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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Such an organized dragon horde!

Lowell Kempf
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Lockpicks was the game that broke my pause on the Legends of Dsyx series. It’s not like I got bored with the series. Theres just so much out in the PnP play world.

Okay, here’s the usual spiel: it’s a PnP, R&W solitaire. You make it yourself. You roll dice and write stuff down. Only one person gets to play at a time.

The game is about picking the locks in the chests in a dragon’s horde. Because this dragon isn’t like Smaug and just leaves stuff lying around. They are apparently type A and hyper organized.

The actual gameplay is quite simple, particular compared to other Legends of Dsyx games. Each chest is a grid with circles in certain spots. There are four tiers of chests and the higher tiers are more complexity grids.

You have a pool of five dice and each pip type is a different kind of movement. You need to draw a line on the grid with end points in each circle and finally on the lock at the bottom. You then get to roll for a treasure on a table for that particular tier of chest.

One of the most interesting design choices is that all of the dice manipulation comes from the first two tiers of chests. The last two are just points. That gives a mechanical reason to start with the simple chests. Oh and loot is points.

There’s an hour glass track that your check off as you either refresh your dice pool or open chests. But the game doesn’t have to end when you run out of hour glasses. You can keep playing but you automatically lose if you roll a one.

Compared to every other game I’ve played in the series (which is over half of them at this point), Lockpicks feels less intricate than other Legends of Dsyx games. It doesn’t feel as unique. At the same time, I definitely had fun playing it and would cheerfully play it some more. In fact, I might recommend it over other games in the series because it’s particularly easy to explain.

Lockpicks is the least representative of the series in my arrogant opinion. It’s not as thematic as the other games and it’s mechanically simpler. However, it’s mechanically solid. It is fun and accessible.

Roll and Write solitaires are a pretty niche genre. You aren’t going to find your next Agricola there. But Lockpicks was a surprisingly good use of the medium.
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Wed Oct 6, 2021 7:06 pm
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Limes tales Cities and makes it better

Lowell Kempf
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Limes might seem like Martyn F did a mashup of Take It Easy and Carcassonne. Which isn’t actually the case. It’s a refinement of his earlier mashup of Take It Easy and Carcassonne, Cities.

Short version: you are creating a four-by-four grid of tiles, creating a map. You are also playing meeples down to score specific parts of the map, Carcassonne-style.

Incidentally, the word Limes isn’t being used as a the citrus fruit but the Roman term for borders and border defenses along what would become Germany. So you are building a map of part of the Roman Empire and I got to learn a new definition of Limes.

So, everyone has an identical set of 24 numbered tiles, along with seven meeples. Someone randomly draws a tile and everyone places that tile. It will all seem familiar if you’ve ever played Take It Easy… or Karuba… or Criss Cross… or Rolling Realms. Wow, this has become a really common mechanic. You are forming a four-by-four grid so you won’t use all the tiles and you will end up defining the dimensions of the grid as the game goes on.

You can also either place a meeple on the tile you just placed OR move a previously placed meeple to an adjacent geographic feature.

The tiles are divided in four areas. They can be water, forest, city or watch tower. And all of them except for watch towers are doubled up on some tiles. And, Carcassonne-style, meeples score points in different ways depending on what they are are standing on.

Most points wins. Unless you’re playing solitaire. In that case, just try to do really well.

Okay. I really enjoy playing Limes. You have to be in the mood for a Take It Easy-style game and it is definitely a light game. But if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s a good choice.

Cities, back in 2008, was a big deal for me. Along with Wurfel Bingo, it was one of the first Take It Easy-style games I tried that wasn’t Take It Easy. And I still quite like it. But Limes is an improvement. You can score using all four types of terrain and each scoring method is distinct.

Now, I have only played Limes online (https://ori.avtalion.name/limes/) The one downside to the physical version is only has enough components for two players. At one point, I had three copies of Cities so I could play up to twelve people.

I had wanted to try Limes for years and it turned out to be well worth playing.
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Mon Aug 30, 2021 10:14 pm
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The Count of Nine is a fun nine cards

Lowell Kempf
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If you’re even just casually into PnP games (which, since I’m a lazy PnPer, is really where I’m at), you’ve heard of Count of Nine. It’s a Euro in just nine cards. No dice or cubes involved.

The game is all about infrastructure building. You are trying to build a big building and that is going to take resources and smaller buildings.

The cards are double sided and orientation matters. When they are in your deck, they are sideways. When you build a card, it goes upright in your tableau. When they are sideways, the resource on the top of the middle is the active resource.

You slide cards and flip them in order to expose resources and potential building to build. When you run through the deck, you can leave the deck unchanged, rotate the whole deck, reshuffle it or rotate just one card. All this can give you access to different resources.

The game ends when either there are no more possible moves OR you choose to end it. Your score is based on the buildings you built MINUS how many rounds you played. So there can be a reason to stop early.

It took me two tries to figure out the game. While the sliding and flipping was kind of different, what needed to click in my head was how the cards interacted. For one thing, you need a crew to build anything. At my current understanding of the game, building a tavern to get guaranteed access to a crew once a round is important. And some buildings require smaller buildings so you can’t build a different building on that card.

Okay. I definitely enjoy Count of Nine. I think it’s fun and well designed. It gives me a legitimate Euro experience in five, ten minutes with just nine cards. After a couple learning hiccups, the game becomes intuitive so you can just shuffle and go.

I do sometimes wish there were more cards. The game can sometimes feel formulaic, particularly if you play it a few times in a row. But the game is well balanced as it stands and adding more cards would make the game less tight.

The Count of Nine is one of those Print and Play games that I would say, if you have the slightest interest, make it and try it. It will be worth the work. It’s not perfect but it’s a pretty cool nine cards.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 23, 2021 8:18 pm
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Flipword - my new go to pocket word game

Lowell Kempf
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Flipword is the most recent nine-card word game I’ve looked at. It’s not a huge field but I’ve seen at least five of them so there’s an interest there, at least for designers. And, to be honest, it is the best one I’ve found in case you don’t read anything but the opening paragraph.

It’s a print and play game originally from the 2021 Nine-Card Contest. All you need to play is the cards and some way to keep score. The core concept of the game is dead simple. Each card has a condition on each end and both sides, so four conditions on each card. And by condition, I mean some kind of rule that a word has to follow. Be seven letters, end in T, have exactly two vowels. That sort of thing.

There are rules for a base game but there are also nine more rule sets for playing with the cards. There’s competitive rules, solitaire rules, cooperative rules. They all involve having three (or two or even four) cards out and coming up with a word that fits all the conditions. One actually has players have their own hand of cards, which was neat.

Last year, I tried out and really liked a nine-card word game called Word Chain. The first player comes up with a word and each card involves coming up with a new word that builds from the word before it. I think it’s a really killer design with vast replay value since changing the first word changes the entire game.

But Flipword has a much greater ‘one more time’ factor. I start playing it and then I keep playing it. It is more accessible than Word Chain and I _think_ simpler. I like the design of Word Chain more but I have more fun with Flipword.

Flipword is a game that takes up basically no space, either to store or to play. If you keep score in your head or just play for fun, all you need the cards. It is super easy to teach and should work for non-gamers and casual gamers. So, it’s been added to my travel bag.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Aug 13, 2021 8:47 pm
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A Rusty Throne is a war game for folks who don’t know war games

Lowell Kempf
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I am both the perfect audience and the worst commentator for A Rusty Throne. It’s a solitaire war game that feels like it was designed for those of us who don’t know much about war games. (My war game days were back in high school and that was a…while back)

It’s a PnP game. There is a board, which takes up only one page and consists of nine areas, and a small deck of cards. Beyond that, all you need is ten tokens for you and ten tokens for the AI king.

The idea behind the game is that the king has gone insane and you’re trying to take over the island kingdom. You know, in order to save the kingdom. I’m sure A Song of Ice ans Fire didn’t inspire the theme at all. Your goal is to control all four of the castles in the board. You lose if you lose your home castle.

The game is entirely card-driven. The cards have symbols for combat, actions for the king and command points that you pay for your actions.

There are actually only two actions in the game. Adding forces to a castle you control and movement. Combat happens when troops live onto an enemy-occupied space. And combat is pretty simple and symbol-based. Swords remove troops. Shields block swords. Then add up surviving troops and bugles. Higher number wins and the losing troop is shoved off. If there’s nowhere to run, they are destroyed.

While the game is simple; even for someone like me who isn’t war game savy, it is very procedural. The hardest part is getting all the steps in the right order without missing any.

I have to note that the game balances you being able to think and the king taking actions (sometimes randomly) from cards by making the king a lot stronger than you. The king outnumbers you at the start, goes first (which is particularly strong in battle) and has a higher stacking limit.

One lesson even I have learned is that you are not going to to win if you charge in Leroy Jenkins style. The AI king is stronger than you and you are going to have to use finesse to win.

A Rusty Throne has been an interesting experience for me and it is a game I plan to go back to. Frankly, between the relative ease of play and construction, I think this is a game that you should make and try even if you are just a little bit interested.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 9, 2021 8:08 pm
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Utopia Engine justifies the hype

Lowell Kempf
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I’m honestly not sure how many years I’ve been meaning to learn Utopia Engine. It’s been one of the darlings of both the Print and Play and Roll and Write worlds for ages. And I finally got through a game of it.

I have tried playing it a few times over of the years but didn’t seem to click in my head. To be fair, each individual piece of Utopia Engine is simple. It’s that it has a bunch of moving parts. (Well, a bunch compared to a lot of Roll and Writes. It’s not many compared to even a medium weight Euro)

In Utopia Engine, you are an artificer in a dreamy, post-apocalyptic world that feels a little like Jack Vance’s Dying Earth gone steampunk. The world will end but you can stop that from happening if you assemble the fabled Utopia Engine. To do that, you need to gather legendary artifacts that are lost in fantastic lands, activate them in your workshop, assemble them and finally bring the Utopia Engne to life.

Each step in Utopia Engine is kind of like a mini-game. You need to explore the wilderness. You will inevitably have to fight monsters in the wilderness. You have to activate the artifacts you find in your workshop. And you have to connect them together in order to make the actual Utopia Engine.

Now, I can see how someone could find Utopia Engine pretty dry. The basic mechanic is use dice to generate numbers and subtract them. You want a small difference in the wilderness and a big one in the workshop. But after I went through the wilderness and the workshop once, it all clicked and I was into it.

(For some reason, my mental calculator kept thinking I’d be rolling two d10s. Two six-siders compressed the numbers and made them easier to manipulate)

The game actually felt like an RPG campaign for me. Each artifact gave you a bonus power and the biggest monster in each wilderness area can drop special equipment. So, as the game moves forward and time runs low, you also get more powerful.

I ended up liking Utopia Engine a lot. There’s a lot of both storytelling and game compressed into two pages, plus two dice. And I felt I had some actual say in what was going on, particularly once I started getting some of the special powers.

Utopia Engine is now over ten years old and folks still speak well of it and (other than its sequel Beast Hunter) there really isn’t anything else like it. It’s not for everyone but, particularly considering how easy it is to try, I think it’s worth experiencing.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 26, 2021 4:32 pm
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30 Rails just keeps getting better

Lowell Kempf
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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

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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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