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.

Archive for Abstract Games

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Looking back at Hive and Blokus

Lowell Kempf
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When contemplating modern abstracts, two games that were huge for me and games I’m no longer that interested in are Hive and Blokus. Both of which I consider to be poster children for “You don’t like abstracts? Try this one’

Mind you, I still think both games are top notch and, more than that, still very important. Hive continues to be held up as the game that people who hate abstracts love. Blokus has had and I’m pretty sure continues to have mainstream success. I think they’ll both be around and getting played twenty years from now.

Hive faded for me because the folks I regularly play with are meh about it and prefer other light abstracts. I’d certainly play it again and it’s not leaving my collection. And it is definitely a modern classic.

As a rule, I’m more of a fan of putting stones on a board than moving stones around the board. However, Hive does both. It isn’t the only build-the-board-as-go game but it is the best I’ve seen. Tile Chess seems to force the game to fit that idea while it feels organic and intuitive in Hive.

On the other hand, Blokus has left my collection. I do think it’s a very good design and an abstract that works brilliantly for four players, which isn’t the usual count for a perfect information abstract. However, I found meh as a two-player (at least once a game, it seemed like someone would forget which color they were on) and it’s downright dreadful as a three-player game.

To be fair, Blokus Dual and Blokus Trigon are what have replaced it. So, it’s not like I went that far away. However, Blokus Dual is so much stronger as a two-player game and Trigon is great at both four-player and three-player. To be even more fair, neither of those two games I like more would exist if it wasn’t for the original Blokus!

(Note number one: Blokus 3D started out life as Rumis and really isn’t part of the same design process. I do like Rumis quite a bit, though)

(Point number two, in case anyone is wondering about Cathedral, I’ve never been able to get into it. Which is odd since it really seems right up my alley)

While my interest in both these games has faded (although I can see Hive getting rekindled), they both were big deals for me in the past. And I think they are still big deals for abstracts and the hobby.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:32 pm
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Thoughts on abstracts you can get in while adulting

Lowell Kempf
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I wanted to write about abstracts that I like since being an adult doesn’t give me the time to pursue Go. (To be fair, having hobbies other than Go also didn’t give me time to pursue Go) Games that I think would click with folks who don’t normally play abstracts. But when the list hit the double digits, I realized I was never going to come to an end.

I did notice two things about the games I was choosing. They had short playing times, really under a half an hour as a rule. Second, each move tended to be dynamic and really change the board.

As a comparison, take Checkers. Someone much smarter than me once said that a game of Checkers is slowly working your way to making one big move. I think Checkers is a brilliant game and there’s a reason it has stuck around for centuries. But I don’t enjoy it. Even more so than Chess or Go which I can break down into individual pieces, Checkers is one big picture with lots of tiny pieces that I can’t hold together in my head.

Is Checkers a good game and one with a surprising amount of depth? Yes, particularly when you actually use the the rule that if you can capture, you must capture. But it is not a game I really like or have time to understand. If I had that time, I’d spend it on Go.

In contrast, I’ll use Pentago as a counter example. As a Tic Tac Toe variant, it’s one of the simpler abstracts I enjoy and it takes probably five minutes to play. Place a stone and turn one of the quadrants. Have five stones in a row at the end of your turn and you win.

In Pentago, every move has a dramatic effect on the board, particularly seeing as how you are actually moving the board itself. The board is small enough that the patterns you form aren’t overwhelming. At the same time, there are enough options that the game isn’t a simple formula like actual Tic Tac Toe. It does make your brain work.

Pentago isn’t my favorite abstract (although I’d always be willing to play) but it is one that feels like a classic abstract while still having modern innovation. It exemplifies what I’ve found I’m looking for in an abstract. And it’s one I can get other folks to play.

I know that pure abstracts aren’t for everyone. But I think that there are games out there that are accessible and fun for a large audience. And I love Go but I don’t have the time for it. But there are abstract games that I do have time for. And there are games where those two things come together.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jun 25, 2019 2:23 pm
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Adulting made Go too hard for me :’(

Lowell Kempf
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Go was a huge milestone for me. Not only is it one of the most genuinely brilliant games ever created and incredible training for your brain, one of my major gaming groups started out as a Go group before becoming a more general gaming group. (My decision to bring Blokus Trigon so we could have a three-player game had a lot to do with that transition)

And I haven’t played Go in years and I don’t see that changing any time in the near future. And that’s because GO IS _HARD_

Seriously, a good game of Go is something that you should set aside an afternoon for and try not to go in with your head cluttered by other stuff like responsibilities and exhaustion. Adulting makes Go more difficult!

I realize that if I had played Go long enough and with enough dedication, I’d have started to have some understanding of Joseki, which might have helped some of the strain of play. Joseki are patterns that are considered optimal for both sides. In other words, Joseki can help you with the minutia and focus on what really are the critical moves.

I view Joseki as understanding the game to a subconscious level, although I know that’s not what it really means or is. But being able to use Joseki denotes a deeper understanding of Go, one that I’m in no danger of reaching.

Instead, my abstract journey has led me to more short-form abstracts. My mind still craves patterns and decisions. Just ones that can fit in adult life.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jun 25, 2019 3:18 am
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