Fairy Tale is a pretty unique card drafting game for 2 to 5 players with, as its name suggests, a fantasy theme. It was designed by Satoshi Nakamura and originally published by Yuhodo, and more recently by Z-Man games. The premise of the game is to collect cards that are worth a lot of points, whether by themselves or in conjunction with other cards. The player with the most total points, after four rounds of drafting, wins the game. The game plays rather swiftly, with most of our games coming in between 20 and 25 minutes.
Out of the Box
The game comes in a small, sturdy two-piece card container with 100 cards evenly split among 4 “suits” (Dragonvale, Holy Empire, Fairywood, Shadow), along with a card list and a set of bilingual rules (English & Japanese). Each card contains its name, its point value, its type, its effect or ability, and its uniqueness. The card illustrations are very nicely done (sort of like anime) and strongly reinforce the fantasy theme.
Set up is a snap. Just shuffle the cards and deal five face-down cards to each player; that’s all there is to it.
At the beginning of a round, each player looks through the five cards they were dealt, selects one to keep, and passes the remainder to an opponent. In the first and third rounds, you pass to your left; in the second and fourth drafts, you pass to your right. You then sort through the pile you are passed, selecting another card, and again passing the remainder. You continue to do this until there are no more cards to pass. Each player will end up with five cards.
From these five cards, you will select three to place face-down in a row in front of you, discarding the other two. Once every one has finished placing their respective cards, each player will reveal the first card in their row. If any cards have one of the three special abilities, then you apply them immediately. Next, you keep to the same procedure with the second card, followed by the third. Once all three cards have been revealed, and acted upon if necessary, then that round ends. Five new cards are dealt to each player and a new round begins. After four rounds, the game will end with each player having 12 cards in their respective playing areas, in four rows of three cards each.
When applying a card’s abilities, it will be done in the following order: 1) Hunt, 2) Open, and 3) Close. ‘Hunt’ abilities can only be applied on Shadow cards that are revealed at the same time. Cards affected by the ‘Hunt’ are turned face down and any abilities they have are not applied. ‘Open’ abilities allow the player to turn face-up one or two of his/her cards that were previously face-down. A card with the ‘Close’ ability forces either the owner or all players to flip over one face-up card (with a certain icon) from their display face-down.
At the end of the game, any face-down cards in your display are removed; only cards that are face-up can score. When scoring your display remember that a card’s point value can either be static, variable, or conditional. Static cards display a plain value; the card is worth that many points. The variable cards are multipliers and can be identified by an asterisk (*); points depend on how many of that card (or a dependent card) you’ve collected. Conditional cards have a point value (usually quite high) within a star; if you meet the conditions of that card then you receive the points but if you don’t, you get nothing. Once all the face-up cards for each player have been tallied, the one with the highest total is declared the winner.
While card games by nature have an element of randomness, I’d venture to say that luck, while present, is not an overwhelming factor in Fairy Tale; the game will usually come down to your decisions. Decision making in this game can be quite agonizing; most of which occurs during the drafting phase. Which card do you keep and which cards do you pass? Do you play it safe and play cards where you never have to ‘Close’ a card or do you play more aggressively with conditional cards and Shadow cards? At the beginning of the game, this can be more difficult as you don’t know what cards are available. As the game goes on though, you’ll try to draft cards that will either complement your current display or block your opponent(s).
Your decisions can also vary depending upon how many people are playing. If you’re playing with 2 or perhaps 3, it’s easier to figure what card your opponent(s) are collecting and hence you wouldn’t pass any cards that might help them. Also, say you’re deciding between a couple of cards from your initial five; you’ll want to try to pass the one that you think might make it back to you. When playing with 4 or 5 players, good cards won’t make it back to you, but that can actually make the decision on which one to keep even tougher.
There are other things to consider when collecting cards. Keep in mind that the conditional cards can bring big rewards, but some require a unique card that might either be snatched up by an opponent or not make it into play at all. Cards that have the ‘Close’ ability can give you decent points, but you’ll have to turn over a card and cards that end the game face-down don’t score. You can try to rely on getting some ‘Open’ cards, but your opponents will be looking for those as well, so you can’t count on ‘em. And while Shadow cards can be very rewarding, beware the ‘Hunters’ for they target the Shadows. That being said, for what it’s worth, I tend to play very aggressively, seeking primarily the Shadow cards, conditional cards, and cards with the 'Close' ability; while it worked fairly well in my first couple of games, I got buried in my most recent session.
I’ve found Fairy Tale to be a surprisingly fun and challenging little filler. I say surprisingly because going by its title alone, this would not have been a game I would’ve picked up. When I first saw the game on several online stores, I just assumed that it was a storytelling game, such as Once Upon A Time; nothing wrong with those type of games, but I already have a couple. But after reading several threads where BGG users were praising the game, I delved a little further and decided to purchase it and I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve found that the game scales well from 2 to 5 players. In addition, it also plays quickly, regardless of the number of players, so it’s always easy to start up another game. The cards do take a while to get used to and the game is not the easiest to teach to new players, but once you get a couple of games under your belt, Fairy Tale becomes much more intuitive. I’d recommend printing out several copies of the reference file found here on BGG so each player will have one; that helps players to more readily identify each card and the cards it interacts with. Although I haven’t seen the Z-Man edition, I’ve read that the cards in that version are easier to read and understand, and the price will be easier on your wallet as well. I currently rate Fairy Tale a “…happily ever after” 8.