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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Classic Knizia is perfect for trying times

Lowell Kempf
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During a recent conversation, a friend described how, with lockdown shrinking his gaming group to his wife, his love for classic Knizia games has exploded. And, let me tell you, it’s not like he didn’t seriously love Knizia before.

Discussing games like Samurai, Through the Desert, Lost Cities, Ra, Modern Art, Ingenious, High Society.... These are all very fundamentally simple games, games that are easy to non-gamers or at least casual gamers. At the same time, they have enough teeth for ‘serious’ gamers. The sample rule structures contain complex decision trees.

(The seven games I listed are certainly not all the classic Knizia designs that fit the description I gave. I have to admit I haven’t seen his newer designs, although my friend’s description of My City sounds fascinating. And Tigress and Euphrates was intentionally left off because it is such a head cracker. I feel that the initial learning curve is much harder than the other games. Or I’m an idiot)

Look, you are locked in and have a limited collection of games to work with, Knizia is a treasure trove. There is a vast amount of replay value in these games. I think there are different kinds of mental processes and stresses between games that have complex rules and ones that simply have complex decisions. His rules sets are intuitive enough that they can slip into your subconscious.

Many years ago (oh, Lordy, I feel old), I used to play Ingenious all the time. I reached the point where I saw the board as a pattern as opposed to a serious of individual moves. It was a very zen place to be.

You can make a compelling argument that all games can be seen as patterns. Go is the platonic ideal of board games in my world and Go is all about developing patterns. However, I am going to argue that so many of Knizia’s designs make the pattern easy to see.

Believe it or not, I’m not arguing that Knizia is the greatest game designer of all time. There’s too many different kinds of games and audiences for anyone to be that. But his designs are great for a family audience, even if that family has serious gamers in it.

And family games are perfect when family is the center of your gaming.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat May 23, 2020 1:18 am
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Corinth may be the Yspahan I need

Lowell Kempf
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Corinth is one of my top-of-the-list PnP projects to get done. (I learned that it’s currently free from this list, https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/271049/item/7614997#item7..., where it is also the top of the list) And it will be a super simple project. Print three pages, minimal cutting, laminate, add dice and you have a four-player set.

In fact, the only reason I haven’t done it weeks ago is that I want to do it in color and that means I can’t do in house.

I hadn’t really heard of Corinth before it was released as a free PnP but when I started looking at the rules, I found myself thinking that it really, really sounded a lot like Yspahan. A. Lot.

Actually doing the absolute minimum research and I see it’s by the same designer and, more than that, it’s officially a reimplementation of Yspahan. Okay, that explains everything.

I have a slightly interesting relationship with Yspahan. I did used to own it and I actually like the game. But... I only played my copy once. Almost all my plays were with other people’s copies or on Yucata. I just couldn’t justify the space it took up and I sold it. And, in the years since I did that, I have never had a reason to regret that.

But making adding a copy of Corinth to my binder of Roll and Writes makes me very happy. It’ll cost me virtually nothing and take up no storage space. True, I won’t have a nice-box or wooden camels but price-reward ratio on those doesn’t make that much of a loss.

There are games that I have kept smaller, simpler versions of because, for as much as I’d ever play them, that’s enough for me. I got rid of Elfenland but kept King of the Elves. Skyline 3000 went away but I still have Clocktowers. I never ended up getting Tigress and Euphrates but I am happy to have Euphrates and Tigress : Contest of Kings. I appreciate the larger versions and I know the smaller versions aren’t as rich and detailed. But as games I didn’t even play once a year, having the smaller versions is enough for me.

Corinth might be a profoundly extreme example of that. From what I can see, you lose having a central board to fight over and action cards. But those two losses might balance each other out. I am curious to see if Corinth is close enough to Yspahan that I don’t care at all. (I will make the fan made scoring card expansion since it’s just one more page)

And, quite frankly, it might be easier to get on the table. All we need is dice and minimal table space. That’s a lot easier to handle at the end of a busy day. Corinth might end up seeing much more play than Yspahan ever did.

I don’t miss my copy of Yspahan but I am looking forward to making a copy of Corinth.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed May 13, 2020 3:22 pm
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Claim It - not fancy but it does get the job done

Lowell Kempf
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Have I really not already written about Claim It? I guess I haven’t. Well, it’s a game that got off to a shaky start for me but it’s one that has been in regular rotation with my Yucata crew.

While it’s themed around looking for good in the American Wild West, Claim It is actually an extremely abstract dice game. The board is a six by six grid and each player has six tokens marked one to six. On your turn, you get to roll three dice. You use two of the dice as coordinates and you place the token that matches the third die. You can roll as much as you like but you lose all the progress you made if you can’t place a token. If you end without busting, you swap out your numbers with tokens in your color.

If you can place where you already have a token, it’s marked with a black token as well and it’s claimed. You can steal other people’s spots but not if they’re claimed. Game ends when a player reaches a critical number of claims and the winner is whoever has the largest contiguous group of tokens.

If I’ve done a bad job describing Claim It, trust me when I say you’d get it after one round of play.

When we first played Claim It last year, I wondered why it had taken someone so long to create the game. What? It was originally published in 2006? Well, why did it take someone so long to develop it? Claim It is effectively Can’t Stop on a grid and that came out in 1980.

My initial response to Claim It was meh. It seemed, well, so basic. But, as the months went by, we kept on going back to it. Claim It is very intuitive and it’s very ‘structurally’ sound. It has an nice mix of reasonable decisions and risk taking. Truth to tell, this might be an example of abstraction as a strength. Claim It is built entirely on its mechanics and those are good enough to stand on their own.

Claim It doesn’t really sparkle. But two of my Yucata buddies have gotten physical copies and I’d be tempted if I saw one. It isn’t my new favorite dice game or abstract game. But I will keep on playing it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue May 12, 2020 2:15 am
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My Little Castle isn’t magic for me

Lowell Kempf
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I realized recently that it had been weeks since I taught myself a new game. Which isn’t that extraordinary (years ago it would have been) but I have gotten into the habit of making little solitaire games so I do have a library of games to try out.

So I pulled out My Little Castle and played a handful of games. I’d made it earlier this year and had been meaning to try it.

My Little Castle is a tile-laying game where the tiles are rhombuses where the two acute triangles that form the rhombus are the each specific terrain types. Like side has to go with like side and you are trying to form empty spaces in the shape of triangles and hexagons.

It can be played solitaire or multi-player. One touch I liked in my solitaire plays is that you use three draw piles and you discard the top tiles of the piles you didn’t pick if they share a terrain type with the tile you did pick.

Okay. Here’s the brutal truth. The two most interesting things about My Little Castle are that it uses rhombuses and the component sheet is just one page. There’s nothing broken or wrong with the game but there’s also nothing that really grabbed me about it either. It didn’t have that spark.

When I want a quick little tile-laying game, I usually play Autumn or Ambagibus. If I want something with a little more meat, I go with Orchard or Micro Rome or the Architect. There’s nothing about My Little Castle that would make me choose it over those games.

(At some point, I read in someone else’s blog about the Autumn test. If a PnP game made folks ask ‘Why aren’t we playing Autumn?’, it failed the test. I don’t see My Little Castle passing the test for most people. It doesn’t for me.)

As usual, I am glad that I made and tried My Little Castle. Part of my interest in PnP is looking at different ideas and games. From that standpoint, it was rewarding. However, if you were to ask me to recommend a PnP project that uses rhombuses, I’d suggest Cronberg.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed May 6, 2020 10:19 pm
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Exploring Yucata as an educational tool

Lowell Kempf
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A friend of mine recently asked me about board gaming online. He’s an educator and is hoping to use board games as a one more item in his tool box for teaching online.

I recommended Yucata to him for a number of reasons. It’s free. It has a nice selection of games. And, unlike many sites like Steam or the Apple Game Center, since you don’t have to buy individual games, everyone has access to the same library of games. Plus, some of his students are German so being a German website with a German language option was also a plus for Yucata.

One downside is that Yucata doesn’t have a lot of games for larger groups. Two-to-four players is one of its strengths. Looking for a easy-to-teach game that can handle at least five players led to limited to options. I suggested he and I play a game of Claim It live so he could try the site out.

(In retrospect, I should have suggested Las Vegas. That probably would have suited his needs better and supported one more player. In my defense, I play Claim It a lot more)

So we sat down and logged onto Yucata and Zoom at the same time so we could talk our way through a game. I will say that explaining a game is a lot easier when you can actually pick up pieces and show folks how moves work. That said, we had a good time and he had a much better idea how to use Yucata by the time we were done.

It’s fun to get in a game with a friend but helping them out is a big deal.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed May 6, 2020 4:30 pm
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James Ernest writes a fun memoir

Lowell Kempf
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I finally read Cheapass in Black and White by James Ernest. It’s a retrospective on the history of Cheapass Games by the founder and guy who designed almost all the games. It’s about one third commentary and two thirds reprints of ads, rules, packaging and components.

Man, I am both the target audience and the worst audience for this book. On the one hand, I really like Cheapass Games and I have a large collection of their games (that, wonderfully, doesn’t take up much space) On the other hand, that means I have the originals for almost all the images so two thirds of the book is unnecessary for me

(Incidentally, you can’t try and make an PnP project out of the book. You do get complete rules but you don’t get complete scans of the components. Which is fine because a hefty chunk of those components are available for download on the Cheapass website.)

Seriously. There are literally about three games discussed in the book that I don’t own. And one of them was reprinted in Chief Herman (I didn’t even know Tishai had been independently printed.) Swag was a convention only game that was turned into Captain Treasure Boots, which I do own. And I just never bought Veritas.

The memoir section are a lot of fun. James Ernest has a very conversational style, which makes him enjoyable to read. He invites us on a journey, talking about his work and life and his philosophy of about game design. Which could be dryer than a desert but he makes it sparkle.

It has been said (I’ve said it but I am far from the first) that James Ernest most legitimately punk of game designers. He isn’t defiant or out to hate parents (his or otherwise) He is simply out to do his own thing, regardless of what anyone else thinks. He is an iconoclast not for the sake of being an iconoclast but because that’s how he can get what he wants done.

Getting some insight into that and a lot of anecdotes about that is fun. The book isn’t a how to guide to game design or game publishing but you will still learn a lot, possibly while not even noticing.

Cheapass in Black and White is a good read. If you have the slightest interest in Cheapass Games or game design or game, you will do yourself a favor reading it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Apr 14, 2020 7:24 pm
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Some Print and Play suggestions for folks on lockdown

Lowell Kempf
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I recently wrote about how PnP has helped me decompress and deal with the stress of being on lockdown. Both in the act of actual of making stuff and looking for things that I can get on the table. And there’s actually a lot less spare time under these circumstances.

And then I was asked for some suggestions.

With so many of us not able to leave the home and so many game shops not open, print and play is an option really worth discussing. I know that other folks have been discussing this and I also know that I’ll suggest is stuff I’ve discussed before. Still, if I help even one person, I should.

30 Rails - if I was told to suggest only one game for folks stuck in their homes, 30 Rails is the game I’d suggest. It is so easy to build that even folks without access to a printer can make a copy. It can play any number of players, including solitaire. And it’s really good. The love child of Take It Easy and Metro, 30 Rails is a connections Roll and Write game where you draw out paths on a grid. It uses familiar ideas and has plenty of tough decisions.

Outlaw - A dice game that just requires you to print out a couple pieces of paper with no cutting, Outlaw is a Pikomino-style game. I like Pikomino better but not everyone has access to Pikomino. Not everyone has a big game collection at home. For some people, someone else owns the games they play and they may be cut off from those games.

Okay. Moving onto to a little bit on construction.

Autumn - An eighteen-card tile-laying game, Autumn is very simple but very solid. Between using the pie rule and requiring cards to overlap, Autumn offers some real choices and some real variety in its play. Plus, it has a nice solitaire option. It a game that I’ve kept coming back to for more than two years.

The Decktet - The Decktet is a deck of cards with six suites BUT the cards are multi-suited. It offers a real twist on the deck of cards. More importantly, the Decktet has some very solid games. Games like Emu Ranchers, Jacynth and Magnate. I made my first copy years ago by printing it out on card stock and cutting them out with scissors. And I’ve never looked back.

This is not my final word on the subject. Heck, this is barely scratching the surface of the subject. But I think these four games are a good start.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sun Apr 5, 2020 5:10 pm
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We are living in a world turned upside down

Lowell Kempf
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I will be honest. I didn’t want to write corona virus. I’m not an expert or an authority on any aspect of it and, quite frankly, one of the reasons I blog is to decompress. But the corona virus is something that’s affecting all of us. And gaming and reading are part of how I get through stress and that’s kind of what this blog is about.

Interestingly, since online gaming in one form or another has been a party of my gaming life for so long that it hasn’t been a part of my decompression from stress and being insular. That will probably change if more people I know start doing it and it becomes a broader social outlet. Animal Crossing: New Horizons already promises to do that.

Print and Play has been a big part of my decompression. More crafting than playing right now but it definitely helps put me in a zen place. I don’t have a lot of time for crafting or playing with the new world of home schooling but even a little project is good.

I hope everyone is doing well. The world has turned upside down for all of us.
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Wed Mar 25, 2020 3:23 am
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Looking back at my 2019

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Okay. It is time I look back and look at 2019 before I get too far into 2020.

2019 was a quiet year for me, game wise. I got in some events and some face-to-face gaming but it was mostly online board games, PnP and solitaire gaming.

At the same time, it was an affirming year.

Over the last few years, I have gotten more and more into Print and Play games, including Roll and Write, and solitaire games. Usually at the same time. There’s a lot of interesting solitaire PnP options out there.

2017 was when I realized both that Roll and Write games could have serious variety and depth. 2018 was when I got really, really got into Print and Play and made a lot more projects, which also included formally storing them all.

I didn’t have a major shift like either of those in 2019. Instead, I honed my PnP activities. I became more choosy about what I made (at least as long as it was more than a page in components) I worked on pacing my crafting so I didn’t get as burnt out (although sometimes life itself got in the way) And I tried to make one larger project a month.

So, in 2019, I took steps to make PnP an ongoing part of my hobby.
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Mon Jan 6, 2020 9:46 pm
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Do Beer and Pretzel games need a big stack of cards?

Lowell Kempf
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Finishing up the PnP version of Goblin’s Breakfast got me thinking about Beer and Pretzel games, since it’s a beer and pretzel game as well as a take that game and a family game.

Beer and Pretzels isn’t (aren’t?) my favorite genre of games but I do like having a few around. They definitely have a niche. There is a time and place for a rough-and-tumble casual game with room for trash talk and turning off your brain. (College seems to be a prime time to be that time)

But I found myself thinking about Beer and Pretzel Games I’ve played like Nuclear War or Chez Geek or Guillotine or Lunch Money and they all have lots of cards.

Which makes sense. Having lots of cards is a way of having a high random factor and room to have lots of jokes or other silly stuff. I mean, I hate, hate the mechanics of Munchkin with the fire of a super nova but John Kovalic did draw some funny cartoons for it.

I don’t know if this makes any sense of having a big deck of action cards lets a game do some of the thinking for you. And that would normally be terrible but works for Beer and Pretzel Games.

BUT... can pure dice games be Beer and Pretzel games? For instance, is Zombie Dice a Beer and Pretzel game? It doesn’t have cards and it doesn’t have any that that but it is casual and thematic and makes people laugh. Would have I played it at three AM in college after a marathon session of D&D?

The answer is almost assuredly yes so a game that consists of a handful of dice, doesn’t have a stack of cards or a way to hurt other folks can still be a Beer and Pretzel game. I can even see an argument that Liars Dice can be a Beer and Pretzel game so even the silly theme is optional.

At the same time, lots of action cards and a fun theme seems like they help a lot. If I woke up tomorrow and decided that it was my new life goal to make a Beer and Pretzel game, that’s where I’d start.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Dec 20, 2019 7:58 pm
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