No child should be without their cuddly toys, and Stuffed Fables shows you why, as you take on the role of a group of “Stuffies” – cuddly toys who come alive at night, and fight to ensure that the little girl they love is safe from a creature of Nightmares. Who is this game for? And is it any good? Let’s find out!
Stuffed Fables: What’s in the box?
The first thing you’ll notice with Stuffed Fables, is just how fantastically high the production values are. The game centres around a large, glossy, spiral-bound story-book, which provides the narrative drive of the game, and also acts as the game board. Even the box is extra shiny!
Component-wise, the highlight is the “Stuffies” you control: 6 really nice miniatures, with a cute art style, and plenty of detail, which look like they’ll paint up nicely. The monsters you face also have miniatures, which are suitable creepy.
Aside from the book and the minis, there are also lots of cards, tokens and dice – all of which are good-quality and clearly laid out.
Sounds good – so what do we do?
Stuffed Fables is a very heavily narrative-driven game. It starts with a child spending her first night in a “big girl bed” and continues through future scenarios which explore themes like potty-training and leaving a tooth out for the tooth fairy.
Each scenario comes with long chunks of story text to describe what is going on, and then a series of maps to explore, with objectives to complete. Sometimes you’ll just need to reach a specific space on the map, other times you might need to visit a certain number of objectives and then advance.
Each turn your stuffy will draw 5 dice from the bag – black dice are immediately placed on the story book, and will trigger monster activations and other bad events. Then, white dice are used to regain stuffing (~hit-points). After these steps, you can decide how you want to spend your remaining dice – for movement, for combat, to search your environment, or to perform scenario-specific actions.
Most stories in Stuffed Fables start off in the little girl’s bedroom then branch out into other rooms of her house or, ultimately, descending into a nightmare realm, trying to rescue a treasured possession (like the little girl’s blanket), or to stop a plot by the nightmare lord, such as having all the taps running during the first nappy-free night in bed.
Cornier than Kansas, and with Dialogue to match
Aside from the narrative that drives the game, Stuffed Fables also features various cautionary tales, and discussion topics, generally presented around the margins of the book or at the end of a scenario. Whilst I can appreciate the idea behind these, they generally felt a bit ham-fisted, and there were definitely times where it felt like Stuffed Fables was just trying a bit too hard to be thought-provoking or meaningful.
Another thing that we found rather off-putting was the fact that Stuffed Fables used a lot of Americanisms in-text. I can translate “mom” to “mum” without really needing to pause to think, but other bits like “Diaper” still jar a lot. There are lots of threads online about getting this game translated into various languages, but I don’t expect that “English” is high on the list.
The Dice, All the Dice, and Nothing but the Dice?
Whilst the narrative of Stuffed Fables drives what you are trying to do, it is the dice that determine what actually happens. You heal with dice, enemies attack based on dice, and you defend with dice (if you have them). You move with dice, attack with dice, search with dice, and perform various scenario-tasks with dice.
This means that a lot of what you can actually do on any given turn depends on what you draw at the start. As you only draw 5, and blacks are set aside, you can quickly find yourself with little left. There should only ever be as many black dice as there are players in the game, but that can still mean that an unlucky draw cripples the rest of your turn.
Red dice are used with Melee weapons to fight enemies, or for Strength tasks (moving an object, pulling a lever), and Green dice are used to fight with Ranged weapons. Yellow dice are used for searching, and blue dice, not having any specific function, are often used for defence – fortunately any dice can be used for movement, so most of the time having too many “wrong” coloured dice won’t completely stop you from acting.
One key way in which Stuffed Fables ensures that gameplay isn’t completely 1-dimensional is with “Wild” pink dice, which can be used for anything. As there are only a limited number of these, you need to be careful about what you use them for though, as once they’re gone, you’re not going to have any more until the whole dice bag has been emptied and re-filled.
Any Variety? Random Encounters!
One way in which the designers have tried to give Stuffed Fables some added re-play value, is by including a deck where you can encounter members of The Fallen, toys which have slipped down beneath the normal world, and now dwell in this bleak post-apocalyptic landscape. Each map will have symbol(s) where you can draw the top card from this deck to encounter one of them at random.
The format for these encounters is pretty simple – you will be given a description, and then have the option to give something, usually stuffing (i.e. your own health) or buttons – rewards for defeating monsters or completing other tasks. You then read the resolution, which might be “they thank you” or might turn into a tangible reward. There are some which will actually punish you, and a few cards with the same set up duplicated, but opposite outcomes, which are designed to avoid things becoming stale as you encounter the same card as on a previous play-through.
This is certainly a nice touch, and is a good way to flesh out the world that the designers have created here, but ultimately these little side-quests felt too limited to justify making repeat run-throughs of the same scenario, just in the hope of seeing some extra cards. On top of that, we regularly ran into “You may give them X buttons, if you do then Y” without having any buttons to give, which meant that something which was supposed to provide a little narrative highlight just fizzled out.
Resolution? Or Just Sleep?
A game of Stuffed Fables will always end in more or less the same way – the stuffies making it back to the bedroom, just as the little girl wakes up. However, there are two different resolutions for most scenarios. If your team got the mission completed in good time, the story will be a broadly happy one, but if the little girl’s sleep was too disturbed, there can be a conclusion that’s more tinged with unhappiness.
Stuffed Fables features a “sleep deck” and various events in the game – too many black dice, or taking too long to complete an objective – can cause you to reveal additional cards from it. Much of the time the girl will be calmly sleeping, but she might become restless, or even wake up completely! This is generally something you want to avoid, at least so far as it’s in your power to do so.
So who is this game for exactly?
One of the big questions that I keep seeing floating around Stuffed Fables is to who exactly the target audience is. Is it for children? For grown-ups? For parents?
My son is young enough that he would just want to eat these, but in a few years’ time I expect he’d find them quite disturbing
The length of the story-chunks, and indeed of a scenario overall feels prohibitive for very young children – you can easily expect to spend 2 hours working through a complete story, and even if they don’t find Crawlies too scary, that feels like way beyond the concentration span of most young children. For older children, these issues go away gradually, but I expect that there’s probably a fairly narrow window before they reach an age where playing as a stuffed rabbit, trying to save a toddler’s comfort blanket is just too uncool to be considered.
Realistically then, I think this game is aimed at adults, be they parents or not, who want to reminisce on their own childhood, or can reflect on the parallels with the lives of their own children. I was perfectly happy to get on board with the idea of spending an hour or two as a slightly cowardly but very loyal stuffed elephant.
The problem with this though, is that Stuffed Fables is an incredibly light game. For something that takes two hours, I think there really needs to be a bit more meat to the mechanical side of things, a greater level of challenge. Most of the time, Stuffed Fables is really easy, and on the occasions where it isn’t, it’s usually a freak storm of dice effects rendering the situation impossible, so there’s little to do. Of course, you can house-rule, and mix up the dice ratios a bit, but this isn’t without its complications – for one thing, any changes you make aren’t going to be play-tested, unless you’re prepared to trawl through the same scenario over and over again.
Stuffed Fables: Final Thoughts
As I said at the outset, Stuffed Fables is a beautifully produced game. The production values are sky-high, and the quality of the components is top-notch. There are certainly things which jar, and an Anglicised version of this game would be much appreciated, although I can’t see one happening.
Overall, though, this game feels like it has very limited life. Once you’ve been through the story once, you’ll know 60-90% of the content of that scenario, and there just isn’t enough going on under the bonnet to want to keep replaying the game once you know the routes through the scenarios.
Overall, I’d give this a 7 – worth getting to play-through once, but probably not a keeper.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits in my new life as a dad.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Dice Masters and Destiny) when I can make it out of the house.Competitively. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.