Flavor Text: What’s the Verdict?

Flavor text on this card: “Ribbit”

Yesterday I solicited opinions on Twitter regarding flavor text:

I was interested in finding a consensus on whether or not it is worth the time to add flavor text to cards, or game components in general. I was pleased with the number and variety of responses the tweet received.

For those who do not know what flavor text is, here is a definition from Wikipedia:

Flavor text is the name given to text for action figure character backgrounds, playing cards, or within the pages of a role-playing game’s rulebook. While appropriate to the product’s or game’s story concept, it usually has no effect on the mechanics of the game, but instead serves to add realism or characterization to the item in question. Flavor text is often the last text on a card or on the rear of a toy card or package, and is usually printed in italics or written between quotes to distinguish it from game-affecting text.

Flavor text is used to full effect in Magic: The Gathering. Here is a page from Wizards of the Coast listing some favorite flavor text additions to cards (Thanks to Matt Loomis for the link). While the flavor text in the M:tG cards is typically used to describe the character on the card, I think there are other ways of utilizing flavor text. But before I get to that, let’s take a look at a few of the responses I received from my tweet…

All Those in Favor:

Adam Buckingham: “It’s fun, but I tend to ignore it mostly.”

Seth Jaffee: “I like flavor text, gives me something to read while waiting for others to go. But don’t bury game text in flavor text!”

Isaac Shalev: “I love it when it’s good. MTG is the best-in-show at it. Evocative, haunting, immersive.”

Thomas Eliot: “Enjoyable! I love the flavor text on Professor Pugnacious: it’s all thematically appropriate quotes”

Stephanie Straw: “Noooooo! I *love* flavor text! But if you do it, don’t just toss it on there. Make it LEGIBLE and allow it to add value.”

David Chott: “Thanks for reporting back! I like flavor text, but have been leaning against using it in Lagoon to reduce cognitive clutter.”

All Those Not in Favor:

I was surprised at how few negative responses there were. I thought more people would hate it and wish it didn’t clutter things up.

Alex Strang: “Usually distracting IMHO”

Grant Rodiek: “I’m generally against it mostly because most people are bad at writing. Being creative does not mean good at writing.”

Check out Grant’s awesome blog post about flavor text!

All Those Who Are Indifferent:

Nolan Lichti: “When it’s tiny, like in Ascension, I don’t mind, and it can be enjoyable. Just don’t sacrifice clarity of game play for it.”

Matthew Riddle: “I ignore it but it doesn’t bother me.”

Danny Devine: “I also always ignore it, but as long as its clear that its flavor text “italicized and tiny” I don’t mind it.”

Jason Smith: “rarely look at it except when I’m bored from waiting on other players to take their turn”

Chris (@copax): “I rarely look at it to be honest. I’d prefer larger iconography or more detailed “power” descriptions”

Chris Darden: “ignored”

64oz Games (Richard): “I think it depends a lot on the game. On a Euro style game I expect it to be ignored, but a more thematic one it could be read”

Rob Lundy: ignored… “Unless it’s funny…. like…. very funny”

Brian Henk: “I believe it can add some fun to the experience, but it’s not worth the complexity of more words on the cards.”

My Verdict: I Favor Flavor!

Based on the feedback I think flavor text can be used on game components, but that it should be done in subtle, non-distracting ways.

The M:tG cards include flavor text to immerse you more into the world of the game. That works really well. It is there for those who want to read it, and others can ignore it. And it occupies a portion of the card that would likely otherwise just be background art.

So I am in favor of flavor. I like it when subtle, creative, and clever information can be added to a game that further immerses you into the world of the game under the following conditions:

  1. It doesn’t distract.
  2. It doesn’t take long to read – keep it short!
  3. It adds to the game’s experience.

Thanks to everyone who responded to my tweet. I am planning on using flavor text for Quantum Orcas, but only on the backs of cards that do not flip during the game. Since I have the backs of those cards available I could easily slap on the logo or some artwork. But I decided that I would prefer some flavor text instead.

The bottom line for Quantum Orcas is that people can completely ignore it. And that won’t bother me at all.

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Posted on January 7, 2014, in Game Design, The Boards and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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