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Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game - Board Game Box Shot

Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game

| Published: 1993
96 15 5

Once Upon A Time is a game in which the players create a story together, using cards that show typical elements from fairy tales. One player is the Storyteller and creates a story using the ingredients on her cards. She tries to guide the plot towards her own ending. The other players try to use cards to interrupt her and become the new Storyteller. The winner is the first player to play out all her cards and end with her Happy Ever After card.

3rd Edition Release Date: October 2012

User Reviews (5)

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Professional Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester
Silver Supporter
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan
43 of 45 gamers found this helpful
“Story telling smack down! It's the players that make this game fun.”


Once Upon a Time is a simple card game where players work together to tell an exciting story, but each player tries to steer the story to their specific and secret ending for a win. It’s definitely a game for creative and free thinkers.


Easy rules.
Lots of replay value.


Can take some deep thought at time to figure out next move.
Sometimes cards really don’t line up your way.
Really big box for the components.


Once Upon a Time is really not hard at all to play. Each player draws an “ending” card from the “Happy Ever After” deck that tells how the player should end the story, however, these cards are kept secret from everyone else. This way no one knows which way the story will end. Players start with a number of story cards from the “Once Upon a Time” deck based on the number of players. The starting player, who is determined by who looks most similar to a card drawn from the story card deck, begins telling a story using the story cards in their hand.

Normally, a player will tell the story as long as they can with their cards if they can and drive the story to their own ending. If a player can’t continue the story, they “pass” and discard a card, then play proceeds to the next player. However, if a player stalls out or plays a card that doesn’t make sense, the other players can call them out and the player draw a card and have play proceed to the next player. However, a player can be interrupted and have the story flow “stolen” from them by another player either playing an “interrupt” card that matches the color of the last played card or by the storytelling a word that matches another player’s card.

This continues until someone can play all their story cards and bring the story to their ending. If they successfully do that unchallenged, then that player wins the game. If the other players don’t accept the way the story is ending, then the player who tried to win has to draw a new ending card and two new story cards.


This is a really great game if you have the right kind of people. If you’re playing with people who aren’t very creative or are ultra-competitive, you all may struggle through the story together, and they may wind up frustrated. However, with the right kind of people, this game can be a hoot. It really is all about making a fun story first, and winning is second.

Also, this makes a great family game. Kids really enjoy stories and here’s a chance for them to really exercise their creative thinking skills. I play it with my nine and eleven year old. Sometimes, I help out my nine year old with his story, because he needs to work on how to connect plot points together. I find it very educational for this and fun too.

If you enjoy telling a good story and watching it unfold, this is a must buy.

Gamer Recommendations

Family GamerYES – rules easy, kids get into it.
Social GamerYES – especially for creative types.
Casual GamerYES – rules easy, not hard at all.
Strategy GamerNO – no strategy
Avid GamerMaybe – depends on personality and it’s a different experience
Power GamerNO – not deep enough and not competitive enough.

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Cooperative Game Explorer
Amateur Advisor
Gamer - Level 6
45 of 48 gamers found this helpful
“Where will the story go? You decide!”

I was first introduced to this game by an author at a convention I attended about 6 years ago. It was highly recommended as a creative storytelling game, and I was sold on it when I heard the way it was described. I wound up getting the game a couple of years ago and have since enjoyed the game for its freeform mechanics and creativity.

So how does this game work? It’s actually very simple. The game consists of a wide variety of cards. There are two types: The “Once Upon A Time” cards (also called “storytelling cards”) which drive the main portion of the game, and “Happy Ever After” cards (also called “ending cards”) which represent how the story is going to end. Each player gets one Happy Ever After card which they can only play after all of the Once Upon A Time cards have been played from their hand, and is in effect the culmination of the story. To start the game, each player is first dealt a Happy Ever After card, then a number of Once Upon A Time cards are dealt to each player, the number of which depends upon how many people are actually playing the game (2 players – 10 cards each, 3 players – 8 cards, 4 players – 7 cards, 5 players – 6 cards, 6 or more – 5 cards).

While the Happy Ever After cards are just a single sentence narrative (“The monster was destroyed and the farm was safe once more”, “And she was reunited with her family”, etc.), the Once Upon A Time cards actually are quite varied and have different types. There are 5 different basic card types: Characters, Items, Places, Aspects, and Events.

Characters are the people and creatures that the story will have, and can range from a princess to a wolf and many other tiers between.

Items are object in the story that are found or used, such as a boat, a crown, a sword, etc.

Places are the locations that the characters in the story will visit or hear about, such as a forest or a city.

Aspects are the adjectives of the story, and describe how certain characters or locations are fleshed out, e.g. Angry as in “Angry Giant” or Diseased as in “Diseased Beggar”.

Events are things that happen during the story, such as a fateful reunion, a fight, or even something as basic as time passes.

Along with these 5 basic types of cards are also specialty cards called Interrupt cards. Interrupts fall into the 5 basic types of cards, but have no definitive subject of those types; when played, the one who played the card can simply choose to define what the card is based on the card type. For example, if an Item Interrupt card is played, the player who played it can simply define it as a Goblet or a Magic Wand.

After the cards have been dealt out to each player, the starting Storyteller is selected. The instruction booklet lists several different methods, but once a starting Storyteller has been selected, play begins. The Storyteller may start out the story any way he or she wishes (though traditionally it usually begins “Once Upon a Time…”), and is not restricted by the cards in their hand. However, the object of the game is to play all of the Once Upon A Time cards from a player’s hand in order to get to the finale of playing the Happy Ever After card. To do that, whenever the Storyteller mentions something in their story that corresponds to one of the cards in their hand, they can play that card to remove it from their hand. Therefore, it is in the Storyteller’s advantage to steer the story in a way that somehow ties together all the elements in their hand.

During the course of the game, the Storyteller will change from person to person. The way this happens is through interrupts. If the Storyteller mentions something in the story that corresponds with one of another player’s cards, that player can play their card from their hand and become the new Storyteller (therefore interrupting the progress of the story), picking up the story where the last Storyteller left off. It should be noted that the related subject doesn’t need to match entirely, so long as it is closely related; if the Storyteller mentions that two characters disagree on something, a player could play the Argument Event card, even though the word “Argument” was never directly mentioned. A player may also play an Interrupt card after the Storyteller has just played a card that matches the card type that the Interrupt card is. For example, if the Storyteller plays an Angry Aspect card, and a player has an Aspect Interrupt, they can play the card and name their own Aspect, such as Devious. They then become the new Storyteller and continue the story. A player may also become the new Storyteller if the current Storyteller declares “Pass” during their story, usually indicating that they have no good way to continue the story or can’t think of anything at the moment.

Once all the Once Upon A Time cards are gone from a Storyteller’s hand, they can then resolve the story with their Happy Ever After card, ending the game. The Storyteller can’t introduce any new story elements before the card is played, meaning that the story should be resolved within one or two sentences of playing the last Once Upon A Time card in their hand. The rules state that the story should be ended in a sensible and satisfying conclusion, and that is left up to the interpretation of all the rest of the players. If the ending does not make sense or end satisfyingly, the Storyteller must draw a new Happy Ever After card and a new Once Upon A Time card, while play passes to the person on the left. Since this aspect of the game is very subjective, the instruction booklet recommends that this rule is not enforced too strictly; this game is meant to be a fun and creative game, and not a cutthroat game.

Once Upon A Time is a game that is very well suited for those with a creative mindset and who love telling and listening to stories, as well as those players who enjoy a cooperative aspect to games. Though this game may seem to be something of a competitive game at the outset, it’s more about crafting something together than it is about winning the game itself. Hardcore gamers probably wouldn’t enjoy this game very much, as it doesn’t yield the same sensation of victory as playing and winning difficult games does, but this game is definitely good for the casual gamer and the family gamer. It is a pure card game, but the cards only play a backstory to the overall game itself, a guiding influence, if you will. Additional blank cards are also included in the game to write your own elements. There is also an expansion called Once Upon A Time: Dark Tales, for those who enjoy a little bit more edge to the ending of the stories. In a lot of ways, you never quite know where the story will take you in this game, and that in itself makes it entertaining.

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Amateur Advisor
Amateur Reviewer
37 of 43 gamers found this helpful
“Once Upon A Time--A Mathematician's Review to 11”

Once Upon a Time there was a young woman named Susan. She had grown up and moved out of her father’s house (her mother had died several years back) and she was now living on her own in a city a little way away.
One day she got a letter from her father saying that he had gotten re-married and asking her to come and meet her Stepmother. She quickly agreed and began preparations. Soon she was on her Journey to the town where her father lived.
When Susan arrived, she took an immediate disliking of her Stepmother, who was an Evil and insidious woman. That very night Susan’s Stepmother came into her room and Hurt her, cutting her arm with a knife and demanding that she leave. Crying in fear and pain, Susan fled to the nearby Forest and did her best to survive there.
After about a week in the Forest, Susan found a campsite. The camp belonged to a Witch, who upon seeing Susan, issued forth a Curse that whoever had Hurt the girl would turn into a Wolf. After sharing a meal with the Witch (who was really a rather nice lady), Susan returned home to find that several things had happened.
First, her Stepmother had vanished, and no one knew where she had gone. Secondly, a large Wolf–bigger than anyone had ever before seen–had been attacking the flocks of the townsfolk. Everyone was afraid of the Wolf, but knew that they had to kill it before it started hurting people.
So they came up with a Plan. There were some old Ruins nearby that they would drive the Wolf to, then use a net to Trap it.
They put their Plan into action, and it worked perfectly. Soon the Wolf was dead and the people prepared a great feast to celebrate.
They cooked the Wolf and they ate it at the feast and it was delicious.

Once Upon A Time is a storytelling game. Each player starts with one Ending card and a number of other cards that describe things, like Town–Night–Beautiful–or A Chase. Starting with the player who looks most like a storyteller, you will begin telling a story–but you must tell your story using the cards in your hand. You don’t only have to use the cards in your hand, however. You can talk about Mountains and Oceans even if you don’t have cards for them, but you must use all of your cards as well. If you have a card that is a Pitchfork, your story must have a Pitchfork in it, and the Pitchfork must have some importance.

After you have used all of your description cards, you have one paragraph with which to wrap up your story and use your Ending card. The first player to use their Ending is the winner.

Of course, there’s a catch.

If you describe something that another player has a card for (or a sufficiently similar description–i.e. Town and Village are practically the same, so there is only one card to describe a city-like place), then that player can Interrupt you. When this happens you draw an extra card from the top of the deck, and they continue the story.

The same story.

This is what makes the game interesting. You are all telling the same story, trying to twist it towards your ending while also trying to pull it away from where the other players are taking it.
This makes the game highly interactive, and leads to some amusing moments when you kill off the main character and introduce a new one.

The game is also extremely simple. Moreso than most of the games that I say are simple. Anyone who can read and comprehend single words and short phrases–rather than needing to read entire sentences–can play.

There is one other rule. There are Interrupt cards.

Interrupt cards are the same as normal cards–they have a description word and can be played normally. But they are also colored, and when someone else plays a card of the same type (all description cards are of one type or another. Places, Characters, Aspects, etc.), you can play your Interrupt card to take over the story.

So you try to finish the story with your Ending, taking over the story from other people by playing cards when they describe what is on that card, or by playing Interrupt cards when they play a card that shares its type with the Interrupt. That’s pretty much it.

Once Upon A Time is simple enough that there isn’t really anything else to say, and so I will skip straight to:

The Stats

Complexity: 3/11
As I’m sure you’ve figured, this is a very easy game. You play cards and other people play cards. Disputes are settled by group vote. All done.

Components: 5.666/11
Cards: 6/11
The cards aren’t actually all that great, but they also aren’t bad. Meh.
Box: 5.5/11
The box is actually kind of wimpy. Mine has scratches and small rips and such.
Rulebook: 5.5/11
Also entirely unremarkable. It explains how things work, but doesn’t do anything else. Slightly below-average quality material.

Cost Value: 6/11
$17 is cheap, but I also don’t play the game much. I would call that price fair.

Replayability: 8.5/11
Once Upon A Time is a social game, and social games are inherently more replayable than non-social games. People change more than games do, and so when you play to be with the people, the experience is less likely to become repetitive and dull. There are plenty of Description cards to make sure you aren’t telling the same story, and even more Endings (not by straight-up numbers, but by ratio of usage. You will use several Description cards in one game, but only one Ending).

Strategic Elements: 4/11
Although there is some strategy–killing off someone else’s main character or the like–there really isn’t much. This is not a strategy game.

Social Value: 8.5/11
This is, however, a social game.
Ease of Teaching: 9/11
A low-complexity game is an easy game to teach.
Discussion During Play: 10.75/11
Again, social game. You talk to each other. That’s what this is.
Discussion After Play: 5.75/11
A little bit surprisingly, there is less of this. At least in my experience. I guess you don’t need to talk about a game after the fact if you talk about it during the fact.

Thematic Value: –/11
This game does not have theme. You are not flying a spaceship through the outer rims of the galaxy. Nor are you holding off an alien invasion or trying to keep a house from burning down. You do not have a character or a role. You are just telling a story.
This isn’t a bad thing, but it does make this area non-applicable.

Rules Clarity: 7/11
As I said before, there is not much complexity. People do seem to have questions lots of the time, but that is not the fault of the rulebook.

Balance: 10/11
This game is quite well balanced, as is any other game where everyone has the same resources. With the only limit to how and when you can use your cards being your own imagination and the other players possibly vetoing, I would almost say this game is almost perfectly balanced.

Fun Level: 6.5/11
This last element is a little bit arbitrary. It is my true rating of the game, regardless of averages (I tend to enjoy most of the games I have played). This is just a simple scale to 10 11, with no averages or equations or careful logic. Just about how much I like playing the game.


If you are a social gamer, then I would definitely recommend Once Upon A Time. If you are not a social gamer, I would still recommend it if you can get it cheap and think you will play it on occasion.

If you liked this review and want to see more like it, head over to my blog at

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Dragon Clan - Legend of the Five Rings
47 of 76 gamers found this helpful
“First time”

This is a game I do not own, but a friend of mine bought it and we have played it twice.
I am not one of those players who only likes games if he wins but as we were playing I started to like this game very much. And guess what I won it both time we played.
There is a great deal of replay ability in this game and I will enjoy it even if I don’t win. I highly recommend this game to all players who enjoy funny and fast paced games.
You need to think ahead and fast to play this game. Every card can be used in many ways so play often and enjoy.

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I Am What I Am
14 of 45 gamers found this helpful
“Your fantasy becomes the story.”

My first reaction to playing this game was pure joy.
I love telling stories and use my imagination.
Once upone a time is a game that you can play with both your family and your friends.
It´s easy to understand and the stories you make can become how wierd and awkward or beautiful and tradgic.
The beauty of the game is that you use your imagination to create funny stories and hopfully finish the story before your co creators ends it.
It´s a game worth playing more than once.


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