Designer: Shanna Germain & Monte Cook
Artists: Cathy Wilkins & Michael Startzman (leads; others credited)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Players: 2 and up
Playing Time: 30 minutes or more, depending on module
Random Interference: low
* I didn’t rate components on this one for two reasons:
1) The version I purchased was strictly the printable PDF files, and that was because
2) RPGs don’t really need many components beyond the rulebook. Any components you might have are simply icing on the cake, and are usually sold separately anyway.
(For general information on my ratings systems, CLICK HERE.)
EDIT: After reading this general review, if you’d like a more detailed re-cap/play-through of an individual session, read THIS FOLLOW-UP ARTICLE.
It’s Dungeons & Dragons (or any fantasy role-playing game for that matter) for kids and families.
Some Background Info You Probably Don’t Care About:
For those of us who love them, role-playing games (RPGs) are a curse. They are so much fun and, when done right, provide rich and memorable fantasy experiences. But the problem is they’re the first games that you quit playing when you and your friends grow up and get jobs, spouses, and kids, and they’re the hardest games to get back to, because they’re too damn long and complex to set up and play.
Meanwhile, there’s two really great things about having kids. The first is that (eventually) you can get them do things or get things for you, like take out the trash or retrieve your phone from wherever you last left it. The other is that you get to play games with them. This second one is especially important for those of us geeks who are getting on in our years, and it just isn’t possible to get together with all our chums from high school anymore. It’s increasingly exciting as your own kids get older and can “catch up to you” in terms of the complexity and style of games you like to play. When they’re really young, you go through this dearth of available time and players, and there’s only so many times you can play Pop the Pig or Cootie before you want to actually slaughter a pig or tear your hair out just for the spite. Then they grow up (which sucks in most ways, because your babies disappear); but on the bright side, your player pool is repopulated.
My kids are ready for games of increasing complexity, and they’ve already shown interest in dungeon-crawlers. In fact, my older son recently GM’ed his very own, debut dungeon crawler for us with classic paper-and-pencil media. It was awesome. So they’re ready, and I’ve been searching for a good game for me to play with them in this vein, but not something so complex as Dungeons & Dragons. Of course, Hero Quest comes to mind regularly, but I am one of the many poor, unfortunate souls who threw out that game years ago, having no idea it would go for $200 friggin’ dollars on Amazon after it was discontinued. We did Dungeon! a couple of times, and had some fun with that, but the drawback to that game is that it isn’t cooperative, it doesn’t really emphasize the diversity of character-types and talents, and it doesn’t really have a way of facilitating a story. Recently, I’ve been working on some house-rules for a variant of Dungeon! that would scratch the itch (it basically became a clone of Hero Quest), but then I discovered something even better, thanks to a recommendation on Twitter. It was No Thank You, Evil!
Play Summary (for non-RPGers):
Not all of my readers know how to play RPGs, so I’m going to take a moment to summarize the concept first. If you’re already a seasoned RPGer, then you may want to skip to the next headlined section. Basically, in an RPG, one player takes on the role of the game master (GM), variously called the Dungeon Master, Storyteller, Overlord, Guide, Facilitator, Bartender, and a plethora of other names, depending on which specific game you’re talking about. The other players take on the roles of fictional characters who would exist within the parameters of the game’s setting, whether medieval fantasy, space opera, cyberpunk, wild west, spy thriller, or whatever. The player-characters are defined by a set of in-game statistics, which essentially measure their ability to succeed in various tasks they may attempt to accomplish. The players maintain a written record of these statistics, as well as a list of possessions their characters may have, such as money and equipment.
All players then engage in a sort of verbal improvisational session. The GM describes a setting and the circumstances in which the players imagine themselves, and in turn, the players declare what they wish to do within this imagined scenario. Both the players and the GM are responsive to one another, and so the story that emerges is largely free-form, but the GM most often has some sort of conditional script that is used to provide plot structure and boundaries to the players’ decisions. Dice are used in conjunction with the player-characters’ stats to determine success or failure when they declare actions that are more difficult or unusual than commonplace behaviors, such as in combat scenarios. The rules of the specific game in question articulate how to simulate and resolve complex scenarios according to the game’s prescribed mechanics. Usually, the conditional script, known as the “module” or “adventure” or whatever, describes what the players need to figure out and what they need to do in order to “win” or at least “complete” the scenario. How long that takes (both in game-time and real-world time) depends entirely on the complexity of the game, the length of the script, and the amount of time the players waste either wandering away from their goals, or simply drinking beer and talking about football and not actually playing.
Play Summary (for everyone):
Having just written the preceding section, it sounds like RPGs are really boring, and in fact, for many people, they are quite so. On the other hand, and especially with a strong GM, they don’t get bogged down by their own mechanics, and instead end up being a delightful exercise in thought-flow, problem solving, cooperation, and imagination. They’re hilarious as well, because RPG players are wise-asses by nature, and the sarcastic jokes are usually the best part of the day.
No Thank You, Evil! plays in every way like any other RPG, but the rules system is pared down to the barest essentials. It is designed to be played (simultaneously) by kids aged anywhere from 4 to 14, and GMed by an older kid or an adult. The adventure modules that come with the base set are designed to be completed in about 30-60 minutes, and they are set in a whimsical fantasy setting called “Storia,” which we imagine is accessible through the “fourth wall” of the players’ bedroom. Its various regions include “Under the Bed,” “Out the Window,” “Into the Closet,” and “Behind the Bookshelf.” Here are my bullet points:
What Doesn’t Work So Much for Me:
- The Artwork. My only real gripe here is the artwork. Nine people are credited in the rulebook as artists for the project, and it shows. The illustrations throughout both the core rules and all the included supplemental materials are radically inconsistent in style. Perhaps the designers were actually embracing this diversity of style as another expression of the game’s childlike whimsy, but that’s a hard sell for me, personally. I like that the game is centered on this hodge-podge sort of fantasy realm. That’s a great foundation for lore-building (which is paramount in RPGs and story-telling games), and that could have been really accentuated by the artwork, but I don’t think it was.
What Really Works for Me:
- Simplicity. This is something I’d like to see more of even in “adult” RPGs (if there is such a thing). I used to play lots of Dungeons & Dragons, but it seems to have devolved to a point where we spend so much time involved in some sort of legal examination or calculating all the intricacies of ten thousand simultaneous if-then statements, that a 6-hour session of gaming ends up only having about 90 minutes of actual play. And for what? I had just as much fun playing Hero Quest with its small rulebook as I did playing D&D with its hundreds of pages of reference manuals. No Thank You, Evil! streamlines the players stats, the conflict resolution, and the litigation back down to a level that’s manageable and doesn’t distract from the primary objective of the game: to play a role.
- Inclusivity/scaling. Both the setting and the rules system are extremely flexible and welcoming to new players of all ages with all manner of preferences. Storia is imagined as dreamlike world where any combination of wild and imaginative pairings of objects and animals would seem perfectly normal. This fosters kids’ already liberal position on what sorts of things do or do not belong in a given fantasy, and it gives all players the freedom and safety to ad lib and riff—behaviors that are essential in keeping an RPG free-flowing, and fun. Furthermore, the rules that are established are scalable and inclusive. There are three levels of complexity for character generation, aimed at different ages of kids, but which allow all ages to play the game together. And given that the rules set is very simple, No Thank You, Evil! is a great starter-game for anyone (kids or adults) who has little or no experience with RPGs, and especially with the role of the GM in these games, which is arguably the hardest and most stressful to play. This is a great game for bringing people of all ages into the hobby.
- Differentiation. This is a buzz word we use in the education field to describe diverse variations in a given lesson or activity that help students of different learning styles arrive at the same learning objective. Even that description itself was full of jargon, but you get the idea, and No Thank You, Evil! has this in spades. I already mentioned the scaled character templates. That’s one thing. There’s also tokens that the players can use to keep track of their various point totals, instead of writing the numbers on the character sheet. They can also choose to compose their characters and companions based on qualities found (a) on a list in the rulebook, (b) in a deck of cards that can be rifled through or randomized, or (c) directly from their own imagination. Do they want an illustration of their character? They can put the illustrated card in the box on their character sheet, or they can draw it themselves. All of these are great examples of differentiation, which help the game appeal to a wider range of kids (and adults) with different preferences and comfort levels, but ultimately get them all involved in the same collective activity.
What’s best about No Thank You, Evil! is that it puts the “G” back in RPG. It’s a game system that’s a game before it’s a system. It’s inclusive of all players and can bring families together—with or without a table. And that’s why my slightly lower grade for aesthetics doesn’t bring down the overall grade I gave this game. RPGs are really what the players make of them. The most enjoyable role-playing experiences are those that are focused on the player-characters rather than on the rules. It’s about story, not simulation. I think this is something that RPGs have lost over the course of their evolution these past several decades. Once upon a time, these were role-playing games, before they became roll-playing games; before the simplicity of Gary Gygax’s basic Dungeons & Dragons mutated and metastasized into these cumbersome, extra-marital affairs requiring multi-volume tomes of rules and byzantine systems of conflict resolution, all painstakingly atomized and reduced to absurdity, measured out on massive tables with gridded mats and ten thousand pewter miniatures. (When did D&D become Warhammer?) No Thank You, Evil! strips away all the sediments of the decades and restores the focus of the RPG experience back to its source: the collective imagination of the players.
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