Fable Fortune Review
Definitely more good than evil.
When I think about Fable, I think about choosing between good and evil in a whimsical world full of base but charming humour. I think about combat with Hobbes, Hollow Men, Bandits, Balverines and sometimes well-intentioned guards. I think about faithful dog companions. I also think about games that were rough around the edges, that sometimes delivered and that sometimes fell disappointingly short. Fable Fortune may be a card game instead of an RPG, but it’s very much an embodiment of all those things.
Fable Fortune’s closest cousin in the genre is probably Hearthstone, as opposed to games like Magic: The Gathering or The Elder Scrolls: Legends. It has six classes – Alchemist, Shapeshifter, Gravedigger, Knight, Merchant and Prophet, each of which has a unique hero power, which costs two gold pieces (Fortune’s mana resource) to use. Players construct 30 card decks with a maximum of two copies of each card, aside from Fabled cards, which are restricted to one.
Like Hearthstone, players get one additional resource point to use each turn and start with 30 health, while all the basic unit attributes are represented – Guard (Taunt), Deflect (Divine Shield), Rush (Charge), Last Laugh (Deathrattle), Big Entrance (Battlecry) and Silence (erm, Silence). There are effects that trigger at the end of turn, effects when you summon units, effects when you use your hero power, and so on.
Hearthstone fans will have no issues finding their feet, in other words, but Fable Fortune also brings plenty of its own ideas to the table. For instance, each class also has the ability to spend one gold piece per turn to give a unit Guard. This means each player has a built-in defence mechanism, allowing units with ongoing effects or high attack to be protected, or you can simply use it to try and prevent face damage. There are also a number of cards that get buffs from being put into Guard.
Developer Flaming Fowl has also taken a novel approach to try and balance the inherent advantage of going first (and thus having permanent initiative) versus second. Fable Fortune lets you choose a single additional card from a small pool to add to your deck – a 31st card. If you go second, it will be in your opening hand. If you don’t, it won’t. Some of the cards you can choose from include The Boot – deal two damage, Pointy Stick – give a unit +1/+2 and Tofu Trader – a 0/3 unit that heals your hero for two at the end of your turn. It’s an inspired solution that lets players have access to the tool that best fits their gameplan.
A more game defining innovation is the in-match quest system. At the start of each game – after you’ve seen your initial hand but before you’ve mulliganed – you’re given a choice between three quests. You might be choosing between “spend 18 gold,” “play three units with greater strength than health” and “play three spells that cost more than one gold.” You select the one you want to pursue and when you complete it you get a reward (a predetermined card), you gain a morality point and you get to choose between an upgraded “good” hero power and an upgraded “evil” hero power. There are three quests per game in total, each attached to a reward, morality point and the ability to change alignment.
A game defining innovation is the in-match quest system.
The hero power upgrades are pretty interesting, because some of them fundamentally change in value once you’ve enhanced them. Alchemists, for instance, have a weak base hero power that’s similar to Hearthstone’s Shaman class, in that its outcome is random. You spend two gold pieces and get one of four zero mana buff cards (known as Vials) – give a unit +1 attack, give a unit +1 health, heal a unit for two, or swap a friendly unit’s attack and health. Given the tempo loss of spending two gold for an effect that may not actually be useful, that’s basically always a bad deal, but once you’ve completed your first quest, you get to choose between being given a random – but much better – Vial, or simply choosing the Vial that you want. That second choice is incredibly potent in a game that’s so driven by minion trading. Suddenly you can spend two gold to trade up, to keep a unit alive, to heal a unit and so on.
Shapeshifters, on the other hand, start with a hero power that’s the equivalent of Hearthstone’s Mage – deal one damage to an enemy, but can be upgraded to be a combination of Mage and Hunter, allowing you to choose between dealing two to your opponent or doing one to an enemy unit. This can then give you the extra reach you need to finish someone off, but without sacrificing the utility of pinging a unit on the board. Each class has interesting twists on its hero power, and in general you’ll be trying to get through your quests ahead of your opponent if you can.
Completing quests also lets you upgrade cards that utilise morality points. The Dog card I mentioned earlier, for instance, is a six cost 6/5, but it can become one of two other forms if you have three morality points. If you’re evil it gains Rush and the text “After this destroys another unit it can attack again.” Whereas if you’re good it gains “Big Entrance: Conjure a Fabled Quest Reward.” (What’s a “Fabled Quest Reward”? Well, I’d have to craft this card then play it with three morality points and a good alignment to find out, as Fable Fortune is very poor at giving supplemental information. More on that later.)
Other cards require only one or two morality points to morph them into an alternate form. It’s a clever system, but there aren’t all that many morality cards right now, so they feel less essential than I’d hoped they might. Still, it’s a concept ripe with potential, and yet another intriguing layer to the quest system.
Looking at the card pool more broadly, the class card options in Fable Fortune are pretty restricted, so while each class certainly has its own identity – helped along by its hero power – a lot of the base power in the game is found in the neutral collection, which means you’ll see a many of the same cards popping up in every class. There are some tribal synergies (Hobbe, Bandit, Hollow Man), but the only class that really doubles down on them is Gravedigger, which is all about the Hollow Men. There’s a lot to be fleshed out in future card sets, but there are already some interesting strategies to be found.
The class card options in Fable Fortune are pretty restricted…
There are also some fundamental differences in the way a Fable Fortune deck can be built, compared to other CCGs. Sure, there are the quests to think about, but more than that, there’s the curve. In games like Hearthstone or Shadowverse, the game begins with both players having one resource point. Not so, Fable Fortune – each player starts the game with three gold. The difference this makes is huge, because you only need to put cheap units in your deck if you have a particular strategy to take advantage of them. In other CCGs you can fall behind very fast if you don’t include low cost minions, cheap removal spells or recovery mechanics. Fable Fortune is more mid-range by design.
This has a number of knock-on effects. In Fable Fortune, if you are going in with a mid-range strategy, your curve can simply start at three. You have the same size deck as Hearthstone, but because you don’t have to dilute it with one and two drops, you can put in enough three and four drops to reliably have them in your opening hand every single time, and that means the baseline safe start to a game is simply to play three drop into four drop into five drop, with minion trades dictating who gets the edge.
This is exacerbated by the small pool of class cards, leaving some classes without very effective removal options, forcing them to play a unit-centric strategy to keep up and rewarding good CCG fundamentals more than inspired ideas or plays. At least at the lower ranks.
The focus on curve can also be warped by the quests available. In the current PVP season event, for instance, you’ll most likely want to choose the “spend 18 gold” quest first – unless you have a strategy that specifically works with the other options (such as a deck full of low cost spells). Why? Because if you spend all your gold each turn – three, four, five and then six – you’ll complete the quest. It’s a very consistent way to get it done, but at the same time, if you float a single gold piece on any of those turns, you’ll be behind. And what’s the best way to ensure you can spend all your mana each turn? To rely on curve minions, and that then influences the meta, compounding the issues of a small overall card pool.
The quest rewards are a bit of a double-edged sword, too. In some ways they reduce the novelty of each game because both players get the same spell rewards for completing their quests. This also means – depending on the reward spells obviously – that you’re both playing around basically the same things at certain points in every game, regardless of the match-up.
The first PVP quest reward at the moment, for instance, is Brandish, a three cost spell that gives a unit of your choice +1 strength then sets its health to be the same. Knowing that’s in your opponent’s hand gives you a clear idea of what their best play might be, and you can then actively play around it, as opposed to making reads on what you think they might have. This is actually probably the more skill-testing side of quest rewards, however. The third reward is a spell that gives you random damage dealing cards, and that’s a whole other kettle of fish.