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.

Archive for Lowell Kempf

[1]  Prev «  1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [159]

Recommend
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

My September PnP

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Okay. What did I make in September?

The Naughty List (2020 Christmas Contest)
Handful o Hazards
Flipword (two copies)
Insurmountable
Bandada

Not a crazy month but a lot more productive than August where I just made one project.

Technically, the Naughty List was my big project for the month. I had actually printed and laminated it last December so I made it to help clear out my backlog. I thought it was an Apples to Apples party game but it’s more of a bluffing game. Which makes it a better game but a harder sell

But the builds that actually interest me are Insurmountable and Bandada. Those look like they will be very interesting to explore as solitaires.

Oh, I just made more Handful o Hazard cards to full space on laminating folders. And I gave away my copy of Flipword so I made two more so I have to give them away twice before I need to make more
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Fri Oct 1, 2021 4:23 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Wishbringer: nothing but words and whimsy

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Honestly, if I were to say which Infocom game has the biggest impact on me, other than the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which also I formed my choice of authors to read even up to the point, it would be Wishbringer.

It was one of their few beginner games, which meant that I was actually able to finish it And if it was aimed a younger audience, well, that’s what I was at the time

But it also was seriously charming and told a solid narrative. The puzzles were real but so was the story.

You are the postman of the island village of Festeron. Delivering a last minute letter ends up with you having to rescue an old lady’s kidnapped cat. Oh and thwart the Evil One who has changed quiet little Festeron into the dystopian Witchville. Save the cat, save the world.

The titular Wishbringer, which also came as a glow-in-the-dark plastic rock with the game, was an artifact that could cast seven different spells. But, here’s the clever bit which I didn’t really appreciate as a kid. Most of the spells could be used to solve puzzles but you could complete the whole game without using any of the spells. It’s a way of organically helping inexperienced players without changing the story.

For me, Wishbringer bridges the worlds of Zork and Hitchhiker. Zork is just a map full of puzzles while Hitchiker is a series of scenes telling a rather convoluted story. Wishbringer is a map full of puzzles but they come together as a coherent story.

Wishbringer is a whimsical, slightly fractured fairy tale. As an adult, I might find it less challenging as a game (maybe?) but I would still enjoy it as a story.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Wed Sep 29, 2021 10:02 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
12 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Infocom make me read Douglas Adams

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
My introduction to both Infocom and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy franchise was the interactive fiction game back in 1984.



You know, it wasn’t the best introduction to either of those things

While I’m prepared to listen to an argument that the books or the radio plays or the BBC TV series is the best way to first learn about the Hitchhiker world, the game doesn’t have the narrative strength of any of them. As for Infocom, the Hitchiker game pretty much trolls the player .

Despite that fact, I came to love both the Hitchhikers franchise and Infocom. So everything worked out in the end.

Really, though, the interactive fiction game is ridiculous. Not only is it surprisingly nonlinear, it is relentlessly unintuitive. The thing breaks tons of written and unwritten rules of both fiction and gaming.

The babelfish puzzle (which happens early enough that I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything) which requires you to jury rig a Rube Goldberg device that hinges on a quirk in the way the parser works. Namely, that you can only fit one object on a satchel but a pile of mail counts as one object and a bunch of objects. So the solution plays the meta nature of how the game works.

Honestly, not only have I never come close to winning the game fairly, I don’t think I’ve made it through the game cheating with a full set of hints!

But the game is a beloved classic for a couple good reasons. Most obviously, it is really funny reading. I played the game over and over not to win but to read it. Infocom knew how to put the fiction in interactive fiction, which I would go on to learn in many of their other games.

More than that, by being so ridiculously iconoclastic, it’s a fascinating exploration of what you can do with fiction, interactive or otherwise. Not that I appreciated that back in the early 80s. But it is a weird experiment in how computer games and fiction works.

As of the time writing, the BBC will let you play the game online. I might do that and see if I can get to the end.

https://downloads.bbc.co.uk/interactive/embed/container.html...
Twitter Facebook
10 Comments
Mon Sep 27, 2021 7:52 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
21 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

I am convinced that Puerto Rico is NOT broken

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
When I’ll first seriously got into board games, it was generally accepted that Puerto Rico was the greatest game ever made.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but back when woolly mammoths and sabre tooth tigers could be found in most backyards, Puerto Rico had a lot of prestige. As large and diverse as the gaming community has become (which is a good thing!), I don’t know if a game could hold such a central position again.

(Actually, that may be more of a statement of how provincial Boardgame Geek may have been, as opposed to any kind of statement on the actual real world of gaming)

Looking back, there are two things that strike me about my experiences with Puerto Rico. One is that there was allegedly an ideal strategy to play and that an inexperienced player would break the game, giving whoever sat to their left the win.

And I don’t actually think either of those things is really true.

Honestly, if Puerto Rico was solved, it would not have been nearly so successful or beloved. And with multiple paths to victory and the plantation supply being random, I don’t believe there can be one ‘perfect’ strategy. Still, I remember players on BSW who would quit games if they felt people weren’t playing ‘properly’

As for the inexperienced player ruining the game, any game where skill has matters and there’s interaction can be accused of that. I’ve certainly seen inexperienced players throw Knizia’s Modern Art or Sackson’s Executive Decision off more than I’ve ever seen it happen in Puerto Rico. Are poor players a problem or a convenient excuse? Different levels of skill is something you have to adjust for. Complaining about it is more a reflection of the one doing the complaining than the game.

What fascinates me about these complaints is that they didn’t seem to come from haters but from people who really loved Puerto Rico.

But the fact that I don’t think these criticisms hold water just makes me appreciate Puerto Rico more.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
4 Comments
Fri Sep 24, 2021 5:34 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Nine Horrors and One Dream is all fun

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I’ve been poking around Horror: The 100 Best Books (mostly because it was edited by Kim Stanley) and one of the books I decided to try from it was Nine Horrors and a Dream by Joseph Payne Brennan.

Brennan was a prolific writer. According to Wikipedia (so, take with as many grains of salt as you choose to) he wrote four to five hundred short stories, two novellas and thousands of poems. And he was apparently a frequent contributor to Weird Tales during the 50s.

And yet, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of his work in print. Do I consider this collection to be some of his best work and the rest isn’t as good? Do I assume there are legal issues that keep a lot of his stuff out of print?

Judging by how well regarded he is (and I have read his stories in other anthologies) and the fact that what I have read is good stuff, I am leaning on the latter explanation.

Nine Horrors and a Dream is just what it says on the tin. Ten stories, although I don’t know which one is the dream. While, with one noteworthy exception, the actual concepts and ideas on his stories aren’t too original, the actual execution is excellent. Almost all the stories are written in that plain style that looks like it’d be easy but is actually really hard. Otherwise, everyone could be Hemmingway.

Okay, time to comment on a few stories.

Slime is the exception to the plain writing. It’s a blob monster story with purple prose that reminds me of P. Schuyler Miller’s Spawn (and that’s one wild ride of purple prose) And it’s a story I’ve read in anthologies more than once.

Slime is a story that has stuck in my head for a few reasons. Part of it is the over-the-top prose. However, it gives a slightly more reasonable version of the blob monster, which was old hat by the time it was written. It’s an adapted deep sea creature that doesn’t have an acid touch. Just crushing strength.

The one story that actually creeped me out was the Calamander Chest, which is oddly the least original concept in the book. A guy buys what turns out to be a haunted chest and bad things happen. If it isn’t an homage to M. R. James, I’d be surprised. But by being very visceral without being graphic, it just worked.

I’d read, more than once, that the best story in the collection was Canavan’s Backyard and it did not disappoint. The title location is a plot of land that warps time, space and anyone who goes into it. The most original and interesting story in the book, it’s a nice use of Genius Loci, the idea of place being aware and intelligent. Brennan also does a good job of hinting more than showing.

As I mentioned, I have read Brennan before but this was the first concentrated amount. It was worth the read.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.con
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Wed Sep 22, 2021 9:18 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Funny how Roll Through the Ages didn’t change my life

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Looking back, I’m surprised that Roll Through the Ages didn’t turn me into a Roll and Write fan. It certainly did a lot more to interest me than Catan Dice, which was my first foray into designer Roll and Writes.

To be fair, it did come out around the same time as Hasbro’s Express line, as well as when dice versions of games like Zooleretto or Bohnanza were coming out. So it was at a time when I was looking at more dice games. Just not necessarily Roll and Write games.

What is hilarious is that, when I first tried Roll Through the Ages, I kept on asking myself ‘this is a game that I’m playing with a sheet of paper and takes less than a half hour. Is this for real?’ Boy, how I and the industry of gaming has changed.

At the time, I really could not consider it not to be a civilization game. And I still can’t. It doesn’t have the scope or breadth that a civilization game requires. I do view it as an engine builder though and that’s prettt cool.

The game is not without its flaws. The basic version (and that’s what I mostly play) has almost no interaction and it can be swingy and there can be runaway leaders.

But the physical game has minimal footprint, it plays fast and you can play it online. The convenience it has outweighs the other issues for me. Thanks to Yucata, it’s a game I’ve been playing almost constantly with long distance friends for years. It isn’t perfect but it keeps on being fun.

But, at the time, I didn’t think oh, a piece of paper is replacing the board, pawns, cards and tokens I’d expect for a game like this. I just thought, hey, neat dice game.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Tue Sep 21, 2021 2:47 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

How I define Roll and Write

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
While doing some notes on Roll Through the Agesfor a blog post that I may never bother finishing, I found myself asking what is the line between a Roll and Write and every other side games

And, of course, the answer is that definitions are arbitrary. While there are definitive examples of Roll and Write, like Qwixx, there is plenty of room for people obsessed with semantics to quibble over it. So I’m just worried about my own personal definition.

I found myself asking the question when I realized I had started playing Roll Through the Ages and Monopoly Express (both games I still enjoy) at the same time. While you use a peg board to track resources in Roll Through the Ages, you do track all the stuff you build and develop on a player sheet. And while Monopoly Express makes really nice use of specialty dice, all you write down is your score.

So what do I think is the important part of a Roll and Write? I’m going to say the write. The player sheet has to be an active part of the game and the decisions you make. If you’re just tracking your score, it’s just not the same.

In Yahtzee, you have to choose which scoring how you’re marking each turn. That’s a Roll and Write. In Cosmic Wimpout, you just track points. That’s not a Roll and Write. Not to me at least.

And I’m not picky about the randomizer. Dice, cards, time stamp, some other way of generating random information. It’s all good as far as I’m concerned.

It may not be a perfect definition since Dungeons and Dragons would qualify as a Roll and Write.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Sat Sep 18, 2021 7:12 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Even middling Lord Dunsany is good stuff

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I was surprised to realize, when I started reading it, that I hadn’t read Tales of Three Hemispheres before. While there are vast sections of Lord Dunsany’s writings I haven’t read, I’ve still read a lot of his early short stories.

There was a period about ten years ago when I was reading collection after collection on Project Gutenberg and I assumed I had read Three Hemispheres then. I’m glad that I didn’t. While it isn’t the best Dunsany wrote, if I had read it amidst a flood of other Dunsany, I’d have missed what nifty elements it does have.

The book actually breaks down into two distinctive parts. Some unrelated stories and three interconnected stories, including the previously published Idle Days on the Yann.

I enjoyed the first part. The stories might not have been extraordinary but even middle of the road Dunsany is good reading. I particularly liked the Old Brown Coat, which would have been at home as a Jorkens story.

But the last three stories, collectively known as Beyond the Fields We Know (a phrase that since been pounded into the ground until it has reached the Earth’s core), that’s the best part of the collection. Although the best story being a reprint from an earlier collection doesn’t Tales of Three Hemispheres any favors as a stand-alone book.

I’m not exaggerating that each of these stores is Lord Dunsany going to the land of dreams… and being a tourist. In particular, Idle Days on the Yann is a flat-out travelogue. It isn’t a narrative. It’s world building. And in Lord Dunsany’s hands, world building is magical.

Between The Gods of Pegana and Beyond the Fields We Know, Lord Dunsany basically created splat books.

Tales of Three Hemispheres is not one of Lord Dunsany’s greatest hits. However, it isn’t just for the completists either.
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Wed Sep 15, 2021 6:28 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Wow, the Great Pumpkin is BLEAK

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Since stories are already selling Halloween stuff and you can only watch The Nightmare Before Christmas so many times in rapid succession, we let out seven-year-old watch Its The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It’s a special that neither of us had watched in at least a couple decades.

Wow. Was this actually aimed at kids?

The world of Peanuts is always bleak but there is usually some element of hope somewhere, particularly in the specials. And there are some many that there have to be ones I’ve forgotten or never seen. But the Great Pumpkin seems particularly bleak.

All of the characters are either mean or miserable, with the exception of Snoopy. It’s just a profoundly unhappy setting. In particular, the way that the world treats Charlie Brown is rough. Linus and Sally choose to ignore trick or treating and parties to wait for the Great Pumpkin. Bad things just happen to Charlie Brown. Every adult in his neighborhood singling him out to give him a rock is Kafkaesque.

The most redemptive character is Lucy. While she is cruel and bullying, she also gets extra candy for Linus and brings him home from the pumpkin patch in the middle of the night.

Truth to tell, given sophisticated jokes (needing to have a signed document notarized, denominational differences between Santa Claus versus the Great Pumpkin, demands for restitution) as well as the black comedy (as opposed to the slapstick of, say, the Three Stooges), I honestly wonder if adults were the actual intended audience for real.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
3 Comments
Mon Sep 13, 2021 7:19 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

The Sound of His Horn is a fever dream of a dystopia

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
The Sound of His Horn is a novel that I occasionally saw listed as an influential one but not one I heard a lot of conversation about. As if it was a book that mostly read by authors It was written by Sarban, which was the pseudonym for the British diplomat John William Wall. And, as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder if his professional life influenced his artistic one.

The Sound of His Horn is a ‘What if Hitler won WW II’ stories but it’s one that not like any other I have read. Instead of an authoritarian dystopia, it is a fever dream with touches of primal fear and Brave New World eugenics.

The story is framed as a story within a story. An unnamed narrator hears the story from a WW II veteran named Alan Querdillon who is clearly suffering from PTSD. During the war, he escaped from a German prison camp. Shocked by a mysterious barrier, he wakes up a hundred years later in a world where Germany had won.

The entire future section of the book takes place at the hunting estate of Reich Master Forester Count Hans Von Hackelnberg. Almost medieval in many respects and science fiction in others, the estate is an absolute horror show where human beings, sometimes genetically modified, are the prey.

There is absolutely no way to talk about The Sound of His Horn without mentioning the complete objectification of women in the bad future. They are hunted, bred to be hunting animals and even used as furniture. Since this is depicted as despicable and nightmarish, I’m choosing to believe that Sarban does not support such a view. The degree of dehumanization is profoundly and effectively disturbing.

And I also have to mention Von Hackelnberg. While he actually shows up in a relatively small portion of what is already a short novel, he looms over everything. A giant of a man who is full of primal rage and violence, I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be supernatural or not. His scorn for his fat, pampered guests emphasizes his other nature.

As I mentioned before, Querdillon is clearly suffering from PTSD in the present time and the future section has a definite fever dream quality. A very possible interpretation is that he went mad and all of his fantastic experiences were in his his head. That possibility makes the already dreamy, nightmarish book even more uncertain.

After reading The Sound of His Horn, I can see why the book is considered so influential and also why it doesn’t seem to be widely read. I don’t know if it is a good book but it is a memorable and disturbing one.
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Fri Sep 10, 2021 10:19 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

[1]  Prev «  1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [159]