STUFFED FABLES Has a Lot of Heart Mixed in Polyester Fiber
This post is a reprint of my original from Geekdad.com, posted November 20, 2018.
Plaid Hat Games’ Stuffed Fables is a cooperative campaign-based adventure board game. Players take on the role as plush animal toys, or “stuffies,” belonging to an unnamed little girl. She is growing up and too big for a crib now, so it is her first night sleeping in a “big girl” bed. However, this makes her vulnerable to Crepitus, The Nightmare King. Her devoted toy stuffies are tasked with protecting her from Crepitus’ minions and other strange forces as she sleeps. This will certainly be a night of vast and grand adventure!
Stuffed Fables is designed to be played over 7 scenarios or “stories.” However, it is not a legacy game that permanently alters components, so all the stories are completely replayable. Let’s dive in!
What’s in the box?
Opening the box, you’ll find…
– 189 cards, including items, environment cards, condition cards, lost cards, and sleep cards.
– 40-card discovery deck containing secret cards needed for specific scenarios, which, naturally, you don’t want to look through.
– 57 tokens, including stuffing, hearts, bookkeeper token, and story-specific tokens.
– 15 buttons.
– 35 dice and a dice bag.
– 6 stuffy miniatures.
– 17 minion miniatures.
– 1 rulebook.
– 1 storybook.
– 1 sideboard.
– 6 stuffy character cards.
One thing you will notice right away on unboxing is the massive coil-bound storybook which serves as the campaign book and a gameboard all in one. There are no modular tiles you typically find in an adventure or dungeon crawl-type game. Having everything in a single lay-flat book is absolute genius.
The box, cards, and components are super high quality, which is to be expected from Plaid Hat Games and manufacturer PandaGM. The art is fantastic. Overall, this is a excellent production and well worth the price point. For storage, there isn’t a plastic insert, but a standard cardboard double trench for shipping; it’s perfectly fine. As time goes on, I’m certainly getting spoiled by publishers that include GameTrayz inserts in their games. I sleeved my cards and everything fit back into the box with the insert, although it took some strategery.
First, each player chooses a stuffy character (Lionel & Piggle are not used in the first story), and takes the matching character card and figure. Each character has a unique main ability, like Theadora’s “Versatile” ability shown below, plus others that are activated by spending earned heart tokens.
Then, open the storybook to the first page of the story you wish to play. You can pick any story you like, but the rulebook recommends beginning with the first story “The Big Girl Bed.” Place the sideboard to the right of the storybook.
Place the buttons, hearts, stuffing, status cards, item cards, discovery cards (don’t peek!), and other tokens nearby. Each player receives 5 stuffing tokens to place on their character card.
Shuffle the lost and item cards to make their respective decks.
Take out the bosses from the minion deck and shuffle the minions, keeping the boss cards face-up nearby. You won’t have any bosses in your first game.
Build the sleep deck by taking the Waking card, shuffling it with two other random cards, then placing the rest of the (also shuffled) deck on top of the three cards.
Choose a player to be “The Storyteller” and give them the bookmark token. They will be the reader and the first player (this duty will rotate around). The storybook will lay out the goal of each story and instruct the stuffies on what to do.
How to Play
On a player’s turn they will randomly draw five dice out of the bag and look at the colors. First, any white dice are rolled to get stuffing. If the roll is higher than the player’s current amount of stuffing, then they earn one token to add to their stack.
Stuffing is essentially the hit points of each character—once a stuffy has no stuffing, they are exhausted and cannot do anything until they get some more. In the rare event that all stuffies are exhausted, the game is over.
Any black dice are then put on the sideboard’s threat track to activate monsters. More on that below.
The player may roll any of the other dice once in any order and any amount to perform actions. Any action can be performed as long as they player has enough dice. Dice of a single color (or with the wild purple color) can be rolled separately, or together to obtain a higher sum.
This can be a bit confusing to new players as dice are used for multiple tasks and the colors matter in different circumstances.
For example, any color dice can be used to move a stuffy across the map; however, certain sections have colored lines that only can be crossed if the same color die is used for the move action, for example, a green die must be used to cross a green line.
Generally, red is used for melee attacks, green for ranged, and yellow for search tasks. Blue has no specific action, and purple is a wild color and can be used in place of any color for performing actions. You might notice that the red dice appear more orange, and purple a bit pink; this is intentional to aid those with altered color perception.
A player may reserve a die of any color by placing it on their character card to use on a later turn or for combat defense; more on that below.
Another action is to encourage a stuffy. You may either place any color die on their character card for them to use on their turn, just like reserving a die, or discard any die to give them 1 stuffing.
Often in the story, you will be asked by the book or a card to perform a skill test. Just roll the die or dice indicated by the test. If you get a higher number than the difficulty rating, then the test is passed.
Also, there are group tasks that a player can contribute to by rolling the indicated color die for the test and adding it to the group task track on the sideboard. Once the sum of all dice exceed the difficulty of the group task, it is accomplished!
If a map has a search icon in the top right corner with a number, players may use a yellow die to search for useful items. If the roll is equal or greater than the target number, something was found! The stuffy may draw a card from the item deck, equip it, or give it to another stuffy.
To make an attack on a minion, a stuffy must have a weapon. Melee attacks must be adjacent to the minion. Roll a red die (or dice) and if the results exceed the defense value of the minion, it is defeated! The stuffy will earn a shiny button; the storybook will say when and how they can be used. Ranged attacks work the same way, except the minion has to be within range of the weapon and green dice are used. Many item cards give bonuses to attacks, too, by adding a modifier to a particular die. For example, the rubber bands below give +1 to every green die used in ranged attacks.
There is a lot a player can do on a turn. During my first skim of the rulebook I was concerned that this would be too much for kids to keep track of. However, the actions are thematic enough that it only took a few turns and a little coaching for my 9-year-old daughter to go with it. As seen above, there are handy reference cards to help keep track of the dice colors and the possible actions are listed on the back.
About the discovery deck: the storybook will tell you when to retrieve specific cards from it. A nice bonus is that these cards are added into the common decks and can be used in future stories.
The Threat Track
After a player is all finished with their actions, all used dice are placed in a common discard pool, then the final step is to check the threat track.
Sideboard with black dice on the threat track. Here comes the crawlies! Photo: Erik Stanfill
If the number of black dice on the threat track is equal to or exceeds the number of minion cards next to the sideboard, then the minions will act. Each die on the track corresponds to a minion, and it is rolled to determine what actions the minion will take as indicated on its card. There are rules on minion movement and attacks that I won’t go into detail here, but, suffice to say, they are not nice things.
When attacked, a stuffy may roll a reserve die to defend itself; just subtract the amount rolled from the damage. If a stuffy manages to negate all damage, then the die is returned to the character card instead of the discard pool as a bonus. If a stuffy collapses, then the top card of the sleep deck is revealed. Asleep cards have no effect. Restless cards will trigger an event indicated by the storybook, and the Waking card will activate the Waking ending to the story. And, be warned, the storybook may have you pull from the deck after certain events, too.
Minions are generated on the map through story encounters or random encounters. The storybook will tell you when these occur.
Once all minions have taken a turn, the threat dice are discarded, then the dice discard pool is returned to the bag. It is the next player’s turn. Play continues until the story ends. A story will take place over several pages and maps, and may not take a exact linear path; it depends on decisions made by the players and outcomes of combat. And, as mentioned before, the ending will be different if the Waking sleep card was revealed.
What’s the Verdict?
Certainly, a major theme of Stuffed Fables is a child’s bedtime anxieties. I can see kids developing emotional attachment to the little girl as they may relate to her, and certainly the story can be poignant to parents. There is a lot to discover about this game that is better to uncover on your own, so I won’t say much more other than I am enamored with the simple theme and the story so far. It feels like a really good animated film in a box.
I consider Stuffed Fables a family game rather than a kids’ game. It is quite complex for those 12 and under and will need a grownup to explain the rules. It’s probably a no-go for any one under 8. An all-grownup party can certainly play and enjoy it if the theme resonates with them—there is enough game here, but it seems Stuffed Fables is designed for a mix of kids and parents. I’ve only played with three players, so I can’t comment on if there is significant downtime with higher player counts.
The storybook pushed Stuffed Fables over the top for me. Having maps and the story self-contained in a book, instead of modular tiles and a separate campaign book that can spoil all the maps, is awesome. Now, I like modular tiles, but the big disadvantages with them is storage, material limitations, and knowing all the environments beforehand. With the storybook you just just slap it on the table, open it up, and you are good to go. Going to a new map is just turning a page, not stopping the action to fumble for needed tiles. Setup shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes. We had some issues figuring out some of the storybook navigation and nomenclature at the start, but we caught on after the 2nd page or so.
Pro tip: Hide all of the minion and boss figures under the box lid, keeping them secret from the other players until needed. That will add a little extra surprise in each story.
I love Stuffed Fables. It’s a lot of fun, and the only downside for me is that my family hasn’t gotten together recently to play. That needs to be fixed.