If you ever found yourself taking a long, deep breath preparing to explain to new players how science cards work in 7 Wonders, you will find Paper Tales immediately appealing. It is 7 Wonders-lite, subtracting a good chunk of playtime, complicated point calculations and focusing on just one of its core ideas – fighting.
Paper Tales still follows the familiar staples of card-drafting games; players begin with a hand of five unit cards, choose one and pass the rest along. The same strategic concerns are also present: a push and pull between taking the best card for yourself or denying your opponents a useful card, although it might not fit as well with your own layout.
However, while in most games of this type and length the game swiftly proceeds to the next round after the cards are revealed, in Paper Tales there is still a lot to do. Drafting cards is just the tip of the iceberg, followed by fighting, collecting coins, building and aging units, each action filled with its own set of decisions equally as important as the initial pick.
Fighting in Paper Tales, while absolutely the core of the game, is surprisingly non-confrontational. Players gain points depending on the numbers of wars they win that round, but there are no penalties for losing. Therefore, it never feels aggressive or targeted, and there is no pressure in choosing units with predominantly attack-focused skills every round just to keep up. You can concentrate on drafting units that produce resources or victory points one round, knowing there will be no repercussions to the card engine itself and you can always catch up on the point track next turn.
As with any game where cards have unique abilities, knowing roughly what is available in the deck is an advantage. There is a certain level of luck with each draw, as all the unit cards are shuffled together and drawn randomly, which makes creating an engine a little bit of a gamble. In general, there is a good overlap of powers, so it is quite easy to make one unit’s ability chain off another for added bonuses. Paper Tales has an interesting mechanic of aging cards, making them viable generally for a maximum of two rounds before they have to be replaced. This encourages players to switch and adapt to new strategies and also prevents one player staying overpowered.
Money is a very precious resource in Paper Tales. Some units cost nothing to deploy, but better, more powerful cards are expensive. Players can also play building cards that provide permanent resources and bonuses; while the first does not require payment in coins, future ones get progressively more expensive. As Paper Tales lasts only four rounds, building later in the game becomes almost counter-productive, as the permanent effects do not provide enough of a return and the coin could be better spent on more powerful units.
The land of kings, knights, manticores and krakens takes on a beautiful, modernised look on the Paper Tales box and is equally stunning on the cards, retaining the fantastical feel, while not looking dated. The theme is more window dressing than an integral part of the game, but still fits comfortably within the palette of character abilities and the mechanics of the game.
For a game with a relatively small playtime, Paper Tales manages to subtly fit a good depth of strategy behind streamlined, simple mechanics. It brings in just enough complexity to keep matches tense and interesting, but its rules and scoring mechanics never feel convoluted or overtaxing.
Elegantly simple, Paper Tales is still strategic and competitive, and, for a game about fighting, you won’t be aggrieved by anyone around the table.
Designer: Masato Uesugi
Artist: Christine Alcouffe
Time: 30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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