ALBANY, N.Y. -- A group of great heroes wake up on an unfamiliar island. As they try to get their bearings they are approached by a group of food-kin known as the Pepper People. The Pepper People are a proud and prosperous race, the greatest hunters in the world, and they want to hunt the greatest heroes in the world. One of the members of the party, a dragon-man, tries to escape but is caught by a pepper person. The dragon-man begins to sneeze uncontrollably, for this is a side effect of being caught by a pepper person, flames shoot from his nostrils scorching the area around them.
And so this adventure dreamed up by an 8-year-old begins.
This is just one of the endless stories made possible by the new kid-friendly tabletop game Adventure Maximus.
"I’ve been a gamer since I was about 10 years old. I still to this day will go off and play a game. My kids noticed that people know me from these games and told stories about these games and wanted to participate," said game creator and graphic artist Francis Hogan of Albany, N.Y.
Adventure Maximus invites kids and their families to take on the roles of dungeon-crawling heroes and a game master in a Dungeons and Dragons-style, tabletop role-playing game, RPG. The game is published by George Vasilakos of Eden Studios.
The problem that Hogan, a father of three young boys, noticed was that while there were lots of games out there that were supposedly kid-friendly, they were overly complex, or boring, or both.
"It’s kind of a really new concept for games. There have always been games where kids can play the game, but there hasn’t been one where kids can create the game as they play it," he said. "Eventually, like in the case with my kids, they take the game in ways I couldn’t imagine Š I wanted to play something with my kids that they would like and that wouldn’t drive me nuts either."
One day, Hogan approached Vasilakos and asked him what kinds of concepts were popular with successful children’s games. With the concepts in mind, he sat down and began creating his new game. His children, now aged 6, 8 and 11, and he would play the game together and eventually they began to take on the role of dungeon master, the player who essentially creates and narrates the story the heroes will play out. After about a year of playing with his sons, his kids’ friends began coming over and playing the game with them and the games’ popularity began to snowball.
The game began appearing on his kids’ friends’ Christmas lists, and their parents would approach Hogan asking him where he got the game.
"I had to explain to them it was just something I cooked up for the kids, but enough people came to me and I thought, ‘maybe there’s something to this,’" he said.
Hogan and Vasilakos worked on the game in their spare time, they kept fine tuning the rules and Hogan kept creating more and more cards.
"I drew and painted all the cards that would be included in the game," he said. "Whenever I had a free moment I would doodle up a card. So when the bug got put into my bonnet about the game going into wider distribution I already had everything drawn out. I had over 300 cards."
Three hundred cards turned out to be far too many to print and keep costs down, so Hogan ended up cutting about two thirds of them from the game. But as the Kickstarter reaches its stretch goals new cards can be added back into the game. For each $1,000 raised, 18 more cards are added.
The mechanics of the game are tailored specifically to the interests and needs of young players. One such device is the initiative mechanic, which decides who gets to go first.
"Kids have a really highly developed sense of fairness," Hogan said. "If someone went first last time, they don’t want them to go first the second time, because that’s not fair."
Another mechanic is the way that the storylines are developed and the characters are created for each game. Each game begins with the players creating characters by selecting their race, class and stats from a collection of character cards available to them. This streamlines the character creation process, which in more traditional RPGs can be long and arduous, and may strain the shorter attention span of young kids.
Storylines can either be created out of nothing or game leaders can use Mad Lib-style story cards to fill in the blanks and jump into an adventure with little effort.
"There’s all these little ways that the game gets personalized," Hogan, who in addition to his artistic work on book covers and for the New York State assembly spends his weekends working at Zombie Planet, a local comic shop.
The game has been playtested by people from ages 5 to 70, and found to be fun for all, according to Hogan.
"Everyone was able to play the game and that was kind of astounding to us, and everyone seemed to enjoy the game too," he said.
The game is still in the development process, though; Hogan and his playtesters are working to make sure that the game is as simple as it needs to be.
"When it comes to kids and gaming the fewer words the better," he said. "You just need the words that count."
Gaming is a crucial part of Hogan’s life, and he likes being able to share that with his kids. Additionally, he believes that it’s important for children to have gaming as an outlet.
"Rather than kids making friends with who knows who online Š they get to have their friends over and socialize or have a game with the folks Š I believe they really need an outlet for all of these stories that have constantly going inside their heads. But there’s not really a positive way of doing it for a kid," Hogan said. "So I think that they need a game that is concise and that appeals to their creative natures and lets them engage in really positive, creative play."
Gaming teaches kids important life lessons as well, such as cooperation. The group succeeds when they work as a team, and when they aren’t working as a team there’s disaster.
"That’s not only a strong lesson for kids to learn, but I know a few adults who could benefit for that lesson as well, Hogan added.
The Kickstarter page for Adventure Maximus exceeded its goal in less than half the time of the 30-day pledge period. And with 13 days to go, it will likely raise well over $20,000 with pledges from almost 500 backers from all across the country.
"I’ve pledged on Kickstarter projects before, but this is the first time I’ve been part of a Kickstarter project as a creator. It’s just astounding how much goodwill there is out there and how many people are excited that this game will be produced," Hogan said. "I never really won anything before in my life, but I feel like I’ve won the jackpot Š It’s just like a silly little thing that I made for my boys, and for everyone to be so excited about it is just so Š I just can’t say enough nice things about these folks."
For the uninitiated, Kickstarter is a website which allows potential entrepreneurs and artists to make a plea to the online community, which says "I have a good idea, this is why it’s good, this is how much money we need to raise." Kickstarter also provides assurance to backers that they will receive their product or they will get their money back.
"The really great thing about Kickstarter, if you have a really great idea that people that can get behind they’ll come out for you," he said. "I’m not usually an emotional dude, but I can’t believe how nice the KS community has been in supporting this crazy idea Š It’s a great game; I’ve had so many hours of enjoyment with my boys. And they’ve had so many hours of enjoyment playing them. I can’t blame (the backers) for being excited."
Hogan admits there has been a disconnect between small retailers and Kickstarter in the past. Retailers often feel Kickstarter can make them obsolete or cut them out of the distribution process. In order to curb this problem, there is a special section of the Kickstarter page for Adventure Maximus for retailers interested in carrying the game, which will give them a retailer discount.
"We think that it has the potential to show retailers that Kickstarter is not the enemy," Hogan said.
For more information on Adventure Maximus go to adventuremaximus.com or find the project on Kickstarter.
Andrew Roiter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @Banner_Arts