Throwback Thursday: Once Upon A Time

Once Upon A Time

Design: Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone, James Wallis    

Publisher: (My copy) Atlas 

Players: 2-6

Duration: 30 minutes


This Thursday is a bit of an unusual choice. Once Upon A Time is considered a ‘party’ game, which is a genre I’ll usually avoid if possible. It’s not that I don’t like fun. I love fun! Really. But it’s the connotations of the party game that make me a little…uneasy. What I do like however is social interactions with people I know, in an environment which I’m comfortable in. And i’m sure that this is what most games in the genre are aiming toward. It’s just that the term ‘party’ is synonymous to me with ‘organised fun’. But all that aside I have occasionally enjoyed a party game. Because I like good games, and sometimes a good game comes in a form that I’d usually balk at.

For review purposes I played Action Cats this week, a micro game currently campaigning on Kickstarter. I enjoyed it, not just for the amusing stories you can piece together about cute cats but because it’s been fully baked and nicely done. As in it’s been well designed and encourages you to be creative and play with words and imagery. It’s not using vulgarity in attempt to mask a poor game.

It got me thinking that the party games I have enjoyed involve story telling in some way. I asked for Once Upon A Time as a birthday present a few years ago. I was just getting into tabletop gaming and I didn’t really know what I liked, or didn’t like yet, so I was testing the waters I guess. Once Upon A Time is a simple card game about telling an original fairy tale. It’s also the oldest (in publishing years) game in my collection, throwing all the way back to 1993. It’s a collaborative group activity where players can win by being the first in the group to play all of their cards, and using their secret ‘ending card’ in a way that makes sense to the story that’s told. The prompts are all classic fairy tale elements that you weave a narrative around. When one of those elements is mentioned you lay the related card on the table. Other players can interrupt when a certain element is mentioned and carry the story forward. The story needs to make sense (even if it is ludicrous, it can’t jump wildly from one thing to another, it needs to make sense within the story you’ve created) so players can challenge one another if they disagree with where the story is heading. So you have the collaboration, you have rules around what you can and can’t do, you have an individual goal to meet, but it’s fluid.

Shortly after my birthday we played Once Upon A Time to finish up evening of gaming. Honestly I can still remember laughing to the point where I was actually crying and my tummy ached. It was so completely entertaining. I can’t remember the specifics of what was so amusing and even if I did it wouldn’t be funny in the present I’m sure. But at the time, in context- it was a really good laugh. It’s the people I was playing with that brought the fun, and I’m so glad they did because thanks to them I have some very fond memories. With games like this it’s all about the blend of people you play with. If you were to play with a group you were not familiar with, or those you weren’t comfortable with it wouldn’t work so well, if at all. If you were to play with people not into it, those who agree to play (with a reluctant sigh) then spend the next 30 minutes checking their phone and taking repeated trips away from the table, then it’s not going to have the same effect. You all need to be invested in the experience.

I haven’t played this game in a couple of years now, which is simply down the fact that with less free time and a larger collection I’m less inclined to suggest this one. The people I played with aren’t around as much and I’m yet to find a similar group of oddballs. But I haven’t given up on it, and I’m sure that at the right time and place Once Upon A Time will get another go-around. It’s a lovely game that you can make sweet memories with. And there’s not much else sweeter than that.

So that’s another week, another Thursday, another throwback. I hope you enjoyed it!



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