If you’ve always wanted to recruit a who’s who of characters from folklore, mythology, and the public realm and then send them to fight and die on your behalf, Storybook Brawl is the game for you.
Designed by the Good Luck Games of Olympia, Washington, Brawl is free to play and has been working its way through Steam Early Access since its debut in mid-June. It’s a card-based auto-battler, which makes it an entry point into a relatively new genre of strategy. Anyone who played Valve’s Dota Underlords last summer should be in good shape here.
In Storybook Brawl, you choose a hero character that you want to control, such as Merlin, Loki or Morgan le Fey, who will give you a special passive bonus. Each round you receive limited resources to put together an offensive series of up to seven characters selected from a randomly generated pool of heroes, villains, animals, fantasy races and monsters.
In the combat phase, your characters will then attack your opponents until one side loses all of its minions. The losing player takes some damage and returns to the planning phase. In each round, the winners are those who survive to finish 1st through 4th.
It’s a little difficult to explain, admittedly, and it doesn’t help that Storybook Brawl doesn’t have a tutorial at the time of writing. At the moment there is only a short YouTube video that is meant to walk players through the highlights of the game.
It doesn’t take long to figure out how the game works, however, and once you’ve done it, it has a solid, addicting quality to it. Matches are quick, occasionally malicious, and easy to enter and exit. Once you hit 10th or so, you can usually get enough randomly generated passive skills, active buffs, character upgrades, and special treasures together to get really silly.
The Good Luck Games designers are a distributed team that works in Washington, Colorado, and California. What first caught my attention about Storybook Brawl was its pedigree.
The development team is led by Matthew Place, the former lead designer of the first three sets of Blizzard’s digital card game Hearthstone and the trading card game World of Warcraft. The team also includes Josh Utter-Leyton, a former Magic: The Gathering professional who works as an engineer, and Matt Nass, who has five Magic Grand Prix wins and codes the client.
You also recently inducted Luis Scott-Vargas from the Magic Hall of Fame as Vice President of Marketing at Good Luck. The team currently consists of 7 full-time members, with art and 3D modeling tasks being carried out by a variety of contractors.
The core members of the team started Storybook Brawl in February 2020 as a quarantine project from home among friends, having previously worked on the card games Eternal and The Elder Scrolls: Legends.
Patch 0.60.2. This is planned as a tournament patch! https://t.co/AXCp3JhL8u pic.twitter.com/Ea1Ur3CIlq
– Storybook Brawl (@StorybookBrawl) August 9, 2021
They were able to bring the game to Steam Early Access about 14 months later, which is incredibly fast for any game project, Early Access or not.
“It was shockingly stable,” Place told GeekWire. “We had a few bugs, but it’s funny. Having worked at some big companies like Blizzard, Hasbro, and Wizards of the Coast, we have a lot fewer problems. I do not get it. We feel kind of happy. The engineers, the people in the team, are simply super talented. “
The big commonality between Storybook Brawl and Hearthstone is especially the character design. In Brawl, public domain characters like Cinderella, the Three Blind Mice, Humpty Dumpty, and Peter Pan are given a weird paint job to turn them into the kind of action heroes this type of game calls for.
Snow White is a vampire here who gets stronger every time one of her dwarf retinues dies, Cupid is a flying archer who can turn enemies against one another, and Romeo is a powerful front-line fighter who, if killed, summons back the stronger Juliet into the fight.
“Part of our goal with this IP is to take things from around the world,” said Place, “and twist them in a way that makes them interesting and surprising. We did that when we were working on the first design for Hearthstone. We’d take World of Warcraft and say, ‘How are we going to twist it, make it funny, make it silly the Hearthstone way?’ “
“It’s a different angle, but we took the same approach here with Storybook, where we know people know these characters. But let’s make them interesting anyway, not just what they know, but twist them so that people lean against them. “What’s going on here? That doesn’t look like Snow White. What’s your story? ‘”
Storybook Brawl is currently slated to exit Steam Early Access sometime in late 2021 or early 2022. Good Luck Games is internally discussing at the time of writing how to handle features like content and balance patches; Place suggested that in the future they could release new heroes in groups of 3 along with more characters and maps.