So, I stopped by my friendly neighborhood gaming store this afternoon, and noticed a small, inconspicuous package with a title I recognized from all those gaming podcasts I listen to: Once Upon a Time. Giuli & I just finished playing a few games, and I have to say–brilliant.
Oral storytellers weave regular tropes and elements into new patterns. In OUaT, you have a hand of story element cards, and an ending card that you try to drive towards. The story element cards depict archetypes from fairy tales; you drive the story towards your ending card, and try to dispose of all the story element cards in your hand. Only once you’ve discarded all your story element cards can you play your ending card. But if you mention something that someone else has in their hand, they can interrupt you by playing that card, and begin directing the narrative themselves.
The cards remind me greatly of how traditional storytellers act, and even the motif of European fairy tales can really help us explore the traditional European remnants of animism that we have in our own culture. I also see a lot of potential to take this game even farther, like “Any form of the verb ‘to be’ counts as passing on your turn,” or “You must relate place cards to real places in your bioregion.” It helps exercise your storytelling muscles, and even directs your imagination in the direction of reuniting our own cultural symbols with animism and rewilding.
In short, if you can, get this. I also got the “Dark Tales” expansion. The original seems almost Disney-like with its appeal to children; Dark Tales adds new story elements and endings that make it play more like the Grimm fairy tales. Best thirty dollars I ever spent. Our own stories haven’t come up with much, but I definitely had the feeling of exercising some atrophied muscles.