When building a VtES deck, you have to take certain decisions, including how you want to defend against the most common offensive strategies, i.e. bleed, vote and combat. One (perfectly reasonable) decision is to ignore a particular defense, e.g. you can bloat more than your predator can probably bleed you. or you want to take an indirect defense approach, e.g. playing rush combat, “Banishment” or “Sensory Deprivation“. I’d like to discuss in this article which defenses are available against vote decks and their political actions.
The term “vote lock” often used during VtES games, means that a certain player has the vote majority at the table, i.e. this players controls vampires with titles or other permanents (like “Ventrue HQ” or “Powerbase: Madrid“) which grant him in total more votes than the sum votes of the players control. So it’s possible for this player to call any “Political Action” (PA) and usually he doesn’t have to use any action modifiers to make any PA succeed. On the other hand no other player can make a referendum succeed without using action modifiers or the help of the player who has “vote lock“. Achieving “vote lock” is the state that any deck that uses PA (as its main offense), and every other player should try to prevent other players from gaining “vote lock“.
Blocking & Intercept
One reasonable defense against PA is to block them. This is usually harder than blocking bleed actions due to the inherent +1 stealth a political action card provides. In addition a political action is by default an undirected action (even if there’s just one actual target for “Parity Shift” or “Banishment“). There are a couple of cards that give additional stealth on either non-bleed or undirected actions like “Forgotten Labyrinth” or “Creepshow Casino“. So in order to consistently block PAs you usually need some permanents that provide intercept like “Raven Spy” or “WMRH Talk Radio” or vampires with a special ability that grants +1 intercept like “Carna the Princess Witch“.
The strategy becomes problematic if the political action is taking place crosstable, where blocking requires “Eagle’s Sight” or “Falcon’s Eye” or “Anneke’s” special ability. This defense becomes unplayable if you face a “Toreador Grand Ball” deck, since this decks uses the TGB to make their PA unblockable. The same applies to other cards that deny block, i.e. “Beast Meld” or to a lesser extent to cards like “Seduction“, “Call of the Hungry Dead” or “Strange Day“.
In summary, intercept is a quite good answer to vote decks but there are a few holes in this defense which can make the intercept/wall deck look bad.
One of the most effective anti-vote strategies is to control titled vampires or other permanents which give yourself or your vampires votes during referendums. The biggest problem with this strategy is that most titled vampires have rather high capacity and they must fit in your deck strategy as well (unless you’re playing a vote deck yourself). There are some rather good examples for vampires who good ratio of capacity vs. number of votes, there are “Korah” (a 7-cap Malkavian antitribu Priscus), “Rake” (a 6-cap Brujah prince) or “Calebros, The Martyr” (a 5-cap Nosferatu prince, whose title can be stolen).
The votes of these vampires help you immensely within the political game. Even if you cannot prevent a particular referendum to succeed, a certain number of votes makes you be player within the referendum. If no player has vote lock, other players may need your assistance or might decide not to harm you; e.g. if a “Kine Resources Contested” is played if you’re not the prey of the calling player you’re often not assigned a single point of damage since the acting player fears that you might vote against the referendum. And when this kind of votes are called and you have permanent votes, you should kindly remind the calling player of this fact.
Among those cards that give your or your vampires permanent votes are “Ventrue HQ“, “Alamut“, “Powerbase: Madrid“, “Foundation Exhbit” or “Legacy of Pander“, all of these are requiring vampires of specific clans or sects. Most powerful are those that either give the vampires a high number of votes per se (like “Ventrue HQ” or have some sort of multiplier effect like “Foundation Exhibit” which gives each non-titled “Toreador antitribu” an additional vote.
If you have achieved vote lock over another player (or the whole table), do never assume that votes cannot be passed at all. The use of action modifiers that give transient votes (for the duration if the referendum) usally can easily turn the tide, this especially true for those vote modifiers where blood can be exchanged for votes, e.g. “Awe” or so-called multiplier cards, which double votes of vampires like “Hall of Hades Count“. Also if your vampires with the most votes is put to torpor or is banished, the vote lock can be reduced or even lost.
Where this defense falls short is when the table seating is particularly bad or if the vote is automatically passing. The first case is usually when your sitting between two vote decks, and both of them have a vote lock over you, i.e. the sum of their votes is greater than yours. In this case you can only try to gain time by pointing out that your prey or predator will be in hopeless situation after your are being ousted, since then your predator has vote lock over your prey (or the other way around). The second case is somewhat cornercase, there are few cards that a make vote automatically pass without any prerequisite, e.g. “Dia de los Muertos“, the other cards like “Cryptic Rider” or “Charming Lobby” require a previous vote by the same player has passed earlier. And that requirement has to be negated.
All in all, if your having some votes this helps a lot (although as with most defenses/offenses) this is not a flawless defense. Even if playing a vote deck yourself – where your offense also becomes your defense – you should consider adding some defensive cards like “Scapel Tongue” or “Confusion of the Eye“.
Canceling Political Actions
Canceling PAs is one of the most frequently seen defenses, since the two most important cards, “Direct Intervention” and “Delaying Tactics“, do not require any discipline or clan. Even if it does not actual prevent the PA to be played ever again or forces the player to discard the PA, canceling the PA gives the defending player room to breathe and the opportunity to move along with its game plan. This is most effective against the “once-per-game” political actions like “Ancient Influence” or “Political Stranglehold” than the staple votes “Kine Resources Contested” or since even if the PA is canceled, it is considered played nonetheless and therefore cannot be played a second time during that game.
Both cards have their distintive advantages, and although more player would name “Direct Intervention” as the stronger cards, “Delaying Tactics” has its merits as well:
- “Direct Intervention” is a master out-of-turn card, so you can only play at most one between your turns, while you can play multiple “Delaying Tactics” between your turns.
- “Direct Intervention” cancel the PA and puts the play card into the ash heap, the player whose PA has be canceled by “Delaying Tactics” can take the card back into his hand (and discard down to his handsize), and may play it in one of his next turn again.
- After a “Delaying Tactics” has been played, the player cannot call the same vote during the rest of this turn, and the vampire calling the vote cannot call another PA this turn. This is definetly an advantage especially if the voting deck did not diversify his PAs, e.g. he only packed “KRCs” instead of mixture of “Conservative Agitation” and “KRCs“.
- “Direct Intervention” costs a pool, while “Delaying Tactics” costs a blood.
Situated between the “Direct Intervention” and “Delaying Tactics” is “Confusion of the Eye” ; this reaction card cancels the votes of the acting vampire in any ordinary PA, while canceling those PA that require a specific title, e.g. more powerful PAs like “Parity Shift“, “Alastor” or the now banned “Protect Thine Own“. So regarding these votes “Confusion of the Eye” is more powerful than “Delaying Tactics” and similar to “Direct Intervention“.
Other cards with similar effects:
- “Promise of 1528” — ends an action (including a PA) that targets a Giovanni.
Another interesting choice of anti-vote cards are those which can cancel vampires votes. Most of them are only affecting the current referendum only, and there is a wide variety of cards with different effects, sometimes having an extra benefit.
- “Scalpel Tongue” — one of the most powerful card for canceling votes since it can be used both as action modifier or as reaction card.
- “Unexpected Coalition” — quite an interesting card, as it can also be used either action modifier or as reaction card, but can be reversed by another “Brujah antitribu” who votes differently.
- “Demonstration” — another powerful card as it is a permanent card which can cancel the votes of vampire.
- “Kindred Coercion” — very powerful since it can cancel the votes of large number of vampires, but usually considered to be too expensive or too defensive from most player’s point of view, since it costs a blood for each vampire affected and can also be used only in defense since it is a reaction card.
- “Conflict of Interests” — also cancel votes, but the requirement that the acting vampire must be of the same clan as the reacting vampire is way too restrictive.
- “Irregular Protocol” — forces the acting vampire to abstain from voting by tapping the reacting vampire.
- “Pulling Strings” — forces the acting vampire to abstain from voting.
- “Quicksilver Contemplation” — forces a younger acting vampire to abstain from voting.
In addition to these reaction (combo) cards there are a number of vampires which can cancel or even change votes of a vampire in a referendum. The later is most useful since this can really swing a referendum to your favour.
- “Ellison Humboldt” — can change the vote of prince.
- “Gravitnir” — cancel the vote of any vampire by paying a blood.
- “Michael Luther” — can change the vote of a Camarilla vampire by tapping himself.
- “Neferu” — can change the vote of a vampire with a corruption counter.
- “Quentin” — cancel the vote of any vampire by paying a blood.
The most efficient way of dealing with other vampires titles/votes is to strip the titles from these vampires or reduce the number of votes the vampire effectively use. While there are several PAs who can achieve this most of them are limited to removing a specific title, e.g. “Command of the Harpies” removes the Prince title from a vampire, or “Excommunication” removes the title of an “Archbishop”. Due to this restrictions most players prefer to include PAs that give one of their own vampires a title over PAs removing one from an opposing vampire.
The most efficient card is probably “Condemnation: Mute” which reduces a vampires votes by three, so that even an “Inner Circle” member or a Sabbat “Regent” has only one vote left, everybody else has no votes left. Played for the superior effect, for each successful vote (regardless by whom it was called) that vampire burns a blood, which is rather bad for the vote deck. Unfortunately “Condemnation: Mute” requires “Daimonium“, the discipline which is almost exclusively featured by the “Baali” (or at least infernal vampires).
The most extreme cards in this group are the Gehenna events “Fall of the Sabbat” and “Fall of the Camarilla” which in the end cancel the vampires titles of the “Sabbat” and “Camarilla” respectively while the Events are in play. But since both of these cards require three other Gehenna cards in play, you seldom see these cards in decks other than those which run a high Event card count anyway, e.g. Imbued or decks that feature few or no disciplines.
Punishing the Voter
One of most interesting cards are those which punish the voters by dealing damage to either the acting vampire or the acting player’s pool.
- “Elder Kindred Network” (Ventrue) — applies one pool damage if case of tie or one pool damage per vote the referendum was lost by. The most damaging vote but to cornercase to be an effective strategy.
- “Political Backlash” (-) — applies two pool damage if a referendum fails.
- “Poison Pill” (-) — applies the same amount of pool damage to the acting player as you are receiving.
- “Treachery” (Presence) — applies 1 pool damage to the caller (and anyone who voted in favour).
- “Touch of Pain” (Potence) — the newest and quite interessing addition, as the card can apply damage to any successful voting (or bleeding) vampire.
Other Reaction/Combo Cards
There are a number of reaction cards that give a fixed number of votes against (or for) a political action. These cards are often not played since they are often too defensive, unless there is a second effect of the card which has a different effect like “Covincraft” which can be used either as vote defense or bleed reduction.
- “Army of Apparations” (requires Chimerstry) — 3 for/against the referendum.
- “Covincraft” (Kyasid) – 4 for/against the referendum.
- “Dread Gaze” (Presence) — 2/4 for/against the referendum.
- “Hall of Hades Count” (Temporis) — doubles votes of a vampire in a referendum.
- “Loyalist” (Ventrue antitribu) — 3 against the referendum.
- “Madrigal” (Presence/Melnmipomee) – 2 for/against the referendum; also usuable as action modifier.
- “Mob Rule” (-) — burn blood to gain votes; also usuable as action modifier.
- “Surprise Influence” (-) — 2 for/against the referendum.
- “Wanderer’s Counsel” (Akunanse) — 1 for/against the referendum.
Also in comparison to “Delaying Tactics” they are often deemed to weak, since if you have no vampires with votes or other cards providing permanent votes, 2 or 3 votes often do not make a difference in a single referendum, especially if there is only one voting (or two voting decks acting in agreement) at the table.
There are a few other cards which interact with PA directly, but they are sometimes limited in their application or often have certain requirements:
- “Yawp Court“(Sabbat) — great for combat decks, especially rush combat decks, which are otherwise not able to block PA due the lack of intercept. Also helps interacting with PAs that are called cross-table.
- “Malkavian Rider Clause” (Malkavian) — as a reaction card makes the next referendum successful if the current vote is passed. This makes the acting player think if he should vote in favour of his own PA.
Although there is no “Golden Bullet” against vote decks, the number of “Silver Bullets” is quite large. The generic defense (and often considered best defense) consists of a combination of “Direct Intervention” and/or “Delaying Tactics“, but specific decks may rely on different means, e.g. a “Toreador” deck might pack some “Scalpel Tongue“, while a “Brujah antitribu” rush deck might use one or two “Yawp Court“. Decks that are voting themselves often can neglect specific vote defense cards, since their inherent votes provided by vampire’s titles or other permanents are defense enough.