I’ve been making my through the games that I saw at this year’s GenCon, first of fantasy deck-building games and then some science fiction games, but I’d like to focus now on games with a particular audience focus: games for kids.
Over the years, I’ve become a huge fan of RPG-in-a-box style games. While I love my old school Dungeons & Dragons, the fact of the matter is that I don’t always have the time to create an ongoing, engaging storyline, create NPCs, and so on. Games that can generate the storytelling experience that I love from role-playing games, but eliminate much of the up front work, are definitely things that catch my eye. One of the knockout games of this type is Plaid Hat Games’ Mice & Mystics (Amazon, Plaid Hat), which I first learned about and discussed at GenCon in 2012. My youngest son was a mere 2 years old at the time, so too young for the game, but now it’s one of his favorite games, and one of the more epic games that are enjoyed equally by myself, both my kids, and my wife. The game has two expansions, Heart of Glorm and Downwood Tales, as well as a spin-off Tail Feathers (Amazon, Plaid Hat), which is more of a tactical wargame in a box, as you play mice and rats who wage war on each other by riding on the back of sparrows and ravens. There are also infantry troops, and the heroes and villains from Mice & Mystics can be incorporated as solo units in Tail Feathers.
Jerry Hawthorne, creator of these games, has a new release coming up from Plaid Hat Games, which seems like it will be equally endearing. The game, Stuffed Fables, tells the story of a group of stuffed animals who, upon the first night that their child owner is in her big girl bed, learn that there are evil forces that seek to draw her into a world of nightmares. The first in Plaid Hat Games’ AdventureBook series, Stuffed Fables is an adventures that takes place by proceeding through pages in a book. The book contains both the map for the scene that is unfolding, as well as the storyline you follow as you play, giving you directions of what encounters take place on the given map, what happens when villains are defeated (or not), whether any new information is provided about the storyline, and so on. (This is one advantage over Mice & Mystics, which includes an expansive tile-based game board but then has you flipping through a separate story book to figure out what happens on a particular tile.)
The miniatures they had at GenCon were 3D printed miniatures, so weren’t the final grade of material (they were a bit brittle), but the detail on them was exquisite. I played Lumpy, a stuffed elephant, while my youngest played the wizened old Stitch. The teddy bear Theodora and the archer bunny Flops rounded out the initial crew. As you proceed in the game, there are two other PC stuffed animals that you can discover to join your band. And the villains are terrifying creatures, as if Tim Burton had designed Sid’s toys from Toy Story.
You play a round by pulling 6-sided dice out of a bag. The dice are a variety of colors, each of which correspond to certain activities. Also, each character has a benefit of being able to re-roll a certain color of dice. For exaple, Flops has a particular advantage on using the yellow dice, which allow for ranged attacks. You get to split your dice among various actions: melee or ranged combat, searching, movement, etc. You can save a die on your card for later, or also use the “Encourage” action to provide a die to another character to save on their card for their turn (or to roll for defense if attacked). Health is tracked in terms of stuffing, so if you lose a combat roll you literally get the stuffing knocked out of you. If you lose all your stuffing, you don’t die, but you’re stuck lying on the ground unable to do much until you are able to gather enough stuffing (gained through rolling white dice) to get back up.
My picture really doesn’t do the game justice, so I do recommend if the concept interests you that you check out the announcement at Plaid Hat Games, where it is currently available for pre-order. This is a substantial game at a price point of $59.95, and definitely a good one to introduce to younger players.
Mole Rats in Space
The game company Peaceable Kingdom has created a game called Mole Rats in Space (Amazon, Peaceable Kingdom) which has somewhat the feel of chutes and ladders, but throws in a space station, mole rats, and poisonous snakes. The game is designed by Matt Leacock, who is well known for the great cooperative games Pandemic and Forbidden Island.
Mole rats, it turns out, are the most cooperative species in the animal kingdom. Mole Rats in Space is a cooperative game that focuses around 2-4 mole rats on a space station that is being overrun by snakes. (Insert child-inappropriate Samuel L. Jackson quote here.) They have to get four pieces of equipment from around the station before they can leave, and they will not leave until all the mole rats make it safely to the escape pod. Leave no mole rat behind!
Play happens through the reveals from a deck of cards, each of which direct the mole rats how they are allowed to move and give directions on how the snakes move. So, for example, maybe all the mole rats move 3 spaces but one of the blue snakes has to move to the nearest ladder. The players decide how these directions are implemented, so if there are multiple blue snakes in this situation, they get to decide which one moves to the nearest ladder. They also get to decide if their mole rats move 3 spaces left or 3 spaces right. Oh, yeah, and in addition to ladders leading to the escape pod, there are vents that suck anything from that space into the void of cold nothingness outside the ship. You want to avoid those with your mole rats but try to get the snakes to land on them.
My kids weren’t with me when I came to the Peaceable Kingdom booth, so it was me and their director of marketing playing this game … but it was still a lot of fun. It’s simple, but stands on its own as an enjoyable experience. This is probably the highest-age game that Peaceable Kingdom puts out, as they focus more on games for younger kids.
In my earlier post on fantasy deck-building games, I somehow forgot to mention that Harry Potter has also made his way into this genre, with Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (Amazon, USAopoly). It is a cooperative deck-building game, where players take on the roles of the key students as they try to defend the wizarding school and each other from the evil forces that would do it harm. I’ve heard good things about this game, though I’ll confess that I’ve never personally played it. The core box seems to come with 7 different games/scenarios that you play through.
This year saw the release of the Monster Box of Monsters expansion for the game. The expansion adds Luna Lovegood as a playable character (though it doesn’t expand the game to 5 players). It does include 5 new games/scenarios to add, and also introduces some new dynamics to the game, such as deck thinning, which were apparently missing from the original game.
The Grimm Forest
The Grimm Forest is an upcoming from Druid City Games in partnership with Skybound Entertainment, which definitely looks to be interesting. It is currently available for pre-order through its successful Kickstarter page, and the version of the game they were showing off at the Skybound booth showed that it will be a high quality game product once it gets delivered.
You play the nieces and nephews of the three little pigs. In secret, you decide what materials you are going to gather to build your house. If you are alone gathering materials, you get more materials. If multiple pigs show up at the same place, they have to share the materials. The playing of Friends and Fable cards modify the results and throw new complications in the way. As players gather sufficient materials, they are able to build their houses. The first pig to build their three houses wins.
I’ve got some mixed feelings on including Kosmos’ Brutal Kingdom (Amazon, Kosmos) in this list, because I’m not sure it’s particularly oriented toward young kids. On the plus side, the artwork is beautiful, portraying an array of anthropomorphic animals that represent the two factions of a kingdom. The cards each perform a different function, described on the card. Some eliminate other cards from play, while others allow you to swap cards with other players or with extra cards in the middle of the play area, or force other players to trade one of their cards. Some of the cards are worth “influence points,” as well.
Deciding when to play specific cards takes a surprising amount of strategy. The set-up involves passing cards to neighbors, so each player knows one card in their neighbor’s hand out of a total of four cards each. Each “chapter” of the game goes over four rounds, with the 3-4 players each playing a card. If you are able to eliminate an opponent’s card, you gain an elimination token, worth 1 point apiece in the final scoring.
You can also gain three different type of influence points from a pool of tokens, assuming certain characters make it to the end of the round without being eliminated. There are a total of 13 influence tokens, of three types: royal, mystical, and clerical. The scoring of the influence tokens is a bit complicated, based on how many tokens remain in the pool. So if players gain all of the royal influence, for example, then the royal influence tokens are worthless. But if you had the only mystical token in a given round, it would be worth 12 points, for the remaining 12 mystical tokens in the pool.
While this is all complex, my 7-year-old caught on to the play itself surprisingly quickly, and won our first game. Once you get through a few games and figure out how the cards interact, the play goes incredibly quickly. Even with a demo, I did trip over some of the rules and found myself having to reread the rule manual more than once to get myself straightened out.
I’ll confess that I wasn’t particularly expecting this one to rank high among the family games, but it was received with enthusiasm. It’s a clever, fun, and beautiful game to add to your game library, particularly if you’re looking for a game that goes quickly and can fit easily in a bag for transport.