Each player represents a Methuselah, an ancient Kindred, who wars with the other players as part of the Jyhad, the "eternal struggle" of the title. Methuselahs do not attack each other directly; rather they seek to erode the influence of their rivals through their Minions, mostly younger vampires, many of whom are not aware they are being manipulated.
One of the oldest trading card games, VTES was designed by Richard Garfield and released by Wizards of the Coast (who licensed Vampire from White Wolf) in 1994 under the name "Jyhad". The game was re-released as Vampire: The Eternal Struggle the following year, supposedly following controversy over the original name's religious connotations. Wizards of the Coast released three expansions (Dark Sovereigns, Ancient Hearts and Sabbat) but ceased support for the game in 1996. White Wolf eventually acquired the license for the game themselves and have been publishing expansions since 2000. It was the only property set in the old/Classic World of Darkness still being produced and supported.
In 2010 White Wolf announced the production to be stopped and support ending after a year. The official player's organization, the Elder Kindred Network, began producing their own expansion as downloadable PDFs. In 2017 ENK and White Wolf AB partnered to print a 100-card expansion, Anthology, exclusively for the World of Darkness Berlin convention which included a mix of reprinted and fan-designed cards.
In 2018, members of EKN formed Black Chantry Productions, which was granted a license to bring VTES back to print indefinitely. This marked the first time VTES cards from any expansion were available from DriveThruCards.
Each player constructs a deck from the cards they have collected (or uses one of the preconstructed decks available for purchase). There are two distinct parts to the deck: the Crypt, which contains the Minions the player's Methuselah will use in the game, and the Library, which contains a variety of card types representing the resources available to Methuselah and minion alike. These include items (like weapons and special equipment), locations (e.g. hunting grounds), Discipline powers, lesser pawns of the Jyhad (non-Vampire allies and the retainers employed by minions) and a variety of special actions, including those used by minions in combat.
The amount of influence possessed by each Methuselah is represented by its Pool of counters. Pool is spent to bring vampires into play and is also required for certain other actions. When a player's Pool is empty, the Methuselah has no more influence and is ousted from the game.
Players have a nominated prey (the player to their left) and predator (the player to their right); when there are only two players, they are each other's predator and prey. The object of the game is to oust one's prey without being ousted by one's predator. This garners a victory point and adds to the predator's Pool. When a player is ousted, that player's predator targets their prey. When only one player is left, the player with the most victory points is the winner.
Minions are characters, usually vampires, manipulated by the Methuselah. They are recruited by expending influence (represented by Pool); the more powerful the minion, the more influence is required to control them. Minions are vital to the game as they perform nearly all the actions in the game.
The main method of ousting your prey is to have your minions "Bleed" them, an action which represents an attempt to directly limit or remove the target's influence. If a player successfully bleeds, the prey loses one or more Pool, and the predator gains the Edge, a token indicating they have the upper hand. If a player possesses the Edge at the beginning of their turn (i.e. they were the last player to successfully bleed their prey), they gain a counter into their Pool.
The majority of minions are vampires. As in the Vampire role-playing game, each vampire is a member of a clan or bloodline, may belong to one of the Sects, and knows one or more Disciplines. Vampiric Minions have Blood counters, which they spend to heal themselves during combat, use Disciplines and play certain cards. A vampire's power is measured by their "capacity" (rather than generation); older more powerful vampires may store and spend more Blood.
Other characters, including mortals, ghouls, mages, werewolves and hunters, have Life counters instead, representing their current health. Most of these types of characters cannot be influenced by the Methuselah directly, but must be brought into play as an Ally or Retainer through the actions of a vampire Minion.
Action cards may be played on a compatible minion, in which case the minion may have to pay Blood to utilize the action. Other action cards are played by the Methuselah and paid for out of the Methuselah's Pool.
A Political Action triggers a referendum, with each Methuselah getting a number of votes based on the minion cards they have in play. Other cards may grant additional votes. Methuselahs vote for or against a given referendum, and need not cast all their votes one way or another.
Combat occurs when one Methuselah blocks another's action.
The following is a list of card sets and expansions for V:TES, sorted by publisher and by year.
Wizards of the Coast
- Jyhad (a.k.a. Limited) (1994)
- Vampire: The Eternal Struggle (a.k.a. Unlimited) (1995)
- Dark Sovereigns (1995)
- Ancient Hearts (1996)
- Sabbat (1996)
- Promo cards (various years)
- Sabbat War (2000)
- Final Nights (2001)
- Bloodlines (2001)
- Camarilla Edition (2002)
- Demonstration decks (2002)
- Anarchs (2003)
- Black Hand (2003)
- Gehenna (2004)
- 10th Anniversary (2004)
- Kindred's Most Wanted (2005)
- Legacies of Blood (2005)
- Nights of Reckoning (2006)
- Third Edition (2006)
- Player's Kit (2006)
- Sword of Caine (2007)
- Lords of the Night (2007)
- Blood Shadowed Court (2008)
- Twilight Rebellion (2008)
- Keepers of Tradition (2008)
- Ebony Kingdom (2009)
- Heirs to the Blood (2010)
Elder Kindred Network
- Danse Macabre (2013)
- The Unaligned (2014)
- Storyline Rewards (2015)
- Anarchs Unbound (2016)
- Anthology (2017)
- Lost Kindred (2018)
- Keepers of Tradition (reprint)
- Heirs to the Blood (reprint)
- Anthology (reprint)
- Sabbat Preconstructed (2019)
- 25th Anniversary (2019)
- First Blood (2019)
- Fifth Edition (2020)
- The Eternal Struggle: A Players Guide to the Jyhad (1994, softcover; published for Jyhad by White Wolf)
- Darkness Unveiled: Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Ultimate Pocket Players Guide (a.k.a. Darkness Unveiled: V:TES Playing Guide) (1995, hardcover; published for V:TES by Wizards of the Coast)
- Vampire: The Eternal Struggle Players Guide (2005, hardcover; published for V:TES by White Wolf)
- VTES: Final Nights Rulebook