Theodora grips her letter opener tighter with her brown plush paw. They are coming. The purple glow under the bed reveals them. She thinks she can already hear the rattling and clattering of the little lace metal legs. They must all be brave now. “We can do it” she whispers to the other stuffed animals on the little girl’s bed. They must defend her, because if a child is no longer safe in its own bed, what kind of world would it be?
Dungeon crawlers are actually a board game genre that is mainly reserved for adults. But already with his game Mice & Mystic, Jerry Hawthorne at Plaid Hat Games proved that this doesn’t have to be the norm. With Stuffed Fables, he now goes one step further and chooses a setting that makes children’s hearts beat faster. Each player takes on the role of a stuffed animal who together want to protect their little girl. Stuffed Fables offers a wonderful story, which is played over seven chapters as a cooperative campaign. The little stuffed protagonists are tougher than they look. With a lot of courage you face the evil Crepitus, who knows only darkness, fear and tears and in his realm of dreams there is no room for love, beauty and joy. His creatures seem to have it in for the little girl. This, of course, must be prevented. We have thrown ourselves into the stuffed adventure and have experienced quite a bit in the process.
Stuffed Fables: Longingly awaited
Our story with Stuffed Fables dates back to 2017. That’s when we saw the board game for the first time with the eye-catching cover, on which stuffed animals with serious facial expressions look at us, ready for battle, and had it explained to us. Back home we showed the pictures to our big daughter (10 at that time) and she was fascinated too. But also the following year the finished game was only available in English and so she had to wait until 2019 until Stuffed Fables finally appeared in German. But with the arrival in our household we had to be patient again, because the enclosed miniatures of heroes and enemies had to be painted first.
A board game without a board
The special thing about this game is not only the cute characters, which are included in the box as nicely designed miniatures, but especially the missing game board. Instead, a ring binder full of stories and exciting adventures awaits you. It serves as a game plan, as well as an adventure book and rulebook.
Each of the seven chapters extends over several pages in the book. With a beautiful and atmospheric introductory text in the adventure book you will be prepared for the upcoming tasks. Afterwards you change to the indicated section of the book. It is best to place it in the middle of the table. The left side of the book always shows the place where the stuffed animals are at the moment and can be, for example, the children’s room or a place in the realm of Crepitus and is divided into fields and marked with different markers.
Your task will be communicated to you on the right side. Special rules for individual pages are also listed here, so that you don’t have to flip through the rules booklet. Again the texts are nicely written and motivate you to face the fight.
Colourful dice actions
If you have prepared everything according to the instructions on the right side of the book, you can start. When it’s your turn, take five dice from the bag. Depending on the colour, you can perform different actions with the dice. Most dice can be used to move around. Exceptions are the white dice: before doing anything else, roll them to get new cotton wool. Cotton wool are your life points and therefore very important.
Black dice are not so good for you. You can’t do anything with them and they are placed on the enemies bar. They are used to control the actions of your opponents. However, they only become active when as many black dice are drawn as there are monsters in play. When moving, you must be aware that some places on the board can only be overcome by using a green or red dice. These areas are marked with coloured lines, indicating that you will need a great amount of skill or strength.
Otherwise, the dice colors in Stuffed Fables are assigned to certain characteristics that are also known from role-playing games and other dungeon crawlers: Green stands for skill and is needed for ranged combat, red symbolizes strength and melee, yellow is for focus and finding new items, blue is for defense and pink is a joker that can be used for almost anything. You take turns rolling dice and then use them for actions according to the colour of the dice. The disadvantage of this is that it’s difficult to plan what you’re going to do, as you’re going to have to rely on your luck when you draw the dice.
Melee, ranged attack… or no fight at all?
Whether you can use ranged or melee combat depends on the weapon you find. By the way, these are all items that your stuffed animals took from their household. For example, there are rubber bands that you can use for ranged attacks, and letter openers and scissors that can be used as melee weapons. If you don’t have dice that match your weapon, you will not be able to attack this round. We’ve had a lot of luck pulling the dice out of the bag.
Unfortunately, it must be said that the fortune element in Stuffed Fables can feel very unfair. If I have an enemy standing right next to me, but no dice to attack with, then I simply won’t be able to defeat him. Green dice end up with the one who needs red ones and vice versa. Sometimes you are in a situation where you can’t do anything really useful in your turn.
This quickly frustrated our children. Waiting for their turn can make them impatient and if the pull is not good, the fun factor is gone quickly. A little help here is the passing on of dice. Every stuffed animal has a place on its tableau where it can store exactly one die. This can also be a die that has been passed on to him by another player. So you can at least partially redistribute dice with matching colors and plan a little in advance.
Not only deal it out, but also take it in
The only problem with these dice is that you need them to defend against your enemies. Crepitus soon identified us as a threat and we often have to deal with his minions when we are back in the land of the forgotten toys.
If there are no enemies on one page at the beginning, they will be added as soon as you have drawn as many black dice as there are Stoffies (that’s what the stuffed animals are called in the story). When they are placed on the board, the enemies in the form of crawlers, small spider-like constructions with doll heads, barkers, dog-like robots or dark hearts, stuffed animals with a hole where their heart should be, are immediately at your turn. With the black dice you roll the dice, which action an enemy performs.
There are always two or three of these on a minion card, indicating movement, range, damage and any special rules for attack. Most of the time they choose the closest stuffy as their target. The damage is given as a fixed value, against which a stuffy can then defend itself with a stored dice. With only five life points and attacks of at least four, but usually more damage, this is also bitterly necessary. The number on the dice you roll indicates how much damage you prevent. If the complete damage is prevented, you may even keep the dice, otherwise you must discard them.
If you take actions by yourself, you also roll the dice to determine the success. For example, when attacking, you must reach or exceed a value printed on the minion card to defeat the minion. If you have multiple dice that fit an action, you can always decide to roll one die or several at once. If you have more than one die, the results are added together, so you can defeat heavier minions.
Your equipment will also help you here by giving you bonuses on certain dice colors. There are also always talk symbols printed on the game board page in the book, where you can draw a card from the Lost deck. These are then little encounters with the inhabitants of this thirsty toy dream world. Here too it was once beautiful and many of the toys long for this time. Of course you want to help them as often as possible. As a reward you often get hearts with which you can make special actions.
Stuffed creatures with character
Every stuffy in Stuffed Fables has his own character sheet, with his own abilities. One of them is always available, the others cost hearts to activate. So the stuffed bunny Flops is specially skilled and can therefore throw green dice again. The cloth elephant Lumpi is especially good at defending itself as a massive and strong tank. Each stuffy plays a little bit differently, but none is very complex.
Stuffed Fables is also a very simple dungeon crawler that focuses on the story and not on character development and optimization. So it’s only logical that there is no experience or items that you take from one story to another. You start from nothing every time, with what the setup on the site tells you. Nevertheless, you should be well equipped during a story, as some of your opponents are not without experience. Especially boss minions attack very often, because they are mostly alone and so a single black dice is enough to activate them. If you are well prepared, you have advantages here.
No end with horrors
During the adventure, so-called sleeping cards have to be uncovered from time to time. At first we thought that this is a kind of time limit that triggers the end of a story and thus decides on victory or defeat. However, this is not the case. There are cards in the deck for calm sleep, for restless sleep, and among the last three cards there is a Wake Up card. If you are sleeping restlessly, depending on the story, one or the other unpleasant effect is triggered. If the Awakened card is flipped over, it does not mean that the adventure is over. It continues to play as normal.
However, after finishing a story, another text is read at the end, which changes the general mood of our stuffies and gives us a slightly different experience. Under the aspect of playability with children, this is surely the better choice than letting the chapter end. Frustration is avoided and every story is guaranteed to come to an end. A mission can really only fail if all stuffies have collapsed, i.e. have no more cotton wool life points.
As soon as a stuffy has to give up his last piece of cotton wool, he still draws dice, but he can’t do anything with it. Only if he draws a white die, he gets new cotton wool and can continue playing normally. But you can also give cotton wool to your stuffies comrades. This can be quite useful and is simply part of Stuffed Fables for a good cooperative relationship. It’s very important to really play to the strengths of the individual stuffies and not to try to go it alone. As a team you are definitely stronger than alone.
Stuffed Fables and children
As mentioned at the beginning, Stuffed Fables is a board game that our big daughter in particular was looking forward to very much. However, after the first two stories for her it was over. Probably she has outgrown the whole thing a bit in the last two years. She looked at it, played it and decided that other board games like Arcadia Quest or Zombicide are simply more fun for her.
Our little child’s curiosity was clearly aroused by the cute miniatures, which, when painted, of course, add even more charm to the board game than when unpainted. But here the frustration struck and also she didn’t feel like playing anymore during the second story, because she often had to wait with her character and just then, because of an unfortunate draw, she couldn’t do anything but save dice or pass.
To be fair, we have to say that patience with our little child is not very far off at the moment anyway. She also liked the first story very much. At the end of each story there are topics of conversation with children. Here we have to say, however, that most of them were not well received by us. She has already outgrown the age at which topics like “sleeping in your own bed without bars” are interesting. However, as parents we thought it was good to remember similar situations.
Of course, you also have to say that these distinctive points in a child’s life are always just the hooks why the stuffies go back to the adventure. The comprehensive story is perfectly suited for parents and their children to have a good time together at the game table. All in all, the individual stories are a bit too long to be played through in one piece, as children’s attention span doesn’t always extend over the entire playing time. Then you have to save the game progress and the characters with the current equipment (best in separate ZIPP bags), but this is not covered in the rule book.
The game also specifies that the reader should change with each page in the ring binder. We couldn’t do that from the beginning, because our 6-year-old daughter can’t read yet. In any case, it is more atmospheric when the adults read aloud, which can then be emphasized accordingly. It’s a common practice in our house anyway, that characters are filled with life, whether it’s meant to be so or not.
Stuffed Fables for adults
As a pure game for adults, Stuffed Fables is only suitable to a limited degree, unless the whole group is interested in this theme. We had fun with it after our children had left the campaign, but we still had fun with it. The miniatures are just too cute and the story is atmospheric enough to captivate us as parents. If you don’t have children, it might look a bit different, because there is simply no big reference point. However, we were all children at one time or another and as players we still are in our hearts.
Probably our biggest negative point of criticism of Stuffed Fables is the dice mechanics. The mechanism is kept very simple and that is exactly what makes it easy for children to get into the game. Once the five dice have been drawn, it is usually decided quite quickly what can be done with them in a meaningful way. The colours also help children to remember which actions they can do. Since the colours also indicate what can be done at all, there are hardly any complicated decisions. However, this also means a considerable factor of happiness, which can also quickly turn into frustration. I am not only dependent on which number I roll, I also have to have the right dice for it. And vice versa it is not enough to have matching dice, I also have to roll as well as possible.
That does not mean, however, that I did not like Stuffed Fables. Seldom I had such a atmospheric board game on the table. In every part of the board game you can feel the love for detail: from the button as a reward to the different personalities of the stuffies, which are portrayed in the story. In my opinion, it was definitely worth the wait, even if we apparently don’t have the right children for the game. And actually, the children were of course only a suitable excuse for me to buy this game. I enjoyed the time with the game very much and I’m already looking forward to the soon to be released Aftermath by Jerry Hawthorne, in which we fight our way through an end-time scenario as critters. If only it weren’t for this dice mechanism…