#695 – Tall Tales [Preview]

Base price: $30.
3 – 12 players.
Play time: 30 – 60 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 1 

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Tall Tales was provided by En Passant. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Some aspects of the game were modified to support remote play, as well, and are indicated in the preview. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.

More Kickstarter previews! This one’s a bit interesting, as it’s the closest I’ve gotten to a party game this year (other than Rosetta, maybe?), but it had an interesting premise and I like writing, so I figured I could give it a whirl before it launched. And now here we are! Once again, me managing to do even more Kickstarter previews. I’ll stop some day. Until then, though, let’s check out Tall Tales, from En Passant!

In Tall Tales, you are playing as competitive storyweavers, each trying to contribute to a shared story you’re writing together! Given a prompt, you’ll first generate a quest. After that, you’ll write three scenes together to give the story a beginning, middle, and end. Simple enough, but a story can only have one of each! You’ll have to vote to determine what goes where and whose story deserves to be told. Will you be able to prove to your co-players that your writing is truly superlative?

Contents

Setup

Relatively low. If you’re playing in person, you’ll want to give each person some half-sheets of paper and a pen or pencil. For our game, we created a shared doc and then had everyone write in their own individual documents.

Each player should have one of the Voting Cards:

We just used our hands, but you can use the Voting Tokens, as well:

Now shuffle up the Quests:

The Phrases:

And each of the Superlatives for Rounds 1 / 2 / 3:

Set the VP tokens nearby:

Shuffle the Prompts, as well:

You should be all ready to go!

Gameplay

A game of Tall Tales is all about writing a story together, but with a winner! Over a few rounds, you’ll work to write a collaborative story and test out your prose skills. Let’s dive into how it’s done.

To start, reveal the Prompt and a Quest. Once you have, start a three minute timer. Each player should write a response to the prompt within the time, not going over the paper limit. Then, shuffle the entries and assign them a number. Each player should read the one they’ve been given aloud. For our game, since we were playing remotely, we just assigned them randomly to different bullets in the shared doc and let players read them silently (video call problems). After reading, each player votes on another player’s entry that they want to be part of the story. Vote simultaneously! The winner is now the Quest for the group’s story.

In each subsequent Scene Round, the start player (the player whose story was selected the previous round) draws three Phrases and three Superlatives, choosing one of each. Phrases are short phrases that must be in every story or you don’t score points, and Superlatives are the criteria that players will vote on at the end of each round. Once those are set, the start player reads the story so far and starts a 5-minute timer.

After the timer ends, vote again as you did for the Quest, but this time there’s a score components:

  • Every vote for your scene: 1 point
  • If your scene had the most votes without tying: 1 point
  • If you voted for the winning scene: 1 point

Continue until you’ve completed three rounds, and the player with the most points wins! And you’ve produced a totally unique story that the group has created, which is also cool.

Player Count Differences

I think this is where the game might be a bit overambitious. It’s rated at 3 – 12, and I get that, but after trying it at 3 I think that 3 suffers from the problem that a lot of these types of games suffer from. It works, but it generally feels a bit more zero-sum since, at any time, you can at most get two votes from other players. Having a wider set of players feels better, overall, because it means that there’s usually a better vote distribution and it’s not so swingy. So the problem is that when you hit the other side of the scale, it’s not problem-free, either. At 12? You’re hitting a different issue. Now, there are too many stories to process. We used a modified version of the rules where players didn’t read theirs out loud (to save on time and also because video calling makes that unreliable), but I worry players (or at least the folks I play with [meaning me, in this scenario]) will struggle to remember all the stories and it will take a pretty long time each round to get through all of them, which isn’t particularly excellent for me. That said, somewhere in the 4 – 8 range seems pretty doable. My general rule of thumb for these kinds of games is almost literally a rule of thumb; if you’re voting, don’t have more potential things to vote on than players have fingers. It keeps the voting simple. But yeah, I’d probably recommend the game between 4 and 10 players, with a slight preference for the 4 – 8 range. It creates a good, diverse amount of voting without pushing the game too long.

Strategy

  • This is another one of those games where player votes dictate the winner, so you could try to vote strategically if you really want to, but I feel like at a certain point you’re not playing to the spirit of the game, that way. I feel like these games all have similar energy (between this, MonsDRAWsity, and the Jackbox games); you can really try to start power-gaming and try to game out which story is getting the most votes and try to vote against it to keep it down if you feel like you can identify the author, but … at a certain point that’s a lot of effort for a fun, creative game, and I’d probably ask that you not really do that. Plus, if you’re not voting to try and produce the best story, that’s just not the intent of the game. End of the day I’d recommend that you play the game towards its spirit, even if that occasionally means you lose when you think you should have won.
  • The key thing to do is to not forget to use the Phrase each round; if you do, you’re not scoring any points. Not to be the “obvious reviewer is obvious” from a strategy perspective, but it’s always worth mentioning that it’s kind of a given that you need to do the thing that’s required in order for you to score points. From a more “review strategy structure” perspective, I would say that this means you should take a short bit to plan out the structure of your prose using that phrase as a seed. It’s locked in there, anyways, so let it serve as the foundation that you build off of.
  • Beyond that, I wouldn’t consider this to be a “strategic game”; it’s more of a generative activity with points involved. Yeah, just have fun and try to follow the superlatives and see what happens! If you see the story trending in a different direction, adjust! It’s more of a party game than anything else, but it’s gonna be one that challenges your creativity in some interesting ways.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • I like the concept quite a bit! I generally like these types of games, largely because I think they’ve been popularized by the Jackbox series. This has some similar energy to that; players compete with generated content and they vote on what they like best. It’s just in analog form and a bit more complex, as you might expect from a board game implementation of something you’d find in Jackbox.
  • I generally like games that produce an artifact of some kind. And what artifact is better than a story that the group agreed on? I think that’s really cool.
  • I’m also a big fan of the art. It’s very pleasant and soothing; gives the prompts a near-mythical air to them. I think that kind of stuff is excellent. They are also nicely done in that they don’t necessarily push players towards one story path; they’re fairly open-ended, which is great if they’re serving as a narrative seed.
  • Making the voting about some aspect of the story rather than the overall “quality” of the writing makes it feel a bit less like a quality judgment, which helps a lot. I think it’s a wise decision to try and avoid asking players to just always pick the “best” story that was written, especially if players have different levels of writing experience. It gives players multiple routes for success. It’s also nice that the Superlatives evolve as the game progresses (and that players have agency in choosing the Superlatives!); it makes the overall story more coherent, and that’s a cool result.
  • I also quite like that you have to incorporate some phrase into your story; the stories still manage to take a lot of different directions. I had worried the story would be limited by the phrases, but people are very creative; it turns out super well! It ends up going all kinds of places depending on how players approach using the phrase in the context of the superlative. Big fan of that.
  • The timer / page limit is a good thing, as well. I think it’s wise to keep this stuff as reasonably constrained as you can; just make sure you give players a 30-second warning or some time afterwards to wrap things up or you may get some incomplete sentences.
  • As much as I complain about scoring systems for these kinds of games, the scoring system in this one is pretty fair. It’s decently straightforward and just awards bonus points for avoiding ties, which is fine. I think it would be nice to have something in there for players who don’t ever get picked from a kindness perspective, but incentivizing players to shoot the moon might lead to just generically bad stories and mess up the game.

Mehs

  • Writing by hand for this game seems … not ideal. I’m already not a big fan of writing by hand in general, and having to do it, at length, for a board game is sort of a hard no, for me. Thankfully, we’ve been playing this online (and I’ve been adjusting the timer a bit since players can type), but in-person will be difficult unless you’re providing paper and pens (and I’m not sure if hand-writing everything will land particularly well with players, being honest).
  • At 12, this game is going to drag quite a bit. Imagine 12 people reading a paragraph four times; it’s going to take a while and it’s going to be very challenging to remember who wrote what story. I can’t imagine playing anything at that high of a player count, but, that’s what the box says it plays to, so I gotta at least consider it.

Cons

  • The problem with voting in games like this is that it inherently feels like a bit of a judgment on players, and that’s not always a great feeling. It’s hard for a lot of these types of games, honestly, since people tend to be more sensitive about creative output that they worked hard on, and these games often need more specific language about how to manage player feelings and player expectations so that nobody leaves the game feeling particularly rejected. I haven’t yet seen a game handle this with grace, honestly. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but I worry about that with these types of titles (and most of the people in my potential game groups worry about it, too; that’s why it’s so hard for me to get these played). I’m not really sure how you resolve this; adding in alternative voting criteria like “most ominous” is a step in the right direction, but the game still will have a few cards that suggest you vote for the “best” example of some criteria, which isn’t great. If players go in with no attachment to what they’ve written, that might work fine, but I haven’t seen that happen in practice.
  • I’m not really sure where this game lands, in terms of what its audience is or where it will see the most plays. Possibly in a classroom context? I had a similar issue with Before There Were Stars, but I think this is just a very different game than a lot of board games I’ve played. Not necessarily in a bad way, but it doesn’t quite scratch the Dialect / Icarus / RPG itch and it’s a bit too generative for a standard board game. It’s a bit closer to MonsDRAWsity in that players are being creative, but it has the same pitfalls where getting shut out on votes just … feels bad? Like, I look at the game and structurally everything is neat, but when it hits the table it doesn’t land, all the way. It’s an odd problem that I’m not sure there’s a straightforward solution for. Like, I’m struggling to get this title reviewed because when I present it, conceptually, to folks, they immediately tell me that they don’t want to play it because the idea of having their creative writing critiqued competitively sounds not-great to them. And I’m inclined to agree that that is the real crux of my issue with the game. I think it’s well-designed, well-structured, and even fun, but it’s hard to see myself bringing this to any situation with any group that I haven’t specifically sought out in advance to get this specific game played. It doesn’t do well with the sort of “general game night crowd” that I would normally try to play with, because a lot of my friends have the same type of anxiety as me. I could see this working really well in a classroom context with some modifications, though! Especially if you use the “required phrases” to include things you’re learning about in language arts or something to practice.

Overall: 6.25 / 10

Overall, I like Tall Tales quite a bit, but I’m conflicted on a few parts of it, mostly around the context that I would play it in. That lowers my rating, as a result. A lot of games in this sort-of-genre are quick, light, and scale well to a lot of people. When it comes to writing and reading prose, however, things rapidly increase in complexity very quickly. For instance, it becomes challenging to play this with folks if there’s a language barrier or they’re conscious about their grammar. Don’t want a game to become a potential point of embarrassment for someone. But even beyond that, it’s just hard to generate prose, even for five minutes. Even more so if you’re writing it by hand! Thankfully, we played online, so it’s not as big of a deal, but I’d be hard-pressed to just bring this to a game night if I haven’t specifically curated the group that’s going to play. For instance, I struggled to review this game because I proposed it to three separate groups of players and they all said that writing competitively was anxiety-inducing for them, so they declined. And that kind of makes things tough, especially since this game has a decently high cognitive load and with all the election stuff that’s been happening it’s been hard to get players who feel that they have the bandwidth to play this well. For me, Tall Tales has the same issue that I had with MonsDRAWsity, which is that it doesn’t really shine as brightly at 3 as I expect that it does at higher player counts. It’s better if there are more votes and more things to choose from; it makes everything feel a bit less personal, I think. A lot of games that deal with this sort of creative input (the Jackbox games, for instance) distance you a bit from the creative aspect by twisting the voting criteria somewhat. Tall Tales does that quite well by adding Superlatives that allow you to steer the story a bit more intentionally, so that’s very good.

I am serious that I found the game to be quite fun. The prompts are good, the structure works, and the art is fantastic. Plus, by the end of it, you’ve produced a collaborative story! That rules. I just worry that it’s a bit like playing a drawing game with your Artist Friend; if a skill gap is present, it can be a bit rough for other players. All that is to say that I’ve had a lot of fun playing Tall Tales, but I’m unsure of the context I’d play it in for future games. I think the proposed web app they mentioned to me, if it gets implemented, would go a long way towards helping, though! But at that point it’s a bit more of a digital game, isn’t it? Either way, if you’re looking to get experimental, you like writing, or you just want to generate something pretty cool with friends and have some nice art to guide you, I think you’ll probably enjoy Tall Tales! It’s just a tough game for me to see myself getting to the table in the long-term.


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