Pretty Wrong – Stuffed

Stuffed first caught my attention on Kickstarter, and like most boardgames I’ve kickstarted, it actually arrived (woo!). The biggest pull is the amazing artwork, which admittedly isn’t the best thing to base a purchase on (no shit Janey!).

The component quality is amazing. The custom dice have nice art and a really nice weight. The card art is incredible, the box opens like a story book which is held shut with a magnetic clasp, there’s enough space to have sleeved cards in there, and the vacform tray is very nicely designed to show everything off.

The plot of Stuffed is… *makes slightly embarrassed noises*. Luckily, it’s not well conveyed in the game itself, which is probably for the best because it’s a massive yikes once you put in the context of some of the cards. Those who were destined for great things, but fight their destiny, waste their talents and let time slip away, fail at their purpose. Their vice leads to the penalty that they become adorable, but troubled stuffed animals.

This is the only time ‘vice’ is brought up, usually the game talks of burdens (or rather, birdens). So what does the game consider a vice or a personal failing that sees you damned to the plush realms? Hatred – sure, addiction – makes sense I guess (if you completely ignore the underlying issues of addiction), self pity – I… suppose, regret – shaky ground, fear – what?!, broken – huh?, depression – oh do fuck off.

See at this point I just want to shake the designers and ask how they didn’t see the problems here. These ‘vices’ are mostly just mental health problems. You made a game where if you had mental health problems from anxiety, to depression, to trauma, to anger issues, and so on, you’re doomed to be punished for that in the next life. You done goofed. You’ve done a bad job, game designers *baps on nose with a newspaper*.

Why didn’t I notice this in the Kickstarter? Because the plot and the birdens (get it? They have birds on) weren’t shown together. Indeed, the use of the birden cards is considered an alternative play style (more on that later).

I genuinely think that if Certifiable Studios had framed it as: those who had, through their own failings or lack of bravery, failed to do the things that really mattered to meet their destiny, and then changed the titles of each birden, that this all could have been avoided.

Stuffed sees you trying to complete a mission by putting a dedicated team together and gathering the necessary supplies to complete it. That’s it, no need to blame people who have mental health problems. Just adorable stuffed animals (some of whom happen to be mercenaries) going on a quest together. Even with the birden cards in play, you can read it as “we came together as a team, and overcame those birdens”. They simply had to avoid framing them as vices or personal failings.

Ok, major glaring issues addressed, time to talk about gameplay.

Players take turns rolling 8 custom dice to earn money, gain advantage cards, gain loyal companions and specialists, or hire mercenaries. Each ally (and the player’s avatar) allows you to spend a die with a matching symbol to manipulate one or more dice. The avatars always allow you to spend one paw symbol die to re-roll any number of other dice. Others may ask you to spend a leaf to modify one of the dice to your favour. It’s this ability to re-roll and modify dice that takes a lot of the frustrating randomness out of the game (which is always a risk with dice rollers).

Loyal allies only require you to spend the correct symbols from dice in order to join your team, but specialists will also want you to spend gold to recruit them. Whereas mercenaries may even want you to part with your advantages as part of their cost. Luckily you can trade in three matching symbols for a coin or four for an advantage card (unless you rolled birds, those pesky birdens ruin everything). Advantages can be played for various benefits such as a free re-roll, an additional resource, to modify a die, etc. Some may even be played as allies in their own right.

As you progress through the game someone will eventually hire a mercenary. Once the first one is hired a new, pink die goes into the mix. This is rolled with the other dice on each player’s turn and should it land on a symbol matching a merc in play, their current employer gets a benefit. That could be extra gold, to steal gold from another player, to manipulate one of the current player’s dice, remove dice from the current player, etc. However, they wouldn’t be truly mercenary unless you could do the most devious thing, and just hire them straight from whoever hired them last, instead of from the pool of available companions.

Basically that’s the base game. The mission will have a description like “Break the curse and wake up the sleeping town of Totta”, but what it requires is (with a single exception) the same thing: have 2-4 teammates, 1-2 must be a mercenary, then spend 5-6 resources (dice of the correct type and possibly some coins or an advantage card). Once that’s done, that’s it, quest complete, game over.

That said, there is a rules variant which tries to bring in some of the plot, but even then only loosely. At the start of the game, each player can be dealt two birden cards (*angry hisses at birden cards*) depending on the card they will have different requirements in order to overcome them – such as spending 4 coins to rid yourself of anxiety, or dealing with your personal issues by hiring two mercenaries (sounds serious), or dismissing a teammate (who is not a mercenary) to rid yourself of depression (as someone with clinical depression, I can assure the designer that pushing your friends away is not how you deal with it). Once both your birdens are removed, you can complete the mission. It’s pretty flimsy but stops people rushing to the end game. Even so, you’ll probably be done in 20-30 minutes.

Stuffed has such beautiful art (even when it’s being kinda dark), but the story and the flavour of some of the mechanics really let it down. It feels like they had someone with incredible talent design the cards and then they just spitballed the plot while drunk and high. A real shame, and the reason I’m not that interested in Certifiable Studio’s next Kickstarter project. My advise is, if you’re going to play it with friends, let them know the rules and then put the manual away.

Pros:

  • Amazing art.
  • Custom dice have nice art and a lovely weight.
  • The box opens like a story book.

Cons:

  • The game treats mental health problems like personal failings.
  • Doesn’t really tie all it’s concepts together very well.

Final Score: 6.5/10