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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A bear of very little brain rolls some dice

Lowell Kempf
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Winnie-the-Pooh in the Honey Heist (which I’m just going to call The Honey Heist from now on) is a Print and Play Roll and Write, one of those ones that any number of people can play as long as they have their own play sheet.

And, yes, it’s themed around the Winnie the Pooh with artwork that definitely evokes E. H. Shepherd’s art. Because a certain major corporation has a pack of lawyers that will rip out your throat and leave your pockets empty if you use their trade marked version

The actual board consists of four seven-hex ‘circles’ (is there a proper term for that? Seven hex grid?) The center hex in each grid already has a number in it. You will be filling in numbers in all the other hexes over the course of the game. Also, each grid comes with one honey drop and one bee that can be worth points.

So, here’s the idea: each turn you roll two dice. One of them is Pooh’s die and you just write in that number. But, although he is a bear of very small brains, he is also a bear of huge heart, he gives the other die to one of his friends.

Each pip is a different character from the books and has a different effect. For example, Piglet, the one pip, either copies Pooh’s die or gives you a three. Christopher Robbins , the six pip, let’s you either use a 0 or a 7.

Twelve turns. Twenty-four numbers. And you’re done.

There are four ways of scoring points. You get points for making sets of numbers or runs of numbers. And individual numbers can be part of more than one grouping. You get points for covering honey drops with low numbers and bees with high numbers. And you get points for using the same friend multiple times.

Let me get this out of the way first. The implementation of the theme is half the value of the game. Not only is the idea and art adorable, the mechanics work with the theme. Of course Pooh shares his dice. And some of the pip powers reflect their characters. Eyore subtracts value from dice, for instance.

The mechanics are interesting. Each friend power gives you two options so there are choices. There’s more going on than just rolling two dice and using those numbers. At the same time, the friend powers are specific enough that I do find them limiting.

I do wonder if luck is what really decides any given game of Honey Heist. At the same time, I also don’t think there are obvious choices. The game puzzles with you, not plays itself.

Honestly, at the end of the day, I feel like Honey Heist has decent mechanics. (How much can you really expect from 12 rounds?) But, it doesn’t just have a cute theme, it embraces it.
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Sat Aug 13, 2022 3:01 am
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Wheat & Ale is an Arcadia building game

Lowell Kempf
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What made me pull the trigger of Wheat & Ale was that it was by Robin Jarvis. Between the Legends of Dsyx and Paper Pinball, they have given me hours of Roll and Write fun.

Wheat & Ale is billed as a Tiny Civilization Game. It’s not. Civilization games, no matter what size, have to have a big scope of time and space. I also want a tech tree but I’ll listen to arguments. Wheat & Ale is about creating an agricultural village along a river.

It’s a Tiny Arcadia Game. And that’s just fine.

It’s one of the draw things on a grid Roll and Writes. The grid is actually a hex grid, the kind where it’s squares in a brickwork pattern. They may not be hexes but it’s a hex grid. And a line serving as that river I mentioned run through it. There’s actually two different maps and the difference is the path of the river.

The game lasts ten turns. Each turn, you roll three dice. You can do two diffeeent types of actions: build buildings or use buildings. You build by using spending a combination of dice that is equal or greater to the bullring value of the building. (Yes, it could be one die if the building is cheap enough) You activate a building by spending a die that is LESS than its activation number.

(One rule question I have is if you just get one action per turn or use all three dice as a pool for multiple actions. I prefer to the latter because it gives you more options. And makes the just build strategy I mention later less optimal)

Anything built on the river gets plus two to its production ability, tripling it. So the river is going to be central to the development of your tiny Arcadia.

And, as the title suggests, you are growing wheat and turning it into ale. That is how you turn an empty river valley into a community.

Okay, I have to admit the game does have a potential degenerate strategy. Ignore wheat and production and just build big buildings since they are worth points. It does depend on you rolling highish numbers but beating the goal of twenty points isn’t unreasonable.

But playing that way isn’t fun or interesting. I know people who will latch onto that strategy to prove the game is ‘broken’ and, more importantly, they are smarter than the designer. But that’s not my idea of fun.

You could just ignore that strategy. (It’s a solitaire game, after all) You could house rule it that you need to build the buildings in order. Houses need farms and so on. (And I’ve kind of just added a tech tree with that suggestion) OR you keep a tally of how much you’d earn in just buildings and try to beat that (I like that one)

Wheat & Ale is a very short and simple game. It’s no Roll Through the Ages and it’s not like that game is any kind of heavy. The strategies are pretty obvious and the entire game is setting yourself up for one, maybe two, big moves.

All the same, I do like Ale & Wheat. I like that you aren’t just jotting down symbols one a grid but they actually do something. However, what really makes the game click is that it honestly is a coffee break game. Very little time, very little thought and I feel refreshed.

I think that Wheat & Ale is a game that could be built on, room to be developed to be deeper and more complicated game, possibly even multiplayer. But it works well for a quick coffee break.
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Sat Aug 6, 2022 12:14 am
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My July Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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When I actually looked at how many games I tried out in July, I was surprised. It wasn’t a crazy amount but it was a crazy month. (To be fair, I have a lot of crazy months)

Aquaducts was the only Print and Play game I put together in July. It’s also the only game I learned that I couldn’t play on a clipboard.

I have been playing a lot of In Hand games and Roll and Write games. And I love both those genres. But playing a tile-laying game for the first time in ages was very refreshing. I downright binged the game.

I also tried out a lot of games from Chris Anderson’s Tempus system. I am pretty sure that Tempus Infinitum is still in the prototype phase (and might not go beyond that) and was interesting but had issues. You could have setups that just don’t work.

I also played the first eight Tempus Quest episodes. Almost entirely on airplanes. The Tempus system games work well in limited spaces. No dice or cards. Just a pencil and a watch. The Tempus Quest games were better balanced than Tempus Imperium and explored what you could do when the system.

I didn’t think I was going to actually learn a Roll and Write game that actually used dice during July. Than I tried out Wheat & Ale and Rallytaire.

Wheat & Ale is about building an Arcadian community in a river valley. Very simple but I like how it isn’t just drawing stuff on a grid. There is actually a bit of engine building going on.

And I finally have tried Rallytaire. It is like someone decided to remake Formula De as a Roll and Write that uses regular six-sided dice. For one player. I think there’s limited replay value but I love that it exists.

(I also wonder if you could revise it for multiplayer if you lived in a place where shipping for Formula De would be an issue)

I have no idea what August holds.
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Wed Aug 3, 2022 4:42 pm
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Rallytaire is Formula De built in a cave with a box of scraps

Lowell Kempf
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Rallytaire is:
A game from the first Solitaire Design Contest
A Roll and Write game
A Roll and Move game
The closest thing I’ve seen to a one-page Formula De

Honestly, Rallytaire feels like a game that designed on a bet. Can you make a race car game that just uses a piece of paper, a pencil and some dice? Oh, can you make it for one person and make it interesting?

(While I have also seen people compare Rallytaire to Rallyman, I haven’t played that game. (But it is available on Board Game Arena so now I’m interested) So Formula De is really what Rallytaire reminds me of and what I’ll keep referencing)

There are three different sets of race tracks, each with three to four individual tracks. The number of turns it takes, plus how fast you go through the finish line, determine your time and the only challenge is beating your old times.

There are advanced rules where you manage brakes and tires and engine. Effectively ways of fine tuning your play. These are simple enough additions that you should really just play use them.

Okay, like Formula De, Rallytaire is all about managing gears and corners. In Formula De, each gear is a different speciality die and each corner has a set number of times you have to stop on it.

In Rallytaire, each gear has an automatic distance you move and a number of standard six-sided dice you roll. You get an extra space of movement for each 4, 5 or 6 you roll. As for corners, each corner has a maximum gear you can be in. You can drift to be in one higher gear but corners are grouped together and you can only drift once per group.

It has been a long time since I’ve played Formula De or any of its descendants. I understand there are groups that would actually not just play it but run tournaments or seasons or whatever you would call a whole bunch of races in a row. I still keep a copy of Formula De Mini in the closet. The formula of Formula De is a solid one. You don’t push your luck or hope that you have luck. You manage your luck.

And while Rallytaire doesn’t perfectly capture that, it does a remarkably good job of it with a minimalist production. (In fact, I wonder if you could use its rules on a Formula De track. Fan made tracks are out there and this might work if you don’t have the speciality dice. Which I do so I don’t have any reason to try it)

Which actually highlights the biggest drawback of Rallytaire. A race with no competition lacks something. I’ve played a lot of solitaire games at this point and I’m no stranger to trying to beat your own score. But games about race cars cry out for competition and interaction.

Rallytaire is not a substitute or replacement for Formula De. It is methadone for Formula De.

I am going to note that, while I appreciate how little ink the minimalist line art uses, you could skip a copy of the game into a business report and no one would notice. Published racing games tend to be flashy and Rallytaire is anything but. I’m fine with that but I can see that being an issue.

Rallytaire isn’t a game I’m gojng to play dozens of times. The lack of competition and interaction takes the edge off the genre. But I think the game does an amazing job mechanically and I’m sure it will get at least _a_ dozen plays out of me. If you have any interest in racing games, you should make the tiny ink investment and try it out.
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Fri Jul 29, 2022 5:30 pm
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Tempus Quest and airplane travel

Lowell Kempf
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Part of my preparation for a trip, I printed off the first few episodes of Tempus Quest. It uses the same Tempus System as Tempus Imperium, where the time and date are used to set up the board and actions.

I’d already played episode 0, the tutorial, but I decided to play it again so I could embrace the whole business of Tempus Quest being a campaign.

I had been playing Tempus Infinitum, a prototype for another Tempus system game. And that gave me appreciation for a couple of design choices on Tempus Quest. One, the Tempus Quest games are more goal focused. That means fewer paths to victory but you know exactly what to plan for if you get a bad number string. And the Tempus Quest game gives you more starting ‘money’ resource to change actions, which also helps compensate for a bad number.

Okay, here’s some more specific thoughts:

Episode 0 - Some Re-Assembly Required

Where you rebuild the spaceship Tempus.

My original impression was Episode 0 was that it was a tutorial that was so basic that it would be hard to fail. The ‘money’ is such a big supply, you can do any action at will. More than that, the Use action is very minimal, installing components as opposed to doing something.

Still, all it is is a tutorial. It teaches you how the date stamp mechanic works. But if this was it, Tempus Quest would get boring quick.

Episode 1 - Uninvited Guests

Where you fight robots and recharge the Tempus engine

And, bam, things get interesting.

It uses a hex grid. The use action makes the things you build actually do something. You have to actually manage the money resource and make more of it. There’s a form of combat.

Episode 0, you had to actually have to intentionally make bad choices to lose. Episode 1 isn’t that hard but you have to put in some effort to play.

I played it and knew I was going to keep going.

Episode 2 - The Dust Farmers

Where you help irrigate farms.

Episode Two breaks less new ground. It’s all about infrastructure development. I still liked it and you actually have to generate two resources, water AND food. (Are these farmers doing anything?)

I also like that it offers two paths. If you can expand lakes, you build pumps and get tons of water. If you don’t get the lake expansion option, you can dig wells. Not as efficient but a viable option. And you aren’t gojng to mix and max those options.

Episode 2 is the closest thing to Tempus Imperium and a Euro game. Not sure why some mercenaries are better at agriculture than farmers though.

Episode 3 - Decision at Degma

Where you you use social networking to get a job

Episode 3 is where I feel Tempus Quest stepped away from from Tempus Imperium and did it’s own thing. Changing to developing social networks and connections isn’t mechanically different than other resources but it felt like it.

And the enemy action, instead of hitting your money resources, is enemies spreading over the board. That is a lot more aggressive. The challenge was definitely there.

This is also where the campaign feel for stronger since it sets up the next episode.

Episode 4 - The Degma Job

Where you actually do the job

While you could pick any of the three jobs, if you are playing the game as a campaign, you use the one you gained in the last episode. It is your choice if you want to treat the series as a campaign but it is a choice.

This was fun. It took the elements that made Episode 3 interesting and harder and made it even more difficult. In particular, there wasn’t any kind of attack action so you just had to manage the enemy spread as best you could. (Of course, you also had to use the enemy as a resource lol)

I actually had to use every turn to complete Episode 4.


Conclusions

I kept hoping that someone would ask me on the airplane what I was doing so I could tell them it was a cross between Catan and a Crossword Puzzle. And that really does describe the experience.

There are definitely better R&Ws that use dice or cards. They just provide a wider range of options. But Tempus Quest was very good for the limited space of an airplane.
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Mon Jul 18, 2022 4:20 pm
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The fascinating but flawed Tempus Infinitum

Lowell Kempf
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Last year, I finally tried out Tempus Imperium. It is a Roll and Write that doesn’t actually use dice or even cards. Instead, it uses a date stamp.

You create a ten-digit number with the year-month-day-hour-minute. You use that number to set up the board and it then serves as the order of actions for the actual game play. Said gameplay is building up a generic medieval kingdom.

I like Tempus Imperium but there are some limitations baked into the core concept. After you generate the ten-digit number, the game is a perfect information solitaire. I don’t think that’s a flaw but that is a core element of the game.

I also became aware that the designer had refined the concept in Tempus Quest and Tempus Infinitum, which is a more streamlined and refined version of Tempus Imperium.

The biggest difference between Imperium and Infinitum is that, like Tempus Quest, you only create a six-digit number using the day, hour and minute. This doesn’t mean just fewer actions per turn. It also means a less static number.

In Tempus Imperium, the first two numbers were going to be the for an entire year and each month would be the same. Removing them means a lot more variety in a game whose only ‘random’ element is the setup.

And after the or six plays, I can see how this is both cool and bad. On the one hand, between multiple seed maps and the higher variance in the digits, there is a lot more variety compared to Tempus Imperium.

On the other hand, you can generate games that, as near as I can tell, aren’t viable. Players have to help balance the game but I am pretty sure some setups are too unbalanced to ‘work’.

There are four actions: build roads, expand lakes, build buildings and use buildings. You can spend two gold to do a different action than the one assigned by the number. There are also enemies that steal gold until you destroy them with a specific building action.

So this is what I ran into: almost all the buildings require gold and the only way to generate gold is through building actions. I’ve had number strings with no use actions and my economy completely dried up. Almost immediately. Once I was able to compensate by making a huge lake for points but when I haven’t had that action either, I was left drawing roads and skipping turns.

And, yes, the easy answer is to fudge the digit, either by waiting a few minutes or just fudging the number. Which feels like cheating but it might just be balancing the game.

I have notified that Tempus Infinitum seems to no longer being tested. Instead, there is now a game called Tempus Imperium Aeternum which looks more intricate. I’ll have to try it out.

(I’ve also been playing through Tempus Quest. A couple of design choices help deal with some of my issues. But that will be another blog)
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Fri Jul 15, 2022 4:05 pm
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Travel? Better pack some games!

Lowell Kempf
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For the first time since the initial lockdown, I’m going to be doing some honest to goodness long distance traveling.

And, while things like wardrobe and making sure my tablet has several hours worth of Disney to keep our son occupied on the plane, that also means packing some games. Because traveling without games is like traveling without books.

And I’m not going to be going to any conventions or gaming events or even planning on specifically seeing any gaming buddies. So games are going to be a tiny percentage of stuff packed and they will be focused on solitaire games.

I am mentally breaking my packing into three categories:

PnP In Hand Games. Since I keep a copy of Down and Flipword in my wallet, it’s not like I ever leave the house without some. But between potentially minimal time and minimum space for gaming, those are the games I’m most likely to actually play.

Pack O Game games. I don’t know if I’m going to play any multiplayer games but packing two or three of those is the best return of minimal space for maximum gaming. (HUE, LIE and GEM are what made the cut. The first two are very solid and very easy to teach while GEM is a strong game with a ‘full size’ feel)

Both of those are tried and true options for me. I don’t think I’ve left the state without a Pack O Game since they came out. But I think I’m going to add a third category: date-stamp-and-write games.

I’m planning on printing out some Tempus Quest and Tempus Infinitum sheets. I don’t need any dice, just my watch and pencil to play them. That’s about as minimal as you can get before you reach charades. And solitaire charades is about as boring as solitaire hide-and-seek. I have a feeling those will be my plane activity.

Honestly, everything I’m taking could fit into a coat pocket. If I was traveling with gaming my mind, I’d have a much bigger library. But this covers what I’ll need.
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Mon Jul 11, 2022 4:49 pm
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My June Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, somehow in June, I ended up trying a decent number of games. Itty bitty games, really, but more than I’ve played in a while.

Two of the games were from the first (and possibly annual) In Hand Design Contest: Brave the Book and Coffee Zombies. I am pretty sure I am not done with that contest’s entries either.

Brave the Book is a bookmark as a game and an exercise in counting words. I’ve already written about it. As a game, it almost felt like a modern veneer over a Victorian parlor game. I found it so-so at best as a game or activity but I really appreciate it as a mad experiment. One of the things I love about PnP and design contests is that they are safe places for crazy ideas.

Coffee Zombies may end up getting a full blog. It’s about using cupcakes to cure folks who have been turned into zombies by coffee. It has a bit of a Palm Island feel since you are rotating and flipping cards. It has one very interesting design choice. It is a separate action to put a card at the end of the deck. So you can keep developing the same card and some zombies don’t let you have the option of putting the card in the back.

I feel like Coffee Zombies could be solved. However, the designer added a special action card and an advanced deck which can be either played on its own or added to the regular deck. There’s more play out of it and, like so many contest entries, I have to wonder if this is the final version.

On the Roll and Write side, I tried out a few games.

I’ve already written about Goblins, Guns and Grog but my opinion of the game has actually gotten worse since then. The theme is good but the actual mechanics are weak. It has become my least favorite Legends of Dsyx game and it likely to stay that way.

However, I tried another of RobinJarvis’s games, one of the paper pinball games Goblin Circus. The last one from the first season I hadn’t tried. The paper pinball series aren’t very much like pinball but they are fun dice chuckers. Goblin Circus has a reroll mechanic, as well as a nifty jackpot goal.

Comparing the two games was interesting. Goblins, Guns and Grog is more ambitious but falls short. Goblin Circus is much simpler but it works and is fun.

I also played a game from an early R&W contest, Babhan. It’s a mixture of Roll and Write and Roll and Move as a solitaire. I’ve written about it, about how it makes several design choices to not make or a luck fest. It still is but I appreciate the effort.

Looking at ‘earlier’ design contests, I feel like design contests are becoming more and more testing grounds for prototypes with an aim for publication. Which is cool but there’s still room for madness like Brave the Book

I also actually bought a couple of games (Forbidden Desert and CYOA: War With The Evil Power Master) but haven’t had a a chance to play them yet.
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Mon Jul 4, 2022 10:23 pm
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Another look at Roll and Move

Lowell Kempf
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Babhan is a game from the third Roll and Write Contest, one of the three Roll ans Writes contests BGG held that year. (Seriously, for a number of actually legitimate reasons, it’s a contest type that happens a lot)

I’d have tried Babhan ages ago but, for some reason, it’s simple black and white graphics baffled our printer. But I finally made a copy.

Stripped of its theme of going to offer tribute to a king, Babhan is a roll and move game. That’s right, it’s a Roll and Move Roll and Write. (Not the first time I’ve played one either)

I’m not sure there is a game mechanic more reviled than Roll and Move, not even then optional fisticuffs conflict resolution system from Panzer Pranks. (To be fair, Dungeons and Dragons is the only game I can personally verify that has resulted in fist fights. Poker and hockey players have seen more, I’m sure)

I find it fascinating that one of the oldest examples of Roll and Move, Backgammon, uses several methods to add depth to the mechanic. Multiple pieces, the order you use dice being meaningful, the doubling cube. And while Backgammon took centuries to be codified, Wikipedia indicates many of these elements have been a part of the game since ancient times.

Of course, it is the Candy Land, Denny’s dining mat school of Roll and Move that makes the mechanic so hated. When you have one pawn and the dice/card draw/spinner determines where it goes then you either have minimal choices (in the case of multiple paths) or no choices whatsoever. It is an example of very lazy game design. And, no, the fact that it teaches very little kids how to take turns and count doesn’t help it much.

The earliest example that I am aware offhand is the Royal Game of Goose, although its history clearly indicates it wasn’t the first game that just used one pawn. That said, one the thing makes a difference in the Game of Goose versus Candy Land is that it was a gambling game. That changes why people would play it as a game of chance.

Why we play games is not the same as how we play games.

Yeah, Babhan was just an excuse for me to discuss Roll ans Write.

Babhan effective has just one pawn (if you are using a pencil, you mark off boxes) but has some mechanics to create choices. It uses a dice pool. You need sets of three or more 2s, 3s, 4s and 6s to move while 1s and 5s allow rerolls. There are branching paths, each with special rules. And you only have seven turns to complete the track, which doesn’t add choices but does add tension.

And, to be honest, it’s still not that interesting. I’ll play it some more to try out all the branches but I’m pretty sure luck more than clever play will still determine how I do. It might be better with modifications as a multi-player game.

I do like it as an experiment and an excuse to ruminate about Roll and Move.
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Fri Jun 24, 2022 6:47 pm
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The fluff and flaws of Goblins Guns and Grog

Lowell Kempf
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It’s been a while since I have learned a Legends of Dsyx title but I felt like it was time to revisit the series. I’d been planning on trying Goblins, Guns and Grog for a while so that’s what got picked.

In Goblins, Guns and Grog, you control the destiny of five stranded goblin pirates as they try to float on a raft home, trying not to die and trying to loot as many ships as possible.

The game really revolves around two things:
Making sure you have enough fish to not starve and building up the raft so you have cannons to attack ships and chests to store loot from defeated ships.

I’m of two minds about G to the third power.

On the one hand, I feel comfortable saying that it’s the mechanically weakest of the Legends of Dsyx games I’ve tried (which is ten of the twelve at this point) The dice control enough that you sometimes have very little decisions. In my first game, my goblins starved to death on the fourth turn.

If you can build up a big enough raft and outfit it, you do get more options. However it takes some luck to get to that point.

With a little bit of luck, your goblin pirates will survive their sea voyage. With a lot of luck, they will be able to bring home loot and score any points.

On the other hand, Goblins et al may have the strongest narrative structure in the entire series. You might not have much control over the story but a story is getting told. It easily has the most fluff of any of the games. Depending on what you want, that can be something.

The weakest element of the game, particularly from a story-telling element, is that the ships you are firing cannons at don’t fight back. Enemy shops are just boxes of hit points.

The Legends of Dsyx series are a bunch of one-page PnP R&Ws. Some of them, like Hall of the Dwarven King, are quite good. Goblins, Guns and Grog, though, feels more like an experiment that doesn’t quite work. It was interesting to try but, out of the series, it is the one I’m least likely to replay.
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Mon Jun 20, 2022 8:08 pm
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