There is a start line between Role Playing Games and Board Games. It’s a line that both genres love to approach and on rare occasions cross. Board games are increasingly reliant on telling rich stories with plenty of player choices to adjust circumstances, and RPGs have, for years, incorporated miniatures and physical components to their storytelling environment. As both genres dip into the other’s territory, we tend to get a product that can sometimes be more complicated than either one on their own, making them less than ideal candidates as entry points for newer players. That isn’t necessarily the point of a crossbreed of two opposing hobbies, but it is an unfortunate reality. Sure, there are some solid story driven games out there, but ones that really let you craft the story yourself is rare. Throw in the quest driven cooperative aspect of RPGs and it’s even less so. The idea of a strictly storytelling game is off putting for some. “I’ll push my cubes from one circle to the next, thank you very much, no need to have fairies and dragons and unicorns giving me quests where I have to actually speak to a toad and then toss an enchanted pan-flute into a wishing well”. Storytelling and role-playing requires far more imagination than your standard euro-game, but it can often times require much less weighty, calculated decisions. Hybrids suffer from an overabundance of both. Now, enter The Siblings Trouble.
This is a storytelling game from Pencil First Games, designed by Andy Ashcraft, Eduardo Baraf and Kim Robinson. In it, players take on the roles of a group of kids that can go on one of four potential adventures. A deck is built out of cards consisting of locations specific to a particular adventure, path cards, a “big secret” card and a final boss card that is protecting an epic treasure. On their turn, players flip a card and resolve the contents of it. Often times this requires a roll from their characters unique adventure die. The die consists of stars that are used to determine if their action meets the enemies threshold, a ability face that allows them to use the character’s special ability for free and one face represents an epic fail. Items can be used to aid in combat and other players can come to the aid of a difficult challenge. Modifiers are added throughout the course of the game to help and hinder the siblings. If all the siblings end up “at home” (something that happens after losing an encounter) then the game ends in defeat. If they make it to the final boss and overcome their challenge, they collectively win.
Now, the real kicker here is that every card offers a chance to expand a story that the players have custom tailored to fit their specific play session. As cards are flipped, players are instructed to flavor their world with details and bits of information that can be built on. Each turn allows players to organically grow their world. This is, of course, aided by the cards in the adventure deck, often times giving very specific instructions. For instance, I had an item that was a lucky penny. If I could incorporate a historical figure into our story, the penny became a very valuable item to have. Hence, the troll we were hunting was actually a not-actually-dead Teddy Roosevelt. It’s silly. The cards hold the player’s hands the entire way. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As someone that’s been playing RPGs for a number of years now, it was a very light experience, both as an RPG and as a board game. Each character only has a six sided die and modifiers are either +1 or-1. It was fun, and easily digestible for everyone else that played, all of whom had never played an RPG in their life.
Herein lies the beauty of this game. It is a fantastic entry point not only into the world of lightweight storytelling board games, but into the wide world of Role Playing Games as well. Sure it’s dramatically simpler than Pathfinder, Dungeons and Dragons or Call of Cthulhu, but it teaches one of the most confusing aspects of an RPG to new players; making stuff up! Players have to come up with stuff, even though they’re given a really solid framework to build on, sometimes that skill doesn’t come naturally. That very well may mean that more introverted or people that are afraid to sound silly might not enjoy this game. Also, hard core gamers that scoff at light anything aren’t going to particularly enjoy this either. I had fun, the people I played with all had fun. We told a silly story about Teddy Roosevelt hiding a magical umbrella. We learned the game and were up and running in about 10 minutes. The art gives your imagination enough flavor to build on and the text tells you what to explain in an easily digestible template that offers a number of variables due to card draws while still managing to keep complications down.
I won’t be pulling this out with my D&D group. But it’s one that I certainly would introduce to people that are looking for a fun, collaborative story telling experience to. It fills a weird gap in that it’s essentially a very light, 30 minute one shot RPG. There are rules to continue with the characters into other scenarios as well, which is actually pretty awesome for such a small game. This is not a game that will be enjoyed by everyone, and knowing who you present it to is going to really aid in your enjoyment of The Siblings Trouble.
- The story elements are pre-written. Players can expand on the elements, but you can easily find yourself confined.
- The game itself is very light with few decisions to be made.
- The “backyard adventure theme” is a little wonky mixing fantasy elements with sandlot-eque style. It may be fine for you, but felt just slightly off to me.
- Great entry point into RPGs.
- It’s an experience based game, knowing that will make this a lot more fun.