Reviewed by Eric Brosius
FABLED FRUIT (Stronghold Games, 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, 20-30 minutes; $44.95)
Fabled Fruit, as described on the back of the box, “is a Fable game, where the gameplay changes over time. The game starts in an initial, simple state, but as you explore deeper into the game system, the mechanisms and gameplay will evolve.” Designer Friedemann Friese is known for innovation and fun, and with Fabled Fruit he aims to continue this tradition. Did he succeed?
Fabled Fruit is, at heart, an action selection game. Each action is represented by a stack of identical location cards. There are 4-card stacks numbered 1 through 58 and an 8-card stack numbered 59, for a total of 240 location cards. The location cards feature charming animal illustrations by artist Harald Lieske. The game also includes a stack of 60 smaller fruit cards that you collect in your hand.
You begin your first game by placing stacks 1 through 6 on the table. The other location cards are available but are not yet in play. Choose a wooden animal and draw two fruit cards as a starting hand. Each turn, you move your animal to a new location and take an action. If another animal is already there, pay that player a fruit card (but if you have no fruit cards, you need not pay!). The action corresponding to each location is described on the location cards; for example, the action for stack 1 is “draw 2 fruits”. If you take this action, draw the top 2 fruits from the stack of fruit cards and add them to your hand.
Rather than take the action corresponding the location your animal moved to, you may instead buy one of the location cards in that stack. Each location card shows a price; for example, to buy a card from stack 1, you pay 3 pineapples and any 1 additional fruit card. Place the location card you bought face down in front of you where it becomes a fabled juice. With 2 players you need 5 fabled juices to end the game; with 3 players you need 4, and with 4 or 5 players you need only 3. The player with the most fabled juices wins.
Buying fabled juices changes the game. After you buy a fabled juice, you take a location card from those that are not yet in play and add it to the table. When the first fabled juice is bought in your first game, you take a location card from stack 7 and add it to the table, creating a new location with a new available action. Each time a location card is bought, a new one is added, so there are always 24 cards on the table. When the last card in a stack is bought, that location and its associated action are gone from the game. The set of available actions at any point thus depends on the decisions of the players, and varies from game to game.
So what makes this a Fable game? It is what happens after your first game. Your second game does not begin in the same way as your first, by laying out stacks 1 through 6. Rather, at the end of the first game, you remove all the fabled juices (the location cards that were bought) from play and begin the next game with the location cards that were in play at the end of the previous game still in play (typically there are more than 6 stacks, depending on the order in which fabled juices were bought.) By continuing to play games in this manner, removing more location cards as fabled juices each time, you gradually work your way through the entire set of locations. The game includes plastic bags that let you preserve the game state from one session to the next. As promised in the description I quoted in the first paragraph, the gameplay evolves over time.
This also lets the designer introduce complexity incrementally. The actions corresponding to locations 1 through 6 are quite simple, and you can learn the game system without being overwhelmed. But when a new location enters play, with a new action, players read the action on the card and adjust accordingly. Card games with rules printed on the cards allow the designer to add new rules bit by bit, just as the need for them arises, and Friedemann takes full advantage of this by gradually adding complexity as you progress through the locations. This progression also forces you to re-think your play. You may have found a strategy to be effective, but the introduction of a new action may make it less so, or may require you to execute it in a different way.
Fabled Fruit is described as a Fable game, and not as a “legacy game.” Although the concepts are similar, in most legacy games you mark, destroy, or otherwise modify the components as you play, so that you cannot re-play the game once it is modified. In contrast, the components in Fabled Fruit are not modified as you play. The game state changes consist only of removing some of the location cards from the game and setting them aside. Once you have played through all the locations, you can reset the location card deck and start again from the beginning. Alternatively, you could play separate “campaigns” with different groups of people using the same copy of the game; you need only record at the end of each session which cards have been removed as fabled juices and which are currently in play.
As I have taught Fabled Fruit to different groups, people have been impressed by how much they enjoy it. The artwork contributes to this; the animals are adorable. Fabled Fruit is innovative and fun, and it is accessible to newer gamers. It plays quickly, but you can play a series of games with different rules each time using the Fable game feature; introducing new actions as you play keeps the game fresh. Most groups ask to play more than one game, because they look forward to seeing what actions will come up next. – – – – – – – Eric Brosius
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