Flavour Text

Legacy of Dragonholt

Many games include flavour text in them.  Whether it’s a short sentence on the bottom of a card or entire page of backstory on a character you’ve picked, flavour text is an often-ignored component.

Recently, I’ve been playing through FFG’s Legacy of Dragonholt, which is a co-operative, story-telling, adventure game.  Pretty much the entire game is flavour text, so you can’t really ignore that!

Some flavour text seems to really add to the experience of a game whereas other text just seems to be a distraction.  What makes some flavour text more palatable than others?  Let’s take a look…


Mindset

It always surprises me how much of a difference this makes, but the mindset you take when you play a game really affects how you will respond to the flavour text.  For some people, what they’re really interested in is engaging mechanisms.  You don’t see a lot of flavour text in Euros because many Euro players care primarily about what is happening and aren’t too bothered about why.

Gondorian Spearman

Gondorian Spearman – Great in a tight spot

If you approach any game with the view that the theme isn’t important then you’re going to see any flavour text as unnecessary fluff and be keen to skip past it.  I’ve certainly done my fair share of this over the years.

However, if the theme grabs you – if you become immersed in the world it’s trying to create – then flavour text really adds to the experience.  A great example of this for me is The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  The LCG from Fantasy Flight.

I love Lord of the Rings, so this definitely helps, but even then I frequently become caught up in my own strategic thoughts when playing the game: trying to work out how to best prepare for the dangers coming out of the encounter deck.  And then I look down at a Gondorian Spearman card in my hand and notice the flavour text.

Many of the cards in the game have quotes on from Tolkein’s book and they do a great job of placing the hero or monster in some thematic context.  They always draw me in.  When I play with my son, I like to read them out with a bit of drama occasionally!

Mice and Mystics

A few years ago, at the UK Games Expo, I sat down with some strangers to play Mice and Mystics.  The game had just come out and I had heard good things about it so I was keen to learn how to play to see if it was something I could play with my son.

For some reason they decided that I should be the one to read the rulebook (none of us knew how to play), so I skipped past all the flavour text to see if I could figure out the mechanisms well enough for us to get going quickly.  I always feel under pressure when people are waiting for me to explain the rules.

“Alright, so we’re on an adventure, we start here and we have to get to here,” I said, pointing at the board.

“Hang on, isn’t there some kind of story to it?” one of them asked, peering over my shoulder.

I had (mistakenly) assumed that they just wanted to learn how to play as well (we had borrowed the copy from the library), but they didn’t want to learn the game, they wanted to experience the game and the introductory flavour text for the adventure was very important to them.  Their mindset was very different from mine!

Quantity

Flavour text should be exactly that: it should add flavour to the game like a sprinkling of spice.  If you add too much spice though, it can overwhelm the greatest of dishes.  Some games seem to provide far too much flavour text in places.  I quite like reading a couple of paragraphs of flavour text at the start of a rulebook, for instance, but not a couple of pages!

TI4 Races

Twilight Imperium 4 – Which race to choose…?

One thing I do like though is when rulebooks add spinklings of flavour text throughout.  When I’ve read a couple of pages of rules, I find I’m subconsciously looking for a bit of a distraction.  Seeing a picture of one of the heroes with a bit of flavour text under her is great!  “Oh, this is a character I could choose – and she seems to be sneaky… interesting…”

Timing

If I’m sitting down to play a big war game like Twilight Imperium 4, I’m thinking about my starting position, how I can expand my empire and the alliances I should form.

When it comes to choosing a race, I don’t want to read an entire page of flavour text on each race before making my decision.  I tend to look at the picture, the special ability and that’s about it!  There isn’t really time.

Half way through the game, during the obligatory pizza break though, I’ve gotten a feel for the race I’ve chosen and I might be interested in knowing a bit more about them.  At this point, I’d be quite keen to read a couple of paragraphs about who they are.


Used appropriately, I love flavour text and really appreciate it when it’s well-written and well-placed.  It’s not for everybody though.  What do you think?  Do you like reading the flavour text or do you tend to skip past it?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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