I recently tried out Sellswords and Spellcasters from Ganesh Games using the setting from Mordheim - a city destroyed by a comet centuries ago that is newly opened to exploration. My players were: an 11 year old boy who wanted to play "that game from Stranger Things (ie, Dungeons and Dragons)", his mom with little gaming experience but great imagination, my 14 yo daughter with some gaming experience but not really a gaming enthusiast and my wife and I.
It went splendidly and everyone had a great time and wants to play again!
My wife and I did a moderate amount of prep work by just asking what kinds of fantasy characters they might like and then showing them a few of my painted models. I then took that and created the characters. I tried to also include an option for each one. For instance, for the mom's character I offered the choice of taking the "Impulsive" disadvantage along with the "Fast" advantage.
Me: A con-artist witch hunter with the Leader, Cleric and Heavy Drinker traits (scarred by all the terrors he has seen in Mordheim)
Wife: A dual-sword wielding fighter with Whirlwind of Steel
Daughter: A thief type with the Greedy disadvantage
Boy: A wizard
Mom: Essentially a Ranger type with Archery, Impulsive, Fast, Forester
(Also 2 three year olds, one from each family, who entertained and interrupted constantly as we played)
Since we had 5 players, I built each type on 30 points each and each player only had one character. This seemed to work pretty well. It's not really possible to build a good Wizard with only 30 points so I fudged it a little and gave him two spells: Teleport Other and Magic Dart. I chose Teleport Other specifically to get him into the idea that this is cooperative and and encourage him to think about how to help everyone else.
First scenario was the Wine in the Brambles -- it was easy to substitute a ruined building for a bramble patch. We started off really rough as several of us failed 2 or 3 activations in a row. This kind of spooked us and we started rolling only 1 or 2 dice, but that didn't help much either. Basically, we just had bad luck with reinforcements and ambushes popping off around us. We didn't manage to get further than 12" into the battlefield, but we still managed to find 2 jugs of wine and get everyone off the board for a technical win.
Then it was a break for King Cake (it's Mardi gras, y'all!) and we went back for a second scenario to try again. Everyone upgraded their characters (just adding 1 point to either Ranged or Melee was pretty quick) -- that might have been a violation of the campaign rules, but wanted to keep the game going without bogging down in the campaign.
This time I chose the first scenario (the run through the wasteland) -- the story was that we had fled the city proper but still had to get through the ruins to find the merchant (so that I didn't have to set up all new terrain). And I ruled that there could be casks of wine here, too, so if we searched the houses we might find some. This game went MUCH better and we racked up quite a kill count. Nearly everyone was trying for 3 activations per turn and for the most part we were getting 2 activations and an event instead of the other way around like we got in the first game. We even had a great plan -- we would open a path and the wizard would run up the battlefield, then teleport us all up to him and we would start again. It was a great plan until the wizard rolled a 1 and couldn't cast the spell!
Highlights of the second game were the Ranger using her healing skill to keep everyone healthy as we fought off hordes of goblins, the fighter with Whirlwind of Steel cutting her way through 9 goblins and 3 Orks over the course of the game, and the thief looting every dead goblin in sight. Oh, and right at the end we managed to surround and kill the troll with archery and crossbow shots without ever having to face it in melee combat!
Everyone is excited to do the campaign turn and go shopping the next time! It's a great little game. I love how the characters are the only ones to roll dice and the risk-reward system of the activation and how it interacts with the event deck is just genius.
BTW, while I have several other Ganesha Games products, I haven't really played them. This one is different. It's elegant. I'll be playing this one a lot. And I knew I had a winner when, the night before, I set up a simple solo game and had so much fun that I couldn't wait to play with my friends the next day.
PS -- I would buy a science-fiction version of this in an instant! This is the game I wanted Rogue Stars to be.
Some house rules we implemented:
I discarded arbalast and made the crossbow deal 2 damage. Otherwise I can't see any reason to take a crossbow instead of a bow, and besides crossbows LOOK like they should do more damage. That's my justification and I'm sticking to it. :-)
My daughter's thief character is holding a little hand-crossbow thing -- totally not a realistic weapon. I gave it a 12" range, 1 damage and does NOT take a turn to reload. And I told her that being a thief she can coat it in poison next game. She was happy. (Should I be alarmed that my daughter enjoys playing assassins?)
The Mana Fluctuation card -- I like this one -- the Boy was so disappointed after he rolled a 1 and couldn't do spells (without doing blood magic) that I ruled that if the Mana fluctuation came up as +2 afterward we could instead choose to let him cast spells again. In other words, it would recharge his magical energy instead of giving the +2 to casting.
On a natural 20 to hit, you do +1 damage. It just seems right. :-)
Any questions, just ask. Pictures to come!
Edit: Great discussion of using this game with kids over at Lead Adventure Forum: