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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The teeny battleground of Braverats

Lowell Kempf
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As a lover of micro games, I kept on coming across references to R, which was designed by Seiji Kanai, the same guy who gave us Love Letter and brought about the micro game renaissance. It was reprinted as Braverats, which was quite frankly easier and cheaper for to get a hold of so I picked up a copy. (I will admit that I prefer the original artwork but the crazy Scottish rats have their own charm)

Braverats consists of two identical decks of eight cards, numbered zero to seven. Each turn, each player selects and simultaneously reveals a card, with the high card winning. If you tie, that turn is placed on hold with the winner of the next turn winning that one two. Whoever gets four victories first wins the game.

And if that’s all there was, the game would be dead boring. However, every card also has a special power. And that makes choices suddenly a lot more interesting.

Let’s run through all the powers:

7- Prince who always wins. Period.

6- General who will add +2 to the next card you play

5- Wizard who cancels out whatever the power of your opponent’s card is

4- Merchant who counts as two victories

3- Assassin who has the low card wins (but still loses against the prince)

2- Spy who forces your opponent to reveal their next card before you choose yours

1- Princess who is the only card who beats the prince and, if she does, automatically wins the whole game

0- Musician who causes the round to be put on hold, even against the prince

Honestly, I still had serious doubts about Braverats. Similar games resulted in Carrie and I making identical choices too often. (Which, as a side note, is part of why Pico 2 still holds up so well. You have perfect information but you can’t tie)

But when the cards hit the table, the different powers kept us from finding a perfect opening move. And if we didn’t make the same opening move, then we found ourselves on the way to continue to make different choices.

We also found that the whole ties, when they happened, didn’t cancel the point from that round but carried them into the next round thing also helped the game. Yeah, it’s a rule from War, a game that makes Go Fish look like brain surgery, but it still works.

Don’t get me wrong. Braverats is not the greatest micro game we’ve ever tried out. Honestly, a game probably won’t come down to eight moves and a game takes about two minutes to play. It’s almost like a micro micro game. There are micro games that have enough meat to feel like you’ve played a full game in a remarkably short amount of time and space. Braverats doesn’t have that much meat.

However, it is a game that we can manage to squeeze in, no matter how little time we have or how exhausted we have. And, at the same time, does offer more honest decisions than a game of Pass the Pigs or Zombie Dice.

Braverats will probably end up seeing a lot more play for us.
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Today 5:03 am
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The seeds Microscope:Explorer is planting

Lowell Kempf
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The first sneak preview of Microscope:Explorer got released to backers, just about the same time that my current game of Microscope is fizzling out.

While playing a RPG/Story Telling game via email can be difficult to keep going, it does kind of baffle me a little with Microscope. After all, if you don't have the time or inspiration to write a scene, you can do an event or a period which can just be a sentence or two. Who doesn't have time to write a sentence?

Over the course of three different Microscope campaigns, over half of the folks who were involved ended up dropping out. And I realize that I am a compulsive emailer and writer so I might not be fair criticizing folks. Still, when all is said and done, my circle does have a solid core of folks who are willing and able.

So as I am pausing in between games of Microscope, I am also looking at the preview of the seeds variant for the upcoming expansion of the game. The seeds aren't a game changer. They are just a series of themes to speed up the setup time.

Each seed is a single page that describes the theme and lists a series of options so that you can have the general idea of what you were working on, including the bookends. So using a seed will let you jump right to the pallet stage of preparing the game.

I have mixed feelings about the seeds. On the one hand, I really like the complete free-form nature of creating a microscope game. I like starting off with an anything goes, can-do attitude.

On the other hand, at least when you're pulling my email, that can take a long time in our experience. Generally trying to get the ball rolling and get to the point in which were actually taking turns has taken us over a month. Being able to cut that preparation time down to only a couple of emails would be amazing.

So, when we start up what will be our fourth game in a month or so, we're definitely going to try out the seeds.

I have noticed that the seeds seem to be aimed at a much shorter time frame then we have been used to. Many of them could easily fit into two or three generations. Meanwhile, the games that we have prayed have taken place over millennia and have included the birth and death of stars and planets.

I think I am more curious to see how a tighter timeframe will affect the game then how a preset theme will affect it. The themes are big enough that we will be able to easily add own flair to them. Working with the shorter timeframe, on the other hand, that will be the real difference.
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Wed Sep 2, 2015 4:48 am
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Do I really need to worry about world of games between Candyland and Catan?

Lowell Kempf
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While revisiting Quicksand, I found myself looking at a hinterlands between children's games and 'serious adult' games. What do you think about it, though, that's beyond vague and probably more than a little elitist. But I still find myself thinking about it.

I have long been contemplating and planning for when I will start introduce my son to games. I know that I will start with dexterity games like Animal Upon Animal and matching games like Spot It. In fact, I understand there's a beach Spot It that has waterproof cards. I am seriously thinking about picking it up because those will probably still be sturdier than regular card stock. Baby's first card game is going to go through some roughhousing.

But I wonder if there is is a middle ground between games that are definitely aimed at children and those that are geared for a serious gamers. I know that point in my son's life will probably be called baseball, basketball and soccer. But, if he puts up with his old man putting games on the table, I feel like there must be a kind of game that is in between Candyland and Catan.

I think that it is a matter of complexity that I am considering, not necessarily weight. For instance, Fluxx is a really light game but I've been surprised by how hard it can be for some folks to wrap their minds around how it works. I think we are looking at games with relatively simple decision trees.

And, true to my usual form, the more I consider this whole idea of a hinterlands between kiddie games and older games, the more flawed and ridiculous it feels. For instance, what about party games? Where do genuinely light games fit into this spectrum? Technically, games like Can't Stop or High Society or No Thanks fit into what I'm describing but I don't feel like they do.

I have heard people talk about how certain games really work with teenagers, games that are more ruckus and more roughhouse, even if they don't actually involve knocking the table over and wrestling. That might be what I am really thinking about.

I don't know if there is this hinterlands which I found myself thinking about. I definitely don't know if it actually matters. Do I really need to pigeonhole games even more than I already do?

In the end, if my son and his friends end up being interested in games, what I need to do is find the ones that they will like.
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Fri Aug 28, 2015 5:54 pm
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I am having entirely too much fun with Nations the Dice Game

Lowell Kempf
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Nations the Dice Game was recently added to Yucata. While it hadn't been on my radar, I've really enjoyed it and have been playing the heck out of it.

In Nation the Dice Game, you are nurturing a civilization through four ages. Each successive age gives you ways to improve and better the nation you are building.

Or it's an engine builder that plays out over four rounds. I like the game but the theme really isn't that strong.

At the start of the game, everybody gets their own board with an empty space for a leader, an empty construction site for wonders, the five starter buildings, each of which gives you a white die.

An important part of the game is that those seven spaces are what you have to work with. You can only have one leader at a time. You can upgrade your buildings but you will never have more than five of them. You do get to have any number of finished wonders but you can only work on one at time.

The game revolves around the dice. There are five different pips: gold, stone, book, sword and grain. The starter white die has two gold and one of each of the others on the other four sides. The three upgraded die types focus on certain pips with some sides having up to three of a pip.

Gold lets you by buildings and leaders and wonders. Stone lets you build the wonders you bought. Grain and books help you gain bonus points at the end of rounds. Swords not only help you gain bonus points at the end of the round, they also let you buy provinces in that don't take up space on your player board.

You can also pick up chits over the course of the game. Leaders are your sole source of reroll chits while provinces and wonders may give you chits that serve as pips. The chits reset at the start of each round.

One thing that I have decided is that your biggest priority in the first three rounds is upgrading your buildings. Getting better dice and more dice is crucial. (In the last round or age, the tiles are just about points points points)

There are a lot of ways of earning points in nations the dice game and there's lot of variability in what tiles come out and how much they cost. You have to juggle the resources that you get from your dice and from your chits. Depending on the layout of tiles and the actions of your opponents, you're going to find different decisions in different games.

I don't feel like I'm building up a nation across the centuries in Nations the Dice game. Even the tech tree is just getting better dice. But I do think that it gives me interesting choices to make as I juggle and allocate resources.

I've had a lot of fun with Nations the Dice game. I'm honestly not sure how many games they played so far and I know that I am going to keep on playing it.
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Thu Aug 27, 2015 9:28 pm
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Quicksand, not brilliant but reliable

Lowell Kempf
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I have noticed that Zee Garcia periodically mentions the older game Quicksand on the Dice Tower, much to the derision of Tom Vassal. Quicksand has stayed in my collection for many of the same reasons that Zee lists, being a very accessible game for younger players or non-gamers. It has managed to survive quite a few rounds of purging.

Quicksand is a race game where six jungle explores are trying to be the first one to reach the temple at the end of the track. The twist is no one knows which explorer the other players are.

You get a hand of cards with each card moving a specific explorer, along with some quicksand cards to slow folks down in wildcards that work on anyone. The gameplay revolves around bluffing and hand management.

Quicksand is an older Fantasy Flight title. And by older I mean that it comes from the time when Fantasy Flight didn't fill their game with amazing chrome. The board is thin cardboard that you jigsaw puzzle together, card stock isn't great, and the pawns are wooden tokens... which is actually just fine.

There's nothing wrong with the quality of the components. Everything works perfectly well. It's just that they're not all that impressive. In fact, it wouldn't even be something that I would notice if Fantasy Flight hadn't going on to become such a poster child for impressive looking games.

Back, actually longer ago then I'd like to think, when I used to go to meet up groups, Quicksand was a game I would routinely pack. I could teach it to anyone and folks would enjoy it. It tended to be particularly good for teenagers.

Quicksand is not a brilliant game. Quite frankly if you know how to play Candyland and you know how to lie then learning how to play Quicksand is really easy. Honestly, between the color based card movement and the board just being a race track, Quicksand feels like a missing link between a Euro game and a mass-market game you could find in Walmart. Which might be why it's so easy to teach.

And I realize there are newer and better games that fit that same bill of hidden roles. But I already own Quicksand and it has proven itself more than once.

Which does being an interesting slant to the Jones theory. If you have a game that does its job well enough, do you have to hunt out a replacement? Quicksand isn't a game that I would play with other gamers. It's a game that I would play with folks who don't know much about the wide world of gaming. Do I really need to find another game if it works?

Quicksand isn't one of my favorite games and it isn't a game that I get excited about playing. But it is a game that I can bring out and know that people who have almost no experience with the designer games understand and enjoy.
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Wed Aug 26, 2015 8:26 pm
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A ghostly cake for my birthday

Lowell Kempf
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Every year, Carrie makes me a birthday cake that is themed around a board game. She always chooses the game that is one that we enjoy and that is special to us.

This year, she went with the classic Alexander Randolph game Geister. It was a game that we played during our courtship and have many fond memories of.

Geister has actually superseded Lord of the Rings the Confrontation for me as my go-to variant of Stratego. The simple rules make it extremely accessible and easy to teach to anyone and the tight board makes it an exciting game from the get-go.

By making the chocolate ghosts separate pieces, you could actually play the game with the cake – before I started eating the ghosts of course

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Tue Aug 25, 2015 4:02 am
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Test driving Action Castle via FaceTime

Lowell Kempf
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A little while back, I had written about how I had bought Action Castle, the first game in the Parsely System. I bought it because I thought it would be the perfect game to play via Skype or FaceTime. And I had every intention of actually playing it and finding out if it was any good.

And I have managed to play it much sooner than I had hoped.

The Parsely System is designed to take you back to the world of 80s text games. Go back to the age when go north, get sword, kill troll is the height of gaming. OK, it's really designed more to have fun in one of those crazy worlds. Seriously, some of those puzzles were designed by lunatics.

One person, more than likely the guy who bought the game, plays the part of the computer or parser. Everyone else takes control of the nameless, faceless protagonist who wanders around the limited setting, grabbing everything that isn't nailed down and putting it in their inventory.

The game itself consisted of a map for me to track where the faceless, nameless protagonist was along with a description of each location. Action Castle, between the map and the location descriptions, took up one page. The PDF also came with one page of instructions, which is actually quite handy.

Action Castle is definitely the intro to the system, both for players and for parsers. I know that later games in the series one more complex. But I intentionally got the intro game because I wanted the most elaborate instructions and I felt that the simplest game would be the best one for people to try out, particularly people who hadn't thrashed their way through Zork.

My test run was with one other player, via face time. My buddy Nate had actually play games like this back in the day, which was mostly a good thing. That meant that he knew how they work and, in fact, he got through some of the puzzles much much faster than I expected him to. On the other hand, since he knew how these settings work, there wasn't much exploration. Just going straight to work on the puzzles.

I would not call our session a roaring success. It clocked in at about a half hour and we did have a fair bit of fun. But there were also some flat moments and some points where the action ground to a halt.

To be honest, I don't think that's the fault of the system or Nate. I think that a lot of the issues came directly from me. I played the parser two flat. It would've been a lot more fun if I would have yucked it up and been a whole lot sillier. The next time I'm planning on running a Parsely game, this one or another, I am planning on prepping more heavily and being a lot more ready to be silly.

There is no denying that the Parsely System is an odd beast of game. It is one part RPG, one part party game and one part street theater. Games like Microscope and The Quiet Year have really shaken up my ideas of what an RPG is. That said, the Parsely System goes almost the opposite direction. It has almost no bleed (emotions bleeding out of the game) and thinking out of the box just results in hilarious mishaps (but that's kind of the point)

But here's the thing. The Parsely System does what I want it to. It is a game that I can play without any problems via video conferencing and one that my friends and I can have fun with. It isn't the greatest game I ever played or a game that revolutionized how I think about RPGs. But it is a game that I can play with friends across the country and one that.
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Sun Aug 23, 2015 7:59 pm
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Take and toss games, an idea I want to see work

Lowell Kempf
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There is a place where pencils and paper games meet print and play games. The games where you print out the board with the intention of drawing the moves in with a pencil and throwing out the paper after you're done. I think of them as take and toss games.

From the mindset of trying to find a really easy print and play project to craft and trying to find a really easy game to carry around with you, take and toss games are perfect. They take up the space of a pencil and a piece of paper and you don't care of something terrible happens to them. They're innately disposable.

There's just one problem. To be honest, it's really hard to get people to play them. The absolute lack of any kind of chrome makes them a hard sell. And to be honest, I find that easy to understand. If someone gave me a choice between playing a game with actual pieces or drawing on a piece of paper, I'd take the pieces.

And I know this is really the case. For literally years I carried around some take and toss Hex boards and they never saw any use. On the other hand, my copy of Pico 2 or Cinq-O have seen tons of use, year after year.

(This just goes to hammer down the fact that when I am being anti-chrome, I am just being a total poser)

Other than games like Knizia's Decathlon which don't really count since you're just printing out the rules, the only real exception I've found is High Score, a dice-based version of Take It Easy and that still requires a couple of dice. I do think that this shows just how good a game High Score is, though.

I also someday want to play the take and toss version of Stephenson's Rocket but that's because I'm pretty sure that's the only way I'll ever get to play Stephenson's Rocket

So, at the moment, take and toss games represent a delusion of convenience.

However, I haven't actually ruled them out yet. I have become a daddy and I can see how having some take and toss games might actually become a really useful thing restaurants and road trips in the like when he's older but not too much older. Actually, Sid Sackson's Beyond Tic Tac Toe, along with a standard box of crayons or colored pencils, might do that trick nicely.
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Fri Aug 21, 2015 6:15 am
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Soccer 17 surprises me and scores a solid GOAL

Lowell Kempf
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Soccer 17 is a micro game I almost entirely overlooked. However, after it was brought to my attention, I gave it a careful look and I ended up being really impressed with what I saw.

While I do like soccer quite a bit, in fact it's one of my favorite spectator sports, board games based on sports generally don't interest me, although I did play a lot of street soccer awhile back on BSW.

On the other hand, I have always had an interest in micro games that has developed into a downright fascination or possibly an obsession. Being able to do a lot with just a little is genuinely fascinating. I can't claim to be an authority but I do know something about micro games.

Soccer 17 isn't just a bluffing based tug-of-war game that I thought it was at first glance. It using seventeen cards to create an environment with a lot of interesting decisions.

Before I going to that, I do need to mention the physical board itself. The field is a card with five spaces on it. The time card shows a column of soccer balls with minutes beside each one. The time card goes under the board and you slide it up to keep track of the time and you slide it left to right keep track of the ball position. It's very simple but it's very effective. I like how they took two cards and managed to create both the board and the timer.

So let's look at that bluffing.

The attacking player gets three color-coded cards while the defender it's the same three, plus the purple tackle card. Players simultaneously select and review what card they will play. If the defendant uses the same color as the attacker, they block them and gain control of the ball.

But, thankfully, it is not as simple as simply choosing colors. Frankly, that would be weaker then rock paper scissors. Each card gives the attacker two out of three choices. They can move the ball, they can take a shot at the goal, or they can game stars. Stars give acquire bonuses for certain actions.

When you do take a shot, you get power from your position and from stars. You then draw that many cards from the event deck, which has five misses and one GOAL. Sure, you can take a one-in-six chance from across the field but you want to build up your stars and position to get those extra draws.

What does this mean, gameplay wise? It means the attacker isn't just picking a random color. With different colors having different effects, the attacker has a reason to pick a specific color. Of course, the defender knows that. That's where the bluffing comes in. Bluffing with information in hand is a lot more interesting than random bluffing.

It means good stuff.

The purple tackle card is something special. It blocks the red and blue attacks but fouls on the yellow dribble card. When that happens, the player loses the purple card for that half of the game and their opponent gets a penalty shot. You can also use it as an attacker to draw one more event card but you lose it for the rest of the half. Powerful card but misusing it will cost you.

All in all, Soccer 17 really impresses me. I have looked at a lot of micro games over the last few years. Soccer 17 manages to create a physical board in a minimal space and components. It creates a bluffing environment that changes depending on a player's situation and the board position. The game is not static but always changing and evolving.

I am really glad that it has been offered as a free print and play so I do get to play it. However, I have backed the kickstarter. I know as a sports game, it has an uphill battle to get funded. But I really think this is a game that deserves to get published.
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Wed Aug 19, 2015 7:59 pm
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Now I'm getting packages from the abyss...

Lowell Kempf
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This is an update about my recent De Profundus blog.

I wrote about how I got a mysterious letter that involved the King in Yellow in the mail. Using the fact that it was sent from Canada and I only know one person who would send me a letter like that from Canada, I figured out who it was. I promptly send him the next move in the game, a letter that basically put me in the middle of the story that involves elements of the Yellow Sign and Old Man Henderson.

Long story short. I got the wrong guy and, boy, was he confused he got my letter.

The second package that I received was even more mysterious. It included a newspaper article, a playbill and a mysterious medallion wrapped in yellow paper. What was particularly bizarre was that it wasn't the Chaosium version of the Yellow Sign. You know, the three curly q version that has pretty much become the default version of the Yellow Sign.

And my second most likely guess denied sending me all this.

So I did the only reasonable thing I could do. I spent two minutes with Google and found a big part of the answer.

I'm not in a William Chambers story. I'm in a Gilbert K. Chesterton story! https://en.m.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Club_of_Queer_Trades/I

Yes, someone signed me up with the Mysterious Package Company. God, I love the Internet!

And the mystery continues because I have no idea who did this!
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Tue Aug 18, 2015 3:29 pm
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