Sworn to protect the little girl who loves them, a group of stuffed toys has been drawn into the Fall, an otherworldly, fantastic realm ruled by a brooding master of nightmares. Welcome to Stuffed Fables.
I was provided with a copy of this game for review purposes.
Stuffed Fables is an ‘adventure book game’ in which players take on the roles of ‘stuffies’ seeking to save the child they love from a scheming, evil mastermind. Think of it as a cross between Toy Story and Dungeons and Dragons and you’re in the ballpark.I have to admit I wasn’t initially sure what to expect from Stuffed Fables. On the one hand, I was concerned Isaac (ten) and Toby (eight) would lack the patience for a complex, dice-rolling, role-playing game (RPG) such as this. On the other, the reviews I had read on several of the board game websites were as glowing as a neon light from Neontown.
In the end, our experience of Stuffed Fables was mixed. Toby, who isn’t one for detailed rules, soon lost interest. Isaac was moderately enthusiastic. But I really liked it. I think it’s a very well-executed concept that incorporates elements of the Dungeons and Dragons genre within a kid-friendly storybook narrative.
So, what’s good about it?
The first thing you notice is the quality of the materials. The spiral-bound book that serves as game board, story guide and rulebook combined comprises robust, plastic-coated pages that will stand up to multiple plays. Individual, detailed plastic pieces represent key characters. Even the cardboard tokens are reassuringly solid.
The feeling of quality carries over into the story itself. This isn’t a clunky yarn that hastily communicates the game’s rules and objectives. The narrative is detailed, well thought out and engaging. It creates a vivid environment that fires up a child’s imagination, touching on themes that will resonate with them. The first night in a ‘big bed’. Monsters in the dark. Trying to stay dry through the night. In terms of style and language it’s closer to Harry Potter than a nursery book. The individual stories are firmly rooted in a child’s world but never feel dumbed down or patronising.
Similarly, while elements of the game revolve around battles or scary situations, they won’t traumatise younger players. (The minimum recommended age is seven.) For instance, a player’s stuffy doesn’t ‘die’ when it loses all its stuffing; it merely collapses until you can replenish it.
Is the gameplay too complex? It depends on your preferences and your kids’ age and patience. Some will appreciate the way it has been simplified without sacrificing too much of the traditional RPG mechanics. Others will find it too detailed and fiddly.
Personally, I think the balance is just right. Playing your first game does require careful reading of the rules. It takes a while to familiarise yourself with the sequence of actions that need to take place on every turn. However, with a little patience, it’s easy enough to pick up. The early chapters keep things simple and straightforward, with new rules and mechanics introduced gradually. And if things are still unclear, there are QR codes which link to helpful instructional videos.
Each turn begins with a player drawing five dice, the colours of which determine what actions are possible. For instance, red and green dice facilitate certain types of attacks. White dice allow you to top up your character’s stuffing. Black dice enable evil minions to emerge and attack. You can choose to use all your dice individually, combine them to improve the odds of a successful outcome or even save one for later. There are also collaborative options where players can share dice or stuffing.
As the game unfolds, successive pages introduce new items, events and features. Secondary characters appear for players to interact with, while points of interest and group tasks add to the richness of the playing experience.
There are seven different stories in all. Each comprises multiple branching scenarios which ensure that no two games are the same and will prolong interest.
Is Stuffed Fables a simple game? No. Does it require patience? Yes – games typically last 60-90 minutes and you can expect your first effort to take considerably longer. Consequently, some players will give up without ever completing a single game. But if you stick with it, the immersive nature of the gameplay and the variety of story paths are definitely rewarding.
Although the quality of the overall product is excellent, I did find the design of the box annoying. With so many different pieces, dice and sets of cards, I wanted the box to offer more organised, segregated storage. It doesn’t, which is disappointing in a game that retails for £65. Okay, using a few sandwich bags soon solves the problem. But that shouldn’t be necessary for the sake of shaving a few pence off the cost of production.
Given its cost and complexity, Stuffed Fables is always going to have a narrow target audience. But if you’re looking for something that bridges the gap between simpler family oriented games and full-on RPGs, this is a fantastic introduction to the genre. It’s not for everyone but this occupies a specific and under-served niche in the board games market – and does so with a style and quality way beyond most other games.