"Keep Summer Safe!"
I enjoy Alex Rockwell's writing, particularly on strategy. So when he recently labelled Fairy Tale the "Best Filler Evar" it put the game on my radar.
Fairy Tale has 100 nicely illustrated cards in four suits. Three suits represent the `nice' races (Fairies, Dragons and Knights) and are functionally identical. The fourth suit represents chaos or evil. A game has four rounds. The dealer gives each player five cards. You keep one and pass the rest, then keep one of the (four) cards you get passed, and so on. After everyone has drafted five cards, players pick a card and simultaneously reveal them (three times). All played cards are kept, but may be turned face down.
Cards can have three special powers: Hunting, Opening and Closing. If any card "Hunts", all of the affected cards played at the same time are turned face down. For example, each of the three good suits has a card that `hunts' the evil suit (black, of course). There aren't many hunt cards. Cards that open allow the player to turn one or two cards (usually of a specific suit) face up. Cards that close require the player (or all players) to turn a card (again, usually of a specific suit) face down.
So, you draft five cards, then play three (one at a time). Discard the other two. Repeat four times and then score. Only face up cards count for scoring, and the cards have a variety of mechanics to score. Some cards have a flat value (positive or negative). Some sets score based on the number of cards. Others are conditional - to earn points you must have the most of a type, or a certain combination. Type could be suit, but cards also have a theme (story, location, character) which may be counted. Lots of ways to score.
Fortunately the cards' symbols explain the scoring. It took a game or two to decipher them, but a game only lasts 15 minutes. The cards also show their frequency (by saying x/100) and the distribution of any cards that they require, so the conditional `7' that requires a `Green 6' and `Green 1' indicates that there are four of each of those cards. The cards look nice with typical fantasy artwork.
Having played a few times, I consider Fairy Tale an enjoyable filler, and there may be depth. For the first game, you try to learn the cards. Then in the second game, you start combining some defensive play ("I want this card a bit, but I cannot let the next player have that card"). Scoring combinations and what they require also starts to inform your analysis. Standard tricks of play get noticed (playing a high value card that forces you to close one of your cards in that suit, then a low value card that opens one card) and countered (with hunts) at the appropriate time.
Thinking is optional but useful for this game. For a late night `closer' game, that seems right. One interesting note is that with 5 players, the entire deck will be dealt out, but with less that isn't true. And there are several cards that occur exactly once in the deck. The partnership four-player variant supposedly adds to the strategy, but I haven't tried it.
Due to the fact that Fairy Tale is imported from Japan, expect mild sticker shock [There's a new version coming out in the US by Z-Man games]. On the other hand, recent Steve Jackson Games cost more, with worse production values. I think this has staying power, but I'm not sure. It's too early to proclaim it the best filler, though. Early impression - favorable.