The throne of Principalia has been usurped and it is up to you and your fellow familiars to raise and protect the princess in this Familiar Tales storybook campaign game.
I really like the story of Familiar Tales: what happens in it, the way it is told, and how player actions influence it.
The game opens with the four familiars safe in their wizard’s home. That is, until the queen entrusts them with her baby, the princess Millie. The evil Lord Perish has usurped the throne, and the wizard sends the familiars off to bring Millie to safety. After this dramatic opening, you take the roles of the familiars across the campaign’s three eras.
Each era is divided into three chapters, which again require you to visit multiple locations. Your journey is tracked on the campaign journal map and you often have a choice of where to go next.
There are a lot of choices in the game such as which characters to speak to and which parts of a location to explore. Some choices open up side missions and further story, some give you key phrases (such as “Helped the refugees”) which can affect the course of the story later on. I love that while the game has a somewhat set plot that you play within, I still felt that my choices mattered.
Each era takes place at a different point in Millie’s life, from baby to young woman. And the way Millie’s character evolves depends on how well you care for her. Throughout the game, you track Discontent. This is an indicator of how happy Millie is. You lower it by tending to her. If Discontent goes very high or if something very bad happens, you get Misfortune.
How Millie grows up depends on how much Misfortune you accumulate across the eras. Throughout the campaign, you gradually learn more about Lord Perish and his plans before the final showdown. You also learn about the familiars’ pasts, their group dynamics, and sometimes you get to influence these through skill checks.
All in all, Familiar Tales provides a rich story for the players to explore and influence, with multiple outcomes and compelling characters you want to keep spending time with.
Setup & Gameplay
The game is played with a storybook of location maps and an app which tells the story and provides player choices and skill tests. Each player controls one or more familiars' minis, their equipment, and a deck of cards with stats and abilities.
Further cards and equipment are laid out to be bought during the game. To start a session, you enter your most recent entry in the app. This will tell you which page in the storybook to turn to. This page, then, will tell you how to set up its specific map: where to place your figurines, whether there are any enemies, which special rules are relevant, and what the map’s victory conditions are.
On your familiar’s turn, you play cards to move across the map, and you play cards and roll a die to attempt skills tests and attacks. Most maps have sections to explore for extra story, as well as specific tests you need to pass to complete the map.
In addition to telling the story, the app also tracks Danger. Danger goes up each turn and from certain cards and die rolls. Whenever Danger is above 3, something bad may trigger on the map. Usually this means enemies appearing or attacking and Discontent and/or Misfortune rising. Enemies have set movement, attack, and defence stats. If an enemy attacks your familiar, you play cards to defend.
However, as you only draw up at the end of your turn, this means you will have fewer cards to use during your next turn.
Thoughts On Gameplay
The mix of scenes taking place in the app, with the occasional skill test, and scenes fully played out on location maps works really well. I liked having a breather after tense battles, before going into another location where enemies may spawn at any moment. I also like the mechanics of playing cards and rolling the die, and the ability to buy more cards for (and remove bad cards from) my deck.
Battles and skill tests are generally well balanced, and though consequences of bad outcomes are present and influence the story, they never felt too punishing.
My one issue with the rules as written is that in a two-player game, each player controls two familiars but only one deck and one hand of cards. This made certain battles very hard, as we were defending four familiars with half the cards available to four players. This is easily solvable, however, by simply playing as though you were four players, with a deck and hand for each familiar.
Art & Components
All of the art in Familiar Tales is beautiful. I especially love the illustrations of the stat cards showing the familiars in action. I also love how every storybook map is different, evocative and interesting and full of detail.
The plastic minis are plentiful and, though they are not painted, incredibly detailed and well-sculpted. They truly elevate the experience, especially during battle. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the audio on the app.
Every character has their own voice actor delivering an excellent performance, and the background music is very effective in setting the mood for the locations and situations.
With one campaign taking 30+ hours from start to finish, you are getting a lot of table time before considering replaying. Then, once you do finish a campaign, there will still be lots more to explore. In our campaign, there were loads of unexplored places on the maps and character specific keywords and story cards we didn’t find. And, most prominently, I really want to see what the alternative versions of Millie are like.
While the story does have some mystery to it, it doesn’t hinge on it to be effective. And there are so many choices that it would be very hard to have the same experience twice.
For me, personally, the main hurdle would be spending another 30+ hours, but if that’s not an issue, or once a bit of time has passed after the first campaign, I believe Familiar Tales has plenty of scope for replayability.
Plaid Hat Games have published a lot of good campaign games, many of which also use a storybook.
The most similar of these to Familiar Tales is Stuffed Fables in which you play as stuffed toys protecting their little girl from the creatures in her nightmares. Like Familiar Tales, it is a campaign game well suited for both adult and child players. The story is a little simpler and doesn’t use an app, but there is still a vast cast of fun characters, a cool plot, some spooky scenes, and lots of battles to be had with the multiple types of enemies.
Another similar game you might have already played (or be interested in) is Gloomhaven, or the more compact variant, Jaws of the Lion. Familiar Tales is aimed more at families, but the games have a lot of similar mechanics: you play characters with specific powers, build a deck, and make your way through a campaign of stories, maps, and lots of battles. The story part is less prominent in Gloomhaven, the battle part more, but even so, the games scratch a similar itch. If you liked one, I do suggest you check out the other.
Familiar Tales is a delightful story game with beautiful art, compelling characters, and a rich, branching story. Whether or not your playgroup contains children, if you are in the market for a campaign game, I cannot recommend this one enough.