Sunday, 1 June 2014

Once Upon a Time: The storytelling card game

A fairy-tale card game exercises the imagination and challenges storytelling skills.

Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game

Players: 2-6

Publisher: Atlas Games

Anyone who grew up reading fairy tales will recognise what goes into creating one: a protagonist (a prince or princess, or even a peasant girl or village boy), a villain (a witch, a greedy king or a scary beast, perhaps), and several obstacles (an enchanted forest, a cursed tower, a poisoned apple ... take your pick) that the hero has to overcome.

Once these difficulties are overcome and the antagonist defeated, the hero then finds his happy ending, which hopefully lasts ever after.

Yes, the ingredients are indeed familiar, but it is in the way they are mixed together that the magic lies. That, essentially, is the premise upon which Once Upon A Time: The Storytelling Card Game is built.

Players use their cards to create a story from the typical elements of a fairy tale, with each person interrupting and taking the story in his/her own direction. The eventual winner is the one who manages to bring the story to a happy ending. The game, however, is as much about the journey as it is about winning, for while the elements may be similar, each story is never quite the same!

The game has three types of cards: Story Cards, Interrupt Story Cards and Ending Cards. Story Cards, which are various elements of a fairy tale, are divided into five categories: characters (like Princess or Stepmother), things (sword, well), places (cottage, forest), aspects (brave, evil) and events (journey, meeting).

The Interrupt Story Cards also each belong to a category and have a story element, but can also be used to interrupt the story that is being told.

The Ending Cards, meanwhile, show a possible conclusion to a fairy tale, for instance: “He saw the error of his ways and lived a good life from that day forward.”

Fairy-tale timeline: As the game progresses, a line of story cards will start to form on the playing table - that's your fairy tale taking shape.
Fairy-tale time-line: As the game progresses, a line of story cards will start to form on the playing table - that’s your fairy tale taking shape.

To play, both types of Story Cards are shuffled together and dealt to all the players (the number of cards is 11 minus the number of players, with a minimum of five cards each).

The rest of these cards form the Story Deck. Each player is also dealt one Ending Card. To begin, a card is drawn from the Story Deck, and the person who looks most like it (one of the game’s many quirks!) becomes the Storyteller.

The Storyteller begins telling a story, and whenever she mentions something on one of her Story Cards, that card is placed face up on the table. The catch, however, is that each element must be mentioned in a separate sentence, and must be of importance to the story. As the tale grows, a line of cards should form on the table, with each card being placed in sequence.

Of course, it isn’t as easy as all that. While the Storyteller spins the tale, other players are looking to interrupt and take over the story. There are two ways to do this. One way is if the Storyteller mentions something that matches a Story Card in another player’s hand.

Another way is to play an Interrupt Story Card of the same category as the one the Storyteller just put down. Either way, the interrupting player now takes over as Storyteller, and must continue telling the story logically and consistently from that point (meanwhile, the previous Storyteller draws one card).

Other conditions in which the Storyteller may be challenged include getting stuck, rambling, contradicting an earlier event, or if the tale simply stops making sense. If successfully challenged (meaning everyone agrees), the Storyteller draws one card and passes the turn to the player on the left.

The game goes on this way, with any number of interruptions and new Storytellers, until someone wins by playing all their Story Cards, and bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion using the Ending Card.

The instructions may sound rather complex, but the game is pretty simple once you start playing, and also addictively fun, particularly once the players’ imaginations start running wild.

For fans of the genre, the game provides the opportunity to play around in fairy-tale land and create your own stories. Unlike most games, Once Upon A Time is as much about the journey as the ending.

While being the one to ultimately conclude the story does provide a rush, it is equally enjoyable coming up with creative ways of putting your story elements together. And thanks to its accessibility, this is a game that can be played by people of all ages.

Depending on the group, you may need a round or two to warm up and get the hang of the game. Those unaccustomed to talking too much during their games may need to be coaxed out of their shells, but the temptation to take part in the twisting, often madcap stories that end up being told is likely to be irresistible.

Trust me when I say, trying to create a logical storyline out of a princess locked in a tower, an enemy of the state, a flying monkey and lost treasure isn’t nearly as simple as you may think!

  • The review copy of Once Upon A Time: The Storytelling Card Game was provided by Imagine Games.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Once Upon A Time card game , Novel Games , fairy tales


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