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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Trying to make This Town et al ‘work’

Lowell Kempf
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I have very mixed feelings about This Town Ain’t Big For the 2-4 of Us.

I backed the game on Kickstarter back in 2004, right when my interest in micro games was really kicking in. And, in theory, I still think it’s a great idea for a micro game. Twenty-four tiles with the symbols printed on them so you don’t need separate meeples. And I still think think the scoring system is really neat and leads to interesting choices.

In a nutshell, it’s a tile-laying game with fences and symbols printed on the tiles. Everyone has a symbol for their own. When an area is enclosed by fences, you score it. Here’s how that works. Whatever symbol has the greatest number of symbols in the area gets points equal to the number of second greatest symbols. And so on until whoever has the fewest symbols gets no points.

The scoring system doesn’t just make for interesting decisions. It also means that drawing a tile that doesn’t have your symbol isn’t a useless turn. Instead, any given tile has the potential to be useful to you.

The idea of a Carcassonne experience distilled down to 24 tiles that can fit it in any given pocket is a really compelling one for me. One of the major draws of a micro game is as a travel game. And there are elements of This Town et al that make it its own, distinct experience.

Buuuut... there are problems.

In my experience, there have been runaway leader problems. With only 24 tiles, when someone gets a lead, they have a good chance of fighting to protect it until the tiles run out. The game play doesn’t live up to the potential This Town et al seems to have.

An additional problem I had with the published version is that it came with a bunch of expansions that used itty, bitty tokens, along with a scoring stick that also had itty bitty tokens. The value I got out of not having meeples was taken away by having much more fiddly tokens.

And since I got This Town et al, I’ve found more the one game that fit into the niche of micro tile-laying game. The print-and-play Autumn and HUE from the Pack O Games both address the issues I had with This Town et al.

However, I still want to make it work.

So I have made a beater copy of the PnP version. (Yes, I could just pull the tiles out of the published edition but making a PnP copy just felt cleaner.) Strip the game down to its absolute basics, which also solves the travel problem. I don’t know if that will make the game ‘work’ for me but I want to give it another try.



Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jul 3, 2020 3:23 am
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My June PnP

Lowell Kempf
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June has gone past. 2020 is halfway done and it’s been a year that will go down in the history books. Print and Play has helped me pretend to be sane. This is what I made in June:

Food Chain Island
King of the Gauntler (2020 9-Card Contest)
GIA isn’t Abstract (2017 9-Card Contest)
8-Bit Dungeon (2020 9-Card Contest)
MiniSkull Caverns (2016 9-Card Contest)
Charles vs Peter (2020 9-Card Contest)
Battle for the Carolinas
Astolfo on the Moon (2020 9-Card Contest)
Wurfel Bingo
Rollands
This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us

I did some housecleaning in June, finally trimming some nine cards games I had laminated months ago, as well as making more copies of Wurfel Bingo and Rollands to use unused space on laminating sheets.

My monthly ‘big’ project was Battle for the Carolinas. Sadly, I have not yet taken the time to find the fifteen, twenty minutes to learn and play it. I’m hoping to correct that because a war-themed Palm Island sounds really interesting.

So the highlight of my PnP was Food Chain Island. It’s a very promising start to a new line of simple, solitaire games. It is a very rewarding return for five-minutes of game time.

All in all, a good halfway point for my PnP year.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 1, 2020 6:17 pm
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PnP reminds me I haven’t read Orlando Furioso

Lowell Kempf
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I decided to make a copy of Astolfo on the Moon almost entirely based on the theme, which is the bit from Orlando Furioso where Astolfo, a knight who rides a (borrowed?) hippogriff, flies Elijah’s flaming chariot to moon to bring back Orlando’s sanity back in a bottle.

I haven’t actually read Orlando Furioso but I have seen it referenced so many times over the years. It’s one of those poems that influenced literature for centuries. Frankly, it has always struck me as a weird mashup between King Arthur and Baron Munchausen. As a modern reader of modern fantasy, it feels like it breaks so many rules because those rules didn’t exist when it was written. Which is totally unfair since it _wasn’t_ written as a fantasy. (If anyone wants to correct my views on Orlando Furioso, feel free. As I said, I _really_ don’t know it)

The game is a nine-card game from this year’s nine-card PnP contest. Each card has an image and quote from the poem and the corner of each double-sided card has a number on it, one to six. It’s a tile-laying game where you connect the cards via their corners and the numbers have to add up to seven to be a legal connection.

You win if the last card, which is always the Ampoule card (the bottle holding Orlando’s sanity), is connected to one of the two Astolfo cards. (While the Ampoule card is always the last card, you still shuffle it in to determine which side you use in the game) If you don’t get it in the first go, you get a second go but using the same cards in the same order. Then it really becomes a puzzle to solve, often snaking the cards around to create that final connection.

Astolfo on the Moon has grown on me more than I expected. I really expected it to be ‘well, I didn’t pay for the files so it’s okay’. But the mechanics create an interesting enough puzzle for me to come back to it. I don’t think it will have long legs for me but I was expecting to be done after a couple plays.

Still, the theme does all the heavy lifting as far as my engagement goes. The use of imagery and poetry and even incorporating the theme into the mechanics with Astolfo needing to find the Ampoule basically creates my interest in the game. If it was a pure abstract with numbered cards and shapes for symbols, I’d have forgotten about it already.

I freely admit that I hold PnP games that are free and fan-made to a different standard. Among other things, I view them as being prototypes, albeit possibly perpetual prototypes. Astolfo on the Moon honestly doesn’t pass the threshold for a ‘published’ PnP for me but I appreciate how it got me to think about Orlando Furioso.

Originally posted at www.gnomeponderintg.com
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Wed Jun 24, 2020 7:07 pm
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PnP Arcade’s prototype zone enhances the PnP experience

Lowell Kempf
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PnP Arcade has recently introduced a new section to their catalog, the prototype zone. It’s where you can download free prototypes of games with the option of giving the designers some feedback.

I like PnP Arcade and, more and more, it feels like a model of my print and play experiences. Many of the publishers that I have explored for PnP files are there. The guy who runs it is also in charge of Button Shy so naturally that’s there but there’s also Jelly Bean and Good Little Games and Metal Snail and many others in the catalog.

I’ve also seen older games ‘reprinted’, which is actually very nice. Yes, I already have the files but I have spent a silly amount of time on Boardgame Geek and other sites looking for PnP games. Actually being able to easily find some of these games is big help to the hobby. The most surprising story older game I found is Gro, which I bought in a hard copy form in a gallon baggy at Gen Con back when it was still in Milwaukee. (It was a different time)

But, as I have gotten more and more into PnP as a hobby, I have come to view games that are not from publishers as prototypes. That creates a very different criteria for what I’m looking for. I don’t approach them as a polished and highly play-tested game. Instead, they are a source of new ideas and questions. They are part of a process and it’s fun to be part of the process.

So PnP Arcade having a prototype section is one more way that I think it lets people explore the PnP experiences.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jun 22, 2020 6:52 pm
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Word Chain is tiny but you create the replay value

Lowell Kempf
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I just learned that Word Chain has had an official, extended version released. (Thank you for the weekly emails, PnP Arcade) And I do intend to take a look at it but I decided that this was a good excuse to look back at the original version from the 2019 9-Card contest.

Word Chain is a word game that consists of one score track card and eight double-sided rule cards. It can be played as a competitive game, a cooperative game or as a solitaire game. Word Chain exists in that nebulous world between word games and party games.

As you might have gathered, there’s a variety of ways to play the game but here’s the core concept. Each card face has two rules on it (handily marked one and two) Starting with a two-syllable word that the active player picks, you draw two cards and you have to come up with a new word that follows the two rules. All of the rules relate to the active word, like starting or ending with the same letter and so on. The new word becomes the active word and you draw two more cards. And so on. Thus, the words chain together.

What makes Word Chain work is that the game just gives you a framework and you provide the content. Between the arbitrariness of the word selection and the sufficient randomly selection of the rules, it would be hard to create a formula to ‘solve’ the game, which gives it a lot of replay value, particularly for nine cards.

Of course, you’re not into words or vocabulary, Word Chain is a non-starter. I’d say even more so than Scrabble or Boggle which at least give you specific letters to work with. But word is in the name so you have been warned.

I have looked at a lot of PnP micro games and some of them have fit into the world of party games, one way or another. Sometimes, the value of those games is primarily that they are tiny and portable. A party game that fits into a wallet is genuinely useful.

But Word Chain is actually a clever enough game that I am prepared to argue that the gameplay itself overshadows the fact that it’s tiny. It’s an interesting challenge. It’s not amazing or the best word/party game I’ve ever played but it feels bigger than nine cards with legitimate replay value. Word Play is a game I enjoy enough to suggest and share.

I am curious to see what the expanded game is like. It doesn’t look like it’s that much bigger. I’m curious to see if a little more is better or if nine cards was the right size after all.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Jun 18, 2020 3:58 pm
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Scott Almes gives the world a nifty little solitaire

Lowell Kempf
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Food Chain Island was one of those games that I learned about, printed out and made a copy and played within the same twenty-four hour period. Yes, it helped that it was only eighteen cards without any other components and had a simple rule set but that’s still faster than my usual process.

It’s a Scott Almes design (quite possibly the simplest design I’ve seen from him by a fair margin) and the first of a new subsection of Button Shy’s Wallet line, Simply Solo. The idea behind the Simply Solo line is to make solitaire games that are easy to learn and have lots of replay value. Spoiler: Food Chain Island is a good start as far as that mission statement goes.

The base game consists of eighteen cards and no other components: sixteen numbered animal cards and two special action cards. The announced expansions will add more special action cards. The core concept of the game is that you lay out the numbered cards in a grid and bigger animals can move onto animals 1-3 numbers smaller than them and eat them. Your goal is to down to one to three stacks of cards, the fewer the better.

Of course, there’s a clever bit. Every animal has some kind of special effect that goes off after it eats something. It can be moving other cards, making the next move be diagonal and such. Sometimes it can be helpful and sometimes it can be a restriction. The polar bear, for instance, requires the next move NOT be with the polar bear. Honestly, in most cases, it’s up to you to arrange the board to make the special move an advantage. The extra cards let you do some kind of extra move.

Okay. First things first. No, there is absolutely nothing original in Food Chain Island. The basic structure of the game is Peg Solitaire, which is over three hundred years old. And probably thousands of games have special powers at this point. Food Chain Island isn’t going to be remembered as Scott Almes greatest game. (Tiny Epic Galaxies is AWESOME)

None of that matters because Food Chain Island delivers on the mission statement of being an accessible and enjoyable solitaire game that has plenty of replay value. The fact that you’ve seen all the mechanics before is actually a point in its favor. It’s easy to pick up AND it’s easy to keep on playing.

Food Chain Island reminds me a lot of one my favorite fidget games, Murderer’s Row, which has a very similar idea of reducing cards with special powers only in a straight line. Food Chain Island uses a two-dimensional space to work with.

Scott Almes didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. He took tried and true mechanics and applied them to make a game that I can’t play just once in a sitting. It’s not a deep or heavy game but it is explicitly not meant to be. If you like having little solitaire games to fidget with, Food Chain Island is a game to look at.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jun 12, 2020 11:59 pm
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Italo Calvino and dungeon crawls

Lowell Kempf
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I have been crafting a couple of micro crawls (MiniSkull Caverns and 8-Bit Dungeon, in case you are curious) while reading Time and the Hunter by Italo Calvino, which has been a weird combination of head spaces.

Time and the Hunter is sort of, kind of the second volume of Cosmicomics. It definitely contains some Cosmicomic stories but other parts deconstruct life and space and time in a little less whimsical way. Does DNA’s programming mean there is no present or future or free will but only a constant repackaging of the past? Is a traffic jam one contiguous entity that offers no options for any part or is there a way to create your own piece of time and space within its confines? Did Calvino read the same Count of Monte Cristo that my Classic Comics edition was based on?

Dungeon crawls have been a part of board games, video games and role playing games for decades. (I remember an early edition of Tunnels and Trolls outright describing the setting as a world of dungeons) You would think of the dungeon crawl as a dead horse at this point but it’s clearly not.

And that’s because it is so effective and simple as a narrative structure. Dungeons crawls are a way of setting one challenge after another in a way that makes sense. There’s a lot of room for nuance, don’t get me wrong. I have some friends who argue that Keep on the Borderlands (one of the ur-adventures of D&D) should be played as a diplomatic adventure.

That said, I remember more than one D&D campaign where we all relaxed when we hit a dungeon. No more political intrigue or wilderness journeys. Just a good, old fashioned dungeon crawl full of combat and treasure.

But with Calvino in my mind, I find myself thinking of a dungeon as a microcosm, as a tiny universe that ends with the dungeon walls. And with some dungeon crawls, like the ones I just finished making copies of, the dungeon is indeed all the real estate and the universe that exists for he game.

More than that, with so many dungeon crawls, each area is its own encounter. Each room is its own event, unrelated to any of the other rooms. You only take the treasure and the damage from room to room. (And,yes, any game master worth their salt isn’t going to run a dungeon like that. I remember dungeons where the first fight managed to draw most of the inhabitants out as waves of reinforcements)

But if a game is ‘programmed’ without a game master, which can be the case in board or video or even role playing game, having each encounter be a singular entity is a mechanically sound choice. It makes play manageable.

So now, I am not just seeing a dungeon as entire tiny universe unrelated to anything beyond itself, each area is its own singular moment in time. Time doesn’t become one event after another, not a continuity of events. Instead, time is determined by geography.

I am currently seeing a dungeon crawl as a deconstruction of time and space, thanks to Italo Calvino. The when is not important. The where might not be important either. All that is significant is that an event occurs.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jun 5, 2020 4:46 am
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Fishing on the Blackjack River

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Many themed card-games are really just twists on traditional cards, particularly ones that actually use traditional cards. (I’m looking at the you Lamarkian Poker ;D) The Blackjack River doesn’t even try to hide that fact. It’s a solitaire Blackjack variant.

The basic idea of the game is that you are making four columns of cards and you get to wipe and score a column if it equals exactly twenty-one. But here’s the clever bit: the face cards don’t add to the total but subtract one, two or three from said total. You also get bonus points from columns having sets or flushes but the face cards subtracting numbers is the actually interesting mechanic.

I am of two minds about The Blackjack River. On the one hand, it didn’t really grab me. On the other hand, I actually found it more mechanically sound and it felt like I had more control over the game than I expected.

Non-traditional games that use traditional decks of cards have a bigger hurtle to overcome than games with specialized components. And that’s coming from a guy who lives game systems and PnP and Cheapass Games. The fishing theme of The Blackjack River works but it doesn’t really create a real hook. The Shooting Party, in comparison, isn’t as good mechanically but the theme does keep get me more engaged.

On the other hand, I was surprised at how much control I felt I had with The Blackjack River. I half expected the game to play itself. But between the multiple columns and the flexibility the face cards offered, I felt there were meaningful choices. Yes, luck of the draw is king but my score would be much worse if I just randomly tossed down cards. The game did give me something to do.

The Blackjack River is more interesting than I expected. I feel like it is 95% of the way to being an engaging solitaire game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jun 3, 2020 8:14 pm
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My May PnP

Lowell Kempf
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May was a month for Print and Play for me. After I didn’t do that much in April, Print and Play crafting became a lot more of a stress reliever for me. While a lot of what I made just involved laminating Roll and Write sheets, May will probably end up being the high water mark for number of games I craft in 2020.

Here’s what I made:

Alien Horde
And Time Passes
Mushroom Ale (Legends of Dsyx)
Super-Skill Pinball: Carniball
Bittyburg
Tower of Mages (Legends of Dsyx)
Nytelyfe Solitaire
Bandido Covid-19
Rollands
Lost Artifact (2018 Solitaire Contest)
Micro Rome w/Aegyptus expansion
ColorCombo demo
Dobbler Demo
FIKA
Thunder Visitors
Kingdom Maps
Rolling Village
Goblins, Guns and Grog (Legends of Dsyx)
Fairy Fair (Legends of Dsyx)
Derelict Dirigible (Legends of Dsyx)
Lockpicks (Legends of Dsyx)

One of my monthly goals is to make at least one ‘big’ project. Since I am a lazy crafter, my threshold for a larger project is at least three pages worth of components. This month, three projects counted for that: Alien Horde, Bandido Covid-19 and Micro Rome when you include the expansion. (Yes, I remade the base game so I wouldn’t have to sort out the expansion cards if I just wanted to play the base game)

However, what might have been my big accomplishment for the month was laminating all of the Legends fo Dsyx games I hadn’t already laminated. I’d been spacing out laminating them but I decided that I should stop doing that so I can work on actually playing them.

As usual, the next goal is to actually play some of these games

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jun 1, 2020 3:24 pm
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Irrational decisions in Print and Play

Lowell Kempf
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You know you have a Print and Play problem when you find yourself trying to come up with a justification for making something and none of the reasons hold water

I realized this one more time when I found myself seriously tempted to make the demo copy of Carcassonne. I looked at it and found myself thinking that it might be a nifty travel game, something to play at restaurants while waiting for our food.

That’s ignoring that I have gotten rid of both Carcassonne and the actual Travel Carcassonne over the years. (I have kept the Castle and Hunters and Gatherers)

First of all, I don’t know when the next time I’ll be sitting down at a restaurant as opposed to getting take out. And, second, our son hasn’t shown any interest in playing a board game at a restaurant and that’s who’d I’d be playing against.

But, most importantly of all, a demo version of Carcassonne doesn’t actually fill any niche or need for me that other games don’t fill better. I have published copies of HUE and This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The 2-4 of Us, for example. Those are tile-laying games that are designed to be a small package in the first place and I wouldn’t need to worry about meeples or meeple substitutes.

I’ll still probably make a copy.

I’m also tempted to make a copy of the demo version of Citadels, particularly since if you double up some sheets, you can make a very close approximation of the first edition of the game. (The current edition has over twenty roles?!) But then I’m ignoring that every game of Citadels I’ve been in has lasted over two hours (usually over three hours) thanks to analysis paralysis and it stops being fun after the first hour.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu May 21, 2020 7:26 pm
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