Board Game Review: Tell Me a Story

The box, about 3 centimetres by 7 centimetres by 5 centimetres, with the game Tell Me a Story. The box is black with various white line drawings all over it, and a large speech balloon with the title n the front and the lid.A brand new company called Escape Hatch Games had just released their first game a month or so before Gen Con. As I was wandering around the exhibit hall, I saw their booth, with the name of this first game proudly displayed on a banner behind them, and I knew I had to check it out. I stopped to ask them about it, and they did a quick one-round demo with me, and I knew I had to have it. Last week, I finally got to play a full game for the first time with three of my friends. It was epic. So now I shall review for you, my loyal readers, the wonderful game called Tell Me a Story.

Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take. Gamer Profile Ratings measures how strongly a game will appeal to players based on their interest in one of four areas. These areas are measured as High, Medium, or Low. Strategy describes how much a game involves cognitive challenges, thinking and planning, and making sound decisions. Conflict describes how much direct hostile action there is between players, from destroying units to stealing resources. Social Manipulation describes how much bluffing, deceiving, and persuading there is between players. Fantasy describes how much a game immerses players in another world, another time.You may notice that I have formalised the additional Gamer Profile ratings mentioned in my last review into my new system. So let’s see what this game has for us:

Strategy: 0
Randomness: 2
Complexity: 1
Humour: Implicit, Inherent
Attractiveness: Average
Average Length of Gameplay: Varies wildly, depending on the number of players and their ability to tell stories.
Gamer Profile Ratings:
Strategy: Low
Conflict: Low
Social Manipulation: Low
Fantasy: High

An Overview of Tell Me a Story

This is a game in which players tell stories. Surprise, surprise, I know. Here’s how it works: the box contains (apart from the rules) five types of cards. There are the red Conflict cards, which have a source of tension. Green cards are Settings. Blue cards have Characters, whilst purple cards are Advantages, and yellow cards are Curses. In addition, there is a single black card, labelled simply, ‘Judge.’ Each player starts with three each of the Character, Advantage, and Curse cards. Let’s see some examples of these cards:

30 cards. 6 curse cards: Compulsive Liar; Mother-in-law is an actual monster; Very, very lazy; Voice sounds like a crazy old lady; Crippling debt; Must speak in a bad (choose an accent) accent that you're convinced is spot on. 6 character cards: Swarm of pre-teen girls who love Justin Bieber, OMG!; 1920s bank robber; Werewolf; World's foremost expert on chairs; Foul-mouthed parrot; Rock star. 6 advantage cards: Can see in the dark; Double-jointed; World famous; Force field; Impeccably dressed; 3 extra clone bodies. 6 conflict cards: Ghost pirates are plaguing local waters; You have entered a fighting competition where the fights are to the death; Tithe Sunday, no wallet; Your mentor has been murdered by a rival clan, and you have sworn revenge; You are being held for ransom, but your family doesn't really want you back; You discover that your significant other is a serial killer. 6 setting cards: Elevator that is stuck between floors; Children's beauty pageant; Six feet to your right; Bad part of town; Community that exists inside of a giant whale; Under the bleachers at a high school football game.

One player gets the Judge card. The others tell the Judge stories. The Judge decides which story he or she likes best. That player gets a point. Then the Judge card passes to the left. Repeat until one player has as many points as there are players. That player is the winner.

How the Cards Work

The Judge will draw the top Setting Card. He or she then draws three Conflict cards, and chooses one. He or she reveals these to the other players. The other players then take turns telling stories about the chosen Conflict in the revealed Setting. On his or her turn, a player chooses one Character card and one Advantage card. His or her story is about that character with that advantage in that setting with that conflict.

Other players are allowed to play Curse cards on the current player. The player must then incorporate that curse into the story. You may only play one curse card on any player, but multiple players may play curse cards on the current player.

After the current player has finished his or her story, the next player chooses a Character and an Advantage, and tells a story about that character with that advantage in the same Setting with the same Conflict.

After each player has told a story in the current Setting and Conflict, the Judge decides which he or she liked best. That player gets a point. Everyone draws back up to three Character and three Advantage cards (but not Curse cards). The Judge card passes to the left, and the new Judge draws a new setting and three new Conflicts. Game play continues in this manner. After each player has served as Judge, then you draw back up to three Curse cards.

The first player to have as many points as there are players (e.g., four points in a four-player game) is declared the winner.

More Depth about Tell Me a Story

This is one of those games in which you don’t play to win. You play to hear the amazing stories that you and your friends tell. These stories can be funny, exciting, sad, or anything else. The first story I told in my game was so popular that I decided to write it up as a short story. It’s called ‘Wilma,’ and it was based on the following cards:

  • Setting: The edge of a cliff
  • Conflict: You fell in love with someone, then recently found out that they are your long lost sibling
  • Character: Nagging wife
  • Advantage: In some circles, you are known as ‘The Boss.’
  • Curse: Real douchebag

You’re welcome to read it, if you like.

The stories got more outrageous as the game went on. Some highlights included:

  • A squire to a mediocre knight, who couldn’t stop using profanity, in a creepy attic being chased by the Dark Lord.
  • A televangelist berating someone for talking through the whole movie.
  • A girl who has been prophesied to be the saviour of the world travelling back in time to prevent herself from being killed as an infant.
  • A cheerleader with uncontrollable flatulence at a containment camp for chronic merriment.

And some of the awesomeness came not from the stories themselves, but from how they were told. Like when I played a curse card that required a player to sing her story.

Final Thoughts on Tell Me a Story

Tell Me a Story is, like many games that I enjoy playing, best played with just the right group of players. I’ve tried to play storytelling games (like Gloom or Fiasco) with people who aren’t very good at telling stories. Not only do these non-storytelling players not enjoy the game, but they also make it less enjoyable for me and others who are good at telling stories.

This means that I won’t get to play Tell Me a Story very often, which is a shame. But with the right people, in the right setting, this game can be lightning in a bottle. We all had a ridiculous amount of fun, and one player in particular kept chanting ‘This is the best game ever‘ throughout the evening. So if you’re the kind of player who likes stories and storytelling games, Tell Me a Story is probably for you.

So that’s enough for now. Don’t forget to come back next week, when I talk about Zombie Orpheus Entertainment! Until then, tell more stories, and

Game on!

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J was introduced to tabletop roleplaying games in high school, where he found that he enjoyed telling epic stories through the medium of games. Since then, he has only grown more fond of games, and is now an active supporter of his local board game cafe. He's been blogging about games at gamingdork.blogspot.com for a while, and is even working on play testing his own original RPG. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, a cat, and two rats.

About J

J was introduced to tabletop roleplaying games in high school, where he found that he enjoyed telling epic stories through the medium of games. Since then, he has only grown more fond of games, and is now an active supporter of his local board game cafe. He's been blogging about games at gamingdork.blogspot.com for a while, and is even working on play testing his own original RPG. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, a cat, and two rats.