Magical Kitties Save the Day: A Parent’s Perspective
Michelle Nephew, co-owner of Atlas Games, tells us about how she and her kids discovered Magical Kitties Save the Day and what they love most about the game. Read on for a dragon/kitten hybrid, a 3-year-long campaign of epic and multigenerational proportions, and lots of hand-drawn kids' character sheets.
My kids and I discovered Magical Kitties Save the Day at Con of the North in the Twin Cities about three years ago. We didn't realize it when we sat down at the table, but the game master was none other than the designer of the game, Matthew Hanson. He ran us through a fast but exciting demo, and we were hooked. Kitties with magical powers?! How could we not love it?
I went home and downloaded a copy of the rules. For our first game at home, we used the kitty characters the kids had created at Con of the North. The first game was just us running around the forest saving animals in trouble. And I figured that would be it for Magical Kitties Save the Day. I mean, my kids have the attention span of goldfish, most of the time. But they kept asking to play more!
So I went with the easiest story fodder I could think of: fairytales. We made up new characters, which took all of about 10 minutes. They were all the pets of a princess named Aurora. Her problem was that at her birthday party a mean faerie came and put an enchantment on everybody that made them all fall asleep. Sound familiar? Turns out, kitties are better at rescuing princesses than princes are, because it didn't take them any hundred years! They found the faerie and convinced her to be good with their overpowering kitty cuteness. Case closed.
Our campaign covered all the greatest storytime hits: the kitties saved Aurora from a bad night's sleep by finding the pea under her mattress, they met seven quirky dwarfs in the forest and the little girl who lived with them, and they even met another magical kitty named Puss. Then as a finale we explored a magical labyrinth that appeared outside of Aurora's castle, with a side trip to fairyland.
Handing Over the Game Master Reins
At this point, our fairytale campaign had been going on for over a year. But I was running out of ideas. So my kids stepped up! First my then-8-year-old Emma ran an underwater adventure based on a Thea Stilton book she'd just read, featuring mermaids and narwhals. She made a hand-drawn world map and everything. I played Fanton, who was supposed to be Phantom except my other daughter Sophie made my character sheet for me. She was a Gullible calico cat, which is pretty much the best Flaw ever for a parent's character.
After Emma and Sophie’s success, my little guy Jack tried his hand at running the game. At 5 years old! There were an amazing number of dinosaurs in it. And the dinos won every encounter, no matter what we did. And there was no way for us to leave. Finally I stepped in to "co-Game Master" with him so we could have a happy ending … it was definitely a learning experience for everyone. (In particular, we learned how much Jack loves dinosaurs. As opposed to, say, his sisters.)
Then the girls started reading the Warriors series by Erin Hunter, which is basically an unending soap opera about feral cats and their personal dramas, of which they have many. But it has its own official roleplaying game! So we tried that out … and then ditched it for Magical Kitties. I gave up on it when our cats couldn't manage to catch a mouse for almost half an hour using the complicated combat system, in which I had to do all the math for my kids. So we converted our characters over to hand-drawn Magical Kitties sheets, and started a new campaign in the Warriors world setting. (That is, until a freak forest fire consumed their territory and the only escape was a magical portal that lead them to a strange new fairytale-like world. Can you say crossover?) That campaign is still going on to this day.
What I Like About Magical Kitties Save the Day
The thing I liked best about Magical Kitties from the start was the easy entry. Character generation took about 10 minutes, no joke. When we picked up the game for Atlas Games, I told our RPG (roleplaying game) producer Justin Alexander that I wanted this to be something where a parent could read through the first chapter in less than half an hour and start playing right away. This is because I've had the experience, over and over again, of trying a new RPG with my kids, being an hour into character generation, and giving up amid much child angst. Magical Kitties is intuitive. It plays the way a kids' roleplaying game should play, without the pointless complications. I can run it in the car, while I'm driving … I just need a cup to hold a handful of 6-sided dice, and we're ready to play.
Because it turns out that what my kids want to play isn't complicated. It isn't D&D Lite. In fact, it's not about fighting at all. It's about kitties!
And the kids never seem to get tired of playing the roles of magical kitties and their friends, weirdly. This surprises me, because we've played roleplaying games like My Little Pony where the story and characters just didn't capture their interest in the same way. Turns out, they don't want to play their favorite TV characters. They want to play THEIR characters. Like Sophie's "dritten" Firewing, who's a cross between a cat and a dragon. And Jack's inexplicably blue-furred kitty named Bluey (what else?) who rocked the Force Field power by using it as a submarine. Or the mini stanklyosaurus named Frankey who joined us after Jack's dino adventure, who's a cross between a stegasaurus and an anklyosaurus, because who can decide?
And so our Magical Kitties campaign has just kept on going. For three years now. We're playing the grown kittens of our original Warriors cats, who are now the clans' leaders … that's right, we've gone multi-generational. And my kids still aren't bored.
The tone in his voice was priceless when our newly-hired RPG producer Justin Alexander first asked, "So what's this 'magic kitties' thing on the development board?" But he had a great grasp of the game from the start, and I'm excited to get to replace my beat-up printout of the download I bought three years ago with a printed book. I don't think I'll ever give up our battered old campaign folder, though, stuffed to overflowing with my kids' childhood adventures.
Quotes from the Players
"It's exciting, fun, cool ... it makes me want to do more of it over and over because every time is unique. It's never the same so we always get to go on a new adventure. And basically we can let our Kitties do whatever we want because they get a whole bunch of powers and we decide what they look like. It's really fun because it makes us feel like we're the actual kitties doing what they're doing. Basically you can do anything you want in it. You can fly. You can do the impossible … nothing is impossible!" -- Emma Nephew, Age 9
"It's awesome. I love it because there's a lot of adventure in it." -- Sophie Nephew, Age 9
"It's okay when a problem happens. If you make a problem and something bad happens to your kitty you earn a [experience] point at the end. But if the kitties don't save the day they get no point. So you want the kitties to save the day." -- Jack Nephew, Age 6