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Fable Fortune – Can The CCG Save Fable?

Fable Fortune is being developed by Flaming Fowl, the new indie studio formed from the remnants of Lionhead. Microsoft have granted Flaming Fowl the license to continue making the CCG (collectable card game), which was proposed all the way back in the development of Fable II and has been worked on for 18 months. The team are nearing the final stages of development now and are running a Kickstarter to cover the remaining costs in the absence of Microsoft’s funding. Whilst the campaign has received an impressive £56,000 of backing, it is still short of its £250,000 goal, with only 16 days left. Bearing all this in mind, I think the most important question to ask ourselves is: do we want a Fable card game?

The brutal truth of the matter, at least from my standpoint, is that what we want is Fable 4. But we don’t want Fable 4, in the sense of a derivative sequel; we want Fable Reborn. People having been crying out for another Fable RPG for a long time: instead we got Fable Journey, a Kinect game, and the HD remake of the first Fable. While these were not failures in and of themselves, I think audiences expected a fresh, exciting RPG in the Fable universe.  Perhaps, after the criticisms of Fable III and the disappointing sales, Lionhead lost faith in their ability to make a stand-out RPG? Perhaps they felt the market was too saturated what with Elder Scrolls, The Witcher and Dark Souls dominating the charts. Perhaps they were under pressure from Microsoft to develope Fable Legends and so couldn’t make Fable 4?

“Perhaps, after the criticisms of Fable III and the disappointing sales, Lionhead lost faith in their ability to make a stand-out RPG?”

Whatever the reasons, whichever website or announcement you believe, one thing is certain: the Fable series seems to be losing its way. Many claim the first game is still the best of the series and I would agree (though I did enjoy many aspects of Fable II): the world felt bigger in the first Fable, the diversity of enemies made for interesting challenges, and the morality system was not spelled out. An air of quiet English mystery hung about the first game. Gentle, humorous, but concealing darker undertones. Fable has always been famous for its wit, just think of the roll call of actors whom they have had do voice-performances: Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, John Cleese. Why then are we entering into a genre where dialogue will become a minimum?

Now, it’s not to say there are no exciting aspects of Fable Fortune. Despite the distinctly Hearthstone-looking play-style, sound and even animation, there are apparently going to be some heavy innovations in the gameplay. For example, before each game you choose a quest to complete. This quest is dependent on the arena in which your battle is taking place and quests vary between arenas, meaning it is best to adopt strategies specific to your location and quest. The developers have claimed their “core philosophy” is that “there is not best deck, or three best decks or even six”. They want to remove the frustration of ‘there was nothing I could do about that match’ by making decks more flexible and giving more variance in scenarios and objectives.

Fable Fortune 1

This is certainly exciting, especially as a contrast to Hearthstone in which your deck quickly becomes irrelevant with the latest fad or patch. In keeping with the spirit of Fable, it is possible to play your deck in “good” or “evil” ways. This can drastically alter the effects and stats of cards and completely change the game. It also offers players the ability to adapt their strategy mid-game, which they think will create more interesting matches.  The idea of a dynamic morality system factoring into a collectable card game is innovative and compelling in theory, but will it really distinguish the game in terms of the game-play? If the player is simply making a binary decision (evil or good) then it will quickly lose meaning. Fable was at its best when the morality was complex. Sure, the clue is in the title: “Fable” points towards the fairy-tale, the mythic, the simplistic stories of our youth. But within those fairy tales there were often terribly difficult choices and hard, confusing lessons.

“The developers have claimed their ‘core philosophy’ is that ‘there is not best deck, or three best decks or even six’. They want to remove the frustration of ‘there was nothing I could do about that match’ by making decks more flexible”

However great it is, Fable Fortune will still be a CCG. It will still involve buying decks and free-to-play mechanics. It may have better co-op and PVP than other CCGs (or may not) but it will never feel like an RPG game. It is strange that if Flaming Fowl are avoiding the “big-RPG’”genre because of market saturation, they have chosen a genre that is perhaps even more flooded. Runescape just released its own CCG. Magic: The Gathering has had one for years. Hundreds more are cropping up on mobile-app stores every day.

I admire the Flaming Fowl team for continuing to pursue their love and passion despite the awful, adverse circumstances which have befallen them. I admire their unwillingness to let Albion die. I am, in some ways, excited by Fable Fortune. But I’m also disappointed. I love CCGs, but nothing beats walking in the wild, a sword across your back, hearing the songs of a mystical landscape. Fans are so desperate to believe that Fable isn’t dead. I’m just not sure Fable Fortune is proof it isn’t.

Joseph Sale is a novelist, creator of dark twines and a gamer. He loves RPGs, open worlds and survival horrors (the latter of which he used to play in an old shed in his back garden - because apparently Resident Evil wasn't atmospheric enough). He looks out for games with a strong narrative; he's a great believer the very best games long outlive their console, and those are the classics he holds on to.