Sunday, February 27, 2005

Weekend: Battle Cry

Battle Cry was bought to give me something to play with the other son, Eitan.

Battle Cry is a light wargame. No, it is not anything like a Euro-game, unlike, say, Wallenstein, which has Euro game elements mixed with wargaming elements. Nothing Euro about this one.

BC's biggest assets are threefold: a) beautiful components, including the miniature pieces, the board and the rulebook, which contains lots of history and explanation for each actual scenario being re-created (15 in all). b) Easily set up and customizable game board, with a big hex board, and lots of hex obstacle pieces, like trees and houses. After playing the real scenarios, you can make your own ahistorical ones, thereby giving a weaker player an advantage. c) quick playtime, running at about an hour I would guess for most scenarios.

One item that some may consider an asset I deliberately left out: simple and simplistic rules. The rules are simple, but, unfortunately, way too simple. The entire game rules is about 5 pages including large type and pictures. Basically:

1) Play a card from your hand indicating which 1, 2, or 3 divisions can attack from a particular flank (L, M, R).

2) Move the divisions.

3) Attack with the divisions. Roll a number of dice, one less for each hex distance, and one more if you have a general with you.

4) Pick a new card.

Some extras:

- Line of sight must be considered, but it is simplistic and not always sensible. For instance, an infantry division on a hill does not have line of sight over another division at the bottom of a hill.

- Being within an obstacle gives a reduction in the number of dice rolled by your opponent.

- The object of the game is always to eliminate 6 enemy divisions and/or generals.

The choices in how they simplified were just bad choices. Way too much was cut, leaving a rather dull game without many elements that would seem rather obvious, such as shooting first at something charging you, charging altogether, moving with cover, etc...

The other problem is that the game is not really good for Euro gamers, as it is a war game, plain and simple. But for war- gamers, it is so simplistic that it is lacking. Your opponent gets no attacks on you during your turn. You can run from obstacle to obstacle and attack with impunity. All sorts of simple maneuvers are impossible. And if you don't have the right card, you can't even attack someone right next to you. I understand the cards are to simulate a lack or coordination while ordering troops, but I really think each division should have, at least, a default order, such
as "shoot at enemy".

Luckily, many people on the Geek have added many new and important rules to help the game out - yes, adding some complexity, but entirely necessary. I haven't looked closely at them but they have to be an improvement.

Weekend: Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan

My shabbat guests surprised me by agreeing instantly to play a game. These are two of my wife's serious no-nonsense 40-50 year old friends who have never expressed any desire to play a game before). And my wife wanted to sleep, so that left just the three of us. I nervously brought out Settlers, anticipating a lot of confusion even before I finished explaining the rules.

I have explained many games, and some games, like Settlers, I have explained many times. I have gone over and under, in different directions, and I have a feel for how to minimize the pain. The biggest issues are: the lack of coordination between symbols on the convenience chart and the board (only the resource cards themselves have both symbol and background), the complexity of the robber, and the complexity of both the rules and variance of the development cards.

For the symbols, I carefully showed them the match between all three items: convenience card, board, and resource. I very carefully explained the object of the game, what things were worth what, how a turn went, how you start with two settlements, how you place new ones, how you upgrade to a city, and what a city gives you. Then, how the robber worked. Again and again I went over the basic flow of a round: roll, collect, trade, build. I kind of hoped to leave the development cards until after the first turn around the board, but they asked "what are these?" "I was kind of hoping to wait for the first turn around the board" "No no, we want to know now". So, development cards, soldiers, vp's, other cards, one per turn, only after you get them except vp's, largest army, longest road.

Well, amazingly enough, it went very well. Yes, they complained about too many rules, but by turn 3 they were pretty well into it ... except. One of them was a Sensitive Person.

Actually, both are sensitive people, but one of them was a game sensitive person. The first time I refused a 1 for 1 trade with him, and asked for two cards in instead, he got angry and passed the dice. Why? He figured I was trying to take advantage of him since he was a new player. Wuh-hoah. I explained that I run and teach a game group, and believe me, my reputation rests on being a fair broker.

This of course, occurred again, when I suggested that he was winning and was a more logical person to rob from, when I took an intersection I needed before he could get it, etc... I think, as he also got to do these things, that he began to realize that he wasn't being exclusively targeted. But, some people have a hard time of it. Thank
goodness I didn't start them playing Diplomacy.

They had to end before the game ended. All of us had 8 or 9 points, so we were all doing well, and I think she enjoyed it, at least. We will see if they ever ask to play again. Maybe something a little less confrontational, like San Juan.

Weekend: Hansa

!$^%$%$ IE destroyed my long review of Hansa, which I will try to re-create.

I had the unusual opportunity to play three nice games this weekend, two of which were first plays.


Hansa, a relatively new game from last year, was not high on my priority list for two reasons: 1) the board and mechanics looked uninteresting, and 2) it received good, but not great, user reviews.

Still, the game was brought to my house by Gilad on Wed and left with us, so, as long as it was there, Saarya and I decided to try it out 2 player. Summation: not as uninteresting as I expected, but otherwise good, but not great (possibly very good for younger players).

The word that hits me most when I think about the game is "gimmicky" - normally not an inspiring word. Still, there is bad gimmicky and good gimmicky. San Juan is kind of gimmicky, since the cards work as buildings, cash, and trade goods all at once, but it flows pretty well. Here, the gimmicks are more glaring, sometimes a little strange, but, at the end of the day, they fit together, if not particularly brilliantly, at least servicably.

The upshot: you have cash tokens, goods tokens in several colors and numbers (1-3), and market tokens (each player has 18 in his color). Get 3 cash each round, move the ship or buy goods with cash, buy markets with goods, buy vp's with markets and goods. Markets are in short supply, access to goods and vp's is hindered by the ship's movement. Most vp's wins.

The long version:

- Each player gets 3 cash per round, and you can only save 3.

- Moving a ship costs 1 GP. Ship can only move along arrows, and no two cities go back and forth with each other, although several form triangles (gimmick 1).

- You can only do 1 action per city (gimmick 2).

- Buy a good chip for 1 cash, regardless of the number of goods this represents (gimmick 3). Pay the bank, or, if someone owns the majority of markets in this city, pay that person (gimmick 4).

- Discard a good chip to place that many goods worth of markets in that city.

- Discard a good chip and 1 market to earn that many vp's plus 1 (huge gimmick - I think this is supposed to simulate "flooding the market", but I don't see how). Every time you do this, everyone else has to discard one chip they have
of the same color - in 2 player, this never happened, because we always used our chips almost immediately after buying them.

- Lastly, you earn 2 points for each location that has at least one of your markets at the end of the game, 4 points if only you have a market there.

The tactics: Try to set up a shipping triangle so that you can move back and forth buying goods from yourself and then trading them for vp's. Leave the ship far away from where your opponent's need it. Try to balance the need for using goods
to buy markets versus the need to use goods to earn vp's. Get the goods before they are gone. That's about it.

When I played, I missed the obvious triangles in several parts of the board several times, which hurt my moves. Generally, I tried to make Saarya pay for the replenishing of the good, figuring that my money was better spent doing other things. So we passed 3 cash back and forth, flipped and tossed goods, placed and removed good markers, and slid the ship around in circles, and at the end of the game we were about 2 points apart.

I wanted to play again. Like other good but not amazing games, I will probably want to play this several times, but I don't expect my interest to hold for a long time. On the other hand, the mechanics are just about the right complexity for younger players, although the theme is not so interesting for them. The game might be very good for kids if rethemed.

Friday, February 25, 2005


No, I didn't get to the game session in Reut, which was my last chance before next week when it moves to Tel Aviv (and has an entrance fee), so I won't be getting to it any time soon. Too bad. I would have liked to have met some other players from outside my area.

I hope that they will be amenable to coming to Jerusalem for our game day during Passover.

I got to play Web of Power this week, one on my list of desired games, and I enjoyed it (see session report for details). As the game was inadvertently left in my house, I can play it a few more times before it gets back to the owner. Said owner also left Hansa. Time to break out the rules and look at that one. Hansa is one of the new games from 2004 which got some good comments, but no stellar comments, so I haven't been itching to play it. However, since it is in my house already ...

First order of business is to play Battle Cry. My son Eitan, who doesn't play with us on Wed's is willing to play only wargames, so I hope this will give me a rare opportunity to play with him.

The only other games he plays are: a wargame he created that requires you to draw cool guys in order to play, Warhammer, and computer games (such as Red Alert, Ceasar's, etc...)

I also organized a trade on BGG, my third.

Cosmic Encounter: Gilad posted a journal entry comparing CE to *shudder* Munchkin.

Well, I suppose that the similarities are: they both have a goal of reaching a certain victory condition, the players often gang up on the person about to win the victory condition, and that the ganging up involves playing from your hand of hidden and unique cards. That's really about it.

I imagine, if I wanted to, I could come up with as many similarities between CE and football. To each his own.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Session report up

On my site: Games played: Geschenkt, Cosmic Encounter (Mayfair), Web of Power (1st play)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

ASL - The Game

First fallout from the new Hebrew board gaming contacts is Ran, a wargamer who was "surprised to see that there was a board gaming group in Jerusalem, and do any of us play ASL?"

Now, ASL, or Advanced Squad Leader, as some of you may know, is a lifestyle, not a game. Many people are content to play ASL only, for their entire life. Why? The thing is freakin' huge, man.

Ran brought over the game just so he could experience the joy of explaining it to me and my son - the one who doesn't play boardgames with us but is thrilled about the idea of wargames. His only experience so far is ... Warhammer.

Ran brought a duffel bag stuffed with boxes and boxes of counters, more boxes, and a large three ring binder with the original ASL rule set - about 2-300 pages of finely typed rules. Every weapon, vehicle, and soldier type of WWII is covered, each one has a different rate of fire, movement, penetration. There are dozens of different types of roads. Vehicles can be "overloaded", equipment can be poorly maintained, there are three or four separate fire chances each round of play, etc...

And this was about 1/4 to 1/3 of his ASL equipment, and he doesn't own a lot of it.

The actual game is not so bad, except having to remember the thousand different possible pluses and minuses (and several different types of these - such as "before pluses" and "after pluses") you might have to use to adjust your roll. Basically, each game consists of a realistic scenario on one of a dozen or more boards. Each player gets assigned their resources for this scenario - guns, vehicles, etc... and their objective. One guy's objective is usually to prevent the other guy from fulfilling theirs. All resources are little cardboard squares which stack on top of each other in a hex if they are part of a unit.

In some instances of combat, you roll one die for the unit; in others, you lift each square one by one, rolling for each. Other squares get placed on top of, or in the middle of, stacks, such as: already fired once, pinned, exhausted, routed, etc...

Small scenarios last a maximum of nine rounds - about 2 - 3 hours play for experienced players. Longer ones last several days.

By a startling coincidence, I had ordered Battle Cry a while ago, and yadda yadda yadda, it arrived tonight, an hour before Ran showed up. BC has four types of soldiers/guns, and a twenty page rulebook, of which fifteen are just describing scenarios - different ways to set up the board.

Ran left his rulebook for my son to read, since real playing in ASL can't really start until you've read the rulebook and watched someone else play a few times. For BC, I'm ready to roll. I wonder which one we'll pay first. I wonder which one my son will eventually gravitate towards playing more often.

Wargamers - is it all wargamers, or just ASL players who "only play the one game"? I know it's true of Bridge, Go, Scrabble, Chess, etc... players, as one can see in my own city.

Eurogamers play lots of games. Is that because the games themselves don't hold enough interest? Or is it because the "game" we really play is "Keep looking for better and more interesting things to do with mechanics"?


New in the Israeli Gaming scene

So, the new Board Game club, which started a month and a half ago, after starting a forum on, is meeting its last meeting in Reut this Thursday. This is the first week that I've heard of the group altogether. Someone added a link to my site onto the forum, and I was then contacted by the owner, Gilad.

Gilad is now starting a more centralized game club (entrance fee) in central Tel Aviv in a location that is regularly used by a bridge club. Good luck to him.

I see that there are now a few stores that sell these games in Israel. In addition to, there is, in addition to Sportel (the original Magic importers and Magic league organizers). Got to add their links to my side pages.

On the one hand, I'm please to have these games available in Israel. On the other hand, like many other Israeli endeavors, what should be a simple markup with regards to shipping and VAT (17%) turns the game into a huge cost for the average Israeli. The games are generally not too much above retail (e.g. a Magic booster costs something like $5, T&E costs $55, Settlers costs $45), but most Israelis earn something like $1250 a month, we have high rent, a 60% tax bracket, etc...

The result is that even in Israel it is cheaper to buy the goods over the Internet and have them shipped to Israel than to buy locally, assuming you are getting more than one game. Still, it is nice to support the local stores (not local to Jerusalem, but local to Israel, at least).

Debates about this have ranged on Spielfrieks, Gamefest, and BGG, so we'll leave this one alone.

Gilad promised to come by our club tomorrow to check us out. I am not going to be able to make it Tel Aviv regularly (travel and expense). But Reut is closer, so, if I'm able to, I'll try just this Thursday, if only to meet more people and spread the love.

I have moved to cable Internet, instead of ADSL, so less money to the state monopoly, Bezeq (Note to self: if I ever apply for a job at Bezeq, remove this blog entry.) I had to change my email address, so I got me a Gmail address (shadejon at). I then had to change about a gazillion web pages, mailing lists, shopping sites, contacts, etc... to the new address. Most situations were not too much trouble ... except for eBay. It took me a week of emails every day before I got pointed to help in online chat, and an hour and a half of chat to determine that I can't do that. Why? Because a) my account was registered in America, so even after changing my address to Israel, they won't accept a credit card with an Israeli address b) I need to give them a new credit card to change my address, because c) Gmail is not a secure email address, unlike aol, msn, or any .org . Scritch scratch.

Well, I tried to start a new account registered as an Israeli, in the hopes of merging the old one into the new one after 60 days, and they still won't accept any of my three credit cards. Urgle. Amazingly enough, they are - literally - unable to change my email address themselves, even after presenting enough personal information to verify my identity.

The other problem was getting my old address to forward my email for a month - that also took a week, and in the meantime, I was bouncing emails.

Otherwise, things went pretty smoothly. Gmail is pretty neat - you can pop it, forward it, webmail it, just about anything, and the interface isn't too kooky, even if you have to get used to working with "tags" instead of folders. There are still some things I don't want passing through eBay, but what can I do? Receiving email at a local pop isn't any more secure - it is just more of an illusion of security.


Saturday, February 19, 2005

There's a New Game (Group) in Town (Country)

A new site started by a new group in Tel Aviv. Gilad, the organizer, wants to start a whole organization to promote board games in Israel. He has 100 games, and lots of members (weekly 5 - 15, he says), and more on his email list.

More power to him.

Now I have to go and change all of my notices to say that I'm no longer the only game club in Israel. I wish him much success.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Game Components from Childhood

(No looking at BGG, that's cheating)

The bell from Pit ...

The double spinning thingamajigs from Billionaire. It was like two white plastic dumbells. At the end of one side of each was a red sticker, and the at the end of the other side was a black sticker. They were ordered left and right. You spun both of them, and the result was different depending on whether you got RR, RB, BR, or BB.I can't remember what the results were, however ...

Wasn't Billionaire also the one with the magic pads? You know, they had a black backing and a peel-and-reset translucent plastic flip up. You "write" on them by drawing with a black plastic rod (like PDAs use). I think it was for bidding. Or was that for victory conditions in Careers? ...

Funky creature cards from Creature Features. Eventually we threw out the game and used it to hold our complete set of Eon Cosmic Encounter, when the CE box got shredded ...

Cone and Sun Disks from Eon CE ...

Bridge convention cards from clubs and tournaments ...

The Mouse Trap ...

The plastic cars, people (pink and blue), buildings, and green bordered paths in Life ... Wasn't life the game board that didn't fold into half, but looked like a binder when folded (with an edge)?

Pop-omatic ...

The letter cubes in R.S.V.P. and the plastic grid ...

The orange and black glossy board of 99 ...

The gray disks and little red and green ships in 4000 A.D. ...

D&D Miniatures ... and books, modules, grid papers, and DICE! ...

Submarines, mines, and a 3-D game board in Sub Search ...

Lego (boxes and boxes), turned into game pieces, D&D maps, and Lego hockey games ...

The blue and yellow Nerf football with the tear across one side ...

The real metal-tipped, darts in the basement, with a sunburst of pin pricks covereing the wall, except behind the dartboard ...

Next to the Ping-Pong table and the crushed bright orange ping-pong balls and paddles with the rubber stuff peeling off (why are there pin pricks in this ping pong table?) ...

The croquet set dropped at the top of the stairs and falling down to the basement. The croquet course outside that never looked like one, because the first wicket was by those roots, the next one was on the side of that hill, the third was across the cement path near the sprinkler head (sorry about the sprinkler hose, dad), the fourth was near the bricks by the shed, the fifth was on the other side between two bricks, the sixth was leaning against the tree, the seventh too close to the flower beds (sorry about those flowers, mom), the eighth kept falling down because the dirt wasn't deep enough, and the ninth was too close to the deck (I can get that out from under there by hooking it with my mallet, see?). And the stakes were driven too far into the ground, I can't find them. But look - I can balance my mallet on my forehead! ...

Soccer ball ... between those two croquet wickets, and between these two shrubs going into the Miller's yard ...

Frisbee ... I can skip it by bouncing it off the pavement ...

The wooden marble run with the knobs to tilt the floor in all directions, but never got the marble past hole number 8 (out of 39) ...

Scaling cards ... into card house cities 13 stories high ...

25 simultaneous spinning dreidels ... and dreidel fights! ...

Poker using sweetened cereal as ante (everyone loses) ...

Blockout Coleco handheld, and Magic Pro-touch football (get that little red blip past those other red blips) ...

Stop Thief's ticking noisy tower ...

Oh yeah.


Session report up

Session report up on .

I have changed ISPs, and therefore I have changed email addresses. Despite misgivings about running my emails through Google's scanning machine, my latest email address is a Gmail account: shadejon at gmail.

Dot com.

Use it, don't abuse it. If you have a blog, and would like me to link to your blog, drop me an email.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Drive by Ratings

I checked my profile on BGG and someone had gone through the trouble to rate every single review and session report that I have posted onto the Geek. Flattering, eh?

Only, every single rating was either a 2 or a 1. Either my contributions are genuinely worthless, or someone was upset that I rejected their trade offer.

Ah, well. Most of my reviews were for games that no one else had reviewed, so it is up to others to judge whether a 1 or 2 review is better than no review at all. As for my session reports, some are certainly better and longer than others. What is the worthiness of a session report, anyway? Entertainment? Giving over a feel for the game? Insights into strategy?


Monday, February 14, 2005


I posted a review of Oceania on the Geek: . Rereading it, I'm not sure it is wholly coherent. One slight problem with the Geek is the inability to edit most things after they have been posted.

I also caught up on my session reporting.

I hesitate to publicize this, but I actually made my first "geekgold (mine) for actual item" trade, the actual item being the puerto rico expansion. Now, I know some other people, and even I, would be happy to gift geekgold for free when asked. And some people discourage geekgold gifting altogether, so as to force others to contribute. Still, I think that a small item in exchange for less work on someone else's part, and a reward for hours of contributions on my part, is not unjustified.

I don't think geekgold can be evaluated monetarily, yet. For instance, I don't think I could have offered more gold for a more expensive item: people don't need more geekgold, and people are willing to give out cheap items as they would give charity, where a more expensive item is expected to have "actual worth" in trading power.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

Second play for Oceania

Second play for Oceania - much like the first. You can place tiles in such a way as to increase or decrease the chance that future tiles will fit, but what does it avail you if you have no control over what tiles you will be picking. Well, two things: 1) tiles surrounded on all sides by other tiles get filled in automatically, and 2) tiles you failed to place earlier can be placed instead of a random tile by sacrificing a scout. This helps, somewhat.

I am happy to play several more times - a wait and see to discover if my interest continues to wane, or if it will always remain an interesting little filler.


Saturday, February 12, 2005

PR, Oceania, Traumfabrik

The thread of the strategy discussion about Puerto Rico continued on the Tao of Gaming ( I won't reproduce the entire discussion here. In fact I thought we had beaten it to death, so I took it off the board into email.

A good discussion with polite people who disagree is a wonderful thing. Good discussions with people who agree are easy to find. Rude discussions with people who disagree even more so. Aside from the occasional anti-Jewish/anti-Israel vandal, most people I converse with on the Internet are very nice, like most people everywhere, I guess.

Thursday morning I received Oceania, and Thursday evening I played it with my wife, Rachel. It plays, as expected, like a Carcassonne light - very light. There are thirty tiles. Each round is basically:

1. Choose the tile on the board next to which you be adding the new tile.
2. Pick the new tile at random, and place it if you can. If you can't, place in front of you.
3. Place one of your scouts on the tile, if you want.

Two other rules:
- If you already have tiles in front of you, you can replace step 2 with: sacrifice a scout and place a tile in front of you.
- Every time a single square is surrounded on all side by placed tiles, fill it in with a reserve tile.

At the end of the game, whoever has the most scouts on any land mass scores the number of tiles in the land mass. Minus two for each unplaced tile in front of you.

Impressions: Quick and light is what they were aiming for, and it really is. Ten minutes should be enough for a game. Your scout supply is correctly limited, so that sacrificing one to place an unplaced tile is painful.

Tile placement is not too difficult, however - the random nature of the tile draw is more frustrating than fun for me, but the ability to rectify a bad draw by sacrificing a scout makes up for it.

All in all, it is a pleasant game which suits a nice niche for a ten minute diversion while waiting for others to finish another game. I will have to play it a number of times to see if it is the sort of game that "plays out" or that can hold continual interest with some sort of subtle strategy.

In other news, I continue to lose PR games - ironic considering my boasts that I am "in the zone", or "discovering strategies", as I have previously posted about PR. Blah.

This Saturday I played Traumfabrik with my lunch guests and discovered that it is pretty easy to teach, which makes it almost a crossover from a party game to a strategy game. Sweet. Still, conversation among the non-gamer guests made me realize all the more how sorely I need to branch out and get a few party games so as to "hook" people in. All I have is Apples to Apples - not enough, I fear. I hear good things about Time's Up and Beyond Balderdash. Time to look into them.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

Puerto Rico Strategy vs Tactics

The Tao of Gaming ( is currently discussing the lack of strategy in Puerto Rico, that the game is basically a tactical game of "get the most vp's from whatever your current situation is".

The original source was from Chris Farrel:

"Puerto Rico taunts you with strategic elements, but it's really just a brutal short-term optimization game with a minimal strategic component ... "Strategic" and "Tactical" are of course notoriously tractable terms. I could probably redefine "strategic" on a case-by-case basic in a way such that no game would ever be considered strategic. But one concept I might use is "can I take a short-term loss for a long-term gain?" To me, the answer in Puerto Rico is always no."

I posted some disagreements, as follows:

I totally disagree, but probably because we need to clarify the difference between strategy and tactics. It sounds to me that your definition of strategy is just "long term tactics".

Here are my definitions:

Tactics: the planned actions that you take given a particular situation to advance your strategy used to fulfill the objectives.

Strategy: the general principles guiding your tactical decisions to reach your ultimate objective.

What is the ultimate objective in Puerto Rico? It is to have more victory points than any other player, and if not, then to have the most cash/goods.

What are the strategies? Several: Large shipping through production, large shipping through storage, large trading through markets, large trading through cash crops and office, many quarries, flexibility through hacienda, agility through hospice and/or university, phase jumping through factory, etc..., etc... Some of the strategies have proved to be better then others over the past two years, but there is still no one fixed strategy that always wins, and there are some under-utilized strategies that may make comebacks over time. I have been whipped soundly by Hospice recently, even though it is generally regarded as a poor strategy. And when you take into account the expansion buildings (and when you add my own seven expansion building sets), each game requires a reassessment of the viable strategies to play.

Also, Puerto Rico sometimes requires you to change strategies in mid-game, when the one you were following is no longer viable.

Tactics: An example of a tactic could be: I will take this role and block the trading house, then he will take that role, and then I will become governor, and then I will trade again, giving me enough to build Factory. If your strategy includes "get Factory", then this is a viable tactic for moving your strategy forward. If your strategy includes "get Wharf", then the tactical decisions will have to change to reflect this.

If you are not playing with any focussed strategy, then every time it is your turn you will look at the board and say: how can I make the most number of vps over the next few rounds, or most gps of the next few rounds, compared to my opponents? While this may work once in a while, it is unlikely that you will win the majority of games this way.

Puerto Rico is not strategic? Hogwash. You would be more correct to say that El Grande is not strategic, but even EG has a few different strategies: concentrate on a few places and the castillo, or try to get second place everywhere.


I have found that a great way to lose is to take the maximum benefit for yourself Right Now.

If I have a better shipping situation set up, say Harbor/Wharf, I am often tempted into taking Builder right now because it will give me a few more VP's than my opponents. Crafting will give me nothing Right Now.

But because of the cyclical nature of the game, it is crucial to continue the craft/captain cycle as fast as possible. Failing to take Craftsman will result in a long term loss later on for my short term gain.

Good players can see this by turn 6 or 7, right when midgame is starting. I think defining the concept of strategy away by substituting the goal of the game - "gain vps" - is a straw man argument.

I am not contradicting Alex; I don't go into a game knowing that I will play "harbor shipping", or "guild hall building". In the same vein, I don't go into a chess game knowing I will play "X offense" or "Y defense". The situation changes, and you have to adapt. Nevertheless, the patterns are there and you have to know them.

"guild hall building" is something to think about on turn 3 already, because it is stronger than "residence settler". This doesn't mean I won't take residence settler. It means that I have several strategic game plans, and I aim towards them. "diverse production factory". "corn wharf". Of course there are strategies.

If you play PR by dropping yourself into every turn with no plan and just do whatever give you the most vp's within 2 rounds, you will lose against better players, period.

... and as far as short term loss for long term gain:

I'll trade this barrel for GP, and sacrifice the 1 VP I would have gotten shipping it, because next round I'll build a building worth 2 more VP?

I'll build this inferior building to prevent someone else from building it and getting a lock on shipping vp's?

I'll ship now and lose vp's, to prevent my opponent from trading?

I'll take this role which doesn't give me anything to prevent my opponent from beenfitting form it twice.

I'll give up this building for that building.

I'll take this role instead of that one.

I'll ship this good for less to lock this boat.

I'll trade this lesser good to prevent my opponent from trading it.

No short term plays for long term goals. Yah.


Just one more note:

It is possible to destroy the term strategy by just calling it "long term tactics".

Let's say you have to take a city. You could employ the "siege" strategy, or you could employ the "direct force" strategy, or you could employ the "raise dissent" strategy.

Does this mean that when it actually comes down to taking the city you have to stick with "only one" and make no changes? Can't you do all three? Can't you assess how things are going each day and maximize your position from whatever the situation is?

OK, you could look really far into the future and say that "if I do this, and then this, then the city will fall." Does that deny the concept of strategy, just because you employed tactics? No. You just used your tactics wisely to implement one or more strategies that are best suited for the situation.

If the city has stockpiled food, the strategy of siege will probably fail, and it will be a tactical error to attempt to employ this strategy.


A Semi-Expected Surprise

A delightful semi-expected surprise in the mail today - Oceania, by Mayfair games. This is the game that Klaus Teuber, manager of Catan LLC and newly appointed to Mayfair's board promised to send me for free, just for spreading the word of Settlers in Israel.

A spanking new game in the mail, just as an unsolicited thank you note. And I really need some more 2 player games, too.

This one promises to be 1 - 2 players. Interesting. I hope I like it - I would hate to have to give a lukewarm review to such a nice gesture.

In other news, two more losses in PR ... cha cha cha.

I have established myself and Yaron Racah, who is part of the Tel Aviv gang that plays these games, as a trading block. Trade lists available on the Geek.

Time to start thinking about a game day during Passover. This time, I hope not to conflict too badly with the conventions in Tel Aviv.


Session report up


Played: Dvonn, San Juan, Puerto Rico + expansions, Taj Mahal, Geschenkt x 3, Torres, El Grande

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

There Certainly are a lot of sites out there ...

I have been sprucing up my website ( and blog site (that's this one) in the hopes of joining the ranks of Interesting Places to Visit Once in a While.

Like many endeavors, the initial payoff is large, and then slows down as you get into the finer details. At some point you hit that spot where ROI is low enough to be satisfied:

- Nice font, colors, etc...
- Regularly updating, and hopefully interesting, content, that won't offend anyone too much
- A picture or two
- Reasonably organized, but not too busy
- No broken links
- Works ok on Opera, Firefox, and IE
- Links to other interesting stuff

Enough for now. I'll add JavaScript games and fill-out forms in my Copious Free Time.

I haven't been trying to imitate other sites, but I do check every once in a while to see if anyone has linked to me (and I usually link back to them). Slow going. (begin dream sequence ... why yes, my site is the first site that come up on Google when you type "board game" ... I don't know, people must link to it a lot, I suppose ... keynote speaker at GenCon, including all expenses paid? How flattering, but I don't know if I'm free that weekend, let me check my calendar ... of course I'd be happy to write a weekly article for your magazine ... how much? oh, you're too kind ... end dream sequence)

Following links and search reveals that there are an awful lot of good sites out there. Every time I think I have discovered the bulk of them, I find someone else's link farm with another hundred or so to check out ( just look at all these sites on abstract games ... )

My wife has now toasted me about five times in a row in Puerto Rico, and my friend online about five times, too. And just when I was hoping that I was one of the Best in the World at Something. Oh, well. You know I teach these people these games, and look at what I get as a reward :-) . While occasionally frustrating, I'm actually happy about it (no, really ... no, I drink like this all the time). There really are games where I still always win, and it's pretty boring to play them. Of course, always losing is not much better, unless I feel like I'm making progress (I won't tell you which game, but it starts with a G, ands with an O, and is two letters long).

Game night tomorrow, back in my house. Something to look forward to.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Dvonn and Game Patterns

Following my several games of Go, I decided to play several games of Dvonn.

There is something about playing several games of a quick abstract that one game can't give you. Within the core of any game are the "patterns".

The patterns in Chess have practically all been named: the Schwarkplof-Flarkstein opening, the Baggins-Balrog defense (I'm making this up, but you get the idea).

In Go, you have the atari, ko, komi, etc... whose very definitions explain the patterns in the game.

These patterns exist in most games, I assume, from Candyland to Puerto Rico to Monopoly.

Dvonn seemed like a fairly random game when I first started, after playing a single game on several occasions. Sitting down to play several games at once, I begin to see some of the patterns emerge.

Dvonn is a game with an elongated hexagon of circles, as follows:


Each player takes 23 disks, either white or black. The white player also takes 2 red disks, and the black player 1 red disk. Players alternate placing disks on the board one at a time, starting with the red disks (phase 1). Then (phase 2) players alternate moving any stack of disks (stack being one or more disks on top of each other). You can only move stacks that have your color on top. Each stack moves exactly the number of spaces as it has pieces in the stack. Each move must land on another stack. You cannot move pieces surrounded on all six sides by other pieces. Any stack that cannot trace a path to a red disk is removed from the game - typically this means that a whole lot of pieces are removed from the game as soon as the sole connecting piece is moved.

In the end, after no legal moves are possible, the player's remaining stacks are combined, and the higher total wins.

Playing several games, the patterns in the second half of the game start to emerge. The capture and recapture of large stacks by single pieces. The isolation and destruction of half the board by removing the connecting piece. The capture and movement of the red pieces. Most importantly, that the game is not going to continue until all pieces have been moved, but is likely to end quickly after several pieces are removed from play. The object seems to be to to wipe out all possible moves once you have an advantageous position.

The patterns for placing disks in the first half of the game still seem elusive. Of course, you want plenty of disks near the red ones and plenty near the outside so as to have more possible choices, and so that you can ensure that your pieces are not wiped out before you are ready. But it still seems highly chaotic.

The only thing that helps me is to place one of the red stones right next to one of the others. By reducing the playing area to two places, instead of three, I can contain the possible moves somewhat more in my head.

There is a game which I am working on that starts with 37 pieces distributed randomly on a hexagonal grid. Afterwards, each player alternate to combine any two pieces with various results. I tried this out on my friend and his immediate remark is that it felt that the opening moves were too random. I wonder if playing several games would take away that feeling after the patterns emerge.


Saturday, February 05, 2005


Go is still a great game. One of its best features is a built in handicap mechanism.

I taught my daughter today, and after each game I game her an additional stone as handicap until she began to win. This means that we can have a challenging game together.

If only all games worked so well for any skill level.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

January Gaming

This reflects the group activity, not my personal activity.

Games played:

Abalone - A gift from my parents, it seems interesting at first, but pretty much devolves into: whoever makes the first move loses. I will play a few more times, but not much more.

Amun Re - A favorite of the group, just the right amount of unknown and strategy. I value it slightly less than the group does, but I'm happy to play. I really like the blind bidding concept, better than "go around the table" bidding, and I incorporated this into my rail game.

Attika - recently borrowed, I didn't get to play it, but it looks interesting.

Boggle x 3 - played with a new player so as to make her feel comfortable, but she hasn't returned anyway, so maybe we shouldn't have. I like the game, but I'm hard to beat (not generally. My vocabulary isn't fantastic, but I'm pretty good at finding the more obscure and longer words.)

Dvonn - recently borrowed. Like many games with lots of choices, the first choices seem kind of random. I suppose that there is more strategy than there first appears (of course, there is plenty of strategy in the second phase). One thing about the Gipf games, they have high quality beautiful components.

Flinke Pinke - not really played correctly, but even if it had been, doesn't look too interesting. FP is a quick very light card game. I'm always hoping to find other light game hits, like Geschenkt and San Juan. Still looking.

Geschenkt x 5 - A huge hit, so simple and so quick.

Oasis - Recently borrowed. The first game we played was three player, which I instinctively knew would be a mistake. We all gagged on the auction system, and there was no competition for space on the board. I actually liked it, anyway, and want to try again.

Puerto Rico x 3 - The Lord of the Games.

San Juan x 4 - The best 2-4 player 1/2-time game. I bought this in preference to St Petersburg, as it looked less "solvable" and more expandable. I posted 35 new buildings to the geek. Unlike PR, I don't know how to implement this (I could write over the Archive card and a few others we don't use, I guess.)

Settlers of Catan x 3 - Another standby game, since half of our players are new. Actually, many of the old time players still like it a lot. Something about a luck filled trading game. Am I correct that players who like SoC would like Traders of Genoa?

Taj Mahal x 2 - Another favorite meaty game, probably second to PR.

Tikal x 2 - A new acquisition, a Hanukkah gift. Still fresh and interesting. Just enough angst, and not too much downtime, since it is harder to see as far forward (compared to Torres).

Traumfabrik x 2 - A new acquisition, also. Nice, fun, and probably definitive for auction games. Player with highest star power tends to win, though. Compares easily to Ra, and probably to Modern Art. Is there a need to own more than one, actually?


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Go and Music

Tonight I left my daughter (age 11) to fend for herself (a rare occurrence) to check out the Jerusalem Go club and listen to a visiting folk singer.

Rachel dropped me off at a bus stop, and I lept out while the car was still moving and hopped right onto a bus continuing on to where I was going, cell phone in hand reassuring Tal that everything was all right.

A short time later I walk the neon lit shiny wet streets of the semi-deserted pedestrian center in downtown Jerusalem. Religious American post high school students hanging out on one corner, while punk Russian teens smoke on the next. The only people present as usual are the shopkeepers and guards in front of every cafe.

Into one cafe, Cafe Rimon, I enter past a double series of impromptu fences and metal detector, looking for the "Go club". I search all around and then ask the waitress and find 3 other people on two small round tables near the front. Between them, they have one magnetic Go board. Sam Freed is the organizer.

Back in his house, the club had so many participants that he could no longer host them. I went a few times, and I remember several kids aged 10 to 13, and about 20 adults. Sam says that winter keeps people away, and the kids aren't allowed to come out to the town center by themselves. He also assures me that a few others will be coming (only one does by the time I leave), and that some regulars do come, but didn't this week.

I watch a fierce game between two players while Sam eats his entree; Sam is the only one who orders, which I'm sure does not please the staff too much. One player had a four stone advantage. The game ends, but I'm not sure who won.

Since I've only played about three times, and I feel more comfortable on a smaller board, I play a 9x9 game, and am offered a four stone advantage. That's at least 16 stones on a larger board. I don't think I need it, since years of strategy games have given me something. Turns out I'm right.

One wrong move on my part costs me 1/3 of the board, which would otherwise have been mine. The rest of the board is easily taken, and my opponent says he is impressed (and I feel a little ridiculous at that).

Sam says he will come tomorrow to our game club at the cafe (not central, but somewhat roomier and nicer), and try to sway people to play Go, and learn a new game, too.

I leave at 8:45 on my way to hear a friend of a friend who is playing folksy music at a local space. She is Aliza Hava ( The place is about five minutes from the Go club. I have the name and street, but can't find the place, seeing as there is no name outside, and nobody inside (although the door is open). By process of elimination, I make my way in. Turns out to be a flaming left-wing social club - magazines on racks picturing only brutal Israeli civilians and hapless broken and twisted Palestinians, and a calendar indicating that the "Electric Intifada" will be playing next week. Not a place I expect to find a religious girl from New Jersey.

Aliza's brother is an anarchist activist, and somehow it came together to play there. It takes until 9:30 before she starts. There is an unnecessary amplifier and microphone in this 20 foot room, and the lights are dimmed. Eventually about 25 people are in the audience by the time I leave at 10:00. I hear about four songs.

Aliza's voice is really good, like Michele Shocked, and her playing is quite lovely. The lights illuminate only her left side, while a red spotlight on the floor picks out her strumming hand in orange fire every time it flashes. She plays a black guitar, and the spotlight looks like a crescent moon on the curve of her guitar. The melodies are soulful.

I invite her to drop by at my house on Thursday evening, when I will be hosting a music trio of my own, and she says she will try.

Finally a call from Rachel, a pick-up, and home we go.