Adventure awaits! You and your siblings are off on your own, probably way past curfew, exploring mysterious locations. Can you make it past the boss to gain an epic treasure, or will you all be sent home to bed?
What Is The Siblings Trouble?
The Siblings Trouble is a cooperative storytelling game for 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $40 for a copy of the expanded deluxe edition. For those who already own the original game, there’s also an opportunity to get just the new content for $25. The Siblings Trouble was originally published back in 2016, and now it’s getting an expanded deluxe edition with a new character, some new content like locations and treasures, and a bigger box. This review is adapted from my original Kickstarter Alert, but with changes to reflect the new content. The original game had an 8+ age rating, and although this one is bumped to 12+, it’s primarily because of requirements around materials testing. I think for the most part younger kids could play with some parental (or older sibling) guidance. There’s one new location—the Spooky Old House—that has an additional warning card about scary images—I’ll share some of those later so you can see for yourself.
The Siblings Trouble was designed by Ed Baraf, Kim Robinson, Andy Ashcraft, and Stephen Kerr and published by Pencil First Games, with illustrations by Adam Dix, Kellan Jett, Hetian “Timmy” Wang, Lakshya Digital, and Mac Schubert.
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The Siblings Trouble Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, but it should be pretty close to what the finished product will look like.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 12 Character cards (2 each per character)
- 5 Blank Character cards
- 46 Treasure and Epic Treasure cards
- 102 Location cards (17 each in 6 locations)
- 41 Path cards
- 16 Big Secret cards
- 16 Journey Home cards
- 6 Journey Continues cards
- Home card
- Lost card
- 30 tokens
- 7 custom dice (6 Character dice, 1 Treasure die, 1 Search die)
- 13 Destiny cards
- Destiny coin
- Reference cards
There are also three cards that go on top of each section in the box, forming a little triptych illustration of kids walking in the moonlight toward a cave with glowing red eyes. The backs of these cards have a list of the cards that go in each section, so it’s a nice way to help you keep things organized while adding a bit of flair. The plastic insert is nice, with embossing that reflects which cards go in each well. If you have any other games from Pencil First, you’ll know that their plastic inserts generally have that little extra decoration to make them pretty and not just functional.
By the time the original Kickstarter campaign closed, the game had already grown a bit from my prototype, with more locations to explore. This deluxe edition adds two more locations as well as additional cards for the existing locations, more treasures, and two new siblings. Chance is a bit more like the original characters, with a die and an ability token. Destiny is a bit more like a game master, with a small deck of oversized cards and a metal coin to flip.
I really like the look of the game. The siblings look like they could be in a comic book or a cartoon, and their names are Adventure, Danger, Mischief, Mayhem, Chance, and Destiny. Each sibling has two cards so you have two choices for the character art (though they’re otherwise equivalent). The location cards are made to look like maps that kids have scribbled on, with some sticky notes to mark the entrance and the boss. The Big Secret cards look like the classic black-and-white composition notebook. The fronts of the cards are usually more detailed illustrations and are also great, but I like the style of the card backs especially.
The dice are all engraved and painted custom dice. Each character die has an epic fail, a character ability, and four sides that have stars, though each character has a different mix of values. Chance has 1-1-5-5 and is very swingy. Adventure is 2-3-3-4, a pretty solid middle ground. The search die and the treasure die are both entirely custom faces.
Treasure cards are a variety of everyday objects that kids could consider treasure: a chrome lug nut, a spray bottle, a magnet. Each one has a star value, along with some bonus for meeting particular conditions in the story. Path cards tend to be a mixture of places to search and events, and the location cards contain encounters—minions and situations that you’ll have to get past, as well as the final boss encounter.
Destiny’s cards are tarot-sized cards that just have a single large illustration and no other gameplay text or icons—they remind me a little bit of Dixit cards, though without quite as many details or elements per card. There’s a reference sheet that tells you how each card is used. While I do appreciate being able to show off the artwork, I think it would have been nice to have the instructions for each card just printed directly on the card itself. The idea is that the Destiny player can use their own interpretation of the card, but the reference sheet does list suggested rewards and penalties for each card that could have been on the cards themselves just for one less thing to look up.
How to Play The Siblings Trouble
The real goal of the game is to have fun telling a story about going on an adventure, though ideally you’ll make it all the way to the Boss, defeat it, and grab an Epic Treasure before heading home. If all of you get sent home before then, your parents send you to bed early and the game ends.
Pick one of the locations and set up the adventure deck according to the rulebook. The entrance and boss are specific to the location, as well as various encounters. You’ll also have several path cards, plus a Big Secret. The deck ends with a Journey Home card.
Each player gets a character card along with the associated die and ability token. Each player also gets a Treasure card, and tells a little bit about it and why they’re bringing it on the adventure.
If anyone is playing as Destiny, they take the coin and the deck of Destiny cards, drawing a hand of five. Destiny should always play last in turn order.
Players take turns flipping over a card from the Adventure Deck and resolving it. The idea is that the cards act as prompts to tell a story. For instance, the first card, the Entrance, gives you a brief description of the location and asks you to fill in the story of how you got there–describe how you found the entrance to the caves. Some cards require you to roll the Search die, and will have further instructions if you roll the “card” symbol; otherwise, you take the result of the die roll.
Encounters will have a star value–these are things that you need to overcome, though you can do it however you like. Want to bash the spider with your Gnarly Stick? Go for it. Want to befriend the troll by sharing your Action Figure? Why not? It’s entirely up to you how you describe your action. Then you roll the die, and see if you get enough stars, and describe how your attempt worked or failed. Items can be discarded to add stars to your roll, and most of them have additional instructions that will boost their star power if you include certain things in your story.
You can ask a sibling for assistance, which lets them roll their own die and add it to yours. And, of course, there’s the Epic Fail–you can try to get somebody to rescue you, but there are some more limitations. If you fail to overcome an obstacle, you get sent home and will spend your next turn getting back to the rest of the group instead of flipping a card. If everyone is home at the same time, the adventure ends.
Pass an encounter, and you might get a reward—a Treasure card, perhaps, or a roll of the Treasure die (which could be good or bad).
When you get to the Big Secret card, you’ll reveal the Boss at the end, plus draw an Epic Treasure card and place it under the Boss. The Big Secret shows you how you found out about the Boss—maybe you decoded a secret message in a candy bar wrapper, or found a letter in a dusty attic. Once the Boss is revealed, there are effects that can add Fear tokens to it, making it scarier and harder to overcome.
If you ever roll your ability icon, you get to use your special ability—these differ by character. You also have an ability token that may be used once during the game to use your ability when you’ve rolled an Epic Fail.
Destiny’s turn is a bit different. Instead of drawing from the adventure deck, Destiny helps set up the adventure deck and prompts players if they need a little help. On Destiny’s turn, they choose a Destiny card to play. The reference sheet indicates what sort of story to tell based on the card. For example, the “Temptation” card shows some cookies and chocolate milk, and Destiny draws an epic treasure and describes why it’s so tempting. Destiny then chooses a sibling to make a choice, and after the choice is made, flips the coin. If it lands on the sun side, it was the right choice and Destiny tells why and gives some sort of bonus. If it lands on the moon side, Destiny describes why it was the wrong choice and gives some sort of penalty.
If you all get sent home early, the game ends and each sibling tells the story of how they made their Great Escape.
If you reach the end and defeat the Boss, you tell the conclusion of the story: what treasures you picked up during the adventure, how your parents reacted when you got home, and so on, prompted by the Journey Home card. Defeating the boss is considered winning the game, though there’s plenty of fun to be had in the journey, win or lose.
For a longer (and more difficult) game, you can use two boss cards (there are three cards for each location)—you’ll have to defeat both of them to win.
You can also set up a multi-location adventure. In this case, you use the Lost card instead of the Home card—if somebody fails at an encounter, they’re lost instead of being sent home. A sibling can spend their turn to look for you (by resolving a path card from the deck); otherwise, on your turn, you resolve a path card to get back to your siblings. Also, instead of the Journey Home card, you use a Journey Continues card between locations, which will give you a prompt for a segue to the new location. When you start the new location, you get to keep tokens and treasures gained in the previous location.
Why You Should Play The Siblings Trouble
The Siblings Trouble is a cooperative game, but it’s important to note that it’s more focused on the narrative and building a story together than about winning or losing. Sure, there is a victory condition—defeating the final boss—but if you play with the aim of just getting through the cards and beating the boss, you’re not as likely to enjoy the game. It may sound trite, but it really is about the journey and not just the destination.
That type of game is not my typical fare. I still don’t have a lot of experience with role-playing games, so I’m not very practiced at making up stories on the spot based on a few prompts. My youngest and I played Once Upon a Time with a friend recently, another storytelling game, and we discovered that she had trouble knowing when to stop (or segue to her next card) and I had trouble finding an opportunity to jump in. We would not be a good improv troupe!
Fortunately, there are a few things to make The Siblings Trouble a little easier to get into. First, there’s a “Storytelling 101” booklet included that gives you some pointers for getting started, with an example turn showing some dialogue and explaining how to respond to a card. The artwork on the cards is another piece that is meant to inspire your story, and it isn’t always meant to be taken literally. Destiny’s card “The House” depicts a house on a cloud, ladders extending above and below, but that doesn’t mean the story needs to include a literal house in a cloud—it’s just a home or a shelter that should fit into whatever story you were already telling.
Back in 2015 when I first wrote about The Siblings Trouble, I played it with my two older kids. This time around, my youngest is 10 and she was ready to give it a shot. We invited one of her classmates and played a couple times, once with the classmate’s dad (who has more experience with RPGs than I do). We had some really wild stories, because her classmate was very enthusiastic and would go on long rambling tales for each card, sometimes forgetting where they were supposed to be going! The dad was pretty good at coming up with ways to interpret the cards that weren’t always literal, and referring back to events that had happened previously, which helped to tie everything together.
The new Destiny player is meant to be more of a game-master, and is suggested for games where you have younger kids or less-experienced players in the game. Destiny should be played by somebody who is familiar with the rules and can help to facilitate the game for the other players, prompting them throughout the game and maybe giving some story suggestions if somebody gets stuck (or getting players back on track if they go off on a tangent).
The game is meant to capture the feel of something like Scooby-Doo or The Goonies, with kids out having an adventure and no parents in sight, getting into some trouble, encountering some spooky situations, and eventually making it home with some shiny new treasures. Nothing in the game seems too scary, though of course that depends on the individual kid. Here are the locations with some of the things you’ll encounter in each:
- Hillside Caves: trolls, giant worms, spiders
- Ancient Forest: dinosaurs, giant bugs, carnivorous plants
- Abandoned Junkyard: robots, aliens, rats
- Mystic Waters: merpeople and aquatic creatures
- Museum of Mystery: skeletons and art come to life
- Spooky Old House: haunted house and Halloween-y baddies
The Museum of Mystery and the Spooky Old House are the new locations in the deluxe edition—we tried the museum and had a lot of fun dealing with dinosaur skeletons!
I like the new stuff added to the deluxe edition—it’s always fun to have a variety of characters, and the addition of Destiny allows for one more player in a new role. The new box is a bigger, square box (the same size as The One Hundred Torii) and is really lovely, though I still like the compactness of the original box too. (If you already have the original, you can pledge to get just the new content, which comes in a small box similar to the old base game; there is also some additional info on how to get a book box similar to the limited edition version from the first Kickstarter so you can have a matching set.)
The Siblings Trouble was Pencil First Games’ third published title and since then Pencil First has established themselves as a solid publisher with several more great titles. It’s been fun to see them returning to some of their earlier games and giving them a bit of a makeover (Lift Off! got an expanded deluxe edition in 2020). It was fun to revisit these adventures with my youngest kid and to see some new locations to explore.
I’d recommend The Siblings Trouble for those who like making up stories and have some fun with their imaginations, whether they’re kids or kids at heart. It’s less targeted at those who are looking for a strictly strategic game that they can “beat,” or who want the challenge of puzzling out some complex mechanics. Events and encounters in this game are resolved pretty simply and with a healthy dose of chance—the fun is in narrating the outcome, good or bad. If that sounds like your type of fun, you should give it a shot!
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the The Siblings Trouble Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.