Thoughts & Baubles: April 2022
My name is Alex Truell. I'm the editor for the Rathe Times. I'm a casually competitive player overseeing the growth of a Flesh and Blood scene in Ripon, WI.
Strategically, I try not to follow trends, instead fixating on cards and tactics just outside the mainstream. I view this game through the lens of a player who cares about the competitive environment, but doesn't have to live in it; an optimist who loves the game, but can take a step back to critique it; and a deckbuilder who revels in novelty.
Thoughts and Baubles is an editorial space for the Rathe Times, where I discuss the game and respond to the community.
Over on FABTCG.com, I've spent the month with my head full of statistics as I evaluate the trends of Skirmish Season 4. While I like to think of myself as 'casually competitive', I am at times forced to realize that the 'casual' half of that label will always win out with me. I get done writing about the the elite performers in the Blitz metagame - Viserai, Oldhim, Kano, Kassai - and immediately find myself itching to prove that a skilled Azalea player (who, in this fantasy, looks and plays and deckbuilds like me) could spike the format. In the immortal words of Taylor Tomlinson: "Hall of Fame, Hall of Shame, as long as my picture's on the wall."
So when James White's FAB 2.0 article went live, I was delighted to find that, quite unexpectedly, the article was speaking to my casual sensibilities. In the three-part plan that LSS has been referring to as 'FAB 2.0', two points are directly addressing the casual segment of the player base.
Before proceeding further, I should be transparent about the camp I occupy and the way I engage with the game. Historically, I have engaged with collectible games on a largely casual level. I've had to work within a budget that would not allow me to chase after premiere game elements, nor to travel for large events. But at this stage in my life, high-rarity cards are no longer out of my reach, and I've never been priced out of a FAB deck I've wanted to build. At the same time, I'm not a high-end collector, nor am I a speculator. I truly had no horse in this race when it comes to re-assessing the role of 1st Edition product.
What I want from this game- what I want from any game- is fundamentally to have a good time. My own values perfectly align with LSS when they aim to "bring people together in the flesh and blood through the common language of playing great games." Mission statements are trite pieces of corporate propaganda, but this frickin' sings to my soul.
I've spoken often about building a Flesh and Blood community in small-town Wisconsin, but one thing I never set out to do was to build a competitive community. From day one, my goal was to create an environment where people felt welcome, no matter the limits on their time, finances, or skills. I'm delighted to say that we've accomplished that so far; we regularly pick up new players, and the skills and collections of our regulars are as varied as could be. Yet I've never seen a player roll their eyes at a pairing; never heard frustrations about a player's aptitude or attitude; and never had someone walk out of the shop after a hard loss never to return again. We have managed to keep it fun, and I will vigilantly defend that aspect of our group to the loss of all else.
To that end, I watch for threats and try to head them off before they take hold within our community. And one of the most persistent threats has been the price of upper-rarity cards- especially Legendaries. It's perfectly understandable that a player on a budget might look across the table after a loss and notice the equipment still sitting on their opponent's playmat. I get why those items get blamed for perceived power imbalances. And as we've seen a steady cascading of sets going Out of Print recently, there's been growing concern that these cards will only get more unattainable.
We have managed to keep it fun, and I will vigilantly defend that aspect of our group to the loss of all else.
History Packs work to address this, not by making the Legendaries any easier to pull, but by adding more copies of them to circulation. We've seen how this plays out with Arcanite Skullcap and Fyendal's Spring Tunic (the latter of which we should expect to see dropping in value once again). Moreover, these packs address the issues surrounding staple Majestics like Art of War and Command and Conquer- a problem that, to this point, had not been addressed in any way.
But beyond that, History Packs address a logistical issue that threatened to be a barrier to entry for new players: access to basic cards for the original heroes. Sure, singles for Dash and Bravo are dirt cheap and abundant online. But the knowledge required to properly buy a deck from singles can be well beyond a new player; analysis paralysis can literally freeze a newbie out of attempting to deck build. It may feel backwards to some folks, but there is a subset of new players who feel more comfortable making random purchases so they can be steered toward decks by the parameters of their pulls. At least then, if it doesn't work out, they can blame random luck- and not their bad singles purchases.
Also addressing price inequality? The end of the 1st Edition/Unlimited dichotomy. Prestige around 1st Edition led to some players being unable to acquire cards at release- and some choosing to 'opt out' in favor of cheaper Unlimited prices! What does that look like on the tabletop? Players get the latest expansion in waves, with some players able to field the latest cards while others try to figure them out from the outside. The change upcoming with Uprising lets everyone get in on the fun as soon as the set releases.
These changes address the concerns of physically playing the game. They help get the cards into people's hands. But once you've got the cards in hand, what threatens your continued engagement? If you're anything like me, the answer there is monotony.
Thankfully, LSS has plans to keep things fresh. The alternating focus between Blitz and Classic Constructed was a good start, but FAB 2.0 pushes 2 more formats with renewed attention paid to their structure: Ultimate Pit Fight and Commoner.
I will be honest: the prior UPF format, with its own set of deck-building requirements, was a bridge too far for me. If I had to have decks built for a third format to play a spontaneous, casual format every once in a great while, I just wasn't going to get involved. Now, any player can join an UPF event with the Blitz deck they already had built. And while UPF encourages the use of different sorts of cards and strategies, at least the Blitz deck is legal.
Speaking of accessible formats, the now-defined Commoner format shows LSS catching up to the players with a format they've already been playing. It presents an absolute zero barrier entry, and is sure to be utilized as common ground for events intended to teach. While I'm against frequent use of Commoner- because even new players pull cool, rare stuff- I am happy to see it become a formal part of the strategy. And it does allow me to do one thing I haven't been able to do in a TCG since I was a kid: shuffle an un-sleeved deck!
Now, any player can join an UPF event with the Blitz deck they already had built.
Then there's the promise of upcoming PvE/Campaign-style gameplay. Well-implemented, this stands to open the world of FaB up to an entirely new demographic, while providing a novel way to play with your gaming group.
Beyond simply adding variety, this addresses another possible risk to the local scene: that of extended rivalry. While this hasn't become a problem for my group, it's been a problem in prior gaming groups I've belonged to- and I haven't been able to figure out how to solve or prevent it when it does inevitably arise.
If you have that one player you can't stand losing to, that player who always plays to win- and usually does- it can wear on your community as they tire of foregone conclusions. A PvE format puts that player in a new role: as your alliance's champion. Now, you get to align with them instead of struggling against them. And maybe they'll bring your skills up alongside them.
I haven't even gotten into the increased focus on storytelling! Lore can endear a game to you, beyond what mechanics and even art can do; so I count this as perhaps the most important element of the FAB 2.0 playbook. But that's a topic for another time.
Today, I'm feeling confident that the game is in good hands- and that the folks steering the ship are looking out for my crew.
Alex Truell is the editor for the Rathe Times. Alex is a casually competitive player overseeing the growth of a Flesh and Blood scene in Ripon, WI. Alex is a player who cares about the competitive environment, but doesn't have to live in it; an optimist who loves the game, but can take a step back to critique it; and a deckbuilder who revels in novelty.
Love the positivity here. I'm a recent convert with a lot of experience in building communities for other games on different continents (I'm originally from the UK but have lived in the States for over a dozen years now), and I'm feeling both encouraged and energized about FaB going forward. Thanks for another great article!
I'm definitely in the play what you pull camp, while I have bought a couple of singles the majority of my decks are made of cards I've pulled from boosters. To me it's part of the fun of TCGs and also stops every deck looking and playing the same.
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