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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How Ambush Bug helped me appreciate Deadpool

Lowell Kempf
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I recently commented ‘So the only difference between Ambush Bug and Deadpool is Deadpool kills people?’

The immediate reply was that Deadpool is also pansexual and cusses.

But the two characters are both remarkably similar and wildly different to the point that actually talking it through made me appreciate Deadpool more

Ambush Bug is a relatively obscure DC character created in the 80s by that wacky Keith Giffin. He’s a guy on a green suit who ignored the fourth wall so much that he wanted Julius Swartz’s job. (He was an editor at DC, just so you know.) Ambush Bug was actually pretty funny and skewered plenty of sacred cows. Giffin has said the character is now officially retired but that enough money could change his mind.

And Deadpool is- well, you already know who Deadpool is. And if you don’t, I don’t believe you. And like Ambush Bug, he’s really funny, is completely meta and started out as bad guy.

But Ambush Bug is, at the end of the day, a joke. (Which isn’t a dig. That’s the whole point of Ambush Bug) And, somehow, Deadpool actually has become a character with pathos, character arcs and such. They couldn’t have made a movie about him if that wasn’t the case.

Don’t get me wrong. Deadpool is no Thing. Ben Grim is in a class all his own when it comes to pathos. But I read the early issues of X-Force and, man, you would not expect Deadpool to be a breakout character in any way. I seem to even remember the original revelation that his face was mutilated and not caring because he was such a jerk.

(Just assume there are ten or twenty paragraphs ranting about how bad Rob Liefeld’s work is)

But somehow, by making him funny and making him still a jerk but one who is trying to better, Deadpool became sympathetic.

Ambush Bug is fun but Deadpool is interesting.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed May 5, 2021 4:57 pm
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My April R&W

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, thanks to Radoslaw Ignatov, April ended up being another month of trying out new-to-me Roll and Writes. Eventually, I am sure I will take a break from learning R&Ws. However, I haven’t burnt out yet.

I’d already tried Some Kind of Genius from Ignatov. I added Mixture, Alpakaland, Elektrico, Pointree sand Jurassic Hunt to the list. I have already written about some of them and I’ll eventually write about the rest so I don’t feel the need to write about them individually.

But my general impression of Ignatov‘a work is that he has made a a very solid collection of games that are very well suited for casual gamers. He designed for them to be playable over video conferencing or even via forum, including space to record all the rolls. This does mean that certain dice manipulation mechanics like rerolls or dice flipping aren’t available. And I do like those mechanics but I appreciate the design choices.

The other R&W I learned in April was Fast Train to Miyajama from the fourth R&W design contest. It’s a cute little game that I can honestly see having mass market appeal.

And writing about it led me to this idea: Some Roll and Writes are dice games and some are board games that use pen and paper. This isn’t some amazing epyphy. It’s just a good way describe something I’ve been thinking about since, like, 2017.

Now, there is absolutely no line dividing the two groups. The gray area is pretty much the whole area. And this is absolutely not a quality judgement. I am not saying that ‘board’ games are better than ‘dice’ games. The former might be more complicated but even that feels like a gross generalization.

I do know some Roll and Writes got their design start as board games. Corinth is an obvious example and I understand Welcome to Dino World started out as a tile-laying design. However, I don’t think that’s a good definition either.

While I think that it’s a matter of intuition and intent, the real conclusion I’ve come to is that Roll and Write isn’t a mechanic or a genre. It’s a format and you can do a lot of things with that format. You can’t do everything with it but there’s a lot more than just Yahtzee!


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon May 3, 2021 9:56 pm
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My April PnP

Lowell Kempf
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April. Not a bad month for PnP games, both crafting and playing. This is what I made:

Mixture
Alpakaland
Pointree
Citadels Demo
Wreck and Roll (2017 GenCan’t contest)
Fast Train to Miyajima (Fourth R&W Contest)
Elektrico
Jurassic Hunt

My ‘big’ project for April was making the demo for Citadels. Truth to tell, that may be the biggest project I make this year. It might be smaller than the current version but it is pretty much the original edition of the game.

However, everything else I made in April was Roll and Writes. Which is really simple crafting, just laminate a page. However, I got at least one play in of every Roll and Write I laminated in April. (And I have played Citadels so I have technically played everything I made in April )

I will craft just to craft. I will craft because something looks neat. But I ultimately have made PnP part of my hobby so I can play games so it’s neat when that happens


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat May 1, 2021 3:41 pm
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I’m not firing Alhambra

Lowell Kempf
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A bit ago, I wrote how I wasn’t convinced that Isle of Skye (as well as other games) could fire Carcassonne because it (and other examples) lacked a shared map that players kicked each others teeth out over. However, I can see an argument for for a game like Isle of Skye could fire Alhambra.

Everyone has their own map and the game has a simple economic engine that keep its going. Isle of Skye has more player interaction and variable scoring, both major pluses.

But I don’t feel the need to fire Alhambra. And, since it seems like it has no problem staying in print, the market agrees with me. I’ve gotten plenty of fun play out of Alhambra over the years and I haven’t even bothered getting any of the expansions.

This started out as a commentary about Alhambra and how it does the job a family weight game that you can plan a game night around. But it’s really returning to the idea of firing games.

Here’s the thing. A game being better than another, similar game doesn’t make the previous game bad. For me, for a game to be truly fired, there had to be something I was dissatisfied with in the first game.

While the idea of firing games is quite useful (and important for future game design), I think you have to be very strict at both culling your collection and being a member of the cult of the new to actively use the practice.

I firmly believe that Alhambra can be improved on. I’m also perfectly willing to believe there are similar but better games. But it would take a profoundly amazing game for me to take the time and expense to get rid of Alhambra.
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Fri Apr 30, 2021 10:35 pm
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Fast Train to Miyajima mixes colors to move trains

Lowell Kempf
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Fast Train to Miyajima is a game from the fourth R&W contest. As I’ve explored R&Ws, I have decided there is a sub genre that can be called ‘Trying to fire Yahtzee’. Fast Train could be described as trying to fire Qwixx. Which it doesn’t do but it’s still not bad.

The game is about twelve trains going to six different cities. Well, actually you are filling in boxes in twelve lines. Fast Train is pretty abstract and the theme wafer thin. The theme does justify the mechanical difference between fast trains and heavy trains, which is nice.

You are shipping goods to Miyajima, Rio, London, New York, Paris and Sidney. You also only have two trains for each city, a fast train and a heavy train. So the company you’re managing is apparently amazingly diverse and limited at the same time. The player sheet shows the twelve lines of boxes, two for each city. The cities are color coded: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Yes, this is important.

In addition to play sheets and writing utensils, you’ll need a red die, a yellow and a blue die. The active player will choose a die and roll it. Everyone will write that number in the appropriate colored line, either the fast train or the heavy train.

And here’s the clever bit. The active player chooses a second die and rolls it. You can either fill in a box in that color OR you can add it to the first die and add that sum the appropriate secondary color! Third die, same deal only you can add it to either of the first two dice.

The game ends when someone completes X number of trains. (X depends on the number of players) Each color is accessed individually. Basically, if you have more fast train boxes but a greater heavy train sum, you score lots of points. If you don’t, itty bitty points. Most points wins.

There are things I like about Fast Train. I like the color mixing and the game-of-chicken-scoring and the fact that the active player has choices that effect the game. I like the theme, as thin as it is. But the basic structure of the decisions is pretty simple. Small numbers in the fast train and big numbers in the heavy train. And I have to wonder if the game will drag with the higher end of the player count where you need to complete more trains. Still, net positive.

Some Roll and Write games are board games where the board and pieces are a piece of paper and pencil. And some are little dice games that you play while waiting for your food or when you’re too tired to play anything else. Fast Train is definitely in the second category.

Mind you, there’s a definite place for that kind of game. There’s plenty of times I’m tired!I have a folder of them I keep handy and Fast Train has been added to it.

Fast Train to Miyajima isn’t amazing but it is a solid little family-weight game that I could picture Gamewright publishing.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2442024/wip-fast-train-miya...
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Wed Apr 28, 2021 10:00 pm
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The Gods of Pegana broke rules that didn’t exist

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve been rereading Lord Dinsany’s The Gods of Pegana regularly enough over the years that I’m not sure how often I’ve read it. I didn’t even mean to read it this time. I just found out that The Travel Tales of Mr Jorkens was available as an ebook. That made me look at other works of Lord Dunsany and I found myself reading The Gods of Pegana.

Lord Dunsany and The Gods of Pegana are both ridiculously influential. Fantasy as a genre would be completely different if it wasn’t for Lord Dunsany and The Gods of Pegana is a big part of it.

Authors who have listed Dunsany as a major influence include Lovecraft, Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Ashton Smith, LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, and... look, the list just goes on. It’s hard to believe one guy did so much to jumpstart fantasy as we know it.

And he seems so overlooked by modern audiences if not modern authors. It does seem hard to find his non-copywrit works which also makes me wonder if his estate is sitting on his later work.

The Gods of Pegana was his first book and it’s a tiny little thing. A novella at best or a bunch of linked vignettes. And there almost isn’t any plot to speak of. It’s a description of a fantasy pantheon of Gods and their prophets. It really reads like a holy text for a religion that doesn’t exist in a world that doesn’t exist.

But here’s the thing. This is one of the earliest examples of a book that is just about creating a setting and a cosmology. I have read that it was the very first (I’m not convinced of that fact but it does sound good) More than that, it was written in the context of the world, not from the viewpoint of an outsider.

World building is one of the corner stones of speculative fiction. The Gods of Pegana is a template for world building, an ur-example. I know fantasy worlds existed before it but I don’t know if anyone created whole pantheons out of cloth before. It was a game changer but the game didn’t even exist when it was written.

Did Lord Dunsany create a lot of ideas or tools that later creators would use or would someone else have come up with these tropes and concepts?

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 26, 2021 11:31 pm
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Deadeye Dinah - fussy but fascinating

Lowell Kempf
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The jury is still out for me as far as Deadeye Dinah is concerned but I definitely like the idea and many of the mechanics of the game.

Deadeye Dinah is one of the entries in the 2021 9-Card PnP Contest. It’s still being refined and I haven’t even tried out the most recent rules. I’ll probably double dip and write about the finished version at some point.

It’s a PnP, in-hand solitaire. You print it out and make the cards yourself; the deck stays in your hands the whole time; and it’s just you alone against the game. In this case, you are a bounty hunter in the Wild West, methodically hunting down eight different crime bosses.

The cards are multi-functional. Other than an aide card, each card can be a boss, two different flavors of action card or a scene you have to overcome. The game is a campaign, where you work your way up from cattle rustlers and whiskey peddlers to the ringleader.

In each hand/game, you are going after a specific boss. The boss card will tell you how to set up your opening hand. The fewer cards you have in your hand, the more scenes you have to deal with. You have to overcome a scene using your cards either as items or as bullets. As you go through the bosses, you will level up and get better special abilities. Defeat all eight bosses and you win the campaign.

Deadeye Dinah does have some issues. I’ve made it most of the way through the campaign and I’m still not sure I’ve been following all the rules correctly. The basic idea of the mechanics isn’t complex but you have to track of your special ability, the boss’s special ability, items’ special ability and the effect of cover (if you use it) Shootouts in particular become surprisingly intricate.

Of course, every scene being a puzzle that doesn’t necessarily have a obvious solution isn’t a bad thing. It does mean the game is more than fidgeting. However, I want to make sure that I’m not making a mistake when I figure out that opaque solution.

That said, I have played through most of a campaign so I am having fun with Deadeye Dinah. I do like that the game is played with just the cards fanned. Some in hand games involved holding the cards in convoluted ways. Deadeye Dinah being very functional is a big plus.

Deadeye Dinah is clever with well designed cards and integrated themes. However, it can be frustrating and fussy. I am curious to see what the end result will be.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Apr 24, 2021 1:59 am
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Bangsian fantasy had a silly beginning

Lowell Kempf
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Bangsian Fantasy is a genre where the setting is primarily in the afterlife and people from different periods of history interact, usually in a light-hearted way. The term is probably only reason anyone remembers who John Kendrick Bangs was.

While Bangs didn’t create the idea, he popularized it with his Associated Shades books, the first and probably most famous being A House-Boat on the River Styx. The books are about a social club of the elite of the dead. Famous dead people like Samuel Johnson, Socatres, William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Confucius, Sir Walter Raleigh, George Washington and Samuel Johnson appear. (Seriously, Bangs apparently loved using Samuel Johnson as a character)

I had read about the books and their influence many years before I’d ever actually found a copy and read it. And the books were not what I had been expecting.

You see, Bangs didn’t use the different historical figures as themselves. Instead, it was a setup for him to satirize contemporary 19th century society. The great figures of history become whiny, sarcastic club members. Which, to be fair, is the point. I don’t think you can hold it against Bangs for not writing a completely different book. And Philip Jose Farmer wrote that book anyway with Riverworld.

The Associated Shade books are light, amusing works to read so I do go back and reread them periodically. And it is really amusing that the later books feature Sherlock Holmes since they were written in between the Final Problem and The Adventure of the Empty House so Holmes was dead at the time (I have read that Doyle was cool with Bangs use of the character)

The high concept of the Associated Shades is so much bigger than the actual execution. Again, to be fair, that was kind of Bangs’ point. However, it is still odd to see the concept of afterlife society codified by such silliness.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Apr 21, 2021 8:17 pm
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Alpakaland is as close to a sandbox R&W as I’ve seen

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Alpakaland is a game about creating your very own Alpaca-themed amusement park. Which isn’t actually one of my personal dreams or even a sentence I thought I’d ever write. But I’ve written about Devil Bunny Needs A Ham so I’ve written weirder.

Alpakaland is one of those Roll and Write games where everyone has their own sheet and uses the same dice rolls. So it can be played solitaire or it can be played with as many people as you can cram in.

The core idea of the game is that you’re drawing a map on a grid. Which is a pretty common concept in Roll and Writes. However, you get a lot more free reign than in a lot of map drawing games I’ve played. There are six rounds and each round, a pool of six dice gets rolled and everyone gets to use those rolls.

You can spend pips to build roads or pen fencing. You can spend specific numbers and sums to build buildings that have to be specific shapes. You can spend dice to get alpacas or clowns. You can use dice to fill out an advertising track. And you can spend dice to increase the value of alpacas or buildings.

There are some placement restrictions (like, everything meets to be connected by one network of roads) but you can basically do whatever you want. The real restriction is that you have to pay for it. Calling Alpakaland a sandbox game is probably going too far but there are a lot of open-ended choices in the game. The dice determine how much you can do but I feel like the mistakes end up being your own.

And here’s where it’s good: you can whatever you want but you do not have the space or the dice to do everything you want. Your choices matter and they will affect what your final points are going to be. And I find it hard to believe that even a big group will end up with maps that look anything alike.

Alpakaland succeeds at being a game that is bigger than the dice and the piece of paper that make up it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 19, 2021 7:21 pm
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Mixture is a mixture of too much luck with lots of interesting ideas

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Mixture is an odd ride.

Of the four Roll and Write games that Radoslaw Ignatov released early from his Kickstarter (we have them all now, thanks!), I feel like it is both the weakest and most interesting.

On the one hand, I think it is the most luck-based and feels like it has the most restrained choices. On the other hand, the structure of the game feels the most unique to me.

In Mixture, you are an alchemist working on their final exam by mixing up different concoctions. Each turn, you get three different ingredients that you have to add to a lattice that represents either an alchemy recipe book or a laboratory.

And here’s what I find different and interesting. It’s really a sliding puzzle game. You’re sliding ingredients into a grid that looks a crossword puzzle. You can’t jump over already placed ingredients or contaminated spaces so you have to do your best to plan ahead. (And, no, you’re not actually sliding anything. You’re rolling up symbols and crossing them off on the board) Your goal is to complete lines of symbols.

But... each turn you just roll one die. As a general rule of thumb, a Roll and Write built around single, unmodified die roll raises questions for me. It creates an environment that is very swingy. Of course, anytime you are rolling dice, luck is going to play a part. But with only one die, lick it gets a lot more control. Even two dice is a significant improvement. (That’s why Can’t Stop works) The only one die R&W that I really recommend is 13 Sheep and that works because the game is so slight.

Now, that die in Mixture gives you a choice of two different sets of three symbols and if you roll the same number three times, you can add one to get two different sets to work with. And there are a couple special actions and bonus symbols. So, you have options. There are definitely choices. But, compared to any other game I’ve looked at by Ignatov, Mixture feels the most constrained. Alpakaland, in comparison, feels like a sandbox R&W.

Still, I haven’t seen a Roll and Write like Mixture. (If you have, I’d love to heard about it) It’s an interesting system. And there is a version that involves direct conflict. I’m really curious to see that because I think that could really elevate Mixture.

Even if it is the weakest game I end up playing from Ignatov, Mixture has been worth trying out.
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Fri Apr 16, 2021 11:00 pm
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