I’m not sure if Vampires will ever go out of style.
Is it the exotic nature of them that can sometimes turn erotic?
(Please, nobody bring up Twilight….crap, too late)
Whatever it is, vampires are all over pop culture, and even in a few board games (though not as many as I would have thought, or maybe I’m just ignorant)
But there is one vampire game that I came across during the pandemic lockdown that I’m going to be talking about today.
That is a 2-player deck-building card game called Crave.
I guess that’s because vampires crave blood? And it’s up to the Hunters to stop them?
This is a game designed by Bryan Sloan with art by Randis Albion, Aaron Griffin, Artur Jag and Daria Rashevskaya. It was published by Black Forest Studio in 2019.
Deckbuilding games (especially the 2-player variety) seem to have two ways to end: either eat up all the points tokens or VP cards (see Ascension or Dominion) or attack the other player(s) and try to get their health/authority/fashion sense down to zero.
Crave is an example of the latter (but not of fashion sense).
How does it play?
Let’s take a look.
(But seriously, if you like vampires, you should check out Barbara Hambly’s “James Asher” series of books. They are MAGNIFICENT)
Ok, last aside. Let’s talk about Crave.
Crave does take a little bit from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it’s more than that.
The two players are either the Vampires or the Vampire Hunters, and both sides are trying to get the other player’s health down to zero.
As with most deckbuilders, each player has a starting deck, though in this case it’s an asynchronous starting deck (which is really cool, by the way).
Sure, a couple of the cards are the same, but the Vampires have a couple of spells and the Hunters have Coffee, for example.
The other cool thing is that the market of cards to buy is much more expansive than in most deckbuilders.
There is a market of 5 cards that either player can buy.
But there is also a market row of Hunter cards and Vampire cards, from which only the respective players can buy from.
The choices become hard to make!
On your turn, you will be playing all of the cards in your hand (5 unless you draw cards) to gain Strength, Influence, or maybe even Health (which will add Health to the player).
The Influence will be used to buy a card or two from one of the markets (either the main market or your own personal market) and Attack will be used to attack the other player.
When you play your cards, some Beings will be Patrols which will stay out in front of you when you play them. They’re like Constructs in Ascension or Bases in Star Realms. The other cards will go to your discard pile after playing them.
If they have a Stop sign around their Defense (like Veruca above) then those are Sentinels and must be destroyed before you can damage the player.
If they have a Yield sign around their Health, then the other player may destroy them with Attack or they can bypass them. It’s up to the player.
As long as the Patrol’s on the table, though, on your turn, you get their effects. You get all of their Influence, Attack, or other abilities (Veruca can “Turn” a Groupie, if the Hunter player has one out)
You can chain cards together if you play them right. Veruca (she’s getting a big head, I’m talking about her so much) gets extra Influence if “Star” (Purple) cards are played on the Vampire’s turn.
Crave adds some other wrinkles that I haven’t seen in deckbuilders before.
Plants (like the Nightshade above) are placed in the opponent’s discard pile when purchased. When they come up in the player’s hand, they have to play them first (unless they have a card that can destroy it), take the damage it says, and do anything else that it says (like discarding a Groupie that’s in play if the Nightshade comes up).
This can be an insidious way to leech Health points from your opponent. Especially if they don’t get a card that lets them get rid of Plants.
That’s pretty much it, except for the nuances. The main market deck has various types of Beings and other things that will help you. The purple cards can be quite powerful, especially when joined with other purple cards.
There are Dwarves and Elves in the main deck that don’t go well together. You won’t be wanting to get one if you have the other in your deck.
Some cards have “Surge” abilities, which allows them to be played immediately after purchase. Other cards have “Block” abilities, which means when they are played they cannot be destroyed during the opponent’s next turn (they get one turn’s grace, effectively)
Play continues on in this way until one of the players is down to zero Health, in which case the other player is the winner!
Is Crave a Buffy the Vampire Slayer or is it more of a Dracula 2000?
I have to say one thing about the components in Crave before I comment on the rest of the game.
I love the tarot size cards because it really lets the artwork shine. Granted, a few of the cards look like they used the same subject in them, but still the artwork is amazing.
That being said, the card quality is simply ok. After 4 plays of the game, there’s already signs of wear on some of the cards.
I’m also not a huge fan of the ways to keep track of player Health, mainly because it’s kind of easy to bump the cards and have them go off kilter.
That being said, compared to the horrible dials in Shards of Infinity, these cards are perfect!
I’m not really sure what would be the best way to do it, and this is perhaps the best of bad options.
Now, how about the gameplay?
Wow, is it juicy.
The Vampires do seem to have an advantage, but I think that’s mainly because the Hunters take a bit more skill and experience to play well.
A few Vampires can turn Groupies, basically turning them into Human Shields which must be killed before the Hunters can attack any other Vampire Patrol or player. There are also a lot of damage spells in the Vampire deck that the Hunters don’t have access to.
The Hunters have a few more Patrols than the Vampires do and even have one or two in their starting deck, which is a plus.
The main deck is where the fun stuff is, because it has a wide variety of beings and other things.
The Items are cool because they get attached to a Being Patrol that is out on the table, enhancing their power (or maybe their Defense). Some of them (like the Yield Sign, which I think is wonderfully meta) can actually make a Being a Patrol even if they aren’t one already.
The similarities to other games do abound (like having some Patrols that can be ignored and some that have to be defeated, which is just like Star Realms and its Outposts versus Bases) but Crave does turn some of those similarities on their ears.
The Groupies are cool just because some of them build on each other. Frances gets you one Health per Groupie you have in play. One Vampire card gives you bonuses for Groupies and even remains in play until you don’t have any more Groupies.
Groupies can be dangerous for Hunters because of the Vampire ability to turn them, but Hunters also have a card or two that will let you retrieve Groupies, which greatly helps as well.
One of my favourite things about deckbuilders is how they can chain effects from cards of the same faction or other things like that (which is why I’m not a big fan of base game Ascension as that was introduced later in that game).
Willow above gets you +1 Attack if you have played (or have as a Patrol) another Werewolf.
This really adds to the game because it makes you think about what you are going to buy. Maybe you don’t want the most powerful card out there if it doesn’t synergize with the cards you’ve already bought.
I’ve already mentioned the Dwarves and Elves and how they have bad effects on each other. You definitely don’t want to be collecting both.
I do have to say that the rulebook does leave something to be desired.
It’s a short rulebook, which is great because the game doesn’t really require much rules overhead.
However, it’s been a while since I’ve had so many questions after reading a rulebook, especially one as short as Crave’s.
Kudos to Black Forest Studios, though, for following me on Twitter so that I could ask them rules questions directly. Having an answer from the horse’s mouth was really helpful!
And they were pretty quick to respond, too.
I really love the fact that each player has their own Market deck in addition to the main one. This opens up so many options. You can get a bunch of Hunter-specific (or Vampire-specific) stuff and just ignore the regular market deck if you want!
Though there are some great cards in the normal market as well.
If you like the adversarial type of deckbuilding games, then Crave is right up your alley.
The tarot-sized cards make the artwork sing and the mechanics are a step up from the basic Star Realms or other attack-type games.
I highly recommend Crave for those craving (Editor – “Ha! I see what you did there) a cool 2-player deckbuilding experience.
It looks good on the table and it’s really fun.
Just maybe take a look at Boardgame Geek for some explanations to many questions you may have after reading the rules.
That’s the only real failing with the game.
(This review was written after 5 plays)