50 Games in 50 Weeks: Once Upon a Time

This is a weird game.

It’s a storytelling card game. Each player has a hand full of fairy tale story elements (swords, siblings, dark places, etc.) and a single ending (“And she was happy the rest of her days,” “And he never saw her again,” etc.). One player begins telling a story, laying down story elements as they appear in the story. However, if another player’s story element appears in the story, then that player may play that card and take over the story. The losing player must then draw an extra story card and stew as the new player continues the story. Similarly, the other players can challenge a player whose story has ceased to make sense, or who has paused for more than a few seconds in telling the story.

The game continues until one player has played all of his or her story elements, and plays his or her ending.

That’s about all of the rules. Sounds chaotic and easy to “game,” right? It is, to begin with. But let me tell you a story.

My favorite session of Once Upon a Time occurred during Guy’s Night Out. Imagine half a dozen college-age guys (and me) sitting around a table, and I pull out this card game. The guys lean forward, intrigued. I deal out the cards. I begin a story.

At first, players slam through their story elements, trying to tell a complete story in two sentences. This behavior is challenged, the relevant players are chastised, and everyone realizes that that tactic just isn’t much fun.

Then, things get interesting, as people realize that they have to tell a good story. On the fly.

Good storytellers are rewarded for weaving a sensible story. One has to weave a story. Give the plot elements room to breathe and grow.

We told stories, laughed, and grew entranced by each others’ stories.

How awesome is that?

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