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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Oh yeah. There are board game aps. Forgot about them.

Lowell Kempf
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When I was figuring out my rules for not buying any new games this year and strictly curtailing how much I spend on Kickstarter and used games, there was one category that completely slipped my mind. Board game aps for the tablet and phone.

With that said, I don't view that as a big lapse. First of all, board game aps are always significantly cheaper than physical or analog board games. Second of all, they don't take up any physical space, just digital space, which is easier to manage.

And third, I don't find them nearly as enjoyable as physical board games so I really don't get that many of them.

Which, on the face of it, doesn't make much sense. After all, I'm the guy who spends a lot of time playing board games online at Yucata and Super Duper Games and used to spend a lot of time on other sites like BSW. Is there a real difference?

I don't think there is a mechanical difference between the two. Quite frankly, many aps are probably at least as intuitive and user friendly as online gaming sites. I think it comes down to the fact that I really prefer to against human opponents, not AIs (I did play against bmai on the defunct Button Men site without realizing he was an AI. I did think he was a passive aggressive jerk, though)

(That said, even though I'm not a big fan of playing against AIs, I do think a game ap without an AI is broken. Not having a way to play solitaire really knocks out a huge chunk of the potential audience)

It really comes down to playing against human opponents and community.

Obviously, there is a huge potential pool of human players in the world of aps. I use an iPad and there's a built in Game Center. However, not everyone in the Game Center has access to the same games. More than that, it may be too big a pool of people to have a real sense of community. (Feel free to disagree with me. I may just not have given it enough of a chance)

Back in my BSW days, there was a crazy sense of community due to the meta game of towns and buildings. Super Duper Games has a definite sense of community, made even more profound by Looney Labs stepping in and funding it. And a lot of my old gaming buddies joined Yucata to play with me.

Come to think of it, the aps that I have played a lot of are either ones that I know over folks who play it or ones I can play face-to-face with Carrie. The tablet does not make a good replacement for a real table top experience but it's still handy and fun.

For all that, aps are one way of exploring and playing board games. I doubt it will ever become a primary focus for me. Honestly, there have only been three games I have really latched onto via ap (Ascension, Lords of Waterdeep and Star Realms)

But I'll still keep it in mind and not feel bad if I buy them.
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Thu Jan 22, 2015 4:53 am
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Part four of RPGs for children: Adventures in Oz honestly bites off more than it can chew

Lowell Kempf
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I've been reading RPGs designed for younger children. The latest book that I've read is Adventures in Oz, a game that lets players live out adventures in L. Frank Baum's fantastical world of Oz.

Look, the least interesting part of this game by far is the mechanics so let me get that out of the way. Stats range from one to five. You roll two six siders to perform a skill challenge. If at least one die is under the appropriate stat, you succeed. If both dice are under, then you really succeed.

There are also some very general rules about special abilities, which definitely require some GM fiat. Magical spells are reversed engineered to figure out their costs, quite a. It like a simplified Champions ruling.

There are also Oz points, which are linked to friends. Instead of giving bonuses to roles, they are literally deus ex machina, get out of jail free cards. Players spend them to solve their problems by having said friend show up to save the day.

I actually really like the Oz points for two reasons. One, if you are playing with the very young, it's good to have a frustration free resolution system. Two, it really suits the source material. Friends and allies save the day all the time. Oz heroes network their way to victory. (My favorite example is when the Shaggy Man summons up Johnny Do It to build some kind of amazing contraption to solve the problem)

A couple more points. Most combat isn't to injure, just to intimidate and make the other guy back down. Really hurting people takes some serious work. Second, the number range in the game is so small that a modifier either way is a really big deal.

In general, the rules of Adventures in Oz don't do anything that really makes me go wow, other than the Oz points with their power of friendship. However, they do the job of giving you a quick and flexible resolution system. If they are broken, I'd need to play the game to find out.

But no one is going to pick up Adventures in Oz because of the rules. You're going to look at it because of the whole Oz connection. The selling point of the game is that is set in one of the most beloved settings in childhood literature.

Which leads to a couple of important points about the game's use of Oz. All of the Baum's original books are public domain which means anyone can go crazy with the world of Oz and the game doesn't have to be licensed.

And plenty of folks have gone crazy with Oz. There have been soooo many uses and versions of the setting that it's insane. (I'm big fan of the webcomic, Namesake, which has a section set in Oz) Some versions have entirely eclipsed the original books. The MGM film with Judy Garland is the definitive version for some folks. I had a coworker whose niece told her that Wicked had now set the record straight. (I love that story)

Adventures in Oz confines itself to the fourteen books Baum himself wrote. In fact, at least half the book is basically setting material. But Adventures in Oz isn't that long so it feels like a very piecemeal, scattered exploration of the setting. Many classic children's works are only one or two books (Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan) Fourteen books is a lot. And, to make things even crazier, Baum was terrible about continuity and contradicted himself plenty of times.

The game also confines itself to just the land of Oz, not any of the other places that Dorothy and the others adventured in during the course of the series. There are actually some reasons for this choice. One, it helps keep down the vast amount of information. Two, it lets there be a definite 'no one can die' rule since that was something Baum established. Maimed or dismembered, sure, but no death,

However, that means the Nomes are pretty much out of Adventures in Oz and they are by far the most common reoccurring bad guys in the books. You would really think the major antagonists would be something important to include.

The more I read Adventures in Oz, the more it brought back childhood memories of Baum's books. It made me want to go back and read those original fourteen books and made me think about how much has been done with Oz over the past century. It really is a rich and fantastic setting for adventures.

And Adventures in Oz really doesn't do it justice. I'm not sure it could without being three times as long and far more complex. So I may be asking for more than it can really deliver when it is aiming at a young audience.
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Tue Jan 20, 2015 9:26 pm
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The place where stories and booze come together

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While traveling during the holidays, I reread Larry Niven's Draco's Tavern, a series of short stories set in a bar frequented by aliens. I enjoyed the book so much that it set me in a literary pub crawl through fantastic bars. In rapid succession on the trip, I ended up rereading Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, Tales from the White Heart and Tales from Gavagans Bar.

Not a comprehensive of fantastic club stories by any stretch of the imagination (Are Lord Dunsany's Jorkins stories ever going to be republished in an affordable format?) but not a bad selection of the genre.

When you stop and think about it (and if I wasn't thinking about it, why would I be writing about it?), the genre of folks sitting around bars or clubs or taverns or any place you can booze it up and telling stories is a damn old one. Heck, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales started off in a tavern so I'm prepared to accuse it of being one of the spiritual ancestors of the genre.

Really, Bar Stories are really just the urban (or at least indoor) equivalent of tall tales or campfire stories. It's a genre that reflects our intrinsically social nature, as well as human natures love of a good whopper. (Of course, with fantastic Bar Stories, the whoppers often turn out to be true)

At first, I figured that Bar Stories was pretty off topic for gaming, apart from the fact that plenty of games get played in bars. In addition to being the natural habitat for darts, cards and pool, I've been to plenty of board game meet ups at bars. However, I realized that there are some games that pay homage to the genre.

Captain Park's Imaginary Polar Expedition, now known as Stuff and Nonsense, definitely embraces the genre as well as sending it up. You are members of a Gentleman's Club in London, competing to see who has been on the most exotic travels. Of course, you are all a bunch of liars who get all your relics in antique shops while doing your best not to get caught.

I own the game, since collecting Cheapass games but I've yet to actually play it. It definitely uses the Bar Story genre with both the idea of folks telling stories at the bar and the idea that the stories are more bologna than an Oscar Meyers meat packing plant. However, there is at least one other game that I can think of that uses the genre and really brings it home.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen has the players take the roles drunken 18th century nobles telling over-the-top stories to each other at the tavern. For bonus points, there is no reason you can't play the game at a bar.

Personally, I consider Baron Muchausen a role playing game since you are playing the role of a pathological liar who has alcohol problems and was lucky enough to have a good birth. Other folks would label it a party game. Either way, though, it literally brings the genre of Bar Stories (or Club Stories or Tavern Stories, does the genre have a formal name?) to life.

You can't live your life in a bar or at least you really shouldn't. And you _really_ shouldn't believe what you hear in a bar. That doesn't mean there isn't something fundamentally human about spinning yarns with one hand and lifting a glass with the other.
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Fri Jan 16, 2015 6:59 pm
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I ponder about the state of the game industry and descend into madness

Lowell Kempf
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I've been looking at retrospectives of the year 2014 in gaming. Now, I'm one of the least qualified folks to try and do that. While I did attend a couple conventions and I did buy and play a few games that were published last year, I've largely been away from the pulse of the gaming world.

Still, I want to take a quick peak at what the geek has to tell me.

A couple searches let me know that a little over 2000 games were published last year, at least games that folks felt like adding to the data base. Not only is that a lot of games, it's something like 200 games more than 2013. So, we're looking at a 10% increase.

At the same time, there has been a steady increase in the number of games published over the last four years. This may be a spike but not as big as it first felt like. Hitting 2000 definitely has a psychological effect.

This opens up a whole bunch of questions in my head, questions that folks who are smarter than me or at least more financially invested in the gaming industry than I am.

Clearly, the gaming market has increased. I also know that designer board games are becoming more mainstream. When I first started playing designer games, over ten years ago, designer games were very fringe. Now you can find games like Settler or Ticket to Ride in lots of big box stores.

You know, it's kind of like how it feels being a Doctor Who fan. When I started watching the show, back when Peter Davidson was the new Doctor, Doctor Who was obscure and almost like being in a cult in the US. Now, after the revival, being a Doctor Who fan is socially acceptable

If the audience for board games is increasing, how is it increasing? Who is the new audience and what kind of games are they playing? Are we talking family games (probably), war games, party games, etc? Maybe it's all of the above but who is making the biggest increases?

And how does Kickstarter comes into this? Crowd funding has done a good job establishing itself. It's not a fad. I'm pretty sure it's here to stay. But what percentage of the new games come from it? How is crowd funding changing the market?

And is there going to be a market crash? Is this growth sustainable or are there more games out there than the market can bear?

Whew.

I normally give myself permission to ramble but that was ridiculous.
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Thu Jan 15, 2015 2:55 pm
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Pentago finally breaks into my collection

Lowell Kempf
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Well, I have both bought my first game of the year and learned my first new game of the year. This time, the game was one and the same (which isn't always the case) I did stick to my pledge of not buying new games in 2015 by buying a used copy of Pentago with store credit.

Pentago is a game that's been on my radar for a while. I first saw it years ago at stores like Barnes and Nobel or Borders (back when Borders still existed) before they tended to stock games. Honestly, that wasn't a selling point for Pentago since a lot of the other games on those shelves were pretty meh. (Barnes and Nobel's game selection has improved a lot since then)

However, time and time again, Pentago got mentioned by Tom Vassel as one of his favorite abstracts. While I don't agree with everything he says (really, ever since he gave Tongiaki a bad review, which is one of the games that got me into gaming and still one I enjoy), I do find him entertaining and often educational.

I've been in the fence for a long time but when I saw a used copy, I took the plunge.

Pentago is extremely easy to describe and teach. The board is a six-by-six grid that is broken down into four three-by-three shelves. On your turn, you put a stone onto an empty space. THEN you rotate one of the shelves ninety degrees. Whoever gets five stones in a row first wins.

My used copy didn't come with the rules or the "comprehensive guide" so I wasn't sure about a couple points. Is it against the rules to undo the other players rotation or rotate a shelf that is either empty or only has a stone in the center? Looking online, it seems that there isn't a rule against either of those things. Being allowed to undo a rotation does make sense since each move also adds a stone so the board never remains static so you can't reset the board.

I've seen a lot of simple abstracts by this point in my gaming life and a lot of n-in-a-row ones at that. Tic Tac Toe has apparently inspired a whole lot of games. (Or did Nine Man Morris come first and inspire Tic Tac Toe?) Some of them are quite good and some of them help prove Sturgeon's Law by being dreadful.

Luckily, Pentago is one of the good ones. Heck, it will take some more plays but it might turn out to be one of the great ones. It manages to dodge two of the most dangerous bullets that can hit abstracts. It's not boring or static.

(Okay, boring is pretty subjective. There are actually people in the world who find Chess and Go boring (GASP!) But I think most people would find Pentago interesting enough that they'd have fun playing it.)

Pentago is simple enough that you can teach it in about a minute and that includes giving examples of play. It also plays fast enough that you have time to play a game during a commercial break and maybe start a rematch. Those two features make the game easy to get in the table.

But just to get in the table does not necessarily mean good. Where Pentago really earns the win is that it is dynamic and has some legit depth, particularly for its short playing time.

Personally, I have come to like dynamic abstracts, games that keep in developing and moving as you play. By sheer virtue of every move filling a space, you can never have a null move in Pentago and the board can never go back to a previous position. And with a board as small as six by six, every filled space has an impact.

And rotating the shelves is a definite feature of the game, not a gimmick. Without that element, Pentago would be Gomaku on a tiny board. It adds to the decision tree and makes the way the board develops a whole more interesting. It isn't just a visually and tactically interesting addition to the game. It genuinely adds depth to the game.

(In comparison, you don't HAVE to play Connect Four (a game that I do appreciate) on an upright board. You could just designate a down side to a flat board. Playing in an upright board just adds a fun visceral element to the game, plus the pleasure of emptying the board at the end of the game)

What it comes down to, Pentago is a pretty good game in general but it's great for a couple who don't have that much time or space for gaming. I'm glad I got it and it's a good start to the year.
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Tue Jan 13, 2015 9:27 pm
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What? I'm writing a series about RPGs for kids? (Part three: the moral conflict of the Princes' Kingdom)

Lowell Kempf
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A few weeks ago, I got a collection of family friendly RPGs, ie games that are designed to be played with younger kids. I've been steadily reading my way through them and I've found it handy to write down my thoughts on them.

I didn't plan on turning this into a series of blog entries but it kind of is becoming that. It won't be an exhaustive examination of role playing games aimed for kids under the age of twelve, just my thoughts on the ones that have ended up in my library.

I have three reasons why I'm doing this. First of all, at some point, I'm going to be gaming with my son. I don't know if he's going to be interested in RPGs or if I'll use any of these but I want to take a look at what's out there and what their approaches are. Second, I'm looking at these games as something that I could potentially play wither adults. Games aimed at a younger audience could make for easy pickup games or introductions to RPGs. (Admittedly, there are a lot of games that fit that mold and are aimed at adults) Third, reading RPGs is fun!

It is very important for me to note that I'm just reading these books. I'm not actually putting any to the test and playing them. Although, to be honest, I've found RPGs are incredibly group dependent. A good group can have tons of fun with a weak rule set and a bad group can wreck the finest set of rules.


At any rate, the latest game I've read is The Princes' Kingdom.

Ho boy, after Hero Kids and Happy Birthday, Robot, Princes was a radical shift. Both of those games were aimed at gently easing kids into the concepts of role playing and story telling. Hey, here's a simple combat and skill system. Here's an easy way to get together to tell a story. Princes says "Okay, let's make tough moral decisions"

That's not actually such a big surprise when you realize that this is a revision of Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard for a younger audience. It's not by Baker but was made with his blessing. (Actually, when you look at all the Apocalypse World hacks that are out there, Baker is like some kind of Indie Muse)

In Dogs, you are free ranging Mormon lawmen solving communities problems and speaking for God. Pretty heavy stuff, particular when there's a big focus on the consequences of your decisions. Princes tones that down a bit. You are princes (gender neutral title, by the way) who travel to islands to solve problems and speak for the King.

They both use a dice pool system that get used in a sort of poker-like way of challenges and raises. Princes is simpler, in part because characters don't have as many qualities to build their dice pools with. Characters don't have stats but qualities that change as the characters develop.

What truly struck me me about Princes and keeps on striking me is that this is a game that is designed to push kids ability to think and decide and really challenges kids.

While the other games I've read have really been written for the adult who will be running the kids through the game, Princes is written at the kids, which was kind of weird reading for me. I couldn't decide if it was speaking down to the kids or not. (Although, in theory, Princes goes as young as five-year-olds, which does seem as a stretch for me.)

However, where Princes really challenges kids is in the nature of the conflicts. They aren't about fighting monsters or solving puzzles or even just figuring out how to tell a story. The game is built on moral and ethical conflicts that affect entire communities. That is some heavy, could-go-into-real-world-real-life stuff.

In fact, the game encourages the GM to explore the consequences of the player's decisions. After all, they speak for the law and the King. Is stealing okay if you're starving? At what point does stealing stop being okay? Is it okay to fight in self defense? What constitutes self defense? A campaign can easily become an exploration of very specific choices and consequences.

While all of this is treated in an even more heavy fashion in Dogs in the Vineyard, Princes could still be heavy even for adults.

In all honesty, I can see myself playing this game with either kids or adults but I also see it as a game that you have to play carefully. It could easily bleed real feelings for the players and, if you are playing with kids, that is something you really have to watch for.

I can also see myself using Princes as a lighter, gentler form of Dogs. I know some folks who are honestly offended by some of the core concepts of Dogs who would not have the same problems with Princes.

I know that a lot of my impressions of Princes come from the fact that it's a variation on Dogs in the Vineyard. But I think Dogs is a strong game so I'm okay with that.
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Fri Jan 9, 2015 9:08 pm
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The fourth edition of Alien Frontiers shows up at my door

Lowell Kempf
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I got my copy of Alien Frontiers with all the goodies in the mail today.

Honestly, it feels like the end of an era in a way.

When I backed Alien Frontiers, I knew I was going to be a dad but we didn't know if we'd be shopping for pink or blue. I didn't know that I'd be moving across the country. When I backed it, I knew my entire life would be changing (and I also knew that I didn't have any idea how much it would change. Boy, howdy, was that the truth) but it hadn't changed yet.

Backing Alien Frontiers was, in all honesty, intentionally one last splurge.

Aliens Frontiers also marks the end of me spending a lot on a Kickstarter project. Honestly, that was a very short phase for me. I'd go on to spend more time in Kickstarter but with a much more rigorous budget.

Getting Alien Frontiers doesn't feel like getting a message from someone who I used to be, though. The game still falls squarely in my wheelhouse. I really like Kingsburg and Alea Est Iecta. I might not be able to play it right now but it's a game that will get played relatively soon, as opposed to maybe some day.

Okay, let's get to the other part of this. Alien Frontiers, fourth edition, was scheduled to get sent on November, 2013. While I could say it was fourteen months overdue, lets be fair and say thirteen since it is just the start of January.

AND, also in the interest of fairness, Game Salute did give the option of getting just the base game months ago and have the extras sent later. I didn't take that option (and didn't assume there would be such a big time gap) BUT I did have that option and didn't take it.

I try to be reasonable about Kickstarter projects, particularly when they are from folks who are new to the publishing game. Getting something three months past the estimated delivery date doesn't count as late in my book. But over a year and from a company that, if I remember correctly, got started as a facilitator for getting games published, seems like something slipped a cog.

Honestly, this just reinforces the idea of sticking to smaller projects and not spending too much money on any given project.

And, as far as lessons go, it's not like this hurt me. First of all, I actually got Alien Frontiers! Let's keep on being fair, that is light years ahead of not getting the game. And I also know that there are projects that have been overdue by more than a year. Second, November 2013, we were busy having a baby and getting ready to move. It would have been one more thing to pack. And that first year of baby's life didn't leave us much time to play games.

So the delay didn't hurt me in any way and we have a game I like and will see play. Still, it has made me a lot more cautious in how I approach Kickstarter.
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Fri Jan 9, 2015 6:05 pm
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Happy Birthday, Robot: making every word count

Lowell Kempf
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I read Hero Kids and Happy Birthday, Robot back to back, both role playing games that are designed for the very young. Hero Kids is the more traditional game. While the rules are very kid friendly, it boils down to a dungeon crawling, hack-and-slash game. (And there is nothing wrong with that. That's how I got started after all)

Happy Birthday, Robot is a completely different kettle of fish. It's an entirely narrative driven story game. In fact, I'm not even sure I can honestly call it a role playing game and I consider games like The Quiet Year and Microscope role playing games.

However, I can see myself much more likely to play Happy Birthday, Robot and much more likely to play with other adults.

Happy Birthday, Robot isn't a story telling game. It is a sentence building game. Honest. Every round is about writing one sentence.

The rules are simple enough that they literally fit on one page. That'd be the last page of the book, which could used as a handout. So, I'm not going to go over the rules in detail.

The short version is that the active player rolls dice to determine how many words they and the players on either side of them get to use. (Since only three players get to play at a time, I can see how this could be best with three players) The active player writes the sentence, getting Robot as a free word. The player to their right then gets to modify the sentence with And as a free word. Finally, the player in the left gets to modify the sentence, using But as a free word.

Two important things. The neighboring players don't have to add words at the end of the sentence. Their words can go anywhere in the sentence, as long as it still makes sense. Second, the left player doesn't have to use the word But but getting that as a free word encourages them to add a twist.

Happy Birthday, Robot also has a coin system. You can only earn coins as the active player but you can only spend them by giving them to the active player as bonus words. No, you can't give them to yourself. Given coins are flipped to their tail side, meaning they have been given. Every tail-side coin gives you an extra word when you are the active player for the rest of the game.

The coins also act as the timer. The round someone gets ten coins (heads or tails) is also the last round.

Some of my friends differentiate games and activities. If a game doesn't have what they want in a game (winners and losers, in depth strategy, etc.), it's an activity. Apples to Apples is an activity, for instance. I'm pretty sure they'd all label Happy Birthday, Robot as an activity.

And I'll also add that I understand that it was designed to be a classroom activity. The notes in the book make it pretty clear it was play tested as a classroom activity!

What all that means is that Happy Birthday, Robot is coming from a very different place than a lot of games, role playing games in particular. It even has elements of 'edutainment', the idea that you are supposed to have fun and learn something. That is often a death sentence in many people's eyes, people who apparently thought Sesame Street was a nightmare land. (Grammar is one of the selling points of Happy Birthday, Robot, by the way)

It is definitely a different kind of game experience. At the end of it, you are going to have a much shorter and probably much simpler story and experience than virtually any other RPG or story telling system would give you, even something like Rory's Story Cubes or Nanofictionary.

But I honestly think Happy Birthday, Robot will be an interesting and even fun way of creating a piece of flash fiction. The story will only be a few sentences long but I think that increases the weight and intensity of those sentences. The rules don't tell you _how_ to write the story, just how many words you have to work with.

I can totally see Happy Birthday, Robot being something that I would pull out when my son is older to play with family and friends. I think storytelling is fun and healthy and Happy Birthday seems like a neat and organized way to do it. And, at the end of the game, you have the story as an artifact to hold onto and look back on.

But I also see Happy Birthday, Robot as an interesting exercise to play with our adults. I can even see how it would be easy to play online. Heck, even by email, although giving people coins would be an annoying extra email. (I've found that, when playing a game via email, you want to make every email count)

I'd probably want to change the subject, which is covered in the rules. It doesn't have to be Robot's birthday. It could the The Wall Falling or The Day After the Apocalypse or The Elf's Song or anything. I think that with players willing to be invested in the story, the handful of sentences could be really be something.
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Thu Jan 8, 2015 7:52 pm
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The line between print and play and game systems

Lowell Kempf
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As I've already written, one of my goals for this year is to basically not buy any games and really reign in how much I spend on used games and Kickstarter projects. I have given myself permission to go wild in print and play games, though.

I'm honestly not much of a crafter. I think just collecting PDFs of PnP by itself helps ease my acquisition desire Still, I am hoping to actually get some projects to the building stage and even the playing stage.

And, as I have also written, there is a wide range of PnP games for the dabbler. Games like High Score or Delve or even Katego are games you just need to print out one page and you're good to go. No cutting needed, just add dice and a pencil.

But then I found myself thinking about game systems. With game systems, you don't even need to make something as simple as one sheet of paper. You just needs the rules and you're good to go. I don't need to make anything to play Gin, I just need a deck of cards.

From my perspective of someone who gets a kick out of just reading the rules and examining games, there is a definite resemblance between Print and Play and new rules for game systems I already own. They are both discovering new games. If you have any weight to this view (which, to be honest, you shouldn't), Hoyles is one of the greatest sources of PnP ever.

However, there is a definite line. The actual act of crafting something defines that line and that act can be a good deal. If I ever make my own copy of Dune or an 18XX game, that's going to be light years from reading or even playing the rules for a new Looney Pyramids game.

And some of the print and play games that are out there, including things that folks have pimped out, cross the line from being tools or stuff to being art. There is some really lovely work out there and it is crass not to respect that.

That said, there are some games that really blur the line. Reiner Knizia's Decathlon is widely accepted as a PnP and a well regarded one at that. But, when you get down to it, it's just a set of rules for a game system, you know, dice.
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Thu Jan 8, 2015 12:41 am
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Role playing for toddlers?

Lowell Kempf
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I just read the basic rules for Hero Kids, a role playing game aimed at the wee little ones. Honestly, RPGs aimed at young kids isn't an unusual idea anymore, even if we're just talking pen and paper games. (I'm sure that if we included video game RPGs, the sky is the limit) But what really caught my eye about Hero Kids is that it goes as young as four-years old!

Seriously, that's young. We're talking still working on letters and basic counting young. When I was four, most RPGs were still being written like engineering textbooks by war gamers. Damn!

To my mind, there are two facets of role playing that you need to teach neophyte gamers, be they four or a hundred and four. Mechanics and storytelling. Personally, I always figured that the best place to start would be storytelling. I've never actually done it but I've always said the card game Once Upon a Time would be a great intro to role playing.

(Improvisation often seems to be a big hurdle. I think a lot of folks are trying to find the answer the GM wants, as opposed to taking control of the story themselves. Cooperative story telling means everyone gets to take part)

Hero Kids goes the other direction, as you might have guessed since I spent so much time talking about storytelling. Mechanics are at the forefront of the game. In fact, at its very simplest, Hero Kids is practically a very small scale, skirmish war game.

To be honest, I can see the logic behind making mechanics the focus for wee little nippers. The little sprawlins already know how to play pretend with games like cops and robbers or Cowboys and Indians or hunting flower fairies or what not. The problem with small children might not be getting them to participate in the story but understanding and following a framework of rules.

The mechanics are naturally simple. Competing dice pools with the highest die winning. Honestly, I found myself thinking that Hero Kids was borrowing from Risk for its primary mechanic. And it may be the easiest method for conflict resolution I can think of for little minds, short of flipping a coin or Rock Paper Scissors AND it lets you play with odds so it's not just fifty-fifty.

The character sheets are also well done with little ones in mind. The most crucial bits of information are icon-based and pretty simple icons too. While you do need to be able to read to find out what the special abilities do, you don't literacy to be able to functionally play.

I think my biggest disappointment is in the character generation. Each character gets a special move and a passive ability. There isn't a list per se, although you get examples from all the pre generated characters and monsters. However, there aren't any rules for creating your own balanced special actions and passive abilities.

I know that there are supplements for Hero Kids and that may be addressed in those. And, quite frankly, there are enough pre generated characters that I don't think it's problem for the players. I figure it's more of an issue for mommy or daddy GM to keep interesting monsters coming.

In the great (and possibly imaginary) schism of trad and indie, Hero Kids in completely in the trad camp. While I have become a big fan of indie designs, my roots are in trad and I still like trad games too. They are what got this hobby started and there's nothing wrong with one being baby's first RPG.

While Hero Kids is too simple to keep most adult players engaged, I do think is succeeds at its goal of introducing small children to role playing games with its simple tactical combat system and light skill system. Honestly, when it comes time to introduce our son to RPGs, I don't know if I'll use Hero Kids. However, it was fun to see an alternate philosophy to introducing RPGs to young minds.
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Tue Jan 6, 2015 10:47 pm
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