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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Carcassonne makes me a hypocrite

Lowell Kempf
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I am a hypocrite when it comes to games firing other games.

For the most part, I refuse to believe that a game can’t be superseded. In fact, when I find a game that I really like, I often wonder what the next step will be with that idea and concept. (I have never come remotely close to believing anything has successfully fired a regular deck of playing cards thought. When one thing can replace Poker, Rummy, Bridge, Whist, Euchre, Blackjack, Spades, Hearts (you get the idea), then we can talk)

And sometimes, games can fire games on pure concept as well. For instance, the Steam family completely fired the Crayon Rail games as far as I’m concerned. Yes, they are actually quite different mechanically but Steam made me happy and feel like I was run a train line and Crayon frustrated me and made me feel like I was trying to keep one train engine alive.

However...

I have yet to be convinced that a game has fired Carcassonne. Other than maybe a different Carcassonne game. (I love me some Hunters and Gatherers)

I remember, when it came out, Isle of Skye being held up to me as the Carcassonne killer. And when I played it, I had thought it was a great game and one that’d I happily play lots more. If someone argued that Isle is a better game than Carcassonne, I might not agree but I’d listen.

But it’s a different enough experience for me that I can’t compare the two games in a way where firing comes in. (But you could for the Steam games and Crayon Rail games! Yeah, that’s because I really don’t enjoy Crayon Rail games)

But apart from personal preference and hypocrisy, what Carcassonne has that Isle of Skye or The Castle of Mad Ludwig or many other tile laying games don’t have is everyone trying to kick each other’s teeth in on a collective board. If you thought shutting down board sections with two-letter words in Scrabble was mean, Carcassonne is confrontation city.

If it isn’t just the filter of nostalgia, sharing a map and ge ability to aggressively fight over it is something that has kept Carcassonne enjoyable and vital to me.
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Fri Apr 9, 2021 8:19 pm
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The darkness in Terry Pratchett’s young adult books

Lowell Kempf
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Noted after my last commentary about Young Adult literature was that a lot of Young Adult literature is dark and discusses dark themes.

Which is clearly not a bad thing. A lot of Young Adult literature has an educational component and is talking about serious stuff. And it also has a ‘You are not alone’ effect for kids and others who are going through trauma.

The first work that came to mind when I read that remark was The Amazing Maurice and His Highly Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, which I admit is a little far afield when you consider how many non-fantastical dark books out there.

I have been told the late but eternally great Mr Pratchett defined his Young Adult books as books that had young adults as protagonists and otherwise didn’t bother pulling any of his punches. And, man, that man could punch hard and he never punched down. He had stuff to say.

(I don’t know if he considered Equal Rites or Morte Young Adult books. They weren’t marketed as such and I don’t know if it was his choice or the publishers choice to market Maurice et al that way)

I’m not going to go into any real details about The Amazing Maurice and His Highly Educated Rodents since people should read Pratchett for themselves so they can laugh and question things they never thought to question.

But the actual young adults border on being minor characters. The real focus and emotional heart of the book are the intelligent, talking animals, a colony of rats plus a cat. Pratchett definitely dwells on how nasty the lives of rats can be, particularly when humans get involved. He clearly comes from the Maurice Sendak school of ‘Don’t sugarcoat things for kids. They live in the real world and they need to understand how it works’

The result is that the first Disc World book that was marketed for kids is one of the darkest and goriest in the series. The book is downright traumatizing, perhaps too much since I remember the nightmares more than the point. It definitely had an impact though! I am choosing to believe that Pratchett made a point of making Maurice et al so dark because he thought it was something that young adults needed.

Some people would say that his later young adult books, the ones about Tiffany Aching, are better than Maurice et al. And I’d be one of those people. Tiffany Aching is a wonderful example of a character who is wise beyond their years but still has some growing up to do. But the journey in Maurice et al of what it means to be sentient and what responsibilities that means still made for powerful reading.


Originally jotted down at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Apr 7, 2021 6:34 pm
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Looking back and finding out that Wurfel Bingo was a milestone

Lowell Kempf
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I have been a big fan of legit multi-player solitaire games ever since I finally got my hands on a copy of Take It Easy more than ten years ago. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot to be said for competition. Trying to kick each other’s teeth in is an important part of gaming. However, non-confrontation has its place too and can be the only way to get some people at the table.

In the past year, games that use the ‘bingo with strategy’ mechanic of Take It Easy have become more important because, hey, no contact. Perfect for social distancing.

And if your social distancing is over video conferencing, Roll and Write multi-player solitaire (and I have driven the jargon train off the cliff) is the perfect format. I love Take It Easy and Cities/Limes and Karuba but everyone needs the tiles and the board. With R&W, one person needs the dice and/or cards and everyone else just needs the player sheet and something to write with.

These days, Roll and Writes have pretty much exploded. And, judging by the number of design contests focused on Roll and Writes, that’s not going away. (The fact that they have to be relatively easy to manufacture has to be a factor in that.) And a lot of them are multi-player solitaires.

I have yet to be in a position to actually play one via some form of video conferencing... but I’m ready if anyone ever asks me!

While the number of R&R multi-player solitaires might be in the triple digets, the first one I came across was Wurfel Bingo. I refuse to believe it’s the earliest example but it was only the third multi-player solitaire I had come across (and the second one was Take It To the Limit, the direct sequel to Take It Easy!)

Wurfel Bingo, also known as High Score, is a five-by-five grid that you fill out with the sum of two dice. You score lines basically by creating ‘poker’ hands with the numbers and the diagonals score double. Its origins are shrouded in a bit of mystery since Reiner Knizia published close to the same rules fifteen years before it was published.

When I first discovered Wurfel Bingo, it was a revelation. I did a lot of gaming out of a bag and having a Take It Easy experience where people needed a pencil instead of 27 tiles was an amazing space saver.

While the game is pretty abstract and simple by the standards that have developed over the last ten years, it’s still pretty strong. I particularly like how the odds of what numbers can be rolled with two dice means you can make informed decisions. Even if that does mean everyone tries to fill out the diagonals with sevens.

Since I first found and tried out Wurfel Bingo, I’ve found a lot of games that fill a similar niche. And it’s a niche that I think has become increasing important and valuable. It is no longer the top of my list for games I’d recommend. However, looking back, it was a milestone for me.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Apr 5, 2021 4:04 pm
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My March R&W

Lowell Kempf
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Still not going to make this a regular thing. However, Roll and Writes are such a quick and easy way to get a new game fix

I’ve already written about how much I’ve enjoyed Yard Builder. I’ve kept playing it and kept enjoying it. The design space is just large enough to make the decision tree interesting.

A big part of game design and game experience is how much control you have and how it is limited. (And sometimes, in games like Go or Chess, the limiting factor is entirely your opponent) If you have total control, you aren’t playing a game. You’re doing a jigsaw puzzle. And with a solitaire Roll and Write, the dice are your limitation.

Yard Builder, with 3d20, offers me enough choices that I felt like I had some control but still had tough choices.

I also tried out a game I had overlooked from GenCan’t’s 2017 Roll and Write, Benny Sperling’s Wreck and Roll. It’s a game that seems to have been designed to fit on a business card. The theme of the game is destroying a city with a tank. In practice, you’re filling a grid. You also have special power tracks and a health track.

Honestly, it seems like just filling in the grid is the strongest strategy and just using the special power tracks to avoid taking damage. The minimal time/space/component aspect will let Wreck and Roll see some more play from me but I think there are better minimal Roll and Writes.

On the other hand, Some Kind of Genius from Radoslaw Ignatow exceeded my expectations. It was a bonus game he released early to backers of his R&W Kickstarter. And it makes me feel like backing it was a good call.

While the game is fundamentally about filling in boxes that are printed over an image of a brain, it does a good job forcing you to pick and choose your priorities. You can’t do everything . After more plays, I’ll have to write about it some more.

As ever, Roll and Writes continue to keep me amused with minimal moving parts.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Apr 2, 2021 3:24 pm
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My March PnP

Lowell Kempf
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I went into March with pretty low expectations for PnP crafting. My goal was pretty just to make one ‘larger’ project. However, I looked at some contests so I ended up being more active than I expected.

Here’s what I made:

Yard Builder
Choose Your Own Adventure: Danger House Demo
Button Men
9-Card Challenge (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Deadeye Dinah (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Simple Card (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Ping Ping Slam (2021 9-Card Contest, beta)
Some Kind of Genius?

My ‘big’ build for March was the Choose Your Own Adventure demo. Since I have happy memories of the books from my childhood, I’ve been curious about the games so the demo will let me try it out. I have a feeling the demo will be all I need but it was still worth making so I can see the system.

As I mentioned, I looked at some contests and that doesn’t happen without me printing out a few games. Unless I feel like I can give playtest feedback, I like to wait until the contest ready versions are done but I got impatient.

As I’ve mentioned before, Yard Builder has been my MVP of March. It’s just drawing some landscaping and not very challenging but it is downright therapeutic.

And I’m sure I will make more stuff in April.

Originally posted over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Apr 1, 2021 9:44 pm
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So The Catcher in the Rye helped create a genre?

Lowell Kempf
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I became interested in the idea of Young Adult books as a concept when I was 2.3 books through a series when I realized it was Young Adult. And honestly, the only difference that I could tell was no swearing.

From what I can tell, the technical definition of Young Adult literature is whatever a publisher feels will sell better if they slap the label on it. Honestly, that’s about what I was expecting.

One thing that did stand out to me was that many folks feel that the two books that helped create the genre are The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders, the latter being the first ‘official’ Young Adult book. And The Outsiders made perfect sense to me but the Catcher in the Rye was a surprise.

It shouldn’t be. Young protagonist? Check. Real life problems? Check. Coming of age? Well, some kind of milestone towards adulthood. Frankly, I am just thankful The Sorrows of Young Werther isn’t considered the proto-Young Adult novel.

I don’t know if I’m brave enough to reread The Catcher in the Rye. Every time I have read it, it’s been like reading a different book. Is Holden Caufield a brave, struggling youth or a jerk or sensitive kid who just doesn’t have coping skills? Depends on where you are when you read it.

I do remember in college arguing it was the great American novel but there was partially a rebellion against Moby Dick and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I also remember being surprised by how many girls I knew in middle school who loved the book until I realized that they identified with Phoebe, Holden’s sister.

If Wikipedia is anything to go by, a full half of the readers of Young Adult books are adults. Since I’m one of them, I’ll buy that. The Catcher in the Rye being a book that ended up bridging those two audiences (but I’m pretty sure those two audiences get very different things from the book) but apparently it was The Outsiders that made authors and publishers say ‘Hey, there’s something there! There’s product and profit to be made!”

Originally posted over all www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Mar 31, 2021 8:19 pm
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Yeah, this is an unpaid ad for a Kickstarter. Not going to lie about it.

Lowell Kempf
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It has been a while since I actually backed a Kickstarter project. However, Radow Ignatow’s A Lot of Games bundle managed to win me over.

And yes, it’s a Print and Play bundle. I’ve had enough issues with getting physical product actually shipped to me that I have resolved to only back Print and Plays. I figure I’m more likely to get the end product if the creators just need to send me an email.

And it’s a collection of one page Roll and Writes. Which admittedly means that it’s less physical content then a lot of Print and Play stuff I’ve backed. However, it does mean that it will be beyond easy to make and easier to convince other people to play since it’ll look close to what a published copy would look like. (I don’t make the prettiest PnP stuff)

In addition to being something that I’m into and the kind of stuff I’m already making (and playing), I’m encouraged by the fact that Ignatow already successfully ran this project in Polish. So both they and the project have a track record.

However, what was the real selling point for me was that each game is offered in full color, low color and black and white, as well as full page and half page. That says to me that Ignatow understands their audience.

Of course, the real real I’m blogging about this is because I’m hoping more people will get interested and the project will make more stretch goals

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/radek-ignatow/a-lot-of-...

Originally over at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Mar 29, 2021 4:03 pm
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Beverly Cleary. She wrote some good books.

Lowell Kempf
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Beverly Cleary died on Thursday, March 25, 2021. Which, from the perspective of when I’m writing this was yesterday. She was 104 so the sad aspect is really fighting the impressive aspect.

I’m not sure if I’ve read any of her books since the 1980s. However, I did read a nice chunk of her books back in the day. You know, back when I was the primary audience. And since it’s been decades since I actually read Beverly Cleary, I am not in a position to make any analysis or commentary about her body of work.

However, her Ramona books did leave a lasting impression on me. I remember finding impossible to believe that the same author who had created Henry Huggins, who I found terribly bland, also created Ramona Quimbly who I remember being a much more nuanced and believable character. Ramona was basically a good kid but full of all the flaws and anxieties that are a part of being a kid.

In fact, I remember being convinced that Beverly Cleary was setting up having Beezus and Ramona’s parents getting divorced. Which, according to Wikipedia, never happened. The fact that I believed that could have happened, though, speaks of the emotional weight Beverly Cleary could convey

I’m a little scared of rereading any of her books because it might be disillusioning. I’ve had decades to develop rose colored glasses. However, she wrote works that have stayed with me and made it to 104. That’s awesome.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Sat Mar 27, 2021 3:01 am
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Neuromancer: the book that became a genre

Lowell Kempf
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If William Gibson hadn’t written Neuromancer and basically invented the genre of Cyberpunk on the spot... I’m honestly not convinced someone else would have.

Gibson didn’t invent the idea of a human mind going into a computer. (Heck, Tron is older than Neuromancer) He certainly didn’t invent corporate-run dystopias. He absolutely didn’t invent noire which is the underlining literary genre of Cyberpunk.

But he did blend those elements and more into a singular vision that informed a ridiculous amount of media that followed it. Heck, a lot of the jargon and slang he created has gone into regular use and become regular words.

This was the third or fourth time I’ve read Neuromancer. And each time has been different. Yes, part of it is that the jargon has become more standardized. However, Gibson’s abrupt, even staccato, way of breaking up scenes has become more common and thus easier to follow.

And with the actual writing easier to follow, the actual story is simpler than I remembered. It’s a heist story, dripping with noire anti-heroes. Taking the basic structure and dropping it into Chicago during the Great Depression would be an interesting exercise although some of the Cyberpunk aspects of the heist would be hard to reconfigure.

Two things I came away from this reading with: I think a big part of the iconic nature of street samurai Molly Millions with her Wolverine claws and perpetual sunglasses is her really awesome name. Second, Maelcum, the Rastafarian navy, is the dark horse of the book. The closest thing to a normal person and a functional human being, he’s now the biggest reason I want to see a movie adaptation.

There is something to the accusation of there being more style than substance to Neuromancer BUT I have seen so much Cyberpunk with no substance that I treasure the substance that is there. That said, I remember liking Count Zero more and I’m looking forward to rereading that.
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Thu Mar 25, 2021 1:19 am
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Foothold Enterprises is a hidden diamond in the rough

Lowell Kempf
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I’ve finally gotten around to making and playing a copy of Foothold Enterprises. What I found was a game that was mechanically compelling enough that I want to keep playing but a seriously boring graphic design.

Okay. Here’s the info dump. Foothold Enterprises is a print-and-play, in-hand, solitaire game. That means you make it yourself, only one person can play at a time and you don’t need a table. Which are all things I’ve been exploring for the last couple years.

You are starting to get a startup company off the ground. You need clients, which are what the game calls points. In practice, it’s an auction game where you bid for advertising (special powers), clients (like I said, points) and money (the stuff you use to bid)

Every card has an ad power, a money value, a client number and the number of cards you flip if you want to bid for any of the three elements. If you want to bid on a card, you decide how much you are willing to bid, flip over the right number of cards and see if the cards add up to less than your bid. If they do, then you get the card.

A few clarifications. You track money with a money card and a paper clip. You get two bucks at the end of every turn so passing and getting money is important. And you don’t spend your bid if you bid for money since you’d never bid for money otherwise.

One of my favorite design choices is you use card positions to designate how cards are used. Client cards you win are turned upside down and put face up in the back of the deck. Ad powers are placed sideways. Every other card you use are face up and right side up in the back of the deck. It makes everything easy to track.

When I first played it, I said to myself ‘This is like the Zed Deck’, which was listed as an inspiration. So I got out the Zed Deck and played it again. And, no, it really isn’t like the Zed Deck. Other than being in-hand, they are different experiences. The Zed Deck is very encounter-based while Foothold is auction/money management. (I don’t consider trying not to lose all your health resource management )

I’m not going to lie. I really didn’t know how well Foothold Enterprises would work. It ended up actually being a lot of fun. To be fair, the auction mechanism is less an actual actual mechanic and more a push-your-luck mechanic. (And don’t give me the everything-is-a-push-your-luck-mechanic argument) Regardless, the gameplay has a good flow.

I did find that by being conservative when I went after a card and liberal about how much I bid, hitting the fifty client mark wasn’t hard. However, raising the benchmark made for a much more challenging game. Either way, I had fun.

The biggest ding I have for Foothold Enterprises is the terribly dry presentation. It was great for saving ink and the design wins points for being very functional. But the lack of art makes them dull enough that I have to think that contributes a lot to why no one seems to know the game. The Zed Deck, as a comparison, is much more visually interesting. Maybe a redesign where the cards look like business cards would solve the problem.

While Foothold Enterprises doesn’t knock down Palm Island from its spot as the best In-Hand game I’ve played, it’s still a game I enjoy playing and plan on keep playing.


Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Mar 22, 2021 8:05 pm
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