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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Ring Tales is an interesting experiment

Lowell Kempf
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Every once in a while, as I’m combing through Print and Play options, I come across a game that is actually a role playing game. And, boy, is Ring Tales one of those games.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2136282/wip-ring-tales-9-ca...

Not that it tries to be anything but a role playing game. But I found it in the 2019 9-Card Print and Play Contest. And those contests can be really experimental places but an RPG is still an unusual thing to find there.

And, unusually for me, I’m more interested in the mechanics of Ring Tales than the narrative concept. And I’m much more a fluff guy compared to crunch. I firmly believe people love the stories they tell with games than the tools they use to make those stories.

The concept is that you are natives of Larry Nivea’s Ringworld with the registration number filed off, although it’s a ring around a world, not a star. I’m not actually sure how that works in a ring world sense. Anyway, there are twelve locations and they help you define each scene with twelve scenes making a game.

[The first draft of this blog, I spent five paragraphs trying to explain the mechanics and I knew it was a slog so now It’s one paragraph]

Ring Tales has a rotating game master and each scene will have one conflict. There are four possible methods of resolution which really break down to force, guile, intelligence and persuasion. The game master secretly lists the potential methods in order of how well the game master decides they will do. Than players then vote in the decision. Depending on the vote, you get success, success but, failure but and failure.

Boom. That’s it.

Okay, there is more but that’s the meat and potatoes of it.

[I also have to note that the graphic design, while simple, does the job well. You track character health and how dire the global situation is by rotating cards. The game is designed to be played with just the cards. No dice, no pencils, just the cards. Which is far from unique but still nice for a light, portable RPG.]

Man, every time I look at a super rules light RPG, I always think that they are so group dependent. That you need the right chemistry and trust and creativity to tell the story. And Ring Tales is no exception. You don’t have the ‘game’ of something like Dungeons and Dragons with discrete wins and losses, with room for individual wins and losses. it’s all about working together not for a story goal but creating a story.

However, a lot of tiny RPGs are practically group therapy with an almost painful level of bleed and intimacy. Ring Tales doesn't have that. It supports the style of a casual, freewheeling adventure. And I know from experience that pushing the bleed works.

But Ring Tales isn’t about figuring out how to solve problems, even though that’s what it looks like on paper. It’s about figuring out a way to tell an interesting story with a level of hidden information or maybe even bluffing. Is that going to work or get in the way? Honestly, probably depends on the group.

I like the idea of a super portable RPG. I like collaborating to tell a story. And I like the idea of a tiny, short form game that doesn’t involve bleed but tell a more traditional adventure story. Does Ring Tales deliver? I don’t know but I like that it was tried.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Nov 22, 2019 4:56 am
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Hisss: not great but great with five-year-olds

Lowell Kempf
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I recently bashed Rivers, Roads and Rails for being a children’s game that really doesn’t work well as either game or an activity for kids to enjoy. The next kids game that I tried out was Hisss, a game that is mechanically similar but worked much better for us.

The short explanation for Hisss is that it’s a tile laying game where you are building snakes. The heads and tails are all either one color or wild but each segment are two colors. Colors need to match when placing tiles, just like in games like Carcassonne. If you complete a snake, you get that snake and its tiles count as points. Most points wins.

There are three things that made Hisss a more enjoyable experience than Rivers, Roads and Rails, most of them being the game being simpler. There are less than half as many tiles. The connections are simpler, one snake segment as opposed to three kinds of possible paths. And the rules are _much_ better written.

In short, Hisss is a lot more accessible for little minds who don’t have that much patience. Hisss takes the concepts of tile laying and makes them manageable for the young. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. And having a tighter rule set is so much better.

For adults, it’s not a great game. I’m not even going to call it a good game. Hisss is not one of those kids games that adults can get into. However, it is a game that can keep a child engaged until the end. That might be be damning with faint praise but it’s also true.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Nov 11, 2019 9:37 pm
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Is SHOBU a newborn classic?

Lowell Kempf
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While I was at RinCon 2019, I passed by a table that had a bunch of boards on it that were clearly for an abstract. I asked some questions, got a sample game and found myself a substitute for the tournament when someone else had to drop out. I lost but I had a great time.

SHOBU is a two-player, perfect information, 100% determinist abstract, just to get that part out of the way. The game consists of four 4x4 boards, two dark and two light. In the official version, they are made out of wood and it comes with a thick rope so you can separate them into a light-dark pair for each player. On each board, you place four stones for each player on either side.

And, yes, it would be laughingly easy to make your own copy. But I’d still like to get a legit copy eventually. Partially because it is nice but also because I’d like to see more games like this out there and supporting designers and companies is how you see that happen.

Every turn has two steps. A passive move, where you move a stone on one of the two boards closest to you one to two spaces in any straight line. Then an aggressive move, where you move a stone the exact same direction and number of spaces on a board of the opposite color. And with the aggressive move, you can push an enemy stone off the board.

Push all the enemy stones off of any one of the four boards and you win.

SHOBU is a knife fight in four separate phone booths and that’s part of what makes it so good. While smaller boards theoretically limit the number of moves and make a game solve-able, it also means that you’re in direct conflict by your second move.

And I freely admit that I generally prefer abstracts that are more about each move being a big, board changing move than a whole bunch of small, discrete moves. (Go is amazing but I also don’t get the chance to play Go very much anymore) SHOBU definitely has that.

At the same time, with four boards to keep track of and the restrictions on how you make your moves, SHOBU definitely has layers of consideration to out into each move. The game is definitely not impossible or even terribly hard to read but you have to think about it differently than you do in so many games.

It’s a definite example of a game where your first game will take five minutes and your tenth game will take an hour. But it will be an hour that will make you think and stimulate the little gray cells. Okay, maybe a half hour but the game steadily got deeper the more I played and I know there’s plenty more to explore.

SHOBU combines several ideas I’ve seen before and, in principle, is a simple game. But it uses those ideas to create something new (to me at least) and really makes me think. I don’t _know_ that it’s a newborn classic. BUT, it could be!

Originally posted at www.gnomeponderimg.com
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Fri Oct 11, 2019 12:56 am
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Bang the Dice Game: making Bang fun again

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After years of hearing how much better Bang the Dice Game is that the original card game, I finally had a chance to play it. And, short version, it sure seems better than the original game.

My history with Bang goes back a ways, before I was really serious about board games. At most, it had only been out for a couple years. And, at the time, it was really cool. At least for the first few sessions.

But Bang has some definite issues. A lot of which comes down to being too busy for what you get out of it. The theme helps it out a lot but it doesn’t do enough, at least not for me.

Okay. Thumbnail of Bang the Dice Game: At the start of the game, everyone gets a hidden role. The Sheriff, who gets revealed at the start, has to kill the outlaws and the renegade. The Deputy wins if the Sheriff wins. The outlaws win if they kill the sheriff. The renegade wins if they kill everyone else. You also get a character card that gives you a special power.

On your turn, you roll five dice that let you shoot other people, heal up, and possibly blow up dynamite in your face. That sort of thing. You get two rerolls, although dynamite faces are locked. One element I really like are arrows. You draw an arrow token every time you rolls one. When the tokens run out, everyone takes damage equal to the number of their tokens and they turn their arrow tokens back in.

The obvious advantage that the dice game has it is that is a lot easier to teach. The card game, while simple once you know the cards, is surprisingly fiddle. Teaching Bang the Dice Game to non-gamers from scratch is clearly much easier.

However, I also think that, mechanically Bang the Dice Game is stronger. Yes, it uses dice but the game is juggling six different possible faces. There are a lot more than six card possibilities in the original Bang, before even adding in expansions. I think the dice flattens the luck out and makes the luck much more manageable.

I would definitely play Bang the Dice Game again, particularly to find out of it’s as good as it seems to be. It’s not the best dice game I’ve ever played but it does a good job making its theme work and being fun.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Oct 8, 2019 4:58 pm
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Haunted House: Save the Children - No effort and no choices

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I stumbled upon Haunted House: Save the Children on one of my regular searched for PnP solitaire games, although it’s not actually a print and play game since it just takes a deck of traditional playing cards, a couple of dice and some way of tracking health points. No construction necessary.

You are exploring a seriously haunted house, trying to rescue four children or die trying. That’s actually pretty much the entire theme of the game but it doesn’t need to be anymore than that.

Shuffle the deck and go through each card, one at a time. The aces are the four kids you’re trying to save. The queens are gentle spirits who will heal you. Deuces don’t do anything. Everything else is trying to kill you. The dice come in to resolve threes through tens. Roll equal or over or take some damage.

Haunted House:Save the Children commits one of the cardinal sins of game design in my worldview. There are absolutely no choices involved. You flip over a card and do whatever the rules tell you to do.

Shockingly, this doesn’t offend me that much. That’s because the game didn’t even cost me printer ink. All I had to do was get out some game components I use so much I don’t even actually put them away.

There are a variety of variant rules. They do things like add flavor text and tables of random events and increase the odds of dying horrible. They don’t actually add any choices though

Years ago, I picked up a game called Adventurer: Card Game that did the exact same thing. The only difference is that it had thematic illustrations and cost money. Having to pay for the experience, that enraged me to the point that I haven’t forgotten or forgiven an otherwise completely forgettable game.

Yes, being free and construction free actually makes me not mind Haunted House.

Haunted House isn’t a game I can really recommend. If you’re looking for a free game for a mental coffee break, there are plenty of more interesting choices. However, I did have fun being able to try it out without any effort.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 24, 2019 8:31 pm
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Escape of the Dead, better than I remembered

Lowell Kempf
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At a very different place in my life, I first discovered and played Escape of the Dead. At the time, I considered it a game whose chief virtues were that it was free PnP that took minimal construction skills and played out in maybe ten minutes. Now, I still think those are some of it’s strongest points but I value those things more

Short version: Escape of the Dead is a solitaire dice game where you are trying to fix your car before the zombies break through the walls. It uses a Stone Age-style worker placement where you assign dice to one of three zones. Four dice to spread out over killing zombies, rebuilding your barricade and fixing that darn car.

One of its biggest criticisms is that there is a degenerate strategy where you focus on killing zombies and use the bonus for killing ten zombies to fix the car, until the end where you go all in on repairing the car. And, to be honest, it’s a pretty reliable strategy. There’s still a chance you’ll lose but the odds are in your favor.

At the same time, the game itself is streamlined without any fiddlyness. Each step is easy to understand and flows into the next. And since the zombie spawn rate increases as the car gets closer to being fixed, Escape of the Dead does a good job ratcheting up the tension. In other words, the game is far from perfect but it manages to still be fun.

Over the last few years, I have played a lot more PnP solitaires, particularly short ones as parent breaks. Going to back to Escape or the Dead, I found that it does very well as a mental coffee break. Thematic and with a tense endgame, it does the trick.

When it comes to free PnP games, I freely admit that I have a different standard than I do for published products or PnP files that I’ve paid for. I do cut them more slack. While Escape of the Dead definitely has some flaws, it’s worth both printing out and playing.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Jul 23, 2019 4:56 pm
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Take a couple minutes to fence in some sheep

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My latest foray into Roll and Write, as well as Print and Play, has been 13 Sheep, which is one of the more minimalist Roll and Write I have found. And, yes, with games like Criss Cross or 30 Rails, there is some competition for that. (Not Another One still holds the title though)

13 Sheep is played on a seven by eight grid. There are thirteen sheep which are inside squares and eight or nine bushes in the ‘lines’. You are going to be drawing fences in the grid, trying to enclose groups of sheep. However, the fence shapes you can draw are determined by a die roll, you can’t draw over bushes and you have a limited number of turns before the wolves show up and it’s all over.

Here’s how it goes. Get a sheet. If there’s more than one person playing, make sure everyone has the same sheet. Then roll the die. Each number has a three segment line shape assigned to it and you have to draw that one on your sheet. You can rotate them but you can’t flip them. And, on top of those pesky bushes, you can not cross over an already built fence or draw on a space where a line already is.

You’ve got a timer, the wolf track. You cross off a box with every roll and the first seven rolls are free. However, the last four boxes have numbers in them (6,5,4,1) If you roll that number or higher, the game immediately ends. (Why the row doesn’t just end with the four, I can’t tell you) You then score up each enclosure. More sheep means more points. Most points wins, unless you’re playing solitaire. In which case, you are your own competition.

13 Sheep is an odd beast for me. The game is, at most, going to last ten die rolls. Maybe just seven. And the dice are going to really control what your options are. At the same time, the game doesn’t play itself. You have to actually make decisions and make the best with what that die gives you. But the die can stomp your plans into the dust and laugh at your tears.

One of the biggest virtues of the game is also its biggest drawback. It is so gosh darn short. It’s only a few minutes so it’s easy for casual play. With just one die, you can fit in a play or two while waiting for your coffee or appetizers. And you can teach it to just about anyone in that time.

But it is also so short. Seven to ten die rolls isn’t enough for luck to flatten itself out. The potential to make clever choices isn’t nearly as great as the power of the random number gods. The power of choice fights against the illusion of choice.

Still, it’s a free PnP game that doesn’t require any kind of cutting or folding. And it is so short that being thrashed by the die doesn’t sting that much. In fact, I've found it has a strong ‘one more time’ effect. So if you’re willing to go in on the game, I don’t think it’ll be a game breaker. It won’t be your new forever game but you’ll have fun with it for a bit.

One concern I had, that the game initially had just two boards, has been assuaged by the designer creating a random board generator. Which can make some weird boards but offers a lot more variety.

At the end of the day, 13 Sheep isn’t a perfect Roll and Write. Ada Lovelace or BentoBlocks do dice-based shape forming better and deeper. And luck beats planning every time. However, I am having fun with it and it might be a game that I include when I send out greeting cards.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 17, 2019 5:17 pm
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A tiny game about dangerous relationships

Lowell Kempf
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Living Vie de Loca, from the Indie Mega Mixtape, combines the idea of a two-player RPG with pocket mods. One player plays the Wild One, who is trying to play the other player, the Mark. There’s room in the system for it to go from Manic Pixie Girl romance to a cynical total con job.

The game is made up of two pocket mods, little eight-page booklets that you make by folding and cutting a single piece of paper. There’s one for the Mark and one for the Wild One. And you will be writing in the game pocket mode and tearing off strips over the course of the game so you’ll need to make a new pair every time you play.

The books guide you through a series of scenes that describe how the two characters become more and more involved with each other, one way or another. At its heart, it’s about revealing more and more details about the characters and a power struggle.

A power struggle because this is a competitive game. There will be a winner and a loser with the winner able to control the situation and the narrative. It seems like the Wild One has an edge but I’m not convinced of that.

One thing that really struck me and I liked about Living de Vie Loca is that between the amount of information the players create and the vagueness of the scenes, there’s a surprising amount of flexibility and replay potential in a game that is in a such a small space, physically and design wise.

That said, one of the questions I always ask myself when looking at a two-player relationship game is ‘Why would I play this rather than Breaking the Ice?’ For me, that game remains the gold standard for a game about two people.

The initial answer this time is ‘To see if it actually works.’

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen pocket mods used as a gimmick nor is the best use I’ve seen. (Assault on Goblin Hall more fully embraces the form) And I do think it’s a gimmick in this case. It could work without the form.

The competitive aspect of the game is actually what makes Living de Vie Loca interesting. Story telling games are about collaboration so adding competition is a risk and definitely not boring.

More so than usual without playing a game, I don’t know if Living De Vie Loca is actually any good. But I admire how experimental is honestly is.
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Tue Jul 9, 2019 10:17 pm
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A literal second look at King of Tokyo

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The first time I played King of Tokyo was a two-player game in January, 2013. The second time was a five-player game in June, 2019. Yeah, those were two very different experiences. And, to no one’s surprise, the five-player game was the much better experience.

Calling King of Tokyo Yahtzee with giant monsters is a fair description but it is more than Yahtzee with some giant monster pictures added. Very importantly, you get to beat each other up!

This was the first time I got to try the Power Up expansion, which I liked. I liked the original power cards (random but goofy fun) and the expansion gives you another, even more thematic way to get them.

Years ago, a friend said King of Tokyo was what Monsters Menace America should have been. When I pointed out they were not even remotely alike apart from being about giant monsters, he said he really meant that he’d rather play King of Tokyo. Which I can understand. I do like Monsters Menace America but King of a Tokyo is a lot more accessible and I can see it being a lot easier to get on the table.

And not only have I not played King of New York, I’m not sure if I want to. Part of the appeal of King of Tokyo is how simple it really is. I’m not sure if making it more complex is a selling point. If I want a more complex dice game, I have Alea Iacta Est or Kingsburg or To Court the King or others. Just like I don’t want to try any of the later versions of Tsuro. The simplicity is part of the selling point.

King of Tokyo remains a game that I don’t mind playing but wouldn’t particularly seek out and would only buy if our son ended up really liking it. It’s two main selling points for me are simplicity and going all in its goofy theme.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 8, 2019 6:13 pm
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