Stuffed Fables Review – Fluff and Fighting
There are a lot of themed games on the market. From outer space to the Wild West, there is something for everyone. That being said, every now and then you come across a game that wears its theme so heavily on its sleeve, that not only has a theme but sticks that theme on a flag and waves it, that you have to look closer at it. Thus is the case with Stuffed Fables, the game we will be looking at today.
What is Stuffed Fables?
Okay, let’s jump right in because there is quite a lot to cover here. Stuffed Fables is an board game RPG designed by Jerry Hawthorne. Based around an incredibly innocent idea of protecting a child whilst she sleeps from evil things, Stuffed Fables sees players take control of a Stuffie, a toy that comes to life to protect her at night. Those characters have their own abilities, their own personalities, and their own place in the story.
Stuffed Fables is known as an Adventure Book Game. The maps for the game all fit within a storybook, where the map is on the left hand page and the story is on the right. This works in a kind of “Choose Your Own Adventure” style that allows for the game to change when the players act in certain ways.
Aside from that, Stuffed Fables is a relatively simple dice game, with six different dice denoting the different actions in the game.
How Is Stuffed Fables Played?
With games like Stuffed Fables it can be difficult to give a rundown of the rules because of how vast and open the game is. The specific aspects of the rules are introduced one by one, as and when the players come across them. As such the playing experience can vary a lot – so, with that in mind, it makes sense to pull out a few aspects and then give you the resources to read and explore further if you so wish.
Essentially; however, Stuffed Fables is a scenario driven game, set in series of stories. Each level, there will be a bit of story, and then the Stuffies are placed on a map. What tends to happen is there will either be objectives in the story or enemies will appear for the Stuffies to complete or fight. Sometimes there will be additional actions or interactions that cause additional story elements to appear.
At its heart though, beyond the theme and the book, Stuffed Fables is essentially a dice game. Each turn you draw dice from a bag and roll them. Those dice are standard D6, however, they come in different shades. All dice can be used to determine movement. White dice, if higher than your current health, will increase your health by 1 (it’s called Stuffing, which is again rather thematic). Black dice get reserved for the enemies and unlock their movement to later cause them to activate. Red dice are melee attacks, green dice are dexterity based skills and ranged attacks, yellow are used for different tests within the game. Purple dice act as a dice wild card, being able to be used as any colour, and blue dice are apparently defence – however, since all dice can be used for defence, they don’t really serve a purpose.
Each turn you will resolve your turn in accordance with those dice, depending on the specific scenario. You may want to attack, or use your dice for movement, or you may need dice to complete a specific thing. You can carry one dice over each turn – however, the number is not saved. When reused in future it will need rerolling.
Combat forms a large part of the game and works in a bit of an odd way. You roll your dice, and then you can use any red or green dice (depending on if it is melee or ranged), add on any benefits you get from your items, and any wild dice you want to add, before seeing if you beat the enemies health point. If you do the enemy dies, and if you don’t then the enemy takes no damage. It is all or nothing.
If attacked back, the enemy will roll a black dice, and in return you will roll any singular dice you have saved, negating the difference. If they roll higher than you, you will take damage.
Finally, as the story progresses you will move through the missions, choosing options and moving through the maps. There are seven scenarios, I believe, in the main game.
If you would like to read more, you can find the PDF of the rules here.
What is it like playing Stuffed Fables?
Sounds interesting, right? By all accounts it is. The theme is incredibly strong, and we will come back to this in a bit. That being said, there is something I want to address first.
Okay, so this is a blog, and it is a blog mainly run by one guy (at time of writing), and so there is a lot of personal opinion that comes through. As such, I have to mention one thing up front – I don’t like the Adventure Book Game style. Before you judge me for that, let me explain why.
Where there are obvious benefits to the Adventure Book Game, such as the cheaper production value, there are also downsides to it. From a personal perspective, I find the Adventure Book board style too restrictive compared to its cardboard counterparts, and I think this is especially the case with Stuffed Fables. When we take games like Descent and Imperial Assault into account, when we take games like Gloomhaven into account, those games construct the world they are in to the best of their ability using maps that are modular and made up of cardboard. Thus, the game world, the space that world occupies, exists in a representative state that is confined by the rules of the game but are exploitative enough to allow for you to really use and engage your imagination.
With Stuffed Fables the world is square. It has been designed to conform to a square page, and so where the patterns on the page can change, ultimately they are square. Alongside the square world is a square page of text. That squareness, that lack of variety, for me, pulls me out of the immersion. Thus, the whole experience has been dampened for me by the world of square.
That being said, the theme to Stuffed Fables is definitely the best thing about the game. The theme is beautiful and imaginative and simply superb. The Stuffies each have their own personalities, and those personalities come together in the story. They reflect off each other, and make it feel like they are a small community of toys. What is more, the badguys really are the things that nightmares are made of.
This theme comes through every aspect of the game, the miniatures to the cards, and really make Stuffed Fables an interesting game. My absolute favourite part of the game comes in the form of the Lost cards. Lost cards represent lost toys, each with their own predicament. Those cards give the players a choice, and that choice can benefit or hinder the player. The Lost cards are not only thematic, but they are funny and enjoyable to read. Those Lost cards are extremely fun and examples of a wonderful mechanic that should definitely be incorporated by more games. Lost cards are simply brilliant.
The theme is fantastic, there is no doubt about it.
The dice mechanics used in the game are interesting; however, whether it works or not is up for debate. Stuffed Fables uses a dice drafting mechanic, in which you draw 5 dice out of a bag at any one time. Those dice are rolled and represent what you can do on your turn. This means that players are presented a puzzle each turn on how best to use their dice – which they should use, which they should hold, and which they can use to support other players. It’s an interesting view of short term strategy.
That being said, and this is where Stuffed Fables stands apart from games like Imperial Assault or Gloomhaven, the dice drafting affects the long term strategy and builds more randomness into the equation. Where this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does seriously change how the game is played.
What this means is that, where as in other board game RPGs you know you can attack, but you don’t necessarily know whether you are going to hit, it is entirely possible in Stuffed Fables to be in a situation where you may not even be able to attack due to a bad draw. This can be frustrating if you like optimising situations, as you may be in the situation where all you can do is move or pass.
When you do get to attack; however, then the game gets really interesting. The bad guys, even the bosses, are kind of easy. The combat isn’t really a challenge, and it can’t really be too hard due to the randomness in the dice. That being said, it balances fairly well due to the fact that badguys, the nightmares from underneath the bed, are defeated until they are taken out in one hit.
No matter how frustrating the mechanics can get, the theme really pulls it around. From the items to the Lost to the miniatures themselves. Stuffed Fables is a beautiful game.
What this means is that as a the verdict for Stuffed Fables is a bit of an odd one. If you like games that are highly thematic, if you like lots of story and you want to be spun a tale in which you play a part (plus if the squareness of the book doesn’t irritate you) then yes, maybe give Stuffed Fables a go. I’m not sure I’ve ever played a game that has been as thematic as Stuffed Fables. The story is fantastic and you can get lost in it.
That being said, if you want an board game RPG with great mechanics then consider something else. Consider Imperial Assault, Gloomhaven, or Descent. From a mechanics perspective, Stuffed Fables has a lot of areas it could improve upon.
TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Stuffies
Like with all games, we can now break Stuffed Fables down into the good, bad, and neutral points.
- The theme to Stuffed Fables is simply superb. It comes through in every aspect of the game, right down to the currency being buttons – and not cardboard tokens of buttons but actual buttons. It’s stunning.
- The story to Stuffed Fables is interesting and unique. There are several missions, and although I haven’t played them all, the missions I have played have been enjoyable.
- As such, the production quality is brilliant. The miniatures are hard plastic, and the personalities of each really comes through into the game.
- There is a lot of randomness that could do with some refinement. Where the randomness does make you think outside the box in regards to strategy, it can also sometimes be frustrating. That being said, it adds an extra layer to the short term strategy, and that is really interesting.
- The Adventure Book Game format can draw you out of the immersive experience. This is such a shame when the theme is so strong.
- Sometimes the mechanics means play can be incredibly frustrating. You can go for rounds where you desperately need to attack, but can only move, or you desperately need to do a check, but all you can do is move.
- There is absolutely no point in the blue dice.
Conclusion: Stuffed Fables Review
As mentioned previously, Stuffed Fables is a bit of an odd game to review. The theme is incredibly strong, and yet the layout and mechanics can sometimes let it down.
All that being said, and a lot has been said, if you just want to get swept away into a fantastical story for an evening then Stuffed Fables has a lot going for it. The world building, leaving aside the restrictions of the book is second to none. The Lost as such a brilliant addition to the game that I would be tempted to say “buy this game just for them”. I won’t, but I am tempted to.
So all-in-all, if you want to buy Stuffed Fables then go for it – but do it for the story. If the story telling aspects don’t inspire you, then maybe play a different game instead.
So, there we have it – one Stuffed Fables review. Now over to you. Have you played Stuffed Fables? Are you tempted to? Let me know in the comments below.