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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Another look at Roll and Move

Lowell Kempf
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Babhan is a game from the third Roll and Write Contest, one of the three Roll ans Writes contests BGG held that year. (Seriously, for a number of actually legitimate reasons, it’s a contest type that happens a lot)

I’d have tried Babhan ages ago but, for some reason, it’s simple black and white graphics baffled our printer. But I finally made a copy.

Stripped of its theme of going to offer tribute to a king, Babhan is a roll and move game. That’s right, it’s a Roll and Move Roll and Write. (Not the first time I’ve played one either)

I’m not sure there is a game mechanic more reviled than Roll and Move, not even then optional fisticuffs conflict resolution system from Panzer Pranks. (To be fair, Dungeons and Dragons is the only game I can personally verify that has resulted in fist fights. Poker and hockey players have seen more, I’m sure)

I find it fascinating that one of the oldest examples of Roll and Move, Backgammon, uses several methods to add depth to the mechanic. Multiple pieces, the order you use dice being meaningful, the doubling cube. And while Backgammon took centuries to be codified, Wikipedia indicates many of these elements have been a part of the game since ancient times.

Of course, it is the Candy Land, Denny’s dining mat school of Roll and Move that makes the mechanic so hated. When you have one pawn and the dice/card draw/spinner determines where it goes then you either have minimal choices (in the case of multiple paths) or no choices whatsoever. It is an example of very lazy game design. And, no, the fact that it teaches very little kids how to take turns and count doesn’t help it much.

The earliest example that I am aware offhand is the Royal Game of Goose, although its history clearly indicates it wasn’t the first game that just used one pawn. That said, one the thing makes a difference in the Game of Goose versus Candy Land is that it was a gambling game. That changes why people would play it as a game of chance.

Why we play games is not the same as how we play games.

Yeah, Babhan was just an excuse for me to discuss Roll ans Write.

Babhan effective has just one pawn (if you are using a pencil, you mark off boxes) but has some mechanics to create choices. It uses a dice pool. You need sets of three or more 2s, 3s, 4s and 6s to move while 1s and 5s allow rerolls. There are branching paths, each with special rules. And you only have seven turns to complete the track, which doesn’t add choices but does add tension.

And, to be honest, it’s still not that interesting. I’ll play it some more to try out all the branches but I’m pretty sure luck more than clever play will still determine how I do. It might be better with modifications as a multi-player game.

I do like it as an experiment and an excuse to ruminate about Roll and Move.
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Fri Jun 24, 2022 6:47 pm
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The fluff and flaws of Goblins Guns and Grog

Lowell Kempf
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It’s been a while since I have learned a Legends of Dsyx title but I felt like it was time to revisit the series. I’d been planning on trying Goblins, Guns and Grog for a while so that’s what got picked.

In Goblins, Guns and Grog, you control the destiny of five stranded goblin pirates as they try to float on a raft home, trying not to die and trying to loot as many ships as possible.

The game really revolves around two things:
Making sure you have enough fish to not starve and building up the raft so you have cannons to attack ships and chests to store loot from defeated ships.

I’m of two minds about G to the third power.

On the one hand, I feel comfortable saying that it’s the mechanically weakest of the Legends of Dsyx games I’ve tried (which is ten of the twelve at this point) The dice control enough that you sometimes have very little decisions. In my first game, my goblins starved to death on the fourth turn.

If you can build up a big enough raft and outfit it, you do get more options. However it takes some luck to get to that point.

With a little bit of luck, your goblin pirates will survive their sea voyage. With a lot of luck, they will be able to bring home loot and score any points.

On the other hand, Goblins et al may have the strongest narrative structure in the entire series. You might not have much control over the story but a story is getting told. It easily has the most fluff of any of the games. Depending on what you want, that can be something.

The weakest element of the game, particularly from a story-telling element, is that the ships you are firing cannons at don’t fight back. Enemy shops are just boxes of hit points.

The Legends of Dsyx series are a bunch of one-page PnP R&Ws. Some of them, like Hall of the Dwarven King, are quite good. Goblins, Guns and Grog, though, feels more like an experiment that doesn’t quite work. It was interesting to try but, out of the series, it is the one I’m least likely to replay.
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Mon Jun 20, 2022 8:08 pm
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The bookmark is the game

Lowell Kempf
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Brave the Book is a design contest entry that isn’t a great game but has a big ‘Hey, look at this!’ factor.

The elevator pitch is that Brave the Book turns any book into a dungeon crawl! The reality is that it turns any book into a solitaire word puzzle.

The game is actually a bookmark that you put at the back of a book. The bookmark shows tiers of monsters that you work your way down but pulling the bookmark up. The lower the monster, the more letters it takes to spell its name.

Choose a number. Go that many pages further into the book and look at the first of that number of words on that page. Can you spell the name of the monster with the letters in those words? You beat that level. Otherwise, try again. Get though the book before you defeat each tier, you lose.

There are other flourishes but that’s the core idea. One game element I like is that you have balance using a big number to increase your chances of spelling a monster with running out of pages. That creates balance and tension. Unless you are using War and Peace.

The game went through some interesting variations, including having a second bookmark that is a player character, each one with a special power. (Which does add some theme to the experience) While the final contest version went back to one bookmark (and streamlined other elements), I imagine the designer will go back to player character book marks if they develop the game further.

What Brave The Book really makes me think of is the book-based cypher that Sherlock Holmes cracks at the start of The Valley of Fear. (Indeed, that’s all I remember of that book. The Valley of Fear is no Hound of the Baskervilles) That goes a long way toward making me enjoy the game

Brave the Book is more of an exercise in novelty than a game. I doubt I’ll get a lot of replay out of it but the sheer oddity is appealing. And makes me want to revisit Warchon.
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Mon Jun 13, 2022 4:43 pm
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The value and limit of In Hand games

Lowell Kempf
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Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of In Hand games. And by that, I mean even more than usual. For one reason or another, I just haven’t had a table handy.

(And yes, I can play a vast number of games, solitaire and otherwise, on devices. But it is a different experiences and I am convinced that manually playing an analog game brings other parts of the brain on deck)

This has led me to the twin revelations of 1) There’s a lot you can do with the In Hand format and 2) Wow, is it limited.

The Zed Deck is a zombie horror survival game that even has a rudimentary combat system. Flipword is a honestly solid word/party game. Palm Island is a good resource management game. Elevenses for One, um, is sorting cards but it’s good.

That’s just the first four In Hand games that came to my mind and each one is a pretty distinct experience. And I will argue each is a genuine game experience, not just an exercising in fidgeting. (I enjoy Down and Labyrinth Runner but I also think they are fidgeting activities)

But, while the Zed Deck does have a combat system, most zombie horror games have more developed, frankly better combat systems. And much more developed and immersive exploration systems. If I had the time and space and other players and a copy, I’d rather play Last Night On Earth, just as one example.

Palm Island is actually an impressively full Euro Game experience. You need to manage resources and improve your infrastructure to do even marginally well. But it pales in comparison to larger games that require a table.

One more example, just because it’s so crazy. The 2022 In Hand Contest has a tile-laying game called Little Dingy. But, apart from novelty, you can’t compare it to Carcassonne or Isle of Skye. Even if I am more fair and compare it to other micro tile laying games, Orchard or Sprawlopolis blow Little Dingy out of the water.

On the one hand, In Hand games have been developing a surprising range of gaming experiences. On the other hand, In Hand games are definitively not a replacement or substitute for games that use surfaces.

Post Script: While this doesn’t change the ultimate conclusion, if I used a clip board, pencil and some way of rolling dice, I could greatly increase the range of my table-free gaming. However, playing an In Hand game of Elevenses for One is a lot more discrete than playing a game of Yahtzee
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Fri Jun 10, 2022 8:46 pm
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Autumn has gone away

Lowell Kempf
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I was sad to see that that the files for Autumn are no longer available on any site that I could find. Particularly since I was thinking of making a fresh copy for family and I apparently never saved the files.

(Which really says how long again I made my copy. Thanks to contests where files often get taken down ASAP, I’ve gotten into the habit of copying files)

It’s not really a surprise since nothing lasts forever and it’s really no different than a published gaming going out of print. Still, Autumn was a watershed event for me in PnP so it stings.

Autumn was the game that made me look at PnP as a venue for solitaire play. It has also served as my way of introducing other people to PnP. Autumn is a very simple tile laying game but it has that kind of simplicity that becomes purity. (Although that word has way too much baggage) Each action is easy and simple to understand but they lead to a wide variety of lay outs. The game has a lot of possibilities for 18 cards.

It’s perfectly natural for Autumn to no longer be available. And there’s still a rich treasure of PnP games out there. I’m glad I got to find Autumn when I could.
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Wed Jun 8, 2022 11:30 pm
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My May Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, what interesting gaming things happened to me during May?

I continued my effort at learning at least new one Roll and Write a month with Mini Town from Dark Imp. It belongs to the draw-stuff-on-a-grid school of R&W. The number of Roll and Writes I’ve played like it is in the double digits and that’s just counting published games. Throw in design contest entries and it gets silly.

And, honestly, while I like how the symbols interact, it doesn’t do anything special from a gamer standpoint. However, one of the design goals was to work in the classroom or a similar environment and I think it checks several boxes there. So, mission statement accomplished.

I also learned ROVE, a solitaire game about rearranging cards in a pattern. I haven’t made up my mind about it. I’ve done horribly in my plays so far But a solitaire has to be tough to be worth replaying. So I think ROVE will end up being a good experience.

However, the most interesting thing that happened to me gamewise was mentoring a group of fifth graders playing D&D as part of my job as a substitute teacher.

I went in afraid that it would be a ‘I cast magic missile at the darkness’ but honestly, the kids did a lot better than that. The kids needed a couple nudges to stay on track and to keep it clean but it went well. (And, no, I wasn’t the dungeon master)

It went a lot differently than my experiences playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was in fifth grade. I think video games and other media have given kids a better sense of how RPGs work. More than that, I think that fifth edition is both more user friendly and more balanced than first edition.

It reinforced my opinion that both players and publishers have really changed over the last forty years. And that’s a good thing.

So, May was pretty good.
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Fri Jun 3, 2022 7:57 pm
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My May PnP

Lowell Kempf
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May was the last month in the school year and most of my crafting ended up being about potential class work.

Here’s what I made:

Cunning Folk (B&W, nine card demo)
Yard Builder
Hello Autumn
Tanuki Matsuri

Oh, and the base version of ROVE

I made four copies of Cunning Folk and eight copies of Yard Builder, Hello Autumn and Tanuki Matsuri for classroom use. I printed the rules on the back of the Roll and Writes and laminated them so each one was a self-contained, reusable game. I made enough of each game so that multiple tables could play each game in the classroom.

And then I ended up monitoring a game of Dungeons and Dragons instead Well, there’s always next school year.

The one game I made for my own use was ROVE. I have played it a few times but haven’t decided if I want to make the expansions yet. Probably but not certain. One thing that is for certain. I’m terrible at it

Not sure how June will go. It might see more crafting or just a couple projects. I can see it going either way.
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Wed Jun 1, 2022 6:46 pm
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The line between games and puzzles

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve been trying out Rove (but it will take some more plays before I’m ready to review it and decide if I want to try out the expansions) when I found myself asking what the line was between a puzzle and a solitaire game.

Now, my standard rule of thumb is that if you can do the same action and get the same result every time, it’s a puzzle. The Flipuzzle series, which I quite like, are pure puzzles because _they have a solution_ You could say they have one path to victory.

With that said, it’s fair to say that there is a blurry line between a puzzle and a solitaire game or some forms of cooperative game. I think it comes down to ‘Is there more than one valid option when you have to make a decision?’ Are there multiple paths to victory?

Relatively early in my PnP/solitaire exploration, I tried a couple of very, very simple nine-card games that just involved swapping cards on a grid to form a pattern. I found them relaxing but I couldn’t see them as games. For me, they were puzzles and very simple ones.

The 2019 Soliatire Contest had a varient of that idea called Solitaire Spellbook Swappjng where each card has a one-use movement power which were the only way to move cards. Still more of a puzzle than a game but there were actual choices.

And a game like Rove, with both more random elements and moving parts, feels very safe to call a game. And it’s still the tip of the iceberg. More and more games have solitaire modes, games with heft and depth and complexity.

The more unsolved the piece of media in question is, the more I feel it moves into the game category. I can see how someone can argue that any piece of media where you are playing against a system and not other players has puzzle elements.

In the end, I think the question matters more to designers than to players. While I am sure there are pure games and pure puzzles, I think viewing some works as blends is more useful.
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Sat May 28, 2022 5:06 pm
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My April PnP

Lowell Kempf
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Happy May Day to all the Morris Dancers out there and everyone else too.

April ended up having more crafting than I expected. This is what I made:

Grove
13 Sheep
Coin Age (Oz map)
Palm Laboratory (playtest v.03)
Pandemic Hot Zone: US version

I honestly just planned on making Grove in April because work has kept me so busy.

Then, discussions with teachers led to the decision to make a copy of Pandemic: Hotzone for classroom use. (Which also made me find a convenient place to make color prints)

If we are lucky, we will get to use it once before summer break. But that just having a chance made it worth making.

I don’t know if May will have another decision like that but I’m glad for this one.
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Sun May 1, 2022 7:56 pm
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Why I try to stay up to date on design contests

Lowell Kempf
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One thing that has changed in my experiences with design contests as that I have to make sure I download any files I want to look at before the contest is over.

That’s because more and more often, files get taken done so the designer can pursue monetizing their game one way or another. And, while I’m out for all the free files I can get my grubby little hands on., I can’t complain

It is their intellectual property after all. And getting published has to be the dream of most game designers. And, while I might have to pay Kris attention to contest dates, I think the overall quality of the games is going up, which makes paying attention worth it.

Looking back, the first design contest I seriously looked at was the 2015 18-Card Contest. A format that I don’t even think exists any more. And I’d say there has been noticeable shifts in the overall PnP culture since then.

I think straight up digitally selling PnP files has become a stronger business model. And in particular, Roll and Write PnPs have gotten bigger market share. Don’t get me wrong, PnP is still a niche but it has grown as a niche.

When I first looked at PnP at all (which was longer ago than 2015), my vague memories were that that a lot of what was for sale was war games and 18XX kits. Either one of those is a big crafting production.

Compared to that, a lot of Roll and Writes are print out a sheet and add dice. I could be entirely wrong but I feel PnP has attracted a more casual audience.

And since I’m more of a casual audience member, that works for me.
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Mon Apr 25, 2022 5:59 pm
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