My daughters are 9 and 7 years old and between them, they have, oh, I don’t know, approximately sixty billion stuffed animals. Needless to say, there were two very excited little girls in my house when I told them that there was an upcoming board game about stuffed animals come to life.
Designed by Jerry Hawthorne of Plaid Hat Games, Stuffed Fables bills itself as “An Adventure Book Game.” A quick glance at the box lets you know that it’s a game that features beautiful, kid-friendly artwork and a whimsical, charming story.
And it’s a hefty box. It has to be an easy 5-6 pounds and is filled with stacks of cards, really sharp looking little miniatures, and a thick, hefty ring-bound book. This storybook tells the tale of the “stuffies” that come to life to protect the little girl who has just moved out of her crib into a “big girl bed.” As you play through the different chapters of the game, you flip the pages of the storybook, with one side acting as the play board for the miniatures, while the other side has narrative text and rules.
It’s a slick design, but I don’t really want to talk about that. Sure, I could outline the game contents but that’s the sort of thing that is best shared as part of the company’s marketing copy. Likewise, I’m going to share just a few words about gameplay and leave the rest to Rodney Smith of Watch It Played, who created a gameplay video of Stuffed Fables.
The one gameplay question most people are searching for is: Is the game any good? The answer to that is an unequivocal ‘yes.’ The primary mechanics of a dice pool and miniatures on a grid are smooth and easy to pick up. They are wonderful.
Further, the “Adventure Book” system is wonderful as well. As the story unfolds and you flip to a new page, rules build upon themselves in logical ways, and a new game board is placed magically in front of you.
I will say that the first few scenarios are pretty easy. But Stuffed Fables isn’t meant to be a strategic nail-biter where every play comes down to the wire like Twilight Struggle or whatever. No, the focus here is on the story, not the game mechanics. Although, again, the mechanics are solid and it would be a darned shame if Jerry Hawthorne isn’t already working on a sequel or expansion to Stuffed Fables.
No, I don’t really want to say any more about contents or game play. Instead, I want to talk about how this game feels.
Stuffed Fables is a game designed for parents to play with their children. Even before we ripped the shrink off the box, my daughters were wide-eyed, gazing at the pictures on the box. Both rushed off to grab a stuffed animal to set beside them as they played for the first time.
As I read through the opening to the story, I read the lines about the daddy taking the crib apart and it took everything I had not to tear up as I remembered putting together “big girl beds” for my girls just a few years ago.
Then my girls audibly gasped when I read the line about the “Nightmare King”, which was seconds after they squeed when the “stuffies” came to life. The girls were fully and hopelessly engrossed in this game. And their dad was too.
I don’t know Jerry Hawthorne, but I know for darned certain that he is a parent, as every word, miniature, and piece of cardboard from Stuffed Fables is like a love letter from a parent to a child.
During the opening scenario, a couple of bad guys (“crawlies”) are stealing items from the little girl’s room and pulling them under the bed. The read aloud text includes the line: “Flops saw a crawly dragging away the little girl’s beloved baby blanket. It was too much too bear.”
My 9-year-old was fully enraptured in the story and shouted “NOT THE LOVIE!”, which is what my girls call their little baby blanket. And her poor dad was flooded with memories of tucking in his little girl overnight, making sure she always had her lovie on her pillow.
After we played, my girls game me a hug and said, “I love you, dad. Can you play this again tomorrow?” Oh, my heart. Stuffed Fables is an absolute delight and gets you right in the feels.
So, yeah, I don’t know Jerry Hawthorne but I owe him my gratitude for creating a game that fosters such sweet interactions between parents and children, and if he’s ever in the Twin Cities, I hope he looks me up, because I want to sit down with him and swap stories about our kids.
Stuffed Fables will be available in February 2018 in your local FGLS.
[Disclosure: Asmodee North America provided Nerds on Earth with a copy of Stuffed Fables for review.]