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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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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Deadeye Dinah - fussy but fascinating

Lowell Kempf
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The jury is still out for me as far as Deadeye Dinah is concerned but I definitely like the idea and many of the mechanics of the game.

Deadeye Dinah is one of the entries in the 2021 9-Card PnP Contest. It’s still being refined and I haven’t even tried out the most recent rules. I’ll probably double dip and write about the finished version at some point.

It’s a PnP, in-hand solitaire. You print it out and make the cards yourself; the deck stays in your hands the whole time; and it’s just you alone against the game. In this case, you are a bounty hunter in the Wild West, methodically hunting down eight different crime bosses.

The cards are multi-functional. Other than an aide card, each card can be a boss, two different flavors of action card or a scene you have to overcome. The game is a campaign, where you work your way up from cattle rustlers and whiskey peddlers to the ringleader.

In each hand/game, you are going after a specific boss. The boss card will tell you how to set up your opening hand. The fewer cards you have in your hand, the more scenes you have to deal with. You have to overcome a scene using your cards either as items or as bullets. As you go through the bosses, you will level up and get better special abilities. Defeat all eight bosses and you win the campaign.

Deadeye Dinah does have some issues. I’ve made it most of the way through the campaign and I’m still not sure I’ve been following all the rules correctly. The basic idea of the mechanics isn’t complex but you have to track of your special ability, the boss’s special ability, items’ special ability and the effect of cover (if you use it) Shootouts in particular become surprisingly intricate.

Of course, every scene being a puzzle that doesn’t necessarily have a obvious solution isn’t a bad thing. It does mean the game is more than fidgeting. However, I want to make sure that I’m not making a mistake when I figure out that opaque solution.

That said, I have played through most of a campaign so I am having fun with Deadeye Dinah. I do like that the game is played with just the cards fanned. Some in hand games involved holding the cards in convoluted ways. Deadeye Dinah being very functional is a big plus.

Deadeye Dinah is clever with well designed cards and integrated themes. However, it can be frustrating and fussy. I am curious to see what the end result will be.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Apr 24, 2021 1:59 am
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Foothold Enterprises is a hidden diamond in the rough

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve finally gotten around to making and playing a copy of Foothold Enterprises. What I found was a game that was mechanically compelling enough that I want to keep playing but a seriously boring graphic design.

Okay. Here’s the info dump. Foothold Enterprises is a print-and-play, in-hand, solitaire game. That means you make it yourself, only one person can play at a time and you don’t need a table. Which are all things I’ve been exploring for the last couple years.

You are starting to get a startup company off the ground. You need clients, which are what the game calls points. In practice, it’s an auction game where you bid for advertising (special powers), clients (like I said, points) and money (the stuff you use to bid)

Every card has an ad power, a money value, a client number and the number of cards you flip if you want to bid for any of the three elements. If you want to bid on a card, you decide how much you are willing to bid, flip over the right number of cards and see if the cards add up to less than your bid. If they do, then you get the card.

A few clarifications. You track money with a money card and a paper clip. You get two bucks at the end of every turn so passing and getting money is important. And you don’t spend your bid if you bid for money since you’d never bid for money otherwise.

One of my favorite design choices is you use card positions to designate how cards are used. Client cards you win are turned upside down and put face up in the back of the deck. Ad powers are placed sideways. Every other card you use are face up and right side up in the back of the deck. It makes everything easy to track.

When I first played it, I said to myself ‘This is like the Zed Deck’, which was listed as an inspiration. So I got out the Zed Deck and played it again. And, no, it really isn’t like the Zed Deck. Other than being in-hand, they are different experiences. The Zed Deck is very encounter-based while Foothold is auction/money management. (I don’t consider trying not to lose all your health resource management )

I’m not going to lie. I really didn’t know how well Foothold Enterprises would work. It ended up actually being a lot of fun. To be fair, the auction mechanism is less an actual actual mechanic and more a push-your-luck mechanic. (And don’t give me the everything-is-a-push-your-luck-mechanic argument) Regardless, the gameplay has a good flow.

I did find that by being conservative when I went after a card and liberal about how much I bid, hitting the fifty client mark wasn’t hard. However, raising the benchmark made for a much more challenging game. Either way, I had fun.

The biggest ding I have for Foothold Enterprises is the terribly dry presentation. It was great for saving ink and the design wins points for being very functional. But the lack of art makes them dull enough that I have to think that contributes a lot to why no one seems to know the game. The Zed Deck, as a comparison, is much more visually interesting. Maybe a redesign where the cards look like business cards would solve the problem.

While Foothold Enterprises doesn’t knock down Palm Island from its spot as the best In-Hand game I’ve played, it’s still a game I enjoy playing and plan on keep playing.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Mar 22, 2021 8:05 pm
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Clockmaster makes drawing a clock face fun

Lowell Kempf
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Clockmaster is a game about drawing a clock face. As far as elevator pitches go, it leaves me cold (and I couldn’t wait to try Bohnanza sixteen years ago!) And yet, when I actually played the game, it had an immediate ‘let’s do that again’ effect.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2488929/wip-clockmaster-sol...

The whole thing, rules and all, fits on one sheet of paper, which is why I tried it in the first place. (It’s a PnP, R&W solitaire. No, jargon doesn’t get in the way of communication ) The actual play area consists of a blank clock face, a list of special actions and an hourglass with 24 circles.

You play with a pool of four dice. Roll all of them and then you assign two dice to the clock, one to action (which is different than special actions) and one to sand. An action die of 1-3 means you just use one of the clock dice while 4-6 means you use both.

You use the clock dice to fill in the numbers of the clock. If you’re using just one die, you write one of the numbers down in the right place. With two dice, you can add, subtract, multiply or divide the number. You can also use the turn to draw in the minute or hour hand regardless of what the dice say.

There are also four special actions. You can use each one once and you cross them out when you use them. The include things like rerolling a die or flipping a die.

You use the sand die to fill in that many circles in the hourglass. If you fill in the hour glass before you finish the clock face, you lose.

As I already mentioned, the theme doesn’t do much for me and I like games about bean farming or trading in the Mediterranean. However, there’s a lot of interesting dice manipulation for such a small space.

It’s not perfect. I find the most 1-3 action of just writing in a die’s number seems pretty dull compared to doing arithmetic with two dice. And, while the odds are against it, ‘bad’ die rolls can fill in the hourglass super fast and it takes fourteen turns to complete the clock face. It’s dice so it’s luck but it can still be annoying.

Apparently the designer is with me on the theme since they took the core mechanic and used it for a game about secret agents deactivating a bomb

Clockmaster isn’t my new favorite Roll and Write but it is a solid one-page work with more interesting choices than I expected. It went from ‘meh, it’s one page so I’ll try it’ to ‘oooh!’

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Mar 19, 2021 5:31 pm
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There are some good free Roll and Writes that are good for kids

Lowell Kempf
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I was trying to write a blog about a game I tried called Santa’s Southern Cross when I realized that it all boiled down to I found it dull, I’d rather play Paper Pinball and the best use for it was to have a stack of play sheets at the kids table so the adults could finish Christmas dinner.

And then I realized that you can do a lot better if you want to keep the kids occupied with Roll and Writes, even if you don’t want to spend any money.

(I also realized that Paper Pinball is a threshold game for me)

Just off the top of my head, you could use Tanuki Matsuri or 13 Sheep or Canterpiller Feast. And if I spent twenty minutes going over my files, I’d probably come up with a dozen or so more.

What I realized you would need in my theoretical table of kids who’d rather play a Roll and Write than find fragile family heirlooms to destroy (hey, I was a kid once) are games that are thematic, accessible and actually fun. I quite enjoy abstracts but I think a theme is good for young minds to latch onto.

Tanuki Matsuri is a game where playful spirits collect fruit through theft. The cascading effects creates really fun gameplay. Canterpiller remains the closest thing I’ve found to The Very Hungry Caterpillar the Game I’ve found. And 13 Sheep is one of the only Roll and Wrotes I’ve found that just uses a single die and still works. Plus, cute sheep.

And all three of my examples are games you can teach in about three minutes.

Yes, I know if I actually brought a stack of Roll and Writes for the kiddies, the best I could hope for is then to become paper airplanes. But I could give kids quality games to ignore!
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Thu Feb 18, 2021 4:27 am
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Forest Guardians is a beautiful game about fighting to the death

Lowell Kempf
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In this particular case, I’m writing about Forest Guardians, the entry in last year’s nine card contest, not the tile-laying game about being a forest ranger in Taiwan. That does look like a nice family game, though.

In this Forest Guardians, you control a party of three mouse knights who are fighting five enemy cats. The game consists of nine cards and some way to keep track of health. (I used paper clips, which worked well)

Every single card in the game has a special power and most of the game is making the best use you can of your mice’s powers and trying to cope with the cats’ powers.

A key mechanic is what I think of as a doom clock (which doesn’t make any sense as a name but I’m using it anyway) Five of the cats (one is randomly left out of the game) are laid out in arc. Each mouse has an arc on their cards which shows which positions they attack (and for how much damage) and which positions attack them.

A skirmish solitaire game, you win if you kill all the enemy, even if you die in the process. (Yes, it’s quite possible)

Before I talk about the mechanics, I do want to mention the art. It’s gorgeous. Seriously, I have paid good money for games that didn’t have nearly as nice art.

I went into the game with lowish expectations. I figured that with a pool of six opponents, it would be easy to figure out a formula to win. However, the positions of the enemies makes such a huge difference that the game is much trickier than I thought.

And the enemy effects are rough. I’m not convinced that you can have an unwinnable layout but it may be possible. Regardless, you actually have to think when you play. It’s a much better puzzle than I expected and more thematic as well.

The decision tree is front loaded. The early moves, when all five enemies are alive and can cause you problems are where you make the crucial decisions. The later rounds are where you find out if those decisions will pan out. However, since the game is pretty short, I don’t view that as a problem. And the brevity makes playing another round both easy and enticing.

In short, Forest Guardians is good enough that I’m hoping it gets expanded.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2349088/contest-ready-fores...

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Feb 15, 2021 7:14 pm
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a phone is a poor substitute for a gaming table but it is a substitute

Lowell Kempf
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While digital board gaming has been a part of my gaming life almost from the get-go (thanks to sites like BSW, Yutica, Super Duper Games and such), viewing my phone as a gaming medium took longer.

There are two reasons for that. One, the smaller screen of a phone is annoying for me when it comes to either pass-and-play or most online sites. Second, playing against AIs doesn’t feel ‘real’ to me. Solitaire games have to actually have solitaire options.

The apps for Onirim and Friday helped break the ice for me. They are games I already owned and liked and are legit solitaires.

However, last year marked a major change in me using my phone as a board game medium for two reasons. First, at the start of year, I picked up a number of apps for a roll and write games, giving me enough games to count as a tiny library for my phone.

Second, we spent a chunk of last year under lockdown. So playing lots of solitaire games really helped my state of mind.

By no means am I saying that playing Roll and Writes on my phone has made me revise my opinion about in-person games. Compared to playing with other folks, either in person or online, it isn’t as engaging or fun. Instead, I think it says that gaming will always find a way.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jan 29, 2021 8:12 pm
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Sometimes, fidgeting is enough

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve been meaning to write about Labyrinth Runner for... gee, over a year now. Labyrinth Runner is a solitaire game from the 2019 9-Card PnP Contest. Part of its hook is that it’s an in-hand game, you play the whole game with the entire deck in your hand.

The backstory is you were on vacation and missed doing your morning maze run. Happily, you found a labyrinth. Unhappily, there’s a Minotaur who wants to eat you. You need to find the three doors out of the labyrinth before the Minotaur catches you.

The core idea of the game is that each card, held landscape-ways, represents a forking path. You slide the cards to the left or to the right and the active card goes back into the deck flipped or revolved. You also have a little control over where in the deck it goes.

Here’s the thing for me. The game has two modes: fidget where you are just flipping cards and advanced where you have to do things like line keys up with doors to get through. And I have only played the game as a fidget game. I have found the advanced game too fiddly for what I get out of it.

Mind you, I pretty much only play Labyrinth Runner while waiting in the car or waiting for the tea water to boil or waiting for the bath to fill. When I want to sit down and actually play an in-hand game, I play Palm Island or the Zed Deck or Battle for the Carolinas or et al.

But as a fidget game, Labyrinth Runner is great. And I do like how it does act as a functional maze. It’s not something everyone is looking for. But with nine cards and an ink-light version, it’s a small investment for an alternative to messing with your phone in the car.


Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jan 18, 2021 5:18 pm
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2020

Lowell Kempf
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I don’t think there has been a year that will have more retrospectives than 2020 for maybe a generation. That is a huge sentence but I think it’s still true. This has been a grueling, devastating, damaging year. People all around the world will be feeling 2020 for years to come. 2020’s going to get its own Dewey Decimal number.

We have been luckier than so many people we know, let alone the wider world. And this has still been the most exhausting, stressful year of our lives.

Quarantine led to remote schooling and having to be the entertainment center meant a lot less R&R time. Short stories became incredibly valuable for me. And gaming has helped keep me a little saner.

Print and Play, solitaire micro-games have been a big deal for me in 2020. I already enjoyed them a lot but 2020 made them a focal point of my gaming. PNPArcade was a really solid source for them. When I had a stack of print-outs sitting I front of me to be cut and I felt like I had just walked into the exhibit hall of GenCon, I knew how confined quarantine had made us and how much we needed the little things.

Digital and online gaming has always been a big part of my gaming hobby so it didn’t feel particularly significant for me as far as 2020 was concerned. But I did play a lot of board games, thanks to the power of computers. In particular, I attended a coupe of virtual conventions. Which wasn’t as good as in-person but was incredibly important for fostering a sense of connection and community.

Finally, my positive, warm, fuzzy feelings towards Roll and Write games got a huge boost. While it goes back into how valuable Print and Play has been for me, Roll and Write still deserves a special mention. When time and space are limited, Roll and Writes offer some of the meatiest options for me. More than that, they are the best options when someone has asked me for a game they can make and play when they can’t get out.

2020 has been a devastating year all around. I think I speak for everyone when let us hope that 2021 is better.
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Thu Dec 31, 2020 7:43 pm
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Squire for Hire is Inventory the Game

Lowell Kempf
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Squire for Hire is a tile-laying game disguised as an inventory management game disguises as a dungeon crawl.

Oh, it’s also an 18-card micro game that is available as a PnP and offers a solitaire option that’s pretty effective. Those last two items are why I ended up trying Squire for Hire out

In the game, you are a cute little anthropomorphized animal person who is serving as the squire for an adventurer, which pretty amounts to being their caddy. You have to make sure they have the right weapons, magic, armor and such at the right time, not to mention make sure the inventory bag is properly sorted.

Really, it’s Nodwick without the horrible injuries.

Enough other folks have given detailed descriptions of the rules so here’s the thumbnail. The cards are double-sided. There’s a story side, which requires you to use specific items in your pack to be able to get loot. The other side is the loot side. That’s the tile laying side, three by four grid with random items taking up different numbers of squares. There’s some empty spots too.

Points are earned by having good stuff, duplicate items next to each other and special bonuses from your squire card. And you lose points for garbage.

It’s a pretty simple game, which is good because the rules definitely need some work. It’s a problem I’ve seen in a lot of micro games that are designed to fit into a tiny box or folder. There are number of points that could use some clarity. And, because of that, I thought Squire for Hire was easier than I thought. As I worked through some plays, I realized rules I had gotten wrong and the game became more interesting.

When you actually get the rules right, the puzzle element of the game is solid. You have lots of options and every decision will turn out to be wrong But it’s the theme that honestly sells the game. There are _lots_ of micro tile laying games out there. Invoking the grid inventory system that even I, who don’t play many video fakes, am familiar with, that’s the hook. And the mechanics make sense with managing that inventory.

At the end of the day, Squire for Hire is better than my first impressions and an amusing solitaire.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Dec 29, 2020 2:48 pm
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