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Subject: Flavor Text: Optional or Necessary? A discussion. rss

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Tyler Lipchen
Canada
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Hello fellow geeks!

Throughout my current game design I've being toying with flavor text. My game is currently only card-based, but this discussion can branch to any component. After the design's 5th revision, I'm deciding whether or not the flavor text is necessary, and how it will effect the theme of the finished game. My card titles tell the player what's going on and have a hint of flavor, and the card effects seem to fill in the blanks for the most part. So with my next playtest I'm going to experiment with excluding flavor text on some cards and letting the players put the story together in their own minds.

I'm not going to go into detail right now about my design, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on flavor text, mainly:

Is flavor text fundamental to your gaming experience?
What games have great flavor text?
What games could be just as good without flavor text?
How have you used flavor text in your own designs?
What challenges have you faced when writing flavor text?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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Andrew Rowse
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Wellington
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I generally find flavour text to be a waste of real estate - if you can make a card more readable by eliminating flavour text, it should be eliminated. There are exceptions, particularly in historical games, but in general I feel it's the job of the title and the artwork to convey flavour.
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Antonio D
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I would say that flavor text is better than no flavor text. If the text is consistent witht the game theme it adds a lot to the game immersion. On the other hand I just doesn't find that necessary if you will only add flavor text to the cards that are not filled with game text (like Magic does).
 
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Jakub Marek
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I believe it really depends on kind of game, you're working on. More thematic you want to go more flavour is needed.

Flavour can be achieved not just by flavour text, but also by right graphical design, pictures and even rules wording.

You don't necessarily need flavour text on all cards. Maybe some need it more than others. It often depends on whether the card title and illustration are narrative enough.

It also depends on what's your source. Games based on literature generally gain much more from flavour texts, especially when taken directly from the source, while games based on comics, movie or other visual material will gain much more from pictures. Well, even movies get some legendary quotes, but the pictures are still more important I guess.

Then, some games are just quite abstract. Speaking stuff like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Thurn und Taxis or St. Petersburg. They've got a clear theme, but the main part is the mechanic itself. Flavour texts are not needed and would only distract from the important stuff. Also graphics are pointed towards simplicity and showing just what's needed for the game.

All in all it's all about what you want to achieve. Are you aiming for narrative or rather pure strategical thinking?
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Carlo
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In card based games I think well done flavor text is a terrific addition. Android Netrunner is a great example of this, since you have a lot of concepts and ideas that might be hard to relate to the real world, and the flavor text helps bridge that gap. It also fleshes out the universe, gives a chance to create consistent characters, and gives players something to do while their opponent takes an hour to play their turn

Ideally the mechanics on the cards would be so succinct that you'd have plenty of space for italicized flavor text.

Then again if the genre you're dealing with is super bland, flavor text might be needless. If your card game simulates office life, for example, trying to come up with useful flavor text for a stapler or phone might be tough.
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Beau Bocephus Blasterfire
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I say optional. It definitely isn't necessary, but it can add some flavor...
 
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victor araujo
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Depends on the game, and the theme.

Only some of the cards should have it, not all of them. Never sacrifice functional game mechanic text to squeeze in some flavor text.
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ys xxx
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I hardly ever read any flavor text on cards unless maybe it´s only one line long.
So I don´t feel flavor text to be necessary.
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Nathaniel Chambers
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Optional. And it can't be 'just okay.' For me to like flavor text, it's got to be pretty awesome.

Good example for me: Dungeon Lords or Petz. Though, unfortunately, it can make rules harder to reference.

Bad Example: Netrunner. The text is big and honestly makes the manual harder to read.

Update:

That's just in manuals though. As for actual cards, yeah, I never read anything. Don't include it, it just gets in the way most of the time.
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Antonio D
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I also have to add that in my game (that is a cultural and historical themed game) the flavor text didn't get read by the 99% of the players.
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Chris Olsen
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Gets passed over. If I really like a game I may look at flavor text in the manual but otherwise it gets in the way. On actual compenents, I'll read it at least once since it's there but a little disappointed when it means nothing.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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My game Darkest Night (First edition) garnered more complaints about a lack of flavor text than I expected (despite many of the cards already being very crowded).

This motivated me to reserve some space for flavor text on the quest cards in the first expansion...I rarely notice people reading it when I give demos, though. Might just be a vocal minority who care.
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Game Nurse
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I LOVE flavour texts!

Include them!!

But put thought into it! Like Star Wars LCG takes quotes from the movie... well that does not really provide much depth, I mean screenplay usually is short and flavourless.

However, Netrunner, LoTR, and MtG cards... love it! We read them all!!! Especially when you are waiting for another player to take their turn.
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Breeze G

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If your game is one with numerous different characters/locations/items like a card game or something, then I think flavor text is mandatory. A single sentence on some Magic cards goes a very long way with tying the lore of each set together, and exemplifying the personality of characters or the tone of the story.
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Antonio D
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Game Nurse made a point. Flavor text may help players "stay in game" while waiting other players so it would be more valuable in games that can make a player wait a measurable time others players to finish their turn.
 
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Joe Mucchiello
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bbblasterfire wrote:
I say optional. It definitely isn't necessary, but it can add some flavor...
This.

But is the text interesting? Is it interesting the 100th time you see it? The flavor text on M:TG can be interesting and can be annoying. The flavor text on Chez Geek games is usually funny, the first couple times. So only do flavor text if it stands up to repeated reads.
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Tyler Lipchen
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Both Game Nurse and Joe make excellent points! Well, everyone has made an excellent point! It's definitely true that flavor text can help kill downtime. It's also true that real estate on a playing card is extremely valuable, so if you're going to include flavor text, either make sure it's extremely important, or you have room to spare.

On another note, I've been playing Elder Sign: Omens recently, and after a dozen or more games of it I finally read some flavor text! I know the iOS version is much different, and to get to the flavor text you have to access a menu, but it made me really think about the theme of the game. I love to game, don't get me wrong, but after playing it I had a hard time believing that I was really in the Lovecraftian world (even after finding the flavor text). I've read a bit of HP Lovecraft's work, and I've found that games like Arkham Horror and Elder Sign take a lot from the setting and the monsters, but not from the mood of the author, which I think is his greatest talent in his writing.

So here's another thought: Flavor text helps absorb the player into the game world in a very shallow sort of way (because you can easily choose to ignore it, as many of the contributors to this thread have stated). But does anyone have any good ideas, or good examples, of other ways in which a game can envelop a player in a theme besides the obvious things like text and great artwork? What games have you played where mechanics or interactions have done more for the theme than flavor text ever could?

Thanks for all the contributions so far!
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Jeremy Wright
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bosky wrote:
In card based games I think well done flavor text is a terrific addition. Android Netrunner is a great example of this, since you have a lot of concepts and ideas that might be hard to relate to the real world, and the flavor text helps bridge that gap.

This.

In my experience, flavor text can be an excellent tool for reinforcing your theme and your mechanics.
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Benj Davis
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It's certainly not a necessity, but it does a lot to build the world of your game.
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Carl Nyberg
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I would say that flavor text is good for the instruction manual, but not needed on the cards.
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Lance McMillan
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Function first and foremost. Flavor only if there's space available after ensuring function's needs have been met and it doesn't interfere in any way with function. If I have to keep referring to the rules booklet to figure out how a card, marker, or track is supposed to work because the designer has devoted too much space to flavor, or because the artwork wasn't intuitively obvious, then there's a major problem.

Case in point: Edge Entertainment's "Castle of the Devil." The artwork was so thematically dark and elaborate that it was nearly impossible to read the cards or figure out what the hell they were. In the first (and only) game of it that my group played we had three players who misinterpreted which faction they were supposed to be on because the heraldry for the two factions was so similar. Of course, when I complained about this "feature" in my review of the game, the fanboi crowd flame-sprayed me because I "...clearly didn't understand or appreciate how important the thematic elements were to immersing players into the world of the game." I'm sorry, but when a quarter of the players can't even figure out which side they're on, the game's going into the recycle bin.
 
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Philip Becker
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I like to read flavor text if I'm waiting on another player. This is usually in 1v1 Magic, in multi-player I tend to be more chatty and read less flavor text.
 
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