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 February R&W

Lowell Kempf
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Every solitaire game I taught myself how to play in February was a Roll and Write. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve done that but I feel like unpacking my thoughts about the experience this time.

Santa’s Sourhern Cross is a variation on tracing a pattern without lifting your pencil. The twist is that you randomly create the pattern on dots on a map of New Zealand. It ultimately is an exercise in creating a puzzle that doesn’t have a solution and it was very unsatisfying.

I am willing to try oddball experimental PnP games because that’s the best place to see concepts and ideas that you won’t see anywhere else. Its the legit punk world of gaming. But sometimes, that means playing something that doesn’t work on a fundamental level.

https://richdurham.itch.io/santas-southern-cross

On the other hand, that’s kind of what I expected when I tried out Clockmaster from the fifth Roll and Write contest. You use four dice to draw a clock face before you fill in the timer. Which sounds super dull but I found myself playing it four times in a row. There are some design choices I question but the game went from forgettable to justifying more discussion at a latter blog.

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

On the third hand, I went into Bargain Basement Bathysphere with high expectations and it hasn’t disappointed yet. I am going to get a lot of blogs out of it. I have looked ahead to chapter one but I’m trying not to spoil the game by reading through it.

One conclusion I’ve come to is that I need to stop trying to go to the end of the track every time since that kills me every time. I need to prioritize staying alive, particularly with the long game in mind.

I also want to mention my further play of Handful o Hazards. I had predicted that the second set of cards, which turn the game from random scenarios to a campaign game would dramatically improve it and I was right. It boosts the game from a cute little dice game (which is nice but easy to find) to something more interesting.

So much of my gaming time are tiny bits of free time as opposed to sitting down for a longer, more formal playing time. Hence all that little Roll and Writes. Print and Play is my hobby focus right now but I’m pretty sure it won’t always be. However, I have a feeling PnP R&Ws will remain a mainstay for me.

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Mar 3, 2021 1:58 am
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Paper Pinball has become a guilty pleasure

Lowell Kempf
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My third go around with the Paper Pinball series from Metal Snail has let the series slide into becoming a guilty pleasure for me.

With that said, my earlier issues with the games still stand. They represent the lightest end of the Roll and Write spectrum. While the artwork reflects the theme, the mechanics really don’t. It is easy to choose what moves to make and I do feel that there is a dominant strategy. And, even by the standards of light roll and write games, luck can play an overwhelming part.

However, in the year since I first looked at the games, a number of things have caused me to reevaluate them.

The biggest one being quarantine and quarantine parenting. Over the last year, having a solitaire game that I can play in less than five minutes and then get back to adulting has been a very big deal. More than that, one that is analog, not digital, is quite nice.

I also have to note that my first exposure to Paper Pinball was to the three earliest boards that predated PnP Arcade. Later developed boards are, quite frankly, better. Better art, better balance and cuter little individual tweaks.

Finally, I have played so much worse light Roll and Write games as I’ve looked for mental coffee breaks over the last year

Now, I don’t think they are prefect. I think there are tons of deeper and more fascinating Roll and Write games out there. Metal Snail’s other Roll and Write line, the Legends of Dsyx, is more interesting in my arrogant opinion. And I think when I revisit Sid Sackson’s Solitaire Pinball or finally try WhizKids’ Super-Skill Pinball, I will find mechanics closer to a metal ball bouncing around a machine.

But, as I said at the start, Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure. It’s not perfect. There are plenty of flaws. But it does a good job amusing me. And that’s what a guilty pleasure should do.
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Fri Feb 5, 2021 10:21 pm
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The Clever dice games are a system

Lowell Kempf
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While I consider Clever Hoch Drei the first game I’ve taught myself this year (after 2020, I decided to start with a game I felt confident would be good), I have come to think of the Clever games as a system as opposed to a series of games.

Between That’s Pretty Clever, Twice As Clever, Clever Hoch Drei (which I’m sure will be published as Clever Cubed if it hasn’t already been), the bonus boards for Pretty and Twice, AND at least one fan-made board, there’s a bunch of distinct boards that still use the same dice-drafting core. Once you have the basic concept done, you can play any of the games. However, learning how to play each board well does take some work.

One of the things I look at when it comes to dice driven games is the idea that there are no intrinsically bad rolls. Oh, there can be situationally nightmarishly horrible rolls but I don’t want a game where you have to roll all sixes all the time. Castles of Burgundy is a great example of that but it is more complicated than most Roll and Writes. (I am planning on trying the roll and write version this year)

The Clever system doesn’t quite hit the threshold of every roll can be good but it has taken stupid plays for me not to be able to use every roll. As a basic rule of thumb, I feel I can safely say that the Clever system makes every roll viable.

When I first tried That’s Pretty Clever last year, I wrote that it killed Yahtzee for gamers. (Qwixx kills Yahtzee for everyone else) And that seems more true than ever. While I love abstract games, they have a bigger hurdle to be accessible and the Clever system makes that hurdle.

The worst thing I can say is that the Clever system can get to be formulaic, particularly if you are playing it solitaire the way I do. But that’s a sin most solitaire or roll and write games can have. And having so many variations helps keep it fresh.

This started out as a review of Clever Hoch Drei (I am having more fum with it than Twice but not as much as Pretty) but turned into an overview of the series. And the Clever games are ones that I can play over and over again.


Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.cim
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Fri Jan 22, 2021 7:45 pm
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2020

Lowell Kempf
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I don’t think there has been a year that will have more retrospectives than 2020 for maybe a generation. That is a huge sentence but I think it’s still true. This has been a grueling, devastating, damaging year. People all around the world will be feeling 2020 for years to come. 2020’s going to get its own Dewey Decimal number.

We have been luckier than so many people we know, let alone the wider world. And this has still been the most exhausting, stressful year of our lives.

Quarantine led to remote schooling and having to be the entertainment center meant a lot less R&R time. Short stories became incredibly valuable for me. And gaming has helped keep me a little saner.

Print and Play, solitaire micro-games have been a big deal for me in 2020. I already enjoyed them a lot but 2020 made them a focal point of my gaming. PNPArcade was a really solid source for them. When I had a stack of print-outs sitting I front of me to be cut and I felt like I had just walked into the exhibit hall of GenCon, I knew how confined quarantine had made us and how much we needed the little things.

Digital and online gaming has always been a big part of my gaming hobby so it didn’t feel particularly significant for me as far as 2020 was concerned. But I did play a lot of board games, thanks to the power of computers. In particular, I attended a coupe of virtual conventions. Which wasn’t as good as in-person but was incredibly important for fostering a sense of connection and community.

Finally, my positive, warm, fuzzy feelings towards Roll and Write games got a huge boost. While it goes back into how valuable Print and Play has been for me, Roll and Write still deserves a special mention. When time and space are limited, Roll and Writes offer some of the meatiest options for me. More than that, they are the best options when someone has asked me for a game they can make and play when they can’t get out.

2020 has been a devastating year all around. I think I speak for everyone when let us hope that 2021 is better.
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Thu Dec 31, 2020 7:43 pm
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Lifeguard is not bad but that might not be enough

Lowell Kempf
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I’ll be honest. While I look at every entry in PnP contests and download them, the low ink, low construction games are the ones that get made right off the bat. (Larger games require consideration) Which is why I’ve already tried out Lifeguard: Surf and Rescue. It’s a Roll and Write that consists of one page of play sheet and one page of rules. I duplexed it and laminated and was done in one sheet of paper.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2490831/wip-lifeguard-surf-...

Lifeguard is all about rescuing drownings surfers. In addition to the play sheet, you will need something to write with and a couple of dice. Yes, this game has a really low buy-in requirements.

The actual board is a grid. You set up the game by rolling the dice and then spending the pips on resources (which consist of three different ways to manipulate dice, ranging from +/- 1 to refills) After that you roll the dice and place drowning surfers on those coordinates. You can adjust the difficulty by adding or subtracting and drowning people.

Okay, here’s how you play. Roll two dice. Choose one of them and draw a line straight up from the X axis until you hit the other number on the Y axis. Then drawn a straight line to the left. If you touch any drowning surfers, you save them. If you can’t, use resources to adjust the dice until you can. Save all the surfers and you win. Use up all your resources and you lose. Scores are based on how efficiently you rescue drowning surfers.

I have to admit that I read the rules wrong the first time I tried to play. Based purely on my own preconceptions, I assumed you were drawing a diagonal line, not a right angle. And that made the game literally impossible. Getting the rules right made quite a difference.

Honestly, the game was better than I expected but I went in with very low expectations and a misunderstanding that broke the game. My favorite part of the game is the dice manipulation, which is clear and cleanly laid out.

But the big problem the game has is that it’s too easy. After a decent handful of games, the only time I lost was when I rolled a four to buy resources. I feel pretty sure that rolling a six or better (and you do get a mulligan) will give you enough resources to win the game. And a d6 is small enough that a little dice manipulation can go a long way.

Too easy isn’t an absolute deathknell for a game. I still periodically play Solitaire Spellbook Swapping from last year’s solitaire contest still comes out. It’s easy to solve but it’s an amusing puzzle. But it’s the exception to the rule.

Being easy to pull together can be an underrated virtue in PnP games and one I keep in mind when recommending games to folks who don’t normally PnP. However when it’s a game’s strongest point, it’s not the best.
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Fri Nov 27, 2020 9:05 pm
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My changing opinion of Handful o Hazards

Lowell Kempf
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Handful o’ Hazards is the first (but not the last!) game I’ve tried from the 2020 PnP Solitaire Contest. It’s a set of tiny little scenarios for a tiny little dice system. Each scenario is on a wallet-sized card and I’m a big fan of games that you can take anywhere.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2481607/wip-handful-hazards...

Each card is its own little game and scenario with each one is a generic scene from an action movie. An unnamed archeologist with a fedora who clearly not a reference to any Harrison Ford running through a hall of traps. Escaping a biker gang or a giant shark. That sort of thing.

The actual mechanics are roll five dice. Check off two pairs on rows with the fifth die getting checked off on the side. You need to complete all the rows with Ws (for win) before you complete any area that has an L (for lose)

Sooooo... the game lifts Sid Sackson’s Solitaire Dice/Can’t Stop Express/a-bunch-of-other-names entirely and adds a tiny veneer of theme and some restrictions. The end result is very playable but doesn’t have the more flexible open structure of Sid Sackson’s game.

While I realize that the is supposed to be a handful of tiny stand-alone games so you can pull a card out anywhere and have a quick game, I think it would be stronger if it was more of a campaign. That could be just having the scenarios form one story or completing a scenario giving you a tiny bonus (like a one time +/- to a die) That would make the game stand out more from Sackson’s game.

BIG EDIT: aaand I found out that there is already an expansion set of five scenarios that did exactly what I wanted from Handful O Hazards. Handful of Hoodoo lets you play a campaign of three scenarios. You choose from two level one and two level two scenarios with the final level being the same. And you will get bonuses and penalties depending on if you win or lose scenario.

I actually quite like how the bonuses and penalties are handled. Depending on what you get, you modify the rows as opposed to dice manipulation. Seeing as how I’ll probably be playing the game while waiting in the car with a dice app, this is elegant and functional design choice.

And there’s at least one more expansion on the way.

I have to admit that Handful of Hoodoo completely flipped my opinion of Handful o Hazards. It went from a hack of a game I like that hasn’t had anything interesting done to it to ‘oh, now this is interesting.’ I’ll actually recommend it to folks I know who like the Sackson game.

I look for either two things from a PnP solitaire game, apart from being any good. Either I want to easily be able to get a quick game in or I want a meaty game. Handful o Hazards does a nifty job of the former.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Nov 16, 2020 8:06 pm
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Twice As Clever isn’t bad but it isn’t that much more clever

Lowell Kempf
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When I learned that I could play Twice As Clever as a solitaire online, I knew that I was going to be doing just that. (http://www.brettspielwelt.de/Other/Clever/) Yes, I had to actually find the rules but that wasn’t too hard.

Now, Twice As Clever is one of the sequels to That’s Pretty Clever, which has become one of my favorite Roll and Writes, as well as being a game that should fire Yahtzee for dedicated gamers. So I went in both with a predilection towards liking it but with the question ‘would I rather play this rather than That’s Pretty Clever?’

Like it’s parent game, Twice As Clever is a dice drafting game. There are five color-coded zones that you use color coded dice to score in, plus a white die that’s wild. The active player gets three rolls and three picks while everyone else gets to pick through their discards.

Okay, here’s the selling point. Twice As Clever is more intricate. In addition to previous bonuses, there’s an ability to put dice back into the pool before rerolling. And each scoring area is more complex than the older game. For instance, getting points in the green area requires two separate rolls and subtracting the second from the first, even if it’s a negative number.

So, while Twice As Clever has almost the exact same structure as That’s Pretty Clever, the puzzles are completely different.

I have a bunch of interlocking questions to unpack about Twice As Clever. Do I think it’s a better game than That’s Pretty Clever? Would I rather play it? Would I rather own and teach it?

After about a dozen plays, my preliminary answer is ‘probably not’. Especially for the last one.

Twice As Clever is really what you play after you get bored with That’s Pretty Clever. Yeah, I might very well get the app for variety in solitaire play. But for a gaming group, I think you’d move on to a completely different light dice game. I also think that the original game is more intuitive and less swingy and that’s what I’m looking for if I’m going to be teaching it, particularly to a broader audience.

Twice As Clever is fun and I will play it some more. However, it doesn’t break enough new ground. The changes add more intricacy than depth. If you only play one Clever game, the original is still my recommendation.

And I will try out Clever hoch Drei at some point

Originally written but not rolled at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Nov 13, 2020 4:37 pm
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Wow, that’s a lot of R&W contests

Lowell Kempf
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I read in the Boardgame Geek newsletter that the sixth Roll and Write Design Contest has started. It won’t be done until the end of January and will be fun to follow it.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2532785/6th-roll-write-game...

... Wait a second. The sixth R&W contest? (Wow, I missed the fifth one!) The first one ran from February to June of 2019. Most design contests are annual but there are going to have been six Roll and Write contests in two years? That’s incredible.

Okay. It can be true that a Roll and Write game can be easier to physically make than a lot of other categories of games. (Emphasize on can. Many designs have you make a deck of cards as well as a game sheet) But I can’t believe that it is magically easier to DESIGN Roll and Write games. Maybe they are easier for play testers to make and then play test but that’s the only part of the process that seems faster.

Not that I’m complaining. Over the last few years, I have come to really appreciate Roll and Write games, particularly Print and Play ones. It’s a remarkably flexible format, as well as being very easy to make. The 2017 GenCan’t R&W Design Contest was a major milestone in my gaming life.

Still, I have to wonder why this contest has happened so often. And I have a theory. I have heard that there’s been some success taking the next step and getting games formally published from the R&W contests. And maybe that’s added bit of inspiration needed.

No matter what, it’s nice that these contests keep happening.


Originally written down in pencil at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Nov 6, 2020 12:30 pm
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It’s no 30 Rails

Lowell Kempf
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I will be honest. I tried out Anty Establishment because I knew that it was going to super quick to make, teach myself and play. It’s from this year’s Roll and Write contest. The whole thing, rules and all, is one sheet of paper. Just add two dice and something to write with and your done.

The core of the game is easy to understand. You’re drawing lines on a grid that represents an anthill and you get points by making long paths, going over symbols that are on the grid and by making chambers where ant queen crowns are.

You determine what shape path with die rolls. You roll two dice and so you get two choices to pick from. You have some limited dice manipulation, including the option of rerolls or using both dice, but you also need to use the dice manipulation to create chambers, which can a the only way to score ant queen crowns.

Twenty turns and see how many points you get.

Anty Establishment is amusing but the big question it has to answer is ‘Would I recommend it over 30 Rails?’ And the answer to that is no.

30 Rails, which I view as a gem of both PnP and R&W, offers variable set ups, tighter game play and more painful choices. Anty Establishment is more forgiving and has a preset layout. It doesn’t have the depth or replay value.

I will give Anty Establishment credit for having the dice manipulation being even more of a resource management exercise. And you can pick up and get a game in with zero preparation, which is honestly a huge plus for me.

I had fun but I’d recommend 30 Rails or other games first.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2467791/wip-anty-establishm...#


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Oct 5, 2020 7:53 pm
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Thank you, Jueglos Roll & Write

Lowell Kempf
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I finished doing an archive binge of Juegos Roll & Write (https://boardgamegeek.com/blog/9402 ), specifically looking for Print and Play games that I hadn’t heard of yet. And, yes, a hefty chunk of what I found were ones I had already looked into but it was still a good experience.

It’s one of the blogs I regularly look at, both for PnP information and just out of curiosity. And I think that Roll and Write games are more valuable than ever in quarantine times. They are the easiest form of PnP to make and a huge chunk of them have solitaire options or are just plain solitaires. When your options for gaming or game partners are limited and restricted, that is awesome.

Jueglos Roll & Write actually has had several entries specifically addressing that, featuring collections that are particularly quarantine friendly.

Over the last few years, my opinion of Roll and Writes has changed and, frankly, gotten better. First of all, I have been impressed by the depth and variety of what’s out there, even just in the free category. Mind you, I have still had the best experiences with games that I have actually had to actually spend money on

Second, while I recommended in the past that if you wanted to get into PnP to go for cards or tiles games since actually having to craft components meant you had some skin in the game, I now think an only-R&W-PnP experience is viable. Part of that comes from the variety that is out there (and there are plenty that actually require you make cards or such )

However, it also comes back to the quarantine conditions. You may not be able to get the materials to make cards or dice or such. But you are more likely to be able to print off a R&W sheet or hand copy one. It may be what is possible. And gaming is great way of dealing with stress.

And if that is what you need, Jueglos Roll & Write is really nifty.


PS I was really happy when I learned through the blog that someone has made a nice PnP version of Sid Sackson’s solitaire pinball game. Woo-hoo!
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Thu Sep 24, 2020 11:20 pm
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