Review – Winter Tales from Albe Pavo – my recommended BEST GAME OF 2012!

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Review – Winter Tales from Albe Pavo – My recommended BEST GAME OF 2012!

Designers – Jocularis and Matteo Santus

Art – Hide Art and Jocularis

Note – As I’ve written an earlier preview of Winter Tales, I’ve used much of the content again here and added my opinions now that I’ve played the game.

Oh yeah baby!

Out of all the new releases planned for Essen 2012, I  anxiously waited for details about Winter Tales from Albe Pavo. Every year that I’ve been to Essen, so far anyway, there seems to be a proliferation of the same old Euro blandness and the list of games promised for this year’s new releases is no different. You know what I mean… yet another worker placement game, another economic stock ownership game, another resource collection game… oh yes, let’s not forget yet another City/Town builder. Yawn… Not my idea of fun.

I tend to prefer something a bit different than the same old Euro boringness and the boys at Albe Pavo certainly have caught my attention. 2 years ago it was Munera: Familia Gladiatoria. Last year it was Sake & Samurai, and this year the first of their two offerings is Winter Tales. Ok, let’s give you a taste of what’s involved by going through key parts of the rules. Italics comes from the rulebook…

Overview From the rules –

Winter Tales is a storytelling game. It is neither a strategy game nor a resource management game. If you like to use your imagination and tell stories to spend a memorable evening with your friends, then this is the game for you. If you really want to appreciate this game, let yourself go and create with your friends a story to remember.

Ok, you had me at “story telling game”. I’m intrigued because I LOVE THEME and a good game narrative.

Winter Tales is a storytelling board game for 3 to 7 players. In each game, the players will recount the subtle but merciless war between Fairy Tale characters, who stand for hope and freedom, and the Soldiers of Winter, who embody wickedness and oppression. Each player will belong to one of the Factions in play and will take control of some of its characters, fighting either for the return of Spring or to snuff out all hope and to further the arrival of an everlasting Winter. Each game of Winter Tales is different, because each time you are telling a new story and creating a shared plot, in the first true social storytelling board game.

This sounds like a bit of a new attempt to create a social Story Telling experience for gamers. In fact, it sounds like there is a lot of effort in the design to give you a creative experience, not just a game experience.

Winter Tales involves the player… making him the author of a shared story. The rules include suggestions that will help make the game smoother and the story more plausible, in the end making the game more fun.

Storytelling in Winter Tales is a shared experience. As such, it is much more fun if players listen to each other, accepting suggestions and ideas from others and trying to merge all their plots into one common story. If each player were to concentrate on his own characters, not taking in suggestions and ideas from others and writing a different story, the game would be no fun at all.

Social interaction is really key to the game. You will definitely need the right crowd to get the best out of Winter Tales. It is a collective experience far beyond the typical co-operative game, perhaps more in tune with role-playing games, but it’s not about acting. Its about creating a narrative together and the experience of the game is in the creation of the story. If you like stretching your creativity, this could be a game for you. If you don’t enjoy story-telling, this game is not for you.

Choose the style…

Each game will be different. You can choose to tell a drama, adding touches of anxiety and desperation, or a pulp story, with violence and gore. Do you prefer comedy or horror? You may choose whichever style you prefer, which will give each story its own unique flavour.

The setting…

The game is set in Wintertown, leaning on a hillside facing east, protected from the fierce, cold winds blowing from the mountains, the Town was home to Fairy Tales and Dreams but now its in the grip of the “Regime”. However, Fairy Tales are staging their resistance, working in shadows to allow for the return of Spring.

Key locations where the story will unfold will be – The Fair of Wonders, The Winter Prison, Memory Lane Cemetery, Mad Hatter Asylum, Oaks Park, Dorothy’s Mansion, Nightmare’s Factory and Puppet’s Theater.

Characters come to life for the Fairy Tales of the Spring in The story of Alice after Wonderland, The Story of Pinocchio, the Puppetseer, The Story of the Scarecrow King, The Story of Grandma Dorothy, The Story of the Tin Man and the terrible Chill, The Story of Grumpy and the Ancient People, and The Story of the Return of the Little Match Girl. For the Soldiers of the Winter there are The story of the terrible tyrant Mangiafuoco, The story of Wolf, the veteran, The story of the Fox and the Cat, The story of Snow White, Queen of Winter, The story of the wealthy White Rabbit, The story of Candlewick and his resentment, The story of the Mad Hatter and his Asylum.

The game board contains a map of Wintertown. The Town is divided into several Locations, connected by streets that include Squares. Below the map there is the Memory Track, where cards will be placed to act as Memories. The rightmost space outside the Memory Track is used to place the Epilogue tile in a 7 Memory game.

From the Author: The game board may also give hints for the storytelling: if during a game you look closely at the Location where your character is, or at the illustrations of houses and blocks, you may find it easier to create the story.

Unboxing – this game Looks Amazing!

From the images I am showing here, you may notice that the art is a bit Tim Burton-like… dark and creepy, yet intriguingly cool! I find the art very interesting and designed to create a very specific atmosphere.

Have a look!

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The game board shows the land where the story takes place.

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Winter Tales includes 14 characters, 7 Soldiers of Winter and 7 Fairy Tale characters each represented by a card.

In the box you get –

A game board

Faction Counters

Character cards

Power Counters

Character Figurines

Story cards

Neutral cards

Objective cards

Quest Counters

Plus a few other bits and pieces

All components are of quality card-stock, the die cutting is clean, the art superb.

Overview of Play

Each Chapter is divided into Turns, during which Players will activate their characters one at a time, trying to complete Quests. While one Player is having their Turn, the others will have the opportunity to step in, initiating Battles and springing Traps to try and hinder the Acting Player. Each successfully completed Quest becomes a Memory, that will have a significant impact on the rest of the game! The creation of the right amount of Memories will trigger the Epilogue, which will include all generated Memories in the story and determine the winning Faction.

There isn’t any downtime which is terrific for all players. How is this possible? Even if it’s not your turn you will have the opportunity to engage with the active player. This is a GOOD thing. Also, you are all supporting the current player in their effort to contribute to the next stage in the story that is being created.

Factions you say??? Yes. There are 3 Factions in the game.

The players will belong to one of the following factions :

Spring – This includes the Fairy Tales, who represent all that is good and positive in the world.
Winter – The cruel Regime that grips Wintertown in its evil clutches includes evil and ruthless Soldiers, who aim at crushing the Resistance and rule over the Town in an endless winter.
Writer – Used only in games with an odd number of Players, this Faction always includes only one Player, who’s goal is to keep the balance between the other two warring Factions, by controlling characters from both Factions. The Writer wants the story to go on, and thus doesn’t want any of the two Factions to win over the other. Now this sounds really interesting, I have to say!

Winning Conditions

The Faction that wins the Epilogue wins the Game. Spring and Winter win if the Epilogue ends in their favour, while the Writer wins if the Epilogue ends with a draw.

Number of players – 3-7

Suggested time – 90 Minutes – allowing for 3 Memories to take place. There are rules for making the game longer but I think that 90 minutes sounds like it is plenty.

Gameplay

The game is set-up according to the number of players and whether there are balanced factions or an odd number of players which means there will be a Writer player.

Each chapter in a game of Winter Tales consists of:
-Several PLAYER TURNS -One END OF CHAPTER PHASE
1. PLAYER TURN On his Turn, a Player must activate one of his characters. Each character may be activated once per Chapter. If the Acting Player still has one or more ready characters, he or she must choose one and activate it. If the Acting Player has no ready Character, his or her Turn ends immediately: the Acting Player counter is passed along clockwise to the next Player, who then completes his or her Turn and so on as long as there still is at least one ready Character in play.

ACTIVATION

A Character may be activated at one of two possible moments: -during the Turn of its owner, as long as it is the Acting Player, OR -while another Player faces a Quest.

Movement
A Character may be moved through Squares and Locations, represented on the game board by contoured spaces and bright circles on streets, respectively. To move the Character 2 spaces, the Player discards one Story card.
From the author: discard less useful Story cards to move your Character.

Actions
Once a Player has activated a Character, he or she may perform one of three different actions, depending on whose Turn it is. During the Turn of the Acting Player’s, he or she may:
Generate a new Quest

Start a Quest
If the Character ends its movement in a Location or Square containing a Quest counter of the same Faction, the Player may put the Ongoing Quest pawn on the counter and start facing the Quest.

During another Player’s Turn , a Player cannot perform any of the actions above, but may:
Take part in a Quest

INTERRUPTS
While a Character of another Player is moving, it may be interrupted to:
Initiate a Battle (Soldiers only)
If a Fairy Tale moves into a Location or Square containing a Soldier, the latter’s controller may initiate a Battle to try and block the Fairy Tale’s movement and incapacitate it.
Spring a Trap (Fairy Tales only)
If a Soldier moves into a Location or Square containing a Fairy Tale, the latter’s owner may spring a Trap to try and block the Soldier’s movement and incapacitate it.

OPPORTUNITY
Opportunity actions may be performed at any time, by any Player who can, both in his or her Turn and in another Acting Player’s Turn. The Actions the Player may choose from are:
Saves
If the Character moves through a Location or Square containing an incapacitated Character of the same Faction, its owner may revive the Character, pick up its figurine and put it back on its feet.

Objectives

Objectives are used in the advanced Objective Module.

2. END OF CHAPTER PHASE
The Chapter ends when all Characters have been activated. Each Player draws 4 Story cards (the Writer draws as many Story cards as there are Players in one of the Factions). All Character cards are turned back to their ready side.

The Epilogue

The Epilogue is the final act in the game. It starts as soon as the last free space in the Memory Track is filled with a Memory, and it ends the game.

1.The End Begins
The Player who begins the Epilogue is the one who placed the last Memory card on the Track. He or she takes the Epilogue Tile and places it in front of him.
The Epilogue Player plays his remaining Story cards, describing how his or her Characters try to inflict the final blow on the opposite Faction and win the war. The Epilogue Player must connect his Epilogue plot to the concept illustrated by the bookmarked Memory and begins to tell the plot, during which he or she may play any number of Story cards, explaining each concept as he or she plays cards.
2. Other Players Step In
Once the Epilogue Player has finished his part, all other players, going clockwise around the able, have one chance to step in, following the same rules and acting in the same way. They play Story cards on their Faction’s side and tell their part in favor of their Faction. Whichever Player contributes to the Epilogue must connect his or her part to one of the Memories on the Track.
3. And the winner is…
When every Player has used his cards and contributed to the Epilogue plot, the winner is determined. The Story cards played for each Faction are counted, and the Players add +3 for each favorable Memory in the Track. The Faction with the highest number of cards wins the Epilogue.
In case of a draw, the Epilogue is won by the Faction that started it, unless the Writer is present.
The Faction that wins the Epilogue wins the game. Once the winning Faction has been found, the Epilogue Player concludes the story, closing all side plots and bringing the main story to an end according to the Epilogue.

Here are some interesting aspects contained in the game.

1. Help one another – Players are free and encouraged to help each other while telling the story. So there is a co-operative element.

2. Set the scene and explain – Each time a Character is activated, the Player must set the scene and explain in the story how the Character intervenes.

3. A nice story comes first – Quality in Winter Tales is what matters most and it is what you should strive for when problems arise. If everybody agrees about some detail that would not be allowed by the rules, these may well be overlooked in the specific case, in order to make the story better.

Other Key Elements

Story Cards
Story Cards are the heart of Winter Tales and are used in all storytelling mechanics. The images were made by children and reflect pure imagination, hopes and dreams, be them good or bad.

From the author: the images depicted on the Story cards were created by two children of 5 and 9. These images give you as much freedom as you may possibly need. We have no desire to constrain your imagination! It is up to the Players (and mostly to the storytelling Arbiter) to stimulate a player to read in the Cards something that may help the story, should they have trouble finding it.

Story Arbiter
All players cooperate to create the best story possible, but it’s up to the Story Arbiter to decide what direction the story should take. The player who is nominated Story Arbiter always has the last word in matters pertaining to the flavour of the plots created by other players, whenever thy cannot agree on one common road

Locations

Wintertown is full of weird Locations. There you may feel strongest either the dark presence of Winter or the soft murmur of Spring. These Locations are where the conflict takes place, and from them Tales and Soldier get the strength they need to fight their war.

Quests

There is a time and a place to tell a story. But there also is a reason. Quests represent the chances that Characters may take to win against the enemy Faction and create favourable Memories. Quests are the most important inspiration for the stories of Winter Tales. Whenever a Quest is completed, it becomes a Quest Memory.

You want conflict??? There are Battles and Traps!

The Soldiers can initiate Battles to stop Fairy Tales from moving and even to incapacitate them.

Traps are sprung by the Fairy Tales to block the movement of Soldiers and to incapacitate them.

At first pass, the rulebook seems daunting but there are a lot of descriptive examples to help you get the nature of the story telling. The rules seem relatively easy to follow and for those of you who want more depth to your story, there are optional modules that you can add.

Don’t let the size of this rulebook scare you off: most of it describes the setting, and there also are many lengthy examples. Read through this booklet once and start playing using the Summary Sheet, and you will see that the game is actually quite easy to learn.

The basic rules are simple, but you may integrate them with the Modules you will find at the end of the rulebook, which add new mechanics, strategies and story ideas. If, at the end of a game, you are satisfied and think you have created a beautiful story, regardless of having won or lost the game itself, then our efforts will have been worth it.

My experience was that the rules are actually quite simple and easy to get into. I do suggest that the players should all read the background text in the rulebook before playing so that all the players get a good sense of the atmosphere and history of the characters. I think that this is essential if you are to get the most out of Winter Tales. The game process flows very well and gives you plenty of room to stretch your creativity in creating the story.

The Story cards (with a Spring side and a Winter side) are the engine of the game. They are used to move the story along. The images can be quite challenging to your creativity but really expand the capabilities of what you will get out of playing. They are also used as resources to spend to do certain things like movement.

One quibble… It would have been nice if the cards were larger I would say, but its not a big problem that they are small.

The Modules

In addition, to add more variety and challenge to Winter Tales, there are a series of Modules, each introducing a new twist to the way you play the game…

Power Module – When the Power Module is in use, each successful Quest grants the player who completed it the possibility of using a special Power.

Objective Module – Each Player has a secret Objective that, once completed, becomes a Memory.

Skill Module – When using this Module, all Characters will have a specific skill.

Did I like Winter Tales?

Having previewed the game, I had a good idea of what to expect. I was hopeful that it would be fun but the playing experience, I must say, far surpassed my expectations.

For the right audience, THIS IS AN EXCELLENT GAME!

Winter Tales is a true story-telling game. It is definitely all about the story that you create together. I have no other game to compare it to but it is somewhat like a role-playing game so I would say those who enjoy RPG’s should definitely love Winter Tales. This is not really a game for young children as I think that they will not engage with the theme which is dark. You can play with ages 10+ and have fun for sure, but for gamers, I would suggest that you can get a heck of a story going with an older group. Definitely a game with a theme for older children and adults.

We played a 3-player game. The story that we created was based upon the given theme and we decided to stick with dark fantasy, with twisted, if heroic characters. We found ourselves becoming inspired by the story cards to come up with some quite hilarious twists in the tale and had lots of laughter as the story of the Fairy Tales taking on the forces of Winter took comic twists and turns. Our story had elements of comedy, visual humour which reminded us of Wile. E. Coyote of the Road Runner cartoons, sinister and twisted threatenings, and all kinds of mayhem. Even a massive jailbreak by the rebellious souls inhabiting a horrible prison.

Boy this game is fun!

I must stress that if you don’t put much stock in theme, or story, and if you don’t enjoy being open and creative in a public setting, you will not like this game.

If you are willing to let your hair down, and just throw yourself into the experience, I think that you will love it.

An additional cool factor is that we agreed that the replayability of Winter Tales is huge as you can use all kinds of genre, and backgrounds to build upon the core background. We immediately imagined a number of possibilities and are looking forward to playing again.

Definitely one of the best and most satisfying gaming experiences that I’ve had in a very long time!

Bravo Albe Pavo for creating what I would consider one of the best and original games I’ve ever played. In fact, I would say finally that Winter Tales is a SPECIAL game. With sooooo many games coming out, especially on Kickstarter, which are re-treading the same tired themes… (I’m looking at you Zombies!) it was such a treat to find a, dare I say, unique and creative game.

It looks amazing with its Tim Burtonesque art…

It oozes theme and facilitates the players developing the theme even further…

It has a genuine sense of fun… with it’s twisted world of not so straightforward, characters…

It has a simple card image driven engine…

It plays very well with the right group, with no down time for any players…

It has huge replay value… and I can’t wait to play many more times to further explore the great potential for more fun and creativity that Winter Tales represents.

Not much more I can say other than thank you so much to Albe Pavo for a work of sheer awesomness. I’ve never done this before but I feel compelled to announce that – This is my official GAME OF THE YEAR for 2012!

For more information, go to http://www.albepavo.com/en/index-en.html

Here is my friend, Tony’s comments about his experience –

As a former Roleplayer (who gave up for time reasons rather than anything else), perhaps rather oddly I’m not particularly attracted to story-telling games, and generally would rather invest my time in a ‘straight-up’ startegy board game. However, I did have a fun time playing Winter Tales.
 
It has an interesting ‘Dark Fantasy’ setting, though we felt it could potentially be translated reasonably easily into different contexts. The artwork is good and backstory of the characters very evocative, with the twisted nature of the forces of the Winter Regime, and the rather damaged ‘heroes’ of the Fairy Tale rebels of Spring.
 
I don’t consider myself to have a particularly strong imagination, so having the cards prompt images around which to craft part of a story was helpful in that sense: many of the images are deliberately rather vague, to allow you to twist the image into something that fits reasonably well with the ongoing story, though some were so vague that it actually offset their usefulness as prompts. Using the images as prompts does tend to make your story take particular turns, which can result in a very strange overall story – which you can see as a good thing or bad thing, depending on your perspective. In our playthrough, the consensus seemed to be that the weirdness of the resulting story added to the flavour and overall enjoyment of the game.
As well as the story-telling, the game seems to come down in large part to card-management, i.e.your faction will need to be playing cards to move and win quests, but have enough cards left at the end to have a majority in the Epilogue. This only really dawned upon us as we were undertaking the final quest, so with repeated plays, there would be likely to be a bit more conservative play of the cards.
 
We played a 3-player game, which had the interesting quirk of the Storyteller seeking to balance out the factions so as to ensure an ultimate draw at the end (which seemed like it would be a harder thing to achieve than a straight win for either faction.
 
My feeling is that the game may be a bit more open and unpredictable with more players, particularly if the faction players are evenly spread around the table and intermixed.

Overall, although not personally a fan of storytelling games, I did enjoy Winter Tales more than I thought I would. I don’t think it has ‘converted me’ into a fan of the genre, but think it would go down well with anyone who enjoys that type of game already, and is therefore a worthy addition to what seems to be (from an outsiders perspective) a relatively small number of story-focused boardgames.

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