Updated: Feb 10
Theodora sat upright in the little girl’s bed and rubbed her glass eyes. “Wake up everyone.” She called “Our girl is asleep and the witching hour is almost upon us.” Obediently the other stuffies did as they were told. Flops hopped up the bed her long ears flapping behind her as she did so. “Where to captain, my captain?” The eager young rabbit cried, donning her bow and quiver. “To the Fall, where else?” Theodora replied. “Not the Fall.” bemoaned Lumpy, the grumpy elephant. “Yes, we must. Crepitus’s forces are massing beyond the veil and it is up to us Stuffies, we brave and valiant few, to defend our girl from his clutches.” replied Stitch the ancient sock puppet. “For tonight, young stuffies, we go to war!”
Stuffed Fables is a storytelling adventure game from designer Jerry Hawthorne and Plaid Hat Games. Players take on the roles of stuffed toys defending their charge, a young girl, while she sleeps from the machinations of the evil brother of the moon, Creptius.
A Quick Overview
Stuffed Fables draws much of its inspiration from RPG’s like Dungeons and Dragons while attempting to simplify and streamline a myriad of rulebooks into just a couple of pages. The game works by having players read out the story from the book and at certain points they will be asked to place their figures on the map and play out an encounter, which will determine what happens next in the story.
During an encounter the players each control one stuffy and take a turn by drawing five dice from the dice bag. White dice are resolved immediately, the player rolls one or more of the dice they have drawn attempting to roll equal to or more than the number of stuffing (hit points) on their character card. If they do they find some stuffing and add a new stuffing token to their card. Black dice are then resolved by placing them on the threat track.
Any remaining dice may then be used to take actions. Any dice may be used to move. Red dice are used for melee combat and green for ranged. Yellow dice can be used to perform search actions and purple dice are wild. Blue dice have no special function but usually bolster defensive abilities and healing.
After the player finishes taking actions they check the threat track. If there are dice equal to or more than the number of minions in play the minions attack. If there are no minions in play but there are dice equal to the number of stuffies in play they resolve a surge (a bad thing, often resulting in enemies arriving).
Players win the game by advancing through the storybook and completing the final encounter. Players instantly lose the game if all stuffies are simultaneously knocked out.
Why Choose It?
I grew up on RPG’s. Long before I discovered board games I would have my nose pressed into the pages of my dad’s Dungeon Master's Guide. I could quote you page numbers for any given rule and tell you random generator table results from memory. For me, Stuffed Fables seemed like an ideal My First D&D board game to play with the game night guys, to wet their toes and show them a different kind of game from our usual fare.
Did they like it?
Dave: “Imaginative and enjoyable setting, nothing like playing as a teddy bear with a large kitchen knife!”
Bob: "The book idea is an interesting one, and gives scope for "accents" though it's maybe a little more difficult for those not sat in front of the book. The different actions for each stuffy are good - even though we did everything without anyone dying, i thought there was a good balance between difficulty and achievability."
Mrs Bob: "Did you guys eat ALL the curry?!"
The Rules are Woolier than a Knitted Stuffy
The problem with Stuffed Fables and believe me, I go back and forth on whether or not this is a problem, is the rules. They are less a strict set of guidelines on how the mechanics of this game interact and are, in fact, more of a loose collection of suggestions on how the game should work, without always going into specifics.
In every game I have played of Stuffed Fables I have run into questions about how exactly a rule is supposed to work. A good example is Line of Sight. Line of Sight in most miniature based combat games is a big deal and usually causes a lot of contention especially among the more beardy of my gaming buddies. Stuffed Fables gets around the problems of line of sight by simply not defining it at all. The problem with that is that other rules state that your stuffy can do something as long as they are “in sight” of something else.
So I asked the designer to define Line of Sight and Jerry responded “what do you think your stuffy can see from where they are standing?”* and that was when Stuffed Fables clicked for me. The game is providing a story and a framework. If a problem arises in the game which the rules don’t cover, make a logical decision and just continue playing. If everyone is having fun then you’re playing it right.
All that said, my logical, rules-abiding brain still butts up against these not infrequent rules discrepancies and is immediately pulled from the immersive storytelling experience while I try and work out if I missed something or what the original intent was with the rule as written.
Luck of the Draw
I’ve played ten games of Stuffed Fables now and largely I haven’t seen too many times when a player can’t do something on their turn. However, because your actions are driven by what dice you draw randomly from a bag it can happen that you just can’t do anything on your turn. For example we had a player draw 3 white and 2 black dice from the bag meaning they could take no actions at all. Fortunately they could make use of other dice we had stored on the Courageous cards around the table.
Alternatively the scenario can present you with a problem that means you simply can’t act. For example, the train scenario has a line of enemies blocking the stuffies path. You cannot move through an enemy space and you cannot attack them without a ranged weapon. Therefore two of our party simply could not do anything on their turn and were forced to pass. This is neither heroic nor fun. In these circumstances it makes sense to switch up the order of play and simply choose a different starting player. In fact many of these style of games such as Descent or TMNT Shadows of the Past do this in order to allow the person best equipped to handle a situation to act at any given time.
Is it my go yet?
When the players finish a page the first player marker moves to the next player. It is possible as happened with our play through that a page is completed before the last stuffy gets to activate, in this case they do not get a turn and because the turn order changes they must wait another two turns before getting to do anything. A simple fix for this is to have the next player in turn order become the first player (or bookkeeper) for the next encounter.
Despite the obvious flaws I have experienced with the game I have to say that I really enjoy it. It does a good job of immersing you in it’s world and I enjoy the variety of encounters and puzzles that the game offers. I do wish that there were more enemy types, six stories in and I’m bored of encountering yet another band of crawlies.
I love the theme here too, this is Toy Story the board game, plushy animals coming to life, picking up meat cleavers and fighting an army of darkness, all while rescuing lost toys and learning life lessons about growing up. Some reviewers have said that this is a game they wouldn’t play with a group of grown ups but I disagree. Anyone with a sense of imagination and wonder can enjoy the story on offer here. The experience of playing with adults may be different but it’s not a bad one and Stuffed Fables acts as a great stepping stone into other more complex dungeon crawling style games.
As for playing the game with children and non-gamers, I offer a word of caution. While this a great game with simple rules and training wheels, I don’t think it is necessarily a game that should be played without a gamer or at least a parent to help keep the story moving. Those rules breakdowns could be very off-putting for someone unfamiliar with this style of game, so having an experienced person there to fill in the gaps will keep everyone having a good time.
Stuffed Fables is an RPG-lite experience that has a wonderful theme, beautiful art, stunning miniatures but is not without its flaws. However in my opinion those flaws are worth overlooking for the story the game is just dying to tell you. So, strap on your letter opener, do up your buttons and lets take our stuffies once more into The Fall.
All miniatures painted by The Duke, check out more of his work here