Battle nightmares and explore under the bed in the brand new board game Stuffed Fables.
Twilight has fallen, and a young girl sleeps soundly, unaware of ominous purple light spilling from below her bed. She dreams of Stuffed Fables, as you take control of her plushies, rolling the dice to defend her against the coming onslaught of nightmares.
Teamwork is the name of the game in Stuffed Fables. It’s cooperative, and instead of competing, players must work together to achieve a single goal by balancing their individual characters’ strengths and weaknesses. While some cooperative games such as Pandemic can become dull in later stages as options dwindle, Stuffed Fables expertly avoids this problem. Varying win conditions and plot twists give each player plenty of individual choices.
Each player takes control of a stuffed animal, from intrepid leader Theadora the Teddy, to Stich the old ragdoll. Each character has its own abilities and strengths, which will let them excel in areas such as protection or melee attacks. Not all stuffies are available all the time, with some getting discovered in later campaigns as part of an expanding story.
Most games have some theme or ‘hook’, from Settlers of Catan’s civilization building to King of Tokyo’s monster movie destruction. Never before have I seen a theme so seamlessly integrated into the gameplay. Maps are found in a massive storybook, accompanied by prose players read aloud. Different obstacles, choices, and outcomes depending on how well players roll cause the tale to take a different path, like an extremely interactive and re-playable Choose Your Own Adventure novel.
The art is gorgeous and vibrant, alternatively whimsical and creepy. The character (and enemy) figurines are especially delightful. Little details like life counters taking the form of ‘stuffing’, or buttons as currency, really sell the experience.
Interestingly, since this all takes place in the imagination of a little girl, the instructions use ‘she/her’ to refer to all players. Since most games either use masculine or gender-neutral pronouns, this choice does really help it stand out.
60-90 minutes is the expected run-time, but my group’s first outing took closer to three hours. While it always takes a while to get a hang of a new game, Stuffed Fables is particularly dense. There’s a lot to take in at once: six different coloured dies, stuffing, buttons, item cards, hearts, and more.
Characters navigate around maps depicting fantastic landscape’s conjured from the girl’s imaginings, including deadly oceans or murky swamps, using differently colored dice. Sometimes monsters will spawn, and players must find a way to destroy them or flee. Defeating monsters earns buttons, which can be used to buy helpful items in shops. Some challenges will earn players ‘hearts’, which activate powerful unique abilities.
By taking detours to speak with strange toys, you can trigger random events– do a kind deed to earn hearts, or find yourself facing an unexpected enemy for your trouble.
Chance is a large component of the game, with plenty of dice rolling to determine what actions you can perform, and how well you do it. Strategy is still key, however. You must carefully choose which dice you use, and when. There are also narrative choices you must make as a group. For example: do you try to catch a runaway train, or take a longer, more dependable route from the outset?
With its clever mechanics and delightful theme, Stuffed Fables is a story that be played by adults and families alike. If you’re going to play with children, though, be aware that it’s complex rules and longer run time suits it for older kids.