The Siblings Trouble: Review

For some reason, all of Fairway’s stories end with dad jokes and his daughter’s always involved dirty socks and time travel. That’s what Fairway learned when he played The Siblings Trouble. A relatively recent Kickstarter game from Eduardo Baraf.

The Siblings Trouble is a two- to four- player story-telling game by Eduardo Baraf. Players take on the roles of a group of siblings with troubling names like Mayhem and Danger that go on an adventure.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The art and theme are spot on. The game is filled with beautifully illustrated story line cards and treasures.
  2. For a story telling game, it’s chock full of great components: custom dice, thick card board tokens, a really cool magnetic box.
  3. The “rules” and “setup” are a bit more challenging to play than I had originally anticipated.
  4. The strength of any given game really varies depending on the willingness of the players to engage in the story telling.

Game play ^

The Siblings Trouble is an interesting entry into the realm of story-telling games.

During setup, players construct a random adventure deck. First, they pick one of a series of adventures: mystic waters, hillside cave, ancient forest, etc.).  Each adventure has a set of adventure-specific story cards. Any particular adventure will use only a subset of those adventure-specific cards. The adventure deck will then also include one of a series of boss cards (placed towards the bottom of the adventure deck), interspersed generic adventure cards, a “big secret” card towards the middle that is a device to bring meaning to the adventure when revealed, and an entrance card.  The inside cover of the box helpful includes steps to properly prepare the deck.

Example set up for the “Hillside Cave” adventure from the rule book.

Each player also gets one of the character cards and corresponding token and “trouble” die. Each character has a special ability that they can use when they roll the power on their trouble die.

It’s then off on the adventure.

At the very start, everyone takes a starting treasure card, reveals it, and then explains why they brought the treasure with them on the adventure.

After that, the game play turns out to be pretty free-form. Starting with a first player and then proceeding clockwise, each player takes a turn. On their turn, they reveal one of the story line cards.  Each of the story line cards is beautifully illustrated and comes with instructions for the player.

Most of the cards provide a prompt asking the player to explain something that is happening at that part of the story. The only prompt being a short sentence about what the thing isOnce the player does the story telling, play advances.

In other cases, story line cards include an action which also asks the player to roll one of the special dice to do something.  For example, a story line card might reveal that the player will go on a search. The result of the search die then tells them what they might find. The player then is takes with telling the story about everything including how they came across whatever the die reveals.

Other story line cards include encounters. These require that the player roll their player’s trouble die to determine an outcome: good, bad or otherwise.  The trouble die has three possible outcomes: a star value, epic fail, or special power.  The star value indicates an amount that can be used to overcome event.  If the player doesn’t roll enough stars, they’ll lose the event but can ask another player for an assist so long as they don’t roll an epic fail.  The whole time, the player is supposed to narrate what’s going on: how they’re winning, how they’re losing, how their sibling is going to come help, etc.

The outcome of a lot of encounters is some sort of reward. Rewards can include treasure and Epic treasures drawn from a pile of cards. Bad rolls or difficult game choices might make the boss character difficult to fight.

Speaking of the boss, the game continues until the adventurers return home.  Before they can, however, they must take on the boss.  Throughout the game, hints are dropped about the boss. His “scariness” will vary over time as fear tokens get added and removed as the story line advances.  But eventually, all the players must face him (or her). The boss is like other encounters, but the difficulty is adjusted by “fear” tokens collected through the game and all the players roll together.

After defeating the boss, the game ends with a journey home card.

In the hole ^

Art.  This game is chock full of great art and illustration and are fantastic story-telling aids. The great art permeates every aspect of the game from the box to the cards and even to the dice themselves.

Components.  This game has some great components. It even has one of the most usable plastic inserts I’ve ever received from a Kickstarter game.  But, no review of this game is worth its salt without a note about the fantastic dice. They’re bright, heavy and well done.

Also, I really, really like the magnetic box that looks like a wood chest.

Diversity. We really appreciated that every character in the game can be played as a boy or a girl. The characters are also racially diverse. No one minds too much that it breaks the sibling-ness of the game.

The story telling.  The story line cards do provide a really great crutch for the story telling aspect of it. In some cases, it might be too much for younger players who struggled to break from stories based very literally on the card illustration. That said, my daughter’s stories (she’s five) usually involved sending people back in time or dirty socks regardless of what the card was. I thought it was creative, and she thought it was hilarious. Mine, however, usually ended with some dad joke that only I found funny. Go figure.

Where it comes up short ^

Before rushing off to pick up this game, I think it’s important to note that there are aspects of this game that may be less than ideal for some folks.

Complexity.  The game isn’t “easy” to play well. Emphasis on well.  It’s actually a lot of work to make the game work at all the way one would hope. We felt like their was an unexpected level of complexity in how the game plays. There’s really two contributing factors to this.

The first is the story-telling aspect itself. Some players are definitely better than others and younger players struggle even with a lot of help. It’s not so much getting to tell the story, but rather how the cards end up being used in telling the story. There’s a lot mechanically going on in a game, especially for encounter cards, that requires the players to be constantly narrating an imaginative set of circumstances whilst doing any number of things: rolling dice, gathering tokens, making decisions about who to bring in, gathering treasure, fetching additional cards, etc. Certain other cards, like “The Big Secret” cards, ask the player to do sometimes hard things like tie three often disparate ideas together into a coherent story.  Doing doing all the steps, doing them all correctly, and telling a story is complex undertaking.

The second, and somewhat related, is that there’s a lot of reading mixed in with the story telling. Some cards and instructions get pretty long. In addition, encounter cards and die rolls often mean having to further decipher some times confusing iconography. Once you start stringing lots of things together, there’s lots to read.

In both cases, it gets better with practice. We’ve played The Siblings Trouble a lot, but our first plays had lots of fits and starts and sometimes frustration. This really detracts from the story telling.

Set up and clean up. This isn’t an easy game to set up or clean up. Lots of sorting cards. Lots of properly setting up a deck. Lots of game things (decks, tokens, etc.) are fiddly during both play and set up. Clean up takes a while just to sort cards and get them back in the box in an meaningful way. This is not a game that kids are good at cleaning up.

In the hole ^

The Siblings Trouble is definitely an interesting entry into anyone’s game library. The game itself is inspired both thematically and artistically. It’s beautiful. Aspects of this game probably put it out of reach of younger children to play, although you can definitely try and there’s no harm in offering a lot of help. For parents with imaginative children or teachers looking to change things up in the classroom, The Siblings Trouble would be an excellent choice.

The Siblings Trouble is in the hole for a Par. ^

Mashup with Obstacles? ^

Also, here’s a bonus pic of a mashup of The Siblings Trouble with the items from Obstacles another interesting storytelling game. In Obstacles, players are on a journey home and pass through a series of locations. Using random items, players are tasked with finding creative solutions to get past the locations.  We used all those things, but our The Siblings Trouble characters and trouble dice. The kids really liked that.

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