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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Deadeye Dinah - fussy but fascinating

Lowell Kempf
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The jury is still out for me as far as Deadeye Dinah is concerned but I definitely like the idea and many of the mechanics of the game.

Deadeye Dinah is one of the entries in the 2021 9-Card PnP Contest. It’s still being refined and I haven’t even tried out the most recent rules. I’ll probably double dip and write about the finished version at some point.

It’s a PnP, in-hand solitaire. You print it out and make the cards yourself; the deck stays in your hands the whole time; and it’s just you alone against the game. In this case, you are a bounty hunter in the Wild West, methodically hunting down eight different crime bosses.

The cards are multi-functional. Other than an aide card, each card can be a boss, two different flavors of action card or a scene you have to overcome. The game is a campaign, where you work your way up from cattle rustlers and whiskey peddlers to the ringleader.

In each hand/game, you are going after a specific boss. The boss card will tell you how to set up your opening hand. The fewer cards you have in your hand, the more scenes you have to deal with. You have to overcome a scene using your cards either as items or as bullets. As you go through the bosses, you will level up and get better special abilities. Defeat all eight bosses and you win the campaign.

Deadeye Dinah does have some issues. I’ve made it most of the way through the campaign and I’m still not sure I’ve been following all the rules correctly. The basic idea of the mechanics isn’t complex but you have to track of your special ability, the boss’s special ability, items’ special ability and the effect of cover (if you use it) Shootouts in particular become surprisingly intricate.

Of course, every scene being a puzzle that doesn’t necessarily have a obvious solution isn’t a bad thing. It does mean the game is more than fidgeting. However, I want to make sure that I’m not making a mistake when I figure out that opaque solution.

That said, I have played through most of a campaign so I am having fun with Deadeye Dinah. I do like that the game is played with just the cards fanned. Some in hand games involved holding the cards in convoluted ways. Deadeye Dinah being very functional is a big plus.

Deadeye Dinah is clever with well designed cards and integrated themes. However, it can be frustrating and fussy. I am curious to see what the end result will be.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Apr 24, 2021 1:59 am
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Alpakaland is as close to a sandbox R&W as I’ve seen

Lowell Kempf
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Alpakaland is a game about creating your very own Alpaca-themed amusement park. Which isn’t actually one of my personal dreams or even a sentence I thought I’d ever write. But I’ve written about Devil Bunny Needs A Ham so I’ve written weirder.

Alpakaland is one of those Roll and Write games where everyone has their own sheet and uses the same dice rolls. So it can be played solitaire or it can be played with as many people as you can cram in.

The core idea of the game is that you’re drawing a map on a grid. Which is a pretty common concept in Roll and Writes. However, you get a lot more free reign than in a lot of map drawing games I’ve played. There are six rounds and each round, a pool of six dice gets rolled and everyone gets to use those rolls.

You can spend pips to build roads or pen fencing. You can spend specific numbers and sums to build buildings that have to be specific shapes. You can spend dice to get alpacas or clowns. You can use dice to fill out an advertising track. And you can spend dice to increase the value of alpacas or buildings.

There are some placement restrictions (like, everything meets to be connected by one network of roads) but you can basically do whatever you want. The real restriction is that you have to pay for it. Calling Alpakaland a sandbox game is probably going too far but there are a lot of open-ended choices in the game. The dice determine how much you can do but I feel like the mistakes end up being your own.

And here’s where it’s good: you can whatever you want but you do not have the space or the dice to do everything you want. Your choices matter and they will affect what your final points are going to be. And I find it hard to believe that even a big group will end up with maps that look anything alike.

Alpakaland succeeds at being a game that is bigger than the dice and the piece of paper that make up it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 19, 2021 7:21 pm
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Mixture is a mixture of too much luck with lots of interesting ideas

Lowell Kempf
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Mixture is an odd ride.

Of the four Roll and Write games that Radoslaw Ignatov released early from his Kickstarter (we have them all now, thanks!), I feel like it is both the weakest and most interesting.

On the one hand, I think it is the most luck-based and feels like it has the most restrained choices. On the other hand, the structure of the game feels the most unique to me.

In Mixture, you are an alchemist working on their final exam by mixing up different concoctions. Each turn, you get three different ingredients that you have to add to a lattice that represents either an alchemy recipe book or a laboratory.

And here’s what I find different and interesting. It’s really a sliding puzzle game. You’re sliding ingredients into a grid that looks a crossword puzzle. You can’t jump over already placed ingredients or contaminated spaces so you have to do your best to plan ahead. (And, no, you’re not actually sliding anything. You’re rolling up symbols and crossing them off on the board) Your goal is to complete lines of symbols.

But... each turn you just roll one die. As a general rule of thumb, a Roll and Write built around single, unmodified die roll raises questions for me. It creates an environment that is very swingy. Of course, anytime you are rolling dice, luck is going to play a part. But with only one die, lick it gets a lot more control. Even two dice is a significant improvement. (That’s why Can’t Stop works) The only one die R&W that I really recommend is 13 Sheep and that works because the game is so slight.

Now, that die in Mixture gives you a choice of two different sets of three symbols and if you roll the same number three times, you can add one to get two different sets to work with. And there are a couple special actions and bonus symbols. So, you have options. There are definitely choices. But, compared to any other game I’ve looked at by Ignatov, Mixture feels the most constrained. Alpakaland, in comparison, feels like a sandbox R&W.

Still, I haven’t seen a Roll and Write like Mixture. (If you have, I’d love to heard about it) It’s an interesting system. And there is a version that involves direct conflict. I’m really curious to see that because I think that could really elevate Mixture.

Even if it is the weakest game I end up playing from Ignatov, Mixture has been worth trying out.
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Fri Apr 16, 2021 11:00 pm
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No, I couldn’t resist the Citadels PnP

Lowell Kempf
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My ‘big’ PnP project for April was making the PnP demo of Citadels. (My basic criteria for being a big project is large enough that a publisher would actually print the game )

I have very mixed feelings about Citadels. It was a game I was introduced to very early in my journey with designer board games. And as a design, I think that it continues to hold up well.

BUT, every group I have played it with has had horrendous analysis paralysis. Games would go on for hours. And by hour three, Citadels just isn’t fun. I am jealous of folks who talk about playing it in forty-five minutes. Witch’s Brew and Broom Service were close enough to the Citadels experience that I sold Citadels without regret.

But when Asmodee released a bunch of PnP demos for community Covid support, I couldn’t help but note that their demo of Citadels was very close to the original version of the game, the version I’d been introduced to. Instead of being just enough to get an idea of how to play, the demo was enough to play the actual game.

And despite my negative experiences with the game, that was too much to pass up. Honestly, I’ve made much worse games in my PnP crafting. Even if Citadels isn’t one of my favorites, it has remained in print for a reason.

I don’t know if I’ll actually play the copy I’ve made but I do know it’s as much Citadels as I need.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Apr 14, 2021 8:23 pm
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Some Kind of Genius starts my Ignatow journey

Lowell Kempf
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Some Kind of Genius is the first of Radoslaw Ignatow’s designs that I’ve tried (and that was because he released early as a bonus to his Kickstarter backers) Compared to the other designs he’s released since then, it is the most ‘boring’ design of his that I’ve seen.

Of course, boring in this case means using a mechanic I’ve seen before. At its heart, Some Kind of Genius is a game where you roll some dice and check off boxes. But that’s how you could describe Qwixx or That’s Pretty Clever or Roll Through the Ages so it’s in the company of games that I play over and over again.

In theory, Some Kind of Genius is themed around exercising your brain (which I guess you do do) In practice, it’s a bunch of sets of boxes printed over a picture of a brain. Each set represents a brain cell and each hemisphere is a network of neurons connecting the cells.

There are three colors of cells (which come in color-blind friendly shapes, by the way) and they come in three different flavors. They are: cross off specific numbers; have the dice add up to a specific number; and complete a very simple mathematical equation. Trust me, it all makes a lot of sense as soon as you look at it.

You roll six dice and then use those rolls to fill in boxes. That’s going to happen seven times and that’s game. On top of filling in the cells, you can use dice to fill in straights for bonus points in specific colors. And you can spend dice to duplicate die rolls via neurons.

After the seven rounds, you figure out your points. There’s bonus points for earning very specific numbers of colors of cells. And if you go over, you don’t get those points. Whoever gets the most points, wins. Unless you’re playing solitaire, of course. Then you are the winner.

What is hilarious is that the easiest way to explain Some Kind of Genius is to just show someone the player sheet. It’s very intuitive.

What Some Kind of Genius has is a lot of choices, particularly for a game that takes up so little time and space. By the end of the game, you won’t even have filled in half the board. So you have to priotize and the decisions you make will impact your final score.

Basically what I’m saying is that Some Kind of Genius doesn’t reinvent the wheel or come up with a new wheel, it is a very solid wheel. I have had fun playing Some Kind of Genous and will play it some more.

I currently think that completing a straight for bonus points in a color is the strongest play. However, that does mean dedicating six dice to that and without having the neurons to help you manipulate those rolls. And if you don’t complete the straight, those rolls are worth nothing.

Some Kind of Genius is a good casual Roll and Write and makes me look forward to the rest of Ignatow’s designs.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 12, 2021 5:38 pm
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My March R&W

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Still not going to make this a regular thing. However, Roll and Writes are such a quick and easy way to get a new game fix

I’ve already written about how much I’ve enjoyed Yard Builder. I’ve kept playing it and kept enjoying it. The design space is just large enough to make the decision tree interesting.

A big part of game design and game experience is how much control you have and how it is limited. (And sometimes, in games like Go or Chess, the limiting factor is entirely your opponent) If you have total control, you aren’t playing a game. You’re doing a jigsaw puzzle. And with a solitaire Roll and Write, the dice are your limitation.

Yard Builder, with 3d20, offers me enough choices that I felt like I had some control but still had tough choices.

I also tried out a game I had overlooked from GenCan’t’s 2017 Roll and Write, Benny Sperling’s Wreck and Roll. It’s a game that seems to have been designed to fit on a business card. The theme of the game is destroying a city with a tank. In practice, you’re filling a grid. You also have special power tracks and a health track.

Honestly, it seems like just filling in the grid is the strongest strategy and just using the special power tracks to avoid taking damage. The minimal time/space/component aspect will let Wreck and Roll see some more play from me but I think there are better minimal Roll and Writes.

On the other hand, Some Kind of Genius from Radoslaw Ignatow exceeded my expectations. It was a bonus game he released early to backers of his R&W Kickstarter. And it makes me feel like backing it was a good call.

While the game is fundamentally about filling in boxes that are printed over an image of a brain, it does a good job forcing you to pick and choose your priorities. You can’t do everything . After more plays, I’ll have to write about it some more.

As ever, Roll and Writes continue to keep me amused with minimal moving parts.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Apr 2, 2021 3:24 pm
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My March PnP

Lowell Kempf
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I went into March with pretty low expectations for PnP crafting. My goal was pretty just to make one ‘larger’ project. However, I looked at some contests so I ended up being more active than I expected.

Here’s what I made:

Yard Builder
Choose Your Own Adventure: Danger House Demo
Button Men
9-Card Challenge (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Deadeye Dinah (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Simple Card (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Ping Ping Slam (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Some Kind of Genius?

My ‘big’ build for March was the Choose Your Own Adventure demo. Since I have happy memories of the books from my childhood, I’ve been curious about the games so the demo will let me try it out. I have a feeling the demo will be all I need but it was still worth making so I can see the system.

As I mentioned, I looked at some contests and that doesn’t happen without me printing out a few games. Unless I feel like I can give playtest feedback, I like to wait until the contest ready versions are done but I got impatient.

As I’ve mentioned before, Yard Builder has been my MVP of March. It’s just drawing some landscaping and not very challenging but it is downright therapeutic.

And I’m sure I will make more stuff in April.

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Apr 1, 2021 9:44 pm
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Yeah, this is an unpaid ad for a Kickstarter. Not going to lie about it.

Lowell Kempf
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It has been a while since I actually backed a Kickstarter project. However, Radow Ignatow’s A Lot of Games bundle managed to win me over.

And yes, it’s a Print and Play bundle. I’ve had enough issues with getting physical product actually shipped to me that I have resolved to only back Print and Plays. I figure I’m more likely to get the end product if the creators just need to send me an email.

And it’s a collection of one page Roll and Writes. Which admittedly means that it’s less physical content then a lot of Print and Play stuff I’ve backed. However, it does mean that it will be beyond easy to make and easier to convince other people to play since it’ll look close to what a published copy would look like. (I don’t make the prettiest PnP stuff)

In addition to being something that I’m into and the kind of stuff I’m already making (and playing), I’m encouraged by the fact that Ignatow already successfully ran this project in Polish. So both they and the project have a track record.

However, what was the real selling point for me was that each game is offered in full color, low color and black and white, as well as full page and half page. That says to me that Ignatow understands their audience.

Of course, the real real I’m blogging about this is because I’m hoping more people will get interested and the project will make more stretch goals

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/radek-ignatow/a-lot-of-...

Originally over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Mar 29, 2021 4:03 pm
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Foothold Enterprises is a hidden diamond in the rough

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I’ve finally gotten around to making and playing a copy of Foothold Enterprises. What I found was a game that was mechanically compelling enough that I want to keep playing but a seriously boring graphic design.

Okay. Here’s the info dump. Foothold Enterprises is a print-and-play, in-hand, solitaire game. That means you make it yourself, only one person can play at a time and you don’t need a table. Which are all things I’ve been exploring for the last couple years.

You are starting to get a startup company off the ground. You need clients, which are what the game calls points. In practice, it’s an auction game where you bid for advertising (special powers), clients (like I said, points) and money (the stuff you use to bid)

Every card has an ad power, a money value, a client number and the number of cards you flip if you want to bid for any of the three elements. If you want to bid on a card, you decide how much you are willing to bid, flip over the right number of cards and see if the cards add up to less than your bid. If they do, then you get the card.

A few clarifications. You track money with a money card and a paper clip. You get two bucks at the end of every turn so passing and getting money is important. And you don’t spend your bid if you bid for money since you’d never bid for money otherwise.

One of my favorite design choices is you use card positions to designate how cards are used. Client cards you win are turned upside down and put face up in the back of the deck. Ad powers are placed sideways. Every other card you use are face up and right side up in the back of the deck. It makes everything easy to track.

When I first played it, I said to myself ‘This is like the Zed Deck’, which was listed as an inspiration. So I got out the Zed Deck and played it again. And, no, it really isn’t like the Zed Deck. Other than being in-hand, they are different experiences. The Zed Deck is very encounter-based while Foothold is auction/money management. (I don’t consider trying not to lose all your health resource management )

I’m not going to lie. I really didn’t know how well Foothold Enterprises would work. It ended up actually being a lot of fun. To be fair, the auction mechanism is less an actual actual mechanic and more a push-your-luck mechanic. (And don’t give me the everything-is-a-push-your-luck-mechanic argument) Regardless, the gameplay has a good flow.

I did find that by being conservative when I went after a card and liberal about how much I bid, hitting the fifty client mark wasn’t hard. However, raising the benchmark made for a much more challenging game. Either way, I had fun.

The biggest ding I have for Foothold Enterprises is the terribly dry presentation. It was great for saving ink and the design wins points for being very functional. But the lack of art makes them dull enough that I have to think that contributes a lot to why no one seems to know the game. The Zed Deck, as a comparison, is much more visually interesting. Maybe a redesign where the cards look like business cards would solve the problem.

While Foothold Enterprises doesn’t knock down Palm Island from its spot as the best In-Hand game I’ve played, it’s still a game I enjoy playing and plan on keep playing.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Mar 22, 2021 8:05 pm
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Clockmaster makes drawing a clock face fun

Lowell Kempf
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Clockmaster is a game about drawing a clock face. As far as elevator pitches go, it leaves me cold (and I couldn’t wait to try Bohnanza sixteen years ago!) And yet, when I actually played the game, it had an immediate ‘let’s do that again’ effect.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2488929/wip-clockmaster-sol...

The whole thing, rules and all, fits on one sheet of paper, which is why I tried it in the first place. (It’s a PnP, R&W solitaire. No, jargon doesn’t get in the way of communication ) The actual play area consists of a blank clock face, a list of special actions and an hourglass with 24 circles.

You play with a pool of four dice. Roll all of them and then you assign two dice to the clock, one to action (which is different than special actions) and one to sand. An action die of 1-3 means you just use one of the clock dice while 4-6 means you use both.

You use the clock dice to fill in the numbers of the clock. If you’re using just one die, you write one of the numbers down in the right place. With two dice, you can add, subtract, multiply or divide the number. You can also use the turn to draw in the minute or hour hand regardless of what the dice say.

There are also four special actions. You can use each one once and you cross them out when you use them. The include things like rerolling a die or flipping a die.

You use the sand die to fill in that many circles in the hourglass. If you fill in the hour glass before you finish the clock face, you lose.

As I already mentioned, the theme doesn’t do much for me and I like games about bean farming or trading in the Mediterranean. However, there’s a lot of interesting dice manipulation for such a small space.

It’s not perfect. I find the most 1-3 action of just writing in a die’s number seems pretty dull compared to doing arithmetic with two dice. And, while the odds are against it, ‘bad’ die rolls can fill in the hourglass super fast and it takes fourteen turns to complete the clock face. It’s dice so it’s luck but it can still be annoying.

Apparently the designer is with me on the theme since they took the core mechanic and used it for a game about secret agents deactivating a bomb

Clockmaster isn’t my new favorite Roll and Write but it is a solid one-page work with more interesting choices than I expected. It went from ‘meh, it’s one page so I’ll try it’ to ‘oooh!’

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Mar 19, 2021 5:31 pm
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