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Mouse Tails» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Mouse Tails: a Semi-Review rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
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This is a semi-review, meaning I've read the rules thoroughly but have not, as of the time I'm writing this, yet played the game.

Mouse Tails is a game designed to be run by adults and played with children (and possibly other adults). It's very much a loosely structured game, relying on narrative powers of the GM (called Mice Master here) and players. In it, the players are Mouse Characters: real-type mice, not cartoon mice or tool-using, car-driving, anthropomorphic mice. It's not very long, but aside from the fact that there are no rules for character development, it's a complete game.

Organization of the Book

The Introduction includes equipment needed (a d6 per player) and the basic mechanic, which is 1d6, try to roll equal to or above your relevant ability level, suitably simple for young children. It also explains that this game is not meant for novice GMs - you should have some RPG experience to run this game.

Next comes the Player's Section, which includes:

* character creation,
* a description of the Abilities and the Ranks abilities are rated at,
* Luck points, which you can use to succeed at an ability without a roll - or even after a failed roll,
* how Ability Rolls work,
* Initiative and Fighting, and what happens when your character gets hurt. (It's not pretty - it's actually pretty grim for a children's game!)

Each mouse has five Abilities, one at each of five different Ratings, and five Luck Points. There is a sample character, some suggestions of mouse names, and suggestions on how to fill in personality. I mean, these mice are very personable, after all!

This section is peppered with some good examples.

There is a respectable GM section, which describes, with examples:

* how to keep the game flowing,
* how to describe things to keep the game alive,
* when to require an Ability Roll for the PCs,
* which Abilities govern which actions,
* a few more mechanics the players don't need to know about, and
* a detailed sample session between a GM and two players, one the wife of the GM and the other their son. (It reads very realistically in that the son abandons his mother's wounded character to save his own character's skin! I've played RPGs with four-year-olds who have done the same thing.)

Then there is a Bestiary of ten animals and how much damage mice could do to them, five different possible outcomes ranging from Grazed to Frightened to actually Killed in the case of the smaller animals.

Finally there's a half-page Character Sheet, with a cute mouse drawn on it the kids can color in, as well as places for stats.

Game Mechanics

There is much to like here, in a game aimed at young children. Reading 1d6 is within the grasp of many young children, whereas even 2d6 would slow very young children down. Likewise, there are only five abilities (Muscle, Outwit, Unnoticed, Skitter and Energy - guess what the initials spell!). Each one must be at a different level, from 2+ to 6+, but you get to pick which ability is what level. If you want a fast mouse, pick Skitter as your best ability. If you want a smart mouse, pick Outwit, and so on.

The ability ranking system is the one thing that irritates me: the lower your ability, the better you are at it. I do understand why game designers do this, honest I do: they want high numbers on the dice to be good. So you have to roll equal to your ability or higher to succeed - a "6" always succeeds, and a "1" always fails. But my personality type simply balks at hearing that a mouse with Muscle 2 is better than a mouse with Muscle 3. Me, I don't have any problem with the concept of the lower the dice roll the better. I have dozens of games where that's true, so I'm used to it.

I have to admit that's minor, and you may not be bothered by it. In fact, I wouldn't even have to use it. The character sheet simply has empty boxes by the Abilities, so I could say 5 is your best ability, and 1 your worst, and you have to roll less than or equal to your ability to succeed. See how easy that was?

I do like the basic design philosophy that rolls should be rare, and the GM should simply describe the results of what the PC wants to do until it comes to something that's really hard and/or dangerous. Then the player almost always makes the roll, rarely the GM. This makes children feel more in control of the situation, even if it's, "Make a Skitter roll to avoid being captured by the cat!" and the GM never even had to make a roll for the cat ...

The GM rolls very rarely: secret knowledge rolls, such as to notice an Owl, and situational rolls, such as when the player says, "Is there maybe some string in this room I could distract the cat with?", and damage rolls when a PC hits an NPC. That's it. Nicely done!

Player Character Death and Development

PCs die in this game. In fact, if a player fails his Skitter roll to avoid an attack (and is out of Luck Points!), there's a 1/3 chance the PC will die right then, and a 2/3 chance it's simply incapacitated and may then die as it can no longer Skitter for a while. In the case of PC death, the GM is simply told to have the player make up a new character and figure out how to get that character to join up with the surviving party members. I'm not sure how children would relate to this, but perhaps they're sturdier than I think.

This may also explain the lack of character development rules: perhaps mice mortality is so great you never have to worry about it! It does mention that you start each session with five Luck Points, so maybe, if you were into character development, you could give them six Luck Points after they've survived a couple of sessions. But that's not in the rules ... and I have to admit, with only five Abilities, you really shouldn't be raising them at all easily. Er, I mean lowering them.

Summation

I like it, except for the low stats are better than high stats thing. I'm a little uncertain about character death, but both of those things are definitely connected to my personality type and may not bother you at all. The game is incredibly cheap - $1 at rpgnow.com! - and I certainly got my money's worth out of it already. All in all, a fine addition to the dual genre of Kid-Friendly Animal-PC games. Recommended!


[Note: this is part of my series of RPG Semi-Reviews by SOS of Indie game products.]

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Thanks, great review (semi or not)!

Out of curiosity: Mouse Tails is only available as PDF, or is there a print version, too? How long is it, and does it have any artwork? And are there - apart from the bestiary - some adventure seeds?
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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jasri wrote:
Thanks, great review (semi or not)!

Out of curiosity: Mouse Tails is only available as PDF, or is there a print version, too? How long is it, and does it have any artwork? And are there - apart from the bestiary - some adventure seeds?

Thanks for the kind words!

As far as I know, it's only available PDF. The designer is actually on BGG/RPGG - you could ask him. (No, I don't know him.)

It's only 15 pages long. It has some royalty-free clip art scattered throughout - just about one per page. I actually like the art - the cover is indicative of most of it. No adventure seeds, alas.
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