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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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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Goko no Saikoro - not all R&W are winners

Lowell Kempf
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I am an accumulator of PnP files. I have managed to stop hoarding games but I still digitally hoarde files. So when I found Goko no Saikoro in my files, I had no memory of ever seeing it before. But, because I have been more and more interested in R&W and it is a super easy build, I decided to check it out.

In a nutshell, it’s a completely abstract Roll and Write. Each turn, you roll five dice. You can use the dice to earn a development, score points or take a penalty. And earning a development or scoring points means rolling high (higher than average, actually) The game ends after someone fills in all ten scoring boxes (although every other player gets one more turn)

Developments, by the way, are different ways to manipulate dice. They range from rerolling dice to multiplying the third and fourth highest dice and subtracting the second lowest die. I love dice manipulation and developments are the most interesting part of the game. Unfortunately, other than rerolls, they are a excessively arcane, particularly for such a light game. The idea is great (just look what if it did for Roll Through the Ages) but it feels like it needed a lot more play testing and refinement.

Another issue with the game is that, even for a dice game, the luck factor is high. The game basically punishes anything short of very high rolls, which offsets the decisions that you can make. In fact, I would say that Yahtzee offers a lot more control and ways to offset bad luck. Even a game like Zombie Dice lets you play with odds but GnS has you just hoping you beat the odds.

The game was released in 2008, before Roll and Writes really started picking up steam as a genre. Roll and Write games have gone through a lot of development so I feel like I’m judging a game that was developed before a crucial crunch point. Still, I wonder what I would have thought of it in 2008. At the same time, I had almost no interest in Roll and Writes in 2008.

Ultimately, Goko no Saikoro has some interesting ideas but fails to pull them off.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Feb 7, 2020 2:11 am
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How deep can Dry Erase be?

Lowell Kempf
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One of my fantasy goals is finding a dry erase game that has the heft of a game that, you know, has components. Basically, the idea of playing a heavy game while sitting in an airplane. And, yes, we already have that and it’s called use a tablet, silly. Which we have done, in fact.

Still, the idea of going low tech is appealing. There’s the ‘look ma, no batteries’ factor, of course. However, actually doing something with real stuff with your hands adds a visceral level to a game.

A few years back, I checked out a game called Akua that looked like the ideal I was looking for. It was a perfect information game that was just a board then add different colored markers. So, mechanically, it is the kind of game you can play on a Greyhound bus. Which was a really cool idea to me, even though I haven’t been on a Greyhound in a dog’s age.

The problem was that Akua was intricate to the point of being convoluted. It didn’t flow. I am not saying I’ve completely given up on it but it’s got issues.

Basically, I’m asking for the unreasonable The game I want needs to be simple enough that it can work within the medium but deep enough to be meaty and satisfying.

Well, I’m going to craft a couple games that I think will scratch a similar itch.

One is Tempus Imperium, which I understand to be the prototype of the Tempus Quest series. It’s a Roll and Write but you use the time and date instead of dice. I’m quite curious to see how it turns out and I might check out the Tempus Quest series if I like it. It’s infrastructure building with a random setup based on when you’re playing it. No dice required, just a watch.

At the same time, it’s a solitaire so it kind of fails one of basic my needs. But the idea, if it works, seems like a good building block.

The other game I’m looking at is a Catan variant called Catan Coop. It’s an ink friendly Roll and Write where you’re working together to each get seven points before the bandit destroys too many hexes, which the bandit can do in this variant. You keep track of resources on a table on the same sheet of paper as the map. You do need dice and a pawn for the bandit. Beyond that, everything is either drawn or notated on the one page.

It does lose some points in that you do need dice and some sort of pawn. But I suppose that a metal clipboard and a magnet for the pawn plus some sort of tiny dice tray could make it work for the mythological Greyhound that I’ll never get on.

Still, for a stupidly portable form of Catan, it’s worth my looking into. Print the board with the table one side, the rules on the other, and laminate it. I can stick that in my bag where it will take up no space and play it anywhere. This is Catan for a backpacking trip.

If it’s any good, of course. I mean, it doesn’t have development cards which is a major loss but understandable to simplify the game.

As I’ve already mentioned, the idea of a travel dry erase heavier game is unnecessary. Honestly, tablets make more sense. But it’s fun to think about.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Aug 21, 2019 2:21 am
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I hope Lantern is the first spark of what it to come

Lowell Kempf
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Lantern was the winner of the Best Game category in Boardgame Geek’s 2019 Roll and Write contest. So, of course I had to print it out and try it out. In fact, I laminated the play sheet because I figured it would see multiple play.

Lantern is, for all intents and purposes, a one-page dungeon crawl. It’s far from the first one-page dungeon crawl I’ve ever seen but it definitely has some touches I like. It’s a solitaire, which actually means I’ll play it more

At the start of the game, you roll six dice to create your adventurer. You assign the die to numbers to critical hit, counter attack, magic spell, constitution, and experience, as well as the special campfire area in the middle of the adventure. The first four let you manipulate the dice while experience and the campfire give you a limited way to recharge the abilities.

The sheet has been eight zones. Seven of them are encounters that require a specific combination of dice to defeat, ending in a dragon that requires six of a kind to kill. The other one is the campfire that I already mentioned.

As I mentioned before, there are a surprising number of one-page dungeon crawls out there and there’s some that I haven’t tried yet but I should. But the game that Lantern really reminds me of is Delve. Both games are just sets of encounters that you roll dice to resolve.

Delve is literally Yahtzee with dice combinations as special powers. Lantern, on the other hand, is all about dice manipulation. Of the two, I think I like Lantern better. You have both more control and more difficult choices since you can only use each manipulation a limited number of times and they are also your life points.

Not that I want to disparage Delve. It’s aged pretty well and still gives you a decent dungeon crawl experience in five, ten minutes. Not to mention that I’m pretty sure it’s been an influence on the genre and I’d be surprised if Lantern’s designer never heard of it. However, it’s biggest advantage in a comparison is a lot of extra material has been designed for it, including a scenario generator.

However, from what I’ve read, the current version of Lantern is still a work in progress. It sounds like there are plans to add restrictions and conditions to zones and possibly create whole new adventures. Which is great because I think Lantern has a lot of potential.

So, at the moment, Lantern is a fun little Roll and Write and I can see why it placed so well in the contest. But I am hoping that the best is yet to come.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2202582/wip-lantern-solitai...

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jul 19, 2019 3:50 am
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Take a couple minutes to fence in some sheep

Lowell Kempf
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My latest foray into Roll and Write, as well as Print and Play, has been 13 Sheep, which is one of the more minimalist Roll and Write I have found. And, yes, with games like Criss Cross or 30 Rails, there is some competition for that. (Not Another One still holds the title though)

13 Sheep is played on a seven by eight grid. There are thirteen sheep which are inside squares and eight or nine bushes in the ‘lines’. You are going to be drawing fences in the grid, trying to enclose groups of sheep. However, the fence shapes you can draw are determined by a die roll, you can’t draw over bushes and you have a limited number of turns before the wolves show up and it’s all over.

Here’s how it goes. Get a sheet. If there’s more than one person playing, make sure everyone has the same sheet. Then roll the die. Each number has a three segment line shape assigned to it and you have to draw that one on your sheet. You can rotate them but you can’t flip them. And, on top of those pesky bushes, you can not cross over an already built fence or draw on a space where a line already is.

You’ve got a timer, the wolf track. You cross off a box with every roll and the first seven rolls are free. However, the last four boxes have numbers in them (6,5,4,1) If you roll that number or higher, the game immediately ends. (Why the row doesn’t just end with the four, I can’t tell you) You then score up each enclosure. More sheep means more points. Most points wins, unless you’re playing solitaire. In which case, you are your own competition.

13 Sheep is an odd beast for me. The game is, at most, going to last ten die rolls. Maybe just seven. And the dice are going to really control what your options are. At the same time, the game doesn’t play itself. You have to actually make decisions and make the best with what that die gives you. But the die can stomp your plans into the dust and laugh at your tears.

One of the biggest virtues of the game is also its biggest drawback. It is so gosh darn short. It’s only a few minutes so it’s easy for casual play. With just one die, you can fit in a play or two while waiting for your coffee or appetizers. And you can teach it to just about anyone in that time.

But it is also so short. Seven to ten die rolls isn’t enough for luck to flatten itself out. The potential to make clever choices isn’t nearly as great as the power of the random number gods. The power of choice fights against the illusion of choice.

Still, it’s a free PnP game that doesn’t require any kind of cutting or folding. And it is so short that being thrashed by the die doesn’t sting that much. In fact, I've found it has a strong ‘one more time’ effect. So if you’re willing to go in on the game, I don’t think it’ll be a game breaker. It won’t be your new forever game but you’ll have fun with it for a bit.

One concern I had, that the game initially had just two boards, has been assuaged by the designer creating a random board generator. Which can make some weird boards but offers a lot more variety.

At the end of the day, 13 Sheep isn’t a perfect Roll and Write. Ada Lovelace or BentoBlocks do dice-based shape forming better and deeper. And luck beats planning every time. However, I am having fun with it and it might be a game that I include when I send out greeting cards.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 17, 2019 5:17 pm
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