Bryan Reed is a member of the Game Whisperer's Game Den and a teacher by day. He wrote this review for Stones of Fate from Cosmic Wombat Games
To some, the cards of the mystic tarot are a divination tool that can reveal secrets from the past, provide insight into the present, and predict the future, and to some it is all hooey, but regardless of your opinion of the cards of the tarot, Stones of Fate takes some of its inspiration from this historic deck.
On the surface
Stones of Fate at its heart is a memory and pattern matching game overlaid on a deck of tarot cards, complete with both the major and minor arcana. If you ignore the elements placed on the cards for the purposes of the game, this deck could be used as a normal tarot deck. The only aspects that distinguish these cards from a tarot deck are special symbols used by Stones of Fate placed along the edges of the cards, the point value of the card placed in the corners, and on a few cards, text that explains a special rule regarding that card. According to the box it s a 30 minute game, for 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up.
Game play is simple enough to learn and teach in only a few minutes. Each player starts with five uniquely colored fate stones and a few minutes to study the layout of nine cards in a three by three grid on the table (six cards in a two by three pattern in the two player variant). The cards are flipped face down and the game begins. Each player on their turn can perform two actions out of three possible choices: moving or placing one of their stones into the spaces around and between the cards, peeking at a card, or flipping a card. When a card is flipped, the special symbols and the placement of the stones within the spread are used to determine who, if anyone, will win the card and place it in their collection. If no one wins the card, it is discarded. The top card from the draw pile then replaces the card that was just resolved. An empty draw pile triggers the endgame. The player who has the most points of cards in their collection at the end of the game is the winner.
Getting into it
The game definitely deserves more than one play to really get a feel for how it is played, as some of the intricacies are not necessarily obvious after a single play. That being said, the game hints at a level of possible strategy that just does not come out in gameplay. Some of the unique abilities on the cards, and the arrangement of the symbols cries out for creative stone placement to block other players wins, or forcing opponents to win cards that earn negative points, but with only two actions on a turn, and a short game, make it hard to accomplish these tasks without getting lucky, and giving players more actions would likely make the game too easy. That is not to say that this game does not require skill to win. Being able to remember the placement of the symbols on the cards you’ve peeked at before is a valuable skill, as is being able to correctly determine where the symbols on the edges of the card will be when the cards are flipped.
Most of the hardcore gamers that played the game were disappointed in the simple gameplay, but the casual gamers that gave it a go seemed to appreciate the balance of skill, luck, and strategy. While there wasn’t enough there to keep the hardcore gamers engaged, the casual gamers felt empowered without being overwhelmed. The game definitely plays better with three or four players. Players in the two-player variant seemed to isolate in one corner of the play area and avoided conflict despite the smaller playing area.
The tarot theme to the game feels a little tacked on, as if the designer already had the art for a tarot deck and decided to use the art for a card game as well. We looked for meaning in the card’s special abilities that would tie thematically into the traditional associations with those cards in the tarot, but it did not seem to be consistently applied. The art, however, was universally praised. My wife, who is not herself much of a gamer, said she would buy the game primarily based on the art, although she also found the gameplay appealing.
Making the grade
The next time I play Stones of Fate, I will likely try out some variations, perhaps changing the size and shape of the spread to see how that might affect the way the game is played. A smaller area might create a little more competition for cards to satisfy the more hardcore gamers. The ability to be creative with the structure of the game, and the fact that each game is not played with the full deck of cards, gives this game a fair amount of replayability.
Stones of Fate is an entertaining casual game that I would play again, although it would not be my first choice of filler game. It is fast, easy to teach, and like other enjoyable filler games, has a decent balance of luck and skill.
Kickstarter project starts May 24th.
For those attending Gamex, there will be a launch party on Saturday, May 25th