Fairy Tale is a small card game released by ZMan games that has players develop their particular cast of characters through a deck building mechanic. While quite low on theme, the actual game play is fast ad furious and makes Fairy Tale a great filler card game.
Appearance: Fairy Tale is well designed and on great card stock, with images drawing from a more ‘anime’ themed background. That type of art appeals to me, though I know others who dislike that form of art, so be warned, it’s rather pervasive. Pretty much everything you need to know is on the cards themselves in well laid-out and distinctive icons, so picking up the game is pretty easy.
Rules / Ease of Learning: The main game mechanic in Fairy Tale is that of card-selection for each round. Players receive 5 cards at the beginning of each round and must choose one, passing the remaining cards to the individual seated next to them (left or right depending on the round). They must then continue choosing a card till all cards are selected. In the second phase of the round, all players play and reveal 1 card that turn, with any special abilities taking place at that time. There are only 3 major in-game abilities – Hunt, Unflip, Flip. Of the three, Hunt affects all cards played that turn while Unflip and Flip play out on all cards currently in-play.
Since only 3 of the 5 chosen cards are played in each round, players must decide how to balance their hands against potential aggressive moves by other players as well as gaining (or removing) the most number of points possible in each round. There are only 4 rounds in a game, with scoring occurring only at the end of the game. Points are scored for ‘active’ (or unclipped) cards that are in-play, with specific cards providing a conditional number of points. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
Gameplay: Fairy Tales takes a different tack from other set-collection and card-drafting game, forcing players to work on their strategy one-hand at a time. While this creates a degree of ‘luck’ especially in the beginning hand, there are specific cards and strategies that begin to appear with repeated plays and as the game progresses. Certainly we found that more often than not, the decisions of which card to take were difficult. Each game we played showcased a series of denying actions, specific player targeting and blocking moves which ensured a highly interactive card game. This is an almost ‘opposite’ of Race for the Galaxy or San Juan where players are more focused on their own hands and gameplay area as there is little direct interaction.
With there only being 4 rounds and minimal issues to resolve when cards are played, the game flows very fast, especially with the right group. While ZMan estimated about 30-60 minutes, I would say that the estimate is on the high side. We found we finished games within 10 – 15 minutes.
Now, for the minor quibbles we had with the game. Initial explanation took longer than I would have liked, for what is really a very simple game. That’s partially because of how much information is attempted to be placed on the card. However, once you learn the symbols and play a round or two, it flows fast.
Secondly, luck is obviously an issue. In our games, we didn’t find it particularly onerous, but it is there. Partially touching on the luck issue, there seems to be a low number of cards(proportionally) that allow you to directly affect another player, which can be frustrating depending on the draw and player positions. It’s certainly not a major issue and could be due to game balance, but it did occur in a few games and few hands where no one was able (or perhaps willing) to affect another player beyond denying specific cards to a player through initial selection.
This might seem in contradiction to our earlier statement of more interaction; but it’s a matter of proportion. Compared to say Red Dragon Inn; another great filler card game, Fairy Tale has more depth but less ’damaging’ cards.
Conclusion: Fairy Tale is a fast playing card game that can be easily taught, highly portable and leaves players wanting more after they are done. While not introducing anything new, it makes for a great filler for your average game group with a good balance of interaction, luck and strategy.