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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The introduction to Tempus Quest was too introductory

Lowell Kempf
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Last month, I tried out Chris Anderson’s Tempus Imperium. It’s a PnP game where you use the date and time to set up the map and then create a list of actions. I knew Anderson had also made a series of other time stamp related games called Tempus Quest so I decided to try the first one.

(And THEN I learned that there was ANOTHER time stamp game, Tempus Infinitum, that looks like a refined version of Tempus Imperium)

Tempus Quest is a series of games or scenarios. After the introductory scenario, it looks like how you do in one scenario will effect what happens in the next one.

In Episode 0-Some Reassembly Required, you are attempting to rebuild a spaceship in a junkyard. Connect resources together to make parts and then connect them to the ship in the middle. There’s an alarm track. You check alarms off if you do something close to guard towers but you can also check them off to change your action.

Having learned Tempus Imperium first, Tempus Quest was really easy to pick up. And I have come to two conclusions.

One, Tempus Quest Episode 0 is probably the best introduction to the whole use-the-datestamp-to-generate-a-number-string idea. It uses a shorter number string and has a clear-cut goal with a clear-cut way to go about it.

Two, I liked Tempus Imperium more and I’m glad I started with it.

It isn’t so much that Episode 0 is flawed but that it hits the whole introductory thing a little too on the nose. Tempus Imperium has multiple paths to victory while Episode 0 has just one. In Tempus Imperium, you have to develop a good income. In episode 0, there’s a checklist of alarms to spend and there seems to be so many that you shouldn’t run out.

Really, I’m punishing Episode 0 for being exactly what it’s intended to be. It’s an introduction and a tutorial. Looking at the next couple episodes, it looks like the complexity level does go up.

But it did leave me wanting to play more Tempus Imperium.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jun 18, 2021 9:56 pm
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Harrow the Ninth is where things go meta

Lowell Kempf
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Earlier this year, I read Gideon the Ninth and it was the surprise delight of my reading year. So, of course, I had to read the second book in the series, Harrow the Ninth.

… Man, I do not know how to write about this book without spoilers for this first book since everything in Harrow the Ninth is built on how Gideon the Ninth resolved itself. More than that, it’s hard to discuss Harrow the Ninth itself without spoiling it since so much of it is a mystery whose resolution explains not just the mystery’s solution but what was the mystery in the first place.

So, I really enjoyed the book and I’m really glad I read it?

No?

Okay.

As few spoilers as possible

As few spoilers as possible

As few spoilers as possible

The world of The Locked Tomb is one of gothic horror and high science fiction. It is definitely not Warhammer 40K but man, it has some similar vibes. We are talking about a galactic empire that was built on necromancy.

In fact, the undying emperor (who is not stuck in a life support throne) resurrected his entire home solar system, which is clearly our solar system. And now all the planets have death energy instead of life energy (so much that they are only place where necromancers can be born) The heart of the empire is a zombie solar system. I won’t be surprised if it turns out that everyone is functionally undead at the end of the series.

Gideon the Ninth was an adventure story when all is said and done, albeit one that is underpinned by Gideon figuring out her relationships. Harrow the Ninth is a much denser, more complicated read. There are two different stories going on that play with our understanding of what happened in the last book, contradict each other and play with the meta nature of narration.

I will say that many of those questions do get answered and explained by the end of the book. The cosmology of the setting is explored and expanded. And we are left with a whole new set of questions.

Gideon the Ninth was more fun but I think I got a lot more out of Harrow the Ninth. And now I’m annoyed I have to wait at least a year for Tamsyn Muir to write Alecto the Ninth.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jun 16, 2021 11:07 pm
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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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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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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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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

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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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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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Looking back and finding out that Wurfel Bingo was a milestone

Lowell Kempf
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I have been a big fan of legit multi-player solitaire games ever since I finally got my hands on a copy of Take It Easy more than ten years ago. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot to be said for competition. Trying to kick each other’s teeth in is an important part of gaming. However, non-confrontation has its place too and can be the only way to get some people at the table.

In the past year, games that use the ‘bingo with strategy’ mechanic of Take It Easy have become more important because, hey, no contact. Perfect for social distancing.

And if your social distancing is over video conferencing, Roll and Write multi-player solitaire (and I have driven the jargon train off the cliff) is the perfect format. I love Take It Easy and Cities/Limes and Karuba but everyone needs the tiles and the board. With R&W, one person needs the dice and/or cards and everyone else just needs the player sheet and something to write with.

These days, Roll and Writes have pretty much exploded. And, judging by the number of design contests focused on Roll and Writes, that’s not going away. (The fact that they have to be relatively easy to manufacture has to be a factor in that.) And a lot of them are multi-player solitaires.

I have yet to be in a position to actually play one via some form of video conferencing... but I’m ready if anyone ever asks me!

While the number of R&R multi-player solitaires might be in the triple digets, the first one I came across was Wurfel Bingo. I refuse to believe it’s the earliest example but it was only the third multi-player solitaire I had come across (and the second one was Take It To the Limit, the direct sequel to Take It Easy!)

Wurfel Bingo, also known as High Score, is a five-by-five grid that you fill out with the sum of two dice. You score lines basically by creating ‘poker’ hands with the numbers and the diagonals score double. Its origins are shrouded in a bit of mystery since Reiner Knizia published close to the same rules fifteen years before it was published.

When I first discovered Wurfel Bingo, it was a revelation. I did a lot of gaming out of a bag and having a Take It Easy experience where people needed a pencil instead of 27 tiles was an amazing space saver.

While the game is pretty abstract and simple by the standards that have developed over the last ten years, it’s still pretty strong. I particularly like how the odds of what numbers can be rolled with two dice means you can make informed decisions. Even if that does mean everyone tries to fill out the diagonals with sevens.

Since I first found and tried out Wurfel Bingo, I’ve found a lot of games that fill a similar niche. And it’s a niche that I think has become increasing important and valuable. It is no longer the top of my list for games I’d recommend. However, looking back, it was a milestone for me.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 5, 2021 4:04 pm
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