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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Getting reminded how far PnP has come

Lowell Kempf
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I recently tried out an PnP game called Lost Artifact, which I found going through the entries for the 2018 Solitaire Contest. I played it five or six time in a row and found it pretty much a null experience. It wasn’t even a bad experience. I wasn’t offended by the game but I basically got nothing out of it.

This isn’t a review and, in fact, I’m not sure I’d have anything to say about the experience if it was for my experiences with Bandido Covid-19 and Nytelyfe Solitaire earlier in May. Our son had a lot of fun with Bandido and Nytelyfe Solitaire was surprisingly engaging. I wouldn’t describe either of those games as the high end of my PnP experiences and they were worth making and playing.

But even five years ago, I’d have been more impressed by Lost Artifact. Even ignoring PnP projects that are offered by publishers as either demos or products you pay for, the last few years have raised the bar for PnP projects, as well as my expectations for them. I will honestly argue that you could have a functional and enjoyable game collection through nothing but PnP.

That said, I am not bashing Pasko Zhelev and his Lost Artifact. Dude, you set out some specific design goals of making a simple, accessible game that would be easy to craft and you succeeded. That’s no small thing. I have a similar attitude towards Alex Kremer. I don’t honestly want to play his games now but he put out a lot of content back before it was cool. And that is cool.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue May 19, 2020 7:34 pm
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Bandido proves a good game for lockdown

Lowell Kempf
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I had no interest in Bandido until the free, Covid-19 version was offered as a PnP for folks stuck in lockdown. You know, a whole lot of people right now.

Bandido is a very simple cooperative tile-laying game with every tile showing tunnel paths. The game begins with the bandido tile as the starter tile with eight tunnels leaving it. Everyone has a hand of three tiles and you are trying to lay down tiles to block the bandido from escaping with loops and dead-ends so that the whole tunnel system is closed.

The PnP retheme has half the cards of the original version and is themed around Covid-19 prevention. Instead of a bandido, the start tile has the corona virus and the dead ends are healthy habits like washing your hands and social distancing.

While Bandido reminds me of a _lot_ of different tile-laying games, the game it really makes me think of is a very simplified Ambagibus. And Ambagibus is already a really simple game so that’s saying something. I am pretty sure that Bandido, with the half-size deck of the PnP version, is more difficult than Ambagibus because fewer cards makes luck of the draw stronger. (I wonder if making two sets and combining them would offset luck of the draw.)

But here’s the kicker. Our six-year-old does enjoy occasionally playing Ambagibus but find the placement restrictions annoying. So I thought that Bandido would be a good fit, particularly with a Covid-19 awareness theme. That was enough to make me make it.

I tried it out as a solitaire first and found it to be about what I expected. A very simple tile-laying game that really didn’t have much to set it apart from any of the many tile-laying games I’ve played.

However, when I showed it to our son, he was quickly interested. Thanks to his interest in Ambagibus, he already knew how to play and he wanted to identify and discuss the healthy habits. We played three or four times in a row, counting him eventually going through the deck to find the perfect card.

Earlier in May, I tried out My Little Castle, another very light PnP tile-laying game and found it meh. Almost all of my criticisms of My Little Castle apply to Bandido. Neither game has anything that really makes it sparkle or stand out as a game. However, between healthy habit theme and ease of accessibility, Bandido Covid-19 really worked for us as a family game. I wouldn’t suggest it for gamers but I’ve already recommended it to friends with small kids.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri May 15, 2020 6:59 pm
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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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Very early impressions of Nytelyfe Solitaire

Lowell Kempf
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I don’t know what to think of Nytelyfe Solitaire. It is currently free from PnP Arcade so I picked it up and tried it out. Technically, it is a PnP game since there are five placeholder cards (which I did print out and laminate) but it’s almost entirely a game that uses regular cards. I could have just scribbled the names on five scraps of paper.

I honestly haven’t tried as many games that use a regular deck of cards as I probably should have. I do view them as a subcategory of PnP, particularly in the case of games like Nytelyfe Solitaire that, while 100% abstract, still have a theme and rules that reflect that theme.

In Nytelyfe Solitaire, you are trying to survive the night in Las Vegas, dealing with high stake games and high-end clubs and vampires. Okay, what was the last one? Part of me wonders if the Vampire column was originally something a bit more mundane.

Here’s the gist of the game: there are five areas that will become columns of cards as the game goes on. Each turn, you draw five cards without looking at them and, one at a time, reveal and place them in each area. Each area has a different set of rules and may cause cards to be flipped over. The game ends when you have a certain number of cards face down (depending on the difficulty you choose) or you run through the deck. You score points based on the number of face-up cards in the You and Diamond Club columns with twenty being a perfect score.

I haven’t played the game enough to figure out how much real decision making power you really have. Luck obviously plays a part and a bad turn can really affect your end score. (For instance, the Diamond Club will only score diamond cards so drawing five diamonds in a turn will cost you four points) But I also think that between card counting and a general understanding of probability, there will he room for good play. I think you have some control.

I also like that it does have a theme and creates a story. That adds a lot to my enjoyment and interest in playing the game. The theme is why I keep playing The Shooting Party and I’m pretty sure Nytelyfe Solitaire is a better game than The Shooting Party. I don’t think it’s as good as The Bogey (or Lamarkian Poker for non-solitaire play) but it’s promising.

I don’t yet know if Nytelyfe Solitaire has the legs for a lot of replay but it was a fun surprise.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri May 8, 2020 9:16 pm
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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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Tiny bits of tweaking can make a difference

Lowell Kempf
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I recently picked up the second version of Paper Pinball: Laser Sisters. Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure for me. I think that Robin Gibson made a better series of games with the Legends of Dsyx and I also think that they are very swingy. However, the Paper Pinball games are very easy to get in a play when I just have a couple minutes. So they get in a decent amount of play.

Out of the three Paper Pinball tables I first tried out (Wolf Hackers, Laser Sisters and Sherwood 2146), Laser Sisters was my least favorite by far. And for a very simple reason. I didn’t like the implementation of the slingshot mechanic.

Every Paper Pinball table I’ve seen (and I’m assuming all the ones I haven’t) have their own little twist that keeps them from being the same thing over and over again with different art. In the case of Laser Sisters, it’s slingshots, which you check off to use each dice as its own value as opposed to adding the two dice together.

The problem I had was with the value of the section called Targets. You cross them off with a specific value. On the original Laser Sisters, the values were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Filling those out meant heavily leaving on the limited uses of the slingshot and the 1 Target absolutely requiring it. So, instead of the slingshot mechanic increasing my choices, it was actually more limited.

In the second edition, the Target numbers are now 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 12. The one is gone and only half of them need slingshots. So I can now use slingshots for other things, like ramps.

It’s still super random and swingy but this change makes one of the tools the table has more flexible. I’m kind of curious to see what the second edition of Sherwood 2146 looks like.

The point of all this isn’t that I like a tiny change in a game that is super casual. Frankly, I have a literal binder full of quick little Roll and Writes that I have fun with. One more or less isn’t a big deal.

What is the real point of me writing all this is that little changes can make big changes in a game experience. (Game balance as well but that can be harder to judge.) A side effect of looking at a lot of Print and Play files is you get to see a lot of prototypes. So you get to stages of development.

Sometimes, the difference between a good experience and a bad one is the the tiniest details.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Apr 10, 2020 5:29 pm
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A couple of handy PnP sites for folks under lockdown

Lowell Kempf
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I have already written about a few games that, particularly if you are new to Print and Play, are worth making of you are under lockdown and can’t get out to game. Next, I want to write about a couple of web sites where you can find some nice print and play files.

Just like before, these are not the only place where you can find files but I really like these ones.

PnP Arcade is the big one for me. Like the name implies, it’s a one-stop shopping grind for a lot of different kinds of PnP games. (Not war games, though. I’m not really into war games but I know there are sites like Wargame Vault out there) Jason Tagmire of Buttonshy Games helped create the site and I’ve been making PnP Buttonshy games for years.

In addition to games from Buttonshy, PnP Arcade has stuff from other publishers who do a lot of PnP. Jellybean, Good Little Games, Grey Gnome and Heavy Metal Snail are all companies I used to check regularly and I can now find out users they are up to through PnP Arcade.

PnP Arcade is chock full of free games so you can test the waters without having to pay anything. Although, if you’re like me, you will eventually spend some money there.

https://www.pnparcade.com/

The other site I want to mention is Cheapass Games. For years, they have had free games on their site, including some really good games like Button Men, Agora, Lightspeed and Kill Doctor Lucky. However, when they were promoting the retrospective ‘Cheapass Games in Black and White’, they added a proverbial ton of their older games.

(And, at least for a little bit, Greater Than Games is offering the digital version of that book for free)

What is great about the Cheapass Collection, from a lockdown/limited resource standpoint, is that most of them are black and white, as well as ink light. And some of them just involve making a board. The old Cheapass mantra of using dice and cards and pawns from other games has a whole new life under these circumstances.

Cheapass, particularly in their early days, made some pretty kooky games and not all of them hold up. But they can be a lot of fun and there are enough gems to make the site worth exploring.

https://cheapass.com/free-games/

As I’ve already written, there are actually a _lot_ of places to look for PnP tiles, free and otherwise. Boardgame Geek is probably the biggest single site, in actuality. And PnP Arcade and Cheapass Games do lean on the casual game side of things. But I still think they are great resources. And, if you are only just now exploring PnP as a gaming option, I think they are even better.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 6, 2020 7:23 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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My March PnP

Lowell Kempf
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March has been a month. Looking at this list, it’s hard for me to believe that it was only four weeks ago I made some of these. Since then, we have started homeschooling and been on lockdown due to the Coronavirus. There have been some times when print and play has helped keep me relatively sane.

This is what I’ve made:

Autumn Tree (2018 R&W Jam)
Autumn Leaves (2018 R&W Jam)
Wolfe & Co
Raging Bulls
White Chapel Cultist (2019 R&W contest)
Robots of Eternity (2019 One Page Contest)
Wurfel Bingo
My Little Castle
Stand Up Bakery (prototype 2020 9-Card Contest)
Roll Estate
Night Class part 1
Spellcraft Academy (Legends of Dsyx)
Arabica (2017 GenCan’t Contest)
Captain’s Curse (2017 GenCan’t Contest)
Halloween Movie Marathon (2018 R&W Jam)
Brad Nordeng’s Hepthalon (2019 R&W Contest)

I am still making a ‘big’ project each month. This month was Wolfe & Co. I have no idea when I printed it out but I decided it was time to make it, even though I’m now focused on solitaire games.

However, I spent a lot of little moments, laminating Roll and Writes. Since I’ve had to become a home school teacher, I have a lot less free time but I have time for that. And being able to do that has been calming and satisfying. And I have found that if I only had a little time for games, Roll and Write are the easiest games to get in.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Apr 1, 2020 6:10 pm
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Okay, let’s try sneaking gaming into education again

Lowell Kempf
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The dream of all gamer parents is using games as educational tools. Of course, kids being kids, this usually turns out to be a pipe dream but I am still clinging to my copies of 10 Days for dear life

With homeschooling currently a part of our daily lives, trying to find educational games that actually work has become more important. Of course, there’s less time for looking for such games since that’s how the world works.

My next project along those lines is FourSight Word Game. I learned that the publishers were at least temporarily allowing it to be downloaded as a print and play so I downloaded it. The next step is is to actually make it. I’m hoping to do that this weekend.

It is made up of two types of tiles: tiles with three-letter words and tiles with one letter. The actual game is a speed game where you are trying to make four-letter words as fast as you can. Which sounds so much worse when I actually type it out.

But I’m not actually planning on playing by the actual rules with our six-year-old. That would just frustrate him to no end, seeing is how he is still learning to read. Instead, I want to have all the single letters out and available and flip over the three-letter words and explore how he can expand them.

I’m still not expecting him to be into it but I think it’s worth trying.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Mar 26, 2020 9:59 pm
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