Publisher: Wizards of the Coast/White Wolf
Release Date: 1994 OOP: 2010
No. of players: 2–5
Play time: 30 mins/player
Age: 14+
Type: Competitive
Mechanisms: Deck Building, Hand Management, Voting

If there’s one financial bugbear that will haunt me until the day I die, it’s that I wasn’t collecting Magic: The Gathering (MtG) cards by Wizards of the Coast in the early 1990s. Now you may be willing to cut me some slack there — I mean who would have guessed how big MtG would get and how much the cards would be worth today, right? Sure. I was actually collecting trading cards by Wizards of the Coast in the early 1990s. Sadly not Magic cards.

As an angsty, long-haired goth-cum-hippy student in 1994, who rarely saw the light of day for weeks on end, I suppose it was inevitable I’d be more drawn to a game about vampires than one about duelling wizards. Yeah, cos wizards are for kids, man. Vampires are so… edgy. Thus began my love affair with Jyhad.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Characters

All the original vampire clans from the World of Darkness are there for Vampire: The Masquerade RPG fans.

By 1995 the game had been renamed Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (V:TES) to not only give it a wider appeal (like, let folk know it was actually a game about vampires) along with a popular colon in it’s name like it’s famous stable-mate, but also to distance itself from the activities of chaps named Osama who had just made some dubious and pivotal life choices.

However, I never touched such pretender cards. I knew my World of Darkness lore (and nothing about middle-eastern radicals). It was Jyhad cards or nothing.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Animal Retainers

Animals. Handy for more than just goth fashion accessories.

A year later and it was nothing. Wizards of the Coast dropped it for being too clever for its own good and concentrated full time on a combination of MtG and eating other companies. V:TES was picked up by World of Darkness originators White Wolf who managed to keep it going through duelling-wizards and Pokemon until 2010 when they finally let the undead dog die, at which time I was still a Jyhad die-hard, with just a few Sabbat expansion cards hidden away as a guilty secret. I hadn’t played since 2000 anyway.

More than two decades have now passed since I was that grungy bloodsucker-obsessed 22 year old. I’m now leading the complete opposite life to Keifer Sutherland’s in The Lost Boys, with a wife, 5 year old kid, a mortgage and complete hair loss. I might pass as a slightly healthy-looking Nosferatu, but that’s about it. With a move into a new house though, a dusty box was extracted from the loft.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Box of Cards

Once I’d assured the movers that the box with “Jyhad” emblazoned across one end didn’t in fact contain my plans for theocratic world domination, I pried the lid off and got to bask in nostalgia at the rows of highly-organised bounty inside, whimpering to myself: “if only these were bloody Magic: The Gathering cards.”

After getting over that colossal sense of financial loss (I have got over it, okay? I have), I thought it was about time I reminded myself what was so great about the game in the first place, because beyond the angst and the grunge and the hair, it really was a good game. Wasn’t it? Time to find out.

Amazingly, considering how much I’d played over the years, the first step was to learn the rules again. Anyone would have thought my short-term memory had been somehow compromised the first time around. Jyhad is a pretty complex game and I’m not going to go through every action, reaction and possible move player’s can make on their turn (you can find the rules here in full for the more recent V:TES incarnation), so I’ll just give you an idea of how play pans out.

Gameplay

Jyhad is a game about feuding antediluvian vampires known as Methuselahs (the players), who utilise younger and less powerful vampire minions to reduce the Influence (represented by a Blood Pool of blood counters) of the other Methuselahs through a combination of overt, covert and political machinations, until they’re bereft of power and ousted from the game.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Master Cards

Master cards are your chance to dabble more directly.

It’s a Collectible Card Game (CCG), or Trading Card Game (TCG), much like MtG, and like its much, much more valuable gaming cousin (I told you I’d got over it), each player constructs a deck of cards to play with, or in Jyhad’s case, two decks.

The first one, made up of cards with brown backs (terrifically under-rated colour, brown — just screams vampire) is your Crypt deck, which contains the vampire minions (your soldiers) who you hope to bring into play to do your bidding. The other green-backed deck is your Library, containing all the item, ally and action/reaction cards that your minions will need to actually get busy, along with Master cards that allow you to dip your own wrinkly, vampiric hands into the mix too.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Library and Crypt

Your two decks of Crypt and Library give you all the tools you need for power.

Players must have at least twelve cards in their Crypt and forty cards in their Library, with an upper limited on the latter of ten extra cards for each player in the game (so in a three player game you can have between forty and seventy Library cards). As with any deck-builder with this much leeway in numbers, it’s a case of balancing your desire to include all the funky cards you want, with how likely it is you’ll draw them when you need them.

In Jyhad your attacks aren’t arbitrary around the table. You’re specifically interested in Bleeding the Influence of the player to your left (your Prey) and protecting yourself from attack from the player on your right (your Predator). That’s not to say that you’ll never attack others around the table, particularly if you think think you’ve been unfairly double-crossed by them (and to hell with the consequences!), but it’s usually counter-productive as you’ll be helping your rivals.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Blood Pool

Yes I really do have a really trick blood counter bag from the early 90s. Be bloody envious all you Jyhad/V:TES fans.

Each player has a Blood Pool of thirty tokens at the start of the game. This is your precious Influence that you must protect from the Bleed attacks of your Predator, but it’s also the currency you use to control your minions and carry out certain Master card actions, so it’s a fine balancing act: overstretch your power and you leave yourself vulnerable. Once it’s gone, you’re out of the game.

This also affects which vampires you choose to make up your Crypt deck. Obviously it’s beneficial to have a powerful minion working for you, but such a minion also costs you a large amount of Influence to control in the first place. Sometimes it’s better to have an unruly gang of fledgling vampires than one of the supreme bloodsuckers available. Tool those noobs up with flamethrowers and you’ll see how hardcore Dracula really is.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Minions

The agony of choice: three young vamps to spread your power, or one old nutter with a Gene Simmons fixation.

The balancing act is further played out in terms of what actions you direct your minions to take. When a minion acts you exhaust their card (the game uses the term “tap” like MtG and represents it in the same way, by turning the card sideways), and a tapped minion can’t protect you from the attentions of your Predator, so you can’t simply unleash an all out attack to the left (certainly not until the end-game) without facing inevitable retribution from the right.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Active Region

Vampire minions are moved from your inactive region and controlled by moving amounts of your precious Blood Pool to them.

This cut, thrust and parry between Predator and Prey is occasionally punctuated by vampire politics. Any player can tap a minion and play a political action card, and players then vote to see if proposed action is successful. Some minions are worth varying amounts of votes if they hold positions of power in vampire society (such as being a Prince of a city or a Justicar of a vampire clan), and you can discard additional political cards for extra votes. In reality it’s always a close run thing, and requires political alliance to be formed (and inevitably broken) around the table.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Political cards

Politics means power.

This is one of the things I love about Jyhad. Player interaction is such a big factor in the game beyond outright aggression. There’s constant table talk, with verbal non-aggression pacts, coordination of actions for mutual benefit, votes given for the promise of votes returned in a later political action (remember what I said about being double-crossed?), not to mention all the general friendly banter of threats and insults… you really get a thematic sense that players are rivals shifting pawns in a game of power. The “civility” of the meeting room with the blood and bullets of turf warfare. It’s Breaking Bad with fangs.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Equipment

It’s not all politics… in fact it’s fair to say most of it isn’t.

However, despite alliances and the facade of civility, there can be only one Methuselah left when the blood and smoke clears. Elimination is inevitable, and usually that would be a mechanic to put off many a gamer. However with Jyhad it’s an end-game factor: a player will tend to make their move to oust their Prey when they believe that they can follow it up with a round-table coup on their following turns.

You may get a brief duelling between the final two players, but in my experience there’s barely enough time for the first ousted player to sit back, enjoy a drink and watch the fireworks before it’s all over. That’s how player elimination should work in a game .

Final Thoughts

Rediscovering Jyhad has made me realise just what an accomplished game it really is. In many ways it’s far superior to MtG and most other collectible card games I’ve encountered, but I suppose it suffered from being a little too complex to easily teach and learn. As I said at the start, it was just a little too clever for its own good. However, find yourself three or four players that know the ropes or are willing to learn and you’ll enjoy a game that has theme, depth and satisfying mechanics in spades, not to mention some fantastic card art.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Allies

Humans. Handy for more than just a light snack. Apparently.

My bank balance will always regret that my stack of Jyhad rare cards isn’t a stack of MtG rare cards from the same era, but when I think back to the games of Jyhad I’ve played around the table with all the table-talk, plotting, scheming, roars of outrage and Machiavellian sniggers as evil schemes come to fruition… I’m not sure I’d change a thing.

Jyhad Vampire The Eternal Struggle - Rare cards

Yes, it’s a whole deck box of rare Jyhad cards…

White Wolf may have stopped producing V:TES in 2010, but you can still pick up large collections of cards on eBay for fairly reasonable money (and obviously if you want to swagger with serious vampiric cred, only collect Jyhad cards. You know. Because.)

So my advice is, if you’ve never played this CCG relic from the 90s, you’re missing out, and if you’re looking for deck-builder that is multiplayer, dripping with theme and will give you the sort of cerebral kick you’d expect from many euro games, then get yourself a deck or two, rope in some nostalgic mates and get bleeding.

Pros:

  • Heavy with Vampire theme.
  • The perfect blend of cut-throat politics and… cutting throats.
  • Mainly beautiful artwork.
  • Definitely a grown-up game: to MtG what EVE Online is to World of Warcraft.
  • Not too expensive to pick up cards even though it’s OOP.
  • Lots of ways to win.
  • Asymmetrical clans.

Cons:

  • Occasionally dodgy art.
  • Complicated to explain and remember for brand new players.
  • Not as valuable as MtG!
  • Still quite expensive compared to current in-print card games (but worth it!)

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