If you are after a fun way to break the ice or start an unusual conversation with friends, then Storytags may be the game for you. Storytags is a card game that uses prompts to encourage people to share anecdotes, and employs a loose, arbitrary points system whereby players compete to have the most ‘followers’. While I had fun playing Storytags, the mechanics are sparse to the point of making me ponder – what are the minimum elements required for something to be labelled a ‘game’?
Storytags consists of two decks of cards – Questions and Hashtags. At the beginning of the game, each player draws eight Hashtag cards. Then, to begin a turn, one player, dubbed the ‘storyteller’, draws two Question cards and chooses one they would like to keep. The Question cards greatly resemble the sort of things you’d find in decks of ‘dinner party ice breaker’ cards – things like: “what did you want to be when you grew up?”, “tell us about a celebrity you encountered”, and “tell about a date that went differently than expected”. The questions range from interesting to mundane to oddly specific. But having the choice of two different cards makes it possible to (usually) avoid cards you dislike. The storyteller will then proceed to tell a story using the prompt. There is no set duration that the story must go for, and although the rules do not say anything about the story needing to be funny, it feels implied that these are the kinds of stories the game is digging for.
Gameplay consists of the other players using their cards to hashtag the story to the storyteller’s satisfaction. The other players must interrupt the story by yelling out their hashtag and placing it face-up in front of them. The storyteller will then either accept the hashtag as relevant and continue with the story, or deny the hashtag, turning it face-down to represent its failure to appropriately label the story. Once the story is over, players score two ‘followers’ for each approved hashtag, and the storyteller receives one follower for every hashtag played during their story. That’s it. The rules specify how many stories each player should tell during a complete ‘game’ of Storytags. With four players, we were each required to tell two stories, which equated to about an hour of play.
The first thing I noticed while playing Storytags was that it was less about competing and more about social interaction. ‘Playing’ Storytags was fun, but the mechanics are so sparse and arbitrary that there is little-to-no room for strategy. There is, however, plenty of room for skill – social skill, that is. If you are good at reading the mood of the people you are playing with, or reading the tone that someone is aiming to achieve with their story, then it is possible to be ‘good’ at Storytags. However, the strength of a player’s social skill can depend on so many things – how well they know all the people they are playing with, the relationship status between each of the players, and the mood of each player present. These kinds of things are arbitrary, and nearly impossible to quantify, so Storytags’ free-form, social feel might frustrate some players.
While most of the question cards feature fairly run-of-the-mill conversation starters, I found some of the Question cards odd. The one that sticks in my mind is the card that asks “Tell about… Something you’ve intended to do forever, but haven’t done yet”. If you haven’t done the thing yet, then what are you telling the story about? A list of regrets and excuses as to why you never chased your dreams? Maybe that interpretation sounds is a little bit unreasonable – but that’s the thing about Storytags; so much of it is arbitrary and up to interpretation. The undefined story length was also a little frustrating as the longer your story is, the more chance you have to score followers. However, I cannot see any clear way to make the game more ‘fair’, as I think that putting a time limit on stories would only make it harder for some players to tell a good story, and telling a good story seems to be what Storytags is all about.
The appeal of Storytags as a family-games-night title may be limited by how well all players understand the concept of ‘hashtagging’. Storytags does not make sense as a game unless you understand how hashtagging works. The rules attempt to provide for this by explaining hashtags as a way of ‘labelling a story’, but as we internet-people know all too well, hashtags are a difficult art to master. Some are used sarcastically, some are used ironically – people don’t always use hashtags to (directly) say what they mean. I feel that a player who did not understand the cultural connotations of hashtagging – for example my aunties and grandmother – would likely struggle with this game. Additionally, some people, like me, just aren’t great storytellers, which makes it hard to fully enjoy a game of Storytags. I found I was having great fun for three-quarters of the game, while my friends were telling stories, but dreaded my turn rolling around. There’s bound to be less confident storytellers during any given game of Storytags, and from reading the rules this shouldn’t be a problem – Storytags is just a game about telling stories; you don’t have to be funny or intelligent. However, I found when actually playing the game that most people expect there to be some kind of punchline in any given story, and the stories that did have such moments were generally met with more enjoyment. So if you don’t enjoy telling stories, I can’t imagine you would have much fun playing this game. Simply put, for some the idea of having to tell funny stories in front of a group of people is the furthest thing from a ‘good time’ they can imagine. Then again, perhaps giving these people the opportunity to develop their storytelling and social-interaction abilities is a good thing.
As a fan of deeply strategic games, rather than the ‘party game’ genre that Cards Against Humanity has spawned, Storytags did not really fit my idea of a great game. However, it is a good way to break the ice or discover something about your friends or family that you might never have thought to ask about. Storytags is good for a laugh and prompting social interaction between friends and family, and I think that is great thing to encourage.