Stories have existed for longer than mankind. Well maybe not. I’m not sure how big stegosauruses were on narrative entertainment. Well, they’ve been around for a long time, okay? Some stories last for hundreds of years, enduring countless retellings. Some stories were obviously made up by your mate Jackie down at the pub and are basically nonsense words that don’t deserve repeating. But stories have power. It takes great skill to weave an epic tale of valiance and vindication, of subjugation and sorcery. Or, you know, a couple of decks of cards and 15 to 30 minutes. Is this the collaborative storytelling game I always wanted to write a Once Upon A Time variant for? I hope so, because writing variant rules is tiresome.
StoryLine: Fairy Tales is a family-friendly card game for 3-5 people. It’s published by Asmodee and designed by Gabriele Mari.
How It Plays
The ultimate goal is to work together to create the best story possible. You start with a Narrator deck, which leads your tale along a merry path filled with adventure and peril. There are two different Narrator decks for you to choose from.
To start the game, select your deck, making sure the number 1 is at the top. Then, get the story cards, split them into Character, Place, Feature, Object and Action piles and shuffle them up right nice. Place them face down in the centre of the table. Mix up the gold tokens and plop them face down as well. Each player starts the game with one of each Story cards, which forms their starting hand. Choose a starting narrator.
Each round goes thusly: The narrator takes the top card of the Narrator deck, flips it over and reads it aloud. The card gives you a short snippet of story, and a card type, which tells you what sort of story element is needed for this section. Each player, except for the narrator, draws a card of the matching category. Each player then submits a card to the centre of the table. The narrator shuffles the cards and then reads each aloud. The narrator then chooses one card to advance the story, and awards the player who contributed the card one face-down token, which no-one is allowed to look at until the end of the game. Sometimes, narrator cards have two Story card types on them.
When the turn ends, the cards which were not selected are added to the bottom of the matching Story deck. The Narrator deck is passed to the left, and play continues until the deck is empty.
At the end of the game, players flip over their tokens and resolve any effects. Victory points are printed on the underside of tokens, and the player who ends up with the most points wins.
And they all lived happily ever… wait a minute…
I like fairy stories. Grew up with them, like most of us did. I loved heroes and villains, and comeuppance and moral pontificating. It’s wonderful to lose yourself in a fantastical kingdom, far removed from your own. It makes perfect setting for a line of story-building games to choose for its first outing. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t at least aware of stories involving castles, giants, princesses and evils pigs (what?).
The game looks gorgeous. The art is great, even if it’s something we’ve seen before. That’s okay, it’s fairly tales, its done-beforedness isn’t really a problem. The cards are clear and colourful and the illustration is comforting in a cutesy, traditional sort of way. The tokens are chunky and the cards have a nice quality finish. The box looks lovely and has a high quality insert but it left me wondering where 70% of the game’s contents were. It is four to six times the size it needs to be. It is unforgivably over-sized. It is the sort of over-sized that makes me think about carbon footprints and that makes me sad. Come on guys, think of the environment! Think of all of the poor seagulls you’re probably lightly maiming.
There is a bigger problem, one that isn’t quite as easy to be facetious about. There’s not really much of a game there. There are some major issues with StoryLine which make it unplayable in my eyes. My first issue, and the most important one by far, is that there are no real decisions to make and you are far too restricted in your story telling. For each Story submission, you’re only ever choosing between two cards. The one of that type already in your hand, and the one you draw. There are only 20 of each card type. If you have the full compliment of five players, you’re going to churn through those cards very very quickly. There are only two Narrator decks of 15 cards each, so even if your characters and items change, stories will still feel predictable. Tokens are taken at random and can either lose or win a game for you, depending on blind luck, with no mitigation. There’s not a lot to do and it’s not fun enough to justify the void of activity. I cannot imagine any eight year old (that’s the minimum age for the game) that would enjoy the game more than once.
Where I do see its value though, is not as a game, but as a learning tool. I can see as many better uses for the game’s components as I can ways to improve it. I think this would work great as a reading and storytelling tool for younger children (way younger than eight). It would make a good idea generator for budding young writers. You could even use the Story cards as a way to come up with ideas for your latest D&D campaign, you lazy DM, you. But of course there are already products that exist for those purposes.
I don’t recommend StoryLine for purchase, unless you want to re-purpose it as a teaching tool or a creativity aid. It’s pretty but mainly useless. Like a damsel in a burning tower, in a time before we realised girls could be heroes too.