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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There are some good free Roll and Writes that are good for kids

Lowell Kempf
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I was trying to write a blog about a game I tried called Santa’s Southern Cross when I realized that it all boiled down to I found it dull, I’d rather play Paper Pinball and the best use for it was to have a stack of play sheets at the kids table so the adults could finish Christmas dinner.

And then I realized that you can do a lot better if you want to keep the kids occupied with Roll and Writes, even if you don’t want to spend any money.

(I also realized that Paper Pinball is a threshold game for me)

Just off the top of my head, you could use Tanuki Matsuri or 13 Sheep or Canterpiller Feast. And if I spent twenty minutes going over my files, I’d probably come up with a dozen or so more.

What I realized you would need in my theoretical table of kids who’d rather play a Roll and Write than find fragile family heirlooms to destroy (hey, I was a kid once) are games that are thematic, accessible and actually fun. I quite enjoy abstracts but I think a theme is good for young minds to latch onto.

Tanuki Matsuri is a game where playful spirits collect fruit through theft. The cascading effects creates really fun gameplay. Canterpiller remains the closest thing I’ve found to The Very Hungry Caterpillar the Game I’ve found. And 13 Sheep is one of the only Roll and Wrotes I’ve found that just uses a single die and still works. Plus, cute sheep.

And all three of my examples are games you can teach in about three minutes.

Yes, I know if I actually brought a stack of Roll and Writes for the kiddies, the best I could hope for is then to become paper airplanes. But I could give kids quality games to ignore!
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Thu Feb 18, 2021 4:27 am
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Hasbro and Happy Meals

Lowell Kempf
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Our kid is still small enough that we still get Happy Meals so we have had a chance to see the current Hasbro toys. Each one is a simplified, miniaturized version of a classic game and is functional. Well, for a certain measure of functional. (Happy Meal memories blur together but I swear not all past board game promotions were playable)

Some of the games, like Battleship or Connect 4, are the regular games with flimsier components like card-stock checkers or just using graph paper. Although there is something a bit funny about playing Battleship the way it was played before it became a marketed product.

We’ve gotten Connect 4, the Game of Life and Monopoly because there’s a real limit of how many Happy Meals you are going to let your child eat. And, yes, a simplified Game of Life is a marvel that is only forgivable by a nifty spinner.

I was the most curious about Monopoly since it is the most complex base-game that is being offered. And it did not disappoint

There is no money. Just roll the origami die and move. If you land on an property that hasn’t been claimed, you get it. Whoever ends the game with the most properties wins. Yes, it manages to make Monopoly Jr feel like Catan.

On the one hand, I can’t say that any of these games are ones I’d play. Even Connect 4 which I think is a decent game, I’d want sturdier pieces. On the other hand, I have to give them credit for making games that can functionally be played. That is something.

And this is a step up from a roll and move track printed on a place mat.
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Sun Jan 31, 2021 4:54 pm
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How we had a Harry Potter Christmas

Lowell Kempf
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Without actually intending it, getting a LEGO Advent calendar every year has become a family tradition. Which is beyond fine in my eyes because LEGO is the world’s best toy system

For the last two or three years (yes, I’ve honestly lost count), we have done the LEGO City calendar. This year, we decided to switch to the Harry Potter one. Which proved to be a fun choice but not for the reason I expected.

A lot of the tiny little kits are very evocative of Victorian England. And that’s an ‘old fashioned’ Christmas feel because there is no way to overstate the impact that Charles Dickens has had on the modern Christmas. LEGO City is more evocative of a retro fifties Christmas so it was a fun change.

I’m glad we didn’t get Star Wars Advent calendar, which some of our friends did do. Our son isn’t (yet?) interested in Star Wars and, out of context, the spaceships look like abstract sculptures.
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Fri Dec 25, 2020 2:58 pm
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The Sandbox of Zelda

Lowell Kempf
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Our child, and I’m sure he is not alone among young kids in this, loves open world, sandbox video games.

I blame LEGO.

First of all, the first video game that he really got into and could play by himself was LEGO City: Undercover. I have never played Grand Theft Auto but I understand that Undercover is the LEGO version of it. Yes, there’s a story but there a big, organic city to explore where you can do whatever you want.

Then there is LEGO the actual toy. Now that I’m a parent, I have come to the conclusion that it is the best toy ever. The only limit is that your imagination and the number of pieces you have. You can do anything with them. Plus the mini figures are great exercises in what Scott McCloud described as the Masking Effect.

So that’s why our family is now exploring The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

By the way, the last time I played a Zelda game was on the Gameboy back in the early 90s. Wow, let’s just say that this is a huge leap.

For those of you who were like me a week ago and have no idea what Breath of the Wild is, it is a video game RPG with a profoundly huge environment. While there is an overarching storyline, there is so much to explore. And the story is quite fun but exploring the world and doing your own thing is what our son loves.

Of course, he needs a lot of help from Mommy. Zelda is a lot less forgiving that Lego City:Undercover. If he got my help, Link would just die constantly.

Also, I might not be understanding this but as I understand the story, Link spent a century in a healing coma while Zelda has spent that entire time fighting Ganon to keep him trapped in Hyrule Castle. Small wonder it’s her legend. Link might be the protagonist but Zelda is clearly the hero.

Originally a memory at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Dec 2, 2020 5:45 pm
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Osmo tricks our son into measuring stuff

Lowell Kempf
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Like just about everyone else in the quarantine world who has a child under 18, we have been inundated with ads for educational stuff for kids. I remember thinking back in the spring that the problem wasn’t finding stuff but figuring out what would actually help.

My personal theory is that consistency is the most important thing. Find something and stick to it. (EMPHASIS: I AM NOT A CHILDHOOD EDUCATION EXPERT) But the most striking thing we found (thanks to one of my sister-in-laws) is Osmo.

The idea behind Osmo is you tilt a tablet upright and put a mirror down on the camera so the tablet can watch the kid (or anyone else) draw or do stuff with different paraphernalia. Letter tiles, number tiles, tanagram pieces.

Part of me wonders if actually having the kids do stuff as opppsed to tapping on a screen or typing makes it more educational. Of course, I have absolutely no idea if that’s correct and there’s enough school-assigned stuff going on that I have no way to measure Oslo’s effect.

The latest one that we have tried out is Math Wizard and the Secets of the Dragons. It has kids measure pictures of dragons and then feed them with different length tiles of food.

So in other words, it tricks kids into learning how to eyeball measurements? That’s actually pretty cool, although I have Habitat for Humanity horror stories about measuring once and cutting twice. And that’s something I really haven’t seen taught in edutainment.

It’s actually caught our child’s interests, at least a little. And it teaches a skill that’s actually quite practical. After months of exploring educational tools, it’s nice to know there are still surprises.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Nov 25, 2020 4:33 pm
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Monopoly Junior - roll and pay rent

Lowell Kempf
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One of the grandparents sent us Monopoly Junior. It was on the table and getting played within five minutes of opening the package. It was a four-player game with one seat being filled by a teddy bear and we were worried the teddy bear might win at some points.

There’s a track of 29 spaces with eight pairs of properties, along with the usual suspects like Go and Free Parking and Chance and Jail. You roll the die. If you land on an unoccupied property, you have to buy it. If someone else already has it, you pay them rent and pay double if they have a monopoly. The game ends when someone runs out of money and whoever has the most money wins.

I’m of three minds of the game. On the one hand, I think it does a good job compressing and simplifying Monopoly while still keeping it completely recognizable as Monopoly. On the other hand, it manages to tip what I actually like about Monopoly into bin. On the mutant third hand, it definitely works as a kid’s game.

Two conversations from many years ago came back to me while playing it. One was from someone telling me that they almost cried when someone descibed Monopoly as ‘that’s the one where you roll the dice and go round and round, right?’ Another was a long conversation with
a friend who felt the problem with Monopoly was that kids are taught it too young so they never learned to negotiate or trade.

And Monopoly Junior is definitely roll the dice and go round and round. The game removes all the choices and trading and negotiation from Monopoly.

But... our first-grader immediately grokked how property ownership and rent and monopolies worked. And he definitely got into the game. As a way for our child to have fun and hopefully serve as a stepping stone to Catan, Monopoly Junior has promise.

So I will encourage him to keep on playing it. It is not a game I’d recommend for adults or teenagers or even older kids, like third graders. For any of those groups, I’d reach for Owner’s Choice for a super quick economic game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Sep 28, 2020 4:38 pm
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When Chess meets Calvin Ball

Lowell Kempf
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Our six-year-old son recently got out one of our Chess sets. Before I knew it, the pieces were having adventures with Ludo pawns all over the furniture with their movements ‘determined’ by dice rolls.

Am I ever going to get him interested in the actual rules of Chess or will it be Calvin Ball Chess forever? When will we sit down and have a game of Catan all the way through?

Okay, I’d much rather he figure out Zertz or Blokus or Rumus before worrying about Chess And we have come closer actually playing those games.

Honestly, it’s not like I have myself as example to follow. I really didn’t play tabletop games until halfway through high school. I really didn’t really start rolling until college and that was specifically role playing games. My time with board games didn’t even start until years after college.

Calvin Ball board games can be infuriating but I’m pretty sure they are important as well. Play is how kids work through things and figure the world out. That’s more important than figuring out how farmer scoring works in Carcassonne.

A good friend had success with No Thank You, Evil with their child whose just around a year older. Maybe I should think about trying that out or find my old copies of Once Upon A Time or Rory’s Story Cubes. Some games, they really are just an excuse to play Calvin Ball.

Originally scribbled down at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 31, 2020 3:20 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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Should a preschool cartoon make me feel this cynical?

Lowell Kempf
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Our six-year-old spent a couple days binging on the Rainbow Rangers cartoon, even though he’s a little old for it.

It’s basically a preschool version of Captain Planet and the Planeteers with that CGI that makes all the characters look like they are made of plastic. It does have a theme song that has the ear worm of any three given Eurovision entries combined. Honestly, neither of his parents think much of it.

However, there is one thing about the show that I find striking. The closest thing the show has to a villain is morally dubious businessman Preston Praxton, who makes Mayor Humdinger from Paw Patrol look like Doctor Doom. Quite a bit of the time, the heroes thwart him by giving him a financially viable alternative to his environmentally devastating ways.

Okay, the tv show is for a younger audience so peaceful conflict resolution is part of the package. And, as an educational, environmental show, showing alternatives and not just saying pollution is bad is pretty important.

However, the extent that the heroes help him out is sometimes astonishing to me. In one story, they agreed to actually flat-out manufacture an alternative fishing net that was safer for turtles. Another time, they agreed to let him photograph them instead of wild animals. (I know it wasn’t meant to be creepy but they are nine-year-old girls!)

I honestly feel that the show leans towards teaching that industry and business are at least as important as saving the planet. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing. I think appealing to enlightened self-interest may result in change, while appealing to altruism might not.

Should a program for preschoolers make me feel so jaded and cynical?


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 6, 2020 7:05 pm
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Bandido proves a good game for lockdown

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I had no interest in Bandido until the free, Covid-19 version was offered as a PnP for folks stuck in lockdown. You know, a whole lot of people right now.

Bandido is a very simple cooperative tile-laying game with every tile showing tunnel paths. The game begins with the bandido tile as the starter tile with eight tunnels leaving it. Everyone has a hand of three tiles and you are trying to lay down tiles to block the bandido from escaping with loops and dead-ends so that the whole tunnel system is closed.

The PnP retheme has half the cards of the original version and is themed around Covid-19 prevention. Instead of a bandido, the start tile has the corona virus and the dead ends are healthy habits like washing your hands and social distancing.

While Bandido reminds me of a _lot_ of different tile-laying games, the game it really makes me think of is a very simplified Ambagibus. And Ambagibus is already a really simple game so that’s saying something. I am pretty sure that Bandido, with the half-size deck of the PnP version, is more difficult than Ambagibus because fewer cards makes luck of the draw stronger. (I wonder if making two sets and combining them would offset luck of the draw.)

But here’s the kicker. Our six-year-old does enjoy occasionally playing Ambagibus but find the placement restrictions annoying. So I thought that Bandido would be a good fit, particularly with a Covid-19 awareness theme. That was enough to make me make it.

I tried it out as a solitaire first and found it to be about what I expected. A very simple tile-laying game that really didn’t have much to set it apart from any of the many tile-laying games I’ve played.

However, when I showed it to our son, he was quickly interested. Thanks to his interest in Ambagibus, he already knew how to play and he wanted to identify and discuss the healthy habits. We played three or four times in a row, counting him eventually going through the deck to find the perfect card.

Earlier in May, I tried out My Little Castle, another very light PnP tile-laying game and found it meh. Almost all of my criticisms of My Little Castle apply to Bandido. Neither game has anything that really makes it sparkle or stand out as a game. However, between healthy habit theme and ease of accessibility, Bandido Covid-19 really worked for us as a family game. I wouldn’t suggest it for gamers but I’ve already recommended it to friends with small kids.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri May 15, 2020 6:59 pm
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