When Microsoft announced that it was to close Lionhead Studios in 2016, creators of the venerable Fable series, many in the gaming community were shocked. The long awaited MMO Fable Legends was cancelled and those who had dreams of roaming Albion once again had them dashed. It’s odd to think then, that the likely final game to be cut from Albion’s cloth, is a card game built very much in the mould of Hearthstone. However, pulling on the heartstrings of burned gamers does not a hit make and so we take a look at Fable Fortune from Flaming Fowl Studios, which has recently entered paid Early Access on XBox and PC.
The basic mechanics for Fable Fortune are like any other entry into the collectable card game genre (CCG). You pick a hero who comes with a pre-made deck (you can, of course, create your own) and enter the PvP arena to be pitted against a fellow human. You then take turns to play cards from your deck, all in an effort to pummel your opponent’s hero into submission. After each turn your stash of gold, replacing Hearthstone’s mana, increases by one, up to the cap of ten. To seasoned players of the CCG genre the cards themselves will also be somewhat familiar. There are some purely to buff cards on the deck, others used for attack/defense purposes, some with entrance and death effects and others that you buff whilst they’re still in your hand before playing them. There’s also a healthy mix of magic and all heroes have offensive and defensive abilities. With the basics hardly setting it apart from its peers then, there must be something that will entice players from established CCG games. Thanks, in part, to its ties with Fable, there are a couple of notable game mechanics that really do help its cause.
As a frequent player of Hearthstone, I’ve always lamented the slow start to most of my games. While there’s still some tactical manouvering going on there’s very little in the way of excitement. With a starting gold of three, you’re instantly into the action in pretty much every game of Fable Fortune. It’s a small change but it makes a big difference and allows for quicker access to more higher powered cards in your deck. It’s a little daunting at first as it feels like you’re being thrown in at the deep end. However, once you’ve constructed your own deck with this mechanic in mind, it becomes rather liberating. Strategies play out sooner and there’s a greater emphasis on one's ability to change tact on the fly given that your opponent can lay waste to all your plans in the first round. That said, we found that games didn’t quite have the flow you often find in other CCGs. This could be due to a lack of knowledge on the player’s part but it did detract a touch when we were left wondering if our opponent was still alive.
It’s safe to say that Fable Fortune has a heavy focus on a shifting battlefield especially when you have to choose between good and evil. Much like the Fable games before it, Fable Fortune features a morality system. At the start of each game you get to pick a quest such as “Use your hero power four times.” Complete this quest and you get a reward and a choice of good or evil. Whichever you choose has a lasting effect on the remainder of that game as some cards react differently depending on your moral slant. Once you complete one, you get to choose another to a maximum of three. Managing to hit your quest and get the accompanying morality choice can potentially swing a match in your favour so it’s not a gimmick to be scoffed at either. Whether you decide to focus on its potential or not, the morality system is an engaging aspect of Fable Fortune and certainly makes it stand out in the rather crowded CCG gamespace.
With such a focus on tactics and foresight, building your own deck is crucial. Whilst the base decks are adequate enough to get you going and help you understand the basics, they are woefully inadequate when pitted against any custom deck. Each deck is limited to thirty cards with, generally, a maximum of two cards per type. You also need to consider a trophy card which is typically something silly and, if you don’t start the round, is instantly added to your hand. While they’re based in humour they do have a use, often causing damage to your opponent and since they don’t cost any gold, useful in a pinch.
Building a deck for Fable Fortune isn’t quite the same as others and that’s a good thing. Sure, you still have to have a good mix of cards of different cost and make sure the cards you have complement each other. However, what distinguishes Fable Fortune from, say, Hearthstone is that during a game of Fable Fortune you can put any card into guard which is akin to taunt. When that happens your opponent is forced to attack that card first before any other. Some will get bonuses from doing so, but it allows for a deck to be built that doesn’t require you to load a fair number of taunt cards as you would in Hearthstone. It’s an interesting mechanic and, again, can change the course of a game and if your opponent is throwing gold at guard it can allow you to counter with being able to play strong cards to break through. We certainly found ourselves having to learn more than we thought we would and there’s much to enjoy when you’re learning something that’s fun to play.
It’s probably a good thing that the card game itself is fun and engaging as right now the overall game is a little barren. Along with PvP there’s also co-op PvP which changes regularly and pits you and one other against a common foe for prizes. It’s fun and offers twists on the main game very much in the style of Hearthstone's tavern brawl. You can also take on the AI locally and can be good for testing decks but there’s no story or any engaging tutorial to guide you through things. As of this moment, and we must remember Fable Fortune is still in early access, the only way to learn is by doing. This isn’t a bad thing if you’re a veteran of CCGs but if you’re new and lured in by the Fable name then be prepared to be hit hard and lose often to begin with.
Thankfully you do get medals and rewards even if you’re on a losing streak (and we had plenty of those!) and you get new decks just by playing each of the game’s six heroes. Medals move you up to a new division so be warned as even if you’re losing often you can still move up divisions and face more competent players. It’s odd that this can happen and we understand that the developers want to reward even those who lose. However, still allowing for a move up in division seems to be an exercise in futility if you have a bad deck.
All-in-all things are looking good for Fable Fortune. While it may not attract those who have invested heavily in other CCGs it does enough to make it stand out and has strong enough foundations to suck in those looking for something new. The morality system is intriguing and unique and offers the ability to shift a game mid-battle with the effect it has on some cards. We did encounter a few crashes whilst we played and there are some balance issues with some of the heroes, as some are far stronger than others at present. Still, there’s no card game out there that doesn’t have this problem and we’re sure that things will even out over time. It’s good to see the Fable name continue on and in a form that, if things go well, can carry on for quite some time. Hopefully the developers will build on this bright beginning and the world of Albion will be saved once more.