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.

Archive for Lowell Kempf

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How did Bubblee Pop strike me?

Lowell Kempf
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Every once in a while, I log onto Boardgame Arena to see what games they’ve added and maybe learn a new game. In my latest wandering over to that site, I tried out Bubblee Pop, mostly because their internal news blurb said it had been really successful on the site.

Okay. Here’s Bubblee Pop in a sentence. A board game Bejeweled where you get to mess with the other player.

In the two-player game (there’s also a solo option), each player has their own area with a sky section in the middle. The sky is where all the action is. You fill in empty spots with stones, swap stones and then drop them down into your own area, trying to get three of a color in a row to clear spaces and get points.

Honestly, I’m glossing over the rules a lot but it’s one of those games that you play one turn and the mechanics all click. If you’ve played a three-in-a-row video game, it all makes sense.

The most interesting element of the game is that each color of stone has a special power. Make a set and you get to use that power. And over half of them involve messing with your opponent.

Seriously, for a game that looked like a multi-player solitaire game where you were working on your own puzzle, Bubblee Pop really involves a lot of interaction and direct confrontation. My first couple games were real eye-openers in how much pain my opponent could bring to me.

While I will probably play the game again, I have to admit that I am more impressed with the designer making a game that is a legitimate game that feels like a computer game than I am with Bubblee Pop. It is a very light game that has room for tactical play but is too random to make any plans more than a couple moves ahead. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s not something to look for either.

I also haven’t played Potion Explosion, which came out earlier and also explored three-a-row game style. From what I’ve read, it is a much better game. I have a feeling I would be less impressed by Bubblee Pop if I had played Potion Explosion.

While learning the game was interesting, my real take away is being reminded that Boardgame Arena is a place that’s good to pop into every once in a while.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Oct 25, 2017 5:02 pm
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My October Print and Play projects

Lowell Kempf
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Over the last few days, I’ve gotten back on the print-and-play wagon. While I sadly make any of the big projects I dream of, I still continue to make small projects on a fairly regular basis. Once or twice a month, I get the drive and do some crafting.

A tiny game from ButtonShy kicked this latest flurry of activity. Chill Pill is a 1-card adaptation of their earlier 18-card game Fever Chill. I got it as a Patreon backer (and, let me say, so much fun stuff from backing them)

I really made it to be a wallet game, since it’s just one card and only requires a couple of tokens that can be anything. I honestly suspect it will be just one step up from Bonsai Samuria but I figured it would be fun if only for the novelty. I might make more for Christmas presents that will fit in an envelope.

And once I did that, I decided to try making Autumn. It’s a simple tile-laying game with pretty cards of leaves. However, it’s use of the pie rule made the game seem a lot more interesting to me.

Yeah, I know that the pie rule is nothing new. I’m not sure we even know when or where it first got started. (Oh, Wikipedia says 1909 for a Mancala game) However, it can make a huge difference in making a game fair and interesting.

After that, I decided to make A Blorg in the Midwest and Pocket Landship, which are two different 9-card solitaire games. In large part to practice making cards and because it’s easy to test drive solitaire games. But Pocket Landship, a game about WW I tanks, looks like it might be a decent game and worth more than a test drive.

And I printed out some more games from GenCan’t’s Roll and Write contest. Which does count as Print and Play, probably the most literal you can get really, but doesn’t count as a contruction project. (For anyone who cares, I’ve gotten in some plays of the winner, Welcome to Dino World, but want to get in some more before I write a review. I have been happy with it, though)

One thing that I have noticed, in this particular bout of game construction, is that I am actually getting better at making cards. And some of my old shortcuts aren’t as appealing as they used to be. Modern laminators mean that I can laminate and then cut. However, that isn’t as aesthetically pleasing and doesn’t have as long of lifespan. I’m sure I will still do it when I just want to quick and dirty copy but my standards are growing.

Which, of course, means that I have to work harder to make a good copy

Orignally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Oct 24, 2017 4:33 pm
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Is BSW still a thing?

Lowell Kempf
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Whatever happened to BSW?

Actually, I know the site still is there but it seems like I never hear anything about it. When I first got back into board games, which was around 2002, BSW came up a lot and I spent a lot of time there.

And I know why I stopped playing on the site. First of all, it was easier for me to work turn-based games into my schedule. Real time games online and real life just became incompatible.

But another factor was device. When we got our first iPad and when I got my first smart phone, those became my principal tools for computer-based recreation. The laptops quickly became just for work and other practical matters.

And java-based BSW doesn’t work on iPads. Almost every other site I played board games on worked on the iPad but BSW was shut out. And, for me, that was it. If I could have played BSW on the pad, I’m sure it would have gotten the odd visit but when I couldn’t use my primary recreation tool for online stuff, that pretty much meant BSW was a closed book for me.

Even now, thinking about revisiting the site, I know I’m going to have to find a time when I can sit with the laptop uninterrupted. And that it’s not as easy as it used to be

I don’t actually know if BSW has fallen on hard times. If it really has and it isn’t just a figment of my imagination, I wonder if it because of the shift to tablets.
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Fri Oct 20, 2017 4:12 pm
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Why playing Button Men online was important to me

Lowell Kempf
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Gaming online was a big part of how I started playing board games, something that I kind of find more than a little ironic. And BSW was a huge part of that, both exposing me to a lot of different games and a broader community of players. It was also a way for me to play games from home and without worrying about the particular hour.

However, another site that was a big part of my early gaming life was the original Button Men site, which was a very simple way to play just one particular game, Cheapass’s Button Men. And, looking back at those experiences, I think it was a bigger influence on my playing than I thought at the time.

Button Men is a simple two-player game where players are trying to capture each other’s dice. Each ‘character’ is just a collection of different types of dice. The basic ways of capturing are either power attack (using a die with a larger pip) or skill (using one or more dice to exactly equal the captured die’s value)

Part of what makes the game so brilliant is that there are different types of dice. X Dice that you assign a size to at the start of a round, poison dice that are worth negative points, shadow dice that do reverse attacks and the list just goes on and on.

Really, about half the interesting part of the game is in the set up but each round would still have interesting decisions within it. And, in person, the game plays out very fast. It has a great depth of play for time spend playing return rate.

But the site was one of the first places that I regularly went that was turn-based. BSW is real time, which was great for my back when I was a bachelor. It was almost like playing face-to-face. But though it was more flexible than actually going somewhere to game, I still had to schedule a block of time to to play.

During peak seasons at the job I had at the time, almost all my gaming went in hiatus. They had to play without me at game night (I loaned the group a chunk of my library so they didn’t miss me as much ) and I even stopped playing on BSW since sleep was more important.

I wasn’t the only one who did this, by the way. I used to game with an accountant who would disappear during tax season.

During these times, though, I still played Button Men online. Being both turn-based and having simple turns, I could still work it into my schedule. It became my gaming outlet when things were really crazy.

These days, Yucata, also being turn-based, has taken its place. When my schedule gets crazy, I just switch to lighter games like Just 4 Fun and Roll Through the Ages.

I recently learned that the powers-that-be are working on a new version of that old Button Men site. Apparently it’s in perpetual alpha. While it wouldn’t fill the same role it has for me in the last, I’ll still have to check it out.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Oct 19, 2017 10:16 pm
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How to fire Carcassonne

Lowell Kempf
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A couple of my friends have said that they feel that the Isle of Skye has fired Carcassonne for them and rendered it obsolete.

And most of the time that I hear folks say things like this, I find myself thinking really? I’m not saying that I’ve never done it. After I played Steam, I was done with the crayon train games.

In this particular example, other than being tile laying games, I just don’t see the resemblance. Carcassonne is an area control game on a shared tableau. Isle has individual tableaus with money management and set collecting. I honestly would compare it more to Alhambra.

Okay, if you don’t play games, then all three games are alike. And if you’re looking for a family weight game, all three will probably do just fine for you.

And make no mistake, I have enjoyed my few plays of Isle. It is a good game and it has interesting and legitimate interactions between the players. Arguably the strongest interactions out of all three players because you cannot escape interacting with other players. Isle of Skye might well have the legs to still be getting played ten years from now.

But I have already gotten more than ten years of regular play out of Carcassonne and its family. I don’t see it getting fired.

HOWEVER, Carcassonne:Hunters and Gatherers kind of fired regular Carcassonne for me a long time ago. That and the Castle are what have stayed in my collection and what I prefer.

Sooooo... Carcassonne may have been fired/refined by itself.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Oct 18, 2017 10:43 pm
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Riding on Ticket to Ride: Europe

Lowell Kempf
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I was remembering how, long ago and far away, I used to play with a group that played Power Grid almost every week. Enough that, even though I think it is a profoundly brilliant game, I got burnt out on it. However, the other game that you could pretty much count on always being played was Ticket to Ride Europe and I never got burnt out on that.

When I first started really playing board games, which was back around 2002, it felt like Catan and Carcassonne and Puerto Rico were the three pillars of board gaming. Almost everyone in the hobby knew and play those games. You could just count on it. And Ticket to Ride ended up becoming like one of those pillars, a position that I think it still holds to this day, better than Carcassonne and Puerto Rico in fact.

I haven’t played a lot of the new boards yet but I feel that if you are only going to buy one Ticket to Ride Product and call it quits after that, Ticket to Ride Europe is that one box.

There’s really two reasons I feel that way. I feel that only distributing the super long routes at the beginning and the stations help flatten the randomness of the game and make it a little more forgiving for new players without dumbing the game down. It’s still tense game that I’ve seen lots of adult language used during.

Mind you, I didn’t stop at one box so I don’t own the Europe board In fact, with the 1912 expansion, I like the US map better. Although I still think the Europe board is the best for easing new players in before the knives come out.

For a game described as a family game, Ticket to Ride can be a vicious game

And, it has been a long runner for me.

Originally posted on www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Oct 17, 2017 4:17 am
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Fumbling my way through making an Eldritch Knight

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, I am in my first fifth edition campaign and I have just hit third level. Second level didn’t involve choices but now I have to actually make some decisions, which I haven’t had to do since I rolled up the character months ago.

Now, I played a decent amount of first and second edition, an unholy amount of third edition, and some fourth edition, not counting Iron Kingdoms and Pathfinder. I’ve had a lot of experience with Dungeons and Dragons but I also know the nitty gritty is in the details.

Because I was also using Roll20 for the first time, I intentionally chose to play a fighter to keep things simple. Although it’s not nearly as simple as second edition was Picking the protection fighting style pretty much determined my tactics in combat.

Third level, I have to pick a Martial Archetype. And I’ve chosen Eldritch Knight.

Which, to be absolutely clear, is not an optimal choice. If I wanted a more efficient fighter, a different archetype. However, I felt it made sense with my character who is a scholar turned slave turned warrior.

The schtick of the Eldritch Knight is that they get some wizard spells. At first, that’s two cantrips and three first level spells. Cantrips, by the way, have kind of taken the role of At Will powers from fourth edition, a default attack for spell casters to use over and over.

Mechanically, a big part of my choice being Eldritch Knight was getting the damn light cantrip. With lighting actually being enforced by Roll20, I’ve been stuck in the dark too much. It is actually a critical concern.

And picking out the first level spells wasn’t that hard either. Let’s face it. I’ll do more damage with a sword than with a spell. I’m already tanking a lot so Shield and Protection from Good and Evil are spells that will reinforce my fighting style.

But I still want a damage option, when I need another option in combat. Considering that saving against me won’t be hard, I’m going with Thunderwave. Area of effect, still does damage if they save and it might push them away. Downside is that it lets everyone know you’re there.

Actually, the tough choice is the second cantrip. True Strike was an option but it takes an action to cast and I would rather attack twice. And it kind of bores me. I was thinking of Mage Hand for all the out-of-combat uses but if the game goes long enough, I’ll get to use a cantrip and attack. (So True Strike might be my third cantrip when i get one)

So now I’m mulling over actual damage cantrips. Something to can use at range and does a different type of damage is what I’m thinking about. Haven’t made up my mind yet.

And I bet I will make some kind of mistake in my design

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Oct 13, 2017 5:59 pm
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Power Grid back in the day

Lowell Kempf
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I used to game at a table where Power Grid was played just about every week. I have yet to ever own my own copy of Power Grid and I also have to say that Power Grid is one the best games I have ever gotten burnt out on.

It’s interesting to look back on those time and that game in particular. In part because I don’t know what it would be like to play Power Grid now or what it sill be like to play it further down on the road.

At the moment, Power Grid is long enough that it would be hard to schedule the time to play it. However, I know that life will change enough that that won’t be the case forever.

It’s been long enough that I am sure that I have both gotten past the burn out and also forgotten how to play the game well. Not that I was ever particularly good but I had my moments.

I do remember that Power Grid does such a good job balancing auctions and route development and oh so much resource management. I also remember that it felt more like a train game than a lot of train games

I know that I find myself thinking about older games a lot. With a lot of them, it’s because I’ve played them more because I’ve had them longer But games like Power Grid and Catan and such, they are genuinely great games that have legitimate staying power.

That being said, I think that the quality of games has been steadily getting better and better. I don’t think games were better over ten years ago. I think the gems from yesteryear really are gems, games good enough for generations to play.

Which actually makes me try and remember how cool Power Grid was when I played back then.
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Fri Oct 13, 2017 5:54 pm
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Circus Flohcati: Not a gem but worth keeping

Lowell Kempf
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I must have bought Circus Flohcati at least ten years ago. Probably more. It was one of the games I like picked up relatively early after I really starting collecting. Fairly cheap and it was a Knizia.

I got the Rio Grande edition, with the cartoony artwork and saturated colors. It also came in a tiny box just big enough to hold the cards, which is why it has stayed in my collection.

Because I never got around to playing it. One of the top many poor victims of too many games, not enough time.

Fast forward to RinCon 2017. I got in a game of it with the edition that uses pictures that look like they were stolen from the Miss Peregrine books and faded colors that looked identical to my color-blind eyes.

And I’m now glad it has survived all those purges.

Circus Flohcati is a card game that’s all about pushing your luck and set collecting. It consists of ten suits that each have a distinct color and circus acts ranked 0-7 and nine action cards.

The core mechanic is simple. Flip over cards in a row. You can stop whenever you want and take a card but if you flip over a card that matches the suit/color of a card already in the row, you discard that card and your turn ends without you getting a card. You also don’t have to flip over any cards. If there are cards in the row, you can just take one.

Action cards let you take cards from opponents or let you flip over cards until you get a duplicate but you still get to take a card. You can also lay down three cards of the same rank as a trio. They are no longer in your hand but they will be worth ten points at the end of the game.

The game ends in two ways. If someone displays all ten suits/colors in their hand, they get ten bonus points and end the game. Otherwise, it ends when you draw the last card in the deck. In addition to any trios, you get the value of the highest ranked card of each suit you have in your hand. Most points wins.

There are a number of straight push your luck games in my collection. I’ve gotten tons of play out of Can’t Stop and I also have really enjoyed Cloud 9 and Incan Gold. As simple as Circus Flohcati is, and it is simple, it’s not as simple as those games.

What makes Circus Flohcati interesting is the hand management. Trying to make trios, working towards a good end game hand, all that adds an extra layer of decisions to the game.. We are still looking at a simple filler/children’s game but it does you a few choices beyond daring to flip another card.

Really, the trios are what make the game for me. They add value to the lower ranked cards and they mean you have another collecting goal beyond grabbing high cards. In a fifteen minute game, that extra bit of decisions adds some oomph.

Don’t get me wrong. Circus Flohcati isn’t one of Knizia’s greats. It’s not even one of his great short games. But i has fun with it and I think it will prove worth hanging on to.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Oct 12, 2017 7:15 pm
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Village Run, a gamer’s version of a Denny’s placemat

Lowell Kempf
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Village Run is a simple little print-and-play game, a children’s race game that adds just a touch more depth than rolling and moving your pawn.

Not counting the pawns, the whole thing is on one sheet of paper. An 19-space circular race track, the rules, the circular speed meter and the power-up chart. So, this is a super easy, no construction build.

Village Run is a race. Choose how many laps you want the race to be and whoever comes in first wins. Every player gets two pawns. One goes on the track and the other goes on speed meter. On your turn, you can keep the same speed or try and move up the speed meter, which is 0-1-1-1-2-2-3, by rolling a die.

The two restrictions are you can only stay on three for two turns in a row and you have to roll if you’re on zero.

The twist in the game is the power-up boxes. There are five of them spread out on the track. If you land on one, roll the die and consult the chart. Do nothing, move one space, move one space, reset an opponent to zero, switch places with the leader and take another turn.

Clearly, the basic strategy is to hit as many power-up boxes as you can. There’s an odd dichotomy between the speed meter, which flattens out the randomness, and the power-up chart, which ramps it up.

Okay, let’s be honest. Village Run isn’t very interesting. The game is pretty random and the effects of the power-up chart can get repetitive. I’m not even sure how well it works as a children’s game.

You know what Village Race really reminds me of? The gamer interpretation of one of those roll-and-move games that you used to find on children’s placemats at restaurants. (They seem to have been replaced by coloring pages in my experience) So that’s actually what I’ve done. Using the laminator, I made the game into a place mat. Don’t know if it will actually see use but it seemed like a fun idea.

I don’t think Village Run is a good game but I do think the speed meter and power-ups are interesting ideas. Being a free file with no construction is also nice.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Oct 10, 2017 6:36 am
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