Ever since Bram Stoker brought us Dracula, the vampires were the undead of choice for many people. From the Blade movies and comics to the Twilight series, these blood suckers have been part of pop culture for a long time. While there is no question that the zombie has definitely replaced the vampire at the top of the media food chain (thanks in no small part to The Walking Dead), that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy a fun vampire game.
Today we are going to be looking at V-Wars, a game of area control and hidden loyalties by IDW Games, designed by Rob Daviau (Risk: Legacy, Pandemic: Legacy). Based on the comic by series by IDW, V-Wars will take players into the secret political machinations of the humans and vampires as they fight for control of the world.
V-Wars is hidden loyalty and area control game for 3-5 players that takes about 60 minutes to play. In our experience, V-Wars plays best with 4 players.
V-Wars is an all out war for control of the earth. The game starts out as a “fully cooperative game”, but as loyalties are revealed (or switched), it’s clear that lines will be drawn and only one side will win.
In V-Wars, each player is either a human, secretly the vampire, or an infected player who’s loyalty may change during the game.
Each round, players will be moving around the board, deploying troops, playing cards into region piles, and resolving events and riots. As the game progresses, the world will begin to sympathize with one of the game’s two factions, possibly shifting the power balance. The first faction to reach one of their game end conditions will rule the globe and be crowed the winner.
Overall the components in V-Wars have their ups and downs. The artwork, as you might expect, looks to be from the V-Wars comic book (which I admit I’ve never read). Overall, I really liked it and thought it to be very well done. As a big comic book fan, I appreciate the style, and a copy of the V-Wars comic actually comes with the game.
The game also comes with a set of miniatures to represent the vampire and human troops. These look pretty cool and come in two different colors each. For the player avatars, each player gets an oversized player card that lists the player’s special ability and they also get a matching standee in either human or vampire form.
So far, everything is great, but then you get to the game board. While it was a neat idea to give the board a red monotone look to really bring that vampire theme home, in practice it doesn’t work so well. There are a number of different regions on the board, and only a slight color variation or shading is used to differentiate them. I can appreciate great graphic design as much as the next person, but this is just too subtle to work in the game. More than once we had to look closely at the board to see where a region ended.
Finally, the game’s rule book could use quite a bit of help. I took two solid read throughs to really wrap my head around the game, and even then I had to hop online to answer questions about the games rules. There are errors, such as mention of a vampire token that doesn’t exist in the game. There were also important bits of information in odd places in the rule book. For example, all the draw piles must always have 3 cards in them, but it only mentions that in the glossary section at the very end. Overall, the rulebook made learning the game a chore and could really use a rewrite.
How to Play:
That being said, V-Wars isn’t an overly complex game. Once players can get the flow of the game down, turns should go by quickly. To setup the game, each player is given a loyalty card and a unique character. A player will be either a human, a vampire, or an infected. In a four player game, there are 2 humans, one vampire, and one infected. The infected is removed for 3 players, and one more is added for 5.
Once the games various piles are shuffled and placed, you are ready to begin. The game is played over a series of turns, and each player’s turn has 5 steps:
1. Revelation: If the vampire wishes to become a public vampire, they may reveal now. Doing so will remove half the sympathy tokens on the vampire track.
2. Take four actions: The player may take any of these actions, in any order, including repeating an action:
- Move: Move your standee around the game board.
• Deploy Troops: Discard a card to place a troop in a city in your region.
• Play a Card: Play a card into the deck of the region you are in. You also must name another player to do the same.
• Assassinate: Remove an enemy troop from the city you are in.
• Investigate: Turn in your investigate token to accuse another player as a vampire. If the player is correct, the vampire is now public and loses half of their sympathy tokens. If the player guessed wrong, the vampire faction gains sympathy equal to half of what they currently have.
• Awaken: If you are a public vampire and in a city with another player, you can attempt to awaken the virus in an infected player. If that player has the infected loyalty card, they now switch and become a public vampire. If they have a human card, nothing happens.
3. Event Phase: There are two event slots, a now and soon slot. The event in the now slot happens. These range from enacting laws for the humans or vampires, to adding troops to the board, to epidemics happening.
4. Riot: The riot will occur in the city listed on the card in the now slot. That card is added to the city’s region deck and that deck is shuffled. Cards are revealed, one at a time, with white numbers adding to the human’s score and red numbers adding to the vampires. If either faction has troops present in that city, troops will element opposing cards as they are drawn.
If one side gets a strength total of 6 or 7, they immediately win the riot. There are a few outcomes of the riot, depending on who is attacking. There is a chart to help determine the results. The important thing to note that if a side gets a score of 8 or more, a massacre happens. This can cause swings in sympathy, or loss of bonuses for defending. Overall you really want to avoid a massacre. You want to win, but not by a large margin.
5. New Cards: Once the riot is done, the event and city cards in the “soon” slot, slide over to the now slot. New cards are drawn for the soon slot. The player then draws back up to their hand limit.
Turns will go by in this manner until one side achieves a victory condition:
Humans: Have 6 cites under martial law or no vampire sympathy on the board.
Vampires: Have no empty spaces left between the Vampire Sympathy tokens and the Victory token. The vampires also win if the event deck runs out of cards.
Hidden role games can sometimes be hit or miss with me. I usually prefer cooperative games, mostly because I don’t like being the traitor. I tend to always get accused, regardless of my true loyalty, so when I am actually the traitor, I sometimes get revealed by default. Even still, I can definitely appreciate the fun that can be had with a well designed hidden role games.
On that front, V-Wars definitely had the opportunity to crash and burn. There are so many hidden role games out now, that if V-Wars hadn’t done something different or unique, it never would have made if off the ground.
With that in mind though, I was exceedingly happy to see that V-Wars still felt unique in this crowded genre. I think there are two game mechanics that really help V-Wars to stand out. The first is the great massacre mechanic and how the adding of cards is handled.
As with many of these crisis deck games, the obvious ploy is to add high cards of the relevant color to help (or hurt). However in V-Wars, you really don’t want a massacre to happen. So if two people add a high card to a deck, there is a good chance that one can happen. And when an attacker wins with a massacre, while they take control of the city, they actually lose sympathy instead of gaining it. This was a great mechanic that adds a lot of strategy to the game.
As a vampire player, I can now add high color human cards to a deck in the hopes of having them overshoot their goal. In other games, I always hated dumping cards this way because I’m secretly hurting myself. Not so with V-Wars. I also liked how another player always adds cards with you, this helps muddy up the waters of who’s on who’s side.
Having the cards resolved from the deck one at a time was a great idea. Even if there are 6 cards in a deck, if two 4’s for the humans are the first cards drawn, the battle ends with a massacre.
While V-Wars does a lot of things right, there are a few things I wish it did better. Other than the production issues mentioned above, I wasn’t a huge fan of the player scaling. With three players, there is no infected player, which takes a bit of fun out of the game. As the vampire, I really enjoyed hunting around for that infected human to even out the odds. When you get to 5 players, there are two infected, which almost makes the game feel a bit too easy for the vampires.
But playing as the infected can be quite a bit of fun. I enjoyed how you could almost pick your side as the game went on. If you think the vampires are going to win, you could not only secretly help them, but make sure you run into that vampire to get turned. On the other hand, if things are looking bad for the blood suckers, hiding out in cities under martial law to ensure you stay on the winning side.
Finally, because of the rough rulebook, I will say that V-Wars isn’t the best game to get up and running. Your first game will probably be a learning game as you try to wrap your head around the mechanics of the game, and also try to figure out the strategy. There were many rules we weren’t even sure we were doing right in our first game that took many trips online to figure out. But once you can iron out some of the game’s quirks, you are rewarded with a pretty fun and unique hidden role game.
While V-Wars isn’t perfect, it does do a lot of things right to help it stand out in this crowded genre. I think designer Rob Daviau did a great job of putting his own spin on the hidden loyalty game, with his crisis mechanics being one of my favorite I’ve seen in a while.
I can also report that even though V-Wars is based on a comic book, you really don’t need to have even heard of the comic to enjoy the game. Some solid mechanics will help keep this game interesting for fans of the genre.
Unfortunately, the game is held back some by its rough rulebook and mixed bag of component quality. While not without its flaws, V-Wars is still entertaining enough to be a good game, especially for groups that enjoy this style of play.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of V-Wars, you can get it for about $55.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A fun hidden loyalty game that has some unique mechanics to help it stand out in this crowded genre.
• Great massacre mechanic
• Enjoyable 3rd loyalty with the infected
• Lots of ways for the vampire to keep the mystery in place
• Mixed bag on the component quality
• Players scaling outside of 4 could be better
• Rulebook needs help