July 5th, 2011 — games
Over the July 4th weekend, I had a chance to play a couple of games, both of which have been around for a while, so I won’t pretend to write reviews. I was meeting family for the weekend, and both my older brother and my son had not really played D&D [although I've played a couple of simple tabletop RPGs with my son]. My 18-year-old nephew has played and GM’ed many D&D 4e games, and he joined us.
D&D Board Game
First, we played Castle Ravenloft, the board game. I had heard good things about the game, and my nephew had played the sequel, Wrath of Ashardalon. There are several reviews that explain how to play these games in detail, but the gist is that it’s a dungeon crawler with 13 scenarios [with different conditions for victory] and a dynamic game board. The game has an element of the 4e rules in terms of healing surges and the different types of powers. But I thought this would be a good sort of intro game for my brother and a little variation for my kids. I loved this game, more than I expected, because it is one of those very well balanced yet somewhat unpredictable games.
What makes the game a challenge is that for each player’s turn, we had to add a new tile with a new monster, or draw an encounter card, which might reveal a trap, loss of points, or some other bad bit of news. And with some tiles, you get both a monster and an encounter card. Fairly early on, we had some awful bad luck with the dice, as we ditched the d20s that we had and searched for a ‘luckier’ one. At one point, we had 5 monsters, and we were all low on health, having used up all our healing surges. More than once, my son’s wizard died [three times, in fact] and my cleric managed to revive him. We were all down to 1-2 hit points when things took a turn for the better.
Quite unexpectedly, when we revealed the chapel and four new monsters, my son discovered a multiple attack that he had been saving for this last card, and he killed 3 of the 4 monsters, enabling to kill the fourth and grab the icon item to win the game. The game has a great mechanic for building tension, even despair, but includes space for strategy as well as chance to allow players to recover from disaster. It’s the sort of design and balance that reminds me of the Advanced Civilization board game. I also enjoyed the coop nature of the game–if you lose one member, you lose the game. I enjoyed it much more than Pandemic, which is a good game.
Castles and Crusades
A while back, while looking at various RPG systems, I stumbled across Castles and Crusades, a supposedly rules-light game that feels like a hybrid of early D&D and 3.5e. Again, this is another game with lots of reviews, with its share of detractors and fans. I liked the idea of no feats or skills and the reliance on 6 attributes for all checks and saves. I grabbed the Quick Start rules and a character sheet and thought it could be something we could play in a short time.
Character creation is indeed pretty quick, though we took some time to explain things to my brother and my son, as well as to go over the classes and races. Still, I can see where creating a character could take 15 minutes, as Troll Lords claims. I used the very simple adventure in the quick start, thinking even a group of newbies would knock it out in an hour or so.
I think this was indeed a great choice for players new to tabletop RPG. Even though my son has played some simple RPGs, like Mouse Guard, this was more complex and closer to D&D, which he has been really wanting to play. For him, this gave me the opportunity to work some on gaming etiquette. He’s a very imaginative sort [a 'hambone' as my mother calls him], so he can get carried away, especially in this session where we had a great mix of humor and adventure. C&C didn’t overwhelm my son and brother with too many options and rules that D&D can bring. It allowed them to focus on their characters and getting into the game.
My brother played his Skullcrusher fighter well, focused on getting money and, where possible, killing. My son struggled with his character but seeing the others, he got the idea to develop a character, not just stats and abilities. And my nephew played his cleric well, bringing his character’s religion into the game on several occasions.
The session took a good two and a half hours, though it had only two fights. [I skipped the treant encounter partly by accident but also because I had them play level 2 characters, who had few hit points. Plus, I wanted to finish the adventure.] In both cases, the creatures pushed the players, who were somewhat acting in isolation. Unlike Castle Ravenloft, the players in this adventure had no reason to play fully coop. In fact, my nephew’s cleric repeatedly withheld information which angered my brother’s fighter, who hated all spellcasters to begin with. We all had a lot of fun with these 15-minute characters, who begin to flesh out during the game.
We ended with player victory and a lot of fun. Everyone was definitely game for continuing to play. In fact, I’m working now on using Maptools for us to try playing online with Skype. My brother admitted that he had doubts about how well the online play would capture the great part of our adventure, which was the interaction among the players. But, as he said, it’s better than not playing.
Castles and Crusades has some issues, even though I plan to continue using it. For example, I thought the money was far too plentiful. The characters had much higher AC as a result. To make it worse, even though I cut back on the gold that the prefab adventure included, they still walked away with about 4000 gold among the three of them. I think 1/20 of that would have been much better. I also did not care for the character sheets, which really didn’t allow space for abilities and which seemed very repetitive and poorly laid out, but that’s something I can rectify myself easily enough. I also think that once I have the actual core books rather than just the quick start, I’ll have a better feel for the game. As it was, I went to the 3.5e spells for details, which didn’t quite fit.
I’m hoping that our online sessions with Maptools goes well so that we can keep playing and maybe move to a better virtual tabletop, specifically Fantasy Grounds.
March 4th, 2011 — comics, games
Back in the winter, I bought the PDF for the Mouse Guard RPG, a game based on the very enjoyable Mouse Guard comics, a story that has fans among children and adults. Red Walls is another fantasy that has its fans, but neither the kids nor I really got into it. I never got around to reading the PDF until recently because we had our Star Wars game going. [BTW, if you are interested in Mouse Guard RPG, the book is very hard to come by now although you can download the PDF. A new boxset is expected later this spring or early summer. I also recommend the downloads at the Mouse Guard wiki.]
What I find attractive about this RPG is that it seems so much more focused on the characters–on their beliefs, instincts, and goals–than D&D, which often seems more focused on skills and on consistent character behavior. The GM’s task is less to create a story than to challenge the players, to make them rethink what they value, and to sometimes act contrary to those values. In fact, it is crucial that players fail some tests–to advance their skills and to earn something called ‘checks’ which allow them to take actions in the second part of the game, the players’ turn. The game is somewhat formulaic.
- There’s a mission which tells the mice what they have to do.
- The players write their individuals goals in the context of the mission.
- The GM chooses two types of obstacles [which can be a simple test, or roll of dice, a complex set of tests, or a conflict].
- If the players fail to succeed in the
Recently, I got the bug to play it, so I poured over the manual, which is certainly a beautiful book, as well a different organization with character creation coming towards the end instead of the beginning. I decided to play one of the sample missions in the book and use the premade characters with my kids. [For an excellent review and a more detailed overview of the game, see the review at Gnome Stew.]
We played the “Find the Grain Peddler” sample mission from the book. My 11-year-old son played Kenzie, and my 9-year-old daughter played Sadie. Overall, it was good but a little slow in the second part, partly because even though I thought I knew the rules, I found that I had to check the book. My crib notes helped in several spots, but they didn’t capture all the details. The kids said that they liked it, particularly with the action and the opportunities to act out their characters. However, my son had reached a point at the end where he was ready to end since they had accomplished their goals. Although I explained the purpose of awarding the points (to learn that part of the game and to award points for the next session), he was ready to be done.
I think a third or fourth player would have been nice but would have made the game longer. I really enjoyed the game and look forward to more impromptu GMing. All in all, it was a very good session. My only criticism (and this might be more how I played the game than the game itself) is that the kids had a lot more dialogue and roleplaying in our Star Wars game than in Mouse Guard. Maybe it was the familiarity. But I also allowed them to drive a lot in the Star Wars sessions. I had a couple of key bits planned, but we had some fun, extended conversations in Star Wars. I think also their familiarity with the Star Wars characters and universe allowed a lot more opportunities and known history to play off of. But I think we could get to that point with Mouse Guard. By far and away, there was more variety to the conflicts in Mouse Guard. And even though complex on paper, the conflicts went far faster than fights in our Star Wars minis (where positioning has a large role important).
The kids understood their goals, beliefs and instincts and played to them pretty well. For example, my daughter played Sadie as kind-hearted, making sure that the peddler wasn’t injured even though they suspected him as a traitor.
One thing I would do differently is have some kind of flavor roleplaying at the outset. First, my kids (and probably a lot of players) like to roleplay, and, second, I think allowing them to do that first avoids the problem of my talking too much in the beginning as the GM. I could this being something like “You’ve woken up early. You have more than an hour before you report in, so what do you do?” or “Whom do you see on the streets? What is going on in the town?”
I think we’ve definitely found a great tabletop RPG for the family.
So here’s an outline of the hazards and events in our session. I didn’t capture the roleplay dialog, which was there but less than usual because we were so focused on learning the rules and playing the game for the first time.
Hazard 1 (Mice): Sadie rolled her Scout 2 with additional dice from Kenzie, wise, and gear. Peddler rolled 6D for Nature with 3 successes, and Sadie rolled 5D for 2 successes. She did not have any 6s so she could spend a Fate point to reroll.
They couldn’t find the peddler, but they did see his cart. Kenzie decided to search it for any evidence of the peddler being a traitor. (I thought it was a little vague, but I counted it.) Kenzie rolled 5D for 4 successes, a very excellent roll. As a result, Kenzie found the map.
Since there was no failed search, I didn’t apply a twist.
Hazard 2 (Animal): As a result of their rummaging through the grain, the snake appears behind Kenzie to attack him. Sadie jumps to his defense. This initiates a conflict with the snake. Sadie rolled the disposition and added her bonus for a total of 6. The snake had a poor roll and had a disposition of 5. I then explained how the conflict works and asked that they collaborate on who did what action. They alternated actions: Sadie, Kenzie, Sadie.
- Sadie – To kill the snake to protect Kenzie
- Kenzie – To distract the snake so that Kenzie could kill it (Not a very good goal)
- Snake – To kill the mice to protect the nest
Action 1: Sadie – Attack, Snake – Attack
Sadie used a trait, gear, and a Persona point to roll 6D for 3 successes. The snake rolled 7 and had 3 successes.
Action 2: Kenzie – Feint, Snake – Defend
Kenzie was lucky and had a good round. He use a trait and gear to roll 5D for 3 successes. The snake’s disposition was 0.
I had them describe the fight, and I then added that Sadie cut the snake’s belly at the bulge, which then spilled out the peddler.
The players talked to the peddler but didn’t confront him with the map. The peddler said that he was fine and needed to make it to Barkstone. The mice decided to accompany him with Sadie offering to pull the cart so the peddler could rest, but he continued to look in the grain. Kenzie asked repeatedly if he was looking for something. The peddler acted nervous, and I tried to bait Kenzie with dialogue like “What? Are you suggesting something? I . . . I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Still, Kenzie did not have a direct confrontation.
They reached Barkstone, and the mice parted ways . . . except then Kenzie said that they would follow the peddler to see whom he was meeting. (He didn’t confront the peddler because he wanted to find who the contact was. Sneaky boy.)
Hazard 3 (mice): The peddler tried to hide from the mice to meet his contact. I make this a complex test.
First, The peddler used his Nature to hide, rolling 6D for 2 successes. Kenzie rolled 5D for 3 successes. He described how he spotted the peddler as he was meeting someone in an alley, whom I say runs at the sight of the mice. With the peddler then bound, Kenzie quizzes the peddler.
Then, Kenzie tried to persuade the peddler to spill his guts. I could made this a conflict, but I could tell the session had been long, so I made it a simple test. Peddler rolls 4D for the Persuader skill + 1D for the Cunning trait for a total of 1 success. ONE! Kenzie rolls 5D for 4 successes. The peddler and the players then act out the conversation, with the peddler revealing that he was selling the secrets of the Lockhaven defenses to the weasels for gold. When Kenzie asks if he has no loyalty, he says that as a trader, he has a home in many cities.
October 24th, 2010 — games
I have found a couple of interesting tabletop RPG game sites: RPG Blog II and Gnome’s Stew. Gnome’s Stew is a multi-author blog and has varied articles, including some nice How-to’s, reviews, and tips. I look forward to reading them in the feature.
I also had some money from a recent birthday, so I splurged on GameScience dice and a nice reversible, flat-bottomed dice bag from Marsbarn.
July 9th, 2010 — games
Badly needing a break from work Wednesday night, I asked the kids if they wanted to play another adventure from the Star Wars game that we started. They bolted from the computer, ‘yes!’
I told them the name of the story [Building a Better Dreadnaught], which obviously gave away what was going on in the game. Grace exchanged Ahsoka for a much more powerful Aayla Secura. Overall, this was more of a role-playing adventure session with no combat. I was trying to teach them while in game about what they could do, so I was giving them a few hints, like searching places. They tended to focus on talking to characters as the main means of getting info, as opposed to looking for themselves. They are still trying to gain their confidence and to look at alternatives rather than the first idea that comes to them. Again, I feel that I was trying to get them to talk with each other and agree on a plan, not arbitrarily but for good reasons.
Also, I had a planned story around their undercover attempt, which would fail. But the kids had the dice rolling their way all evening. So, I was scurrying for a plan when Gage provided me a great opportunity.
I thought this session was too talky for them, but, no, they assured me that they really liked the game. They wanted to play more and looked forward to the next one.
The game starts on the Nelvaan snowy plains. Secura and Fisto are wearing the uniforms of the assassins to try to get into the separatists’ base on Nelvaan. I tell that their assignment is to 1] find out what’s happening on Nelvaan and 2] find out where the separatists are building their weapon.
The kids have the Delta Squad clones and Captain Rex with them. I ask them to place their characters and ask them to think what clones, if any, are going with Secura and Fisto and where the others are. At first they wanted to take 3 clones with them into the base, but I mentioned that the Separatists might not want all of them and kill them except for one. The kids talk and decide to take only Sev. The others are in cover further away and track Secura and Fisto. They approach a cave they think is the base and indeed see a T1 loading crates onto a small ship with two commando droids, a chameleon droid, a separatist commando, and a Techno Union Warrior.
Sep commando – ‘Halt! Who approaches? Take another step, and you’re dead where you stand!’
Secura – ‘We are the assassins!’
commando – ‘What assassins? What are you talking about?’
Fisto – ‘We were hired to kill Lem Garon. And we were told to come here.’
commando – ‘Urm. Hold on.’ [summons droid to guard and then leaves for the cave. He returns moments later with General Loathsom.]
Loathsom – ‘What assassins . . . are you?’ [speaks in a halting gutteral, aggressive voice]
Fisto – ‘We killed Lem Garon as hired. Our comm device was damaged in the fight–’
Loathsom – ‘Fight? What . . . . assassins get in a fire fight . . . on Coruscant?’
Secura – ‘There were two Jedi with him.’
Loathsom – ‘And you . . . escaped from the . . . Jedi?’ [His tone is very incredulous.]
Fisto – ‘Yes. I mean, no, we killed them?’
Loathsom – ‘You killed . . . Jedi? You two? Impossible!’ [He orders more droids.]
Fisto – ‘Yes, but we snuck up on them and hit them with grenades.’ [I ask Gage to roll for persuasion. I set Loathsom's doubt very high at 19. Gage rolls a 20.]
Loathsom – ‘That is . . . interesting. Who is the clone?’
Secura – ‘A prisoner.’
Loathsom – ‘Kill him. We need . . . no prisoners.’
Fisto – ‘But he’s a member of the famous Delta Squad. We could possibly get valuable information.’ [Again, I ask them to roll, and Gage throws another high, 19. I'm wishing he could throw my d20 at games.]
Loathsom – ‘Well . . . then, you are . . . in time. We have loaded . . . and are leaving. Your next assignment . . . awaits.’
[We switch maps to a ship interior. Sev is put into a detention chamber and the assassins are told to rest for the journey to Concordia. The NPCs go to assigned stations to pilot the ship, check the engine, guard the prisoner, and man the one canon onboard.
Gage then talks aloud, to both me and Grace, proposing two options--1. Try to take over the ship by throwing the droids in the air locks, or 2. explore the ship for clues. Grace wants to fight, but I remind them of their objectives. Secura and Fisto decide to split up and to look for information.]
Secura [approaching the commando at the reactors] – ‘Can you tell me what’s going on here?’
commando – ‘What? We’re going to Concordia? Do you know how to stabilize reactor cores? If not, you need to leave this area.’ [Secura leaves.]
Fisto – ‘T1, I need to know what were you doing on Nelvaan?’
T1 droid – ‘Sir, all procedural routines are accessible in my data logs. Please refer to the T1 version 683 user manual for access to those logs and any other functions. This T1 unit has completed its routine and is shutting down for hibernation until the ship arrives at Concordia.’
Secura [going to the Techno Union Warrior/scientist, who took something from the crates and is working in the small workshop on the ship] – ‘What are you doing? Can you tell me what is going on?’
warrior – ‘What? Why are you asking such questions, assassin? You have your job and I have mine. You do not look smart enough to put a slave bolt on a droid.’
[Secura leaves and heads for the bridge, going directly to Loathsom. Meanwhile, Fisto addresses the commando who is now in the hangar.]
Fisto – ‘So, we are headed to Concordia? Can you tell me what is the crates?’
commando – ‘You assassins ask a lot of questions.’
Fisto – ‘We can’t be too careful. Besides, I do not trust Loathsom?’
commando – ‘What?! What are you saying?’
Fisto – ‘I’m only saying that I do not–’
commando – ‘You had better be careful what you say. Why are you suspicious? You are a hired assassin anyway.’ [He puts his hand on his blaster.]
Fisto – ‘I am only saying that I do not think killing Lem was wise. We should have –’
commando – ‘ah, I see. A separatist general want-to-be. We all question sometimes what we do, but these generals have a bigger picture. They know things you and I do not. Stay in your place and keep a low profile.’ [He walks away, still somewhat suspicious but needing sleep.]
Secura appears on the bridge.
Loathsom – ‘What are . . . you doing . . . here?!’
Secura – ‘I wondered if you could tell me–’
Loathsom ‘Tell you nothing!!’ [His anger is intense. Gage then Grace, 'Leave! He's getting mad!' Grace isn't quite picking up on the verbal cues as I thought she might. But at Gage's urging, she leaves and then heads to the cannon manned by a droid. She takes the droid and throws it in the shaft. I stop her and explain that if she really wants to do that, I'll be forced to react. She retracts the action and goes back to the rest area where the Techno Union Warrior is asleep.
She picks up on it and goes to the area where he was working. I ask to roll for all three work areas, and she, too, has the god of dice with her. She finds nothing at the first two stations but at third, the display shows the following message that I give them on a slip of paper:
Gholyhu wr Pdod Ydglwk rq Guxfnhqzhoo
Gage immediately sees it for what it is and begins to work on breaking the code. He tries a couple of Caesar codes but they are wrong. I then tell them to hang onto the message. They might find a clue later. But they still fret about solving it.
The ship then lands and we use a third map. I ask what has happened to the other clones. They say that they have followed at a great distance and are on the other side of the planet, where they are monitoring.
When Secura and Fisto exit the ship, I position a host of powerful characters, including Durge
, to discourage a possible fight . . . for now, at least.]
Durge – ‘Loathsom! Finally you are here . . . I want off this moon before I can no longer resist killing all the Mandalorians here. You brought the slave circuits?’
Loathsom – ‘Yes. We were able to use Nelvaan’s low gravity and extreme cold to remove traces of the Hive Virus.’
Fisto – ‘Hive Virus?’
Loathsom – ‘Yes . . . it can drive one . . . insane in a few hours.’
Durge – Who are you?’
Loathsom – ‘Oh, these are . . . the assassins we sent after . . . that talkative Lem Garon. You should like them . . . Durge. They killed 2 Jedi.’
Durge – ‘You two? Jedi killers?!’ [I ask Grace to roll . . . and their luck is with them still because she gets a 17 with a +5 bonus. I might have to rethink my checks and saves.]
Secura – ‘The Jedi did not see us and we threw grenades that killed them both?’
Durge – ‘Tell me you were not so scared that you forgot to get their light sabers!’
Secura – ‘We did not have time . . . others were coming.’
Durge – ‘Well, then, it is good to have more than 1 Jedi hunter in this tin pile of an army’ [He laughs and Secura, Loathsom, and Fisto laugh too, where it then becomes a silly laughter.] ‘And what is this clone trooper? Why is he not dead?’
Secura – ‘We thought that he might be questioned, to reveal more of the Republic’s strategy and plans.’
Durge – ‘Highly unlikely. I have questioned clones before, and they are too well trained to succumb to threats and torture.’
Fisto – ‘But what if we infect him with the Hive Virus and send him back?’
Loathsom – ‘Durge, I believe we have found someone cunning enough to match you!’
Durge – ‘That is a good idea . . . we could leave a small group here while we leave with the slave circuits. Then attract a republic ship.’
Fisto – ‘On second thought, that might not work.’
Durge – ‘No, it is good. In fact, you two assassins will stay here with the droids.’
At this point, I stop the adventure. I really wasn’t sure where to go with the adventure for a while. I expected their undercover attempt to fail, but they had those 3 very high rolls that prevented their discovery. The plan was to imprison them all and then have Delta Squad report their capture, leading to another adventure in which two more Jedi join Delta Squad to free the prisoners. But Fisto’s idea was a good opportunity.
However, Gage is very anxious. He wants me to play on their side, but I explain that I will take care of things. He starts talking about a very complex plan for the next time, but I remind him of Durge’s idea–to leave a small group behind. And I point out that their group already includes 3 very powerful characters in Rex, Fisto, and Secura. He then sees where I’m going and he relaxes until he remembers the coded message. ‘How are we going to solve it?’ I tell him that there’s still more to come and they might find a clue for solving it . . . if they pay attention and remember to look around.
July 6th, 2010 — games
Even though my son and I have enjoyed playing Star Wars miniatures, I’ve wanted to adapt for it a while, to make it more like an rpg. Now, you might ask, why not play a straight-up rpg?
- We have a lot of star wars minis, not to mention some 10 maps. Many of these characters aren’t very useful in a normal Star Wars mini game, but in an rpg, they become very useful.
- The Clone Wars offers very good, strong female characters that my daughter likes.
- The Star Wars universe, especially the Clone Wars, is really quite rich in existing characters, plots, and intrigues. It provides both ready-made resources as well as room for creative ideas.
- The kids know these characters and can play them while adding their own touches. We don’t have to spend gobs of time creating characters and stats.
- Though lacking the subtlety of d20 RPGs, adapting minis allows for simple but flavorful checks and rolls. The story and the interaction are the most important parts of playing while the checks add some element of chance but do not dominate the game.
- My kids love stories and role playing, so giving them the chance to interact in the game in ways other than fighting is a sure success.
I’ll briefly describe what I did to adapt the game and then describe our first session.
Adapting the minis game
I explained to the kids that they could talk to each other, could interact with anything that was logically on the map or on fallen characters, and could take whatever action they wanted as long as it wasn’t impossible or unreasonable. For example, the kids wanted to immediately leave for a planet and started pulling characters to include in their ship, but I reminded them that they couldn’t simply recruit without going through the proper channels, which was the Jedi Council in this case.
Star Wars minis have only basic numerical traits–hit points, attack, defense, and damage. I broke down skills into basic types: physical feats, computer hacks/repairs, stealth/tracking, dialogue/persuasion, demolition/traps. Anyone could roll a d20. To figure bonuses, I used the characters’ attack bonus but only if it made sense for the character to have that bonus. For example, Sev is a sniper and would have stealth or tracking abilities. Fixer, on the other hand, would have computer hacking, repairs, and trap bonuses. Jedi always get dialogue/persuasion bonuses. To make it work, I found that using 1/2 the attack bonus worked well. For example, if Ahsoka was trying to convince a character to talk, she would get a +5 persuasion bonus on her roll–her attack bonus is 9, so half of that is 4.5 which I round up. If a clone trooper tried to persuade, he would get no bonus. [Yeah, there's threaten, but I consider that different and would use it, if the kids called out that specific action.]
Death and dying are a little tricky. Normally in minis, a character who loses all his or her hit points is removed from the game. I adjusted this somewhat but only for major and secondary characters–once they lost all their hit points, they were unconscious. If their surviving party members won or even retreated, the fallen character lived to fight another day. Fallen characters cannot be revived during a battle, however. But I think I need some way to allow the players to render an NPC unconscious, particularly a grunt who might give up information. I think a simple option is to allow them to say they are shooting to maim or stun, not kill, before an attack.
Other than this, I stayed with the standard rules for Star Wars minis. [Unfortunately, Wizards of the Coast no longer has the Star Wars license, and they have removed the minis products and downloads from their site, so I have no active link for the rules. The closest that I have found is this Word doc at the Kansas City Star Wars Minis site. You can still find starter sets and boosters on Amazon for decent prices.]
The result? So far, it’s working wonderfully. It’s fairly easy to get up and running, and the kids really wanted to keep playing it today in our first session. I may tweak it, but I think it’s a great intro to tabletop RPGs without getting bogged down in the details that put off young kids who just want to play. In fact, after we finish our little campaign, I might create something like it to use with my son’s friends. I love the idea of a house full of kids playing some tabletop games, especially if they played together when they’re older.
For those who don’t want to read the following, I really enjoyed when my daughter suggested taking the uniforms of the would-be assassins and pretending to be them to go to the next planet. I wasn’t expecting that at all and it forced me to rethink the next adventure somewhat. It was exactly the sort of thing, though, that I was hoping for, the bit of creative thinking.
As we put up the game, my wife says, ‘You’re making up a story for them? They are really enjoying that.’ Even my 87-year-old mother watched and listened for a while.
Indeed, as we played, we had a time quite unlike any that we’ve had playing any other game. It’s that experience in which we sort of let go of parent-child-sibling roles and interacted with each other as gamers. We didn’t forget those familial roles, but, for an hour, they were less important than the ones we played. I’ve played a lot of video and other board games with my kids but none of them were like this experience. And I think the reason is that the face-to-face gaming had something to do with it, a lack of a screen. But I think it was as much the fact the kids had only a few rules but lots of room for creativity. When my kids play games like Lego Batman, for example, they enjoy just running around and doing their own thing. I’m reluctant to call this minis RPG adventure a sandbox. It was much closer to an improvisational performance. I don’t want to exaggerate what we did, but it was different than games that I’ve played with my kids in the past, except maybe when they were very small and we’d play with figures in some ad hoc adventure and conversation.
But gone were the typical frustrations of computer gaming, of trying to deal with awkward controls, bad cameras, and poorly implemented cooperative action. I can’t tell the number of times someone gets upset about the other going a different direction. There was none of that frustration. Similarly, my daughter normally hates playing the minis because it’s all about moving and combat. But she likes the characters and will occasionally play with them, acting out some scene on the coffee table. This time, she was into the game. More importantly, she had a couple of really big moments that made her feel good and gave her a reason to brag.
I’m no Wil Wheaton, but here it goes. To set it up, my daughter is 8 years old, and my son turns 11 in a month. My son and I had been talking about playing some miniatures for a while. We were at my mother’s with a subset of the minis when I had the idea for a story, something to get both kids to play. I spent the night before thinking through the details of the intro part and the first adventure, collecting my cast of characters, choosing the maps, and figuring out the locations of key characters and objects on the maps.
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