Taking a Look Round the Table at the Casual and Competitive Future of Flesh and Blood
It’s been a bit since Round the Table came out, and introduced us all to a new type of Flesh and Blood Product. I have been quite impressed with it, all in all. This is the first official support that we’ve seen for the Ultimate Pit Fight format. Three of the four of the decks feel new and unique, and all four of the decks introduce new mechanics. I find it difficult to evaluate the balance of this set because of how variable it is based on player sentiment from table to table. It is clear that Melody’s deck cannot be used as a viable Blitz deck, but that doesn’t mean that it is underpowered for playing in UPF.
However, the balance of this set is very secondary, the thing I have noticed first and foremost is the sheer amount of fun it provides. It certainly marries Flesh and Blood with the board game experience more effectively than the Classic Battles set did, while still providing ease of access for newer players. With this said, I do think that there should be at least one experienced player around the table who can help direct the flow of the game. A direct explanation of the patterns and timing of attacking, blocking and drawing your next hand goes a long way to ensuring that no one is accidentally or undeservedly ganged up on. The more experienced player is probably best suited to play the role of Brevant or Melody, as those decks can directly enable or aide other players if the balance of attacks around the table starts to become challenging for a single player.
The main purpose of this article is to take a deeper dive into a bit of the philosophy and direction of casual and competitive FaB. I think Round the Table is a great window into the future of casual FaB, and the changes that have been seen elsewhere in the game tell us about the future of semi-competitive FaB.
There is a lot of great stuff in the Round the Table box, including the box itself. The price is quite accessible if split across four decks for four players. It still comes out as more expensive than the average board game, but not by a tonne. The fact that majestic cards come as pairs (a Blitz or UPF playset) rather than the singletons found in the Classic Battles set is a massive improvement for accessibility for those who want to use the cards in this box set in the wider world of Flesh and Blood.
These improvements in casual accessibility are all in stark contrast to one of the largest anti-casual steps FaB has taken recently: making Bright Lights’ adult heroes - Teklovossen, Esteemed Magnate, Dash I/O, and Max “The Hype” Nitro – all Majestic-rarity cards. Previously, any draftable hero had an adult token, not an adult Majestic. While we had seen some Majestic-rarity heroes in the past, they were the exception or non-competitive (except Bravo, Star of the Show, but I think everyone agrees that one was a bit of an error). The appearance rates on the Bright Lights heroes are not confirmed, but as best as I can tell, you get one of them every couple of boxes. This means that to get an adult hero with which to play with a slightly-upgraded sealed deck or an amalgam of draft decks you probably have to buy multiple cases of product or navigate the singles market for cards. This stings for me in particular since combining some draft decks is how I got drawn deep into the game. I had a starter deck previously, but being able to construct my own Bravo deck from my previous draft decks made it feel like my deck, rather than a deck. Having Bravo, Showstopper as the reverse side to my young Bravo token helped set that in motion for me. At this time, I was entirely disconnected from the singles market for any card game.
I am a big fan of the singles market for cards (there is a reason I write for Red Riot Games, who offer consistently affordable singles). The secondary market provides a very efficient pathway for allowing people to play the game without lottery elements, but it also requires a high level of involvement with the game. I have dabbled in many card games, but the only one I have ever bought singles for is FaB. If one of those previous card games had made a piece necessary to begin the “full” game as difficult to find as the new adult heroes, I would have lost interest in the game. As a player who only had a shallow knowledge of these games, I wouldn’t have known that no one really cares if you use a young token as a replacement. I think the sheer amount of times this question is asked in new player groups or webpages is telling of how much information we take for granted as invested players. I cannot speak for everyone, but I really do think that Majestic rarity adult heroes are a large step backwards for integrating players into FaB. These newer players may not know enough to ask if they can use the functionally-equivalent young heroes at a Classic Constructed armory event, and it just creates a very unnecessary barrier to being able to join in.
I wonder if this change is representative of a continuing divide between casual and competitive FaB? Adult formats are for hardcore and competitive players who have to either buy a lot of product or navigate the singles market, while all young hero formats are for casual players who are buying products like Blitz starter decks and Round the Table. This leaves limited play, like draft and sealed, as the only bridge between these two sides at Skirmish and Pre-release events.
Will Blitz remain as a competitive format at all? We are seeing it phased out of the World Championships, and it is being replaced as the premier second-chance event at many big organized play meccas. These replacements are usually secondary Classic Constructed tournaments, draft events (likely due to the stated goal of delivering more draftable sets), or even the brand-new adult-hero focused Living Legend format. I’m not sure if this renewed format diversity is a result of the games growth or a sign that Blitz is headed to a permanent life at the kitchen table. If Blitz is phased out from being competitive at all, will that leave young heroes as purely casual options, and enshrine the now-harder-to-source adult heroes as tools only for those serious players?
I’m hoping that these changes (like the adult heroes) are just LSS trying out a couple of things in an exploratory fashion, and will not be the permanent path forward. I think that it is important to keep crossover and interplay between casual and competitive FaB. I know it’s already jarring to go into a new store for an Armory and immediately realise that it was not the vibe you thought it was, whether it is extremely competitive or extremely casual. Both can be very polarizing experiences. I think things like the social play kits are interesting new touches. I hope that stores begin to run one more competitively-slanted armory and one social play event each week rather than just choosing one avenue. However, that comes at a cost of floor space, and requires a community robust and large enough to fill both events. As successful as FaB has been, it is still very much an underdog in trying to get stores to dedicate time and resources to run events and build communities for it.