This is a game that Kristen and I played last weekend for the first time. It needs a minimum of 3 players, which is why we hadn’t broken it out before, but we picked it up at the Fantasy Flight store because it was on sale at Christmas time and the artwork looked amazing. We didn’t know anything about the game, but now that we’ve played it once, I’m glad that we picked it up.
Winter Tales is a fun, simple, storytelling game that isn’t really all that much of a game. You are split into two teams, one team is controlling some winter characters who are trying to keep the world forever winter but never Christmas, and the other side is trying to bring around spring. You are playing with different fairy tale characters ranging from the Tin Man and Mad Hatter to Alice and Snow White. These characters are placed on specific seasons, so you get to pick who you want from your team. The general idea after that is that you are trying to play your cards telling a story where you are searching for a lost artifact or spreading around propaganda or whatever your quest might be. These cards have fun little sketches on them that you get to interpret however you want, they look like a bunch of stick figures standing in a circle, are they a cult of winter or is it a spring dance to welcome in the new season? Or there’s a shadow in the window that is watching you or is it a banner cheering you on as you go to try and find your lost love? If you succeed or not comes down to if there are more winter cards played or more spring cards played when the story wraps up. This means that the actual mechanics of the game are pretty simple for the most part. But that’s not the real point of the game, the real point of the game is to get creative juices flowing and to tell an epic story of two sides battling against each other.
Now, that sounds super simple, and you can play it that way, but the more you play it, I think there would be a subtle strategy that comes out. This is because there are some things that you can do to stop other characters from joining in on a story. If you are on the winter side you can spend your cards to battle a character who is moving past you, if you win, they stop moving and can’t join the story. Or if you are a member of the spring rebels, you can set traps to keep the winter characters from being able to make it to join into the story. There are also special abilities that each character has, so do you play your character that can only draw 3 cards but can move two spaces for free or do you draw that extra card so you can have the other person join in on a story later? Finally, there are even more special abilities than that, abilities that might be at a certain location, we didn’t play with these as they are optional to the game, but they can certainly add complexity to the game.
So, if it’s just a storytelling game, is it better than Once Upon a Time or Gloom? I’m not sure about Gloom. Gloom has a great mechanic and idea where you are trying to kill of your characters, but it’s definitely better than Once Upon a Time. Winter Tales has a lot more theme to it, and you have the gritty fairy tales gone wrong feel to it that really allows you to jump into what is going on. The theming is just done so well and the artwork while simple at times on some of the cards is beautiful on the board and on the characters that you play. And even the simple artwork on your story cards really helps lead you into a story without forcing you to go in an exact direction. What keeps it from being better than Gloom is that like Once Upon a Time you can run into the situation of how long can you go telling your story between playing cards? They say in the rules that a card should be played every couple of sentences, but it’s more of a suggestion. Games that are storytelling games where you have to play cards as you are telling the story should have a hard and fast rule of every two sentences, and one per run-on sentence to keep it moving. This would add an additional challenge to the game.
Would I recommend it? Yes, I think that I would. It offers a lot of replayability, and while I might lean towards Gloom over this game, this game without an expansions allows you to play more people, up to seven. It means that you can pull it out at a larger game night and get everyone involved in the storytelling. It plays smoothly, the rules are easy to follow, and they give cheat sheets for every player on how turn order goes, how battles and traps work, and how the storytelling phases go. Overall I nicely designed game that is fun but is a storytelling game, so that will be my last caveat that if you are playing it with people who can’t tell a story, even with prompts, then it’s going to fall flat.
Overall Score: B
Casual Score: B+
Gamer Score: C- (because it’s not a complex game with a ton of strategy to it)
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