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 August R&W

Lowell Kempf
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August came close to ending what has been my monthly learning new Roll and Writes. Which was never an actual goal of mine. It just kept happening August was just a busy month but I did manage to learn a few.

While I was already familiar with Robin Gibson’s Paper Pinball series, I tried a couple boards that I hadn’t tried before.

I’d played an earlier version of Sherwood 2146 but I tried the most recent version this time. I also tried a board from the second season, Squishington Goes to Venus. (Judging by the art, Squishington is a budgie that NASA sent to the planet Venus)

Paper Pinball is a guilty pleasure of mine, a game series that has slowly grown on me. They are very much part of the roll-them-dice-and-fill-in-boxes school of R&W. Which can be brilliant (The Clever family of games, for instance) but I’d call Paper Pinball just okay, if amusing.

I intentionally tried a very early board and a later board. And the differences were definitely there. Sherwood 2146 is so very simple and the decisions border on being mindless. Squishington, while still very simple, actually gave me choices and actual interactions between board elements.

Paper Pinball is still strictly a guilty pleasure but if someone asked me to recommend a board, it would be from season two. I will save season one for when I’m feeling brain dead, which means they will still see play.

The other Roll and Write I tried out for the first time is Stonemaier’s Rolling Realms. Holy cow, that was a completely different experience from Paper Pinball.

The game consists of nine micro-games, each inspired by one of Stonemaier’s larger games. It was developed as a game folks could play together long distance when they are under lockdown.

I’m not going to try to evenly lightly summarize Rolling Realms. It definitely uses the idea of there being way more to do than you can ever get done.

There have been ten different versions of the game, not counting the official version that is coming out. That makes it a little weird for me to access. And I’ll need more plays to really get even a vague handle on how many actual decisions the game has.

The only real issue I’ve had is that fitting all the micro-games and the rules on one sheet of paper leads to rule questions. The published version will have a rule book so that should clear that up.

September looks to be busy too so I don’t know if I’ll get in any new games. Even if I don’t, it’s been a better run than I expected.
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Sat Sep 4, 2021 6:22 pm
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A Rusty Throne is a war game for folks who don’t know war games

Lowell Kempf
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I am both the perfect audience and the worst commentator for A Rusty Throne. It’s a solitaire war game that feels like it was designed for those of us who don’t know much about war games. (My war game days were back in high school and that was a…while back)

It’s a PnP game. There is a board, which takes up only one page and consists of nine areas, and a small deck of cards. Beyond that, all you need is ten tokens for you and ten tokens for the AI king.

The idea behind the game is that the king has gone insane and you’re trying to take over the island kingdom. You know, in order to save the kingdom. I’m sure A Song of Ice ans Fire didn’t inspire the theme at all. Your goal is to control all four of the castles in the board. You lose if you lose your home castle.

The game is entirely card-driven. The cards have symbols for combat, actions for the king and command points that you pay for your actions.

There are actually only two actions in the game. Adding forces to a castle you control and movement. Combat happens when troops live onto an enemy-occupied space. And combat is pretty simple and symbol-based. Swords remove troops. Shields block swords. Then add up surviving troops and bugles. Higher number wins and the losing troop is shoved off. If there’s nowhere to run, they are destroyed.

While the game is simple; even for someone like me who isn’t war game savy, it is very procedural. The hardest part is getting all the steps in the right order without missing any.

I have to note that the game balances you being able to think and the king taking actions (sometimes randomly) from cards by making the king a lot stronger than you. The king outnumbers you at the start, goes first (which is particularly strong in battle) and has a higher stacking limit.

One lesson even I have learned is that you are not going to to win if you charge in Leroy Jenkins style. The AI king is stronger than you and you are going to have to use finesse to win.

A Rusty Throne has been an interesting experience for me and it is a game I plan to go back to. Frankly, between the relative ease of play and construction, I think this is a game that you should make and try even if you are just a little bit interested.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 9, 2021 8:08 pm
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Games learned during staycation

Lowell Kempf
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I recently had a staycation and spent part of the time working through my backlog of unplaced solitaire games.

This is what I learned:

Epidemic
Charles versus Peter (2020 9 Cars Contest)
A Rusty Throne
Halloween Roll and Fright
Maztec Duel (3rd R&W Contest)
Assault on the Colossus (7th R&W Contest)
Choose Your Adventure: House of Danger demo
Puerto Miau
Time Machine (Radoslaw Ignatow)
Count of Nine
12 Patrol
Utopia Engine
Agent Decker
Egyptian Solitaire
The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game
Flipword

Okay, I’m really just recording this for my own sake so I can easily look back at what I learned during the staycation. I don’t know how mucg interest or entertainment there will be for anyone else.

I will note that most of these games really are in the 10 to 15 minute range. I just needed to sit down and play through them. It will be easy to go back and play them again. But A Rusty Throne, Utopia Engine and Agent Decker are slightly longer games so I was happy to finally try them.

For the record, the two highlights were Count of Nine and Utopia Engine. Which are both pretty well regarded, so not a surprise.
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Sat Jul 24, 2021 1:04 am
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Epidemic- not quite Pandemic in your pocket

Lowell Kempf
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I sometimes think that making a smaller PnP version Pandemic is its own sub-genre. You’ve got Infection Express, Epidemic and Contagion. Heck, Asmodee itself got into the game when they offered Hot Zone as a free PnP file

Epidemic is the first one I’ve tried, since I didn’t have to worry about colors. And nine cards, plus some tokens, made it an easy project to throw together. (Yes, Contagion is one card. I’ll try that one next, okay?)

I would have actually tried Epidemic when it first showed up in the 2018 Nine-Card Design Contest (I made my copy then) but the rules had some vague bits, particularly about set-up, that confused me. When I saw someone had posted some revised rules, it all clicked and I was good to go.

Three of the cards form a map of the world with fifteen interconnected spots for virus tokens. One card is a track to track research and mutation. And the last five cards are the action cards.

The core mechanic is dead simple. You shuffle the action cards and lay them out. You can do any action but if you choose one that isn’t on the far right, it will cost you. Every card you pass over gets a virus tokens. The card you play goes to the end of row on the left. And if you pick a card that has virus tokens, they get added to the board. Oh, and the farther to the right (the start of the cars track), the stronger the card effect.

The three happy cards let you move along the research track, move the medic to clear virus tokens and make different special events happen. The bad cards add virus tokens to the board and move the mutation track along. To add to the fun, the mutation track has milestones that, when you hit them, make things worse.

Epidemic is a tiny little game with a tiny little track and a tiny little supply of virus tokens. It’s not hard to speed along the research track BUT it’s also easy to speed along the mutation track or use up virus tokens.

Epidemic is an interesting beast. Once I had the couple rules issues ironed out, it was very easy to understand. And some of that understanding came from knowing Pandemic. And I enjoyed it as a interesting puzzle game. The selling point of Epidemic is that you hit the managing the train wreck part of the game super fast.

But you can’t help but compare it to Pandemic and it isn’t Pandemic

If you are looking for a pocket-sized little puzzler that’s free to download and easy to make, Epidemic is worth a look. If you are looking for a pocket-sized substitute for Pandemic, a Pandemic you can fit in your pocket, Epidemic isn’t it.

It’s worst failing in that regard is that it really doesn’t function as a multi-player cooperative game. In Pandemic, everyone has their own hand of cards, pawn and special power to look after. In Epidemic, all the resources are global. Taking turns only makes sense if you use a variation where you can only talk by adding a virus token. And that sounds annoying. There are better games to manage communication with.

I do think that Epidemic might have the PnP Forgiveness Syndrome for me. I spent less than a dollar in materials and fifteen minutes in crafting. If I get five, ten initial plays in and then play it once ina blue moon for novelty, I’ll be happy. But if paid twenty dollars for it, I don’t think I’d be as pleased.

But Epidemic is free to download and easy to make. And it is a solid little puzzle that used tried and true mechanics and theme. I think most folks will find it worth the effort to try it out.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 12, 2021 4:57 pm
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Pointree: a game about a tree with a decision tree

Lowell Kempf
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Pointree was a game I was looking forward to trying after I read about it since, hey, it’s about helping a tree get healthy. (Well, what else does making life energy flow through a tree mean?)

It’s a Roll and Write game that belongs to the Take It Easy school of design. Which means that everyone uses the same rolls so there’s no technical limit to the number of folks who can play and it works just as well as a solitaire game.

The sheet has the outline of a tree with a network of connected boxes inside it. The boxes come in three different colors and are either blank or already have a number. Pointree lasts six rounds and each round you roll six dice and then do something with them.

The core mechanic of the game is dirt simple. You can fill in a blank box with the number from a single die. You can mark of pre-numbered boxes with one or more dice that add up to that number or more. You start at the roots and all the boxes you fill in have to be connected.

There are six different ways to score points and you have to pick one of them at the end of each round. And, no, you don’t get to pick any of them twice. And there are a variety of ways to get bonus points, including checking off sets of ones and twos. (Which is a nice touch since high rolls are intrinsically better)

I quite like Pointree and one reason why is that I keep doing badly at it. Despite being mechanically simple, Pointree is not readily solvable. And, while it would help, I don’t think rolling all sixes is the solution. Pointree has an actual decision tree.

Pointree is a Roll and Write that feels like it started out life as a board game. In some Roll and Writes, the sheet is just a place to write down the die rolls. In Pointree, how you develop your paths and connections is the meat of the game, not to mention how you cope with bad rolls.

Pointree is my game of choice if I wanted to get people to try out Ignatov’s designs.

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri May 21, 2021 9:08 pm
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Deadeye Dinah - fussy but fascinating

Lowell Kempf
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The jury is still out for me as far as Deadeye Dinah is concerned but I definitely like the idea and many of the mechanics of the game.

Deadeye Dinah is one of the entries in the 2021 9-Card PnP Contest. It’s still being refined and I haven’t even tried out the most recent rules. I’ll probably double dip and write about the finished version at some point.

It’s a PnP, in-hand solitaire. You print it out and make the cards yourself; the deck stays in your hands the whole time; and it’s just you alone against the game. In this case, you are a bounty hunter in the Wild West, methodically hunting down eight different crime bosses.

The cards are multi-functional. Other than an aide card, each card can be a boss, two different flavors of action card or a scene you have to overcome. The game is a campaign, where you work your way up from cattle rustlers and whiskey peddlers to the ringleader.

In each hand/game, you are going after a specific boss. The boss card will tell you how to set up your opening hand. The fewer cards you have in your hand, the more scenes you have to deal with. You have to overcome a scene using your cards either as items or as bullets. As you go through the bosses, you will level up and get better special abilities. Defeat all eight bosses and you win the campaign.

Deadeye Dinah does have some issues. I’ve made it most of the way through the campaign and I’m still not sure I’ve been following all the rules correctly. The basic idea of the mechanics isn’t complex but you have to track of your special ability, the boss’s special ability, items’ special ability and the effect of cover (if you use it) Shootouts in particular become surprisingly intricate.

Of course, every scene being a puzzle that doesn’t necessarily have a obvious solution isn’t a bad thing. It does mean the game is more than fidgeting. However, I want to make sure that I’m not making a mistake when I figure out that opaque solution.

That said, I have played through most of a campaign so I am having fun with Deadeye Dinah. I do like that the game is played with just the cards fanned. Some in hand games involved holding the cards in convoluted ways. Deadeye Dinah being very functional is a big plus.

Deadeye Dinah is clever with well designed cards and integrated themes. However, it can be frustrating and fussy. I am curious to see what the end result will be.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Apr 24, 2021 1:59 am
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Foothold Enterprises is a hidden diamond in the rough

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve finally gotten around to making and playing a copy of Foothold Enterprises. What I found was a game that was mechanically compelling enough that I want to keep playing but a seriously boring graphic design.

Okay. Here’s the info dump. Foothold Enterprises is a print-and-play, in-hand, solitaire game. That means you make it yourself, only one person can play at a time and you don’t need a table. Which are all things I’ve been exploring for the last couple years.

You are starting to get a startup company off the ground. You need clients, which are what the game calls points. In practice, it’s an auction game where you bid for advertising (special powers), clients (like I said, points) and money (the stuff you use to bid)

Every card has an ad power, a money value, a client number and the number of cards you flip if you want to bid for any of the three elements. If you want to bid on a card, you decide how much you are willing to bid, flip over the right number of cards and see if the cards add up to less than your bid. If they do, then you get the card.

A few clarifications. You track money with a money card and a paper clip. You get two bucks at the end of every turn so passing and getting money is important. And you don’t spend your bid if you bid for money since you’d never bid for money otherwise.

One of my favorite design choices is you use card positions to designate how cards are used. Client cards you win are turned upside down and put face up in the back of the deck. Ad powers are placed sideways. Every other card you use are face up and right side up in the back of the deck. It makes everything easy to track.

When I first played it, I said to myself ‘This is like the Zed Deck’, which was listed as an inspiration. So I got out the Zed Deck and played it again. And, no, it really isn’t like the Zed Deck. Other than being in-hand, they are different experiences. The Zed Deck is very encounter-based while Foothold is auction/money management. (I don’t consider trying not to lose all your health resource management )

I’m not going to lie. I really didn’t know how well Foothold Enterprises would work. It ended up actually being a lot of fun. To be fair, the auction mechanism is less an actual actual mechanic and more a push-your-luck mechanic. (And don’t give me the everything-is-a-push-your-luck-mechanic argument) Regardless, the gameplay has a good flow.

I did find that by being conservative when I went after a card and liberal about how much I bid, hitting the fifty client mark wasn’t hard. However, raising the benchmark made for a much more challenging game. Either way, I had fun.

The biggest ding I have for Foothold Enterprises is the terribly dry presentation. It was great for saving ink and the design wins points for being very functional. But the lack of art makes them dull enough that I have to think that contributes a lot to why no one seems to know the game. The Zed Deck, as a comparison, is much more visually interesting. Maybe a redesign where the cards look like business cards would solve the problem.

While Foothold Enterprises doesn’t knock down Palm Island from its spot as the best In-Hand game I’ve played, it’s still a game I enjoy playing and plan on keep playing.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Mar 22, 2021 8:05 pm
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Clockmaster makes drawing a clock face fun

Lowell Kempf
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Clockmaster is a game about drawing a clock face. As far as elevator pitches go, it leaves me cold (and I couldn’t wait to try Bohnanza sixteen years ago!) And yet, when I actually played the game, it had an immediate ‘let’s do that again’ effect.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2488929/wip-clockmaster-sol...

The whole thing, rules and all, fits on one sheet of paper, which is why I tried it in the first place. (It’s a PnP, R&W solitaire. No, jargon doesn’t get in the way of communication ) The actual play area consists of a blank clock face, a list of special actions and an hourglass with 24 circles.

You play with a pool of four dice. Roll all of them and then you assign two dice to the clock, one to action (which is different than special actions) and one to sand. An action die of 1-3 means you just use one of the clock dice while 4-6 means you use both.

You use the clock dice to fill in the numbers of the clock. If you’re using just one die, you write one of the numbers down in the right place. With two dice, you can add, subtract, multiply or divide the number. You can also use the turn to draw in the minute or hour hand regardless of what the dice say.

There are also four special actions. You can use each one once and you cross them out when you use them. The include things like rerolling a die or flipping a die.

You use the sand die to fill in that many circles in the hourglass. If you fill in the hour glass before you finish the clock face, you lose.

As I already mentioned, the theme doesn’t do much for me and I like games about bean farming or trading in the Mediterranean. However, there’s a lot of interesting dice manipulation for such a small space.

It’s not perfect. I find the most 1-3 action of just writing in a die’s number seems pretty dull compared to doing arithmetic with two dice. And, while the odds are against it, ‘bad’ die rolls can fill in the hourglass super fast and it takes fourteen turns to complete the clock face. It’s dice so it’s luck but it can still be annoying.

Apparently the designer is with me on the theme since they took the core mechanic and used it for a game about secret agents deactivating a bomb

Clockmaster isn’t my new favorite Roll and Write but it is a solid one-page work with more interesting choices than I expected. It went from ‘meh, it’s one page so I’ll try it’ to ‘oooh!’

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Mar 19, 2021 5:31 pm
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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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Forest Guardians is a beautiful game about fighting to the death

Lowell Kempf
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In this particular case, I’m writing about Forest Guardians, the entry in last year’s nine card contest, not the tile-laying game about being a forest ranger in Taiwan. That does look like a nice family game, though.

In this Forest Guardians, you control a party of three mouse knights who are fighting five enemy cats. The game consists of nine cards and some way to keep track of health. (I used paper clips, which worked well)

Every single card in the game has a special power and most of the game is making the best use you can of your mice’s powers and trying to cope with the cats’ powers.

A key mechanic is what I think of as a doom clock (which doesn’t make any sense as a name but I’m using it anyway) Five of the cats (one is randomly left out of the game) are laid out in arc. Each mouse has an arc on their cards which shows which positions they attack (and for how much damage) and which positions attack them.

A skirmish solitaire game, you win if you kill all the enemy, even if you die in the process. (Yes, it’s quite possible)

Before I talk about the mechanics, I do want to mention the art. It’s gorgeous. Seriously, I have paid good money for games that didn’t have nearly as nice art.

I went into the game with lowish expectations. I figured that with a pool of six opponents, it would be easy to figure out a formula to win. However, the positions of the enemies makes such a huge difference that the game is much trickier than I thought.

And the enemy effects are rough. I’m not convinced that you can have an unwinnable layout but it may be possible. Regardless, you actually have to think when you play. It’s a much better puzzle than I expected and more thematic as well.

The decision tree is front loaded. The early moves, when all five enemies are alive and can cause you problems are where you make the crucial decisions. The later rounds are where you find out if those decisions will pan out. However, since the game is pretty short, I don’t view that as a problem. And the brevity makes playing another round both easy and enticing.

In short, Forest Guardians is good enough that I’m hoping it gets expanded.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2349088/contest-ready-fores...

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Feb 15, 2021 7:14 pm
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