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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Why Project Shrinko is so nifty

Lowell Kempf
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Right now, one of the neat ideas that has been going around the Print and Play community has been Project Shrinko. For the historians who are reading this, the idea is taking a larger game and making a smaller PnP version that’s still true to the spirit of the original.

Important point. This isn’t just making a physically smaller version, like a chess set with tiny pieces. It involves having fewer components, as well as _probably_ a simpler rule set, shorter play time and fewer players.

This is _clearly_ not a new idea. Heck, that was one of the selling points of San Juan was this very idea. That was about fifteen years ago and I am absolutely certain it wasn’t the first.

I think there are two really useful aspects to this approach to a game. One is that the Project Shrinko versions are a way for you to try out a game and decide if you want to actually make the investment of buying the big game. Although, if you’re not into PnP, that might not work out for you

However, for me, I have to ask myself how much am I actually going to play a game. That’s where reason number two comes in. If I’m only going to play a game once or twice a year, making the Project Shrinko version makes a lot more sense from both a storage and money standpoint.

Frankly, I realized I was sold on this idea a while back. I don’t have either Elfenland or Tigris and Euphrates but I do own King of the Elves and Euphrates and Tigris: Clash Of Kings. (Them be the card versions of those games) Years will go by without me playing them but this way I can get a taste of classic games while minimizing my storage space. I have just enough for my needs.

A couple years ago, I heard a discussion about Kickstarter stretch goals on a Dice Tower podcast, that you could spend a lot of money to get a lot of extra stuff but it was only worth it if you actually played the game enough that you used it all. And that’s so true. Back in the day, my group got most of the Dominion expansions and it was totally worth it since we played it all the time. Other games with expansions... not so much.

So making a stripped down, smaller version of a game might actually give me all I’d end up playing anyway

I don’t know what l will end up making but I have a feeling that when I start planning for the fall and winter crafting, Project Shrinko will be part of my consideration.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Aug 13, 2019 3:23 pm
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Very random jottings about game selection

Lowell Kempf
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I recently pondered what I would pack if I was going to game with a group that I had barely played with. (Hey, it could happen!)

My small bag list ended up being Take It Easy, TransAmerica and For Sale. I could potentially make endless permutations of games like them but those were my initial, gut-level choices. They are all games with simple rule sets that are easy to teach. At the same time, they are also meaty enough to feel like a ‘real’ game and not just fluff (Your mileage may vary. I’ve met folks who consider Puerto Rico a filler but I also think they were posers) Finally, they are all games that I’ve been playing for years with a wide variety of players and people have always loved them.

You know, the next time I go to an event, that might be what I’d put in my bag. Heck, For Sale is already the game that I always make sure to pack.

Basically, I have shifted out of the Cult of the New and gone to the Cult of the Tried and True

And I tell myself that I would be happy finding a group that I could get together with once a month and play For Sale or Ticket to Ride but I know I would end up ramping it up, just like I’ve done in the past. If left to my own devices and without any judgement, I end up bringing a different batch of games every time. Just I’ve done every other time So if I find this imaginary group, I want to avoid that.

But one designer who I find myself thinking that, if I had a regular group, that I would really want to break out is Michael Schacht. (Knizia is good too but he’s more of a lifestyle) So many Schacht staples are great games that work on a work night.

Zooleretto, Hansa, China (I don’t have Web of Power), Paris Paris, Patrician, California, all are games that take less than an hour to play and I have consistently had fun with all of them for years. (I should look into what he’s done in the last five, ten years )

What all this tells me, beyond I’d like to find a gaming group, is that here’s something to be said for games that hold up over years of play.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Aug 6, 2019 2:16 am
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So what’s an abstract anyway?

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. Since I am in an abstract set of mind, on to the next topic I’m musing. What actually is an abstract?

When I first started being interested in abstract games, I had a brutally strict definition. A two-player, perfect information game that has no random elements.

Almost immediately, that definition ran into problems. Stratego, for instance, has hidden information. And a game like Blokus can play up to four players. Okay, so we are going to take away perfect information and no random elements and using Total Determination with no player count. That should take care of it.

Then I saw people writing about how games like Ingenious and Qwirkle are abstracts because they have no theme. But wait! You draw a random hand of tiles! It has a definite random element! But having no theme trumps that? Is the definition of abstract just mean no theme?

Okay. I see the reasoning behind that argument. I mean, that is kind of the actual definition of abstract. But that means that Poker and Rummy are abstracts and, while that can be argued, that’s not really the way that anyone’s mind works.

We have reached the point where I’m saying ‘I don’t know what an abstract is but I know one when I see one’ And really, every game has some element of abstraction going on. So, it’s more of a degree than a binary yes-no.

The game that actually really got me thinking about this is Hey, That’s My Fish. It does have a random setup but after that, it’s perfect information all the way. And it has cute little penguins and fish but those could be replaced by plain pawns and numbers. It doesn’t fit the pure definition I had at the beginning but I don’t think anyone would argue it’s an abstract.

So what have we learned? That vague and arbitrarily definitions lead to nebulous answers. Plus, abstracts apparently require a board or other surface space, have either no or minimal theme, and favor choices over luck.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jul 16, 2019 3:46 pm
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First game purchases of 2019

Lowell Kempf
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We made out first game purchases for 2019, not counting thrift purchases and PnP files. In past years, I’ve tried to not buy any games. I didn’t make that pledge this year but I still try not to buy much since I have a closet full of games, even after heavy purging.

We bought one of the Gigamic editions of Difference for our five-year-old and a copy of Kingdomino for ourselves.

Many years ago, I bought a ding-and-dent copy of the Z-Man of Difference and I still like the idea. Take a picture and make one change for each card, so every two cards have two differences. Simple but effective.

I like the Gigamic edition much more. The cards are more than twice as big and the artwork(which is different) is much sharper. The Z-Man edition had 27 cards with two images. The Gigamic has 50 cards with four images. It’s just better in every way.

Kingdomino is a game I’ve been on the cusp of getting for a while. Truth to tell, I’ve been hoping I’d find a thrift copy but I decided to take the plunge. I don’t know for sure yet but I think it has the potential to be _the_ game for work nights after the kiddo is asleep.

So, fairly quiet as far as purchases go. Instead of going wild, we made careful choices that should serve us well.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Jul 11, 2019 5:05 am
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A literal second look at King of Tokyo

Lowell Kempf
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The first time I played King of Tokyo was a two-player game in January, 2013. The second time was a five-player game in June, 2019. Yeah, those were two very different experiences. And, to no one’s surprise, the five-player game was the much better experience.

Calling King of Tokyo Yahtzee with giant monsters is a fair description but it is more than Yahtzee with some giant monster pictures added. Very importantly, you get to beat each other up!

This was the first time I got to try the Power Up expansion, which I liked. I liked the original power cards (random but goofy fun) and the expansion gives you another, even more thematic way to get them.

Years ago, a friend said King of Tokyo was what Monsters Menace America should have been. When I pointed out they were not even remotely alike apart from being about giant monsters, he said he really meant that he’d rather play King of Tokyo. Which I can understand. I do like Monsters Menace America but King of a Tokyo is a lot more accessible and I can see it being a lot easier to get on the table.

And not only have I not played King of New York, I’m not sure if I want to. Part of the appeal of King of Tokyo is how simple it really is. I’m not sure if making it more complex is a selling point. If I want a more complex dice game, I have Alea Iacta Est or Kingsburg or To Court the King or others. Just like I don’t want to try any of the later versions of Tsuro. The simplicity is part of the selling point.

King of Tokyo remains a game that I don’t mind playing but wouldn’t particularly seek out and would only buy if our son ended up really liking it. It’s two main selling points for me are simplicity and going all in its goofy theme.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 8, 2019 6:13 pm
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Alas, some abstracts just aren’t going to convert non-lovers

Lowell Kempf
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I have been spending perhaps an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on abstracts and abstracts I that folks who get hives from abstracts will still enjoy. Well, at least in my own arrogant opinion. Nine times out of ten, my reasoning probably breaks down to ‘I like it so you should too!’

However, there are some abstracts that I like that I’m absolutely convinced that only abstract lovers would enjoy. None of ‘Hive is the abstract for abstract haters’. Some games are ‘you don’t like abstracts? Yeah, you won’t like this’.

There doesn’t seem to be a formula to this. If simple and accessible were what it takes, Edward de Bono’s L-Game would be the gift for converting folks to abstracts. Each player gets one piece and there are two neutral pieces. Block your opponent from making a move and you get to win. But the game is so dry with the potential for the endless stalemates, I consider it more of an intellectual exercise in minimalism than a game.

Amazons, on the other hand, is a game that I think is cracking good. (I don’t actually know where that phrase comes from. I just stole the adverb from Bertie Wooster.) You move your queens on a ten by ten board, blocking off squares with every move. The board grows smaller and smaller and if you can’t move, the other guy wins.

Amazons is a head cracker of a game and a really smart design. But it seems to be only the darling of abstract lovers. I can’t put my finger on exactly why I know but I can’t see myself trying to convert someone to abstract games with Amazons.

(Okay, maybe the fact that it is such a brain burner is a reason)

Then, there is the likes of games like Alfred’s Wyke, which is a weird abstract lover’s weird abstract. You either remove or add tiles in order to control a grid and there are five different types of moves. And you can’t use a move that’s been used in the last two turns.

Honestly, I have never found a game even remotely like it. It’s never been published outside of a magazine article and the website Super Duper Games has probably given it any exposure it’s had. It’s brilliant and almost unheard of and just plain weird. This is a game I’d struggle to get other abstract lovers to like.

A lot of the abstracts I’m interested in are games that I think folks who aren’t into abstracts can still enjoy. I’m an Everyman of abstracts for the most part. But apparently there are some exceptions.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 1, 2019 4:50 pm
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My June PnP

Lowell Kempf
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June has passed us by. As I knew, June was not going to be much of a Print and Play month for me. In addition to summer starting, it was also the month that we took our vacation.

I just made one project last month but it was a ‘full-sized’ game, Red7. I actually made more sheets of components by making this one game than I made in January.

I actually printed out the sheets when they first became available. However, at that time, my PnP experience was so limited that I was scared I would ruin them and color printing doesn’t grow on trees. But I have been working on actually getting some of my ‘someday’ printing become ‘today’ games. I’ve also been working on trying to regularly make games that are more than nine or eighteen cards.

With Red7, I did both.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 1, 2019 8:10 am
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Looking back at Hive and Blokus

Lowell Kempf
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When contemplating modern abstracts, two games that were huge for me and games I’m no longer that interested in are Hive and Blokus. Both of which I consider to be poster children for “You don’t like abstracts? Try this one’

Mind you, I still think both games are top notch and, more than that, still very important. Hive continues to be held up as the game that people who hate abstracts love. Blokus has had and I’m pretty sure continues to have mainstream success. I think they’ll both be around and getting played twenty years from now.

Hive faded for me because the folks I regularly play with are meh about it and prefer other light abstracts. I’d certainly play it again and it’s not leaving my collection. And it is definitely a modern classic.

As a rule, I’m more of a fan of putting stones on a board than moving stones around the board. However, Hive does both. It isn’t the only build-the-board-as-go game but it is the best I’ve seen. Tile Chess seems to force the game to fit that idea while it feels organic and intuitive in Hive.

On the other hand, Blokus has left my collection. I do think it’s a very good design and an abstract that works brilliantly for four players, which isn’t the usual count for a perfect information abstract. However, I found meh as a two-player (at least once a game, it seemed like someone would forget which color they were on) and it’s downright dreadful as a three-player game.

To be fair, Blokus Dual and Blokus Trigon are what have replaced it. So, it’s not like I went that far away. However, Blokus Dual is so much stronger as a two-player game and Trigon is great at both four-player and three-player. To be even more fair, neither of those two games I like more would exist if it wasn’t for the original Blokus!

(Note number one: Blokus 3D started out life as Rumis and really isn’t part of the same design process. I do like Rumis quite a bit, though)

(Point number two, in case anyone is wondering about Cathedral, I’ve never been able to get into it. Which is odd since it really seems right up my alley)

While my interest in both these games has faded (although I can see Hive getting rekindled), they both were big deals for me in the past. And I think they are still big deals for abstracts and the hobby.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:32 pm
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Thoughts on abstracts you can get in while adulting

Lowell Kempf
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I wanted to write about abstracts that I like since being an adult doesn’t give me the time to pursue Go. (To be fair, having hobbies other than Go also didn’t give me time to pursue Go) Games that I think would click with folks who don’t normally play abstracts. But when the list hit the double digits, I realized I was never going to come to an end.

I did notice two things about the games I was choosing. They had short playing times, really under a half an hour as a rule. Second, each move tended to be dynamic and really change the board.

As a comparison, take Checkers. Someone much smarter than me once said that a game of Checkers is slowly working your way to making one big move. I think Checkers is a brilliant game and there’s a reason it has stuck around for centuries. But I don’t enjoy it. Even more so than Chess or Go which I can break down into individual pieces, Checkers is one big picture with lots of tiny pieces that I can’t hold together in my head.

Is Checkers a good game and one with a surprising amount of depth? Yes, particularly when you actually use the the rule that if you can capture, you must capture. But it is not a game I really like or have time to understand. If I had that time, I’d spend it on Go.

In contrast, I’ll use Pentago as a counter example. As a Tic Tac Toe variant, it’s one of the simpler abstracts I enjoy and it takes probably five minutes to play. Place a stone and turn one of the quadrants. Have five stones in a row at the end of your turn and you win.

In Pentago, every move has a dramatic effect on the board, particularly seeing as how you are actually moving the board itself. The board is small enough that the patterns you form aren’t overwhelming. At the same time, there are enough options that the game isn’t a simple formula like actual Tic Tac Toe. It does make your brain work.

Pentago isn’t my favorite abstract (although I’d always be willing to play) but it is one that feels like a classic abstract while still having modern innovation. It exemplifies what I’ve found I’m looking for in an abstract. And it’s one I can get other folks to play.

I know that pure abstracts aren’t for everyone. But I think that there are games out there that are accessible and fun for a large audience. And I love Go but I don’t have the time for it. But there are abstract games that I do have time for. And there are games where those two things come together.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jun 25, 2019 2:23 pm
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Adulting made Go too hard for me :’(

Lowell Kempf
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Go was a huge milestone for me. Not only is it one of the most genuinely brilliant games ever created and incredible training for your brain, one of my major gaming groups started out as a Go group before becoming a more general gaming group. (My decision to bring Blokus Trigon so we could have a three-player game had a lot to do with that transition)

And I haven’t played Go in years and I don’t see that changing any time in the near future. And that’s because GO IS _HARD_

Seriously, a good game of Go is something that you should set aside an afternoon for and try not to go in with your head cluttered by other stuff like responsibilities and exhaustion. Adulting makes Go more difficult!

I realize that if I had played Go long enough and with enough dedication, I’d have started to have some understanding of Joseki, which might have helped some of the strain of play. Joseki are patterns that are considered optimal for both sides. In other words, Joseki can help you with the minutia and focus on what really are the critical moves.

I view Joseki as understanding the game to a subconscious level, although I know that’s not what it really means or is. But being able to use Joseki denotes a deeper understanding of Go, one that I’m in no danger of reaching.

Instead, my abstract journey has led me to more short-form abstracts. My mind still craves patterns and decisions. Just ones that can fit in adult life.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jun 25, 2019 3:18 am
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