When I pictured what my board gaming future might look like, I never imagined I would be playing a story driven game about a little girl's transition to her first big bed. Neither did I imagine I would enjoy it so much! Stuffed Fables, by Plaid Hat Games, presents the story of an unnamed girl, and a band of cuddly toys (stuffies) who protect her at important stages in her young life.
Each of the seven chapters presents a bed time related challenge for the girl, which is then acted out in an alternate world by the stuffies.
Stuffed Fables - A Gentle Introduction
Upon opening the box I was stunned at how big the story book is. It's huge and it is a work of art in a visual and literary sense. The writing achieves that rare feet of being engaging for children, while not patronising the adult reader or listener.
The components are really good. Though the 'boards' are actually pages of the book. At least one of the pages in our book had some denting on, which is more noticeable because of the glossy pages. This is one of the downsides of the book format, but to let it put you off would be to miss out. Stuffed Fables comes with a number of miniatures. My son did comment on their 'spookiness' and that of some of the art, but it never bothered him more than that. It's fair to say everything has a 'Tim Burton' feel in terms of looks.
One of the really clever things about the minis are the bases. For the lesser minions there are a number of models identical apart from their bases. The shapes of the bases relate to a certain card which lists the relevant stats. This not only makes remember which minion is which a breeze but also allows the same models to have different stats.
The opening chapter of Stuffed Fables is definitely a warm-up. The game mechanics are simple and have not yet had the extra layers applied. The challenge is light, though I do recommend you sit down with the rule book before playing. My biggest complaint with the game is the vagueness at times within the rules. Sometimes we have not really known what we are meant to do next or how a certain rule works. For example you are not meant to carry equipment over from one chapter to a next but this is never actually explicitly stated.
To move your stuffies around the world and interact you draw coloured dice from a bag and choose how to assign them. Some have unique uses like searching or fighting. For each action you choose you roll the chosen amount of dice and take the appropriate action. You can boost these rolls through item cards, and even save a dice for a future turn or give one to a fellow stuffy.
Black dice are evil and activate the minions. Whenever a black die is drawn it is placed on a track and should the number of dice on that track match or beat the amount of minions present, then they get activated too. Minions hit very hard and you won't want them to attack very often.
Health is stuffing, and you lose it through attacks and poor choices. Yes choices. As you progress through the story you are given more and more important and less important dilemmas. Side conversations could grant extra loot, but could also waste valuable dice for little gain. While main choices can be the difference between a boss spawning or not.
The Plot Thickens
As the choice increases so do the gameplay mechanics. Using a surprisingly small amount of cardboard tokens, Stuffed Fables manages to invoke train chases and oncoming floods with levels that gradually fill with water, or have time pressures on them. Your stuffies can be come victims of status cards which hinder or help - nobody wants a 'soggy' stuffy. This progression is nicely weighted and escalates at just the right time.
I'll be honest, in chapter one I was impressed but also a little disappointed at the game being over balanced towards story. Two pages into chapter two and that had all changed.
Stuffed Fables - Every Ending...
Stuffed Fables is a great experience. The weaving together of story and game is masterful. For me, there is a caveat though - this is a game I would only play with family. This might be because of the story, the slowly unfolding gameplay or just me. I know of grown couples who are enjoying playing through the game, but I could not see myself cracking this open on game night with my group. Having said that, if this system was given a more adult theme and story I would have no hesitation in playing.
My son has been engaged throughout and the time I've spent playing Stuffed Fables with him has been valuable time together, sharing the experience. Due to it's interaction there is nothing else quite like it. The ending of every chapter has discussion points you can talk through with your children should you choose.
The adventure also plays out slightly differently on return plays due to choices made in the story. If you pick up certain items you will experience a different story to some degree. On top of this there is a campaign deck, like a simplified version of Pandemic Legacy's.
Ultimately, for me, Stuffed Fables has been a unique memorable experience. I would happily play through again with my son. Should the system be used for other stories I'll be first in line!