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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Loki takes the MCU into Doctor Who land

Lowell Kempf
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I do love me some MCU. And Loki may be my favorite mini-series out of the current wave that Disney is cranking out. (WandaVision is tough competition though. I like weird, meta fiction)

Only one episode has aired as of me writing this, which means that I’m not too worried about spoilers. However, I’ll still try to be cryptic.

I do find it hilarious that the powers-that-be resolved Loki’s character arc in the Infinity War and they are getting away with still doing more stuff with Loki. They are having their Tom Hiddleston cake and eating it too.

But to be fair, I think the last time anyone has accused Disney of not knowing how to make money was when it took Sleeping Beauty eleven years to turn a profit (thanks to its astronomical production costs) And the comic book version of Loki has certainly been through a lot of story arcs.

My first impression is that Disney has put Men in Black, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who into a blender. Well, if the Men in Black was a malevolent organization. To say that the Time Variance Authority is morally ambiguous is being generous past the point of reasonable.

Loki, at least as of episode one, has the title character enter a completely new setting, one that I don’t think has been even hinted at existing in the MCU. And one that like Guardians, it’s a used, Star Wars-like setting where there’s lot of stuff going on we will never learn about.

I enjoy quirky science fiction. I was bitten by a Jon Pertwee serial at a young age and it’s affected me ever since. So I am so one of Loki’s target demographic. It has moments that are truly funny and others that are honestly bittersweet but it is strange and snarky all the way through.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jun 14, 2021 6:11 pm
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I taught myself Calico in my doctor’s waiting room

Lowell Kempf
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While I had known a while that there was a solitaire demo of Calico online, I didn’t get around to trying it out until I was waiting at the doctor’s office for my annual physical. No one will ask for me for a blurb about Calico but it would be ‘You can learn it in the waiting room’

Calico is a game about cats, which puts it right up my alley. It’s also a puzzly abstract themed around making a quilt for those cats. I’ve heard it said homespun Arcadian themes have become their own genre but I think that’s been the case since Agricola (and that’s been out for a while)

I really had no excuse not to have tried the game out earlier. The website is very accessible and the game mechanically simple enough that I was able to learn it while waiting for a nurse practitioner to call my name.

You have your own hexagonal grid. You have a hand of two hexagonal quilt tiles. On your turn, you place one in an empty spot. You then draw one of three market tiles to refill your hand and the left most market tile gets discarded. (Ticket to Ride strikes again!)

There are three ways to score points, at least in the demo. Groups of three or more like colors can earn a button. Specific cat tiles can be placed on specific combinations of patterns. And there are goal tiles on your board that have to be surrounded by specific combinations of colors and/or patterns.

I really enjoyed Calico, more than I honestly been expecting. A big part of what makes the game tick is the three separate ways of scoring points. Because unless you are both very careful and very lucky, they are going to conflict with each other and you are going to make choices and sacrifices. I also liked the market. That helped add choices to the game.

I’m continuing my moratorium on buying new games but Calico has rushed to near the top of the top of the list of games I’d buy. I know the complete game has more types of cats and goal tiles and scenarios. The demo entertained me but the full game sounds really good.

https://myautoma.github.io/games/calico/index.html


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Jun 12, 2021 3:37 am
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Cozy Grove. Come for the ghosts. Stay fir the R&R

Lowell Kempf
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Cozy Grove is the latest Iyashikei game we’ve tried. It’s a Japanese genre that is about healing and decompression, no conflict and often about nature. It’s actually much more of an anime genre than a video game one but Animal Crossing was our introduction to it. (Which might be why the other two video games we’ve tried aren’t Japanese)

In Cozy Grove, you are a spirit scout, a gender neutral branch of scouting that is devoted to camping, outdoor crafts and exorcising restless ghosts. Wait, what was that last one?

You are stranded on the island of Cozy Grove which is positively teeming with unhappy spirits. Who are all incredibly friendly anthropomorphic bears. The game consists of low key fetch quests, resource gathering and decorating the island.

And Cozy Grove is a slow burn, even compared to Animal Crossing. You will run out of resources and fetch quests for the day and it won’t be too difficult to reach that point. As opposed to Animal Crossing, where you could catch fish and bugs all day long if you felt like it.

I have to make a special note of the music and graphic design. It’s a lot of fun to see areas burst into life after you’ve helped someone or added light to the world. But the music is what really sells the feels of Cozy Grove. I could listen to the soundtrack for hours.

We still have a long ways to go before we complete the game. While the stories are melancholy (these are ghosts after all), I hope there isn’t any twist like you’re actually dead all along or the bears are all restless because they killed the last scout. I want this to be Iyashikei to the end.

Animal Crossing was a quiet revelation for me. Cozy Grove isnt quite as immersive or impressive but it has its own strength and poignancy. So I will see where its story goes.
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Thu Jun 10, 2021 1:35 am
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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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My May R&W

Lowell Kempf
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May continued my habit of learning and playing lots of Roll and Write games. As I have said ad nausium, Roll and Write games are a good return when you have limited time and space. The medium definitely has limitations but the benefits are real.

One game that I had already learned that I want to mention again is Reiner Knizia’s Criss Cross, which I went back to in May and played a lot. I remember being harsh about it when I first tried it and... I don’t think I was unfair even though I had a lot of fun revisiting it.

Criss Cross isn’t the minimum in what I’d accept from a Roll and Write but I think it does represent as _minimalist_ as you can get and still be good. And a lot of its good qualities come from that minimalism. It’s good for a mental coffee break and it’s great as a travel game you can play with a large group, particularly of non-gamers. But, at the same time, there’s not enough there to sit down for some serious gaming.

I tried two different games from two different contests by the same designer based on the Divine Comedy. While Nine Circles, the Inferno game, was an acceptable, workmanlike game (which is no small thing to accomplish), Seven Steps had a dice cycling mechanic that I liked. I hope there will be a Paradise game that shows similar development.

I also tried two more of Radoslaw Ignatow’s designs. (For some reason, his PDFs confuse our printer so it’s slow going getting them printed) Those were Mage Forge and Master Your Castle. I’ll need to play them more before I feel comfortable reviewing them but I enjoyed them. Ignatow continues to give me a good, casual-weight experience with one sheet of paper.

And I finally tried Tempus Imperium, a roll and write that replaces dice with a time stamp. I quite enjoyed but the same designer all the uses the same idea with Tempus Quest that has mission-based goals and a campaign and with Tempus Infinitum that uses a simpler time stamp with more complicated rules and map. Tempus Imperium might end up replaced by its successors.

In other news, I’ve noticed that laminating sheets have been out of stock at some suppliers lately. You can still find them and I still have a stock but I’ve started using sheet protectors for Roll and Writes. I prefer the sturdiness of laminating sheets and I don’t consider sheet protectors a craft project but they will do in a pinch.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jun 4, 2021 7:39 pm
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Lord Dunsany’s voyage to Mars

Lowell Kempf
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I have been slowly reading The Travel Tales of Mr. Joseph Jorkens by Lord Dunsany, the first of his Jorkens collections. It took me years to find a copy so I am savoring the book. I mean to write about the whole experience when I am done but one story really struck me.

While most of the stories I’ve read so far with Jorkens are slightly grounded travel stories, Our Distant Cousins veers into serious science fiction. Which also actually makes it feel the most dated.

Spoilers

Spoilers

Spoilers

For a story that was first published in a magazine pretty close to a hundred years ago

It has been said that the Jorkens stories helped codify the pub story (even though example go way back) but this one breaks a lot of the conventions. Eh, it’s Dunsany. He seems to have only followed his own rules.

Our Distant Cousins isn’t actually told by Jorkens but by an associate of his who allegedly made the first voyage to Mars but lost all the proof that he had by the time he made it back to Earth.

The actual plot is honestly an abridged version of the Time Machine by H. G. Wells only with space travel instead of time travel. However, it’s the details that really struck me and stuck with me.

The traveler gets to Mars via a conventional airplane, albeit one with a rocket attached. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ve ever actually seen that idea used literally.

However, he doesn’t fly through ether or does there turn out to be a breathable atmosphere in space. He actually turns off the engine and uses the momentum of the Earth to to power his trip to Mars. More than that, it takes him thirty days to reach Mars and he describes the silence and boredom of the experience. His head is stuck in a special but faulty oxygen helmet and his body is wrapped in special bandages to deal with no atmospheric pressure.

It’s the last bit that just really stayed with me. Bandages as a space suit. Dunsany actually considered the issues with flying a plan into space. No, they wouldn’t work but they make sense. That part of the story is actually remarkably hard science fiction.

Yeah, landing on a pastoral Mars where grotesque monsters keep humans as livestock sends us straight into fantasy, possible allegorical fantasy. But the space flight part is just neat.

I found out that Dunsany wrote a sequel, the Slugly Beast, where the traveler is lured back to Mars by threatening radio messages. It’s entirely from the viewpoint of Jorkens and the narrator. I think it’s a better, more atmospheric story but it doesn’t have the same science fiction bite.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jun 2, 2021 3:28 pm
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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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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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