There’s a weird trend these days of having big fantasy worlds lose some of that size, mainly by turning them into collectible sets of paper. You remember that great big saga of a story that you were on tenterhooks all the way throughout? Well, now it’s been reduced to little ticket stubs with painted minions on, isn’t it exciting?
But I suppose Fable Fortune makes a bit more sense than something like Gwent did, what with the Fable series always having that slightly kooky edge that could justify having some equivalent of Top Trumps, whereas putting a trading card game inside The Witcher was like having the cast of Game Of Thrones all playing Pokémon Go between sex scenes and backstabbing.
Fable Fortune seems to be a tad more tonally consistent in how it could plausibly be part of the silly world of Albion, but I’m sure that ninety-nine percent of people couldn’t give a damn anyway, so that’s just me grumbling about stuff. Don’t worry, I’ll find something actually worth complaining about in a moment.
Fable Fortune will be available soon on Steam.
I know that we usually leap into the details of the story before we do any titbits about gameplay, but there is no story in Fable Fortune. None. Zilch. Nada. Not even a paper-thin context telling you that “Jack of Blades has returned with dark sorcery a la Paper Mario, turning all the folks of the world into magic tarot cards that can only be brought to full power by playing them in games and blah-blah-blah…”
No, there’s none of that, including no apology for the paltry ending of Fable 3. Perhaps most shockingly, there’s not even any reappearance of Reaver, who was always the best thing about the Fable series. Surely he would’ve made for a great commentator, drawling out dry one-liners and complaining about all the hedonistic werewolf orgies that he’s missing? Wasted opportunity if you ask me, there’s very little that can’t be improved with more Stephen Fry added in. I know it’s a smaller studio with a tighter budget this time, but I’d give this game full marks if it was only The Hero of Skill complaining over a black background for five hours.
But regardless, the core gameplay of Fable Fortune is a simple, but quietly nuanced turn-based card system that OH FINE IT’S JUST HEARTHSTONE, I ADMIT IT! I’m not the most veteran CCG player in the world, but I've been around a bit and I know what’s what when it comes to the mainstream card game industry (though that’s one hell of an oxymoron). Magic: The Gathering used to be my bread and butter, but I’ve dipped my toe into other card systems like the aforementioned Gwent, Pokémon, a touch of Yu-Gi-Oh, and a few that lean closer to board games, such as Munchkin and Gloom.
And of course, I’ve played Hearthstone, which explains the monumentally unflattering sense of déjà vu that this Fable Fortune gave me. Because FF doesn’t have a tutorial yet in this current period of wobbly-legged, closed-beta-beginnings it’s going through, so the best I could do was to leap into a game against the AI and see if I could figure it out from there, because despite all my best efforts I couldn’t get into an online match for love nor money. Then I discovered that working out the ropes wasn’t so tricky, mainly because I could work out the rest if I just thought to myself “what would Blizzard do?”
It really is the same basic system, only with different names and a couple of added bells and whistles. Your enemy has thirty health and you pick at him with monsters and spells until it reaches zero, so that’s a match. You play cards by spending gold instead of mana, but it’s still an individual resource that ramps up at a rate of one-per-turn and maxes out at ten, so it might as well be the same thing. Likewise, the creatures you play have a health stat, an attack rating, can’t attack on the turn they’re summoned, and all the rest of what you’re thinking. After matches you spend the coins you’ve earned on new packs of random cards and build personalised decks to kill people with, oo-rah.
So it’s more interesting to look instead at what’s different, and the main one is actually something I quite like – the introduction of “quests,” which is a rather neat little idea that fits into the general “Guild of Heroes” mythos that's always been a big part of Fable. At the beginning of a match you pick one of three challenges that all suggest you achieve something over the course of the game, a mission along the lines of “spend twelve gold,” “defeat five creatures,” “draw eight comparisons to Hearthstone,” that sort of thing. Then, upon completing said quest, you get a new card in your hand and a choice between two in-game rewards, themed good and evil respectively. Picking good or evil not only tweaks your avatar's appearance for the rest of the match, but can alter certain cards and abilities depending on whether you lean more Paragon or Renegade in your daily dealings.
I like this not only because it keeps the ol’ Fable theme strong, but because it adds an extra layer of unpredictability that keeps things interesting, especially when you have to juggle the most obvious tactic with the gamble of getting your quest reward sooner rather than later. Yeah, you could put all your gold this turn into summoning that buff-looking soldier with the great stats and winning smile, but if you play that one-legged chicken with the head injury instead, you’ll fulfil your quest requirements and your avatar’s skill would get a boost, so that’s nice too.
Speaking of which, the other noteworthy feature is that besides the low-cost abilities that all classes have (yes, like Hearthstone again) you can also spend a small amount of gold once per turn to have a creature on your side of the battlefield draw all attacks for the next turn, meaning that you have more control over what does and doesn’t hit you. Again, this is a good choice. It means that a run of bad draws need not be totally devastating and lose you the match outright, not when you can throw out some cross-eyed goon with a blunt sword and have him get beaten up until you finally get a creature worth playing.
So those are the positives, but there are things about it that don't quite work. The big issue is the undeniable comparison to a certain other game, which I shall strive not to keep harping on about. Though there’s other problematic elements like card versatility, because there’s not many different cards available and even less that actually feel different in a way that matters. Systems like MTG kept stuff interesting because half the cards seemed to have a very unique element to them, brimming with possibilities for deck construction. But all of FF’s cards tend to feel like the most obvious concepts for what you’d see in this sort of game, with simple stat changes and standard effects making the difference. Look, this card does one damage to a target when it’s played. Wow, I’ve never seen that sort of thing before.
One thing that I found myself impressed by in Fable Fortune was how well the cards were scaled on a mechanical level to their thematic and contextual aesthetic, as well as their narratological element. What do I mean by that indecipherable sentence? Well, most card games would have low-level monsters and high-level monsters be as far removed from each other as Heaven and Hell, with the cheapest creatures being arthritic, pacifist hummingbirds, and the tough monsters being reality-altering supergods with a diverse stock portfolio and two kinds of chocolate.
But Fable Fortune just doesn’t work like that. Yeah, there’s the occasional outlier, but the relation between the card’s character and the card’s mechanics is as appropriate as it is honest. You start playing nose-picking guards whose mums had to pack their lunches for them, but by the end of the game you're still summoning human beings, they’re just human beings who know what they’re doing and have good weapons. Again, this is a nice reflection of Fable’s tone, as really big monsters in Albion were relatively uncommon, and it also doesn’t have the issue of trying to convince you that an 8/8 golem is equal in strength to eight 1/1 pigeons.
Beyond that, it’s exactly what you’d expect. Environments for battlefields are just traditional fantasy rooms and chambers, and you get a selection of suitably generic bard songs twanging from lutes somewhere off-camera whilst you do. Like I said, there’s not much to this game besides the combat, so evaluating anything else feels like doing a restuarant review and critiquing the quality of the chef's haircut.
The problem with Fable Fortune is the undeniable one that I do really need to shut up about – that it smacks awfully of a certain Blizzard product, and all the references to Hobbes can’t change that. It’s entirely possible that some tweaks might be done between now and the time it’s released properly, but whole rewrites of the formula will be necessary before it stops feeling like Hearthstone’s ambitious little brother.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing here worth your time. I admit to having more of a personal tie to Fable than to any particular franchise about a planetary sphere featuring various forms and approaches to warfare, but I don't think that’s clouded my judgement. Fable Fortune has some good ideas, and if there are some weighty updates to the number of cards on the roster, it could be a worthy competitor in terms of quality. I doubt it’ll win in terms of revenue, though. Anybody who could kick Blizzard off the throne will need bigger boots than Galactus.
|+ Quest system is a neat idea||– Nowhere near as original as it could be|
|+ Cards are aesthetically pleasing||– Cards should be made more interesting|
|+ Basically enjoyable (if unoriginal) system||– Inexcusable lack of Reaver|