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Eric Engstrom
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Welcome to Winter Tales. This game was highly anticipated ever since FFG picked up for production. This is a competitive "storytelling" game that is filled with dark themes.

I'm not going to bother explaining all the rules because the rulebook is available for download.

Theme:
Winter has gripped the land! Snow and ice cover everything everywhere. The evil agents of winter prowl the town and countryside, oppressing everyone. As winter refuses to cease, hope dies through the land, threatening to plunge the world into an eternal winter.
But there is hope. Certain characters have banded together to fight against the oppression of winter. Calling themselves the agents of spring, they have sworn to take the fight to the soldiers/agents of winter and melt the snow forever! Victory must occur, for to lose is to lose all hope, and forever freeze!

Keep that theme in mind during the next part of the review.

Basic flow of play
Players are divided into two teams: the soldiers of winter and the agents of spring. Both collect characters to represent who they are. These characters are dark, twisted versions of classic storybook characters. The theme will draw you in right away as you take command of the Tin Woodsman, blazing your dynamos to melt the ice away; or the Big Bad Wolf, sworn to devour any glimmer of hope you may see. You will get into your characters. You will love your faction and want to see them victorious over your enemies.

Here is where the game began to unravel for us.

See, the basic mechanics involve activating characters, drawing cards, and moving around the map to complete quests. Along the way, you can intercept each others' characters with either attacks or traps (let's call these 'encounters'). During an encounter, each side plays cards from their hand and dictates what their character is doing or what is happening during the encounter, based on the illustration on the card. The illustrations are very abstract, so imagination is necessary (which is good). Traps are a little different (with a hidden bid of sorts), but eventually, the story pauses, and it's time to see who won.

And here's the problem:
The winner of the 'encounter' is the character who played the most cards.

That's it. The story has no bearing on victory whatsoever. You simply count the cards played and determine a winner quanitatively. This immediately turns the game into a hand management game. So, you continue playing, explaining where your characters are going and what they are doing, being periodically incapacitated because you either didn't have enough cards or chose to withhold for a bigger fight/quest. On and on until finally all the quest tokens are done, then you do the epilogue.

This 'hybrid' of strategy/hand management with story telling was what killed the game for us. It was NOT appealing that our stories seemed arbitrary to the victory conditions. If it was supposed to emphasize story telling, why not build that into the mechanics?

I've heard many possible counter-arguments, and this is what I have to say:

A) It's a storytelling game. It doesn't matter who wins.
To that I say: 1) Why make it competitive if you're not supposed to try to win? and 2) Remember the opening theme about the huge struggle of spring to remove the eternal winter? Losing is NOT an option for either side, and we really got into our characters. The Big Bad Wolf isn't going to just make a half-hearted attempt and then sniff the flowers and say, "Jolly good show, guess that's it for winter, I'll just give myself up for public execution now...." The sides are going to FIGHT FOR IT! And the mechanics don't live up to that theme.

B) The point is to just have fun.
Sure! But then I say this: Either: 1) Change victory to be less quantitative (so story matters more), or 2) Remove the story part and make it a tactical game. The hybrid nature just doesn't do it.

C) You have to have the right group of people or be in the right mindset.
I'm sorry, but I don't think this is ever a good thing to say about a game. It should be built in a way that players with all different mindsets can enjoy it, meaning that the mechanics and theme should meld to welcome more casual players and still interest the more competitive ones.

There are a GREAT number of storytelling games out there that are just plain wonderful. And I have to give Winter Tales major credit for trying something new with the genre: Directly pitting players against each other using move and fight mechanics. But the game certainly suffers for it, and with such a cool theme, I think it could be just a bit more focused on what it is trying to do.
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thanks for this review.

If you have doubts you should give a look at this

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/video/32728/winter-tales/europh...

probably the best answer to all "game mechanic" criticism
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Kevin Outlaw
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This is a good review, although obviously one on the other end of the spectrum to my own. I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the game, but I understand your reasons why.

The problem with storytelling games with a win condition is you have to have some kind of quantifiable mechanism. You can't have the winner based on the "best" story, because (a) everyone is telling the same story, and (b) there is no real way to determine which story is "best."

Using number of cards is acceptable to me, although I admit it is a bit frustrating sometimes when you want to get involved in a story, but you know you need to save the cards for use elsewhere.

For me, the real joy in this game is working together to tell a story that makes coherent sense, but in which you try to manipulate events in your favour - trying to challenge your opponents without completely destroying what they have made. It is a fun mental exercise, and something that is refreshingly different compared to the rest of the stuff on my shelf.

However, it is definitely not for everyone, and that is why I do not really agree with point (c) in your review. Every game requires the "right group of people," and trying to create something that appeals to everyone is the way to have a lot of sterile, bland games on gaming shelves.

One of the really cool things about Winter Tales is the melding of storytelling and board game. For people who have never been involved in a storytelling game, I think it feels slightly less intimidating to take part in Winter Tales because it "feels" more like a board game. You move pieces, there are player powers and secret objectives, and normally there are teams in play, which helps encourage people who are a bit shy. When I introduced this game to my group, the only other storytelling game they had played was Cthulhu Gloom, yet Winter Tales was a huge hit.

Anyway, I'm rambling...
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Thanks for the review - this was always going to be a polarising game and I'm certain that many (probably the majority) of players are going to share your feelings about the game.

This game is a story-telling toolbox. It provides you with the necessary equipment to tell a story, as long as you don't fight against the intention of the designer. Many strategic games have been slated for this in the past: if the players don't play exactly as the designer intended the game breaks. This is certainly true of Winter Tales - it is a fragile system and if you don't enter with the same mindset as the designer, the game will break down. To my mind, this is a valid criticism of the game. That said, the rulebook (of the original edition at least) is VERY clear that the players are supposed to leave their competitive natures at the door. This is a game about COOPERATING to tell a good story.

bungeeboy wrote:

A) It's a storytelling game. It doesn't matter who wins.
To that I say: 1) Why make it competitive if you're not supposed to try to win? and 2) Remember the opening theme about the huge struggle of spring to remove the eternal winter? Losing is NOT an option for either side, and we really got into our characters. The Big Bad Wolf isn't going to just make a half-hearted attempt and then sniff the flowers and say, "Jolly good show, guess that's it for winter, I'll just give myself up for public execution now...." The sides are going to FIGHT FOR IT! And the mechanics don't live up to that theme.


The first game-breaking problem that you describe here is that your players "really got into characters". This sounds fantastic when you first hear it, but unfortunately it isn't the intended way to play the game. This is not a roleplaying game. It is story-telling. It is more closely related to theatrical improvisation than pen-and-paper RPGs. In an improvisation troupe, if one story-teller/actor was to "get into character" to the point where they pursued their own character's agenda against the interests of the story, they would soon find that all of their stories would fail. They would result in egotistical grandstanding, bickering, and stories full of unnecessary conflict. In Winter Tales, players control multiple characters and they describe those character's actions. Loosely speaking, the players drive the story towards a victory for their characters. Note that it is the CHARACTERS who win or lose by defeating the opposing side. The players win or lose by creating a satisfying story or failing to do so.

I personally consider this game a co-operative game, NOT a competitive one. All players are working towards the same agenda, regardless of which side their characters are on.

"Why make it competitive if you're not supposed to try to win?" That's a very valid question. Story-telling games are an odd genre in board-gaming, and it could be that the basic concept of turning story-telling into a game is fundamentally flawed. I don't like the fact that most story-telling games are won or lost based on the qualitative whims of the other players - a judge chooses which story they like the best etc. I appreciate the fact that Winter Tales tries to do things differently. By offering up a quantitative system, the game avoids the hugely subjective aspects of other story-telling games.

Most great art is created from within constraints: Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter; a painter is limited by the size of his canvas and the materials he chooses to use. In Winter Tales, we are not making great art, but we do want to tell great stories. The central constraints of the card-management drive the story forward and prevent one character from dominating. They provide twists and turns in the story and deliver a clear winner and loser in each encounter. The story moves onwards rapidly towards an epilogue whether the players want one or not. And hence a satisfactory, structured tale is told, free of the indulgent whims of our own egos. An alternative would be to sit with friends in a circle, using only our imaginations, and tell a story from start to finish. How often do we choose to do that? How successful are the stories? How long before they become rambling, surreal, or unsatisfying in any number of different ways? To quote Stephen Fry, "Without gravity, all would float free." To quote Wordsworth, "Souls who have felt too much liberty welcome form".

"Losing is not an option for either side". This is certainly true for the characters but losing should be a very real option for the players! The improvisation guru Keith Johnstone talks about watching a mimed tug-of-war. The mimers would get stuck in a stalemate for an eternity, until Johnstone would point out that it would really be a better story if one side lost.

bungeeboy wrote:

B) The point is to just have fun.
Sure! But then I say this: Either: 1) Change victory to be less quantitative (so story matters more), or 2) Remove the story part and make it a tactical game. The hybrid nature just doesn't do it.


This may be a valid criticism. The game system may be so flawed as to turn off the majority of players. For any publisher/business-person, and for any of the disappointed purchasers, this would be a major fail. I'm grateful that game-designers sometimes experiment with new forms, and that publishers support them in doing so. The story-telling genre has floundered around and never really found a wholly satisfactory approach. It NEEDS this sort of innovation. Winter Tales may not be the pinnacle of the genre for long, but right now it is at least trying something very new.

bungeeboy wrote:

C) You have to have the right group of people or be in the right mindset.
I'm sorry, but I don't think this is ever a good thing to say about a game. It should be built in a way that players with all different mindsets can enjoy it, meaning that the mechanics and theme should meld to welcome more casual players and still interest the more competitive ones.


Every game requires the right group of people. I'm a HORRIBLE person to play "Mansions of Madness" with, or "Twilight Imperium", because they are not to my taste. They don't provide the experience I look for in a game. My lack of enthusiasm (as polite as I am) is obvious to other players. It will kill the game. I am not the right group.

It just so happens that Winter Tales is more niche than most games, and the right group of players is going to be harder to find.

I don't think any of the assertions of the OP are wrong. The game-designer has made some bold decisions in creating a game which:

1. Requires you to play it the way the designer intended.
2. Requires you to find a group of players willing to expose their imaginations to their competitive friends.
3. Doesn't rely on subjective criteria to judge the story-tellers
4. Attempts to provide a structure in which a story can be told (providing strategic/tactical opportunities for players).

Each of these things is almost certainly an error from a commercial point of view. Many players will be turned off.

I just enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) the experiment.
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bungeeboy wrote:

There are a GREAT number of storytelling games out there that are just plain wonderful.


I am very curious to know what are these wonderful storytelling games that the OP refers to. I have been looking for such a game and have had tremendous difficulty to find.

There are the paragraph games such as Tales of the Arabian Nights and Agents of Smersh. Although I really enjoy these games, they are far from being storytelling games. There is no creative process involved. It is much more a story reading game if you will. They, especially TotAN also face their fair share of criticism as success is not perceived to be achieved by choice of logically sensible actions. But, this is another discussion. These story reading games are most definitely not the wonderful storytelling games that the OP refers to.

I certainly hope we are not referring to dungeon crawls such as Descent even if they have they an enhanced fluff component such as Mice and Mystics - which I enjoy but are not storytelling games.

There is another class of storytelling game that I encountered. The ones that hte quality of the story that you tell counts as win a condition. Games such as Fabula and Aye Aye Overlord. Unfortunately, these come down to the choice of a judge. I find these highly unsatisfying as the win condition is to convince one person that your story is the best. Baron Munchausen does it a little better as all the players get to vote but still a bit limited as it comes down to a vote.

The most functional storytelling game I found is Once Upon a Time. It has clear mechanics that drive the story, transfer storytelling authority and has a well established story driven goal. It is truly a wonderful storytelling game.

I think Once Upon a Time shares some of its should with Winter Tales and some aspects favor the latter. I like how Winter Tales gives all the players opportunity to contribute to the story without having to have the right interrupt cards. I like how it alleviates the creative pressure based on a single card, while in Once Upon a Time, you have to generate about a paragraph per card and make it truly relevant to the story, Winter Tales allows you to contribute to the best of your ability without disrupting the flow of the game.

I have found wonderful storytelling games in the realm of RPGs especially Indie ones but I have also had a very difficult time in finding them in the realm of the BGG database.

What great number of storytelling games does the OP speak of?
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bungeeboy wrote:

C) You have to have the right group of people or be in the right mindset.
I'm sorry, but I don't think this is ever a good thing to say about a game. It should be built in a way that players with all different mindsets can enjoy it, meaning that the mechanics and theme should meld to welcome more casual players and still interest the more competitive ones.


While I disagree with a lot of your review, I feel that it's something we can legitimately disagree on, as it's opinion.

However, the quoted statement I feel is just plain wrong. Games should be designed for certain audiences. The more you try to appeal to everyone, the more generic the game becomes. Or the more you fail at appealing to anyone.

Games should absolutely know what they want to accomplish, and who they should be targeted towards. Some will have wider appeal than others, but that's fine. This game has a narrow "zone" of appeal, but it's going to do something for that group that no other extant story-telling games do.
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Ronaldo wrote:
bungeeboy wrote:

There are a GREAT number of storytelling games out there that are just plain wonderful.


I am very curious to know what are these wonderful storytelling games that the OP refers to. I have been looking for such a game and have had tremendous difficulty to find.

There are the paragraph games such as Tales of the Arabian Nights and Agents of Smersh. Although I really enjoy these games, they are far from being storytelling games. There is no creative process involved. It is much more a story reading game if you will. They, especially TotAN also face their fair share of criticism as success is not perceived to be achieved by choice of logically sensible actions. But, this is another discussion. These story reading games are most definitely not the wonderful storytelling games that the OP refers to.

I certainly hope we are not referring to dungeon crawls such as Descent even if they have they an enhanced fluff component such as Mice and Mystics - which I enjoy but are not storytelling games.

There is another class of storytelling game that I encountered. The ones that hte quality of the story that you tell counts as win a condition. Games such as Fabula and Aye Aye Overlord. Unfortunately, these come down to the choice of a judge. I find these highly unsatisfying as the win condition is to convince one person that your story is the best. Baron Munchausen does it a little better as all the players get to vote but still a bit limited as it comes down to a vote.

The most functional storytelling game I found is Once Upon a Time. It has clear mechanics that drive the story, transfer storytelling authority and has a well established story driven goal. It is truly a wonderful storytelling game.

I think Once Upon a Time shares some of its should with Winter Tales and some aspects favor the latter. I like how Winter Tales gives all the players opportunity to contribute to the story without having to have the right interrupt cards. I like how it alleviates the creative pressure based on a single card, while in Once Upon a Time, you have to generate about a paragraph per card and make it truly relevant to the story, Winter Tales allows you to contribute to the best of your ability without disrupting the flow of the game.

I have found wonderful storytelling games in the realm of RPGs especially Indie ones but I have also had a very difficult time in finding them in the realm of the BGG database.

What great number of storytelling games does the OP speak of?


I think you probably hit on most of them in your post. Now that I think about it, perhaps saying "GREAT" is exaggerating. There's really not that many.

I really like Aye, Dark Overlord, for example. It's incredibly free-flow and there's a lot of imagination involved. It's also great because it gives the judge a lot of freedom to set the theme and judging criteria. Which is why I like these games with rotating judges: the criteria rotates and players improvise slightly different stories as it goes.

I guess another to add to the list is Story Wars, but I didn't like it that much because of the deathmatch theme. First time we played it was a little awkward, none of us really wanted to fight, and the judge was stumped as to what to do.

I guess point C above may highly arguable. My main group is very open to all types and forms of games. We love almost any game you can throw at us (with some major exceptions) (and, well, I guess there's just one guy who prefers "screw your neighbors" games). But I do know people who wouldn't like a game because of the theme, specifically, and also wargame haters. So I guess games often do have specified crowds.

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments.
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bungeeboy wrote:
I really like Aye, Dark Overlord, for example. It's incredibly free-flow and there's a lot of imagination involved. It's also great because it gives the judge a lot of freedom to set the theme and judging criteria. Which is why I like these games with rotating judges: the criteria rotates and players improvise slightly different stories as it goes.

I guess another to add to the list is Story Wars, but I didn't like it that much because of the deathmatch theme. First time we played it was a little awkward, none of us really wanted to fight, and the judge was stumped as to what to do.


After the success of Winter Tales with my group, I intend to pick up Once Upon a Time. I watched the Beer and Board Games folks playing Story Wars and it looked awful. Aye, Dark Overlord is one for me to check out. Thanks.

Cthulhu Gloom is a good storytelling game, but it only just scrapes into the category, because the storytelling element is optional.
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I think it's a matter of perspective. You say that the story you told had no impact on who won the game, but that's not true. The hand management and storytelling go hand-in-hand. While it's true that the winner of an encounter or quest is determined by who played the most cards (a quantitative measure), playing cards requires that you tell a story. If you can't tell a story and connect your cards together, then you'll be limited in the number of cards you can play. Conversely, if you don't have enough cards (perhaps due to poor hand management), or you choose to save cards for a different battle, you can't tell any more of your story. Thus, the quality and breadth of the story has a direct impact on who wins.

The story is integral to the gameplay mechanic of playing story cards and can't be said to have had "no effect." They are two sides of the same coin. The team that played the most cards and won a quest, for example, likely told a fuller, richer story, which has a definite impact on both the outcome of that individual encounter and on the overall game. It also means that team will be defining the bookmark, and all further storytelling must reference back to that. Which in turn guides which cards you will be able to play and how you will play them. It's all connected.

Perhaps your issue was that you didn't have a very capable Arbiter in your group. It is very important, in my opinion, to make sure that everyone at the table plays in the spirit of the game and follows the guidelines for playing cards. If players pause for an extended period, stumble along, or are clearly just stringing things along to play more cards, then the Arbiter should put an end to it. Story cards should be played consistently as the storyteller progresses, but not just dropped on the table willy-nilly.

That means no one is allowed to just keep spinning yarn for an extended period until they can figure out a card to play, and it also means none of this: "And then he opened the door *play card*, walked over the step *play card* saw books *play card* on the ground*play card*, bumped into the table *play card* and reached the other side of the room *play card*."

Make sure your Arbiter is making people work for their story cards, and I think you might have a very different opinion of how important the story is to the outcome of the game.
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Bungeeboy, how appropriate do you think WT is for kids?
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Cracky wrote:
Bungeeboy, how appropriate do you think WT is for kids?


As far as mechanics, since the card interpretation is left up to the player, the stories can cover any variety of topics you like and be as appropriate or inappropriate as you like.

The art and character backstories are where I think most people would worry. This will depend entirely on the parents' opinions. Take a look at some artwork (e.g. the Big Bad Wolf has a horrendous scar down his midsection where the woodsman cut him open, and the Cat and Fox are sewn together), and decide what you think. And many character backstories (like the hatter) would probably have an R rating in a film.

I could totally see some of the characters (little match girl and alice) giving kids nightmares because they are super creepy, and I've known people who got nightmares from less.
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bungeeboy wrote:
Cracky wrote:
Bungeeboy, how appropriate do you think WT is for kids?


As far as mechanics, since the card interpretation is left up to the player, the stories can cover any variety of topics you like and be as appropriate or inappropriate as you like.

The art and character backstories are where I think most people would worry. This will depend entirely on the parents' opinions. Take a look at some artwork (e.g. the Big Bad Wolf has a horrendous scar down his midsection where the woodsman cut him open, and the Cat and Fox are sewn together), and decide what you think. And many character backstories (like the hatter) would probably have an R rating in a film.

I could totally see some of the characters (little match girl and alice) giving kids nightmares because they are super creepy, and I've known people who got nightmares from less.


I agree.

From a mechanisms point of view, I think this game is great for young children. I love the way children think, and interpreting the artwork on the cards is something I could see many children excelling at (perhaps more so than adults).

As for the art: I compare it to The Nightmare Before Christmas. If a child is cool watching the clown with the tear-away face, Winter Tales is a walk in the park.
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Ronaldo wrote:
bungeeboy wrote:

There are a GREAT number of storytelling games out there that are just plain wonderful.


I am very curious to know what are these wonderful storytelling games that the OP refers to. I have been looking for such a game and have had tremendous difficulty to find.

There are the paragraph games such as Tales of the Arabian Nights and Agents of Smersh. Although I really enjoy these games, they are far from being storytelling games. There is no creative process involved. It is much more a story reading game if you will. They, especially TotAN also face their fair share of criticism as success is not perceived to be achieved by choice of logically sensible actions. But, this is another discussion. These story reading games are most definitely not the wonderful storytelling games that the OP refers to.

I certainly hope we are not referring to dungeon crawls such as Descent even if they have they an enhanced fluff component such as Mice and Mystics - which I enjoy but are not storytelling games.

There is another class of storytelling game that I encountered. The ones that hte quality of the story that you tell counts as win a condition. Games such as Fabula and Aye Aye Overlord. Unfortunately, these come down to the choice of a judge. I find these highly unsatisfying as the win condition is to convince one person that your story is the best. Baron Munchausen does it a little better as all the players get to vote but still a bit limited as it comes down to a vote.

The most functional storytelling game I found is Once Upon a Time. It has clear mechanics that drive the story, transfer storytelling authority and has a well established story driven goal. It is truly a wonderful storytelling game.

I think Once Upon a Time shares some of its should with Winter Tales and some aspects favor the latter. I like how Winter Tales gives all the players opportunity to contribute to the story without having to have the right interrupt cards. I like how it alleviates the creative pressure based on a single card, while in Once Upon a Time, you have to generate about a paragraph per card and make it truly relevant to the story, Winter Tales allows you to contribute to the best of your ability without disrupting the flow of the game.

I have found wonderful storytelling games in the realm of RPGs especially Indie ones but I have also had a very difficult time in finding them in the realm of the BGG database.

What great number of storytelling games does the OP speak of?


Thanks man. And you forgot GLOOM and WITCH TRIAL, two of my favorites!

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DavidT wrote:
I think it's a matter of perspective. You say that the story you told had no impact on who won the game, but that's not true. The hand management and storytelling go hand-in-hand. While it's true that the winner of an encounter or quest is determined by who played the most cards (a quantitative measure), playing cards requires that you tell a story. If you can't tell a story and connect your cards together, then you'll be limited in the number of cards you can play. Conversely, if you don't have enough cards (perhaps due to poor hand management), or you choose to save cards for a different battle, you can't tell any more of your story. Thus, the quality and breadth of the story has a direct impact on who wins.

The story is integral to the gameplay mechanic of playing story cards and can't be said to have had "no effect." They are two sides of the same coin. The team that played the most cards and won a quest, for example, likely told a fuller, richer story, which has a definite impact on both the outcome of that individual encounter and on the overall game. It also means that team will be defining the bookmark, and all further storytelling must reference back to that. Which in turn guides which cards you will be able to play and how you will play them. It's all connected.

Perhaps your issue was that you didn't have a very capable Arbiter in your group. It is very important, in my opinion, to make sure that everyone at the table plays in the spirit of the game and follows the guidelines for playing cards. If players pause for an extended period, stumble along, or are clearly just stringing things along to play more cards, then the Arbiter should put an end to it. Story cards should be played consistently as the storyteller progresses, but not just dropped on the table willy-nilly.

That means no one is allowed to just keep spinning yarn for an extended period until they can figure out a card to play, and it also means none of this: "And then he opened the door *play card*, walked over the step *play card* saw books *play card* on the ground*play card*, bumped into the table *play card* and reached the other side of the room *play card*."

Make sure your Arbiter is making people work for their story cards, and I think you might have a very different opinion of how important the story is to the outcome of the game.


Hey David you have very good and strong arguments here. However your style of play is for advances players who familiar with a game and try to improve game experience. You cannot connect card clran and logically to the story ? Sorry you cannot play…. Here start the fight bla bla bla but if you have a strong arbiter-writer should be ok. I like this way but my group need more experience to be ready play that way
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