Vampire: The Eternal Struggle back in print, hooray!

My first collectible card game-experience was, no big surprise here, Magic: The Gathering. This was 1994, and I had never played something this exciting and engaging that didn’t run on a computer or console before.

The prospect of building my own deck of cards and competing against the decks my friends had built instead of the usual ‘everyone draws from the same deck’ was very intriguing to me. It combined the aspects of collecting and bartering I knew from my childhood (Panini soccer stickers anyone?) with strategizing a winning formula of which cards to use in your deck and how and when to play them.

My first deck used the colors red and black and was over 120 cards strong. I just couldn’t bring myself to take anything out, all the cards were just way too good (in my mind).

Regenerating AND firebreathing skeletons? OVERPOWERED!!!

During that summer we played every day at a friend’s place until late at night. I couldn’t get enough of it.

The excitement would remain high for quite a while. I played extensively from Revised Edition up to the Tempest block in ’98, after which I took the first longer break. I’ve played on and off since then, but never as regularly or seriously as before.

One reason for that is my then gaming circle pretty much dissolving after everyone had finished school/college/whatever and many of us, myself included, moving to different cities.

The main reason though is that somewhere around 2001 I was introduced to a CCG I fell even more in love with: Vampire: The Eternal Struggle.

Apparently nothing says “Vampire” like green marble

It was also designed by Richard Garfield, Magic’s creator, and differs in some key aspects.

One, there are no land cards. In Magic these are an essential part of all but the most specialized trick decks, and at the beginning of a match you never have enough of them, whereas towards the end of longer matches you always draw them when you’d rather draw anything else. I often found this aspect of the game pretty aggravating. The vampires in V:TES (“Veetaz” or just “Struggle”) are indispensable too, but they are not part of your normal playing deck, called ‘library’ just like Magic’s. Instead they are shuffled into a second deck, your ‘crypt’, thus making sure that you don’t draw more than you actually need.

Card backs of crypt cards (left) and library cards (right)

Cards from your hand are replaced the moment you play them, so you’re never empty-handed (heh). This makes it easier to set up and execute combos, which is pretty cool. You can also have as many copies of any card in your decks as you like (and own). This enables you to fully build around the strategy you have devised for your deck, but forces you to also think about card flow. It’s great to always have a copy or two of your deck’s staple card in your hand. Having seven copies of it and nothing else – probably not so great.

Lastly, there are pretty good dedicated multiplayer rules. For me these make the game so much more interesting and fun than any Magic multiplayer match I’ve ever played (although there are probably tons of new rules I’m not aware of to make things more interesting these days).

In V:TES the last player standing is not necessarily the winner. To win a match you need to have the most victory points. One VP is indeed gained by being the last one left, but the main source for VPs is ousting your current prey from the game, your prey being the player to your left. So in a match with four or more players you begin with your prey to your left, your predator (the player whose prey you are) to your right and one or more ‘neutral’ players opposite you who initially have their own battles to fight.

This makes for great table dynamics, sometimes resulting in the most unlikely of alliances. I have, for example, on occasion actively helped my own predator stay in the game, knowing full well that he’d try to oust me at the first opportunity. While this can be a very dangerous game it has ensured a table win for me more than once. When taking an aggressive stance towards someone other than your prey you have to keep in mind though that the VP for an ousted player always goes to that player’s predator, no matter who dealt the final blow. Being too aggessive can also lead to you being perceived as the table’s biggest threat and everyone ganging up on you. It’s a delicate dance, and mastering it’s steps can be as important for winning as the cards in your hand.

A google search for “vampire master table talker” turned up this, so…yeah. Good luck with that strategy. (Taken from TV Recappers Anonymous)

The final reason why I like this game so much is the lore behind it. While most vampire stories range from cheesy to utterly ridiculous I’ve come to really like the lore of World of Darkness, the universe Vampire: The Masquerade, the Pen & Paper RPG V:TES is based on, takes place in. It’s serious, mature and dark, and at the same time fun and sometimes even lighthearted. Above all, I find it actually believable most of the time.

I’ve read a whole bunch of novels set in this universe, and while that was fun in and of itself it also gave me a lot of background knowledge and understanding about how that world works, what the motivations of different factions and clans are etc.

Please don’t mind the dust…

Unfortunately White Wolf discontinued V:TES in 2010, its popularity never coming even close to Magic’s, especially outside the US. The community has kept it alive and even devised new sets of cards available for download and print, but that’s not quite the same of course.

In April, though, an unexpected but very welcome news arrived: five veteran V:TES players have founded a company, Black Chantry Productions, and acquired the license to design and print new cards als well as reprint old ones in conjunction with White Wolf, and they have already released the first brand new set.


I’ve ordered and received two bundles, but haven’t had the time to incorporate any of the cards into my existing decks yet. But it sure has rekindled my enthusiasm for the game, and Lakisa and I have already played a couple matches as well as fiddled around with new decks.

More about how we build and playtest new decks next time.


Blaugust Reborn is here, and I’m in!

I’ve been reading gaming blogs for give or take six years now, so I already was aware of Blaugust – an initiative by and for bloggers, with the goal to write a blog post every single day for a full month. I didn’t blog myself back then yet, so for me as a reader it ‘just’ meant more content for my consumption. Thanks for that, by the way!

In 2017 Blaugust took a year off, so I didn’t have to decide if I wanted to participate. At the time I most definitely wouldn’t have dared to, what with just having started to blog and not yet knowing if I’d hang in there at all.

This year Belghast is reviving Blaugust, and after contemplating the pros and possible cons for a bit I’ve decided to give it a shot.

Banner taken from Tales of the Aggronaut

To be honest, I’m intimidated. By signing up for this I’ve become part of a community that has been blogging for ages, in some cases on multiple outlets at once. Many of these people I admire quite a lot for their writing skills and tenacity.

I’m also a bit anxious how I will go about posting every day, when until now I’ve only been posting about once every ten days on average.

But: I’m very much looking forward to it! I’m sure it’s an opportunity for me to learn a lot about writing, and maybe I’ll also finally get around to write about some other things than just the game(s) I’m playing right now.

In any case this is gonna be a ride!

If you’d like to participate Bel has all the info you need here. Should you just want to indulge in the organiser’s and participants’ labour, he also lists (and links to) every new participant every day, and we’ll probably link each other on our respective blogrolls soon (if we don’t already).

Things about PoE that I love – Part II

In part one I talked about three things that Path of Exile does differently – and in my opinion much better – than other ARPGs I’ve played.

Here are two more.

The passive tree

Was there any doubt that this would make the list?

Since characters in PoE get all their active skills from gems socketed into their weapons and armor, skill points gained by leveling can be spent in a tree that ‘only’ contains passive abilities and bonuses. There isn’t an individual passive tree for each class either, instead there’s one massive tree for all classes, the only difference being the starting point. According to Lakisa it’s comparable to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid.

With each level-up one skill point is gained, some quests reward additional points. As of now the maximum amount a level 100 character can have is 123.

This tree gives enormous flexibility to build the character of choice. While it’s not quite possible to play any conceivable build with any class (because even with 123 available points it’s not really viable to reach, say, the top left section of the tree with a Ranger, who starts on the bottom right hand side), but it’s pretty close.

The tree has a hierarchy of nodes consisting of attribute nodes, basic nodes, Notables and Keystones.

Attribute nodes give +10 to either strength, intelligence or dexterity and make up most of the spiderweb that connects the different clusters of the tree. As you move from one area to the next you gain attribute points en passant providing an ample supply that’s, while not quite enough for most builds, a good basis that can be increased further by bonuses from your equipment.


Basic nodes give simple bonuses like ‘5% increased maximum life’, ‘8% increased physical damage’ or ‘20% increased critical strike chance’. Most clusters consist of multiple basic nodes that are either identical or at least follow the same theme.


The centerpiece of most clusters is a Notable, which gives considerable stronger bonuses than the basic nodes leading up to it. It’s almost always worthwhile to invest enough points to reach the Notable.


Rather than giving simple bonuses, Keystones grant special abilities or fundamentally change how specific things works, for example ‘Life regeneration applies to energy shield instead of life’. To make up for the advantages a build gets from them there’s also a drawback attached to most.


Lastly there are nodes that do nothing by themselves, because they are sockets meant for placing jewels into. Jewels are dropped items that come in different flavours and can be quite powerful (a perfectly rolled rare one would probably be stronger than most top tier Notables). There’s also unique jewels. Some of those have a radius and affect some or all nodes inside that radius in one way or another, providing some more interesting possibilities.


When planning a character you basically decide which Keystones, Notables and jewel sockets you want to get and build everything else around that, making sure that you have enough attribute points, damage output, hit points and mana in the end. At the same time you can offset weaknesses your gear might have, with the option to respec a couple of points later when you’ve got better items.

I haven’t felt that much freedom (and also power-gain) when allocating points in any other skill tree. To me it’s the mother of all skill trees.

My Marauder’s tree at level 83 a while back

The Atlas of Worlds

PoE has a pretty clever approach to it’s ‘endgame’. When you finish the story by beating the boss at the end of Act 10 your character should be somewhere around level 70. The highest level areas in Act 10 are level 67, so in theory you could grind those zones for leveling over and over for quite some time before XP gains would slow down too much. That’d be boring as hell though. PoE’s answer to that: Maps.

Maps are items that can be used to open a high level area with random layout full of mobs including a boss. They can have mods that ramp up the map’s difficulty while also increasing the rarity and quantity of loot-drops.

Pain Chambers…doesn’t sound too inviting really

There are 16 tiers of maps, with monster levels (and corresponding difficulty) ranging from 68 to 84. They are consumed upon use, so building and maintaining a pool of high tier maps is a constant challenge.

Back when this was all there was to it ‘just’ running one map after another started to bore me pretty quickly though, to me it didn’t feel that much different to running the same areas over and over in Diablo II.

In 2016 GGG introduced the Atlas of Worlds. This made a hell of a difference for me.

The Atlas of Worlds, fully revealed

The Atlas is basically a map of all existing maps…which sounds a bit weird, but there you go. When you beat a map (by killing it’s boss) for the first time you mark it as completed on the Atlas and the next tier is revealed. Thus you slowly work your way from the corners of the Atlas towards the center, where your final challenges await.

The biggest draw for me are the Shaper and the Elder though. These very powerful beings are constantly at odds with each other and both try to take control over the Atlas and the worlds therein. When you complete a map controlled by either entity you free it from it’s influence, and under specific circumstances the other takes control over it.

PathOfExile_x64 2018-06-01 09-00-34-457
Stars for Shaper influence, tentacles for Elder controlled areas

It’s a constant back and forth, also depending on if you have the right map at hand when you need it.

The final goals are to reach the center of the Atlas and fight the Shaper, and help the Elder to expand his influence, then fight him too (of course).

Elder- and Shaper-controlled maps can also drop loot with special properties, which makes running such maps even more desirable.

Shaper stuff looks much more appealing if you ask me

The Atlas has added much depth and variety to the Map-system. It also has that ‘just one more’ feel to it now and, to me, never gets boring.

Things about PoE that I love – Part I

As I’ve said before I think of Path of Exile as the true successor to Diablo II. Grinding Gear Games have taken pretty much everything that was great about DII and either kept it the way it was (because it was perfect already) or improved upon it.

Some of these improvements were quite large in scope though and considerably altered game mechanics/elements and also added completely new ones. A couple of those are, to me, simply a work of genius and are so bloody good that I can’t imagine playing an ARPG whithout them anymore.

Here are three of my favourite things about Path of Exile, in no particular order.


Remember micromanaging potions in Diablo II? Picking them up, sorting them, upgrading them, refilling your belt whenever you had consumed some? While a kind of meditative activity like that can sometimes be a welcome change of pace after hours of monster killing, at the end of the day it really was just time consuming busywork. It actually made me reluctant to use potions at all because I didn’t want to have to replace them. I was always worried I might run out of precious Full Rejuvenation Potions as well (although I had tons). I died more than once just because I was too cheap to quaff a potion in time.

Not my screenshot, but I had a mule character looking exactly like this

Flasks in PoE aren’t consumed upon use. They have a certain amount of charges, with each gulp costing some of those. Every killed moster refills one charge to all flasks, with rare or boss monsters refilling more.

Not only made this all of the above moot, it also made it possible to give flasks magic bonuses and enable players to incorporate just the right ones into their builds. They are basically five additional magic items to equip. My Summoner, for example, uses a healing flask that also heals her minions, and a mana flask that negates the effect of curses on her (which counters the drawback her unique robe has). There even are unique flasks that, like most unique items, have special properties you can’t get any other way.

They also look fancy to boot and taking a sip visibly empties them

The currency system

There’s no gold in PoE. No silver, platinum, Dollars or Credits either.

Instead there are lots of different Orbs used for a multitude of effects. There’s one to convert a normal item to a magic one, one upgrades a magic to a rare, one rerolls the stats of a magic item. Some reroll the number of sockets of an item, change the links of said sockets or their color. The list goes on.

Just a few samples. Maximum stack sizes fortunately don’t apply in the currency stash tab.

Low tier currency can be converted to higher tiers at certain exchange rates, and there are ways to get higher value currency for your sell-loot, for example by selling a full set of rare equipment all at once instead of selling piecemeal.

Their respective crafting purposes aside every currency item also serves as, well, currency. NPC vendors sell all their wares for a price in currency items, and they’re heavily used for trading between players as well. Chaos Orbs and Exalted Orbs have over time become the default medium- and high-tier trading currencies, though other types are used too. Since the exact outcome of using Orbs on your equipment is random every player consumes them by the hundreds and thousands over time, so there’s always a demand for more.

I still have no idea how people get so outrageously rich, but some obviously do

This system serves two great purposes at once. One, I don’t need to mindlessly farm until I find the exact item with the exact stats that I want. As soon as I have the desired base item I can try to craft the stats that I need. It’s still RNG, but with much better odds when done right. Two, there’s always valuable stuff to pick up, never a map run that feels like it yielded ‘nothing’. Which for me is a much bigger motivator than just hoarding piles of gold, especially if there’s nary a use for it at endgame and/or inflation has made it all but worthless.


Skills in PoE aren’t inherent abilities characters just have. They are gems that you plug into the sockets of your gear. This gives much flexibility in building characters because any class can use all existing skills in any combination.

What makes the system really shine though are, to me, the support skills. These are also gems that have to be socketed into your gear. They do nothing by themselves, but when they’re placed into sockets that are linked with one or more sockets with active skills in them they buff and/or alter those skills.

Some ‘just’ simply buff a skill by giving it a damage bonus at the price of higher mana cost, but others modify the way a skill works rather drastically.

Generosity is a blessing for minion builds, and GMP is used by many different builds all the time

This provides near endless possibilities to use the different skills and combine them to great effect. They even work with minion skills and such. For example, I use the Greater Multiple Projectiles support pictured above for my Spectres.

PathOfExile no GMP
Changing my Solar Guards’ default attack from this…
PathOfExile GMP
…to this

In part two I’ll look at some more features that make Path of Exile special in my opinion.

One month into PoE’s Incursion League

It’s been four weeks since Path of Exile’s new challenge league started, and I’m making good progress. By my pretty slow standards, that is.

My Summoner is at level 81 now – just nine levels below my main character on Standard. I’ve finished the campaign at level 70 or so and started doing maps straight away. My supply of tier 2 maps and above builds pretty slowly though, so I’m doing mostly tier 1 maps at the moment, which are level 68, and xp gains have slowed down noticably.

The character is now powerful enough to fully clear incursions most of the time though.

Resulting in fairly well upgraded and connected temple rooms

One reason for that is a new type of monster I’m using as Spectres: Solar Guards. These bad boys have two kinds of attacks. The normal one is a fire damage projectile that does good damage at decent range. The real kicker is their secondary attack though. Every eight seconds or so they fire a big energy beam at a target area, which does a hell of a lot of damage after a short ramp up time.

PoE Laser Beams
The first pack of monsters that comes into range just melts.

They are pretty much Sharks With Frickin Laser Beams.

Of the league’s forty challenges I have checked off eleven with another eight somewhere between halfway through and nearly finished.

Unfortunately these were the easy ones

I will not manage to get the required 36 for the exclusive portal effect, that much is certain. There are substantially more than four challenges that lie well beyond what I can hope to achieve. It’s a shame because the portal looks very nice, but not ‘I’m willing to play 24/7 for three months straight‘-nice. The lower-tier rewards don’t interest me that much, but I’m not in it for the rewards anyway. I’ll just try to finish as many as I can in a reasonable amount of playtime. After all it’s one more carrot to chase, and I’m actually curious how far I can get.

Speaking of carrots, the RNG gods were in a particularly good mood yesterday. In my whole time playing Path of Exile before Incursion I had found exactly one Exalted Orb. They’re rare, is what I’m saying. My second dropped about one week into the league. Yesterday evening two dropped within half an hour!

PoE Exalted
I still can’t quite believe it. Truly a sight for sore eyes.

Exalts are one of the rarest currency items and are generally used as the main high-end trading currency. They also have gameplay purposes you can use them for of course, but most players (at least those as poor as me) only use them to trade for items they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. I guess I’ll hold on to them until I have a clear idea what to use them for. In any case I’m really happy to have found them.

Overall I’m still having much fun playing this league. There’s one downside to playing the same character build in both Standard and a challenge league though: after the league ends you basically end up with twin characters on Standard, making one of them redundant. The other day I had a Eureka-moment about how I can still benefit from that.

Shortly before Incursion started I found The Baron, a unique helmet with special properties for Summoners, on Standard. It’s bonuses revolve around making physical-damage-dealing minions in general and Zombies in particular stronger, but it requires the character to have a very high strenght stat to fully exploit its properties. This makes just switching to this helmet on a high level character rather inconvenient, you’re much better off building from the ground up for it.

I’ve decided to play my Incursion character with her current build until the league ends, and after her migration to Standard I’ll shelve her until the next optional passive tree reset comes around. These are generally given out to all characters every time the tree is changed. Then I’ll build her around The Baron. That way I can continue to use most of the minion skill- and support-gems I’ll have leveled up during Incursion while trying a different flavour of the Summoner achetype.

I’m thinking this guy with an army of Zombies and Skeletons

This is doubly great because it also gives me something to look forward to for after the league has ended.

My blog’s first birthday

Yeah, I missed it by a couple of days. Oops. đŸ™‚

birthday cake 1
Have a piece of cake anyway

On June 6th 2017 I wrote my first (and second) blog post(s). I had been reading fellow gamer’s blogs for quite a while and been thinking about writing myself more than once, but never got around to it until then.

I didn’t have a specific plan in mind, just that I wanted to write about things that interest me and occupy my thoughts. My target audience: myself, first and foremost. As I said in my first post, I want to capture and hold on to events that delighted, fascinated or just amused me. If anyone happens to stumble upon my musings and finds reading them worthwhile I’m all the happier of course.

The first year yielded 34 entries, almost one entry every ten days on average. This is of course much, much less than most bloggers produce. The main reason for that is my pretty high personal threshold for what’s interesting enough to be written about. While I like to read about fairly mundane things (if it’s done in an appealing way) I very often deem stuff that happens to myself not worthy to write down. I just can’t imagine myself or anyone else being interested in reading about how I did my dailies in Path of Exile for the umpteenth time or that yesterday’s EVE Online fleet went largely uneventful. But maybe I’m just not as capable an author as the good folks whose blogs I always like to read, no matter the contents.

If I do write about something I usually use a lot words though. If WordPress offers a total wordcount of all posts combined I can’t find it, but I’d estimate that I wrote about 800 – 900 words per entry on average, which would sum up to about 29.000 words. That’s not as much as it sounds (an average novel clocks in somewhere between 50k and 100k), but if you had asked me 15 months ago if I’d be willing to blog almost 30k words within a year I would probably have declined politely but decisively.

It seems that I don’t want to talk about stuff very often, but when I do want to talk I like to be thorough (Lakisa would probably use the word ‘exhaustive’).

Unsurprisingly the majority of posts were about the games I played. 13 were at least in part about EVE Online, 10 about Black Desert Online, 4 about Overwatch and 2 about Path of Exile, which more or less reflects the time I spent playing these games during that year. 8 were about broader gaming topics like player-made music, randomness or toxicity in multiplayer environments. I haven’t talked much about non-gaming topics at all yet, but maybe I’ll get to that during this second year.

I’m really glad to have started this blog. Writing is a lot of fun, lets me practice my English and, most importantly, preserves events and experiences I might forget about otherwise. A big Thank You to all bloggers who inspired me to do this, to Lakisa for reading it all and encouraging me, and to everyone who also takes the time to read it. Cheers!

Starting over in PoE’s Incursion League

About three times a year a new three-month challenge league kicks off in Path of Exile. Every participant starts at zero, without access to their high level characters and well-stocked stash. As the name implies there are challenges to overcome and in doing so exclusive prices to be earned.

While many games do something like this to keep the playerbase entertained, Grinding Gear Games go the extra mile by introducing a new kind of game mechanic for each and every league and making that new content a central part of the experience. Most of the time these new mechanics have proven to be fun and rewarding gameplay elements and were subsequently added to the game as a whole after the respective league ended, albeit with a much lesser probability to spawn in any given area.

Like these Abysses, expanding cracks in the ground spawning lots of monsters and a special loot container at the end

There have been lots of challenge leagues by now, hence a great many interesting mechanics have made their way into the game. Despite being ‘just’ an ARPG and basically being about nothing but killing hundreds of thousands of monsters, the game has reached a point where it never gets boring. Well, to me at least.

I’m not the fastest or most efficient monster slayer and loot collector though, so starting over multiple times a year was never really a viable option for me. I made my first character in the Ambush League when I started playing the game over four years ago. After that league ended and my characters were converted to Standard I actually never played in another challenge league until now.

This time some things were different. My main characters in Standard are pretty much at the end of their (reasonably obtainable) progression, and while just playing the game is fun and all, progression as a motivator is not to be underestimated. Also the new league looked even more interesting to me than the ones before.

The new league is named Incursion and has an Aztec theme going, which already appeals to me aesthetically as well as historically. The mechanics are also pretty cool. In almost every area (this will be toned down a good bit later in the base game, I’m sure) you meet Alva Valai, an archaeologist of sorts, who is searching for an ancient temple’s location. She can teleport you back in time to one of the temple’s rooms while still under construction. There you have to fight its inhabitants and, depending on what you do, alter layout and properties of the finished temple.

Planning an incursion into the Jeweller’s Workshop

There’s always a pretty narrow time limit and mobs don’t always drop the keys you need to progress in the way you had planned, but it’s fun either way. After eleven incursions Alva pins down the temple’s location in the present and travels there, taking you along for the ride. The temple is huge and can be rather challenging (at least on lower levels). The rewards vary, as always, but until now I always felt it was worth my time, and, more importantly, pretty fun.

I decided to again play a Summoner Witch for this, although I have a high level one on Standard already. I just like the playstyle so much and know it in and out, so I know exactly what I can and can’t do with her.

PathOfExile Incursion Summoner
Not quite the army I’m used to yet, but getting there

How much fun is starting over, then?

Pretty darn fun, I have to say. At first I was a bit annoyed by not even having the barest necessities available (like enough Scrolls of Wisdom to identify everything I picked up), and by my Zombies dying too often. But from level 15 or so I got into the groove again, and also started to feel the motivation that stems from progressing left and right, all the time, in one way or another. There’s always the next character level, another cool quest reward, another new item, oh, now I can have a personal hideout again, all while doing incursions and shaping the next temple run to my liking.

I had completely forgotten how hard it can be to obtain gear with the right amount of linked sockets in the right colours so you can use your important skills with the strength they need to have for you to succeed. Once you’re used to having hundreds or even thousands of Orbs for crafting your equipment just right you forget how it feels to not have them.

My Standard currency stash on the left, Incursion stash at the end of the league’s second day on the right

Astonishingly this has been one of the most fun aspects of starting over for me. Swapping out an ok piece of gear for a worse one just because the latter has one more gem socket is a bit weird, but also feels kind of cool if it lets me socket the gems that I want. It reminds me a lot of Magic: The Gathering sealed-deck tournaments. Having to make do with what you get instead of having your vast collection of cards at your disposal can be really satisfying if it works.

I don’t regret diving into this new league, and I’m eager to see how many challenges I can complete until it ends.