Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Siblings Trouble, by Edo Baraf

Limitation breeds creativity. If I ask you to tell me a story, chances are, you're less likely to be able to come up with something on the spot than if I ask you to tell me a story about two mongooses (not mongeese - I looked it up) who run afoul of a mean king cobra - at least in my experience.

For that exact reason, I thoroughly enjoyed Edo Baraf's game, The Siblings Trouble, which is live on Kickstarter right now. In this quick, structured storytelling game, you play the role of one of four of the titular siblings as you adventure through a cave you stumbled upon. The elements of the story are heavily influenced by the cards you flip, which follow an order outlined in the rules - a set pattern cards, mostly "path" cards (usually some kind of event that influences the flow of the story) and "location" cards (usually chances to face monsters and earn treasure).  In each game, there is also one "big secret" card (where one of the siblings reveals why you're really there), one "boss" card (the final monster you'll need to face), and the entrance card (to start the adventure) and the "heading home" card (where you wrap up any loose ends from your story and describe the journey home).

Along the way, you accrue items, which you'll need to face the boss at the end, who's far too powerful for the Siblings Trouble to conquer on their own. So, they'll need to use their action figures, walking sticks, boomboxes, and an array of other items to help them tell the story of how they overcame that final foe. Siblings can also call on each other for help with the "sibling assist" where your brother or sister can help if you're in over your head.

Encounters are resolved by rolling custom dice with stars on them. If your die roll is higher than the monster's star value, you succeed. If it's lower, you can buff your roll with single-use items - or with the aforementioned sibling assist. That's more about the rules than I like to put into my reviews, so if you want to know more, you can check out the rulebook here.
A Path card, the Home card, and a Location card

Some of the people I played with bristled at how much the cards determined the course of the story. Some items, for example, give you a one star bonus for using them - but a two star bonus for using if your story involves something more specific. (The hollowed-out book, for example, grants a plus two bonus if your story involves a secret hiding place.) To me, though, the additional stipulations were general enough that they could be easily adapted to the story - and I loved the creativity that the slight restrictions on the cards brought. How did one sibling use the boombox to get another one out of quicksand? How in the world did an action figure help you stop a spider? And while any time a player has to make a story convoluted in order to work an element in, I think the games fall flat, I didn't see that happen during any game of The Siblings Trouble I played. Rather, the players just got creative and made it work - and work well.

True, The Siblings Trouble is more structured than most storytelling games I've played, but that's what I like so much about it. When literally anything can happen in a story - or when you only get one word to go off of - theme can take a backseat to absurdity too easily. Here, the cards all work thematically. You're a bunch of siblings in what feels like an 80's adventure movie encountering, depending on how you spin the story, monsters or "monsters" (maybe the scary mushroom is just a regular mushroom made terrifying by your imagination).

A screengrab of the rulebook showing the story before it's flipped.

The other thing I like so much about the game is the encouragement at the start of the rulebook to remember that "encounters with creatures don't have to be violent. Success is how you define and narrate it". Sure, in one game one of the siblings swung from a rope and scissor kicked a big, nasty troll into a heaping pile of dung - and in another, a scary mushroom (this one was actually scary) slapped me into a lake for calling one of my siblings my servant. But in the game I played with my wife, we stopped the final boss by apologizing to him for breaking into his room once realized he was just as scared of us as we were of him - and spun the story to make the previous monsters his friends who knew he'd be scared of us, so they were telling us scary things about him in the hopes of getting us to leave.

My one small critique of the game is that, because of the complexity of the set up, the first play of the game was somewhat intimidating - though by the end, I had the hang of the rules and they felt intuitive. And by the second game, it was smooth and easy to explain to new players, who were able to get everything after flipping just a few cards. The rulebook is one of the best laid-out rulebooks I've ever seen, and it goes a long way to making the game easier to pick up. Also, the complexity of the game is what sets it apart from other storytelling games - so I wouldn't change a thing.

The Siblings Trouble is a great game and, if you like structured storytelling games, well worth your money. It's on Kickstarter through early May, so if you're interested, check it out now at the link below!