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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My April Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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April ended up being a busier month for gaming than I expected. It was still a busy month for life but some gaming fit in.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, I had a chance to run a class of fifth graders through 13 Sheep. We’ve since then discussed trying out Pandemic: Hot Zone and Cunning Folk in the classroom as well.

It’s certainly a different way of using gaming than I’m used to.

I also spent some time with the third playtest version of Palm Laboratory. I don’t want to write about the game until it’s actually published but it is definitely more than a reskin of Palm Island.

And I learned a couple Roll and Writes.

Dice BBQ is from the 11th Roll ans Write contest and is themed around Argentinian barbecues. The game uses one of the most basic formats of R&W. Roll dice and write numbers in boxes. You get to change a die once. Cook steaks, pour wine, make salads, lose points with smoke.

Dice BBQ made me happy. I wasn’t sure I’d be trying any new games in April. Dice BBQ was something I could print out one page and learn in a few minutes. It is very simple and doesn’t do anything new but the pieces do come together nicely. The artwork looking like it’s from a High Lights magazine really helps. I don’t think it has much replay value but I had fun.

Daddy Issues… Interesting game and I hate the name. We live in a world where you can’t count on anyone getting or appreciating comedic irony.

You play the dad who went out one day for cigarettes and never came back. It turns out you got lost and ended up fighting rabid dogs, zombies and werewolves.

The game is actually a set of tables that you roll on to draw a map and generate encounters. It very much feels like a Fighting Fantasy adventure since you have to teach health and inventory.

I am fascinated by Daddy Issues. I like the theme, even if I don’t like the name. It’s amusing and quirky. And I have enjoyed game book experiences.

BUT I rolled up a store where I could buy cigarettes almost immediately in my first two games. The random factors, both for long a game might last as well as how difficult it can be, are definitely issues.

I want to play Daddy Issues some more so I can fully experience the game, give it a proper review. I have to see how the good parts of the game weigh out against the bad parts.

Looking back, April worked out pretty well for gaming.
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Mon May 2, 2022 8:19 pm
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Musings about optimal play

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve brought up the concept of optimal play, recently. Which brings up two points: Is it desirable and is it possible?

What is optimal play? I’m going with the act of consistently making decisions that have the greatest likelihood of resulting in the destined outcome. Which is probably winning the game, since we are talking about gaming, but not necessarily.

Frankly, I think that’s a more nuanced definition than ‘Making the best moves to win’

When I think of optimal play as a concept, I often think of a scene from the manga/anime Hikaru no Go, which proves that the game of Go is more thrilling than a light sabre duel over a pit filled with shogoth. When Touya is forced to play three games simultaneously with his back turned, his joseki is strong enough that he can pull it off.

Joseki, as I understand it, is the equivalent of Chess opening moves but involve a lot more moves and deal with smaller percentages of the board. Because a Go board is a HUGE piece of board game real estate. The Hikaru no Go example isn’t realistic but it does give an example of how understanding a game leads to optimal play.

Go may be the perfect example of a game for optimal play. Perfect information and no random elements. Go is all about the skill and Go has been researched for centuries with no final conclusion in sight.

With most other games, I think there are three elements that make me question optimal play as a viable concept. Random elements. Multiple paths to victory. Variable desired results. (Which is not the same as multiple paths to victories but can be related)

Random factors are the least important element. I mean, seeing as how most games have random factors, they are just something you have to factor in. Optimal play doesn’t mean a game is solved. Unless a game is solved. Then it’s not a game anymore. It’s a puzzle.

And while winning is kind of the core concept for most games, the nature of winning can be more complicated. There may be more than one way to win. And interactions with everyone else at the table can get affect how and what you do.

Ultimately, I think optimal play is a loaded term. I’m not saying that folks shouldn’t do their best to play their best. However, as much as games are about winning and losing, the process and experience just isn’t that binary.
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Mon Apr 11, 2022 4:52 pm
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Rat Hot has a space in the back of my mind

Lowell Kempf
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I haven’t played Rat Hot that much but it’s one that I find myself referring back to a lot in my head.

That’s because it was either the first tile laying game I played where the tiles were allowed to overlap or it was the first good one I played. Anyway, it made an impression.

The game has thick, chunky tiles that are three by one so it’s like you are playing with itty bitty planks. I’ve seen one PnP file for the game that’s designed to turn a Jenga set into a Rat Hot set.

Which actually isn’t a crazy idea. One of the placement rules is that, while you can stack tiles in top of each other, you can’t have gaps underneath. Using Jenga tiles would definitely help make that an easy rule to track.

But, in all honestly, what makes Rat Hot stay stuck in my head is the sudden death rules. If you end your turn with three rats of your color exposed, you lose. Good day, sir, you get nothing. To be honest, if memory serves me correctly, it takes either bad luck or bad play for it to actually happen. BUT it does mean you can make moves that your opponent has to react to. In Go terms, atari. (As opposed to in video game terms where Atari means something quite different)

But, as I mentioned, for me, this was one of the first times I saw overlapping tiles. Since then, I have seen that mechanic enough that it’s not even remotely novel. And I am absolutely sure it wasn’t the first use of it either.

I also don’t think that Rat Hot represents an innovation point in game design. I’m pretty sure games like Micro Rome or Hanging Gardens would exist without it. I do wonder if it influenced HUE from the Pack O Game series.

Rat Hot isn’t one of my favorite Michael Schacht games. It doesn’t even make it into my top ten of his games. But it has survidd many purges and stayed in my collection.
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Fri Apr 8, 2022 11:49 pm
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I won’t let optimal play spoil my Catan

Lowell Kempf
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To gamers of a certain age, Catan is ubiquitous with entering the hobby. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think the options have grown so much greater that no single game draws people in.

(I do suspect that Dungeons and Dragons still holds that place for RPGs. But with the sheer number of exceptions and loopholes baked into every edition, after you’ve played D&D, you’re ready to take on almost every other system. It’s a useful starting point)

I have met people who put Catan on a pedestal and people who have nothing but disdain for it. I’m closer to the first group but I try not to have my glasses too rosé colored. (And apparently the game continues to sell just fine)

A big reason that I hold that Catan still hold up is that it does such a good job keeping all the players engaged and active in the game. The trading is intrinsic part of player interaction.

But…

I’ve been told by multiple competitive players that tournament-level players in Europe almost never trade. That they consider trading to be a very weak, desperation move.

So… am I wrong? Is what I feel is one of Catan’s strongest points contrary to optimal play?

Well, I’m prepared to accept that that is a reasonable argument. But I’m going to play the social card.

Catan is a family-weight game for a family audience. And under those circumstances and conditions, trading and interaction is good.

So there.

I’ll save the optimal play for if I ever get back into Go.
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Wed Apr 6, 2022 10:21 pm
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Another .5 cents about Knizia

Lowell Kempf
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I recently commented on how Reiner Knizia slipped off the top 100 games and how Tigris and Euphrates then climbed back up. Probably due to the uproar of it falling off the top 100.

Which reminded me that, while I greatly respect Tigris and Euphrates, it’s not my favorite Knizia game. That would be Ingenious. Which, to be fair, uses the same scoring system that Knizia used oin Tigris and Euphrates.

As I thought about it, I realized that there are a lot of Knizia games I would rather play than Tigris and Euphrates. Off the top of my head, they include Ra, Through the Desert, Modern Art, Money, Lost Cities, Samurai, Blue Moon City and High Society. The list is actually keeps on going but you get the idea.

There are two things I noticed about these games. One, almost all of them are a lot shorter than Tigris and Euphrates. Right now, forty-five minutes is my idea of a long game

The other is that these are all older Knizia games. Which ties back into having a limited time budget.

That said, I bet I’d enjoy his newer stuff.

Post script:

I also realized that Money, High Society, and Through the Desert have all been go to games for me to take to conventions and other gaming events. Short, easy to teach and almost always engaging enough that people want multiple plays. I’ve seen other folks use Modern Art and Samurai in the same way. Knizia has a knack for making very accessible games. (Although Stefan Dora’s For Sale is the absolute best game I’ve found for this)
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Tue Apr 5, 2022 5:24 pm
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My March Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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When I looked back at February, I was surprised at how much gaming I got in since it was a busy month. Well, March ended up being a month where gaming took a back seat. Knew there were going to be some.

I only learned two games in March and they were both very, very light games from contests. Rolling Pins from the 10th Roll and Write Contest and Ceramicus from the 2022 9-Card Contest.

Rolling Pins, which was my prerequisite Roll and Write for the month, adds a bowling theme to Shut the Box. Which I think is a clever and effective idea but, in all honestly, a good portion of the enjoyment of Shut the Box is the physical manipulation of the box.

Ceramicus is basically a nine-card Spot Ot. Each card has five patterns and any two cards will share one symbol. So it’s a speed matching game. I actually got several plays out of it but nine cards isn’t enough for variety.

Both Rolling Pins and Ceramicus are examples of mechanically solid ideas that, well, don’t have enough for a lot of play. That said, I can see Ceramicus being a handy wallet game for waiting in the car.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to do much gaming stuff in April. Still, even a little bit is good.
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Tue Apr 5, 2022 12:46 am
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Okay, here’s my 1.5 cents on Knizia and rankings

Lowell Kempf
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There was a recent thread on Board Game Geek that game designer Reiner Knizia no longer has a game in the top 100 games in the BGG ranked listing.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2836123/there-no-longer-kni...

As a Knizia fan, I had a moment of sadness, followed by apathy. There’s a touch of ‘passing of an era’ but there’s also quite a bit of ‘shrug’ I’m pretty sure Doctor Knizia is still laughing all the way to the bank.

First of all (and I’m sure this is already obsolete information), there are at least 125,600 games in the BGG database. A hundred games isn’t even one percent of those games, as many people pointed out. Heck, he’s still in the top 1%.

Second of all, the rankings on Board Game Geek not only represent a sliver of the general gaming population, I’m pretty sure it represents only a fraction of their active users. It represents a niche. And I say that knowing I see one member of that niche in the mirror every day.

All of that said, I still think the ranking are very useful. Sure, there are biases but it’s still a LOT more useful than having no kind of rating system at all. I think you just have to use the system as the start of the conversation, not the final word.

Part of the discussion in the thread discussed other ways of organizing and ranking games to ‘correct’ the system. I’m pretty sure that most of these systems have their own biases and some are probably designed to get desired results

So. Start of the conversation. Not the final word.

Knizia and his games aren’t going anywhere. Tons of them are still In print, getting bought and getting played. His influence is still getting felt.

I also notice that, as of me writing this, Tigris and Euphrates is back on the top one hundred. Probably entirely due to the thread above. I’m sure there will be further adjustments.

Post Script:
(Stuff that didn’t fit into the main idea of what I was writing)

There’s a concept on TVTropes called ‘Seinfeld’ is unfunny. The idea is that so many works have copied Seinfeld that folks don’t realize how innovative it was. I saw comments about how Knizia created generic German family games which made me laugh since he helped define the modern German family game. (Along with Teuber and Kramer and Moon, among others)
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Wed Mar 30, 2022 8:22 pm
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Why Clocktowers is still standing

Lowell Kempf
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Clocktowers holds an amusing place in my collection. I’ve had it for a pretty long time. I think I picked it up in 2005 or 2006. I’ve barely played it. And I don’t have any plans on getting rid of it.

Okay. A lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s a deck of cards and takes up less space then most books. (Decks of cards get a lot more leeway when in comes to purges. SOMEDAY I WILL PLAY VERRATOR FOR THE FIRST TIME) But that’s not the only reason.

Clocktowers is the card-version of the board game Capitol which was reprinted as Skyline 3000. While I’ve never even seen Capital, I did buy and play Skyline 3000. And I thought Skyline 3000 wasn’t bad but it wasn’t a game that I held onto. The box was bigger than a book after all

Seriously, though, while being a good game is the most important part for a game to survive a purge, the game actually seeing any play is also important. Storage space is also part of the equation.

I have to admit that I didn’t properly grok Clocktowers when I first got it, which led to less play. I thought it was more of a pure set collection game and I couldn’t understand why we were building so few towers.

Now, with years of gaming under my belt, I realize that Clocktowers is driven by scarcity. There’s not even close to enough tower parts to go around so you are fighting over scraps to build any towers at all. That’s still a form of set collection but scales are tipped more extremely. If we had understood that back when I first got the game, we’d have played a lot more Clocktowers.

Now, I know that Slyline 3000 is a deeper, richer gaming experience than Clocktowers. But I wasn’t playing Skyline 3000 and Clocktowers, at a fraction of the space, gives me a similar experience. This is the same reason I still own King of the Elves but not Elfenlands anymore.

(On the contrary wise, Ticket to Ride: New York does not replace any of the big Ticket to Ride games. Because those are games that DO see play)

In some ways, Clocktowers feels like a missed opportunity for me. If I understood what it was trying to do when I didn’t have nearly as many games, it would have seen more play. But I think it’s worth keeping on the shelf.
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Mon Mar 28, 2022 9:52 pm
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Landlock in the time capsule of my mind

Lowell Kempf
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The Legend of Landlock is a game that I was initially fascinated by when I first started looking at designer games. We are talking about when I just had a copy of Fluxx and a couple Cheapass Hip Pocket games. Before I even had my own copy Catan or even any games in actual boxes.

Landlock attracted my attention for two reasons. First all, it had gnomes. Second, I really wanted to try out Carcassonne and it was the closest thing I could find to it.

Wow. That sentence is amazing.

To be fair, I was still getting a handle on ordering things online (man, does that make me sound old ) and I hadn’t been to the good game store two counties over yet.

Still, we live in an age where bookstores and big box stores have multiple shelves of board games. There’s a lot you still have to go out of your way to find but there’s a lot more readily available and game stores are a lot more common. When I picked up Landlock, the nearest game store to me specialized in jigsaw puzzles and magic tricks.

Of course, within a year, I would become familiar with a half dozen online sites where I could order games. And conventions were amazing treasure hunts of items I couldn’t find anywhere else. Still, game stores that actually specialize in games is quite a thing when I stop and think about it.

In the end, as adorable as Landlock is, it came up short for me. It certainly couldn’t compare to Carcassonne (not that it’s expected to) We found that the rules for tussocks and bridges felt… clunky. Easy to understand but they felt like they had been shoved into the game.

Ironically, there are now free PnP games like Autumn or Micro Rome or Micropul that I think are better tile laying games than Landlock. Remembering Landlock isn’t remembering a tile laying game for kids. It’s realizing how many resources there are now.
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Fri Mar 25, 2022 4:37 pm
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Fond memories of the End of the Triumvirate

Lowell Kempf
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The End of the Triumvirate is a game that left my collection a while back because, well, it just never made it on the table. The box says two-to-three but the game is really for three. It’s in the name. And I’ve found that any gathering of gaming that’s more than two is always more than three.

While I don’t regret it leaving the collection, I have nothing but good memories of the game. It managed to deal with some complex ideas with relatively simple rules.

The game takes place at the time when the First Triumvirate of the Roman Empire fell apart. This was a political alliance between Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. As I understand it, they basically worked together in order to bypass the checks and balances of the Roman Republic. Since it was all about personal advancement, it was already falling apart when Crassus died. Caesar’s civil war with Pompey is where the phrase crossing the Rubicon comes from. So you know who won in real life.

There are three ways of winning: military, politics and competence. And, since money entirely fuels the politics, I honestly remember it more as military, economics and PR.

And what I really remember liking is that the starting positions give each player an advantage in a different area. It’s an asymmetrical war game with no special powers and everyone is using the exact same rules. It’s not unique in that but it’s good to see it done well.

The End of the Triumvirate also shows how war is as much about politics and economics as it is about fighting. (I try to avoid talking about stuff outside of gaming and books but this is definitely being shown right now) And it does so with relatively short playing time and simple rules.

The End of the Triumvirate is terribly clever. Glad that I got to experience it.
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Mon Mar 21, 2022 8:15 pm
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