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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Am I asking for the wrong things from dry erase markers?

Lowell Kempf
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I've been looking at my PnP copy of Akua, contemplating at how it hasn't seen any play yet. Frankly, we've found it a convoluted and not very intuitive.

I think that that is a side effect of its very nature. It is a game that is designed to be played with nothing but dry erase markers and the dryer erase board. At the same time, it is a game that is designed to be a full game with action selection and infrastructure development.

The format means no cards or hidden information or any random elements. The board and the pen marks have to handle everything and that can be a tall order.

It is kind of funny to think of developing what is basically a travel Euro, when the actual functional solution that we have used has been tablets. But I have to admire the desire to make a physical and mechanical game with such minimal components.

However, a game that I can play with a clipboard and some dry erase markers on a car trip or standing in line or on a plane needs to be one that I can play with a divided attention. I don't think Akua passes that particular test.

So I got to thinking, what kind of game would I want to play via dry a race that would both have the feel of a Euro or German Family Game? In the first thing that came to mind was something like Transamerica, where you would be drawing lines along a map to make connections.

Of course, you wouldn't be able to easily replicate the destination cards of Transamerica on the board. So then I thought it would need to be some kind of action selection game, where you choose to do things like draw track or make deliveries or other train actions. Since I'm clearly thinking about a train game.

Then I realized that might already exist with the pencil-and-paper adaptation of Stephenson's Rocket, another PnP project that I haven't played and really should. While it was designed for each player to have their own board, I think one board with different colored makers for each player should work.

Of course, Stephenson's Rocket, while I'm pretty sure it is more intuitive than Akua, also probably won't pass that test of being easily played with lots of distractions.

And, the truth of the matter is I really need to play both Akua and Stephenson's Rocket, not to judge them as how they work as dry erase games but how they work as games. Akua seems like it would be a good game with the right players. I know a couple guys back in Chicago who would love it but even more who wouldn't like it. And Stephenson's Rocket is a classic but will this adaptations do it justice?

At the same time, does this ideal dry erase game exist? I know there are games that use dry erase well (Some of my friends have raved about Captain Sonar) but one that would work on a plane?

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Apr 27, 2017 5:36 pm
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Another stab at elegance

Lowell Kempf
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When I look at the school of German Family Games, a word I see a lot is elegant. But elegance is a word that can mean a lot of things to different people. But in this particular case, I'm pretty sure that what elegance means simplicity. Not that the rules or the play is necessarily simple but that everything is stripped down to just what it needed to play the games.

(On the other hand, in Euros, elegance means that the game is complex but all the moving parts all fit together like clockwork. Which could mean the same thing, since you usually don't have extra gears in your pocket watch. But it doesn't feel simple so I'm calling it a different flavor of elegant.)

This is one case where the philosophy of German Family Games and Abstract Games overlaps. That simplicity is a key element to so many abstracts. Go is one of the complex games I have ever played, perhaps the most complex. But the ruleset is very minimal. Other genuine classics, like Checkers or Mancala or Hex are even more minimal. Seriously, Hex is so minimal but it is still a challenging and interesting game. But it is clearly not a German Family Game.

Part of my old definition of an abstract used to include no random elements and no hidden information. However, as I've heard many games I love Qwirkle or Ingenious described as abstracts, I've come to accept that that's too rigid a definition. However, I feel that games like Ingenious, originally introduced to me as a German Family Game, show how blurry the line between the schools can be.

One designer who I feel embraced that blurry line, probably helped create that blurry line, is Alexander Randolph. He and Sid Sackson helped guide the 3M game line back in the 1960s and 1970s, which helped develop the modern designer game. The 3M line definitely pushed the idea of games that weren't for children or for gambling but for intellectual stimulation. Oh lord, that sounded so snobby and elitist.

Many of his designs like Ghosts or Ricochet Robots or Bison or Twixt are fundamentally abstracts. Man, there is no other way to describe Twixt but as an abstract. But they were aimed at the audience that would define German Family Games. I wonder what he would make after he saw what has been designed today. (Of course, I wonder even more what Sid Sackson would design)

I do believe that these two schools of philosophy use simplicity for different reasons. The Abstract school, not always intentionally, uses minimalism to refine the game. The German Family Game school uses simplicity to make games accessible.

Abstract Games as philosophy is probably one of the most nebulous ones. After all, it includes centuries upon centuries of games that were independently developed all over the globe. So much of it comes from the natural organic development that took place over time. Minimalism necessity for games to be passed down by word-of-mouth over generations. German Family Games, on the other hand, are intentionally designed for a targeted audience.

So, when I just use the word elegant to describe a German Family Game, I guess I mean easy to teach and fun to play.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Apr 26, 2017 11:42 pm
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Memories of Yaz

Lowell Kempf
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I remember when I first saw the Baton Races of Yaz in 1984 as an insert in Dragon Magazine #82. It wasn't the first board game I'd seen in Dragon but the silly theme and simple rules really appealed to me. In fact, since I didn't want to cut up the magazine, I made my copy via xerox, making it my first print-and-play project.

The Baton Races of Yaz is a hex-and-chit game where, instead of trying to kill each other, the two sides are trying to be the first to break all the big glass balls in their color.

When I first saw it, I thought that it was really neat. I mean, I was seven or eight and here was in adult style hex-and-chit game that I could easily understand. Different types terrain, different types of units with multiple stats on them. (Basically speed, types of terrain it could move on) and if a unit could paralyze another unit.

Incidentally, this is how I learned what the word throttle meant as far as grabbing someone around the throat. The slow Lugants, who are the only unit who can't hold the baton, are the only combat unit, throttling opponents.

At the time I was told by older gamers that the Baton Races of Yaz was a flawed game, too simple. In fact, I felt kind of embarrassed being so enthusiastic about it.

However, so many years later with a lot of game experience during those years, I have come to some different opinions about the Baton Races of Yaz.

First of all, it was a very good introduction to hex-and-chit games. Heck, it even taught me how a lot of information could be one little square of cardboard. The most significant absence is a CRT (combat results table) since there aren't actually any random elements.

Second, I would now say that the Baton Races of Yaz is a combination of hex-and-chit and family game. Which is really a weird beast now that I've actually written that down. But the family aspect isn't just the goofy theme but the philosophy of the game as well. It's a race where you don't lose pieces. Interaction but, despite the throttling, not violent conflict. I mean, compared to an Ogre's Hellbore cannons In real life, if someone kicked me to the ground and started to strangle me, I'd call that violent.

That being said, The Baton Races of Yaz is neither a perfect game nor the perfect blend between those two genres. While the luck free element and the ability to pass the baton as a free action means a skilled player can set up some amazing plays, it also means unskilled play can really drag. And the better player will crush the weaker player, which is not a virtue in a family game.

(On the other hand, Ogre gives you the option of giving the six-year-old the Ogre tank and you don't take any howitzers as a way of evening the playing field)

The Baton Races of Yaz is not a hidden gem that was stapled in the middle of a magazine. It is, though, a decent little game with some interesting room for thoughtful play, as well as a really amusing theme. In some ways, I think it was ahead of its time while never intending to be.

The idea of a cross between a hex-and-chit game and a family game is an interesting one, albeit one that probably didn't occur to the Dragon staff. I wonder what other games are out there that could fill that niche. I wonder if there are undesigned games that could be built from the idea.

One of my old gaming groups bought the Dragon archive some years ago so I've had the files to make another copy for a while now. And that wouldn't be hard because the whole thing is two pages long, including the counters. And I think it would be worth making another copy, one a lot nicer my long lost xerox version.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Apr 25, 2017 10:57 pm
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Does this mean my PnP habit is getting out of hand?

Lowell Kempf
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Does this ever happen to anyone else? I was looking through my PnP files and realized I had not yet downloaded some of the files I had bought through Kickstarter.

I'd say that more than nine out of ten of the Kickstarters I back are at the PnP/PDF level. There's a very good chance that I will only make PnP pledges in 2017 as part of my goal to not buy any new games this year. PnP doesn't count

And there are plenty of good reasons I stick to the print and play level. Easy on the wallet and storage space. I like crafting games. And, frankly, I'm more confident on getting electronic files.

But sometimes, I lose track of them

Buttonshy turned out to be the one I was the worst offender on. You see, they offer black-and-white demo copies and we have a black-and-white printer. So I use those for the initial beater copies.

So I'll already have a copy of a game made but I forgot to get the final files

Anyway, I just went back and downloaded five or six files that I hadn't downloaded earlier. Often because I had already made the free version


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Apr 25, 2017 10:46 pm
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Okay, there is value in not thinking. Just not much

Lowell Kempf
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I have often written about how there are a lot of games the take a half hour or less to play but are still rich, even deep, gaming experiences. That you can have a meaningful gaming life even with a small time budget. There are even games like the tiny auction game GEM that take about 15 minutes that for still feel like playing a middle of a game night game.

But, let's be fair, a lot of shorter games are honestly light with simple decision trees. I like games like HUE or Love Letter or Burgoo but I wouldn't choose playing them four or five times over a game of Carcassonne or Ingenious or Qwirkle. They are good games and have their place but they don't have that deep level of engagement.

And then there are those games that really live up to the pejorative filler. Games that have super simple decision trees, sometimes practically not having a decision tree at all. Cthulhu Dice, whose sole virtue is having a neat die, or RLC, which doesn't even have that going for it, are examples of games with no decisions. Frankly, I'm not even sure if I can call them games.

But I guess those super light games do have their place. I recently read about how someone used Dragon Slayer for breaks during D&D.

Now, I found Dragon Slayer to be a meh dice game since your decisions were limited to choosing which dragon to fight since every fight was to the death. The challenge mechanic to force other players to fight one more dragon was the most interesting part. It stayed in my collection because the dice are neat and it is actually pretty thematic.

I can see how it would work well would you want something quick and, frankly, mindless. The fact that it has a fairly strong theme for such a thin game is also a plus.

That said, the game that has been my choice for quick, brainless dice game for the last few years is still Zombie Dice. More tension and, I'm not kidding, more actual decisions. It's more of a legitimate push-your-luck game.

It's a shame that our toddler has scattered the dice all over the house

I will probably never stop looking for short but deeper games. Even lighter ones that have interesting decisions are something that I will be keeping my eye out for. But I'm not really going to go looking for thought free games. But I will admit that there is value in having a few around.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Apr 21, 2017 11:11 pm
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Flicking pawns on a budget

Lowell Kempf
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While I have nothing against dexterity games, they aren't what I got into board games for. However, I do have some in my collection since they can be fun and you never know when someone might want to play one.

Sorry Sliders is one that has stayed in my collection by virtue of being fun, relatively easy to store and offering a variety of set ups.

The basic pieces of the game are four card board ramps, two double-sided center boards that give different scoring options, some plastic bumpers to modify the layouts and four sets of pawns to flick. The pawns are shaped like Sorry pawns but have rolling ball bearings on the bottom so they can really move.

Sorry Sliders has a number of variations but they all come down to flicking your pawns down the ramps to land on scoring sections and knock out your opponents' pawns. But, seriously, what else does it need to be?

Pretty much all you need to do to teach the game is set it up. Folks can take one look at it and understand exactly how to play. And people will want to play. Sorry Sliders there's definitely a lot of fun. I have never seen it failed to make a hit. And, like I said, I am not that into dexterity games but this is one that will never leave my collection.

It might have the Sorry theme but it really is a direct descendent of the wide family of table games that involve flicking things.

Sorry Sliders in many ways fills the same niche as games like Crokinole or Carrom. It practically counts as a variant of Table Shuffleboard. And, let's be brutally honest, Sorry Sliders is definitely not as good as those games. Plastic sliders and cardboard just don't compare to wooden or even graphite components. Dexterity games are a category where quality components directly affect gameplay, as opposed to just making things pretty

But Sorry Sliders, which I am pretty sure it is still in print, costs literally a fraction of what a decent Crokinole board would cost. Let alone what a really good board cost. And that really goes for any table game that involves a big wooden frame and board.

For a gamer with a budget (and isn't that every gamer?), Sorry Sliders is a really good choice. It might not be perfect but it is a really good return for its price. It would be cool to own a hand-crafted Crokinole board but Sorry Sliders will work for me.
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Thu Apr 20, 2017 11:41 pm
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Wallamoppi is all about the timer

Lowell Kempf
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Wallamoppi is a game that has left my collection for a number of reasons but, I have to say, it did what it set out to do very well.

It is a dexterity game for two players, where you are stacking disks that are part of a pyramid wall onto the top, making the wall grow skinnier and skinnier while the tower on top grows higher and higher.

The clever bit is that the wooden box that it comes in is also a marble ramp. At the start of the game, the marble is dropped down and the first player must make their move and catch the ball before it reaches the bottom. Then they drop it back in the top and the next player must make their move and catch the marble.

And believe me, that clever bit totally makes the game. Without the marble ramp, Wallimoppi would be a rather uninspired stacking game. With it, it has a great tension that makes playing it fun and exciting.


And every time I played Wallimoppi, a good time was had by all. A couple times, I took it to parties and it saw constant play.

So why'd I get rid of it?

Space was a factor. It's not a particularly large game but the wooden shoe box shape of it made it tough to stack on the shelf. And the marble ramp could be fiddly. You had to make sure it was set up right.

But the real reason is because it's just not a game that I will play very often. And when storage is an ongoing concern, sometimes you have to make those calls. I don't play a lot of dexterity games and one for precisely two-players is even more limiting. Elk Fest scrapes in by being small and flexible (and super cute) Wallimoppi doesn't have those same advantages,

Still, as I said before, Wallimoppi does what it does very well. I wouldn't turn down a game and I'd recommend to folks who like two-player dexterity games.
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Thu Apr 20, 2017 4:55 pm
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Exploring the Lost Continent via forum

Lowell Kempf
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At the end of last year, I got in another game of Microscope, the quirky RPG of building a timeline. I've been meaning to do a write up about it for a while.

While this was the fifth Microscope game I've been in (two successful and two fizzled out), this was the first one I played that wasn't with my old Indie crew from back in Chicago and this was the first time I played via the Boardgame Geek Forum. Although I have corresponded with Avri, the organizer, so it's not like I was playing with complete strangers.

The theme for the game was the Lost Continent, beginning with it rising out of the ocean and ending with it being discovered.

The game also had one of the toughest restrictions I have ever had in the game of Microscope. No fantasy or science fiction elements, although dinosaurs and other extinct creatures were acceptable. The only tougher one I've played with was no colors.

In all of my previous games, we push those elements to the hilt. Heck, in one of the ones that fizzled, I was pushing to have to human/human-equivalent, instead having the dominant race basically be the Mi-Go from Lovecraft's Whisperer In the Dark.

However, unlike that crazy color restriction, no fantasy or science fiction elements was a challenge to step up to. During the course of the game, I spent a lot of time reading about paleontology and archeology in order to try to make it realistic. I even got to introduce a version of the Beaker Culture, who I always thought were neat.

There were a couple hiccups at the start, one of which was me missing that it was my turn at the start and we did have one player disappear (which is happened in other games I've played) However, once we got rolling, the game blazed along.

Seriously, I have never played in a game of Microscope that went so fast. It was awesome.

We were a little under the gun. One of the other players was expecting their first child. Which was one of the reasons (but far from the only!) another of the games I was in fizzled. But in Avri's game, the expecting father TOLD us. You know, as well as actively participating.

In my experience, if everyone gets a chance to be the lens, that is a full game of Microscope. By the time we were done, not only have we done that but we got halfway around the table again. That was awesome.

For my first experience playing an RPG by forum, exploring the history of the lost continent via Microscope was great. I would play another game organized by Avri at the drop of a hat.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1669842/lost-continent-ic
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Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:17 pm
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Programmed Actions and the magnificence that is Shogun

Lowell Kempf
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I've written about how RoboRally really turned me off from the programmed action mechanic. And I have discussed Piranha Pedro redeemed the mechanic for me. But Piranha Pedro is a very light game. Is it a mechanic that heavier game could sustain for me?

Shogan showed me that the answer is a definite yes.

Here's the elevator pitch. Everyone is playing a Japanese lord (okay, a Daimyo, if you want to be specific) during the Sengoku period. (History buffs I've played with love that period in Japanese history) Over the course of the game, you strive to expand your lands, crush your enemies, and build up your infrastructure.

I'm not even going to try to go into detail about how Shogun works. Each turn, the twelve actions you can perform are randomly shuffled and dealt out to show the order they will happen. The players chose which provinces under their control will perform an action, which could be none of their provinces.


Special note has to go to combat, which takes place via the famous cube tower. That's a tower that has baffles in it to catch cubes that get poured into it. When there is a battle, you collect all the cubes (troops) involved and pour them into the tower. The cubes that come out determine who wins the battle. It's fast and simple and really acts as the summary of rolling a whole bunch of dice.

But there's a lot more going on that just combat. You have to juggle money and food, with the peasants potentially revolting when you tax them. You have to keep expanding your lands in the name of supplies and options and points. You have to build castles and temples and theaters to strengthen your hold (and get more points)

Really, Shogun had three four of the four X's in 4X. You need to expand and exploit and exterminate. Sorry, really no exploring. And if you play Shogun like it was a Risk, you are going to lose. Just like in the real world, fighting is only one piece of what makes up war.

I'm normally an advocate for shorter games because, well, time is precious and I don't have a lot of gaming time. Shogun, at around two hours, counts as a long game for me. However, it fills that time with so many rich and difficult decisions. It has a sweeping, epic feel that makes it seem greater (not longer) than two hours.

I've been playing Shogun off and on again for years. (Basically, when I'm visiting friends who own it) Every time, I learn more twists and turns and I am still pretty much a beginner at it. Shogun took programmed actions and showed me how they could be magnificent.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Apr 13, 2017 11:07 pm
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Programmed Actions and how Piranha Pedro redeemed them

Lowell Kempf
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Piranha Pedro is the game that taught me that I could have a lot of fun with programmed actions.

My earliest experiences with programmed actions as a game mechanic were with RoboRally and that was a game that I really didn't enjoy. However, the simpler, much faster but just as unforgiving world of Piranha Pedro turned out to be a blast.

Everyone in the game is collectively moving a single pawn, Pedro, about the board. And most of the board is empty water, so Pedro needs to be able to put a stepping stone down or drown. And if he moves onto a piranha, well, that's that.

Everyone has a deck of 12 cards, showing one, two, three steps in each of the cardinal directions. On each turn, everyone secretly selects a card. Then you go around the table and see what happens. If Pedro dies horribly when you are moving him, you have to take a piranha as a penalty chip. Whoever gets two piranha first loses and everyone else celebrates their collective victory.

As an additional twist, after Pedro dies everyone's collection of stepping stones resets. But the number of stones you get is based on the cards left in your hand. The lower movement cards are worth more stones. So the more cautiously you play, the fewer stones you get to keep Pedro from drowning.

Piranha Pedro is very simple to teach and understand and plays really fast. Even with canny players, it's probably a half hour at best. And with unlucky players, it can go by a lot faster.

While it can be chaotic, it's not a luck fest. Actually, there's nothing random in the game. Everything happens because of someone's choice. So it is really a game of playing the other players. Setting up traps and trying to dodge other people's traps. Taking chances and hoping they pay off. Remember, you are not trying to keep Pedro alive. You're making sure that somebody else kills him.

I think one of the most important differences between RoboRally and Piranha Pedro is that Piranha Pedro keeps pushing the game towards an inevitable end. The board develops as more stones get added but at the same time, as the decks run out, someone is going to slip up and send Pedro to feed the Piranha.

I will admit that I am not a huge fan of games that have only have one loser. Because it's a real bummer to be that loser However, Piranha Pedro it's fast and breezy enough that it doesn't really sting. But, at the same time, every decision matters.

I was quite lucky to manage to get a first edition copy of this game. And let me tell you, I'm not letting it go.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Apr 13, 2017 5:00 pm
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