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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Yard Builder - nothing new but also nothing stressful

Lowell Kempf
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Yard Builder is a roll-and-write where everyone draws a yard on their own player sheet from the same die rolls. It’s one of those games where the number of players is limited only by the number of player sheets and everyone’s ability to see the die rolls.

In Yard Builder, you are filling in a five-by-five grid with different landscaping elements. Paths, garden squares, house squares, etc. Someone rolls three twenty-sided dice. Then anyone can pick any of the three dice. There’s a handy table on one side of the player sheet that tells you what yard features the die rolls let you draw in. After the first square, you need to drawn in squares that are touching already drawn in squares (diagonals count) You get points for groups of like things and special unique features that get special scoring.

There is absolutely nothing new in Yard Builder. I’ve seen every element in it literally dozens of times. My files are full of games that use the Take It Easy ‘Bingo with Stategy’ system.

And I’m okay with that.

I tried out this game on a very Monday Monday and it really brightened my mood. Drawing in a yard just felt good. It’s just a very happy little game about landscaping.

The designer stated that the goal for the game was for it to be relaxing. They even included a variation where you ignore the placement restriction to make for an even more casual game. If a casual, no stress game that could by played via video conferencing was the mission statement, they succeeded.

Yard Builder isn’t a game that I’d recommend for a ‘serious’ gaming experience and there are a lot of serious gaming friends I won’t be recommend it to. However, I have already started recommending to non-gaming friends who I think would find it healing.

Originally drawn in at a relaxed pace at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Mar 12, 2021 4:40 pm
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My February R&W

Lowell Kempf
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Every solitaire game I taught myself how to play in February was a Roll and Write. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve done that but I feel like unpacking my thoughts about the experience this time.

Santa’s Sourhern Cross is a variation on tracing a pattern without lifting your pencil. The twist is that you randomly create the pattern on dots on a map of New Zealand. It ultimately is an exercise in creating a puzzle that doesn’t have a solution and it was very unsatisfying.

I am willing to try oddball experimental PnP games because that’s the best place to see concepts and ideas that you won’t see anywhere else. Its the legit punk world of gaming. But sometimes, that means playing something that doesn’t work on a fundamental level.

https://richdurham.itch.io/santas-southern-cross

On the other hand, that’s kind of what I expected when I tried out Clockmaster from the fifth Roll and Write contest. You use four dice to draw a clock face before you fill in the timer. Which sounds super dull but I found myself playing it four times in a row. There are some design choices I question but the game went from forgettable to justifying more discussion at a latter blog.

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

On the third hand, I went into Bargain Basement Bathysphere with high expectations and it hasn’t disappointed yet. I am going to get a lot of blogs out of it. I have looked ahead to chapter one but I’m trying not to spoil the game by reading through it.

One conclusion I’ve come to is that I need to stop trying to go to the end of the track every time since that kills me every time. I need to prioritize staying alive, particularly with the long game in mind.

I also want to mention my further play of Handful o Hazards. I had predicted that the second set of cards, which turn the game from random scenarios to a campaign game would dramatically improve it and I was right. It boosts the game from a cute little dice game (which is nice but easy to find) to something more interesting.

So much of my gaming time are tiny bits of free time as opposed to sitting down for a longer, more formal playing time. Hence all that little Roll and Writes. Print and Play is my hobby focus right now but I’m pretty sure it won’t always be. However, I have a feeling PnP R&Ws will remain a mainstay for me.

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Mar 3, 2021 1:58 am
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My February PnP

Lowell Kempf
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February is a short month to begin with and it ended up being a busy month as well. Which isn’t a bad thing but it meant that most of my crafting was just laminating Roll and Writes I wanted to try.

This is what I made:

Paper Pinball: Sherwood 2146 second edition
Paper Pinball: Chromastadon
Paper Pinball: Championship Boogerball
Paper Pinball: Wave Wizard
Santa’s Sourhern Cross
Rolling Realms v9
Foothold Enterprises

The only ‘big’ project was Foothold Enterprises. Although, as basically a full deck of cards, it’s definitely a step up from a micro game. And, as an in-hand solitaire, it should be easy to try out.

When I first started seriously crafting, I’d mark Roll and Writes that just involved laminating a sheet with an asterisk in my notes. They didn’t seem as ‘real’ to me. However, I’ve come to view the fun I get from a game as the final measure, not the crafting effort.

March looks to be busy as well, which is fine. If I only get an hour or so of crafting in, I’ll make it count.
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Mon Mar 1, 2021 2:06 pm
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There are some good free Roll and Writes that are good for kids

Lowell Kempf
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I was trying to write a blog about a game I tried called Santa’s Southern Cross when I realized that it all boiled down to I found it dull, I’d rather play Paper Pinball and the best use for it was to have a stack of play sheets at the kids table so the adults could finish Christmas dinner.

And then I realized that you can do a lot better if you want to keep the kids occupied with Roll and Writes, even if you don’t want to spend any money.

(I also realized that Paper Pinball is a threshold game for me)

Just off the top of my head, you could use Tanuki Matsuri or 13 Sheep or Canterpiller Feast. And if I spent twenty minutes going over my files, I’d probably come up with a dozen or so more.

What I realized you would need in my theoretical table of kids who’d rather play a Roll and Write than find fragile family heirlooms to destroy (hey, I was a kid once) are games that are thematic, accessible and actually fun. I quite enjoy abstracts but I think a theme is good for young minds to latch onto.

Tanuki Matsuri is a game where playful spirits collect fruit through theft. The cascading effects creates really fun gameplay. Canterpiller remains the closest thing I’ve found to The Very Hungry Caterpillar the Game I’ve found. And 13 Sheep is one of the only Roll and Wrotes I’ve found that just uses a single die and still works. Plus, cute sheep.

And all three of my examples are games you can teach in about three minutes.

Yes, I know if I actually brought a stack of Roll and Writes for the kiddies, the best I could hope for is then to become paper airplanes. But I could give kids quality games to ignore!
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Thu Feb 18, 2021 4:27 am
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Forest Guardians is a beautiful game about fighting to the death

Lowell Kempf
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In this particular case, I’m writing about Forest Guardians, the entry in last year’s nine card contest, not the tile-laying game about being a forest ranger in Taiwan. That does look like a nice family game, though.

In this Forest Guardians, you control a party of three mouse knights who are fighting five enemy cats. The game consists of nine cards and some way to keep track of health. (I used paper clips, which worked well)

Every single card in the game has a special power and most of the game is making the best use you can of your mice’s powers and trying to cope with the cats’ powers.

A key mechanic is what I think of as a doom clock (which doesn’t make any sense as a name but I’m using it anyway) Five of the cats (one is randomly left out of the game) are laid out in arc. Each mouse has an arc on their cards which shows which positions they attack (and for how much damage) and which positions attack them.

A skirmish solitaire game, you win if you kill all the enemy, even if you die in the process. (Yes, it’s quite possible)

Before I talk about the mechanics, I do want to mention the art. It’s gorgeous. Seriously, I have paid good money for games that didn’t have nearly as nice art.

I went into the game with lowish expectations. I figured that with a pool of six opponents, it would be easy to figure out a formula to win. However, the positions of the enemies makes such a huge difference that the game is much trickier than I thought.

And the enemy effects are rough. I’m not convinced that you can have an unwinnable layout but it may be possible. Regardless, you actually have to think when you play. It’s a much better puzzle than I expected and more thematic as well.

The decision tree is front loaded. The early moves, when all five enemies are alive and can cause you problems are where you make the crucial decisions. The later rounds are where you find out if those decisions will pan out. However, since the game is pretty short, I don’t view that as a problem. And the brevity makes playing another round both easy and enticing.

In short, Forest Guardians is good enough that I’m hoping it gets expanded.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2349088/contest-ready-fores...

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Feb 15, 2021 7:14 pm
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Assessing Asmodee’s freebies

Lowell Kempf
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In January, I went through Asmodee’s free PnP page again.

A lot of publishers offered a lot of free PnP stuff last year since so much of the world had to live in some level of lockdown. Asmodee is interesting because a) they have bought their way to a huge catalog of games and b) they showed a fascinating variety of ways of showcasing their ways.

Their demos range from just enough to get a taste of a game to expansions to pretty much the whole game. The fact that the latter existed at all was quite a surprise to me and what interested me the most.

On the lightest end of the spectrum, the demo for Rory’s Story Cubes amounted to a few worksheets. I guess the alternative would be having the faces as chits you pull out a cup. I can see the worksheet model working in a classroom (I like how they included a origami die so kids make their own story die) and it got me to dig my own set. (There are now _38_ Rory’s Story Cube products!? There’s an RPG?!)

On the other side of the spectrum, Amsodee is offering Pandemic: Hotzone - North America in its entirety. I hadn’t actually realized there was a published version (or did that come out after the PnP version?) It also looks like they have complete scenarios for their escape room system, Unlock. Since the one-use-only aspect of escape room board games doesn’t appeal to me, that might be the only way I’d play one.

The demos in the middle range from just enough to get a handle on the mechanics to as much as I’d realistically play. While the later editions have added a lot, the demo of Citadels is pretty close to the first edition. Which may be more than I need On the other hand, there are demos I want to try to see if I’d want the full game. Which is kind of their whole point, isn’t it?

Now, PnP Arcade remains my biggest resource for PnP projects. After all, that’s their job and I’m their demographic. I also recommend Cheapass Games PnP catalog before Asmodee since that includes a huge chunk of their library and you get the whole game. And it is ink friendly. (But I have most of their games back from the original print run ) HOWEVER, Amsodee’s site is still neat and it’s fun to sample stuff I’ve seen at the stores.

https://print-and-play.asmodee.fun/

Originally posted on www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Feb 8, 2021 9:53 pm
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Paper Pinball has become a guilty pleasure

Lowell Kempf
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My third go around with the Paper Pinball series from Metal Snail has let the series slide into becoming a guilty pleasure for me.

With that said, my earlier issues with the games still stand. They represent the lightest end of the Roll and Write spectrum. While the artwork reflects the theme, the mechanics really don’t. It is easy to choose what moves to make and I do feel that there is a dominant strategy. And, even by the standards of light roll and write games, luck can play an overwhelming part.

However, in the year since I first looked at the games, a number of things have caused me to reevaluate them.

The biggest one being quarantine and quarantine parenting. Over the last year, having a solitaire game that I can play in less than five minutes and then get back to adulting has been a very big deal. More than that, one that is analog, not digital, is quite nice.

I also have to note that my first exposure to Paper Pinball was to the three earliest boards that predated PnP Arcade. Later developed boards are, quite frankly, better. Better art, better balance and cuter little individual tweaks.

Finally, I have played so much worse light Roll and Write games as I’ve looked for mental coffee breaks over the last year

Now, I don’t think they are prefect. I think there are tons of deeper and more fascinating Roll and Write games out there. Metal Snail’s other Roll and Write line, the Legends of Dsyx, is more interesting in my arrogant opinion. And I think when I revisit Sid Sackson’s Solitaire Pinball or finally try WhizKids’ Super-Skill Pinball, I will find mechanics closer to a metal ball bouncing around a machine.

But, as I said at the start, Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure. It’s not perfect. There are plenty of flaws. But it does a good job amusing me. And that’s what a guilty pleasure should do.
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Fri Feb 5, 2021 10:21 pm
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My January PnP

Lowell Kempf
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January. The start of a new year. A new year of Print and Play crafting. So, what did I make?

Good Little Gardens
Maztec Duel
Castles of Burgundy the Dice Game
Artisans of the Taj Mahal
Forest Guardians (2020 9-Card Contest)
Sunrise in Moloka’i (2019 9-Card Contest)
Sabotage the Raj

I actually completed more projects than I planned to. I actually spent most of my crafting time doing prep work for games to make later down the line. I have a literal stack of projects one step from completion.

Last year was so very chaotic and stressful in many ways. Print and play was very helpful in keeping things together. Craft therapy. Finishing a project is fun and emotionally satisfying. I don’t know how 2021 will go so I want a big stock prepped in case I don’t have a lot of crafting time in the months to come.

Good Little Gardens was both my ‘big’ project for January and the first thing I made in 2021. While I am going to play it, I really wanted to make it so that my first project was a happy theme after what 2020 was like.

I admit, I made Castles of Burgundy the Dice Game really just to try it out. If I like it, getting an actual copy of the game will be the plan. And Forest Guardians turned out to be a happy surprise.

I don’t know what the year will be like. It could be that January is my most productive month. If it is, I feel I’ve set myself up well.

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Feb 1, 2021 4:20 pm
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King of the Gauntlet - not great but I respect the effort

Lowell Kempf
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King of the Gauntlet is an in-hand game, a genre that I’m currently fascinated by. It takes a race game and transfers it to nine cards and two paper clips. The theme is a parkour obstacle course but it is really just a race.

One card serves as the board, which is a simple sixteen space track. The paper clips serve as pawns on either side of the card. The rest of the deck is for movement and actions.

The abilities of the cards are on opposite corners so the active one will be on the upper left. That way, you can easily fan the cards and see all of the actions. On your turn, you perform two actions, choosing from the first three cards. Used cards are flipped and sent to the back of the deck.

Whoever makes it to the finish line first wins.

The basic actions are just moving back and forth on the track but the advanced rules have actions that let you rearrange the deck. And, honestly, the basic actions are way too basic to keep the game from being monotonous too quickly.

I’m of two minds of King of the Gauntlet. On the one hand, it’s a game that is more about messing without your opponent than focusing on getting ahead. I feel like the game is a lot of countermoves and little progress. That can hurt the fun.

On the other hand, King of the Gauntlet takes a completely ludicrous concept for a game and made it functional. Part of my Print-and-Play hobby is looking for good games but another part is looking for weird, experimental projects. King of the Gauntlet, a reinvention of roll-and-move as an in-hand game, definitely qualifies.

I have to also note that I’ve come to be leery of in-hand games being too intricate. When I have to try and juggle cards in four different orientations and angles. Just having to fan the cards goes a long way to making King of the Gauntlet.

While Looney Lab’s Proton remains the best game I’ve found for standing in line, King of the Gauntlet is a nice addition to the mix. I’ve been playing an earlier prototype of the game but I’m planning on making the latest version. I’m not convinced it’s a good game but it is an interesting experiment.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2378534/wip-king-gauntlet-2...

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.con
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Mon Jan 25, 2021 8:37 pm
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Sometimes, fidgeting is enough

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve been meaning to write about Labyrinth Runner for... gee, over a year now. Labyrinth Runner is a solitaire game from the 2019 9-Card PnP Contest. Part of its hook is that it’s an in-hand game, you play the whole game with the entire deck in your hand.

The backstory is you were on vacation and missed doing your morning maze run. Happily, you found a labyrinth. Unhappily, there’s a Minotaur who wants to eat you. You need to find the three doors out of the labyrinth before the Minotaur catches you.

The core idea of the game is that each card, held landscape-ways, represents a forking path. You slide the cards to the left or to the right and the active card goes back into the deck flipped or revolved. You also have a little control over where in the deck it goes.

Here’s the thing for me. The game has two modes: fidget where you are just flipping cards and advanced where you have to do things like line keys up with doors to get through. And I have only played the game as a fidget game. I have found the advanced game too fiddly for what I get out of it.

Mind you, I pretty much only play Labyrinth Runner while waiting in the car or waiting for the tea water to boil or waiting for the bath to fill. When I want to sit down and actually play an in-hand game, I play Palm Island or the Zed Deck or Battle for the Carolinas or et al.

But as a fidget game, Labyrinth Runner is great. And I do like how it does act as a functional maze. It’s not something everyone is looking for. But with nine cards and an ink-light version, it’s a small investment for an alternative to messing with your phone in the car.


Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jan 18, 2021 5:18 pm
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