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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30 Rails just keeps getting better

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I recently tried out some shorter, simpler Roll and Writes. Honestly, it was clearing out some backlog, although I am always hoping to find another 13 Sheep.

And the amount of decisions ranged from either limited to not really there are all. Which wasn’t all that surprising. That’s one of the dangers of game designs and these were basically prototypes.

But it made me ask if some of the PnP, R&W games I’d liked before are as good as I thought they were. In particular, 30 Rails. After all, the game has you randomly roll coordinates and rail shapes.

So I pulled 30 Rails to give it another spin. It had been a while. Either I’d have fun or an educational disappointment.

So, yeah, it’s good.

I regularly describe 30 Rails as the love child of Take It Easy and Metro and I see no reason why I should stop.

You have a six by six grid in 30 Rails. After you seed the grid with five impassible mountains, one mine and a bonus spot, you put a station on each edge. Your goal is to connect stations to each other in the mine. That’s how you get points and points are how you measure how well you do in the game.

Each turn, someone rolls two different colored dice. One die determines which column or row you are going to add a track in. The other determines the shape of the track. And yes, you determine which die is which before you roll them.

I just tried several games that used to days as coordinates. Now, you would think that only having to choose a row or a column would make a big difference in your range of choices. You would be wrong. It makes an enormous difference. And, in 30 Rails, if you filled in both the column and the row, that number becomes wild.

There’s actually a lot in 30 Rails that lets you make meaningful choices. You get some say in how the board is set up. Everyone gets an override that they get to use once for each type of dice. Heck, you get to rotate the track shape, although just about any tile laying game lets you do that.

However, comparing using two dice to get a maximum of two options with using one die to get a maximum of eleven options (and a potential wild mechanic built in), that makes the difference between a good gaming experience and a bad one.

I went back to revisit 30 Rails to see if it was as good as I remembered or if experience would reveal terrible flaws. And what I found was that the game was actually better than I originally thought.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Jul 22, 2021 4:31 am
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Yeah, the game actually works isn’t high praise

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I am going to damn Puerto Miau with faint praise but, the funny thing is, I actually mean the praise. It’s circumstantial but still actual praise.

Puerto Miau is a Roll and Write game that is actually a Roll and Move and Write game. You are moving a pawn across a grid of action spaces, although it wouldn’t be that hard to track the pawn with just a pen, particularly in a solitaire game. (The game does play up to two, though)

In the game, you take on the role of a cat who is stealing fish from the marketplace. The mechanics are dead simple. You start in the middle of the grid and roll a die to see how many spaces you move. You mark off the space where you land because you can’t visit the same space twice in the same game.

Most of the spaces are fish spaces with a number assigned them. Roll over that number with two dice and you get that fish in the accompanying points. There are also some action spaces. These include a guaranteed steal of a random value, erasing a mark so you can revisit a space, extra movement and extra dice when rolling to steal. After 20 turns, you add up your points.

Puerto Miau is strictly okay at best. It feels like the next step in putting a game on a place mat. Is it better than roll-and-move on a linear track? Definitely. Is it much better? Eh.

The game isn’t without decisions, although those really come down to going for low-point fish that you are likely to get or gambling for a high value fish that require a good roll. But, seriously, there are a lot of free roll and write games out there. There are some actual gems but this isn’t one of them.

But…

I have been going through my backlog of Roll and Write games and I’ve played games with confusing rules, no real choices and where luck dictates everything that happens. After playing enough of those, Puerto Miau was a relief. It is actually a functional game.

I’m not actually sure the publication history of the game. I got it as a free Print and Play and it looks like it is still available as such. I’m not sure if it was ever officially published. I do see that there is a card version of it. The Roll and Write version might be simply publicity for the card game.

Honestly, the best use for the game might actually be to laminate it and use it as a place mat. Lord knows worse games have been used that way.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 19, 2021 5:02 pm
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Choose Your Own Adventure as a deck of cards

Lowell Kempf
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A few months ago, I printed out and constructed the demo version of Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger. I have many fond memories of the line of books from back in the 80s. I was curious and isn’t the point of a demo to give you an idea how a game works?

Just to get this out of the way. I am not going to discuss the actual story at all. There will be no spoilers as far as that is concerned. This will just be about mechanics.

And as far as mechanics go, the Choose Your Own Adventure card game is just what it says on the tin. It is a game book broken down into cards. Noting more and nothing less.

The game consists of a story deck, a clue deck and a board to track the danger meter and the psychic scale. The story cards are the story text and basic decisions. You earn clue cards by skill checks against the current danger level or being high enough level on the psychic scale. The clue cards can be items, additional choices or actual clues.

While dice-based skill checks are new to CYOA as a series, they are the standard for most game book series (Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, etc) so no points for innovation there. However, I do really like clue cards. They are a very convenient way of keeping track of inventory and they are an excellent way of implementing hidden choices. They are my favorite mechanical element of the game.

To be perfectly honest, the Choose Your Own Adventure card game absolutely fulfills its design mission statement. It absolutely captures the feel and the mechanics of the original books.

But, at the same time, I can’t say that I have any plans to buy the full game. There are two reasons for this and they are both completely baked in to the intrinsic design of the game.

First and by far most importantly, there isn’t a lot of replay value in the game. You go through the story and then you were done. Heck, there are even rules for going back if you get yourself killed before the end so you will make it through the story. (Which also captures the feel of the original books where you could just flip back to the page where are you made the bad decision.) I don’t mind limited replay value in a print and play game but it’s some thing I want to avoid if I’m actually buying a game.

Second, I don’t see it really functioning as a cooperative game. There isn’t a real functional reason to take turns. It is fundamentally a solitaire game, literally like reading a book. That is much less of a dealbreaker but I do prefer to make my actual purchases multi-player.

I think the game does a very good job of doing just what it set out to do. Yes, it is a simple system but that is what is needed in order to capture the feel of the original series. And I did have fun with the demo. However, it is not something that I am in the market for.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Jul 17, 2021 12:12 am
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Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation rocks

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While I got rid of Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings (the cooperative one) and haven’t missed it, I have kept his Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation and can’t see myself ever getting rid of it.

I have never enjoyed Stratego. That’s on me, not Stratego. I just don’t have the patience for it. The play is too drawn out and meticulous for me. And I like Go and Chess!

But I really like LotR-Confrontation and Alex Randolph’s Geisters. Apparently, I need a smaller board! And, while I have played a _lot_ more Geister, I think LotR-Confrontation is the stronger game.

The basic concept of the game is that the light player is trying to get Frodo and the One Ring to Mount Doom and the dark player is trying to catch Frodo. So, it’s the FedEx delivery from Hell.

And, yes, it uses the Stratego mechanic that you can see what your pieces are but your opponent can’t. Shhhhh… It’s a secret.

So why does it rock?

First of all, the board is ridiculously tight. At the start of the game, every part of the board except the middle row is packed. The conflict and the mind games get going right from the start. The older I get, the more significant I think this is. The game cuts straight to the knife fight in a phone booth and that’s where the fun is.

Second, every single piece has a special power and it’s a different special power for each piece. The way that they interact is a huge part of the mind game’s that define the game.

Third, it’s a great example of asymmetrical conflict. Not only do the two sides have different goals, they have different strengths that compliment different styles. The light is a scalpel to the dark’s hammer. Doing well with one side doesn’t mean you can do the same with the other.

In short, there isn’t just one good design choice in LotR-Confrontation. There are bunch of them.

I commented that one of the reasons I got rid of Knizia’s cooperative LotR game that it abstracted things to the point where it wasn’t fun and was hard to follow. Confrontation can be accused of being pretty abstract but, mechanically, it all fits together super well. The game mechanics make sense. (Okay, I also think the design choices fit thematically but I can see how someone can argue with me about that)

I don’t actually have the deluxe version of the game, just the original one. And I’m nowhere near playing it out to the point where I’d need another set of characters. (I’m hoping someone has made a conversion kit since I like the compact size of the original game if I reach that point)

I am a big fan of River Knizia and many of his best games are built around a single, solid concept. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, though, is built around a bunch of them.


Originally posted at www.gnomeponderimg.com
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Wed Jul 14, 2021 9:22 pm
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Epidemic- not quite Pandemic in your pocket

Lowell Kempf
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I sometimes think that making a smaller PnP version Pandemic is its own sub-genre. You’ve got Infection Express, Epidemic and Contagion. Heck, Asmodee itself got into the game when they offered Hot Zone as a free PnP file

Epidemic is the first one I’ve tried, since I didn’t have to worry about colors. And nine cards, plus some tokens, made it an easy project to throw together. (Yes, Contagion is one card. I’ll try that one next, okay?)

I would have actually tried Epidemic when it first showed up in the 2018 Nine-Card Design Contest (I made my copy then) but the rules had some vague bits, particularly about set-up, that confused me. When I saw someone had posted some revised rules, it all clicked and I was good to go.

Three of the cards form a map of the world with fifteen interconnected spots for virus tokens. One card is a track to track research and mutation. And the last five cards are the action cards.

The core mechanic is dead simple. You shuffle the action cards and lay them out. You can do any action but if you choose one that isn’t on the far right, it will cost you. Every card you pass over gets a virus tokens. The card you play goes to the end of row on the left. And if you pick a card that has virus tokens, they get added to the board. Oh, and the farther to the right (the start of the cars track), the stronger the card effect.

The three happy cards let you move along the research track, move the medic to clear virus tokens and make different special events happen. The bad cards add virus tokens to the board and move the mutation track along. To add to the fun, the mutation track has milestones that, when you hit them, make things worse.

Epidemic is a tiny little game with a tiny little track and a tiny little supply of virus tokens. It’s not hard to speed along the research track BUT it’s also easy to speed along the mutation track or use up virus tokens.

Epidemic is an interesting beast. Once I had the couple rules issues ironed out, it was very easy to understand. And some of that understanding came from knowing Pandemic. And I enjoyed it as a interesting puzzle game. The selling point of Epidemic is that you hit the managing the train wreck part of the game super fast.

But you can’t help but compare it to Pandemic and it isn’t Pandemic

If you are looking for a pocket-sized little puzzler that’s free to download and easy to make, Epidemic is worth a look. If you are looking for a pocket-sized substitute for Pandemic, a Pandemic you can fit in your pocket, Epidemic isn’t it.

It’s worst failing in that regard is that it really doesn’t function as a multi-player cooperative game. In Pandemic, everyone has their own hand of cards, pawn and special power to look after. In Epidemic, all the resources are global. Taking turns only makes sense if you use a variation where you can only talk by adding a virus token. And that sounds annoying. There are better games to manage communication with.

I do think that Epidemic might have the PnP Forgiveness Syndrome for me. I spent less than a dollar in materials and fifteen minutes in crafting. If I get five, ten initial plays in and then play it once ina blue moon for novelty, I’ll be happy. But if paid twenty dollars for it, I don’t think I’d be as pleased.

But Epidemic is free to download and easy to make. And it is a solid little puzzle that used tried and true mechanics and theme. I think most folks will find it worth the effort to try it out.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 12, 2021 4:57 pm
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Roll Pirates - because everyone loves pirates

Lowell Kempf
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Roll Pirates is another of Radoslaw Ignatow’s Roll and Write games where the individual actions are all pretty simple but you get a lot of options as far as how the game develops. I’m starting to think that’s one of his trademarks.

The game has each player play a pirate captain (Arrrr!) who is sailing about the map, finding treasure and developing a reputation. After six rounds, whoever has the most points is the winner.

Like all the games that came out of Ignatow’s recent Kickstarter, a pool of dice is rolled each turn and everyone uses the same rolls. However, it isn’t entirely a multi-player solitaire. (It can be played as an actual soliatire, though)

There are four ways that you can use the dice in the game. You can use them to recruit crew, who you’ll need to move your boat over the map. You can use them to unlock treasure chests, which takes three dice each. You can use them to enhance your pirate captain reputation. And, if all else fails, you can spend dice to take a point penalty. (No, you don’t want to do that. Avoiding penalties is a good idea)

Really, the game is about moving around the map, which takes up half the player sheet. The primary actions, recruiting crew and unlocking treasure chests are all about movement. (Okay, technically you can move onto an unlocked treasure but it costs you points so it’s one of those bad idea)

A big part of what makes Roll Pirates work and a game I want to play again is that the map is too big to go everwhere over the course of 36 dice. In fact, I think a quarter of the map might be more than you cover in game. You seriously can’t do everything.

The other thing that makes Roll Pirates more than just rolling dice and jotting down numbers is that, in the multi-player game, when you claim a treasure, you get to make some kind of attack on another player. This is actually a neat design choice for a couple reasons. You don’t have to go out of your way to make an attack. Going for treasure is an integral part of the game so the attacks will be a part of the game. It also means that games don’t get too scripted since other folks are going to be messing with your plans.

Each individual piece of Roll Pirates is very simple. The game is a simple one. But it gives you the space to explore different things to do with those simple actions. The game has branching choices.

It’s interesting and fun.

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jun 28, 2021 5:56 pm
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I forgot that Times Square was more than just a place

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First of all, I forgot that Times Square existed. Then, when I did remember that it was a real thing, I forgot that it was designed by Reiner Knizia.

The game is apparently based on a famous 1954 German film that I have never seen and I haven’t been able to find anything but the most vague summaries of. From what I can tell, it made a much bigger splash in Germany than the United States. I do get the impression that if you know the movie, all the elements click.

At any rate, it’s a card-driven tug of war with five distinct different types of pieces. (There are six pieces with two identical gray pieces) They all have their own set of rules and restrictions. Your goal is to drag either the green girl or green champagne bottle to your edge of the board.

Champagne Charlie is what I really remember from the game. You can move him as a basically a bonus move if you have more pieces on your side of the board, which is really just a track. He is a threat that keeps the game interesting.

But the game has been out of our collection for years. Times Square isn’t a bad game but I’d say that its sin is that its level of being interesting is greater than being good. With every piece having its own distinct set of rules, it’s literally a game of the exception being the rule.

What ultimately made it leave the game closet, though, is that it’s a casual two-player game and, even after a number of purges, we still have a lot of them. Times Square just never got played.

It does feel like an unusual Knizia design. One of his hallmarks is simple systems that unfold into complex decisions. Times Square feels like it has cluttered rule book resulting in a simple game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jun 21, 2021 9:17 pm
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The introduction to Tempus Quest was too introductory

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Last month, I tried out Chris Anderson’s Tempus Imperium. It’s a PnP game where you use the date and time to set up the map and then create a list of actions. I knew Anderson had also made a series of other time stamp related games called Tempus Quest so I decided to try the first one.

(And THEN I learned that there was ANOTHER time stamp game, Tempus Infinitum, that looks like a refined version of Tempus Imperium)

Tempus Quest is a series of games or scenarios. After the introductory scenario, it looks like how you do in one scenario will effect what happens in the next one.

In Episode 0-Some Reassembly Required, you are attempting to rebuild a spaceship in a junkyard. Connect resources together to make parts and then connect them to the ship in the middle. There’s an alarm track. You check alarms off if you do something close to guard towers but you can also check them off to change your action.

Having learned Tempus Imperium first, Tempus Quest was really easy to pick up. And I have come to two conclusions.

One, Tempus Quest Episode 0 is probably the best introduction to the whole use-the-datestamp-to-generate-a-number-string idea. It uses a shorter number string and has a clear-cut goal with a clear-cut way to go about it.

Two, I liked Tempus Imperium more and I’m glad I started with it.

It isn’t so much that Episode 0 is flawed but that it hits the whole introductory thing a little too on the nose. Tempus Imperium has multiple paths to victory while Episode 0 has just one. In Tempus Imperium, you have to develop a good income. In episode 0, there’s a checklist of alarms to spend and there seems to be so many that you shouldn’t run out.

Really, I’m punishing Episode 0 for being exactly what it’s intended to be. It’s an introduction and a tutorial. Looking at the next couple episodes, it looks like the complexity level does go up.

But it did leave me wanting to play more Tempus Imperium.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jun 18, 2021 9:56 pm
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Harrow the Ninth is where things go meta

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Earlier this year, I read Gideon the Ninth and it was the surprise delight of my reading year. So, of course, I had to read the second book in the series, Harrow the Ninth.

… Man, I do not know how to write about this book without spoilers for this first book since everything in Harrow the Ninth is built on how Gideon the Ninth resolved itself. More than that, it’s hard to discuss Harrow the Ninth itself without spoiling it since so much of it is a mystery whose resolution explains not just the mystery’s solution but what was the mystery in the first place.

So, I really enjoyed the book and I’m really glad I read it?

No?

Okay.

As few spoilers as possible

As few spoilers as possible

As few spoilers as possible

The world of The Locked Tomb is one of gothic horror and high science fiction. It is definitely not Warhammer 40K but man, it has some similar vibes. We are talking about a galactic empire that was built on necromancy.

In fact, the undying emperor (who is not stuck in a life support throne) resurrected his entire home solar system, which is clearly our solar system. And now all the planets have death energy instead of life energy (so much that they are only place where necromancers can be born) The heart of the empire is a zombie solar system. I won’t be surprised if it turns out that everyone is functionally undead at the end of the series.

Gideon the Ninth was an adventure story when all is said and done, albeit one that is underpinned by Gideon figuring out her relationships. Harrow the Ninth is a much denser, more complicated read. There are two different stories going on that play with our understanding of what happened in the last book, contradict each other and play with the meta nature of narration.

I will say that many of those questions do get answered and explained by the end of the book. The cosmology of the setting is explored and expanded. And we are left with a whole new set of questions.

Gideon the Ninth was more fun but I think I got a lot more out of Harrow the Ninth. And now I’m annoyed I have to wait at least a year for Tamsyn Muir to write Alecto the Ninth.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jun 16, 2021 11:07 pm
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Cat Nap makes me happy

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Cat Nap from the seventh Roll and Write contest has me in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, it doesn’t bring anything new to the party. I’ve seen all the mechanics before. On the other hand, it all fits together nice and neatly and I enjoyed it.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2627636/wip-cat-nap-entry-7...

The idea behind the game is that you are making a quilt for your cats to sleep on. You apparently own at least six cats so you’re officially a crazy cat person.

The board itself is a grid that has six cats on it, who each take up six or seven squares and there’s a five square cross is the middle that serves as the starting point.

Take two dice that you can tell apart. One determines the shape of the piece your are drawing in and the other determines the pattern.
The first piece has to touch the starting cross and every piece after that has to the touch the side of another piece. And, no, you can’t cover up the cats.

There are a few touches that make the game more than just drawing in shapes. If pieces of the same pattern touch, you lose points. Completely surround a cat and you get points and a one box star. Being able to fill in just one box is actually a strong bonus. Oh and there are some bonus moves of the dice just done work, which is actually pretty standard but still a good mechanic.

The game ends when someone has to pass for a second time or gets a fifth star. You get points from stars, complete rows and columns and not having the same patterns touch. Most points wins and there’s a scale for playing solitaire.

As I said at the start, Roll and Writes that involve filling in a grid with shapes is old hat. Mosaix was doing it back in 2009. Since then, I have seen the concept used more times than I can count offhand. There’s nothing innovative about Cat Nap.

But, you know, I still like Cat Nap and have fun playing it. I particularly like the cats blocking the vid so I actually have to make decisions rather than use the spatial skills I got from Blokus and play on auto-pilot. It doesn’t hurt that I love cats. All the mechanics in Cat Nap fit together and work.

At the end of the day, Cat Nap is a pleasant, family weight game that is free to print and play. It might not set the world on fire but it’s a game I’d recommend to folks who are looking for a free, easy to teach, enjoyable game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.con
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Mon Jun 7, 2021 11:14 pm
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