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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Will I ever actually _play_ Sword and Sail?

Lowell Kempf
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I am really thinking of making a copy of Sword and Sail. For the third time. Even though I have yet to actually ever play the game

Sword and Sail is an old-school, old-world war game where you are trying to have a token in every space of one of the eight different regions on the map. You use action cards to place tokens on empty spaces and you attack an opponent by moving two tokens onto one of their spaces (leaving only one of your tokens behind)

It makes me think of what you might get if you tried to miniaturize and simplify one of Milton Bradley’s Game Master series.

I first started looking at the game many years before I started seriously looking at Print and Play. At the time, it was one of the prettiest Print and Play games I’d seen (and I’ve seen uglier professionally published games) I wondered at the time if, between the theme, attractive components and accessible rules, Sword and Sail was a ‘free’ game that I could get other people to play.

I do understand that the game has some flaws, requiring some house rules. The original map had Germania in the corner with only four spaces so going for Germania was a degenerate strategy. There are also concerns with two-players of having perpetual stalemate moves. Sword and Sail may be limited in enough different ways to be actually be a good game.

Still, it’s an easy build and a pretty build. It might be good as our son is getting to the age where more complicated games might interest him. And it is an interesting artifact from the past. So, yeah, let’s try making it again.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Aug 7, 2020 7:21 pm
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Golux Ex Mechina!

Lowell Kempf
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The 13 Clocks by James Thurber is what happens when you just take the clever bits of a story and chuck the rest in the dust bin.

It’s hard to truly describe the book. The plot is a fairy tale plot of a prince having to win the hand of a princess by doing an impossible task. But that not only doesn’t do the book justice, it completely fails to actually describe the book as well. Full of not just word play but rhythm play, the 13 Clocks doesn’t just play with the nature of fairy tales but language as well. The fairy tale is just the framework for Thurber’s wit and whimsy.

A friend of mine will tell Traveling Salesman jokes by skipping to the punch line since ‘you already know what happens up to that point’ Thurber relentlessly leaves out gobs of details about the setting and the characters because he knows we already understand them because we know how fairy tales work. And he does it so cleverly that he is letting us, the readers, behind the scenes with him.

I have to make special mention of the Golux (the only one in the world and not a mere device!) who serves as the device that resolves every problem in the book. He takes the role of a Puss in Boots magical problem solver but he is relentlessly eccentric and charming. And the villain of the story calls him out as a blatant Deus Ex Machina (Golux Ex Machina!)

I first heard of the book in Middle School or High School in an essay about Fantasy literature. And I put off reading it for literally decades in part because I didn’t think it could live up to the zany impression I had of it. And, you know, it turns out that it doesn’t. But it is still a very fun and amusing book. There’s not an ounce of cynicism in the book but a ton of whimsy.

I wouldn’t describe the 13 Clocks as a satire or a deconstruction of fairy tales. Instead, it is a playful celebration of the English language.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Aug 5, 2020 8:38 pm
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I didn’t do anything at virtual GenCon and why that’s okay

Lowell Kempf
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I registered for both GenCan’t and GenCon since, well, they were both free. And all I ended up doing with them was watch a couple of feeds and a little Mega Karuba through GenCan’t.

Now, this is not me whining. This is the last weekend before school starts remotely for our son and I will be darned if that isn’t a lot more important for me. For crying out loud, I play games remotely almost constantly. I look at game news all the time. Neither Gen Con 2020 or Gen Can’t 2020 were going to be major, once-in-a-lifetime experiences for me.

No, instead, I got to participate for nothing. I got to have some fun and be a part of the greater community and feel connected. And if you don’t think those things are meaningful, social media would be nothing more than an alternative to a phonebook if folks didn’t find some value in them. (I leave it up to you to decide what that value is)

But, this does drive home that one of the most powerful aspects of a convention in person is that it is an escape from the rest of the world. I close my eyes and I think about the carpet in the convention center in Indianapolis and I have a strong memory of being removed from so many responsibilities and distractions. (Which is not necessarily a healthy thing. It’s a good thing conventions don’t happen all the time!)

A friend of mine used to ask what the difference was between going to a convention and spending a weekend at a friends house playing games? The difference is that separation.

Which is not to say that the virtual cons are worthless. With school starting the first week of August, actually trying to go to a convention in person would be a nightmare at best.

More than that, with so many of us in some level of lockdown and isolation, the value of a virtual convention is enormous. Honestly, this year, the power and importance of a virtual Gen Con May be greater than an in-person one on another year.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 3, 2020 4:48 pm
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My July PnP

Lowell Kempf
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Like too many months in 2020, July was a crazy one. Still, I managed to get some print and play crafting in. This is what I made last month:

5x15
Blankout (double-sides play sheets for convenience)
Word Chain (the extended version)
Ragemoore
Corinth

My two ‘big’ projects of the month were Word Chain and Corinth, since they both involved three sheets of materials each but neither one was much work at all. The two pages of tiles for 5x15 were a lot more work, further proving how arbitrary my definition of ‘big’ is. Still, I’ll stick to it since it gives me some kind of goal.

(I am planning on making more player boards and the fan expansion for Corinth at some time soon)

I actually spent more time prepping future projects than I did completing them. I do like to complete something each month and sometimes that’s the way to make sure it happens.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Aug 1, 2020 3:51 pm
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My first virtual convention of the year was for Pokémon Go :D

Lowell Kempf
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The one virtual convention that I have actually attended so far in 2020 wasn’t for either board games or role playing games but for a casual video game, Pokémon Go. Mind you, part of the reason it worked for me was because it was a casual game that I didn’t need to set aside a designated time to participate. I could also do it with my wife, which was a big plus.

Lockdown parenthood doesn’t allow for extended downtime, which is why I have yet to play a game of Scythe online despite meaning to for months. (Plus trying time remember how to play and use the interface ) But a casual video game that is designed to be played in tiny bursts, that’s a lot easier to do.

That said, it was really the fact that I could participate in Pokémon GoFest 2020 with my wife and it was a family activity was what really made it work for us.

While we had fun finding shiny Pokémon and fighting Team Rocket as they flew around in balloons (Niantic has worked hard on making a game based on geo caching still work when you can’t go anywhere), the real highlight was using the invite function of remote raid passes so we could play with folks we haven’t seen in months.

The last message of the event was about playing under the same sky. Virtual conventions are a shadow of in-person conventions but they are all about community.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jul 31, 2020 8:54 pm
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Why did nobody tell me about McAuslan?

Lowell Kempf
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How have I spent decades actively reading and only found out about the McAuslan stories a month or so ago? A famous series by George MacDonald Fraser, it apparently influenced later authors like Terry Pratchett. The stories consist of Fraser tweaking his experiences as an officer just after World War II just enough to make them fictional and funny.

As I have often written, since 2020 has been such a stressful year (for everyone!) and I‘ve been on the lookout for decompressing reading. Which, curiously enough doesn’t necessarily mean fluff. I’ve been reading heaps of L. Sprague de Camp who certainly has a lot of joy in his writing but there’s meaning there too.

(Oddly enough, Wodehouse, one of my favorite authors and a master of frothy writing, has not worked for me. Maybe I’ve read so much of him that my tolerance is too high?)

Back to George McDonald Fraser. So I read The General Danced at Dawn, the first McAuslan collection. The stories are actually about the narrator, Lieutenant Dand MacNeill, who is in a Scottish Battalion that manages to live up to most of stereotypes of Scotland. McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world, isn’t even featured in half the stories but, boy, is he memorable when he dies show up.

The stories are an undeniably biased view of the British army in the 1950s with each story being about another misadventure that have to be muddled though. And that might be why the stories worked so well for me right now. They are grounded in reality, in Fraser’s actual experiences. But things do work out and problems do get solved. It’s a view of an imperfect world but a hopeful one. It actually takes me back to stories I heard from veterans as a child.

From what I’ve read, Fraser had an old fashioned view of the world, particularly in regards to woman and minorities and some people of that bleeds through. I do keep that in mind as I read his works. It’s not flawless but he has a great voice and there’s some stuff to ponder.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 29, 2020 6:28 pm
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Wow, Howard Tayler finished Schlock Mercenary

Lowell Kempf
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On July 24, 2020, Howard Tayler wrapped up Schlock Mercenary, after slightly more than twenty years of daily webcomics. And it really was daily, without any gaps. And Sundays were extra big comic strips on top of that.

Beyond saying that Schlock Mercenary was a satirical dramedy about an intergalactic mercenary corp in a dystopian (or at least cynical) future, it’s hard for me to really describe the series. There is just too much. Too many plot elements and twists, too many characters, too many tears, too many jokes.

As near as I can tell, I read it regularly for thirteen years, although I did go back and read the story up to that point. I may very well may try and go back and reread the entire run, one volume at a time to make it manageable. Maybe after that, it won’t make my head spin trying to keep all the details straight

Reading Schlock Mercenary every morning has been part of my daily wake up routine. It does feel weird not having it there but, boy does Howard Tayler deserve a break. He has said he has more stories to tell in the setting and I do look forward to them. But if he needs to take a five-year break, the man has definitely earned it!

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 27, 2020 4:11 pm
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Yeah, I still love Ingenious

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. I decided to participate in a recent geek list about favorite games: https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/274188/what-your-favorite...

It is actually a really tough question because, frankly, the answer can change depending on my mood and the situation. Catan and Go are in the running because both are games that were instrumental in getting me into the hobby. Dominion and Race for the Galaxy provided hours upon hours of play in my most regular gaming group. Six and Qwirkle were a big part of my wife and me getting to know each other. I play Onirim almost daily these days.

But I ended up going with Ingenious, although I dearly love and would cheerfully play all of the games I mentioned in the last paragraph. There was a time in my life when I was playing it almost constantly, thanks to the BSW website. I do really like the game. But that’s not why I still think of it as my favorite.

I really like abstract games and Ingenious gives me a really top notch abstract experience in a very manageable time frame. While the board is small enough to make the game a knife fight in a phone booth, there’s a lot of interesting choices. When you have Tigris and Euphrates scoring, that can either mean trying for balanced play or crushing your opponents’ chances in just one color. You can choose to be make the game unbalanced and try to control that imbalance.

But here’s the thing. Ingenious is the game that broke me out of the idea that abstracts had to be perfect information. You randomly draw a hand of tiles but you can discard and draw a new hand if you don’t have any tiles in your lowest color. The random element is very manageable but still adds a lot of uncertainty and replay value to the game.

It has honestly been a while since I last played Ingenious and I know it would take a few plays for me to find the groove again. However, I know it’s a game I could get back into playing all the time and it definitely changed how I see abstracts and games in general.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jul 24, 2020 6:10 pm
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A comic book whose point was running off the rails

Lowell Kempf
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I recently bought a bundle of Graphic Novels which includes the complete Ghost Fleet, which I had never heard of. And it was so much like reading someone’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants RPG campaign that I have to comment on it.

(Since I really only read comic books by buying the odd bundle of graphic novels now and then, I don’t really blog about comic books since I’m always years behind on them. That said, is there any reason for Bruce Wayne to hide his identity other than avoiding endless civil and criminal lawsuits that would accrue every issue?)

Lots of spoilers ahead... lots of them.
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Spoilers
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The book starts off explaining how Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte set up a black ops smuggling infrastructure called The Ghost Fleet, which has continued to operate into present day. I mention this only because this demented bit of world building never comes up again, which is a shame because there’s some definite potential there.

Anyway, Trace and Robert are two operatives of the Ghost Fleet until Robert betrays Trace but leaves him alive. So Trace goes on a roaring rampage of revenge that basically involves stealing a semi-truck carrying a McGuffin. It’s an action adventure involving explosions, master assassins, crazy shoot-outs and big trucks slamming into things.

MASSIVE SPOILER

And in the last issue, the McGuffin turns out to the Death, the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, who possesses Trace so Death can Kung Fu battle the devil for the fate of the world. Death wins and the world becomes a post-apocalyptic world of mutants, robots and demons.

what

Okay. There was some foreshadowing and it turned out what the McGuffin actually was mattered to the story (sorry, Alfred Hitchcock) But the book jumped from cheesy summer action flick to gonzo crazy over the course a few panels.

And, yes, I have a specific GM I know in mind who would run a game like this I don’t know if he ever ran an octaNe campaign but it probably would have looked like the end of The Ghost Fleet.

I’m not saying the Ghost Fleet is good. There are some bizarre plot holes, including that the guy who Robert sold Trace out to was also their employer, making the betrayal actually make very little sense. The need for either the betrayal or Trace not being a part of it just isn’t there. Basically, cool overrules common sense every time.

And I’m not saying the Ghost Fleet wasn’t fun. But, despite what I hear some critics say, fun isn’t that hard to find in comic books.

But if it had had a less fantastic ending (Like: ‘we were hauling illegal nuclear weapons the whole time? Time to shoot everyone and drive off into the sunset’), I’d have forgotten the book already. And I’m going to remember the Ghost Fleet.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:47 pm
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Another gathering that won’t happen this year :’(

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Eight years ago, a friend of ours started having their own private convention. They’d rent a large meeting room at a hotel and set up a block of rooms so everyone would have a place to sleep when they weren’t playing games. And between the thirty-odd friends that would show up, the game library was always huge. There was even a weekend long tournament of different games for bragging rights.

I haven’t gone in years, seeing as how we moved to the other side of the country. However, I have stayed on the mailing list and I’ve even visited through the power or video conferencing/

And, yes, it has been postponed and finally canceled in 2020.

In the grand scheme of everything that COVID-19 has done to the world, I admit that this is pretty small potatoes. I mean, this isn’t even the end of the event. Unlike events that folks have to pay for and turn a profit that are probably facing bankruptcy right now, all this needs is one person’s persistence and determination and, trust me, it has that.

Still, it’s kind of sad.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 20, 2020 3:58 pm
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