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.

Archive for Board Games

1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [6]

Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

I taught myself Calico in my doctor’s waiting room

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
While I had known a while that there was a solitaire demo of Calico online, I didn’t get around to trying it out until I was waiting at the doctor’s office for my annual physical. No one will ask for me for a blurb about Calico but it would be ‘You can learn it in the waiting room’

Calico is a game about cats, which puts it right up my alley. It’s also a puzzly abstract themed around making a quilt for those cats. I’ve heard it said homespun Arcadian themes have become their own genre but I think that’s been the case since Agricola (and that’s been out for a while)

I really had no excuse not to have tried the game out earlier. The website is very accessible and the game mechanically simple enough that I was able to learn it while waiting for a nurse practitioner to call my name.

You have your own hexagonal grid. You have a hand of two hexagonal quilt tiles. On your turn, you place one in an empty spot. You then draw one of three market tiles to refill your hand and the left most market tile gets discarded. (Ticket to Ride strikes again!)

There are three ways to score points, at least in the demo. Groups of three or more like colors can earn a button. Specific cat tiles can be placed on specific combinations of patterns. And there are goal tiles on your board that have to be surrounded by specific combinations of colors and/or patterns.

I really enjoyed Calico, more than I honestly been expecting. A big part of what makes the game tick is the three separate ways of scoring points. Because unless you are both very careful and very lucky, they are going to conflict with each other and you are going to make choices and sacrifices. I also liked the market. That helped add choices to the game.

I’m continuing my moratorium on buying new games but Calico has rushed to near the top of the top of the list of games I’d buy. I know the complete game has more types of cats and goal tiles and scenarios. The demo entertained me but the full game sounds really good.

https://myautoma.github.io/games/calico/index.html


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Sat Jun 12, 2021 3:37 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide

Elasund: first pit fight of Catan

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
After the actual Settlers of Catan itself, my favorite Catan product might well be Elasund: The First City of Catan. (Settlers of the Stone Age is strong competition for that title, though)

Elasund is a tile-laying game where you are building a city on a grid with the first player to get to ten victory points winning.

The Catan part of the game is that the columns of the grid are numbered two to twelve (but no seven) You roll 2d6 and buildings within that column produce gold or influence cards. Sevens let the active player choose a column and players who have victory point cubes in that column lose resources.

Building buildings requires resources AND building permits, which are placed on the board. AND you can use someone else’s permit as long as you have more of your own. And larger buildings can knock down smaller buildings.

There are more details to the game, like spending lots of gold to build the church or building walls or covering up windmills for points. There’s a lot going on in the Elasund and I’m not going to go over the rules in detail. (Other folks have done that)

But here’s the thing. It is a knife fight in a phone booth. I think I have to play Reef Encounter to get more of a claustrophobic sense of confrontation. Elasund is very confrontational and things can get very nasty very easily. Conflict isn’t just taking a spot someone else wanted. It is stealing their building permits and knocking down their buildings. And conflict isn’t an option you might take. It is an integral part of the game and it will happen.

And, yes, I consider that to be a point in Elasund’s favor.

I do think that Elasund isn’t super intuitive BUT that might just be me. The end game tends to be brutal with lot of buildings getting bulldozed and I have never done well. AND a game being tough and having a real learning curve is NOT a negative.

For a group of my long distance buddies, Elasund was a standby. We’d get together and Elasund would hit the table after Notre Dame. I don’t think I’ve even played my own copy of Elasund but I still have it in storage because it is that good.

I know I can really enjoy non-confrontational games. (So many of them can be played solitaire without any changes) But I do like me some conflict and Elasund really delivers.



Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon May 10, 2021 10:37 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

What do people do with Catan dice?

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Since I have been playing so many Roll and Writes, I decided to revisit one of the first designer R&W I’d ever played, Catan Dice. Other than as a way of fidgeting on my phone, I have pretty meh memories of the game. As I recalled it, it was basically Yahtzee with a Catan-shaped score board. In some respects, it was even more restricted than Yahtzee since you had to do things in order.

So I played it again. And, after years of exploring R&Ws, particularly light, casual weight ones, Catan Dice was actually worse than I remembered. Before, I didn’t like how it completely failed to capture the feeling and interaction of Catan. Now, in addition, I found it dull as a dice game. The one design choice I liked was the knights/jokers.

However, I decided to look at the variations that existed, including one that was one of Klaus Teuber’s original designs for the game in the first place.

Catan Dice Plus has players competing to reach ten points first and fighting over largest army and road. Okay, other than not having a solitaire option, this is better in almost every way from the first version that got published. There is some actual competition and tension going on.

Catan Dice Extra has you fighting over the same island on a shared player sheet, as well as fighting over longest road and army. That actually crosses the line to pretty much being a full-fledged board game.

(Oh, and doing some research while writing this, I found out someone made some home brew expansions for the original game. I guess I’ll check that out.)

Honestly, if I had to pick one for multi-player, I think I’d go with with Plus. There’s not enough to the original game and Extra makes me ask why not play the travel edition of actual Catan.

Over the years, I’ve played a lot of Catan, Catan expansions and Catan Spin-offs. I particularly like Elasund. The dice family seems like the lightest and weakest branch. But I am glad that folks keep playing with the design.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Fri May 7, 2021 9:38 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

I’m not firing Alhambra

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
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.
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Fri Apr 30, 2021 10:35 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Carcassonne makes me a hypocrite

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I am a hypocrite when it comes to games firing other games.

For the most part, I refuse to believe that a game can’t be superseded. In fact, when I find a game that I really like, I often wonder what the next step will be with that idea and concept. (I have never come remotely close to believing anything has successfully fired a regular deck of playing cards thought. When one thing can replace Poker, Rummy, Bridge, Whist, Euchre, Blackjack, Spades, Hearts (you get the idea), then we can talk)

And sometimes, games can fire games on pure concept as well. For instance, the Steam family completely fired the Crayon Rail games as far as I’m concerned. Yes, they are actually quite different mechanically but Steam made me happy and feel like I was run a train line and Crayon frustrated me and made me feel like I was trying to keep one train engine alive.

However...

I have yet to be convinced that a game has fired Carcassonne. Other than maybe a different Carcassonne game. (I love me some Hunters and Gatherers)

I remember, when it came out, Isle of Skye being held up to me as the Carcassonne killer. And when I played it, I had thought it was a great game and one that’d I happily play lots more. If someone argued that Isle is a better game than Carcassonne, I might not agree but I’d listen.

But it’s a different enough experience for me that I can’t compare the two games in a way where firing comes in. (But you could for the Steam games and Crayon Rail games! Yeah, that’s because I really don’t enjoy Crayon Rail games)

But apart from personal preference and hypocrisy, what Carcassonne has that Isle of Skye or The Castle of Mad Ludwig or many other tile laying games don’t have is everyone trying to kick each other’s teeth in on a collective board. If you thought shutting down board sections with two-letter words in Scrabble was mean, Carcassonne is confrontation city.

If it isn’t just the filter of nostalgia, sharing a map and ge ability to aggressively fight over it is something that has kept Carcassonne enjoyable and vital to me.
Twitter Facebook
4 Comments
Fri Apr 9, 2021 8:19 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Oh, that is a good reason for a list!

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
When I wrote about how I can’t seem to write lists of favorite games, someone pointed out that it was a useful exercise in figuring out what games you would try to get again in case of fire or flood or such. Yeah, that is a very good reason.

About ten years ago, I went through a reverse process. I did a massive purge of my game collection that I really needed to do between moving and becoming a parent. Games were taking up space that was needed for more basic life stuff. Seeing as how I was a game hoarder, it was also very good for my mental health.

But looking at it from that viewpoint of rebuilding a lose game collection, it’s a good question. And it shifts the question from what is my ideal game or my favorite game to the much more concrete question of ‘What actually gets played?’ That shoves a whole ton of games out the door.

I have gotten rid of a lot of ‘someday’ games, unplayed games that I am convinced will.l be wonderful when I eventually play them someday. (Someday!) Those games wouldn’t make the ‘buy again’ list. Ruthless practicality will be the rule of the day.

The other day, as I watched our son tell an elaborate story of wind spirits fighting fire demons with pieces from different GIPF project games, I realized that if I lost all the GIPF games, I’d really be intent on getting ZERTZ and YINSH again. I like the project on a whole but those two games are the ones that really see play. That was a bit of a revelation.

When you look with a cold, hard eye at what actually hits the table, you realize what actually sees use and what is worth having in the closet. Which isn’t always fun since that kind of breaks up some comfortable illusions.

I certainly don’t want to lose my collection due to a fire. For one thing, that would put us in danger. But my rebuilt game collection would be a lot smaller.
Twitter Facebook
2 Comments
Wed Feb 24, 2021 10:08 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Why I can’t write lists

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I sometimes think that one of the great hobbies within the hobby is coming up with Top Ten or Top One Hundred lists. Given that the internet is awash with lists of all sorts and minds, either lists are an innately human way of thinking or David Letterman is one of the most influential people whoever lived.

However, whenever I have thought about coming up with a top ten list, I’m stymied. Such a list would change dramatically depending on the context. I think I would have to have a regular group and a years worth of play with them before I might try to write a list. At the moment, I’m focused on solitaire and print-and-play and I don’t know if what I’m currently playing would make such a list. Well, Onirim would but beyond that, it gets nebulous.

And there’s always the practical versus the ideal. I think of Go as one of the most beautiful games ever made and it was a big part of me getting into gaming. But with over a decade since my last play, would I include it as a top ten? Would my list be a list of games that I’d play if time didn’t matter or a list of games that actually sees regular play?

Truth to tell, I spend more time looking at the hobby as art gallery or experimental lab than refining my tastes. I like to look at lists to see if I see something new and unknown but I don’t see myself writing one.

Of course, such lists say more about the person who wrote then than the games on them. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! After all, one of the things you might glean is if they are someone you’d want to play with!


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
2 Comments
Mon Feb 22, 2021 11:24 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
10 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Oh, that’s where my D&D mimis were hiding

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
While looking for our wedding China (which I did find, thank you very much for asking), I found my old D&D minis from back when I played the skirmish game. Now that was a walk down memory lane.

D&D minis is as close as I ever have come to playing Magic the Gathering or any other collectible card game. It probably will remain that way unless our kid decides that he needs to embrace the Pokémon card game. Opening blind box products is fun. Buying blind box products is not

Looking back and knowing that a lot of folks wanted prepainted plastic miniatures for, you know, actually playing Dungeons and Dragons, having them as randomized blind boxes was really evil. And, at the time, your main choices were buying these blind boxes or buying lead miniatures and painting them yourself.

Hey, I remember when Zombies!!! first came out and getting a hundred zombie miniatures that bent if you looked at them funny was AMAZING.

While I didn’t get in on ground floor and the first wave of miniatures (it took friends being into the skirmish game for me to get into the game), I did start early enough to live through a change in the game that now seems amazing to me.

The original maps where blank grids and players would take turns placing large tiles down on the board. You’d still have a decent amount of empty space left on the map when you were done. Then they switched to fully preprinted maps. Those were thematic enough that I knew DM’s that used them for D&D games.

On the one hand, the fully printed maps drastically sped up setup time and guaranteed a balanced map. But setting up the terrain definitely added a layer of gamesmanship to the game. I had a friend who had an opening that required a two specific figures and a promotional tile that let him fireball his opponent’s starting space. A good setup was as important as your warband composition.

At the time, I thought removing a step that could effectively have you lose the game before you actually started playing was a good idea. These days, I think that’s even more true. The D&D minis game was really aimed for more casual play and automatically balanced maps just supported that.

Looking back, I am astonished at how, at least for a while, I spent a lot of time playing this game, including going to tournaments. (Where I did terribly at) I spent a lot of time designing war bands. Occasionally they’d even do well. But I’m okay no longer playing a game where I had to keep track of the special rules for hundreds of different pieces. That’s what actual D&D is for.


Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Fri Feb 19, 2021 6:33 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
12 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Can you make a tiny Power Grid?

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I’m not sure if I’ll actually play Power Duel but it was too fascinating an idea for me not to make a copy. It’s a two-player distillation of Power Grid that will fit in a mint tin.

I have never actually owned a copy of Power Grid. That’s because, in every gaming group I have ever been in, at least one other person has already owned it. There have been times when I’ve played so much of it, I got burned out on it but I’ve never stopped thinking it was an A++ game. And I bet if I played it now, I’d think it was ever better than I remembered.

I originally found Power Duel via Project Shrinko and it is a good example of the Project Shrinko philosophy. Try to distill a beloved game into a pocket-sized package. I approach every Project Shrinko game with the same two questions: Does it actually feel like playing the game that inspired it AND is it any good as game in and of itself. The second question is really the more important

Power Duel is theoretically my Project Shrimko ideal. An easy way to have a portable version of a game I don’t own and really like Unfortunately, while I find many of the choices made in shrinking the Power Grid down downright fascinating, I think too much is lost in the process. More than that, I have to wonder if the game is solvable.

Not only are auctions removed (fair enough, two player auctions are a tricky proposition, albeit not impossible), all the power plants are available from the start. And using money tracks instead of paper money condensing the game but makes money public knowledge all the time. Removing all the random elements and hidden information might make it too easy to create an optimal strategy, probably one with a first player bias.

Other choices, players lose unpowered cities and the game lasting a set six turns and upgrading plants to accommodate a small number of cards, do seem like good choices. There are some neat ideas going on here. But the strong possibility of scripted play being too easy to develop makes me feel meh about using my limited game time to try it out.

Power Grid is a really nifty set of interlocking mechanics. I praise Project Duel for trying to make a smaller, simpler version but some things can’t be simplified without losing too much. But, man, the idea fascinates me enough that I’m writing all this about it and making a copy. Back at the very earliest point in my modern board game life when most of my gaming was at little tables at coffee shops, I bet I’d have played Power Duel if it had existed then.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2214797/wip-power-duel-tiny...
Twitter Facebook
4 Comments
Wed Jan 13, 2021 9:32 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

The Great Races is really a look at the design process

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
There are three reasons I decided to make a copy of The Great Races: A) It was there B) it is a Sid Sackson design C) historical curiosity.

To the best of my knowledge, the Great Races has never been published in a box format. I know it was published in a collection of paper and pencil games in 1974. I’ve seen it reprinted in The Greatest Games of All Time by Matthew J. Costello and I’m sure it’s been reprinted in other places as well.

And if the Great Races isn’t a precursor to Can’t Stop, my cats are secretly lemurs with retractable claws. The board is almost the same and the dice mechanics are also very similar. If the Great Races wore a hat that said ‘I’m a prototype for Can’t Stop’ and danced a ‘I’m a prototype for Can’t Stop’ dance,’ it wouldn’t be more obvious.

The game consists of eleven tracks, numbered two to twelve. They sort of form a bell-shaped curve with the two and twelve tracks being the shortest and seven being the longest. You roll four dice, pair them and move up on those two tracks.

And here is where it’s different than Can’t Stop. Your turn ends at that point. There isn’t the same kind of push-your-luck element. The game ends when every track has been completed and there are points for first and second place in every track.

Can’t Stop is an absolute classic of a board game. It’s been around for decades and it is the game that all push-your-luck games are judged by. Between on-line and in-person plays, I’ve been playing Can’t Stop several times a year since I got into playing board games.

And compared to Can’t Stop, the Great Races doesn’t measure up. Not that it’s reasonable to expect it to but it isn’t a lost gem that has been unfairly languishing in the shadow of its more famous offspring. In addition to having a significantly weaker push-your-luck element, I honestly feel the game takes too long for what it gives you. Having to finish all eleven tracks makes the endgame drag. It is incremental where Can’t Stop is dynamic.

That said, I have played plenty of worse dice games. Some of them predate the Great Races and plenty of them came after. I feel like it should have had a bigger moment in the sun. But it led to Can’t Stop. That’s a big deal.


Originally, this was over at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
3 Comments
Fri Jan 8, 2021 3:17 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [6]