Adventure Maximus! got its first outing last week (it's part of my 10 games, 10x challenge). If you're not familiar with the game, it's a card based RPG, designed for kids. I backed the Kickstarter awhile back and only recently gave the rules the once over before deciding to bring it with me on vacation.
The whole thing comes in a nice approximately digest-sized box with character sheets, rulebook, Adventure Sheet, cards (lots of cards), 5 blank dice and the stickers to apply to them (rather than using pips, there are three symbols per die: 1 sword, 2 swords and what looks kind of like the "at" symbol).
Character creation is fairly simple: players draw 3 race cards (which detail any special abilities the PC has) and choose 1, then draw three class cards (additional special abilities, armor and weapons) and choose 1. Based on the class card, the player may draw one or more Equipment and Action cards, and, if applicable, Spell cards.
Adventures are Madlib generated (and can cross into the utterly nonsensical as a result - basically, it provides about as much motivation as required for the average dungeon crawl) and individual encounters feature a map card, an equipment card (the treasure) and a creature card. Three encounters make up the adventure, so the third creature is a boss creature encounter. The boss has its own equipment, spells and actions, just like the PCs, which makes them very dangerous.
This mirrors a typical video game pattern and, given the target audience, makes a lot of sense.
From a tabletop perspective though, it is, without a doubt, a complete railroad, no matter how much you improvise - if the players must go to a particular location, and must encounter a particular thing, it's a railroad. I think, for a kids' game, as a way to introduce role-playing, this probably isn't horrible as it makes life easy for the Maximus Master, who might also have no experience with gaming.
I found thinking of the defined quests as markers to be hit, alleviated some of my aversion to the rails. Also, there is no reason that the Maximus Master can't insert additional locations/encounters along the way and in fact, the rulebook encourages this. Nor are there any scripted resolutions, so player's have at least limited agency.
Ariale, for example, made it past a giant bug simply by avoiding it. She didn't get the loot, but it was a trade off. When she encountered a were-weasel, rather than fight, she parleyed, gave him the wish from her genie lamp which cured him of his lycanthropy and got the treasure that way (plus a bonus XP). She recovered the object of her quest from the big boss in a similar creative fashion, without actually defeating the boss, which left the boss as a potential recurring enemy going forward (if we play again - it doesn't lend itself to chat gaming).
Each PC gets Action Points based on their race card that regenerate per combat round, and can presumably be spent out of combat as well, without restriction. The average for PCs seems to be 3 points. Special abilities, Action Cards, Equipment Cards and Spell Cards all require action points to use. Again, each round of combat, the PC earns their Action Points back, but they may not exceed the maximum allowable for their race.
All dice rolls count successes: a sword = 1 success, two swords = two successes and the "at" symbol thing means 2 successes + roll that die again and add those successes (so, an exploding dice mechanic I guess?). The 5 dice provided, in my limited experience, are more than enough to cover most situations.
Experience Points are given after each encounter, rather than at the end of the adventure. Everyone gets 1 for participating (kind of like those "participant" awards they give to kids just for being on a team) and the Maximus Master can pass out up to 1 additional point per player for roleplaying, creative ideas, etc. Spending the points improve the character in various ways, depending on how many you spend.
I like this mechanism, as it encourages the player to weigh the risk/reward of saving their points for a bigger upgrade.
I also gave the game a try solo, which I am pretty sure the designers never intended. In fact, given that at least one card bases its duration on the amount of time the player air guitars, I'd have to say it didn't cross their minds.
However, this is why I went in on the Kickstarter: I love cards generally, and the art on these in particular, and I figured I could use the card draws to create scenes and then use various solo techniques to play them out. Never the less, for the 10 game challenge, I decided that I would try to stick as close to the way the game is meant to be played (that is, rather than re-purposing the decks into my own game).
The big difference was that, while I had to reveal the Map, Equipment and Boss Creature card to generate the adventure, I only revealed the Map and Creature cards for the first encounter and nothing of the 2nd, until necessary. This way, I could preserve the sense of discovery that I would have in a social game. I used Mythic to run the encounter - it's like second nature anymore to use it, and would allow me to get on with the gaming.
The setup worked well (I'll post a write up of the session as a follow up to this)- my Minotaur Officer clomped around in his full plate to good effect and despite the rails (which I couldn't entirely see thanks to the delayed card draws), with Mythic, it went typically off course each encounter - although i gave up on the third encounter because I ran out of time thanks to some issues with the combat system during the second encounter.
Similar to T&T combats without spite damage, I ended up in a combat that seemed to be interminable - neither side able to rack up damage in any meaningful way due to high armor on both sides. Only by running away from the combat and ducking into a tavern(an act that took 3 tries before I could escape the gargoyles thanks to Mythic and poor die rolls) was I able to end the encounter in an "in game" way.
Obviously, if I was adjudicating this combat in a social game, the gargoyles would have given up when they realized they couldn't do any damage, but maybe to return later with more of their kind. Solo, it seemed a cheat just to rule that without dice to back it up.
Both sessions were enjoyable, although I think I stumbled with the rules more than I would normally find acceptable. i found more than one card that did not seem to fit the system as described in the rule book, but that's probably just a "me thing" and will be corrected with further experience with the game.