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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.

Archive for Lowell Kempf

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Rose colored glasses and getting into games

Lowell Kempf
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Chicago
Illinois
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I have been spending a lot of time going down memory lane, both remembering some of my early game experiences and some of the games that helped get me into gaming. However, there are some elements of those formative times that I had really forgotten about until I started looking at them more closely.

I had remembered how they were so many amazing games out there that I'd never heard of. Effectively, I was years behind in the cult of the new. So there were many games that were new to me that had years of people vetting them and figuring out what games were good.

So, my rose colored memories make it seem like I had just entered a candy store of gaming. However, what I realized I was overlooking was how limited my access to that candy store was.

By the time we moved out of Chicago, there was a gaming store fifteen minutes from where we lived and there's one about ten minutes away from us here in Tucson. When I first started, I'd have to drive out to the suburbs (Hi, Games Plus!)

For that matter, the online retail market wasn't as rich, although that was still the main way I got most of my games. And the idea of finding a game like Catan or Carcassonne in a store like Target was silly.

By the time we left Chicago, a lot of my friends had good-sized game collection. Pretty much anyone I've gamed with since getting to Arizona has had a collection.

So, back when I first was looking at designer games, if I wanted to try something, I had to buy it. This probably helped me buy too many games and be the game closet for a bunch of my friends.

The internet did give me two really amazing resources. Boardgame Geek was an amazing site to research games. Breitspielwelt, an online German board game site, was how I did get try out games.

Yes, it was an amazing experience to discover designer board games. But I have to remember that it actually took some effort to get into them.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Aug 25, 2016 11:14 pm
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What will giant robot tanks do at Hill 218?

Lowell Kempf
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Ogre: Objective 218 is a game that I'm going to have to take a closer look at, seeing as how it combines two properties I really life. The world of of Bolo-like Ogre tanks and the mechanics of the Battle for Hill 218.

I was vaguely aware that it existed but it really sparked my interest when Howard Taylor reviewed it over at his web comic Schlock Mercenary. I like his comics but I also really enjoy his reviews. If that guys likes a movie, I'll probably like it too.

The Ogre setting has been a wonderful marriage of evocative theme and fun mechanics for decades. A small army of conventional forces fighting against one giant super tank, no doubt inspired by Keith Laumer's wonderful Bolo stories. And the mechanics are simple enough for easy play but rich enough for an engaging experience.

The Battle for Hill 218 is an abstract disguised as a deck of cards with just enough touches to also give it some war flavor. I have gotten a lot of good pay out of it and it spent years as a standard game to play at breakfast at conventions.

Mind you, the real question I have about Ogre: Objective 218 is what are the meaningful differences between it and the original WW II game? If it's just different art work, than I'm not interested. But if it somehow has that giant death machine favor, than I need me a copy.

originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Aug 18, 2016 10:34 pm
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Remembering Par Out Golf even exists

Lowell Kempf
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When I went down memory lane to look at games I've played that used dry erase markers, I found myself remembering Par Out Golf.

Here's the basic idea in a nutshell: each board shows a hole on a golf course.myou close your eyes and draw with a dry erase marker the path of your golf ball. Hitting obstacles like sand traps and water hazards will force you to start from that point and take a stroke penalty.

Honestly, that's it.

Probably the worst thing I can say about Par Out Golf is that I completely forgot that it existed. It is definitely a silly, light game that is quite literally multi-player solitaire. Unless you're playing it alone. In that case, it's just solitaire.

On the other hand, Par Out Golf feels more like a game of golf than some other golf games I've played. It's not nearly as abstract as some (like GOLO) It's beyond sinks to teach and intuitive. And it is honestly fun.

I have to confess that I've only played Par Out Golf via tablet, as opposed to the physical book with dry erase markers. The iOS version actually causes clouds to cover the board instead of assuming you've closed your eyes and includes elements like wind.

At the time when we downloaded Par Out Golf, there weren't too many board game apps so it did get some decent play. However, a richer selection developed and it faded.

However, thinking about dry erase markers and games has made me decide to go back and revisit it. Well I don't own the physical game, the first three holes are available online. And, with the power of the laminator, I can make those three boards dry erasable.

At the moment, I doubt that the print and play version of Par Out Golf Will be more than a couple minutes distraction for me. However, we do have a two-year-old who's going to be getting bigger. The print and play version has gotten added to my list of potential tricks for long car rides or the airport or doctors' waiting rooms.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Aug 17, 2016 3:30 pm
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A Kickstarter has me revisit dry erase

Lowell Kempf
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Since I'm on the Smallbox Games mailing list, I found out when they started the Akua Kickstarter.

What immediately struck me what that Akua consists of the board and four dry erase markers instead of cards and tokens and other bits.

My first reaction as that this was a brilliant idea. It cuts down on storage space and how many pieces you have to keep track of. Between three cats and a small child, it's really easy for little cubes and meeples and cards and cardboard discs to get scattered and lost. Just having a board and some markers, markers you can buy just about anywhere to replace, is a lot easier to deal with.

But then I realized that it wasn't that original or unusual to use dry erase or the equivalent. Crayon Rail games have basically been doing that since the early 1970s. Party games like Wits and Wagers or Say Anything make dry erase a critical part of the of the game.

And there are already games where the board and the markers are the entire game. The latest version of Sid Sackson's Beyond Tic Tac Toe, published as Games of Art, is the first one that comes to mind. The silly little golf game Par Out Golf is another.

And, now that I actually remember my experiences with board games and dry erase markers, I also understand why this isn't going to replace physical components. In all honestly, dry erase markers create a sloppy and messy looking board, in comparison to wooden or plastic or cardboard pieces. You have an actual mess to clean up at the end of the game. Physical pieces give you a tactical experience and a snazzier look. And, let's face it, chrome is fun.

Which is not to say that dry erase games don't have their place. They are good for travel or playing without a table or playing in a confined space. And, speaking as someone who has cats who like to scamper across boards or lie down on top of them, not having a bunch of parts to keep track of can be a real blessing.

Mind you, the same can be said for using a tablet. Still, it's nice to have options, including options that don't involve electricity.

Akua does bring something new to the table. Almost every dry erase game I've seen or played has either been a party game or an abstract. With an action selection mechanic, area control and what seems to be some genuine point salad, Akua falls solidly into the Euro camp.

I've already backed it on the PnP level. Since we have a laminator, making a playable copy will be a breeze. One of the stretch goals, one that looks like it will be met, will be for a two-player board. A two-player board and a clipboard could see some serious use.

I haven't had a chance to play it yet, although the two-player board will definitely increase my chances. I do hope that it's a good game that I could get a lot of play out of. I don't need to dry erase Euros but one would be really nice.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 15, 2016 7:08 pm
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Lairs, a Kickstarter that clicked with my whimsy and imagination

Lowell Kempf
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Lairs is a Kickstarter project that checked off enough boxes for me that I ended up backing is on the PnP level. Admittedly, the fact that the PnP level was only a dollar was one of the boxes but there were other reasons it sparked my interest.

At its heart, Lairs is a dungeon crawl, which is a genre which that doesn't lack for games. As someone who spent a couple decades playing Dungeons and Dragons, I like dungeon crawls but I've never found one that I've liked as much as actually playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Although, now that I don't have time to be in a campaign, there's more appeal.

However, compared to a lot of dungeon crawls, Lairs definitely has a different feel. In fact, it steps away from the traditional, post Tolkien fantasy and explores a narrative that's both more whimsical and melancholy.

Instead of wizards and warriors, the players take the role of strange beings of power. Between the artwork and the backstories, they look like the cast from a collaboration by Lord Dunsany and Edward Gorey.

The narrative choices is a big reason why the game interested me. Some of the characters are just very interesting. There is the tragic Stonewrought Senator whose soul is trapped inside an unmoving statue. The Potted Prince takes the idea of a sentient potted plant and gives is pathos and seriousness is actually pretty cool.

I'll admit that the Dame of Catterbury is what pushed me over the edge to pledging. A magical cat locked in war against dogs and who has the most altruistic backstory? Yeah, you got my dollar for that.

They are each building their own dungeon in the same mysterious magic mountain and whoever finishes first gets to be the dungeon master as the others invade their lair. The dungeons are less a serious of rooms full of monsters and more interlocking mini games with a chance of monsters.

Frankly, the mechanics of Lairs reminds me a lot of Betrayal on the House on the Hill, which I played a fair bit of when it came out. The first half of the game is spent building a haunted house. Then someone gets possessed and you play out one of fifty different scenarios with everyone else trying to stop the possessed.

Mechanically, Betrayal had a ton of issues, not the least of which was that that first edition was horribly edited. While the underground lake on the second floor was particularly memorable, it was far from the only error. The errata ended up being something like fifty pages long.

And the random factor was so high that it could nullify any choices a player might make. Any given game could end up being a landslide victory for one side or the other. In particular, I remember the possession going off in one game at the first possible roll, leaving us with a haunted house the size of a one-bedroom apartment full of killer rats. The game ended shortly after that with some very fat rats.

But, as buggy and problem-filled as Betrayal was as a game, it almost succeeded at delivering a story. Heck, the tiny apartment full of rats might have been almost pointless as a competitive game but it did make for a great anecdote. Despite its myriad of flaws, Betrayal did deliver an experience so Lairs reminding me of it is not a knock.

Frankly, I don't know if Lairs will turn out to be a good game. They did a great job with the theme and the mechanics sound promising. But they would have failed Kickstarter 101 if the game didn't sound promising. I'm prepared for the game to be meh or even a tram wreck.

But, getting the art and the backstories will be totally worth a dollar, even if the game is terrible. And I am intrigued enough that I will make that print and play.
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Sat Aug 6, 2016 6:53 am
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My most significant Gen Con

Lowell Kempf
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By far the most important Gen Con that I ever attended was my first one back in 1999. Even if I had never attended another Gen Con, that one Gen Con was enough to permanently change my life.

In a good way! It was a good change!

You see, since I didn't preregister for any events and I didn't know about pickup games, I went through the event guide, made a long list of events to try and get into and then tried to get tickets for them.

A plan that didn't work well, by the way. I ended up getting the last event I tried for, a D&D game that was in the last slot of Saturday night. An hour event that ended up running so late that I ended missing my ride back to the dorms where I was staying but that's another story.

After the game, which wasn't bad but I wouldn't remember it if it was it for this next bit, I found out that the DM and two of the players were part of a campaign in Chicago. And, after some more conversation, I found out that it was about five blocks from where I was living at the time.

I had moved to Chicago less than a year earlier and only knew a couple folks. I got an invitation to join their campaign and spent over ten years playing with those guys. To this day, I stay in touch and even game online with some of them. They ended up becoming a big part of my life and good friends.

As I said earlier, even if I had never gone to another Gen Con, that one convention had a lasting impact on my gaming and my life. Of course, I ended up going to most of the rest with those guys, as well as other friends.

Originally posted at www.gnomepmdering.com
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Thu Aug 4, 2016 10:24 pm
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The changing world of Gen Con

Lowell Kempf
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Ah, Gen Con is upon us. The largest gaming conventional in the United States and one of the larger conventions in general.

While I did go to every Gen Con from 1999 to 2014, moving across the country and having a small child has made me stop. Quite frankly, I'm not sure if Gen Con will really have anything to offer me until we can go as a family.

And when that time comes, it will be fascinating. When I compare the first Gen Con I went to in Milwaukee to the last one I was at in Indianapolis, the later one was so much more family friendly and diverse. While I know folks who grumble about that change (in particular, the strollers the size of small cars), I think it's an amazing testimony in how the hobby has been growing and changing.

Earlier today, I had a discussion with my wife about how there are people who can drive and vote and drink for whom Dick Grayson has always been Nightwing, even though he is the definitive Robin. (Okay, I like him better as Nughtwing and Tim Drake is my favorite Robin. But Dick Grayson literally defined both the character and the role of kid sidekick) Admittedly, her part of the discussion was to ask why that was a discussion. However, it illustrates time and generations change things.

Dungeons and Dragons has been around since 1974 and computer RPGs are a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Settlers of Catan came out in 1995 and helped inspire a board game revolution. There are people going to Gen Con this year, including adults, who have grown up where this sort of gaming has always been a part of their world.

It's such a different environment than the Gen Con I attended in 1999. And my experiences are nothing compared to some of my friends who whose Gen Con experiences go back to the 80s.

And I bet the Gen Con we eventually take our son to will be different than the one I went to in 2014.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Aug 4, 2016 3:07 pm
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Prince Valiant the RPG might return?

Lowell Kempf
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While I usually just look through Kickstarter for boardgames, I do look at the role playing games and was surprised to see that a revised edition of the Prince Valiant Storytelling Game from 1989 is getting Kickstarted.

Over the years, I've regularly heard about the Prince Valiant RPG and been interested in looking at it. At the time, it was a revolutionary design. Unfortunately, it's been really hard to get a hold of a copy so I've never actually read it.

(I also have to admit that I've never been a fan of Prince Valiant, largely because it's never been carried in a newspaper I or my parents have gotten. I have always thought the artwork is pretty, though)

The two goals of the Prince Valiant RPG were to be a simple system that was extremely novice friendly and to still give a rich, thematic experience that reflected the comic strip the game was based on.

Did it do a good job? Since I've never read the book and I don't know anyone who's played the game, I can't tell you. However, the game is still remembered. It may not have gotten reprinted but it hasn't disappeared into obscurity.

Prince Valiant didn't invent the idea of simple rules that would be easy for non-gamers to pick up. The Ghostbusters RPG did that in 1986 and Toon did it even earlier in 1984. Still, in 1989, the idea was still an outlier as opposed to an accepted school of design.

The actual mechanics are dead simple. Characters have two statistics (one for physical stuff and one for social stuff) and access to a fairly small and focused skill list. Add up the numbers between stats and skills and flip that many coins with heads being successes.

But that's not what interests me. How was it presented? What was the GM section like? How was Prince Valiant the story integrated with the game?

The fact that it was designed by Greg Stafford, who also was a major designer of Pendragon, the definitive King Arthur game, as well as a lot of other stuff (including that newbie friendly Ghostbusters RPG I mentioned earlier) is a major interest point. It was made by someone with serious RPG chops.

How well has it aged? I don't know. But I am curious enough that the Kickstarter tempts me.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Jul 28, 2016 8:44 pm
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Do I prefer older games?

Lowell Kempf
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Looking at the way I purge my game collection, it sometimes feels like I'm keeping a lot more older games. It makes me wonder if I'm letting nostalgia be a major factor in what I'm keeping.

And nostalgia has helped some games hang on. My box of most Cheapass Games catalog speaks to that. It doesn't hurt that they take up less space than my Ticket to Ride collection

But older games like Catan or Ticket to Ride or Through the Desert or Ra or Bohnanza all have a firm place in my collection, not going anywhere, and my oldest cat is younger than the youngest of them. (To be fair, neither of the two tabbies who came from the same litter are that old)

However, to be fair again, I've also gotten rid of a couple hundred games that are that old. I think that what I'm really looking at are games that have really proven their staying power. They're games I've played lots of times and want to keep on playing.

I used to be part of the Cult of the New, trying every new game I could. However, these days, I'm part of the social club of the tried and true. (It's a fair bit less formal, really)

At the same time, I have to admit that I do prefer what some folks call German Family games, as opposed to Euros. And sometimes it feels like there was a golden age for German Family game about ten, fifteen years ago and it's now more of a golden age for Euros. I bet there are brilliant German Family games being made right now and I just don't know where they are. Like Bigfoot, only with meeples and cards.

In the end, I'm keeping games that I want to keep on playing. And if I've kept on wanting to play them for years, I've kept them.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 27, 2016 8:23 pm
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An outsider's view of Pokemon Go

Lowell Kempf
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Unless you count playing boardgames online, I'm not much of a video gamer. However, I did marry a video gamer, which helps round out our household nicely.

So I am actually aware of Pokemon Go. Otherwise, I would just think I was seeing a lot of people reading deeply meaningful texts all at the same time.

As a non-video gamer and a dad, I have a lot of appreciation for Nintendo. As a company, they seem to really encourage family friendly fun and activities, including encouraging kids to get some exercise. And they gave me Professor Layton. That's a franchise I can really sink my teeth into.

For everyone who is like me, Pokemon Go is a game that combines hunting and live trapping cute little monsters with GPS. You actually have to get out of the house and hunt the Pokemon down on foot.

I've been calling it Pokemon the LARP.

I actually consider this to be pretty brilliant. I understand that the game eats battery power like it was going out of style and probably isn't that good for data plans. I know folks have wandered into bad neighborhoods looking for Pokemons and a Wyoming girl found a dead body (which sounds like the start of a weird crime drama - They collect Pokeman and Evidence!)

However, I like that it encourages kids to get off the couch, go outside and explore their environment, along with getting some exercise. Plus, the idea of creating a mashup of the real world and virtual reality is still new and exciting, even if other games like Ingress have already done it.

The other night, I saw a group of people standing outside a closed library, staring at their phones. I wanted to pull over and ask them what faction they were in.

I don't know if Pokemon Go will be a two-week phenomena or a lasting game or a sign of games to come. If nothing else, it's a fascinating social experiment and an interesting idea for a game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jul 26, 2016 8:29 pm
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