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The Cardboard Kid – 143: Once Upon a Time

December 2, 2019


Once Upon a Time, there were two to six players who wanted to be the first to use all of their cards in order to tell the most epic fairytale. Atlas Games provided a copy in exchange for an honest review. Shuffle the story cards, then deal a certain amount to everyone depending on player count: 11 minus the number of players. You’ll play these to help move your story along. “Once upon a time, there was a sad little girl who was held prisoner…” and so on. If a player had the imprisoned card, it could be played to interrupt. The one who interrupted is now the storyteller. Special interrupt cards — played after another player plays a card referring to an aspect, event, thing, (or character) — don’t need to be as specific. When a player is interrupted, they draw a story card. At the start, every player is also dealt an ending card. Endings are what you’ll be working towards. Once you play yours, you win. Honestly, that’s the game. I’ll quickly tell you about a few special rules, though. First, you can pass to draw and discard a story card. This can really help you out if you can’t figure out how to use one of your cards in the story. Second, you can challenge the storyteller if they’re stuck, being too silly, or not moving the story forward. Play cards to tell a fairytale, and finish before everyone else. That’s Once Upon a Time. We’ve played Once a Upon a Time on a train, so that should give you an idea of how little space you need. If you keep the other decks in the insert, you don’t need an area larger than a placemat. Our games usually end around 30 minutes, so the time on the box is accurate. Set-up is just shuffling and dealing; clean-up is even faster. There’s no math. While there’s reading, the level is around grade two. The difficulty will be improvising, plus following the story. I’d guess the average eight-year-old should be comfortable, but very creative kids younger than that might be fine. One quick tip for families: young players might need cardholders. In our sixth game of Once Upon a Time, Mom started a story about a bored prince. Dad interrupted almost right away. Then things got weird. First, the prince made a foolish mistake by drinking a potion he found in an alley. This transformed him into a horse. He galloped around for a while, having fun, but eventually returned home. He sneaked through the kitchen, which scared the staff, and caused chaos. Panicked, he tried to run off the edge. Oh, did I mention that this kingdom was a city in the sky? The royal family rescued him, and his mother immediately realized who he was. The king didn’t believe either of them, and ordered his archers to take aim. The prince galloped off, but a friendly beggar called out to him. Inside a small shed — but big enough for a horse, apparently — the beggar also recognized the prince. He said his own child accidentally transformed into a horse. The beggar, once the head of a noble family, had commissioned a horse-sized outfit for his son who died before the gift was completed. With his new clothes, the prince had confidence. He and the beggar rode out to challenge the king. The king, enraged, revealed his true form: a giant wolf. This terrified the army, and they started shooting arrows everywhere. The prince stomped the king, then gathered the beggar and his mother, and they leapt off the city’s edge together. Their courage and love kept them alive — somehow — during the landing. The people below mistook the beggar for the king, and were happy that the royal family dropped in. The town held a huge banquet in celebration. Silly nonsense, but a lot of fun. Once Upon a Time is so pretty. It looks like a book of fairytales. Some, especially those still learning to read, might struggle with the font. The (game) is easy to take with you, teach, and play. Other than the ending cards, even non-English speakers may be able to join in on the fun. Even though it’s light on rules, there are things in place to keep the story moving. You can even pass to swap a card out if it’ll be difficult to fit it into the story. Nice. The challenge system is also good because it keeps a player from just blowing through cards in a way that doesn’t make sense. At the same time, the game shouldn’t be challenges all over the place. If you know us, you know we love nastiness in games, but this is more… gentle. Kinda. “Wait, how could the king threaten them with an axe? Wasn’t he turned into a wolf?” Things like that. I wish that you had the option to discard an ending card when you pass. Most story cards can be worked into a story, but some endings are nearly impossible depending on what’s been told. There are a lot of cards in the base game, and expansions that add sea adventures and characters from classic fairy tales. It’s almost endless. Once Upon a Time could last forever with the right groups. Then again, this will fall flat with those not interested in a very light storytelling game. Hopefully this video helps you decide if it’s right for you

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