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 «  3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7  Next »  [159]

Recommend
7 
 Thumb up
5.00
 tip
 Hide

Bluey works by not talking down to kids

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
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
Twitter Facebook
4 Comments
Wed Jul 28, 2021 11:31 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
17 
 Thumb up
5.05
 tip
 Hide

Utopia Engine justifies the hype

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
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
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Mon Jul 26, 2021 4:32 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
5 
 Thumb up
0.25
 tip
 Hide

Games learned during staycation

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
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.
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Sat Jul 24, 2021 1:04 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
10 
 Thumb up
1.05
 tip
 Hide

30 Rails just keeps getting better

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I recently tried out some shorter, simpler Roll and Writes. Honestly, it was clearing out some backlog, although I am always hoping to find another 13 Sheep.

And the amount of decisions ranged from either limited to not really there are all. Which wasn’t all that surprising. That’s one of the dangers of game designs and these were basically prototypes.

But it made me ask if some of the PnP, R&W games I’d liked before are as good as I thought they were. In particular, 30 Rails. After all, the game has you randomly roll coordinates and rail shapes.

So I pulled 30 Rails to give it another spin. It had been a while. Either I’d have fun or an educational disappointment.

So, yeah, it’s good.

I regularly describe 30 Rails as the love child of Take It Easy and Metro and I see no reason why I should stop.

You have a six by six grid in 30 Rails. After you seed the grid with five impassible mountains, one mine and a bonus spot, you put a station on each edge. Your goal is to connect stations to each other in the mine. That’s how you get points and points are how you measure how well you do in the game.

Each turn, someone rolls two different colored dice. One die determines which column or row you are going to add a track in. The other determines the shape of the track. And yes, you determine which die is which before you roll them.

I just tried several games that used to days as coordinates. Now, you would think that only having to choose a row or a column would make a big difference in your range of choices. You would be wrong. It makes an enormous difference. And, in 30 Rails, if you filled in both the column and the row, that number becomes wild.

There’s actually a lot in 30 Rails that lets you make meaningful choices. You get some say in how the board is set up. Everyone gets an override that they get to use once for each type of dice. Heck, you get to rotate the track shape, although just about any tile laying game lets you do that.

However, comparing using two dice to get a maximum of two options with using one die to get a maximum of eleven options (and a potential wild mechanic built in), that makes the difference between a good gaming experience and a bad one.

I went back to revisit 30 Rails to see if it was as good as I remembered or if experience would reveal terrible flaws. And what I found was that the game was actually better than I originally thought.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Thu Jul 22, 2021 4:31 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Yeah, the game actually works isn’t high praise

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I am going to damn Puerto Miau with faint praise but, the funny thing is, I actually mean the praise. It’s circumstantial but still actual praise.

Puerto Miau is a Roll and Write game that is actually a Roll and Move and Write game. You are moving a pawn across a grid of action spaces, although it wouldn’t be that hard to track the pawn with just a pen, particularly in a solitaire game. (The game does play up to two, though)

In the game, you take on the role of a cat who is stealing fish from the marketplace. The mechanics are dead simple. You start in the middle of the grid and roll a die to see how many spaces you move. You mark off the space where you land because you can’t visit the same space twice in the same game.

Most of the spaces are fish spaces with a number assigned them. Roll over that number with two dice and you get that fish in the accompanying points. There are also some action spaces. These include a guaranteed steal of a random value, erasing a mark so you can revisit a space, extra movement and extra dice when rolling to steal. After 20 turns, you add up your points.

Puerto Miau is strictly okay at best. It feels like the next step in putting a game on a place mat. Is it better than roll-and-move on a linear track? Definitely. Is it much better? Eh.

The game isn’t without decisions, although those really come down to going for low-point fish that you are likely to get or gambling for a high value fish that require a good roll. But, seriously, there are a lot of free roll and write games out there. There are some actual gems but this isn’t one of them.

But…

I have been going through my backlog of Roll and Write games and I’ve played games with confusing rules, no real choices and where luck dictates everything that happens. After playing enough of those, Puerto Miau was a relief. It is actually a functional game.

I’m not actually sure the publication history of the game. I got it as a free Print and Play and it looks like it is still available as such. I’m not sure if it was ever officially published. I do see that there is a card version of it. The Roll and Write version might be simply publicity for the card game.

Honestly, the best use for the game might actually be to laminate it and use it as a place mat. Lord knows worse games have been used that way.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
3 Comments
Mon Jul 19, 2021 5:02 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
14 
 Thumb up
5.00
 tip
 Hide

Choose Your Own Adventure as a deck of cards

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
A few months ago, I printed out and constructed the demo version of Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger. I have many fond memories of the line of books from back in the 80s. I was curious and isn’t the point of a demo to give you an idea how a game works?

Just to get this out of the way. I am not going to discuss the actual story at all. There will be no spoilers as far as that is concerned. This will just be about mechanics.

And as far as mechanics go, the Choose Your Own Adventure card game is just what it says on the tin. It is a game book broken down into cards. Noting more and nothing less.

The game consists of a story deck, a clue deck and a board to track the danger meter and the psychic scale. The story cards are the story text and basic decisions. You earn clue cards by skill checks against the current danger level or being high enough level on the psychic scale. The clue cards can be items, additional choices or actual clues.

While dice-based skill checks are new to CYOA as a series, they are the standard for most game book series (Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, etc) so no points for innovation there. However, I do really like clue cards. They are a very convenient way of keeping track of inventory and they are an excellent way of implementing hidden choices. They are my favorite mechanical element of the game.

To be perfectly honest, the Choose Your Own Adventure card game absolutely fulfills its design mission statement. It absolutely captures the feel and the mechanics of the original books.

But, at the same time, I can’t say that I have any plans to buy the full game. There are two reasons for this and they are both completely baked in to the intrinsic design of the game.

First and by far most importantly, there isn’t a lot of replay value in the game. You go through the story and then you were done. Heck, there are even rules for going back if you get yourself killed before the end so you will make it through the story. (Which also captures the feel of the original books where you could just flip back to the page where are you made the bad decision.) I don’t mind limited replay value in a print and play game but it’s some thing I want to avoid if I’m actually buying a game.

Second, I don’t see it really functioning as a cooperative game. There isn’t a real functional reason to take turns. It is fundamentally a solitaire game, literally like reading a book. That is much less of a dealbreaker but I do prefer to make my actual purchases multi-player.

I think the game does a very good job of doing just what it set out to do. Yes, it is a simple system but that is what is needed in order to capture the feel of the original series. And I did have fun with the demo. However, it is not something that I am in the market for.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
1 Comment
Sat Jul 17, 2021 12:12 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
22 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide

Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation rocks

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
While I got rid of Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings (the cooperative one) and haven’t missed it, I have kept his Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation and can’t see myself ever getting rid of it.

I have never enjoyed Stratego. That’s on me, not Stratego. I just don’t have the patience for it. The play is too drawn out and meticulous for me. And I like Go and Chess!

But I really like LotR-Confrontation and Alex Randolph’s Geisters. Apparently, I need a smaller board! And, while I have played a _lot_ more Geister, I think LotR-Confrontation is the stronger game.

The basic concept of the game is that the light player is trying to get Frodo and the One Ring to Mount Doom and the dark player is trying to catch Frodo. So, it’s the FedEx delivery from Hell.

And, yes, it uses the Stratego mechanic that you can see what your pieces are but your opponent can’t. Shhhhh… It’s a secret.

So why does it rock?

First of all, the board is ridiculously tight. At the start of the game, every part of the board except the middle row is packed. The conflict and the mind games get going right from the start. The older I get, the more significant I think this is. The game cuts straight to the knife fight in a phone booth and that’s where the fun is.

Second, every single piece has a special power and it’s a different special power for each piece. The way that they interact is a huge part of the mind game’s that define the game.

Third, it’s a great example of asymmetrical conflict. Not only do the two sides have different goals, they have different strengths that compliment different styles. The light is a scalpel to the dark’s hammer. Doing well with one side doesn’t mean you can do the same with the other.

In short, there isn’t just one good design choice in LotR-Confrontation. There are bunch of them.

I commented that one of the reasons I got rid of Knizia’s cooperative LotR game that it abstracted things to the point where it wasn’t fun and was hard to follow. Confrontation can be accused of being pretty abstract but, mechanically, it all fits together super well. The game mechanics make sense. (Okay, I also think the design choices fit thematically but I can see how someone can argue with me about that)

I don’t actually have the deluxe version of the game, just the original one. And I’m nowhere near playing it out to the point where I’d need another set of characters. (I’m hoping someone has made a conversion kit since I like the compact size of the original game if I reach that point)

I am a big fan of River Knizia and many of his best games are built around a single, solid concept. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, though, is built around a bunch of them.


Originally posted at www.gnomeponderimg.com
Twitter Facebook
5 Comments
Wed Jul 14, 2021 9:22 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Epidemic- not quite Pandemic in your pocket

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
I sometimes think that making a smaller PnP version Pandemic is its own sub-genre. You’ve got Infection Express, Epidemic and Contagion. Heck, Asmodee itself got into the game when they offered Hot Zone as a free PnP file

Epidemic is the first one I’ve tried, since I didn’t have to worry about colors. And nine cards, plus some tokens, made it an easy project to throw together. (Yes, Contagion is one card. I’ll try that one next, okay?)

I would have actually tried Epidemic when it first showed up in the 2018 Nine-Card Design Contest (I made my copy then) but the rules had some vague bits, particularly about set-up, that confused me. When I saw someone had posted some revised rules, it all clicked and I was good to go.

Three of the cards form a map of the world with fifteen interconnected spots for virus tokens. One card is a track to track research and mutation. And the last five cards are the action cards.

The core mechanic is dead simple. You shuffle the action cards and lay them out. You can do any action but if you choose one that isn’t on the far right, it will cost you. Every card you pass over gets a virus tokens. The card you play goes to the end of row on the left. And if you pick a card that has virus tokens, they get added to the board. Oh, and the farther to the right (the start of the cars track), the stronger the card effect.

The three happy cards let you move along the research track, move the medic to clear virus tokens and make different special events happen. The bad cards add virus tokens to the board and move the mutation track along. To add to the fun, the mutation track has milestones that, when you hit them, make things worse.

Epidemic is a tiny little game with a tiny little track and a tiny little supply of virus tokens. It’s not hard to speed along the research track BUT it’s also easy to speed along the mutation track or use up virus tokens.

Epidemic is an interesting beast. Once I had the couple rules issues ironed out, it was very easy to understand. And some of that understanding came from knowing Pandemic. And I enjoyed it as a interesting puzzle game. The selling point of Epidemic is that you hit the managing the train wreck part of the game super fast.

But you can’t help but compare it to Pandemic and it isn’t Pandemic

If you are looking for a pocket-sized little puzzler that’s free to download and easy to make, Epidemic is worth a look. If you are looking for a pocket-sized substitute for Pandemic, a Pandemic you can fit in your pocket, Epidemic isn’t it.

It’s worst failing in that regard is that it really doesn’t function as a multi-player cooperative game. In Pandemic, everyone has their own hand of cards, pawn and special power to look after. In Epidemic, all the resources are global. Taking turns only makes sense if you use a variation where you can only talk by adding a virus token. And that sounds annoying. There are better games to manage communication with.

I do think that Epidemic might have the PnP Forgiveness Syndrome for me. I spent less than a dollar in materials and fifteen minutes in crafting. If I get five, ten initial plays in and then play it once ina blue moon for novelty, I’ll be happy. But if paid twenty dollars for it, I don’t think I’d be as pleased.

But Epidemic is free to download and easy to make. And it is a solid little puzzle that used tried and true mechanics and theme. I think most folks will find it worth the effort to try it out.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Mon Jul 12, 2021 4:57 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
17 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Why I got rid of Knizia’s Lord of the Rings

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings was my introduction to the cooperative genre. I know that the genre actually dates back to at least the 1940s. While many older examples are children’s games, the original Arkham Horror is still thirteen years older than LotR. Still, at the time when I found Lord of the Rings, cooperatives were very much the exception to the rule. It’s been almost ten years since I culled it from my collection.

And, looking back… yeah, no regrets.

Back when I was trying to get it on the table, a friend described it as less of a game and more like a ritual that we had all gotten together to perform. And I think that’s both an amusing and appropriate description.

Knizia’s LotR is a tough game to beat but that’s not its problem. In fact, that’s its biggest selling point. (Although cooperative games having become more common makes losing to them easier for folks to accept) And it is physically cumbersome with multiple boards and pawns and decks of cards and such but that’s honestly not a big deal unless you are playing on a TV tray.

No, what really killed the game for me and for literally everyone I played with is that it abstracted the Lord of the Rings to the point where we couldn’t see the story and it felt aggressively non-intuitive. In fact, if I were to play it again now, I’d probably like it even less.

We only beat the game once. And that was by abusing the power of the One Ring as much as possible. Which feels kind of against the spirit of the game. (It was a race between finishing the game and corruption finishing us) Afterwards, one player said ‘Okay, we never have to play that again’ and he turned out to be right.

I did get two of the expansions but never had the interest to actually try and use them. Getting the game out of my collection didn’t give me any regrets. Maybe even some relief and definitely some shelf space.

It is a fascinating, maybe even brilliant design. But that didn’t make it enjoyable.


Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
10 Comments
Fri Jul 9, 2021 4:24 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Wodehouse and the nature of Club Stories

Lowell Kempf
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
Avatar
Microbadge: Icehouse fanMicrobadge: Solitaire GamerMicrobadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Doctor Who fanMicrobadge: PnP / DIY fan
After reading the first collection of Lord Dunsany’s Jorkens stories, I found myself thinking about Wodehouse and his Mr. Mulliner stories and his golf stories. I had assumed that Dunsany had influence them until I learned Wodehouse has started writing them first

(It is hard for me to imagine anyone influencing Dunsany since he seems to have created or cultivated so many concepts that have shaped literature as at least I know it

(I also don’t know where the Drones Club stories fit into the Club Story genre. The Eggs, Beans ans Crumpets stories are stories told in a club but the reliability of the narrator doesn’t come into play)

I love both the Mulliner stories and the golf stories. That said, compared to the Jorkens stories that I have read, they are incredibly formulaic. Boy or girl has problem. Their attempts to solve problem make it much worse. Something crazy happens that solves the problem and they get happily married. The end.

And, in the golf stories, nine times out of ten, the guy with the lower handicap gets the girl

In the introduction to one of the Mr. Mulliner omnibuses, Wodehouse wrote that by telling the stories through a story teller, he was able to further and crazier than he could otherwise. He wasn’t asking the readers to suspend their disbelief that something crazy happened. They just had to suspend their disbelief that this guy at a bar was saying crazy stuff.

I’d say that the Mr Mulliner stories go farther than the golf stories as far as the craziness goes. Most of the golf stories are from the hilarious perspective of the oldest member who uses golf as the golf standard for everything. In the world Mr Mulliner’s relatives, anything goes. (Pun intended, thank you Cole Porter)

As much as I love Wodehouse, I can’t say that his work reached for a deeper meaning. The man wrote entertainment but he was one of the best at it.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
Twitter Facebook
0 Comments
Thu Jul 8, 2021 4:14 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

[1]  Prev «  3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7  Next »  [159]