Once Upon A Time is a story-telling game published by Atlas Games, and designed by Richard Lambert, Andrew Rilstone and James Wallis.
In Once Upon a Time players each have a hand of cards, representing items, characters, places and other things. The object of the game is to collectively create a story, and in so doing get rid of the cards in your hand. For each sentence a player may play one card from their hand - so I might begin with: Once upon a time there was a tower hidden in the depths of a dark forest. As I say this sentence I play a card from my hand - the tower card. I am allowed to continue telling the story and playing cards unless another player takes over (and there are rules for this). Players also each have a single ‘ending’ card in hand - which is the story ending they are personally angling to manipulate the story into.
It is a simple game, almost loose enough to be deemed more of an activity than a game. But it can be a lot of fun, and the zany stories that rise from the game can be quite amusing - especially with a group of creative individuals.
I’ve been using it recently as a starting activity in class - something that precedes a creative writing session. My class is 27 students - so playing by the normal rules won’t work. What we’ve been doing instead is this: each student has a hand of three cards, I draw their names randomly, as their name is drawn they must add a single sentence to the story at the same time as playing one of their cards. We do this for a set time - say 15 minutes, and the students go back to their books and take up the incomplete tale from there - each continuing and finishing the story as they see fit.
It has been a lot of fun so far - and provides a welcome aid to creativity. The stories are fun and zany. It is equally interesting to see the differences in how the stories unfold as the individual students take over in their books.
There are many ways in which this game can be used in class - and the students (so far) are really enjoying it. The need to tailor the story to the cards makes for just enough confinement to make the stories crazy and amusing, but the cards are also loose enough to allow for a great deal of creativity and control. A great little game.
For a cheap game - this has been a great addition to our school game collection. I’m adding it as one of the possible writing activities to my literacy rotations - a happily ever after indeed!