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

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What is the actual value of stretch goals?

Lowell Kempf
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Magpie Games just finished up a Kickstarter for a licensed RPG about Avatar. (The Last Airbender/Kegend of Korea, not the ‘let’s see how many ideas we can steal from Poul Anderson’ one) As I understand it, they had a $50,000 goal and raised over nine million dollars. Is that a record? I can’t keep track of Kickstarter anymore.

A good friend commented on how tempting the Kickstarter was with all of the stretch goals. Even though he has never watched any version of the show, doesn’t really have much interest in it and doesn’t see himself running the game.

Which led to two us commenting that the extra value of stretch goals only has actual value if you’re actually ever going to use them.

The older and more cynical I get, the more I feel very cautious about stretch goals. All too often, I don’t even get a game on the table more than couple times, let alone enough to make any use of extra stuff. The Fear Of Missing Out that stretch goals creates is often a reality of missing nothing.

To be fair, there have been stretch goals that have turned out to have had value for me. For instance, the stretch goals for the Pack O Games Kickstarters were additional complete games. Which I did play and got value from.

Still, if stretch goals are the deciding factor for me, I probably shouldn’t back the Kickstarter.
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Wed Sep 8, 2021 6:52 pm
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Agricola is all about labor!

Lowell Kempf
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When thinking about what game to retire about for Labor Day, I thought about Agricola since it’s all about doing manual labor!

Agricola came out fourteen years ago… OH MY SWEET CATAN, I’M OLD! And that’s when Uwe Rosenberg stopped being the Bohnanza guy (a game I still totally love) and being a designer of games that cover medium-sized tables.

It’s been a while since I’ve played Agricola but that’s entirely due to time and opportunity and table space. I’d happily play it again. And from what I can tell, it may have had some revisions but it’s never gone out of print. But what is it that makes Agricola so nifty?

It uses a solid worker placement system. The different decks of cards give it vast variety and replay value. Later editions had adorable animal meeples. The game is a delightful work of game mechanics.

But I think an additional element helped Agricola go off like a bomb and has helped its long term success. It’s really easy to understand. Which is a more fun way of saying it’s accessible. Everything you do in the game makes sense. You are doing basic agricultural chores.

When I was more of a gamer snob, I used to have a meh opinion of theme and fluff. I thought it was just a way for Fantasy Flight to justify charging a lot for a bunch of plastic. But I now realize that these things can help you wrap your brain around a game and allow it to be more intricate. Agricola could theoretically be rendered as a total abstract but it would be not only less fun but also harder to understand.

Agricola. Maybe not my favorite Uwe Rosenberg game. Maybe not yours. But it is a good one. And you make your farm family labor. So it’s thematic for the holiday.

And happy Labor Day!
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Mon Sep 6, 2021 2:41 pm
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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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My August PnP

Lowell Kempf
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August.

Okay, here’s what I made in August:

Timeline: Classic - Print and Play Demo

Yup. That’s it. School started for our son at the start of August so that’s where our focus and time and mental stamina was at. My goal is to get one ‘meaningful’ project in a month so I’m content.

I got the files from Asmodee’s website. I’ve looked at the series but never tried it so this will be a chance to sample it. Which is the entire point of a demo

The demo consists 30 of the 55 cards, over half the entire game. Would getting the complete game be that much more rewarding than the demo? I do have to wonder that.

September looks to be another month where PnP isn’t a priority. Eh, life gets crazy. As long as I get a little crafting in, it will help me stay balanced.
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Wed Sep 1, 2021 9:17 pm
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Limes tales Cities and makes it better

Lowell Kempf
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Limes might seem like Martyn F did a mashup of Take It Easy and Carcassonne. Which isn’t actually the case. It’s a refinement of his earlier mashup of Take It Easy and Carcassonne, Cities.

Short version: you are creating a four-by-four grid of tiles, creating a map. You are also playing meeples down to score specific parts of the map, Carcassonne-style.

Incidentally, the word Limes isn’t being used as a the citrus fruit but the Roman term for borders and border defenses along what would become Germany. So you are building a map of part of the Roman Empire and I got to learn a new definition of Limes.

So, everyone has an identical set of 24 numbered tiles, along with seven meeples. Someone randomly draws a tile and everyone places that tile. It will all seem familiar if you’ve ever played Take It Easy… or Karuba… or Criss Cross… or Rolling Realms. Wow, this has become a really common mechanic. You are forming a four-by-four grid so you won’t use all the tiles and you will end up defining the dimensions of the grid as the game goes on.

You can also either place a meeple on the tile you just placed OR move a previously placed meeple to an adjacent geographic feature.

The tiles are divided in four areas. They can be water, forest, city or watch tower. And all of them except for watch towers are doubled up on some tiles. And, Carcassonne-style, meeples score points in different ways depending on what they are are standing on.

Most points wins. Unless you’re playing solitaire. In that case, just try to do really well.

Okay. I really enjoy playing Limes. You have to be in the mood for a Take It Easy-style game and it is definitely a light game. But if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s a good choice.

Cities, back in 2008, was a big deal for me. Along with Wurfel Bingo, it was one of the first Take It Easy-style games I tried that wasn’t Take It Easy. And I still quite like it. But Limes is an improvement. You can score using all four types of terrain and each scoring method is distinct.

Now, I have only played Limes online (https://ori.avtalion.name/limes/) The one downside to the physical version is only has enough components for two players. At one point, I had three copies of Cities so I could play up to twelve people.

I had wanted to try Limes for years and it turned out to be well worth playing.
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Mon Aug 30, 2021 10:14 pm
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Railroads and Dungeon Crawls

Lowell Kempf
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Now, I don’t mean a dungeon crawl set on a train, although what limited knowledge I have of the cartoon Infinity Train makes me think that might be what that is.

Railroading is when a game master has the game set up so that there’s a preordained set of events with predetermined outcomes. The players effectively become actors in a script that’s already been written, without any acutal agency.

Dungeon Crawls, of course, are adventures that are set in some sort of spatially limited set of areas. Dungeons, castles, temples, caves, ruins, they come in different flavors but they are all a defined set of areas.

Part of me wondered if they were variations on the same idea. After all, there usually is some kind of order in how you go through a dungeon. Then I realized that they weren’t really the same at all.

You see, railroading controls what you can affect, sometimes even what you do. A dungeon crawl just controls where you can go. Maybe. I was once in a party where the party leader specialized in divination. Once he also got access to teleportation spells, he would crack open dungeons like Danny Ocean. (Fortunately, that amused the dungeon master)

The long and short of it is that I don’t like railroading. It turns the game into a movie that the game master is trying to force into existence. It turns the players into being an audience, not participants.

On the other hand, I have both a fondness and appreciation for a dungeon crawl. Yes, it is a controlled and limited environment which leads to controlled and limited choices but everyone knew what they signed up for. It’s transparent and doesn’t have a predetermined outcome.

I have also known plenty of game masters who have suffered from Bruno. Being able to get away from complex politics and elaborate schemes and villages where everyone has detail personalities and just run a dungeon? I am beyond fine with someone needing to just handle some orcs coping with home invaders.

And if someone says why don’t you just play a game like Descent in campaign mode with funny voices, I would say why not?

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Aug 27, 2021 4:45 pm
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Boy, was Grimtooth’s Traps its own thing

Lowell Kempf
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I decided to take a virtual trip back to an earlier age in RPGs and look at the original Grimtooth’s Traps from 1981. It is certainly a look back at a time when RPG philosophy was very different.

Grimtooth’s Traps was the first in a series of game supplements that consisted to literally page after page of traps. There weren’t any game stats for any of them (at least in the original versions of the book) Just diagrams, descriptions and snarky commentary. Lots and lots of snarky commentary.

The most entertaining part of the books and probably a big reason why there ended up being so many volumes is that the narrator is a sarcastic troll named Grimtooth who feels that the deadlier the trap, the better. Since so many RPG books from this time period read like engineering text books, the Grimtooth books have a lot of character.

And as a general rule, the traps involve either a crazy amount of engineering or magic. They are wildly over the top , not even remotely cost effective and often ridiculously deadly.

Honestly, I’m hard-pressed to believe a lot of dungeon masters actually used these traps. Not only would they be potential total party killers, they would slow the game down to a crawl, even if you had a party of nothing but thieves.

That said, I can see making some of the larger traps into the centerpiece of a tomb or ruined temple or a mad wizard’s proving grounds. They don’t necessarily have to violate the part of the Hickman manifesto that says architecture should make sense.

I can’t say that Grimtooth’s Traps and the books that followed it are examples of an era old enough that most Grognards aren’t old enough to remember since they are so atypical. And I think it would take some work to make traps actually useful. But Grimtooth is a fun read.
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Wed Aug 25, 2021 8:00 pm
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The Count of Nine is a fun nine cards

Lowell Kempf
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If you’re even just casually into PnP games (which, since I’m a lazy PnPer, is really where I’m at), you’ve heard of Count of Nine. It’s a Euro in just nine cards. No dice or cubes involved.

The game is all about infrastructure building. You are trying to build a big building and that is going to take resources and smaller buildings.

The cards are double sided and orientation matters. When they are in your deck, they are sideways. When you build a card, it goes upright in your tableau. When they are sideways, the resource on the top of the middle is the active resource.

You slide cards and flip them in order to expose resources and potential building to build. When you run through the deck, you can leave the deck unchanged, rotate the whole deck, reshuffle it or rotate just one card. All this can give you access to different resources.

The game ends when either there are no more possible moves OR you choose to end it. Your score is based on the buildings you built MINUS how many rounds you played. So there can be a reason to stop early.

It took me two tries to figure out the game. While the sliding and flipping was kind of different, what needed to click in my head was how the cards interacted. For one thing, you need a crew to build anything. At my current understanding of the game, building a tavern to get guaranteed access to a crew once a round is important. And some buildings require smaller buildings so you can’t build a different building on that card.

Okay. I definitely enjoy Count of Nine. I think it’s fun and well designed. It gives me a legitimate Euro experience in five, ten minutes with just nine cards. After a couple learning hiccups, the game becomes intuitive so you can just shuffle and go.

I do sometimes wish there were more cards. The game can sometimes feel formulaic, particularly if you play it a few times in a row. But the game is well balanced as it stands and adding more cards would make the game less tight.

The Count of Nine is one of those Print and Play games that I would say, if you have the slightest interest, make it and try it. It will be worth the work. It’s not perfect but it’s a pretty cool nine cards.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 23, 2021 8:18 pm
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Pokethulhu is a cute idea wrapped in a meta package

Lowell Kempf
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After I learned that Pokethulhu was actually a thing, I had to find it and read it. Neither one of those things was that hard once I actually knew it existed.

Anyway, it is an RPG that I _think_ was created as a gag and never intended to be played, although it does have a perfectly functional dice pool system attached to it. Yes, we have reached the point where it’s easy enough to throw in functional mechanics into a joke game.

As the name makes blatantly clear, the game is a mash up of Pokémon and the Cthulhu Mythos. The older you are , the weaker your sanity is, so that’s why it’s kids who go out to become cultists and catch abominations. Which is FAR from the strangest thing I’ve seen done it either franchise.

To be honest, Pokethulhu would be a one-note joke that would be immediately forgettable if it wasn’t for one over-arcing conceit. The idea that the game is based on an existing IP and makes constant references to it. It’s like Norman Sprinrad’s Iron Dream only not nearly as disturbing. It’s a step beyond being based on a fake product. It’s like you are playing a game where you are playing a game in that setting.

And it even plays into the mechanics. Players can play chaos cards, causing bizarre effects, but only if another player makes specific quotes from the Pokethulhu cartoon. Which, of course, doesn’t exist.

Having to come up with lines from a cartoon that is non-existent is the most compelling reason to play the game in my opinion.

The single funniest thing in the tiny RPG was a listing for a pokethulhu named Skoobai-Thulhu. In the cartoon, a cultist named Shagai has one and has to use Skoobai-snacks to get it to do anything.

I have seen a lot of RPGs that I have looked and said ‘Man, I want to play that.’ Pokethulhu isn’t one of them. BUT man, was it a fun read!

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Aug 20, 2021 5:22 pm
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Nearing the middle of Cozy Grove

Lowell Kempf
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As I wrote a couple months ago, we started playing Cozy Grove. It’s a video game about being gently helping unhappy ghosts let go and pass on. And we’ve made it to about the halfway point.

Short version: the game has kept us engaged and want to keep playing. So, that’s a thumbs up.

Here’s a recap: You are a spirit scout, a branch of scouting that is into wildernesss skills and helping the restless dead find peace. And you are stuck on an island that is full to the bursting with unhappy ghosts. Who are all pretty friendly. At the worst, they are rude but they will still talk to you. You don’t have to worry about the dead trying to horribly murder you.

While there is a plenty of crafting and decorating for you to do, the heart of the game is fulfilling literally hundreds of fetch quests. And, slowly, you find out each ghosts story. As opposed to random, faceless ghosts, you have a small collection of ghosts, each with their own story to explore.

And so far, those stories range from the melancholy to the seriously depressing.

Every time you level up, the island expands and you get a new ghost so we haven’t seen everyone yet. But none of the stories have been ‘inappropriate’ and forced us to edit them for our seven-year-old.

None of the stories are that surprising. We’ve only completed one but they all seem to have plenty of foreshadowing.

Cozy Grove hasn’t been shocking or surprising but it has been a slightly sad way to decompress.
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Wed Aug 18, 2021 8:04 pm
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