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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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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The Clever dice games are a system

Lowell Kempf
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While I consider Clever Hoch Drei the first game I’ve taught myself this year (after 2020, I decided to start with a game I felt confident would be good), I have come to think of the Clever games as a system as opposed to a series of games.

Between That’s Pretty Clever, Twice As Clever, Clever Hoch Drei (which I’m sure will be published as Clever Cubed if it hasn’t already been), the bonus boards for Pretty and Twice, AND at least one fan-made board, there’s a bunch of distinct boards that still use the same dice-drafting core. Once you have the basic concept done, you can play any of the games. However, learning how to play each board well does take some work.

One of the things I look at when it comes to dice driven games is the idea that there are no intrinsically bad rolls. Oh, there can be situationally nightmarishly horrible rolls but I don’t want a game where you have to roll all sixes all the time. Castles of Burgundy is a great example of that but it is more complicated than most Roll and Writes. (I am planning on trying the roll and write version this year)

The Clever system doesn’t quite hit the threshold of every roll can be good but it has taken stupid plays for me not to be able to use every roll. As a basic rule of thumb, I feel I can safely say that the Clever system makes every roll viable.

When I first tried That’s Pretty Clever last year, I wrote that it killed Yahtzee for gamers. (Qwixx kills Yahtzee for everyone else) And that seems more true than ever. While I love abstract games, they have a bigger hurdle to be accessible and the Clever system makes that hurdle.

The worst thing I can say is that the Clever system can get to be formulaic, particularly if you are playing it solitaire the way I do. But that’s a sin most solitaire or roll and write games can have. And having so many variations helps keep it fresh.

This started out as a review of Clever Hoch Drei (I am having more fum with it than Twice but not as much as Pretty) but turned into an overview of the series. And the Clever games are ones that I can play over and over again.


Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.cim
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Fri Jan 22, 2021 7:45 pm
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New assessment: Ablaze works great for casual gaming

Lowell Kempf
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I have sometimes wondered if I have some kind of weird obsession with Heinrich Grumpler’s Ablaze, which is actually a thematically linked set of three games that use the same components. If you count games I’ve played only once, I have played a lot of different games over the years. And, on multiple occasions, I’ve revisited Ablaze for binge plays, despite thinking there are more deserving games for that honor.

But after my latest revisit, I’m wondering if I’m being too harsh to Ablaze, that Ablaze is actually quite a good set of games. I just haven’t been using the appropriate criteria.

Okay, here’s a short overview. The box has rules for three different games: Wild Fire, Volcano and On the Run. All three are tile games that are themed around forest fires. More than that, they all are can be played competitively, cooperatively and solitaire. They are pretty abstract but their themes do shine through.

And all the games were too light and too random to really work as serious abstracts or ‘serious’ games so I always felt like they weren’t actually good.

And if I want a brain burning abstract or a meaty game that will be the centerpiece of a game night, Ablaze isn’t a good choice. But for casual gaming? The Ablaze collection is quick and easy to teach with the right amount of choices to keep everyone engaged. And for solitaire, which I play a lot more of right now, the games are light enough that I can get them in but still feel like I have gamed.

Over the last few years, I have gained or regained an appreciation of casual games. (I have also regained an appreciation for James Earnst and Cheapass Games, which is clearly related) Outside of organized game nights and conventions, this is what gets played. And there’s a broader audience for it.

And Ablaze is a really good example of a casual game system. It’s one step more thematic than a deck of cards (Don’t get me wrong, I think a deck of playing cards is the most amazing tool you can have in your tool box) while being very accessible and versatile. Heck, the original Feurio version came out in 2003 and the Ablaze version is still pretty easy to find.

I was right in my old thinking that Abalze isn’t going to set the world on fire (thank you, folks, I’m here all week, don’t forget to tip your waiters) but I now really it’s a game that would see a lot of play for a lot of different audiences.




Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Oct 30, 2020 9:49 pm
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Card Capture - deck building with regular cards

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. Card Capture is a solitaire deck builder that uses a regular deck of cards.

As someone who is interested in PnP and DIY gaming, it was pretty much inevitable that I was going to check this game out. Im fact, considering that it originally came out in 2018, I’m amazed it took me this long. Almost as amazed that it took so long for someone to make a deck builder just using a regular deck of cards.

Card Capture was designed to be an introduction to deck builders. Which could be an excuse to make the game simple and dumbed down. Card Capture is simple but I wouldn’t call it dumbed down.

Okay, the full rules are online and free but let’s give the thumbnail. The object of the game is capture all the faces and aces. At the start of the game, you divide the cards up into a player deck (the jokers and all the twos, threes and fours) and an enemy deck that’s everything else.

The basic idea is that you have a row of four enemy cards. Every turn, you have to take one away. You can capture/claim a card by spending an equal or higher value of cards from your hand _of the same suit_ If you can’t do that, you can discard a card and the first card in the enemy row to the enemy capture pile. BUT if a face or ace card ever goes into that pile, YOU LOSE! The last thing you can do is sacrifice. Discard two cards into the enemy capture pile and put a card from the row under the enemy draw pile.

What makes Card Capture tick is that is all about trashing cards and making it a double edged sword. Getting rid of all the twos as early as possible? Great! But having to make too many sacrifices can make you run out of cards. If you short-suit yourself (and it’s easy to do it you’re not careful), you will lose.

I have not played the game enough to know if there is a dominant strategy that would make the game boring and I don’t know for sure that that bad shuffles can make the game impossible to win (but I think that is true) What I am sure that the game doesn’t play itself, that your decisions make a difference. And I think even if the game can be broken or solved, it will take enough plays to figure it out to still be fun.

Card Capture isn’t flawless. I do think luck can overcome clever planning. And, like any game that just a traditional deck of cards, it’s dry and themeless and that can be a deal breaker for some folks. And, to be honest, if I was introducing someone to deck building using a solitaire, I’d still prefer to use Friday by Friedemann Friesse.

However, I am having fun with Card Capture. I love that I have a new and different option if all I have on me is a deck of cards. The mechanics hold up and, if all you have to work with is a deck of cards, that’s a big deal.

So, yeah, if you’re at all into traditional card games, check out Card Capture.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Dec 16, 2019 7:23 pm
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A deck of cards is an abstract strategy game

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve been meaning to try out Card Capture for a while. A solitaire deck builder that just uses a regular deck of cards? That’s something that I have to look into. The idea taps into both the possibilities and the limitations of a deck of cards.

(This was going to be a review of Card Capture but the tangent just went to far. I do like to ramble)

A deck of cards is the most amazing tool you can have in your gaming library. It _is_ a game library, one you can fit in your pocket. It is the most flexible game system you’re going to find and there are hundreds of games for it andit’s something that you can usually get non-gamers to play.

At the same time, a deck of cards is very abstract. Which doesn’t make any difference for traditional games but can make a more ‘modern’ game seem thin and dry, particularly if there is a theme attached to the game.

Which, quite frankly, doesn’t seem quite fair I’ve seen a lot of trick taking games that might have spiffy artwork and a theme but really aren’t that far removed from Whist or other trick taking games. But even that teeny tiny step away from abstraction makes a difference. I love abstracts and even I know that that little bit of flair makes a difference.

(And there is an actual practical reason for this. Theme and specialized cards can make a game more accessible. Easier to process and understand. But that’s a whole other topic and I have already rambled far afield enough)

Which isn’t to say a regular deck of cards can’t work as a ‘modern’ game. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Lamarkian Poker, even pickup games with strangers. Admittedly, it uses many elements from traditional games but blends them in a way that feels non-traditional.

On the other hand, even though you can easily play it with a regular deck of cards, I enjoyed The Shooting Party a lot more after I made a themed deck. A big difference between those two games is that Lamarkian Poker is built on mechanics and The Shooting Party is built on theme.

Fundamentally, while no one lists a regular deck of cards as an abstract strategy game like Chess or Go, it is very much an abstract system and suffers when theme is pushed onto it. (Unless you view it as it’s own theme. Individual cards and poker hands are iconic, after all)

A deck of cards is a door to so many games, ancient and new, but we have to respect its limits.

Originally posted www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Dec 13, 2019 6:01 pm
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My absolute failure to define a game system

Lowell Kempf
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When talking about game systems (and I feel like talking about game systems), you have to ask yourself “Where do you draw the line?” I don’t think there’s a definitive answer but I do think there are murkier cases.

A game system, for those are curious, is a set of components that you can use to play a variety of different games. A deck conventional playing cards is my absolutely favorite example because everyone gets it. There are books upon books of different games you can play with just a deck of cards. There isn’t a game called Cards. There are families of games that you can play with those 52 little pieces of cardboard.

There’s a few places that it gets murky for me. One is when you have to add additional things to make the game work. I adore the Looney Pyramids but I also have to admit that a lot of the games involve adding more than just pyramids. Dice, playing cards, tokens, boards, Tarot cards, a Piece Pak set, etc. Although Looney Labs kind of killed that line of questioning by publishing the Pyramid Arcade and including all of that other stuff in the same box. And there are times when this kind of argument gets a little silly anyway. Poker needs poker chips or some equivalent (like actual money) to work so Poker doesn’t count SAID NO ONE EVER.

Yes, it is really nice when a game system is entirely encapsulated in one set of components. I mean, you have a game library in your pocket by putting a deck of cards in said pocket. But it is clearly too limiting to insist on that.

Another question you have to ask is if something is a game system or a game with a lot of variations. I remember being told that Quarriors was really a tool box because there were a variety of ways to play the game. I don’t think that makes it a game system since you’re still just playing Quarriors. Carcassonne having expansions doesn’t make it a game system. Just a game that can be expanded. On the other hand, Ablaze actually does cross into being a game system since the three rule sets that come in the box are fairly distinct. Ablaze is a very close call, though.

It’s also interesting when a game isn’t known for being made from a game system but clearly is. You can, of course, play checkers with nothing more than a Checkers set. But there are other, very solid games, that you can do that with. Lines of Actions and two-player Focus are my personal favorites.

And you can take the concept to work interesting extremes. You can argue that the early Cheapass Games, having you raid other games for components, turned your entire game collection into a game system
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Fri Oct 4, 2019 4:22 am
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How I love game systems

Lowell Kempf
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Ah, game systems. A subject I never tire of going back to and a subject that is on my mind because I just made a copy of a game system, a Pairs deck.

A game system is a set of components that you can use to play a variety of different games. And, as far as I’m concerned, the king Of game systems and the greatest game system is the deck of conventional playing cards. I’d be willing to hear arguments for a challenger to that title (You can definitely make an argument for dominoes) but it would have to be a really, really good argument.

I think a game system needs two things: versatility and at least one killer game. A game system needs at least one game that you’d have still bought the thing even if that was the only game you could play with it.

And a deck of cards has both of those traits in spades (and diamonds and clubs and hearts) You can do so much with just one deck. And it doesn’t just have a killer game or just a bunch of them. It has _families_ of killer games. You have the poker family, the rummy family, the climbing family, the trick-taking family, etc.

Still, it’s fun to look for more modern game systems. A deck of cards is one of the basic building blocks of the hobby, part of its primordial DNA but something more modern can be fun and fascinating.

My personal favorite is Ice House/Treehouse/Looney Pyramids/Pyramid Arcade (I’ve been playing with pyramids with a long time) That said, since you might use dice, cards, tokens and boards in addition to the pyramids, I also view it as kind of a cheat Still, the pyramids are a gateway to a wide variety of great games.

I have a ways to go before I’ve explored the Pairs system to have a really good idea how versatile it is or what, if any, killer games it might have. But I am glad to have made it. I think there’s fun in there.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Oct 3, 2019 7:24 pm
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