No Thank You Evil – Introducing Kids to RPGs

One question I see asked constantly on both parenting boards and on gaming boards is “what game can I use to introduce my children to role-playing games safely?” For me, the obvious answer was “Dungeons and Dragons” because I am a long time DM and did not have any qualms about creating a campaign specifically designed for young children and did not have any difficulty walking them through character creation and how to play. However, many other parents are not able to do this for a variety of reasons. Besides,it is also nice to just open up a game and have it explain exactly how to play. Gaming should be accessible, after all. 

My number one recommendation for these parents and gamers is No Thank You Evil. Designed by Shanna Germain and Monte Cook and published by Monte Cook Games, the game itself has a lot of experience behind it. The art work is cute and colorful, designed to engage children and draw them in. It certainly does that! Germain had the game out to be played at GenCon several times, and my own children could not walk past it without wanting to play, even though we had a copy at home. 

The game comes with ready-made characters and easy stats that can be navigated even by non-readers. There are adventures already set up for the Guide to walk the players through. It is pretty much ready to play out of the box. Players create their characters. The Guide tells the story with the help of the players, who describe their actions and use that character’s abilities to impact the story and how it will go. The Guide can also create their own story if they do not wish to use the pre-generated ones. 

Each character has 4 pools: Tough, Fast, Smart, and Awesome. They also have special skills and a companion animal who can help them do things.

As characters describe what they want to do, the Guide decides if it is super hard (8) all the way down to super easy (0). The player rolls the dice. They can choose to “try harder” by using points from one of their four pools until they do not have any more points. If they beat the goal, they succeed. If they don’t, they fail. It’s just that simple. I love the simplicity and the way that it starts introducing children to the idea that they roll the dice and may or may not be successful in their chosen actions. The Guide is encouraged to make it exciting, just like a GM or DM would in another roleplaying game, and the players are able to see how their choices impact what happens. It is easy to use the concepts learned in No Thank You Evil to introduce kids to other roleplaying games because it is so similar, yet simplified so children can understand it easily. 

However, my favourite part of this game is the same thing the game is named for: “No Thank You!” 

Many adult gaming groups have implemented a session 0 where players can discuss things they do not wish to see in the game, perhaps because they find it triggering or too frightening, or just uncomfortable. But it is absolutely impossible to cover every single thing that may come up during game play. Therefore, some groups (including Monte Cook and Germain’s various groups) have developed ways to discretely tell someone that a topic or storyline is too much. No Thank You Evil, taking into consideration that children are even more apt to be frightened by stories, gives each player a token. If something in the game becomes too frightening, the player can simply put the token on the table, and the Guide knows to steer away from that topic as quickly as possible to assure that everyone at the table is having a good time. 

Overall, this game is beautiful, engaging, and a wonderful way to get kids into roleplaying games. Although my own children started with Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, they were equally excited about this game and the way it was written and drew them in. The creators have the breadth of experience from years of game development and being gamers themselves to know what works, and definitely put a lot of thought and effort into this. The roleplaying world can always use new gamers, and this is a great way to get your kids started without needing to know a lot about the games yourself. Similarly, it is so well done that even veteran gamers will have a good time. My kids quickly started playing this by themselves, and that transferred into confidence to GM in other systems for my two older children. I definitely recommend this game to anybody who has children who want to play roleplaying games. 

Arkham Horror 2e Review and Gameplay

It was the waning moments of the year 1920, and a young man known as H.P. Lovecraft struck his pen to paper in what, unbeknownst to him, was to become a pivotal action for the future of board gaming. The Picture in the House, the first mention of Arkham proper, provided the precursor to many of Lovecraft’s tales. Now public domain, Lovecraftian horrors abound in books, movies, and games. Many of these fall flat, bemoaned by those consuming them as trite or uninteresting. The sheer quantity alone causes many to turn away. 

However, one board game stands above the rest as the longest running board game featuring Arkham. Now owned by Fantasy Flight Games, Arkham Horror first edition spawned from Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game in 1987. Today, we are on the third edition, which looks very little like its precursors. However, today I will review Arkham Horror Second Edition, since it is the game that is most recently on my mind. 

This is not a small game, and requires a great deal of table space, particularly if you are playing with a full cohort of investigators.

Playing Arkham Horror involves a great deal of time, particularly in set up. First and foremost, assure that you have sufficient table space. Spread the board out, leaving plenty of room on all sides. Defeating the Ancient Old One and his monsters is never easy, and requires tons of components! To set up, you will need to lay out the 9 location decks, the gate deck, the mythos deck, the Ancient Old One sheet (and doom tokens, of course), the monster cup, the clue tokens, and the various tokens/markers related to gates. You will also need the various item and ally decks (separated out), the investigator card decks, your sanity and stamina tokens (if necessary-more on this later) and money tokens. 

Each player chooses an investigator card. Here, we have decided that using the sanity and stamina tokens is not for us, and we use a red 10-sided die (d10) to denote stamina and a blue one to denote sanity, with the current sanity and stamina amounts face up. It is just one less piece to keep track of. Players receive their starting items (noted on the investigator cards) and place their character piece at the starting location noted on their investigator card. The players choose an Ancient Old One to battle (each has its own stats and requirements to defeat). 

Clues are placed at each of the 11 unstable locations (red diamond) spaces on the board. These are locations where gates are most likely to open. Investigators are placed at their starting locations (also noted on their cards). 

A mythos card is drawn and resolved, and the game begins with a chosen first player.

Game play is in five phases. At each phase, each player in clockwise fashion completes all necessary activities of that phase.  Upkeep, which includes setting stats by moving their sliders the amount of their focus (unless character abilities dictate otherwise) and any other upkeep needs based on various item or investigator cards. During the Movement phase, each player moves their speed, unless they are in the Other Worlds (in which case they can move only to the next section of the Other World, regardless of movement). If a character is prone, they can only stand up this turn. Next, is the Arkham phase. Each character in a location (not on a street or in another dimension) will draw a card and have an event based on that location. Different locations have higher probability of certain types of events, which are depicted in icons on the locations, but it is no guarantee. Certain locations also have alternative other events that can be chosen, such as the hospital or shop, in lieu of drawing a card. 

Jenny Barnes, ready for action

Once the Arkham phases is completed, the Other Dimension phase begins, and characters who are in Other Worlds will draw cards for their locations. These are based on colours rather than on actual locations. When they have completed their turns, the Mythos begins, with all monsters moving according to shapes on their tokens, and a card is drawn to determine what Mythos event will occur. This is very rarely good. 

In fact, I have discovered that, when in doubt of the rules for Arkham 2e, go with whatever seems the least likely to be beneficial for the players, and that is likely to be the actual rule. And always beware being lost in Time and Space. Unless you’re a Dreamer. Then go there as much as you like.

Arkham Horror 2e strove to encompass the true essence of Lovecraft in a way at which other games have only teased. Expansions are available which make game play even more difficult and dismal for the players. Therefore, it is one of my favourite games of all time. Although this is an American game by Fantasy Flight, it has as many pieces and moving parts as many Eurogames and requires almost as much to keep up with the game play. Things can turn rather suddenly from “this is an easy win!” to “oh, wow, we’re all dead now.” There are many ways to lose, and only two real ways to win (only one if you choose certain Ancient Old Ones) –either close gates permanently or fight the Old One and win (except the ones where, once they awaken, you automatically lose). 

This game has endless replayability, though expansions certainly add to the experience. Personally, I really enjoy cooperative games that have a high level of difficulty and a high likelihood of loss because I find them challenging and interesting. The writing for the cards and the story within is intriguing for those who enjoy Lovecraft and for those just starting out. My gaming group has also purchased the newer version of Arkham Horror, but it can hardly be called the same game. Many, many rules have been changed. The quality of the pieces is perhaps a little better in the newer edition, in my opinion, but I feel that my game shelf has room for both games. In addition, Arkham Horror can also be played as a single player game. I have spent many sleepless nights embracing the darkness by pulling this game out.

This past Halloween, we played in cosplay with the full cohort, and had a great deal of fun with this game. Several players who were new to the game joined us, and had very little difficulty following the rules with help from players with experience (depicted here).

Although certainly not for everyone, Arkham Horror 2e is a great game for the gamer who likes a good story, high replayability, and a true challenge. The game scales very well for a single player and for up to 8 investigators (though time to play increases proportionately). It does have a high likelihood for an alpha player to take over if players are not cautious, however, and remembering that there is no one true avenue for success in this game, and there are countless avenues for loss, will be beneficial in ensuring that everybody gets to have their voice heard at the table is important. The miniatures are fairly high quality and fun to paint, as well.

Miniature painted by Jason Horner

Arkham Horror 2e is a classic game that has a place on many shelves. I highly recommend this game. 

Women Designers in Board Gaming

Inclusion has historically been difficult in board games and board game designs, despite the overwhelming participation of women as gamers throughout history. Representation of non-binary and women characters remains very low, and very few women or non-binary designers make their way into the top 100 of board games. Given that the name of our blog is Girls Who Like Board Games, I have no interest in discussing the reason behind the lower representation or why it occurs. Our blog has made our case abundantly clear: We support people of colour, we support women, we support non-binary and abinary folks, and we support their inclusion in board gaming in every facet in which they wish to participate. 

Therefore, this article attempts to highlight board games designed by particular women and non-binary designers in the hopes that more people will seek out these designers and play their games. There are many more, but these are a few that I have personally played and enjoyed. Comments with additional ideas are encouraged! 

Susan McKinley Ross has developed Qwirkle, which won the Spiel de Jahres in 2011. Qwirkle is a game published with Mindware that is easy enough for small children to play but complex enough for adults. You match colours or shapes in lines to obtain points. By placing your blocks strategically, you can score points to ultimately win the game. This game, with thick and colourful shapes on a black background, is visually appealing to players and can be used for simple shape and colour recognition for younger children or for people with disabilities. This is really where Ross shines; she makes games that children and adults both love and want to play together. Qwirkle is, in my opinion, her best, but her game Hoot Owl Hoot also deserves a place on the shelf.

Rachel (Bowen) Simmons is a transwoman who created The Guns of Gettysburg and Napoleon’s Triumph. Both of these games bear mention for being nominated for a small pile of awards and for their outstanding gameplay. Those interested in war games that simulate these time periods will enjoy these games quite a bit. Even as a mostly non-war gamer, I found Napoleon’s Triumph extremely enjoyable and interesting to play, to the point that it really sparked my interest in wargaming in general. This game specifically recreates the Battle of Austerlitz by Napoleon and really brings home that battle in a way that I truly appreciated. 

Grace Holdinghaus works for Fantasy Flight games and co-created Mansions of Madness 2e. This game holds a special place in my heart due to my time spent with friends playtesting it and some of the expansions. Mansions of Madness manages to take the overextended Lovecraftian Mythos and make them interesting and playable in ways that few other games have managed. The pieces are solid and beautiful, it comes with miniatures (always a perk!) and runs off of a well designed app that allows all players to play together in a cooperative adventure. 

Nikki Valens also works for Fantasy Flight games. Although they also worked on Mansions of Madness, I feel their inclusion here is most necessary because of Legacy of Dragonholt. First, I don’t think enough people have heard of this lovely game. My children and I had the pleasure of playtesting this game, and have subsequently bought copies for others (as well as for ourselves). My oldest daughter specifically wrote to Valens to exalt the beautiful storytelling while we were involved in playtesting for this game. As an introduction to RPGs, this game really excels. In some ways, Dragonholt is a fantasy based choose your own adventure cooperative game, but it goes far beyond simply that. We also learned that much of the game can be completed (so long as you have someone who can read) on long car rides, so it’s 10/10 for entertainment value based just on that!

One of the most beautiful games that I’ve ever played is Lotus, designed by Jordan and Mandy Goddard. This game is simplistic in its beauty and design, and somehow managed to recreate the feeling of cultivating a flower garden using beautifully rendered cards and a handful of colourful, insect-shaped wooden pieces. Lotus lists itself as appropriate for ages 8 and up, and it is truly one of the most calming games in my collection; it’s a game you can pull out as a palette cleanser between heavier gaming sessions, as a last game of the night, or even just in its own right as a light but thoughtful game. I particularly enjoy playing this game with my children as we talk about heavier topics; the beautiful artwork creates a zen-like atmosphere that makes those discussions go smoothly.

Having had the pleasure to meet Shanna Germain in person a few times, I can say that she has always seemed to me to be one of the most enthusiastic game developers I’ve known. Like many of the other wonderful women developers here, Germain has seen her name on several big name games, but I’m going to focus on one of her lesser known delights. For Germain, this is No Thank You, Evil. This RPG designed for children is a fun and upbeat way to show kids how RPGs can be as much fun as you’d like. It also introduced to our gaming group an extremely important point: the “No thank you, evil” trump card, whereupon a triggered or upset player can put down a “Nope” card to indicate that they do not wish for the continuation of a current point on the table. As older gamers, we sometimes see that certain topics are off limits to certain players. Session zero often takes care of the big topics, but what if you absolutely forgot something that might trigger a sensitive player that you never dreamed happening in Session Zero. And every Game Master knows that players are absolutely notorious for taking the game beyond what you ever dreamed at the beginning. Having the ability to subtly but firmly take something out of the game if it is unduly upsetting is something that gaming groups really need more of if the point of the game is to be fun for everyone.

I have plans for other writers and developers for tabletop games, but couldn’t possibly cover all of the wonderful women, non-binary and transfolk in one article. Please feel free to comment if you have an idea for someone who you feel should be included in future articles. 

 

Dungeons & Dragons | A Short Fish Story

Fall of 2001 brought with it the release of the latest supplement for Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition: Oriental Adventures. My gaming group at the time had wandered through a few different RPGs but had been carefully watching the publication of the new 3rd edition materials from Wizards of the Coast. In this group, being a half-orc barbarian or an elf wizard was never the norm; the Dungeon Master was heavy on backstory and unique characteristics and encouraged all the players to be the same. Fan creations at the time were often not particularly well balanced, so using the latest supplements became the way to create something out there and fun. 

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Board Game Review | Detective

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My gaming group is pretty mixed in our skill set and often includes children. Therefore, cooperative games get to the table often. On a whim several months ago, we pulled out the board game Detective. Although we had played Sherlock several times, we were never very successful. Sherlock just has far more skills than our party does, and we often wound up frustrated that, although we solved the case, it was more trial and error than actual skill. However, we liked the case-solving aspect and hoped that Detective would prove more our speed. 

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