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]  Prev «  1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [7]

Recommend
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Why does scary stuff work?

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
It’s almost Halloween. Our six-year-old has been obsessing about Halloween since August. So I feel like I should write about ghost and horror stories/movies/TV shows/authors/board games/RPGs. But man, where to start? I mean, what can I write about Edgar Allen Poe that hasn’t already been written?

Really, between ghost stories, gorror, zombies, vampires, undisclosed generic horror, werewolves, demon types and all of the fun you can have with Cthulhu, there’s a lot of subcategories in the whole ‘scare you’ genre.

Clearly, it touches some kind of nerve on the human race. Perhaps fear fascinates us or is so fundamental that we all can relate to it. According to Paul Eckman, fear is one of the six core emotions (the others are joy, anger, disgust, sadness and surprise and, yes, the Pixar movie Inside Out drew heavily on his studies)

But our love of media that have scary stuff in them is clearly not just related to fear all by itself. Being able to indulge in it safely and in a controlled way lets our minds add joy to the equation which changes everything. I’m not actually worried about a rabid dog attacking me when I read Cujo or zombies when I watch Night of the Living Dead.

(Too much control can remove all the fear, though. I was in a D&D campaign where we mugged a litch. Took a lot of planning and very special circumstances but we did it. And it wasn’t scary at all)

Clearly, while there are lots of specific niches of scary stuff, media that has scary stuff in it is not really a niche. I’d go beyond saying it’s mainstream and go so far as to say that it is universal. And it’s clearly not just for Halloween.


Originally scribbled down in abject terror at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Wed Oct 28, 2020 6:43 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Crowded bus games?

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I accidentally came up a new term for myself, a crowded bus game.

Originally, I was just talking about Roll and Write games that I could play with a clip board and a dice app on my phone. However, really that includes any In-Hand games like Palm Island or the Zed Deck. Okay, a lot of travel games can qualify but I am really takin about something that works even when your arms are squashed together.

Which isn’t an experience that any of us should be having right now in Covid season and, honestly, I’d probably be just looking at my phone under those conditions. But they are the kind of games I like to play so I can sit in the living room with the family, possibly with a cat or two on my lap. (possibly the two cats fighting on my lap)

So for me, a crowded bus game is actually a casual, cozy game at home.

In fact, the only game I can see playing on a bus is Warchon, a war game where the map is a book and the pieces are book marks, because that’s the only place I can see playing it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
3 Comments
Thu Aug 27, 2020 1:21 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

6 nimmt! has not grown stale

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Ah, 6 nimmt! Also known as Category 5, Slide 5 and a whole host of other names.

While I’m not taking a copy to any conventions this year, since I’m not going to any conventions in person, some version of this game has gone with me to conventions for many years. Basically because it’s easy to teach, plays up to a whopping ten players and everyone always has fun.

I’m prettty sure that anyone reading this far already knows how to play 6 nimmt! but here’s the overview: Like golf, the object of the game is to get the fewest points. In the original version, that meant getting the fewest cow heads. (If the theme makes any sense, no one’s told me) The game consists of cards numbered from 1 to 104. Every card has some amount of cow heads with multiples of five and eleven having the most.

Each round, you deal out ten cards to each player then lay out four cards to start four rows. (So, in a ten player game, every card is in play) Everyone simultaneously selects and reveals a card. Then the cards are added to sequential order to the rows. Cards MUST be placed after the card that they are the numerically closest to.

If you chose a card that is a lower number than any card at the end of the four rows, you must take a row and your card starts the new row. If your card would be the sixth card in a row, you take that row and your card starts the new row. And those row cards don’t go in your hand, they go into your ugly score pile. Play all the cards in your hand and the game ends when someone passes a threshold of points, which varies depending on the edition. Fewest points wins.

Oh and there’s a strategic version where you only use cards numbered the player-count-times-ten-plus-four so everyone knows exactly what cards are being used in the game.

That was supposed to be one paragraph and I just paraphrased the entire rule book.

6 nimmit! came out over twenty years ago. I haven’t just been personally playing it for more than ten years, it’s been part of my basic game tool box for that time as well. The game is a bonafide classic.

Part of what makes it a classic is that the actually gameplay is very good. On the one hand, it is very simple to explain and understand and play. At the same time, there is enough room for making calculated risks. You can definitely play smart despite the random factor, although things get more random with higher player counts.

But it’s that up-to-ten-players with simultaneous play that pushes 6 nimmt! into the always pack it in the con bag territory. The ability to handle a large group with everyone engaged and playing at the same time, that is gold when combined with actual good gameplay.

6 nimmt! is a game that is fun even when playing smaller numbers like four or five, although there’s plenty of competition in its weight range for that number. But the flexibility to handle larger player counts without tons of downtime? That’s something that I have barely seen.

There’s a lot of competition for games that only take fifteen, twenty minutes. The fact that 6 nimmit! is still such a contender is strong praise.


Originally slapped down at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Aug 17, 2020 4:34 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Why That’s Pretty Clever works for me

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 first played Qwixx, I decided that it was the game to fire Yahtzee for non-gamers. When I first played That’s Pretty Clever, I decided that it was the game to fire Yahtzee for gamers.

That’s Pretty Clever is a dice-drafting, roll-and-write game. There are five, color-coded sets of boxes on each player’s sheet and you roll six dice matching those colors, plus a white die that’s wild. Every set of boxes has a different criteria for checking one of those boxes.

Ah, but here’s the clever bit. When you achieve certain milestones, you get bonuses. They can be rerolls, extra die grabs, fox heads that actually score multipliers, and checking off boxes in other sections. With planning and luck, you can set off a cascade of bonuses.

That’s Pretty Clever offers a steady stream of interesting choices. Every die you take means there are other dice and opportunities you aren’t taking. And because these are dice we are taking about, there is enough randomness that you can’t map out the decision tree. You have to hedge your bets as best you can. All those factors help make the game engaging.

The biggest flaw that I have found is that there seem to be a couple of patterns or strategies that seem stronger. There is the potential for monotonous play. But the dice make following an overarching strategy more of a pipe dream than a plan.

There is clearly a design space for abstract dice games. They have been around centuries and people are still clearly drawn to them. But, in my exploration of Roll and Writes, I have come to the conclusion that they have to be very good to have any staying power. A theme can add structure and narrative to a game that can help shore up mechanical weak spots.

Now, I don’t think that That’s Pretty Clever is the end all, be all of abstract dice games. And there are themed dice-centric games like Alea est Aecta or Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers that I like more. But it is one of the best abstract dice games that I have found. And, without a regular gaming group at the moment, this is the kind of game that sees more play for me. I am very happy to have tried it and I regularly go back to it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Wed Aug 12, 2020 4:30 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

I’m not old. I’m just managing time :P

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
There was a point in my life where, between D&D campaigns and board gaming groups, I was sometimes gaming four days a week. This was also when I was compulsively buying new games and trying out new games so fast that I ended up playing a lot of games only once before moving on.

In the mists of my memories, it seems like that period of my life went on a for a long time but, looking back with a more honest eye, it was actually only a few years. It was an education in games and gaming but I’d only game like that again if someone were paying me.

I play a lot fewer games than I did during that period of my life but I replay games a lot more. I’ve also shifted from thinking that two hours was a good time range for a game to finding forty-five minutes is really what I’m looking for. (To say nothing of a six or more hour D&D session, which was exhausting at the time, let alone now)

On the one hand, a lot of my sense of being a gamer came from that point of my life. On the other hand, I don’t miss it either. I have too many memories of gaming being an obligation instead of fun. The last few times I played a game that lasted several hours, I didn’t enjoy it.

Is this because I have grown older? Has my mind grown weaker? Or is this just what happens because everything changes and we have to change with it to stay healthy? Is this just part of adulthood I put off when I was younger?

<going back to this entry after a few days> After writing all that, I realize that what this is really about is time management.

I have known only a one or two GMs that actually didn’t run over. Instead, in most of my role playing groups, running over by over an hour was the norm. And I also remember how many two-hour board games would often end up being three or more hours.

And that kind of thing doesn’t work when you’ve got other obligations, when you have to be somewhere at specific time. That actually takes most of the fun out of it. Gaming becomes stressful at that point.

This ain’t about getting older. It’s about figuring out what makes you happy when life changes.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
2 Comments
Mon Aug 10, 2020 6:31 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Another gathering that won’t happen this year :’(

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Eight years ago, a friend of ours started having their own private convention. They’d rent a large meeting room at a hotel and set up a block of rooms so everyone would have a place to sleep when they weren’t playing games. And between the thirty-odd friends that would show up, the game library was always huge. There was even a weekend long tournament of different games for bragging rights.

I haven’t gone in years, seeing as how we moved to the other side of the country. However, I have stayed on the mailing list and I’ve even visited through the power or video conferencing/

And, yes, it has been postponed and finally canceled in 2020.

In the grand scheme of everything that COVID-19 has done to the world, I admit that this is pretty small potatoes. I mean, this isn’t even the end of the event. Unlike events that folks have to pay for and turn a profit that are probably facing bankruptcy right now, all this needs is one person’s persistence and determination and, trust me, it has that.

Still, it’s kind of sad.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Mon Jul 20, 2020 3:58 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
21 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

What Douglas Adams and Klaus Teuber have in common

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Rereading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the upteenth time, I realized that I have pretty much the same relationship with that book as I have with Settlers of Catan.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a fine work but it’s impact on my life was heavily compounded by first reading it when I was still in the single digits and at a time when science fiction was still struggling to break into the mainstream. We now live in an age where fantasy and science fiction are routinely in the best seller lists, there have been multiple Star Trek TV shows, super heroes are an actual movie genre and my fellow US citizens have actually heard of Doctor Who. None of that was true when I first read the Hitchhiker’s et al. I’d never seen anything like it before, in part because there really wasn’t anything like it for me to see.*

Settlers of Catan was my introduction to the broader world of designer board games. My experiences before it were abstracts and war games. A modular board? Everyone gets to do something every turn? It takes less than two hours to play? It was a revelation.

While there were other games coming in from Europe, it was still very much a super niche world. At the time, I only found games like Settlers of Catan on a table in the back of the nearest gaming shop behind shelves of unpainted lead figures. It was a new world. If not for the internet, it would have been nearly impossible to explore.

I still think that Settlers of Catan is a fine game and still one of the best trading mechanics I’ve played. But if I hadn’t tried it back then and Puerto Rico or Carcassonne has been my gateway and played Catan for the first time last week, I don’t think it would have close to the same impact. If I read Hitchhiker’s et al now for the first time, it’d be fun but not a game changer.

A work can be great and even age very well. However, it will be still be living in the new world it created.

*A very debatable statement but earlier science fiction comedy seems to fall more into satire.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Mon Jun 8, 2020 8:27 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Italo Calvino and dungeon crawls

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I have been crafting a couple of micro crawls (MiniSkull Caverns and 8-Bit Dungeon, in case you are curious) while reading Time and the Hunter by Italo Calvino, which has been a weird combination of head spaces.

Time and the Hunter is sort of, kind of the second volume of Cosmicomics. It definitely contains some Cosmicomic stories but other parts deconstruct life and space and time in a little less whimsical way. Does DNA’s programming mean there is no present or future or free will but only a constant repackaging of the past? Is a traffic jam one contiguous entity that offers no options for any part or is there a way to create your own piece of time and space within its confines? Did Calvino read the same Count of Monte Cristo that my Classic Comics edition was based on?

Dungeon crawls have been a part of board games, video games and role playing games for decades. (I remember an early edition of Tunnels and Trolls outright describing the setting as a world of dungeons) You would think of the dungeon crawl as a dead horse at this point but it’s clearly not.

And that’s because it is so effective and simple as a narrative structure. Dungeons crawls are a way of setting one challenge after another in a way that makes sense. There’s a lot of room for nuance, don’t get me wrong. I have some friends who argue that Keep on the Borderlands (one of the ur-adventures of D&D) should be played as a diplomatic adventure.

That said, I remember more than one D&D campaign where we all relaxed when we hit a dungeon. No more political intrigue or wilderness journeys. Just a good, old fashioned dungeon crawl full of combat and treasure.

But with Calvino in my mind, I find myself thinking of a dungeon as a microcosm, as a tiny universe that ends with the dungeon walls. And with some dungeon crawls, like the ones I just finished making copies of, the dungeon is indeed all the real estate and the universe that exists for he game.

More than that, with so many dungeon crawls, each area is its own encounter. Each room is its own event, unrelated to any of the other rooms. You only take the treasure and the damage from room to room. (And,yes, any game master worth their salt isn’t going to run a dungeon like that. I remember dungeons where the first fight managed to draw most of the inhabitants out as waves of reinforcements)

But if a game is ‘programmed’ without a game master, which can be the case in board or video or even role playing game, having each encounter be a singular entity is a mechanically sound choice. It makes play manageable.

So now, I am not just seeing a dungeon as entire tiny universe unrelated to anything beyond itself, each area is its own singular moment in time. Time doesn’t become one event after another, not a continuity of events. Instead, time is determined by geography.

I am currently seeing a dungeon crawl as a deconstruction of time and space, thanks to Italo Calvino. The when is not important. The where might not be important either. All that is significant is that an event occurs.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
2 Comments
Fri Jun 5, 2020 4:46 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

The virtual world for coping and socializing

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
The virtual realm has always been a part of my gaming life, ever since I basically discovered the bigger world of board games beyond Monopoly and war games. But it has gotten even bigger over the last few months of lockdowns and other restrictions.

Not because my online habits have changed. I have been steady in my Yucata habits for years. No, it is because some of my friends have either become much more active or active at all on Yucata. I’ve interacted with some folks more than I have in years. (They do live in other states so we have geography as an excuse for being out of touch)

And I have other friends who have started online game nights, facilitated by zoom. I have had some games facilitated by zoom as well, for that matter. The options that are open to us are vast compared to when I first logged on to BSW fifteen or more years ago.

That said, it took some time for my circle to start reforming into online patterns. Part of it was all of us just realizing that the world had turned upside down, that it was actually happening. And then, I think we needed to realize the need for it.

Online gaming as an alternative to face-to-face gaming is not the same and, quite frankly, not as good. In addition to losing the tactile element of physical gaming, you also lose a lot of the unspoken communication. And what remains is distorted. Studies have shown that digital conferencing with people’s faces effectively in your face is unsettling on a subconscious level.

Still, it definitely beats having no connections with each other, not to mention no gaming. And I do think it helps us adjust as the rest of the world keeps changing.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Tue Jun 2, 2020 10:42 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Thoughts about meetups

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Board Game Meetups have never been a huge part of my gaming life but they did have a huge impact on my actual life. I met the woman who would eventually become my wife at one. And I only stopped in to say hi to the organizer!

I am sure that meet-ups like the ones that I used to go to in Chicago have taken a real hit during the Covid-19 crisis. Even with restaurants and other such public places slowly opening back up, meetups will be difficult to hold. Not impossible but many board games don’t lend themselves to social distancing. (Are there folks holding Take It Easy nights?)

A lot of places in our area are still only doing take out for the foreseeable future and some are closing for good. Our son’s favorite chain (Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation) has closed for good. The landscape has changed.

That said, they will come back. Public eating and drinking places have been around for centuries. We have whole genres of games dedicated to them. They don’t call them pub games for nothing.

And, while it is different, there is the virtual world for gaming. Online gatherings and even conventions are an increasingly easy and common things.

But I wouldn’t have met my wife at an online convention.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Wed May 27, 2020 3:38 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

[1]  Prev «  1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [7]