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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Digging beneath the surface of Airships

Lowell Kempf
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Tucson
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My regular gaming table recently brushed off Airships for the first time in a while. We had all liked it the last time it hit the table but it didn’t make it back on account of the old too-many-games-not-enough-time syndrome. And there is something about it that I like, although I am still trying to put my finger on exactly why.

It’s certainly not a game that made a big splash in the greater gaming scene. While it’s by Andreas Seyfarth, which is a name to inspire by, it’s no Puerto Rico. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why people seem less than impressed by it. Seyfarth’s small catalog of games sets a high standard with Puerto Rico, Thurn and Taxis and Manhattan. Airships isn’t bad but it pales in comparison to those games. If you’re expecting caviar, even the best meatloaf is going to seem subpar.

And, on paper, I wouldn’t think that it’s a game that would really stand out for me. When I read through the rules of Airships, it seemed like a light, fluffy game that had easy choices and a lot of luck involved. After all, most dice games have some kind of Yahtzee-style reroll mechanism and with Airships, you get one roll per turn.

However, while revisiting Airships, I found myself thinking that there was more going on in the game than looked at first. Maybe what I was really realizing was that I don’t understand dice as well as I should. Maybe I need to read Knizia’s Dice Games Properly Explained.

Without going over the rules in excruciating detail, you build up pools of white, red and black dice during the course of the game. Every color has a different range of numbers but they’re all six-sided. The numbers are also not evenly divided on every die so the odds of rolling a specific number on a specific die are not just one in six.

Every card has a number on it and a combination of dice that need to add up to at least that number. That’s the cost of getting the card. Cards will give you more dice, ways to manipulate dice or points. The board also has stages for constructing the Hindenburg, which follows the same rules.

Unlike almost any other game like this I’ve played (To Court the King or Kingsburg, for instance), you do not roll the dice and figure out what you want. You have to pick the card out first and then go for it. Between this and only getting one roll, Airship subtly breaks the unspoken expectations of a dice game, breaks them in a way that I would have thought increased the power of luck in the game.

However, when it got back on the table and we started playing it again after several months of forgetting it was in the closet, the game started to pull some new levers in my brain. While Airships isn’t super deep, it occurred to me that there was more going on than I had thought and the way the unusually pipped dice and the cards interact leads to some surprisingly informed choices.

What I noticed was that the cards has been priced so tightly that even getting a +1 to a roll made a big difference. Seyfarth is well known for refining and play-testing a game to within an inch of its life and when I started paying attention, I realized that he had made sure that even getting a little bit of an edge, like the +1 you get from the wooden airship token, would make a big difference.

Most of the advantages that the cards give you in your roll tend to be relatively subtle ones, with the arguable exception of the ones that flat out give you more dice to roll. You also only have six slots you can fill with cards and you can’t double up on a type. You have to choose your tools carefully and you also will never get all the tools you want. I have a feeling that if we play the game enough to get to know the cards well, the game will feel a lot less random.

In general, I have come to believe that Airships is a game where you can figure out the odds almost exactly and you can make small but meaningful improvements to those odds. There aren’t any huge, game breaking abilities in the game, just a series of small, quiet decisions that will hopefully all add up by the end of the game.

When all is said and done, Airships is still a pretty light game. It's definitely the lightest game that I've played by Seyfarth. However, there's more than just rolling dice and hoping for the best. Airships uses dice in some interesting ways that only come apparent when you start looking at the way the custum dice are pipped. It stands out on its own and isn't just another yahtzee clone.
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Fri Sep 30, 2011 5:18 pm
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Degrees of Separation

Lowell Kempf
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With the advent of an ipad in our lives, I have found myself thinking about the degrees of separation that form between us, the games we play and the people we play them with.

For instance, the platonic ideal that I dream of is to play the actual physical, hardcopy, analog version of a game, face-to-face. You know, playing a copy of the game at a table with other people. Kind of the baseline definition of playing a board game. When you are playing a game like that, there really is no separation between the players.

However, we live in an age where that’s not required. My fiancée and I can now skip having an actual copy of the game out and play on the ipad instead. We’re still playing face-to-face, albeit usually on the couch rather than on the table. We’re still in the same room but we’ve taken the physical game out of the equation.

Then, there’s the next step after that, playing a game online with someone else in real time. The other person isn’t in the same room as you and the physical game doesn’t even exist. However, you are still playing with other people with the same kind of time restrictions that you have in the earlier two degrees.

After that, we have playing by mail or by e-mail. In cases like those, even the element of time has been removed. The other person could have a completely different schedule but all that matters is that eventually we know a move will be made.

I’m not going to worry about playing solitaire games or playing against A.I.s. A game that is designed to be played solitaire is its own kind of beast and an A.I. is a substitute other person. I admit I don’t care very much for playing against A.I.s but I don’t think my prejudices really matter when it comes to looking at the current subject.

The obvious observation is that every other way of playing a game that doesn’t involve sitting at a table with other people is a substitute for that. That playing that way is pretty much the text book definition of playing a board game. And I suspect most people reading this would view that as the best way to play a board game, although the prevalence of online gaming experiences like World of Warcraft might indicate that I’m just old fashioned for thinking that.

However, the other degrees wouldn’t exist if we didn’t get something out of them.

What we get out of them is also pretty obvious. Convenience. The various electronic methods of playing games save us the trouble of setting up a game and doing the housekeeping of making sure the cards and pieces are in the right place. They help us deal with issues involving space and time management. Not only can I play a game with someone on the other side of the world, I don’t even need to own a hard copy of the game and have it take up space on my shelves.

Indeed, the greatest degree of separation from the other player(s) is the one that has existed the longest. People have been playing chess by mail probably since the first postal routes were developed. What that says to me is that there is an incredible drive to play games. If you are willing to take thirty to sixty days to make a move, there is something going on here that is greater than casual amusement!

I also know that the ipad and online gaming has let me get a lot more gaming in than I would otherwise. I still try to schedule a game night every week but the electronic powers that be allow me to get some gaming in almost any day I feel like. They have actually made games a more integrated part of my life.

Electronic game may have separated me from the physical experience of gaming but they have not replaced the time I spend gaming in person. They have allowed me to play more games with more people.

So, in the end, what I have been calling degrees of separation might actually be degrees of integration.
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Thu Sep 29, 2011 3:50 pm
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Potion Making : When great art and appropriate mechanics create magic

Lowell Kempf
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As I’ve mentioned before, I was one of the folks who Right Games LLC (http://www.russianboardgames.com) contacted to preview the English releases of some of their games. I have not gotten in enough plays to really do what I feel would be a proper review of their Potion Making: Practice but I still want to comment on the game.

I understand that it’s their bestselling game and has been cited as the most popular card game in Russia. I always thought that was Durak but I also always view any description like most popular with some doubt. And most popular is not always a good sign. After all, Munchkin is a popular game and Twilight is a popular book/film series and I avoid both of those like the plague.

That being said and to save folks time who don’t want to read the whole blog, Potion Making is actually a rather fun little game. It’s a casual, light game, much better for social gamers than for hardcore gamers but I didn’t see anything on the box that said that it would be a deeper experience than Twilight Struggle.

The idea behind the game is that everyone is little Harry Potters in training and they are learning how to mix potions. And a big part of what makes the game a fun experience is that the theme and the mechanics really go hand in hand.

All of the games that Right Games sent me have been very pretty. The card stock is a little thinner than I like (I like linen stock that can survive scuffing, cat attacks and soda accidents) but the art work has all been lovely. And Potion Making is the stand out of the lot.

Each card shows an ingredient, as well as either a potion or a spell. Every ingredient looks like an illustration out of an art book about fantasy. Simply put, you are not going to mistake one ingredient for another and they are just dripping with flavor.

The mechanics of the game are super simple. If a card is on the table, it is an ingredient. If it is in your hand, it’s a formula. On your turn, you play one card. You either set it on the table, in a common area, adding it to the stockpile of ingredients that everyone can use, or pick up ingredients and place them on top of the card, indicating that you have completed that formula.

However, here’s the thing. If something is on the table, it’s an ingredient, even a completed potion. The more advanced formulas (worth more points) use specific completed potions as ingredients. If anyone had made one of the required items, you can use it as one of your ingredients. It doesn’t hurt the other person that much either. They get half the points you earn and don’t lose any points for losing the potion.

When you do that, the ingredients that made up the potion used as an ingredient go back into the general stockpile, so ingredients keep on getting recycled and going back into circulation.

You earn points by adding new ingredients to the stock pile and making potions. The game ends when all the cards have been played. Whoever has the most points in the winner.

That being said, this isn’t the kind of game you play to win. It’s the kind of game you play because it’s a fun activity and because the theme is immersive enough that folks can really get into it.

And that is the make and break of the game. It is a fun social activity but it is not a deep strategy game. The hand of cards you get will give you options and there are definitely good plays and bad plays. However, the basic strategy of the game is easy enough to understand that everyone should be making good choices. That means luck of the draw could well be what tips the balance between winning and losing.

On top of that, interaction in the game is limited to the fact that everyone is using the same pool of resources. The only way you can hurt someone is swiping an ingredient before they get a chance to use it. Most of the time, you’ll actually be helping the other players by adding things to the table that they might be able to use.

So, the hard core gamer in me sees those things as flaws.

However, the social gamer in me really likes Potion Making. While there’s a lot of information in the game, the basic mechanics of the game are easy enough that you can play it with anyone. While luck does play a part in the game, there is still some thinking involved and some judgment. And, sometimes, if you just want a light game that’s fun, it’s okay that you don’t get to hurt anyone.

The real kicker is the fun theme which the artwork and the mechanics both really help kick up a notch. What are you doing? Making potions by mixing up great looking ingredients. How neat is that? The mechanics make perfect sense for the theme and the art makes it all come alive. I am dying to have some of my non-gamer Harry Potter loving friends play the game and watch them go “Squee!”

In general, you have to go into Potion Making: Practice knowing that it’s not a deep strategy game but a light social game. It’s really more of a social activity than a gamer game. However, it kicks the tar out of all those card games that Steve Jackson Games puts out.
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Tue Sep 27, 2011 3:50 pm
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A Dominion Lover looks at Ascension

Lowell Kempf
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Lately, thanks to the ipad, I’ve been playing a lot of Ascension.

Why Ascension? Well, the short answer is because there isn’t an official Dominion application.

That being said, while I was already familiar with Ascension, our recent forays into playing it has made me look at it a little more closely than before.

First of all, let me say that I am a big Dominion fan. While I enjoy Ascension and would enjoy Ascension even if I was just playing the analog version, it is in no danger of firing Dominion from my collection. However, let’s be honest. The two games fill the same slot in the collection so it’s hard not to compare them. Heck, all I’m going to do is compare it to Dominion.

Let’s face it, the real virtue of Ascension in my life is that my fiancée and I can play it on the ipad. It sets up with the push of a button icon and off we go. We’ve taken to playing it before bed and it is super easy to squeeze a game or two in whenever we feel like it.

And, looking at Ascension as its own game and not making any comparisons to Dominion, it clearly works. However, the real question is: what does it bring that’s new to the party? What are the meaningful differences between Ascension and Dominion and are they enough to make me play Ascension when I could be playing Dominion?

Let me add a little bit of background. I tend to be a little gun shy when it comes to deck-building games. While I very quickly became a Dominion convert, I was very disappointed by Thunderstone. In fact, Thunderstone made me stop being an early adapter and a member of the cult of the really new and more of someone who waits until after the initial hype dies down.

However, after doing a fair bit of research, I ended up getting Ascension. I knew people that did like it more than Dominion (madness, I know) and what I read led me to understand that Ascension was a lighter, more streamlined game. I knew people who had been overwhelmed by Dominion and I figured that Ascension might be an easier deck building game for them. (And yet, I’ve only played it so far with Dominion fans. Go figure)

So, what are the meaningful things that stand out about Ascension and make it a different experience than Dominion?

Item number one: Ascension uses a middle row of cards instead of stacks of kingdom cards.

There is is, that’s the really, really big one and the one that might be the game breaker for Dominion fans. It removes a lot of the strategic depth that Dominion has. A game of Dominion starts with everyone trying to figure out the best way to use the cards and plan out their build before they start playing. With Ascension, the game is almost entirely tactical with you trying to decide what the best move is right now.

Does this make Ascension the weaker game? Well, yeah, on one level, I think it does. However, what it really does is make it a different game. You have to play it differently than you would Dominion and you have to learn new tricks to build a deck that works. It also makes it a more accessible game, as well as a faster game.

Item number two: In Ascension, the Dominion concept of action cards, treasure cards and point cards are rolled into one card.

This is a more subtle change than the middle row but it is a big one. In fact, this is a paradigm shift that I think breaks Ascension farther away from Dominion than the middle row. A key part of Dominion is balancing action cards and treasure card and the deadweight (but essential) point cards.

With Ascension, that is changed because every card you add to your deck adds an element of each of those three type of cards. That makes the limitations of the middle row more forgiving. At the same time, since each faction encourages a different kind of deck build, this doesn’t eliminate trying to build a good deck. It just changes how you build it.

Item number three: Ascension uses two different types of currency

Now, this isn’t a new idea. Thunderstone has multiple types of currency as well and you can even argue that potions in Dominion count as well. However, what Ascension does with its runes and power is use the two currency system in a very simple and efficient way.

And it forces you to decide what kind of deck you want to build. My fiancée like to make void heavy, killing decks. I like to try and pull off mechana heavy decks if I can. And we win a similar number of times. You are betting on what will come out. After all, having nine power and only cultists to kill can be kind of disappointing but wiping out a middle row full of monsters can be a winning play.

Item number four: Ascension combines the action and buy phases and sets no limit on either.

One of the fundamentals of Dominion economics is the conservation of actions and buys. Ascension throws all that out the window. While that takes away a level of complexity in your decision making process, it is also a lot of fun to get to go hog wild. You still want to get the most for your buying power in either currency but this does make it more flexible.

Bottom Line: Yeah, Ascension is different enough.

Dominion is still one of my favorite games, as well as one of my group’s favorite games. It is our go-to game for deck building and filling a half hour. However, despite their similarities, Ascension offers a different kind of experience and offers different kinds of decisions to make. So, it works as a fun break from Dominion when we still want to do some deck building. So the analog copy gets to stay.
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Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:52 pm
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Why Ingenious found a place on our ipad

Lowell Kempf
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One of the first games that my fiancée and I bought for the magical ipad was Reiner Knizia’s Ingenious. And out the small number of board games that we have bought thus far, Ingenious is probably the one that benefits the least from being played on the tablet. With that being said, we both knew that it would be something that we wanted on the ipad.

On the one hand, we already own the travel version of the game, which takes up about the same amount of space as the ipad. We’ve played the game enough that we don’t need a computer to handle the scoring for us. And the ipad makes it difficult to hide your hand from your opponent, to the point where we just don’t even bother. (That last one is by far the biggest drawback)

However, Ingenious is also a game we both like and it is one of our fundamental go-to games. Before we started dating, we spent a lot of time hanging out at coffee shops, playing games and Ingenious (along with Zendo and Six) was one of the games we played the most. (Yeah, we’re both big abstract fans) Not only is Ingenious a game that we both enjoy, it has a lot of emotional value to us.

There are a lot of reasons to play games and we both have a lot of reasons to play this game. I am trying to be careful about how we build our electronic game library and not let it get too cluttered up but I knew we had to have a place for Ingenious.
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Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:39 pm
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The ipad cometh to our home

Lowell Kempf
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After much deliberation, my fiancée and I bit the bullet and bought an ipad. It was one of those decisions where we knew were going to end up doing it but we wanted to take the time to make sure it wasn’t just an impulse purchase.

And, while we knew that it would have a number of legitimate uses in our lives, we also knew we were really buying it for the toy factor.

For me in particular, the allure of the ipad was the idea of using it as a virtual board gaming platform. I am honestly not that much of a video game player and I only get limited satisfaction out of playing against an AI. However, the idea of an electronic board that took care of all the housework of setting up the board and moving the pieces and shuffling the cards, that was appealing.

After all, it’s one thing to get a game set up on a work night, particularly if I have to get out a table as part of the process. It’s another to be able to just hit a button and not even worry about a table. Yeah, there is definitely something lost in the process but sometimes what you gain will determine if you’re actually going to play.

We also didn’t want to go hog wild on buying games for the ipad. While it’s true that the applications are much cheaper than buying analog copies of the games and they only take up virtual space, neither one of us viewed that as an excuse to recklessly buy anything.

I’ve been trying to curb my game buying habits and become more discriminating. I have tried to stop jumping at bargains and make careful and well-reasoned purchases and I didn’t want getting the ipad to change that.

With that in mind, we bought three games that had gotten good reviews for the implementation and were also games we enjoyed playing. Those games were Ingenious, Small World and Ascension. And, so far, they have all been good fun. I know we’ll get more (Who am I kidding, quite a few more as time goes on) but right now, those are enough to enjoy board games with the ipad.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s not the same as actually playing the analog versions of the games. I would never take a tablet to a game night and say “Here we go, guys” However, for casual gaming around the house, the ipad is letting us get more gaming in and that makes both of us happy.
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Tue Sep 20, 2011 2:51 pm
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Twin Win: A tiny little game that made me think

Lowell Kempf
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Sometimes you find a game that surprises you, something that you didn’t have high expectations for but turns out to be much better than you thought it would be. Sometimes, there are games that you’re almost embarrassed to admit that you like but you like them anyway.

Twin Win managed to hit both of those spots for me.

It is a ‘free’ game from Looney Labs. As long as you had at least one Treehouse set, you can play it and you can download the rules for nothing more than the price of electricity and paper.

Treehouse represented a shift in the way Icehouse/Looney Pyramids were marketed. It was designed to be a low cost, one purchase item that could get you started, as opposed to having to buy several caches of pyramids or buy one of the larger boxed sets. Mind you, by the time that Treehouse came out, I already had a cache in every color and I just got it for the die.

At the time, I managed to log quite a few plays of Treehouse. It was a light, quick little game that was easy to teach. However, it really came down to the die roll. It was fun but there really wasn’t much thinking involved. Still, at the time, there weren’t a lot of good one-cache games and Treehouse set a new bar for them.

Since then, there have been some more decent one-cache games that have come out. Martian Coasters, for one. However, after I stopped playing Treehouse regularly, there wasn’t one that made me want to pack just a Treehouse set rather than a whole box of pyramid stuff.

That is, until Twin Win came along.

Since you can download the rules for free, let me just summarize the game. Players are moving pyramids on a three by three board, trying to either create of a nest or tree of one color, according to one of the two goal cards they randomly drew at the start of the game. The two random factors are how the board is set up at the start of the game and the goal cards you draw.

It had been available for a quite a while before I decided to make up the goal cards and give it a spin. I didn’t have high hopes but I figured that I should try it since it looked fast and simple and I had all the pieces.

And, lo and behold, I played it and I had fun. More than that, I found myself thinking!

And that’s the key to why Twin Win is a good game, at least for me. The random setup and hidden goal cards keep it from being a luck-free, perfect information abstract like chess or checkers but the game is driven by the decisions of the players, not a die roll or a luck of the draw. Yeah, there’s still enough luck to make it a potential deciding factor but playing the game itself still requires making real choices.

Twin Win isn’t a perfect game. In fact, its super short playing time and the fact that it only plays up to three (and I’ve only played it with two) means that if we feel like spending the time to play a game, we probably won’t go for it.

However, I found that it’s simple but solid rule set hid a very decent game. The pyramid system always seems to have new surprises for me.
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Mon Sep 19, 2011 7:06 pm
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I'm developing refined tastes? Huh, who'd have thought that would happen?

Lowell Kempf
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In my last blog, I wrote about how I was not learning as many games I used to and how maybe that was because I was growing older and settling down. (You kids! Off my hobby! Er, but leave that copy of A Few Acres of Snow behind, okay?)

However, a counterpoint has occurred to me.

Variety is the spice of life. After all, if I had to eat the same sandwich for every meal, eating would become a chore, even if it was roast beef with cheddar cheese and horse radish. And while there are games that I admit warrant life-time devotion (Go, Chess, Bridge, Advanced Squad Leader(which I still haven’t played)), I like to play a variety of games.

And, when I first got into the hobby, the world was full of games that I had never played and mechanics I’d never seen before. It was like I had gotten to a giant smorgasbord and there seemed to be a never-ending supply of new tastes to try out.

So the first few years were me pigging out and trying as much as I could.

However…

Let’s be honest here. There are a lot of recycled ideas out there and you end up seeing a lot of the same mechanics over and over. How often have you been able to describe a game by saying “It’s like A but/with X”?

And sometimes that’s not a bad thing. When worker-placement games became the hot-ticket thing, I found that I never really cared for Caylus and Pillars of the Earth wore out its welcome but Stone Age, while not doing anything special or new, is a game that I still enjoy playing. Sometimes a designer takes a box of ideas that have been done before and makes something that you just want to keep playing.

But after years of researching games and playing games, I can now see that there is a lot of overlap out there and there have been waves of auction games and tile placement games and worker placement games and deck building games and some of them are just better than others.

Yeah, I’m going to be a married man soon and I’ve got other stuff going on in my life these days but part of why I am learning fewer new games is that I’m becoming more discriminating. Do I need another game about trading goods in the Mediterranean? Probably since I love that theme but tell me how this game is different than the other dozen in my collection.

I can even point to the game that was a turning point in how I looked at new games. Thunderstone.

My group loved Dominion. We still love Dominion. There is not another game that we have played as much of and there is not another game that I have not brought to a table that people have responded as strongly to. If I hadn’t sleeved the cards, I’d have had to buy a complete new set by now.

And Thunderstone had buzz about being a game that build on Dominion but was a deeper, more thematic game.

So, of course, I got it.

And we played it.

And we tried to like it.

And it just wasn’t happening.

Thunderstone was like a wall that we kept bashing our heads into. Part of the problem was that the original rule book was really poorly written. However, the things that it added to the deck building formula ended up making the game longer without adding to our enjoyment. And too often, we found the game bogging down as we tried to balance the two currencies of light and fighting power.

In the end, despite trying to add house rules to help shore up the game, we concluded that we were better off playing Dominion. So we did.

Yes, they are some games I don’t have to the time for. However, when I take a second look, I also realize that there are some games that just aren’t worth my time.
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Thu Sep 15, 2011 4:05 pm
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Watching my gaming habits change

Lowell Kempf
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I don’t exactly belong to the Cult of the New. I belong to the Cult of the New to Me.

There is just something about learning and playing a new game that I really enjoy. I enjoy a well-written set of rules and I enjoy putting that set of rules to life by playing the game. It makes impulse-buying games a definite threat to my wallet and my storage space.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have to get the newest kid on the block. I just like to learn a game that I’ve never played before. That means I can help feed the monkey on my back with used games, print-and-play, and rule sets for games that use things I already own, like Ice House Pyramids. And, of course, my friends’ game collections, although I have ended up with one of the largest game collections in my circles.

Every year for the past few years, I have made learning fifty new games part of my new year’s resolutions, along with losing weight, taking more job training classes and finally reading the complete works of Jane Austin. (That last one has proved the hardest)

Now, it used to be that that was more like a breaking mechanism, to make sure that I didn’t go too out of control And, I used to exceed that quota by August on a regular basis.

However, over the past year, I have gotten engaged and taken on additional work duties. The spare time just isn’t there anymore. More and more adult responsibilities have filled my life.

To be honest, it’s not bad. Actually, it’s pretty good. I’m actually the happiest and most satisfied that I think I’ve ever been in my life. Pop culture lied to me. Growing up is a lot of fun.

It does mean that I’m not playing as many games as I used to and it also means that I’m spending more time playing games that I already know, as opposed to trying to learn a bunch of new games every week. That’s actually pretty good too since that means I’m getting a better return out of games I’ve bought.

Despite the changes in my life, I recently looked at my logs and I realized that I am still going to learn at least fifty new games this year. Having a fiancée who like to game helps.

My life has changed and the place that gaming had in my life has changed. Still, it’s nice to know that it’s still there.
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Wed Sep 14, 2011 7:51 pm
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Winning Tournaments: How does he do that?

Lowell Kempf
United States
Tucson
Arizona
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Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
A friend of mine just let me know that he will be going to Essen to take part in the Dominion tournament there. He had placed second at GenCon but the first place guy apparently was not able to go. This is the second time he’s been to Essen, the other time being for a Settlers tournament a few years back.

I know it’s kind of funny for me to leave his name blank since it would be really easy to figure out who he is. Despite that fact, I’m going to stick to my paper-thin confidentiality and leave him anonymous. I think it would be rude for me to do otherwise. I’m going to call him Gamer-X just so I can hum the Speed Racer theme song while I write this.

I know a lot of people who take part in tournaments. However, with the exception of a Settlers tournament winner who I met because of the tournament connection, Gamer-X is the only one I know who’s managed to get to Essen through tournaments. More than that, he’s done it twice with two different games, which I think is more impressive than going twice with the same game.

So, what makes Gamer-X different? What makes him a winner?

Well, let’s be honest. Luck does play a part in it. Heck, he placed second at GenCon and is just lucky that the first guy can’t go. So luck clearly plays a part in the mysterious equation. However, luck usually isn’t everything. In fact, luck is usually just what tips the balance after you’ve done everything you can to set things up in your favor.

The two things that stand out, at least to me, is competitiveness and versatility.

Gamer-X is one of the most aggressive while competitive gamers I know. He is focused on winning and is never going to pull his punches. At the same time, unless directly attacking the other players is the name of the game, Gamer-X doesn’t do that unless it improves his position. I have seen some players let their aggressiveness get the better of them, losing sight of victory conditions or essentially giving the game to a third party. Knowing when to pick your fights and knowing how to win them is a clearly an important skill.

However, I think the real key is versatility. Let’s be honest, the whole aggressive-competitive thing is just knowing how to play a game well. Let’s hope that being able to that is just a given when it comes to winning tournaments.

I am willing to bet that most of us play with the same group of players most of the time. It might not always be the exact same people who show up every Friday night but most of us probably have the same pool of players we play against most of the time. And you get to know people’s quirks, how they play and what the over-all group think is. Over time, you can get to know how to beat all the other fish in your own little pond.

However, when you start swimming in the bigger sea, all those unwritten rules that you thought were part of the game go away. You thought they were part of the game when they were really just part of the group. Suddenly, the little tricks and quirks that made you a winner back home can be just what make you trip and fall.

As an example, someone else I know, um, Gamer-Y, makes it a point in Settlers to always build towards two cities as fast as possible to create steady resource flow and shuns development cards. While in theory, it’s not a bad idea but in tournament play, he not only becomes a bandit magnet (as well he should), he also is embargoed and shut out of trades at four points.

Gamer-X is able to read strangers very well (possibly his strongest skill) and he also has a knack for adjusting his plans on the fly. The usual things that tend trip folks up when playing with new folks are things that he is able to let go of.

Mind you, it could be that I’m totally wrong and none of these things have anything to do with his past success. After all, when it comes to tournaments, I keep on losing
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Tue Sep 13, 2011 8:18 pm
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