Michael Erb
United States
West Virginia
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Weave a magical tale in ‘Once Upon A Time’

Staff Writer
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG — Once upon a time in a land far, far away, a group of friends gathered to weave tales of legend and lore.

In ‘‘Once Upon A Time,’’ players compete to tell a fairy tale, playing corresponding cards to illustrate and guide their stories while attempting to steal narrative control from each other.

There are several types of cards in the game, with most representing characters, items, locations or events. As you tell a part of your story, you play a corresponding card. For example, if I said ‘‘Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a noble king who lived in a castle on the hill,’’ I could play a King card, a Castle card or a Hill card as part of that story.

There also are Aspect cards that can be used to add a descriptive element to a character or scene, such as ‘‘lucky,’’ ‘‘ugly’’ or ‘‘long-lost.’’

Each player also receives a ‘‘Happily Ever After’’ card with a small bit of text that sums up the story. You play one card for each portion of your story and try to be the first to play all of your cards, using the ‘‘Happily Ever After’’ card to wrap up your tale and win the game.

But other players can steal the story by playing the correct cards. In my earlier example, if I were talking about the king in his castle, another player could lay down a Castle card to steal narrative control. There also are Interrupt cards that allow you to break into a story if a certain item or element is mentioned.

If at any time you lose control of the story, either by having it taken away or finding yourself unable to think of the next part of the story (which happened to me at one point), you draw a new card from the deck and add it to your hand, and the person who interrupted, or the player to the left, takes control of the story and begins to play cards.

Fellow storytellers also can call nonsense on your story if a card doesn’t match the narration or your tale becomes too weird and meandering. The game actually encourages players to call out ‘‘No! Silly!’’ to point out the offense. In those cases, if the majority of players agree an offense has been committed, the offending player must draw a card and play begins again with the player to their left. If someone tries to interrupt and cannot, say they play a card that doesn’t really apply, they have to discard their card and draw two more from the deck.

One of the few pitfalls of the game is due to its very nature: Not every player is ready to jump in and spin an epic yarn about knights and dragons. During one game, two of our four players just stopped playing and listened while myself and a friend tried to out-funny each other with the story. Though it still was amusing, it wasn’t as fun or engaging as an all-out four-player game would have been.

Still, ‘‘Once Upon A Time’’ is a great game, and can be played by a group of adults, a group of children or any combination of the two. There is even an expansion to the game, ‘‘Dark Tales,’’ which adds in those darker fairy-tale themes you sometimes find in the old Brothers Grimm stories, giving the game a bit more of an adult twist if so desired.

Though technically a competitive game, the ultimate goal is to weave a tale that combines those classic elements of fairy tales and bedtime stories and to have fun while doing so. A clever play of cards backed up by an even more clever turn of phrase can transform ‘‘Once Upon A Time’’ from a cute card/storytelling game to a true shared experience.

For more information on ‘‘Once Upon A Time’’ or other Atlas Games’ products, visit www.atlas-games.com.

For more game reviews and articles on gaming, visit my Web log at http://merb101.livejournal.com.

Contact Michael Erb at merb101@gmail.com

Edit: A review copy of the game was provided for this article.
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