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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We have taken steady steps to have better party games

Lowell Kempf
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I don’t see myself playing a lot of holiday games this year but there is one game that I have come to associate with the holidays. Apples to Apples, since it’s the party game you can play with anyone. The party game that I have seen played at more Christmas parties than any other game.

I have two strong opinions about Apples to Apples. First, it’s a very strong game design. Second, I could happily never play it again

Back when I was a young one, Trivial Pursuit was the ‘great’ party game and I think it’s a terribly flawed game. Trivia is dangerous because it’s so binary, either you know it or not. (Wits and Wagers figured out how to make that work which is amazing. And pub quiz adds booze, which changes everything. You can decide if it’s for better or worse) And it had a meh implementation of Roll and Move.

So, when you consider that I came from a place of charades and Trivial Pursuit, Apples to Apples was a revelation. It was accessible to the point where you could play it with just about anyone and people didn’t get punished for not knowing the capital of Zanzibar or how to mime Christopher Walken.

I know Apples to Apples wasn’t the first ‘designer’ party game (Barbarossa came out before it did, for example) but Apples to Apples was my first experience with it and the first experience for many folks I know. I really think it changed the party game genre.

BUT I think that the ideas that it introduced have been done better since it came out. I would much, much rather play Dixit than Apples to Apples for example. And, yes, I know that tells you how old I am I really do think that Apples to Apples paved the way for better, more innovative party games, games that surpassed it.

I’m not big into party games but I do sometimes play them and I’m glad they have gotten better.
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Thu Dec 19, 2019 2:37 am
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Card Capture - deck building with regular cards

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. Card Capture is a solitaire deck builder that uses a regular deck of cards.

As someone who is interested in PnP and DIY gaming, it was pretty much inevitable that I was going to check this game out. Im fact, considering that it originally came out in 2018, I’m amazed it took me this long. Almost as amazed that it took so long for someone to make a deck builder just using a regular deck of cards.

Card Capture was designed to be an introduction to deck builders. Which could be an excuse to make the game simple and dumbed down. Card Capture is simple but I wouldn’t call it dumbed down.

Okay, the full rules are online and free but let’s give the thumbnail. The object of the game is capture all the faces and aces. At the start of the game, you divide the cards up into a player deck (the jokers and all the twos, threes and fours) and an enemy deck that’s everything else.

The basic idea is that you have a row of four enemy cards. Every turn, you have to take one away. You can capture/claim a card by spending an equal or higher value of cards from your hand _of the same suit_ If you can’t do that, you can discard a card and the first card in the enemy row to the enemy capture pile. BUT if a face or ace card ever goes into that pile, YOU LOSE! The last thing you can do is sacrifice. Discard two cards into the enemy capture pile and put a card from the row under the enemy draw pile.

What makes Card Capture tick is that is all about trashing cards and making it a double edged sword. Getting rid of all the twos as early as possible? Great! But having to make too many sacrifices can make you run out of cards. If you short-suit yourself (and it’s easy to do it you’re not careful), you will lose.

I have not played the game enough to know if there is a dominant strategy that would make the game boring and I don’t know for sure that that bad shuffles can make the game impossible to win (but I think that is true) What I am sure that the game doesn’t play itself, that your decisions make a difference. And I think even if the game can be broken or solved, it will take enough plays to figure it out to still be fun.

Card Capture isn’t flawless. I do think luck can overcome clever planning. And, like any game that just a traditional deck of cards, it’s dry and themeless and that can be a deal breaker for some folks. And, to be honest, if I was introducing someone to deck building using a solitaire, I’d still prefer to use Friday by Friedemann Friesse.

However, I am having fun with Card Capture. I love that I have a new and different option if all I have on me is a deck of cards. The mechanics hold up and, if all you have to work with is a deck of cards, that’s a big deal.

So, yeah, if you’re at all into traditional card games, check out Card Capture.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Dec 16, 2019 7:23 pm
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A rant about how I hate gateway as a term

Lowell Kempf
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One of the terms I hate is Gateway Games. (I also hate the term Filler Games but I also find that one harder to avoid) I understand the concept of the games that are easily to teach and introduce non-gamers into the modern world of gaming but I think Family Games or Casual Games covers the same idea better and without the idea that these are games that you leave behind as you ‘grow up’.

Both the terms Filler and Gateway imply a lower value of a game, which is definitely part of my problem. Ticket to Ride is considered one of the classic Gateway games but is has never been a game I’ve outgrown or grown tired of. The Gateway label does it a disservice. Well, okay. I think it does any game that gets slapped with it a disservice.

I also may be reacting strongly due to experiences with game snobs. Liking longer and more complicated games doesn’t mean you are better or smarter than everyone else

One of the things that really brought me home to the idea that casual games can be lifestyle games was the Pairs system. It’s not in my top five game systems but it is flexible and easy to introduce to people. It does the job that it was meant to. It is the epitome of a gateway game since you can teach many of its games to drunk people. It is the opposite of so many complex games in many genres. But it is still good and very replayable.

This actually started out as me writing about Tokaido but things got a little out of control. Labeling games can be dangerous because it can make us look for something in a game other than ‘do I want to play it?’ It’s a useful tool and a necessary tool but it can be a dangerous tool.

Originally posted at www.gnomeponderimg.com
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Tue Dec 3, 2019 9:03 pm
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The usual Boardgame Burnout

Lowell Kempf
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Ah, it’s that time again. The time when I get kind of burnt out on gaming. Really, while it happens under different circumstances, it’s been happening to me for years. The only real change is what I’m still doing. (Years ago, it was playing only Button Men online)

I have long stopped worrying that I’m actually in danger of giving up gaming. Life is a series of peaks and valleys and life. If life were a flat line, I’m pretty sure you’re doing something unhealthy.

I can trace it back to the start of October. I had my big convention experience of the year, which was very good. And, after that, I was apparently sated.

But one thing I’ve tried hard to do is still do at least one ‘real’ Print and Play project a month. Yeah, that’s my one hold out from burn out. As much as I do enjoy crafting, didn’t expect that.
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Tue Nov 26, 2019 7:59 pm
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What does tone do?

Lowell Kempf
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Websters defines tone as ‘general character, quality, or trend’, as well as ‘style or manner of expression in speaking or writing’. Okay, it also defines it in terms of pitch and musical quality but I’m not worrying about that.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that every game has a tone, regardless of what kind of game it is. Which was includes abstracts, RPGs and video games.

And while tone is an essential part of theme, tone is not theme. Every element of a game, theme and components and the rules and the language of the rules contribute to overall character of a game.

Go clearly has a tone even though it has no theme and consists of a wooden board and two colors of stones. The austerity of its rules and its components let you understand what the experience of Go is going to be like. Quiet and calm until someone grabs the board and starts swinging. Go also has the weight of history behind it, which becomes another element of tone.

While I don’t think there has ever been a time when tone hasn’t been an important part of game design and game experience (I refuse to believe the unnamed monk or scholar who developed Rithmomachy didn’t want it to be more erudite than human endurance could handle), I think it has become more laser-focused as modern gaming has developed. As more games are developed at a greater and greater amount, every element ought to be seriously considered.

What got me seriously thinking down this path was the now venerable-by-modern-standards Guillotine, the jovial, silly game of competitive decapitation. With just a little tweaking and no rule changes, it could easily go to much darker black comedy or straight up horror. The light-heartedness was not a happy mistake but intentional.

Guillotine is a pretty heavy-handed example. I have a pretty good feeling if you did a more exhaustive study than I’m up for, you’d see a lot more subtle examples. You could probably write a dissertation about tone and Kickstarter projects, if that hasn’t already been done.

Theme is what a game is about. Mechanics are how you do stuff. Maybe one way to describe tone is what a game is trying to say.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Oct 14, 2019 6:55 pm
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Is SHOBU a newborn classic?

Lowell Kempf
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While I was at RinCon 2019, I passed by a table that had a bunch of boards on it that were clearly for an abstract. I asked some questions, got a sample game and found myself a substitute for the tournament when someone else had to drop out. I lost but I had a great time.

SHOBU is a two-player, perfect information, 100% determinist abstract, just to get that part out of the way. The game consists of four 4x4 boards, two dark and two light. In the official version, they are made out of wood and it comes with a thick rope so you can separate them into a light-dark pair for each player. On each board, you place four stones for each player on either side.

And, yes, it would be laughingly easy to make your own copy. But I’d still like to get a legit copy eventually. Partially because it is nice but also because I’d like to see more games like this out there and supporting designers and companies is how you see that happen.

Every turn has two steps. A passive move, where you move a stone on one of the two boards closest to you one to two spaces in any straight line. Then an aggressive move, where you move a stone the exact same direction and number of spaces on a board of the opposite color. And with the aggressive move, you can push an enemy stone off the board.

Push all the enemy stones off of any one of the four boards and you win.

SHOBU is a knife fight in four separate phone booths and that’s part of what makes it so good. While smaller boards theoretically limit the number of moves and make a game solve-able, it also means that you’re in direct conflict by your second move.

And I freely admit that I generally prefer abstracts that are more about each move being a big, board changing move than a whole bunch of small, discrete moves. (Go is amazing but I also don’t get the chance to play Go very much anymore) SHOBU definitely has that.

At the same time, with four boards to keep track of and the restrictions on how you make your moves, SHOBU definitely has layers of consideration to out into each move. The game is definitely not impossible or even terribly hard to read but you have to think about it differently than you do in so many games.

It’s a definite example of a game where your first game will take five minutes and your tenth game will take an hour. But it will be an hour that will make you think and stimulate the little gray cells. Okay, maybe a half hour but the game steadily got deeper the more I played and I know there’s plenty more to explore.

SHOBU combines several ideas I’ve seen before and, in principle, is a simple game. But it uses those ideas to create something new (to me at least) and really makes me think. I don’t _know_ that it’s a newborn classic. BUT, it could be!

Originally posted at www.gnomeponderimg.com
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Fri Oct 11, 2019 12:56 am
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Bang the Dice Game: making Bang fun again

Lowell Kempf
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After years of hearing how much better Bang the Dice Game is that the original card game, I finally had a chance to play it. And, short version, it sure seems better than the original game.

My history with Bang goes back a ways, before I was really serious about board games. At most, it had only been out for a couple years. And, at the time, it was really cool. At least for the first few sessions.

But Bang has some definite issues. A lot of which comes down to being too busy for what you get out of it. The theme helps it out a lot but it doesn’t do enough, at least not for me.

Okay. Thumbnail of Bang the Dice Game: At the start of the game, everyone gets a hidden role. The Sheriff, who gets revealed at the start, has to kill the outlaws and the renegade. The Deputy wins if the Sheriff wins. The outlaws win if they kill the sheriff. The renegade wins if they kill everyone else. You also get a character card that gives you a special power.

On your turn, you roll five dice that let you shoot other people, heal up, and possibly blow up dynamite in your face. That sort of thing. You get two rerolls, although dynamite faces are locked. One element I really like are arrows. You draw an arrow token every time you rolls one. When the tokens run out, everyone takes damage equal to the number of their tokens and they turn their arrow tokens back in.

The obvious advantage that the dice game has it is that is a lot easier to teach. The card game, while simple once you know the cards, is surprisingly fiddle. Teaching Bang the Dice Game to non-gamers from scratch is clearly much easier.

However, I also think that, mechanically Bang the Dice Game is stronger. Yes, it uses dice but the game is juggling six different possible faces. There are a lot more than six card possibilities in the original Bang, before even adding in expansions. I think the dice flattens the luck out and makes the luck much more manageable.

I would definitely play Bang the Dice Game again, particularly to find out of it’s as good as it seems to be. It’s not the best dice game I’ve ever played but it does a good job making its theme work and being fun.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Oct 8, 2019 4:58 pm
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Is there a connection between PnP and solitaire gaming?

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve noticed that my interest in Print-and-Play and in solitaire gaming dovetailed together over the last couple years.

And part of that is because that way no one but me has to see the quality of my crafting And a variety of factors have me in between gaming groups so it’s a great time for solitaire gaming. And, when I spend money on games, I’d rather spend it on games I play with other folks.

However, it seems to me (and I could be totally wrong since I cannot claim to have made any kind of methodical study of the matter) that there’s a higher percentage of solitaire PnPs than published games.

Now, I’m not counting PnP demos of Kickstarter games or games that just have a solitaire option. I’m talking dedicated solitaire games. (And I could be totally wrong, of course)

I have two theories.

The first one is that Print and Play, the actual act of making the stuff, is kind of an insular activity. If there are groups of folks getting together to make print and play projects, I haven’t heard of it. Although I’d be interested in hearing more if there are groups like that out there. So I wonder the solitaire nature of making games appeals to folks who want to play solitaire games.

The second theory is that, while you just need one person to make or buy a game, you need the whole gaming table to buy into the idea of playing the game. Convincing one person to play a game is easier than convincing a larger group. It’s an easier sell for a designer.

Do Print and Play games somehow appeal more to solitaire gamers? Are there really that many solitaire PnP games out there? I really have no idea, although it’s fun to wonder.

Really, the answer matters most to the folks who design print and play games.

Originally posted at wwww.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Sep 25, 2019 6:06 pm
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My September RinCon time

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Saturday was the last RinCon fundraiser. I’d missed the ones in July and August so I wanted to make sure that I got this one in. I was there for four, five hours and every game I played was new to me.

I started off with Wingspan, which I’ve been wanting to try because I quite like Tussie Mussie. And the promise of Elizabeth Hargrave’s earlier design did not disappoint. Wingspan is the better game of her so-far two and there’s a lot more game. You build up a tableau of birds but you get fewer actions every round,

While Wingspan wasn’t billed to me as an engine builder, that’s what it really made me think of. There are enough random elements, particularly the bird food dice tower, that made me wonder if the random elements could be too swingy but I really enjoyed the game. I definitely want to play it again.

The heaviest game I played was Heaven & Ale, which is a game about Medieval beer brewing. It was almost insistently counter-intuitive. You don’t build up points but various supplies that get crunched into a simple formula to create points at the end of the game. It was a very interesting process but I’m not sure if the game was fun or if trying to parse the system was fun. Heaven & Ale is a game where I know it’s clever but clever can fool you into thinking clever is good.

The last and simplest game I learned was Reef, which has absolutely nothing to do Reef Encounter. It is really an abstract themed around building a coral reef with chunky, stackable pieces. You either draw a card or play a cards. Cards let you place two of those chunky pieces and score points if you match a pattern on the card. It was jolly good fun and I can see it as a game my family would enjoy.

Sometimes, I end up playing lots of little games. This was more playing a few middle-sized games and it worked out well.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Sep 9, 2019 9:35 pm
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Fleeting memories of the Book of Catan

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In my memory down memory lane, I came across a memory I haven’t thought about in a long time. Die Siedler von Catan: Das Buch zum Spielen. It’s been well over a decade since I last saw what might have been the only copy I’d ever seen.

Das Buch, as it was called at the table, is a collection of scenarios for Catan. There are fifteen different rule sets in the book that tweak Catan, as well as the components in order to implement them. It’s basically a huge set of expansions. I’m also pretty sure that it was only ever published in German, although translations were available. (I think Mayfair provided one and I think that’s the one we used)

Sadly, I don’t remember Das Buch that well. It was a couple different lifetimes ago. I know that I played three different scenarios but the Great Race one is the only one I remember. Which I might have won and definitely thought was fun.

Now that I remember that Das Buch actually exists, I really want to go and take a look at it. It feels like it could be great or possibly just great for its day. Some games, like Memoir 44, thrive on having variants and scenarios. And Sid Sackson knows, Catan has had a lot of them, although I don’t know if I’d say all of them have thrived for me.

I know there are English translations floating around the internet. Boardgame Geek itself has a couple. So I can at least read the scenarios, even if actually playing them might be tricky. Could be amazing discoveries. Could be just interesting historical footnotes.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Aug 27, 2019 8:36 pm
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