FAB Comparisons: Dragon Ball Z CCGs

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Score’s Dragon Ball Z CCG was one of the first cards games that made me fall in love with the tabletop gaming hobby. Released in 2000, grabbing a hero Saiyan Saga Starter Deck from my LGS The Wizard’s Wagon is a foundational core memory for me. My brother, some friends, and I cracked our boxes open. I received Gohan, the hero I was hoping for, and after some time reading through the rule books, we set out to do battle against each other.

The first set of this game was imbalanced and inconsistently worded—on a meme-level scale.

As a 10 or 11-year-old, I didn’t really care about the inconsistencies, this was Dragon Ball Z at my fingertips. My Gohan starter deck was miserably weak compared to Vegeta, Nappa, and Raditz from the villain starter decks that my friends had. My only real shot was dealing 8 stages of damage once per game using my level 2 ability:

Image from Retro DBZ.

Alas, I would go on to lose with the hero I loved over and over again (foreshadowing of my decades of TCG play).

In 2014, Panini America published a remake of Score’s game with some much-needed updates. Out of college and feeling nostalgic, I dove back into the cardboard hobby that I grew up loving so much. Panini’s run was ultimately cut short when Bandai discontinued Panini’s use of the Dragon Ball IP, so that they could publish their own game: the Dragon Ball Super CCG.

A group of developers, who at some point in Panini’s run worked on the design team, continued creating additional sets of Panini’s game in a fan-run community project lovingly known as FanZ. For all things DBZ (Score, Panini, Re-Z, and FanZ), check out the Retro DBZ Facebook group.

Game Design Comparisons

For the remainder of this article, when I refer to the DBZ CCG, I will be referring to the Panini iteration of the game as well as the fan-made continuation, FanZ. In DBZ, a player chooses a character to be their Main Personality (MP) that they pair with a compatible Mastery (Black, Blue, Orange, Namekian, Red, or Saiyan). The MP and Mastery are public information at the beginning of the game and open up available cards from the overall pool for the player’s deck. In FanZ, the developers added an additional lever to deck construction with the Traits mechanic which limits traited cards to personalities who have the same trait.

With the above cards as an example, selecting Black Mischievous Mastery gives a player access to all legal Black-styled cards; selecting Supreme Kai gives a player access to all god-traited cards (non-styled or Black-styled), Supreme Kai named cards, and any non-styled cards in general (Generic/colorless for my FAB and MTG readers). Had the trait system been used from the very start of the Panini iteration of the game, the pool of cards for every trait would have led to some incredibly meaningful decision points for players during deck construction.

In Flesh and Blood, a player’s starting board is significantly larger than in any other TCG that I can think of. A player starts with their hero in play as well as a full suite of equipment. All Flesh and Blood heroes have a distinct Class (profession in the lore) and some of them have a Talent. Starting equipment can include up to 6 cards (Head, Arms, Chest, Legs, Weapon(s)/Off-Hand). The hero’s class and talent (or lack thereof) open up an available card pool for the player to create their deck.

For the example above of Ser Boltyn, his deck, weapon, and equipment can be pulled from the available Generic, Light talent, Light Warrior class, and Warrior class card pools. For players who want to focus solely on one or two characters, this aspect of FAB’s design is incredibly helpful.

The general conceit in both games is that the character controlled by each player is in pitched combat against the other player’s hero. In DBZ, depleting the opponent’s deck (their life deck) is the central means of winning the game (there are also 2 other win conditions, 1 achieved through anger-induced anime transformations and the other from controlling all 7 Dragon Balls to wish for victory). In FAB, each hero has a specified number of health that is reduced from kinds of damage throughout the game. If you run out of cards in your deck, you don’t instantly lose, but your available actions to perform on your turn are going to be extremely limited or non-existent.

DBZ players will be able to quickly familiarize themselves with the cadence of the game as each hero opts to engage their opponent in combat each turn, set up a stronger board state, or recover from the previous assault of their opponent.

In FAB, players draw cards up to their Intellect score at the end of each of their turns. They can also only attack on their turn, so the back and forth dance of combat leads to some fascinating decision points about how many cards to block with in order to return fire on your own turn.

Straight from the rulebook:

Makings of a Hero

(1) Hand Size

Start the game with this many cards in your hand. At the end of your turn, draw cards until the number of cards in your hand is equal to your hand size.

On the first turn of the game only, both players draw cards until the number of cards in their hand is equal to their hand size.

You may have cards in hand greater than your hero’s hand size.

(2) Class & Card Type

Your class determines how many cards you can include in your deck.

(3) Life

Reduce your opponent’s life to zero to win the game. You may gain life above the printed life value of your hero card.

Card Type Comparisons

Now let’s take a look at the various card types between the two games and make some comparisons. I’ll be framing this part of the discussion from the perspective of a DBZ player.

Attacks and Blocks

In Flesh and Blood, nearly every possible card in your hand has value on any player’s turn. Wounding Blow, pictured above is the quintessential attack card because it shows the standard value rate that a card can have. It can be used to block for 3, attack for 4 (at no cost), or it can be pitched to generate 1 resource. To calculate its rate following this formula: defense value (3) + attack value (4) + pitch (1) – cost (0), Wounding Blow comes in at the standard 8. Non-attack actions (think setups or event-type cards) have an average value of 7 and Reaction cards have an average value of 6.

With these ratios in mind, you can easily evaluate the cards in an available hero’s card pool. With DBZ, there’s no real average or expected amount of damage from attacks or expected or average amount of extra value one can receive from a block, so the evaluation process is just different. Saiyan Uppercut (above) can deal 5 stages of damage (or, conditionally more), but is that good?

From Score, the average, or on-rate, amount of damage seemed to be 4—dealt as either stage of life cards. Since life card damage is more meaningful to the majority of win conditions, those types of attacks are usually stage-costing energy attacks with the average cost of a 4-damage energy attack being 2.

So is Saiyan Uppercut above-rate? The initial Saiyan style wanted its MP to be at higher power levels on a lot of its cards for conditional bonuses, so we can even assume that most of the time a player would be able to utilize this attack at 7 stages of damage instead. But is stage damage enough to make a card really valuable? There are no immediate effects, no hit effects, no board control, no anger manipulation, etc. In a popular TCG phrase, this card is just damage.

Let’s look at another DBZ card: Devastating Blow. This attack was also released in the premiere set and it was non-styled. Its removal and anger manipulation made it such a staple in a wide variety of decks that the game’s official blog called it the “Card of Forever” in one of the farewell posts after Bandai called takesies backsies with the Dragon Ball IP.

Without additional modifiers, this card’s damage output is restricted to a range of 1-7 power stages—typically, the damage would be a the lower end of the spectrum, so the damage becomes more of an annoyance than a threat. However, the immediate effects of the card are staggering.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the average damage threatened by this card was 3, so just below rate (the established rate on DBZ cards from this article is more like the bare minimum of an acceptable card rather than the average across used cards). How then should we judge banishing 3 selected cards from the opponent’s discard pile and an anger swing of 3? Should each effect as a whole count as a point of value or should each card banished and each point of anger manipulation count as a point of value? The latter would put Devastating Blow’s value around 9. Maybe that’s right, but one would need to evaluate dozens of additional cards with similar parameters to know for sure. Of course, this methodology isn’t considering how to evaluate blocks or other card types.

In DBZ, you need defense cards to stop attacks, otherwise, you’ll be met with an onslaught of attacks from your opponent. As you may have gleaned from the other FAB card images, nearly all action cards have a defense value that can be used to block. This makes your hand’s usability much higher on any given turn. During the back and forth of each attack, players in FAB also have a “reaction” phase; in this juncture, either player can play reaction cards to boost the attack or add to their defensive value. Reaction cards, on average, have a value of 6. Red Sink Below, pictured above, blocks for 4, can be pitched for 1, has a hand-cycling effect, and has zero cost, calculating to that value of 6. Red Sink Below is a powerful defensive staple that can cover up known break-point values of damage that threaten your hero’s hit points.

DBZ players trying their skills at FAB will feel the familiar cadence of attacks and blocks from their opponent. The rhythm of the game differs only in that FAB heroes start the game at nearly full strength. They have all of their equipment intact, full health, and a full deck. Some heroes do want to establish a large board state throughout the game, but, typically, a hero’s potential is at their highest at the start of the game. In DBZ, of course, MPs either want to level up via the anger mechanic to achieve higher power levels and stronger abilities or they want to establish an over-powering board state of any combination of drills, setups, allies, or dragon balls.

If that is the kind of deck you’d like to play while starting into Flesh and Blood, then you should check out Dash, the mechanologist hero from the Arcane Rising set.

Hero Abilities

As a permanent onboard feature of your deck, your hero’s ability is something you could be looking to use every single turn in both Flesh and Blood and DBZ. The two characters above both have once per turn actions they can take to advance their game plans. Azaela wants to have a card in her arsenal and some kind of knowledge of the top card of her deck in order to functionally swap those cards to give an arrow dominate which can help force damage and hit effects through.

With these two characters, we see effects that are constantly in effect. These repeatable effects inform the player about how these characters want to play the game, thereby informing deck construction decisions.

Playstyles

So far we’ve seen that Flesh and Blood cards can be easier to evaluate for value and that cards have more utility than in DBZ. We’ve also seen that a player’s main character can have similar play effects as DBZ main personalities. But are there similar playstyles and archetypes in FAB? Why, yes, yes there are.

In tabletop metas there’s usually a balance between aggressive, midrange, control, and combo decks. FAB is no different. If you’re the kind of player who mained Red Ruthless Broly back in the day, there are certainly Flesh and Blood heroes and decks for you (Rhinar, Briar, Boost-Dash, Dorinthea Axes, etc.). If you preferred to outlive your opponent and outlive them with a slow accumulation of value from your recursion and board state, with decks like Namekian Piccolo, then you may like the Guardian class and Oldim specifically. If you like having an available tool for every kind of opponent like a good black mastery player, then you may appreciate the control variant of the Mechanologist class. Even in its adolescence, FAB has heroes and archetypes that can fulfill the preferred playstyle of any TCG player.

In DBZ, combat is when the game comes to life. The back and forth of attacks and blocks to establish dominance on the battlefield. Flesh and Blood hits that combat vibe with the added grit of gore and fantasy instead of lung-powered anime.

The Big Leagues

I’ve played several iterations of anime-inspired card games. They were fun and they were integral to my development. However, playing in the Organized Play circuit that Legend Story Studios put on last year has fully spoiled any other game for me. While attending Gen Con in 2016 for a large DBZ regional, I had a mixed bag of enjoyment. On the one hand, I went X-2 in the largest tournament that I had ever been a part of. On the other hand, the sight of butt cracks, the lack of deodorant, and the absolute atrocity that were seen and smelled in the bathrooms were painfully memorable.

Flesh and Blood is unabashedly a game built for adults. The themes, the mechanics, and the Organized Play structure are all geared toward an adult audience—particularly those who have cut their teeth on other TCGs. It’s gratifying to enjoy this hobby with other adults who are ready to engage in a beautifully designed game from a company whose sole focus is creating the best game and play structure they can.

In 2022, Legend Story Studios have put forward $1,000,000 in cash prizing across all of their OP tournaments. The promos you can earn at many of these events also hold tremendous value in the secondary market.

LSS also does more to support local game stores and content creators than any other publisher I’ve seen. The OP kits that game stores receive for their weekly events are full of valuable prizes. Weekly armories also award XP that’s recorded in your account on fabtcg.com. Their GEM system is also next-level. During any level of non-casual tournament, pairings are shown in your profile, so you merely need to check your phone at your LGS or at a multi-hundred-person regional event to find your next opponent and report the winner.

Learn to Play for FREE

Several stores offer free learn-to-play events: you can put in your zip code in this link to find one near you. Of course, there’s always TTS or buying a cheap constructed Blitz deck, but the easiest way to test out Flesh and Blood without spending a dime (and by yourself) is using Felt Table.

Once on the site, select Flesh and Blood (they offer other games as well). Next, select Quick Match. Then, you can select one of the pre-constructed decks to play with and select another for the A.I. opponent. I recommend starting with the Blitz Decks.

Blitz is a separate format from Classic Constructed and limited formats. In Blitz, the heroes are “young” instead of adults and have half the health (20). Deck sizes are also limited to 2 copies per card and 40 cards total in your deck. In Blitz, you still have a sideboard, but it can only include pieces of equipment.

The heroes from the first set are probably your best choices to get introduced to the game. They are:

Choose one of the above hero’s Blitz decks and then select another one as P2. Then, follow the prompts offered by the UI and have fun!

When you’re ready for more, check out some of the top FAB content on the Web:

Team Covenant
The Rathe Times
Arsenal Pass
Fabrika

Wrapping Up

I loved my time in the DBZ community, and I’m still at least an observer in Retro, but my days of grinding through new Frieza builds are pretty much done. I’m all-in with Flesh and Blood, and I hope some of you will give it a try.

-Tommy

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