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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German Family Games? Yeah, they’re still relevant

Lowell Kempf
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When I first started playing designer board games, what I now think of as German Family Games seemed like one of the dominant genres. These days, it sometimes feels like the genre has been forgotten and replaced by Euros, although I am actually sure that it’s the case.

To be sure, both genres are often lumped together as Euros and it’s easy to see why. Out of all the different design schools out there, they are probably the most closely linked. Certainly, war games and abstracts and Ameritrash and party games don’t have have as much in common as German Family Games and Euros. And there are definitely games that it’s hard to pin down which school they belong to.

While I am sure that folks who aren’t into designer games would be the first to say ‘What’s the difference? Why does it matter?’, I think that the wider audience is the very reason it matters. Because German Family Games, while appreciated and enjoyed by the hobby, are games that are aimed at the folks outside the hobby. While Euros are defined as intricate puzzles and systems, German Family Games are defined by simplicity and accessibility.

While it’s obvious that Euros came out of the German Family Game school, I don’t think they either replaced or improved German Family Games. I believe they created their own niche and have proved that it has a legitimate audience.

I also don’t think that German Family Games are something you grow out of. I sort of used to and I know folks who still think that way. And while it is true that German Family Games have the best ‘gateway’ games, I don’t care for the trim gateway because the games you end up using that way for the games you want to put yourself. Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, For Sale, TransAmerica, they may be games that are easy to explain but they are games that are fun for everyone.

And I also don’t think that German Family Games are actually going away. They are still coming out with games like Imhotep (to name one I’ve recently played) It’s just a much more crowded market. And the non-gaming families that are buying them don’t need a closet full of them

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Nov 23, 2017 7:02 pm
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Missing Franz-Benno Delonge

Lowell Kempf
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It’s been about ten years now but I still get bummed when I think about Franz-Benno Delonge passing away.

It’s not just because he designed a number of games that have really done well for me. It’s because he was only fifty so I really have to wonder what else he could have made. It’s very sad when a creator dies at an old age and you have a sense of completed body of work but it’s a different sad when they die young. (I feel the same way about Roger Zelazny)

I honestly don’t know much about the man but interviews make him sound pretty friendly. Plus, he was a daddy which gives him points in my book and makes his passing even more sad.

I have not played all of his games, even though he didn’t make that many of them. Of the ones that he played, they pretty much break down to either games that I want to play again and games that I haven’t quite enough of.

I’ve played TransAmerica, TransEuropa, Fjords, Dos Rios, Manila and Hellas, which is actually about a third of his game catalog. And I do admire designers who manage to create huge numbers of good games. Reiner Knizia and Sid Sackson are two of my heroes. But every game I’ve played from Delonge has been just super solid.

And someday, when I have both the opportunity and the time (oh boy, the time), I want to play Container at least once.

I think that Delonge’s legacy will be TransAmerica. That is a game that will be still be getting played twenty years from now. I don’t know if it his best game from a ‘game’ standpoint but it is so simple and accessible while still being so fun and interesting. You can teach it to just about everyone but even seasoned gamers still enjoy it.

Delonge definitely belonged to the German Family school of game design. Simple rules, complex decisions, lots of interaction, no player elimination and relatively short playing times. It doesn’t seem to be as trendy as it used be but I still think it has a lot of staying power for a wide audience. And, as I already said, I think Delonge will be a great example for decades to come.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Nov 22, 2017 7:30 pm
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Finding the space to play games

Lowell Kempf
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Lately, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about time and space. Finding the time to play games and finding the space to play games.

That’s the great thing about conventions. Not only are they a span of time that you have dedicated to playing games, you also have the dedicated table space.

Time has been a part of my game equation for a long time. And, truth to tell, so has space. Not just storage space but also playing space. Storage space has been a long consideration for me but I’ve also found myself thinking about the footprint of a game.

When I first started playing board game, a lot of my plays were in coffee shops and restaurants so small footprints were a big deal. However, I soon began playing with folks who made it a point to have the largest room in their homes centered around big tables for gaming. (Come to think of it, none of them had kids...)

However, since I no longer live around those folks, I’ve been thinking about how it can sometimes take a lot of care and planning to figure out where you can play a game.

I mean, I don’t think of Ticket to Ride as a particularly big game but it is still going to take up most of a normal sized table. And that table has to be pretty much cleared off (With kids, tables are a living space)

Frankly, this is probably I’ve played more card games lately.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Nov 22, 2017 3:11 pm
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Secret Santas on Boardgame Geek

Lowell Kempf
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Ah, it is getting to be Secret Santa time again and Boardgame Geek has a wide variety of Secret Santa events to choose from.

Many years ago, I participated in the main one, sending games off to strangers. However, I stopped when I began really tightening up my game budget. It’s sounds terrible and Scrooge-like but if I’m not buying games for myself, I’m not going to buy them for strangers.

However, when the card exchange started, I jumped on that. Not only was that much easier to budget, making homemade cards has become a tradition in our family, thanks to the Cricut. AND we send out multiple cards so we get to be more social.

This year, I saw that there was a Print and Play Secret Santa. Which got me really excited until I saw that was for major builds. While I have made a couple larger builds, I have to admit that I really find the time and energy for smaller builds. Add a time limit and that is a guarantee that I wouldn’t get it out.

However, at literally the last minute before the deadline, I found out that there is a Mini Print and Play Secret Santa. Now that is more my speed. Heck, I might be able to send something that I have already made and make my own copy again on my own time. At the very least, I would be sending something that I knew I have enjoyed.

I was already excited to do the card exchange. The mini print and play, that just makes me even more excited.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Nov 17, 2017 6:08 pm
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Clearinghouse of zombie thoughts

Lowell Kempf
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I’m about through reminiscing about zombie games but I still have some closing thoughts.

The two zombie games I’ve played the most over the last few years are Zombie Dice and Zombie Fluxx. But, let’s be honest. They are are really ‘zombie’ games with the quotes firmly in place. They both invoke zombie survival tropes, particularly Zombie Fluxx, but they don’t really play out the narrative. They are fun but they aren’t what you really look for when you want zombie.

The single worst zombie game I’ve experienced was ZombieTown (not to be confused with Zombie Town with a space in the middle) A huge part of the problem was that the rules were horribly written. A table of experienced gamers and we could not figure out the rule book. After an hour of attempting to play at GenCon, we gave up, returned it to the game library and thanked our lucky stars none of us had bought it.

Two Print-and-Play Zombie games I’ve played more than a few times are Zombie in My Pocket and Escape of the Dead. Escape of the Dead (Was Escape FROM the Dead taken?) is a cute little exercise in dice placement and minimalism. Zombie in My Pocket, though, tells a complete story and has a really driving timer. Still a fun game and boy, have I played it a lot.

However, in my last limited experience, the hands-down-best game that made me feel like I was playing out a zombie story was Last Night on Earth. It’s been long enough that I only vaguely remember the mechanics.

But the three things I do remember is that it had a timer that kept pushing the game along, that it told a good narrative and that everyone at the table had a lot of fun. I’d play it again if I had the time and the chance.

I am sure there are other zombie games I’ve played. However, those are the ones that have really stuck in my head, for one reason or another.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Nov 15, 2017 8:34 pm
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My bad memories of Zombies!!!

Lowell Kempf
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In my unintentional and very incomplete exploration of Zombie board games, Zombies!!! was the first. Believe it or not, it isn’t the worst Zombie game I’ve ever played but I still don’t have much in the way of happy memories of the game.

Zombies!!! wasn’t the first zombie game. Dawn of the Dead came out in 1978, more than twenty years before and I don't even know if it was the first. But Zombies!!! managed to make a splash before zombie games became so ubiquitous. (Frankly, I blame the Walking Dead)

Zombies!!! combines map building by drawing tiles, rolling dice to move zombies and shoot zombies and using cards to get equipment and mess with the other players. Someone wins by either reaching the helipad (the last time in the second) or killing twenty-five zombies. (I guess at that point, you have successfully terrified the zombies)

I remember the GenCon when Zombies!!! was released. I hadn’t gotten into board games really. At the time, the game coming with a hundred little plastic zombies was pretty amazing. It’s astonishing how far the game industry has come as far as production values have come.

And the first game or two was a lot of fun. Thematic and pretty much never ending conflict.

But... The more we played Zombies!!!, the more disenchanted we got with it. It had what I think of as the Munchkin problem (although, to be fair, Munchkin isn’t the first game to have this issue or even the worst) A big part of the game is dragging other players down, which doesn’t actually help you out beyond them not winning. Which can make the game drag on and on and on.

A big part of the zombie genre is that the real monsters are other people. And boy does Zombies!!! deliver that in spades. However, that ultimately detracts from the game.

The absolutely killer was playing an eight-player game of it one New Year’s Eve. It took at least four hours and, by the end, we were actively helping each other out, just to see the game end. None of the eight of us involved wanted to ever play the game again.

To be fair, Zombies!!! is not without its charms. And I do believe it was innovative back in the day. However, it is a genuinely flawed game that really calls for some serious house rules. And as time has gone on, better games in almost every regard have come out.

It’s been a long time since I’ve played it and I don’t have much desire to play it again. However, it did leave an impression.

Originally posted in www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Nov 14, 2017 12:13 am
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Random thoughts about the Zombie Apocalypse

Lowell Kempf
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Reading the Walking Dead comic for the first time made me think about the now vast variety of Zombie Apocalypse games that are out there, both role playing games and board games.

(One thing that I also wonder about is how the Zombie Apocalypse took out civilization in the Walking Dead. As both the original Night of the Living Dead and Sean of the Dead point out, after the initial crisis, humans equipped with regular speed, modern technology and the ability to think get zombies under control)

You know, without even trying that hard, I’ve played a number of Zombie-themed games. Although the only specifically Zombie Apocalypse RPG I’ve played has been Zombie Cinema.

Of course, one of the significant things about the Walking Dead is that it takes the long view. What happens over the long haul after the whole human race gets upset by the dead not only coming back but coming back mean.

Almost all the board games I’ve seen or read about take place right after the apocalypse started. Civilization has been kicked to the curb but we still can scavenge all the fun toys. The human race hasn’t either been wiped out or, more likely, picked itself back up. The framework of an RPG is where you play out the long term result of the apocalypse.

To be fair, the initial outbreak is where a Zombie Apocalypse is the most distinct aspect of it. If we’ve got the zombies under control, there isn’t much mechanical difference between that and, say, medieval Europe.

And the initial outbreak is where all the fun, wish fulfillment stuff happens. That’s when you get to be free from all your responsibilities and do whatever you want. (Remember, one of the big points of the Zombie Apocalypse is that human beings are the real monsters)

Frankly, I think that we’d all end up serfs and slaves in the cruel new world.

I know that there are a bunch of card games and board games based on the Walking Dead but I think that the actual work, from what I’ve seen, really is more like a RPG. The characters slowly learn how to survive and deal with different threats. In other words, level up or die.

While I doubt I’ll be ever be a big zombie fan, I do have to give them this. They make great terrain and they force character development.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Nov 13, 2017 4:45 pm
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Pocket Landship - It’s fun!

Lowell Kempf
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When I was recently doing my once-or-twice-a-month search for new-to-me PnP files, I came across Pocket Landship. It went from ‘hey, this has been well received’ to ‘let’s start printing’ in the same sitting.

Pocket Landship is about controlling an English tank in World War I in a skirmish against six enemy forces that are controlled by dice rolls (seeing as how this is a solitaire game). The whole thing takes up nine cards, plus some tokens and dice.

Each card, no matter whose side they are on, has a health meter and a table of die results. You create two lines of three for the enemy cards, a front line and a back line.

The core mechanic is assigning dice. On the enemy turn, you roll three dice and assign them lowest to highest from left to right and then consult the charts. You roll three dice on your own turn and assign them where you want to on your own cards.

Part of what makes the game actually were playing is that the die rolls determine more than just hitting and missing. The enemy can shift around, making it harder to hit specific targets. Some of your options include modifying other die rules. And damage can also be repaired.

And I’ve just been playing with the base cards. The current files let you make double-sided cards with different options for both sides on the back. And there is an expansion (which is just one more sheet of cards) that I know I’ll be making soon. It’s an awful lot of game for just two pages of cards.

That said, I can’t help but wonder how much control I really have. I have some control over my actions but the dice are powerful. Strong rolls on the enemy side can be devastating. The options of potentially modifying dice give me hope that it’s not too random.

At the same time the game is short enough and interesting enough that the random factor has yet to bother me. It will be interesting to see if it either does come to bother me or if I figure out how to get more and more control the more I play. And this is a game that I plan to keep playing.

One game that really went through my mind as I played it was Ogre. Part of that was because it’s a tank game and part of it is because, with the base cards, you are controlling different parts of the tank separately.

And I do really wonder what else you can do with this system. How much modification would it take to make it a two-plays game and would it be fun? Could you use this system to make an economic game?

Admittedly, dice assignment is now a well established mechanic with games like Kingsburg or High Frontiers. But Pocket Landship does well in such a small package. I really wonder what more could be done.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Nov 10, 2017 4:47 pm
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A Blorg in the Midwest - oh, it’s quirky

Lowell Kempf
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I made a copy of A Blorg in the Midwest because it was a quick project of just nine cards and I was having fun crafting cards. However, once it was done, I decided to give it a try since it’s a solitaire game and doesn’t require any other components.

What I discovered was a remarkably quirky little game.

In the game, you are a juvenile alien who borrowed the family flying saucer and crashed it at a farm in South Dakota. Now you have to figure out how to get back to outer space before the FBI show up and vivisect you.

The cards are all double-sided and come in two flavors: objects and locations. In addition, every card also has an event, most of which make your life a lot more difficult.

There are basically three areas for cards. Your hand, which can hold one area and up to four objects. The draw pile. Aaaaand the time line which is four cards that you interact with and where events go off.

Each turn, you can either move to a new location by either flipping your location card or swapping it with one on the timeline or pick up an object from the timeline if it matches your location. Then, resolve any events and move the timeline along.

There are a number of ways to escape but they all involve getting the right items and either taking them to your crashed ship or having them when the right event goes off.

While I read that A Blorg in the Midwest was a nine-card deck builder, what it really is is a nine-card deck manager. What cards you have in your hand, which side cards are up in the draw pile, what cards are in the timeline. There’s a lot of interaction between all the cards and you have to manage all that to avoid vivisection.

What the game really reminds me of is one of Infocom’s text games from the 80s. You know, where you had to juggle inventory while going to different areas to solve puzzles. While there isn’t anything like getting the Babel fish from Hitchhiker’s Guide, the whole thing is a moving puzzle with the time line bearing down on you.

A Blorg in the Midwest isn’t a flawless game, although I’m pretty sure some of the quirky loopholes are intentional. And I think I will end up played out with the game pretty quickly. But it has been more engaging than I expected with the silly theme and art helping. I am glad I made it and tried it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Nov 10, 2017 5:31 am
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Do limits inspire creativity?

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve been thinking a lot about how the limitations of the medium and how they can inspire and refine creativity.

What got me started down this road was a relatively recent thread about Japanese board game culture. According to the thread, many Japanese designers self-publish small print runs. Which has lent itself to both card games and micro games.

Financial and other practical limits resulting in refining game mechanics is nothing new. Andrew Looney came up with Fluxx because Looney Labs needed a product they could make cheaper than their pyramids. I like the pyramids more but Fluxx is their flagship property. Pico, the predecessor of Pico 2, was the result of a printing overrun and I’d argue it set the gold standard for micro games for over ten years.

And probably one of the biggest examples is that legend and Wizards of the Coast PR has it that Magic the Gathering was developed by Richard Garfield to help finance RoboRally. Which to my mind is like inventing the car engine so you can have power windows. You can tell I don’t like RoboRally.

And there certainly seems to be a thriving micro game interest on Kickstarter. Which makes sense to start small if you are new to publishing.

But I wonder if the Japanese game designer culture, if it’s actually like that thread suggests , super encourages this kind of creativity. Seiji Kanai kind of single-handedly changed the world of micro games with Love Letter. Not just because it is popular but because it proved that a micro game could have an actual depth of play.

Of course, I could be a 100% wrong. The idea is just an idea that struck me, unsupported by any research. But I do like the idea that restrictions lead to greater creativity and higher quality.
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Fri Nov 3, 2017 6:53 pm
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