If there a type of board game that I love more than any other it’s one that I can play with my 5 year old without having to tweak the rules. Usually this means we end up playing the really simple games with next to no rules, the likes of Dobble for example, or changing the rules entirely to make it more accessible. But imagine my joy when we realised that Stuffed Fables, despite it’s numerous rules, was actually straight forward enough for the little guy to play without losing interest while also offering a far more typical board game RPG experience generally associated with more less child-friendly titles. Not only that, it’s a game he’s asked to come back to several times, wanting to know the next chapter of the story and trying out each other various characters on offer. And it’s a fascination shared by myself as well – this is a game that both me and my 5 year old love in equal measures and can’t wait to play again.
It is, without a shadow of a doubt, magical.
Part of the interest is in the way the game works. There’s no board as such, instead there’s a chunky spiral bound book that acts as both the narrative and the play area. Each story tells the tale of a young girl getting used to sleeping in her own bed, and her cuddly toys who wake up at night and go on adventures to keep her safe. There’s stories of the first night in her big girl bed, the challenge of sleeping through without wetting the bed and various other age-typical scenarios. Each night the toys (or stuffies to use the relevant term) try to keep her safe by reclaiming a blanket stolen by the nasty minions, or preventing the bathroom from flooding (not hard to work out the analogy on that one). Along the way the girl’s sleep is disturbed, causing her to become restless, or wake up entirely. At various steps there are choices to be made – which order to complete objectives in, which bad guy to attack first, which toy in trouble you go and look for first, and they all have an impact on how the story pans out. It’s an interactive choose-your-own adventure game to a certain extent, and as a huge fan of those books when I was younger it’s a delight to be sharing the same experience with my own son, letting him make crucial decisions and finding out if they were the right choices.
While taking on the minions (or various other moments that crop up at times) it’s entirely possible to get damaged or even killed, but that’s not a very kid-friendly way to go about things, so the method is different. Each toy has an amount of stuffing which can be gained or lost, and at the point when you run out you just collapse in a heap. You’re not dead, you’re just not overly useful for a while. You can also end up torn, soggy, courageous or various other statuses, each of which has an affect on how your character can play or respond to various situations. It sounds like there’s a lot to think about, but really it just works smoothly and easily.
The main reason for this though is how you go about taking your actions. Inside a black bag are loads of different coloured dice. On each turn you pull 5 random dice, and then take various actions depending on the colours. So for example, a yellow dice allows you to search where you are. Each location has a search value, and if you can roll that value or higher you can take something from the item stack of cards. Multiple dice can be rolled together to combine the results too, so if you need to get a score of 6 then you’d probably be better using two yellow dice if you had them. Other dice allow you to try and replenish your stuffing, attack enemies either close up or from a distance, add danger to the scenario and so on. There’s only a handful of colours (and a purple dice which can be used for any of the main actions) but after a couple of turns you’ll know what you can do from looking at your selection, there’s no need to constantly go back to the rule book to remind yourself. Any of the coloured dice can also be used to move instead of utilising their main action, and in terms of taking your turn there’s not much else to know. See, simple.
There are combat rules (again quite simple and dice-based) and rules for the number of black dice in play (which is compared to the number of characters and bad guys at the end of each round of turns) but they’re easy to understand, and there are QR codes in the rulebook which take you to some handy videos explaining the rules in more depth. We needed this once when the rules for setting up encounters was a bit unclear (that’s when bad guys rock up) so it was a great addition and saved us digging round the Internet ourselves to find the details. Each story also has a secret deck of cards that you can’t look at until told, and vary from objective-based items, boss-type bad guys or specific interactions that need to take place for the story to move on. You might not get to see all of the cards, but that just makes the next run-through all the more interesting.
The stuffies themselves are really nicely planned out too, giving various skills depending on who you pick and how many heart tokens you’ve acquired while playing. They’re accompanied by some tremendous minis, which alongside the bad guys look great and really give the story an extra edge. I’ve seen painted version which look incredible, and while I don’t have the time, skill or patience to do it myself you could turn these minis into something phenomenal if you’re willing to do it. Not all stuffies are available at the start (which is explained in the story); two of them you meet in the stories themselves and then become playable, but that just drove us on to play more – we really wanted to give the others a go, so ploughed through until we’d managed to get hold of the whole set.
One more thing about Stuffed Fables – I’ve mentioned playing this with my son a lot, but don’t assume this is just a game for young players. You could very easily play this with a group of adults and still get every bit as much joy and satisfaction from it, and while each story takes around an hour and a half I managed to do two stories back to back with a couple of adult friends and nobody was complaining about being bored or wanting to stop.
So in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve adored playing Stuffed Fables. For those with younger kids going through those times that younger kids go through, it can be a fantastic way for them to feel more secure and safe in their bed at night. But at the same time even without kids around this is a great game to enjoy as a pair or group of gamers; there’s tough decisions, there are tricky battles and there’s plenty of moments when you reckon you’re on the edge of failing, but it’s a wonderful experience and one I’d suggest everyone tried out.