Sep 19, 2012

[Games] Once Upon A Time

Ever since I met Tobie, I've been introduced to a wide variety of new games given his rather game-centric life. It's not that I did play games before - it's just that there were so many of them out there that I had never encountered until he introduced them to me.

Needless to say, it has been a very interesting experience.

Once Upon A Time is one of those games that seem simple to explain but a lot more complicated once you actually start playing the game. Like the best games out there, the gameplay truly changes once you involve actual people in the whole experience. That's what truly defines the game dynamic here.

I suppose one of the key elements that makes this game so fun is the fact that it turns the act of creating a story into a very social experience. Normally it's you, the storyteller, and the page (or the computer screen if you prefer) that are involved in the whole creation experience. This time around you have all the other players too as they try to twist the story to their advantage.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves again.

Once Upon A Time is a card game produced by Atlas Games. The game had been designed by Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone, and James Wallis.

The basic principle of the game is simple - the players are all going to work together to tell a fairy tale type of story. However it's not as simple as just throwing in plot points at whim. At the start of the game, each player given a Happily Ever After card that presents a way for the story to resolve (e.g. he told her he was the Prince and they lived happily ever after) and thus now each player must find a way to get to his or her specific ending.

To further define the story, players are given cards that cover the various aspects of stories that must be used. Thus the aspects include People, Events and such that represent keywords that must be the focus on your story. So you can't just go entirely free form. You need to be able to use up all your cards before you get to your ending. Other plays can interrupt your version of the story should you happen to use a keyword that matches one of their cards or when they play special interrupt cards that can be used regardless of keyword but just based on what aspect card was played.

Thus the game presents two main challenges. The first is trying to create a coherent story based on the cards that you have in-hand and still end up with your assigned Happily Ever After. The second is trying to survive the interruptions of other players who can ruin even the best laid story plans.

In the early game, it's unavoidable that an interruption will happen. Plus that can be rather desirable since your opening hand of cards don't always align to create a decent fairy tale from the very beginning. Thus you're may actually need other players to come in, introduce new characters and events that may come in handy to get to your ending. Thus the game plays on.

Of course it's hard to get players to strictly tell a fairy tale. I've found that more often than not these become modern parables of a sort as your usual mix of woodcutters, witches, and enchanted frogs showing up in New York or on the bridge of the Enterprise. The game is rather flexible in that regard and it's really up to the players to police themselves in order to make it possible to complete a story.

An additional challenge is the need to keep the story coherent despite how long the story gets and the many pother characters, plot twists, and story events that get thrown into the mix. Each player is trying to tell their own story after all so that means that tale will inevitably mutate into a strange monstrosity especially with games that involve more players. Throw in some alcohol to make for a really crazy story.

Once Upon A Time is a fun game that transports well and does well for social events provided your players are creative enough. It will take quite a while to finish the game though so be ready for a long night ahead.

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