For years, Smirk & Dagger has been making games where you stab your buddy in the back. Now they’re back with a whole new line of games, Smirk & Laughter. Their newest release, Before There Were Stars… brings creation mythology to your table. We were first drawn in by the beautiful components but ended up being blown away by the warm feelings the game inspired.
At the beginning of the game, each player gets a Story Card and Offering Bag in the matching color. The story card outlines what cards need to be used in each chapter of the story as well as a reminder of how many points each color star is worth. Each of the four chapters is broken up into three phases: Stargazing, Storytelling, and Appreciation.
During the Stargazing phase, each player takes a turn rolling 12 of the dice (the pips are stars!) and using the result to choose a star from the row of constellations. Each constellation has certain dice requirements that you need to have in order to get it (The Book needs a 4 and a 2 while Lightning needs a 1, a 2, and a 4). The dice get passed around the table until every player has chosen two constellations. If you don’t want or can’t get any of the cards in the row, you can take the top card from the deck as a blind draw, but you are stuck with what you get.
There are two schools of thought when picking your constellations: plotting out your story and picking accordingly or randomly picking cards and making it up without a blueprint. My group was solidly divided into both camps. Plotters were foiled when pantsers took the constellation they were angling for, but that led to tons of table talk and laughter.
The Storytelling phase is just that; you get to tell the story of your people. The first chapter is “In the Beginning…,” but you can phrase it however you want. Play goes around the table as each person tells the creation myth of their people. No two stories are the same because no two people have the same constellations.
You don’t have to be a master storyteller to play. It’s one of the things I love most about my group of friends and why I choose to play games with them, we know each other well enough to not dismiss the short but sweet story. After each story, we applauded the person’s efforts and, in some cases, asked questions that helped them flesh out their narrative. We know there is nothing harder than telling a story you are making up when that’s not your strong suit.
Last but not least, comes the Appreciation phase. This is where you award people stars in their offering bags. The more players there are, the more points you have to give, but you need to give everyone something (except yourself). Scoring is done in private so you never know who gave you the four points and who gave you two points. No peeking until the game is over!
This was the hardest part of the game for myself. I wanted to know how many points I got each round! When I opened my bag at the end, I was left wondering which parts of my story warranted four points and which were only worth two. Not knowing did allow me to relax into my story as the game progressed because I wasn’t trying to play to get points, but because I loved the story I was weaving.
Play continues with chapters two through four. As each chapter starts, you add two new constellations to your story. Cards from the previous chapter will be used to continue the thread of your story. You don’t have to use everything from previous chapters, but you don’t need to limit it to just the number shown.
Once the last chapter has been scored, it’s time for scoring and our favorite part of the game: Over the Moon. Each player takes a Moon token and takes a moment to tell their favorite part of someone else’s story, something they are over the moon about. They hand the taken to that player. While the Moon tokens are worth an additional star point, the warm fuzzy feelings you get from giving and receiving them are worth even more. The person with the most points is the Master Lore Giver.
This is by far my favorite part of the game and the one that drew me into the game beyond how pretty it is. When we started, I didn’t realize that they Over the Moon token grants points and just thought it was a really nice mechanic that rounds out a fun evening of storytelling. Before we went around the table at the end, you saw some of the people who aren’t natural storytellers sit back and look resigned to hear about how great the naturals were. And then the first person talked about how they wanted to know more about capturing fire that Bonnie talked about and how it hooked their imagination. Faces lit up and everyone was back into the mindset of enjoying themselves.
There is an optional rule that can be employed to make a better storytelling game. You Are Made of Starstuff allows you to offer another player one of your dice so they can get a constellation that would fit their story. That leaves you with one less die for you to use, but you do get to look at the top card of the deck as reward for your good deed. This can only be done once per game by each player, so use it wisely.
You don’t have to be a master storyteller to gaze at the night sky. Sometimes the best tales are the ones told in the stars.
What’s your favorite storytelling game? Let us know in the comments!
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Image credit: Dawn Dalton