Paper Tales (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  Masato Uesugi
  • Publisher: Stronghold Games
  • Players: 2 – 5
  • Ages: 10 and Up
  • Time: 30 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 5 (On Review Copy from Publisher)


Paper Tales is a card game in which players draft units to bring glory to their kingdom.  The units are represented on cards: some fight, others provide resources, and a few victory points.  At the start of the game, you only have four units out at a time, so you have to pick what you value in your kingdom: are you militaristic, income-driven, or resource/building focused?  The game lasts four rounds, and your units age and die each round, so you’ll need to plan for their successors and the future glory of your domain.

Released in the U.S. this summer by Stronghold Games, Paper Tales has developed a reputation as a fast-paced simultaneous drafting game with a fun theme and beautiful art.   That reputation is well-deserved. I’ve been playing Paper Tales quite a bit in recent weeks, and it has become one of my favorite drafting games.  The core of the game is familiar to us gamers — the main mechanic resembles 7 Wonders or Sushi Go! — but the aging of the units is a novel mechanic.  Though the game plays quickly, it has several interesting decisions within, and I recommend checking it out.

The Gameplay

Paper Tales is played over four turns, each of which has six phases.  

The game makes complete sense — and is remarkably easy to learn — if you walk through it in terms of those phases, so that’s how I’ve organized this review.  

Phase I: Recruitment.  This is the drafting phase.  Everybody gets five cards, picks one, and hands four to the next player.  Then, of those four, they pick one, hand three off, and so on, until everybody has a final hand of five cards.  The direction of drafting (i.e. whether you hand cards to the left or right) rotates depending on the round.

Phase II: Deployment.  This is where units are played down simultaneously.  Each player can initially place in a 2×2 grid (which can later be expanded), with the units in the front contributing to combat, but all four units being activated for their special power.  When units are played down, they can replace existing units, and players have to pay coins if there is a cost associated with the unit, though they never have to re-pay for existing units. Players have 5 cards in their hand, and one card can be tucked under their player aid and reserved for the next drafting round.

Phase III: Wars.  Players compare their strength to their neighbors. Generally only the units at the front of a player’s display fight, though some units have the ability to contribute from the back.  Many units in the game have a core strength, but it can be enhanced if players have certain resources.

Winning a fight against one of your neighbors earns you three points, and beating both gets you six points.  Ties are friendly, and both players get the three points.

Phase IV: Income.  Each Kingdom earns two gold, though units and buildings can provide additional gold.

Phase V: Construction.  Players can build buildings.  Each player has an identical stack of five buildings.  They can build these — or upgrade them — if they have the money for the land and the appropriate resources.  The first building does not have a land cost, but each one beyond that adds 2 gold to the land cost. The resources can be spent to construct or upgrade a building, but assuming the player has the resources, they can build and upgrade both on the same turn.  

Phase VI: Aging.  Each unit gets an aging token.  If a unit already has an aging token, it passes away.  However, there are several units in the game that can alter aging, preventing deaths, adding additional aging tokens, etc.

Players can earn points from their units in the game, and they also earn points for winning battles.  


My Thoughts on the Game

I’ve really enjoyed my plays of Paper Tales, and I enthusiastically recommend it.  I’m a fan of card drafting — 7 Wonders is among my most-played games of all time — but I’m often not impressed by how it is incorporated into games.  Paper Tales does drafting well, allowing for interesting decisions each turn, not only during the drafting, but in terms of how to play the cards as well.  That aspect — along with the aging of the units — makes this one of the finest examples in the drafting genre.

I love how well the different cards and buildings interact.  I think card drafting works especially well when paired with an engine-building mechanic, and that is the case in Paper Tales.  The kingdoms become more and more powerful as the game advances, gathering more resources, more strength, and the ability to generate more income.  That’s fun — it makes me feel like I’m really building something — and it adds greatly to the strategic aspects of the game.

In terms of drafting, the first round is the most important.  Hopefully, in the second, third, and fourth rounds, you don’t have to have a perfect hand because you’ve got a set of units you’d like to keep.  And that goes to one of the unique pieces of this game: drafting isn’t the only interesting decision. Where you place a unit — and when you replace it — are actually extremely important, sometimes more important than what you can build.  

The “aging” mechanic is my favorite part of the game.  It makes planning ahead important: you need to develop a strategy for your kingdom not just in this round, but in future rounds as well.  The mechanic reminds us that time — and glory — can be fleeting.

The most frequent complaint I’ve heard is that combat is strong.  It’s true: you need to win at least a few battles in the game to have a decent shot at winning.  But I don’t see that as a negative. All kingdoms need to be well-balanced: military alone can’t win you this game.  Odds are you’ll need a few victory points from buildings and other sources.

The game plays fast — we haven’t been taking a full 30 minutes to play it — and it is easy to explain.  The player aids are helpful, and the rulebook was well-written. And the art is beautiful.

Overall, I’m impressed.  If you like drafting games, Paper Tales packs a lot of game into 30 minutes or less.  

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Brennan: This is the war mechanic of 7 Wonders condensed into its own game. You have the draft, you play cards at end of draft, and gets points for having higher combat value on played cards compared to your two neighbours. It adds some interesting spice however. The cards have a ton of abilities and production capabilities on them, so you have the choice to pursue points other than via combat, including building perpetual powers (buildings) and via ability combinations. Or a mixture of both. Cards can stay in play for a round allowing you to maintain or alter plans each round. Money is always tight and decisions can be hard. You still have to be careful what you pass to your neighbours, but there’s more than just combat points to consider in the pass. I suspect it may be a touch too long (with respect to the level of combat result swinginess) for players to be fully content with the game, but it seems a fine game to have some fun with.

Dan Blum (1 play): We were unimpressed with this. It requires several cards to execute most plans after the start of the game, so if you can’t get the appropriate cards in the draft, good luck accomplishing much of anything. Getting some combat value is always possible, but it doesn’t help if your neighbors have cards with high combat value which are sticking around. Etc. Granted that this is the sort of game that would probably improve somewhat with more play, no one has cared enough about it to suggest it since we played, and that was last November.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray
  • I like it.  Mark Jackson, Patrick Brennan
  • Neutral.  Dan Blum
  • Not for me…
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