This article was originally published in 2018 for Old Grizzled Gamers. However, that website no longer exists so I’m putting it here instead.
With so many digital collectible card games around these days, setting yourself apart is incredibly difficult. Hearthstone saw massive success due to Blizzard’s production values, the Warcraft IP and timing. Other games have tried to emulate the concepts and ideas behind Hearthstones popularity with varying success. It is a difficult proposition – why should people choose anything other than Hearthstone? It has the player base, regular updates, overall content, and it is widely regarding as being fantastic.
In comes Fable Fortunes which treads the same paths as Hearthstone but tries to weave in some extra routes in an attempt to carve its own niche. I dislike Hearthstone. I don’t believe the game has enough decisions and it often feels predetermined. It encourages you to spend lots of money on digital cards to be competitive and while I don’t think that deck building itself is boring, when that is around 90% of your game something has surely gone wrong.
That isn’t to say that I hate CCGs. Duelyst is an example of a digital card game that I love. I am also a huge fan of physical games like Netrunner and used to play Magic the Gathering a lot.
Anyway, that is a brief (almost) bit of history that you didn’t really come here for. You want to know whether Fable Fortunes is worth your time. I can save you a long read and say that it isn’t. It is extremely similar to Hearthstone just worse. It has some interesting ideas, though. With that in mind, if you want to know more then read on.
Matches of Fable Fortunes play out in traditional CCG fashion. You want to reduce your enemy’s hit points to zero by firing spells and summoning creatures. In Fable Fortunes, you use gold from a chest rather than magic essence. This is a nice touch, and I like the little chest you get on your side of the player board. As you might expect, this goes up by one each round and you draw a new card. Each character has a class ability and can order a unit to guard, forcing your enemy to defeat them before they can attack you. It is all standard stuff, but the guard ability gives you another consideration on any given turn.
There are six different classes in Fable Fortunes: Merchant, Alchemist, Knight, Shapeshifter, Gravedigger, and Prophet. Each of these has thematically relevant cards. The merchant, for example, will play cards that deal with buying and selling goods. They can keep coins in their hand to spend on later turns and throw down ship cards like Blockade and Broadside to damage or hinder their opponent. Each card has lovely artwork and they help tell a narrative as you play.
Units have three basic stats – health, attack and summon cost. Certain units also have a printed ability. These abilities can be as simple as allowing units to attack on the turn they enter play. Other, more interesting, abilities tie to the mortality of your character. This is the game’s major hook and how it sets itself apart from other CCGs.
You pick a quest at the beginning of the game and once its conditions are fulfilled, you get a moral choice. Depending on whether you pick good or evil, your character’s ability changes and so do the abilities of your cards. This means that you might want to pick the evil option because you want to use a specific ability. It is a nice addition but feels ill thought out.
First off, the quests are not interesting with goals like cast spells over a cost of four or play units with certain abilities. It’s meant to push you towards playing in a certain way to complete the quest but you choose which one to take. This means that you rarely pick a quest that pushes you to play in unusual ways. Once you complete a quest you can even pick it again. This doesn’t push the player, it causes them to stagnate. It also makes very little narrative sense. Picking the evil choice for the farm quest kills the farmers and takes their land. And then I can pick that same quest, and do the same thing again?
When you beat a quest you get a card and increased morality in either good or evil. This is relevant because certain abilities need you to have a certain level of morality to maximise their powers. Each quest you finish increases your morality level and some cards will require specific levels or have greater effects. This can mean that holding back cards to make full use of their ability later is a good idea.
Or at least it would be if there was any point waiting. You can use the morality system to counter your opponents and when you do it feels great. The game pops into life for those moments. However, you are likely to pick what is best for the current situation only to have the situation change next turn. Card games have this ebb and flow as cards bounce off one another. Good card games allow involve strategy. Its success or failure are exciting. In Fable Fortune’s case, you simply play the card with the most attack and health and attack your opponent. When something dies, you simply replace it next turn. Whereas a clever card game is like fencing with ripostes, fients, parries, mind games and skill. Instead, Fable Legends is mindless and straightforward.
This isn’t helped by game starting you with three gold to spend causing it to rev into action very quickly. There are no slow turns. Instead, you are immediately throwing units into play, casting spells, and doing ‘fun’ things. It feels rushed and the same is true for the morality system. Games like this are often about playing big, scary creatures and see them clash with your enemies. Units rarely hang around for long, so there is no point planning. This makes your morality choice extremely straightforward – pick what works now and don’t worry about the future.
The moral choice is also not really about morals. Your character portrait changes depending on which you pick and so will card abilities, but there is nothing else. Picking evil doesn’t mean that you won’t get certain quests or lose access to anything. Likewise being good doesn’t make your a paragon of justice. Both decisions are simply mechanical not thematic considerations.
This is the only way Fable Fortunes is different from any other CCG and it falls apart like a chocolate fireguard. When I read about it I was intrigued. It sounded like the unusual design idea that this space needs. A splash of narrative and choice in a genre normally about min-maxing your experience. After a few games, though, I was furious. This was such a wasted opportunity. CCGs have been about who can hit the other quickest and hardest since Magic the Gathering first hit shelves and there was an opportunity here to add something extra. There could have been actual narrative in between card play and it could have thrown all kinds of interesting decisions at you. Instead, it is just another boring system bolted onto a series of other boring systems.
My meltdown aside, this system is ok. It is no worse than anything else in a Hearthstone-alike. It is functionally fine. That is not a back of the box quote any developer wants, but it about sums up Fable Fortune. There are single player modes and co-op boss challenges. These are a great way to get gold and new cards. They negate the need to spend lot of money on the game. There is plenty to do in Fable Fortunes, but the core game is not enough of an enticing proposition.
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