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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.

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Why dancing bears matter

Lowell Kempf
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I was in the mood for something different but the holidays have fried my brain enough that I also really wasn’t up for thinking. So I dusted off Not Another One, a roll and write that didn’t impress me much back in February.

And it impressed me even less this second time. While there are some decisions, the dice will trump careful choices every time. At the same time, i know that it’s something I will occasionally pull out. Because it is kind of different and it is quick and easy and my brain doesn’t have to participate that hard.

There’s an old expression that we don’t watch a dancing bear because it dances well but because it dances at all. And there are definitely some games out there that are dancing bears. When I’ve paid money for a dancing bear, that’s aggravating.

But when a dancing bear is a free PnP, that’s another thing. I’m cool with being a play tester for someone’s wacky experiment. Heck, that’s part of the process for how better games get made.

I am under the string impression that, over the last three or four years, that more and more PnP games that are more dancing bears. This might be because I am much more interested and paying more attention. I think it might also be because of Sturgeon’s Law. More stuff is getting designed so the ten percent of good stuff is a larger number.

My primary goal with PnP is to find that ten percent, to find and play those games that really are good. However, I don’t want to overlook dancing bears. They can be fun and amusing. More importantly, they don’t represent a finished product but a step on the way.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Dec 13, 2018 6:12 pm
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Further thoughts on Tussie-Mussie

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve already posted a review of Tussie-Mussie on boardgamegeek, particularly since it didn’t have one. However, I’ve found myself continuing to play the game as a solitaire, even though I think that’s probably where the game is weakest.

My first impression of Tussie-Mussie was that it was a set collection game with bog standard mechanics and a pleasing theme and very clean graphic design. My further plays have only reinforced this impression.

And stating that the theme and layout are the strongest part of the game isn’t a jab at Tussie-Mussie. They are the difference between making the game a bland experience and an enjoyable one.

Frankly, I think that Tussie-Mussie is an ideal casual game. Very easy to teach and short to play with some things to think about. Luck definitely can be a deciding factor but that’s not a game killer for a short, casual game.

These days, there are a lot of really solid casual games. I do hope Tussie-Mussie gets published but I don’t know if it will stand out. I do wonder how it would have done if it come out ten years ago.

Tussie-Mussie is one of the rare games that I seriously thinking of going the extra step of getting printed in color, going beyond our black and white home printer. Because that’s what will make non-gamers interested (we are talking pictures of flowers and ribbons, after all) and I think one play will make them want more plays.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Dec 13, 2018 12:27 am
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Sometimes, you need some buy in to get involved

Lowell Kempf
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I was recently talking to a friend who is a casual gamer about what I do and I found myself wondering how do you introduce someone to print-and-play starting from scratch.

The obvious answer to Roll-and-Write. No cutting, no actual construction work. Just print a page and add dice and a pencil. And there are some nifty Roll-and-Write games out there for the printing. I honestly think if someone stopped there, they’d still have a lot of fun.

Heck, if you don’t have access to a printer, you can get some big square graph paper and play games like 30 Rails or High Score/Wurfel Bingo. If you really want to go minimal, you can make it work.

But that wasn’t how I got into PnP. In fact, discovering PnP Roll and Writes and being impressed by what was out there was actually a pretty late stage for me. The jumping on point for me, from going from ‘oh, I’ve made a few PnPs but I’m not really into this stuff’ to ‘yeah, this is a legitimate hobby for me’ was micro card games. Which I made with scissors and sleeving the paper cut outs with regular playing cards so they’d have some heft and the the same backs.

I am a lazy PnPer. The bulk of my projects are nine and eighteen card micro games. Heck, I use a laminator rather than more impressive ways of making cards. (Although, gosh darn it, my cards and tiles are durable!)

However, I think if my start had just printing off sheets, I would have done that for very long and I wouldn’t have gone far exploring PnP games. In fact, years ago, I looked at a couple just print games and then didn’t do anything more for years.

It wasn’t until I put in some effort that I really got interested in print and play. I needed to have some level of actually doing something to get engaged. If I didn’t have that buy in, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

Roll-and-Write games are great but if I wanted to get someone into PnP, I’d suggest a small project like Bomb Squad #9 or Pocket Landship.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Dec 8, 2018 12:25 am
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Super early impressions of The Abandons

Lowell Kempf
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My ‘big’ PnP project for December was making a copy of The Abandons, a solitaire tile laying game that I backed at the PnP level on Kickstarter.

It’s fifty cards but they are big, square cards with wide margins so it was easy to cut out the cards, laminate them and then cut out the laminated cards. No fussy cutting with scissors. All quick cutting with a paper cutter. So I was done by the fourth and have already gotten in a few plays.

(And this really will be my biggest project this month, even though I’m already done. Once the holiday stuff really starts rolling, my crafting time will go away. In fact, that’s why I made sure I got it done in week one!)

The Abandons is a tile laying game where you are creating a maze/really twisty passage way. Here’s the basic idea. Each room, other than dead ends, has one to three exists marked with one or more diamonds each. Pick an exit. Draw that many cards and discard all but the last one and add it to the maze. If you get to the bottom of the deck, you get the exit tile and get out. There are also staircases, collapses and item cards to make the game more interesting.

The game was a bit ink-heavy by my standards but the artwork is nicely atmospheric and fits with the idea that a strange compulsion dragged you to the maze/dungeon/basement of an abandoned industrial building. The graphic design definitely works for the game.

What the Abandons initially reminded me of is Ambagibus, an older, free PnP which also has you building a maze out of tiles. I think Ambagibus has an illusion of choice. Often times, you don’t have a placement choice and there’s usually an obvious best choice. Despite that, I find the game very relaxing and play it a lot.

The Abandons, on the other hand, seems to have the illusion of no-choice. That’s because the game seems to be about path building and you don’t seem to have a lot of choices. But the fundamental mechanic of the Abandons is actually push your luck. It’s still pretty random but I think there are more choices than flipping a card and hoping you don’t lose. It’s going to take more plays for me to make up my mind but I think the Abandons is more game than Ambagibus.

The Abandons is a light, little game that takes maybe ten minutes to play. To be honest, that puts it in my wheelhouse for solitaire games and I’m glad I made it and I will keep playing it. It’s better than I was afraid it would be. I am curious to see if I’m right and I have more control than it initially feels like.

The gaming world is full of light, little solitaire games. Thanks to PnP, I’ve played a couple dozen. The Abandons isn’t the first one I’d recommend if you’ve never played any and want to check the genre out. But it is one I’d recommend if you are already into light solitaires.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Dec 6, 2018 4:22 pm
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Hobbling down memory lane

Lowell Kempf
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One of my obsessions is how much gaming culture has changed since I started gaming. And by that, I mean playing games like Catan and Ticket to Ride. If I went by when I started playing role playing games or my early war gaming in high school, things have _really_ changed.

In one sentence, the hobby has become more broad and more diverse.

Taking a trip back in the way back machine to the early 80s when I first started playing RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons was the touchstone for everyone who played. Pretty much everyone got their start with Dungeons and Dragons. It was our common language.

These days, I am sure there are plenty of folks who play RPGs who have never played Dungeons and Dragons. I bet that the World of Darkness has been plenty of people’s introduction to RPG and I really wonder if Fiasco has been some folk’s first RPG.

I wasn’t at GenCon when Magic the Gathering first came out but I have friends who were. They told me that you just needed to look anyone in the eye and hold up a deck and you had a game going. There is no way any game could have that impact now.

And when I finally got into designer board games/euro games/hobby board games/ whatever you want to call them, everyone knew how to play Catan and Puerto Rico and Carcassonne. I knew people who didn’t have game night, they had Catan Night.

I’ll be honest. I think this is a good change. Everyone having the same general game vocabulary was fun and it did feel like I was part of a special club at times. But the community was a lot smaller, a lot more insular and not nearly as diverse. The larger community with its greater diversity is a much better thing for the world on a whole.

More folks buying games means publishers have an incentive to keep on publishing games. And not only are there more games out there, there’s a much greater variety. Sure, Trout’s Law still come into play but that’s ten percent of a larger number.

Maybe we’re not as homogeneous as we used to be but there’s more of us. There’s more folks to meet and play with. Exclusive isn’t a good thing. A diverse and broad community is a fun and interesting one.

Yeah, it’s fun to get out my walker and tell youngsters that I remember when but I love living in the future.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Dec 4, 2018 4:15 pm
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My November PnP

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. In November, I made copies of Elevenses for One, Murderers Row, Palm Island, Get the Girl, The Coins Tribe Revolt, Sun Starters, D6 Wizardry, Gladiator Gauntlet, Race for the Rhine, Tussie-Mussie, and Hyperdrive Odyssey.

While that list is a lot more impressive than just making a copy of Micropul in October, most of those games are just nine cards worth of crafting, with the biggest games being eighteen cards. I’m hoping that December will see a project that’s larger than a micro game or a roll and write.

(Not that micro games and roll and writes are a bad use of PnP time. They are a great use of it. However, I also want to push myself)

The Mini PnP Secret Santa was the culprit. I literally did no PnP crafting for almost the entire month. As the end of the month started to come up, I decided I’d better start working on what I’m planning on sending out. And when I started doing that, I just kept on going. All of my crafting for November was done in a flurry over three days at the end of the month.

(I have a feeling my crafting for December will be another flurry at the very start, a continuation of this one)

I do wish I was being more steady about my print and play projects. Spending literally weeks doing nothing and blazing away at a breakneck pace over a couple days. It takes away from the meditative, calming element of making PnP projects.

I knew that I wasn’t done with print and play, even though I had gone into hibernation. It is still nice to have that knowledge confirmed, even if I went from zero to sixty.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Dec 1, 2018 5:40 pm
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Looking forward to more nine card games

Lowell Kempf
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I just saw that the 2019 Nine-Card PnP contest has been announced. And that has me pretty excited.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2098636/2019-9-card-game-de...

I enjoy crafting PnP games (and playing them can be fun too) The act of making them can be very therapeutic and relaxing. But I’m also a pretty lazy crafter. Nine-card game are right up my wheelhouse. That’s something I can done in one sitting.

And there are some solid games in that nine-card range, something I would not have believed a few years ago. Cunning Folk was my watershed game in that regard, also giving me something I’d been looking for, a Coup-like experience that works for two people.

Since then, I’ve found nine-card PnP games that I would genuinely recommend to anyone. Bomb Squad #9 and Pocket Landship and Orchard are particular highlights. An easy to make PnP library that fits in a pocket.

As I said earlier, the contest, along with the mini-PnP Secret Santa, has gotten me excited about PnP. And I could use some enthusiasm. Life has been busier and it’s been harder for me to find the time and enthusiasm. (And lets be honest. If I had the enthusiasm, I’d figure out how to make the time.)

And also to be fair, I expected to have some burnout since I made a lot of PnPs during the front half of the year. It’s only natural for there to be some ebb and flow and its really time to try and get back into the game.

I feel like the quality of PnP games just keeps getting better. I’ve already mentioned Orchard, last years winner. That is a game that is an example of a good game that just happens to be nine cards. I have high hopes for the coming contest.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Nov 29, 2018 12:01 am
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You werewolves get off of my lawn!

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. I have had one of my worst grumpy, cranky old gamer moments. So far.

I saw a box the size of Ticket to Ride called Ultimate Werewolf Legacy that cost $60. Why, back in my day, we played Werewolf with eighteen cards pulled from a regular deck of cards and we only had three roles. Werewolves, one seer and a bunch of villagers. And none of this one night business either. We went night after night until everyone was dead. AND WE LIKED IT!

(Well, we did.)

Seriously, we have gone from a public domain game that uses a few cards from a regular deck of cards and takes fifteen minutes or so to a good-sized box that apparently plays out a campaign in five one-hour sessions. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It might be a very good thing. But it is a mind-boggling thing.

At some point, I really should at least try One Night Werewolf. Although, I am scared that once I try it, I’ll never be able be able to go back

Originally it posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Nov 26, 2018 7:54 pm
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This seems fitting on Black Friday

Lowell Kempf
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I am a game hoarder. In some respects, I am a recovering game hoarder. I’ve done a massive purge of my collection over the course of the last few years. And I have heavily curtailed my game buying as well.

While that ultimately emotionally satisfying to an amazing degree, it was initially driven by the practical needs of marriage and parenthood. If you’re stacking games in the kitchen, you might have a problem.

There were two questions I had to ask when purging. Is this game good or, preferably, great? Is this game going to actually see any kind of regular play? And, as it turns out, the second question turned out to be the more important one.

I’ve been thinking about some games that I thought were really good games but also games I just didn’t see myself playing for one reason or another. I feel Cape Horn is a unique and interesting race game but, even when I had a group that got together one or twice a week, it didn’t get played. Australia has some neat twists on area control, fighting over the borders not the areas, but it also just didn’t get replayed.

I got to be honest, there are a lot of games that I know I just want to play once to get the experience. You can only try and master so many games after all.

Honestly, thats what conventions and other gaming events are for. Well, in addition to playing longer games and meeting people and buying games and getting away from it all. But buying every game you want to look at leads to huge stacks of games that get one play at best.

In the end, the most important reason to own a game is to play it, not to have it on your shelf.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Nov 24, 2018 3:54 am
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Happy Thanksgiving!

Lowell Kempf
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Ah, Thanksgiving. The time to give thanks for gaming.

Okay, and some other things.

Still, gaming is a great thing to be thankful for.
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Thu Nov 22, 2018 5:28 pm
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