Upon a Fable Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s official web site or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


uponafable_top

The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 1 to 6 players
  • Variable game play length (about 10 minutes per player)

Geek Skill:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Help create a magical kingdom!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Myths and legends always have a seed of truth in them. Our stories of dragons and knights, princesses and floating castles, might seem mystical and make-believe but there is a land where they exist. In the Worlds of Wonder, magic is common place and reality is not like our own. And yet, this world set apart, is dependent on us. For it’s from Earth dreams are born and fly to populate and empower the rulers of the mystical lands. They now ask for your help to build their kingdom!

Upon a Fable, designed by Mark C. MacKinnon and to be published by Dyskami Publishing Company, will reportedly be comprised of 2 Story Boards (double-sided), 6 Realm boards (one per player), 144 Wonder tokens (48 Magic, 24 Love, 24 Honour, 24 Follower, 24 Castle), 36 Fable tokens (6 for each player), 15 5x multiplier tokens (which represents five copies of any Wonder), 5 Deep Sleep tokens, 1 Staring Player token, 86 Fate cards (18 Small Realms, 12 Large Realms, 6 Epic Realms, 23 Dream, 27 Ever After), 9 Story cards (3 each for the First, Second, and Third Book of Tales), 9 Curse & Blessing cards (6 Curse and 3 Blessing), 6 Player cards (Scoring Summary on one side; Action Summary on the other), 1 50-page scoring pad, 1 pencil (always a nice touch), and 12 plastic bags for storing tokens. As this is a review of a prepublished game, we will not comment on the game component quality. Nor will we attempt to suggest to you that the game’s already heavy component count wont’ get heavier. The art direction and the illustrations shared with us were excellent and the large number of components were very easy to manage during our games.

Once Upon a Time, On a Gamer’s Table…

To set up the game, first count the number of players and select the right Story Board. There are a total of 2 Story Boards, one being double-sided. The Story Board that lists the Book of Tales is always used and is set in the middle of the playing area. The second Story Board, referred to as the “fixed Story Board”, has two different sides. Depending on the number of players, this Story Board will either have 6 or 9 spaces. Regardless of which is selected, place it next to the other Story Board.

uponafable_storyboard

Second, separate the different Wonder tokens into their different groups. There are 5 different Wonder token types. These are Magic (stars), Honour (shields), Love (hearts), Castles (castles) and Followers (meeples). These, along with the Fable tokens, are the resources used in the game. Place these groups to one side. This area is referred to as the Earth. Place the pile of Deep Sleep tokens next to the Earth at this time, too.

uponafable_wonders

Third, take the cards and separate them into different decks. These will be the Fate deck (contains Dreams, Realms, and Ever Afters), Book of Tales deck (contains Books One, Two, and Three), and the Blessings/Curses deck (which contains exactly what it sounds like). Take a moment to find the Action/Scoring summary cards, too, and set them aside for easy reference.

Fourth, shuffle the Fate deck and deal out to each player 4 cards, face-down. This is the player’s starting hand. Place the Fate deck to one side of the Story Boards. This is the Fate draw deck. Leave enough room for a discard pile.

Fifth, separate the Book of Tales cards into their three different groups, randomize, and deal out to the Story Board in their identified rows, face-down. Now shuffle the Blessings/Curses deck and place 1 Blessing/Curse card on top of every card in the 2nd and 3rd row, face-down. Set the remaining Blessing/Curse cards aside.

Sixth, place 1 Wonder token on any Story Board space that shows a Wonder icon (one token per icon shown).

Seventh, hand to each player 1 Realm board, 2 Magic Wonder tokens, and all the Fable tokens of a single color. One Fable token is placed in the player’s Home Realm located on the Realm board (or 2 if playing with 1 to 3 players). The remaining Fable tokens are set to the side of the player’s Realm board.

A 4-player game will look something like the following:

uponafable_setup

That’s it for game set up. Randomly determine who should go first and hand them the Starting Player token. PREPARE FOR ADVENTURE!

To Create a Magical Kingdom

The game is played in 9 rounds with each round consisting of 9 steps. These steps are summarized here. Note that we will not go into great detail about the subtle complexities and challenges of each step and highly encourage all readers to review the game rules for additional details and examples.

Step 1: Unveil a New Story

The very first step for every round is to reveal a new Story card found on the Story Board. The first card to be revealed is the First Book of Tales Story card found at the top left. During subsequent rounds, the Story card to the immediate right is then revealed and so on until the entire row shows revealed Story cards. Then and only then does the next row (Second Book and Third Book of Tales) begin to be revealed, always starting with the card in the left most position of that row.

Blessing and Curse cards, if on top of the Story card, are revealed and resolved first – always. Simply read the directions on the cards, do as directed, and then discard.

Step 2: Rejuvenate Wonders

The second step for every round repopulates the Story Board with Wonder tokens. This is completed by simply taking a token from Earth of the same type indicated on the Story Board space and adding it to that space – one Wonder token per icon shown. The Wonder tokens are accumulative, meaning that the number indicated by the icons are added regardless of how many of the same Wonder are already located in that space.

Step 3: Perform Realm Abilities

The third step for every round allows the players, in turn order sequence, to take an action of their choice from every Realm card they currently have active. Only one Realm card at a time can be used, regardless of how many the player has, and each Realm can only be activated once per round. If the player has 2 or more, they must select one Realm card to activate and then can select another on their next turn during this step. This step continues until all the players have had a chance to activate each Realm card they have in play.

When activating a Realm card, only the Large and Epic Realm cards have actions the player can take, and then only if they are relevant. The player can choose to activate any of their Realm cards in any order they like. However, Realm cards with Deep Sleep tokens cannot be activated until such time all of the Deep Sleep tokens are removed.

There is also a question of timing that must be considered when this step is initiated. Some Realm and Ever After cards have actions that are triggered during a specific step or action that might or might not be part of step 3. These cards are simply in a holding pattern into such time the proper conditions are right for the card to be activated. Even so, if a player forgets to take the action indicated by the card at the appropriate time, there are no “do overs”. Players must pay very close attention to their Realms to ensure they manage their kingdom as best as possible.

Step 4: Deal the Hand of Fate

The fourth step gives each player 3 Fate cards, face-down. These are picked up by the player and reviewed. The player must now make a difficult choice. They can only keep one of the 3 cards, must discard 1, and worst of all, give 1 to the player to their left. It is imperative that players understand how the Fate cards work in the game during this step or they will fall all over themselves.

There might not be enough cards for the players during the last rounds of the game. If available, take the discarded Fate cards and shuffle them to be part of the draw deck. The players perform the following actions in the following order, regardless if one or more players cannot complete the sequence.

  1. Keep one card
  2. Pass one card
  3. Discard the last card

If there are ever no Fate cards in the discard and the draw deck, then this step is skipped for this round.

Step 5: Explore the Stories

The fifth step has the players staking claims to specific areas on the Story Boards. In turn order sequence, each player will take one of their Fable tokens (which are best thought of as workers) and place it on an unoccupied Story Board space. Recall that there are two Story Boards in this game. The first is the one with the First, Second, and Third Book of Tales, where a new one if flipped over each round. The second is the Story Board that has a fixed number and available actions. As the game progresses, more Story Board spaces will become active.

uponafable_step5

Players with multiple Fable tokens must wait until their turn comes around again during this step to place another Fable token. Any Fable tokens placed on Story Board spaces that provide Wonder tokens are immediately collected by that player and placed on the designated space located on their Realm board. If a player cannot take the action indicated by the Story Board space, they cannot place their Fable token on it (in other words, players cannot block other players on purpose without having the ability to take the blocked action themselves). Note also that players are not required to use all their Fable tokens. If the player wants to (or is forced to), they can leave multiple Fable tokens on their Realm board. Realms that have Deep Sleep tokens on them cannot, for example, offer its Fable token for use during this step. For every Fable token left on the Realm board, the player will collect 1 Magic Wonder token. Any new Fable tokens earned during this step can be used immediately to claim open spaces on the Story Board, but always in turn order sequence.

The fixed Story Board actions include:

  • Play Card – allows the player to play any Fate card from their hand if they can afford it by spending the correct amount and type of Wonder tokens
  • Draw Card – allows the player to draw 1 Fate card from the draw deck
  • Starting Player – gives the player the Starting Player token for the next round
  • Convert a Wonder – allows the player to take any 1 Wonder token on their Realm board and exchange it with any 1 Wonder token from Earth
  • Add Small Realm – allows the player to play 1 Small Realm to their Realm board, but only if they can afford it by spending the correct amount and type of Wonder tokens
  • Wonder Tokens – allows the player to collect any Wonder tokens that are currently occupying the same space and add them to their Realm board

The Book of Tales found on the second Story Board have the following actions, but are revealed at random and only 1 at a time per every round:

  • Add Realm or Upgrade a Realm – allows the player to play 1 Small Realm to their Realm board, but only if they can afford it by spending the correct amount and type of Wonder tokens OR upgrade a Smell Realm to a Large Realm or a Large Realm to an Epic Realm
  • Upgrade Realm – allows the player to upgrade a Smell Realm to a Large Realm or a Large Realm to an Epic Realm
  • Convert Wonder – allows the player to convert 1 Wonder token to either 1 Follower, 1 Castle, 2 Love, 2 Honour, or 3 Magic
  • Ignore Wonder – allows the player to ignore 1 Wonder token requirement for each card played during the round
  • Draw 2 Cards and Play 1 Card – allows the player to draw 2 Fate cards and add them to their hand – they can then choose to play any card from their hand
  • Wonder Tokens – allows the player to collect any Wonder tokens that are currently occupying the same space and add them to their Realm board

Note that Realms that have a Deep Sleep token located on them cannot offer their Fable token during this step!

Step 6: Play and Discard Fate Cards

The sixth step allows the players to play 1 Dream card and/or 1 Ever After card. When played, the player must be able to pay for it using their Wonder resources. Players must also be able to complete the card’s ability successfully if they were to play it. Cards that have a one time bonus are discarded after use in the discard pile, while cards that remain in play are simply placed to one side of the player’s Realm board.

Note that the players could have played a Dream or an Ever After card during step 5, but only if they took the Play a Card action.

After all the cards have been played, players must now discard their hand to no more than 4 cards. Discarded cards go into the discard pile.

Step 7: Empower Realms

The seventh step only occurs during the third, sixth, and ninth round. This is where the players pay to keep their magical kingdoms running. Upkeep is paid with Magic Wonder tokens. Starting with the player’s Home Realm and working left across the rows and then down, the player pays the following for each of the Realms.

  • Home Realm and Small Realms cost 1 Magic each
  • Large Realms cost 2 Magic each
  • Epic Realms cost 3 Magic each

All Magic Wonder tokens used are sent back to the Earth.

During the third and sixth round, if a player cannot pay for their realm (thematically speaking, they don’t have enough magic to power their magical kingdom), a single Deep Sleep token is placed on the Realm for every Magic Wonder not paid. So, for example, an Epic Realm that costs three to upkeep would get 2 Deep Sleep tokens if only one Magic Wonder token was used. Deep Sleep tokens represent powerful magic that puts the entire Realm to sleep, including the Fable token (worker) and any benefits the Realm might have provided.

The ninth round is handled a bit differently. During the ninth round, players must replace missing Magic Wonder tokens by converting any 2 other Wonders (by returning them to the Earth) at a rate of 2 to 1. Or, if the player prefers, they can downgrade a Realm (from Epic to Large and from Large to Small) or discard the Realms altogether. Both options are available to the players and can be used in any combination.

Step 8: Intensify Magic

During the eighth step, the magical realm automatically generates Magic Wonder tokens, but only on Story Board locations that did not have any Fable tokens placed on them.

Step 9: Return and Awaken Fables

The ninth and final step of a round has all the players return their Fable tokens on the Story Board to their Realms located on their Realm board. A maximum of one Fable may occupy any Small, Large, or Epic Realm (the exception being the Home realm for a 1 to 3 player game).

One Deep Sleep token is also removed (player’s choice) from a Realm card that received it during a previous round (not this one) and returned to the token pile.

This completes the round. The next round begins with step 1 noted above or the endgame is triggered if this was the ninth and final round.

Happily Ever After

After the ninth round (the resolution of the last Third Book of Tales Story card), it is time to calculate points! Scoring is completed as follows:

  • Each player gains 0 to 4 points based on the number of Magic, Love, Honour, Followers, and Castle Wonder tokens they have located on their Realm board.
  • Each player gains 0 to 4 points based on the number of Ever After cards they have, but only those that are face-up in front of them.
  • Each player gains 0 to 4 points based on the number of Small Realm cards that have in play on their Realm board that have not been upgraded – the Home Realm counts as a Small Realm.
  • Each player gains 2 points for every Large Realm card on their Realm board that has not been upgraded.
  • Each player gains 5 points for every Epic Realm card on their Realm board.
  • Each player gains any additional points provided by Fate cards in play that award bonus points (indicated by the card).

uponafable_score

The player with the most points at the end of the game wins!

Solo Play

The game can be played as a solitaire experience. The object of the game is to gain so many points to achieve a specific raking goal and then attempt to achieve a higher point value during subsequent games. Game play is the same as noted above except for the following exceptions.

  • Ever After cards that award bonus points based on total number of Wonder tokens or meeting certain conditions are not used. Remove these during game set up or discarded and ignore during game play.
  • Fate cards that affect game play of other characters are discarded and ignored, but the interpretation of the Fate cards is left to the player to determine if the card is valid for solo play or not.
  • Abilities on Large and Epic Realm cards that refer to other players are ignored.
  • During step 4, the player draws 3 Fate cards, keeps 2, and discards 1.
  • Step 8 is skipped.

To learn more about Upon a Fable and read the full rules, visit the game’s official web site or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Prediction

I do not personally consider Upon a Fable to be a difficult game to teach as the steps during each round are very straight forward, clear, and precise. Instructions can be given during each step if needed without reducing game play quality for an individual (although it will increase the time to complete the game). Games like Upon a Fable are great to play with older Child Geeks because it allows the teacher to be an active participate in their game play while at the same time playing their own game. These types of games are also often times considered to be “gateway games” because they offer a higher level of game complexity and depth, but presented in such a way and paced to allow new and inexperienced players an opportunity to learn as they go.

But games like this also often have long bouts of vapor lock (also referred to as “paralysis analysis”) because there would appear to be a lot to consider during each step of every round. Upon a Fable is structured in such a way that I believe will allow the players to focus on very specific tasks, thus reducing a step’s overall complexity. True, there might be multiple choices, but the focus is always kept fairly tight and the number of choices gradually increases during the game. Of course, an experienced player will know that the endgame is based on the whole and not the individual steps, but for new players, understanding what the next step is and how each step impacts the next is going to be a huge boon.

Based on everything I have read about Upon a Fable, I think that all three of our groups (Child, Parent, and Gamer Geeks) are going to approve it. I also think that the Child Geeks are going to have a harder time warming up to the game and I think the Gamer Geeks are going to roll their eyes at the game’s theme (being more appreciative of combat robot ninja death soldier storylines). Other than that, I don’t perceive any problems. In fact, I hope to get this in front of a non-gamer to see if they, too, are enchanted by Upon a Fable.

And so, after going over the game with my 8-year-old (you need to be able to read well, so my 5-year-old has excused himself from play), answering his questions (which mostly had to do with card timing), and demonstrating how Realms were built and the points earned, I asked him his thoughts on the game so far.

“I recognize a lot of the game mechanisms – worker placement, resource management, and grabbing cards – but I think I’m going to have a hard time understanding the game.” ~ Liam (age 8)

Very insightful. Upon a Fable seems really big when you approach it for the first time. Let’s spin a tale with Upon a Fable and see if it leads to happy ever afters for everyone or if it ends on a sour note.

Final Word

As predicted, the Child Geeks (especially the ones who are not yet familiar with lots of games) had a bit of a learning curve with Upon a Fable. By the time they reached the third round, however, they were fully up-to-speed and doing just fine. We are listing the learning curve for children as “Moderate”, due to the number of steps and decisions that need to be made. When the Child Geeks did learn and feel comfortable playing the game, they loved it. They kept naming their kingdoms and speaking in royal tones. They did have two problems with the game. The boys wanted more dragons and the girls wanted more princesses. Other than that, the Child Geeks loved Upon a Fable and happily gave it their endorsement.

My little geek gives me the "don't talk to me, I'm learning the game" politie look

My little geek gives me the “don’t talk to me, I’m learning the game” polite look

The Parent Geeks enjoyed Upon a Fable on both the family gaming table and with their peers. Upon a Fable plays very casually, has enough player interaction to keep everyone engaged, but is not so demanding that a noisy house would disrupt game play. The game play was very different when played with the family versus being played with their peers. With the family, time was taken to talk about the realms they were all creating, who populated them, and the names of their various kingdoms. Or in short, lots of things that had nothing to do with the game play. With their peers, this level of creativity was set aside for more serious competitive game play where Parent Geeks attempted to outmaneuver and outwit their opponents to grab resources and actions to dominate the table. Regardless of the game play experienced, all the Parent Geeks happily approved of Upon a Fable, including the non-gamer Parent Geek (who, technically, really shouldn’t be a non-gamer at this point).

The Gamer Geeks were not the least bit interested in Upon a Fable based on its thematic elements. Fables? Fairytales? A Gamer Geek craves not these things. But when I told them it was a worker placement game with heavy resource management and card drafting, their interest was piqued. The Gamer Geeks sat down, understood the game after a quick description and explanation of game play, and then turned the lovely land of myths and legends into rival kingdoms of war and strife. Gamer Geeks really do take game play to a whole new level of competitiveness and it showed. Outstanding resource use, smart worker placement, and logical card plays all made Upon a Fable a very difficult game to win. When the game was over, points counted, and the winner declared, the biggest winner was the game. Upon a Fable was approved by the Gamer Geek elitists. After they said as much, they agreed to never speak to others that they enjoyed a game where “Love” was a resource they actively tried to obtain.

Upon a Fable is an excellent worker placement/resource management/card drafting game that is easy to learn and fun to play. The game’s theme works and the artwork and game bits ties it all together with a loose narrative that leaves the player feeling like they are building a kingdom in a very Euro-style kind of way. The game is fast – surprisingly so – and can be exceedingly tense during the last 3 rounds of play. The game rule that forces players to pay for their kingdom every 3 rounds is brilliant as it allows players to build recklessly up front and then switch gears to be more conservative to pay for what they so hastily built. Of course, all the other players are doing the same, resulting in the Story Board spaces becoming hotly contested. The game changes its mood every round and players are kept on their toes throughout. The only time I was bored was when I was setting up the game.

There is just so much about this game that I enjoy that it’s difficult for me to put it in the words. I love the feel of the game, the speed of the game, the complexity of the game, the multiple paths to victory, and the list just keeps going. I can easily recommend this game to children, parents, families, and yes, even to Gamer Geeks who can handle competitive game play for little wooden hearts. This is a big game that one would think would feel like a burden to play, but it’s not. Not once did I feel anything but excitement and joy while playing with family and friends. Upon a Fable is very much worth your time and a story you want to be a part of.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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6 Responses to Upon a Fable Game Review (prepublished version)

  1. This one sounds VERY good, I will be watching for it’s actual release, I’m sure my own little geeks will love it!

    Best line

    they agreed to never speak to others that they enjoyed a game where “Love” was a resource they actively tried to obtain.

  2. Cyrus,

    Thank you so much for the review and especially for making the effort to introduce and test the game with your children—even before you had full the game’s components (which I think will really take the game to a new level). The idea of children testing prototypes says a lot to me about what a great dad you are. Or that your children my one day critique the format of their therapists’ session mechanics and rules. I’m sure it’s the former.

    As the Kickin” It Games support representative working with the Upon a Fable Kickstarter campaign, I was of course excited and very grateful to read your positive review. Mark MacKinnon has done a great job designing and producing this game and I really believe that as more people get a sense of this game they will respond to his vision of providing meaningful time for many different types of gamers. But what impressed me most was that it wasn’t just a positive review, it was a really well-written review. And you focused on the things that matter to me when I game—you focused on the experience of the game. That means the world to me when I read/watch a review.

    I actually believe the table talk and ancillary experience of this game — “I need more Love, stop blocking my access to Love!” and “I finally have enough Honor” or when I do as your children did and name things and take my new Followers on a tour of our Kingdom — are really salient. That’s what leads to games hitting the table for me. That makes the difference between something that sits around wanting to be played, and something I show off to my friends and family over the holidays.

    I’ve enjoyed listening to your work on the Dice Tower, Cyrus. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to read your work. Maybe I have been too lazy with relying on video reviews to do all the work for me? You have a new subscriber. I look forward to coming here regularly for your articles and insight. Your site is very worthwhile thematically, but it also has great game play! 😉

    Thank you.

    Cheers,
    Chris Schreiber
    Kickin’ It Games

    UPON A FABLE
    http://kck.st/ZOMIcX
    On Kickstarter until May 2oth

  3. Alyssa says:

    I was on the fence about backing this on kickstarter, but your review has definitely nudged me into backing it. Our daughter just turned 5 so probably won’t be ready for this one for a few years, but until then, it sounds like a nice, shorter, euro game to play with my husband and friends. Thank you for the detailed review!

  4. hobbes says:

    wanted to let you know this review really helped me confirm /keep my pledge that this will be a great game.

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