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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Visiting games in storage

Lowell Kempf
United States
Tucson
Arizona
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During my travels, I got a chance to look at games that I had put into storage at my parents’ house. Honestly, our move to Arizona had been so crazy, I was shocked to learn years later that I had actually done that.

I went more carefully through the fifty or so games in storage. Here are some thoughts.

First of all, I can tell why most of these games went into storage. The vast majority of the games are longer games, at least by my standards. Games I knew I wouldn’t have the time for with a newborn. Two to six hours. Since 45 minutes is my current golden time for games, I still don’t have that time lol.

Second, there are games I thought I had gotten rid of that were just in storage. Games I’m glad I still own. Games I want to play again. I was shocked to learn I still own Wallamoppi, a dexterity game where the novelty is good enough to justify the game.

And third, I was surprised to find ten or so light war games that fit the Ameritrash category there were. (Is that term even used anymore?) It has been a very long time since I last played a game like Risk 2210 or Monsters Menace America but they are a definite part of my gaming history. And I’m glad I’ve still got some serious Beer and Pretzel games.

The games are going to stay in storage but it was cool to see them, remember them and catalog them.
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Fri Jul 22, 2022 4:06 pm
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What’s so great about the Great Gatsby?

Lowell Kempf
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As part of my decision to read more books that lazy high schoolers use for book reports, I reread The Great Gatsby which I’m not sure I’ve read since college.

And doing some side research about the book,
I realize that trying to write about the Great Gatsby is like trying to write about Hamlet. There is practically a cottage industry for analyzing the book.

When I was younger, my biggest impression of the Great Gatsby was that it was held up as the shortest a book could be and still considered a novel. Reading it as a grown up, I was surprised at how, well, readable it was.

It was a little like finally seeing Citizen Kane. I knew that it was a classic movie and all that but no one had actually told me it was good. And that the sled is really more of a little aside than the point of the movie.

Spoilers

Spoilers

Spoilers

Spoilers

Most (certainly not all) interpretations of The Great Gatsby seem to be that it’s a scathing critique of the American Dream. Everyone is obsessed with fame and money and is everyone is miserable.

One of the things that is fun to argue about is what is the real nature of any given character.

Is Jay Gatsby a Byronesque hero who is too good for a corrupt world? Is he a creepy stalker? Is he a delusional hypocritical man child ? Is he just a larger than life figure who reveals how crummy everyone around him is? Is he even the main character?

(I found myself thinking that Jay Gatsby isn’t the protagonist and that Nick Carraway, the narrator is. He is the one who really changes over the course of the book. His relationship with Gatsby takes him from mild disillusionment to complete and utter disillusionment)

I don’t think that the theme of the Great Gatsby is its selling point. The human race is a bunch of rotters is an old, old theme. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald created a classic by exploring that theme with interesting enough characters that we can argue about who they really are.

And, quite frankly, by not being _too_ depressing. You can argue that Fitzgerald’s friend Nathan West wrote an even more brutal and brilliant deconstruction of the American Dream with the The Day of the Locust but, boy, is that book is bleak.

I’ve read people calling The Great Gatsby as the Great American Novel. I can’t say that myself (I’d put the Catcher in the Rye before it among others) but it is a great novel about Americans.
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Wed Jul 20, 2022 6:57 pm
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Tempus Quest and airplane travel

Lowell Kempf
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Part of my preparation for a trip, I printed off the first few episodes of Tempus Quest. It uses the same Tempus System as Tempus Imperium, where the time and date are used to set up the board and actions.

I’d already played episode 0, the tutorial, but I decided to play it again so I could embrace the whole business of Tempus Quest being a campaign.

I had been playing Tempus Infinitum, a prototype for another Tempus system game. And that gave me appreciation for a couple of design choices on Tempus Quest. One, the Tempus Quest games are more goal focused. That means fewer paths to victory but you know exactly what to plan for if you get a bad number string. And the Tempus Quest game gives you more starting ‘money’ resource to change actions, which also helps compensate for a bad number.

Okay, here’s some more specific thoughts:

Episode 0 - Some Re-Assembly Required

Where you rebuild the spaceship Tempus.

My original impression was Episode 0 was that it was a tutorial that was so basic that it would be hard to fail. The ‘money’ is such a big supply, you can do any action at will. More than that, the Use action is very minimal, installing components as opposed to doing something.

Still, all it is is a tutorial. It teaches you how the date stamp mechanic works. But if this was it, Tempus Quest would get boring quick.

Episode 1 - Uninvited Guests

Where you fight robots and recharge the Tempus engine

And, bam, things get interesting.

It uses a hex grid. The use action makes the things you build actually do something. You have to actually manage the money resource and make more of it. There’s a form of combat.

Episode 0, you had to actually have to intentionally make bad choices to lose. Episode 1 isn’t that hard but you have to put in some effort to play.

I played it and knew I was going to keep going.

Episode 2 - The Dust Farmers

Where you help irrigate farms.

Episode Two breaks less new ground. It’s all about infrastructure development. I still liked it and you actually have to generate two resources, water AND food. (Are these farmers doing anything?)

I also like that it offers two paths. If you can expand lakes, you build pumps and get tons of water. If you don’t get the lake expansion option, you can dig wells. Not as efficient but a viable option. And you aren’t gojng to mix and max those options.

Episode 2 is the closest thing to Tempus Imperium and a Euro game. Not sure why some mercenaries are better at agriculture than farmers though.

Episode 3 - Decision at Degma

Where you you use social networking to get a job

Episode 3 is where I feel Tempus Quest stepped away from from Tempus Imperium and did it’s own thing. Changing to developing social networks and connections isn’t mechanically different than other resources but it felt like it.

And the enemy action, instead of hitting your money resources, is enemies spreading over the board. That is a lot more aggressive. The challenge was definitely there.

This is also where the campaign feel for stronger since it sets up the next episode.

Episode 4 - The Degma Job

Where you actually do the job

While you could pick any of the three jobs, if you are playing the game as a campaign, you use the one you gained in the last episode. It is your choice if you want to treat the series as a campaign but it is a choice.

This was fun. It took the elements that made Episode 3 interesting and harder and made it even more difficult. In particular, there wasn’t any kind of attack action so you just had to manage the enemy spread as best you could. (Of course, you also had to use the enemy as a resource lol)

I actually had to use every turn to complete Episode 4.


Conclusions

I kept hoping that someone would ask me on the airplane what I was doing so I could tell them it was a cross between Catan and a Crossword Puzzle. And that really does describe the experience.

There are definitely better R&Ws that use dice or cards. They just provide a wider range of options. But Tempus Quest was very good for the limited space of an airplane.
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Mon Jul 18, 2022 4:20 pm
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The fascinating but flawed Tempus Infinitum

Lowell Kempf
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Last year, I finally tried out Tempus Imperium. It is a Roll and Write that doesn’t actually use dice or even cards. Instead, it uses a date stamp.

You create a ten-digit number with the year-month-day-hour-minute. You use that number to set up the board and it then serves as the order of actions for the actual game play. Said gameplay is building up a generic medieval kingdom.

I like Tempus Imperium but there are some limitations baked into the core concept. After you generate the ten-digit number, the game is a perfect information solitaire. I don’t think that’s a flaw but that is a core element of the game.

I also became aware that the designer had refined the concept in Tempus Quest and Tempus Infinitum, which is a more streamlined and refined version of Tempus Imperium.

The biggest difference between Imperium and Infinitum is that, like Tempus Quest, you only create a six-digit number using the day, hour and minute. This doesn’t mean just fewer actions per turn. It also means a less static number.

In Tempus Imperium, the first two numbers were going to be the for an entire year and each month would be the same. Removing them means a lot more variety in a game whose only ‘random’ element is the setup.

And after the or six plays, I can see how this is both cool and bad. On the one hand, between multiple seed maps and the higher variance in the digits, there is a lot more variety compared to Tempus Imperium.

On the other hand, you can generate games that, as near as I can tell, aren’t viable. Players have to help balance the game but I am pretty sure some setups are too unbalanced to ‘work’.

There are four actions: build roads, expand lakes, build buildings and use buildings. You can spend two gold to do a different action than the one assigned by the number. There are also enemies that steal gold until you destroy them with a specific building action.

So this is what I ran into: almost all the buildings require gold and the only way to generate gold is through building actions. I’ve had number strings with no use actions and my economy completely dried up. Almost immediately. Once I was able to compensate by making a huge lake for points but when I haven’t had that action either, I was left drawing roads and skipping turns.

And, yes, the easy answer is to fudge the digit, either by waiting a few minutes or just fudging the number. Which feels like cheating but it might just be balancing the game.

I have notified that Tempus Infinitum seems to no longer being tested. Instead, there is now a game called Tempus Imperium Aeternum which looks more intricate. I’ll have to try it out.

(I’ve also been playing through Tempus Quest. A couple of design choices help deal with some of my issues. But that will be another blog)
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Fri Jul 15, 2022 4:05 pm
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In search of chapter books

Lowell Kempf
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We’ve been looking for a series of chapter books to help supplement The Magic Treehouse books. Yeah, there are a lot of them but some variety won’t hurt. So, we’ve been looking at Ron Roy’s A-Z Mysteries.

Okay, his school librarian handed me a random handful at the end of the school year, plus some Gary Paulsen and other books. They were battered surplus that she couldn’t keep.

It did include the first book and that was enough to get us started. And it’s about what you’d expect. Elementary age Dink, Ruth Rose and Josh stumble on a different mystery in each book.

Seriously, kid detective stories as a genre are over a century old. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys didn’t even get the ball rolling. So it’s a well established and well loved idea.

The A-Z Mysteries are a stark contrast to the Magic Treehouse books and not just because of the difference between fantasy and mystery. Jack and Annie have very little personality beyond Annie making life-threatening decisions and somehow surviving. Two thirds of the dialogue is didactic. (Which, to be fair, is the point)

On the other hand, the A-Z Mysteries are much more character driven with a lot more dialogue. The kids aren’t that complex but they are still distinct. Dink is the analytical one who comes up with investigation plans. Ruth Rose, the token girl, makes the actual conclusions. Josh eats a lot. (At least Shaggy stumbled on clues and drew monster agro)

And, in at least the first couple books, the kids investigations are pretty believable. They might go over the top by the letter Z but they start off reasonable.

Post Script

And in one of the books, corrupt businessmen in suits were compared to penguins. Our son loves penguins and now the A-Z mysteries are dead to him for the foreseeable future.

Time to buy ten more Magic Tteehouse books.
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Wed Jul 13, 2022 9:12 pm
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Travel? Better pack some games!

Lowell Kempf
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For the first time since the initial lockdown, I’m going to be doing some honest to goodness long distance traveling.

And, while things like wardrobe and making sure my tablet has several hours worth of Disney to keep our son occupied on the plane, that also means packing some games. Because traveling without games is like traveling without books.

And I’m not going to be going to any conventions or gaming events or even planning on specifically seeing any gaming buddies. So games are going to be a tiny percentage of stuff packed and they will be focused on solitaire games.

I am mentally breaking my packing into three categories:

PnP In Hand Games. Since I keep a copy of Down and Flipword in my wallet, it’s not like I ever leave the house without some. But between potentially minimal time and minimum space for gaming, those are the games I’m most likely to actually play.

Pack O Game games. I don’t know if I’m going to play any multiplayer games but packing two or three of those is the best return of minimal space for maximum gaming. (HUE, LIE and GEM are what made the cut. The first two are very solid and very easy to teach while GEM is a strong game with a ‘full size’ feel)

Both of those are tried and true options for me. I don’t think I’ve left the state without a Pack O Game since they came out. But I think I’m going to add a third category: date-stamp-and-write games.

I’m planning on printing out some Tempus Quest and Tempus Infinitum sheets. I don’t need any dice, just my watch and pencil to play them. That’s about as minimal as you can get before you reach charades. And solitaire charades is about as boring as solitaire hide-and-seek. I have a feeling those will be my plane activity.

Honestly, everything I’m taking could fit into a coat pocket. If I was traveling with gaming my mind, I’d have a much bigger library. But this covers what I’ll need.
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Mon Jul 11, 2022 4:49 pm
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Aquaducts: fund and build your own Ancient Rome

Lowell Kempf
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The Print and Play game Aquaducts has been on my radar for a long time. It’s a tile-laying game for one player about creating a map for an ancient Roman city. It’s right up my alley

The whole game consists of 24 cards and one six-sided dice so it’s an easy build. Each card shows a square city space with aqueducts on each side with the other third of the card showing two different amenities. Stuff like bathhouses and waterwheels. There’s four different kinds of amenities, by the way.

Each turn, you draw a card. You can discard it face down to upgrade the die that serves as your pawn. You can set it to one side to fund amenities. Or you can add them to your map.

Of course, there are restrictions, just like Carcassonne. They have to line up in the grid. The aqueducts have to line up. And they have to be adjacent to the tile where your dice pawn is. And the pawn can only move after a tile is placed and they have to be high enough level to move via aqueduct.

The game ends when the deck runs out. You win if you have a sixth level pawn AND filled in the grid AND funded every amenity. Fall short of even one goal, you lose!

Oh and the game has different difficulties, ranging from a 3x3 grid to a 4x4 grid. Which might not sound like much of a difference but there’s only 24 cards and you have to use five cards to level up your pawn no matter what level you are playing at. So you only have three cards to fund amenities at the most difficult level.

As soon as I finished making my copy, I grabbed a d6 and tried. And then played it four more times in a row until I had won on easy Of course, my first two games ended quickly when I realized that I had boxed myself in and couldn’t move my pawn

The two design choices in Aquaducts that make it stand out in the pretty big world of PnP tile laying micro games (seriously, there’s a lot of them) are the pawn and funding amenities. Having to manage the level and movement of the pawn adds a whole new layer to the game and managing funding can make or break a play.

Of course, even with those two bits, it’s a very simple game. And, particularly at more difficult levels, luck is going to be a big factor.

Aquaducts came out in 2015. Since then, a lot of Print and Play games have come out, fueled both by contests and it’s become more of a publishing standard. And I honestly think Aquaducts still holds up. There are better micro tile laying games like Orchard but I would put it up there with Micropul or Micro Rome.

I like Aquaducts. It isn’t a Teraforming Mars by any stretch of the imagination but it does well in its niche. It’s definitely a game I can play over and over.
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Fri Jul 8, 2022 4:56 pm
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Another eulogy for a gaming friend

Lowell Kempf
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I wrote an elegy for a gaming buddy last month. I was not expecting to write another one so soon.

On the same day as I’m writing this, I’ve learned that a gaming buddy from college passed away suddenly.

College was very formative for me as a gamer, particularly as far as RPGs were concerned. It wasn’t where I discovered or played them but it was the first place where I really found a community for them.

There were three campaigns in college that, quite frankly, affected the rest of my life. The friendships from those games (Dungeons and Dragons, Call of Cthulhu and Marvel Superheroes) have continued to this day.

Jen was in the Dungeons and Dragons campaign and she was the DM’s girlfriend. The DM had/has an interesting way of treating her and the woman he eventually married in his games. He would let them play major roles in the stories but that meant all the bad stuff happened to them.

They didn’t get powerful magic items or such. But if there was a cursed item, it would end up in their hands. And major plot conflicts would get built up around them. In other words, Frodo stuck with the one ring was clearly played by someone dating Tolkien.

And Jen ran with it. She grabbed onto every crazy story twist that was thrown her way and ran with it. The group didn’t ‘win’ a lot but we had fun and created what I’m pretty sure was a great story.

College was when I personally really knew Jen but I also stayed enough in touch to see how, like the rest of us, she grew up. She got married to a real sweet guy and had two kids. So she leaves behind a lot of friends and family and a lot of living that she should have had a chance to live.

I’m glad I got to play D&D with her and am so sad for her husband and children.
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Wed Jul 6, 2022 9:13 pm
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My June Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, somehow in June, I ended up trying a decent number of games. Itty bitty games, really, but more than I’ve played in a while.

Two of the games were from the first (and possibly annual) In Hand Design Contest: Brave the Book and Coffee Zombies. I am pretty sure I am not done with that contest’s entries either.

Brave the Book is a bookmark as a game and an exercise in counting words. I’ve already written about it. As a game, it almost felt like a modern veneer over a Victorian parlor game. I found it so-so at best as a game or activity but I really appreciate it as a mad experiment. One of the things I love about PnP and design contests is that they are safe places for crazy ideas.

Coffee Zombies may end up getting a full blog. It’s about using cupcakes to cure folks who have been turned into zombies by coffee. It has a bit of a Palm Island feel since you are rotating and flipping cards. It has one very interesting design choice. It is a separate action to put a card at the end of the deck. So you can keep developing the same card and some zombies don’t let you have the option of putting the card in the back.

I feel like Coffee Zombies could be solved. However, the designer added a special action card and an advanced deck which can be either played on its own or added to the regular deck. There’s more play out of it and, like so many contest entries, I have to wonder if this is the final version.

On the Roll and Write side, I tried out a few games.

I’ve already written about Goblins, Guns and Grog but my opinion of the game has actually gotten worse since then. The theme is good but the actual mechanics are weak. It has become my least favorite Legends of Dsyx game and it likely to stay that way.

However, I tried another of RobinJarvis’s games, one of the paper pinball games Goblin Circus. The last one from the first season I hadn’t tried. The paper pinball series aren’t very much like pinball but they are fun dice chuckers. Goblin Circus has a reroll mechanic, as well as a nifty jackpot goal.

Comparing the two games was interesting. Goblins, Guns and Grog is more ambitious but falls short. Goblin Circus is much simpler but it works and is fun.

I also played a game from an early R&W contest, Babhan. It’s a mixture of Roll and Write and Roll and Move as a solitaire. I’ve written about it, about how it makes several design choices to not make or a luck fest. It still is but I appreciate the effort.

Looking at ‘earlier’ design contests, I feel like design contests are becoming more and more testing grounds for prototypes with an aim for publication. Which is cool but there’s still room for madness like Brave the Book

I also actually bought a couple of games (Forbidden Desert and CYOA: War With The Evil Power Master) but haven’t had a a chance to play them yet.
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Mon Jul 4, 2022 10:23 pm
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My June PnP

Lowell Kempf
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June was an interesting month for Print and Play for me. No big moments of crafting but periodically I made small projects to help keep my peace of mind.

Here’s what I made:

Tussie Mussie (high definition but B&W)
Mini Town
Babhan (Roll and Write Contest #3)
Coffee Zombies with expansions (2022 In Hand Contest)
Wurfel Bingo
Pillow Fort (PnP Arcade Prototype Zone)

My ‘big’ project for June was Tussie Mussie. I wanted to upgrade from the original Gen Can’t contest version. That said, while there are textures to tell the flower colors apart, the game really needs to be printed in color, particularly if I want to play it with casual gamers. So this is not the last time I make it.

The other projects were smaller. I originally just planned on making the basic cards for Coffee Zombies but I had enough fun with it that I later made the other nine cards lol

I printed and laminated Pillow Fort more than a year ago because it had cats as a game element. And then it sat for months. Even if I never play it, it was time to at least finish it.

Not a crazy month but stuff got done.
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Fri Jul 1, 2022 9:34 pm
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