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.

Archive for Roll and Write

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My April R&W

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, thanks to Radoslaw Ignatov, April ended up being another month of trying out new-to-me Roll and Writes. Eventually, I am sure I will take a break from learning R&Ws. However, I haven’t burnt out yet.

I’d already tried Some Kind of Genius from Ignatov. I added Mixture, Alpakaland, Elektrico, Pointree sand Jurassic Hunt to the list. I have already written about some of them and I’ll eventually write about the rest so I don’t feel the need to write about them individually.

But my general impression of Ignatov‘a work is that he has made a a very solid collection of games that are very well suited for casual gamers. He designed for them to be playable over video conferencing or even via forum, including space to record all the rolls. This does mean that certain dice manipulation mechanics like rerolls or dice flipping aren’t available. And I do like those mechanics but I appreciate the design choices.

The other R&W I learned in April was Fast Train to Miyajama from the fourth R&W design contest. It’s a cute little game that I can honestly see having mass market appeal.

And writing about it led me to this idea: Some Roll and Writes are dice games and some are board games that use pen and paper. This isn’t some amazing epyphy. It’s just a good way describe something I’ve been thinking about since, like, 2017.

Now, there is absolutely no line dividing the two groups. The gray area is pretty much the whole area. And this is absolutely not a quality judgement. I am not saying that ‘board’ games are better than ‘dice’ games. The former might be more complicated but even that feels like a gross generalization.

I do know some Roll and Writes got their design start as board games. Corinth is an obvious example and I understand Welcome to Dino World started out as a tile-laying design. However, I don’t think that’s a good definition either.

While I think that it’s a matter of intuition and intent, the real conclusion I’ve come to is that Roll and Write isn’t a mechanic or a genre. It’s a format and you can do a lot of things with that format. You can’t do everything with it but there’s a lot more than just Yahtzee!


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon May 3, 2021 9:56 pm
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Fast Train to Miyajima mixes colors to move trains

Lowell Kempf
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Fast Train to Miyajima is a game from the fourth R&W contest. As I’ve explored R&Ws, I have decided there is a sub genre that can be called ‘Trying to fire Yahtzee’. Fast Train could be described as trying to fire Qwixx. Which it doesn’t do but it’s still not bad.

The game is about twelve trains going to six different cities. Well, actually you are filling in boxes in twelve lines. Fast Train is pretty abstract and the theme wafer thin. The theme does justify the mechanical difference between fast trains and heavy trains, which is nice.

You are shipping goods to Miyajima, Rio, London, New York, Paris and Sidney. You also only have two trains for each city, a fast train and a heavy train. So the company you’re managing is apparently amazingly diverse and limited at the same time. The player sheet shows the twelve lines of boxes, two for each city. The cities are color coded: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Yes, this is important.

In addition to play sheets and writing utensils, you’ll need a red die, a yellow and a blue die. The active player will choose a die and roll it. Everyone will write that number in the appropriate colored line, either the fast train or the heavy train.

And here’s the clever bit. The active player chooses a second die and rolls it. You can either fill in a box in that color OR you can add it to the first die and add that sum the appropriate secondary color! Third die, same deal only you can add it to either of the first two dice.

The game ends when someone completes X number of trains. (X depends on the number of players) Each color is accessed individually. Basically, if you have more fast train boxes but a greater heavy train sum, you score lots of points. If you don’t, itty bitty points. Most points wins.

There are things I like about Fast Train. I like the color mixing and the game-of-chicken-scoring and the fact that the active player has choices that effect the game. I like the theme, as thin as it is. But the basic structure of the decisions is pretty simple. Small numbers in the fast train and big numbers in the heavy train. And I have to wonder if the game will drag with the higher end of the player count where you need to complete more trains. Still, net positive.

Some Roll and Write games are board games where the board and pieces are a piece of paper and pencil. And some are little dice games that you play while waiting for your food or when you’re too tired to play anything else. Fast Train is definitely in the second category.

Mind you, there’s a definite place for that kind of game. There’s plenty of times I’m tired!I have a folder of them I keep handy and Fast Train has been added to it.

Fast Train to Miyajima isn’t amazing but it is a solid little family-weight game that I could picture Gamewright publishing.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2442024/wip-fast-train-miya...
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Wed Apr 28, 2021 10:00 pm
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Alpakaland is as close to a sandbox R&W as I’ve seen

Lowell Kempf
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Alpakaland is a game about creating your very own Alpaca-themed amusement park. Which isn’t actually one of my personal dreams or even a sentence I thought I’d ever write. But I’ve written about Devil Bunny Needs A Ham so I’ve written weirder.

Alpakaland is one of those Roll and Write games where everyone has their own sheet and uses the same dice rolls. So it can be played solitaire or it can be played with as many people as you can cram in.

The core idea of the game is that you’re drawing a map on a grid. Which is a pretty common concept in Roll and Writes. However, you get a lot more free reign than in a lot of map drawing games I’ve played. There are six rounds and each round, a pool of six dice gets rolled and everyone gets to use those rolls.

You can spend pips to build roads or pen fencing. You can spend specific numbers and sums to build buildings that have to be specific shapes. You can spend dice to get alpacas or clowns. You can use dice to fill out an advertising track. And you can spend dice to increase the value of alpacas or buildings.

There are some placement restrictions (like, everything meets to be connected by one network of roads) but you can basically do whatever you want. The real restriction is that you have to pay for it. Calling Alpakaland a sandbox game is probably going too far but there are a lot of open-ended choices in the game. The dice determine how much you can do but I feel like the mistakes end up being your own.

And here’s where it’s good: you can whatever you want but you do not have the space or the dice to do everything you want. Your choices matter and they will affect what your final points are going to be. And I find it hard to believe that even a big group will end up with maps that look anything alike.

Alpakaland succeeds at being a game that is bigger than the dice and the piece of paper that make up it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 19, 2021 7:21 pm
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Mixture is a mixture of too much luck with lots of interesting ideas

Lowell Kempf
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Mixture is an odd ride.

Of the four Roll and Write games that Radoslaw Ignatov released early from his Kickstarter (we have them all now, thanks!), I feel like it is both the weakest and most interesting.

On the one hand, I think it is the most luck-based and feels like it has the most restrained choices. On the other hand, the structure of the game feels the most unique to me.

In Mixture, you are an alchemist working on their final exam by mixing up different concoctions. Each turn, you get three different ingredients that you have to add to a lattice that represents either an alchemy recipe book or a laboratory.

And here’s what I find different and interesting. It’s really a sliding puzzle game. You’re sliding ingredients into a grid that looks a crossword puzzle. You can’t jump over already placed ingredients or contaminated spaces so you have to do your best to plan ahead. (And, no, you’re not actually sliding anything. You’re rolling up symbols and crossing them off on the board) Your goal is to complete lines of symbols.

But... each turn you just roll one die. As a general rule of thumb, a Roll and Write built around single, unmodified die roll raises questions for me. It creates an environment that is very swingy. Of course, anytime you are rolling dice, luck is going to play a part. But with only one die, lick it gets a lot more control. Even two dice is a significant improvement. (That’s why Can’t Stop works) The only one die R&W that I really recommend is 13 Sheep and that works because the game is so slight.

Now, that die in Mixture gives you a choice of two different sets of three symbols and if you roll the same number three times, you can add one to get two different sets to work with. And there are a couple special actions and bonus symbols. So, you have options. There are definitely choices. But, compared to any other game I’ve looked at by Ignatov, Mixture feels the most constrained. Alpakaland, in comparison, feels like a sandbox R&W.

Still, I haven’t seen a Roll and Write like Mixture. (If you have, I’d love to heard about it) It’s an interesting system. And there is a version that involves direct conflict. I’m really curious to see that because I think that could really elevate Mixture.

Even if it is the weakest game I end up playing from Ignatov, Mixture has been worth trying out.
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Fri Apr 16, 2021 11:00 pm
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Some Kind of Genius starts my Ignatow journey

Lowell Kempf
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Some Kind of Genius is the first of Radoslaw Ignatow’s designs that I’ve tried (and that was because he released early as a bonus to his Kickstarter backers) Compared to the other designs he’s released since then, it is the most ‘boring’ design of his that I’ve seen.

Of course, boring in this case means using a mechanic I’ve seen before. At its heart, Some Kind of Genius is a game where you roll some dice and check off boxes. But that’s how you could describe Qwixx or That’s Pretty Clever or Roll Through the Ages so it’s in the company of games that I play over and over again.

In theory, Some Kind of Genius is themed around exercising your brain (which I guess you do do) In practice, it’s a bunch of sets of boxes printed over a picture of a brain. Each set represents a brain cell and each hemisphere is a network of neurons connecting the cells.

There are three colors of cells (which come in color-blind friendly shapes, by the way) and they come in three different flavors. They are: cross off specific numbers; have the dice add up to a specific number; and complete a very simple mathematical equation. Trust me, it all makes a lot of sense as soon as you look at it.

You roll six dice and then use those rolls to fill in boxes. That’s going to happen seven times and that’s game. On top of filling in the cells, you can use dice to fill in straights for bonus points in specific colors. And you can spend dice to duplicate die rolls via neurons.

After the seven rounds, you figure out your points. There’s bonus points for earning very specific numbers of colors of cells. And if you go over, you don’t get those points. Whoever gets the most points, wins. Unless you’re playing solitaire, of course. Then you are the winner.

What is hilarious is that the easiest way to explain Some Kind of Genius is to just show someone the player sheet. It’s very intuitive.

What Some Kind of Genius has is a lot of choices, particularly for a game that takes up so little time and space. By the end of the game, you won’t even have filled in half the board. So you have to priotize and the decisions you make will impact your final score.

Basically what I’m saying is that Some Kind of Genius doesn’t reinvent the wheel or come up with a new wheel, it is a very solid wheel. I have had fun playing Some Kind of Genous and will play it some more.

I currently think that completing a straight for bonus points in a color is the strongest play. However, that does mean dedicating six dice to that and without having the neurons to help you manipulate those rolls. And if you don’t complete the straight, those rolls are worth nothing.

Some Kind of Genius is a good casual Roll and Write and makes me look forward to the rest of Ignatow’s designs.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 12, 2021 5:38 pm
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Looking back and finding out that Wurfel Bingo was a milestone

Lowell Kempf
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I have been a big fan of legit multi-player solitaire games ever since I finally got my hands on a copy of Take It Easy more than ten years ago. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot to be said for competition. Trying to kick each other’s teeth in is an important part of gaming. However, non-confrontation has its place too and can be the only way to get some people at the table.

In the past year, games that use the ‘bingo with strategy’ mechanic of Take It Easy have become more important because, hey, no contact. Perfect for social distancing.

And if your social distancing is over video conferencing, Roll and Write multi-player solitaire (and I have driven the jargon train off the cliff) is the perfect format. I love Take It Easy and Cities/Limes and Karuba but everyone needs the tiles and the board. With R&W, one person needs the dice and/or cards and everyone else just needs the player sheet and something to write with.

These days, Roll and Writes have pretty much exploded. And, judging by the number of design contests focused on Roll and Writes, that’s not going away. (The fact that they have to be relatively easy to manufacture has to be a factor in that.) And a lot of them are multi-player solitaires.

I have yet to be in a position to actually play one via some form of video conferencing... but I’m ready if anyone ever asks me!

While the number of R&R multi-player solitaires might be in the triple digets, the first one I came across was Wurfel Bingo. I refuse to believe it’s the earliest example but it was only the third multi-player solitaire I had come across (and the second one was Take It To the Limit, the direct sequel to Take It Easy!)

Wurfel Bingo, also known as High Score, is a five-by-five grid that you fill out with the sum of two dice. You score lines basically by creating ‘poker’ hands with the numbers and the diagonals score double. Its origins are shrouded in a bit of mystery since Reiner Knizia published close to the same rules fifteen years before it was published.

When I first discovered Wurfel Bingo, it was a revelation. I did a lot of gaming out of a bag and having a Take It Easy experience where people needed a pencil instead of 27 tiles was an amazing space saver.

While the game is pretty abstract and simple by the standards that have developed over the last ten years, it’s still pretty strong. I particularly like how the odds of what numbers can be rolled with two dice means you can make informed decisions. Even if that does mean everyone tries to fill out the diagonals with sevens.

Since I first found and tried out Wurfel Bingo, I’ve found a lot of games that fill a similar niche. And it’s a niche that I think has become increasing important and valuable. It is no longer the top of my list for games I’d recommend. However, looking back, it was a milestone for me.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 5, 2021 4:04 pm
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My March R&W

Lowell Kempf
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Still not going to make this a regular thing. However, Roll and Writes are such a quick and easy way to get a new game fix

I’ve already written about how much I’ve enjoyed Yard Builder. I’ve kept playing it and kept enjoying it. The design space is just large enough to make the decision tree interesting.

A big part of game design and game experience is how much control you have and how it is limited. (And sometimes, in games like Go or Chess, the limiting factor is entirely your opponent) If you have total control, you aren’t playing a game. You’re doing a jigsaw puzzle. And with a solitaire Roll and Write, the dice are your limitation.

Yard Builder, with 3d20, offers me enough choices that I felt like I had some control but still had tough choices.

I also tried out a game I had overlooked from GenCan’t’s 2017 Roll and Write, Benny Sperling’s Wreck and Roll. It’s a game that seems to have been designed to fit on a business card. The theme of the game is destroying a city with a tank. In practice, you’re filling a grid. You also have special power tracks and a health track.

Honestly, it seems like just filling in the grid is the strongest strategy and just using the special power tracks to avoid taking damage. The minimal time/space/component aspect will let Wreck and Roll see some more play from me but I think there are better minimal Roll and Writes.

On the other hand, Some Kind of Genius from Radoslaw Ignatow exceeded my expectations. It was a bonus game he released early to backers of his R&W Kickstarter. And it makes me feel like backing it was a good call.

While the game is fundamentally about filling in boxes that are printed over an image of a brain, it does a good job forcing you to pick and choose your priorities. You can’t do everything . After more plays, I’ll have to write about it some more.

As ever, Roll and Writes continue to keep me amused with minimal moving parts.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Apr 2, 2021 3:24 pm
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Yeah, this is an unpaid ad for a Kickstarter. Not going to lie about it.

Lowell Kempf
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It has been a while since I actually backed a Kickstarter project. However, Radow Ignatow’s A Lot of Games bundle managed to win me over.

And yes, it’s a Print and Play bundle. I’ve had enough issues with getting physical product actually shipped to me that I have resolved to only back Print and Plays. I figure I’m more likely to get the end product if the creators just need to send me an email.

And it’s a collection of one page Roll and Writes. Which admittedly means that it’s less physical content then a lot of Print and Play stuff I’ve backed. However, it does mean that it will be beyond easy to make and easier to convince other people to play since it’ll look close to what a published copy would look like. (I don’t make the prettiest PnP stuff)

In addition to being something that I’m into and the kind of stuff I’m already making (and playing), I’m encouraged by the fact that Ignatow already successfully ran this project in Polish. So both they and the project have a track record.

However, what was the real selling point for me was that each game is offered in full color, low color and black and white, as well as full page and half page. That says to me that Ignatow understands their audience.

Of course, the real real I’m blogging about this is because I’m hoping more people will get interested and the project will make more stretch goals

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/radek-ignatow/a-lot-of-...

Originally over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Mar 29, 2021 4:03 pm
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Clockmaster makes drawing a clock face fun

Lowell Kempf
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Clockmaster is a game about drawing a clock face. As far as elevator pitches go, it leaves me cold (and I couldn’t wait to try Bohnanza sixteen years ago!) And yet, when I actually played the game, it had an immediate ‘let’s do that again’ effect.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2488929/wip-clockmaster-sol...

The whole thing, rules and all, fits on one sheet of paper, which is why I tried it in the first place. (It’s a PnP, R&W solitaire. No, jargon doesn’t get in the way of communication ) The actual play area consists of a blank clock face, a list of special actions and an hourglass with 24 circles.

You play with a pool of four dice. Roll all of them and then you assign two dice to the clock, one to action (which is different than special actions) and one to sand. An action die of 1-3 means you just use one of the clock dice while 4-6 means you use both.

You use the clock dice to fill in the numbers of the clock. If you’re using just one die, you write one of the numbers down in the right place. With two dice, you can add, subtract, multiply or divide the number. You can also use the turn to draw in the minute or hour hand regardless of what the dice say.

There are also four special actions. You can use each one once and you cross them out when you use them. The include things like rerolling a die or flipping a die.

You use the sand die to fill in that many circles in the hourglass. If you fill in the hour glass before you finish the clock face, you lose.

As I already mentioned, the theme doesn’t do much for me and I like games about bean farming or trading in the Mediterranean. However, there’s a lot of interesting dice manipulation for such a small space.

It’s not perfect. I find the most 1-3 action of just writing in a die’s number seems pretty dull compared to doing arithmetic with two dice. And, while the odds are against it, ‘bad’ die rolls can fill in the hourglass super fast and it takes fourteen turns to complete the clock face. It’s dice so it’s luck but it can still be annoying.

Apparently the designer is with me on the theme since they took the core mechanic and used it for a game about secret agents deactivating a bomb

Clockmaster isn’t my new favorite Roll and Write but it is a solid one-page work with more interesting choices than I expected. It went from ‘meh, it’s one page so I’ll try it’ to ‘oooh!’

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Mar 19, 2021 5:31 pm
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Yard Builder - nothing new but also nothing stressful

Lowell Kempf
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Yard Builder is a roll-and-write where everyone draws a yard on their own player sheet from the same die rolls. It’s one of those games where the number of players is limited only by the number of player sheets and everyone’s ability to see the die rolls.

In Yard Builder, you are filling in a five-by-five grid with different landscaping elements. Paths, garden squares, house squares, etc. Someone rolls three twenty-sided dice. Then anyone can pick any of the three dice. There’s a handy table on one side of the player sheet that tells you what yard features the die rolls let you draw in. After the first square, you need to drawn in squares that are touching already drawn in squares (diagonals count) You get points for groups of like things and special unique features that get special scoring.

There is absolutely nothing new in Yard Builder. I’ve seen every element in it literally dozens of times. My files are full of games that use the Take It Easy ‘Bingo with Stategy’ system.

And I’m okay with that.

I tried out this game on a very Monday Monday and it really brightened my mood. Drawing in a yard just felt good. It’s just a very happy little game about landscaping.

The designer stated that the goal for the game was for it to be relaxing. They even included a variation where you ignore the placement restriction to make for an even more casual game. If a casual, no stress game that could by played via video conferencing was the mission statement, they succeeded.

Yard Builder isn’t a game that I’d recommend for a ‘serious’ gaming experience and there are a lot of serious gaming friends I won’t be recommend it to. However, I have already started recommending to non-gaming friends who I think would find it healing.

Originally drawn in at a relaxed pace at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Mar 12, 2021 4:40 pm
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