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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From Coloretto to Zooloretto and beyond

Lowell Kempf
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The Coloretto family will probably be Michael Schacht longest lasting legacy. And I don't just say that because it includes at least six standalone games and more expansions than I can keep track of. I believe that because Schacht took the simple framework of the original Coloretto game and added a super family-friendly theme and a couple more mechanics to create Zooloretto and all the games and expansions that followed. When he did that, he developed a game perfect for the wider family audience.

The core mechanic of the family is a variation of I cut and you choose. You can either draw a card or tile to add it to a group or take a group to make sets with. Your three best sets are worth happy, positive points. All the rest give you negative, sad face points.

I got Coloretto when it first came out, as you might guess from all the gray in my beard and the fact that I sometimes have to use a cane. And my initial experiences were terrible. I played with a group that focused on spite. The goal wasn't to get the most points but to bring the pain to everyone else.

After that, I did play games where people focused more on points than pain but Coloretto still didn't have that sing for me. Which was a real shame since it was and still is one of the most colorblind friendly color-based games ever.

When Zooloretto came out, it added a theme, slightly more complicated choices and an extra kind of action, the coin actions. It's still easily the lightest of the Schacht board games that won't be leaving my collection but those changes added charm and diversity to the game and those things made a huge difference.

As far as I know, Zooloretto has never been out of print and I've seen it in stores like Target aimed at the mainstream audience. I know it has been the real source of expansions and spinoffs and that my life would be better if I played Aquaretto. It is a game that has had success with both the broader audience and the serious gamer audience.

Zooloretto isn't my favorite Schacht game. (Hi, Web of Power family) However, I think it is the one that will go the farthest in the world.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu May 18, 2017 4:26 am
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An American on Paris Paris

Lowell Kempf
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Paris Paris is a fairly simple game that took me a strangely long time to wrap my brain around. I'm going to use the excuse that learning it online at BSW and being colorblind made it harder. On the other hand, once I got my own copy, it made a lot more sense. (I bought it during my compulsive game buying phase but it has stayed in my collection)

Michael Schacht seems to have a knack for themes (Seriously, running your own zoo would seem a lot more unusual if Zooleretto and its family wasn't such a staple. And, yes, I know O Zoo Le Mio did it first) Paris Paris is up there, being all about setting up tourist shops along tour bus routes.

Which is kind of funny since that's a pretty reasonable idea. Just not one that you think of with board games.

The board shows a map of Paris with different colored bus routes, each one with several stops along it. Through out the game, there will be small tours, where one stop will be scored, and grand tour's where every stop on the route will be scored. At the start of the game, everyone gets a secret color. That route will get a grand tour at the end of the game.

Each round, tiles with stops on them are set out, one more than the number of players. You take turns taking tiles and placing shops at that stop. There's a small tour at the leftover stop and the tile gets put to one side. When you get two tiles of the same color, you discard them and that route has a grand tour.

You can kick someone off of a spot and put your own shop up but whoever loses the most shops will get points for them at the end.

When you score a stop in either kind of tour, the shops at the stop or, if there aren't any, at the closest stop get a point. When you run out of tiles, you have those secret grand tours. Most points wins.

While Paris Paris is not a complex game, I think I had to really play it face to face to see how the process really worked. Moving the physical pieces let me understand the flow of the game. Playing it live made everything click. The game has a natural cadence that playing it live really brings out.

And while the game is simple, there is some nuances to the decisions. While you will always take a stop that is on the intersection of two routes, you also have to consider blocking your opponent's from getting stops. And what you don't take influences what will end up getting scored and that's a big deal.

That said, Paris Paris is not a game for everyone. It is definitely a game for families, not for serious gamers. (Of course, serious gamers are allowed to have families too ) If you are looking for complex systems and point salads, Paris Paris will not fit that bill. It's an old school German Family Game. It will play out in an under an hour with plenty of interaction and light decisions. Great for family play.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed May 17, 2017 5:17 am
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Reminded again why I like Michael Schacht

Lowell Kempf
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Since my lifestyle has made shorter games, half an hour to an hour, a lot more desirable, I've found myself thinking that Michael Schacht has become one of my ideal game designers.

Seriously, Web of Power/China, Hansa, Paris Paris, Hansa, Zooloretto, Patrician and California are all standbys in my collection and fit that time bill. While I know Schacht has made heavier games, for me, he is a master of quirky, medium light games that are engaging and thought provoking.

Unlike Knizia or Kramer or Teuber, I didn't have a sense of Schacht as a designer for a while. However, thanks to Paris Paris and Web of Power being on BSW, he was part of my initial gaming experiences.

His games kept finding their way into my gaming experiences and collections (and I don't think I have ever culled one of his games out of my collection) but it wasn't until Patrician that I put together how many games I liked were by him. Which is kind of ironic because I would say that it's the weakest of my personal Schacht collection.

Unfortunately for me at the moment, pretty much all of his games in my collection either play better with three or more or flat out need three or more. And we're currently a gaming group of two

Still, one way or another, be it the toddler getting old enough or finding other parents who game, we will be three or more again. And then, these games will shine.
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Mon May 15, 2017 11:19 pm
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My slow crawl with The King of Siam

Lowell Kempf
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The King of Siam has interested me ever since it first came out. A brain burning game of area control that only has eight actions? That appeals to me on so many levels.

But, one way or another, I never did get a hold of a copy. To be honest, I'm not sure it was available for that long in the US. But when I had a chance to play it on Yucatá, I jumped at the chance.

Here's the elevator pitch: In 1847, three different factions tried to take control of Siam with the danger Britain taking over the whole country if things got too chaotic. The board shows the eight provinces of Siam. At the start of the game, you randomly add followers (in the form of cubes) to the provinces, as well as determine what order the provinces will be determined. Each one will go to the faction who has the most cubes in it but fall to Britain if there's a tie.

Each player has eight cards that allow them to do some kind of action, like add cubes, rearrange cubes or change the province card order. After you take the action, you get to grab one cube from the board. So, yes that means that you are weakening the faction you are backing. You can also pass. If everyone passes in a row, the next province in a row gets determined.

The game ends when either every province is determined or Britain takes over four of them. In the former case, whoever holds the most cubes of the faction that has the most provinces wins. If Britain has taken over, whoever has the most sets of all three colors wins.

That might sound pretty simple but the game is shockingly complex in practice. There's a lot going on and you are basically fighting on eight different fronts at once. And if you neglect the provinces that later in the row, it will come back and bite you. Even passing at the right time can be a powerful action.

I particularly like how no faction belongs to anyone. Everyone is using them to try and support their own play. Some situations that you set up may help someone else more.

I first tried to play it in Yucatá back in 2012. And I did not understand the game at all. Oh, I knew what each action did but how to put it all together so that I can actually play or compete, no idea.

Now and then over the next few years, I would dabble with the King of Siam but I never put enough at one time to really get it. I do suspect that I would've had lot less of a learning curve if I had been playing it face-to-face.

But this year, I decided to make the King of Siam one of the games that I would try and get at least ten plays in. And now, at long last, things are starting to click. I'm not saying that I know how to win yet but I do finally see the big picture.

And wow. I sort of knew all along that the game was brilliant but now I know it's brilliant. I am going to keep on striving with it and it is totally worth that effort.

I also just learned that the King is Dead is actually a retheme of the King of Siam and it is cheaper than the King of Siam ever was. The new theme doesn't interest me nearly as much but it seriously tempts me to break my pledge of not being games this year.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri May 12, 2017 4:31 pm
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Can't outrun the hippos

Lowell Kempf
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We knew that Hungry Hungry Hippos was inevitable. We knew that there was no way for it to not end up in our house. Every time we saw in a store, the doodle wanted it and we couldn't tear him away the time he got to play a demo copy. So, when we saw a copy at Goodwill, we gritted our teeth and bought it, telling ourselves that at least we weren't buying it at brand new prices.

Hungry Hungry Hippos, for that one guy in the back who has come out of the cave they've spent the last few decades in, is a toy or game where you use lever activated hippo heads to scoop in marbles from a shallow bowl. Whoever gets the most marbles wins. There's a variant where getting the one yellow marble wins the game.

In all honesty, I have problems thinking of Hungry Hungry Hippos as a dexterity game or even a game. The only decision in it is timing and even that might not make a difference in your gameplay.

And, of course, the toddler loves the silly thing. He will literally bang out game after game with it. And he does play it by the rules, although there's really only one and it's a simple one. Hit them levers. Mind you, he could follow that one rule when he was exposed to the game back when he was two.

What really drives my 'meh' factor with Hungry Hungry Hippos is that there is no learning factor in it. With games like Don't Spill the Beans or Animal Upon Animal, kids get to practice hand eye coordination. Matching games teach memory and deduction. Heck, even Tic Tac Toe teachers analytical thinking and Candyland teaches counting in colors. Hungry Hungry Hippos really gives a kid nothing to think about.

Still, the doodle does have fun with it, it is something to occupy him when he gets manic, and it teaches the all important lesson that games are fun and a great activity

P. S. We both had Hungry Hungry Hippos when we were tiny kids and we both agree that the newer version with the thicker but softer plastic is both more durable and quieter. So that's a real plus with this version.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu May 11, 2017 8:17 pm
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Our latest thrift

Lowell Kempf
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While I have pledged not to buy any new games this year (other than PnP files, which includes Kickstarter) for myself, games for the toddler don't count. And, over the last few days, we've ended up taking some home from Goodwill for him.

As far as Daddy is concerned, the real prize is a copy of Junior Labyrinth. Thick, chunky tiles, including the treasure discs, it will put up with some abuse. And while the board is smaller than the original version, it still has all the same great mechanics.

And, of course, the doodle hasn't been interested in it Mind you, he has several years before he officially outgrows it.

We also got some Frozen (tm) dominoes, which I thought would be a good way to start teaching him basic domino skills. But it's missing one and he decided he'd rather play with Mommy and Daddy's Mexican Train set.

Eh, it's still a step

No, the third and last game, Hungry Hungry Hippos is the massive success I'm not even sure I can call it a dexterity game. The one plus I'll say for it is that he has no problems playing it by the rules. Or
Maybe that should just be rule.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu May 11, 2017 6:27 pm
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Toddlers and the tablets of Babylon

Lowell Kempf
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As I have slowly been letting go enough to let our toddler play with some of Daddy's games, Bruno Faidutti's Babylon has come out to play. Since it consists of twelve sturdy plastic tablets and nothing else, it'll take some serious effort for him to break any of it.

I picked Babylon up about five years ago, in large part because it had come across my radar so much as a minimalist game. Back in 2003, having only twelve total pieces was a selling point (although I can think of other games with less that predated it) In fact, most of for Faidutti's comments about it seem to be about how small it was. When the guy who designed it focuses on the novelty element, you know the gameplay isn't that strong.

The tablets come in four different colors and the game starts out with them all just sitting out. On your turn, you combine two stacks tablets. They either have to be the same height or be the same color on top. First person who can't make a move loses.

Babylon is a ridiculously quick game, even by the standards of fillers. The official playing time is five minutes and two minutes is more accurate. More than that, although I have gone out of my way to not find out how, the game has been solved.

So basically, Faidutti invented an alternative to Tic Tac Toe.

I got the game when I saw it at the GenCon auction hall all those years ago for the gee whiz factor and intellectual curiosity. Even though I knew I could cobble together a functional version of the game with poker chips or Looney Pyramids in fifteen seconds, I knew that the presentation factor of the authentic tablets was the only way I'd get the Babylon played.

Heck, not only did I know I needed the tablets to interest other people, I knew I'd be a lot more interested myself.

While Babylon isn't a great game and might even be a flawed and broken game, it still has some interest for me. I am amused by how it has a syntax built on two terms, hence the whole Babel connection. There is a variation where it is a move to add tablets to the playing field, which allegedly unsolves it. Plus, it's a quick and easy time filler that isn't dice or cards.

But it's the toy factor that really got it into my collection, kept in my collection (along with the tiny size) and has it seen regular use since the toddler likes playing with them and stacking them up.

And, while he's still not clear about the rules (being able to stack stacks of the same size still alludes him), I am working on teaching him the actual game of Babylon to him. It is looking like it will be part of his introduction to abstracts. And, given its tactile nature, it might be perfect as one of a toddler's first abstracts.

I don't think Bruno Faidutti intended to make Babylon as a toddler game. I'm pretty sure it was just an exercise in minimalism. However, I think it's real value in my gaming life with be alongside Tic Tac Toe and Connect 4 and whatever I decide to first teach the kid with Looney Pyramids.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed May 10, 2017 6:43 pm
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An unspoiled game about building a community

Lowell Kempf
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Our Life by the Ocean is both a sweet and interesting little narrative RPG and one that I have a lot of trouble commenting on.

That is because it is a GM-free game with hidden information from all the players until a turning point in the game. Yes, I cheated and looked ahead. Frankly, I'm not sure how anyone 'hosting' the game can avoid doing that.

Having said that, I think that the game can still be effective if the host still commits to the game. I do think that the game will have the maximum impact if as few as people as possible have cheated though.

It is a super simple storytelling game, where you use a tiny deck of relationship cards to establish a community. Who everyone is and how they relate to each other.

Then, you use story cards to develop the community. With every card, you vote on who was the most entertaining and they get the card.

And that is about all I can really say about the mechanics of Our Life by the Ocean.

The game has a definite Norwegian feel for me. The goal is to create a realistic, not fantastic community, grounded in the emotions of the players. While I already know some folks who wouldn't handle this game well, one way or another, I also know that it would work really well for some folks.

And I think that there are some very interesting details in the mechanics that are subtle but would play out very well. In fact, while I think the game would have the most impact on its first playing, when folks no all the mechanics, I think it still would actually be rewarding to replay. As long as folks are willing to commit, the game should work.

So much to my amazement, it's listed as having a 15 to 30 minute playing time. Man, with people who I would want to play with back in the Midwest, even with the incredibly light rules, I can't imagine playing this in 15 minutes.

I have looked at a ton of tiny role-playing games, ones that are only a couple pages long. Our Life by the Ocean, with only two pages of rules and a few pages of cards, is a remarkably complete game. I am very seriously considering how hard it would be to play a game of it on Google hangouts.
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Tue May 9, 2017 12:51 am
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Oh, is that how an official rondel works?

Lowell Kempf
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A little while back, I wrote about rondel games. In particular, I wrote about how I really had no idea what they really were. Then the official series of rondel games, there did not seem to be a consensus about what a rondel really was.

That was when I decided that I needed to try one of the official roundel games out. Since Antike Duellum is on Yucatá, that was how I decided to find out how they really work.

It will take me some more plays before my thoughts on Antike Duellum are settled enough for me to write about the game. However, if this is what a rondel is really supposed to be a like, then none of the games I have played that have been labeled as rondel really count.

Which is not to say that they were bad games. Finca, for instance, is a game I really love and I hope it comes back in print so more people get to play it. What it really means is that people throw the term rondel around too much.

Anyhow, the rondel in the only game I've tried so far is a series of different actions on a circular track, looking like a pie graph where everything is worth the same. You can move it up to three spaces for free and then you pay for every space after that.

What really surprised me is that the other players position on the rondel affect you in anyway. It is really just a way of limiting choices and making sure you don't do the same thing over and over again.

At least for Antike Duellum, this was actually a good system. While the individual moves are simple, they add up to complicated gameplay. The rondel helps keep things organized.

Anyway, you don't need a rondel to be a good game and not every circle track is a rondel. So far, I'm having fun with Antike Duellum but I don't need to run out and play every rondel game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat May 6, 2017 12:49 am
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Toddler steps with games

Lowell Kempf
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The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Games have become a staple in our house. The box has a simple dexterity game and what basically amounts to a simplified Slap Jack but our toddler has not only enjoyed the games but played them by the rules.

The Snacky Squirrel Game just involves moving rubber acorns around plastic tree stumps using squirrel-shaped forceps and following the instructions of a spinner. The only interaction in the game comes from getting to steal from other players.

Frankly, other than giving the toddler some hand eye coordination practice, the best thing that I can say about it is that it is really cute. It's no Don't Spill the Beans, let alone Animal Upon Animal. But the doodle has fun with it.

I'm more pleased with the Sneaky Squirrel Game, which is basically a very simplified Slap Jack. Yes, I really just wrote that. You set out separate stacks of acorn cards, organized by color. Then you goal cards, showing specific colors or any color or the option of stealing someone else's card. Whoever slaps the appropriate stack gets a card and a point.

It is still a really simple game but I think it does a good job introducing pattern recognition and reaction time as game mechanics. It isn't a challenging game but it gives our toddler the experience and tools to play more challenging games in the future.

While there are some kids games that are interesting and even challenging for adults as well, I can't say that for either of these games. I have a feeling that he will be bored with them in a couple years at the longest. But for now, they are good for him.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri May 5, 2017 10:57 pm
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