Once Upon A Time 2.0?

Sometimes, when we tell people about our game, the first reaction is "Oh it's like Once Upon a Time. What's the difference?". That's understandable - Fireside Tales is a storytelling game and Once is by far the best known game in the genre, though by no means the only one. Card and board games that focus on imagination, humor, storytelling and other "soft skills" are still fairly rare - but it's a growing trend. 
One of the reasons for this new trend is probably the continuous spread of "geek culture" into the rest of the world. Games like Once, Cards Against Humanity, Apples To Apples etc. (and now Fireside Tales of course :) ) allow for a more social and less "hardcore strategy" game experience, making them suitable as party games when "deeper" (and not as funny...) games might not feel right. It also makes the genre appealing for a broader range of audiences, both demographically and culturally. 

This genre, and storytelling games specifically, pose some unique game design challenges. Unlike strategy games, the mechanics and rules only serve the higher purpose of creating fun interactions between the players, and an awesome story - that they all co-created. Design becomes less about mathematical game theory and probabilities and more about human psychology. The game is only as good as the atmosphere during, and the feeling after the game.

One of the reasons we created Fireside Tales is that we felt Once Upon A Time is a great concept, but has several design elements that took it in a slightly wrong direction. Perhaps the main aspect in which we want Fireside Tales to be different is that Once often requires a "don't-be-an-asshole" house rule - that basically means "don't be an asshole even though the rules and mechanics of the game allow it". A Once player can be "an asshole" in a variety of ways; they can make up a crappy and inconsistent story just to rush through their cards, they can challenge other players' stories in an aggressive manner to trigger their interrupt - these are a couple of the most common examples. The players aren't doing it out of spite - they are just incentivized by the game to win - and these are winning strategies. Another challenge common to all storytelling games is that collaborative, on the fly, improvised stories tend to be wacky, rapidly evolving, and inconsistent, but Once further aggravates the problem by incentivizing each player to pull the story in the direction of his own cards.

Fireside Tales strives to create a different, more collaborative game vibe. We believe the story to be more important than victory. We want players to listen to one another because the story is interesting and funny - not in order to catch each other off guard and interrupt the story mid sentence. When it's your turn to continue the plot, the story and the cards in front of you are all you should think about - with no fear of interruption. Furthermore, Fireside Tales incentivizes all players to play story elements that best fit the storyline so far - because that improves the chances of their card being picked - thus creating a more consistent story (though still with a large dose of wacky humor - the cards themselves take care of that).

Last, it's important to point out that as big storytelling game enthusiasts we are very happy for the success of Once Upon A Time and the publicity it brought to the genre, and in no way think it's a bad game. But it doesn't mean we should stop there, right? :)

Michael and Nataly.