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Subject: Fabula – A Polemic Tale rss

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Bruno Kruchak
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Disclaimer: I am mostly an ameritrasher. Nevertheless, I have nothing against Euros (as a matter of fact there are a buch of them that I am really found of). I prefer designs that provide plenty of room for players’ direct interaction/confrontation. All in all, I consider myself an eclectic gamer, but my clear preference is for hybrid mechanics. Theme does matter to me, as I like to fantasize on the story the game is trying to tell.

I'll try to keep it short and to pin point things that did not click for me, as some that did. If by any means the negative points offend you, I’m really sorry but that’s just my opinion. I'll be glad to hear yours.

INTRO
To be honest, I must say that this wasn’t one of those games that I felt crazy about when I first heard about it. I ended up buying a copy only because I managed to find one at a very reasonable price.

I’m pretty sure that some of you are thinking that an opportunity buy like this would mean just one more game stuck on the shelf. If it weren’t for the mistress and some non-gamers friends, that would be 100% true. As they all loved Dixit, I saw in Fabula a good chance for dragging them a little bit more to the dark side. Also, as Dixit had blown my mind by the artistic and imaginative approach, the concept of Fabula intrigued me.

My main concern was probably the same concern I believe haunts every gamer that already owns a copy of Dixit and is interested in Fabula: will it be just more of the same? And more: does it have what it takes to get a space in my gaming shelf?

Well, I got to play the game extensively this past weekends trying to answer those questions. I also tried to find a reason for the disappearance of that initial pre-release buzz. Here are my thoughts.

RULES
I won’t go through the rules in detail. The big picture is that players take the role of fantasy characters to try and tell the story that is being moderated by the writer. The writer reads parts of a tale and the players have to try and complete it using item cards that are open on the table.

After listening to the players’ development proposals, the writer player is to validate, or not, the version created by the player on its character. The writer has to follow a criterion when pondering about the validation. That is: i) if the item used fits in nicely with the proposal; ii) if the proposal is a good response to the problem presented on the chapter; iii) if the proposal of the character/player is relevant.

In the final act (epilogue), the 2 characters with most validated proposals confront each other in a 30sec contest, trying to come up with a better ending than the other. The writer then is to choose which version was the best and that player will be the "winner".

Wondering why the quotation marks? Soon you’ll get there.

THEME
This is a highly thematic "game". It transpires theme as the theme and the story that is trying to be told are the game itself. It is and it demands an immersive atmosphere.

More quotation marks? Keep reading.

COMPONENTS
Components in this game are beautiful. However, they are only as good as helping players get into the tale’s setting.

The most important ones are the item cards, but even so they are dispensable. One can easily play this game with nothing but a fertile imagination. All you have to do is to describe a scenario and ask your friends to come up with an interesting tale-like solution for it. To introduce some twist, name certain items that must be used when coming up with that solution. To keep track of the best stories (so that the best storyteller can be named at the end of the game), get a bunch of beans on the kitchen or some pebbles from the backyard to award the most convincing player.

There. I have just given you the formula of a home-made Fabula.

Ok, reviewer. So components aren’t essential. But would you say they are completely useless? "No. Not entirely", is my answer. The illustrations are very vivid, almost as if you could fell the context and surroundings. And that, IMO, drags people’s minds into the game, making inventing the story for that scenario a little bit easier. But just a little bit.


WHAT DO I THINK OF IT?

1) Imagine all the people.
This game depends highly on the people who are playing it. And for that, it can go from 0-10 in a blink of an eye.

Interesting enough, I believe this is the first game that got me to into thinking that too much theme can be a problem Well, too much of anything will always be a problem, obviously. The thing is: if you’re on a table in which players don’t allow themselves to immerse on the playing experience, I can assure you that this will be a drab.

If it seems incoherent someone who loves theme complain about it, then incoherent I am. However, it’s not that the theme kills the game, but that the lack of it (or to be more precise, the lack of people getting into it - or the story behind it). So, bear that in mind.

2) The tale of the quotation marks.
Here comes one big question: is Fabula really a game?

I’m pretty sure you already know the answer, but I’ll confirm it anyway: "No, Fabula isn’t a game". Fabula is a storytelling (and yes, this is probably an obvious assertion). The point is that as any storytelling, it is highly subjective, for subjectiveness is all it is about. As such, one can never be too concerned about winning, nor with having their version of the tale validated.

This takes us to another big issue: somehow they’ve tried dress a storytelling into a game (with a winner and everything else). And that, IMO, just backfired. Any and all things related to victory in this one are no more than a tale. The game is too subjective to there be a winner. Thus, playing it requires a lot of lightheartness, which is not exactly the easiest thing to find among big groups of people.

Playing this game with competitive folks is definitely a trap as someone is certainly going to get frustrated - or even angry - with the validations of the writer.

From where I see it, if there cannot be a winner (or at least competition oriented by objective rules), there cannot be a game. There. Now you get the quotation marks.

3) Yes, your honor, I know the rule.
While setting a paradigm for the validations is necessary to prevent too arbitrary decisions, this is an innocuous rule. That because the core of the criteria is still completely subjective, and, therefore validations will always be taken upon emotional/personal grounds.

As such, a perfectly coherent development for the story will never be that perfect (and maybe not even coherent) for someone else’s point of view. And that can be really, REALLY, frustrating, especially if you consider you’ve put a lot of effort on coming up with that tale.

4) Non-game game strategy. Are you crazy? Is that even possible?
On the other hand, there are some interesting points (decision-wise speaking) that allow one to say that there is a very thin line of strategy here.

A player can cleverly force the proposals of the fellow players to become harder by choosing the item that seems to be the most obvious one to the present scenario (on the other hand, that means scoring less tie-breaking points - that are the stars on the item cards - the more stars, the harder it will be to fit in the tail, allegedly). Reversely, one may opt to leave items that seem more adequate for the ending for later (hopping no one will use them) as it will be easier to fit them into the part of the tale that will be limited by the sand-time.

I know that it sounds crazy to say that there is strategy in a game that is not a game, but while playing, it certainly feels like there is some control of future actions (I mean, stories) hiding somewhere in the tale with a little red riding hood.

CONCLUSION
After all, is Fabula just more of Dixit’s same? Why has the entire buzz upon its pre-release vanished? And most importantly: is it a keeper?

I do believe that there’s space in a game shelf for both Fabula and Dixit as each provide us with a different game feeling. In the first one, you manage to get into other players thoughts through breathtaking illustrations. On the other, you simply try to do your best in telling a story with the elements that are given to you (breathtaking illustrations and generic backgrounds).

In that sense, Fabula reminds me a lot of RPG’s interpretation part, actually. So if just the slightest thought of this resemblance makes you shiver, run away from this "game". If it doesn’t, well, I think the box has enough to deliver for a lasting tale.

Now this brings me to what I think is one of the most important points of this review. I have the felling that if one wants an RPG interpretation experience, one is going to play RPG that surely offers much more elements than this tiny little ludical "game". Especially if you consider that one do not actually need the content of the box to play it, as I mentioned above.

About the fading buzz, I’ll risk saying that it has a lot to do with the fact that this one tried to follow Dixit’s trail, but it was not up for the job. Coming on Dixit’s trail (which was definitely a huge hit), worked toward elevating expectations (and consequently frustrations) about it. By the time people started to realize Fabula was but a warm clone of the trail of its older brother, it was doomed to oblivion.

That is why I guess this is one is definitely a double-edged sword. I can see one getting deeply frustrated with the experience and one loving it. As matter of fact, I can see the same person loving the experience of playing and hating it, all in the same day. As for me, right now, I’m not loving it. And quite frankly, I don’t see myself loving it anytime soon.

The wrap up?
Fabula, IMO, does not have what it takes to keep the space in my game shelf.


PS. An unorthodox idea for expanding the game.
If you own both Dixit and Fabula and is a little bit fed up with the tales that come with the game, here’s one unorthodox though.

Use Dixit’s cards as settings and some others as mandatory contexts, or even items (if suitable) to be used in the storytelling (as substitutes of the item cards). Take 3 for each player on the table (except for the writer) and leave them face up on the table (as if item cards). Play everything else by Fabula’s rules. There. Now you have never-ending expansion for the game.

Thanks for reading!
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Charles Waterman
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It seems like the game should be played more as a light RPG than as a board game. To keep some lighthearted competition in the game, one might make the points worth something *outside* of the game instead of having a "winner" in the game. That way, getting any points at any phase of the game would be worth something to encourage less frustrated participation. For example, points could be traded in at the end of the game for choosing the toppings on one of the pizzas to be ordered, choosing the next game to be played, getting to force another player to do some kind of humorous "forfeit" (or protecting oneself from having to do one), etc.

Would that make the game experience better?

Montebanc
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Bruno Kruchak
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montebanc wrote:
It seems like the game should be played more as a light RPG than as a board game. To keep some lighthearted competition in the game, one might make the points worth something *outside* of the game instead of having a "winner" in the game. That way, getting any points at any phase of the game would be worth something to encourage less frustrated participation. For example, points could be traded in at the end of the game for choosing the toppings on one of the pizzas to be ordered, choosing the next game to be played, getting to force another player to do some kind of humorous "forfeit" (or protecting oneself from having to do one), etc.

Would that make the game experience better?

Montebanc


That is a good idea. I guess it will add some more fun to the game, but in the end, I'm afraid the matters that bothered me will still be there.

Thanks for the comment.

Cheers!


 
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Damien Seb. ●leoskyangel●
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Now, when you relate the game with RPG (I never played any RPGs, hence why I never relate them), I said to myself, "owh yeah, I forgot to view from that point of view". At first, I didn't have a clue on what your opinion would be right in the middle of the reading (except when you mentioned "negative" on top). So I said, "hmm, this is the very first person I've met that admitted he likes Fabula".

But then, when I got to the last part, I couldn't agree more. When I first played this game, I told myself to never return to it. Yes I was that harsh. Dixit is simply my limit to a storytelling game.

I don't know, the game just didn't click. Probably because I have problems imagining myself in this story, hence failed to further see what surrounds me. Could be that RPG isn't for me, but who knows as I never try it. But high praises to the fantastic components (thick cardstock), and amazing artworks.

Thank you for sharing your opinions, especially based from an RPG player (if you are).
Regards
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Bruno Kruchak
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dtroy_de_rapcore wrote:
Thank you for sharing your opinions, especially based from an RPG player (if you are). Regards


I used to be. I'm not anymore. As soon as I found out about modern board games, I discovered I could have just the amount of fun, without having to invest the same amount of time RPG demanded. Best trade off ever!

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

Cheers!
 
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Charles Waterman
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Different *kind* of fun, but yes a lot less time required - and a more varied kind of fun available with boardgames. I just wish more indie TRPG creators would realize there could be a great market for people who like flexible storytelling but want to do it in a **structured, rules-based way** as one-off evenings that can be played out in 2 hours or less!

Montebanc.

PS Fabula **DOES** seem to be a step in this direction! I hope it will be an inspiration for more game designers to continue working in this direction.

PPS Evil Hat Games.....Where is Escape or Die?????

PPSS Hoping Fortune and Glory might be a major step forward also!
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Lauge Rosendahl
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montebanc wrote:
I just wish more indie TRPG creators would realize there could be a great market for people who like flexible storytelling but want to do it in a **structured, rules-based way** as one-off evenings that can be played out in 2 hours or less!


I totally agree. Fabula doesn't work; in my case because the adults I play with are not interested, and the children I play with, just wants to roleplay - I'm not going to award victory points to one 9yo's story over anothers, thats a pure recipe for disaster when the criteria is completely subjective.
But an easy entry level, quickly prepared, playable in 2 hours, RPG-system on the other hand ... that would be great!
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Charles Waterman
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If only Evil Hat would release a Family Friendly (or gateway) version of Fred Hicks' unpublished prototype game "ESCAPE OR DIE!" That would be a great, one-off game with rules, and a time limit!

Montebanc

(looking forward to Race to Adventure!)
 
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Lauge Rosendahl
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And I just ordered the rpg system "Grimm" - it sounded easy enough, and the world inspires me plenty.
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