A Gnome's Ponderings

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

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My September PnP

Lowell Kempf
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September wasn’t a super crazy month for making print and play games for me but I am happy with what I got done:

Here’s what I made:

Puerto Miau
Any Establishment (2020 R&W contest)
6 Steps
Epidemic
Why I Otter
Wild Cats (basic three cards)
Istanbul or Constantinople?
Runner
Quarantine Haircuts
Sid Sackson’s Pinball

This was one of those months where I spent more time printing and cutting and laminating than actually finishing projects. Sometimes, it’s more decompressing to work on PnP than to finish it. And when I need to finish projects for decompression, I have plenty to work with.

While they almost don’t qualify, I consider Why I Otter and Istanbul or Constantinople? my big builds for September. They are both only eighteen cards but the size of the cards made me use more laminating pouches And I think they will be fun to play.

On the other hand, I made Wild Cats just to fill in extra space on a laminating pouch. I don’t know when or if I will need a three-player social deduction game. I fear our first-grader would enjoy Win, Lose, Banana more anyway.

The project I’m most excited about from this month is one of the simplest, Sid Sackson’s Pinball. It has been years since I played it (my copies of the Beyond Books are _precious_) and I want see how it holds up compared to my very happy but distant memories.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Today 5:34 pm
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The Bone Key unlocks very human horror

Lowell Kempf
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Sarah Monette wrote that both Lovecraft and M.R. James were major influences on The Bone Key: The Necromantic Mysteries of Kyle Murchison Booth and it shows. Although to be fair, both of those authors cast very, very long shadows.

In a nutshell, Monette took the standard Antiquarian protagonist of either of those authors and fleshed them out into a deeper and possibly more realistic figure. Booth is a brilliant and talented archivist at the creepy Parrington Museum. He is also awkward, painfully socially-isolated and severely emotionally damaged.

This actually plays very well into Booth being the protagonist of horror stories. He is very vulnerable and often overwhelmed by his nightmarish circumstances. He is constantly aware of the danger and uncertainty around him and barely has the courage to do anything.

Of course, that only works if the stories are at all scary. Fortunately, Monette does an excellent job combing the visceral and the unknown. We almost never get a full picture of what is going on and, sometimes, we get a lot less. The world of the supernatural is much bigger than Booth and he is unable to forget that.

And it tends to be very personal. As opposed to cosmic horror that doesn’t care about humanity, these horrors are very close and seem to really want human suffering. A hateful spirit guarding a necklace, a demon that feeds on the life force of exactly one person at a time, a hotel that seems to kill very selectively. It’s all very intimate.

What truly makes the anthology work (and I do think it works) is that it is a character study of Booth. He is the last of a cursed line. The first story has him weak enough to dabble in necromancy which has marked him so the restless dead and such are drawn to him. Bad things happen around him and to him. How he copes or fails to cope is the driving force.

The end result is a dark but engaging journey. I liked it.

Originally scribbled down at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Sep 30, 2020 4:51 pm
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Monopoly Junior - roll and pay rent

Lowell Kempf
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One of the grandparents sent us Monopoly Junior. It was on the table and getting played within five minutes of opening the package. It was a four-player game with one seat being filled by a teddy bear and we were worried the teddy bear might win at some points.

There’s a track of 29 spaces with eight pairs of properties, along with the usual suspects like Go and Free Parking and Chance and Jail. You roll the die. If you land on an unoccupied property, you have to buy it. If someone else already has it, you pay them rent and pay double if they have a monopoly. The game ends when someone runs out of money and whoever has the most money wins.

I’m of three minds of the game. On the one hand, I think it does a good job compressing and simplifying Monopoly while still keeping it completely recognizable as Monopoly. On the other hand, it manages to tip what I actually like about Monopoly into bin. On the mutant third hand, it definitely works as a kid’s game.

Two conversations from many years ago came back to me while playing it. One was from someone telling me that they almost cried when someone descibed Monopoly as ‘that’s the one where you roll the dice and go round and round, right?’ Another was a long conversation with
a friend who felt the problem with Monopoly was that kids are taught it too young so they never learned to negotiate or trade.

And Monopoly Junior is definitely roll the dice and go round and round. The game removes all the choices and trading and negotiation from Monopoly.

But... our first-grader immediately grokked how property ownership and rent and monopolies worked. And he definitely got into the game. As a way for our child to have fun and hopefully serve as a stepping stone to Catan, Monopoly Junior has promise.

So I will encourage him to keep on playing it. It is not a game I’d recommend for adults or teenagers or even older kids, like third graders. For any of those groups, I’d reach for Owner’s Choice for a super quick economic game.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Sep 28, 2020 4:38 pm
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You know, there can be just character interaction

Lowell Kempf
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One of the questions I recently found myself pondering yet again is the difference between character interaction and player interaction.

More precisely, I was thinking about GM-free games where everyone chips in to provide the content and the conflict. Games like Fiasco or The Name of God or Microscope or The Quiet Year. In those games, it’s possible that characters might never be in the same scene but everyone works together and gets their hands dirty.

On the other hand, games where characters can be treated like playing pieces and the game master is basically a referee, you don’t have to actually interact with the other players. Your piece or pieces can interact with the other pieces. I have been in RPG sessions where some players were just taking up space on chairs. (And apparently having fun doing that so more power to them)

Of course, any game can have a strong level of cooperative interaction. But some games absolutely require it and some game can take or leave it.

I have been in Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons campaigns that were extremely collaborative where the players actively molded the story and developed the world with the dungeon master. And I have been in others where we moved from monster group B to monster group C and the other players could have been my cats with automatic die rollers as far as the actual game went. Still had a marvelous time.

Honestly, I think that fourth edition was designed so that it could be played as detached as possible and I think that’s a feature not a bug. It is definitively not a bad option. Sometimes, depending on the group and the need, it is the right option.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Fri Sep 25, 2020 4:16 pm
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Thank you, Jueglos Roll & Write

Lowell Kempf
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I finished doing an archive binge of Juegos Roll & Write (https://boardgamegeek.com/blog/9402 ), specifically looking for Print and Play games that I hadn’t heard of yet. And, yes, a hefty chunk of what I found were ones I had already looked into but it was still a good experience.

It’s one of the blogs I regularly look at, both for PnP information and just out of curiosity. And I think that Roll and Write games are more valuable than ever in quarantine times. They are the easiest form of PnP to make and a huge chunk of them have solitaire options or are just plain solitaires. When your options for gaming or game partners are limited and restricted, that is awesome.

Jueglos Roll & Write actually has had several entries specifically addressing that, featuring collections that are particularly quarantine friendly.

Over the last few years, my opinion of Roll and Writes has changed and, frankly, gotten better. First of all, I have been impressed by the depth and variety of what’s out there, even just in the free category. Mind you, I have still had the best experiences with games that I have actually had to actually spend money on

Second, while I recommended in the past that if you wanted to get into PnP to go for cards or tiles games since actually having to craft components meant you had some skin in the game, I now think an only-R&W-PnP experience is viable. Part of that comes from the variety that is out there (and there are plenty that actually require you make cards or such )

However, it also comes back to the quarantine conditions. You may not be able to get the materials to make cards or dice or such. But you are more likely to be able to print off a R&W sheet or hand copy one. It may be what is possible. And gaming is great way of dealing with stress.

And if that is what you need, Jueglos Roll & Write is really nifty.


PS I was really happy when I learned through the blog that someone has made a nice PnP version of Sid Sackson’s solitaire pinball game. Woo-hoo!
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Thu Sep 24, 2020 11:20 pm
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The Complete Cosmicomics - inexplicable and wonderful

Lowell Kempf
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One of my reading goals for 2020 was to read The Complete Cosmicomics, consisting of Cosmicomics, t zero/Time and Hunter and World Memory and Other Cosmicomics, along with a few miscellaneous bits. And I have finished the last story.

And, wow, is it weird to look back at starting this literary journey that started in February. The world has changed so much that is bewildering to remember reading the first section. (Yes, I like to wait months in between reading books in a series. Lets things sink in.)

Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomic stories involves taking a scientific theory (sometimes disproven and sometimes contradicting the theories used in other stories) and weaving some sort of domestic story around it. Most of the stories are narrated by Qfwfq, who has been around since before the universe began and who has been a mollusk, a dinosaur and possibly the god Pluto among other things. The stories are peppered with anachronisms to the point where even individual stories fail to have a coherent settings.

You really have to just read them. It’s that kind of literature where words fail to do it justice.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the stories are Calvino using the whole of the universe to comment on human nature but I don’t think that’s quite it. I think that Calvino explores the way that human nature and the cosmos reflect each other. He is definitely saying _something_, not just being silly.

I will say that World Memory and Other Cosmicomic Stories was weakest section of the series. The original Cosmicomics is whimsical and endlessly thought provoking. t zero/Time and the Hunter is darker but challenging. World Memory, on the other hand, didn’t feel like it was pushing me as much. I didn’t find myself thinking as hard. Still fun but I can see why it is the least republished book.

After years of meaning to give Calvino a chance, Invisible Cities really impressed me last year. The Cosmicomics stories continued that impression. The petty, whiny, occasionally mysogynisric voice of Qfwfq created a fascinating view of the universe or humanity or maybe both. I am not going to pretend that I understand what the books are ultimately about but they make me want to understand.

Originally scribbled down at www.gnomepondering.com
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Wed Sep 23, 2020 4:26 pm
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A R&W from 1965... don’t get excited

Lowell Kempf
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When I saw 6 Steps, a roll and write game from 1965, I had to make a copy and try it out.

Spoiler: it’s... meh.

The game consists of six rows, each one marked one to six, staggered so they form a set of six steps. You will also need two six-sided dice and something to write with.

On your turn, you roll the dice and use them as coordinates. One die has to be the row and the other die is the number in the row. If you can, circle a number. If the possibilities have already been circled or crossed off, you have to cross off an unmarked number.

The game ends when you either fill up the board or circle all of a row, number or the one column that has six spaces. Scores are based on completing diagonals or rows or that one column.

Clearly, this game scared Reiner Knizia at a young age.

Okay, 6 Steps mechanically works as a game but it has some issues.

First of all, it is so dry. And that’s coming from me! I like abstract games but 6 Steps is so dry that even I think it’s boring. Playing with numbers can be interesting but this is so basic that there’s just not enough to engage me.

And the actual ‘interesting’ choices are what numbers to cross out. Any given combination of dice rolls gives you a choice of two circles at best. Doubles just give you one option. As the game goes on, it quickly becomes crossing numbers out. You hope for points but you’re really doing damage control most of the game.

What 6 Steps really does is make me appreciate other games It fails the Yahtzee test. I would rather be playing Yahtzee. I could easily draw a 6 Steps board freehand but I can draw a 30 Rails board free hand and I’d much rather play that.

Since you have variance in what numbers you can cross out, you could play it Take It Easy style with everyone using the same rolls, which would at least speed the game up. (Yes, it’s dry enough that I want to speed up a ten-minute game) But why would I not play Take It Easy instead? Or Wurfel Bingo or 30 Rails or Criss Cross or 13 Sheep or Karuba or...

You get the idea.

Okay, I’ll give it this. In a multiplayer game, the game ends when one player fulfills one of the endgame conditions. That can add some tension to the game. That’s still not enough to make me recommend the game.

6 Steps is an interesting historical footnote of a game. It was actually published and decades before Roll and Writes were a ‘thing’. But the fact that someone like me who is into games like this had spent years never hearing about it speaks of how much it deserves its obscurity.

Originally jotted down at www.gnomepondering.com
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Mon Sep 21, 2020 4:44 pm
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Thanks for all the Print and Play Game News memories

Lowell Kempf
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I literally just learned yesterday that Chris Hanson put their PnP blog (https://boardgamegeek.com/blog/2020) on indefinite hiatus. Back in June.

Well, I feel embarrassed.

In my defense, every update was a massive info dump and I couldn’t rest until I’d sifted through it all.

Seriously, since the blog was a comprehensive look at whatever was going on in the PnP world, the amount of work that had to go into it was massive. And the rate that PnP stuff has been coming out has just gotten faster and faster.

It’s really amazing that the blog kept going as long as it did.

I found a lot of PnP game through the blog. And, as an archive it is still amazing. I know I’ll go back to look for gems I missed.

Thanks for the ridiculous amount of work, Chris Hansen.
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Fri Sep 18, 2020 5:01 pm
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Letting my friends find their inner goblin

Lowell Kempf
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During a recent meeting of friends over Zoom, we played one of my game poems, Wainscot Goblin. This was actually the first time I played one of the game poems I’ve written, which was pretty interesting all by itself. It also wasn’t a group of gaming friends, which may have made them the ideal audience for a game poem.

I’ve written about an earlier draft of the game poem in this blog. The basic idea is to create a little goblin that lives within the walls of a house by answering a series of questions. I got the idea of using the word wainscot from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy which uses the word to refer to a hidden society. Incidentally, I used the word wrong as far as the encyclopedia is concerned. It uses the term to mean a hidden society that still interacts with the larger society, like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere or Vampire: the Masquerade. My goblins are entirely hidden.

Everyone had fun and there were plenty of whimsical ideas all around the virtual table and plenty of laughter besides. From the most fundamental stand point of ‘did the game poem work’ and ‘did everyone have fun’, the answer is yes.

One of the things that I think helped was that basic concept was easy to understand, along with the format as well.

One thing I realized afterwards was that one element of game play that I didn’t give the group was a way to interact with each other. If I have a chance to give them another game poem, I will give them that will let them interact with each other, not just respond to questions.

For instance, each goblin has four intrinsic qualities (magic, craft, wisdom and sacrifice) I could have had a player offer a problem to the next player and that player would explain how they would use one of their qualities to solve the problem.

Game poems are a quirky form but, more and more, I can’t help but wonder if they may be the most accessible form of RPGs. This was easy to introduce to folks who didn’t necessarily have a lot of RPG experience and for them to get into the game poem.

Originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com
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Thu Sep 17, 2020 4:35 pm
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Changing without realizing it

Lowell Kempf
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I feel like one’s sense of being a gamer is something that changes, sometimes so subtly that we only notice it when we look back. I don’t think of it as a constant upward climb but an ebb and flow. Trying to find a sense of balance as the rest of our lives change.

I’ve always been aware of this but you get reminders now and then.

I recently pulled out Elevenses for One. About three years ago, when I started seriously looking into both print-and-play games and solitaire games, it was a fairly important to me. Elevenses for One felt like a ‘real’ game to me. Despite all the changes my gaming habits had gone through, it reminded me I was still a gamer.

Now, having explored a lot more solitaire games and print-and-play games, going back to it, I was surprised at how light Elevenses for One felt to me. I mean, I always knew it was a super light game. And I still think of it as a gold standard PnP game and one I always recommend and one I have used as a gift.

I know that I have been playing tiny little PnP solitaire games that I can fit in the minutes. That’s been a big part of my hobby as of late. That’s what has really kept me in the hobby at times.

I just had’t realized the range and depth that I had been finding even in that tiny world. While it might work only be a minute fraction, I would say that games like Orchard or Food Chain Island are meaningfully deeper than Elevenses for One.

I didn’t think I had been growing at all but I guess I have been.

(I should dig Micro Rome back out and see how it feels now)

Originally found at www.gnomepondering.com
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Tue Sep 15, 2020 6:03 pm
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