Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Session Report Up

On my site. Games played: My Game Prototype #1, Settlers of Catan, San Juan, Traders of Genoa.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

St Pete

I've now played 4 player, 3 player, and 2 player St Pete, all without looking at the Geek for advice.

OK, sure, everyone knows that the Aristocrats are powerful, just like everyone knows that Jesters are the most powerful in Princes of Florence. In PoF, the result is that Jesters are bid up high enough to even out the difference. Here, this means that the other main strategy of buying buildings just isn't going to work except in fluky circumstances (I would have to say: 4 player and fierce competition for aristocrats).

Nothing in the games I've played has lent itself to fierce competitions, yet, however. We've all been pretty much playing solitaire. OK, sometimes you take a card I want, big deal. I am hoping that, like PR, as we get better, we will know more about what to take. Still, I can only feel that the game would be a tad better if a) there was some auctioning for the items (e.g. a third row for items not bought in the second row) and b) the turn sequence was chosen by the players, ala Puerto Rico, and c) VP's paid off one more time at game end, which basically fizzles right now.

Still enjoying the ride.

I just went and looked at the Geek. Seems like everyone is harping on the Observatory as a great buy. Makes some sense. I'll try it out next time. I'm still trying to figure out how to manage my money.


The Transformation Through Books Meme

Someone else must have done this, but I thought it up myself, and I think it is at least as good as any other meme, so here goes.

It's the "Name Ten Things You Have Read That Have Transformed You" meme. Now, this meme is not the "Name Ten Books That You Love" meme, nor even "Ten Books You Admire". It doesn't even have to be books; it can be a bank statement, as far as I'm concerned. The important part is that you read it, and your life changed as a result. If ten is too many, you can list five.

Transformation is often a matter of timing. A silly book can transform you simply because at that moment you are open to something that triggers a new way of thinking. If you had read it earlier or later, maybe it wouldn't have had an impact. Of course, the truly best books are most likely to be the most transformative to the most number of people.

Here are ten of mine, in no particular order:

1. Bible

The Bible transformed society well before I came along. The ideas it contains, while surprising in retrospect, didn't really transform me. To understand why the bible transformed me, you have to know that the text and commentaries of the bible are the Jewish yoke, meant to be studied day in and day out, time permitting. We go through it every year. We read a sentence, we raise questions on an idea, a word or a letter, or a cantellation. We cross-reference similar material, we try to understand the commentaries. Etc. etc.

The Bible was a transformation for me the day that I understood it to be the omnipresent part of the world that would always be about something outside of myself. The world turns and I am just a small person in it. But my job is to do the best I can, anyway, because that's why I'm here.

2. Hugh and Gayle Pranther: Notes to Each Other

There are lots of sucky and shallow self-help books out there, most of them written for a quick buck, and most of them telling you how to liberate yourself from other people's needs. There are a number of reasonably good self-help or inspirational books. There are very few great modern inspirational books. These guys top the charts.

Hugh and Gayle are both pastors and counselors who have been through hell in their marriage, but have always committed to getting through the muck to the other side. Their ideals are impressive, but even moreso is their ability to convey these ideals in a grounded manner. Their other books are top notch and must-haves. But Notes to Myself and Notes to Each Other are wonderfully poetic and brilliant, without losing sight of the messages they convey.

Reading Notes to Each Other, their best book, was a wakeup call to me that a true relationship does not consist of two wholly independent people fulfilling their own needs. To make it work, the relationship itself needs to be treated like a child, to whom you must give without the constant expectation of reward. The reward comes from the intrinsic nature of commitment. One quote that always stays with me: "We keep having this argument in the expectation that: this time, I'll win."

3. Robert M. Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

A long read but a real gem. Robert talks about the ideas of quality and perseverance, ideas that are long gone in our modern world unless you are a hacker. The scene that sticks with me is when he is having his motorcycle fixed and he tells the mechanic that he just doesn't understand motors. The mechanic tells him, "That's because you don't care enough to." I.e. any intelligent person who cares enough to try should be able to understand it. I don't think this is true about all people all of the time, but it was certainly an eye-opener for me.

4. Judith Martin: Miss Manners columns

I had good role models for ethics, but no exceptional models for good manners, unfortunately. Judith Martin, aside from being a witty and brilliant, lays down modern manners so effortlessly that you can't help but realize the sense of what she is saying. I don't agree with every position she holds, only 99%.

I learned numerous ideas from her: that Manners and Law are complementary but must be separate. That consideration for others infuses every moment of our lives, even when setting a table. That perfect manners is the best offense against rudeness. And that being well-mannered does not imply being a pushover.

5. Penelope Leach: Your Baby and Child

I must have read 30 birthing books and 30 child raising books. For birthing, the best was New Active Birth - not life-changing, however. Penelope Leach changed the way I thought about children, namely, from their point of view. The chapter openers and closers for each stage of life were mind-opening experiences into the life and development of my children. After reading them, I became the sympathetic parent that I am today.

6. Susan Coolidge: What Katy Did at School

"What Katy Did" was a nice book, but similar to a dozen others. "What Katy Did at School" transformed me because of three simple words in the middle of the book: "Live it Down." Katy is falsely accused of something and her instinct is to protest and leave the school. But, after thinking those three words, she realizes that the best way to deal with false accusations is to live it down - continue being a good outstanding person, and eventually the people accusing you will realize how wrong they were.

This was an inspiration, both in terms of how to be moral in the face of immorality, and (again) the concept of perseverance despite adversity. After reading this, I began to care a little less about what people thought and a little more about doing what I knew was right.

7. The FAQ list

Months before my divorce I became depressed. Depression is like falling down a black well with no bottom in sight. As smart as I was, I knew that I should do happy things, go on with my life, etc.. But when I went from day to day, more miserable each day, I thought I was doing something wrong. I was a rag. I was in the constant grip of suicidal thoughts. I had to give away my gun (I lived in a settlement and carried one for defense). I couldn't drive at night.

I was just smart enough to try to find help. Reading this FAQ was like touching bottom in the well, looking up, and seeing the light. The first thing I learned was that depression is neurological, not just emotional. No matter how happy my situation, I wasn't going to snap out of it. I had to go to therapy. Everything in the document was so concrete, and so many people knew about it and understood what I was going through, that I finally began to crawl back up.

8. Gary Gygax: The 1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook

Nine years old, reading this was the real difference between what my life was and what it would become. Until this book, I played games, yeah, and I rolled dice and moved pieces, but I was a spectator. AD&D put me into the designer's seat. I must have read it cover to cover twenty times. I created characters, then I created worlds. I became obsessed. My personal life became different, and so did my world view of what games could be.

9a. Ursula LeGuin: The preface to The Left Hand of Darkness
9b. William Gibson: Neuromancer

The first of these was a 15 or 20 page introduction to LHoD by Ursual LeGuin. I knew that I liked reading sci-fi, but I bought into the idea that sci-fi was not really literature, just fun escapist stuff. That meant that I thought I was the type of person who didn't really read serious books. The preface that she wrote introduced me to the idea that good sci-fi was just allegory, her book being a perfect example. LHoD talks about a race of people whose male and female characteristics are determined every month depending on who they're with. But this isn't about them; it's about us. What does this tell us about ourselves?

I knew after reading that book that even though I was reading sci-fi, I couldn't get away from the fact that I had to read good literature and not waste my time with crap. A while later, William Gibson was the first book I read that made me realize that sci-fi COULD BE good literature. It change my view of reading profoundly. After that, I began to seek out the best books from a literature point of view, and not just stick with sci-fi. However, I now had ammunition against those who claimed that all sci-fi was just junk.

10. Henry James: Portrait of a Lady

And this book made me realize that the best writing was so good that I had no hope of ever doing it. Actually, the story was pretty lame, and the exposition goes on far too long. But this was the first classic of English literature that I voluntarily read as an adult. It is written, in short, beautifully. You can't even write like that nowadays without sounding false and imitative. I went on to read other greats of all ages, and became inspired to try my hand at writing. Only, I needed a forum to write on every day ... something like a daily log.


Oh, yes, the meme. Well, I hereby tag you, my readers, to make your own lists and post them on your blog.

Pimping My Game ... This Won't Stop Until it Gets Published

Played a few hands with my daughter last night and I'm still astonished at how deep a little card game can get. She won two out of three.

Everyone says that they love their own games when they try to sell them, don't they? What can I do? One thing I need is more playtesters from outside my circle of friends and family. Volunteer!

Some of the game companies expressed interest in reading the rules, but after that, I haven't heard from them. I would like to produce it myself, but not the 5000 copies that a game production company requires. If anyone has real experience in producing a few game mockups, let me know. I can rouse up some money for mockups to make demonstrations.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Linkposts, Revisited

Mikko Saari commented on my Linkposts entry:

I noticed Yehuda had a something of a negative attitude for blogs that link to other blogs instead of creating their own content, but I think maintaining the network with new links every now and then is a good thing for everyone involved.

The full post is here.

The second part of the above sentence doesn't really match what I was saying. What I was saying was that the most popular blogs seem to be nothing but links to other blogs with pithy comments thrown in.

Just look at this post. I start off with a note about a comment someone made on another blog. Then I quote it, then I add a pithy comment. For completeness, imagine that this post ends right after the previous paragraph. Now imagine that my entire blog consisted, day in and day out, of nothing but posts exactly like that.

My question is: why are the most popular blogs like this? As one of the commenters pointed out, this phenomenon seems to be a repetition of what happened in the early days of the web - web sites that contained nothing but links to other websites. Yet, today, the most popular websites are just that: Yahoo, Google, About, etc...

Ultimately, these blogs are beginning to act like "blog portals", the place to find what's out there in the blogosphere, or on the web. If you follow through to these sites, you can find new and interesting points of view, and new blogs to follow. If you don't, you are basically reading the blog headlines.

Why does this bother me? Frankly, I don't know. My instinct is that these people are making a living off of the work of others. Doesn't make sense really. I admit that they are providing a service - the good ones are doing that elusive act of compiling worthwhile reading material.

One thing that troubles me is that so many people start off with their own content, run out of things to say, and continue by posting pithy comments about other sites. I think if you find yourself doing that, odds are that you should bow out.

What Mikko was saying is that the "forum" aspect of the Blogosphere, such as this post, is a positive thing. We are cross-linking, giving and taking, creating the blog web that supports all of us. I think this is a good thing (although one wonders why we can't just have this discussion on a forum).

To support what Mikko is saying, I will add that I have links down the side of my blog's web page, but show of hands: how many of you actually go to my web page? Most of you read this using RSS. Unless I mention sites in my blog posts, people who only read my posts are not going to find out what else I read (unless they go to my bloglines feeds page

So my point is, and I do have a point, if you want to focus on being a portal to other blogs/web sites, focus on that. If you want to create content, focus on that. Have something to contribute, do it well, and do it frequently.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

Weekend Gaming

Fri night we went down to the neighbors and there were lots of kids. I remembered not to teach them Pit, and instead we played "I Doubt You" (you know, B******t).

We play by the rules that when someone is challenged, life continues as normal for the next player. In other words, if you played "9", then the next player still has to play "10" no matter what. This allows you to plan several turns in advance. I usually win with this method of playing, so I wonder if other people had experiences with different rules.

Sat afternoon I played St Petersburg, 3 player, my second game. Very nice game, but I am already seeing that the aristocrats are pretty strong, and the buildings much less so. I`ll have to play a few more times, but it might be good to simply give 3 points for each aristocrat, or cap it at 5 points each. The game is sort of halfway between San Juan and Puerto Rico in execution and strategy. Fun.

Meanwhile, I finished reading Dice Games by Knizia, and I'm starting Card Games by Sackson. You really learn about what Reiner considers fun in Dice Games. Half of the games are straight luck games with absolutely no decision making! A large number are casino games, and just a few are games like Yachtsee and Liar's Dice. Very funny.

Sackson, meanwhile, just lists the rules to a hundred card games he knows from around the world, and I have to say, some of these games look really good. As in 'might give bridge a run for its money' good, and I think bridge is so far and above any other card game I ever played that that is saying a lot.

The question remains: where the heck have these games been my whole life? While I was stuck playing Battleship and Hearts (which is actually 'Black Widow', according to Sackson), many of these games look as good as or better than hosts of Eurogames, but I never even heard of them. If I didn't have all of these neat new designer games to play, you can bet that I would be teaching people these games.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

OK, So You're All Laughing at Me, Ha Ha

I thought that I was writing science fiction. Apparently, just barely.

I just noticed my coworker walking around with what looked for all the world like a NetMind ...

What the hell?

"Bluetooth," he says.

He shows me the phone in his pocket, although he says he could also leave it on his desk. Meanwhile, the rest of you probably already knew about this technology and were wondering why I thought this idea was so cool. Give me a break - I don't get to see the good stuff most of the time since it's not available in the places that I shop (i.e. supermarket, used clothes).

Slap some sub-vocalization on it, some IM software, some VoIP and vocal software, and there's your NetMind, give or take. Three years? Five? Two?

I got to play St Petersburg last night, as you would know if you read my session reports. It is one of my pure GeekGold acquires. I used to do these before this became popular on BGG. After the third trade, I came to the conclusion that approximately 10 GG = 1 USD. Now that GeekGold trades are in vogue, and without the benefit of my market pricing, I wonder what the consensus is. Weirdly enough, despite there being what seems to be a large supply of GG lying around, I think most people are getting better than my ratio. But I would like to hear from the masses. Send me your details and I will compile the results.


Session Report Up

Session report up on the site. Games played: St Petersburg, By Hook or By Crook, My Game Prototype, Torres.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I track about 125 feeds now in bloglines:

BoardGameGeek feeds
Distractions: comics, ethics, literature, other entertainment
Games: about 60 game blogs
Israel: news and opinions about Israel from all sides of the spectrum
News: general news sites
Tech: information on tech news, science, and IP

One thing I can't understand is why the most popular blogs are the ones that basically have no content but simply comment on articles from elsewhere. They all follow a familiar pattern: some sort of introductory statement, followed by a link to the other article or blog. Occasionally an indented extract from that article or blog, and then some affirmative or snide comments about the content.

Oh, everyone throws in an outside link occasionally, but these are the most popular blogs, folks. Kind of makes you wonder. Is it that these blogs are doing such fine work for us by helping us find the articles we want to read without having to wade through the Internet? Bringing to our attention items of interest that we may otherwise have missed? Sounds ok, but so many of these links are to other blogs. Or are we all more interested in opinion than substance?

Another ... I don't know if I would say argument ... but another item to consider is that when an issue is raised in a blog or article, different people link and cross-link to this issue, adding their own opinions. Witness the recent debate about "critical game reviews". This is kind of like a "blogforum"; a lot more effort than a normal forum, but longer posts.

I'm sure when blogs are first created, the majority of them are about new material. After a while, most die out, either because the writer didn't realize that keeping it going requires work, or because the writer no longer had anything to say. A lot of the ones that reach this situation, but don't die, stay alive by commenting on what other people write.

What percent of material on all blogs is newly created material, and what percent is links and comments on other material? Question: how much commentary does there have to be in a "linkpost" before you consider it "new material"?

I am reminded of the two types of "things" that can be copyrighted: original works, and "arrangements" of other people's original works. I never really thought the latter was particularly deserving of copyright protection, and this situation adds fuel to that opinion. It is easy to make arrangements, and it is rare, in my opinion, for those arrangements to be something entirely non-obvious or "with artistic merit".

Of course, what do I care? I also throw in an occasional outside link. Something is just ... wrong about so many blogs doing this full time.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

4000 A.D.

A cute pure strategy game in a purple box with green and orange little spaceships. The board consists of a 4 x 3 grid with 4 planets in each grid. 2 of these planets are "up", and 2 are "down". Some have "+" and some have "-", and some have both. For each matching "+" and "-" you control, you get more resources.

Your spaceships are loaded onto gray mother ships which go onto the hyperspace track. Each round you can load your mother ship onto the track, and you must move ships on the track one step. You can take a ship off and attack any planet that is exactly that distance away from your launch site, counting "up" and "down" as one step, otherwise horizontally or vertically on the grid.

Higher total wins. If you control your opponent's home base, you win.

It was a good game, with some interesting bluffing elements.

I think I still have the board and some of the ships.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Weekend Gaming

Yay, Rachel is back. I picked her up at the ungodly hour of 4 in the morning on Friday.

We are deep into discussions about whether I should really go to BGG.con. If I make some mockups of my game, would I be able to show publishers there? If so, maybe I could look at it as a business investment.

Anyway, I finally got to play PR with her on shabbat, which I missed the last five weeks. We split games. We played with a few of the usual different buildings, and once again, both games were wildly different with different strategies. What a game system.

As I mentioned, I borrowed Traders of Genoa which I am eagerly awaiting to play with the group, as I think it will go over pretty well. Rachel also brought back a copy of St Petersburg for which I traded GeekGold to acquire. Hope to try that one out soon, too, although I have been led to believe that the strategy can get stultifying - I can't really trust that since that's what they say about PR, too.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Encounter 1/9 - colorized version

Per request on Gone Gaming, here is the colorized version of chapter 1 of Encounter.

Encounter 1/9

By Yehuda Berlinger. Copyright 2005, Yehuda Berlinger. All rights reserved.

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. – KJV Genesis 17:15

Chapter 1: Pentaform

On Thursday morning, 8:04 a.m. EST, 3:04 p.m. IST, Sarah descended the cracked gray stairs outside of her sister’s tenement on 12th avenue and 96th street while ripping open her Visa statement envelope with her finger; stretched her stiff and lanky arms under her worn flannel nightgown in her bed on Long Island and rolled over onto her back; sniffed an oversweet black and white from the G&I Bakery at the corner of Jewel Ave and Main St in Queens; sprayed a fine mist against the palm of her scrubbed pink hand while standing and yawning on the bus crossing the George Washington Bridge from Teaneck into Manhattan; hopefully accessed the feed from BoardGameGeek while sitting on her legs in Hebrew University’s computer center and avoiding her comp on “Agent Methodologies in a Confused System”.

Sarah was a sophomore studying Judaic Studies, Biology, Art, pre-Law, and Artificial Intelligence.

She sat up in bed and shoved her jaw to the right to get rid of a painful crick. Sarah, who was once, until her seventh year, Miriam Weis, was now nineteen, pale, and thin, although usually she was tan and thin. She owed her current pallor to a week of bed rest recovering from a debilitating flu. This was insufferable to her, as she loved the outdoors and fresh air. She rode horses at the Lakewood riding academy on Sundays, and her favorite riding route took her through Hempstead Lake State Park. Three years ago, the lake dried up. Even more than riding, she enjoyed nothing more than suffering over this each week as she rode through the park, her heart melodramatically mourning that the park was like a wounded and dying beast, poor thing. Sarah attended Queens College because her parents would not allow her to travel to Manhattan every day, nor live on her own in town; anyway, she did not want to live in a city where every moment of the day one was surrounded in all directions, including up and down, by an oppressive mesh of toxic metal, cigarettes, and rude, indifferent people.

Sarah thumbed up the access switch on her NetMind, defuzzing, and was one again.

“Hey,” Sarah said cheerily. She took the Visa statement out of the tattered envelope, and unfolded it. Sarah, originally Aviva Brown, had the kind of looks that would have been considered quaint, even before the word “quaint” was coming into style. Her hair was frizzled red, unmanageable, and consequently unmanaged. Covered in a Tartan cloth, the puffed wiry strands contrasted untastefully with a burnt orange pleated jumper over a clean white blouse. Sarah considered herself the focal point of Sarah, as she considered herself the focal point of each of her connections, from her old circle of friends in Woodmere to the staff at NYU Hillel, where she served as treasurer this year and social director the last, and still fancied herself de facto social director instead of the hopelessly boring Stephanie Stiller, who now filled the position.

“Hey.” Sarah added, a little less cheerfully, scanning the lines of text on the screen. The wi at the top of her screen blinked erratically as data fed to it from her NetMind. The dreamy look on her face receded into an alertness necessary to pull random keywords off of a rapidly scrolling page of details. She shifted her legs.

“Good morning.” Sarah put the black and white into a small, flat paper bag and considered the array of frosted cupcakes, each with a little plastic clown adorning its waves of colored sugar. Sarah - Sara Stern - was fashionably chubby, but not unkemptly so. She envied the desire of suburban Sarah for fresh air, as she considered such desire to be rightwardly directed, and she tended to this sensitivity by buying earth-toned fabrics from Abercrombie and Finch. Having assuaged her envy with the imitation of the outdoors, she felt no further desire to actually leave the comforts of the big city, which included the familiar game group, numerous kosher bakeries and pizza stores, and the smoky jazz clubs that surrounded the NYU grounds. Sarah was effusive about the “authentic jazz scene” at Dixie’s Hot Spot on West 22nd and 6th Ave, since the trumpet player was both black and puffy-cheeked, without considering that the audience was comprised solely of bored, distinctly white, and wholly jazzless NYU students looking for the same type of show of authenticity to impress their yuppie friends.

“Ugh. Um. Sorry.” Sarah drew a plain tan handkerchief from her suit pocket and wiped her hands, holding on to the bus with her posterior planted against the hard side of a full-backed bus seat. The passenger behind her gave a grunt. Sarah - Bonnie Goodstein - an NYU student in pre-law, gave the appearance of sincerely wanting to make up for lost time wasted as a child during childhood. Her dark suited outfit, pressed and starched, seemed to take great care in hiding her glowing rosy complexion and muscular form. Sarah thought herself plain, was happy about it, and disparaged the numerous boys who went out of their way to try to convince her otherwise. The peculiarity of her character left a trail of gossip and shaking heads, not the least because, for all her seriousness and determination to make up for wasted time, she was devoutly regular at the game group. She herself did not know if this was due to an indulgence of her passions, a necessary release from her burdened schedule, or something somehow intrinsically positive, but in what way, she couldn’t say.

“How are we feeling?” Sarah added, frowning at the bill.

“Oh god! Oh god, get me out of here!” Sarah wiped her forehead with her arm, which did nothing to dry her, as both face and arm were sheened with perspiration. In frustration, she picked up the edge of her blanket and buried her face in it.

“I am, baby. I’m one.” Sarah put her handkerchief back into her pocket and stifled another yawn.

“I know what I mean!” Sarah cried, helplessly.

“Out of there? Get me over there. I wish I was ‘there’ at all.” Sarah, born Dina Wachtsman, had been saying this like a catchphrase for over six years. Since there was nothing to do about this, nothing was said in response. Sarah had a face that alternated between dreaming and miserable, an alternation that happened a few times each day, which even she admitted was not really fair. She rubbed her nose. Sarah had what she considered a frustratingly upturned “Christian” nose that she inherited from her mother, a convert to Judaism before she was born. Her father, a tall, distinctively Jewish looking endocrinology specialist, now doing residence at Hadassah Ein-Kerem in Jerusalem, had plucked her family up by its roots and transplanted it to Israel six years ago, notwithstanding pleas and tears on her and her brother’s parts. Arguments about the long-term effects of separating her from Sarah fell on deaf ears. ‘You don’t live with them, anyway’, her father had told her. ‘You will be separated by a bit more geography and time zones, that’s all. You will still be Sarah.’ Her parents were happy with the move - murderous attacks, strikes, culture clash, rudeness, and financial shortages notwithstanding. She spent as little time as possible working on her AI studies, and the rest of the time browsing the web for used science fiction and fantasy books, folk music CDs, and games that she could convince her parents to pay for and ship to her aunt and uncle who would bring them to her on their twice yearly visit.

Walking south on 12th Ave, Sarah ticked lines off the Visa bill with her finger, automatically avoiding obstacles in her path with wi-sight. “This is really high. I forgot about the Gap. What did I buy at the Gap?”

Looking through the link, Sarah unfocussed from the trade feed, smiled weakly, and answered, “The jumper I’m wearing right now, sweetie.”

“Don’t go down at 92nd. Take the 1 to Times Square. I’ll join up on the A.” Sarah held on to the gray plastic strap overhead. Between the hard edges of the strap, the sharp contours pressing against her backside, and her tight shoes, she was wishing she could have remained in bed just a little longer. Or get a car. Or join a carpool. Mmm, sleeping in a car, while someone else drives. She closed her eyes and pretended she was sleeping in the back seat of Mr. Handel’s Lexus.

“OK.” Sarah crumbled the envelope and tossed it into the nearest green wicker garbage can. She broke stride, closed her eyes, and began crossing 12th Ave, folding the statement into her jumper pocket.

“What time tonight?” Sarah asked. Cupcake icing looked like molded plastic.

“Usual. No. Five thirty. I want dinner first.”

“Hungry already?” Reaching the other side, she opened her eyes and began walking east on 96th.

“I’m bringing Mitchell.”

“Oh, ho! When was this? Was I sleeping?” Sarah reached for the tall glass of water on the bedside table. The dirty tissues had mysteriously disappeared. The water was cold. Half of a Snickers bar lay neatly wrapped in a clean tissue. Sarah's one indecorous indulgence was a morning ritual of eating half a bar of Snickers, which she self-righteously renounced each day with importance and finality.

“No, I haven’t asked him, yet, but I will, today.”

“I think it’s a good idea. He seems nice, and he knows.” Sarah stifled a yawn of her own.

“Yes, he knows. Who doesn't?” She shifted while she pretended to sleep, eliciting another grunt from behind her.

“Why not ask him now?”

“No, I’ll wait. Do it in person.”



“Touch.” Sarah fuzzed.

Sarah said in a needless conspiratorial whisper, “I’m sick. I should have visited instead of watching Shrek for the third time.”

“I was tired.” Sarah gave up on the cupcakes and got into line to pay for her black and white. She always took the first brunt of criticism as if it was directed at her, alone. In this case, she was also physically closest to sick Sarah, and imagined herself responsible for the dereliction of an unnecessary duty.

“Easy, sister.” Spoken to either, or both.

“But look at me. I know what a week in the house does to me.”

“Meeting in the are double-u wouldn’t have gotten me out of bed any faster.” Sarah protested weakly.

“Anyway I’m with me all day.” Nearing 11th, her favorite florist bloomed among the side-street grime and main-street coffee shops like the very flowers that tumbled out of its doorway. The entrance to the subway was on the corner.

“Every day.”

Sarah was heartened by the support, although still gnawed by a guilty conscience.

“I forget what it means to be physically with me. Physically. I’m going to fuzz in the subway,” she warned, as she thumbed her other BGG feeds.

“Be back on the other side. Touch.”

“Get a bag of twists for tonight.”

“OK. Excuse me. Excuse me. Hello. Waiting, here. I’m waiting.” The bakery manager barely glanced at her, and continued with the large lady in front of her, who couldn’t decide between with or without caraway seeds in her rye. She was fidgeting with her NetMind. Probably asking her husband, thought Sarah.

“Civics this morning, English this afternoon.” Sarah said, still pretending to sleep. I’m going to wake up in the mountains, she lazily thought, nothing but snow all around, an aged log cabin, and miles of evergreens receding down the hill to a clear, silver-blue lake.

“Art History and studio.” Waiting on a line.

“AI comp.” Thumbing through geeklists.

“Liar. I’m shopping for games.”

“I’m looking at my Geeklist. 158 views, one comment. Jeez, look at this.”

Sarah defuzzed. “Hey, I’m back … wait. Oh c’mon.” she exclaimed, crawling back into bed.

“Uch. Send a comment to Aldie. Harassment.”

“Aldie can delete comments. That’s bigotry.”

“Anti-Semitic crap,” she added, for good measure.

“Hi. Good morning. Yes, black and white and a … one of those bags of twists, please. Thank you.”

“Here we go. Aldie, grnumdeisop added a comment to my Geeklist …”

“Mmmmm… Yummy.” Biting into the black and white, Sarah exited the bakery and walked the few feet between its doors and the Q10 bus stop.


“Wake up sleepyhead, Civics in forty-five.”

“Yeah, yeah. Five thirty.”

“Five thirty.”

“I have another twenty minutes to sleep. Leave me alone.”

“I’m browsing. Touch.”

“And send. Let’s hope he responds.”

“Browsing. Touch.”

“Don’t get that. It’s too expensive. eBay it.”

“I’ll add it to my wishlist. I’m gonna browse, ok?”

“OK. Guess I will, too.”



Thursday, August 18, 2005

Session Report Up

On my site. Games played: Dvonn x 2, Louis XIV, Settlers of Catan, Gin Rummy x 2, My game prototype.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Must ... Keep ... Blogging

Now that I am in the middle of several longer pieces - more Gaming and Ethics articles and a story for Gone Gaming (no comments yet; nobody likes my story?) - this blog may suffer.


Must ... blog ...

Can't let ... other writing interfere ...

OK, so Monday evening, me and some people played some game for the first time. We weren't so impressed. Uh ... I won.

How's that?

OK, OK. The players were myself, Saarya and Tal. I don't want to say the name of the game; it hasn't been published, yet. When it is, I'll give full comments. The game looked kind of neat, but turned out to be trivial to play. Also, the rules had some problems, which left us with some questions - it could be that the answers to those questions may change something about the experience we had.

I wish that I had something better to report; more information for the people reading, and something more positive for the designer. Them's the breaks.

In the meantime I am winding down games on . I still like PR face to face, but I have kind of reached my peak online. Anyway, it is most fun to play with weird buildings. I'm waiting with baited breathe for the new expansion that is supposed to come out.

My game group has another week of wandering before I'm back in my apt. I am happy to say that we have been able to keep going this summer. At the start of the school year I will make a new push to see if we can grow bigger. The more the merrier.

Rachel comes back in less than two days. My father is getting a little stronger, although he will soon be starting chemo. And I still need $1000 to get to BGG.con . If you want to contribute to the "Send Yehuda to BGG.con" drive, I accept PayPal. I'll even make you a mockup of my game.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Weekend Gaming

Rachel is still away for one more week, and my apt is still rented out for one more week. That means I am still going to friends and neighbors for shabbat. Tal was with me this shabbat, along with a friend of hers.

Fri night was at friends who have resisted my enticements into the new games. However, they had a game that someone had given them a long time ago that they couldn't figure out how to play. I agreed to look at it. Turns out to be Rat-a-Tat Cat by Gamewright.

The rules are simple. You have 4 cards face down in front of you, and you only know two when you start the round. Each turn you pick and discard, possibly replacing one of the cards in front of you with the picked card. When you feel like it, you call Gin. According to the real rules, each player then has one more turn, and you all reveal. Add total of cards to score. Low is good. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Blah, I said, without even playing. There is no risk or reward for calling Gin, so once you are ahead, you will probable stay ahead. I decided that if the caller is correct, everyone else gets a 10 point penalty, and if not, then they get a 10 point penalty. I know, you're not supposed to change game rules before you play at least once, but this one seemed too simple not to call.

There are also a few other cards: Peek, Swap, Draw Two. They do what you expect, and if they are in your 4 cards when Gin is called, you have to replace them with random cards from the deck.

I played a round to show them how to play, and then Tal and her friend played several more times.

After this, I taught everyone how to play Opposites, a basic word game where each player has to say an opposite of the previous word, with no repetitions. E.g. light - dark - bright - stupid - smart - dull - sharp - etc...

There is a game involved - time, elimination, etc., but we just went through the exercise.

Sat lunch Tal and her friend played cards, some sort of slap the cards game.

Then in the afternoon, I ended up with ten guests (a surprise - I was expecting three) including kids. Not enough room at the table, so I taught some how to play Dvonn, which was a hit. Simultaneously, Tal went off and taught a few of them My Game Prototype #1, which was a bigger hit. Eventually I heard Tal's friend teaching one of the other kids who had been playing Dvonn. That's a third generation player for my game, already. Makes me happy.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Session Report Up

On the site. Games played: Gobblet, By Hook or By Crook, Amun Re.

Gilad's / Traders of Genoa

So I finally made it out to Gilad's for gaming. This was my first time gaming at another game group, believe it or not.

Gilad is the originator of a board game forum on and a newer site, a Hebrew website about board games and a wannabe board game association. Gilad launched the site and then had to put some of the ideas on hold, apparently, mainly owing to a thesis, I think.

He had been holding game sessions for a while in his home in Modiin. Along with launching the site a few months ago, he announced a new weekly game session in Tel Aviv. The first evening attracted some 25 people (?), despite having to charge for attendance, but then something happened and he wasn't able to continue using the facilities. That also went on hold.

Then Freak in TA, the only brick and mortar board game store in Israel (comics, ccgs, etc...) held a game session. It was successful, and they plan to hold another one next month. Gilad announced he was joining up with them, at least, I think, until he can get someplace weekly going again.

Also on hold is the "association" for the promotion of board games in Israel. I hope to have something to do with that if it ever starts.

Gilad is a nice guy with similar interests to mine. We have many of the same games, and he, too, developed a prototype game which may be going into mass production. It is a cute looking little strategy game, basically an abstract, involving turning or moving your pawns on top of a grid of pieces in order to collect a set of pieces from the grid. I will be trying it out as soon as I can. It was also developed for THAT company who treated me a little less than kindly concerning my own prototype.

What makes me jealous is that Gilad, who is a Hebrew speaker and more centrally located in Israel, is able to get a large group of players with more ease than I can with my Jerusalem location and poor Hebrew.

The game evening was called for 8:30, which seems pretty late to me, and would only give us a chance for one game. I arrived at his lovely house and met his lovely wife and three kids. Eventually, there were 12 of us, including Gilad and his wife.

Participants: Jon, Gilad, Tali (Gilad's wife), Tal (some guy, not my daughter), Haim, Vered (Haim's wife), Montgomery, Eli (Montgomery's uncle), Limor, Sasson (Limor's husband), Ronit, Hagai (Ronit's husband). I enjoyed meeting them all (I actually only really met a few of them).

I shuffled through Gilad's games. Aside from the games we shared, such as Settlers, Puerto Rico, etc..., there were some that were on my wish list, so I was particularly eager to play them; I tend to be disappointed by a lot of games that others praise highly. Among the games he had that I didn't were Traders of Genoa, Samurai, Carolus Magnus, and Cartegena. I also saw that he had the ASL starter kit. Traders of Genoa was my particular interest, so I got to play it.

Other games that were played:

Montgomery, Eli, Limor, and Sasson played Web of Power and then Bohnanza. None of them had played either of them before. For Web of Power, Gilad had given them an explanation before moving on to his own game, but when I looked over, I saw something like 11 ambassadors in one province, so I had to lean over and explain the ambassador rules again. "Ah, we were wondering about that!"

Gilad, Ronit, and Hagai played Attika.

I have no further information about any of those games.

Tali, Tal, Haim, Vered, and I played Traders of Genoa, and only Tali had played before. Tali explained the rules fairly well and with minimal interruption. Haim started us off, and the turn order was Haim, Tali, myself, Tal, and Vered.

At first playing, ToG seems to be a classic Alea game, right up there with Puerto Rico and Princes of Florence. It is essentially a continuous game of open auctions, where the auctions are free for all, even the decision about which items to auction is up for auction (ultimately under control of the current player), and each player can win only one main item each round.

Essentially, there is an 8x8 grid depicting a town square with numerous buildings. Each building has a different item available. The current player rolls two dice to determined the starting position of a tower of five disks. During the course of his round, the player will move the tower one step in any direction, leaving behind one disk each time. So, he will eventually land in five locations, which means up to five buildings. He can also quit at any time. At each location, the current player either takes the item for himself or auctions the item to other players. Each player, including the current player, can take only one item. Any time a location is landed on the item MUST be acquired is another player offers something for it: either you have to take it, or you have to accept a legal offer for it. If no one offers, you can move on to the next place (you still have to leave a disk from the tower).

At the very beginning of his turn, after the tower is placed on the first point, the current player can auction off not only what is right under the tower, but the direction the tower will move, and any future items the tower might land on. Auctions can involve any sort of trades, such as money, cards, cubes, etc..., and one of the items that are or will be available this round - basically, anything physical. Any other sort of deals, with the exception of the movement of the tower, are not allowed.

After doing this, he moves around, continuing to auction anything that hasn't been auctioned yet. Then the next player does the same thing. That's the bulk of the game: auctions, negotiations, over and over. If you like this sort of thing, this is it. If you don't, this is it.

Now the actual object of the game is to get the most money. You get money either from auctioning off items, or from the items themselves. In short, the bulk of your money comes from delivery orders, messages, and privileges. The game ends after a specified number of turns.

The items are:

Big delivery orders: three cubes from different locations, which must be fulfilled in a fourth location. Gives 100 gold and a free one shot card.

Little delivery orders: one cube delivered in a second location. You don't have to use an action to make this delivery, so just having the tower in the delivery location will allow you to fulfill it. Gives 40 gold.

Messages: if the tower hits both locations in one turn, you can fulfill a message. Again, you don't use an action to fulfill the message, you just need the tower to follow a certain path. Gives 30 gold.

Privileges/Fulfill big delivery order: Each privilege represents a location on the board. It is worth nothing but gold at the end of the game, but privilege cards representing buildings that are adjacent are worth more than ones that are separated. The more you have in a set of adjacent locations, the more they are worth. Drawing privilege cards is a huge luckfest - something I abhor - but privilege cards can also be traded, which alleviates this slightly, although I doubt they are traded much, since people are always fearful of giving other players advantages when they don't know if they are getting as much in return. Worth 10 gold for a single building in a row, 30 for two, 60 for three, etc... up to 50 each additional.

The same locations that give privileges are the locations where you can fulfill your big delivery orders. Only one of these can be done at any one tower visit.

Cubes: two at each of four locations. Used for delivery orders.

One shot cards: these cards let you do one of the following: a) trade a cube 1:1 with the bank, b) take any one cube, c) take a free item from any location where you have a marker (see below), start your next turn in any location you want instead of rolling the dice, or e) take or win an additional item during one turn.

Markers: you get two markers of your own color to place on the board under certain restrictions. Each building can hold one marker, and you can either place yours, or use them to kick other markers off the board. The markers do three things: a) they are worth 10 gold at the end of the game, b) you get 10 gold anytime someone else takes the item in that building, c) lets you take a free item if you use one of the above cards (see above).

That's about it.

I started off thinking the sets of privileges might be nice and easy to acquire, but I forgot just how badly my luck would be in acquiring them, and once I had a bunch, no one wanted to trade any to me for fear that they would be worth way too much in my hands. I ended up with a set of three and three singles - only 90 gold.

Tal, on my right, quickly became a difficulty for me. Every time I offered him something, he always asked for 5 more. When I refused, we both ended up losing for it. I quickly became a running joke. Eventually he realized that this was not the best maneuver, so, even though he continued to instinctively ask for 5 more, when I threw up my hands, he laughed and settled for my offer. In return, he offered very little.

It was a fairly long game, from about 9:10 until 12:30, moving quicker as we hurried up when it started to get late. I made a few errors, offering too much when no one else was competing with me, that sort of thing. Others did some similar stuff. A little collusion was going on, but not much, and very few takebacks occurred, which was good.

Everyone basically thought I was losing most of the game, which was fine for me, and a thought I wanted to encourage. Haim seemed to be leading for much of the game; to everyone's surprise he came in second (610) to his wife Vered (640). I placed third with a surprising 600.

A good game, which I borrowed for out club, since it does not see much play at Gilad's.

Monday, August 08, 2005

So Much Writing, So Little Time

So now I'm writing a story for Gone Gaming, a blog here, my session reports, and the Ethics and Gaming series. Busy, busy.

I've never had so much to do outside of work hours. And I'm really enjoying it. I like doing this, and I want to do it full-time.

I'm so tired of the computer industry. Mostly what I liked about it was the culture, anyway. I read the books about the engineers and hackers who created the net, programs, and hardware. I surf around and try out new technology. I discover all the ins and outs of how things really work online. I create web pages, program web services, and write technical manuals, because I can. But I want to do something new.

I'm wondering if anyone would pay me for my writing. Any ideas?

Now I know how my wife feels writing her PhD. No time, must finish.

What a strange trip this is turning out to be. I can't wait to see where it goes.


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Weekend Gaming

I went to my brother Ben for shabbat. He has a lot of little kids which makes it hard to find any time to game. We managed to get in a few, anyway.

Ben is a champion bridge player, and he often has a hand he recently played to show me. This time, he had answered an ad from someone looking for a serious bridge partner for one gaming session for the one week he was in Israel. Ben responded, and they had a good night of bridge at one of the local clubs. The last hand of the day was the one that resulted in their coming in 4th place instead of 1st. They failed to make a hand that was makeable, but not easily.

You are in 6 spades, and your opponents have already taken the first trick, the ace of diamonds. You get in with the next trick. Your RHO had 4 trumps to the jack and you have 7 in your hand and the singleton ace on the board. Obviously you find out about the split after taking the ace, playing to your hand, and then playing the king. You can take every other trick, but how to get that jack of trumps?

You need to play cards out of dummy until RHO trumps, at which point you overtrump and then take the rest. The problem is that if RHO keeps ducking, eventually you will run out of everything in your hand other than trumps. Eventually, you will have to take a trump in your hand and lead away from it, giving him the jack.

The only way to make it is to purposely ruff winning tricks, so as to run yourself out of all but two trumps, and then play the remaining cards from dummy. Cute.

Anyhow, Ben, myself, and Saarya got in a game of Cosmic. We played 3 hidden powers, where you get to reveal two. Ben was Aristocrat/Spiff, Saarya was Miser/Warrior, I was Visionary/Deuce. Ben chose Spiff after Warrior grew large enough to always give him a Spiff landing.

Saarya and Ben both started off with a lot of flourish, whereas I played very low key, and eventually won with very low key moves. Visionary did a lot of the work.

Afterwards, I took croquet balls and played Bocce/Croquet with Tal and Ben, throwing one ball across the yard, and taking turns hitting our own balls until one of us hit the thrown ball. What do you know, I can still balance a croquet mallet on my fingers, and I can still juggle croquet balls.

Towards the end of the day we players San Juan - I drew garbage, while they each drew Library. They made short mincemeat of me. Ben won 36 to Tal's 33, and my 26. Both played with lots of producing and trading. Ben had his Well, and Tal 1 of each production building, eventually ending with 8 production buildings, Guild Hall, and little else. Ben had City Hall and Palace.

I have now committed myself to publish the first part of my story on Gone Gaming, and I don't know if it's ready! I don't know if I like this deadline thing...


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Session Report Up

On the site. Games played: My Game Prototype #1, San Juan, Settlers of Catan, By Hook or By Crook, Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

More on The Life of Games

I sent a few questions to Kate Jones and Stephen Sniderman of The Life of Games, and Stephen replied.

[JSGC] Hi, Kate and Stephen. I just found The Life of Games after looking at the contributors section of The Games Journal. Nice stuff.

[TLoG] Thanks for the kind words.

[JSGC] Can you tell me what the history and future is for this site?

[TLoG] History: Kate was visiting me to look at a game, and we started discussing
the possibility of creating an online journal relating to games.

Future: It will continue until we can't do it any longer.

[JSGC] Why did you start? What is the idea behind the site, as opposed to other game sites?

[TLoG] For me, the site is a venue for my ideas about games. I was not aware of
anybody (online or elsewhere) who was discussing aspects of games that I
wanted to discuss.

[JSGC] Why so much delay between issues?

[TLoG] Kate has many projects that keep her extremely busy. She does TLOG when
she has a spare moment. Our "goal" is to put out an issue each year, but
things haven't worked out that way.

[JSGC] Are you soliciting articles?

[TLoG] Sure. We welcome articles from anyone who's interested in games.

[JSGC] Will there be any more issues?

[TLoG] That's the plan. The next one has been written and is currently being
edited. Kate could say better when it might go onto the site.


I'm looking forward to the next issue.


Since the JSGC has moved this week, I had to take games out of my apt in preparation for tonight. I hope I took the right ones. In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting the return of my brother from the U.S., as he should be carrying over a few games for me.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Unwritten Rules of the Game

That is the subtitle of my first Ethics and Gaming article. I just found a similarly named article, Unwritten Rules by Stephen Sniderman, on a website similar to The Games Journal called The Life of Games, a short lived periodical that I had never heard of. It has some other interesting articles.

I found this site while looking at the "Contributors" page of The Games Journal. I'm not on it, yet :-( .


Ethics in Gaming 3.0

My next Ethics in Gaming aritcle is out in this month's Games Journal.

It distresses me that, at least in the last few issues, half of the articles are written by Greg. Not that I mind Greg's writing: he's a fine writer. But where are all the rest of you contributors? All of you bloggers, all you strategy article writers - there's a whole lot of you out there. The next time you have something to write about that is both longer than a page and of general interest to gamers, consider passing it over to Greg.

I think TGJ is a well-respected magazine; certainly, it is one of the few places where I always know I will read a collection of high SNR articles with length and quality.

Is The Games Journal not necessary anymore? Have blogs killed it?


Monday, August 01, 2005

New Cooperative Blog

Brian, aka Coldfoot, aka &games, has organized a group of gamers and the creation of a new blog: Gone Gaming.

The new blog is kind of a grassroots answer to the high falutin' excellent work of Gamefest's blogs, which feature such luminaries as Greg Schloesser, Rick Thornquist, Tom Vasel, etc...

We are just gamers; but one of the things we all share in common is a love of gaming, the ability to write pretty well, and a history of having done so. With eight of us on board, the blog should be updated frequently (it is hoped, daily) and be worth reading. So check it out. It starts today.

I will usually be posting on Tuesdays, but this week I will post on Friday.

In my case, I already have a website where I post my group session reports, a blog where I post my gaming life and some gaming thoughts, and The Games Journal where I am posting my series on Gaming and Ethics. So I have to come up with something new for Gone Gaming.

I am in the middle of writing a story that revolves around some gamers. I also have some ideas about gaming and life which I can write up, although it is likely to be a bit pedantic and more about life than about gaming. I hope the muse hits me in time, before I have to post.

Anyhow, good job Coldfoot, and here's hoping that it becomes enjoyable, informative, and long-lived.