• All These Flavors: Introduction to "Flavor"

    “Be the change you wish to see in the world”

    We’ve all heard this quote many times applied to many serious, real-world issues; I’m going to use it here in regards to a much lighter subject matter - superhero gaming. I play a great number of various “TCG”s - Magic: The Gathering, Hearthstone, VS System TCG, VS System 2PCG, Dice Masters, Star Wars Destiny, World of Warcraft TCG, to name a few - mostly because I enjoy the great variety that these game experiences offer me, and analyzing the differences and similarities between them pleases the mathematician in me. Some of these games are more popular than others, however, which means that there is simply an overabundance of online content for some (MTG, Hearthstone), and little-to-no content (comparatively) for others (VS 2PCG, DiceMasters). I aim to be part of the solution to this problem, rather than continuing to be part of the problem.

    But before we get into that, you might be wondering - "Who is this guy?" I've told you a bit about the games that I enjoy, but I haven't introduced myself; I'm Keith! I'm a high school Math teacher in Western New York who loves Dice Masters (and other tabletop games). I placed in the Top 16 of this year's Dice Masters World Championship at Origins Game Fair last month, and I also top 8'd the recent Golden Age WizKids Open tournament in Detroit, so if you were at either of those events, you may have run into me. I've been playing tabletop games at various levels of seriousness/competition since I was 7 years old, starting with the Starter 1999 Gift Box for Magic: The Gathering - anyone else remember that instructional VHS tape that came with it?

    I tend to think of myself as a “casual-competitive” player; more information on that specific term can be found elsewhere, but I see it as being someone who can both enjoy the highest levels of competition in a game, as well as the very casual, unoptimized levels. This means that while I do travel to gaming conventions and play in tournaments (such as the VS 2PCG $10K World Championships at Gen Con, or the DiceMasters World Championships at Origins Game Fair), I also enjoy sitting at home with either my girlfriend or a couple of friends and playing board games for hours on end. One joyful piece that pervades throughout all of my gaming experiences, is flavor; I absolutely love when either a card design, game effect, or something similar is flavorful - in other words, when it translates the “canon” of a character in a way that makes intuitive sense within the mechanics of the game system. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here are a few examples from some of the various games I play:

    Hearthstone - Gahz’rilla

    Card Name: Gahz’rilla
    Mana Cost: 7
    Card Type: Minion
    Class: Hunter
    Attack: 6
    Health: 9
    Rules Text: Whenever this minion takes damage, double its Attack.

    This card is a Minion card, which is similar to either a creature in Magic or a character in DiceMasters. Hydras are mythical creatures known to regrow two heads whenever one is cut off (Hail Hydra!); in the Hearthstone game, the game designers chose to represent this by doubling this minion’s attack whenever it took damage. This is a textbook example of taking some kind of “canon” that exists outside the game, and translating it within a game system in a way that is intuitive and extremely flavorful.

    VS System 2PCG - Ant-Man

    Card Name: Ant-Man
    Cost: 1
    Card Type: Supporting Character
    Affiliation: Avengers
    Attack: 2
    Defense: 2
    Health: 1
    Rules Text: Shrink (The first time he’s attacked each turn, you may cancel the combat)

    Ant-Man is, as his name suggests, a character well known for shrinking down to miniscule sizes. Within the VS 2PCG Game System, this is represented by an ability to, when attacked, “shrink” down and avoid the attack altogether. This makes intuitive sense; if I shrink down to the size of an ant, your attack is going to miss me completely!

    Marvel DiceMasters - Mystique, Shapeshifter

    Card Name: Mystique - Shapeshifter
    Cost: 6
    Energy Type: Mask
    Affiliation: Villains
    Card Text: When fielded, choose an opponent's character card. Mystique copies that card (except purchase cost and the die faces) until the next Mystique is fielded.
    *She also copies the die faces (matching level for level).

    Here we have another great example of a character’s canonical abilities translated (almost perfectly) within the mechanics of a game; Mystique is known for being able to change her form and appearance, copying the looks of others. Her character card in Dice Masters lets her do just that; she copies an opponent’s card when fielded, and each time you field her die, you can choose a new form for her to take on, meaning she could shapeshift multiple times in a game.

    Magic: The Gathering - Form of the Dragon

    Card Name: Form of the Dragon
    Mana Cost: 4RRR
    Card Type: Enchantment
    Rules Text: At the beginning of your upkeep, Form of the Dragon deals 5 damage to target creature or player.
    At the end of each turn, your life total becomes 5.
    Creatures without flying can't attack you.

    This card is meant to represent a spell that literally turns you, the player, into a Dragon; similar to how a Druid in Dungeons and Dragons might shapeshift into another creature or animal. Each of the lines of the game text represents a part of “being a dragon” as represented within the game system of Magic: The Gathering - a small piece of context required to fully appreciate this card is that, traditionally, Dragons in Magic: The Gathering have been represented as creatures with 5 power (or attack) and 5 toughness (or defense), along with an ability called Flying, which means that only other flying creatures can block it in combat.

    The first line of text is meant to represent your power, or attack value; a dragon in Magic has 5 power, so every one of your turns, you get to deal 5 damage! Flavorfully, this represents a dragon’s fire breath, or perhaps a claw or bite attack.

    The second line of text is meant to represent your toughness, or defense. As a player, this means your life total, which is now set to 5 every turn since you are a dragon.

    The third line of text is meant to represent your ability to fly. Dragons have wings, and thus, would fly or hover above the ground, where creatures who cannot fly couldn’t reach them!

    Going through a group of cards and finding the “easter eggs” of flavor is one of my favorite gaming experiences, and has been since I started playing tabletop games back at the age of 7. As I grew older, graduated college and began a life of adult responsibilities, I lost many of my previous outlets for both gaming in general and this “casual”, flavor-fueled style of gaming - that’s where this article series comes in!

    In an effort to both increase the amount of content for some of my favorite games, as well as find a new outlet for my creative juices, I’ve decided to start an article series (that may become a video series eventually) on flavorful ways to experience some of my favorite games. The X-Men have always been my favorite group ever since the cartoon in the 90’s, so they seem like the appropriate starting point for this series. Next article will explore the original team of X-Men vs. the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from the 1960’s.

    With that, I will end this introduction with the Team Lists; the next article will involve a breakdown of card choices (I promise, I won’t just write “because flavor” a bunch of times!), as well as a detailed description of a best-of-3 match played between the decks.

    If you have any comments or suggestions on the decklists, leave them in the comments! Changes could be made, but always in the name of flavor!

    Until next time, may your gaming diets stay low in sodium!

    Xavier’s School for the Gifted:
    4x Beast - Mutate #666
    4x Angel - Inspiring
    4x Iceman - Too Cool for Words
    3x Marvel Girl - Telekinetic
    2x Professor X - Recruiting Young Mutants
    2x Cyclops - If Looks Could Kill
    1x Cerebro - Cybernetic Intelligence
    Power Bolt

    The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants:
    3x Mystique - Raven Darkholme
    4x Scarlet Witch - Wanda Maximoff
    3x Pyro - Pyrokinetic
    3x Quicksilver - Villainous
    2x Toad - Mortimer Toynbee
    3x Magneto - Former Comrade
    2x Juggernaut - Unstoppable
    Villainous Pact
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Razorback's Avatar
      Razorback -
      Great into! Looking forward to your series!
    1. kmcgeejr's Avatar
      kmcgeejr -
      Quote Originally Posted by Razorback View Post
      Great into! Looking forward to your series!
    1. cnhiggins's Avatar
      cnhiggins -
      AWESOME! Just listened to this week's TRP podcast and they spoke a lot about cards being "thematic" which reminds me of "flavor". Just started The Elder Scrolls new CCG on android. Lots of flavor this far! Love the setting/lore of Elder Scrolls games. (Replaying through SKYRIM too!) Also appreciate that the newest team member is a fellow teacher! I teach high school US History and Psychology.
    1. kmcgeejr's Avatar
      kmcgeejr -
      Quote Originally Posted by cnhiggins View Post
      AWESOME! Just listened to this week's TRP podcast and they spoke a lot about cards being "thematic" which reminds me of "flavor". Just started The Elder Scrolls new CCG on android. Lots of flavor this far! Love the setting/lore of Elder Scrolls games. (Replaying through SKYRIM too!) Also appreciate that the newest team member is a fellow teacher! I teach high school US History and Psychology.
      Yeah, "thematic" and "flavorful" are basically synonyms to me; I love all of it! I've been playing a bit of Elder Scrolls Legends myself (in between completing my Hearthstone quests), and I do enjoy the game. It doesn't have the simplicity that Hearthstone does, which is one of Hearthstone's main draws for me, but it is an enjoyable game. I think I also really enjoyed the way Hearthstone built up new players from the "basic" cards, whereas something like the Elder Scrolls just hands you a bunch of starter decks and throws you into the fire. I don't feel like I get to become familiar with anything before I'm already completing quests on the ladder, which is a sense of overwhelming that Hearthstone never gave me. Still, I do enjoy the game.

      And yeah! Go teachers!