Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan Storytelling Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game designer’s web site or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


The Basics:

  • For ages 3 and up
  • For 2 or more players
  • Variable time to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading & Writing
  • Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Imagination

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • In your backyard, a magical world awaits to be discovered and explored!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek N/A
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

You wouldn’t know it just by looking, but your backyard is home to magic and adventure. Gnomes, small caring creatures who exist in harmony with the world around them, live secretly between your flower pots, trees, and yard furniture. All is well for the Gnomes until the time of the Great Sweeping approaches. The Trolls are hunting for the Gnomes and need your little geek’s help to stay undetected! The adventure begins with a note and a desperate plea for help. Now it is up to the little geeks to save the day!

Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan, by Robert Burke Games, is comprised of a single book. Contained within this book is everything a Parent Geek will need to get started in creating a magical world for their Child Geeks to explore and adventure in. What we were given was not the final version of the product, but as it is today, the book is simply outstanding. Clean and crisp writing make the book easy and fun to read and the accompanying illustrations are helpful and colorful. Not included, but necessary to play, are small props that are used to provide evidence that Gnomes do indeed live in the Child Geek’s backyard. These props are detailed in the book and suggestions on where to buy them and how to make them are included.

Creating a Magical World

Two important points need to be made before we continue. First, Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan is not a game, but rather a game system in the same way a role-playing game book is not a game in itself, but rather a list of rules and guidelines that are meant to be followed to create games. Second, the book cannot be shared with the family. This is something of a terrible shame as the book is exceedingly well designed and the accompanied illustrations would certainly be highly admired by the Child Geeks. The book is meant to be the guide for the Parent geeks and details a great deal. If it were to fall into the hands of the Child Geeks, the magical world created by the Parent Geeks would shatter into a million pieces of boring reality. Do keep it hidden.

Each adventure a Parent Geek will set up is broken down into 6 easy to follow steps. They are summarized here.

Step 1: The Review

This step is important, but becomes less so as the Parent Geek becomes more familiar with the game system. The first thing anyone should do is read the book from front to back. It contains a detailed “origin story” of sorts that can be used to help the Parent Geek create their own story. A complete adventure can be read while reviewing which will give the Parent Geek an excellent idea of how their own adventure could take place. This review time is also a wonderful opportunity, if the game has been played before, to remember what the Child Geeks have done so far and build upon that experience.

Step 2: Preparing Ammowan

Ammowan is the name of the world in which the Gnomes live. It is more commonly known to the Child Geeks as “their backyard”. However, Ammowan is all around us and can be found in parks, forests, beaches, the backyards of other friends and family, and anywhere a resourceful and imaginative Child Geek cares to look. The point is, a Parent Geek should never feel limited or restricted. When the weather is particularly bad, say in the dead of winter when you’d freeze your bottom off outside, feel free to bring the world of Ammowan indoors. There are no limits.

Now is the time to think of the adventure, but not finalize it. A complete adventure is already included in the book (which we will not detail here – read the book if you want to know more) but the Parent Geek is welcome and highly encouraged to create their own. Simply having a rough “idea” of the story will help. A few examples included in the book are:

  • Map Adventure, wherein a map lists everything that should be found and where
  • Freeform Adventure, wherein no map is created because the playing area is small – the adventure is as much about exploration as it is imagination
  • Riddles and Clues Adventure, wherein small clues are left by each prop the Child Geeks find that suggest where more can be found
  • Scavenger Hunt Adventure, wherein a map and a list of everything to be found is provided, but the players race as teams to find them

Where the Parent Geek decides to have the adventure will define the boundaries of Ammowan, but only for the adventure being created. The Parent Geek should walk the area, look for great spots for props, and ensure the area itself is clean and safe. Then it is time to consider what props will be needed for the adventure. Several suggestions are provided in the book, including steps on how to create your own props and helpful tips and tricks on setting them up. If you don’t have the time but do have the money, dollhouse furniture is perfect for this game as it is the right size and looks crafted by small hands.

Once the idea of the story is drafted and the props gathered, Parent Geeks can now begin to place them or keep them hidden.

Step 3: Creating the Map

This step is optional but fun to do, especially if you have placed Ammowan in a large setting. The map serves two purposes. First, it defines the boundaries in which the game will be taking place. Important if you plan on playing in a forested area or a playground. The map will help keep the Child Geeks stay on track and in the safe areas where the story will take place. Second, the map helps the Parent Geek remember where they placed the props and might also includes a helpful guide that defines in which order the props should be found.

Take the time to create this map, as it is an excellent keepsake for the Child Geeks and a very useful tool to help make the story come alive. Also remember that the map is meant to come from the Gnomes, not the Parent Geek’s printer!

Step 4: Delivering the Goods

Before a Parent Geek starts this step, the world of Ammowan should be created. This means the props are set, the adventure detailed, and all that is missing is the Child Geeks.

Included with the book is a pre-written “contact letter” that is meant to start and introduce the players to the game. A Parent Geek is most welcome to create their own (in fact, they should) and include it with the map if so needed. The contact letter serves as the introduction and describes what the Child Geeks will be asked to do. Again, there is already an adventure included in the book and this is a great one to use to introduce the world of the Gnomes and Ammowan. We highly recommend it, using the experience to establish a creative baseline and history.

How you deliver the materials is up to the Parent Geek. One suggestion is to tell the Child Geeks that a strange fox was seen holding a letter in its mouth. When the Child Geeks go out to look, they find a letter with their names on it by the front door! This is just on of many ways to get the letter to the Child Geeks, but the Parent Geek should feel free to create their own methods of delivery.

Step 5: The Adventure!

Huzzah! Now that the Child Geeks have the letter that describes what is being asked of them and (possibly) a map to help guide them, it’s time have the adventure! Parent Geeks should walk with the players and help if needed, answer questions, and enjoy the magical world they created unfold in front of the Child Geek’s eyes. All that hard work and preparation will be well worth it.

Step 6: A Letter of Thanks

This is the final step in the adventure and should be done a day or two after the Child Geeks have successfully completed the tasks asked of them in the contact letter. Create a “thank you” letter from the Gnomes to the Child Geeks (one is provided for you in the book). This serves as a satisfying conclusion to the game, but can also be used to suggest that more adventures are to come! The Gnomes, now trusting the Child Geeks, recognize them as friends and protectors! They will most certainly call upon the Child Geeks again when the Gnomes need them the most!

A “Certificate of Thanks” is also included in the book which will allow the Parent Geek to present to the Child Geeks a very special award to hang on their wall.

Future Games and Skeptics

After the first game is concluded, the adventure need not end. Make the magical world of Ammowan come to life again by creating your own adventures. If you like, make it a yearly ritual (this is what we plan to do). Truly something to look forward to and will make for some wonderful stories in the years to come. The door to Ammowan has been opened and it is now up to the family to keep it open. It’ll be well worth you time to do so.

Additionally, free adventures from the game creator, Mr. Robert Burke (a Parent Geek himself), will be made available on the Robert Burke Games web site for those who want to download and use them. This is a great way to keep the world of Ammowan alive and to get ideas for your own adventures.

Sadly, little geeks grow up and the magic in the world that only children can recognize begins to fade. It is natural for a Child Geek to become skeptical as they grow older. In fact, you actually want them to. By questioning the world around them, they begin to grow and the boundaries of their knowledge expand. For those Child Geeks who think it is highly suspect that “little people” live in their backyard, this game might not be for them. Several suggestions are provided to help non-believers have fun in the game, but there is nothing stopping an older Child Geek from being a co-storyteller. This is a great opportunity for the older brothers and sisters to be part of the fun, even though they are no longer able to “see the Gnomes” like their younger siblings.

To learn more about Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan, visit the game designer’s web site or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Prediction

This is a very simple prediction to make. I don’t need any special powers or gigabytes of collected metrics to predict that my little geeks are going to love this game system and the adventures we will create. They are imaginative little geeks who already create their own stories and adventures using bits and pieces of games, toys, action figures, and even Play-Doh. They are at the perfect age for this (ages 8, 5, and 3) and I just know they’ll get into it.

This is not a game system for the Gamer Geeks. This is a family game, through and through. As such, we will not bother to put this in front of the Gamer Geek elitists unless they are moonlighting as Parent Geeks, too.

This is also a rather intimate game. Sure, it can be used with larger groups and be useful to teachers and youth coordinators, but for our review, we will keep it to families. We’ll do this for two reasons. First, the adventure set up takes time and we don’t have a lot of that in abundance. Smaller family groups can get this game played and reviewed faster than a teacher with 20+ kids can. Second, each adventure is more or less tweaked towards those who it will be made for. As stated, we consider this a rather intimate game and the experience it creates is on several personal levels. As such, the family setting is best.

It only took me an evening of reading the book and another evening to get everything prepared for the game. I decided to use my mother’s backyard as the setting as she already collects little garden Gnomes in abundance. I thought that her “magical backyard” would be an excellent place to begin, as she also tells her grandchildren stories of Gnomes on a regular basis. In other words, the perfect set up for Ammowan. While the little geeks were downstairs watching a movie and playing, I ran outside and set up all the props. Then, when they came upstairs for a snack, I told them I saw a little fox deliver a letter. They ran to the backdoor and the oldest brother grabbed the envelope, reading its contents out-loud to his little brothers.

Silence and awe.

They just looked at each other and blinked, mouths open, as their little bodies started to bounce up and down in excitement  Quickly, they dashed for their shoes to go outside and help the Gnomes! While they scrounged and tied on their shoes, I asked them their thoughts on what was going on.

“Awesome! Gnomes!” ~ Liam (age 8)

“We’re going to help them out, Daddy!” ~ Nyhus (age 5)

“I be leader, Daddy!” ~ Ronan (age 3)

And we’re off, map in hand, letter stuffed in one of the little geek’s back pockets, with the Parent and Grandma Geek trailing behind with huge smiles. Let’s see how the adventure unfolds!

Final Word

I ran our first adventure exactly as it suggests in the book to see how well thought out the storytelling game system was. Mr. Robert Burke did not disappoint. Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan is a creative work of fiction that has evolved over the lifetime of its creator and the adventures he has had with his own children. It is complete and deep, with an inescapable air of passion from the first page to the last. It was clear to me, while reading the book, that Mr. Robert Burke had poured himself into it and the book was all the better for it. However, I don’t feel like I really “got it” until I was on the adventure with my own little geeks. All the props and letters, preparation and setup, were well worth it. The wonder in their eyes was apparent from the very start and they were, for a short time, whisked away to a magical world that existed in our own.

And so was I.

I passed the book around to a few other Parent Geeks to try and they all reported back the same type of experience. Always joyful, always exciting, always eager for more. Two of the families, including my own, will be making a trip to Ammowan a yearly affair, while one family plans on exploring the Gnome world on a regular and more frequent basis. The storytelling game was a great success and was exceedingly fulfilling to all who were involved, from little adventurer to proud parent guide.

My little geeks show me one of the Gnome props they found while exploring the backyard – most exciting!

Sorry, Gamer Geeks, the world of Ammowan was not meant for you and your gamer’s table. This is a storytelling game for the family. If you have a family of your own, however, you have a First Class Ticket to AwesomeLand (a place I just now made up…name needs work). As a Gamer Geek, you already have a creative mind and will enjoy the act of creating stories, gathering the props, and establishing different levels of difficulty that will require your Child Geeks to explore, think, and reason. There are many Geek Skills to be used and further strengthened as you play the game, both for your little geeks and for you.

Parent Geeks, this is a delightful game system. It gives you all that you need to start your own magical adventures with your family. We have all played make-believe games with our little geeks at one time or another. Playing cars, dressing up dolls, and roaming the woods to look for dragons, just to name a few. These are all games that are played in the mind and Parent Geeks often are eager participants. Now you have an opportunity to craft the experience without taking any of the fun out of it. Your reward will be the look of excitement and amazement on the faces of the little geeks as they suddenly “see” a new and magical world where yesterday there was none. And for a brief time, you’ll be a child again, too. The world will seem bigger, brighter, and more marvelous than before. Ignore the wars and the poverty for just a moment, and visit again a place and time where only a child’s imagination is the Force of Nature that guides all things. You’ll only be there for a moment, but you’ll enjoy every second.

Child Geeks, YOU SHOULDN’T BE READING THIS!!!!!

I am exceedingly pleased with Mr. Robert Burke’s work. His book does an outstanding job of detailing all that is needed without defining how it should be done. The intent is to provide the reader a means and an opportunity where they might not have thought there was one to be had. I, for one, certainly never considered doing what was suggested in the book, but when I did, it felt natural and was a great deal of fun. Everything the book describes is doable, does not suggest any particular level of standard, and guides the Parent Geek from start to finish. The end result is a wonderful work of fiction and art that becomes an invaluable tool for future adventures and memories. I have often said that the Geek Community is full of some of the most intelligent and creative people in the world. Mr. Robert Burke’s work further strengthens this fact and now invites many others to join the ranks.

If you are a Parent Geek or a Grandparent Geek with Child Geeks who love adventure and magic, this book was made for you. In fact, I’m surprised your name is not mentioned in the dedication. Regardless, you’ll find the pages contained in Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan to be a great joy.

This book was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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One Response to Gnomes: The Great Sweeping of Ammowan Storytelling Game Review (prepublished version)

  1. Stacy says:

    I was one of the lucky “Parent Geeks” to try out this game (thanks, Cyrus!) and I could not have said it any better than what is already written in this review. My family and I had a great time playing the adventures we created and can’t wait to do it again as soon as possible. FIVE STARS ALL THE WAY!!!

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