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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Muddled memories of Mayfair ribbons

Lowell Kempf
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I thought long and hard about what else I wanted to write about Mayfair Games closing up shop while that was still fresh and on my mind. I mean, when I started really playing and collecting games, Mayfair and Rio Grande were the two major ways to get European-style games in the US (Boy, has that ever changed) I’ve played a lot of different games that I got from them.

But when I started looking through the lengthy list of games Mayfair has published or distributed over the decades, I realized it was too wide a range to really pin down. I’ve already written about Catan and I’ve never cared for the crayon train games (For me, they've always been hours of tiny, incremental moves) Too many games to generalize.

However, what has been uniquely Mayfair for me has been my experiences with the company at Origins and GenCon.

Yeah, I’m talking about the ribbons.

I’m not sure when Mayfair started the ribbon program. I want to say that it was around 2005 or 2006 but I am convinced I went to a few years before the ribbons came along. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me.

Here’s how it worked. You could earn different ribbons named for the different resources in Catan by demoing various Mayfair games. When you had a set of the five resources, Mayfair marked the ribbons (since you got to keep them) Then you got some tchotchke, a raffle ticket and (most importantly) a 50% off almost anything Mayfair coupon.

You could trade ribbons with other folks or trade in three of a kind for another. Since, at least initially, train games were the only way to get Ore, that encouraged a lot trading of one kind or another. Almost all the train games took place in the Puffin Billy room and were longer than the other games.

Now, I might be completely wrong about these next two memories and I’m sure someone will call me out about it if I am. But I believe Mayfair didn’t add the resources from Cities and Knights until a least a year later, those let you get a Knight of Catan ribbon, along with another raffle ticket and another tchotchke.

And, I would swear that GenCon didn’t have a lot of Essen style demo tables when I first started going in 1999. (I’d also swear it was mostly war games and RPGs) I _think_ Mayfair was one of the first companies to do that at GenCon. The last time I went to GenCon in 2014, companies had demo tables everywhere.

There are two games that I got to really enjoy, entirely due to the ribbon program. Station Master, because it was the shortest game to get Ore so we played it every year, and Patrician, which was one of the handful of games at the Knight level. I had previously tried out both games at minimal player levels and not liked them. Thanks to the ribbons, I played them in larger player counts and found they were really good then.

The ribbon program was a big part of our convention experiences. Me and my friends, we’d look forward to playing those games and getting rewarded for it It changed the way we experienced the exhibit hall.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:54 pm
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Grave robbing, I mean, archeologist in my pocket

Lowell Kempf
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Raiders in My Pocket was an interesting PnP project for me. While I’ve played the original Zombie in My Pocket literally dozens of times, I’ve never actually made or played any of the variants. I also found it interesting that the entire game fit on one double-sided page of counters.

If you’re not familiar with the family of games, you build a map of of tiles while playing event cards as you move your pawn from tile to tile. Part of what makes it clever is the event deck serves as a timer. Every time you reshuffle, time passes. And if you don’t complete your objective, time _will_ run out.

The main difference between Raiders and Zombie is that you have one more stage of time. However, you also have to get back to the start tile. And, when you grab the idol that is your goal (BECAUSE IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!), you automatically start the last time stage.

If you’re like me and ended up using all the tiles to find the idol (more than once), that’s pretty much a death sentence, even using the ‘free’ flee action. The original Zombie in My Pocket was a luckfest but Raider in My Pocket is even more of a one.

Buuut... that doesn’t bother me. While there is some strategy to how you build the map and use resting and fleeing, luck was always a huge part of Zombie in My Pocket experience. What really sold the game was the theme and how it told a story.

And Raiders continues that tradition. It is very thematic in how it uses art and how it tells the story of being a grave-robbing bandit, er, I mean an archeologist. And it definitely keeps the tension high.

Is it more fun than Zombie? Eh. However, I don’t have a set of Zombie made right now and I’m just as happy to spend a few minutes playing Raiders in My Pocket.

Truth to tell, my biggest take away from the experience was from the crafting. While it was neat to only have one sheet of components, the tiny bits made it a real pain to cut and laminate. I definitely learned some lessons about PnP crafting.

If I were to craft it again, I’d definitely do things differently. But the next time I craft a In My Pocket game, it will probably be something else, something new to explore.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Feb 16, 2018 4:55 pm
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Sometimes, there’s just a flat out better game that does the same thing

Lowell Kempf
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While I am trying to get more ambitious about my PnP builds, I’m still perfectly willing to print out a one-page Roll and Write game and give it a whirl. When I found ‘Not Another One’ in my regular combing for PnP files, I decided to give it a shot. (Yes, the quotes are part of them name)

You play the game by filling out a three by three grid with die rolls, one die roll at a time. Each row and column has a target number, one that you are trying to get the three numbers you write in to add up to. You score points equal to the difference between the number. If you get the number right, you get -5 points for that row or column. Low score is the goal.

A full game is three boards. If you’re playing multi-player, everyone uses the same boards so you’re working with the same target numbers. The PnP comes with six sets of three so, as long as everyone has a sheet, you can play six games before you have to print more or start erasing.

Well, I printed ‘Not Another One’ out and dashed off a bunch of solitaire games. I will say my scores got steadily better after the first game and getting even one -5 on a board really helped.

Okay, it was impossible for me to play ‘Not Another One’ and not compare to It to Wurfel Bingo/High Score and that was not a comparison that did ‘Not Another One’ any favors. Wurfel Bingo is another Bingo-with-strategy/Take It Easy style game. You fill out a five-by-five grid with the results of two dice and score columns, rows and diagonals with poker-like combinations. And it is frankly better in every way.

Wurfel Bingo gives you more choices by having sixteen more spaces and wider options by not having the target numbers effectively restricting your choices. More importantly, it gives you the bell-shaped curve of two six-sided dice. You can make decisions based on those probabilities while ‘Not Another One’ gives every number an equal chance of being rolled.

In isolation, ‘Not Another One’ is an okay, maybe even cute little time filler. However, the just-as-accessible Wurfel Bingo definitely hurts it as a choice. And if I was playing with other people, Wurfel Bingo would be my choice every time.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Feb 13, 2018 8:22 pm
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Why Mayfair Games mattered to me

Lowell Kempf
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On Friday, February 9, Mayfair Game’s announced that they were closing up shop.

Let’s be honest. It wasn’t a giant surprise. When Mayfair sold Asmodee the US rights to the Catan franchise a couple years ago, it was obvious that things were winding down or at least changes were in the air.

For me and a lot of my friends, it’s the end of an era. Although, to avoid being too melodramatic, I got to admit I’m sure most of the games are still going to keep on getting printed, just without a Mayfair logo. But Mayfair was a big part of our lives.

And all that can really be explained by Catan.

First of all, Mayfair, of course, brought Settlers of Catan over to the US. And Settlers of Catan was a major entry point for me and many of my friends into the world of games outside war games and mass market games. I first played it in 2002 or 2003 when visiting a friend in another state and it took me a little while to really get up to speed. But it was a big deal.

Second, the Catan tournament scene. While I have played in the tournaments over the years, I was never that serious about it. But a lot of my friends were very serious. (I’ll be honest, part of my participating in the tournaments was so I could hang out with them)

But, over the years, playing over the years, even I got to know and become friends with the folks with regularly played in the tournaments. I also got to know a number of the people who worked for or with Mayfair. I’m certainly not claiming to be any kind of insider but I was at least part of the extended family of the serious tournament players.

What I’m not doing a great job saying is that Mayfair didn’t just introduce to games but the way they ran their tournaments introduced me to a lot of people and friends. They didn’t just help me develop my hobby but honestly changed my life.

When I started writing this, I thought about talking about some of the other games Mayfair has produced or my GenCon experiences with Mayfair. And I might still write about those. I mean, I could write a couple blogs just about train games and I never even got into crayon train games. And I still might.

But this is the most important thing I have to say about Mayfair.
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Mon Feb 12, 2018 3:25 pm
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Spoiler: I’m planning on getting Kingdomino

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve been writing a lot about PnP lately since I’ve been spending so much time both making and playing PnP games lately. However, I haven’t completely forgotten about actual published copies of games or maybe even buying some.

What’s been on my mind lately is if I should buy Kingdomino or just skip to Queendomino.

Amusingly enough, neither one is on my short list of games to buy. And, of course, I haven’t played either one. However, they keep on coming up in my online reading and so they are on my mind a lot.

And, even though I am both very space conscious and budget conscious, Kingdomino is both small enough and priced low enough that getting both isn’t an issue. Which is probably what I’ll end up doing.

That said, I’ve regularly read that Queendomino is the deeper, more interesting game and more suited for gamers, which is how I still see myself And I already have a lot of short, simple tile-laying games. Is Kingdomino going to be that different than the ones I already have?

Going around and around in my head, I think the answer is really go get Kingdomino now and almost assuredly end up picking up Queendomino later.

Basically because of all the reasons it won the Spiel des Jahres. The tile drafting adds a layer that pushes it over other simple tile-laying games. It’s also going to be more accessible for non-gamers.

Frankly, I’m hoping that Kingdomino will fill that magic spot of being a game we want to play regularly on work nights when we are tired and frazzled. Not too short and not too conflict heavy. And it will probably be more our four-year-old’s speed than Queendomino.

While it hadn’t been on my list of games to pick up, I’ll probably end up with Kingdomino this year.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Feb 9, 2018 6:10 pm
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Fussy cutting

Lowell Kempf
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When I was cutting out Raiders in My Pocket, Carrie told me that I was fussy cutting. Which was a term I had never heard before but I understood what it meant immediately. Well, it didn’t hurt that I was doing it at the time.

Since then, I now break down on my projects into fussy-cut and non-fussy-cut.

One of the most useful tools I’ve found for print-and-play has been the paper cutter. In fact, we’re on our second one and I’m not sure how many times we’ve put a new blade on the one we have now. If a project needs straight cuts, like a sheet of cards for instance, a paper cutter makes it a _lot_ easier.

But if I have a whole bunch of little pieces on one laminating sheets, I’m not able to make this big straight cuts. That’s when I have to get out of the scissors and make a lot of the little cuts, fussy cutting. If you can line up twenty or more tiles or chits in a laminating pouch perfectly and feed it through a laminator without jarring them, you are doing so much better than me.

Earlier this year, I made the demo copy of Tiny Epic Zombies, which was the largest project I’ve made this year and one of my largest projects period. (But I am getting more ambitious) But it’s mostly big tiles and cards. The one page of Raiders in My Pocket took me longer to cut

Which isn’t to say that I am going to avoid fussy cut projects. While I have said and continue to support the idea that you can have a healthy PnP hobby with no or minimal construction projects (Welcome to Dino World, Wurfel Bingo, Knizia’s Decathlon, and Utopia Engine, to name a few examples), I have been getting more and more into construction. Mostly because it’s fun, really.

If a project requires fussy cutting, that just means I have to budget more time for the construction.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Feb 9, 2018 5:14 am
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It’s not a Pharaoh’s Decisions

Lowell Kempf
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When I started crafting games this year, I made an informal pledge to try each game at least five times. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been focusing on quick, solitaire games so that’s not that hard a thing to try and do.

It’s a Pharaoh’s Life is probably going to be an exception to that rule and I’m fine with that.

To be fair, there’s no construction involved. You just print out a couple pages of tables. Then, you roll on the tables to see what happens to your pharaoh until you finally get to an event that kills them. You can also roll to see what happens to their mummy.

I’ve glossed over a few elements. You randomly roll up stats that you need to roll under for some events. But that doesn’t change the fundamental truth about It’s a Pharaoh’s Life: literally all you do is roll a die and see what happens. The only decision you make in the entire game is to decide to play the game.

I actually was amused by the game. I rolled up that my pyramid was a gigantic one so my mental narrative had every problem come up because I was bankrupting the kingdom to build up the tomb. Since the thing is tables on PDF, I could play the game on my phone with a dice app and if you needed to come up with the history of a pharaoh for an RPG, I guess you could use this.

However, there’s no way I can, in good consciousness, recommend It’s a Pharaoh’s Life to anyone. It’s not really a game. It’s just a very simple story engine and not that interesting a one. There’s no decisions and nothing to do. It’s not the worst example of this I’ve seen (RLC, anyone?) but it’s still not good. I feel like the fact that I had fun was a character flaw in me than anything about the game.
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Thu Feb 8, 2018 12:28 am
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Man, I like to carry games around

Lowell Kempf
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The idea of having some kind of travel kit of games has pretty much always been a part of my gaming life from the start. Before I found any regular groups, a lot of my games were pickup games at restaurants and coffee shops. I didn’t have a game closet. I had a game bag.

Over the years, the bag has changed, depending on circumstances and depending on what struck my fancy. Going to a convention, for instance, always meant a larger bag with a wide variety of choices.

There have been some distinct moments in how I pack a game bag. One of the more recent ones was the Pack O Game series, which gave me the ability to fit a game library into a large pocket. That’s become my go to for any time I’m going somewhere planning to game.

PnP has, more slowly, been affecting the bag. I hadn’t even really noticed until I realized that I was crafting stuff specifically for my every day bag.

When I go out, I almost always take a daddy bag of things like wet wipes and snacks and spare clothes and water. It’s a satchel that’s been repurposed from carrying work documents around.

And I’ve almost always had a few games that live in the satchel, for when I don’t have any plans for gaming but just in case. Pico 2 has had years of being carried around like that (and I know it will be back when I’m not worried about it getting damaged) and Cinq-0 and Cosmic Wimpout are a couple other standards. However, I got out of that habit when it became focused on baby stuff.

But the doodle has been getting bigger, which ironically means less stuff in the satchel. I almost absentmindedly made a few things like a copy of Bonsai Samurai to keep in the daddy bag. Potential time killers that were small and I wouldn’t care if they got trashed since I could replace them so easily.

However, when I realized that I had made a copy of The Name of the God for my bag and was planning on making a 1-3 player version of Autumn and a PnP copy of Hive (I have a full Bakelite copy but laminated tiles will take up almost no space), I realized I was making PnP games to always have on me that were more than just time fillers.

I wouldn’t call them disposable games since, particularly after I laminate them, they should hold up to abuse and plenty of use. However, the fact that it won’t be a big deal if they do get wrecked is part of why I am making them to live in my satchel.

Oh, when it comes time to go somewhere where I’m expecting to game, stuff like Pack O Games and For Sale and High Society are getting packed in a bigger satchel. But it’s nice to plan out a little ziplocked baggy of fun little games to always have.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Feb 7, 2018 4:30 pm
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Cramming an economic game into nine cards

Lowell Kempf
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Farmers Finances is a weird game. It’s a commodity game that’s made up of nine cards. And two of them are basically just score cards! It’s a game where you buy and sell the same six cards over and over.

There are four wheat cards with bread on the other side, plus two cow cards. There are two score/money cards, one for each player or a spare to use as a timer if you play solitaire. And you have a market card which randomly determines basically if there’s a high supply or demand each turn.

On your turn, you can do one of three things: buy one card; flip one or more wheat cards over to their more valuable bread side; sell all of one type of card. If someone buys the last of the six commodity cards, there is an automatic sell phase where every card gets sold back to the market.

The game ends when someone reaches seventy coins. If it’s the first player, the second player gets one last turn to try and exceed their score.

I went into Farmers Finances with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I found the idea of a minimalist economic game like this fascinating. Seriously, it’s a commodity game with only six commodities! That’s crazy. On the other hand, that’s crazy. I seriously wondered if the game was too bare bones, if it would fall apart from not having enough there.

After playing the solitaire variant several times... I still don’t know.

If Farmers Finances has any legs, the small footprint and short playing time will be a big part of it. The game is small enough you can play it on an airplane tray and still have room for drinks and peanuts. And I don’t think the barebones simplicity could support even a fifteen minute play time. But it might be good for five minutes and most games that short aren’t economic games.

I also have to wonder if the game can be easily solved. There’s an obvious of choice of either going for wheat to sell bread for the best return rate or going for cows which have a faster turn around. Of course, the market die roll will play crucial part in how much you earn or lose.

I suspect that bread is the better general strategy. Even if it costs you an extra turn, that can be the way of dodging a bad market role. But, in the two-player game which I haven’t tried yet, I don’t think anyone will be able to corner the market on wheat.

Farmers Finances has passed the first test of a PnP game for me. It has been worth printing out and laminating nine cards. It gets bonus points for me still interested in playing it. However, I don’t know if it will be a game that will still be interesting after, say, a dozen plays and I still don’t know how it will play with two players.

I don’t think it has the legs to be a part of my regular toolbox but it fascinates me enough that I keep on playing.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Feb 6, 2018 6:57 pm
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Did Cheese Chasers hold up?

Lowell Kempf
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It was inevitable that, as I have gone on exploring PnP solitaires, that I would end up revisiting Cheese Chasers. I made a copy and played it a few times back on 2009, around when it first came out. I had been playing Zombie in My Pocket at the time so I was more interested in PnP and solitaire than I usually was. (Obviously that’s changed!)

Cheese Chasers, at least as a solitaire, is a simple game that is made up of two sheets of tiles and nothing else. You lay out one tile randomly drawn at a time. Half of them are mice, which you use to surround cheese tiles and mousetrap tiles. Cheese for points and mousetraps since too many free mousetraps automatically loses the game. Plus there are cats who neutralize mouse tiles.

That rule I found the most interesting is that you either have to place tiles side to side (like every tile laying game known to humanity) or corner to corner. And I still like that. Mind you, the game would fall apart without that rule since surrounding cheese and mousetraps would be vastly harder without it. But it still doubles your options. And, coming back to Cheese Chasers after all these years, I really like the tension the mousetraps add. The game would be deathly dull without them.

Okay. Here goes. What do I think of Cheese Chasers now?

Some of the PnP games that I tried out back in the mists of time, quite frankly before I realized I was any kind of PnP guy, have held up surprisingly well. Micropul is elegant and it’s hand management is downright brilliant. Zombie in My Pocket is a luckfest but it is so tense and thematic.

Cheese Chasers... Well, it hasn’t held up as well. The decisions aren’t hard. You make a point of making a checker pattern of mice so you can fill in the holes with cheese and mousetraps and try and have room to stick cats off to the side. The fundamental tension of the game is if you can set up a pattern of mice before too many mousetraps come out.

Earlier this year, I tried out Autumn, another tile laying PnP. It’s even simpler than Cheese Chasers but it’s tighter in its simplicity and has more interesting decisions through out. I couldn’t help but compare the two games and Autumn was honestly better.

Cheese Chasers isn’t a terribly game. I’m interested in the multi-player variants that have come out since I tried it last and I can see it as a game to play with my son in a year or two. There are much worse free PnP games.

I have to admit that I am more forgiving when in comes to free PnP games. Cheese Chasers is a little dull and predictable but I don’t consider those fatal flaws in a game that took me five minutes to make and five minutes to play. It’s not great but I’ll give it some more plays.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Feb 2, 2018 8:37 pm
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