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Subject: [Review] Fairy Tale rss

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Tom Vasel
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There was a very positive, loud buzz when Fairy Tale (Z-man Games and Yuhodo, 2004 - Satoshi Nakamura) was first published in Japan. Japanese games usually tend to fly under the radar, but Fairy Tale was so popular that eventually Z-man Games picked it up for republishing. It was lauded as a "filler", a game that could be played easily in fifteen or twenty minutes, so I was eager to get my hands on it for many reasons. When I first opened it up, however, I was rather surprised to see what appeared to be complicated cards with multiple symbols on them. Reading the rules didn't really seem to make the game any more appealing, and I put it off for a bit before playing.

After the first game, however, I was hooked immediately. The drafting mechanic, which is more prevalent in the game than I thought, worked like a charm and was in fact the most important part of the game. Combined with a variety of cards that were very well balanced, the game just flew by in an interesting and fascinating fashion. I enjoy both the basic and the advanced game, and Fairy Tale is one of the few games that I want to play over and over again. It is indeed a short game, but it is extremely enjoyable and uses a few simple mechanics to keep players entertained.

In the basic game, a deck of eighty cards is shuffled - made up of four major factions (Dragonvale - green; Fairywood - orange; Holy Empire - yellow; and Shadow - black). Cards are further split up into different types, giving out a certain number of points at the end of the game. Cards also show information on them as to how many of them are in the deck; whether or not they flip or unflip cards, and whether they are a "character", "home", or "story" card. The game takes place in four rounds - each of which consists of a draft and then playing of the cards.

For each draft, the dealer gives five cards to each player. Players examine the cards and decide which one to keep, passing the remaining four cards to the next player (direction depends on what round it is). Players then keep one of the four cards they receive and pass three to the next person, etc. - until all players have five cards.

During the playing of the cards each player will play three cards, one at a time. All players place a card face down and reveal them simultaneously. Any "unflip" effects on cards are then resolved, then any "flip" effects (forcing some cards to be turned face down). After three cards have been played, players discard the remaining two cards and begin another drafting round. After four rounds of play, players have twelve cards in front of them and total up their score, using only the face up cards. The player with the highest score is the winner!

Examples of cards include:
- Staff-Bearing Sage: Only one point, but unflips a Holy Empire card of the player.
- Werewolf: Two points, and causes everyone (including the player who placed the card) to flip over a Holy Empire card.
- Fairy Ring: Six points, but causes the player to flip over a Fairywood card - even if it must be the Fairy Ring that is played!
- Homesteader: Each homesteader is worth points equal to the number of homesteaders a player has placed. (1 Homesteader = 1 point; 2 = 4 points; 3 = 9 points, etc.
- Knight of the Round Table: Three points, and is a "friend" of the Bronze Dragon.
- Bronze Dragon: Worth points equal to three times the number of Knights of the Round Table that are placed.
- Dark Angel: Is actually worth "-1" points, but allows the player to unflip two of their cards.
- Eight other similar types of cards.

In the advanced version of the game, twenty extra cards are added to the deck. These cards include conditional cards - cards that award a certain amount of points if the player accomplishes a certain goal. For example, the Shadowking's Tale - Chapter 1 card gives a player six points if they have the most Shadow cards at the end of the game, and the Dragon's Tale - Chapter 2 card gives a player seven points if they have on Silver Dragon card and one Dragon's Lair card at the end of the game. Another card, the "Almighty" is worth negative one point but can have its name changed to any card in the deck, so as to affect the point value of other cards. Also, three cards "hunt" Shadow cards, which means if they are flipped at the same time a Shadow Card is flipped, then that Shadow card comes into play face down.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The cards have a definite Japanese flair with their artwork and are actually quite serious and well drawn for fantasy. The card quality is very good, although I've played the game so many times that small bits of wear and tear are noticeable on the colored edges of the cards. Each type of card is a different colored background, and the symbols for flipping and unflipping are easy to tell apart. At first I thought that the symbols would be confusing, as each card has at least two; but it's actually very simple, and I've run into nobody who has had a problem with it. Everything fits in a small purple box with a lid that just barely holds the cards.

2.) Rules: The rules are on two sides of a long, unfolded piece of paper with full color illustrations and examples. I found the game easy to digest, although I did miss one major rule - that a card can actually cause itself to be flipped, which does change the game quite a bit. I think that the advanced game could be taught to new players, but it seems much easier to play with just the basic game, as there are only fifteen different cards instead of thirty-five. The rules also allow for partner play, which is an interesting variant (although I prefer single player) - and the name Richard Garfield is thrown in there (the creator of Magic: the Gathering) with a variant that allows players to exchange a card in play for one of their partners.

3.) Drafting: For me, this is the meat of the game, and can be incredibly interesting. Many times a player will draw five cards and want to keep several of them, but you may only keep one and must pass four to the next player. So which one to keep? Should a player keep the one that gives them the most points? This seems logical, and often happens; but what if that means giving their opponent a card, which will allow them to score big? Many times I've seen players torn with this decision, as to whether they should "bite the bullet" and keep their opponent from getting yet another Homesteader card, or keep a card that will really help them out. Players can also hope that perhaps a card they pass will come back to them eventually, but it seems as if it rarely does. In the advanced version, Drafting actually becomes even more critical, as there are some high scoring cards that may or may not work; and players must ascertain whether or not they will reach the goal or not. For example, the Knights Tale - Chapter 4 card awards nine points if you also have The Sword King (only one in the deck) in play. Should I take the card, hoping that the Sword King will eventually come to my hand? Or should I pass it on, taking cards that are more of a "sure thing"? Mind you, drafting involves making four choices, and they don't take too terribly long. But their effect on the game is rather potent and thus makes the choices interesting.

4.) Points: Every card has its use, and it's often difficult to formulate which ones to attempt to collect. A player can go for the sure points and take many of the "6" cards, although they have to sacrifice other cards to do so. However, clever play can mitigate this. A player can play a six point Dragon's Lair, flipping it face down to meet the requirements then play a single point Silver Dragon, which allows the player to unflip the Dragon's Lair. They can then play another Dragon's Lair, which makes me flip over the Silver Dragon. Gaining twelve points for three cards is a pretty good deal! At the same time, collecting sets of cards, like the Homesteaders, can also be lucrative. Five of them will garnish a player twenty-five points, which can swing the game for the player. The most powerful cards, if left unchecked, seem to be the ones that depend on others. The Bard, for example, which is worth three times the amount of Elven Warriors, seems worthless at first glance. But if a player manages to get three of those Elven Warriors on the table, each Bard is now worth nine points to the player. All of this sounds slightly complicated; but it's really rather simple, and players will quickly determine which route to go.

5.) Interaction: The Shadow cards will sometimes cause other players to flip certain of their cards face down and can be annoying (although they award very few points, so players who go out of their way to be antagonistic will most likely lose). Still, they're very few and far between - most cards a player will flip are a result of cards that they themselves have played (such as the Dragon's Lair). Where interaction comes more into play is in the drafting, when players will deliberately keep and discard cards that their opponents need. One must concentrate on their own cards and scoring, to be sure; but ignoring what your opponents are doing is quite deadly.

6.) Advanced Game: I personally enjoy the advanced game more, since the cards that have conditional points are so tempting yet are risky. It adds more tension to the game and more options. I can see how many folk would simply be pleased with the basic game, however; since there are only fifteen card types, and it moves at a slightly accelerated pace.

7.) Fun Factor: Much of the enjoyment of Fairy Tale comes not only from how quickly a game plays (most last around twenty minutes - faster once all players are experienced.), but how players are involved and absorbed the entire time. It's usually difficult to tell who is winning until scoring occurs; and while there is luck involved in what cards a player draws, losers can usually point to some mistake they made while drafting that allowed their opponent to place a nice combination of cards on the table. I'm not sure that the "story-telling" theme comes through, as the game is all about points for me, but the artwork does lend a nice background to the card laying. Also, I've always enjoyed the card drafting mechanic that was introduced with the collectible card game genre but always found it too expensive to care about (players must buy cards each time they play in a drafting tournament). Fairy Tale allows me to explore this fascinating mechanic without having to expend money.

I cannot emphasize just how enjoyable Fairy Tale is, and think that even those who are normally turned off by a fantasy theme will enjoy the game. Any game that causes me to play it three times in a row (very rare for me) is certainly one that I'm going to hang on to; and very few games use the drafting mechanic, which is one of my favorite things about the game. If this is the sort of game we'll see brought over from Japan, then I hope that many more make their way to the English speaking world. But for now, I'm quite content with this truly excellent filler game.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com
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Nick Fisk
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That's weird. This bit used to mention Shire Games, and tell you all how wonderful we are. But it seems to have got deleted. Let's see what happens this time ....
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Quote:
1 Homesteader = 1 point; 2 = 4 points; 3 = 9 points, etc.


Not being too picky, but should this be ...

1 = 1 point
2 = 3 points (1+2)
3 = 6 points (1+2+3)
etc ....


N.

 
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Mark Bigney
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No, Tom got it right.
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B. Huddleston
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No, the scoring for the Homesteaders and the like, is as stated in Tom Vasel's review (1 Homesteader = 1 point; 2 = 4 points; 3 = 9 points, etc.).
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Giles Pritchard
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It states in the rules that any card with an * only (Homesteaders etc) are scored in the following fashion:

From the Z-Man rules:

"Example 2: At the end of the game you have 4 Homesteaders cards in play. Since *= the number of Homesteaders cards, each card is worth 4 points."

In this case Tom is correct in his original point values, 1 Homesteader= 1Point, 2 Homesteaders= 4 points (2 each), and 3 Homesteaders= 9 Points (3 each).

Great review - as usual - Tom, Fairy Tale is one of my favourite games too, the gaming example of 'short and sweet'!

Cheers!

Giles.
 
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Nick Fisk
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That's weird. This bit used to mention Shire Games, and tell you all how wonderful we are. But it seems to have got deleted. Let's see what happens this time ....
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Sorry ....

My fault.

Makes sense now I read it again.

I played the game once ... must play it more!


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Ryan Olson
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Great review for an amazing game. Hopefully more people will notice this due to Tom's review.

Of course, your pushing it on the Dice Tower probably hasn't hurt it much either .
 
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sunday silence
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The thread that followed Toms review highlites a minor but persistent flaw in the rules. The rules are rather ambiguous, especially with regard to the poorly chosen terms "flip/unflip" as well as the scoring for those * cards. There are, I think, at least 6 (arguably 7) separate threads in the forums asking the same basic question: what does it mean? "You flip?" Aside from card drafting, flipping and unflipping is the very heart of the game, it is like the whole pt. of the game. And the same basic question gets asked at least 6 times.

"Hello!" No one is getting this, at least not without a tutor.

As for the * the example given in the rules (example 2 I think) explains it correctly but to try to explain this to people, well we just went round in circles with it. Surely it could have been explained better and the * symbol is just stoopid. I mean it's EFF'IN STUPID! okay? It makes no sense. or not much sense anyhow. As the thread here indicates, it's very confusing.

I am a big fan of Tom's but in this case, his review seems a little too gushing and was not circumspect enuf for me. He says he found the rules "easy to digest" in his section on rules, but then he said at the very beginning of the review that he had avoided this game for a long time because he was put off by the symbol terminology and the rules did not seem to make it easy. Exactly! There are 5 pages of rules questions on this forum, for what are very simple concepts, but this is glossed over in the review.

Aside from what does: "you flip" mean; I think there are 9 more threads asking about flipping, most of which come down to either: "do I flip other peoples cards? and/or "what happens when the card flips back up?" the whole concept of flipping/unflipping is so different (but not complicated) it throws everyone off, players have their own intuition of what it means, albeit not the same as the designer.

Somewhere along the line, it seems someone must have explained the game to Tom (his opening paragraph practically confesses as much). He also didnt get the "flip the card you just played" rule. I too would probably have spent another 15 minutes on that one, if we didnt have a veteran explain it to us. (3 separate threads asking about this). We spent too much time already on trying to decipher all the terminology on the cards.

In fact the basic game is so simple, that at least three of the suits the obtuse scoring works the very same way! the game is simple indeed.

Tom also said somewhere that he would play both the simple and advanced versions of the game over and over. But then at the end, he said he prefers the advanced. Well "hello"! No kidding, we played the simple version three times I find it hard to believe that Tom would really want to play that version over and over. It's simple math to know which card to play ("flip a 3 pt card, in order to score 6 victory pts. Wow! Really deep!") Really the math is simple the fact that there are multiple players whose decisions interact with one another means you cant really control whether you win or not, but the decisions themselves dont seem deep. Just really hard to believe he would play the simple version over and over.

This is not to say I dislike the game, it seemed like a good filler game the first few times through; I doubt the simple version will stand the test of time. I did not play the advanced so have no idea on that.

I think the best part of the game is the card drafting which certainly seems clever and possibly innovative. That and the fact the game works as fast, clean, fun filler. The weak part of the game is the rules explanation, the seemingly daunting array of card symbols and the strategy that hardly seems deep. Most of which Tom alluded to but sort of glossed over.

To me it seems that this the kind of game that is a "perfect storm" to obtain a very favorable review at first glance but in the long run we will find it rather thin. It has fun, clever mechanics, it plays quickly, it works as filler, etc. The perfect recipe to grab a player with little time to play all the games on his table, and wants one that can be learned in a few minutes and played in 20. This game has all the right makings for a game that can immediately grab you (card drafting = clever hook) and if you only play it a few times, you might be convinced it is really good; however with repeated play you might feel that there really isnt a lot there.
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Patrick Reynolds
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I have a copy of the Japanese version of the game, which is fully playable since the cards use symbols and/or English on the cards.

This version uses the terms "open" and "close" instead of "flip" and "unflip" to denote switching a card to face down (closed) or face up (open). I like this wording better than the "flip/unflip" mechanics which can lead to a lot of confusion.
 
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