Outsiders: Multiplayer Card Design and the Concept of Role Compression
Hello and welcome back to another edition of Outsiders, a FABREC series where we look at and evaluate underused – syke! This time we’re doing something slightly different. Exciting, I know, but let’s collect ourselves. Because today, we’re looking at the most underused set of cards in Flesh and Blood so far – multiplayer cards. Get it? Collect ourselves? Multiplayer? Ah well, it’s not like I’m a comedy writer.
First, let’s get our terminology straight. What exactly makes a card a multiplayer card? The easy definition is any card that references multiple players, like the newly(ish)-spoiled Round the Table that Legend Story Studios developed with The Professor from Tolarian Community College.from the upcoming multiplayer set
And this kind of gets into the reason why I have multiplayer cards on my mind: because the announcement of Round the Table has put into focus something that I thought Flesh and Blood has been lacking for a while now. But we’ll get to that.
Untangling Multiplayer, Casual, and Competitive
Now don’t get me wrong; I love competitive Flesh and Blood! In fact, coming from Magic: the Gathering, which has largely shifted its focus from competitive 1-on-1 play toward the casual multiplayer format Commander, I loved how tight the gameplay felt in FAB and how much each decision mattered. But as the game grows, more cards get released, and metagames evolve, there are bound to be ups and downs in the competitive scene – and those will be different for each player.
Some players will dislike playing against the top deck because it hoses their preferred playstyle, while others will mourn the Living Legend status of their favorite pet deck. And yet other players will simply want a way to engage with their hobby in a different way and take a break from competing.
Point being that when those ups come down, there should be some kind of fallback option for players to still play, and while I’m aware that you can play Flesh and Blood casually in a 1-on-1 setting, the pressures of that environment still apply: the whole game’s mechanics push both players to kill the opposing player before getting killed themselves. So, for many, that option comes in the form of Ultimate Pit Fight – Flesh and Blood‘s answer to Magic‘s Commander, which, due to its multiplayer nature, alleviates the pressure of optimizing your gameplay and your deck.
Designing for Multiplayer
In the past, Legend Story Studios has sometimes designed cards specifically for multiplayer. Examples of this include the Merchant and the Adjudicator class. The heroes, weapons, and equipment available to these classes so far lend themselves specifically to multiplayer environments because they only offer advantages in social play.
Take my favorite example,: it’s a card that is almost all downside in a 1-on-1 scenario. While it may block for two, it gives your opponent the option of drawing a card. In a social free-for-all scenario however, the opportunities for deal-making turn it into a great equipment. Which is to say nothing for the future of the card once the much talked-about PvE mode for Flesh and Blood is released.
The same is true for the Adjudicator class: the two Adjudicator heroes released so far,and , both interact with other heroes in beneficial ways, while their equipment lend themselves to multiplayer play as well.
However, there is a downside to designing multiplayer cards this way, and that is that these kinds of cards are very strictly sectioned in their usefulness. Outside of the humor of playing, say,, at your local Armory for the hell of it, there isn’t much use to these cards in the competitive world of Flesh and Blood, which polarizes the whole experience of the cards. Either you love them because you want to play them in your sweet Ultimate Pit Fight deck with your friends, or they do nothing for you because you will literally never play the game in a way where their effects even apply.
Designing for Multiplayer – and Single Player
I guess what I’m getting at is: while FAB has its 1-on-1, competitive base completely covered and is right now moving toward covering its casual multiplayer base with Round the Table cards like, I still find they’re lacking that sweet spot: cards that can go into either category, casual or competitive, single or multiplayer.
If this is still confusing, bear with me. There have been a couple examples of FAB dipping its toes into this in the past. One example is the Shapeshifter hero. Shiyana has a lot of chances for shenanigans in multiplayer, where she can steal more opposing heroes’ abilities. But you can never fully discount her in the regular 1-on-1 world of Flesh and Blood either, because her ability to use specializations from any hero or class gives her near infinite future potential.
Or take another example,, a card that’s seen some fringe competitive play in Matthew Foulkes’ deck for Pro Tour: Lille. It has a multiplayer-friendly effect: every player effectively gets to draw a card – and you can use table politics to talk another player into letting it connect so that you and they can draw cards. At the same time, the card is aggressively costed, has a conditional way of getting go again, and lets you draw cards. See what I mean?
Product Design and the Beauty of Role Compression
This kind of way to design cards that move fluently between casual and competitive (in the broadest sense), and between single and multiplayer is where Flesh and Blood card design should move towards. Because they are, by their very nature, less binary than cards that are simply good and efficient from a numbers perspective: they’re context dependent and can be good in multiple different scenarios. And I have one more example from the upcoming Round the Table set that really drives home why I think this kind of rare card design will be the future of Flesh and Blood:.
It’s perfect because it compresses many roles into a single card: it’s multiplayer, both great in PvE and in free-for-all because you get to give out bonuses while retaining some degree of choice over where the bonus goes. But it’s a single player card as well because it’s the much-desired Guardian upgrade to. The downside of giving your opponent a token can be minimized by choosing the right time to block, be it at the end of the game or when you know your turn will be so threatening (because you got to block with your boots!) that they won’t have enough cards to utilize the token anyway.
Lastly, and arguably most important (in a big-picture sort of way), its role compression makes the card a slam dunk in terms of product design: Legend Story Studios pulled an old trick from Wizards of the Coast, which is to use a multiplayer product to print a card that has single player, competitive demand. The card works in its intended role in the base product while addressing some kind of larger need and circumventing the class restriction in a smart way – they didn’t have to find a ham-fisted way to include a Guardian in the upcoming set Bright Lights in order to include. It’s perfect on every level!
Thank you for taking the time to read through this different take on the Outsiders series. I know the justification is somewhat thin, but I really do believe that cards like Shiyana, Civic Steps, and Promise of Plenty are too rare and underutilized – if not from a deckbuilding perspective, but from one of game design.
Next time: actual deck building again! That newspecialization is looking great (and fits today’s theme, being interesting in single player and multiplayer).
And no, I didn’t take this detour just because I couldn’t think of any other deck but Riptide again.
Not just because of that, anyway.