Grand Prix: Aix-en-Provence

Finally, the Grand Prix is back after getting canceled two years in a row (fuck COVID). After missing the (announced late and too remote) tournament in Hyvinkää, Finland, I was happy to visit the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence after ten years, this time to play some V:tES.

Aix is easily reachable from Marseille airport, served by Ryanair from both Vienna and Prague. My original plan was to stay in Aix from Thursday to Tuesday, but Ryanair canceled my Thursday flight, so I had to take an earlier one on Tuesday. I decided to spend these two additional days in Marseille, also a fascinating, lively city to visit. I spent two nights in a hostel (still not too old for that), then I moved to my Airbnb in Aix. I was happy to discover that my Airbnb is around 50 meters from the tournament venue without really trying.

The venue was a comfortable, air-conditioned board game pub with big tables and served a nice buffet during the event, which was great because there was no need for prolonged lunch breaks between rounds. The tournament was surprisingly small (I think it was the smallest GP I ever attended), with just 24 players. Almost all were French; aside from the two of us from Czechia, there was also one Italian player.

Deck: Dabblesnakes

I was aware of the French play style with a lot of table talk and deals, and I was also aware that I would not be likely able to fully participate in this style. One reason is the language barrier, and the second reason is that I am used to a completely different style of play: there are not that many outright table split deals done in the first 30 minutes of the game anywhere else. Hence, I wanted to play something self-reliant, not too sensitive to table talk and deals.

I was impressed by the record of the new Ministry decks in the recent Czech tournaments, both by their results and gameplay. They are essentially midcap stealth-bleed decks with multiact capability. Multiact stealth-bleed sounded like a good, independent option, albeit a bit of a glass cannon, so I decided to go with that.

Games

Game 1: 0VP

Stanislava →️ Political Giotto (Vincent) →️ Rachel Madness Network →️ V5 Ministry S/B →️ me

My predator discarded an Enchanting Gaze soon, and I knew we would likely be contesting. We quickly discussed what we would be playing, so we would not end up contesting an identical first vampire. Fortunately, he had Faruq Abd al-Qadir, while I had Nonu Dis. I influenced out one of the five caps, and my predator brought out Crystal Lynn. I also had her in my uncontrolled region, so I needed to decide whether to influence her out to contest. I figured out that contesting the vampire would likely be better pool-wise because the Ministry will simply just bleed a lot anyway. We kept contesting for the rest of the game.

My decision to contest Crystal Lynn with my predator leaves me with barely any pressure. Still, with just two vampires, I could not bleed sufficiently to kill my prey, who bloated with Villein and Govern the Unaligned. Vincent emerged as a table superpower quite soon, which at least meant I could bleed without fear; Vincent had barely any pressure.

The votes were crazy on the table. I had two barons. My prey had Ingrid Rossler and muted Stanislava. Vincent had Arika and grandprey had Rachel Brandywine. This meant there was a lot of talk about random politics, but nobody had a clear lock, so we did not have many political actions actually passing. I eventually tried to oust via a Reckless Agitation after making a deal with my grandprey, but it did not pass because of a discarded political card. After that, Vincent made a deal with my prey where he would oust three players and then leave two VPs to my prey. Teaming up, this happened relatively fast, serving as a gentle introduction into the world of French 3/2 tablesplit deals I would see in later games.

Game 2: 0VP

!Malkavian S/B →️ Legionnaire Harbingers →️ me →️ 5ed Ministry S/B →️ Nephandi

This time I contest with my prey instead. We managed to avoid contesting the first vampire, but otherwise not a great game because of a lot of deal-making. I tried to start slowly and not bleed for much, to not put the prey into defensive mode too early. Still, the player did not bring out the third vampire and spent the rest of the game on defense, reducing bleeds and bloating via Blood Doll and Enchant Kindred without going forward.

!Malkavian spent two turns bleeding consistently and managed to get the Legionnaires relatively low, around eight or nine. Still, my prey spent a bit more pool to get a third Harbinger out. There was some table talk, half of the table did their thing in their turns, and then the Malkavian started to bleed me. I had no idea what was happening, so they told me he and my predator had made a deal. The Malkavian would help his prey get the three points and receive the rest, explaining that he thinks he can never oust Legionnaires with The Unmasking. I was pretty pissed off because this deal was made in French, and I could not participate. I decided I would not get anything by calling a judge and simply reminded people to speak English for the rest of the game.

I still had enough pool, so I managed to survive for some time, and the Malkavian got ousted. I was trying to get through my prey and tried to fire Reckless Agitation for the oust two times, both to be delayed, first by the Nephandi player and then by my predator. I did not have the third attempt because the Nephandi player and my predator made another deal (transparently in English, this time). Essentially, the Nephandus player gave me (and my barely surviving prey) to my predator, who would withdraw, leading to another 3/2 table split. Again, we discussed the legality of the deal; I think the Nephandus player should not allow the Legionnaires to withdraw after the deals are erased in the two-player game because he still has a chance to win it. Still, it is apparently legal to do so. He then places a Haven Uncovered on my vampire, spends the whole turn rushing me, and I simply die to the Legionnaires afterward.

Game 3: 0VP

5ed Ministry S/B → me → 5ed Tremere Wall → Black Hand Multiact

Unfortunately, the third game with a potential contest, but at least we avoided contesting vampires. The early game was basically a race between the two Ministry decks, but the seating was not fortunate for me. The Black Hand deck had a very slow setup and barely pressured, so my predator sat comfortably with three vampires. I got a ton of pressure, so I only had two minions, but I had Dabbler on both, so I still had plenty of actions. With a single Baron, I even had a vote lock on the table, but I did not see any political action cards for a long time, so I spent my second actions bloating pool with Enchant Kindred.

The problem is that my prey has great defense compared to me, so the Ministry race did not look well for me. Sometimes in the middle of the game, I was deciding whether to play the mummy ally or not. I decided to play it, which ended up being a mistake: I never used it! Two times, I forgot to increase bleed, and I was not blocking any predator’s actions in the hope their hand gets stuck with stealth cards, so I could not use it otherwise.

I had a chance to oust my prey in two turns if everything went well. I relied on my predator hot having bleed increases, or at least not too many of them. He ran out of them the previous turn, so I feel safe with eight pool. I ran a bleed and a Reckless Agitation to bring my prey down to six, hoping to do more damage with the second vampire and have a chance to oust the next turn. The cross-table player delayed the vote, fearing I would die in the meantime, leaving his predator very weak and giving him a chance for two fast Victory Points. Unfortunately, that turned out right because my predator drew into bleed increases, so I died on the exact amount. Not playing that mummy earlier could have given me one more turn.

Overall

Turns out contesting in all three tournament games and finding myself on the wrong side of several table-split deals is not good for one’s tournament record. I was prepared to see Ministry decks because their fifth edition preconstructed deck is pretty good by itself, but contesting three times is just unlucky. Not doing a single VP is disappointing, but I still think the deck is good. It certainly works better in games where most players are at least trying to oust their prey, though.

There are two slightly annoying elements of “French VtES”: early table split deals and the fact that many (not all!) players will just not play the game in English. The former is just a difference in play style. Many people are happy to decide that they cannot oust their prey very early in the game and accept a 3/2 or even an X/1 table split deal. I think some players are very good at exploiting this tendency; this is an excellent skill to possess in such an environment.

The latter is much more problematic for me as a foreign player. I do not blame the people whose English is not great: that is fine. But I have found that even people who can speak English will very often drop into French during the game. Often, they offer a translation after that happens (“we were speaking about…”), but that denies participation. This was happening a lot in my games and generally spoiled the whole experience for me, at least of the actual Grand Prix tournament, to the point of considering not participating in the tournament on Sunday. In the end, I played it and found the experience much better, for whatever reason. Maybe I was just unlucky on the first day.

The next Grand Prix is held in Malmö, Sweden. I am attending, and I hope I finally break my string of eight tournament games without a single Victory Point.