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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A Game Poem that emphasizes the Poem

Lowell Kempf
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Reading The Tears Devour You from the Indie Mega Mixtape, I was reminded why I read the individual games in the collections so slowly, even though I could probably read all thirty-odd of them in one sitting. It’s not just because they’d all blur together but so many of them are these tiny little emotional bullets.

So many of these tiny, short form RPGs read like exercises in group therapy. I say that a lot but I have to because it’s true. (Not that I’m recommend that you use them as a substitute for therapy. In fact, I’m adamantly against that) And The Tears Devour You is a doozy of an example of that.

It’s a game for two players and all you need is each other, some pencils and index cards. Index cards are like the duct tape for tiny indie games. You can use them for so, so much.

In this case, you use one each to write down things like hopes and dreams and wishes. Then you swap cards. The card you get, that’s your character for the game. And the rules tell you to be faithful to those ideas and to not be a jerk.

You play out four scenes: standing on a mountain, bathing on the sea, lying together, and the sky is falling. You have a secret list of the feelings: madly, truly, deeply and doomed. Secretly choose one for the scene and no repeats.

And that’s it. Four scenes and no definitive ending but you are allowed to wonder what happens next. (Some games ban that)

If nothing else, The Tears Devour You is really poetic and really rings true to the songs that inspired it.

I’m kind of glad that I that I don’t gorge these tiny games because I’d totally fail to appreciate them. The Tears Devour You is a sweet little game poem but the way you create each other’s characters is what makes me think hmmmm, this could be good.

The Tears Devour You isn’t perfect or brilliant but it has enough potential to make me really consider it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu May 23, 2019 4:28 pm
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Is there anything else like Igloo Pop?

Lowell Kempf
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Igloo Pop might not be the weirdest game I’ve ever played or the most unique but I don’t know of another game that’s anything like it.

Okay. Stripping all the gloss off the game, you have twelve rattles with two to thirteen beads in them. You have to figure out how many beads are in them by listening to them. Flipping them over to look at the labels is cheating

There’s a little more to the game than that. After all, you have to competitively listen to rattles and get points in order to figure out who wins the game. But the heart of the game is figuring out how many beads are in a rattle.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve gotten rid of my copy. Igloo Pop is such a neat idea but it’s harder in practice to get more than a ballpark idea of the number of beads. Which wouldn’t be a game breaker for me except that I could never get anyone to play the game

It is supposedly a children’s game but I think our son would either get distracted by the toy factor or, more likely now that he’s getting older, frustrated with it. So I don’t really regret no longer owning it, even though we’re parents now.

All that said, I still like Igloo Pop. It’s such a fun idea and if there’s anything else like it out there, I don’t know about it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed May 22, 2019 11:18 pm
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Muddled impressions of Mech Capture

Lowell Kempf
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Mech Capture is a PnP not-quite-micro-game of trying to overwhelm enemy mechs and capture them. The game consists of two 18-Card decks and that’s it.

Here’s how I understand the game: The cards form a seven space grid that forms a hexagon with a center space. Enemy spaces are center, twelve o’clock, four o’clock, and seven o’clock. You get to use two o’clock, six and clock and ten o’clock spaces.

Short version, you play your cards to surround enemy cards. If you have the right number of matching symbols, you capture it. If you have too many of the symbol, you destroy the card and don’t get to score it. If you manage to capture more points in enemy mech than they manage to hang onto, you win.

I’ll be honest. I’m pretty sure I’ve been playing the game right but that’s because I’ve gone through the informal Q&As on the BGG boards. The rules really need some expansion and clarification. The rules are two pages long and they could have used another page.

And I’m still not quite sure what I think about Mech Capture. When I first read the rules, I found myself hoping that I had found a solitaire Battle for Hill 218. And Mech Capture really isn’t. While board position does matter for the enemy mechs, it doesn’t for yours. By my third game, my reserve was just my hand and I just discarded cards to capture or destroy.

I’ve tried a decent number of solitaire PnP games at this point (and I’m planning on playing plenty more) and Mech Capture doesn’t quite fit into any niche for me. It’s not quite light enough for me to feel like I’m fidgeting but it doesn’t have the depth or agency to make me feel like I’m ‘gaming’.

(To put that in perspective, Elevenses for One and Palm Island do feel like gaming to me)

That said, I like how there is a real spacial element to the game, even if it is honestly limited to the enemy mech. And while the game play is really about hand management, there is a functional combat system. I don’t feel like I’m playing a war game but I do feel like I’m playing an abstract strategy game.

And I’ll be honest. The fact that the game is nothing but cards is a plus for me. It makes it much easier to sit down and play. A five-minute game that takes five minutes to set up has more to overcome than shuffling some cards.

I think further play leading me to know both decks will actually add a level of agency to the game. At the same time, luck might still overpower choices and the game feels like there should be more. Like the ideas could be recycled in a bigger and better game.

And I need to try the campaign play. I think that would really improve the game. As I’ve said, it doesn’t quite work for me as a fidget game so making it bigger might be better.

While further play might make me change my mind one way or the other, Mech Capture is a game that I’m glad that I made and is interesting to explore but not one I’d recommend.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue May 21, 2019 6:23 pm
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The desert island IS the game library

Lowell Kempf
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If I was stranded on a desert island with someone else who liked abstracts... what games would I make?

One of the the nice things about a lot of abstract games, particularly classic ones, is that you can make functional copies of them with found objects. Which is probably how they got made in the first place anyway

Of course, it all depends on what’s actually on the island. If I can find chalk and a flat surface to draw on, the sky is the limit.

But as long as I can dig holes in the ground and have pebbles or seeds or such, I can get in some games of Mancala or Nine Man Morris in between making shelter and gathering food and building signal fires.

But if I can make a grid with chalk or palm fronds or in the sand, we have Checkers or Go or Hex or Fox and Geese or Twixt or a whole lot of other games. The sky is the limit! And so many of these games have such simple rules that I should be able to remember them when I’m not fighting the monkeys and snakes.

Really, as long as survival isn’t an issue (and, let’s face it, survival is always going to be an issue), a desert island can be a virtual convention for abstract islands. By the time I get rescued, my blood stained volley ball will be a 1 Dan at Go.
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Thu May 16, 2019 8:30 pm
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Actually playing a game in my wallet

Lowell Kempf
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Pretty much from the get go of my interest in board games, I have been into having some sort of ready-to-go game bag. Games like Cinq-O or Pico 2 have lived in back pack or satchel for what seems like time and memorial. And I have take to carrying small cases of micro games, both multi-player and solitaire, in pockets for the past few years.

However, I may have taken this as far as I can without tattooing a tick-tac-toe board on myself by making my wallet a functional game bag.

It started years ago with Coin-Age. I have the official copy on authentic credit card plastic and it has lived in my wallet ever since I got it via Kickstarter. But I never have much change on my person so it’s been more of a neat thing to have as opposed to a functional game. Sort of a gamer badge, so to speak.

However, when I discovered One-Minute War and promptly made a copy, I had a functional game that was one card and nothing else. Which was also small enough to fit in my wallet without being a problem.

(I really like Button Shy’s Wallet Line but 18 cards takes up to much space in my actual wallet)

However, I have yet to have an occasion to pull out One-Minute War and say ‘Why, yes, I do have a game on me! Best of three, say what? What do you mean I read too much Wodehouse?’

So I decided that nine cards might work. So I made a trimmed down set of cards for Down and they seem to work pretty well for the wallet. Down isn’t a very good game. However, it is a solitaire game that takes about a minute to play and is played entirely with all the cards in the hand. So it’s perfect for when you’re standing around waiting.

In other words, Down will definitely get played.

For me, having not just a fully functional game in my wallet but one that’s going to get played is breaking a barrier. In a more real way, my wallet is now a real game bag.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu May 16, 2019 3:35 am
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Cthulhu Dark is so basic there’s nothing but the horror

Lowell Kempf
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Lovecraft leaves a long shadow, in part because of the disturbing and disturbed creativity of his work and in part because it’s now public domain and people can just go crazy with it, pun intended.

I picked up the original, bare bones version of Cthulhu Dark a while ago and finally decided to take the five minutes to read it. It is one of the most rules light Lovecraftian RPGs I’ve seen. The mechanics take up four pages, including clarifications and design notes.

Your character consists of a name, an occupation and a sanity score that starts off at one. If you want to do something _that is within human capacity_ you roll. If your occupation can reasonably help, add a die. If you want to risk your sanity, add your sanity die. Three dice is as big as your dice pool can ever get. Unless you’re challenged, you will succeed. Your high roll will determine the level of success. One being barely succeeding and six being an amazing success.

Sanity rolls, which are required every time you see or do something that shakes your sanity, require rolling under your sanity or your sanity goes up one. Hit six and you are hopelessly insane and out of the game.

A few other observations: Trail of Cthulhu is clearly a big influence. If you’re investigating, you will always learn enough to move on to the next scene. There are no combat rules. Fight a horror and you automatically die. If you try to cast a spell or such, that’s out of the realm of human action so you just use your sanity die. You can do it but it’s a really bad idea.

Okay. I have looked at a lot of Lovecraft RPGs over the years. Call of Cthulhu is one of the big influences on my RPG life. I have also looked at a ton of rules light systems. Cthulhu Dark surprised me by hitting a lot good notes for both.

This is Lovecraft as bleak, cosmic horror. Your characters are fragile, powerless pawns facing forces that can overwhelm you by existing. Even compared to other Lovecraftian systems, you are so very weak. As mentioned, combat is ‘you die’. While sanity isn’t a spiral, the long odds are not with you. Doom is pretty much assured, hard baked into system.

If you’re going for cosmic horror, all this is a good thing. The universe is an empty place that will crumple you up like a used tissue. Embrace it!

I understand the Cthulhu Dark has been expanded to a full book. The rules are still the same and minimalist but you get design notes, settings and adventures. At some point, I now want to take a look at that.
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Mon May 13, 2019 10:34 pm
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How the tally list has affected my PnP

Lowell Kempf
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The monthly PnP tally list on BGG (https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/482943/monthly-print-n-play...) has had an interesting effect on my PnP crafting.

Originally, if I saw the list, I just used to for ideas for future projects. Which, you know, I still do. There’s so much possible PnP out there that every resource is helpful.

But, when I decided to stop being anti-social and get involved, that changed my approach to PnP, at least for larger projects.

(As a lazy PnP guy, anything that’s more than two pages of components counts as a larger game. For instance, I’m planning on making two sets of the numbered Orchard so we could have a two-player games. So that turned a nine card game into thirty six cards and a larger project for me )

So, here’s the thing. I interpreted the list as a pledge that I would make X game on the given month. I later realized that most folks use the tally list near the end of the month to say what they actually had made.But by then, I was kind of set on having my entry be a goal for the month.

So, in order to be able to ensure that I would actually get a project done in the month I’d say was going to get it done, I started working ahead.

I used to just print out what I was interested in. Then, after I started working ahead, I’d cut the components. Now I’m laminating them and saving the laminated sheets to trim when I’m ready to complete the project.

I used to do a mass cutting, a mass laminating and then a mass trimming. Now I’m saving at least the trimming for a little at a time

This makes a little more sense when you consider that I’m in PnP as much for the crafting as playing the games afterwards. Can’t lie. While I’ve played a lot of PnP games, I have also made a lot more than I have played.

I also know that while I have been crafting on a pretty regular basis for most of this year, I am going to hit some sort of slump. Summer is usually good for that. So having some projects waiting in the wings will be good for that.

So, yes, I consider this to be a good thing. It’s encouraging me to make larger projects and it’s also encouraging me to pace myself.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu May 9, 2019 5:36 pm
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The long view on the Architect: it keeps getting better

Lowell Kempf
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About a year ago, I tried out a solitaire game called the Architect. At the time, I thought it was better than I had expected and I knew I should play it some more. Yeah, it took me a year to get back to it.

(Spoiler: it is even better than I remembered it being)

The Architect is an 18-Card tile laying game where you are creating the floor plan for a one-story home. It needs to have a central corridor and as few isolated rooms, doors opening into walls and gaping holes in outside walls as possible.

The tile-laying rules are very generous. There are columns that have to form a grid. Beyond that, you can both cover up previously placed cards and tuck under them. That gives you a lot of flexibility.

Which you need because it’s surprisingly tough to make a good layout. The rules say you should have plenty of space when you play and the rules weren’t kidding. Unlike many similar games where you end with blocky card patterns, The Architect can create some very snaky, spread-out layouts.

Going back to The Architect, I realized what really makes it tick and stand out is that every card is very different. In a lot of tile-laying games, there’s a lot of symmetry and similarity in tiles. Every card on the Architect is very distinct while still being very true to the architecture theme. I’m really impressed with how much design work had to go into this seemingly simple idea.

The variety of cards creates a lot of interesting decisions and means that the layouts really change from game to game. There’s a lot of changing challenges and replay.

I have played a lot of micro games. I’m a lazy PnPer and they’re easy to make. And I have seen a lot of game crammed into a few components. But even by that standard, there’s a lot of game in eighteen cards here. If it was 52-cards, it would be overwhelming.

The more I have played The Architect, the more of an interesting puzzle it becomes. Eighteen cards and minimal ink, I’d recommend it to anyone who is curious.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue May 7, 2019 7:44 pm
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Finding your perfect city in Sprawlopolis

Lowell Kempf
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I have finally tried Sprawlopolis, last year’s shining star from Button Shy games. Took me long enough and my first impression is that it lives up the the hype.

Sprawlopolis is the spiritual sequel to Circle the Wagons. In addition to being by the same design team, they are both 18-card tile laying game where the flip side of the cards are the scoring conditions. The big difference is that Sprawlopolis is a cooperative game.

Which was not a selling point for me. I love Pandemic but, as a rule, cooperatives are not my cup of tea. (Watch is our child fall in love with them and I play nothing but until he goes to college) But I think that being a cooperative actually was better for the core concept.

Okay, in Sprawlopolis, you are city planners, working together to design a city. At the start of the game, shuffle the cards and draw three. Those will be the special scoring conditions for your game and you won’t be using the map side of those cards this time.

Something that is actually quite clever is that the scoring conditions don’t just tell you what you score or lose you extra points in the game. They also each have a number on them. The three numbers on your cards add up to the target number for that particular game. You have to score at least that many points to win.

Now, I’ve just played the solitaire rules, where I have a hand of three. With two to four players, you pass the hand around. Every one has a card but the active player has three. They pass the two cards they didn’t use and draw a new one. I like that a lot. It adds a lot of interaction to the game.

Each card has four quadrants (one in each of the four different colors), as well as some roads. Placement requires that at least one quadrant must share an edge an a quadrant on the board. You can overlap but you can’t tuck your card under.

After all the cards are placed, you get points for your largest area in each of the four colors, lose points for each stretch of road and go over the special scoring cards. If you meet the target number, you win!

You know, showing someone how to play the game using examples would be a lot easier than writing all that out

As you already know, I like Sprawlopolis a lot. Circle the Wagons is a solid game but Sprawlopolis takes the core ideas and makes a cleaner, more streamlined game. And being a cooperative helps that. You can have more players and you create a larger tableau. You have a variable scoring target as well as variable scoring. Sprawlopolis is a puzzle with a lot of permutations. It’s a great use of eighteen cards.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri May 3, 2019 10:32 pm
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My April PnP

Lowell Kempf
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May has rolled in and it’s time for me to look at what I’ve made during April. Let’s see:

Black Sonata
Criss Cross
Drakestail (2016 9-Card Contest)
Mountain River River Sun (2019 9-Card contest)
Ninja Samurai (2019 9-Card Contest)
Cotillion (2016 9-Card contest)
Mariner (2019 9-Card Contest)
Doctor Smuglfreud’s Marvelous Machine (2018 9-Card Contest)
Living La Vie Loca (RPG)
Devil Bunny Hates the Earth * (one page)
Name of God, original (RPG)
High Score
Gold Digger (Cheapass Version)
Qwixx (laminating score sheets from the game)
Rolling America (laminating score sheets from the game)
Planet Run
Escape of the Dead * (original as one page)

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t plan on doing this much crafting in April. I went a little out of control and did some binging. Which I don’t care for since I can’t maintain that level of crafting and not get burnt out. Still, it happens.

And, to be honest, I have some games already cut and laminated for May so I just have to trim them. It’s all part of my kooky plan to keep my crafting steady and constant.

I want to note that this isn’t the first time I’ve made the first version of Name of God, with simple art and only four roles. This time, I made it double sided (four roles on side and rules on the other) and used five mm plastic to laminate it, making it as portable and durable as I could. It lives in my bag, allegedly so I always have an RPG on hand but really more like some sort of lucky charm. I have the files for the much larger second edition and I do plan on making it this year.

I do wonder if this will be my most productive month this year.

And, as ever, I need to work on playing more of the games I’ve crafted

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed May 1, 2019 9:10 pm
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