Fairytale Fubar

A 200 Word RPG | 3 to 7 players

Shuffle a poker deck. Cut for high card. Jokers are 0. Winner is dealer and invents a fairytale quest the group will pursue (kill a dragon, rescue a captive, find true love, etc.).

Deal each player 7 cards; the rest become a draw pile. Turn up the top draw card to start the story. Suits represent attributes: Spades = Grace; Clubs = Brawn; Hearts = Will; Diamonds = Wits; Jokers = Any suit.

Players each lay any card from their hand face down, then reveal simultaneously. Discard those that do not match the current story card suit.

The player of the highest remaining card (if any) describes a scene to match the story card attribute, how valiantly their character succeeded, and how terribly the lowest remaining card’s character (if any) fubarred. (Jokers always fubar.)
Players whose cards matched suit score one point; the “valiant” player scores two.

The fairytale ends in a climax with the 7th story card. The character with the most points becomes court Champion; the one with the fewest becomes court Jester; tied characters kill each other in a duel; any other characters are banished from court and forgotten.

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Given my rural retirement, I have a renewed interest in solo games. So I’ve arranged those already in my collection (including the amazingly good Aliens board game from Leading Edge) together on one shelf. And I’ve joined a couple of “solo gamer” Facebook pages.

One title often recommended on those pages is Four Against Darkness. Having played it now for myself, I agree: It’s a hoot!

How to describe it. To me it feels like a boiled down version of the original D&D character rules, married to a sleeker version of “Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation” from the AD&D 2nd Ed. Game Master’s Guide, but all using just six-sided dice. Character stats are nowhere near as personalized as in those old D&D rules, nor are the random dungeon rules as broad as that AD&D appendix, but its streamlined approach is part of why it works so well. Four Against Darkness feels like a souped-up board game. A well-designed souped-up fantasy adventure board game that allows for old-school GM improvisation.

Let me put it this way: I just a moment ago finished telling my daughter Kate the story of how, having barely entered a dungeon, my wizard, elf, and thief fell prey to a medusa. But their dwarf friend heroically slew the medusa single-handedly, then battled his way back to the entrance, fighting monster after monster, and twice incurring curses from dark altars, in search of enough gold to hire a priest to break his friends’ spell. And how after stealthily returning to the chamber of stone victims, he and the hireling priest were surprised by a chaos lord. Facing the chaos lord alone, against all odds, the dwarf bought the priest enough time to unfreeze his friends. And even then, the group barely managed to survive.

I have not told “war stories” like that for the past 40 years. Today I couldn’t help myself.

Oh, and in the end the group stumbled out of the dungeon with only three gold pieces apiece. The hirling priest got four.

Card Games – What’s Up With That?

I love card games. Especially classics like Cribbage, Hearts, and Rook. And hobby card games like Gother Than Thou, Groo, Lord of the Fries, Love Letter. Lunch Money, and Quest for the Fayslewood.

Trading card games not so much. I’ve had my flings with a few, including Lord of the Rings, Mythos, Spellfire, and Vampire: the Eternal Struggle. But TCGs require constant feeding or they die.

At GDW and TSR, I had a hand in publishing some card games. And over the past five years, I’ve self-published several of my own, including Clashing Blades, Creatures and Cards, and Wolf Man’s Curse. (Stick around, I’ll introduce you to those three, and tempt you with a 20% discount.)

Card games don’t get the respect they deserve. Because they’re smaller and less visible than board games and RPGs, they have a harder time finding distribution and store shelf space (where they’re easier to steal).

If hobby gaming were the music industry, standalone card games would be “indy bands” that struggle for booking, but are often actually better than stadium-filling board game and RPG “bands.”

Wolf Man's Curse! card backBetter? How?

  • They’re less expensive. Card games tend to be $10-$15. If you’re into PDF print-and-play, they’re even cheaper.
  • They’re more portable. You can fit one in a pocket. Count your pockets; that’s how many you can carry and still leave your hands free for bringing a pizza to your game night.
  • They play faster. So they’re perfect pick-up games while waiting for your RPG group to assemble. Or between convention events. Or during lunch. And if you spend a game session with card games alone, you can play more than once, giving everyone a chance to win at something before the get-together is over.
  • They’re easier to learn. Card game rules tend to be much, much shorter than other games. As we grow older, pursue careers, marry, start families, and so on, that’s increasingly important.

Allow me to introduce you to three of my favorite self-published card games. Each uses a specially illustrated poker-sized deck, so you could even use them for Cribbage, Hearts, or whatever.

Clashing Blades! suits in colorClashing Blades is a 2-player fencing duel of spades (attacks), diamonds (parries), and clubs (ripostes). Face cards add an optional musketeer-style event deck. The 6, 7, 8, and 9 of hearts are used to keep score, the rest for an optional “bloody wound” rule. The game represents fencing’s en garde, exchange, and disengage steps in a quick and energetic fashion.

It’s my first card game design, based on fencing classes in college. I think it represents that well.
20% off Clashing Blades

Creatures and Cards is my most recent design, for 2-4 players. It literally came to me in a dream, ready for play-testing. Each player chooses a hero to play—Fighter, Priest, Wizard, or Thief, each with a special power. In competition, those heroes enter a dungeon to fight (spades) against monsters (clubs) rescue followers (hearts) and gain treasure (diamonds). Play through the draw deck twice, then the player with the most points of followers and treasure wins.
20% off Creatures and Cards

In Wolf Man’s Curse, yes you are a werewolf! Every player is. The game is for 3-5 players. Face cards and jokers form a “full moon” deck of three nights each, and you play hands to take or avoid taking tricks of victims (hearts), bobbies (spades), angry mob (clubs), and gold (diamonds). The jokers are silver bullets, and the game ends when the “Fiancée” card is turned. sample Wolf Man's Curse cards

At that point, if a player has both a silver bullet and the “Fiancée, that werewolf dies at its lover’s hand. Then the werewolf with the most mob points is lynched. Then the one with the most bobbies points is hanged, if it is guilty of slaughter. Among the survivors, any innocent werewolf (no victim cards) wins, otherwise the richest werewolf does. (Sometimes, in a 3-player game, everyone dies.)

This was my third card game design, and it may well be my favorite, utterly savage and backstabbing.
20% off Wolf Man’s Curse

Check Popcorn Press and DriveThruCards for more self-published card-game designs. Thanks!

My Time With Groo

Groo: The Game is currently $110 and up on eBay. And the expansion alone is currently $50 minimum. It is honestly one of my favorite games. And as a game designer myself, I admire it. I feel fortunate to have been part of its production.

The game is based on Sergio Aragonés’ comic book character, a dimwitted barbarian with godlike combat skills, who bumbles through his world, leaving a trail of destruction behind. (Imagine Inspector Clouseau in the body of Conan the Barbarian.) Groo’s only two friends are his dog Rufferto and the Sage.

The game’s designer, Ken Whitman, may well be Groo. That would make me either the Sage or Rufferto. I hope to god I’m the Sage, and not the dog.

Comparisons between Ken and Groo should be obvious. It is no secret that Ken has swept through the game industry leaving a trail of destruction and burned bridges behind him. His name is anathema around the world. But dammit, I can’t help but remain his friend.

That sentiment may well earn me some ire. It may sour the wine in Tenkar’s Tavern, where bitters are served whenever Ken’s name comes up.

But while Ken has many times frustrated me or disappointed me, my life has been the fuller for knowing him. I’ve honestly never spent a regretful hour in his company. And I know many people in this industry—some of them legendary—who could well say the same.