Over the last two weeks, I’ve been focusing my reviews on some classic filler games. Two reasons for this – one, I think the fillers should get more credit than they do, and two, I’ve been performing in my local community theater’s production of Godspell which has taken up a lot of my time. Today, I’m closing out this trilogy with
Fairy Tale was first published in 2004. It’s a game by Japanese designer Satoshi Nakumura that is published in the US by Z-Man. The game is for 2-5 players and takes about 20 minutes to play. It’s not about fairy tales as we in the US usually think of them – no Goldilocks or Snow White or any of that stuff. It’s about Shadows threatening the world of Fairies, Dragons, and Knights. Players are trying to get high scores by drafting cards and playing the best combos in front of them.
The game comes with 100 cards (plus 10 in the new edition) and is played over four rounds. In each round, players are dealt a hand of five cards. You’ll choose one to keep and pass the rest to the player on your left. You’ll choose one from the cards you were passed, pass the rest, and so on until you have kept five cards. Then, everyone will choose a card and simultaneously reveal. If any cards revealed have the Hunt action, any Shadows that were revealed are flipped face down and can’t be used for the round. Then, if anyone played a card with an Unflip action, they flip a card as indicated. Finally, if anyone has played a Flip action, they (or possibly others) flip one card face down. This is repeated two more times, and the final two cards in your hands are discarded.
After four rounds, you will have 12 cards in front of you, and you’ll score them. Only face up cards score. Many of the cards have numbers on them, indicating how many points they are worth. Some of these numbers are conditional – you can only get them if you have fulfilled an objective (having the most of a symbol, having specific cards in front of you, etc). Some cards have an asterisk, indicating that each card of that type is worth as many points as copies of that card you have. So, if you have three Mischievous Fairies, each one is worth 3 points for a total of 9. If you had four, they’d collectively be worth 16. Some cards have an *x3 indicator, meaning that you get three points per copy of a specified card you have in front of you. After everyone has added their points, the player with the most points wins.
COMPONENTS: It is difficult to talk about the components of this game as I have the original Z-Man edition, and there is a new edition coming next month. I will say that the art in my copy is very anime, which is fin, and the font they used is really terrible. I think they’re addressing this in the new version. The symbols you are supposed to be matching are clear enough, anyway, so even if you can’t read some of the words, the important parts are easily understood.
THEME: The theme here is really weak. You’ve got basically four factions of cards – Fairies, Dragons, Knights, and Shadows. Fairies, Dragons, and Knights are all essentially the same with the same distribution of card types, just different names and art. The Shadows are different as they tend to be a little more vicious and powerful. However, no one is playing a specific faction, they’re just playing cards for whatever will help them. You’ll tend to be working on specific factions as they tend to work well with each other, but there’s nothing to stop you from having everything out. So while the art is evocative, the gameplay doesn’t really support the theme.
MECHANICS: When it came out, Fairy Tale was one of the few games to utilize the drafting mechanism as an integral part of the game. The act of forming your hand, not from a random draw but by making choices of what to keep and what to pass, was fairly novel. Drafting had been used before, but it was primarily people choosing from a slate of cards rather than from a personal set. Beyond the drafting, Fairy Tale is primarily a set collection game where you are trying to amass points. The stacking mechanism of some of the cards gives you some extra goals to work for, and cards you don’t want to pass to someone who is collecting them.
STRATEGY LEVEL: Because of the drafting, Fairy Tale has you making strategic choices throughout the game. Not only are you looking for the best cards to help you, but you’re also trying to prevent your opponents from getting the cards that will help them. With only three of five cards getting played each round, you can afford to take a couple of suboptimal cards to prevent someone for getting their fourth Mischievous Fairy or that dragon that will score them some serious bonus points.
For its size and relative simplicity, there is a surprising amount of strategic depth in the game. Most of it comes in trying to read your opponents and trying to outmaneuver them, which is a style of play that really appeals to me.
ACCESSIBILITY: Of the three fillers I’ve talked about over the last couple of weeks, I’d say this is the least accessible to new players. I’ve found that it usually takes people a couple of plays to really get the hang of the game. A lot of the concepts are just so unique that it will go over the heads of people unfamiliar with our hobby games. Not that they can’t get it, it just may take longer.
SCALABILITY: I’ve found that the game plays pretty well with 3-5 players, though I wouldn’t really recommend it with 2. With five players, you must use all cards, including 20 slightly more advanced cards that you can choose to take out with less than five. I almost always play with all cards. That means that not all cards will come out in a game with fewer than five players. Also, with less than five, you’re always going to see at least one card from your initial hand again.
REPLAYABILITY: This is a game I can play again and again and always get something new out of it. Depending on your initial hand, you may formulate a different strategy every time – just recently, I went for a mostly Shadow strategy for the first time (I lost, by the way). And different play styles will lead to different results in the games. I think the replayability is quite high.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. You really see in Fairy Tale the basis of the mechanism used in games like 7 Wonders later. I highly recommend it..it’s quick, but offers a lot of depth for its size. In fact, I think you’d be well served to have this, No Thanks!, and Coloretto with you everytime you go to a game event – you never know when you’ll need some fillers, and these are all very satisfying. I know I frequently have them with me.
Back next week with my usual Tuesday review, as well as a preview of a Kickstarter project that should be launching soon. Thanks for reading!