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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Unsurmountable: it’s you versus that mountain

Lowell Kempf
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Unsurmountable is the third game in Scott Alme’s/Buttonshy’s Simply Solo series. For me, a work really earns its series label when it hits three works so good on them.

The game, like all of the games, is very simple. You are trying to build a mountain out of the cards with a path that runs from the bottom to the top. (For the sake of clarity, I should mention it’s a two-dimensional mountain)

You have eighteen cards and nothing else. No dice or tokens or such. Seventeen of the cards are mountain cards that show paths and a special action. The other card is the rescue helicopter with a one-time ability to put one card from camp/your hand at the bottom of the deck.

Shuffle the mountains cards and deal out four or five in a row. (The number depends on the difficulty level) You can either add the first card to the mountain, which will be a step-pyramid, or use the special power on any of the other cards. Draw back up and repeat. If you form a path to the top of the mountain before you run out of cards, you win!

Unsurmountable has five levels of difficulty, which is a very good design choice. After you get to know the deck, the game becomes dramatically easier. So the game needs the extra challenges to keep it interesting. I view the second level (four cards in your hand) as the base game with level one as a tutorial.

The worst thing I can say about Unsurmountable is that I still like Food Chain Island better. Scott Almes and Buttonshy started out the series with a very strong game in Food Chain Island.

Unsurmountable is a micro game that is designed to be played in ten minutes or so. It is not going to be Gloomhaven or Agricola. However, within the framework of its design expectations, it does very well. Mechanically, it is intuitive and easy to understand but the choices are legit. Sometimes you get the mountain. Sometimes the mountain gets you.

Not everyone is looking for a solitaire micro game. But, if you are, Unsurmountable is worth looking at.
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Tue Dec 21, 2021 4:43 am
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Halfway through Dicember

Lowell Kempf
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We are about half way through Dicember.

Let’s go through the ground rules: there are three levels of challenges. Play fifteen different dice games, play thirty-one different dice games and play a different dice game each day in December. (Which would still be 31 games but with a time structure)

Oh and online play or app play count BUT only if it duplicates the analog version of the game. (And if it doesn’t, why would I want to play it?)

I went in, aiming for the regular challenge level. I was pretty sure I could do the second level. I wasn’t too sure about the third level but I am tracking the dates of plays just in case.

Well, I am almost at thirty-one plays. Which honestly isn’t a surprise. I’ve really gotten into PnP Roll and Writes. I have a decent library of dice games to tap.

So, that leaves the third level of the Dicember challenge. A different dice game each day of the month. And there are four hurdles to to doing it.

Pacing - making sure I don’t play too many different games when I have free time
Life - And some days, I really don’t have free time and Dicember isn’t a priority. As the holidays kick in, that will get more so.
Fun - Feeling obliged to play a game can be a grind, which defeats the purpose of playing a game
Asynchronous Play -

Okay, that last one requires a little explanation. I play a lot of turn-based games online with long distance friends. It’s great. But I can’t control when the game will end which was how I had five dice games end on one day. Which was great for reaching thirty-one plays but not great for a game a day. On the other hand, we might not finish any of our games of Castles of Burgundy this month

Eh, I’ll at least reach the second challenge before January. It adds a new element to my month. And if it stops being fun, it’s okay to stop.
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Sat Dec 18, 2021 3:50 am
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My November Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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Since February, I’ve been posting about what Roll and Write games I’ve learned each month. And make no mistake, Roll and Write has been very good for me. But In November, I started itching to learn other types of games.

Really, thanks to design contests.

I’ve already written about the Flipuzzles collection, which is no longer free (and good for the designer!) As puzzles that consist of single cards you flip and mentally keep track of your position, they are tricky but their minimalism is very convenient.

And the Flipuzzle collection represents something that seems to be becoming more and more common with design contest games. They are prototypes with the goal of eventual publication. I like to tell msyelf that I’m getting in on stuff ahead of the game but I’m really just a Guiana pig Okay, I get to be part of the play testers. Does that sound better?

Another design contest game I tried was Squarcles, a speed puzzle game. Very little to it but what is there works. If I ever make a tiny travel box of dice games, Squarcles would make the short list.

My ‘big’ gaming experience for November was learning Unsurmountable. It’s the third game in Buttonshy’s Simply Solo series by Scott Ames. (Incidentally, I feel that hitting the third work in any media point where it officially exists as a series. That’s just me, though)

It’s a tile-laying game where you are trying to create a pyramid of cards to form a mountain and make sure there’s a continuous path from the bottom to the top. Each card shows a mountain path and has a special power. You have a hand of cards and you can either play the first card as a tile or use the special power of any of the other cards.

While Food Chain Island is still my favorite game in the series, Unsurmountaboe is a solid entry in the series and it will keep hitting the table.

I also _finally_ played the 18-card version of I Am Lynx. I had some confusion about the rules that three minutes of careful reading would have sorted out. The nine card version got me interested in In Hand games but there’s not much to it. The larger version is still very slight but feels more like an actual game.

And since I haven’t had a month go by this year without learning a Roll and Write, I tried out Pipe Dream from the 8th R&W design contest. A very simple game, it’s all about drawing paths in grids.

It’s far from the first path drawing game I’ve played. The question I always ask is ‘Would I rather be playing 30Rails?’ Pipe Dreams does not pass that test but it does have one design element I like. A timer. Failing to reach an ever increasing length by a X number of rounds means you lose. That makes the game interesting.

In short, it was a really a last minute filler to get in a November Roll and Write but it had some nice design touches.

I started a new job in November so, for a wide variety of reasons, I didn’t game as much. But, looking at the month, learning new games was took up a higher percentage of my gaming time. And December will probably be the same… probably with more Roll and Writes
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Fri Dec 3, 2021 3:28 pm
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Games for Thanksgiving?

Lowell Kempf
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While I often wonder what games are appropriately thematic for October and Halloween, I never do that for November and Thanksgiving. Which just goes to show you that ghosts and witches and Cthulhu are more fun than pilgrims.

And to be fair, most of the things that you can theme Thanksgiving around are general enough that there are plenty of games that already cover that ground. History, agriculture, cuisine, American football? Yeah, we’re good.

Honestly, the first game that comes to mind for me is Agricola. Which is set in Europe around 1670 so clearly historical accuracy is the most important part of Thanksgiving for me

Seriously, though, if Agricola ended with a communal feast, it’d be perfect.

[Wait! It does end with a harvest feast?! It is PERFECT! Oh, Agricola,how could I doubt you?]

But there are plenty of communal feast themed games out there. The game I’d choose out of that lot is Burgoo, in part because it’s actually in my collection Seriously, though, it’s more likely to hit the table this holiday, thanks to playing time and table space.

The other game that screams to me Thanksgiving is Settlers of the Dead, which is a PnP R&W solitaire about being a colonist trying to feed their family while fighting off the zombie apocalypse. And it’s only because the artwork includes ‘pilgrim’ hats. (Yes, I know they are actually puritan hats)

Maybe I’ll actually try it in celebration of Thanksgiving I’m pretty sure the game is weighted against combat being a viable option but it’d still be fun for one or two spins.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll put this much effort into Christmas gaming.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Nov 24, 2021 8:11 pm
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Dicember? What’s that?

Lowell Kempf
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December 2021 is the seventh annual Dicember!

Never heard of it before now though.

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/291599/item/8612155#item8...

Anyway, the idea is to challenge yourself to play dice games in the month of December. The normal challenge is to play fifteen different dice games during December. The harder challenge to 31 dice games. The really hard challenge is 31 dice games and play them on different days. You know, a different game every day of the month.

Okay, I decide to go in on the normal challenge. Over the last couple years, I’ve really gotten into dice games, particularly solitaire Roll and Write.

The rules allow for solitaire play, as well as IOS and online play, as long as they actually, you know, follow the rules. If a game plays the same digitally as it does analog, it’s good.

So I sat down and made a list of the dice games that I play, one way or another, on a regular basis. And, yeah, I hit fifteen different dice games without a problem. For me, Dicember is any given month at the moment.

For a moment, I flirted with the idea of learning fifteen NEW TO ME dice games in December. But, since starting a new job, my time to game has shrunk and so has my drive to binge solitaire games. And I want to enjoy learning games, not blitz through them so fast that I don’t remember anything about them.

Still, there are R&W games on the stack of games I want to learn. And there are plenty of R&W games I’ve already learned I could try again. I know that I don’t have the time to do the really hard challenge but I will _try_ the medium challenge.

Maybe every month can be Dicember but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth celebrating.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Nov 22, 2021 6:40 pm
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So I guess I got a sneak peek at Flipuzzles

Lowell Kempf
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I had been planning on writing about my PnP experiences with Thin Cube and the rest of the Flipuzzle collection that has currently been developed. However, the files are no longer public because Buttonshy is planning on publishing them.

Still, even if they aren’t currently available, the system/family is an interesting one.

Flipuzzles aren’t actually games, at least as I define a game. They are puzzles with set solutions. With that out of the way, they are decidedly interesting puzzles.

Okay. Let me see if I can explain how they work. Each puzzle is a two-sided card. While the exact details and particular rules vary depending on the puzzle type, they all have this basic formula. They all involve moving on a grid. When you move on the grid, you flip the card and you will be in your new position on the grid on the other side. Same coordinates. Different side.

And here’s the part that can be the best and worst part of Flipuzzles. The card is the only component. You have to mentally keep track of where you are on the grid. That makes the puzzles incredibly portable and convenient. But that makes it easy to lose your place. Well, at least if you’re me.

This actually pushes the games out of the fidget department and into the cerebral territory. I actually have to really concentrate to work on the puzzles. Which isn’t a flaw. They are just a different kind of mental exercise than I went in expecting to see.

I do want to highlight the Thin Cube puzzles. Thin Cube won best overall game in this year’s One Card PnP Contest. It actually translates the idea of a Rubik’s Cube into a single card. There is a lot of puzzle packed into the medium. Unfortunately, between having a black-and-white printer and being so color blind that even the colorblind friendly palate is hard for me anyway, it’s extremely hard for me to parse.

As I understand it, the Flipuzzles will serve as Buttonshy’s game of the month. I think they will be perfect for the format. Each puzzle is self-contained as a singly card, make them easy as both a mailing and a PnP.

Between this ans FlipWord, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve seen from D. Teuber. I’m going to have to look at Word Trax.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Nov 12, 2021 3:25 pm
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Why are there so many games in my wallet?

Lowell Kempf
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I was startled to see how many games I had stuffed into my wallet when I did a quick inventory. It wasn’t a crazy number, only four. Still, it’s just a wallet.

I’ve kept a copy of Coin Age, the one they printed on credit card plastic, in my wallet basically since it was available. And I’m not sure it’s ever seen any play since I never carry coins unless I know I’m going to a place with penny squishing machines. Still, it’s a size and material designed for a wallet so I don’t mind having it there.

(And now I want to play Coin Age)

The game that has spent years in my wallet and actually gotten played is Down, an in-hand game of tracing a line along eight cards. It’s honestly just a fidget activity while waiting in the car but that has been enough to let it see plenty of play.

More recently, I added a business card-sized copy of 13 Sheep. I don’t always have a dry erase marker on me but it has seen some play since I added it. Plus, if I ever have to explain how a multi-player solitaire R&W works, it’s a good example to show someone.

A couple weeks ago, I added a set of Flip Word cards. That is where I wonder if I crossed a line with the whole game in a wallet thing. Still, it’s a good game that just needs those cards so it stays.

I know there have been One-Card Game Design contests last year and this year. If a wallet game library is something to develop, that might be a place to mine for ideas.
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Tue Nov 9, 2021 2:20 am
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History makes me want to play Anachronism

Lowell Kempf
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Binging on history videos made by Extra Credits has made me want to revisit Anachronism, a game that honestly invokes such mixed feelings from me. As time goes on, the pros and cons of the game both feel more extreme to me.

It is a one-on-one combat game that has various great figures of history smack each other around. And it had this weird collectible card design with no blind bags. You bought each warrior as a pack of six cards, the warrior and five pieces of equipment. You could mix and match them so you could have Achilles wielding a katana and inspired by Loki.

The actual warrior card itself was the piece on the board. Which seemed weird at the time but Summoner’s War has made that seem normal. So all you needed was a grid, some dice and six cards each.

Okay. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Since the game only lasts six rounds and and is heavily dice-based, it can be really swingy. More than that (and this is the big one), the game is wildly unbalanced. Some cards are simply better than others and, even in the first set alone, there were overpowered combos.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Anachronism was broken. No blind bags was a great leveling element. But the players had to do their part to unbreak the game.

So what’s good about Anachronism?

Well, one fight only takes about five minutes. That both forgives a lot of sins and also makes Anachronism convenient to play. The dice didn’t go your way? What you thought was a brilliant combo is a bust? Well, it only took five minutes and there’s plenty of time for a rematch.

And there is the fact that the game is very portable and accessible. As far as deck building games go, it is easy to learn. I have friends who bought new tables to hold their giant game experiences. I skew to the opposite end of the the spectrum. Will a game work at a coffee shop or on an airline tray or standing line?

But the combination of an interesting theme, art that still holds up today and lots of neat (if not particularly balanced) combos is the real draw. Yeah, from a game balance standpoint, there are real issues. But if you’re willing to go along with the wild ride, you will have fun.

As much as I look at elements of Anachronism and wonder ‘What were they thinking?’, I also have to admit that I don’t remember playing a game of it that wasn’t fun. While the game snob in me only sees flaws, the kid in me says ‘What a blast!’

As I’ve grown older, I become more and more aware of the mechanical issues of Anachronism, which are definitely there. But I also grown more aware of how legitimately fun it is and I’m glad I have held onto my cards.
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Fri Nov 5, 2021 10:53 pm
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Board games aren’t scary (and I don’t care!)

Lowell Kempf
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Halloween and monsters and horror are all great themes tor games. They are evocative and appealing. But one thing that board games that revolve around scary things struggle to do is actually be scary.

It’s absolutely not a deal breaker for me. Given the success of the genre, it’s clearly not a deal breaker for anyone else. In fact, it’s such a little deal, I almost never think about it.

The reasons are pretty obvious. The level of abstraction and control that a board game gives you dilutes the fear factor. The act of taking turns alone changes the tempo and adds enough control to make being scared tough.

(That does make me wonder if a horror-themed Escape: Curse of the Lost Temple could be honestly scary. There is a horror version that I haven’t tried. That might work! Real time makes everything scarier)

Honestly, if you want authentic chills down your spine, RPGs and Video Games seem to be the way to go, for opposite reasons. RPGs let you internalize the story while Video Games externalize the story.

And let’s be clear. Excitement is different than fear. Everything coming down to the wire in Arkham Horror is exciting. It’s not scary. But, really, I’ll take exciting over scary.

Even if a board game never gives me a jump scare, it’s still a great medium for Halloween. It’s a theme that everyone understands. And getting everyone at the table on the same page can be what makes a game experience work.
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Fri Oct 22, 2021 8:53 pm
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How ephemeral is a board game?

Lowell Kempf
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I have been thinking about board games as a disposable medium. It’s not actually the way I think they ideally should be. However, I have played a lot of Print and Play Roll and Write games. While I do laminate some of them, they are still, at least per individual board, disposable. (And some games require intricate enough drawing or writing that a dry erase marker just isn’t up for the job)

However, it might be disingenuous to automatically brand Roll and Writes as ephemeral. After all, I have the files and the ability to print the pages so I am in control of how ephemeral they are. And published Roll and Writes will cheerfully sell you additional tablets of pages or even have them available as downloads.

Actually, when I really start thinking of games as disposable, limited use items, I think Legacy games and Escape Room games may be a better topic point than Roll and Writes. I know that some Legacy games can continue to be played after the campaign is done but some cannot. My understanding of Escape Room games is that they are one-shots but I don’t actually know that since I’ve never played one.

And while my gut reaction to limited use games is negative (Board games should have infinite plays!) that isn’t a fair assessment. Dude, I have bought board games that have seen only one play or even none.

Instead, it makes more sense to use my movie ticket rule of thumb. Using a movie ticket as a way to assign value to two hours of entertainment. (And using second-run movie houses to skew the results is cheating)

Pandemic Legacy Season One plays two to four players for twelve to twenty-four hour-sessions. A two-player group that only plays twelve sessions is still coming out ahead by my movie ticket rule. And that’s the minimum value. Four players alone makes the value explode.

And, really, are either Legacy games or Escape Room games that different tuan D&D modules of old? How often are you going to run Steading of the Hill Giant Chief? (Tomb of Horrors is different. I knew someone who kept playing through it and taking notes so he could do better each time)

There are very few games that you are gojng to play dozens upon dozens of times. Treasure the ones that you find. But, for the most part, games wuth disposable elements have to be judged by how good they are, not how ephemeral they are.
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Fri Oct 8, 2021 2:57 pm
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