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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Dicember? What’s that?

Lowell Kempf
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December 2021 is the seventh annual Dicember!

Never heard of it before now though.

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/291599/item/8612155#item8...

Anyway, the idea is to challenge yourself to play dice games in the month of December. The normal challenge is to play fifteen different dice games during December. The harder challenge to 31 dice games. The really hard challenge is 31 dice games and play them on different days. You know, a different game every day of the month.

Okay, I decide to go in on the normal challenge. Over the last couple years, I’ve really gotten into dice games, particularly solitaire Roll and Write.

The rules allow for solitaire play, as well as IOS and online play, as long as they actually, you know, follow the rules. If a game plays the same digitally as it does analog, it’s good.

So I sat down and made a list of the dice games that I play, one way or another, on a regular basis. And, yeah, I hit fifteen different dice games without a problem. For me, Dicember is any given month at the moment.

For a moment, I flirted with the idea of learning fifteen NEW TO ME dice games in December. But, since starting a new job, my time to game has shrunk and so has my drive to binge solitaire games. And I want to enjoy learning games, not blitz through them so fast that I don’t remember anything about them.

Still, there are R&W games on the stack of games I want to learn. And there are plenty of R&W games I’ve already learned I could try again. I know that I don’t have the time to do the really hard challenge but I will _try_ the medium challenge.

Maybe every month can be Dicember but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth celebrating.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Nov 22, 2021 6:40 pm
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My October R&W

Lowell Kempf
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As has been the case for the last month or so, I relied on Robin Gibson to supply me with Roll and Write games to experience.

For my Paper Pinball board to explore for October, I picked Sorcery School Sleuths. It’s twist was trading multi-ball option for a mechanic called timer. When you set off the timer (and there’s only one), it’s worth as much as all the points that you earned up to that point. The board trades in the control multi-ball gives you for a big gamble.

Honestly, if this was a stand alone game, I’d not like it as much. However, it is a tweak in a system that I’ve been exploring. It’s a simple dice game that has room for experimentation. It isn’t a board I’d recommend from the Paper Pinball series for someone who just wants to play one but I had fun with it.

I also tried out two more of the Legends of Dsyx games: Fairy Fair and Mushroom Ale.

Fairy Fair is a game where you use your dice pool to draw a map of a fair grounds. And the game is an unrelenting challenge of restrictions tied to a push-your-luck mechanic. And the grid becomes a lot tighter and more claustrophobic than I expected. It blends together mechanics I’ve seen before in a good way and I had more fun than I was afraid I’d have.

Mushroom Ale is about planting, harvesting and fermenting mushrooms. I’m going to be honest, my one play was basically was about learning the motions of the game. I don’t yet know to play the game well. Which isn’t a knock. Yes, it’s nice for a game to be intuitive but having a learning curve isn’t a bad thing. I haven’t determined if Mushroom Ale has depth or just complexity but finding that out can be fun.

Since picking the Legends of Dsyx up again, I’ve decided to try and learn all the games this year. I’ve got three more to go. While Robin Gibson is not my new favorite designer, they do make consistently good solitaire Roll and Writes. Yeah, that’s a niche but it’s a niche that I think there’s a real need for. I’m actually surprised that Robin Jarvis isn’t more well known.

The other game I want to comment on is 13 Sheep. Our son had his fall break in October and I started a new job so my gaming time was minimal. 13 Sheep was my go to for getting some analog gaming in, although it has never left regular rotation really.

My opinion of 13 Sheep has softened over regular play. A game about fencing in sheep before the wolves come, it uses just one die and there are only ten turns, tops. It is a very slight, very minimal game. There isn’t much there. But within that not much, there are some interesting and legitimate decisions to make.

In other words, in the incredibly narrow field of games that take only a couple minutes to play, 13 Sheep is outstanding. And sometimes, that’s the game I need.
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Tue Nov 2, 2021 10:11 pm
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The 2021 PnP Solitaire Design Contest is refreshing

Lowell Kempf
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Right now, we are in that magical period of the 2021 PnP solitaire contest where all the entries have been entered but the contest hasn’t been judged yet. So you get to look at everything.

(Hey, some designers take stuff down fast)

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2685494/2021-solitaire-prin...

Looking at 2021, two thirds of the games I learned were Roll and Writes. Which works perfectly well for me. If time and space are limited, Roll and Writes can be a really strong investment for your limited time and space.

However, I noticed that the ninth Roll and Write contest didn’t excite me that much. To be fair, nine contests over the course of three years is a lot. A lot of content and a lot of games but there can also be some burnout.

And looking at the entries in the PnP Solitaire Contest this year, I’m seeing stuff that peaks my interest and I want to try. Mind you, at the rate I’ve been crafting lately, I may not get to them until next year. (But I have a list!)

Clearly, despite Roll and Writes being good for me this year, I crave other media of gaming. Which is only healthy. (And maybe I’ll look at that ninth contest with different eyes after a break)

For most of this year, I’ve been writing about what Roll and Writes I’ve learned each month. At least one month, that pushed me to learn more Roll and Writes. Which was great but maybe I should make it a New-To-Me post.
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Tue Oct 19, 2021 2:40 am
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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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My September R&W

Lowell Kempf
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I have to wonder if I hadn’t gotten into the habit writing about learning and examining Roll and Writes, if I would be trying out so many new ones. Because I know part of the reason I pushed myself last month was so I could write something.

Near the start of the month, I tried out a game called Runner. It is quite literally a video game platformer as a R&W. And the game basically breaks down to ‘Roll high and you’ll do well. Roll low and you’ll do poorly’

But… it wasn’t even a contest entry, let alone a published product. It is just a little something someone noodled up and decided to share with the world. So my real reaction is ‘Thanks for sharing, dude’

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2424850/runner-side-scrolle...

And that looked like what my month of game learning would be. However, in the last week of September, I got an itch to learn more. So I went back to Robin Jarvis’s Legends of Dsyx series. It’s been over a year since I last tried one of them.

I view the Legends of Dsyx as an interesting experiment. It is a series of twelve games and they all fall on the board game side of the Roll and Write spectrum as opposed to checking boxes or writing in numbers (Not that they aren’t great games in that category). Each game fits on a sheet of paper, rules and all. Which is near and convenient but also kind of scrunches the games both physically and mentally.

This time, I tried Lockpicks and Hall of the Dwarven King.

Lockpicks is one of the later games but it may be the simplest. You are drawing a line through grids, having to stop at specific squares in order to pick the locks of treasure chests. Die rolls determine what kind of lines you can draw. The clever bit is that the loot is where you get all your dice manipulation from.

Hall of the Dwarven King, one of the oldest games in the series, is more intricate. You are drawing a map of a cave kingdom (drawing maps show up a lot in the series) but the actual mechanics are a half step from worker placement. I’m not sure that there isn’t a single optimal strategy but the process is fun.

My original opinion of the Legends of Dsyx is still there. I can’t help but feel they are more intricate than deep, that their decision tree isn’t as big as it looks.

At the same time, I really enjoy them and they feel like playing a larger board game on a sheet of paper. The ability to feel like I’ve played a ‘big’ game with just a page or three and under a half hour is a big part of why Roll and Writes work for me. The Legends of Dsyx embodies that so well.

I do wonder what Robin Jarvis would do with two sheets of paper, through.
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Mon Oct 4, 2021 6:53 pm
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Funny how Roll Through the Ages didn’t change my life

Lowell Kempf
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Looking back, I’m surprised that Roll Through the Ages didn’t turn me into a Roll and Write fan. It certainly did a lot more to interest me than Catan Dice, which was my first foray into designer Roll and Writes.

To be fair, it did come out around the same time as Hasbro’s Express line, as well as when dice versions of games like Zooleretto or Bohnanza were coming out. So it was at a time when I was looking at more dice games. Just not necessarily Roll and Write games.

What is hilarious is that, when I first tried Roll Through the Ages, I kept on asking myself ‘this is a game that I’m playing with a sheet of paper and takes less than a half hour. Is this for real?’ Boy, how I and the industry of gaming has changed.

At the time, I really could not consider it not to be a civilization game. And I still can’t. It doesn’t have the scope or breadth that a civilization game requires. I do view it as an engine builder though and that’s prettt cool.

The game is not without its flaws. The basic version (and that’s what I mostly play) has almost no interaction and it can be swingy and there can be runaway leaders.

But the physical game has minimal footprint, it plays fast and you can play it online. The convenience it has outweighs the other issues for me. Thanks to Yucata, it’s a game I’ve been playing almost constantly with long distance friends for years. It isn’t perfect but it keeps on being fun.

But, at the time, I didn’t think oh, a piece of paper is replacing the board, pawns, cards and tokens I’d expect for a game like this. I just thought, hey, neat dice game.
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Tue Sep 21, 2021 2:47 am
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How I define Roll and Write

Lowell Kempf
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While doing some notes on Roll Through the Agesfor a blog post that I may never bother finishing, I found myself asking what is the line between a Roll and Write and every other side games

And, of course, the answer is that definitions are arbitrary. While there are definitive examples of Roll and Write, like Qwixx, there is plenty of room for people obsessed with semantics to quibble over it. So I’m just worried about my own personal definition.

I found myself asking the question when I realized I had started playing Roll Through the Ages and Monopoly Express (both games I still enjoy) at the same time. While you use a peg board to track resources in Roll Through the Ages, you do track all the stuff you build and develop on a player sheet. And while Monopoly Express makes really nice use of specialty dice, all you write down is your score.

So what do I think is the important part of a Roll and Write? I’m going to say the write. The player sheet has to be an active part of the game and the decisions you make. If you’re just tracking your score, it’s just not the same.

In Yahtzee, you have to choose which scoring how you’re marking each turn. That’s a Roll and Write. In Cosmic Wimpout, you just track points. That’s not a Roll and Write. Not to me at least.

And I’m not picky about the randomizer. Dice, cards, time stamp, some other way of generating random information. It’s all good as far as I’m concerned.

It may not be a perfect definition since Dungeons and Dragons would qualify as a Roll and Write.
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Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:12 pm
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My August R&W

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August came close to ending what has been my monthly learning new Roll and Writes. Which was never an actual goal of mine. It just kept happening August was just a busy month but I did manage to learn a few.

While I was already familiar with Robin Gibson’s Paper Pinball series, I tried a couple boards that I hadn’t tried before.

I’d played an earlier version of Sherwood 2146 but I tried the most recent version this time. I also tried a board from the second season, Squishington Goes to Venus. (Judging by the art, Squishington is a budgie that NASA sent to the planet Venus)

Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure of mine, a game series that has slowly grown on me. They are very much part of the roll-them-dice-and-fill-in-boxes school of R&W. Which can be brilliant (The Clever family of games, for instance) but I’d call Paper Pinball just okay, if amusing.

I intentionally tried a very early board and a later board. And the differences were definitely there. Sherwood 2146 is so very simple and the decisions border on being mindless. Squishington, while still very simple, actually gave me choices and actual interactions between board elements.

Paper Pinball is still strictly a guilty pleasure but if someone asked me to recommend a board, it would be from season two. I will save season one for when I’m feeling brain dead, which means they will still see play.

The other Roll and Write I tried out for the first time is Stonemaier’s Rolling Realms. Holy cow, that was a completely different experience from Paper Pinball.

The game consists of nine micro-games, each inspired by one of Stonemaier’s larger games. It was developed as a game folks could play together long distance when they are under lockdown.

I’m not going to try to evenly lightly summarize Rolling Realms. It definitely uses the idea of there being way more to do than you can ever get done.

There have been ten different versions of the game, not counting the official version that is coming out. That makes it a little weird for me to access. And I’ll need more plays to really get even a vague handle on how many actual decisions the game has.

The only real issue I’ve had is that fitting all the micro-games and the rules on one sheet of paper leads to rule questions. The published version will have a rule book so that should clear that up.

September looks to be busy too so I don’t know if I’ll get in any new games. Even if I don’t, it’s been a better run than I expected.
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Sat Sep 4, 2021 6:22 pm
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My July R&W

Lowell Kempf
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At some point, I’m not going to have learned enough Roll and Writes to justify a monthly commentary. I really expected to hit that point before now. But, nope, not yet.

The first R&W I tried this month was Halloween Roll and Fright. I’m not sure where I actually found it. The board is a six by six grid. You roll three dice and assign two dice as coordinates and the last one as a map element. If you roll doubles, you can check off Halloween critters on a list.

It… wasn’t good. Between the restrictions that the dice have you and placement restrictions, I found I actually didn’t have a lot of control or choices.

Next up was a game called Maztec Duel. It was from one of the R&W contests and, from what I can tell, was designed to as PR for a larger game. You used two dice to make several steps of picking out and placing buildings on a grid. It reminded me just a little of Elasund or Blue Moon City in that building took multple steps.

But they crunched the rules down one page. Great for duplexing, laminating and done. But not great for making the rules clear. Even looking at the design forum and other people’s questions, I’m not sure I got it right and constantly looking for clarification dragged the game down.

Then I tried another contest game, Assault on the Colossus. If it wasn’t inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, I don’t believe it. I liked the theme of climbing up a giant monster to kill it but I felt like the dice determined everything and I didn’t have any real choices. There is some dice manipulation but it still felt like there one obvious choice or no choice.

After those three games, Puerto Miau was a relief. A roll and move and write game, Puerto Miau is simply okay. However, it is a fully realized and functional game. Contest games are very much prototypes but it was still nice to play a game where the rules were clear and I had choices.

(At that point, I stopped trying to learn new Roll and Writes and revisited 30 Rails because I was worried it wasn’t as good as I remembered. Fortunately, it was even better)

After that, I started trying Roll and Writes that were more established.

Radoslaw Ignatow’s Time Machine (easily his least inspired title) has you use two dice per turn to set the dials on the time machine. The settings plus connections between dials generate a number which you use to move down the scoring track. Bigger numbers are better but ending on specific points gets you bonus points. I enjoyed it but I felt like had a lot less control than his games with pools of six dice.

As I wrote elsewhere, I _finally_ played Utopia Engine. And it was really good!

The last game I learned in July was Castles of Burgundy the Dice Game. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the full game, I could see how that game inspired the dice game and I did enjoy it. As a solitaire game, my initial impressions are strong.

I know that August see not nearly as many new R&W experiences but there are still unplayed games in the pile.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.con
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Mon Aug 2, 2021 11:08 pm
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Utopia Engine justifies the hype

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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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