Once upon a time in a house not so far away lived some board gamers. In fact you are the gamers and that house is yours! Or maybe someone you know. The point is you’re no longer just reading about the princess going on an adventure, the dragon capturing her and the prince setting off to find them. You get to help make all of it happen!
How To Play
In Fairy Tile, players act out the scenes of a tale upon the tabletop by moving its characters to various locations around the realm – and forging the kingdom’s borders along the way.
The story begins with three land tiles. These are double-sided and consist of three hexes randomly representing plains, forests and mountains with rivers running through some and a castle dotting the landscape every now and then. These start tiles designate where to place the princess, prince and dragon, respectively. Players are then evenly dealt a hand from a deck of thirty-six pages (cards). These are stacked and everyone draws their first page. Cards have very lovely artwork, a task, a number and flavor text.
The objective of the game is to complete all of your pages of the story by individually meeting the required tasks on each card. These adventures generally stipulate maneuvering one or more characters to a specific location. Or sometimes you only need position an actor so that he or she sees (as in a straight line of hexes) some designated feature. In the case of the dragon or princess, simply flying over a castle or visiting one might be enough to move the plot along.
To accomplish a task, you move characters and place new land tiles. On a turn you can do either one of those actions. Characters move differently. The princess can move exactly one hex, but may also transport from one castle to another before or after that movement. The prince travels two hexes, and cannot end his movement in or adjacent to the location where he started. The dragon simply flies in a straight line until he reaches the edge of the kingdom.
Instead of moving a protagonist you may take the top land tile from the stack and, without flipping it over (that happens when shuffling at setup), add it to the realm. The only restriction to placing tiles is that you must continue rivers naturally. You cannot situate hexes so that a stream dead ends into another terrain type.
If you meet the conditions on your page card after moving a character or placing a tile, the plot advances, place it face up in your completed pile and draw the next card. In lieu of working on a particular page, you may also “turn it.” Instead of moving a character or placing a tile, you set your current page aside unfinished or at the bottom of your book and draw a new one. In that case you may also earn a magic token (one max at a time), which you can expend on a future turn to take a second action.
The first storyteller to complete their book wins. They may rearrange all of their pages numerically and recount their entire tale. Sure, there might be some plot holes, but you all get the general gist. And then the winning pen lives happily ever after. Or at least for a few hours…
Happily Ever After? Or a Grimm Tale?
Iello has already established a strong reputation using fairy tale themes thanks to their aptly named Tales & Games series. The prolific collection of seven unique titles exploits our familiarity of endearing fables to create accessible designs that largely achieves a rare feat within the hobby. They are kids games at their core, but genuinely reach other elements of the family because they’re interesting enough for adults to not only enjoy them along with their children, but regularly revisit, as well. In weight, style and appeal Fairy Tile could well have been the eighth installment of Tales & Games…but for its generic setting. Indeed I wonder why it wasn’t set to a specific fairy tale to continue the series.
Rather the design is decidedly abstract, though cleverly hidden beneath a charming camouflage. In essence players move designated pieces to meet generic objectives. Kids and non-gamers are well aware of simple abstracts like Checkers and Connect 4, which prove popular and enduring enough without any magical trappings. Fairy Tile has few moving pieces and is maybe even a step down in depth and strategy. But the beautifully illustrated cards and gratuitous minis increase its attractiveness tenfold, masking the simplistic mechanics with a whimsical narrative adventure.
Interestingly the actual narrative, the flavor text itself, has zero influence on game play. In fact in one of our plays, I began my book with the last page of the deck! No matter. The spoiler doesn’t spoil any of the action. Still, there is a fascinating thematic development that emerges as particular sessions progress. Pages that require characters to meet or see each other are easier to fulfill in the early game when land is scarce and space constricted. However, there are also cards that task characters with adventuring to “large” locations comprising multiple adjacent hexes of similar terrain, which naturally requires more land tiles in play. So those are easier to complete later in the game.
The dragon is the orniest character as relates to the expanding kingdom and tends to exert the most impact on successful or unsuccessful quests. As the board grows, so do your options in movement – although that’s misleading when it comes to old #Kenith. Sure he can fly clear across the realm, but you don’t want the beat clear over there! You need him to stop right here, at this mountain. But the hex at the end of the line is a forest. Who planted those? Some lousy tree-hugger, no doubt! Or more annoying…that hex at map’s edge is the correct terrain, but now another needed character is no longer in your line-of-site! So as the game progresses, the dragon piece becomes more and more tricky to finaggle in position both at required terrain features and relative to the other two actors.
No matter which stage of the game then, it will likely be necessary to turn pages at different points. While that seems like a waste since it’s essentially passing a turn, the choice is worth it so as you don’t burn a good chunk of the game on one card. Especially since everyone is moving the same pieces, you’ll often get pulled into a tug-of-war in which you and an opponent (or more) make little to no progress fighting over the same character. Conceding the quarrel in those instances can prove rewarding by saving both time and your sanity. To sweeten the deal,you get access to you magic token.
A second action is a powerful tool. One, if you get drawn into a future tug-of-war, that second turn is enough to break the cycle, if not pull your foe’s face into the mud. But even if not a back-and-forth showdown, any of your efforts to journey a protagonist, or especially multiple ones for the same page, to specific spots can often be undone. Again, everyone gets to move the same pawns! Being able to do two things in a row will often prove critical in putting the finishing touch on a card’s quest before anyone else can interrupt you.
Of course a great deal of your story’s progress depends on luck of the draw, which is the wonkiest aspect of Fairy Tile…as an abstract game. Besides the aforementioned tasks easier completed in the earlier or later stages, there will be multiple quests finished upon first drawing them because the characters have already been properly positioned. You just sort of fall into the right situation at the right time. Sure, there are many cases where your own actions help lead to such a fortuitous setup. Yet just as often it’s another’s hard work that completes the quest for you. Then again, more frustrating is when it’s your own efforts that line up the opportunity for an opponent. It’s a little incongruous for an abstract style game. Because important information – the quests in hand – is hidden, whereas truer abstracts are almost universally open information. It means players unwittingly aid each other.
Some of that is balanced out by the land tile draw. While it’s true you only get the top of the stack, you at least know what you’re getting and have a good deal of leeway where to put it. Barring the river placement restriction, many times you’ll complete a task simply by laying a tile that creates a page’s required terrain feature. Which is more than just fun. It can actually prove an alternative means to completing a quest when struggling over pawns. If you can’t move the character to a hex, bring the hex to the character! Sometimes you can finish the card just by playing the tile. But if not immediate, it can shave off time and distance to a particular location, just as well.
For an abstract game at heart Fairy Tile proves whimsically enjoyable. It’s aimed at younger players, families and casual gamers and it serves that audience well. Some might want more depth, but that’s not what the design is trying to be and, quite frankly, would lose some of its charm attempting to get overly clever. It’s replay value is no different than just about any other abstract and indeed it’s vibrant setting helps improve that. It’s a light, brisk, fresh and harmless romp – just like the classic fairy tales it mimics.
Iello provided a copy of Fairy Tile for this review.