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Once Upon a Time

first edition

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Product Information

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.1 in 21 reviews

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Simple & elegant, a superlative storytelling game
April 21, 2003

Let me also add my wholehearted endorsement of this game. The one very low rating below perfectly illustrates the success of the design: this is a *storytelling* game, and it facilitates that beautifully. If you have no desire to tell stories, of course you won't enjoy it.

The reviews below have sufficiently explained the mechanics, with one exception, and that is 'passing.' On your turn, if you happen to be in a situation where the cards you have are not in line with the story being told, you can simply 'pass' and draw a card from the deck (whereupon you may discard one card). I have never been in a game where this wasn't sufficient to deal with a strange assortment of cards in your hand.

There is, to my mind, just one area of improvement, should the game have future editions (beyond the second edition). In a game born (almost) purely of the imagination, the illustrations, in the future, should receive the lion's share of resources. Here (in the second edition) they are sufficient but no more.

Not for the self-conscious or the lame-witted...
January 28, 2002

Far better than 'Dark Cults' - a game in a similar vein (although it does make me long for a horror-version of OUAT) - it is essentially a framework in which to tell a semi-cooperative, slightly competitive fantasy story and is a poop-load of fun.

This one consistently has us cracking up with each bizarre story.

A game created for people who enjoy nonsense
January 03, 2002

ONe of my best friends introduced me to this game 2 years ago. The first time I really played it as it's meant to be played, it was five of us who have been friends for years. The game went on for an hour and a half, covered almost every private joke we've ever had and spawned about six more. That said, I also played this recently with fifteen people in a writing workshop I run, only a few of whom I've known for more than a few weeks, and we had a WONDERFUL time. I'm not going to bother discussing how the game works, since other reviewers have done that; but if you approach it with teh right attitude, I have never known anything to be more fun. After finally finding it here and buying it, I hooked my family, half my class and the aforementioned writing workshop within the week. The fairy tale elements sometimes do nothing more than add an element of the bizarre to it; they don't have to limit you unless you want them to. (Last time my brother and I played, the Prince was searchng for a Wife who was Ugly, because his mother the Queen was worried that the Kingdom filled with Beautiful people suffered from a lack of genetic diversity). This game is fun any time, anywhere...for the full effect, however, play it at 3 A.M, with a group of your best friends, and beware. :4)

And never, as long as she lived, could it ever be removed.
November 29, 2001

This is the best game. It takes a few rounds to really get into it, but it is so worth it. With a little creativity, the stories can go on forever. And when you get used to the concept of the interruptions, it really becomes interesting. It is so much fun, I would recommend this game to anyone.

by Joel
Great ... with the right group.
October 24, 2001

If your gaming group is full of really fun people, this game is a must-have. What most people don't realize is that while the cards are fairy tale style, your story doesn't have to be. Last time my group played it, the story was about an inflatable s*x sheep that was trying to steal the original manuscripts for Lord of the Rings (or something like that, it's hard to remember for all the laughing), but somehow a mysterious old woman managed to take the sheep's place as the main character. Simply put, if your group has a sense of humor, this is a great filler between the heavy strategy games.

A truly GREAT family game
June 28, 2001

Once Upon a Time is a game that both defies and requires description. It defies it, because this is an ostensibly competitive game that has almost nothing to do with winning. It requires descrption because it is a game that requires storytelling, and the more descriptive, the better.

As mentioned elsewhere, players have cards representing various fairy-tale archetypes, and the object is to weave these elements into a story and reach a satisfactory conclusion to the story.

What the game is REALLY about is imagination. Players will often refrain from 'taking' the story from another player if that player is telling a good enough story. The stories, like the movie 'Shrek', can take some very unexpected turns, and stereotypical situations are often turned on their collective ear.

This is almost the antithesis of a gamer's game. This is one for the family or a gathering of friends, a pleasant and unique way to while away an hour or so. Highly recommended.

Great DIFFERENT game
June 20, 2001

This is very different from most games that I play. (I play a lot of the 'lighter' German games like Torres and Carcassone.)

I hesitated getting this game for a while because I was concerned that it would be 'just a party game'. While it would probably work well at a party, it is different from most 'party games' (which I try to avoid like the plague) as it actually encourages thinking ahead and rewards planning.

My wife and I have played this and enjoyed thinking of other people who would enjoy this.

My only complaint is with the cards. The graphics are great, but it is difficult to tell what type of card has just been played. I wish that the different types of cards had different borders.

All in all, a great game and one that I would HIGHLY recommend.

It Doesn't Matter Whether You Win or Lose
April 23, 2001

This game is simply fun to play! Who happens to win a round is secondary to the enjoyment of actually playing the game. A number of times I've been in a position where I could have won a hand, but decided not to because I was having too much fun and wanted to continue playing. Most of the time we don't even bother to keep score.

The game also has a nice universal quality because of its fairy tale theme. I've played with everyone from children to the elderly, to people from as far away as Asia and South America, and everyone has enjoyed it.

Great little story telling gem!
April 22, 2000

New for our family this weekend is Atlas Games' Once Upon A Time. We LOVED it!

If you haven't played, the game is centered on story telling. Each player gets a hand of cards with characters, events, places, etc. on them. The first player starts the story with 'Once upon a time...' and tries to include in their story as many of the things depicted on their cards as possible.

Other players can interrupt the storyteller when she mentions something that another player has on a card in his hand. There are also 'interrupt' cards that allow players to jump in when a category of card is played by the storyteller. The play moves quickly around the table, and the story takes on its own life.

Each player has a card that will conclude their story, and each player tries to finish up the story by last playing their 'ending' card. First player to empty her hand wins.

Our kids found the game hilarious. The cook fell into his cook pot, the witch forgot how to cast her evil spell, and a cursed crown turned the princess into an ugly old man.

One game takes about 10 minutes to play. We played for an hour and a half this afternoon. While our kids like games, this one is getting repeat requests even as I type.

The artwork on the cards is excellent, and the rules are clear and take all of 5 minutes to absorb.

If you want to take a break from 'competitive' gaming and exercise your imagination, grab a copy of this little gem.

July 22, 1999

The essence of this game is telling a story using the objects/events/happy endings that are printed on a deck of cards dealt to each player. Each player has a happy ending card. In telling the story, you win by having the story end using the story-line on your happy ending card. A happy ending might be 'and he learned to always listen to his mother's advice.' In telling the story, if a player says 'they found a treasure', you can take over the story if you have a card that says 'treasure' on it.

I played this game with great reluctance. What we found is that there are two ways to play this game. My kids play it to win. My wife and I play it for fun. You can do both at the same time. As each player tries to bring the ending to his car, stories take hilarious twists and turns. I was convinced I would dislike this game before I played it. Boy was I wrong.

It's one of those rare games that can be played with any age groups, whether they like games or not. A true gem that must be tried to be appreciated.

Great on-the-go game
June 30, 2002

I really liked this game because it made you use your imagination. In a society where computers are king, and Sony playstations are gods--it is really nice to know that good old fashion brain activity is still useful. I have played this game in the car on road trips as well as in my living room and have had hours of fun making up stories and listening to others make up silly stories. It is fun for all ages.

by Brian
Great with the right group.
January 29, 2002

My family loves this game, but it can fall completely flat with the wrong group.

Here's why. To win, you need to get rid of all of your story element cards. The quickest way to do that is to use the least number of words and concepts possible to tell your story. E.g.: Once there was a talking dog. [play talking animal card]. He lived in a castle. [play castle card]. There he met a stranger. [play meets a stranger card]. They got into a fight. etc. Not much fun to tell or listen to.

To make a good story, you need to have more than a minimal succession of elements. Embellish a little. Fill in the gaps to make the progression between elements plausible. Justify major breaks from the previous player's storyline. This is fun to do and fun to listen to.

The problem is that making a good story involves *strategic* risks. Deviation from the minimum required to play your cards increases the chances that another player will be able to interrupt you by playing one of their cards. If your highest goal is to win the game, you won't see why you should take such risks and the story will be DULL. The fun in the game comes from walking the line between furthering your chances of winning without BREAKING the story.

If your gaming group can accept that they have to abide by the 'spirit' of the game, even if it harms their chances of winning, this game can be uproarious fun. If you've got players who won't stay within the spirit of the game, it fails.

by Ron
Looks good so far. One flaw...
December 09, 2001

I've only played this once, so far (although we played several hands, of course), and it may not be a problem with more people in the game (we had 3), but I see a flaw. Namely, when you're down to one (or 0) cards and about to go out, but get interrupted, there's often very little chance of getting back into the game. My friend once got stuck with just the shepherdess card. Good luck on getting someone ELSE to mention a shepherdess.

Our idea to fix it was to allow anyone to draw extra cards if they want at any time. I don't know if this will work, yet, but it would seem to allow someone to get back into the game from that position.

...And they all gamed happily ever after
May 27, 2001

Great game. Can play with all my kids (ages 11-21). Easily transportable. High-quality components. Short games. Replayability seems very promising. Though it is a competitive game (one player does 'win'), it really plays more like a cooperative game (everyone working together to make an amusing story). Would make a great party game.

by Pazzy
Fun Game with One Reservation
December 27, 2000

Bought this one for my girlfriend and I to play together, as she loves stuff like this. It's a really fun game, plays well for two, and is excellent for groups. The only reservation I have is with the cards themselves. For two, you are dealt 10 cards, and it's impossible to tell them apart while in your hand. You often have to be fairly quick to interrupt, and it's tough to do if you can't see in time which card is an interrupt card and which is a story card. Perhaps putting the card description on the side may be an improvement. Otherwise, highly recommended.

"Unfortunately the witch didn't see the stampeding giant..."
October 31, 1999

There's nothing like interrupting someone else's story and eliminating their lead character, I tell ya....

Lots of laughs, quick thinking and excellent illustrations make this a classic game for parties or an apperetif before a bigger game. It's quick--about 5-8 minutes per person playing, and simple enough to engage younger gamers. Possibilities for variants abound, and with over a hundred cards, the combinations of story elements are endless. Character, item, location, event and aspect cards control the flow of the story, and interrupt cards give you the right to take over! Several blank cards are included to design your own story elements. The only drawback is that all elements are in a fairytale/fantasy vein. Make mystery, spy, western and sci-fi editions too!

Fun for kids of all ages
February 03, 1999

Once Upon A Time is terrific, and you don't have to be a kid to play. Suitable for all ages, it's creative and can be really funny! Even though there is a 'winner' at the end, all of the players have a good time trying to weave a home-made fairy tale to use up the cards that they hold in their hands. It can get nerve-wracking near the end when you're trying to get rid of your final 'Happily Ever After' card! Even people who aren't playing the game enjoy listening (or eavesdropping!) to the tales that the competitors make up!

This game would be great for car trips, or anytime you have time to kill but not a lot of space to play a board game.

If you enjoy improvisation, or long to make up your own Fairy Tale, this one is sure to be a hit!

by Chris G
fun, but not really a game
August 20, 2002

This is one of thos games that's really fun to play with people who are creative, but if you get someone who's boring, they just don't know what to do with themselves. the rules are very loose, and not all that useful, in my opinion. but it's still pretty enjoyable with the right group of people. I once played it with a group from NYU's sci-fi club, and that was one of the most fun games ever.

Only limited by your imagination
July 28, 1999

I have to admit it; I'm not very good at playing Once Upon a Time. But when I do play it, even though I always lose miserably, I still have a good time. Once Upon a Time is a game where the rules are only as rigid as the players want them to be. It's very fun to see how someone manages to interpret a particularly difficult card into their story.

One variant of the game that is absolutely hilarious is to make the stories of a certain genre, such as Western, or Science Fiction, or Enid Blyton's children's books. Even crazier, try giving each player a different genre in the same game. ("Mad Dick Parker strides into the saloon - " [someone interrupts with the 'Tavern' card] "'Gosh!', said Dick, 'look at all these scrumptious cakes!'")

This is definitely a game for a crowd, and the more relaxed the crowd, the better the game will be.

Clever concept... but replayability?
October 08, 2001

I love the concept of this game, and when I first heard about it, moved as fast as I could to grab it. To me, it sounded like unbridled creativity. Upon receiving the game, I quickly read through the rules, grabbed a few people, and tried it out.

I was disappointed. Maybe it was because the players were not great storytellers, but I think it has more to do with the narrow focus of the cards. While there are plenty of surprises that can come out of the cards, the stories always seems to have the same feel. Since the cards are all focused on fairy-tale words and plot points, every single story turns out close to the same. In addition, it is really difficult to have a story which makes a lot of sense. Usually, characters at the start of the story aren't all at the end of the story.

Great concept, but I thought the gameplay was too weak for adults to play multiple times.

by Terry
I would rather watch grass grow.
January 28, 2002

Absolute and complete lack of fun. Watching two snails race would provide more entertainment. Not just bad but horrible. The mechanics are lacking. Great Dalmuti has much more strategy. If you have an evening that you want to completly waste buy this. We played this on a trip. It was so bad I feared for my life. I thought the other players would kill me for ever introducing this game to our group. I wish there was a ranking below one.

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