Game: B+
From 498 reviews

Kids on Bikes

First Edition

Contents

Publisher Description

Kids on Bikes is a Collaborative Storytelling RPG set in small towns with big adventure! 



In Kids on Bikes, you take on the roles of everyday people grappling with strange, terrifying, and very, very powerful forces that they cannot defeat, control, or even fully understand. Kids on Bikes even allows you to create a communally controlled Powered Character to add another dimension of gameplay to your games!

 

Pre-Cellphone Small Town Adventures [ edit ]

With a name like "Kids on Bikes", it'd be easy to think that KoB is an official Stranger Things RPG, but it's actually not affiliated in any way with the show ... officially.  Unofficially however, the game is (for now at least) pretty much as close as you can get one.

That's because, while it's not a "Stranger Things RPG", Kits on Bikes is a game of "strange adventures in a small town" (a town that the party even helps to determine details of as part of their character creation process).  Why the focus on small towns?  As the game's creators wrote:

The Adventures of Kids on Bikes take place in small towns at any point in history before: 

  • Everyone had a camera phone that could catch video of a Ghost
  • Use GPS to track a Homicidal Maniac roaming around town
  • Research an old creaky house in seconds using Google 

Kids on Bikes takes place in a more mysterious time, where anything and everything *could* happen. 

In other words, Kids on Bikes is designed not just for games inspired by Stranger Things, but also ones inspired by E.T., Paper Girls, Super 8, or The Goonies.  Essentially any campaign set in a small town prior to the invention of cell phones.

Communal "Mysterious Visitor" Characters [ edit ]

As one would expect from a small-town-focused RPG, the characters in Kids on Bikes or just ordinary people, without any "super powers" (although they don't have to literally be "kids": characters can also be teenagers or adults).  But how does it handle mysterious visitors to the town, like E.T. or Eleven?

Interestingly, instead of letting one player have all the fun, such "super powered" characters are instead controlled by the entire party.  Each player gains control of a particular personality aspect of the shared character, and when that aspect becomes relevant that player gets to "take over" the character.

For instance, in a Stranger Things campaign one player might get Eleven's curiosity, another her anger, another her love, and so on.  The "love" character might start out controlling her during the roller skating scene, but when she starts getting bullied the "anger" character would instead take control.

As for the mechanics of Kids on Bikes, they're relatively simple, as one would expect from a more narrative-focused system.

Kids on Bikes, First Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse

Character Creation [ edit ]

Character creation in Kids With Bikes is relatively simple.  First, you pick an age group, either child, teen, or adult, which doesn't have a huge in-game effect, but does provide certain bonuses depending on your choice.  Next you pick two positive traits a negative quirk, and finally you pick your stats.

Stats

There are six stats in Kids on Bikes: Grit, Charm, Fight, Flight, Brains, and Brawn.  Each character assigns a single "D&D Die" (either a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, or d20) to each during creation.  Obviously this means that characters in Kids on Bikes aren't very well-rounded, but instead have very pronounced strengths and weaknesses.

Town Creation

Once character creation is finished, typically as a group, the next step is to create the town that the game is set in.  This is done collaboratively as the GM goes around the table asking players questions about the town.  This process will result in a more fleshed-out initial setting, complete with a number of rumors (the GM can decide which are true and which aren't).

If a player doesn't want to create a character there are also templates (eg. "Bully") to speed things up, as well as example characters.  Also, many games will also feature a "powered character" of some sort (think ET, or Seven from Stranger Things).

Powered Characters

Such characters are created by the GM however, and played collectively by the part: each player is given an aspect of the powered character's personality, and when that aspect becomes the character's focus the corresponding player takes control of them.

Core Mechanics [ edit ]

As an stat-based system, players roll their appropriate stat die, based on the action they wish to take.  Dice can "explode": if you roll the maximum number on a die you get to re-roll it and add the result.

Success

To determine what number you need to roll to succeed, the game contains a chart, which provides numbers to use based on the action's difficulty.  However, simply rolling above or below the number isn't all that matters: there's also another chart which determines how the action badly/well the action fails/succeeds, based on the difference between the roll and the target number.

Failure

If a character fails at a roll, they gain an Adversity Token as a consolation prize.  These tokens can be spent individually or together, with each one adding +1 to a future roll.  Adversity Tokens can even be used to help another players' roll.

Powered Characters

Powered characters also use a set of tokens, known as PE (Powered Energy) Tokens.  To successfully use a power the player controlling the character rolls 2d4, and spends a number PE tokens (each of which add +1).  Again, the resulting number determines not only whether the power works, but also how much it works.

Combat [ edit ]

As a narrative-focused RPG, Kids on Bikes does not have a separate combat system, nor does it have any kind of injury or "hit point" system.  If a character is injured they simply suffer the effects of the injury as decided by the GM.  For instance, if you fail a Fight roll you might just get some bruises and a black eye ... unless you fail badly, in which case the GM may decide you break a leg (in which case the character actually breaks their leg and must recover just as an ordinary person would).

However, that's not to say fights don't happen in the game (after all, Fight is one of the core six statistics) ... it's just that fights are meant to generally resolved quickly as the result of an attribute check, and their outcome is expressed in real-world injuries rather than in a system of hit points.

But is it Any Good? [ edit ]

Aggregated Review Scores

SourceAverage Score# of ReviewsAs Of
Amazon4.6 / 52981/26/2022
Drive Thru RPG4.5 / 5941/26/2022
Good Reads3.91 / 5911/26/2022
RPG Geek7.9 / 10151/26/2022

Kids on Bikes is an extremely popular game (at least by indie standards), and it's won multiple awards ... but it's definitely not a game for everyone.  If you want more detailed rules (especially when it comes to combat) ... or you hate having the book avoid detailing rules by just telling the GM to figure it out ... or if you hate having to constantly consult tables, KoB may not be the best game for you.  Also, while Kids on Bikes can support both one-shot adventures and shorter campaigns, it doesn't really have any rules for character advancement, and so isn't ideal for very long campaigns.

But if you're looking for a game with lighter rules (but one that's still a role-playing game, not just a storytelling one), involving a small town visited by a mysterious "alien" (in the broadest sense of the word), Kids on Bikes is a truly great choice.

Awards and Reviews

The game took home Ennie Gold in 2019 for the Best Family Game/Product, and also won Meeple Mountain's Best RPG of 2018.  It also scored a very solid 7.9/10 from the (notoriously harsh) critics at RPG Geek, as well as a 4.5 / 5 (or better) from both Amazon and Drive Thru RPG.  And it's important to remember that only paying customers can review games on Drive Thru, so in some sense those 94 reviews are perhaps even more significant than the rest.

In short, if you have an idea for your own variant of Stranger Things (or E.T., Goonies, or any similar small town story), and you want a lighter rule set to help you tell that story, you really need to take a look at Kids on Bikes.