Game Review: Companion’s Tale

Gamewright: Laura Simpson / @labmouse
Year: 2017
Genre: Story Game
Players: 3-4
Length: 44 page rulebook / 74 cards
Playtime: 3-4 hours
Get it here: Indie Press Revolution
Score: ★★★★☆

Who might enjoy this game?

  • Folks who enjoy drawing maps and doodling
  • Folks who enjoy telling stories and improvising
  • Folks who enjoy rolling with the flow more than rolling dice
  • Folks looking for a low prep, collaborative story game

Laura Simpson’s Companions’ Tale is a lovely storytelling game where players draw maps, build cultures, and tell of a hero’s quest through the voices of unreliable narrators. The various phases of the game rotate the focus and duties of each of the players, ensuring the world and story feel sincerely communal. Your whole story will play out in one game session.

The game starts with a Prologue. To build the world in peril, that the hero must save, players draw the map, which starts blank. Then there are 3 Acts, each split into several Story Rounds that fully rotate before an Act ends. Finally there is an Epilogue. The Acts are where most of the game happens. In my recent playthrough with friends, the rounds felt a bit clumsy at first, but our group got the hang of it before the end of the first Act.

There is a Historian Phase that brings in a theme and conflict to color each Act. Then there are the 4 Story Rounds, starting with the Cartographer, where a player updates the map to match recent events and anything that happens in the rest of the Story Round. There is the Companion, where a companion character is created and narrates what they witnessed or did with the hero concerning the peril facing the world. There is the Witness, where a player performs the role of someone seeing something happening off somewhere else. There is the Lorekeeper, where a player adds cultural color to the gameworld, like an tradition or a festival. At the end of 4 Story Rounds, before the Act ends, there is a Biographer Phase, where each player takes turn dishing hot gossip on the other companions.

That probably sounds like a lot with all those Acts, Phases, Story Rounds, Witnesses, Loremasters, etc. Thankfully, the game has cards that can be passed around to remind everyone what they are responsible for at any given moment, which really keeps things running smoothly.

My group enjoyed the storytelling and map making, but felt the Companions’ turn of Companions’ Tale was buried under all the other phases of the game. I mention this only to clarify expectations. If I’m critiquing of anything, it’s the marketing and title, not the gameplay or design. From opening the box to meeting our first companion, our group was about an hour into the game. The focus is almost always on what the Cartographer is doodling and how they are drawing everyone’s verbal contributions.

The communal document is what really shines in this game, for me. We had the box set with all the beautifully illustrated cards, but we really didn’t look at them too much. When I play this again, I’m probably going swap in index cards with simple stick figures for each companion. That way, whoever the cartographer is can easily add the companions to the map as their stories are happening. Your mileage may very, but most folks at my table weren’t very comfortable drawing anything at first, let alone capturing the likenesses of these pretty companions.

Also, the game offers a lot of scaffolding for the turns and phases, but not a ton for the story actually being told. This isn’t a huge problem, but just check in with your play group to agree on things like tone and the level of seriousness or focus. If the game didn’t already have so much coming at you on your first play through, I would suggest using one of the alternate play styles at the back of the book, but that’s something you can do on a second outing.

I have an easy time recommending the PDF. $16 is a fine price for an evening full of fun with friends. If you have a play group that you know would love this game, the pre-printed cards are handy and gorgeous, so it might be worth springing for the box set!

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