Age target: 6+ (requires counting to 20)
The range on the box is for 6+, but I did play it with my 3 year old with some modifications, and it worked out fine.
After playing some games with friendly zombies around Halloween (it helped with not being afraid of everyone’s Halloween decorations), my kid wasn’t really afraid of them so much, so kiddo handled how they looked well despite being below the age recommendation. We did say that instead of fighting the zombies, we shooed them away, and they were breaking into places to eat moldy food instead of going after people… so they were basically giant creepy racoons. This helped us not have to explain too much about zombies to a 3yo and let us enjoy the rest of the game together.
I also helped a little with counting up to 20 and practicing less than/more than, but this was actually really easy because of the simplified rolling rules. Kiddo also really started picking up the less than/more than by the end of the game and was telling me if something was a success or fail without my input.
The game simplifies the rules from some well known TTRPG’s to make them VERY kid friendly – it only requires knowing less than/more than against a single number and being able to do very simple addition and subtraction. It also made item tracking and the character sheet VERY easy to use – both of these were parts I’ve needed to do work arounds for on other games, but we didn’t need to for this one.
For the story, there are zombies, and zombies do what zombies do – they crave their next meal, which is YOU! If your kids are OK with that, then no modification is needed, but, like I said, we just tweaked it a bit for my kid to make it more like a Scooby-Doo mood, and that worked out too.
Mages & Macrophages is set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie infested world where you are one of the few remaining groups of survivors!
For the players, your job is to get to the CDC and find a cure! Throughout the game, you encounter zombies, a very fun merchant, and potential allies (loved the Dale reference by the way) while exploring the CDC… and a bit beyond.
For the DM, the setting is super easy to put together. Everything (and I mean, everything) is clearly and concisely laid out on the inside of the DM screen. There’s exact descriptions, prompts, loot queues, etc right there to help with easily creating the scene even if you’ve never DM’d before.
Your character is a survivor who is questing for a cure to the zombie infection! You choose your character from different tribes that range from humans to mechs to even exoskeld (insectoid) characters.
From there, you can decide how to build your character the way you want – they are not bound to certain abilities or bonuses by their tribe. To assign skills, you get points to place between wisdom, dexterity, and strength however you want, and these are used to determine if you can cast magic, your “to hit” number, and your health.
And then your character is ready to go! Aside from picking a name and drawing a character picture that all took about 10 minutes with my kid (who chose a VERY STRONG mech named Flippy).
When I first opened the DM screen, I saw this:
These are item tokens that slot into your character sheet! One of the biggest issues I have right now with playing some of the bigger games with my kid is inventory tracking – it is really hard for a 3 year old to remember items when they can’t read yet.
Having a tangible token, with a picture and number (so no fancy extra descriptions needed), that slots into your character sheet was HUGE.
This was probably the first game that my kid was able to track inventory without us drawing pictures, and, for kids who are still learning to read, being able to connect just a word, a number and picture is a lot easier than needing to read text or track by word alone.
My husband, who also played with us, kept complimenting the item tokens as well. In our games with our friends, I am pretty sure he doesn’t use healing potions, not due to saving them, but just due to forgetting they are there. Seeing the token made it feel more present, and he actually used his items throughout the game.
To hit and skill checks
Like in the dragon game, there’s skill check and a number to target for hitting baddies with an attack, however, Mages & Macrophages made these concepts a lot easier for kids and new players to track.
In other TTRPG’s, there’s sometimes a lot of modifiers, different modifiers down a big list of skills, or ever varying skill check targets. This is a lot of numbers to track and keep adjusting to.
In Mages & Macrophages, when you attack something, you roll a d20 and if it is greater than or equal to your “to hit” that you calculated on your character sheet, you hit!
For skill checks, it is the other way. You roll versus your skills (wisdom, dexterity, strength) and if you get less than or equal to that number, you succeed!
For both of these, since the number is always just what’s on the character sheet (and doesn’t keep changing depending on the monster or the type of skill challenge), it is WAY easier to track. Over time, my 3 year old was able to remember, “13 or bigger scares the zombie” and “14 and smaller smashes the door”. If the numbers had kept changing, my kid probably would not have started tracking that without help.
Puzzles and mini-games
Every Ampersand game comes with a puzzle or mini-game, which I am a huge fan of! I don’t want to spoil this one by showing the pictures, but it is on a coated card and comes with a dry erase marker to let players draw on it and solve the puzzle together.
The puzzle is optional (just based on your player’s skills and interest), but I thought it was really cool to, first, just have it included, and, second, make it interactable and reusable. Even if it is my husband giving my kid directions on where to draw, my kid was still able to participate and LOVES getting to help… and use the dry erase marker.
From here, I want to say that I could honestly keep going because there’s a lot of cool details in the mechanics, from having a secret DM packet to pets to how players mark health during combat to what generally was included or removed… There was a lot of thought and care put into making a system that is very accessible for kids and new players (or new DM’s).
What did my kid think?
First off, my 3 year old loved playing a zombie chasing robot who could smash through doors!
My child also really liked having item tokens to hold and place on the character sheet, and it was fun seeing that excitement when kiddo found a new item. In this game, it meant getting to put another token on the sheet, which I think was more of a prize than me drawing a little picture in the character sheet margins (like I do with some of our other games).
And kiddo really enjoyed the moments where the dice rolls made sense. When we got toward the end of the session and my kid rolled, looked at the dice, and said, “14! Flippy scares the germs!”, that was understanding the game mechanics. I saw my kid’s face light up with pride at figuring it out without my help.
I enjoyed the story not just being about medieval fantasy – it tied into pop culture elements that can capture different interests. Other Ampersand games are Snakes & Sarcophagi and Oobleck & Octopodes, so I’m looking forward to seeing some Tomb Raider and 2000 Leagues style adventures!
I liked the mechanics’ accessibility because I can feasibly bring my kid into my regular “grown ups” game if I want to – my kid can use this set of mechanics, and it would be compatible. Also, seeing my kid be able to start tracking d20 rolls without my help… that was amazing.
I also really like that this comes in a ready to use kit. This takes a TON of pressure off first time DM’s and makes it easy for this to be played quickly during a family game night, after school program, camping trip, etc. It is a great entry tool for new players, kids, and first-time DM’s to bring more people into the TTRPG realm. I’ve also seen a lot of people who want to donate game kits that aren’t the big common names to charities, and this would be an excellent options for that because it comes with EVERYTHING that you need.
I had a lot of fun with this and I hope you check it out too!
Where to find a copy:
You can find Ampersand games here!
Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions, have played this game before, or decide to try out this game because of this post!