Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de

Winter Tales


Jocularis and Matteo Santus


No. of Players:
3 - 7

G@mebox Star



Gamebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

Did you know that Snow White, once she became queen, mutated into a copy of her evil stepmother? And this happened only because she wants to preserve her beauty for all eternity. Or would you have expected that the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland might turn out to be a mean businessman who deforested an old enchanted forest only to build a Nightmare Factory, an industrial complex where scaring weapons are produced for the soldiers of the Winter? And, even worse, the whole horror regime of the Land of Toys is held up by the terrifying Mangiafuoco, one of the archenemies of Pinocchio...


Finally I am holding a copy of Winter Tales in my hands, a story telling game I have first mentioned nearly two years ago during my daily reports from the SPIEL convention. Winter Tales presents a story of ever-lasting war in the Land of Toys, and in this conflict the ruling Winter faction, represented by seven characters we all know from different fairy tales, fights against the rebels of the Spring faction, also represented by seven well-known characters.

As you see in the introductory part of this review, all the characters have their own more or less morbid background, and this certainly is a part of their individual history which we do not know from the fairy tales. And it is these well-matched stories which help us enormously to find into the game, because the main part of the game is the free creation of a story. With each player's turn, a new part of the story created, and the content of the story does not follow a strict line, since the players are more or less free to decide how the story unfolds.

This already begins with the game's starting phase - the introduction. After everybody is made familiar with the general background story of the game and the characters' individual backgrounds, one player begins to create a story to his own liking, with just the limitation that no character may die and that the story somehow must be connected to the war of the Winter faction against the rebels of the Spring faction. So, it is up to the players if the story should begin with a scheduled plot at a fair (an example from the rules), a forced entry into the Nightmare Factory, or something totally different.

To unfold the story, the players move their characters on a skilfully illustrated gameboard which is once again designed in a morbid style similar to some of the older Tim Burton movies. On this board we find a map of Wintertown with eight specific locations, all with their own background story that is told on a separate explanation sheet for all players. Again these background stories help the players to create the main story. The different locations are all connected via plazas that have no other function than to prolong the travelling distance from one location to another and to block characters to prevent them reaching their final destination.


But how does travelling and storytelling work in detail? For this purpose Story cards are used. These cards are the true heart of the game, because they are necessary for all the different actions a player may choose. Illustrated by two children of 5 and 9 years, they show very abstract illustrations, and so the players can use their imagination to interpret the cards in a way which may favor the way in which they want the story to develop. It is these cards which mainly influence the story of the game, because a player has to play one (or more) of these Story cards whenever he wants to act with his character, and then he must use the illustration on the card to explain the action he wants to perform. For example. if you see an arrow on your card, you can use it to fire a bow at an opposing character present at your location, but on the other hand the arrow also could be taken as a symbol of love, with the player's character falling in love with another player's character (a heart with an arrow). As you can see, there are no creative boundaries here. Of course, the other players still should be able to see the connection between the card and the words spoken by the player, and in case of doubt, one player who was chosen to act as an arbiter at the beginning of the game decides if the card does really match the story which has been told.


Still, despite the narrative freedom the game follows a well laid organizational structure. First of all, it is war and so the players, although working together on the same story, pursue their own strategic aims. Depending on the number of players, each player takes control of 2 to 4 characters, either of the Winter faction or the Spring faction. After randomly choosing a faction, the players are seated in alternating order, so that the warring factions act in alternating order. When a player performs his turn, he begins by choosing one of his still inactive characters and draws three additional Story cards to his hand as a basis for his further actions. Afterwards he can move the chosen character on the map from one place to another. If the player wishes, he describes what the character's plans are, plays a narrative card and - always in connection to this card - tells the other players how he is moving. Two steps per Story card are allowed.

At the final destination of the character the player can either generate a new quest from an outlay of unsolved Quest tokens by placing this token onto the map, or start resolving a Quest token which can be found at this location. Each Quest token has its own background story that is shortly described in the rules, but the story must be expanded by the player who starts resolving the quest. In that case, other players clockwise can decide if they want to participate in the quest, too. To do so, a character must be on the same location or move one of his still inactive characters to the location, following the normal movement rules (one Story card for moving two steps).

Then the quest is solved by all players who are involved. Beginning with the player who started the quest, the players clockwise unfold the story. While telling the story the acting players play Story cards (of course the illustration must fit to the story told by the players) until they have no more cards or pass and allow the next player to continue. At the end of the round the first player may play one more card and then the quest ends.

At this point it is crucial to note that players representing both factions can participate in the quest, and so they will try to use their Story cards to develop the Story in a way which serves their own aims. When all participants have told their part of the quest story, the number of cards played by each faction is counted and the faction with the most cards wins this quest. The game ends if a specific number of quests has been solved as agreed at the beginning of the game.

Until now you might think that the game is not very tactical. Well, that would be true, if there would be no chance to interrupt other players while moving. Each faction has its own method if they want to prevent an enemy from passing a location an own character stands on. Of course, these interruptions are solved by using Story cards and once again some storytelling is needed, but you will also see that there are some interesting moves which can be made once you are familiar with the basic mechanics of the game. In addition, the Story cards (being in truth the "currency" of the game) held by each player are kept in secret, and so the players either must have a quite good memory and count how many cards each player still might possess, or - what's better - they may be in for the one or other surprise when it comes to storytelling contests.

As you will perhaps know from my review of Co-Mix, I had some prejudices against story telling games. But when I had my first glimpse on Winter Tales some years ago, I was sure that I had to get this game. To my mind the illustrations are so outstanding that it was worth possessing this game, regardless how playable it would turn out to be. But knowing the authors by some other games I was also hoping that the game would offer some new ideas, too. And having played it several times, I must say that I was right. Driven by the weird, morbid background stories of the locations and the characters, the players in my games always created a fabulous story. The more players participate, the better the game will run, because a single player cannot have too many different thoughts and ideas for the story of the game. Besides, with small number of players everyone must take more characters (up to four in a three-player game), so it is more difficult to identify with your characters.

But of course - a factor well known from any storytelling game - in the end everything depends on you and your fellow players. The game gives you plenty of possibilities for creating your story, but you must use this freedom to really enjoy the game. So, it could be difficult with some type of players, but I made the experience that Winter Tales makes it easy for you. As a result, I am taking the game to every game event I visit, and it is quite often asked for in my playing groups!


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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany