Wow, it has been a long time since I have done one of these. My son Connor is seven now and he enjoys playing games. We were recently given the opportunity to try this forth coming Game Salute game. The intention was for this to be our first ever family review. However, my wife got about five minutes into the game before she was out. She absolutely and passionately hates playing role playing games. Which is the first thing to get out of the way. The box states this is a "Storyboard game", but for all practical purposes this is a RPG, and has more in common with Dungeons and Dragons than any traditional board game. However, my son and I soldiered on. Did this game fall flat for him or was it his first step into a larger world?
This is a roleplaying game where one player takes the role of the storyteller and the other players are the characters. The setting is a whimsical, storybook magical land. The setting is quite charming and would absolutely feels like it came off of a kids TV show.
The players are "poppins", human children who have been brought to the land of Storm Hollow to be heroes. This Narnia vibe works, because like Narnia there is something about the land that imbues the kids with magical abilities.
This game is fairly structured and uses a lot of visual cues. The game comes with an impressive number of adventures. Each adventure is divided into three acts. Each act has an art card that sets the scene for the players. To advance through the act the players must earn progress points. These are tracked on a board, so the players always know how close they are to advancing.
The location in Storm Hollow (called a rift), the allies, and the enemies all have full art cards that give the player a good idea of what is going on. One of the neat bits is that these cards have extra information on the back as well as a possible game bonus. The different character classes can potentially look at different cards.
This game uses a fairly rules light system. When the players are dealing with a problem of some sort they take turns. On their turn they may do one thing. They will say what to do and the storyteller will tell the players which stat to roll. Players have five stats that are one through three. This is how many dice the player will roll and this is visually shown on the character sheet. The custom dice have an equal amount of success and fail sides. Typically one success is needed, but the storyteller has typical GM discretion so getting all successes could result in what is essentially a crit. Likewise, trying a very complex action and only getting one success might mean the player only kind of succeeds.
In addition to the stats the players have a couple of class specific special abilities and equipment. These all provide some sort of bonus that may or may not impact stats. These bonuses are all fairly straight forward and easy to understand. In the same way, the players also pick a talent which further modifies their class. Again though this is all very age appropriate and easy to understand.
The storyteller never rolls dice in this game. When the players engage in combat, a pre-set threat grid determines the actions of the enemy based on the threat level. Often attacking the monster lowers the threat level. This is also shown visually on a chart, so the players always know how strong the monster is. The monster will be trying to accomplish an objective and it's progress is also visually shown on a chart. All of this visual information makes it very easy for players of all ages to grasp what is going on.
By the end of the third act, the story will be complete and the players will succeed or fail. How long this takes is up to the group, but these adventures are fairly straight forward. I think even a full group going slow could finish all three acts of an adventure in no more than ninety minutes.
In addition to the set adventures with all of their art assets, this game comes with a world book and the tools to create adventures. This includes several blank cards that players can make. From the perspective of a brand new role player, I did find the section about making new adventures to be a bit lacking though.
Age Level Appropriateness
The game box claims it goes down to 5 but I think that is too young. I would say that children need to be literate to play this game. It obviously is child dependent but I think a decent first grade reader or second grade is the youngest this game should go. I would also not hesitate to use this with 10-12 year old children who have no RPG experience.
I am not sure where else to mention this, so I will put it here. My son is in first grade and he has been diagnosed with ADD. Sometimes getting through a 20-30 minute game can be hard for him to stay focused. However, we played this game for about forty five-fifty minutes. He was enthralled and engaged the entire time. Outside of video games, I have never seen him focus this well on anything. If a child buys into the concept of this game it will pull them in completely.
As a reminder we rate games on our own 5 point scale. When our scores are added together, it is where we as theoretically rate the game on the BGG 10 point scale. I am specifically rating the game for how well I think it works as a game for families. To get my son's rating I asked him two questions. First, I asked "is this game fun?" and he circled smiley faces that corresponded with No (1pt), kind of (2pts), and Yes (3pts). The second question was "Want to play again soon?" and he had to pick from "no" (0pts), "maybe" (1pt), and "yes" (2pts). By taking his answers and adding them together, we get a rough idea of where he falls on our point scale.
My Rating: 5 (love it)
My Thoughts: I currently run two active D&D campaigns and play the game about three times a month. I love role playing games and I love creating a story together. This game create the perfect framework to introduce roleplaying to children. It is not just the simple system, but it is all of the artwork and visual cues the game includes. This really give children the needed guidance they need and it really brings amazing problem solving out of them.
For instance, my son played the lightbringer class. One part of the adventure had him having to find lost allies in the dark. He looked at his sheet and item cards. He noticed the art for his ability which allows him to make light. He asked me if he could find some broken class (the previous tunnel had a bunch of trash in it). I told him he could and he used his light ability to light up the glass since the light would refract and spread out further. He is seven, and he figured this all out on his own unprompted. That kind of problem solving and story telling is what role playing brings out, and this game is perfectly crafted to do that for children.
This is the perfect game for a family that wants to role play with their kids. This could also be good for a group of 9-12 year olds who are interested in roleplaying but D&D is a little too daunting to jump into. The adventures are also very easy to run. With zero prep, I opened the book and I was able to run through it without any issue.
His Rating: 5 (love it)
His Thoughts: Connor thoroughly enjoyed this game. At the beginning he was a little hesitant and was not sure what to do. However, once he started rolling dice, he fell in love with the game. As soon as the game was over he had so many questions about what happened next. He wanted to tell everyone about his experience and the story he helped create. Most importantly, he asked, "When do we play again?" His favorite part was fighting the monster at the end.
Combined Rating: 10
We both really enjoyed this game a lot. For any parents who are looking for family RPG options, then this needs to be a contender. The biggest downside to the game is the price. Right now this game only comes in a massive deluxe edition. It is seriously huge and there is a lot of content in there. I feel like the price point is decent for all of the content, and is in line with RPG standards. However, that is a lot of money to drop up front. Kids can be fickle, so as much as my son likes it now, he could also be done after two adventures. If that happens, that would be a lot to spend up front. It is available for pre-order right now, so I might give it a few weeks and see if it is still something that he is jazzed up about before pulling that (big) trigger.