by Bill Martinson
Hefty research task for today.
It depends on how the card's worded.
I disagree. When you initiate the action of using a flare, you are making the "may" decision at that moment. Then you carry out the card's effects. Thus, "play this flare to" is superfluous, since it's always implied.
Now, very occasionally, that "superfluous" phrase is used for clarity or readability, such as on Wild Graviton
(which the Cosmodex amends with a "you may" to fix what I call the mandatory flare bug):
As a main player (if the Graviton is not your opponent), you may
play this flare before encounter cards are selected. Any attack cards revealed in this encounter only use their ones digit as their value....
But this is not to make Wild Graviton work differently from other flares; it's just because the best way to present this particular effect involved a sentence break. A lot of flares have a structure of "you may do X
," but a few are structured as "you may play this flare; X
Any time an effect begins with "As a _____ player" — as most effects should — then the subject of that sentence has to be you
or the grammar is broken. (FFG gets this wrong sometimes.) Obviously it would be nonsensical to write something like "you may attack cards use their", or "as a _____ player, attack cards use their," since in those examples the attack cards cannot
be the subject of the sentence. (Hence the sentence break in Wild Graviton.)
One way to avoid this grammar infraction is with "you may cause" (e.g. Wild Healer) or "you may force" (e.g. Super Chronos), and another way is to use an explicit reference to "play this flare" followed by the effect as a separate statement (e.g. Wild Empath). It's simply a tool for keeping the game text grammatically sound, not a subtle way to introduce a hair-splitting difference between flares.
Now, go back and read Wild Graviton in its printed form, without
the "you may" the Cosmodex adds. If, as you say, the decision on whether or not to use a flare's effects is not made until after
you play the card, then as written
— in a form which is clearly in the imperative — you would be forced to play the flare every single time you are a main player, then choose whether or not you wanted to apply it. Obviously that is not how flares are supposed to work, but my point is that if you want to interpret rare exceptions based on the precise wordings used in the "may ... play" clauses, and say that this overrides the rulebook, are you willing to be consistent about that and accept the other messy consequences as well?
As printed, only 11 out of 338 flare effects say "play this flare," "play this card," or "use this flare" in the context we are talking about. The Cosmodex offers revisions to add 7 more to that list. I don't see any value in interpreting that 320 of 338 flare effects allow you to make a decision to "play a flare to do nothing" but the other 18 of 338 have a special wording that prevents this. That's just not the reason why those flares explicitly include the normally-implicit phrase.
In your Super Ace
example, as with pretty much all flares, the words in gray are implied:
As the defense, if you lose the encounter, instead of sending your ships to the warp you may play this flare to
relocate them to any one other planet in a different system, establishing a colony there. Afterwards, discard this flare.
Leaving those words out is just a shortcut, since they would otherwise be taking up space unnecessarily on 320 flare effects. It would be a waste of words akin to having nearly all of the alien powers follow their use
clauses with "(this may be Cosmic Zapped)". Of course
when you use a power it can be zapped. Of course
when you play a flare you do what it says. (And flares are a card type that can ill afford any wasted space!) You always play a flare for the purpose of using its effect, just as you play an artifact to use its effect, use
an alien to use its effect, reveal a tech to use its effect....
I'm certain that none of the flare writers, in 1979 or 2008 or 2014, intended the fine distinction you suggest. (If they did, then the Cosmodex is about to run red with the blood of who knows how many corrections to make the flares conform to that wording convention.) I
certainly don't intend that distinction, and I was responsible, for better or worse, for the final wording of every flare in Cosmic Dominion, including Super Ace. On that card, "play this flare to" is really just there for smoothness of reading and as a safety valve in case somebody wanted to argue that winning the game means there's no time for a Card Zap to be played; it was intended to spotlight the fact that the flare is being used in a 100% normal way for flares, not as some special game-ending card with some unique immunity. (Did that do more harm than good? I hope not.)
Ultimately, though, what's really to be gained by dividing the flares into these two groups? Although I can probably contrive a reason I might want to play
a flare but not actually use
it (maybe some rare edge case where a flare is legally playable in the first half of the resolution phase, has an effect I don't like, and is a "give to owner" flare, I could play it to get it out of my hand before compensation is collected), it hardly seems worth the hair-splitting word parsing required on a flare-by-flare basis, nor the additional questions it would raise.
I'm certainly willing to be convinced otherwise if there's a good argument, but absent that I don't think your interpretation is within the design intent for flares and I don't see that whatever gain there might be is worth the complexity.