I recently bought Winter Tales and had my first two games with five friends last night. It was kinda fun, but we really felt like we were missing something or misinterpreting the rules somehow.

The problem was, that we found it exceedingly difficult not to play the game in a gamist manner. Most of us have played pen and paper RPGs and are not averse to storytelling, and we were all well aware that the main focus of Winter Tales is to tell a coherent story. However, the way the game is designed, pitting two factions against each other, obviously means that players will do what they can to ensure their side is victorious.

The main issue in this regard, to us, arose during quest battles. Player 1 would start a quest and the five other players would then try to affect it with story cards. The thing was, story cards all went into one big pile, and everyone could see how many cards each side had gathered. This meant that the last few players could always tell their story and weave in just enough story cards to win the quest.

The rule about the active player being allowed to throw in one (and only one) last story card to wrap up the story likewise seemed useless, since one story card would never be able to impact the results anyway.

Additionally, since a player can pass on activating a character during other players' turns, we always ended up with one ready character and one open quest. This meant that the player with the last ready character could wrap up the game by activating that character, starting the specific quest and ending it immediately, since no one else around the table would have a ready character (or a character in that quest location). This guaranteed an automatic memory favoring whoever ended up with the last ready character.

On a final note, the game is supposed to consist of several chapters; whenever a player activates his last ready character and finished his turn, the chapter ends and a new one begins. We played the game twice, with 3 and 4 memories, and during both games we finished the final memory during the first chapter.

All this leads me to conclude that one of the three following is the case here:

A) Winter Tales wants its players to focus on the story and not actively try to win the game. However, elements such as the opposing factions and the battle/trap mechanics lead me to believe that the game does in fact expect its players to attempt to win.

B) Winter Tales is a poorly designed game. Since the game is still relatively new I guess this could be possible, but the reviews lead me to believe that this can't possible be the case.

C) Our group misinterpreted the rules or otherwise missed something important. This is supported by the, quite honestly, poorly worded/translated rule book, and is what I hope and expect to be the case.

Thus, my questions are these: is C the case here, and if so, what did we misunderstand?

  • For the next time we play Winter Tales, we've talked about introducing the following House Rule: during quests, each player puts the story cards he or she wants to use into a pot. While this makes sure that the other players don't play their own story cards based on how many are required to win the quest, it would introduce a bunch of other problems.
    – Ravn
    Oct 14, 2013 at 9:34

2 Answers 2


I will precede this answer by saying that I have never played the game. I have, however, played both a bunch of board games, as well as various pen and paper role playing games. From that, as well as having read the ratings for this game on BGG (read below), I come to the following assumption:

My guess is that you really are looking at a boardgame at heart, with an arbitrary storytelling overlay.

Looking at the ratings on BoardGameGeek, the game gets very mixed ratings. I'll quote some of them (and as a word of warning, I will be cherry-picking answers here, but not primarily to underline my own guess but to answer the question directly):

(...) the [gameplay] itself is a bit forced and artificial feeling. (...) there simply isn't a game here really; just a cool theme.

(...) it tries to hybridize storytelling with strategy/tactics. And that does not work. The winner is the player who plays the most cards, period. The story behind it does not matter at all as to who wins. Some could say that winning isn't the point, but why bother playing such a thematically charged game about the fierce war between two factions if you're not going to win?

Interesting story telling concept. I am loathe to use the word game here as there really isn't much game here other than a very simple card management game. (...)

I'll say it again because this is important - I've been cherry-picking just the points that support my guess - that Winter Tales is a game that potentially makes two main types of players happy:

  • players who like the strategic card aspect to the game, and don't mind the storytelling aspect
  • players who like roleplaying, and don't care about winning it (in essence, your option A)

This makes sense at the end of the day, as if you're in it for the roleplaying and don't need a "Us vs. Them" aspect to the game, you'd probably resort to a roleplaying game. And as far as boardgames go, many have some degree of flavor that invites us keen-at-roleplaying people to engage more in the story than necessary, but most of the time, that's all there is to it - the game will nevertheless be decided by points, win conditions, or whatever other factors that exist in a parallel world to the story the players create at the table.

From the outside looking in, Winter Tales sounds like a beautifully illustrated and themed nourishing ground for stories if you're inclined to engage into it, but what it doesn't appear to be is a game that combines roleplaying and traditional competitive board game mechanics all in one package. I personally wouldn't call it badly designed based on that, but I could perfectly understand if anyone would see it that way because it's not what they expected.

And keep in mind that this is just an educated guess, so I could very well be wrong.


This meant that the last few players could always tell their story and weave in just enough story cards to win the quest.

The rule about the active player being allowed to throw in one (and only one) last story card to wrap up the story likewise seemed useless, since one story card would never be able to impact the results anyway.

You seem to contradict yourself here. If one side has used "just enough" story cards to win, then a single final card should be able to tip the balance in favor of the active player's faction.

Of course, then the other faction has to account for this, and use "just enough plus a little more", to the point that the active player's likely plays would be balanced out, on average. Then, assuming everyone plays optimally, the deciding factor is the random selection of cards, and you are back to it being purely a randomly decided storytelling game, as intended.

  • 1
    By "just enough", I mean "just enough for the final card to not make a difference". The problem is still that players play the number of cards, not the story. Making the story redundant seems to me like a major flaw in a storytelling game.
    – Ravn
    Nov 26, 2013 at 22:19
  • 3
    If side A always plays enough cards to certainly win the story, and side B only plays enough to win 51% during the first one or two stories, side B will develop a card advantage and be able to win the game. The strategy you describe is a losing strategy, but I can see how the game would suffer if both teams followed it.
    – Sparr
    Nov 27, 2013 at 15:39

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