Lowell Kempf(Gnomekin)United States
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.
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 Board Games
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I recently stumbled upon some dusty old files containing shopping lists from more than ten years ago. Lists of games that I thought about ordering, games that I did order and games I picked up at one convention or another.
I already knew that I was a game hoarder, perhaps (hopefully) a recovering hoarder. But looking at this jumble of lists, electronic but still reminding me of old yellow legal pads with curling pages, makes me look at games that I can’t even remember.
It’s one thing to have bought games that end up never played, the shelf of shame that has passed into both common language and myth. Yet, I found myself looking at game after game that I couldn’t even remember buying.
Who was this person that combed through shelves at conventions and electronic catalogs, gobbling up random games like gum drops, ignoring the chance that some of them might be licorice? This person who was me seem foreign, lost in a fog.
Acquisition as a hobby in and of itself is an ancient affliction. Pyramids packed full of stuff for the afterlife must have similar roots, if dramatically more impressive results. But it seems to serve little purpose other than to use up time and money and space.
Wanting to play lots of different games? Eminently reasonable, even noble. Filling up shelves with games that I have no longer heard of? Not so reasonable. Not quite sad but not a good idea.
Ten years ago, I began heavily purging my game collection. Some games were sold and others were given away and some were delicately tucked away into Goodwill bins. (Have no worries or fear. My closet still has plenty of games) These mystery games? They have long ago vanished. Like Bigfoot, leaving no trace of their existence.
I love being a gamer. The games change but I still love it. Being a mindless hoarder, less so. (Don’t ask about all the PnP PDFs I have filed away)
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At first, it looked the only new game I’d learn in February was Loco Momo on Board Game Arena. Which I have found amusing but if that’s all I learned, that would have been pretty ‘lazy’ of me.
And I’m sure I’ll have some months where gaming is a low priority but I did end up trying some other stuff and exploring other ideas.
I have been trying to learn at least one PnP Roll and Write a month because, well, it’s print and add dice for a lot of them. It’s an easy time and material investment. Last month, I finally played Vegetable and Hello Autumn from the Creative Kids bundle. And I intend to write a proper blog about them but I will say they are the games I am most likely to suggest to older gamers from a collection aimed at classrooms.
I also tried a couple of In Hand games. Behind the Iron from the 2021 solitaire contest and Little Dingy from the 2022 9-Card contest. I haven’t decided what I think of either of them but Behind the Iron, which just has you hold the cards in a row was much easier to physically deal with. Little Dingy is a tile laying game where you hold the map in your hands. I laminated the cards so thsy were slippery but I kept dropping the cards. Cool concept, though.
Finally, I want to comment on two games I learned in January and then kept in regular rotation, Ukiyo and Waffle Hassle. Both are 18-card tile laying games that have tiny foot prints. However, Waffle Hassle, particularly in solitaire mode, is really more of a fidget activity. (Which does mean it has seen plenty of play from me lol) Ukiyo, on the other hand, crosses over into being a full game for me. A tiny, very quick game, yeah, but one with definite decisions. Ukiyo is a game that I can and will recommend to other gamers.
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There are games that I play online and really enjoy but really wonder if I’d enjoy them in analog, having to actually do all the busy work with the pieces. Loco Momo is definitely one of those games.
The theme of Loco Momo is that forest animals have found a magic camera and are competing to take the best picture. The practice is you are trying to collect and sort tiles.
I’m not going to lie, I think there’s a real disconnect between the theme and the actual game. I mean, honestly either seating arrangements for a forest animal picnic or a theme about a zoology study would make more sense.
There’s a forest board where the tiles wait to get colllected and everyone has a picture boards where you place the tile you collect. The tiles come in five different flavors of animals and four different flavors of backgrounds.
The forest board has four quadrants, each with space for four tiles. Each turn, the active player activates a tile. They all have a different movement, including standing still. You collect all the tiles that match the background of the tile you activated.
The picture board has five rows of fives and you place tiles right to left. Different combinations of tiles in different spaces are worth points and one wrong tile in the wrong space naturally reduces the point value.
Refill the forest board and it’s the next turn. Six rounds and the game is done. Most points wins.
I’m of two minds of Loco Momo. On the one hand, luck entirely determines what moves you can even make. And your best move is usually going to be obvious. Go for the move that gets you the most tiles unless you are looking for specific tiles (the f they are even available) There are decisions but they aren’t hard decisions.
On the other hand, I keep playing it on Board
Game Arena. I am engaged by the little puzzles that emerge and trying to solve them. So, I enjoy Loco Momo.
But… an online game takes five minutes at best and all the housecleaning is done automatically. I’m not sure I’d enjoy the game as much in person. (Of course, the online game doesn’t have the expansions that apparently exist)
I’ve enjoyed what I’ve gotten out of Loco Momo but I don’t know if I want more.
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Between finding the PnP solitaire version and the port on Board Game Arena, I’ve had a chance to check out Fruit Picking. I’ve come to really like solitaire games and I’ve been a fan of the Mancala family of games even before I got into designer games. And I’ve played designer games that were inspired by Mancala.
(Sadly, I haven’t played Five Tribes or Trajan, though. The loss is clearly mine)
So I should be the target demographic for Fruit Picking by a couple different criteria. However, it has consistently fallen flat for me.
Here’s the thing. Everyone has their own little Mancala board. You’re doing your own thing and the only interaction is that you are all competing for the same available cards. It is Mancala as a solitaire puzzle.
Mancala is an ancient family of games that represents a completely different paradigm than Go or Chess. And Mancala becomes a static math puzzle without an opponent fighting you and messing up all your plans.
I actually was surprised at how nonplussed I was by Fruit Picking. I mean, I normally love multi-solitaire games like Take It Easy. But I realize that the games I like have ongoing random factors that you have to cope with. After the initial set up, the cards are the only random factor. Your board is set.
For me, Fruit Picking took all the life and vibrancy out of Mancala but didn’t replace it with anything.
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Last year, I started writing monthly blogs about what Roll and Write games I had learned and tried out. By the end of the year, I just switched to making it a non-specific gaming summary.
At the end of January, I thought that I had had a pretty quiet month. Work had kept me busy and I hadn’t had anything like my Dicember experience, which had sometimes been pretty manic. (Next year, I might try a variation and instead of playing a dice game every day, just learn fifteen new-to-me dice games)
To my surprise, I found I had learned two games on Boardgame Arena (Dungeon Roll and Fruit Picking), two Roll and Writes from the Creative Kids bundle (Block Crafting and Words), three playtest prototypes and two, um, just games (Waffle Hassle and Ukiyo)
I spent less time gaming in January than a lot of months. However. I feel like I used the time well, learning some interesting new stuff.
That said, there are times (and I know they will come again) when I binge on comfort food games.
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I honestly view it as kind of insane on my part but I like to have the first book I read or the first game I play in a new year to be good. It doesn’t have to be the best of the year but I try to avoid garbage.
When I realized I was actively avoiding trying out prototypes and such so they wouldn’t be the first game I learned in 2022, I decided I’d better hurry up and get a game I thought would be good learned. So I learned Dungeon Roll on Board Game Arena.
Short version: it’s not garbage.
Dungeon Roll is a dungeon crawl built around dice. Which tells you absolutely nothing. There are probably, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating, hundreds of games that fit that description. Heck, I could describe Dungeons and Dragons like that.
The core mechanic of Dungeon Roll is that you are managing a pool of white dice while the dungeon is an increasing number of black dice that give you monsters to fight and treasure to loot.
And here is the clever bit: you get a hero card that gives you a couple special powers. More than that, it can get leveled up for better powers. In all honesty, that’s the best part of the game for me. The heroes give you your variety and more interesting decisions.
At first, I thought the game was mindless dice chucking and it was all luck. However, there are some ways you can manage your luck and your dice pool. I do othink bad die rolls can easily override your decisions but I’ve been having enough fun that I don’t care.
It’s really the bells and whistles that will keep me playing Dungeon Roll. The core mechanic isn’t that interesting for me but I want to try out all the hero cards and see what tricks I can pull. The parts are bigger than the sum
Two games that I kept thinking about while learning Dungeon Roll were Balloon Pop and Deep Space D6. I learned both of them the month before so they were fresh on my mind.
A big reason why Balloon Pop comes to my mind is I also just learned it via Board Game Arena. It’s a push your luck game with the twist that every time you reroll, you add a new dice. Which, if I am doing my figuring right, actually decreases the odds of getting what you want. I’ve read about some people who felt Dungeon Roll was too light but it’s a boulder compared to Balloon Pop. Balloon Pop is what you pull out when folks want to play LCR.
Deep Space D6 is another narrative genre game, only this one is science fiction. I think it is more balanced and more immersive than Dungeon Roll. Watching after the health of your space ship give Deep Space D6 a strong focus. The dice change but the ship is constant. Hero cards are a source of special powers in Dungeon Roll but the ship is your character in Dungeon Roll. Of course, Deep Space D6 is solitaire only.
Dungeon Roll isn’t going to be the best game I learn this year. It is pretty light and it has some real flaws. But I am going to keep playing it and having fun with it. So a good start to the year.
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07 Jan 2022
Yeah, yeah. New Year so New Year’s resolutions.
And, yes, I want to exercise more and eat better but that’s not really in the pervue of this blog.
My standard goals of learning a new game and making one ‘big’ PnP project a month stand. And big basically just means around three pages. I make mostly micro games but something big enough that a publisher would publish counts.
I already had a goal of reading at least one major book a month but I might as well make it formal. Let’s use the word challenging to describe that kind of book. And it can’t be a reread. I really ought to reread Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and I’m sure it will be challenging the second time around but it’s not the same thing. (Really should get around to actually reading his If On A Winter Night’s A Traveler)
Oh, okay. Let’s make some game related resolutions.
You know what? I should try and play the full Bargain Basement Bathysphere campaign. I’ve played the first few boards and had fun. And each individual board should be a quick play. I think. I’ve been good and not peeked.
I also want to finish learning all of the Legends of Dsyx games and all of Radoslaw Ignatow’s roll and write games. Which isn’t a hard goal. I just need to sit down in the mood to do it
But, hey, Bargain Basement Bathysphere is a good goal.
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05 Jan 2022
Well, it’s not a new year without a best of last year list. Or commentary. Something like that.
The best books I read in 2021 were the first two books in the Locked Tomb Trilogy, Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth. The world building is wild, the character are terribly flawed but sympathetic and the plot is interesting. Allegedly, the next book should wrap everything up. That’s a lot to do and I really hope that Tamsyn Muir sticks the landing.
(I see that there’s actually a fourth book announced. Well, actually, a book in between book two and what was going to be book three The more the merrier!)
My audio/visual media viewing was kind of all over the place. My list of stuff I wanted watch exceeds what I actually did watch. I’m going to go with Loki. It was like the MCU decided to become Doctor Who. Two great tastes that go great together. (Our family also really enjoyed Encanto. My head cannon is that the house is a damaged TARDIS, since I’ve already mentioned Doctor Who)
While we had a lot of fun with both Animal Crossing New Horizons and Mario Kart, they weren’t new to me in 2021. So the video game that makes the list is Cozy Grove, the peaceful game of helping friendly ghosts. Yes, after we finished the story, we were pretty much done with it but we got months of distraction out of it before then.
Actual board games…
Well, I learned sixty or so games last year. I looked at what I learned, what I liked and how many plays I actually got in. In no particular order, these are what I’m going to say were the three best games for me:
Clever Cubed - the clever family has been good to me. The first one is still my favorite but Clever Cube simultaneously pushed the system while making me feel like I had some control.
Yard Builder- a simple Roll and Write that I find so relaxing. I don’t know if it is good from a mechanical standpoint but it got me through some stressful times.
Deep Space D6- a late entry but a game that that just really caught my interest. Bad die rolls can destroy you but I really enjoy the narrative it creates.
While something has to be best on every list, these bests are good.
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Okay. Here we go. My Dicember wrap up.
Short version: I was able to complete all three levels of the Dicember challenge. All in all, I played fifty-two different dice games and it least one a day.
Long version: Sometimes it was a grind and some of the games I revisited were even worse than I remembered. But, all in all, I had fun and it added some focus to a December that was pretty crazy.
More than that, I ended up learning ten dice games I hadn’t played before. (Hence the learn part) The only one that wasn’t fun was designed to be an experiment to explore precise die rolling so it wasn’t really meant to be fun
On the other end of the spectrum, I learned Deep Space D6, which basically made my top five games I learned in 2021 list. The narrative elements of the game override the random factor.
If I were to do it again (and I’d be willing to of next December permits), I’d make two lists. One of longer games is like to play and one of shorter games to play if I don’t want the time to play a longer game.
Any regrets? Yeah, there are games that I had figured I’d play but things just didn’t work out. 30 Rails, Bargain Basement Bathysphere, Utopia Engine, Welcome to Dino World and others. I almost didn’t get to play Hall of the Dwarven King and I used it as my marker for the challenge!
(I also meant to get in a play of A Thousand Years of Blood. Not that it is a good game (it’s not) but it is completely insane and I like to call attention to it)
That said, I think it says something that December was my craziest month in 2021 and I was still able to participate in Dicember. I think that says a lot about what dice can do.
PS: Oh, the non-dice game I learned in December was All is Bomb. It’s fun!
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