The Siblings Trouble, by Eduardo Baraf, is a cooperative story-telling game for 2-4 players in which the players take a journey into the mysterious places of their backyard and imaginations!
This game is currently on Kickstarter, and while I have no financial stake in this project, it is worth noting in the name of full disclosure that I know Eduardo, and consider him a friend. That being said, I will endeavor to remain completely objective in this review.
There is actually very little to cover in regards to rules with this game, as it is fairly light on rules by design and out of necessity. If the game were overburdened with rules it would not create an environment conducive to creative story-telling and therefore fail at its purpose. Instead, The Siblings Trouble uses the absolute least amount of rules needed to leave plenty of room for imagination while still providing a framework in which the adventure may take place.
To begin the game, players select which location they want to explore by choosing from one of the following decks: Hillside Caves, Mystic Waters, Abandon Junkyard, and the Ancient Forest. Players then build the adventure deck by weaving together cards from the chosen location deck, the path deck, a big secret card and one of the bosses from the appropriate location deck. It is important to note that not all of the cards from the location deck, the generic path deck, or the big secrets are used in each adventure. This allows for the same location to be used for numerous adventures as there will always be a new order created each time.
Once the adventure deck is created, the players select one of the 4 Character Cards, take its trouble dice and special ability token, one treasure card from the deck, and the adventure is ready to begin.
I was going to go into much greater detail about how encounters occur and the die rolling mechanics that resolve these situations. In fact, I even had the section written, but deleted it because that is not what The Siblings Trouble is about. Basically, a player draws a card from the adventure deck on their turn, follows the instructions for the card, rolls the appropriate die, uses any treasure that is needed, may call for help, but most importantly tells a story about the amazing events that occurred! The Siblings Trouble is about the experience, not the mechanics which are only there to provide some structure. If you need a lot more mechanical details, this game is probably not for you. However, if you enjoy a game that is about using one’s imagination to participate in the creation of a memorable time for all at the table, then read on!
The Siblings Trouble, is a very interesting game for me to review as it occupies a unique space and has many elements to it that I would normally dislike greatly. In fact, I would barely call it a game in the traditional sense much like I would not refer to kids pretending to adventure to be playing a game. It is a co-op, and there are few people in this world more anti co-op than me. It is highly random, as almost all situations are resolved to one degree or another by rolling dice. This exactly the sort of “game” under normal circumstances that I would dislike, but I will explain why The Siblings Trouble escapes such a harsh judgement and succeeds in so many unexpected ways.
First off, is it a game? Kind of, but I would consider it more a form of play than a true game per se. It is not a game of the sort where the players make a large number of meaningful decisions of great consequence, but rather a facilitator of imagination. In fact The Siblings Trouble is not even really about succeeding at the adventure, but rather sharing in a mutual fantasy that lets adults behave like kids again, and let kids do what they do best…be kids!
The Siblings Trouble, is what is referred to as a co-op game, where players work together towards a common goal rather than competing against each other. While co-ops have become more and more popular in recent years, grumpy old competitive maniacs such as myself are not fans. My philosophy on co-op games is that the only way to win is not to play. This is because normal co-ops frequently degenerate in to a power struggle for whose plan will be implemented, leading to the dreaded alpha player syndrome with one player essentially dictating orders to the others or the group failing because of poor play by one member of the group (omega player syndrome). However, The Siblings Trouble avoids these common problems because the stakes are so low and the goal is not saving the world from an extinction level pandemic, but rather exploring a mystery that has as its worst ending a trip back home. If a memorable story was created and shared by the players, then a game of The Siblings Trouble was a success regardless of the outcome of the actual adventure.
Randomness…my old nemesis! Yes, The Siblings Trouble is chocked full of it and normally that would be the end of the review for me. However, it is important to understand why I so hate large quantities of chance in my games and then explain how The Siblings Trouble avoids this problem. My issue with overwhelming randomness is that it often renders a player’s decisions meaningless, and in a competitive endeavor nothing is more frustrating. While incredibly random, The Siblings Trouble overcomes this problem once again by being about the story and not the outcome. Bad die rolls have zero impact on a player’s ability to tell a wild tale and thus the game’s purpose is not sabotaged by chance. Can chance ruin a competitive game? Of course, but this is because the goal is to win and all of your best laid plans can be wrecked by factors beyond your control. If bad die rolls cause you to fail on the adventure in The Siblings Trouble, then fail loudly with most engrossing story possible! After all, it is not your fault that the Black Pit contained a lava monster from outer space that dragged you down below because it could smell the chocolate chip cookies on your breath! After all, who could have possibly seen that coming?
In addition to succeeding at its goal of being a muse for the imaginations of its players, The Siblings Trouble is a beautiful game from a graphic design stand point. The artwork perfectly captures the theme of exploration and the drawings of the locations, monsters, and treasures look as though they were pulled directly from the mind’s eye of creative child preparing to set out on an adventure. This is very important, as the main purpose of The Siblings Trouble is as inspiration to its players, and artwork that sets the right mood is a huge help in this regard!
So at the end of the day, is The Siblings Trouble for you? Are you a hardcore gamer that only wants tons of meaningful decisions in either a competitive game or a high-stakes co-op? If so the answer is a staunch no. Honestly, I would be shocked if you are still reading at this point. However, if you come from a more casual background of rpgs, social gaming, or perhaps creative writing or even drama then you will almost definitely have a great time with this game. If you are looking for something to play with the family, particularly with kids from around age 8 up to their early teens, look no further because The Siblings Trouble is exactly the kind of group fun that will bring smiles to everyone’s faces!
For the right group there is a unique magic to The Siblings Trouble, that will engross the young and tap into wistful nostalgia of the young at heart! Who amongst us couldn’t use more of both?
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