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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Binging on PnP

Lowell Kempf
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The other night, I noticed that I had been printing out PnP projects but I hadn’t actually been getting around to making any of them. To be fair, December was pretty crazy and I did spend half of it in other states. In fact, my last crafting was for the Mini PnP Secret Santa (which was a blast and totally worth doing)

So, I sat down and started cutting, followed by laminating and then more cutting. None of the projects were remotely big but I really had let them pile up.

Over the course of a couple days, I have made copies of Pentaquark, Jasper and Zot, Elevens for One, Pocket Landship with the Second Front Expansion, Garden of Zen, Zone Runners, Bento Blocks, Raiders in My Pocket, and the original edition of The Name of God (which is a micro RPG)

Some of these games are ones I’ve made before but I’ve given the earlier copies away. And, in some cases, I’ve also gotten better at crafting since I made the first copies too

Raiders in My Pocket was easily the most annoying to craft. When I first printed it out, I thought it was really neat that they fit all the tiles and cards, plus the tokens, on one sheet of paper. However, in reality, that means all the pieces are really tiny which make them a pain to cut. That might also make them hard to use too.

I also want to note that I made a copy of the first edition of the Name of God, as opposed to the greatly expanded and much more colorful second edition, because it consists of basically six cards and minimal, ink friendly art. I eventually will make a nice copy of the second edition but I now have a good RPG that game can fit in its entirety in my wallet.

I doubt that this will be the shape of things to come, that I’ll end up crafting a whole bunch of games all at once on a regular basis. However, over the last few years, I have been doing more and more PnP crafting. And I’ve gotten into PnP solitaire games more and more. So we will see what 2018 holds in store.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Jan 18, 2018 4:39 am
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Back issues and gaming

Lowell Kempf
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Years ago, I had a bad accident that resulted in a herniated lower disc. Annoyingly, it was misdiagnosed as lumbago and I spent over a decade in varying levels of discomfort before a cat scan identified the problem and I was able to get some surgery. It didn’t undo all the damage but it did help a lot.

What does that have anything to do with gaming?

Well, here’s the thing. Sitting, hunched over a board for a long time, has sometimes been very difficult for me. And, try as I might, I find it hard to sit back and lounge when playing games.

For a number of reasons, a lot of them involving parenthood, I’ve been much more interested in shorter games lately. Heck, 45 minutes is my current idea of a ‘full’ game.

However, it’s amusing to me to realize that there can be a medical reason to prefer shorter games.
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Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:34 am
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Okay, so I struggled with a 10x10...

Lowell Kempf
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Last year, I tried to do a 10x10 challenge. That’s playing ten specific games ten times. And I didn’t do that good a job of it.

Part of the problem was that I did it through Yucata, which meant that the games were turn-based. And that means that it took weeks, even potentially months to finish games. In theory, I could have tried to play ten games of any given game at the same time but that wouldn’t have been fun for me. If I didn’t mix up games, I wouldn’t have learned from my experience and mistakes since I’d be making the same mistakes ten times at the same time.

So, I am rethinking how to try doing something like this.

The obvious answer is to play face to face games. That solves the games-lasting-for-weeks issue. Unfortunately, having a small child has made face-to-face gaming a lot more difficult, although we are working on that. But I’d rather focus on just playing games than getting reps.

The next idea is playing games online real time. The place where I’d do that is Board Game Arena. Finding the time is still an issue but I’m tempted to try a 5x5, focusing on abstracts. I think that’s a good way to test the waters.

In fact, in general, I think 5x5 might be a better format for me right now.

My last idea is to do a 5x5 of solitaire PnP games. Last year, I really got interested in that form. And that’s something that would be easy to do. At the very least, I can pause indefinitely and not annoy anyone else. Actually, that might be a good policy for solitaire PnP in general.

I think repetition is important with games. 10x10 challenges are a good way of doing that. I just need to do it in a more bite-size way right now.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jan 12, 2018 4:20 pm
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Will I buy any games in 2018?

Lowell Kempf
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Last year, I decided to not buy any new games last year. I gave myself the escape clauses of Kickstarter not counting (and I stuck to just PnP files anyway), children’s games not counting, PnP not counting and used games bought with store credit not counting.

Well, I ended up buying four used games but not with store credit. Still, I spent next to nothing on them and they take up minimal space so I feel I can give myself a C+.

To be honest, I’m not planning on planning on trying not buying any games again this year. I mean, it could happen but it probably won’t. Instead, I’ll repeat my 2016 pledge, to buy no more than six new games. And I only bought two that year.

And the usual clauses apply: Kickstarter is its own thing; games for the preschooler don’t count; Print-and-Play doesn’t count. And I’m not going to count used games UNLESS they cost more than ten dollars. (I’d originally planned on making that twenty but I decided that was too much leeway)

Over the last year, I started making a list of games to potentially buy that I either tried and really liked or felt really confident that I would get real play out of. At the end of the year, the list was... seven games long. (Photosynthesis, Imhotep, Isle of Skye, Sintorini, LYNGK, Azul and Segrata, by the way)

When I first started buying games, I’d get anything that interested me. That’s how I ended up with a bloated game collection, full of too many games that only got played once or didn’t get played at all. Now I look for games that wouldn’t just be fun but would see plenty of play. (Which, right now, means, shorter games primarily for two players)

Oh, there are bigger games that tempt me, like Scythe. However, I know that those wouldn’t get played or played once at most over the next few years. The decision to not buy games isn’t a meaningless challenge. It’s realistically looking at my hobby.

Maybe this year I will not buy any games. Maybe I’ll go over that six limit. But I will do my best to make wise decisions.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:26 pm
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Yup. Time to look at 2017

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, 2017 has gone by. How was the year for gaming for me?

I set a number of goals for the year. Not to buy any new games. To do a 10x10 goal. To do a lot more print-and-play projects. To limit my Kickstarters to PnP files and under a tight budget. To play more face-to-face games.

I didn’t achieve all my goals but I feel like I came out ahead in general.

Strictly speaking, I didn’t buy any ‘new’ games. I did buy used copies of Qwixx, Rolling America, The Butterfly Garden and Famous Fairways. Since I spent less than ten dollars total and they take up almost no shelf space and are games we can get in in a week night, no regrets.

My 10x10 plan fell through. Part of the issue was that it was via Yucata and that meant some games lasted weeks. At the same time, I did end up playing more of games that I wouldn’t have played otherwise. So, no regrets and I have an even better appreciation for the King of Siam. 10x10 goals may be better with real-time play. Maybe I’ll try a 5x5 goal with Boardgame Arena.

As for sticking to my kickstarter goals and making more print-and-play games, I did great on that. Which makes sense since they are kind of dovetailed together this year. I’m still sticking to smaller print-and-play projects but I have been still making and playing them more and more.

I didn’t end up doing as much face-to-face gaming, although I do treasure the gaming that I did do. However, I did get into what has ended up being a fairly consistent and very good D&D campaign on Roll20, which has been my first Roll20 experience. In fact, I think that is the highlight of my 2017 as far as gaming is concerned.

Soooo, it wasn’t a banner year in gaming for me. However, I still did some neat stuff. Like I said, my print-and-play activity went up a lot and I spent a fair bit of time exploring the solitaire options there. And I got to play Fifth Edition D&D and use Roll20 for the first time at the same time.

Still, I’m going to try and push 2018 a little more.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jan 8, 2018 11:00 pm
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Curious George Discovery Beach - Now here’s a game for small kids!

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve already mentioned that our son asked for Doggie Doo for Christmas. It could be the poster child for a toy that pretends to be a game and a game that has basically no choices. However, we picked up a used copy of Curious George Discovery Beach. And _that’s_ a game for preschoolers that is an actual game.

Oh, the game still qualifies as a toy. Take a piece of hard plastic and mold five pits into it, connected by shallow canals. Half fill it with itty bitty blue beads and tchotchkes like little colored fish and shells. Seal it with a sheet of clear plastic and then put some beach-themed cardboard over that with holes for each pit. Then, add some remove-able covers, also beach themed, on the holes.

Discovery Beach is a combination memory and look-and-find game. You have a deck of pie-piece cards listing items (from as vague as anything yellow to specific as a yellow shell) and a spinner. On your turn, you draw a card and put it beside the board. Then, you flick the spinner. Most spaces give you a choice of two spaces to open but there’s also one space to pick any space and one to shake the board and take another turn. You can claim any cards that you can spot an object that qualifies (and you can take more than one) First player to get six cards, forming a circle, wins.

There’s a lot I like about the game as a children’s game. Kids get to practice memory skills and observation skills. You always have a choice. And by having a growing line of cards to possibly claim, the game keeps moving along.

Now, obviously Curious George Discovery Beach isn’t going to challenge Scythe as a game. Or Catan or For Sale or Can’t Stop. However, it is an honest-to-goodness game that offers the players actual choices and the better players do have a legitimate edge.

While I wouldn’t play Curious George Discovery Beach with adults or teenagers or even older kids, it is one of the best games I’ve tried a for small children. I’m surprised I haven’t seen it for other licensed products because it’s a neat toy with a fun game attached.
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Fri Jan 5, 2018 9:08 pm
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THIS is the game my son asked for?!

Lowell Kempf
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Christmas of 2017 was the first time our son has asked for a board game. Hooray! We must be doing something right!

It was Doggie Doo. Oh sweet Azathoth, what are we doing wrong?

Okay, he just turned four. Hoping he’d want Scythe was unrealistic.

There may be those of you have had the good fortune to have no idea what Doggie Doo is. Stop reading now if you want to keep that precious innocence and ignorance.

Okay. The game consists of a pneumatic dog toy that you use an air pump to squeeze a spongy dog poop from the mouth to out of the bottom. The game part consists of spinning a spinner to see how many squeezes you get on your turn.

Okay. Let’s be brutally honest here. There’s no decisions to make in this game. You just do what the spinner tells you to. The whole point of the game is justify a pooping dog toy.

And while that doesn’t offend or bother me, it really doesn’t interest me.

However, it is a hilarious to a four-year-old. And I guess it gives him practice taking turns and counting. And it’s a game that he asks to play and I want him having practice asking to play games.

Originally posted at www.gnomeponderng.com
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Wed Jan 3, 2018 4:43 am
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Almost New Year’s Eve gaming

Lowell Kempf
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For a while, I was in a Skype game of old school Marvel Superheroes. Time commitments made it too difficult for me to stay but I get invited when they have one-shots. And I managed to make a special, almost-the-end-of-the-year, game on December 30th.

The basic plot of the one-shot was that the UN was sending a group of heroes to an another dimension to retrieve the board of Mys-Tech, a bunch of evil wizards from the Warhead comic book (which I never read and knew nothing about)

While most of my time playing the old Marvel system was spent in homebrew campaigns, Dennis runs his game nominally in the Marvel universe. When he runs one-shots, he just lets us pick from an appropriate group of previously established Marvel characters.

This time, he gave us a selection of Avengers, Alpha Flight members and other international heroes. Looking through the list, I immediately saw *the* choice: Devil Dinosaur! A later creation of Jack Kirby, Devil is a mutant Tyrannosaurus Rex who has bright red skin and the intelligence of a high school sophomore (to steal a line from Roger Zelazny)

The rest of the team consisted of Skaar, son of the Hulk, Talisman and Havok (who was easily the least obscure character in the bunch, at least until Devil Dinosaur gets his own movie)

Short version of how things went: Talisman teleported the team right into the board room and we stomped on them until they were dead (Marvel has a pretty strict moral code but Devil Dinosaur is flexible about who people are), in traction or surrendered. Dennis figured the UN would send in overwhelming force and that’s pretty much what we were. The goal wasn’t a high drama, desperate fight but a total romp.

Devil Dinosaur was a great choice for a fun, slightly silly game. For spoken dialogue, I just said the word ‘roar’ while typing in chat Bertie Wooster-like comments ‘Dash it all, that’s dirty pool, old bean!’ And knowing that I had poor psyche and couldn’t handle any magic attacks on my mind, I jumped over the mooks to just literally stomp on the squishy mages. Proved to be a successful strategy.

Back in the Midwest, I used to spend New Year’s board gaming until I dropped. Small child doesn’t lend itself to that. However, playing this game felt like a tribute to that tradition.

Good times.

Origanally posted on www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jan 2, 2018 3:13 am
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1000 posts and counting

Lowell Kempf
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Wow. This post marks the 1000th post in this blog.

I started this blog back in 2011 so I’ve been doing this for about six and a half years. And since I have a lot of fun writing, it’s not a big surprise to me that I hit this particular milestone. Still, nice.

In my actual life, in that time, I have gotten married, become a father, and left my old job to move across the country to become a stay-a-home dad. In other words, just about meaningful thing in my life changed. Which, when you get down to it, has been pretty awesome.

As far as board games are concerned, I have become more focused on family weight games with forty-five minutes being the sweet spot for a ‘meaty’ game. I have become more interested in micro-games and a _lot_ more interested in print-and-play. Eh, time and space are more limited at the moment.

And when it comes to role playing games, I’ve discovered games run by narrative rules instead of more mechanical ones, games that are more suited for one session play and might not even have a game master. At the same time, I’ve discovered that I can keep on playing Dungeons and Dragons on Roll20.

I’m not going to say that this blog is the only thing that hasn’t changed since, frankly, this has changed a fair bit as well. It really started out more focused on reviews and has become more free form since then.

And my general love of gaming (and cats and Doctor Who) is pretty much the same. I’m still the same guy I was six years ago, just more so. The details have just developed. (I guess I’m saying being a dad was always a fundamental part of who I am, I just needed a kid. Is that deep or crazy?)

I know I’m not one of the all time great bloggers but it’s been fun to reach 1000 posts and who knows where I’ll go from here?
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Sun Dec 31, 2017 6:19 am
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Alhambra, quietly great

Lowell Kempf
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Ah, Alhambra.

While I was already exploring and playing designer games by the time I got to Alhambra, I have still been playing it for many years. It combines a couple of layers of simples decisions (What tiles do I buy and where can I place them are the fundamental ones) and I don’t think I’d turn down an offer to play. And I’ve yet to actually play with any of the expansions

The thumbnail sketch is that you are in charge of the restoration of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. Each player is building their own palace. You have to buy the tiles, which have a set price, but they are randomly placed in the market which determines which of the four currencies is needed to buy it. You can choose to buy tiles, draw money cards or do some limited rearranging of your tiles. Three tiles during the game, you score points based on having the majority of tile types, as well as the length of your largest outer wall.

As you can imagine (and probably know full well since I bet most of the people reading this have played even more Alhambra than me), I’ve glossed over a lot, like placement restrictions or the value of paying with exact change. But the basic idea is everyone is building their own castle and buying the tiles to do it.

Alhambra won the Spiel des Jahres in 2003 and I’m pretty sure it has never been out of print. It has had numerous expansions and spinoffs. It’s one of Dirk Henn’s biggest successes, although my friends who are fans of Shogun would threaten me with bodily harm if I said it was his greatest And Shogun is pretty awesome.

You would think that Alhambra would be one of the cornerstones of family-weight gaming like Ticket to Ride or Puerto Rico. And, in reality, I’m pretty sure it is. And yet, I never seem to hear it come up in discussions about family gaming.

My two theories on that are that I’m just not hearing the right discussions and Carcassonne. Frankly, apart from being tile laying games, I don’t see any real resemblance. But Carcassonne casts one big shadow.

And, like I said, the differences are huge. Everyone has their own tableau in Alhambra, unlike the shared one in Carcassonne. You flat out buy the tiles, making money management a huge deal and meaning you know just what tiles you’re getting. The tiles have an orientation, adding a layer of difficulty in placement. And the scoring is also directly compositing for majorities.

I really love Carcassonne and think it has earned its place of being successful enough that it’s hip to diss it but, man, Alhambra is also a great game with a lot going for it.

Again, I’m not saying that Alhambra deserves to be a cornerstone of family-weight games. I’m pretty sure it already is. In an industry full of flash-in-the-pan, gone-the-next-year games, it has kept on going. At the end of the day, dollars do mean something and Alhambra is doing okay.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Dec 30, 2017 5:37 am
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