Happy Families

Perhaps the most difficult and crucial skill for any CCG player is being
able to build a playable deck. While there is no single "right" way to do
this there are some general principles about deck-building for the VTES
game which are generally agreed upon, the most obvious of which is that you
should not put in cards that you can't play or won't often get the
opportunity to play. Good decks move on from this principle towards the
ideal of always being able to play a card that will deal with any given
situation - an ideal which is never reached, of course, because of the
enormous variety of the decks and strategies against which you may find
yourself competing. In practise the best you can usually aim for is to have
a deck that "flows" nicely, ie you should usually be able to look at your
hand and say to youself, this vampire could play that card and modify it
with that one or use that combat card if blocked; and I can/cannot afford
to tap out this turn because I do/do not have this and that reaction card
to play in response to any hostile actions against me. If instead you look
at your hand and think, jeez what a pile of crap, which of the many
possibilities should I be discarding THIS turn, then you probably need to
think about the principles of deck design a bit harder, and it's that
process which this article is intended to facilitate.

This article is about the Happy Families formula, which is a mathematical
device for helping one to build a nice flowy deck. As originally conceived
it was meant to be used to build "fun" decks, ie flexible toolbox affairs
for casual play. It has turned out in practise to be quite useful for
building fierce competitive decks too, though it is certainly not the only
way to build such decks. The basic idea is to choose a crypt and then,
based on what disciplines are possessed by the vampires in your crypt, to
optimise the chance that your vampires will be able to play good cards
without wasting too much of the pool you are paying to activate them [for
example, if you are playing with Beast in your crypt of !Nossies you are
wasting a bit of the pool you pay for him if you don't have celerity as one
of the disciplines in your deck]. This is done by simple proportionality
calculations. Basically you choose the vamps you want to play with, and the
library size you want to use, and then you determine the cards in the
library as follows:

20% or so should be master cards [but see the comments in the worked
example which follows]:

The remaining 80% or so should be minion cards, divided up with respect
to discipline in the following way:

Count the number of vampires in your crypt:
	        call this number p.

Count the number of vampires with the most common discipline in your deck:
                call this number q.

Count the number of vampires with the second most common discipline in your
                call this number r.

Count the number of vampires with the third most common discipline in your
                call this number s.

Count the number of vampires with the fourth most common discipline in your
                call this number t.

Now if 80% of your chosen library size is a, then you want

[(p/[p+q+r+s+t]) x a] cards that require no discipline to play
[(q/[p+q+r+s+t]) x a] cards that require the most common discipline to play
[(r/[p+q+r+s+t]) x a] cards that require the second most common discipline
to play
[(s/[p+q+r+s+t]) x a] cards that require the third most common discipline
to play
[(t/[p+q+r+s+t]) x a] cards that require the fourth most common discipline
to play

You can obviously have more or fewer disciplines than 4, in which case you
adjust the formula accordingly, and i do so, below.

Here is a worked example of building a deck using the Happy Families method.

i wanted to build a "kagemusha" Nosferatu bash/vote deck from Jyhad cards only,
to "shadow" my favourite tournament deck. This deck therefore was made from the
contents of just under two boxes of Jyhad boosters.

2 Sheldon 9 POT ANI OBF AUS for Justicar
2 Selma 8 POT ani OBF for Prince
2 Chester 7 POT ANI obf for Primogen
2 Sammy 4 pot ani obf
Agrippina 4 pot OBF
Duck 3 pot obf
Koko 2 pot
Dimple 2 obf

There are 12 vampires in this crypt and all 12 can use disciplineless
or Nossie-only cards. 11 can use pot cards, and a different 11 can use
obf cards. 8 can use ani cards. 6 can use for cards. 2 can use aus cards.

12+11+11+8+6+2 = 50.

Now for the library. 20% or so of your library should be master cards
- fewer if you turn over a lot of minion cards in any one turn [eg because
you are playing with weenies or freak drives], more if
you have Anson, the Parthenon, Death of my Conscience or some other way
of unjamming your hand.

For a 90-card library, 20% = 18 masters.

That leaves 72 minion cards.

Happy families tells us that (12/50) x 72 should be cards that
require no discipline to play, ie 18 cards.
(11/50) x 72 should be pot cards, and the same number should be obf cards,
ie 15 pot cards and 15 obf cards.
(8/50) x 72 should be ani cards, ie 12.
(6/50) x 72 should be for cards, ie 9.
(2/50) x 72 should be aus cards, ie 3.

That's how i decided on the proportions, and here is the deck i actually built:

18 Masters:
5 Minion Tap [average blood capacity of this crypt is 5 and 7 twelfths,
bit big, and bloat is going to be your best defence against a quick bleed deck]
3 Blood doll
KRCG News Radio
Giant's Blood
Haven Uncovered
Slum HG
Temptation of Greater Power [use as a master-phase bleed against your prey,
and if you are lucky it will set you up for a Parity shift, too!].
The Rack
2 Spawning Pool [An underrated card, in my view, especially if you have
ANI and rat's warning.]
[Actually the surprise value of Temptation/GP and spawning pool was a
lot of the reason for their initial inclusion - tends to put people off their
game if a really unusual card turns up. Subsequently of course ToGP has
become a core strategy in the game].

18 No Discipline cards:
2 Parity Shift
Kindred Restructure
2 Nosferatu Justicar
Fifth Tradition
2 Bum's Rush
2 Taste of Vitae
Second Tradition
Saturday Night Special

i'm playing fast and loose with the formula here, obviously, because a
lot of these cards require that you have a Prince or Justicar. So i'm
trusting the deck to deliver that, to some extent.

15 Potence
7 Mighty Grapple
3 Thrown Gate
2 Rampage
3 Undead Strength

15 Obfuscate
5 Cloak the Gathering
2 Mask 1K Faces
3 Faceless Night
2 Spying mission
3 Lost in Crowds

12 Animalism
5 Rat's Warning
Army of Rats
2 Raven Spy
4 Cat's Guidance

9 Fortitude
3 Skin of Rock
5 Skin of Steel
Freak Drive

3 Auspex
2 Telepathic Misdirection
Pulse of the Canaille

That's 8 actions, 6 votes, 2 Retainers, 1 Equip
[17 card-based reasons to tap a vampire, if you like]:
16 Action modifiers:
16 Reactions:
23 combat cards.

Experience shows this is roughly the right proportion of different
card types for a nice flowy kind of deck that is always up to stuff; but
this statement has to be qualified with the observation that for a deck
with a smaller crypt you would want rather more actions and fewer modifiers
and combat cards, probably. Equally, as mentioned above, such a deck would
need to have fewer master cards in it, or risk hand-jamming on master

A lot of the Art of Happy Families deck-building lies in choosing the
non-discipline and fourth or fifth discipline cards. Essentially there are
two approaches: you either pick the additional cards to strengthen what
your deck already does well, or you pick them to compensate for whatever it
does poorly if it just relies on its three commonest disciplines. I tend to
go for the latter approach but this is a matter of taste and really this is
a question about whether you go for focus or flexibility in your decks. One
approach that DOESN'T seem to work is going across-clans for the "ideal"
happy families deck. I tried this once with a deck that used Rake,
Donatien, Adrianne and Sigrid Becker, who all have EXACTLY the same 4
disciplines, and no "wasted" discipline slots. I thought it would be the
ultimate flexible and economical bruise/bleed deck but it turned out to be
just dreadful, clunky and unfocussed and too many big vampires. It really
seems to help to choose a bunch of vampires who have a predominant
discipline or disciplines backed up by subordinate ones - a clan, for

Once you have a basic happy families deck you can improve it based on your
experience of playing it. I find a good way to do this is to note, in
casual play, which cards I actually PLAY, and which other cards I end up
discarding because I can't use them, in games I actually WIN [or at least
do well in]. Then it's a simple matter to rebuild the deck from the cards
that go into your ash-heap or onto the table because they were useful,
leaving out the cards that went there because they were useless. This
principle applies as much to the crypt as to the library, of course.
Ideally you do this in a dynamic playgroup, ie one where people play a
range of different decks, because otherwise you run the risk of tweaking
your deck so that it's fabulously good in your local environment and
completely useless elsewhere. If you have a good memory you can also do
this in tournaments, but there you cannot actually take notes because
that's illegal under VEKN rules.

I emphasise once again that this technique only works reliably if you do
the tweaks based on when you are doing well. If you try to tweak when you
are doing badly you really don't have ANY positive information upon which
to base your tweak. If you ALWAYS do badly with a Happy Families or indeed
any other kind of deck then probably it is time to rebuild the deck
completely from scratch, and/or to try a different deck-type.

The Great and Good James Coupe has automated the Happy Families formula at
his site http://www.obeah.demon.co.uk/index.htm so if you want to try this
technique you don't even have to do the really rather simple math - just
point and click. At the time of writing I don't think all the new vampires
are up there and there is a teensy little bug which is that if there are
two equal candidates for the last discipline [the nth out of n] then it
will return the one that comes first in the alphabet. It's still a great
piece of work and thank-you, james for covering the gaping hole in my
computer literacy with this one! Anyway, do try the technique if your
deck-building is running into the sand - it is quick and pretty good, and
it can build you at least a framework deck from which to progress. Good
Bleeding, and may all your victims be winsome members of the
individually-preferred but usually opposite gender!