I'm an avid gamer-dad with two boys, ages 7 and 10. I purchased and played this game for the first time tonight. Monte Cook has set a new high bar for introductory, child-friendly role-play games. I highly recommend this to both (1) experienced-gamer parents looking for a fun way to get their kids into role-playing and (2) parents who are completely new to table top role-play games (TTRPGs) who are interested in trying out this style of game, but intimidated by the more complex and expensive systems on the market.
HOW IT COMPARES TO OTHER CHILD-ORIENTED TTRPGs
There are other competing systems on the market that target young children, such as Hero Kids. Also, any experienced Game Master (GM) can tailor nearly any system to make it fun for young children--I've run a number of D&D 5e games for 6-10 year olds, both adventure modules tailored for children (e.g. the Afterschool Adventures series by Playground Adventures) and 5e-inspired games that drop much of the mechanical complexity of the full rules (e.g. Monster Slayers, by Susan J. Morris).
No Thank You, Evil! ("NTYE"), however, excels at two things that the other rated-G adventures and child-friendly systems, generally, do not:
First, it provides an excellent primer for parents new to role-play games. Whereas most child-friendly, role-play material seems targeted to parents with at least some experience playing TTRPGs, NTYE makes no assumptions and does such an excellent job explaining the nature of role-playing and providing tools to the game master that I truly believe that someone with no experience playing TTRPGs could pick this up in a store and learn run games within 20-30 minutes of opening the box. Some of the tools for the new GM include:
* text explaining the nature of the game;
* a simple set of rules,
* samples of typical play to illustrate various aspects of the game,
* physical tokens and cards to represent different aspects of the game--thus easing players from their experiences with traditional board games into role playing;
* and providing a booklet of easy to prepare for adventures, which includes an introductory adventure that provides prompts and GM advice to help new GMs run their first games.
Second, it is the best TTRPG product for mixed-aged groups that I've played. The key to this is the character sheets. Monte Cook understands that the source of most frustration for kids in TTRPGs is the character sheet. The character sheet is the main concrete way in which they interact with the game. Monte Cook simplified, but didn't get rid of the character sheet. And I'm glad for it. Kids LIKE having a character sheet because, like adults, it helps them become more invested in their character. They LIKE to track and list things. But younger children have trouble managing lots of stats, may find applying modifiers difficult, and may not have the writing skills to track written inventories. NTYE does three things that make the character sheet fun for the kids:
* They kept it simple. The character sheet is colorful and has a LOT of white space for early writers and little hands to write in. There are no modifiers and there is very little information to track.
* They provide quality, fun-looking, cardboard tokens to track resources, and cards to understand your character. Instead of having to constantly erase and rewrite, you simply write your maximum resource number for each stat. Say your character has "2" for the "tough" attribute, they get two round blue tokens with a green flexing-muscle arm image on them. As they spend them (see discussion the mechanics, below, they remove a token). Even very young kids can track their resources. Also, for all "nouns" (i.e. "character classes") there are cards that kids can choose from. That way you don't have to explain what all the classes are, they can look at the pictures and take whatever looks cool to them. All the beginning resource pools and stuff that a character starts with is printed on the card, so players can copy over to his or her sheet.
* There are three levels of character sheets: simple (for as young as 4), middle (6-10), and older (8-14). The ages are very general guidelines. My 7 year old had no problem using the older-level sheet, but he's played with DnD 5e character sheets. Each level adds additional detail and mechanics to the character, slightly increasing the complexity. If you play with the simple character sheet, you really don't need a character sheet at all, you can just use a character card. The genius of this is that you can have young children playing and participating with older kids, without the older kids constantly yelling at the younger kid for forgetting some power or telling the younger kid how to play his or her character. It can also help parents who are completely new to role playing to run a game with everyone only using the simple character sheets to keep the rules they need to know to a minimum.
This is the first TTRG targeted at younger children that I think would appeal to a wider audience, as opposed to gamer parents. Not only for the reasons mentioned, but because it comes in beautiful, high quality box, with quality cards and punch-out tokens. You don't have to deal with print-on-demand. Both the softcover rule book and the adventure booklet are beautiful, glossy, full-color prints. The adventure booklet comes with four adventures so you can start playing with very little prep time. The rule book, contains a setting section that gives enough detail on the four sections of "Storia" (accessed from behind the bookshelf, out the window, the closet, or under the bed of the players' rooms) that a confident GM could easily create adventures on the fly in an open-world style using the descriptions and the included monster cards.
Also, this is an actively supported system. I also bought "Story, Please," which allows you to build adventures through decks of cards. This helps parents/older kids to run countless more adventures beyond those in the core set. Monte Cook has also recently came out with a deck of monsters for the game to add to those that come with the core set. Given the game's success, I expect that Monte Cook will continue to develop additional adventures and game aids for the game.
Game play is simple and easy to learn. To make a character you first write a sentence: NAME is a NOUN. Advanced character sheets for older players add an adjective and verb: NAME is a ADJECTIVE NOUN who VERB. The name is whatever you want. The noun is one of the character classes: robot, pirate, spy, princess, etc. The GM is encouraged to allow the player use whatever noun they want and try to match it to the closest of those listed in the rules, or to make up a new one using those in the rule book as an example. The rule book has green call-outs to help with this. For example, "kid" is suggested as a great choice for players who want to play one of their favorite cartoon or storybook characters, like Dora, Diego, etc. "Fighter" can be used for bruiser, hunter, soldier slugger, tank, space knight, warrior, etc. The noun choice determines trait pool starting values, starting stuff, and for advanced players, their "knack."
The adjective will add "1" to one of the trait pools. For example, "fast" adds 1 to your fast pool, whereas "powerful" adds one to your tough pool. Players can select from the list of adjectives in the rule book or come up with their own. For new adjectives, the GM needs to only determine which trait pool will benefit from the adjective.
The verb is really an action phrase, such as "bashes evil", "does magic", "eats ice cream". Each comes with a talent. For example, eats ice cream gives you the "brain freeze" talent. By eating ice cream as an action you can cause a creature to take a point of damage and lose a turn. Talents are only used on the most advanced of the three character sheets because they are more complicated both for new players and new GMs, but older players will enjoy the additional flavor talents give their characters.
Characters have four "pools" (tough, fast, smart, awesome), the starting (and max) value is provided by the noun that the player selects and one trait pool can be increased by one by an adjective if you play with middle and high-level character sheets. Trait pools allow you to "try harder" and spend 1 point from the applicable pool to add 1 to a dice roll. Trait pools are also how damage is tracked. If you are hit by an attack, fall, trip a trap, or otherwise take damage, you will lose one or more tokens from your trait pools, starting with toughness.
The GM never rolls a dice. Instead the GM determines the difficulty of a GOAL, from 1-8: 1=Easy, 2=Simple, 3=Standard, 4=Demanding, 5=Difficult, 6=Challenging, 7=Heroic, 8=Impossible. For new or younger players the GM can say the number. For more experienced players, the GM may instead just describe the difficulty without given the number that the player needs to beat. In my experience, there is more tension telling the players the number they need to beat and it allows younger kids to do some basic math and think about odds. The player must roll higher than the GOAL number to succeed.
The player can decide to "try harder" by spending a token from her applicable trait pool. If she is trying to kick in a door, she would spend 1 toughness token.
Also, one of the trait pools is "awesome" which can only be used to add to ANOTHER PLAYER's die roll. So, let's say the door is a really strong metal door that would make the goal for kicking it in heroic. The player can only succeed by spending a toughness, having another player be awesome and help her, AND rolling a 6. Multiple players can be awesome to help a player on her roll and the only way for an impossible task to be overcome is for multiple players to be awesome.
When something attacks a player, he needs to defend. The level of the creature determines the defense goal. A level-four creature requires a roll of 4 or higher to successfully defend. A player can use a token from his "fast" pool to "try harder" to lower the goal by one. Another player can be awesome to further lower it by one. If the player can "hustle" the die is further lowered by one. If the player is hit, they will take damage based on the creature card. Having armor will reduce damage by one. Damage is taken by removing a tough token, if the player's tough tokens are all gone, then remove a fast token, and so on until all of the player's trait pools are empty. A player can use a "fun" token (players start out with 3) to refresh all of his resource pools. If he is out of fun, then he is "konked out". Nobody dies in the game. Another player can, however, "be awesome", using one of her awesome points to give a player a fun point. In short, it is very rare that any player will be konked out for long.
This is the basics of the game. There are a few other mechanics, including simple movement rules, and rules surrounding player companions (every player gets a companion who has a power called a "cypher" that is refreshed with "treats"). An experienced gamer can skim the rules and be playing in minutes. Someone completely new can pick it up in 15-20 minutes. Most of the rule book describes character options and setting information. The actual play mechanics, if you take away all the play examples could easily be summed up on a page or two.
WHERE THERE IS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
There are only a few things that I found lacking:
First, I wish there were cards for all the players' stuff. It slows down character creation and play when young kids have to try to write down or update an inventory of stuff. It can frustrate and dis-empower them to rely on parents and older siblings to manage their inventories. In the Story, Please! expansion, there are items that can be handed out, but it would be nice to have cards for all the initial items that players get as new characters. Actually, 6 of each. I hope that this is offered as an add-on item. In the mean time, were I playing with young kids or kids that have trouble writing, I would pre-create equipment cards to hand out.
Second, this game is mostly friendly for kids as players. While older kids could run a game fairly easily, it is not as easy for young kids to GM as, say, Hero Labs. My youngest ran a game of Hero Labs when he was 6 years old. I do not see him running NTYE at 7. I would not by this game for kids under 10 and expect them to just play. This game expects that either a parent or older sibling will play as GM.
Third, although the rules are simple, for new players and GMs, having a summary sheet would be helpful. I think you would create a simple rule-summary sheet on a single page to serve as a quick reminder of play options.
For parents who want to run short role-play-game sessions for their kids, but don't have time for game prep, they will find everything they need in NTYE. There will be no need to print anything or photocopy anything, and preparation for an adventure takes minutes. No gaming family with young children should be without it.