Once Upon a Time

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.

Alright, you sold me. Sigh. :stuck_out_tongue:

If you are interested in exploring animism as well as community ritualized storytelling and re-enacting of Fairy Tales you might grok a Reclaiming Witchcamp [http://witchcamp.org/index.php?section=witchcamps&id=3]. There’s a couple that take place up in the Pacific Northwest each year.

They generally have a common pattern of where you live in a fairy tale for an entire week of nightly group ritual and daytime small workshops and affinity groups… I don’t think you necessarily have to identify as “pagan” to get a lot out of it, just have openness to the story of it.

I’ve experienced ours here as a very powerful encounter with these stories and the world of spirit and ancestors.

Jason, thanks for the review. The game looks really neat, I really like the idea, and it would even be possible to make a new deck of story items to make it more rewilding-ish, or, really, to adapt it to any genre.

Mojomike, those camps you linked too, especially the reclaiming one, look totally awesome. So many camps, so little time.

It sounds like game mechanics involve mainly cards. So, do you think it’d be possible to do a DIY version of this, perhaps making cards based on Oracles? I feel like I may need more of an explanation on how this game is played to try such a thing, though…

The rules are actually online, they’re actually really simple, it’s less than nine pages. The card list is online too. There really is no reason to buy the game except to get the nice printed cards … which has something to be said for it :). I love the tactile sensation of a well made game.

About the oracle thing, yeah, I completely agree. Another crazy oracle-like phase, here we come?

I’ve started thinking that a version of this with some different cards might make a nice project once the Fifth World has matured a bit. Yes, gameplay all centers on cards, so yes, you could definitely come up with a different deck and really change the tone of the game. But why would you want to? I think I might like to spike the rules with a little more bioregional animism, but really, you’ve got enough there already. Heck, just look at the cover–

Do you see the shapeshifting coyote trickster, right there, front and center, dancing with the lady?

Good point. There are actually a number of interesting parallels between medieval European myth and animism. Or, at least, it is more similar to animism than modern beliefs in many ways; it is often more in tune with the mythical human experience. I’ve been thinking about that recently while reading the Tempest for class.

Some of the disneyishness of the example stories does turn me off a bit, but I could definitely see how the same story elements could be used in different ways.

I wouldn’t call them parallels; rather, European fairy tales contain some of the last vestiges of European animism. Which tells you exactly why I value them so much.

If the Disney angle puts you off, get the Dark Tales expansion. I wouldn’t call the original particularly Disney-ish, but the expansion definitely puts it more into the original Brothers Grimm territory.

Yeah, I just looked at the expansion card list and I definitely like it better. I’m not morbid ;).

Yeah, that’s what I was trying to get at with “it is more similar to animism than modern beliefs”. We lost a lot before that time, but we’ve lost a lot since too. The European thing is also helpful becuase it gets around the issue of cultural appropriation.

There is an interesting difference for me at least, between these kind of medieval fairy tales and neo-paganism, and rewilding. Neo-paganism, more wicca than druidism, but some of both, feels very firelight and night and warmth to me, while rewilding brings up images of cold, clear snowy, bright days. That doesn’t really do it justice and is a topic for another post. I’ll move it in the morning.


Do you have a link for that? Thanks!

I just like doing-it-myself instead of buying stuff when possible; I didn’t realize the rules and cards were online.

Do you [i]see[/i] the shapeshifting coyote trickster, right there, front and center, dancing with the lady?

That so reminds me of the masquerade scene in Labyrinth. Now I won’t be able to play this game without sneaking Bowie into a story somehow :wink:

that there comment earns you the crown of story-land for the entire hour of midnight. i bend my knee to you, sir.


Do you have a link for that? Thanks![/quote]
Sure, the link is http://www.atlas-games.com/product_tables/AG1001.php. The link for the expansion is http://www.atlas-games.com/product_tables/AG1003.php. I totally get the wanting to do it yourself thing, though sometimes i wonder if there is a moral dilemma.

[quote=“Matt, post:13, topic:825”][quote author=wildeyes]


Do you have a link for that? Thanks!

Sure, the link is http://www.atlas-games.com/product_tables/AG1001.php. The link for the expansion is http://www.atlas-games.com/product_tables/AG1003.php. I totally get the wanting to do it yourself thing, though sometimes i wonder if there is a moral dilemma.[/quote]

Some people just won’t buy something so they only might play they could get the game DIY like that, then perhaps they could play with others, and someone else might like it enough to buy it!

Good point, good point. Any publicity is good publicity.

my family has played this a few times (on recommendations here). it’s fun, and my daughter gets completely entranced by the stories we make up.

i have to admit that it’s harder than i thought to spin those stories, but it’s fun all the same. i can definitely see how it’s a good tool to use to learn storytelling.