I’ve been thinking a lot about different sorts of games, and often about kids games. Reading stories to the little Mephling gets me thinking about playing RPGs with him eventually and what I’d want to start him on. The more I thought, though, the more I realized this is a tricky subject.
Although it seems simple, the idea of a “kids’ game” deserves some further detail. There are so many games out there focused on kids so which one do we mean? Some games are written to tell stories about kids but they aren’t especially kid-friendly in terms of play. On the other hand, there are games that don’t necessarily focus on kids but they are written with rules that are meant for young players. They each fill a particular role in kid-focused RPGs so consider your audience as you’re picking a game.
Kids Games About Kids
When considering a “kids’ game” this is what most people probably think of. Games like No Thank You, Evil!, Hero Kids, and The Princes’ Kingdom all have simplified, kid-friendly rules and the protagonists of the story are kids as well. Tales From the Loop likely falls under this as well; even though the rules are a little more advanced than previously-mentioned titles, it’s a simplified version of the system from Mutant: Year Zero and Coriolis so it’s more accessible to young ones.
This type of game is a great way to enter into the RPG hobby: like kid shows with young characters, RPGs about kids remove all barriers for children to immerse themselves in the story and world. They can even play versions of themselves if they like, or at least an idealized version of themselves that can do things they dream about. Arguably this is the strength of any good RPG but when using a game written about kids you actually hit themes they are familiar with: hundreds of kids have dreamt of being an astronaut or cowboy, but a half-elven arcane archer is a little less common.
Kids Games About Others
This is actually a far wider field than kids games about kids. Little Heroes, Happy Birthday, Robot!, and Mermaid Adventures, to name just a few, are fun and easy games that let kids jump into roles other than young people like them. From robots to fairies and mermaids to giants they can find new identities in these games that match archetypes from their favorite stories. Like the games above, these characters do things that the kids never could manage but there’s also another layer of removal since they aren’t human either. Just like some adult players enjoy playing something totally different from themselves, some kids would rather play a centaur archer than a fifth-grader with a bow.
Of course, this sort of approach opens up the possibility of adjusting any game to be for young people and that’s a great option too! A Wizards article from 2015 about Being a Dungeon Master for Kids shows that playing D&D 5e with middle schoolers can have really great results. Obviously games like Night’s Black Agents and Delta Green are probably better avoided for a young audience but you can definitely take your favorite game and adapt it to help people get in younger than usual. This isn’t an off-the-shelf option but it’s a good one if you have a little time and a middle-school-age group.
Regular Games About Kids
A lot of games that seem perfect for kids are actually not really written for kids at all. The World of Darkness’s Innocents, the upcoming Kids On Bikes, Evil Hat’s Bubblegumshoe, Fantasy Flight’s Grimm, and Nocturnal Media’s Innocents all have kid protagonists but the rules (and sometimes the subject matter) isn’t particularly focused on kids. There’s also the category of games about subjects that are more innocent and not the usual RPG fare. Mouse Guard and Ponyfinder come to mind (although it pains me to put them in the same category) as complex games with fun and fuzzy characters and there are certainly others.
All of these games are for adults but they can have a place with kids too. If you have a mixed group, some adults and some older children, these games can offer something to both sorts and bring them together. Adult gamers get a rich and complex gaming experience with lots of options for them to try. Young gamers might struggle with some of the rules but they are the experts on the setting; the adults have to stretch themselves to remember what it’s like to be young but the kids at the table know it really well. Encourage that feeling but asking them for advice or asking what they think a situation would be like. This sort of two-sided interaction can keep the game from becoming frustrated adults and distracted children (many of us have been there).