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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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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Winner’s Circle is always a winner to me

Lowell Kempf
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Reiner Knizia’s Winner’s Circle is one of those games that I have not played nearly enough. It’s also a game that I don’t see ever leaving my collection. On top of that, it’s a game that has never disappointed any table I’ve had it at.

One look at the cover will make it clear that Winner’s Circle is about spaceships doing battle. No, no I lie and lie badly. It’s about horse racing.

Just like in real life, you are betting on horses. And in Winner’s Circle, each horse is unique and distinct, just like each Doctor on Doctor Who. Each horse has a value in four different symbols. That’s how far it’ll run when you roll that symbol on the die (which is horse head, horse head, horse head, horse shoe, saddlebag and jockey hat) And every horse is different with some pretty steady and some clearly designed for that long-shot chance. (Oh, and there are more than enough different horse tiles for multiple races. Twenty-eight In fact. You get variety in your line up)

Okay. Here’s the even more clever bit. On your turn, you roll the die THEN choose which horse your going to move, flipping over its tile. All the tiles have to be flipped before they flip back over so the favored can’t be picked over and over again in a row.

At the end of each race, the first three horses pay out and the last horse loses money. But, the payouts are based on the number of betters. So you win less money for betting on a favorite and a long shot can really pay off.

All right. I have a confession to make. I have more fun with Winner’s Circle than Colossal Arena, which is arguably Knizia’s classic betting game. Winner’s Circle is just more streamlined so I can focus on having a good time. Colossal Arena is amazing but it’s a lot less casual.

And Winner’s Circle is a great game for casual gamers or family gamers. It takes that old and much-mocked mechanic, Roll-and-Move and turns it on its head. It’s so easy to explain but Knizia uses it to offer honestly interesting choices.

And since anyone can move any horse, which can mean staying stock still, everyone is invested in every turn. Cheers and profanity are part and parcel of having Winner’s Circle on the table.

There Is the absolute top tier of Knizia’s ludography. Games like Ra or Tigris and Euphrates that are like the Gods of Olympus that will be played until the sun becomes a dwarf star. But, man, he’s got so many games in the second tier and those games are any designer would be proud to have created. His second tier games are still rock star.

Winner’s Circle or Royal Turf is definitely one of those games. It’s a family weight game that is easy to understand and explain and play under an hour but is just so much fun!

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jun 19, 2019 4:50 pm
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How I learned to love Friday

Lowell Kempf
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One of my failures as a casual solitaire gamer is that I had never really gotten into Friedemann Friese’s Friday, not even enough to decide if I didn’t like it. I’d have to say that since it’s been around long enough and remained in print long enough to count as a standby/beloved classic of the genre.

Don’t get me wrong. I had played it. I even bought when it first came out and still own it. But I never played it enough to really get how it worked, not enough to grok it.

So I knew getting it as app would let me play it over and over enough to actually get an idea of it really works. So I did that. (Some games, particularly solitaire card games that require lots of shuffling, are more fun for me on devices)

Okay, now I’ve finally played Friday enough to grok how it works and I like it.

Elevator pitch: you are Friday, whose peaceful island has been accidentally invaded by Robinson Curroso who it turns out has the common sense of Bertie Wooster. You need to keep him alive and help him beat two pirates at the end so you can get him out of your hair and off the island.

Friday is a deck building game but it has a huge difference from just about every other deck builder I can think of. You don’t have a hand. Instead, you draw X number of cards per turn. (It’s more complicated than that but that’s the thumbnail of how it works)

One of the most important things I learned about making the game work is that you are managing two decks, not one. You need to not only manage your own deck but the hazard deck. Every card you don’t take will get cycled around.

The other thing I learned is that Friday makes trashing cards more important than any other deck builder I have ever played. AND IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT IN DECK BUILDERS! I REMEMBER WHEN THE CHAPEL WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT CARD IN DOMINION! But smart trashing of cards in Friday is absolutely essential. The game will beat you like Captain America beating a nameless Hydra mook if you don’t.

Friday, as I knew it would, joined my reliable collection of solitaire games that I play on a device but feel like I’m really playing a card/board game. Sometimes,’you don’t have the time or space to set up a physical game but, by golly, you have your phone.

Friday isn’t perfect. It can be formulaic but that’s kind of the case for just about any solitaire game. It is very engaging and fun and a game that I’m glad I took the time to figure out how to enjoy.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jun 17, 2019 4:52 pm
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Hoity Toity - so much more than Rock-Paper-Scissors

Lowell Kempf
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When I think of Rock-Paper-Scissors and board games, I think Hoity Toity (also known by a half dozen other names) by Klaus Teuber. It’s much more than R-P-S but that’s definitely something you’re going to reference when you teach the game. It’s also a reminder that Klaus Teuber can make some great games that don’t have anything to do with Catan.

Hoity Toity is about British nobles amassing collections of antiques for prestige and rubbing it in each other’s faces. As I’ve written before, it’s like a Wodehouse novel. And maybe an argument about why folks should eat the rich.

The core of the game is secret action selection. You can go to the auction hall or the castle. After you choose where you’re going, you choose what you’re going to do. In the auction hall, you can hope to buy one of the scarce antique cards or you can try and rob the till. At the castle, you can display a collection or steal from a collection or use a detective to catch a crook stealing from a collection.

(I find the scoring track very amusing. Not only does it track how far along you are but also how many spaces you can earn with your antique collections)

The end result of the Rock-Paper-Scissors/Hidden Action core of Hoity Toity creates a constant level of interaction that just keeps getting ratcheted up as the game goes on and the stakes keep getting higher. The game does a great job of keeping everyone involved and in everyone else’s business.

Hoity Toity is _far_ from the only game that uses hidden action selection but it does it very well. There’s definitely some meat behind your choices as you try to make a good antique collection and figure out what your opponents are trying to do. At the same time, it plays in less than an hour so it’s easy to get on the table.

While Catan is what set the world on fire, it didn’t come out of nowhere, either in the big picture of gaming or in Klaus Teuber’s designs. Not only did Hoity Toity win the Spiel de Jahres, I have been told it also attracted attention on this side of the Atlantic, back when German-style family games were practically unknown in the US.

Hoity Toity is an old game by modern standards, almost thirty years old. (Don’t look at me that way, Go. You’re forever young) But it holds up very well, particularly for its intended family audience.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Jun 8, 2019 12:34 am
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Cosmic Coasters - war, abstract, weird

Lowell Kempf
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I recently tried out a game that was nothing more than Rock-Paper-Scissors with a different theme. Which really wasn’t worth it. However, it got me thinking about how Rock-Paper-Scissors can be a good starting point.

No, I am not yet talking about Hoity Toity by Klaus Teuber. Which is an absolutely brilliant game and part of what makes it brilliant is the Rock-Paper-Scissors style of hidden decision. No, I’m thinking about Cosmic Coasters, which isn’t as brilliant as Hoity Toity but still takes Rock-Paper-Scissors to a higher level.

It’s Looney Labs game, which is how I ended up finding out about and getting it very early in my collecting. It’s closer to the Looney Pyramids end of spectrum than Fluxx. It’s an abstract war game that is printed on beer coasters. (You supply your own pieces. Glass beads seem to be a popular choice.)

It was actually one of the first games I wrote a review about : https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/74545/cosmic-coasters which also covers the rules pretty well.

Each coaster serves as a player’s board/base/planet/moon which is made up of different types of spaces, including the ability teleport your pieces to the other boards. You win by taking over an opponent’s board to the degree you can teleport a piece home.

It’s actually an oddly intricate game for an abstract that takes about ten minutes to play. You need to occupy three spaces to build a new piece and occupy three other spaces to teleport a piece in the middle and there are optional special powers.

When I think of abstracts, I tend to think of the Go model of simple rules with complex decision trees. Cosmic Coasters doesn’t fit that model very well It definitely has its own feel.

The Rock-Paper-Scissors combat where the defender winning just pushing the attacker back helps the game balance. A more straightforward capture-by-moving-onto-another-piece would lead to stalemates.

That said, Rock-Paper-Scissors, particularly over several rounds, isn’t a random system. It’s a psychological game. Which means Cosmic Coasters can tilt to one player’s advantage easily but not by chance.

As time has gone on, my interest in Cosmic Coasters has waned. Even in the Looney Lan catalog, there are better abstract war games like Sandships or World War III or Homeworlds. However, it is both a good use of Rock-Paper-Scissors and really distinct.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jun 4, 2019 7:05 pm
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