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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Spellcraft Academy: not my cup of tea but interesting

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve gone back to the Legends of Dsyx, a series of one-page Roll and Writes from Buttonshy. It’s been a while since I played one. Part of the reason I chose to try Spellcraft Academy next is because it only uses one die so it was easy for me to play in a limited space.

In Spellcraft Academy, you are a student trying to create a magic scroll in order to pass your wizardry exams. Stripped of its theme, it is really a word game, the only one in the Legend of Dsyx series.

The game consists of a letter grid and a blank grid that you write letters in, plus a checklist of Latin words that you are trying to write and a space to track rerolls.

The gameplay is actually pretty simple. You start in the blank center of the letter grid. Roll that one single die and then you count that many spaces in any direction and circle that letter. Write that letter anywhere in your blank scroll grid. Put a slash through that circle, roll the die again and repeat the process from your new location on the letter grid. The game ends when you either decide you’ve done as well as your going to do or you can’t make a legal move. (No going back to a letter you’ve been to)

You are trying to form interlocking words, crossword style. The more words you manage to connect together, the more points that it’s worth. There are three category of words and you get bonus points if you use every word in a category.

There are two bonus symbols on the letter grid, stars and swirls. Swirls let you add a reroll to your reroll count. You don’t start with any rerolls. You have to earn them. Stars let you write any letter on your scroll grid.

I only have one rules question. I don’t know if you can only make orthogonal moves with your die roll or if diagonal moves are allowed.

I honestly don’t know if I like Spellcraft Academy or not. On the one hand, while I respect word games and I’m willing to play them, they aren’t my favorite genre of game. In short, I’m not the audience for this game.

Spellcraft Academy also has probably the least theme out of all the games in the series. For me, one of the strong points for the Legend of Dsyx series is how thematic the games are and how much narrative they create. A couple of the games cross the line to being full adventure games. Spellcraft Academy is pretty abstract. I love abstract games but that’s not why I play the Legends of Dsyx games.

On the other hand, the game play seems pretty solid. I’m not sure there’s one optimal strategy. Linking a bunch of short words is one path but trying to get the bonus for using the longer words also seems viable. And it is easily the most complex Roll and Write I’ve seen that just uses one die, even having some manipulation with the stars and swirls.

And honestly, making the letter grid balanced had to be interesting.

In the end, Spellcraft Academy isn’t a game I had a lot of fun with but I found the design interesting. And I am sure I’ll play it some more to explore how balanced the game is.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Aug 28, 2020 5:48 pm
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Roll and Write games with just one die?

Lowell Kempf
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Good grief but I have played a lot of Roll and Writes this year.

There are a lot of solitaire options within the Roll and Write world. There are tons of print and play options and they are just about the easiest Print and Play game to make. Roll and Write games have the potential to have a high complexity to component ratio (sometimes depth as well but really not as often) And, related to that last bit, it can be more emotionally and mentally satisfying to spend fifteen minutes on a Roll and Write than a solitaire card game. I feel like I’m doing more.

But, at the moment, between time and space, I am more often playing Roll and Write games with a clipboard and a dice rolling app on my phone. Basically, games you can play on a crowded bus

That does limit me from games that use cards or color-based dice pools or a lot of dice manipulation. And it has me explore some games I might otherwise skip over.

I am currently examining Spellcraft Academy, which the crowded bus requirements and lets me get back to trying out the Legends of Dsyx, a series of games that I started looking at earlier this year. What is particularly striking about the game, which I will properly review at some point, is that you just use one six-sided die.

A Roll and Write (or really any game) that uses just a single die is a choice that honestly rings alarm bells for me. (Which is hysterical because I have played Dungeons and Dragons for decades. That said, I have often said your goal is to get enough modifiers that the actual die roll is the least important part) A single die both limits your choices and your ability to bank on the odds. Two dice create a bell-shaped curve. One die, if it’s fair, gives every number the same chance. Random chance takes over choices and control.

So every Roll and Write that I have seen that just uses one die struggles to give the player real choices. And, honestly, they often don’t very well. Not Another One and Blankout are two that fall short for me. I play them periodically because they work as crowded bus games (I just came up with that term but I am falling in love with it)

Really, the one game that I’ve found that works with one die is 13 Sheep, largely because you have far more space than your potential fencing can handle. That and the ability to rotate fence pieces creates bough choices that the game works as a game and not just a curiosity. It’s one that recommend, particularly for folks who don’t have a lot of PnP supplies or experience.

But it’s the exception that proves the rule. Dice pools and dice manipulation and the ability to work with the odds are where Roll and Write games find their meat.
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Tue Aug 25, 2020 8:20 pm
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Tanuki Matsuri has been good for my frazzled brain

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, here’s the basic idea: Superlude Editions has released Tanuki Matsuri, a Roll and Write game set in the same world as their card game Tanuki Market, as a free print-and-play for Covid relief. It’s not the best PnP I’ve seen that’s been released as Covid relief nor the best Roll and Write I’ve ever seen. But it’s a very accessible family game at a time when that’s what is really needed.

Tanuki Matsuri is about mischievous Tanuki spirits stealing fruit from Granny’s fruit stand and also hosting a party for Granny. Which sounds like a pretty raw deal for Granny but it does work as an excuse for cute pictures of Tanuki so I’ll let it pass.

The rules are just a page long and the whole thing is free (at least for right now) so I won’t get too detailed about the rules. It’s one of those Roll-and-Writes where the die you pick let’s you check off a box on the sheet, in this case either a fruit or part of the flower trail that leads to Granny’s party. Okay, you circle them but the principle is the same. The game ends when you either circle the last flower or temple gate(whose sole purpose is to be a timer)

Ah but there’s a clever bit. Every single thing you circle has some kind of bonus. Circle a fruit. Circle a flower. Circle a score multiplier. Cross out a score multiplier. Circle a temple gate. And it’s pretty easy to chain bonuses and get multiple actions out of each turn. Without the bonus actions, there would be nothing to the game. For all interesting purposes, the bonuses are the game.

Tanuki Matsuri is a very light and simple game . Maybe _too_ light and simple even for a family weight game. I’m also pretty sure there is an optimal path to getting points (maxing out the flower path and the strawberry column), which is mildly mitigated by the bonuses allowing multiple ways to pursue that.

_But_ here’s the thing. As a game aimed at people who are under some level or another of lockdown, Tanuki Matsuri is golden. It’s got a cute theme that will appeal to a wide audience range, including youngish kids. It is very easy to build: one page per two players plus a writing tool and any three six-sided dice (no color combinations required) And it’s very easy to learn and play, which is very helpful in a casual, family game in these strained times.

I have to admit, between lockdown parenthood and remote school, my brain is fried. A year ago, Tanuki Matsuri would have been a blip on my radar. Now, the simplicity of it really clicked for me and I was engaged by it when I sometimes haven’t had the brain power for more intricate games. And our six-year-old liked to chain bonuses, even if he wasn’t interested the scoring system.

I don’t know if Tanuki Matsuri has the legs for a lot of replay or to be a game that is in regular play rotation for months or years to come. But it has been a very good game me for where I am at right here and now and I have recommended it to friends, particularly those with small children.


Originally scribbled down at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Aug 21, 2020 6:36 pm
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Comfort food in the form of books and games

Lowell Kempf
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I find comfort food is a good analogy for both my reading and solitaire gaming habits during lockdown. Covid 19 is adding enough stress and complications to life that I don’t feel like adding challenging to my decompression.

Both L. Sprague de Camp and Rex Stout have featured in my casual reading during this time, which goes to show that comfort reading doesn’t have to mean garbage reading. I will say that it’s fascinating to read about Nero Wolfe, who practices extreme social distancing by choice, when the real world has to do that. Of course, his life style does require the rest of the world to be in good working order.

Gaming-wise, particularly since life usually gives me about five minutes for a solitaire session, my recent interest in Roll and Write has come in handy. Set up consisting of grabbing dice and a dry erase marker is nice. They make for very nice ‘comfort food’ since they can hold a lot in a small amount of components.

And there are some really good Roll and Write games out there. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of That’s Pretty Clever during this time. While I have said Qwixx is the game that fires Yahtzee for non-gamers, That’s Pretty Clever is the game that fires Yahtzee for gamers.

But there’s a lot more Roll and Writes out there, including tons of free PnP games. Now, I will fully admit that the Roll and Writes I’ve actually paid for are better most of the time than the free ones, the variety is really nice. Right now, they are perfect when we’re limited in where we can go and what we can get. And when comfort foods can be essential.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon May 4, 2020 5:41 pm
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Tiny bits of tweaking can make a difference

Lowell Kempf
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I recently picked up the second version of Paper Pinball: Laser Sisters. Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure for me. I think that Robin Gibson made a better series of games with the Legends of Dsyx and I also think that they are very swingy. However, the Paper Pinball games are very easy to get in a play when I just have a couple minutes. So they get in a decent amount of play.

Out of the three Paper Pinball tables I first tried out (Wolf Hackers, Laser Sisters and Sherwood 2146), Laser Sisters was my least favorite by far. And for a very simple reason. I didn’t like the implementation of the slingshot mechanic.

Every Paper Pinball table I’ve seen (and I’m assuming all the ones I haven’t) have their own little twist that keeps them from being the same thing over and over again with different art. In the case of Laser Sisters, it’s slingshots, which you check off to use each dice as its own value as opposed to adding the two dice together.

The problem I had was with the value of the section called Targets. You cross them off with a specific value. On the original Laser Sisters, the values were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Filling those out meant heavily leaving on the limited uses of the slingshot and the 1 Target absolutely requiring it. So, instead of the slingshot mechanic increasing my choices, it was actually more limited.

In the second edition, the Target numbers are now 2, 3, 4, 10, 11, 12. The one is gone and only half of them need slingshots. So I can now use slingshots for other things, like ramps.

It’s still super random and swingy but this change makes one of the tools the table has more flexible. I’m kind of curious to see what the second edition of Sherwood 2146 looks like.

The point of all this isn’t that I like a tiny change in a game that is super casual. Frankly, I have a literal binder full of quick little Roll and Writes that I have fun with. One more or less isn’t a big deal.

What is the real point of me writing all this is that little changes can make big changes in a game experience. (Game balance as well but that can be harder to judge.) A side effect of looking at a lot of Print and Play files is you get to see a lot of prototypes. So you get to stages of development.

Sometimes, the difference between a good experience and a bad one is the the tiniest details.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Apr 10, 2020 5:29 pm
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Raging Bulls makes simplicity work

Lowell Kempf
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Raging Bulls is a game that has been on my radar for a while. It’s gotten decent buzz and making it consists of printing out one page, maybe laminating it. So, seeing as how I’ve been playing lots of Roll and Writes lately, I decided it was time.

Raging Bulls has you drawing lines on a grid to fence in bulls with die rolls determining which points you can draw from. Honestly, that’s a pretty good description of the game in one sentence.

The simplicity of Raging Bulls is both the best part of it and why you’d probably burn out on it relatively easily. A couple years ago, I tried out another Roll and Write called the Captain’s Curse which also involved carving up an area with straight lines. Raging Bulls is a much simpler design but, at the same time, I felt like I had more legitimate choices in Raging Bulls. It’s simplicity also makes it very intuitive.

At the same time, it’s not flawless. The random placement of bulls could place them on the edge, making them much more difficult to fence in. The difficulty can be way all over the place, depending on the dice. I’ve been having fun with the game but I can see how it won’t be a winner for everyone.

The site Happy Meeple has added Raging Bulls to the list of games you can play online there. And it’s added elements like sheep, ponds and other mechanics. I do intend to explore that. I am curious to see if making Raging Bulls more complicated makes it better or spoils it.

Raging Bulls epitomizes for me the potential of a PnP R&W experience. Not perfect but very accessible on almost every level.
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Mon Mar 9, 2020 8:42 pm
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Encore is better than not bad

Lowell Kempf
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Keeping up with me learning Roll and Writes, I made 2020 the year I learned Noch Mal/Encore. And, yes, I learned it via app and now play it all the time on my phone.

As I’ve already mentioned, NM/E is a Roll and Write. That means you roll some dice and jot something down on a piece of paper. It’s a genre that has exploded over the last few years (While more ‘gamer’ Roll and Writes have around for a while, I’ve read more than one person state Qwixx got the wave going so I guess 2012 was a watershed year?)

The playing sheet in NM/E is a rectangular grid of colored squares and with some stars sprinkled about. There is more than one pattern of sheets which adds a _lot_ or replay value. Every turn, you draft a number die and a color die and scratch off that many squares of that color, as long as they are either attached to another scratched off square or in the middle column.

And, for such a small game, there are plenty of ways to get points. Filling in columns. Filling in all of a color. Scratching off stars. Not using wilds. You can’t do it all so you will have to prioritize.

NM/E does two things that really make it shine as a Roll and Write, as well as a game. First of all, not only are you making real decisions, you have to plan ahead. You are creating an organically growing mass of checked off boxes and you have to give it room to grow, along with figuring out what points you’re going for. Second, by drafting dice, there is honest to goodness player interaction. In a Roll and Write, that is a big deal in my opinion.

I have seen a number of Roll and Writes that involve drawing shapes. NM/E has you trying to cope with someone else’s shapes, which is a different spin. And it’s a spin that makes sense and is fun. It’s a good little game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Feb 18, 2020 7:48 pm
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Rollands is like an old friend

Lowell Kempf
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The designer of Rollands described the game as a cross between Knizia’s Criss Cross and Kingdomino and I don’t think I can do a better job than that.

It is a Print and Play Roll and Write, which means it’s a dice and pencil game that you can print out yourself. The actual play sheet itself consists of a six by six grid with notations to remind you how the game works.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2037862/wip-rollands-roll-w...

You are drawing a map and trying to get the most points you can. You start off by drawing a castle in one of the squares. Then, you roll two dice each turn. Depending on what you roll, you can do a q variety of things.

Each number from one to six has a different kind of landscape associated with it. You can either draw two landscapes (one for each die) next to each other or add them together to draw one landscape. However, at least one landscape type needs to be next to one of the same type. (The castle counts as a wild so you can actually play the game)

If you roll a nine or eleven, you can add a coin to a group of the odd-numbered landscapes. Eight or ten, you can add a coin to a a group of even-numbered landscapes. Twelve let’s you add a coin anywhere. At the start of the game, you can only add one coin to a grouping but a roll of seven lets you increase the number.

Oh. And if you can’t do anything else, you add a scarecrow, which are worth negative points at the end.

When the map is full, you figure out your score. Every grouping with at least one coin is worth the number of squares by the number of coins. Just like Kingdomino. Groups with no coins are worthless and scarecrows are negative one each.

I am of two minds when it comes to Rollands. On the one hand, wow but it can be swingy. Depending on the dice, I have seen scores more than fifty points apart. I think that was an extreme example but it’s still possible. The dice can make a huge difference, particularly when it comes to adding coins to the map. Every Roll and Write has an element of chance since you’re rolling dice but I have to wonder if Rollands has the illusion of choice.

On the other hand, I keep on having fun with Rollands. It uses a lot of familiar ideas and feels very intuitive. It’s just a very comfortable game. I’m glad I found it and I know I’ll keep playing it.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Feb 18, 2020 2:13 am
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I find myself liking Robin Gibson's designs

Lowell Kempf
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I realized that I've spent a lot of February playing games by Robin Gibson.

That is fundamentally because they have designed a lot of solitaire Roll and Writes that take less than fifteen minutes to play. I’ve been playing a lot of shorter solitaire games over the last few years so that is totally within my wheelhouse. That and the fact that I have spent a lot of time looking at Buttonshy and PnP Arcade.

I’ve already written about Gibson’s Paper Pinball series, which honestly borders on a mindless diversion (although I do like how each pinball table has its own little twist and there is definitely a place for mindless diversions) However, what has really impressed me and made me decide I need to pay attention to Gibson is The Legend of Dsyx series.

Dsyx is apparently a steampunk, fantasy kitchen sink universe. Banks hire dragons to take care of their vaults. Gnomes build dirigibles. Gryphons work as couriers and wear goggles. If you’ve played D&D, there’s a good chance you’ve been to a place like Dsyx.

There are twelve games in the series. I don’t know if there will be more but twelve is still pretty good. Each one tells about a different little chunk of Dsyx and, from what I can tell, vary their mechanics a decent amount.

What I really like about them is they make me feel like I am playing a larger game. Between the theme and the relatively involved mechanics (involved for a single sheet of paper and five, ten minutes), the games in the Legend of Dsyx feel surprisingly meaty.

To be honest, I am pretty sure some of the depth is an illusion. I am sure that each game does have a single optimal strategy that will reliably do better than other choices. A ten-minute Roll and Write can’t complete with a two-hour game that has a lot more moving parts.

However, I am okay with that. The return I get from the minimal investment in time and resources still makes the Legend of Dsyx series a very good return for me. It’s not perfect but it is engaging and interesting.

I’ve only tried three of the games but I am hoping to eventually try them all. I’m in no real hurry since I also don’t want to get burned out on them either.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Feb 14, 2020 9:03 pm
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Paper Pinball might just be rolling dice

Lowell Kempf
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Since I seem to be focusing on Roll and Write games, I decided that it was time I finally tried out Robin Gibson’s Paper Pinball series.

Every game in the series is a stand-alone Roll and Write, themed around pinball. They all have a nice picture of a pinball table and the rules on the side. The different pinball scoring elements have boxes for you to fill in with 2d6 and they all have different rules and restrictions. Ramps require ascending numbers, for instance. If you can’t fill in a box, you cross off a ball. The game ends when you either cross off the third ball or you fill in the entire table. Every element has its own scoring rules, some of which are a little fuzzy.

I got the first three pinball games when they first came out, printed and laminated them, and promptly filed them. As I understand it, Gibson revised them when they got released on PnP Arcade so I wonder if the later editions might resolve some of my quibbles about scoring.

I would describe the series as ‘okay’ It’s definitely swingy and the best place to write a number is usually pretty obvious. Opening the multi-ball option so you get to roll a third die and get more choices is probably the most essential thing to go for in any of the games. On the plus side, it’s an inoffensive little distraction that I don’t mind playing. It’s fun in moderation.

That said, its theme screams for a comparison to Sid Sackson’s Pinball from Beyond Solitaire. And that Roll and Write game from 1976 honestly offers more decisions. Not nearly as pretty but better overall gameplay.

I also feel compelled to compare Paper Pinball to the Legends of Dsyx, another series of Roll and Writes by Robin Gibson. The Legends of Dsyx are also one page each, including rules. And they are very thematic with diverse and interesting mechanics. They aren’t perfect but they are ambitious. Paper Pinball is me rolling dice. The Legends of Dsyx feels like a board game in a sheet of a paper.

Robin Gibson has become a designer that I’m interested in but Paper Pinball is not one of their strongest works. That said, I have just seen the first draft of the system. I might pick up one of the later games and see how it developed.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Feb 12, 2020 5:25 am
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