Board Game Review: Stuffed Fables by Plaid Hat Games

Stuffed Fables is a cooperative story book game by Plaid Hat Games for two to four players, ages 7 and up. The manufacturer states that a typical game session will take 60 to 90 minutes. We found that the learning curve for understanding the new rules made our first sessions about 30 minutes longer, but after learning the mechanics, our typical sessions run shorter, usually 45 minutes. Mechanically, the game is part role-playing game, part choose your own adventure book, part dice game, and part miniature wargame.

In Stuffed Fables, players assume the roles of stuffed animals, called “stuffies,” which are owned by a young girl. There are seven stories in the storybook, each detailing a pivotal event in the girl’s life, from ages 3 to 10. As the girl sleeps, evil forces try to sabotage the girl’s ability to navigate these events; for example, when the girl loses her first tooth, evil minions steal the tooth from under the girl’s pillow, and the Tooth Fairy won’t leave any money for the girl without the tooth. The stuffies come forward during such dark times to recover the tooth, so the deal with the Tooth Fairy can move forward without any of the humans in the house even knowing.

To simulate these missions, the game makes use of several components. Each player has a character card, which details that stuffy’s abilities and leaves space to store dice, heart tokens which can be used to enable special character abilities, and stuffing tokens, which are used to simulate health levels. Another component is the dice pool, which is a pouch of 35 dice in seven colors. There are also card decks for equipment, minions, the girl’s sleep state, terrain modifications, condition cards that affect a stuffy’s performance (like being soggy, torn, or scared), and lost toys with whom the stuffies may interact.

The most important element is the storybook, which is about 100 pages of glossy, spiral-bound cardstock pages. Each set of facing pages in the storybook constitutes a chapter in one of the stories; one of the pages details the special game rules and objectives for that chapter, while the other page is a map on which miniature figures representing the stuffies explore, fight enemies, interact with allied and neutral characters, and succeed at individual and group challenges to advance the story.

On a player’s turn, he or she reaches into the pouch and draws five dice. The colors of the dice dictate much of what the player can do during that turn, and there is space on the character card to store a die for future use.

Red dice are used for hand-to-hand combat attacks

Green dice are used for ranged attacks

Blue dice are used for defense

White dice are used to find additional stuffing

Yellow dice are used for perception and searching

Black dice activate evil minions

Purple dice are wild, and may be substituted for red, green, or blue as necessary

The page provides a general overview of what the stuffies must do in order to complete that page’s chapter. As these objectives are completed, the page will direct the group to read numbered text entries that advance the story. A story generally involves four to six chapters, and players are directed to read that story’s ending based on how events unfolded during the chapters.

The game retails at WNY Gaming for $68.

Pros:

The story is entertaining, with a really cute concept that has almost universal interest.

Different aspects of the game appeal to different sorts of players, whether it is the dramatic narration, the wargaming aspect, determining which dice should be kept or spent, or coordinating stuffies’ actions to make the team more effective. Regardless of who is playing, every player can find enjoyment is at least one facet of play.

The dice pool mechanic forces the players to work together, as players may not draw the dice they might want on a given turn. For example, white dice are used to locate extra stuffing. During a turn, a player may not have the fortune to draw white dice, even if that player’s stuffy is low on stuffing and near collapse (collapsing is the closest thing a stuffy comes to dying). On subsequent turns, though, other players may draw those white dice, gain extra stuffing, then sacrifice additional dice to give some of their surplus stuffing to the stuffy near collapse.

The rules seem a bit convoluted at first, but once players get a working knowledge of the rules – which takes about one or two stories – it is almost never necessary to consult the rulebook during play.

The miniature figures for the stuffies and minions are easy to identify, even between otherwise identical figures. For example, a frequent enemy of the stuffies is the darkheart, a stuffed animal with a heart-shaped hole in its stuffing where its heart should be. In an encounter with darkhearts, players will note that each darkheart card has a shape surrounding its defense value; the base of each darkheart figure has a shape corresponding to the shape on its minion card, so there is no doubt about which darkheart is which. The miniatures are also very durable, and, with some preparatory work, can easily be given the same quality of paint job you might see on a wargaming miniature.

Cons:

Much of the story has a dark fairyland sort of feel that may be unsettling for young players. The text of the story that players read from a storybook uses an adult-level vocabulary, so young readers may need help when it is their turn to read. Taken together, these two issues make the age 7 and up label seem inappropriate.

The replayability of the game as published is really low. There are only seven stories in the game; when they have been played, there are no more stories. We did replay some of the stories and noted minor differences – events occurring in a different order, players using different equipment cards, the young girl waking up earlier than expected – but no real deviation from the plot as it unfolded the first time around. The manufacturer, Plaid Hat Games, has already released a supplemental story available for free download and printing, and if the game continues to gain popularity, it is probable that supplements with additional stories and miniatures will be released. It is also possible that the game’s fan base may generate its own scenarios, but for now what you see is what you get: about 10 to 14 hours of game play, and then it sits on your shelf.

In conclusion, this is a superior game with innovative mechanics and quality components, with its only major drawback being severely limited replayability. There are plenty of other games in the same price range that would see a lot more use in your board game collection, but probably none that combine the storybook concept, tactical level miniature combat, the dice pool, and character and equipment options reminiscent of a role-playing game. Stuffed Fables provides a really unique gaming experience, as evidenced by the fact that the game sold through its entire 2018 production run and WNY Gaming couldn’t restock for the past three months. I rate this game with three and one-half of five possible stars; the only reason it isn’t five stars is the lack of replayability.