Once Upon A Time is a co-operative storytelling card game, where players work together to tell an original fairy tale using the elements on their cards, while each player competes to take control of the story and finish it with their own unique (and secret) ending card. Though play is mostly good-natured, when it comes to winning, players can become ruthless in killing off each other’s ideas.
The object of the game is to tell a story that is consistent and coherent, and to be the first player to play all their cards, and to finish the story (in a way that makes sense) with your ending card. Only one player can be the Storyteller at any time.
The Storyteller narrates the story, and plays cards from their hand to represent the story elements their introduce. Cards come in categories like Characters, Places, Things, Events and Aspects. Characters include King, Giant, and Witch; places include Cave, Castle, Forest; and so on.
Players eye up each other’s cards, trying to predict which ones are essential to their opponent’s victory, and marking them for death.
The Storyteller can voluntarily pass play to the player to their left. Other players can also claim control and become the new Storyteller by interrupting the current Storyteller. Players can interrupt if they have an Interrupt card of the same category of the most recent card played by the current Storyteller; players can also interrupt if the current Storyteller uses a word on any of the cards in the interrupting player’s hand.
The main tension in the game is between telling a story that is consistent, and having every player try to pull the story in their own direction. For example, one player might be trying to end the story with “…and the witch perished in her own cauldron” while another player might be trying to end the story with “…he told her he was the prince and they lived happily ever after”. An ending card cannot be played as a non-sequitur, which means players must introduce the elements contained in their ending card before playing their ending card. For example, the first player would have to introduce a Witch and a Cauldron, while the second player would have to introduce a Prince, a female character, and a case of mistaken identity. With all of these elements in the same story, keeping things consistent is a real challenge.
The greatest threat to a player reaching their own ending are the cards and ideas of the other players. In a particularly competitive game, players can become ruthless in dispatching, trapping, obfuscating or outright killing each other’s ideas. Players eye up each other’s cards, trying to predict which ones are essential to their opponent’s victory, and marking them for death.
Games of Once Upon A Time frequently turn into a bloodbath
In the example above, the safest way for the first player to win would be to kill the Prince; and the safest way for the second player to win would be to either kill the Witch away from her Cauldron, or to destroy the Cauldron. With the dirty work done, the path to victory is clear.
Games of Once Upon A Time frequently turn into a bloodbath, where swift and gruesome death lurks around every corner. In a world where there can be only one definitive story, we cannot suffer another point of view to live. And so we kill everything that undermines our version of history in a magical kingdom, far, far away.