How Did I Get Here? My History with Flesh and Blood and Why I Love It!
It was a Wednesday night, the sixth of November, 2019. Nathan, my good friend, had come over to play some games and generally catch up. We had some food, had some laughs, and now it was time to have some fun. I grabbed the box of booster packs; it had been a while since I had played a trading card game, so the idea of cracking packs was almost novel again. As I looked through my cards and admired the artwork, Nathan explained the game and filled in the blanks that my readthrough of the rules had left me. We then shuffled up our sealed decks, drew our hands, and were ready to play.
The game we were playing? None other than Flesh and Blood.
My name is Kenny Phuong Nguyen (though some of you in the community may know me better as KP Michael). I’m a 27-year-old Aussie and have been gaming since before I left primary school (elementary school for folks in the US). I’ve played nearly every card game under the sun; I began with Yu-Gi-Oh!, transitioned into Duel Masters, then moved onto Magic: The Gathering (which stayed with me for around five years). During that time, I also played a bit of World of Warcraft TCG and The Spoils. Afterwards, I then dabbled in many different smaller games, including Dragon Ball Z, Netrunner, Call of Cthulhu, A Game of Thrones, Warhammer: Invasion, Warhammer 40K: Conquest, Star Wars TCG, Star Wars LCG, L5R TCG and LCG, as well as various miniatures games, including Heroclix and Star Wars: Imperial Assault. I’ve been reasonably successful in my gaming career; I’ve been the Australian National Champion for five of the games above, and managed to make it to the Pro Tour while playing Magic: The Gathering (San Diego 2010). I say this not at all to boast, but just to give you guys an idea of the background that I come from.
For many years now, card games have paved the way for board gaming. With my dwindling time to attend tournaments, and the lack of trading card game that had held my interest, my interests had shifted from the gaming scene to my kitchen table. In my mind, my days of playing trading card games were over.
Then, of course, Flesh and Blood came around, a game designed by a family friend of mine, James White.
Honestly, when Flesh and Blood first hit the scene, I was skeptical. A fantasy themed card game around fighting another player? The premise seemed too simple, too overdone. Sure, not many games had done actual character battles before, but “generic fantasy”, for lack of a better term, had been done to death. With massive prize support in some of its early tournaments, I honestly thought that Flesh and Blood was certainly going to attract competitive players, but once the initial hype had dried up, it would be just another card game to be forgotten.
That, of course, didn’t happen. Instead, Flesh and Blood is three sets in and its momentum shows no signs of slowing.
I remember playing in that first sealed tournament; The Calling Sydney 2019, and being surprised by just how much fun I was having.
I remember my first round against well-known Guardian guru Cayle McGreath was won while I was on a single point of life. I remember slamming my red Overpower to come over the top of his defenses and deal the finishing blow, shaking from how tight the game was. It had been a long while since I’d been so nervous and so invested in a game.
I remember holding on in a later round against Matt Rogers as he tried to Pummel me to death, again holding on by the skin of my teeth to come back.
I remember being beaten to death by Hayden Dale in our featured match, having my poor defenses clobbered by a power Brute who just wouldn’t let up.
And I remember James White’s speech about how we were witnessing the beginning of something amazing, something that he and his team had worked hard on for seven years.
Mostly, however, I remember having some of the most fun I’d had playing a card game in a long time.
Since The Calling Sydney, I been around to witness Flesh and Blood grow from a game that struggled to get four players at a game night at one or two game shops in town, to having a thriving community of players across multiple stores. What I constantly saw, and was most encouraging, was that when players picked up the game, they never put it back down. Players just kept on coming back for more; they couldn’t get enough.
When COVID-19’s lockdowns hit (around the time of the Arcane Rising release in Australia), Flesh and Blood, much like other games, was under threat. With my self-taught TTS skills, which primarily involved copying and pasting images, I put together a mod (with James White’s blessing) to allow players to play Flesh and Blood online; in fact, this is probably what I’m best known for (though my mod has since been replaced by a far superior mod). Many players in the community shifted to online play, and Flesh and Blood continued to thrive; in fact, there was a huge surge of international play, and some of the largest tournaments we’d seen to date. It was absolutely wonderful to see a community of players come together to play and support the game they love in a time of great global struggle, and being able to provide that experience to everyone has been one of my most treasured moments of 2020. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot copy and paste your way to success!
Now that people in some parts of the world are back to playing face-to-face, Flesh and Blood has thrived. The New Zealand and Taiwan National Championships have come and gone, with several others to come once a certain global pandemic has eased up a little. Local play has been occurring multiple times a week at my favorite place to play. Activity in trade groups has been frantic, with new players emerging everywhere and trying to hunt down chase cards. The crazy thing? This game hasn’t even been fully released in the US and EU markets yet (though the US is about to have its official release at the time of writing this article). I can only imagine just how much more this game is going to explode once more and more people get their hands on it.
And that’s what the rest of this article is to be about now that I’ve given myself and Flesh and Blood’s history enough of an introduction. So, reader, why should you be interested in Flesh and Blood? What is it about this game that makes it worth your time, money, and interest?
- Simple to learn, hard to master.
This is a bit of a cliché, but it’s very true in Flesh and Blood’s case. Teaching someone new to play the game really would take no longer than five minutes, especially for someone who’s played games before. The core gameplay is very straightforward; attack your opponent, opponent defends, refill your hand. That’s it! No massive list of card types to remember, very few timing questions, and easy to understand abilities make Flesh and Blood one of the easiest games to learn. This lets you quickly moving from “learning the game” to “learning to be good at the game”.
And boy is there a lot to learn! Although Flesh and Blood’s core gameplay is simple, each of your decisions in the game will have ripple effects on how that game plays out. Deciding which cards to defend with, which cards to play, whether to all out defend or leave some back to attack with are all decisions that can win or lose you the game, and sometimes that will only become clear much later on. There are consequences for every choice you make in the game, and that’s part of what makes the game absolutely delightful.
- No mana screw or mana flood.
Magic: The Gathering players would be very familiar with the concept of mana screw, which can often cause games to be over before they’ve even began. I’ve won and lost many a match because decks just fail to give you lands in Magic, which takes the game, and the fun, right out of it.
On the flip side, sometimes you just run out of gas, or are flooded with lands. You’re in “top-deck mode” and trying to just draw something, anything, to get you out of the current situation, or to seal the game. You’re actually not really making decisions at that point, but instead just letting your deck play you.
Flesh and Blood deals with the above by making the entire game based around your hand, and allowing you to refill it every turn. Want to attack? Use cards in hand. Want to defend? Use cards in hand. Want to play big, explosive cards? Pay for them with cards in hand. Because you have such a constant flow of cards, you’re always able to act, and you always have decisions to make. Effectively, you’re always engaged in the fun part of gaming; making choices. There are turns where you may not draw the optimal distribution of cards, but you know what? Make use of them, and then draw a new hand next turn. You’re never stuck in a bad situation, and each turn gives you a fresh new game state to try and take advantage of.
This also has the effect of making games very close and always tense. Because both players are always “in” the game and they don’t simply run out of things to do, games tend to end up being won by a few points of life. I think the last few games I’ve played online have been won or lost by no more than 4 life (you start on 40 in Constructed). This means that you’re invested throughout the entirety of the game, and victory and defeat are often achieved by decisions in those final few turns (in addition to all those decisions you made here and there over the course of the game, of course).
- A Company that Cares
Legend Story Studios (the creators of Flesh and Blood) are passionate gamers, and really do care about their community. They have made it a strict policy that they would like to support the secondary market of the game, and as such have protections in place to allow them to thrive. Additionally, they have previously sent gifts out to players who have gone out of their way to try and make the Flesh and Blood community better. For instance, a New Zealand gentleman who was a brewer by trade invited all of the folks at the New Zealand nationals back to his brewery afterwards for a relaxing night following the event. For his efforts, the company sent him a playmat featuring the gorgeous art on Coax a Commotion; art featuring a bunch of people having a good time in a tavern. A perfect present and a lovely gift that just goes to show the love Legend Story has for the community.
- Excellent Tournament Support
For the competitive player, Flesh and Blood has got you covered in prize support. Legend Story Studios launched the game with huge $10000 tournaments that harken back to the days of VS System and The Spoils. If you’re seeking a game that rewards you for playing at the highest levels, Flesh and Blood certainly promises that.
- It’s Just Plain Fun
I don’t think there’s been a single game of Flesh and Blood I’ve ever played where I haven’t had fun. You’re always able to swing your sword, fire your arrows, cast your spells, or whatever you’d like to do, meaning you get to do what your deck is supposed to each and every time. No need to roll your eyes as your draw your fourth land in a row while trying to find a way to come back into the game; instead, every turn is an action packed and tense exchange where you’re trying to come out on top. And by the time those exchanges are finished and one of you emerges victorious, I imagine you’ll be shuffling up your decks and getting ready to play again.
I hope this has given you a good overview of why I love Flesh and Blood and why I think you will as well. The game has so much to offer, and the adventure is only just beginning. Next time, I’ll be delving into the first of my new player articles, where I’ll be talking about the core mechanism of the game: how to attack and block effectively. Thanks for reading, and until next time, happy gaming!