A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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Another look at Roll and Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, May was pretty good.
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Fri Jun 3, 2022 7:57 pm
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Noch Mal/Encore keeps me calm

Lowell Kempf
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I have found that games involving patterns seem to be very decompressing for me.

Mind you, when I say patterns, I mean patterns being used blatantly. You can argue that every game is about patterns, just as you can argue that every game has some level of abstraction.

I have read that games revolving around pattern recognition (which is another catch all term) are used for medical therapy. Go, in particular, I remember being used to help ease issues with dementia. Or I’m misremembering and putting Go on a pedestal. It’s easy for me to do that.

With that in mind, I’ve noticed that I’ve been reaching for Noch Mal/Encore when I need to decompress. It’s short enough to serve as a mental coffee break but has a lot of pattern recognition to keep me engaged.

And when I am using NM/E as a mental coffee break, I always fall back on the starter sheet. I go through patterns I already know. It’s half decision-making and half zoning out.

On the other hand, when I actually want to use NM/E as a game, I go with one of the other six sheets. I wish that there was more color contrast (I’ve memorized the color locations on the starter sheet) but having a variety of sheets keeps NM/E engaging. It lets it me a way to zone out or really think, depending on what sheet I pick.

(I play it electronically. Otherwise, I’d mark the sheets as a workaround for my color blindness)

I have liked NM/E since I first tried it and I can’t even remember how I first heard about or who recommended it to me. But, as time has gone on, it has become on constant rotation more and more.

I play a lot of mental coffee break games for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is they are some of the easiest to make as print and plays. But there are a lot of flash in the pans. Finding one that consistently delivers over months and years of play, though, that is good.
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Fri May 20, 2022 5:23 pm
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13 Sheep in the classroom

Lowell Kempf
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I had the opportunity to teach a fifth grade class 13 Sheep and run through a couple games of it with them. And I took that opportunity because I love teaching games

Honestly, unless it’s built into the syllabus, there’s not much call for teaching board games as a substitute teacher. Keeping the kids focused and on task is the job. And if games get to be on the lesson plan, they need to be for education, not distraction.

Trust me, I haven’t seen a class yet that needs help being distracted.

13 Sheep is one of the simplest Roll and Write games that I know of that I still think offers interesting choices. It also follows the Take it Easy paradigm of everyone doing their own thing on their own board. That meant I could have an entire class room playing the same game at the same time.

While I supplied the game and the teaching, the teacher who I was helping supplied the structure. In addition to critical thinking, which 13 Sheep definitely has going on, he wanted the kids to look at emergent behavior. Really, more their own behavior than anything else

This involved having them examine the game sheet before telling them any of the rules. This also involved playing more than one game (which wasn’t hard, even under the circumstances) and unpacking what they learned from each game.

Honestly, I probably learned more than the kids from the experience. Obviously, there are some games that have an obvious educational slant. The 10 Days series reaching geography as one obvious example. However, I already thought that using games to help critical thinking and judgement was a good idea. And this one session helped me consider how to approach that.
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Fri Apr 22, 2022 9:38 pm
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My March Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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When I looked back at February, I was surprised at how much gaming I got in since it was a busy month. Well, March ended up being a month where gaming took a back seat. Knew there were going to be some.

I only learned two games in March and they were both very, very light games from contests. Rolling Pins from the 10th Roll and Write Contest and Ceramicus from the 2022 9-Card Contest.

Rolling Pins, which was my prerequisite Roll and Write for the month, adds a bowling theme to Shut the Box. Which I think is a clever and effective idea but, in all honestly, a good portion of the enjoyment of Shut the Box is the physical manipulation of the box.

Ceramicus is basically a nine-card Spot Ot. Each card has five patterns and any two cards will share one symbol. So it’s a speed matching game. I actually got several plays out of it but nine cards isn’t enough for variety.

Both Rolling Pins and Ceramicus are examples of mechanically solid ideas that, well, don’t have enough for a lot of play. That said, I can see Ceramicus being a handy wallet game for waiting in the car.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to do much gaming stuff in April. Still, even a little bit is good.
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Tue Apr 5, 2022 12:46 am
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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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My February Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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At first, it looked the only new game I’d learn in February was Loco Momo on Board Game Arena. Which I have found amusing but if that’s all I learned, that would have been pretty ‘lazy’ of me.

And I’m sure I’ll have some months where gaming is a low priority but I did end up trying some other stuff and exploring other ideas.

I have been trying to learn at least one PnP Roll and Write a month because, well, it’s print and add dice for a lot of them. It’s an easy time and material investment. Last month, I finally played Vegetable and Hello Autumn from the Creative Kids bundle. And I intend to write a proper blog about them but I will say they are the games I am most likely to suggest to older gamers from a collection aimed at classrooms.

I also tried a couple of In Hand games. Behind the Iron from the 2021 solitaire contest and Little Dingy from the 2022 9-Card contest. I haven’t decided what I think of either of them but Behind the Iron, which just has you hold the cards in a row was much easier to physically deal with. Little Dingy is a tile laying game where you hold the map in your hands. I laminated the cards so thsy were slippery but I kept dropping the cards. Cool concept, though.

Finally, I want to comment on two games I learned in January and then kept in regular rotation, Ukiyo and Waffle Hassle. Both are 18-card tile laying games that have tiny foot prints. However, Waffle Hassle, particularly in solitaire mode, is really more of a fidget activity. (Which does mean it has seen plenty of play from me lol) Ukiyo, on the other hand, crosses over into being a full game for me. A tiny, very quick game, yeah, but one with definite decisions. Ukiyo is a game that I can and will recommend to other gamers.
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Wed Mar 2, 2022 3:07 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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Creative Kids R&W part one

Lowell Kempf
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As I’ve written before, I backed and received Radoslaw Ignatow’s Creative Kid bundle last year. It consists of fourteen games but my personal focus is on the eight Roll and Writes. That’s because that’s what I’m going to play on my own and that’s what I’m mostly likely to use in the classroom.

(Honestly, I don’t think I’ll be running any of these games in the classroom but I can dream. And watch me be wrong about what games would work or get played )

These are short and simple games. I wanted a happy medium between spending a blog each on them and giving them one paragraph so I’m reviewing them two at a time, in the order I tried them.

Doggy Race

Doggy Race is a mixture of Roll and Move with Set Collection. The game consists of a track made of three different symbols. Each turn, two side are rolled. Each player picks a die and ‘moves’ that many spaces, crossing off the space where you land on so you can keep track of where you are and what spaces you’ve collected.

Each space is worth one to three points and you gain bonus points for collecting X number of symbols and reaching the end point first. (The rules don’t say what happens if there’s a tie for reaching the end point first. I’d houserule that it doesn’t get awarded) Most points wins.

Honestly, Doggy Race is easily the weakest game that I’ve tried. And it all comes down to the fact that the decision tree is very narrow. Unlike many shared-die roll games, I think players will end up with identical boards. Either race for the end or go as slowly as possible to claim the most spaces. I honestly wonder if adding a third die would help to give players more choices to pursue the bonuses.

Doggy Race’s issues come down to the basic issues that come from Roll and Write in general. I can’t see using it for a full classroom but I can see using it for a smaller group of younger students because familiarity with Roll and Write will make it easier to teach.

My Farm

You use a dice pool to draw animals on a grid, draw fences around them and raise the value of types of animals. At the end of the game, you earn points for fenced in animals and most points wins.

Look, drawing stuff on a grid is a staple of Roll and Writes. And My Farm is one of the simplest ones I’ve seen that uses a dice pool. Heck, as long as you put the same type of animals together in the same pen, it doesn’t matter where you draw things.

As a gamer, there are a lot of similar games mid pick first for my own entertainment or a gamer group’s entertainment, including Ignatow’s earlier Alpakaland.

But, if I have just an hour to teach and I know some students have never seen a dice pool before, My Farm is a game I’d be looking at. These dice are the money you can spend each turn. You can buy farm animals, fences and upgrades. Any questions?

My Farm really fits the mission statement, a game for a classroom or other group setting.

*

I’ll be honest. These are not the strongest games in the collection. I’ll probably play them recreationally less than the other Roll and Write games in the collection. But they do have their place and uses.
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Tue Jan 25, 2022 6:26 am
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