them.
- Decide who will play as the vampires and who will play as the humans.
- Each player will take the deck of cards corresponding to the side they chose. They will shuffle the cards and add the top eight cards to their hand. The rest of the cards will be placed face down in front of them.
- The vampire player will draw three tokens from the bag. They will look at these three tokens. These tokens represent the characters that are vampires. They will then place these tokens face down in front of themselves.
- The human player will draw two tokens from the bag. They will look at these tokens. These tokens indicate characters that are trustworthy humans. They will place these tokens face down in front of themselves.
- The vampire player will start the game.
During the rest of this review I will be referring to various terms. These terms and what they refer to are as follows:
The City – The city refers to the deck of character cards that are placed face down.
The Castle – The three face up character cards that are placed in the middle of the table. Whenever there are less than three cards in the castle a new character card will be revealed and placed in the castle.
The Moat – The moat is the discard pile that a player will place to the right of the draw pile. All cards that a player plays during the game will be added to the moat. Players may also choose to discard cards to the moat. All cards added to the moat will be placed face down and cannot be played again during the game.
The Cellar – The cellar will be a discard pile that you will place to the left of the draw pile. Cards discarded to the cellar (face down) will remain in the cellar until the draw deck runs out of cards. The player will then reshuffle the cellar to form a new draw deck. After the cellar has been used to form a new draw deck no cards can be discarded to it on a future turn.
Active Player – The player whose turn it is.
Days – A term referencing when the human player is the active player.
Nights – A term referencing when the vampire player is the active player.
Playing the Game
Players will alternate turns in the game. On a player’s turn they will take the following steps (in this order):
- Discard Cards and Draw New Cards (optional)
- Reveal the Identity of a Vampire (optional only for the vampire player)
- Perform One Action (mandatory)
Discard Cards and Draw New Cards
To begin your turn you have the option to discard cards and draw new cards. When discarding cards the player can choose to either add them to the moat or the cellar.
If a player has less than eight cards in their hand they will draw cards from their draw pile until they have eight in their hand.
Reveal the Identity of a Vampire
The vampire player can only take this action when they are the active player. When the vampire player chooses this action they will reveal the identity of one of the characters as a vampire. They will turn over the corresponding token that they took at the beginning of the game. Once a character is revealed as a vampire they will remain revealed for the rest of the game. If the characters is currently in the castle or when they enter the castle the corresponding card will be turned to the vampire side inside the card sleeve.
Perform One Action
Each player will then choose one and only one action to take.
Hide A Character in the City
When the vampire player is the active player they can choose to hide one of the character cards in the city. To take this action they must discard three vampire combat cards from their hand (to the moat). They will then take one of the character cards and place it on the bottom of the city deck. The top card from the city deck is then turned over and takes the place of the card that was moved.
Use Holy Water
Only a human player that is the active player can choose this action. To take this action the player has to play two holy water cards from their hand to their moat. The player will then choose any of the characters and ask the vampire player about their identity. The vampire player must tell them whether this character is a human or a vampire. If the character is a vampire they will flip over the corresponding token. When this character is in the city their card will be flipped to the vampire side inside the card holder. This character will be a revealed vampire for the rest of the game.
If the player successfully reveals a vampire and they are in the city the player can choose to immediately attack it. When attacking the vampire they can use the lower value holy water card that they played to reveal the vampire.
The player can choose to initiate combat for their action. See the combat section below for more information.
If a player doesn’t want to take any of these other actions they can choose to discard two cards from their hand and place them into their moat. Their turn will then end.
When a player chooses to initiate combat they can only use characters that are currently in the castle. To start combat the active player will choose which character is attacking and which is defending. If a human player initiates combat they cannot attack with a character that has been revealed to be a vampire. When the vampire player initiates combat they must attack with a revealed vampire if one is currently in the city.
In combat the players will play cards from their hand in order to support the attacker or defender. Each card has a couple pieces of important information:
- Combat Value – The number in the top corners tells how much attack value the card adds to the character that it is played to.
- Profession – Most of the cards will feature a colored border. This border indicates which profession the card helps. A card can only be played to help a character of the same profession. If a card has two different colors it can be used by either profession.
- Description of Action – Some of the cards have a special ability. When cards are played these abilities will be activated.
The player that initiates the combat will begin by playing cards to support the attacker. They can choose to play one or more cards that match the profession of the character they chose to attack. When they are done the combat value of all of the cards that they play will be added up to get the character’s attack value.
The other player then has the option to play cards to support the character that is being attacked. They can choose to play zero cards or as many as they want as long as they match the character’s profession. When they are done all of the cards will be added up to get the character’s defense value.
Most combat cards can be played by either player. There are two exceptions though.
- Holy water can only be used by the human player against a revealed vampire. If the holy water card also features another profession color though it can also be used for a character of that profession even if they aren’t fighting a revealed vampire.
- Vampire cards can only be used by the vampire player for a revealed vampire. If the vampire card also features another profession color though it can also be used for that profession.
The attack and defense values are compared. If the attack value is larger the attacking character kills the defending character. The defending characters card is removed from the game. Both players can check at any time which characters have been killed in the game. The vampire player must then reveal whether the killed character was a human or a vampire. If they were a vampire they will turn over the corresponding token.
If the defense value was larger a second round of combat is performed. All cards played in the first round stay in play and will be added to the cards played in the second round. This second combat round is otherwise played the same as the first.
If the defending character has a greater defense value in both combat rounds the combat ends with neither character being killed.
Playing Support Cards
Some of the cards in each player’s deck are considered support cards. These cards feature two sets of numbers in the top left corner. These cards can be played by either player even when it is not their turn. They can only be played between the second and third steps or after the third step. The only exception is if the card specifically says it can be played during combat.
To play a support card you need to discard a number of cards (to the moat) depending on the card’s cost. Each card has two numbers in the top left corner. The number next to the sun is how many cards will have to be discarded if you play the card during the human player’s turn. The number next to the moon is how many cards you have to discard if you play it during the vampire’s turn.
When a support card is played its action takes effect immediately. After the effect is resolved the game will pick up where it left off.
When a player plays a support card that lets them take a card from a deck they can look at all of the cards from that deck to choose the card that they want. After choosing the card you will shuffle the rest of the cards.
Each player will have three people support cards. When a player plays one of these cards they will choose which character they will support. They will then decide whether they want to play the support card for the attack or defense value. The player will place the corresponding attack/defense marker on the character card. The support card is then discarded. The marker will stay on the character card as long as they stay in the castle. If they leave the castle for any reason the marker is discarded. The marker will add its value to the character for only the first round of each combat.
End of Game
The game can end in three different ways.
If all of the humans or vampires die the player with characters of their side still available will win the game.
The game will end immediately if there are three revealed vampires in the castle at the same time. The vampire player will win in this case.
If both players have run out of cards in their draw deck (after reshuffling the cellar) and their hand, the players will tally up points based on the surviving characters. For each human left the human player will score one point. For each vampire left the vampire player will score two points. The player with the most points wins the game. If the players tie it will remain a tied game.
My Thoughts on Vampire Empire
The best way to describe Vampire Empire is to say that it feels like a combination of a card game and a deduction game. While there have obviously been other games that have combined card and deduction mechanics, I can’t remember ever playing a game quite like Vampire Empire. On the deduction side the game kind of plays like Clue and other similar deduction games where you are trying to figure out the hidden identities of characters and the information known by your opponents. The card mechanics feel similar to your typical card battling game. The players play cards to increase character’s attack and defense values along with other special abilities. If the attacking player has a higher attack value they will kill the other character.
I think the most interesting thing about Vampire Empire is in some ways it feels like you are playing two different games. At the beginning of the game one player will be chosen to play as the vampires and the other will play as the humans. The goal is to help your side beat the other. In many games this would just be a cosmetic thing where you may have a couple different cards than the other side. In action though the two sides actually play quite a bit differently. This is mostly due to the characters not being split equally between the two sides. The human player will have six characters on their side while the vampire player has three characters.
As the human character has the numbers advantage the objective of the human player is to find the vampires and kill them quickly. Therefore while playing as the humans the game plays like a deduction game where you have to root out the vampires. This player has the numbers advantage so they are able to take more chances as each character they lose doesn’t hurt them nearly as much. The human player has to do a good job reading the vampire player as they know the identity of all three vampires. They have the ability to reveal the identity of characters, but it is quite costly. The main objective of the human player is to reveal the vampire’s identity as it is then pretty easy to kill them off as they have considerably more characters at their disposal.
On the other end of the spectrum is the vampire player. The vampire player basically has perfect information in the game. They know which characters are humans and which are vampires. Their forces are outnumbered though. This means that the vampire player has to utilize deception. The vampire player actually has a lot going for them in this situation. As they know the identity of every single character they are much more informed in battles. They can pit two humans against each other hoping to take out the defender. They could also have a human attack a vampire in order try and trick the other player into thinking the vampire is actually a human thus keeping them safe for longer. The vampire player can carefully analyze their options while the human player can only make educated guesses. The vampire player has to be tactical in their moves though as one wrong move can be really costly.
When a vampire gets revealed things become quite a bit more interesting. The human player is obviously going to target the vampire immediately in order to get rid of it. Meanwhile the vampire player has to use the revealed vampire in all future attacks. The main reason things get interesting though is that it unlocks additional cards that each player can use in combat. The vampire player can use vampire cards while the human player can use holy water. These cards are some of the most powerful attack and defense cards in the game so it makes battles much more competitive. While a vampire is generally revealed due to the human player discovering their identity, a vampire player may occasionally choose to reveal their identity in order to take advantage of these additional cards.
Deduction and deception play a big role in the game, but another major mechanic in the game is card management. Each player is given a deck of 40 cards to start the game. Once those cards are gone though the player can’t really do anything for the rest of the game. Therefore good use of your cards is key to the game. You don’t want to waste a bunch of cards in battles you can’t win or for wasted actions. To do well in the game you need to maximize each card. Some cards are naturally better than others, but each card has its own purpose where it can help you if played at the right time. As you can only hold a certain number of cards at the same time you need to use the discard mechanics well. Unlike many games there are actually two discard piles in Vampire Empire. One discard pile is your typical pile where the cards are gone forever once they are added to it. The other is a discard pile that you will get to go through a second time after you deplete your initial draw pile. To do well in the game you need to utilize this pile to delay the use of a card until a time when it is more needed. Good card management won’t necessarily win you the game, but it will definitely help.
As for Vampire Empire’s difficulty I would say that it is middle of the road. The game has a decent learning curve as there are a number of mechanics that you don’t find often in games. I would guess that it will usually take around five to ten minutes to explain the game to new players. While most of the mechanics are pretty self explanatory it will take some time to get used to some of them. It will probably take players a couple of turns to truly know what they are doing. The game’s strategy will also take a few games to fully grasp as you will make mistakes in your first game or two that you will end up regretting.
As for the game’s length I would say that it feels about right. The length is going to depend on a couple factors. It is possible for the game to end really quickly if the human player is able to kill all of the vampires quickly. The game could also take quite a bit of time if players take a long time deciding what they want to do, or the game continues until players get to their last couple of cards. I would say that most games are likely to take 30-45 minutes. This seems about right except that to be fair you probably want each player to play both roles and compare scores between the two games to determine the ultimate winner. I would say that the human player has a slight advantage, but you can have some genuinely close games. In one game that I played there were only two characters remaining and players were down to their last couple of cards before the game ended.
I enjoyed Vampire Empire quite a bit. The game has some interesting original ideas which lead to a game different from any other that I have played. Anyone who thinks the premise sounds interesting should really enjoy the game. The game does have a couple of issues though.
Probably the game’s biggest issue is the fact that it can rely on quite a bit of luck at times. Vampire Empire relies on a decent amount of strategy as your decisions in the game can have a pretty big impact on how well you do. Smart use of your cards or being able to decipher what the other player is trying to do has a pretty big impact on the game. Luck can have a pretty big impact though. First the cards you draw and have in your hand will impact what you can do in the game. You may want to attack or defend, but if you don’t have the right color cards combat is not going to go your way. The order of the character cards can play a pretty big role as well. If the three vampire characters are towards the top of the stack the vampire player is going to have a hard time winning the game as the other player is likely to discover them and take them out. The opposite also holds true if the vampire cards are towards the bottom of the deck. If luck is not on your side you are unlikely to win the game even if you make all of the right decisions.
The other main issue that I had with the game is that the theme can be pretty hit or miss. In general I liked the vampire theme as while it is used a lot it works well for the game. The game’s artwork does a good job supporting the game’s darker theme. The paranoia in the human characters attacking and killing one another also works well with the theme. The problems come in when some of the attack/defense cards are played. It thematically doesn’t make much sense that a vampire can use weapons that actually hurt them to attack other characters. This lead to some funny moments like when a vampire nun ended up killing a human with a rosary. This doesn’t ruin the game, but it does occasionally break immersion.
As for the game’s components I thought Vampire Empire did a pretty good job. The game mostly uses cards outside of a couple cardboard tokens. As I mentioned earlier I thought the game’s art style worked pretty well with the game’s overall theme. The cards are also thick enough that they should last if you take care of them. I also have to commend the game for the use of card sleeves with the character cards as it hides a character’s identity in the deck while also making it always clear if a character is a revealed vampire. Finally I liked the game’s tin box. The box is larger than it needed to be, but it is not too large. There has always been something that I have enjoyed about tin boxes as they really make a game stand out.
Should You Buy Vampire Empire?
Heading into Vampire Empire I was intrigued because I thought the idea of creating a social deduction game that supports only two players was a good idea. The game basically accomplishes this by combining a deduction game with a card game. These two mechanics work surprisingly well together. What really distinguishes the game is that the human and vampire roles actually play quite a bit differently. The human player is mostly trying to find the vampires while the vampire player tries to deceive them. This leads to a pretty satisfying gameplay experience where smart use of your cards and card management can play a pretty big role in how well you do. The game still relies on quite a bit of luck though. The theme can also be a little hit or miss.
If the premise behind Vampire Empire doesn’t really appeal to you, the game probably won’t be for you. Those that think the premise sounds at all interesting though should get quite a bit of enjoyment out of Vampire Empire and should consider checking it out.