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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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Patrician: Building towers and memories

Lowell Kempf
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Patrician is not one of my favorite Michael Schacht games. However, it was a watershed game for me as far as his designs are concerns. And, even though I don't consider it to be one of his greats, it is still a pretty fun game and one that has stayed in my collection.

In Patrician, you are competing to build towers in Renaissance Italy. The theme is pretty thin. You could just as easily be building sky scrapers in US cities or rockets in the moon or just abstract symbols.

The two-to-four player board shows nine cities while the five-player board has ten. Each city has a distinctive crest of arms, two spots for towers, two spots for scoring tokens and a space for a card. Every card had a city crest on it, showing which city it will let you build in. In addition, every card has another symbol, giving some of a bonus. These include a second crest of the same city for another build, the power to draw a card from any city, the power to move the top piece of a tower and patrician heads which are worth points at the end. Everyone gets tower blocks in their own color, which are slotted so they can stack up without slipping.

Game play is very simple. Play a card. Place a tower block in one of the spaces in the matching city and take the face-up card from that city. Each city has a number over the city crest to show how many tower blocks can be in it, which is also the number of its higher score token. Going through the deck will complete every city.

When a city is full, you score it. Whoever controls the higher tower gets the higher score token and the shorter tower gets the lower token. There's an odd number of blocks allowed in each city so there will always be a higher tower. Whoever has more blocks in a tower controls it with the top block being the tie breaker.

At the end of the game, when every city is full, players also get points for having sets of heads from the cards they played. And, of course, whoever has the most points wins.

I was initially interested in Patrician because of the stacking towers. So I picked it up and tried it as a two-player where it fell flat. Not enough tension, too easy to do what you wanted to do. So Patricians went to the back of the closet to gather dust.

Months later, Patrician was one of the games Mayfair was running as part of their ribbon quest at Origins so I played it with five players. And it was so much better. With five people, the board was so much smaller and there was so much more struggle to control the board and get any points. Since then, I've played it with three and four as well and it was good at those numbers too.

So, they should have just put three-to-five players on the box.

As it turns out, stacking towers up isn't really what makes Patrician interesting. It is the very simple decision tree that ends up being intriguing when your simple decisions collide with everyone else's. Patricians has a simple but almost hypnotic rhythm, playing a card while knowing what card you will be taking, plotting out your moves to the entire table.

Patrician sits in a weird place for me. It's a bit too long and set up is a bit too involved to be a game I just plunk down at the drop of a hat. At the same time, its not as long or as heavy as, say, Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne, a game that could be the centerpiece of a quiet game night. So it never came out that much back with the old game group, although everyone liked it when it did.

However, what Patrician really did for me was have me look up who made it. And then I looked up what else this Michael Schacht guy had done. That's when I realized I had been playing his games for years.

Patrician did not make me a Michael Schacht fan. It made me realize I was one.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thanks for the fun movies, Sir Roger Moore

Lowell Kempf
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Sir Roger Moore died today. Wow. I know he was 89, which, as I get older, I don't like to think of as that old, but that still counts as a full life.

I know Moore did a lot of acting, including becoming famous as The Saint but, for me, James Bond was his defining role. I think Roger Moore, I think James Bond.

He was not my favorite Bond. That's a toss up between Moore and Craig. They played more visceral Bonds, James Bond the Assassin. Roger Moore had the lighter, happier James Bond. He was James Bond the Super Hero.

I know it's fun to belittle the Roger Moore era because it was more silly with more wacky quips and over-the-top gadgets. But, come on. Seven films over twelve years. Moore helped define not just James Bond but the whole pop culture concept of a secret agent.

Sir Roger Moore's time as James Bond was just plain fun.

And he wasn't that much of a goody two-shoes. He still had a small war's body count

I am not even close to being an expert or aficionado of James Bond. Other folks are going to do a much better job looking at Roger Moore's time as Bond, let alone the rest of his life and career. But I just had to say thanks for those fun movies.
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Tue May 23, 2017 9:22 pm
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The clicking of a campaign

Lowell Kempf
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Over the last couple months, I've been part of an online D&D (Fifth Edition) campaign, one that has the specific aim that everyone who is involved has a life full of adult responsibilities. Which means we only play for a couple hours and we have an irregular schedule. We're also spread out over three different time zones.

The other night, we had our fourth session, counting the introduction session where the DM introduced us all. (All of the players are from different campaigns he ran in the past. I'd like to think this is a greatest hits campaign ) And that session is where things really clicked.

Clicked as far as the game is concerned. As far as everyone getting along and having fun, we had that down from day one. But the first couple sessions were basically spent trying to get to grips with the Roll20 interface and each one was basically a minor combat apiece.

Session number four, we finally had a working knowledge of how to use the interface. We also started to do the basic D&D 101 experience, a dungeon crawl. The familiarity and simplicity of that helped us move things along. And the characters' personalities started to come out.

I now know the core concept of my fighter's personality, which is sacrifice. He is always first in battle and will do his best to define the front but not for glory or valor. His whole schtick is to protect everyone else, no matter the cost. Now that that has solidified as a motivation, I know what to do in any given situation. And I think everyone else is in a similar position.

Campaign are fragile creatures. They can break or fizzle out so easily. But now, we have a sense of ourselves as a group, which is a big step.
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Tue May 23, 2017 6:21 am
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Visiting Michael Schacht's site

Lowell Kempf
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Back when we became parents and moved across the country at the same time, I made a decision to cut my online gaming sites down to Yucatá. I didn't have the time or focus to play games on a bunch of different sites. Yucatá, between having a wide selection of games and a great community that includes some of my face-to-face friends, was the perfect choice for me.

Since then, the only site that has slipped back into regular rotation for me is Super Duper Games, home of obscure and curious abstracts. Seriously, between its perpetual beta status and unique selection of games you've never heard of, it is like nothing else on the web or face-to-face life.

However, I will go to other sites for the purpose of trying specific games. For instance, I went back to SpielbyWeb to try out Reef Encounter in order to find out if I should keep my hard copy. (The answer was a giant yes)

My recent musing about Michael Schacht made me decide to go back to boardgames-online, his personal site to play his games. After all, so many of his games really need at least three players to either shine or just play.

It is actually quite a nice site. It has good interfaces that are easy to use and it has a surprisingly wide selection of his games. The only thing I can knock about it is that it doesn't have the largest community, which I think is of the most important thing for an online gaming site and the most difficult thing for one to achieve.

Although Michael Schacht himself will show up and play games, which is pretty darn awesome.

Keeping to my original plan of not spending too much time playing board games online, I'm planning on playing only one or two games at a time at the site. My need to make sure that I have a good time management hasn't gone away.

Although my original plan of just playing a couple games and then leaving the site might get adjusted because there are games there I don't know and it would be fun to learn them.

This is just one more of the many examples in my experience of Michael Schacht being a ninja game designer. Despite winning awards, he doesn't seem to have his own call to personality. However, he makes really good games.
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Sat May 20, 2017 5:22 pm
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Tenure or an eldritch roach in my head?

Lowell Kempf
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I am pretty sure that my experiences with Jason Morningstar's designs started with Shab-al-Hiri Roach. He's designed Fiasco, which I consider to be one of the most important indie RPGs, and Gray Ranks, which is an amazing and disturbing design. But before that, in his career and my exposure to his career, there was Shab-al-Hiri Roach.

Shab-al-Hiri Roach is narrative-based and GM-free RPG, which puts it squarely in what has increasingly become my interests. Although I played it before I got into those kind of games

In the game, the players are all faculty in a New England university in 1919. Underneath the genteel veneer of polite society is a seething pit of jealousy and rivalry. Over the course of several scenes, the players will engage in social conflicts, risking their reputations in order to increase those same reputation.

Oh, and there's a Lovecraftian roach from ancient Sumeria who can empower and damn the players in its own quest to spawn and spread its malignant influence.

If you accept the roach or are possessed by it, you get some big bonuses. That little Cthulhu cockroach will give you some considerable mechanical advantages. BUT you can't win the game no matter high your reputation is if you are still possessed by the roach. And getting rid of that little eldritch abomination will require luck and sacrifice.

In my one experience with Shab-al-Hiri Roach, just about every last one of us caved in and gave in to the roach. The winner ended up being humiliated and forced to leave the university in shame and disgrace but, by golly, he won because he didn't give in to the temptation of the roach.

It was a hoot.

Shab-al-Hiri Roach Is not one of the great indie games. Fiasco, which is an obvious comparison since it's also by Jason Morningstar, has slightly simpler rules, tighter relationship rules and the flexibility to be used with any setting. Shab-al-Hiri Roach doesn't just tell a specific type of story but a specific story. I'd play it again cheerfully but I wouldn't form a group to play it over and over again.

But it's still a fun game, in huge part due to the theme. For me, it's like a mashup of Lovecraft and Wodehouse (which, I know, has been done plenty of times) The concept, while it could be straight up horror, really lends itself to hysterical black comedy.

I view Shab-al-Hiri Roach as the promise of greater games to come in Morningstar's work but it's still fun on its own.
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Thu May 18, 2017 4:09 pm
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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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