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[Comments] (7) Once Upon a Time Variant: We hung out with Brendan and Maria all day and played games. We came up with this Once Upon a Time variant which fixes what I think is the biggest problem with OUaT: the underuse of ending cards. You get a million story cards that have single concepts on them, and there's an equally large deck of ending cards, each containing an entire plot point. This other deck is cooler but you go through it at 1/100th the speed.

So, the variant: you start off with two ending cards. Whenever it's your turn, you must play one of your ending cards before you can play a story card. You can just play the ending card and start tying it into the story, or you can talk for a few sentences before playing the ending card, to connect the current story to the ending. No one can interrupt you before you play your ending card, but you can't play any of your story cards either.

Once you play the ending card, your turn continues as in vanilla: you play story cards and try to get to the point where you can play your second ending card. If someone interrupts you, you must draw a story card and an ending card (so you begin each of your turns with two ending cards).

If someone's story gets to the point where you could play an ending card, you can interrupt with the ending card and start your story from there. (This actually happened.)

Since OUaT stories jump around a lot anyway, it's not difficult to use an ending card to close one thread of the story or to spawn a new thread. The additional constraint is generally what I need to feel comfortable making up an OUaT story.

Update: See comments for feedback from OUaT co-author James Wallis.


Posted by Camilla at Mon Mar 20 2006 01:51

I like that game.

Posted by Zack at Mon Mar 20 2006 20:07

I'm confused. What is the win condition for this variant? Also, is being interrupted the only condition where you must draw an ending card? (i.e. what happens if you pass?)

Posted by Leonard at Mon Mar 20 2006 20:59

The win condition is the same as in vanilla; you have to play all your story cards and then your second ending card. If it ever becomes not your turn and you haven't won, then you have to draw another ending card so that you begin your next turn with two.

The winning turn goes: talk a bit, play first ending card, talk some more and play any remaining story cards, play second ending card to end the story.

Posted by James Wallis at Wed Mar 22 2006 11:26

Interesting. Since day one we've had a problem with stories becoming nested: that is, a character within the main story beginning to tell a story that demands a conclusion of its own but rarely gets it (or, if it does, then the main story goes unfinished). I thought we'd designed the problem out of the two print editions by removing the cards that started sub-stories (things like "Prophecy" and "Dream" were the main culprits), though I suppose some of the Dark Tales cards could have reintroduced it without us realising.

Story and Ending cards inter-relate quite closely: a good Ending card refers directly or obliquely to at least two Story cards, so that (in the basic game) while you're trying to build the elements into the story that will allow you to legitimately play your Ending, other players can interrupt you with the cards for those elements. Using a second Ending card in the way you describe would introduce new tropes into the story but without letting other players interrupt on them, so I'm not sure what function it has, qua game, other than adding what looks like some entertaining complexity to the narrative. So I guess you're not a pure ludologist.

I've got a paper in Second Life (MIT Press, later this year) that discusses some of the ideas behind OUaT and some of my other designs in the context of games that create stories. You may find it interesting.

Posted by Leonard at Wed Mar 22 2006 11:50

I'm not a pure ludologist. My favorite part of OUaT is the constrained storytelling.

I should mention that the uninterruptable time you're allowed to get to your ending card is very brief. In fact, you could get rid of it altogether. When it's your turn you play one of your ending cards and _then_ you have to tie it back into the narrative. The problem is if you get interrupted while doing this, the person who interrupts you has to play one of _their_ ending cards, and instead of sub-stories that never get resolved you get endings that never get explained.

Posted by James Wallis at Wed Mar 22 2006 12:02

Ah, okay, I'm with you. We've always tried to make the stories as open as possible, for maximum accessibility; it hadn't occurred to me that someone would create rules variants to do the opposite -- though since the way you describe it above sounds similar to a card-based version of the Baron Munchausen mechanic where people throw ugly obstacles in the path of one's beautiful narrative, I can understand exactly why it would be entertaining.

Posted by Leonard at Wed Mar 22 2006 12:42

It is exactly like Baron Munchausen, except that you're throwing obstacles in your own path, and you have to decide which one you can work with.

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