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A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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Yeah, I am clearly planning too far ahead

Lowell Kempf
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If I wasn't a dad and figure that I'll be playing games with my son and his friends at some point in the future, I would have not backed Beep Boop. And, even then, I just backed it at the PnP level.

And I also have to admit that if it didn't make me think of the old TV show Battlebots, I might have still skipped it. Seriously, isn't Grant Imahara everyone's hero?

To be honest, Beep Boop is a pretty standard take that style game. You build robots and they beat each other up. What I am really hoping for from the game is relatively dynamic and quick play. You know, some excitement that doesn't take too long.

There are some design elements that I like. I like that the body parts are separate deck so it hopefully won't take too long to build a robot. I also like that the body parts don't serve as the hit points. Everyone has five hit points and I think there's only one card that gives you just one point back. So no back-and-forth tug-of-war.

What interests me the most about the game is that there is an economy of power. Every action cost certain amount of electricity so there is a balance to your actions. You aren't just playing card after card

Really, as I have said, Beep Boop isn't the kind of game that I would go looking for for myself. However, it sounds like the kind of game that I read a lot of reviewers playing with teenagers or pre-teens.

For a buck and a little bit of space in my Google files, I think it is worth trying.
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Thu Feb 4, 2016 6:03 pm
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Why I think German Family Games is good as its own category

Lowell Kempf
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While there is a lot that I like about Oliver Kiley's classification of games and the general game philosophies that he discusses, the most significant thing that he did for me was make a strong distinction between German Family Games and Euros.

As a rule, it seems like most people lump those two groups together. And to be sure, they probably have more in common than any other two categories. I mean, seriously war games and Ameritrash? Trying to lump those two categories together would last only until you actually tried to play one.

German Family Games have been around for a liming time. I'm not sure what you would really consider the first one. Certainly, you can point to a lot of the or 3M games and say they were German Family Games. You know, even though they're not German. (and you can point to others and called them abstracts and I wonder if you could call the sports games Ameritrash?)

Euros, on the other hand, seem to be a much more recent development. Certainly the proliferation of them has been a more recent development. It's also pretty obvious that they are a development from German Family Games.

Now, you might quite reasonably ask me why there is a difference and why it even matters. After all, categorizing games is really just a game of semantics. And if we are willing to lump Munchkin in with Twilight Imperium, we should be able to lump Catan in with Terra Mystica.

The difference between the two categories comes down to one principal thing. Their intended audience.

German Family Games are just that. Their first intended audience is families. They are designed for people who aren't into the hobby to be able to play and have a good time. Euros, on the other hand, are intended for people who are in the hobby.

Obviously, the people who really care about this distinction are game designers and game publishers. To be fair, I figure those are the two groups of people where categorizing games actually makes a real difference.

While both categories tend to be high on the indirect conflict or even no conflict at all and tend to involve things like trading or money management with point accumulation, the fact that they are designed with two different people in mind means they have very different design philosophies and goals.

Which means that if you go into one with the expectations of it being like the other, you're going to be surprised and quite possibly disappointed and frustrated. Realistically, it's probably going to be people expecting a German Family Game in getting a Euro.

It isn't about one being better than the other. Both genres have plenty of brilliant games and plenty of horrible games. Theodore Sturgeon called it right. It's about knowing what you're doing into.

Personally, I happen to enjoy both. But, I also got into gaming through German Family Games. In fact, everyone called the lumped category German games, as we played them over our brontosaurus steaks.

And, honestly, I think they are where my interests tend to lie. I have a lot of fun with them and I like the way that they make me think of a way that is playful. Plus, in the years to come, one of my primary game in groups is going to be my wife and son. And while my wife can kick butt intake names in Euros, I think as a family were going to prefer German Family Games.
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Wed Feb 3, 2016 6:56 pm
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Thinking about using the laminator with Sid Sackson's Beyond Tic Tac Toe

Lowell Kempf
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I have long had an interest in travel games. Really, when I started getting into board gaming (which includes dice and card gaming ), my first steps were with games that I could easily travel with.

At the moment, I don't have a real need for them. At least not from a travel standpoint. With a two-year old, we have our hands full when we travel and we don't worry about playing games. (Is he asleep? Oh good, let's get some sleep too!)

Of course, the nature of parenthood is that everything changes.

At some point, I am probably going to be using travel games all the time. Restaurants, car trips, Lord knows what will end up being his primary interests.

It is not exactly like I'm not already well-prepared. I have a feeling the light dice game Cinq-0 which was a game that I carried around for years is probably going to end up back in regular rotation.

I have already considered making print and plays for some of my son's initial experiences with games. You know, the stage when destroying games is part of the experience

But since we've gotten laminator, I started thinking about making travel PnPs with the idea of making them durable. Laminate a sheet of paper, get some dry erase markers and we have reusable games. Heck, I could make a folder of games to carry around, effectively a shelf of games that can into the backpack/camera bag/satchel whatever.

Eh, that's probably a pipe dream. It sounds like a neat idea but I'd probably end up dragging them around and never use them. Still, it is a neat idea.

While there are a number of games that come to mind, like Hex or the paper versions of Through the Desert or Stephenson's Rocket, most of those aren't a good idea for a younger player. Hex is a brilliant game but it is completely unforgiving.

If I seriously want to try this, what I need to do is reach for Sid Sackson's Beyond series. Actually, what I need to do is specifically reach for Beyond Tic Tac Toe. Simple games that use color so they're reliably engaging.

Of course, Gryphon Games has already done just that with Games of Art. So I'm just talking about making a homemade copy of that.

Which actually makes it sound like a better idea.
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Tue Feb 2, 2016 8:20 pm
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Microscope app proved handy!

Lowell Kempf
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Somehow, I did now know there was an app for Microscope. It's been one of my primary RPGs for the last couple years and I backed the second Kickstarter. The app came out in 2014, so how did I miss its existence?

Anyway, I found out about it when I was getting ready for my first Microscope go for 2016 and saw it mentioned on the official website. So I was morally obligated to get it and try it out.

Basically, the app lets you create a PDF of the timeline with the palette as a sidebar. It lets you know who added each item and whether or not it's dark or light. It differentiates between periods and events but it looks like if you are adding scenes rather than just acting then out, those will have to be really long events.

Every player has to have an associated email on the app. So, you can easily email the PDF to everyone through the app. The mobile device that is using the app serves as the database so that only that device can edit the PDF.

So, when it gets used for an online game, everyone has to send me their stuff and I'm the one who adds to the PDF. And then I send it out. This does mean that every turn generates a new PDF

In our earlier games, we used a google doc that everyone could edit. The problems we ended up with was that everyone was using a different system to edit it so the formatting got a bit weird (until someone would get tired of it and completely redo it) and folks would forget to tell anyone that they'd added someone.

With the app, it's all on me but the format is consistent and it's easy to let everyone know when a move is done. Really, for me, I just cut and open the appropriate box and paste and email. So, about a minute's work.

So far, the app has actually helped us keep the game ticking along. I can also see how it would be nice in person since you can create a PDF document of the game with a jiffy when you're done and make playing a game on a road trip super easy.

It's not perfect but it is a handy tool.
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Sun Jan 31, 2016 6:45 pm
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Yes, La Strada really is by Martin Wallace

Lowell Kempf
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La Strada is an odd beast of a game in so many ways, both in general and in my own personal experience.

Part of what makes it odd is that it's a Martin Wallace game but it's a fairly simple connection game without any of the usual complexity that comes to mind when you think of his name.

Although to be fair, he's not a designer that I've extensively played. I do think the Steam family is one of the best set of train games I've experienced and I like Ankh-Morpork but his design list is full of respected games I've never played and don't if I ever will.

Anyway, the simplicity of La Strada confounds the usual expectations of his work, possibly unfairly.

As for me, I've played the game a lot but never actually my own copy. While I have played other folks' copy, most of my plays have been at conventions for Mayfair's ribbon quest. And I've liked the game well enough to get my own copy but the chance to bust it out just hasn't come up.

La Strada uses a multi-piece board (so you can set it up in various ways) to show a landscape of plains, forests and hills. Settlements, ranging from tiny hamlets to giant metropolises are scattered across the map.

Players take turns building roads in their own colors, connecting various settlements back to their starting workplace. You get a certain allowance of building points per turn, since it's expensive to build roads in the hills while the plains are cheaper than forests. You can bank some points for your next turn but only have so many.

Every time you get to a city, you put a cube in it that counts for endgame scoring. Or just scoring since there's no other kind. Here's the twist, the fewer people who connect to a city, the more it's worth.

I had originally been told that once a settlement was at its lowest scoring point, you were blocked for entering. But that's not true. You can actually bottom out the smaller settlements and make them worthless.

Oh, game ends when someone can't make a move and whoever has the most points wins.

Connection games were one of my entry points into gaming with games like Ticket to Ride and TransAmerica and the Very Clever Pipe Game. They are a tried and true mechanic that are fun for non-gamers and gamers alike.

So what does La Strada bring to the party to make it stand out?

Really, the management of buying points. Not just that each terrain has a different price but that you can carry points over in between points. That gives the game it's own feel and opens up the choices.

La Strada is not one of Wallace's masterpieces. But I have been playing it for years and keep on enjoying it. I'm pretty sure I can teach it to just about anyone. Someday, my copy will lose the shrink wrap and people will have fun.
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Sat Jan 30, 2016 11:38 pm
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PnP thoughts for February

Lowell Kempf
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Well I don't have any big print and play projects immediately in mind, I have a couple that I am quietly working on.

I am planning on laminating and cutting out the set of Micropul tiles. I'm curious to see how well the lamination hold up if I don't give it a real edge and just see how well it melts directly to the paper. Honestly, it might not work at all but since it is one sheet of black-and-white printing and one lamination pouch, I'm not even sure if the total cost expenditure is even thirty cents.

And, when I eventually get around to it, probably not even 15 minutes worth of work. Honestly, if it even holds up for a few months of regular play, it's worth it.

I'm also planning on making a decent copy of Dice Bazaar. I'm saddened that it doesn't look like the Kickstarter is going to make it but I am glad I can make my own copy with the collection expansion. I could be wrong but I think it really will be a good light family game.

On the lighter and just going to make a rough copy, I've been looking over the games from the mint tin print and play contest. While all of the top games look like they're at least worth making a rough and ready copy of, the one that struck me first was Mint Works.

It is a minimalist worker replacement game about building buildings that give you points and special abilities. To be honest, I have to wonder if it is too minimal but that's not what interests me.

In the game, you don't get your workers back. Instead, you have to use special buildings or actions to get more workers. More than that, the buildings cost varying amounts of workers to get. So, is it really a worker placement game or a money management game?

For that matter, it does make me wonder about how much workers can be just another form of currency.

Whether or not I actually play Mint Works or if it actually turns out to be a good game, I am glad that it is had me ask these questions.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that we don't have a lot of time to actually play games. And, really, we would rather use that time to play games like Qwirkle that we already know and love. Learning games is fun but playing games well it's even more fun.

Micropul gets a pass because it's a game that I already know is good. Dice Bazaar and Avignon (which I've already made) might also get played in February because I think they might really click for us.
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Fri Jan 29, 2016 10:34 pm
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Ameritrash - all about the drama with a gut punch

Lowell Kempf
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Funny thing about Ameritrash is that it covers everything from Munchkin and Zombie Dice to Twilight Imperium and Descent. AND I have never found that strange, even though Ra and Macao both being considered Euros has seemed weird.

However, my new guru Oliver Kiley has presented the idea that the defining principle of Ameritrash is drama and everything clicked for me.

(The other thing that occurred to me is that they share a closer target demographic than those two games. Ra had a family audience in mind while Macao is for hobbiests. Meanwhile, Ameritrash seems to be aimed as hobbiests as a rule. That games like Zombie Dice and Axis and Allis have broad market appeal may be a happy serendipity. Or I might be talking complete nonsense )

The idea that what holds Ameritrash together is not spaceships and zombies or buckets of dice or beating each other's brains in but drama explains what makes it work.

As I said, I'm not an Ameritrash player by nature. That isn't quite true. I get my drama kicks from role playing games. When I first played Descent, my reaction to it was that it was fun but I'd rather play Dungeons and Dragons. (Amusingly enough now, I could see playing Descent because it would be less of a time sink) So I understand mixing up drama with gaming.

An engaging narrative, the game forming a story? I get that. The tension and thrill of everything riding in a roll of the dice or the flip of a card? I get that. Trash talk and strutting and the sheer gutsy joy of winning by kicking the other guy in the teeth? I get that.

The goal is to create a visceral, gut level response.

Which makes me pose this theory: Science fiction and fantasy and horror aren't the Ameritrash poster children for themes because they are easy or popular but because they are safe.

Recently (and not knowing I would be calling back to it), I wrote about how I could handle reading We3, a graphic novel about weaponized pets despite loving my cats, but I couldn't handle That Dragon, Cancer because it was too real, because it was real.

You see, while animal abuse is very real and something that as an animal lover bothers me a great deal, putting titanium armor and missiles into the story gives me a safe distance to handle reading it. And while death and pain and conflict and loss are all very real, they are much easier to deal with when you throw zombies or dragons.

So, if Ameritrash games are about drama and giving you the visceral experience, what could they do if they took away the safety? Would it still be Ameritrash?
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Fri Jan 29, 2016 5:33 pm
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Thanks, Oliver Kiley!

Lowell Kempf
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I spend quite a bit of time contemplating the taxonomy of games. What makes a euro a euro? What the heck does Ameritrash mean? Should Ingenious or Backgammon or Qwirkle be considered abstracts along side Go and Chess?

Quite a bit of the time, I have found that I have to question why I am asking these questions in the first place. As near as I can tell, there are three reasons why game classification and taxonomy matter. Understanding what games we will enjoy. Understanding how certain mechanics it together and develop. Examining the overall history and development of games.

And, truth to tell, a lot of these things probably matter the most to game designers and game publishers. And I could very well be wrong, but I don't think it's something that they actively lose sleep over.

One of the big problems that I kept running into is that I found myself either finding that terms were so big that they didn't mean anything or too specific to really capture the actual meaning.

Just as an example, I originally defined abstracts as strictly being perfect information games with no random factors. However, that definition rules out even classic abstracts like Backgammon. And saying that the game is abstract if it has no theme or the theme is meaningless comes down to opinions, as opposed to a good definition.

(Of course, part of the reason that people even have these discussions is because we all like to argue and everyone wants to prove themselves right : P As far as I'm concerned, that's pretty much why we have edition wars.)

But, back in 2014, Oliver Kiley posted an article that I just discovered and does one of the best jobs I have ever seen discussing how to classify games.

https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/27367/schools-design-and-...

One of the principle things that he does in the article, something that he admits is drawing on other peoples work but I'm still really glad that he did it, is not breakdown games by theme or by mechanics but by design priorities. He doesn't define games by how they work or what they are about but by what they are trying to do.

The five categories he defines are Ameritrash - Drama, German Family - Engagement, Euro - Challenge, War Game - Realism, Abstract - Minimalism.

He doesn't describe this as the perfect or ultimate way to classify games. He also admits that there are games, like party games or traditional card games or many of the new micro games, that don't really fit into this classification system.

However, what Kiley has done is given us a very interesting framework to discuss games, game design and just what we are getting out of games. Instead of hard and fast definitions, we have a access that has at least five elements that don't necessarily contradict each other.

I'm going to get a lot of good pondering out of this!

One thing that the system does that I appreciate is make separate classifications for German Family games and Euros. Doing that helps me sort things better in my head.

In some ways, I still question if we really need to classify games into such tight categories but Kiley has done an amazing job of doing it in an open and thoughtful way.
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Thu Jan 28, 2016 9:06 pm
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Off topic: while tough to read, I still found safe distance in We3

Lowell Kempf
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I had planned for my next blog entry to be my initial thoughts on Oliver Kiley's essay on game classification, since he examined something that I really enjoyed pondering to a far deeper and more profound level than I've ever achieved

But I stumbled across the graphic novel We3, which managed to knock me right off my feet.

I'm kind of surprised that I had never heard about it before. It's over 10 years old and is written by one of my favorite comic book writers, Grant Morrison. It's a standalone work with beautiful artwork by Frank Quitely.

One review that I read after I finished said that this was the perfect work to introduce non-comic book readers to the potential of the medium. Sure, if you want to traumatize them in the process. This graphic novel managed to make the opening sequence of Up look like Winnie the Pooh.

We3 is a very simple story. Stolen housepets who have been turned into killer cyborgs by government laboratories escape and try to find a safe haven. Any pet owner who reads this is going to be emotionally hockey punched by it.

To be fair, that is kind of the point. Grant Morrison is an animal activist and has something to say about how we treat animals. Really, this is less about animal experimentation and more of a comment on how various service animals are treated or retired as the case may be.

One of the things that Morrison did that was remarkably effective was give each of the three animals their own speech patterns, based on their species behavior and our idea of what their intelligence is like.

The dog comes the closest to sounding human and is clearly conflicted between his desire to be a good dog a do the fact that he is a killer cyborg. The rabbit can just communicate simple desires for food and not be in pain. The cat, well, the cat is a jerk and a stone cold killer.

As someone who owns three cats and has been a lifelong cat lover, yeah, they got the cat right.

This is very effective. Instead of anthropomorphizing the animals, they are treated as animals. Which, again, is the whole point. We3 is a critique of how we treat animals.

Earlier this year, I commented in That Dragon, Cancer as being too emotionally painful for me to ever play. Part of that is because it is not just about childhood cancer but IT IS THE DESIGNER'S OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES! While I found We3 emotionally rough and did have real points to make, cyborg killer pets don't exist (as far as I know) which created a big, safe distance for me.

Which is the other thing that really struck me by my experiences reading this. Sure, I cried while reading We3. I hugged all three of my cats after I read it, even the black cat with personal space issues. (I do the hugging, daddy!) But it was far enough from reality that I could emotionally handle reading it. I could even enjoy some of the crazy action sequences.

I don't know about everyone but sometimes I need things candy coated for me. It's not something I'm particularly proud of but sometimes I am really reminded of it.
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Thu Jan 28, 2016 5:28 pm
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Using games to decompress

Lowell Kempf
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There are many reasons why I play games. Three of the biggest are social interaction (and that counts family stuff) and intellectual challenge and relaxation.

Of those three, I would probably say that social interaction is the most important and intellectual challenge is the most interesting but relaxation gets the most games played.

I have noticed that, every once in a while, my gaming breaks down to just light games that I am already familiar with. Sometimes, without me even realizing it, I find myself using games just to decompress.

It actually used to be a lot more extreme than it is now. Back at my old job, during the annual hyper busy season, I would stop having time for my regular gaming group or even playing on BSW. Instead, I would just have several games Button Men going on the old Button Men site.

I continue to be sad that that site has gone down. It let me explore the fringes of Button Men. When it comes to face-to-face games, though, I found that the original soldier buttons are all I need to have a good time.

These days, thanks to Yucata, I am able to play a wider variety of games even when I am short on time and need to decompress. It's more fun and definitely has more of a feeling of an intellectual vacation then a desperate distraction.

While Just 4 Fun Colors has been my standby on Yucata for quick and mindless and decompressing play, Skyline is probably the perfect example of this kind of play for me.

Skyline isn't a deep or taxing game. In fact, my first two rounds of play out of the possible nine rounds in the game are always the same, laying down foundations. I can practically play it on auto pilot, focusing on the two goals of making use of every die I roll and building tall buildings.

It feels weird talking about playing a game because each play feels the same, like taking a walk in an old and comfortable pair of slippers. I'm certainly not saying Skyline or the Just 4 Fun family have no choices and play themselves. Just choices that are easy to understand.

In fact, sometimes, like with another game that fills this bill, Can't Stop, the choices are actually very tough. Not complex, just tough. Enough to add some real tension and excitement to the game.

Ah, but here's the thing, I understand the choices so well it's almost on an instinctual level. I am engaged but not strained. It isn't that I am not thinking but that I am decompressing while I am thinking.

My Button Men days were like getting a glass of water in the desert. These days, it's more like an afternoon at the park.
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Wed Jan 27, 2016 7:14 pm
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