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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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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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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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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Link’s Awakening is like an onion, man. It’s got layers and might make you cry

Lowell Kempf
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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild turned out household from folks who knew the series existed to fans of the franchise. And while the open sandbox of Breath of the Wild is unique in the series (so far), we decided to dabble and get the Switch remake of Link’s Awakening.

You know, the game is almost thirty years old. I’m going to spoil the big twist at some point in this blog entry. Consider yourself warned and you already know the twist anyway.

Instead of a seemingly endless world to explore, Link’s Awakening gives you a tight series of puzzle-filled dungeons. You know, the kind where you get a new ability in every dungeon and you need to use it to solve the dungeon. Zelda fans say it helped popularize this style of game play across the medium but I have no idea if that’s true.

Video Games are kind of wide, spongy medium full of flamboyant statements. It’s hard to say what and how much anything is true.

Zelda historians also say that Link’s Awakening was the first Zelda game that had a more detailed and nuanced plot beyond beat up bad guys and save the princess. And there is definitely some stuff going on behind swinging a sword.

Spoilers

Spoilers

Spoilers

You already know this. The island of Koholint (That’s in my spellcheck!? Seriously?) is a dream. Nothing is real and Link’s quest to awaken the Windfish will result in the whole place going away for good. And if that’s news to you, don’t ask me about Luke Skywalker’s dad.

Multiple sources have stated that Twin Peaks was a major influence on the game. And that doesn’t surprise me. Twin Peaks played a big role in me appreciating the works of David Lynch. (As opposed to Eraser Head which played a big role in me waking up screaming.) Awakening is surreal, funny and creepy at the same time.

There’s a lot of weird stuff on the island. You not only face conventional monsters but also encounter various Mario foes and Kirby (who, to be fair, probably would want to devour Link and wear his soul as a skin) There is an acknowledgment to the players, if not witihin the text, that this is a video game.

The island, in addition to having more monsters than Keep on the Borderlands, is chock full of quirky NPCs. It feels like Lynch’s Wild at Heart was an influence as well Twin Peaks.

Marin is the only NPC who is remotely fleshed out on the island. She also serves as the love interest and actually gives the story stakes. If Link wakes the Windfish so he can escape the island, she ceases to exist.

I mean, it’s going to happen unless you turn off the game and never play it ever again. But it changes the nature of the narrative. It isn’t just beat up the big bad. It’s about ending the world to save yourself.

Link’s Awakening doesn’t actually give you a morally ambiguous choice since there isn’t actually a choice. But it does ask a morally ambiguous question.
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Fri Mar 11, 2022 1:19 pm
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Wrapping things up. Creative Kids R&Ws part four

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. Last two Roll and Writes in this collection.

Vegetable

No grid this time. The playing area is scattered with dice faces, vegetables and rotten tomatoes. You roll six dice at a time. You then pair dice up and draw lines in between dice faces that match those dice. You’re trying to box in vegetables for points but not rotten tomatoes that will cost you points.

If you’ve played Raging Bulls, it all makes sense.

And while Raging Bulls is a stronger than Vegetable, Vegetable is still very solid.

The game lasts nine rounds and you will be drawing three lines per round. (And yes, the lines have to be straight and not touch anything between their two points) That’s not nearly enough lines to box in everything. You also get to change a die six times during the game so there’s some dice manipulation.

In other words, you have to make real choices, the decision tree is wide for a game of this weight, and there aren’t obvious best choices.

I don’t know how vegetable might work in the classroom. Drawing lines isn’t that hard a concept to teach. But I’m sure you’d get a wide variety of finished player sheets!

Hello Autumn

I have been struggling to succinctly describe Hello Autumn. Which is hilarious because it’s one of those game where one glance at the player sheet explains the game perfectly.

The sheet has fifteen leaves on it. Each one has a one of three different colors/symbols, along with two different scoring conditions. One will be either even or odd. The other will be a number greater than seven through nine.

Each turn, you roll four dice and put the results into a math chart. Row of four values, add each values that is next to each other to get three values. Which the chart assigns to a specific symbol/color. I’ve done a poor job explaining it but, again, the actual player sheet makes it easy to understand.

You assign each number to a leaf with a matching symbol/color. You get a point for each scoring condition, up to two points per leaf. Five round and most points wins.

I initially was annoyed that the game rewarded rolling high numbers. Then, I decided that it wasn’t a game about optimization but one about damage control. Then it clicked.

Honestly, I think Hello Autumn might be frustrating for kids in a class room. You aren’t always rewarded for making smart decisions but hurt less by making them. But I think it would work well for more dedicated gamers.

*

These were interesting games to wrap up my examination of the Roll and Writes from the collection. On the one hand, they don’t feel ideal for the classroom, particularly Hello Autumn. On the other hand, these are the games that I would recommend to seasoned gamers the most. They lack obvious, easy choices, which makes them more interesting.

At some point, I’ll probably look at the other games. Roll and Writes are just ones I could easily solitaire, which made them easy to check out.

I partially got the collection because I thought they might come in handy as a substitute teacher. But I don’t think they will. I’m not going to be with any group long enough to properly teach the games. And, while there are kids who would love them, there are kids in every group that would fight having to learn them.

Still, I am glad the collection exists and that I got it.
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Fri Mar 4, 2022 7:39 pm
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Ukiyo: clever use of familiar ideas

Lowell Kempf
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Ukiyo is an 18-card tile laying game that brings absolutely nothing new to the table but it packages all its familiar ideas really well. More than that, it has both a solid multi-player and solitaire mode.

It’s actually a 16-card micro game since two of the cards are player aids. The actual cards you play with each have a two by three grid of symbols and a goal. (The four symbols are origami crane, cherry blossom, butterfly and acorn. Ukiyo has an aesthetic and it sticks to it)

The goals are different patterns, ranging from just having the entire grid full to having a three by three square of acorns. They are numbered and the higher the number, the harder the goal. Which serves as a tie breaker in the multiplayer mode.

In either mode, the placement rules are the same. The symbols have to be within a six by six grid. Beyond that, cards can overlap and cover each other up all you want.

In multiplayer mode, everyone gets a hand of cards with the size of the hand depending on the number of players. Your last card, instead of being played, is your goal. (If no one fulfills their goal, you then place that card to try and make your goal)

I first came across the mechanic, that your last card serves as your winning condition, in HUE from Pack O Games. I really like it. It helps remove any player order bias and makes games more tense.

For solitaire the play, Ukiyo has twenty sets of three to four goals, broken down into blocks of difficulty. You take those cards out, shuffle the rest and then play one card at time, trying to end up with a grid that fulfills all of the goals.

Since each shuffle creates a new puzzle, there’s a lot of replay value built in. And the brutal level puzzles are actually brutal.

As I said at the start, Ukiyo doesn’t break any new ground. But implementation counts more than innovation (Is the game actually fun to play?) and Ukiyo does a great job there. It’s easy to understand but still challenging with a solid decision tree and plenty of replay value.

Some micro games feel like bigger games in little packaging. Not Ukiyo. It feels like an 18-card game. But it’s a really good one.
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Fri Feb 25, 2022 8:16 pm
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Creative Kids R&Ws part three

Lowell Kempf
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Yup. Still working my way through these. Looking at them as a gamer and as a substitute teacher.

Block Craft

Despite the obvious reference to Minecraft, this is another game about drawing shapes on grids. Which is a great genre so that’s not a knock.

You have six numbered 4x4 grids that have gems and holes scattered on them. You have six numbered shapes.

Block Craft lasts eight turns. Each turn, you roll one die. You can either chose a grid that matches that number and draw any two of the shapes on it OR you can pick a shape that matches the number and draw it on two different grids.

You get points for covering up gems, ‘mining’ then. You get bonus points for collecting every gem of a type across the six grids and for collecting every gem on a grid. There’s also a bonus for not covering any holes.

But it f you cover three or more holes in a grid, you’ve destabilized it, collapsing it. You can’t draw on it and you lose any points you’d have gotten from it.

I have to admit that I like Block Craft. The decision space is wide open. You have a lot of options and it is fun.

That said, I can see students being confused by having that many choices. I also wonder if the broad decision tree makes it too easy to do well

Words

Seriously, there couldn’t have been a better name than Words?

Words is an acrostic word game. That’s where you have words interconnected like in a crossword puzzle or Scrabble.

The player sheet is a grid with some letters already filled in and some filled in spaces. You have six categories: names, animals, food, items, colors and wild. Roll the die to get the category and write in a word.

You don’t have to make it an acrostic but you get extra points if you do. You lose three points if you can’t write in a word but it honestly takes some bad play to do that. Ten turns and you’re done.

It’s an okay word game. If you like word games, it’s a good little filler. But, as long as I’m working with kids who can spell, Words is really promising. It’s clearly educational and acrostics are a concept that should be familiar and easy to pick up.

*

One thing that I really like about both Block Craft and Words is that they have broad decision trees. I play them with a room full of people, kids or otherwise, every sheet is going to look different.
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Mon Feb 21, 2022 4:52 pm
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Sometimes, I like to let the computer do the housework

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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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Fri Feb 18, 2022 8:12 pm
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Creative Kids R&Ws part two

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. I meant to type these little mini-reviews out in quick order. But I got distracted by other stuff I wanted to write.

Anyway, I’m sometimes a substitute teacher and I approached these games as possible classroom exercises. I almost always have acccess to the syllabus so it will never happen but that’s where I’m coming from.

Seal

Seal has you creating a path for a baby seal across a grid of ocean bubbles, getting points for catching fish and saving tangled seals while losing points from anemone and sharks.

So, you’re drawing a line on a grid.

You roll one die. Each die has three possible line shapes, which include jumping over spaces. In the regular game, you cross off a shape once you use it. In theory (and it’s very unlikely) the game could end in four turns if you rolled the same number four times.

There’s a simpler version where you don’t cross off shapes. In the classroom, I’m more likely to teach it that way. Not to make it simpler but to encourage kids to make different lines, to make the decision tree bigger.

Honestly, Seal has a strong one-more-time feel. It is simple but it’s fun to explore the possible paths. I don’t know how much replay it has but it works for short term play.

Tetri Go

You roll a die to determine which four-square shape you ‘drop’ down into a grid. If you’ve played Tetris, you know how it works. You get points (or lose them) by covering up symbols on the board, so it’s a bit like Reiner Knizia’s FITS in that regard.

Tetri Go is terribly simple but still offers a decent decision tree. It’s honestly one of too choices for the classroom because the core concepts of the game are going to be ones that kids already know but there is still room to think.

It’s also a game I’ve taken to playing if I want to get in a quick analog game in a few minutes. It only last eight turns and you need make up your mind what you’re going for in the first turn or two but I’ve had fun. 13 Sheep is honestly better but it’s nice to have another game in that niche.
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Fri Feb 4, 2022 6:41 pm
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Waffle Hassle is fun but flawed

Lowell Kempf
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When I was trying out Waffle Hassle, the thought that kept going through my brain was that this was a game that designed to be played on a airplane tray.

Waffle Hassle is an 18-Card micro game that’s all about stacking waffle cards with different toppings on top of each other. There’s a two-player mode and a solitaire mode and the two are pretty different.

In the two-player mode, each player has a hidden objective card. Solitaire just has you trying to get at least two of each topping on the final board. Oh and the two-player mode has you swap hands at the end of each round. (Which is honestly the most interesting element of the game)

Either way you play the game, you use four of the cards to form a two-by-two grid that make up the entire playing area of the game. Here’s the telephone booth, here are the knives, go.

I have only played the solitaire version of the game. There are things that I like about Waffle Hassle. And there are some real concerns as well.

Okay. Let’s the the positives out of the way. While we live in an age of micro-games and an increased interest in In Hand games, I do like the minimal footprint of Waffle Hassle. If you have any kind of table space, it will work. And the solitaire game has a surprisingly strong ‘one more time’ effect.

But…

Here’s the biggest problem. The alingment of the fronts and the backs of some of the cards in the files I bought is off. That means that those cards are effectively marked, which would quickly become a big deal in a two-player game. And I am doing my best not to remember cards for the solitaire game.

Now, even for someone like me who isn’t super craft for computer savvy, I can come up with workarounds to solve this. I can just use a solid pattern for the backs and problem is solved. However, I do like how the backs form a grid that is the same size as the symbols on the front of the card. And, let’s be honest, this is a legitimate production issue.

I am also concerned about how the small pool of cards will affect long term replay value. Four of the cards are hidden objectives, leaving 14 cards that you actually play with. And four of them become the board. I think there will reach a point in which you know the deck well enough that it won’t be as interesting. I bought the files for Ukiyo at the same sale and that is a tile-laying micro game that I can already tell will have a lot more long term value in it.

All that said, I am enjoying my time with Waffle Hassle. I bought the files on sale and I am definitely going to get my money’s worth out of them. It’s got problems but it is engaging.
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Mon Jan 31, 2022 6:42 pm
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