Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Fabula

Last weekend I went to a friend's birthday party. which was held at a local game store and bustling cafe (because in the Seattle area, such things are not solitary outliers, but actual hubs of community activity!)

We broke out several games over the course of the evening, among which was Fabula from the makers of the highly recommended Dixit.

Fabula is a storytelling game framed as the inner struggle of one of the Grimm brothers to write a new fairy tale. One player takes on the role of Grimm, the Storyteller while the others play figments of Grimm's imagination, each seeking to convince him that they should be a part of his new story.

Play begins as the storyteller selects a story card and reads the prologue. It then proceeds through three chapters and an epilogue. During each chapter, the storyteller presents the other players with a problem to be solved. Each player chooses an item card from a deck and then tells a bit of story that uses their character and the item they chose in order to convince Grimm to make the story about them. If the storyteller likes what they are saying, they get points. The point levels go up as the items available go down. For the epilogue, the two players with the most points face off in a lightning round that gives them 30 seconds to incorporate the last two items and themselves into an end for the story.

In many ways, the game is really cool. It has fabulous art design in the same quirky style as Dixit. It fosters creativity among the players, rather than just dice rolling or card drawing, and once it gets rolling, the rules are very straightforward. In many ways, it's like the perfect introductory RPG. It is interactive storytelling. There is, however, a problem.

The problem with Fabula, which causes me to feel that it is an okay fun game and not a friggin' amazing game, is in the way play proceeds from chapter to chapter. Rather than incorporating the ideas that the players put forth in the previous chapter, the game simply introduces a new, canned development in the story. As a player, I began to feel like the stuff I came up with didn't matter from chapter to chapter as ol' Grimmy was just going to barrel ahead with his story. In tabletop RPG terms, I felt like I was being railroaded.

The railroading problem may be compounded by the character choices available to the players. The game clearly wants the player to put their character in the role of the story's hero. However, many of the options available are characters more traditionally reserved for antagonist or support roles (e.g. The Wolf, the Fairy Godmother, the Sly Merchant). I chose to play the Leprechaun and right off the bat went for a Rumplestiltskin-style bargaining approach. The plot of the story revolved around a young prince who had been trapped in his room by an octopus. I offered to lull the beast to sleep with my magic flute (item) if the king and queen promised to have their son come live as my servant as of his 18th birthday... Well, despite being selected as a "liked" plot, the chapter two card simply ignored mine and everyone else's suggestions... and so the game went from chapter to chapter.

Perhaps I was just sensitive to the railroaded feeling because I play full-blown RPGs, and perhaps that feeling could be mitigated without altering the game's structure. I would like to try the game as the Storyteller and use that role to transition between chapter cards in such a way that at least one of the players' stories is incorporated in each transition, rather than simply presenting the problem, hearing their suggestions and then presenting the next problem. I would need to try it out, but I suspect that doing this could elevate this game from "okay fun" to its true fantastic potential.


  1. Good review! I feel exactly the same! Why spend a bunch of time and energy coming up with an epic idea only to have the story proceed as if you never said anything? I too am spoiled by the open interactivity of full-blown RPGs. :-/

  2. I stopped by on behalf of Arlee Bird to remind you that the A to Z Challenge is not far off. I will certainly visit you during the challenge


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