« Table talk » is an important part of the game. The best players are ruthless negotiators and rely on their skill to topple the game in their favour.
Making tactical deals with other players during the game is the heart of table talk. A lot of things can be discussed and negociated around the table. The key to successful negociation is to determine what every other player can offer and what she may desire. Then, almost anything can be dealt on a table.
Some tactical deals are fairly common:
- Agreeing for a single damage combat (only simple hand strikes) before blocking a bounced bleed.
- Not intercepting an action, often on the ground that the result does not hinder the other player.
- Letting another player borrow a card unopposed, like The Rack or Powerbase: Montreal.
- Getting another player's vampire out of torpor; it is a directed action, harder to block.
- Asking a combat-oriented deck to take down a vampire.
- Aggreing to use Ashur Tablets alternatively to avoid crippling one another.
Deals can relate to something not being done instead of something being offered. Dealing to not bleed, not block or not rush are often proposed to one's prey or predator.
The unbearable lightness of deals
They are two important things to keep in mind with deals:
- They can always be broken, and one should always be prepared to break them or have them broken by the other party.
- One can always deal to refrain from something they can not do anyway. For example, a wall deck can deal to let an action pass in exchange for some advantage, even if he had no way to block the action in the first place.
Deals are a powerful tool but they should still be considered with some lightness.
Finally, on the tournament scene, table splits deals are commonplace. For this kind of deals, 2 or 3 prominent players agree upon a repartition of Victory Points by deciding who gets to oust who. This is often key in the end game.
Information, Deception and Standing
Table talk is not only about negociation, it is also about manipulation. Multiple techniques are used for deception and information gathering. A common tactic is to announce every action one as the intention to undertake before playing it. It has multiple positive effects:
- It is a way to gather information about the opponents play: can they block, bounce or counter?
- It opens a window of negociation to get an action through and avoid possible blocks.
- It makes the player appear more affable, as he looks like he tries to get other players aproval before deciding on his actions. Keeping that in mind, it is a good play to accept to delay an action if it causes an issue for an ally, or to excuse oneself when undertaking an aggressive action toward another player. Being likeable is an excellent asset throughout the game.
- It gives an occasion to use a bit of deception by commenting the action and mislead the opponents about its long term effect or importance to the deck strategy.
The time someone takes to ponder wether or not they react to a play or an action is an indication of their hand content. One should keep focused on the decision timing of the other players, while trying to be as unconspicuous as possible oneself.
- The best but hardest way to be impenetrable is to always take a similar time to ponder any reaction, even when none is possible. This is easier said than done, though.
- An easier way is to act as if one had a useful reaction in hand when it's not the case. Asking for two seconds to ponder during another player turn to hint at a counter like Sudden Reversal without having it in hand is a cheap but effective move.
- The easiest way to stay composed is to decide in advance what one's reaction will be. For example, with a wake in hand, one can decide beforehand to wake only if a bleed above one pool is anounced. This way the pondering time does not show so much.
Another tool of manipulation is about the players standing around the table. A handful of casual comments can go a long way. The basic idea is to decide on a posture quite early in the game: which deck is a threat on the table and which is the underdog. If the other players aggree with the posture, this can have the following effects:
- The threat will come under pressure and its allies will hesitate to deal with them.
- The underdog is more likely to be ignored by the other players and miss some deals opporunities.
Of course, one should try to lay low, avoid to focus the table attention to oneself and never pose as the threat. The posture should be expressed with a bit of subtelty and always pleasantly: an aggressive posture is very likely to drive the other players against the initiator, plus, remember, this is a game and should stay enjoyable even for your opponents.
Not everything around the table is about talking. Having a good sense of the table balance is essential to build an efficient strategy as well. Depending on the seating, some players will be at an advantage because the deck played by their neighbours is easy for them to handle or, on the contrary, be in a dire position because they have a kind of deck they're not prepared for.
A good read of the natural table balance is an essential quality. As a good part of table talk is about figuring out that balance, being able to read the table balanced without being influenced by the other players is crucial, and depends on experience and a good knowledge of the archetypes.
The most obvious fact about table balance is that the two players « cross table » are natural allies. The grand-prey will be leaning to help against the prey, and the grand-predator against the predator. Helping them will naturally prejudice the prey or predator, up to a point.
As the game progresses, the table balance shifts: a strong grand-predator may have been an excellent ally and help disabling a predator but, if the predator is too weak, it may be better to help him survive and use him as a buffer than to face a new strong predator in its stead. Quite symmetrically, a grand-prey can be trusted less and less as the prey gets close to be ousted.
A strategy uniquely available to vote constructs, hopping is going against the grand-prey pool before ousting the prey first. It is a good idea when the grand-prey deck has good block capacity: they do not get the chance to block the undirected vote actions until they are either the prey or the predator.
One should of course focus on eliminating its prey. However, when the predator is too threatening, some builds have the ability to go reverse, taking aggressive actions against their predator to oust them before their prey. A full reverse, taking predators down one after another for a 2 VP game win at the end, is hard to achieve: each predator gets 6 more pool out of the oust. However, going at least partially reverse during a game, ousting or crippling the predator to diminish the pressure, is a real possibility for some decks.
The Predator-Prey Continuum is a notion developped by Gregory Williams in his Basic Concepts in Deck Construction. The gist of it is that when a player applies pressure to his prey, the effect ripples around the table and, depending on the number of players, the consequences vary. See the following schematics, representing, 5, 4 and 3-players continuum, where M1, M2, M3, M4 and M5 are the five Methusalah.
If a strong (▲) player (M1) pressures his prey, then his prey (M2) has to focus on defense (△) and his grand-prey (M3) gets strong (▲) and can put pressure on his prey (M4), and so on.
In a game with an even number of players (4 players in the example), this is a stable situation: cross-table allies reinforce each other and they build up their edge. If there is an odd number of players though, the pressure comes back a turn later on M1 (turn B).
This systemic ripple effect, although not so clear-cut in practice and depending a lot on the type of decks on the table, is a good model of the effects of table balance. It emphasizes how important it is for one to nail his lunge move in a five or three players setup: if the lunge works, you get back to an even number and a favorable situation. If it fails, you stay on an odd number of players and have just put a lot of pressure on your prey. More often than not, this means the pressure will come back at you in your very next turn.