The Elevator Pitch
If I had to sell the idea of Flesh and Blood in a few sentences to someone in an elevator, there would be different things I'd say to different types of people.
For a competitive Magic: The Gathering player, Flesh and Blood is a game in which every turn you have more than 20 decision points, each with their own pros and cons. The game has support for Organized Play much like the new Magic, with PPTQs, GPs and PTs (which are now coming back, thank God!). In other words, Flesh and Blood also has the famous "ladder climbing" to success that much attracted players to the competitive circuit of the game.
For a casual Commander player, Flesh and Blood is a game in which you choose your hero and customize it before battle with specific equipments and weapons for each opponent, going to battle prepared to execute a plan that you and only you are capable of executing. Do you like customizing your decks to your own personal expression, like on Diablo or an MMO, and do you want to play that combo that only your decks has, making a hype turn even if it's not winning the game? Yeah... you're going to be good in here.
For someone that just landed in this article randomly...
What is Flesh and Blood?
Flesh and Blood is The New Classic Trading Card Game. Launching in October 2019 by Legend Story Studios (LSS), the game is focused on heroes and played with decks of cards, face to face with your opponent.
The phrase "New Classic Trading Card Game" is displayed on the front page of the official website, but what does it mean?
Well, "New" refers to the fact that Flesh and Blood is a game from 2019, made by a New Zealand company called LSS.
"Trading Card Game" refers to the genre of card games in which the main product sold by the company comes in the form of packs of cards containing random cards, popularly known as boosters. Other games like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon are also TCGs in that sense, so, if you've played any of these games for some time, you're probably familiar with this concept.
For the uninitiated, being a TCG means there is no guarantee of getting any specific card when buying the product, making it so, semi-naturally, cards need to be traded between players. If you didn't open a card that interests you, someone will want it, and, maybe, that person has something that you need.
The last word in the slogan, "Classic", refers to the fact that Flesh and Blood was made to be played just like the name: in the flesh and blood, physically, in front of your opponent. This word is probably the one that brings in the most intrigue in people who hear about the game for the first time.
In the last years, many card games got into the digital space by making online clients. Such is the case of Magic Arena, Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!: Master Duel, the biggest physical TCGs, and all of them with digital clients now. Other card games are exclusively digital, such as Legends of Runeterra, Hearthstone and even Slay The Spire, which, even while it is not a TCG itself, helped introduce the genre to a lot of people.
Given the existence of a market for digital card games, it is strange at first sight to see a new game using the fact that it is exclusively a physical game to market itself, but, maybe, that's precisely why Flesh and Blood has had such a big success in such a small amount of time: it goes back to the origins of card games.
In an environment where card games are played as MOBAs, for 10 hours at a time and in a ranked environment, with different monetization schemes which, at times, is even considered abusive, Flesh and Blood wants YOU to play IN PERSON, on your local game stores, in events with exclusive promotional prizes. It wants you to collect cards, trading them with your friends to then play in physical tournaments.
A Hero-centered game
Unlike traditional Magic: The Gathering, and more to the likes of Commander, Flesh and Blood is a game where you ARE your hero. Cards in your deck are attacks, defenses and actions you take during a fight.
Most cards in the game have restrictions around your hero's class, with some of them even being restricted to a specific hero. Each class in the game is extremely unique, having different fighting styles: while Warriors have a focus on big attacks with their blades, Ninjas use many hard to block, small attacks, focusing on lines of attack that look and sound like a martial arts movie from the 90s.|| 1 rising knee thrust (1) || 1 dawnblade || 1 steelblade shunt (3))
Like in the Commander community, many Flesh and Blood players have loyalty to their chosen heroes. My first Flesh and Blood match was with Prism, which is still one of my favorites, and in my first week of playing I swore to myself that I'd never play Chane, as I had heard he was too strong and addicting. Nowadays, Chane is my favorite hero... so much for that one...
This idea might be particularly attractive to someone that already plays Commander or Hearthstone since it's a familiar structure, and for those that haven't yet played a game in which you are a character with specific weak and strong traits, it might be something different enough to intrigue you.
There is You, and Only You, Versus Your Opponent
A common mechanism present in card games is the idea of having minions, or allies/creatures. You represent a character but, for some reason, there is a cleric on the board helping you in battle. This is not the case of Flesh and Blood.
The battle is between you and your opponent only. No creatures that stay on the board fighting for you. Cards in your deck are attacks, defenses and spells you're capable of using during the fight. This, in itself, might be an alien concept to many card game players, mine included.
To better understand how it works, in a match of Flesh and Blood, at the end of each hero's turn, that hero fills up their hand back to their hero's Intellect." These cards can then be used to defend the attacks your opponent throws at you at no cost, except for the fact that — after defending — you're now on your turn, and if you don't have cards to attack, then, well... that's it. Tough luck.
This makes it so, during the whole match, you always have a chance to defend yourself, the only price being the amount of cards you then have to retaliate at your opponent.
To steal a term from Magic, it is rare to have permanents on the board in Flesh and Blood. Only in a very limited way can you generate advantages that carry over to the rest of the match. With this, it is extremely rare (impossible, really, in any practical capacity) that a game can be won "from hero to zero" during a single turn.
Every advantage is temporary: your opponent might be on the offensive now, with all the initiative, until you can defend efficiently and then, after a little stumble, it is now you that starts to ask questions that your opponent has to answer.
“In Flesh and Blood, initiative and tempo is transient.”
There is no "single turn that lost me the game"; it is all a series of brawls where one of you gets ahead of the other and, through many favorable trades during the match, advantages are created.
A good analogy might be a game of Heads-Up Poker with a bet size limit. You can't lose to an All-in on the first hand and go home empty handed. Every hand you see 4 new cards, and it is your objective to use those cards in the most efficient manner possible, be it through defense or offense. Between many hands, who better pilots their cards, in the context of the current hand, will end up winning.
Another consequence of this system is that there are no combos that win the game instantly. No 4 card hand is good enough to defeat an opponent alone. To better illustrate this to my Magic brethren: there is no turn 1 Amulet of Vigor, turn 2 Amulet, Bounceland, Azusa, Pact, Titan, 20 damage, next match.
There also is no advantages made at the beginning of the game that can't be reverted to some extent, like there are in other games in different forms, be it from creatures or a discard spell that takes the only playable card in your hand, or a card that, alone, invalidates your entire game plan.
A battle to the death
All card games (that I can think of) — including the ones that attempt to emulate a battle between the players — follow the format the players start with few, if any, things on board and, slowly, build up their engines, capacities and synergies. This is NOT the case in Flesh and Blood.
Unlike everything I've ever played, and much like in a real fight, a match of Flesh and Blood starts with the heroes in their pristine state. Your equipment intact, your weapons ready for combat, and your deck filled with attacks and tricks. As the game progresses, your strong attacks start to deplete, your armor starts to break and fatigue starts to get to you more and more, making your turns less about making strong blows at your opponent and more about being able to handle pressure while taking a jab or another to also tire your opponent out.
All of this is strongly married to the mechanisms of the game. Most Flesh and Blood cards have three variations, or, three "colors". These colors change the text of the card: red is the stronger than yellow which is stronger than blue, but blue cards can be used to generate more resources than their yellow and red counterparts.|| 1 buckling blow (2) || 1 buckling blow (3))
Every card can be used in many different ways: they can be played (like, for example, attacking with an Attack Action card), used to block or pitched to generate resources, which you use to play your attacks.
Every match of Flesh and Blood ends with both heroes near their last breath. There are no non-games where a match ends with "I couldn't do anything about it". On your first matches, as soon as they end, there will certainly be a lot of moments where you'll reflect and think
“Man... if only I had blocked with this card instead of that one...”
- You, probably
... and it's this sentiment that I, and many others, search for in games, because it means there is always something to get better at.
If games where you always have different lines to sequence in a complex manner to edge out advantages (who can, in a blink of an eye, turn against you) is something that interests you, then Flesh and Blood is, certainly, for you.