A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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My biggest takeaway from Coco

Lowell Kempf
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As I am perpetually years behind watching even kids movies (and I have a kid so those are usually the only movies I watch!), it was only a month or so ago I finally saw Coco. It only took me four years.

And everyone I know who watched it and didn’t force me to see it has a lot to answer for.

While Coco doesn’t knock Inside Out down from being my favorite Pixar movie, it is very high in my opinion and enjoyment. Not only is it ridiculously visually beautiful, I really enjoyed the music. I don’t know if Pixar has done any other musicals.

And keeping with how rare their musicals are, all the music is diegetic (I had to look that word up), meaning all the musical numbers comes from the characters actually performing them within the context of the story. IE, there isn’t an offstage orchestra and the songs aren’t in theater of the mind.

I am not going to give away any spoilers because there must be some people like I was who haven’t seen the movie yet but would like to. But there is a takeaway I want to comment on.

The movie has two protagonists, Miguel and Hector. They both have their own character arcs and personal journeys to make.

However, I believe the actual hero of the story is Mama Imelda. (Okay, just saying that is a spoiler) While she has her own character arc, she is also the one who saves the family in life and in death. Imelda gets things DONE and she is magnificent for it.

I really enjoyed Coco, not the least for its kickass skeleton great great grandmother.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Aug 11, 2021 7:00 pm
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A Rusty Throne is a war game for folks who don’t know war games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Aug 9, 2021 8:08 pm
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A war I’d never heard of in nine cards

Lowell Kempf
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One of the things that I enjoy about print and play is that you get to see some very experimental designs. I don’t know if Charles versus Peter is actually that experimental. However, since I really don’t play war games, playing it counted as an experiment for me.

The game is about Charles XII of Sweden’s invasion of Russia in 1708. So, the first thing I learned is that Sweden invaded Russia in 1708! The game was part of the 2020 9-Card Contest so the whole game is conducted with nine cards and a bunch of dice.

Oh and it’s a solitaire. You take on the role of Charles while the random number generator gods take the part of Peter.

One of the nine cards is used tracking the status of seven different things. Your supplies, the state of your artillery, the state of your cavalry, the state of your infantry, Peter’s military might, how many key cities Peter holds and what season it is. The other eight cards have maps on one side and tactics and events on the other.

I’ve tried to summarize the rules a few times but every time, I keep doing a bad job. I’ll try to just give an elevator pitch.

There’s two ways to win. You either need to reduce Peter’s military with absolute crushing victories or take over enough key cities. And pick a path to victory and stick to it. There’s not enough wiggle room to try for both. You roll dice pools to wear down a map card’s defense.

When you build the map, you reshuffle the cards you leave behind so you never run out. It’s like building a train track by ripping up the tracks behind you. You have a hand of cards in the tactic side. Events pop up when you move, as you’d expect.

There’s a lot going on in nine cards. Terrain, events, weather, etc. I still haven’t done a good job describing the game but I’ve only taken two paragraphs instead of seven.

I will say it feels like it’s easy to end up in a death spiral. Once you start falling behind, things get worse fast. Which is apparently historically accurate. As I understand, Peter wore Charles down and disrupted his supply chain.

Charles vs Peter isn’t my new favorite game but it was an interesting and educational experience. I can’t judge how good a war game it is but I feel like I learned a little something about war games.


https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2344413/wip-charles-versus-...
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Fri Aug 6, 2021 10:40 pm
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Arthur C. Clarke can be funny?

Lowell Kempf
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Every few years, I find myself rereading Tales from the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke. After reading The Travel Tales of Mister Joseph Jorkens, I felt almost obligated to revisit the book.

Tales from the White Hart is a collection of club stories, all science fiction tall tales, being told at the White Hart pub. They are all comedic, which makes this only comedy I’ve read by Clarke. (He may have written more and I just don’t know about them)

While the fantastic club story is now a well established genre, Tales from the White Hart is a relatively old example. (Although, looking it up, Gavagan’s Bar is just a little bit older) All of the stories in the White Hart fall firmly in the Science Fiction camp, although some, like the Reluctant Orchard and What Goes Up, are pretty ridiculous. Which is admitted in story

Clarke himself is the narrator but most of the stories are told by the hopefully fictional Harry Purvis. And when he isn’t telling the story, Harry is annoyed by that fact. Harry Purvis is a classic Munchausen, someone who has been everywhere and knows everybody. And he gets a bit of development by the last story.

What is interesting to me is that Clarke was apparently friends with Lord Dunsany and actually name-drops Jorkens at one point. However, Clarke’s stories remind me a lot more of Wodehouse’s club stories, like Mr. Mulliner. For one thing, they are flat out comedies while the Jorkens stories I read have more melancholy and wonder. There is a snarky tone running though White Hart. And the gender dynamics of henpecked men and in-charge women also reminds me of Wodehouse

But Wodehouse is great so that’s okay.

Tales from the White Hart isn’t the best collection of club stories I’ve ever read. But the stories are consistently good all the way through.

(Okay. Since someone will ask, I enjoy the Callahan stories (although their quality can drastically vary), the Draco Tavern Stories and the Black Widowers (which isn’t fantastical but is by Asimov) more than the White Hart)

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Aug 4, 2021 8:49 pm
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My July R&W

Lowell Kempf
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At some point, I’m not going to have learned enough Roll and Writes to justify a monthly commentary. I really expected to hit that point before now. But, nope, not yet.

The first R&W I tried this month was Halloween Roll and Fright. I’m not sure where I actually found it. The board is a six by six grid. You roll three dice and assign two dice as coordinates and the last one as a map element. If you roll doubles, you can check off Halloween critters on a list.

It… wasn’t good. Between the restrictions that the dice have you and placement restrictions, I found I actually didn’t have a lot of control or choices.

Next up was a game called Maztec Duel. It was from one of the R&W contests and, from what I can tell, was designed to as PR for a larger game. You used two dice to make several steps of picking out and placing buildings on a grid. It reminded me just a little of Elasund or Blue Moon City in that building took multple steps.

But they crunched the rules down one page. Great for duplexing, laminating and done. But not great for making the rules clear. Even looking at the design forum and other people’s questions, I’m not sure I got it right and constantly looking for clarification dragged the game down.

Then I tried another contest game, Assault on the Colossus. If it wasn’t inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, I don’t believe it. I liked the theme of climbing up a giant monster to kill it but I felt like the dice determined everything and I didn’t have any real choices. There is some dice manipulation but it still felt like there one obvious choice or no choice.

After those three games, Puerto Miau was a relief. A roll and move and write game, Puerto Miau is simply okay. However, it is a fully realized and functional game. Contest games are very much prototypes but it was still nice to play a game where the rules were clear and I had choices.

(At that point, I stopped trying to learn new Roll and Writes and revisited 30 Rails because I was worried it wasn’t as good as I remembered. Fortunately, it was even better)

After that, I started trying Roll and Writes that were more established.

Radoslaw Ignatow’s Time Machine (easily his least inspired title) has you use two dice per turn to set the dials on the time machine. The settings plus connections between dials generate a number which you use to move down the scoring track. Bigger numbers are better but ending on specific points gets you bonus points. I enjoyed it but I felt like had a lot less control than his games with pools of six dice.

As I wrote elsewhere, I _finally_ played Utopia Engine. And it was really good!

The last game I learned in July was Castles of Burgundy the Dice Game. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the full game, I could see how that game inspired the dice game and I did enjoy it. As a solitaire game, my initial impressions are strong.

I know that August see not nearly as many new R&W experiences but there are still unplayed games in the pile.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.con
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Mon Aug 2, 2021 11:08 pm
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My July PnP

Lowell Kempf
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July.

I tried to make good use of time in July and it was a particularly productive month.

This is what I made:

Alert: All Hands on Deck
Circe’s Labyrinth (2018 Solitaire Contest)
Race for the Solar System)
Elevenses for One (minimal copy)
Handful o’ Hoodoo
Capital Vices with expansions
Deadeye Dinah (2021 9-Card Contest)
Flipword (2021 9-Card Contest)
Mini Flipper (2021 9-Card Contest)
Kart Dungeon (2021 9- Card Contest)

Capital Vices was my ‘big’ project for the month. It’s been on my ‘to make’ pile for months and it was finally time.

Beyond that, I made or remade a bunch of smaller card games. My copy of Deadeye Dinah had gotten crinkled so I made a fresh one. I wanted a beater copy of Elevenses for One that would fit easier in my wallet so I skipped the backs and the timer cards. (It’s easy enough to keep track of time in my head)

I’m pretty sure August won’t see as much PnP making as July did and that’s fine.
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Sun Aug 1, 2021 3:20 pm
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Target made me underestimate Patrick Troughton

Lowell Kempf
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As I’ve written in the past, I come from the generation of Doctor Who fans whose primary source of Doctor Who was the Target novelizations. It was certainly a different experience from a world where so much can be streamed at the touch of a button! That said, if I hadn’t had those books as a source of Doctor Who, I never could have become the fan that I continue to be today.

However, there is absolutely no denying that the books simplified the stories. They were aimed at younger readers. Which was okay since I was a younger reader at the time! I have even read that Terrance Dicks, who wrote over sixty of the books, may have helped British kids learn to love reading more than any other author. (I would love to see an actual study that claims that. Still, better him than Enid Blyton)

So, when I actually got to see stories that I only knew through the books, I was often amazed at how much depth and nuance there was. And, yes, a lot of that had to do with the actors and their acting.

I was underwhelmed by the novelization of the Three Doctors, which was a major milestone by its concept alone. And the actual episode wasn’t meaningfully different. (I am convinced that Terrence Dick often worked with the original script in one hand and a typewriter in the other) But Stephen Thorne as Omega hammed it up to eleven, chewing the scenery to the point where you’d think he was trying to eat the TARDIS console. It was over the top and kind of ludicrous but darn if it wasn’t entertaining.

And while the books never undersold the Master, you actually have to see Roger Delgado to appreciate his charm and lovely creepiness. There have been many fun interpretations of the Master but the character would have never gotten off the ground without Mister Delgado.

But I think Patrick Troughton is the one who got the worst of it. The books portrayed him as a clown, a cosmic hobo. Sight unseen, he was my least favorite Doctor.

However, actually seeing Patrick Troughton act, there is a presence and gravitas that I had no idea was there. More so than any of the Doctors who followed him (except maybe Sylvester McCoy), there is a thin layer of silliness over a core of steel. Troughton’s Doctor would see things to the bitter end and he would make them right.

The more exposure I have to Troughton’s Doctor, the more impressed I am and the more I like him. William Hartnel was where the Doctor got started but Troughton is the one who has informed every portrayal afterwards.

Yeah, didn’t get that from the books.

I am very glad that I had the Target books. In a world before the internet and streaming, they were essential. But, yeah, getting to actually watch the show is better

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Jul 30, 2021 3:12 pm
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Bluey works by not talking down to kids

Lowell Kempf
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Our son has recently fallen in love with the cartoon Bluey. I don’t know how long that will last but the more we are exposed to it, the more we his parents are appreciating it.

Bluey is about an Australiaian family in a world of anthropomorphic dogs. Mum Chilli, dad Bandit, six-year-old daughter Bluey and four-year-old daughter Bingo. Bluey is the title character but it’s very much an ensemble work. Every character has a chance to shine and sometimes it’s even one of the friends.

Here’s the thing. One of the first descriptions I read of Bluey was that it was the Australian version of Peppa Pog. But what made it work for us was the vast number of things that are completely different than Peppa Pig. While, of course, it’s idealized, it’s a very grounded slice of life show. It doesn’t show big events, just tiny common life events. Other than talking dogs, it’s the most realistic show he’s latched onto.

I was already warming up to the show when my wife insisted that I watch the episode Bin Nights. In Bin Night, the girls help Bandit take out the garbage every week. They talk about their day, with a focus on Bingo talking about someone she’s having problems with at school. That’s it. Bandit supports and comforts her but doesn’t magically solve her problems. It’s very ordinary and very sweet and very relatable.

In many cartoons, parents only exist as an extension of the child. In Bluey, the parents are very much their own characters. To the point where we enjoy the parent-centered episodes much more than our son

Kids shows have been about teaching life lessons for decades. My childhood included several PSAs awkwardly welded onto cartoons. Bluey actually conveys life lessons in a genuine and gentle way somehow without being preachy. Our son is in danger of actually learning something.

We know other adults who watch Bluey to decompress and we can see why.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Jul 28, 2021 11:31 pm
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Utopia Engine justifies the hype

Lowell Kempf
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I’m honestly not sure how many years I’ve been meaning to learn Utopia Engine. It’s been one of the darlings of both the Print and Play and Roll and Write worlds for ages. And I finally got through a game of it.

I have tried playing it a few times over of the years but didn’t seem to click in my head. To be fair, each individual piece of Utopia Engine is simple. It’s that it has a bunch of moving parts. (Well, a bunch compared to a lot of Roll and Writes. It’s not many compared to even a medium weight Euro)

In Utopia Engine, you are an artificer in a dreamy, post-apocalyptic world that feels a little like Jack Vance’s Dying Earth gone steampunk. The world will end but you can stop that from happening if you assemble the fabled Utopia Engine. To do that, you need to gather legendary artifacts that are lost in fantastic lands, activate them in your workshop, assemble them and finally bring the Utopia Engne to life.

Each step in Utopia Engine is kind of like a mini-game. You need to explore the wilderness. You will inevitably have to fight monsters in the wilderness. You have to activate the artifacts you find in your workshop. And you have to connect them together in order to make the actual Utopia Engine.

Now, I can see how someone could find Utopia Engine pretty dry. The basic mechanic is use dice to generate numbers and subtract them. You want a small difference in the wilderness and a big one in the workshop. But after I went through the wilderness and the workshop once, it all clicked and I was into it.

(For some reason, my mental calculator kept thinking I’d be rolling two d10s. Two six-siders compressed the numbers and made them easier to manipulate)

The game actually felt like an RPG campaign for me. Each artifact gave you a bonus power and the biggest monster in each wilderness area can drop special equipment. So, as the game moves forward and time runs low, you also get more powerful.

I ended up liking Utopia Engine a lot. There’s a lot of both storytelling and game compressed into two pages, plus two dice. And I felt I had some actual say in what was going on, particularly once I started getting some of the special powers.

Utopia Engine is now over ten years old and folks still speak well of it and (other than its sequel Beast Hunter) there really isn’t anything else like it. It’s not for everyone but, particularly considering how easy it is to try, I think it’s worth experiencing.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Jul 26, 2021 4:32 pm
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Games learned during staycation

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

This is what I learned:

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

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

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

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