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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My May Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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Okay, what interesting gaming things happened to me during May?

I continued my effort at learning at least new one Roll and Write a month with Mini Town from Dark Imp. It belongs to the draw-stuff-on-a-grid school of R&W. The number of Roll and Writes I’ve played like it is in the double digits and that’s just counting published games. Throw in design contest entries and it gets silly.

And, honestly, while I like how the symbols interact, it doesn’t do anything special from a gamer standpoint. However, one of the design goals was to work in the classroom or a similar environment and I think it checks several boxes there. So, mission statement accomplished.

I also learned ROVE, a solitaire game about rearranging cards in a pattern. I haven’t made up my mind about it. I’ve done horribly in my plays so far But a solitaire has to be tough to be worth replaying. So I think ROVE will end up being a good experience.

However, the most interesting thing that happened to me gamewise was mentoring a group of fifth graders playing D&D as part of my job as a substitute teacher.

I went in afraid that it would be a ‘I cast magic missile at the darkness’ but honestly, the kids did a lot better than that. The kids needed a couple nudges to stay on track and to keep it clean but it went well. (And, no, I wasn’t the dungeon master)

It went a lot differently than my experiences playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was in fifth grade. I think video games and other media have given kids a better sense of how RPGs work. More than that, I think that fifth edition is both more user friendly and more balanced than first edition.

It reinforced my opinion that both players and publishers have really changed over the last forty years. And that’s a good thing.

So, May was pretty good.
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Fri Jun 3, 2022 7:57 pm
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My May PnP

Lowell Kempf
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May was the last month in the school year and most of my crafting ended up being about potential class work.

Here’s what I made:

Cunning Folk (B&W, nine card demo)
Yard Builder
Hello Autumn
Tanuki Matsuri

Oh, and the base version of ROVE

I made four copies of Cunning Folk and eight copies of Yard Builder, Hello Autumn and Tanuki Matsuri for classroom use. I printed the rules on the back of the Roll and Writes and laminated them so each one was a self-contained, reusable game. I made enough of each game so that multiple tables could play each game in the classroom.

And then I ended up monitoring a game of Dungeons and Dragons instead Well, there’s always next school year.

The one game I made for my own use was ROVE. I have played it a few times but haven’t decided if I want to make the expansions yet. Probably but not certain. One thing that is for certain. I’m terrible at it

Not sure how June will go. It might see more crafting or just a couple projects. I can see it going either way.
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Wed Jun 1, 2022 6:46 pm
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Playing Chess with a second grader

Lowell Kempf
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I recently learned that our son has been learning about Chess in one of his classes. And after he learned that I learned, he asked to play a game with me.

He has the patience of an eight-year-old so I didn’t know how it would go. While I had to correct him several times (pawns and knights were particularly confusing for him) and I went so easy on him that even he could tell, we actually got through the game.

I won’t lie. I’d rather it be Go but it’s easier for me to see why Chess works better for young ones now.

Beyond the fact that the scale of Chess is much smaller than Go ( 64 spaces compared to 361 spaces and 32 pieces compared to theoretically 361 stones (I am pretty sure you can’t legally filled an entire Go board but I’m prepared to be proven wrong)), it’s easier to see the narrative of Chess than Go. Yes, the narrative of Go is much richer but it’s more abstract.

Each Chess piece having its own type of movement and it’s own name may have helped our son understand the flow of the game. I’m seriously wondering if Hive would be a good game to try out with him.

I don’t know if he’s going to ask for another game of Chess but I’m glad that we got this game in.
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Mon May 16, 2022 9:48 pm
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Mario Maker 2 is an art studio

Lowell Kempf
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Our son likes to create his own goals and personal narratives in video games.

Enter Mario Maker 2.

Mario Maker is a virtual construction set that lets you build your very own platformer levels for Nintendo’s mascot to go through. More than that, it has a variety of different art settings so you can live as Mario through the ages.

Man but this thing was made with our child in mind.

One of my earliest computer game experiences was Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set. And, to be honest, I suspect that is a game/tool box/experience that would still hold up today. And the Mario Maker series is exactly like it for Super Mario games.

There is a story-mode that also serves as a tutorial for the frankly ridiculous number of tools that you have at your disposal. As opposed to Mario having to rescue Princess Peach for the upteenth time, he is earning money to rebuild her castle after it accidentally gets destroyed. Which I think is an adorable concept.

But our son isn’t interested in the campaign mode. He’s interested in creating what are more like art instillations than more functional levels. Which is absolutely wonderful. It turns Mario into a pure act of creativity. Whenever we get a new video game, there’s always the question if it will be good for us, Mario Maker 2 has quickly proven to be good for us.

I already consider video games to be an art form but Mario Maker 2 is an art studio.

(And yes, you can share designs via the internet but we’re not having our son share stuff with strangers on the internet. Says the guy whose positing this to strangers on the internet lol)
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Tue May 10, 2022 2:20 am
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Love Letter as a classroom game

Lowell Kempf
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There are a couple of classes that I sometimes sub for where board games can be used for learning purposes. And, I honestly have more than enough material to last until the end of the school year, I still keep thinking about even more stuff.

And if part of the lesson is having the kids figure things out for themselves, having components that help teach the rules is something to look for.

One game that I have already been discussing using is Cunning Folk, the game that got me interested in Button Shy (and that’s an interest that has been very good for me. Button Shy is awesome for the casual PnPer) yYou can’t learn the game just by looking at the cards but you can learn a lot.

But another game that fits my needs (relatively short playing time, informative components, easy to learn) is Love Letter. That’s a game that you can practically learn just from the cards.

The individual decisions the kids would get to make are very simple. Two cards per turn and every card tells you just what it does. But every decision affects the game and you have to pay attention to what everyone else is doing. There’s a very small jump between learning the rules and making critical decisions.

I am reminded why Love Letter was a watershed event. It channels interaction and decisions is tiny, focused format. I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to use it in the class room but I am confident it would work there.
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Fri May 6, 2022 8:08 pm
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13 Sheep in the classroom

Lowell Kempf
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I had the opportunity to teach a fifth grade class 13 Sheep and run through a couple games of it with them. And I took that opportunity because I love teaching games

Honestly, unless it’s built into the syllabus, there’s not much call for teaching board games as a substitute teacher. Keeping the kids focused and on task is the job. And if games get to be on the lesson plan, they need to be for education, not distraction.

Trust me, I haven’t seen a class yet that needs help being distracted.

13 Sheep is one of the simplest Roll and Write games that I know of that I still think offers interesting choices. It also follows the Take it Easy paradigm of everyone doing their own thing on their own board. That meant I could have an entire class room playing the same game at the same time.

While I supplied the game and the teaching, the teacher who I was helping supplied the structure. In addition to critical thinking, which 13 Sheep definitely has going on, he wanted the kids to look at emergent behavior. Really, more their own behavior than anything else

This involved having them examine the game sheet before telling them any of the rules. This also involved playing more than one game (which wasn’t hard, even under the circumstances) and unpacking what they learned from each game.

Honestly, I probably learned more than the kids from the experience. Obviously, there are some games that have an obvious educational slant. The 10 Days series reaching geography as one obvious example. However, I already thought that using games to help critical thinking and judgement was a good idea. And this one session helped me consider how to approach that.
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Fri Apr 22, 2022 9:38 pm
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Wrapping things up. Creative Kids R&Ws part four

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. Last two Roll and Writes in this collection.

Vegetable

No grid this time. The playing area is scattered with dice faces, vegetables and rotten tomatoes. You roll six dice at a time. You then pair dice up and draw lines in between dice faces that match those dice. You’re trying to box in vegetables for points but not rotten tomatoes that will cost you points.

If you’ve played Raging Bulls, it all makes sense.

And while Raging Bulls is a stronger than Vegetable, Vegetable is still very solid.

The game lasts nine rounds and you will be drawing three lines per round. (And yes, the lines have to be straight and not touch anything between their two points) That’s not nearly enough lines to box in everything. You also get to change a die six times during the game so there’s some dice manipulation.

In other words, you have to make real choices, the decision tree is wide for a game of this weight, and there aren’t obvious best choices.

I don’t know how vegetable might work in the classroom. Drawing lines isn’t that hard a concept to teach. But I’m sure you’d get a wide variety of finished player sheets!

Hello Autumn

I have been struggling to succinctly describe Hello Autumn. Which is hilarious because it’s one of those game where one glance at the player sheet explains the game perfectly.

The sheet has fifteen leaves on it. Each one has a one of three different colors/symbols, along with two different scoring conditions. One will be either even or odd. The other will be a number greater than seven through nine.

Each turn, you roll four dice and put the results into a math chart. Row of four values, add each values that is next to each other to get three values. Which the chart assigns to a specific symbol/color. I’ve done a poor job explaining it but, again, the actual player sheet makes it easy to understand.

You assign each number to a leaf with a matching symbol/color. You get a point for each scoring condition, up to two points per leaf. Five round and most points wins.

I initially was annoyed that the game rewarded rolling high numbers. Then, I decided that it wasn’t a game about optimization but one about damage control. Then it clicked.

Honestly, I think Hello Autumn might be frustrating for kids in a class room. You aren’t always rewarded for making smart decisions but hurt less by making them. But I think it would work well for more dedicated gamers.

*

These were interesting games to wrap up my examination of the Roll and Writes from the collection. On the one hand, they don’t feel ideal for the classroom, particularly Hello Autumn. On the other hand, these are the games that I would recommend to seasoned gamers the most. They lack obvious, easy choices, which makes them more interesting.

At some point, I’ll probably look at the other games. Roll and Writes are just ones I could easily solitaire, which made them easy to check out.

I partially got the collection because I thought they might come in handy as a substitute teacher. But I don’t think they will. I’m not going to be with any group long enough to properly teach the games. And, while there are kids who would love them, there are kids in every group that would fight having to learn them.

Still, I am glad the collection exists and that I got it.
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Fri Mar 4, 2022 7:39 pm
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Creative Kids R&Ws part three

Lowell Kempf
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Yup. Still working my way through these. Looking at them as a gamer and as a substitute teacher.

Block Craft

Despite the obvious reference to Minecraft, this is another game about drawing shapes on grids. Which is a great genre so that’s not a knock.

You have six numbered 4x4 grids that have gems and holes scattered on them. You have six numbered shapes.

Block Craft lasts eight turns. Each turn, you roll one die. You can either chose a grid that matches that number and draw any two of the shapes on it OR you can pick a shape that matches the number and draw it on two different grids.

You get points for covering up gems, ‘mining’ then. You get bonus points for collecting every gem of a type across the six grids and for collecting every gem on a grid. There’s also a bonus for not covering any holes.

But it f you cover three or more holes in a grid, you’ve destabilized it, collapsing it. You can’t draw on it and you lose any points you’d have gotten from it.

I have to admit that I like Block Craft. The decision space is wide open. You have a lot of options and it is fun.

That said, I can see students being confused by having that many choices. I also wonder if the broad decision tree makes it too easy to do well

Words

Seriously, there couldn’t have been a better name than Words?

Words is an acrostic word game. That’s where you have words interconnected like in a crossword puzzle or Scrabble.

The player sheet is a grid with some letters already filled in and some filled in spaces. You have six categories: names, animals, food, items, colors and wild. Roll the die to get the category and write in a word.

You don’t have to make it an acrostic but you get extra points if you do. You lose three points if you can’t write in a word but it honestly takes some bad play to do that. Ten turns and you’re done.

It’s an okay word game. If you like word games, it’s a good little filler. But, as long as I’m working with kids who can spell, Words is really promising. It’s clearly educational and acrostics are a concept that should be familiar and easy to pick up.

*

One thing that I really like about both Block Craft and Words is that they have broad decision trees. I play them with a room full of people, kids or otherwise, every sheet is going to look different.
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Mon Feb 21, 2022 4:52 pm
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Our child forces us to find out about Among Us

Lowell Kempf
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Our son recently became enamored with an Among Us plush, which meant that we had to find out what Among Us is.

… So, let me get this straight. It’s a video game where Mafia/Werewolf is the core mechanic?

Oh, who am I kidding? I bet it’s one of over a thousand video games that uses the hidden traitor(s) mechanic. The only reason I don’t know about any of them is because it isn’t used in Animal Crossing.

And the two minutes I spent researching Among Us via google made it clear that it wasn’t just pointing fingers and accusing each other. There is also other stuff you have to get done or lose.

Which doesn’t make it any different than the dozens of board games that also use the hidden traitor mechanic as a core concept. I’m kind of OG so Shadows Over Camelot or Battlestar Galactica is what I think of but I also know that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Still, while Mafia/Werewolf is a simple activity, it’s easy to see why it’s popular and has inspired so many more complicated games. People lie.

When the Resistance hit it big, none of my gaming groups were into social deduction so I was a little bewildered. However, hearing about playground games of Among Us (with all the kids wanting to be invaders), it’s clear that social deduction is not going anywhere.
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Mon Feb 7, 2022 3:41 pm
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Creative Kids R&Ws part two

Lowell Kempf
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Okay. I meant to type these little mini-reviews out in quick order. But I got distracted by other stuff I wanted to write.

Anyway, I’m sometimes a substitute teacher and I approached these games as possible classroom exercises. I almost always have acccess to the syllabus so it will never happen but that’s where I’m coming from.

Seal

Seal has you creating a path for a baby seal across a grid of ocean bubbles, getting points for catching fish and saving tangled seals while losing points from anemone and sharks.

So, you’re drawing a line on a grid.

You roll one die. Each die has three possible line shapes, which include jumping over spaces. In the regular game, you cross off a shape once you use it. In theory (and it’s very unlikely) the game could end in four turns if you rolled the same number four times.

There’s a simpler version where you don’t cross off shapes. In the classroom, I’m more likely to teach it that way. Not to make it simpler but to encourage kids to make different lines, to make the decision tree bigger.

Honestly, Seal has a strong one-more-time feel. It is simple but it’s fun to explore the possible paths. I don’t know how much replay it has but it works for short term play.

Tetri Go

You roll a die to determine which four-square shape you ‘drop’ down into a grid. If you’ve played Tetris, you know how it works. You get points (or lose them) by covering up symbols on the board, so it’s a bit like Reiner Knizia’s FITS in that regard.

Tetri Go is terribly simple but still offers a decent decision tree. It’s honestly one of too choices for the classroom because the core concepts of the game are going to be ones that kids already know but there is still room to think.

It’s also a game I’ve taken to playing if I want to get in a quick analog game in a few minutes. It only last eight turns and you need make up your mind what you’re going for in the first turn or two but I’ve had fun. 13 Sheep is honestly better but it’s nice to have another game in that niche.
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Fri Feb 4, 2022 6:41 pm
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