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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Cat Nap makes me happy

Lowell Kempf
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Cat Nap from the seventh Roll and Write contest has me in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, it doesn’t bring anything new to the party. I’ve seen all the mechanics before. On the other hand, it all fits together nice and neatly and I enjoyed it.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2627636/wip-cat-nap-entry-7...

The idea behind the game is that you are making a quilt for your cats to sleep on. You apparently own at least six cats so you’re officially a crazy cat person.

The board itself is a grid that has six cats on it, who each take up six or seven squares and there’s a five square cross is the middle that serves as the starting point.

Take two dice that you can tell apart. One determines the shape of the piece your are drawing in and the other determines the pattern.
The first piece has to touch the starting cross and every piece after that has to the touch the side of another piece. And, no, you can’t cover up the cats.

There are a few touches that make the game more than just drawing in shapes. If pieces of the same pattern touch, you lose points. Completely surround a cat and you get points and a one box star. Being able to fill in just one box is actually a strong bonus. Oh and there are some bonus moves of the dice just done work, which is actually pretty standard but still a good mechanic.

The game ends when someone has to pass for a second time or gets a fifth star. You get points from stars, complete rows and columns and not having the same patterns touch. Most points wins and there’s a scale for playing solitaire.

As I said at the start, Roll and Writes that involve filling in a grid with shapes is old hat. Mosaix was doing it back in 2009. Since then, I have seen the concept used more times than I can count offhand. There’s nothing innovative about Cat Nap.

But, you know, I still like Cat Nap and have fun playing it. I particularly like the cats blocking the vid so I actually have to make decisions rather than use the spatial skills I got from Blokus and play on auto-pilot. It doesn’t hurt that I love cats. All the mechanics in Cat Nap fit together and work.

At the end of the day, Cat Nap is a pleasant, family weight game that is free to print and play. It might not set the world on fire but it’s a game I’d recommend to folks who are looking for a free, easy to teach, enjoyable game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.con
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Mon Jun 7, 2021 11:14 pm
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My May R&W

Lowell Kempf
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May continued my habit of learning and playing lots of Roll and Write games. As I have said ad nausium, Roll and Write games are a good return when you have limited time and space. The medium definitely has limitations but the benefits are real.

One game that I had already learned that I want to mention again is Reiner Knizia’s Criss Cross, which I went back to in May and played a lot. I remember being harsh about it when I first tried it and... I don’t think I was unfair even though I had a lot of fun revisiting it.

Criss Cross isn’t the minimum in what I’d accept from a Roll and Write but I think it does represent as _minimalist_ as you can get and still be good. And a lot of its good qualities come from that minimalism. It’s good for a mental coffee break and it’s great as a travel game you can play with a large group, particularly of non-gamers. But, at the same time, there’s not enough there to sit down for some serious gaming.

I tried two different games from two different contests by the same designer based on the Divine Comedy. While Nine Circles, the Inferno game, was an acceptable, workmanlike game (which is no small thing to accomplish), Seven Steps had a dice cycling mechanic that I liked. I hope there will be a Paradise game that shows similar development.

I also tried two more of Radoslaw Ignatow’s designs. (For some reason, his PDFs confuse our printer so it’s slow going getting them printed) Those were Mage Forge and Master Your Castle. I’ll need to play them more before I feel comfortable reviewing them but I enjoyed them. Ignatow continues to give me a good, casual-weight experience with one sheet of paper.

And I finally tried Tempus Imperium, a roll and write that replaces dice with a time stamp. I quite enjoyed but the same designer all the uses the same idea with Tempus Quest that has mission-based goals and a campaign and with Tempus Infinitum that uses a simpler time stamp with more complicated rules and map. Tempus Imperium might end up replaced by its successors.

In other news, I’ve noticed that laminating sheets have been out of stock at some suppliers lately. You can still find them and I still have a stock but I’ve started using sheet protectors for Roll and Writes. I prefer the sturdiness of laminating sheets and I don’t consider sheet protectors a craft project but they will do in a pinch.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jun 4, 2021 7:39 pm
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My May PnP

Lowell Kempf
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May. Here’s what I made in May:

Mage Forge
Master Your Castle
Handful of Hazards (ultra low ink version)
13 Sheep (randomly generated boards)
Catan Dice + fan-made expansions
Washington D6 (2017 GenCan’t)
Time Fixer (2017 Solitaire contest)
Spider-Man vs Sinister Six
Win, Lose, Banana
Power Duel

Okay. Here’s what happened. My ‘big’ project for the month was a handheld solitaire called Light Speed from a contest. No relation to the Cheapass game by the same name. But I duplexed the cards when I was supposed to fold them. And I didn’t notice until I was done and May was almost over.

So I made Power Duel at the last minute just so I made a ‘big’ project. By my arbitrary standards, it doesn’t have enough components to count but I did put on the effort to make Light Speed and the idea of Power Duel (a miniature version of Power Grid) is a big idea. So I feel like I’ve done my hobby its due diligence.

Beyond that, I made Roll and Writes. The Spider-Man is one I found through Juegos Roll and Write blog, by the way.
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Tue Jun 1, 2021 3:12 pm
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Tempus Imperium: it’s time to build an empire

Lowell Kempf
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For literally years, I’ve had Tempus Imperium on the back burner, thinking that it’s a game I should really try out. I finally decided it was time that I did and I ended up quite enjoying it.

Tempus Imperium is a solitaire Roll and Write with a rather quirky twist. You don’t use dice or cards. Instead, you use the date stamp. You use the date and time to generate a string of ten numbers. You use that string to populate the starting grid map with forests, mines, lakes and a couple starting building. The string then becomes the order of actions you can take over the ten turn rounds.

The actions consist of building roads, digging to expand lakes, building buildings and using buildings. You can also spend two gold to take any action instead of the one from the number string.

Your road infrastructure is essential. If you want to build a building, the site has to be connected to forests and/or mines for construction supplies. Markets and castles have to be connected to other building to generate gold. And you will need gold. Building by lakes will earn points with the bigger the lake the greater the points.

Oh, and there are enemy squares. They will cost you gold at the end of each round and points at the end of the game. You need to build and use fortresses in order to get rid of them.

At the end of five rounds, you figure out your points and hope to do well.

At this heart, Tempus Imperium is an infrastructure development game. From that perspective, it does a nice job as a simple engine builder. You expand your network to get resources and ideally you will make a gold generating machine that let you build up your little kingdom. However, it doesn’t add anything new the genre as far as building roads and buildings go.

It’s the time-stamp and write part of the game that makes it interesting. But that’s also a double edged sword.

On the downside, while it does create different setup every time, they aren’t random. The first six numbers will be the same if you’ll play more than once in a day. I can see the game becoming formulaic, although you could just use a random string. (That said, using a time stamp does actually weight certain options, which might actually help balance the game. Until 2030, you’ll always get a road building action)

On the upside, it’s a neat idea that does work and means you have to tweak your plans every game. More than that, it means all you need to play is the sheet and something to write with.

Some years ago, I tried a game called Akua that promised to be a Euro with just a dry-erase board. Unfortunately it was so nit picky that it just wasn’t fun. While Tempus Imperium is a solitaire (although the designer has spoken of sometime trying a multi-player version), it does deliver on the idea of a Euro that just requires a dry-erase board. It might end up being a permanent part of my travel bag.

Tempus Imperium was and is still free at PNPArcade. You need to print out one sheet with no cutting. The game is not without its flaws and it’s fairly simple (but I think it has to be in order to work) If you go in knowing that, I think you’ll have fun.

And, yes, I will look at its spiritual sequel Tempus Quest.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat May 29, 2021 1:02 am
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A one-card design contest. Seriously.

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. I just found out there was a one-card PnP contest last year.

How did I not know about this?

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2439504/2020-1-card-game-pr...

There were more than fifty games entered into the contest so clearly folks were inspired by the idea.

I’ve been slowly looking through the entries and I feel like it forces minimalism so far it goes out the other side. I’ve been following the Nine-Card PnP contests for years and the restrictions of making a card game with nine cards is exceptional.

When you have just one card, though, it turns the card into a tiny board. You can’t shuffle or deal out one card. The most you can do is spin the card or flip the card. As a general rule, the card is not the random factor.

Now, the rules only allowed twelve more components, which could be dice or tokens or meeples or coins. So there are real restrictions. In fact, that might be the fewest actual components of any PnP contest rules I’ve seen. But I think being a minimalist _board_ game design I think uses a different part of the mental design space.

And I want to see those components. Every one-card game I’ve seen with no compoohas either just been the rules for a party game or Twister for fingers. And that stops being interesting real fast.

(I’ve seen at least one game where the card gets folded up into an origami shape so it’s not just tiny boards)

The folks who ran the contest put all the entries onto five pages so you can make them all at once. Which honestly means I probably will. That actually makes it much more likely that I will make any of them, let alone all of them.
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Wed May 26, 2021 4:05 am
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Seven Steps or dice in purgatory

Lowell Kempf
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Earlier in May, I tried out Nine Circles, a Roll and Write about the first part of the Divine Comedy, the Inferno. (You know, the only part anyone ever reads) I enjoyed it enough that I knew I had to try its sequel; Seven Steps, which is about Purgatory.

(Not to be confused with 7 Steps, which is a published abstract with colored circles)

I’m not going to lie. I had to look up what happened in that part of the poem. Purgatory is a seven-tiered mountain with each tier being one of the seven deadly sins that you have to repent for.

Seven Steps, from the sixth R&W design contest, is a solitaire Roll and Write where you have to overcome seven dice challenges. It’s what I file under Yahtzee descendants. It’s not super-thematic but it does have nice woodcut-style artwork. And when it comes to these simple games, a little bit of theme goes a long way,

There are some nice touches that help Seven Steps from automatically blurting with the vast number of simple dice games out there. For one thing, rather than a static goal for each challenge, a challenge die is rolled which adjusts the goal. You also have a limited amount of dice manipulation, which isn’t unusual but is helpful.

But the real nice touch of the design is the dice pool management. You start with seven dice (although you can get two more by forcing rerolls at the start of the game) The dice that you use to complete a challenge? They go out of the pool into the scoring area. You can pull them back to pay for rerolls but those dice and dice that you rolled but didn’t use end up in ‘the penalty box’ and don’t back to your pool for a turn.

While Nine Circles was a decent, very playable game, Seven Steps is a definite improvement. In Nine Circles, dice management consisted of trying not to lose dice. In Seven Steps, losing dice is how you score points but you lose if you have nothing to roll. It’s a more more interesting dynamic.

Seven Steps is still a light little dice game but now I’m really curious to see what the (hopefully) inevitable Paradise game will be like.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2553688

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon May 24, 2021 11:22 pm
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Pointree: a game about a tree with a decision tree

Lowell Kempf
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Pointree was a game I was looking forward to trying after I read about it since, hey, it’s about helping a tree get healthy. (Well, what else does making life energy flow through a tree mean?)

It’s a Roll and Write game that belongs to the Take It Easy school of design. Which means that everyone uses the same rolls so there’s no technical limit to the number of folks who can play and it works just as well as a solitaire game.

The sheet has the outline of a tree with a network of connected boxes inside it. The boxes come in three different colors and are either blank or already have a number. Pointree lasts six rounds and each round you roll six dice and then do something with them.

The core mechanic of the game is dirt simple. You can fill in a blank box with the number from a single die. You can mark of pre-numbered boxes with one or more dice that add up to that number or more. You start at the roots and all the boxes you fill in have to be connected.

There are six different ways to score points and you have to pick one of them at the end of each round. And, no, you don’t get to pick any of them twice. And there are a variety of ways to get bonus points, including checking off sets of ones and twos. (Which is a nice touch since high rolls are intrinsically better)

I quite like Pointree and one reason why is that I keep doing badly at it. Despite being mechanically simple, Pointree is not readily solvable. And, while it would help, I don’t think rolling all sixes is the solution. Pointree has an actual decision tree.

Pointree is a Roll and Write that feels like it started out life as a board game. In some Roll and Writes, the sheet is just a place to write down the die rolls. In Pointree, how you develop your paths and connections is the meat of the game, not to mention how you cope with bad rolls.

Pointree is my game of choice if I wanted to get people to try out Ignatov’s designs.

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri May 21, 2021 9:08 pm
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Some incoherent rambling about Print and Play

Lowell Kempf
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I have spent a lot of time looking at PnP contests over the last few years. Quite frankly, if you have an interest in PnP, I think that contests are a resource that cannot be overestimated.

The 2021 9-Card Contest is currently in the voting stage, which means that all the final entries are out there for folks to look at. Since files don’t always hang around, it’s a good time to look at them.

For a while, the 9-Card contest was my favorite one. For one thing, they are really easy builds. And sometimes, the ability to just sit down and make a project is what I need. More than that, the limits of nine cards leads to some really interesting experiments.

But I realized that I’ve been enjoying R&W PnP contests more as of late. (And haven’t there been a lot of them!) And I think it’s because design doesn’t have to fight against restrictions as much when it comes to R&W entries.

Which doesn’t somehow erase all the fun I’ve had with 9-Card Nano games. I have had some really fun experiences with 9-Card games. The base version of Cunning Folk showed me you could have a real game with nine cards (and it was a game I was looking for) Pocket Landship is so dashedly clever. And I still hold that Orchard is one of the most impressive games I’ve seen in nine cards. And that’s just scratching the surface.

However, nine cards is a limit and a restriction while R&W is a medium. If a R&W contest required the printed portion, rules and all, fit on one piece of paper and you could only use one die, that would be a more fair comparison.

I also found this revelation led me back to a question I always circle back to. Can you have a healthy and fulfilling gaming life with only PnP?

The answer is clearly yes, particularly if you have unlimited funds and crafting time and skill. There are a lot of war games and train game and other games, big robust games, that are available as PnPs. If you have the time and the materials and the skill, you can make games like that.

However, as more and more time goes by, I become convinced that it can work for lazy PnP makers who have a budget. And Roll and Write games are a part of why that’s the case. Even in the short five or six years since I started seriously looking at PnP and R&W, I feel that a depth and richness has really developed in that medium.

Anyway, all the entries for the 2021 9-Card PnP contest are out there. The world and community of PnP is a living, changing, experimental place so go look at them.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu May 20, 2021 7:14 pm
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Dante reimagined as a R&W

Lowell Kempf
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I recently tried out Nine Circles, which is apparently the first in a trilogy of little Roll and Writes since the second game has also come out. As the title implies, you are going through Dante’s journey through the first part of the Divine Comedy.

Nine Circles is a solitaire from the fifth Roll and Write contest. (I honestly have trouble keeping track of all the Roll and Write contests) It’s one those where you just print off the player sheet, add dice and away you go.

While the game is themes around the nine circles of Dante’s Inferno (which, to be fair, has informed every version of Hell since) and uses some nice woodcut style art (trying to imitate Gustave Dore would be a bit much and make the board too busy), it’s really nine dice challenges ranging between from having a one or three sixes or no fives.

You have nine dice and a checklist of rolls. You get six changes to roll one die and five chances to roll two, three or four dice. And that’s all the rolls you get in the game. You can freeze dice and you can use rolls to reroll dice or add more dice. You also get nine ‘Virgils’ which you can use to flip a die or add/subtract one.

But here’s the bit that makes the game interesting: every die you roll that’s not used to complete a challenge goes away.

So you have to manage your dice and your rolls. Run out of either and you lose.

I have a weak spot for light R&Ws like Nine Circles. They are the opposite end of the spectrum from what got me really into Roll and Write as a medium but they work as a guilty pleasure (Fitting for a game about Hell) Even when you’re exhausted and can’t think straight, they are still easy to learn and play.

In all honesty, I’d call Nine Circles a B game. It is mechanically solid and has good decisions. However, it doesn’t have that elusive sparkle that makes me immediately play it again. I also wonder if each challenge will become formulaic but, so far, the game keeps thwarting my designs to solve it.

And I have played _lots_ of worse R&W games. Nine Circles passes the dreaded Yahtzee test. I’d play it over Yahtzee. Losing dice you don’t use is a good mechanic. You don’t get enough slack to make the game easy.

It’s sequel, Seven Steps, is now on my try next list.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2495658/nine-circles


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon May 17, 2021 8:02 pm
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My April R&W

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, thanks to Radoslaw Ignatov, April ended up being another month of trying out new-to-me Roll and Writes. Eventually, I am sure I will take a break from learning R&Ws. However, I haven’t burnt out yet.

I’d already tried Some Kind of Genius from Ignatov. I added Mixture, Alpakaland, Elektrico, Pointree sand Jurassic Hunt to the list. I have already written about some of them and I’ll eventually write about the rest so I don’t feel the need to write about them individually.

But my general impression of Ignatov‘a work is that he has made a a very solid collection of games that are very well suited for casual gamers. He designed for them to be playable over video conferencing or even via forum, including space to record all the rolls. This does mean that certain dice manipulation mechanics like rerolls or dice flipping aren’t available. And I do like those mechanics but I appreciate the design choices.

The other R&W I learned in April was Fast Train to Miyajama from the fourth R&W design contest. It’s a cute little game that I can honestly see having mass market appeal.

And writing about it led me to this idea: Some Roll and Writes are dice games and some are board games that use pen and paper. This isn’t some amazing epyphy. It’s just a good way describe something I’ve been thinking about since, like, 2017.

Now, there is absolutely no line dividing the two groups. The gray area is pretty much the whole area. And this is absolutely not a quality judgement. I am not saying that ‘board’ games are better than ‘dice’ games. The former might be more complicated but even that feels like a gross generalization.

I do know some Roll and Writes got their design start as board games. Corinth is an obvious example and I understand Welcome to Dino World started out as a tile-laying design. However, I don’t think that’s a good definition either.

While I think that it’s a matter of intuition and intent, the real conclusion I’ve come to is that Roll and Write isn’t a mechanic or a genre. It’s a format and you can do a lot of things with that format. You can’t do everything with it but there’s a lot more than just Yahtzee!


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon May 3, 2021 9:56 pm
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