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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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The world of concrete and the world of story

Lowell Kempf
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A lot of folks like to break down role playing games into two camps, traditional and indie.

Traditional or trad refers to games that harken back to the original RPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons. They tend to be more mechanically-based and more complicated. Indie games, on the other hand, follow a more narrative tradition and major examples include Fiasco or Apocalypse World. They tend to be mechanically lighter and more driven by the tropes of storytelling.

Here's the thing. A lot of the ways that I have heard people break down the two categories tends to be more about the philosophy of the people playing them as opposed to the actual design itself. You can have a character driven, story based game using a traditional system. And you can have a conflict driven Game that's all about fighting with an indie system. Some of them, it won't work very well but you can still do it.

If you strip away the people playing the games and just look at how the systems work, here's what I think you will find the real difference between the two is. Traditional games are about creating a concrete world for you to interact with. Indie games are about creating a story for you to interact with.

Hopefully, you're going to get a story and a concrete world in either case but I think each philosophy has it's own priority.

Another way that I personally tend to think of them is that traditional games are about confrontation and indie games are about conversation.

Traditional games come out of wargaming. As a general rule of thumb, if most of the rule book is about fighting, you're probably looking at a traditional game. In fact, Shannon Appoline wrote in his book Dungeons and Designers that in the earliest days of role-playing, the game master actually was trying to win against the players.

While traditional role playing games have developed a lot more depth compared to the days when it was just about beating each other up, it is still build around interacting with the environment. That environment can include obvious things like weather and rain or more esoteric things like monsters or politics. And there are mechanical ways of resolving all of your interactions with them. The rules have built a world for you to interact with and that is what drives the system.

On the other hand, indie games are driven by the story. The actual world itself takes a backseat to the needs of the story. The game is not about how you do something but how you tell the story.

For me, the game that really made me realize the differences between the two philosophies was Polaris. Polaris was not the first indie game that I ever paid but it was the first one that made me fundamentally realize what an indie game was trying to do.

You see, at its heart, the rules for Polaris resemble a great we simplified Roberts Rules of Order. They form the procedure for the players to debate with each other. I had never seen anything like it and I still think it is pretty amazing to this day.

Both philosophies are perfectly valid and both will give you an engaging experience when done well. Traditional games will give you a world to be drawn into and indie games will give you a story to be drawn into.

At the moment, I am much more into indie games. Part of that is because they take less time. I don't have to worry about the mechanics I just need to worry about story and that something that I understand innately. But I also have a long history with traditional games. They are also the deep and enriching experience.

These are two different voices that are important to the hobby.

http://dnd.wizards.com
http://www.tao-games.com/polaris/

Originally posted at http://gnomepondering.blogspot.com
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Tue Feb 16, 2016 12:12 am
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Using a magnetic Checkers board to avoid playing Checkers

Lowell Kempf
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One of the reasons I've been thinking about game systems is because I've been thinking about much you can do with a magnetic travel Checkers set.

See, while it isn't as amazing as a deck of cards, there are a shocking amount of games you can play with nothing more than to checkers set. Really, an eight-by-eight board with two different colored pieces is some of the most basic components you can get. Checkers is one of the ur-games of history.

A lot of these games aren't new. Some of them have been around for centuries as well, like Fox and Geese, which I understand is good for bar bets, as long as your opponent doesn't know it's been solved. And there are a lot of Checkers variations, some of them regional and some of them just people being wiseacres. (Diagonal checkers, where you turn the board 45 degrees?)

But I'll be honest. I'm not a big Checkers fan. Part of it comes from being taught it too young and not being taught a couple key rules (that you must make a capturing move if you can and that the game can also end if someone cannot make a move)

When I was old enough to understand that there was some real depth to Checkers, I was already into games like Go or modern abstracts like Hive or ZERTZ, dynamic games that made Checkers seem slow and plodding.

Really, the game that really makes me seriously think about using a travel Checkers board is Lines of Action. It's a game about connecting all your pieces and you can only move the exact number of spaces as the number of pieces in that line.

Seriously, it's an excellent game that uses nothing but a Checkers board and feels nothing like Checkers. Truth to tell, if that's all I used a travel set for but I got to play Lines of Actions a lot, I'd be happy.

(Oh, Focus by Sid Sackson. That's another great game you can play with a Checkers set. Also doesn't feel like Checkers, by the way)

Of course, our son is two so I'm really going to end up playing Fox and Geese long before Lines of Action

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/11169/checkers-set-game-s...

Originally posted at http://gnomepondering.blogspot.com
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Mon Feb 15, 2016 12:39 am
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Making laminated tiles

Lowell Kempf
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Ever since we got a laminator, I have been testing out what I can do with it as far is print and play projects are concerned. In actuality, it has actually exceeded my expectations.

The first 'real' project I tried with the laminator was making a set of laminated Micropul tiles. Everything else that I've done up until this point was just to see how it would do, without actually worrying about ending up with a game that I would want to play.

(Well, the first thing I tried was making laminated cards for Button Men, which is a game I like. However, that just makes nice cards. I don't need them to play the game. A friend of mine and I used to play Button Men with just dice and printed out spreadsheet of various buttons)

Micropul is a relatively old print and play game. It first came out over 10 years ago. Part of what has to have given legs is that it is a very simple project make. All you need is to make one page of tiles and some tokens of some kind. However, it's also pretty decent game which has to be the biggest part of why it is still part of the print and play scene.

It's a tile-laying game where you try to claim and close groups of symbols, not unlike farming scoring in Carcassonne. And if that's all there was to it, it wouldn't be that much.

However, unlike most tile-laying games, you don't draw tiles as part of your turn. You have to activate special symbols on the tiles to get tiles. Unused tiles at the end of the game are worth points. That's a pretty good twist.

What I decided to try doing was laminating the sheet of tiles and then cutting them out. I did this, even though I didn't think it would work.

Now, I haven't dealt with lamination in probably over 20 years. My memories of old laminators were that they would basically create a plastic sandwich around the paper with the edges being sealed. If you broke the seal that the edges made, everything would fall apart.

I have some sort of crazy memory of lamination paper that was actually clear plastic with the sticky side and you would make a sandwich out of two of them. But I never used anything like that and I don't know if it actually exists in any place other than my imagination.

I had some hoped that the heated plastic of modern lamination pouches would actually adhere to the paper but I didn't really expect that to be the case. The quality of the plastic has definitely improved and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the actual laminators are hotter.

Lo and behold, the plastic actually did adhere to the paper. Instead of having to cut out the tiles and individually laminate them, I was able to just run the laminator once and get laminated tiles.

The fact that I used regular copy paper as opposed to card stock or cardboard might've actually helped the process.

Now, the real question is how well will they hold up in the long run. I am sure that over time and play, the plastic will start peel off of the tiles.

In the case of Micropul, that's not such a big deal. Between printing and laminating and cutting, I can probably make a set in about fifteen, twenty minutes and material cost probably comes out around fifteen cents at most. Even if they fall apart after a month of play, that's not too bad.

For more complicated projects, I might want to actually individually laminate every piece.

Despite that, this does make making functional pieces a whole lot easier.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/10660/micropul

http://neutralbox.com/micropul/

Originally posted at http://gnomepondering.blogspot.com
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Fri Feb 12, 2016 9:38 pm
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Apocalypse World and its engine keep impressing

Lowell Kempf
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Over the course of a couple days, I found out that a second rdition of Apocalypse World is getting Kickstarted and I read the short form RPG Crossroads, which uses a streamlined Apocalypse World Engine.

Crossroads isn't the first game that I have seen that is Powered by Apocalypse and it is far from the most out there. Dream Askew or Murderous Ghosts both do far more experimental things with the system. But reading through it in conjunction with the Kickstarter got me thinking about why the system is just so nifty.

It's hard to pinpoint what makes it's so good. There are elements like characters being made up of qualities, as opposed to statistics. It isn't what you do but why you were doing it that helps determine what stat you use. There is the fact that the only person who ever rolls the dice is the player, never the GM. This all makes the game both narrative driven and player driven.

Oh, in theory, any game can be narrative driven and player driven. But I have seen games that ended up being just about the dice rolls or being controlled by the GM. But the Apocalypse Engine not just encourages it, it makes doing streamlined and easy.

Players can be creative about what they do and one die roll resolves it all.

Crossroads strips away most of the mechanics. It leaves the player making the die rolls and the failure, success and success with a price outcomes.

That last one it's actually something else that makes the engine special. You don't get partial success. You get what you want. You just get a nasty little bonus. It's actually a very important way of doing things. The story keeps on going but things just got a little more complicated. Which actually makes the story better.

Crossroads is based on a web series which I had never heard of called the Booth at the End. There is a man who sits in the last booth in a diner. He can make any wish come true but there's a price. You basically have to do something horrible to get that wish. How far are you willing to go to get what you want? Will you kill someone? Will you plant a bomb in the hospital? What price can you handle? How important is your wish?

As near as I can tell, the only set in the show is the diner. People sit down with the guy and tell them what they want. And later scenes, they come back and give him progress reports. It's all just conversations and flashbacks and decisions.

Which makes it a pretty decent form for a short RPG that should be completed in two hours.

Crossroads comes as a preset scenario with pregenerated characters with pregenerated desires and horrible tasks you can mix-and-match with them. Even under those circumstances, there's a lot of flexibility about how the story will develop.

But, I realized that it wouldn't be hard to come up with new characters with different desires and new horrible tasks. As long as you are willing to stick with the whole premise of the man in the last booth, there's actually some decent replay value here.

Apocalypse World is one of the most impressive RPG systems that I've come across in recent years. I am very impressed with Dungeon World and Monsterhearts, two well thought out uses of the engine. Crossroads, in comparison, is a pretty dinky little application of the engine. And I still think that it has real potential. That says something about the Apocalypse Engine.

http://apocalypse-world.com

Originally posted at http://gnomepondering.blogspot.com
(Yeah, I'm trying to expand)
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Wed Feb 10, 2016 3:52 pm
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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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