Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Linkety Link

Two great Halloween board game stories: Halloween Horror from Pawnstar and Frankenmeeple - A Halloween Tale from Paul DeStefano (Geosphere).

I wrote Winning Alternatives for Gone Gaming, about alternatives to the usual end game scenario of "I win, you lose".

A massive multi-player online chess game is being formed. It's not the first; Kasparov played the World via the Internet a few years back.

Destructoid weighs in on video games and art.

Only a Game invents a hex based war game, his second (follow links to the first, a science fiction empire game).

And more talk about serious games, this time from Forbes.


Update: AimlessWords covers Eurogames. (via Critical Gamers)

The Problem With Blogs

Information comes in many forms. The vast majority of it is not only not reliable, it is not even close to reliable.

What do I really know?

- I know math. Mostly, that's because we define math, and I know what we have defined. I know that 1 = 1 because we have postulated it to be so. I know that 1 + 1 = 2 because it follows the definitions and the logic that we want to rely on. Math is really the only thing I am willing to say that I know.

- I know the scientific method, but little about science. I know a bit more about behavior than I do about essence. I can tell you that water will freeze at zero degrees Celsius, but only at STP, pure water, and probably a host of other things that I don't really know, yet. I'm less certain of what water is made from. I used to think water was an essential element. Then I thought mist, then molecules, then atoms, then protons, neutrons, and electrons, then quarks. I doubt I know the truth, yet. In fact, I'm sure that I don't. What we know in science changes continuously; some ideas stand for longer periods of time than others.

But scientific method seems to work pretty well. I hypothesize, I test, I record results, I challenge and repeat. I keep going, adding and removing confidence. It's really slow, but it can work.

- I know the philosophical inquiry, although I doubt that I know much truth about philosophy. Similar to the scientific method, I hypothesize, try to include every fact about everything that may relate to the topic, and then I subject my hypothesis to millions of other people, waiting to see what survives and what falls. Some things survive, some things fall. Progress is made. Again, very slowly.

- I know academic work. Like the scientific method, and the philosophical inquiry, the academic method is to collect every fact about the subject, answer every challenge, and present a finding. Then subject that finding to the world and see what stands. This is a general category, really; scientific inquiry could be considered academic, and academic work includes many fields.

- I know some of what I sense with my senses, and I believe a bit about what others tell me about theirs. But with the sorry state of journalism nowadays, I rarely believe more than the names of people and locations (not always) and the date in the paper.

Beyond that, I think I don't know anything. Everything else I see, hear, or speak, is opinion. Like this post. It's not academic. I didn't research it. I'm not going to source every author of epistemology while making my point. My post doesn't contain any real information. What it contains are ideas.

There are sixty million blogs, millions of newspapers, and billions of books, and precious few of them contain any real information. In fact, I can't think of a blog that contains any real information; they all contain opinions and ideas.

I've read articles about why video games are good for your kids, articles about why they are bad for your kids, articles about why they are not really bad for your kids, and so on and so forth. What I haven't read is any "information" on the subject; only opinions and ideas.

I've seen a few articles that source a lack of information, such as "there is no evidence yet that so and so." But even when we get the information, remember that it has to be challenged and repeated. One bullet of information does not a fact make.

From opinions and ideas, you can form hypotheses, from which you may be able to actually discover some information. Some information with a higher degree of certainty, that is. But opinions and ideas are not information themselves. Well, for my limited definition of "information", anyway, for lack of a better word.

So long as we remember that, we may just get through.


As Long As We're Linking 15

Welcome to another post about game blogs. I specifically look at board game blogs, although occasionally the focus wanders a bit. This post describes game blogs with RSS feeds newly discovered since the last post, not including single company or single game blogs. The blogs must be updated with some frequency and include information of general interest.

I also list blogs that have changed or dropped since my last post.

Newly discovered:

Avant Game - Jane McGonigal, Berkeley, CA. Her games are active games or life games, not board games. She has some nifty ideas.

Indepth - The Long Island Board Gaming Club's voluminous monthly magazine now notifies via RSS.

Resident Meeple - Ankabut, ntneko, and kira, Malaysia. Reviews and reports from a game club.

¡Luchacabra Games! - Daniel Solis, Oklahoma City, OK. Game designer creating various original board and card games.


While reviewing my feeds, I noticed that these blogs have changed their feeds; or something happened to my subscription. Either way, you may want to check your subscription.

Death Metal Cafe (Ended and has been replaced by Half Turkey)

Day Gaming

Gaming Anecdotes (Ended and has been replaced by imosse.net)

Jim Ginn

Playing With Myself

Where have they gone?

The following feeds haven't updated in a long time, and risk being dropped from my blog roll in the near future.

Game Guts
game slips
In the Light

Fade out:

The following blogs have dropped from my blog roll due to lack of updates.

Friends Over Gaming
Gaming With Fish
Northwood Games
Traditional Game Reviews

Monday, October 30, 2006

Holding Steady

ekted's comment on my blogging post has me thinking. And I just went back to work after a week of being sick. So I don't have much new to say, today.

I posted to topics192 (now up to 36 countries, including Jordan and Egypt), and I'm preparing a post for Gone Gaming.

I promised a review of A Theory of Fun by Raph Koster. I've read the book twice and I'm now going over it a third time, this time with a highlighter.

The first time through I was all set to say "yes this" and "no that", but I got the feeling that I hadn't given the book justice.

The second time through I rewrapped my head around some of the points he was trying to make and found answers to some of my questions that I hadn't noticed the first time.

Now I want to dissect the book and construct a model of what he is saying.

I can't say if the book is "important", as I haven't read many other books in the field; but it's definitely thought provoking. It covers a lot of ideas, many of them quite well. Unfortunately, it's not written academically, so there's no footnotes, references, or bibliography; there are some formless endnotes that explain certain references used in the book.

If anyone has recommendations for books on the same subject, I'm all ears.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Trading Spouses, Orthodox Style (Ahem, Not Really)

This week's Havel Havalim is up on Sweet Rose. I haven't had a thorough look at it, but one article caught my eye: Town Crier notes the recent episode of Trading Spouses where an Orthodox Jewish mother (and family) from Boston traded places with a mother from a family of Christian values, which includes raccoon hunting. A recap of the episode is here.

I'm hosting the next Havel Havalim, so fire emails to shadejon on gmail.


Here is a large number of simple game tracks for use in ESL courses. Meant to be roll and move games or trivia games, but they can always be jazzed up a little.

And some elementary school girls in Japan who are achieving fame in the world of Shogi.

Ten Lesser Known Secrets of Blogging

The basic steps to good blogging are by now fairly well known.

The following steps are less well known tips to help your blog succeed. Some of these may have been mentioned by others, but if so, rarely.

1. Keep tabs on your statistics

You can learn a tremendous amount about what your readers like and what works on your blog from your statistics.

Here are some things that I see in my stats:

- Readers who read only the most recent popular post. How do I convince them to read just one more post?

- Readers who read the popular post, and then the first post in the "Recent Posts" list. Or, readers who read the popular post, and then the "hook" post I placed on the top of my site.

- Readers who read the popular post 30, 50, or more times in a month. Are they sharing the link with everyone who stops into their workspace? Did they pass it around an office which does IP spoofing? Or did they set it as their homepage on their browser? How do you get them to read another article on a similar subject which they might also like? After you write the other post, go back and add a link to it at the top of the popular one.

- The first thing readers click after they read their first post. Make sure it's good.

- The last post read before a reader abandons the site. Figure out why.

- Posts that simply never get read, even though they're in the highlights. Eliminate them? Change their titles? I've done both; changing the titles can be very successful.

- Posts that get read disproportionately well. Raise them to a more prominent position?

- Links to my site that don't show up on Technorati - often in forums or web directories. These forums may have comments about your post or blog that are worth reading.

- The faithful readers; either those who simply check every day, or who click every post via an RSS reader. These are your best friends.

2. Order your posts

Sometimes, my unremarkable posts get clicked simply because they are the next post after a popular one. They are the first or most interestingly titled posts in the Recent Posts list that appear next to a popular post. Ideally, I want the second post people read to be another strong one, not some random one. Try writing a "popular post" right after a nice one. You could even slightly tweak the posting time/date on the posts to ensure that this happens (but not so much that it annoys your regular readers).

A blog with one popular post is an anomaly. A blog with two is worth watching. A blog with three is worth subscribing to.

3. Capture a subject

A simply-titled, thorough post about a particular subject, such as a movie or game review or some other topic in your field, can become a definitive post on the topic.

I wrote a post about the game Progressive Rummy; I didn't think much of it, but to this day it gets ten hits or more a month for that search term.

One post - that's nice, ten hits a month. A whole lot of posts like that - that can turn your blog into an encyclopedia, each post generating dependable monthly traffic.

Of course, a really good definitive post can get a lot more than ten hits a month, such as my long list of Monopoly variants.

4. View your blog as if you were a new reader

Every once in a while, erase all cookies from your blog and thoughts from your head and visit your blog as if you were a new reader. As the blog writer, you know where to find the good stuff and the new material. You know how to look past the busy stuff at the top and sides. But would a new visitor?

I've redesigned the site at least twice after looking at it from a fresh perspective. I will probably do it again (still a bit busy, in my opinion).

Also, use several different browsers! What looks good in one can look horrendous in another. At least use Firefox, IE, and Opera.

5. Make the hook prominent

However your reader gets to your site for the first time, there is something else you want to tell them: why they should come again, or why you are blogging, or both.

One of the very first articles I put on my blog more than two years ago was about the main subject of my blog: new games. When I made the Highlights sidebar on my blog, I put the article in it with the title "New Games". No clicks. It was in the middle of the sidebar ("N") and the title didn't seem to speak to people. Yet, that was the article I really wanted everyone to read.

So I retitled it "60 second primer on modern board games" and placed it alone, on the top right of my site directly beneath the title, in a bold red font. It is now the most common second click on my site.

Of course, it has to be a good article, or it will also be the most common exit point from your blog.

6. Find your own voice

You can't get far without being something unique. Study the blogs you like, but be different! Have a unique angle. Be a somebody. Be a personality. Be remembered uniquely, and not just one of a list of sites.

7. Be a mensch

You can probably be successful ignoring this tip; so many people are. And they even make friends doing it. So consider this a tip aiming toward a different type of success: a better world.

Make the world better by your presence, not worse. Be well-mannered, live up to a higher standard, make people feel happy for having read your blog or known you, not "holy crap, he's so cool because he's mean."

8. Don't be afraid to add ads

There's no contradiction between producing great content and trying to profit off of your site. If the former comes before the latter, people want you to make money from it, especially if it doesn't cost them anything.

When banners first appeared on the Internet, some people bemoaned their commercial nature; I was never one of them. I don't condone the obnoxious ones or fraudulent ones, but I was always happy to trade off a little page real estate or even a few seconds wait to keep the content high-quality and free.

But please don't make your site look like a wall of advertisements.

9. Don't be afraid

You may not want to start a blog at all, because how can you compete with fifty million others? You don't know any great news, you don't have access to great products.

Like centuries of advice given to any artistic endeavor, the secret is to just start. What's the worst that could happen? You'll lose your reputation? Have you got one to lose? Just keep away from naming or embarrassing people and don't be afraid.

The trick is to just do it every day for six months or more. First write anything. Then edit your posts and write longer posts. Learn how to use pictures. Pick any topic - how to peel an apple - and write more. You'll quickly know if you don't have any real desire to continue, or if it becomes easier over time.

After a break in period, start again and pick a good niche. Find a topic of the day and write 200 words of commentary, as if you were writing a stand-alone newspaper article. Save it without posting. Go back the next day and check for spelling, grammar, and logic errors, repetition, and a unique voice, and then post it. Do that live for another six months.

Then start worrying about comments, readers, ads, and links. Of course, if you're a natural at all of this, you can speed up the process. The point is to take a long term view.

If it doesn't work, you've lost nothing and you've gained an experience. If it does, happy trails.

In general, don't apologize for blogging. Don't give out false facts and information, but don't be afraid to speak up. Assume that you have a right to be out there, and that you have something interesting to say!

10. Success is made by those who persevere

When things become hot, most people go for the quick buck and then drop out after the initial wave, leaving more space for those that persevere. The ones who do have unique experience and a voice.

Also, the longer your tail of articles, the more incidental hits you will get from Google, and the higher quality will be your top posts. The highest ranking blogs are, with a few exceptions, long running blogs.

Other things, about which I'm less sure

There are a few other not-often-used things that I do on my blog, about which I'm not yet sure:

- Teasing

This comes in two forms. Sometimes I create a single post about a topic with several questions, each of which I answer over the next few posts. I don't know if this is good for readership, but it helps me think about a few posts at a time and has spawned some of my most popular material.

The other is to occasionally mention a post I'm working on. Again, I don't know if this helps with any casual readers.

- Series

I occasionally write posts in series, e.g. Thoughts on A 1, Thoughts on A 2, etc. If someone stumbles on one of the posts they will sometimes go to one or more of the others. Not more than usual, however.

- Combining

The standard advice is to make all posts about a single topic, or a series of links. I often use a third style of adding some links on the bottom of, say, less than earth-shaking posts.

These posts aren't going to get the attention of non-regular readers of my blog; instead they are kind of a reward for the loyal readers. Even the little posts may have something interesting at the end, so it's worth reading everything.

That's the idea, anyway. It gives me a unique style, but I don't actually know how successful it is.

Of course, outside the "hits" of blogging basics there will be a Long Tail of good advice. Sometimes the advice is for a more specific audience, such as a certain niche or a certain level of blogger. But like all fields, don't get stuck listening only to the hits. There's always more to discover.


P.S. The Basics of Blogging Success

Hundreds of posts tell you to:

Have great contentUse lists
Be provocativeUse pictures
Scoop news itemsPush RSS feeds
Use a clean designMinimize grammatical/spelling errors
Post regularly and frequentlyUse great titles
Hook with a great openerLeave on a great conclusion
Find a good nicheComment on other blogs
Link to other blogsEncourage and reply to comments
Tag your postsNotify other bloggers occasionally, but sparsely and directedly
Love what you doDon't offend your readers

These are all great tips. Don't skip them!

Digg This!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Weekend Gaming

For lunch we had over Tyson and Rebbecca, new to the gaming group, as well as Rachel and Dvira. Dvira is a seven year old who came over a few months ago to play on shabbat afternoons; her mother moved with her to K'far Adumim, but they were in town this shabbat. Dvira is still young, but plays beyond her age, both in skill and manners, so she is a pleasure to play with.

Dvira and I played two hands of Gin Rummy before lunch.

Rebbecca, Tyson, Dvira, and I played Settlers of Catan after lunch while Rachel slept. As usual, when two people fight over the longest road (Dvira and Rebbecca), a third person wins. I won without too much trouble, gaining two points on the last round with a hand of twenty-four cards (my record is twenty-nine). We all enjoyed the game.

There wasn't enough time for another game before shabbat ended, what with Rachel teaching and all, but Tyson and Rebbecca came back after shabbat for a Puerto Rico game. They have played the game once before on Games Day and they loved it.

It was funny to see the boards take shape, Rachel and mine with our ideas of how to construct a board versus Tyson and Rebecca's. By the fifth or sixth round, both Rachel and I had exactly the same boards: sugar, two corns, tobacco, Small Market, Small Sugar, Tobacco, and Small Warehouse, while both of our opponents had exactly the same boards: indigo, corn, coffee, quarry, Small Indigo, Hospice.

Rachel was outrunning me in VPs and building points at midgame, and I feared she was simply going to beat me. When we diverged, she taking Factory and me taking Harbor, she still could have beaten me but she neglected to disrupt my shipping sufficiently. By the end of the game, I had a very small city but 38 shipping points, enough to beat Rachel and her two big buildings 58 to 54. Rebbecca and Tyson had 49 and 40 points.


Poetry and board games: Here be many limericks about board games, as well as many others about other games.

On the Spot Games has offered to send me some review copies of their games. Thanks, and while I wait for them, you can check them out.


Friday, October 27, 2006

A Cruelly Lost Game of Puerto Rico

When he walked into my house, I knew he was a gamer.

His hands traveled over the counter until they rested on my blue deck of plastic playing cards. Absentmindedly, he picked them up and shuffled them while he talked with us.

He was one of two friends of my daughter, Ariella, had brought home for the weekend. Their pre-army program is an exhausting mix of difficult studies, hours long hikes at night-time, and no sleep. Their plans were to go out to the local hangout street (Emek Refaim) after Ariella finished her shower.

They sat around, waiting. I asked them if they wanted to play a board game. The card shuffler's eyes lit up.

"A board game? What type?"

With Rachel around, the only choice of board game was Puerto Rico; it's not my usual first choice with new players, but I was hoping I could stir their interest. Besides, they looked like they were too tired to go out walking around.

They said, "Sure."

So I got out the boards.

I got out the colonists (count to 79).

I got out the victory points (count to 100).

I got out the roles.

I got out the buildings (find buildings and match with pairs).

I got out the doubloons and the goods and the plantations.

I took out 2 corns and indigos and shuffled the remaining plantations.

I looked up, ready to teach them the game. Ariella was glaring at me. The boys had fallen asleep on the couch.

Another game of Puerto Rico, cruelly lost.


Oklahoma's GOP candidate ran a political ad featuring his opponent, Democrat Jari Askins, as a playing piece on a Monopoly board. The Democratic party responds on their blog.

The world's highest score in a Scrabble game (830) was allegedly scored last week. (Thanks, Nadine)

The Catan world championships just ended. It was played in Essen. (via Mikko)

I'm a quarter way through the armed forces code. My son says that I should do the presidential election code as a break (it's only 65 verses for all of USC3, and it would be timely).


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Session Report Up

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up here. Games played: For Sale, Hearts, Power Grid, Big City, Tigris and Euphrates, Ys.


When to Not Give Up

One of the major lessons of Go is when to give up. Playing in an area in which you have no hope of acquiring is not merely futile, it is counterproductive, because a) you lose more points in lost stones and b) each play represents a lost opportunity to play elsewhere.

In other words, the lessons Go teaches us about giving up come with several caveats:

1) That we are absolutely sure that what we've given up on is totally lost
2) That trying anyway is counterproductive, or even more harmful
3) That the energy spent on a lost cause is robbing us of resources better spent elsewhere that will actually do us good

Item number one is the hardest one to wrap your head around. All of the inspirational thinking in our world teaches us exactly the opposite. The game isn't over until it's over. You never know what you can do until you try. Great geniuses can accomplish what others consider impossible.

The funny part is that they're right. The game isn't over until it's over - that's because you have nothing better to do with your time anyway, so playing it out and hoping for a million to one chance doesn't represent any lost opportunity. You never know what you can accomplish until you try - because the evaluation about what is absolutely lost is often premature. Accomplishing the impossible - because some people don't seem to follow the rules.

I find these latter people to be the most annoying, actually. I have a friend who took various illicit drugs in high school and college while maintaining a straight A average and doing all sorts of extra curricular activities. He slept around without causing any major social problems or contracting any diseases. He smokes one cigarette a year and has never gotten addicted to anything.

So sue me. I still don't condone cigarettes, drugs, and promiscuous sex just because some few weirdos can beat the odds. Naturally, this person thinks it was a great experience and doesn't think fooling around with these things is as bad as others make it out to be.

Another seemingly blessed person is Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, who claims to be the first person to ever recover from a debilitating speech problem, from which no one else has ever recovered, by sheer force of will. In previous posts he talks about all of the other odds he has overcome, despite everyone around him telling him that he can't do it. He always does.

Is he an inspirational story for the rest of us? Or a freak, whose inspiration will lead others into attempting, and then failing, the impossible?

Although I would like to condemn him to being a freak because I don't like his bloated ego, all of his persistence stories never actually violated any of the three above rules: either what he tried to accomplish wasn't really impossible, or his attempts didn't make things worse, anyway, or his efforts didn't represent a waste that could have been better used elsewhere. He tried various techniques to regain his voice, because why not? And he succeeded.

One other point needs to be made regarding giving up: often people fail at things simply due to lack of persistence. 99% of people won't accomplish X because they get discouraged by the fact that 99% of people won't accomplish it. The 1% who succeed are sometimes the 1% who are willing to continue after the attempt becomes less popular and then find themselves with more space on the playing field. The 99% self-selected themselves to failure.

As to when to really recognize that something is not worth the effort because it is an absolutely lost cause: either you really know it to be true from experience, or you are happy to direct your efforts elsewhere, regardless of whether it's true or not.


I tried Lexicon again with my daughter and reconfirmed my belief that word based card games are simply too easy, as it is very easy to meld words from a handful of letters.

I also taught Go to a non-gamer friend. She bemoaned her lack of understanding what she was doing throughout the game. I told her that that was normal. We will see if she asks to play again.

I am working my way through the Go based anime series Hikaru No Go via the magic of YouTube.


Baby Blues is becoming a favorite of mine for board game related linking. In the latest, Hammie explores the nature of cooperative games.

The Huffington Post posts a nice article about a parent finally cluing in to the positive aspects of video gaming. (via Raph)

Sinister Dexter asks about museums of gaming and gets a batch of wonderful replies. Check out the link to see a dozen links to museums or museum displays on gaming around the world.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gaming the System

Gamesblog points to an article by Peter Abilla on playing the game of Digg. As Peter points out, any activity that has rules, competition, and rewards is a game on some level. Therefore it can be "gamed".

System games, such as getting your blog post onto Digg, are usually broken in some way because they weren't designed by a competent game designer. That's hardly surprising, since they weren't initially recognized as games. They were simply meant to be a useful process.

Once seen as games they become a problem because, unlike normal games, the rewards are tangible. High blog traffic, money from a lottery system, the winning politician and so on can all be the rewards of treating a found system like a game, or "gaming the system".

Never mind that this is sort of an abuse. We blame the implementers for not having designed it correctly, and we can't be blamed for wanting what others are taking for free.

But why does this happen in regular games where the rewards are not tangible? The only thing gained from winning a game is prestige. Games are supposed to be fun for a long time. Playing a game requires you to face challenges each time you play. "Solving" the game destroys that possibility. Yet, how can we not? How can we play a game in willful ignorance when we know that the solution is accessible to us?

If a game is solved, it is no longer fun. Yet our overwhelming instinct is to "solve" the game. That's treating a game like a puzzle.

Surely there is a happy middle, where you assess the situation in a game to some degree but rely on instinct for the rest. Maybe even purposely not working out every possibility or tracking ever card that was played. Or do we say that a solvable game is by definition a broken one?


Links: Everything you ever wanted to know about Stratego, including many variations. And a few dozen original and interesting card games.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I will be hosting Havel Havalim

In two weeks time. Havel Havalim is the Israel blog carnival. More information and past editions can be found here.

Lost Garden write well considering game mechanics.

Chicago is planning to turn the city into outdoor board games next summer.

Sean Brady has used Google's new personalized search to create a board games Google search. Just getting started, but a good start.

And God knows why but I've decided to convert the U.S. Armed Forces code to verse. A hundred or so verses down, twenty-four hundred more to go.


Thoughts About a Game Reporter in Essen

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Rick Thornquist, for
I ran fingers over the game collection in my closet with a sad smile
self-conscious looking at the old titles.

In my empty time, and shopping for future memories, I went clicking
into your online site, thinking of your convention reports!

What Euros and what eurekas! Whole family games
boxed by the dozen! Towers full of meeples! Cubes on the
game board, action cards in the insert!--and you, Moritz Eggert, what
were you doing playing a war game?

I saw you, Rick Thornquist, filming, watching the gamers,
poking among the stacks in the vendor stalls and eyeing the trade

I heard you asking questions of each: Who is the
game designer? What price this expansion? Is this game The One?

I wandered in and out of the online aisles of games
following you, and followed in my imagination by hordes of fellow

We strode down the game images together in our
splendorous clamor ripping shrinkwrap, rolling myriads of
dice, and barely reading the rules.

Where are we going, Rick Thornquist? Essen ends in
an hour. Which way does your keypad point tonight?

(I read your reports and dream of a trip to the
convention and feel wistful.)

Will we walk all year through pleasing mechanics? The
stores add game to game, filling our houses, too many and we'll both be

Will we play dreaming of the great games of old,
past hexes under the robber, home to our four colored monuments?

Ah, dear reporter, thin-necked, friendly old wire rim spectacled gamer,
what a web site did you envision when Aldie handed you the URL and
you received silent email in confirmation and stood watching the HTML
take shape on the great banks of the Internet!


(Supermarket in California, by Allan Ginsberg)

Monday, October 23, 2006

needcoffee review of Board Games with Scott

Board Games With Scott, our favorite video board game blogger, gets reviewed by needcoffee.com .

There's a new store selling games called Golden Key Toys. Prices are nothing to write home about, but they do carry Carcassonne and Niagra, etc.

In the continuing story about 1,500 jobs for Parrsboro, Nova Scotia due to the opening of a plant for Headz Gamez, local factories are not happy that some locals have applied for jobs and may leave their current jobs as result. And simply because Headz is offering 20% higher salaries.

Hasbro's sales are doing well thanks to an increase in board game sales, including the new Monopoly, Clue, and Battleship.

And the Free Library of Philadelphia is sponsoring Scrabble all over the Greater Philadelphia Area in October and November.


Barbie™ and her Many Religions

Barbie™ and Mattel™ are registered trademerks of Mattel, Inc.

Apparently, Barbie has gone through as many religions as Bob Dylan.

The latest is an unofficial creation from Hatam Soferet, where Barbie appears to be embracing progressive liberal Judaism, tallis, tephillin, and Steinzaltz shas:

Boing boing picked this up and called it "Orthodox Barbie"; I doubt that this would be considered Orthodox in modern times. Maybe soon.

But apparently Barbie has been through Orthodox phases. Knish described a line of Orthodox Barbies, including Kollel Barbie, Hasidic Barbie, and Upper West Side Barbie. Undoubtedly her latest tephillin wearing phase is a reaction against Orthodoxy's restrictive nature.

It got so bad that Saudi Arabia denounced Barbie as "Jewish" and yet another one of our schemes to influence the minds of Muslim children around the world. Bill Maher supports the theory of Barbie's Jewishness: "I guess there's some evidence of that -- it's true when you put Ken on top of her she just lies there."

In order to counter Barbie, the Muslim world released Razanne, as I mentioned a while ago, as well as Fulla.

Barbie's done a lot of wandering, as has her long-time beau, Ken, who went through Buddhist and Catholic phases. Barbie also apparently had a Buddhist phase.

She's even had a pagan/wiccan phase as Secret Spells Barbie:

Makes you wonder what she'll be into next. Nun Barbie? Catholic School Barbie? Amish Barbie?


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Puerto Rico with Rachel

Rachel and I were able to play two games after shabbat.

I decided to mix things up a bit and play with a few buildings that we haven't often used. The buildings:

Assembly Line (1/1): All your production buildings have an optional additional circle.

Captain's Quarters (2/1): You may add a colonist into the Hold while shipping for an additional VP (the Hold on any ship can only contain one item).

Hacienda (2/1): standard.

Scavenger Yard (3/1): Receive 1 GP from the bank for each barrel you toss, other than corn barrels.

Guesthouse (4/2, 2 circles): expansion.

Developer (5/2): a) You have no quarry limitations. b) You may trade in a building in order to reduce the cost of another building by its value. Any colonists on the old building transfer to the new one. Excess colonists move to San Juan.

Office (5/2): standard.

Small Wharf (6/2): expansion.

Lighthouse (7/3): expansion, except that I don't give a bonus GP for taking Captain.

Large General Workhouse (8/3, 2 circles): Each circle produces any goods along with a filled matching plantation, like a production building of any type. You may decide which goods each time you produce.

Large Business (8/3): a) +1 VP once during the Captain phase if you ship at least once. b) -1 cost to any building.

Union Hall (9/3): expansion.

Fashion District (10/5): +2 VP/indigo plantation (up to +8).

Distillery (10/5): +2 VP/sugar plantation (up to +8).

City Hall (10/4): standard.

Fortress (10/4): standard.

Custom's House (10/4): standard.

The most interesting building here that we don't generally play with was Developer. I had always toyed with it being too weak, even with the addition of the quarry bonus. However, the ability to move the colonist over is a huge plus. I used it to end the first game with four large buildings, which was enough to beat Rachel who was shipping furiously. The final score was 69 to 60.

Nevertheless, I didn't take it in the second game. While nice, it restricts your play options, and I knew that Rachel, now having played against it once, would find the right counter-strategy.

The second game was somewhat marred in that Rachel didn't have a complete understanding of the building rules. She missed that the Small Wharf could ship any type of barrels, not only pairs of the same type. And she missed that you couldn't get GP for dumping corn on the Scavenger Yard. Even failing all that, she still beat me by two points.

Convicts are paid to play Scrabble and other board games. Makes one want to go to jail.

And as long as we're on the Cosmic Encounter topic, did you ever stop by the CE store? An impressive selection.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cosmic Encounter to be Reprinted ...

Maybe. Anyway, that's what Peter Olotka says in this interview of him by Edward Pollard of eToychest:
Ed: Do you have any plans to bring Cosmic Encounter Online to another format? Xbox Live Arcade, or the PS3 or Nintendo equivalent?

Peter: As I am writing this I am working on an XBLA proposal submission that was requested by us of a developer.

Ed: Will we ever see a tabletop version of Cosmic Encounter in print again?

Peter: As I am writing this I am responding to a publisher (FunAgain Games) who is interested in republishing Cosmic Encounter and perhaps the whole Eon line under the Eagle brand, which they acquired.
"The whole Eon line." *grin* Dare we hope for Dune?

Peter - three things to remember before reprinting Cosmic:

1. 75 powers, at least.
2. 6 players.
3. Flares.

I didn't do any gaming this shabbat. We went to dinner at Elijah's family, and I checked out their game collection. Elijah has managed to get his family regularly playing Settlers, Seafarers, Puerto Rico, and Princes of Florence. I'm sure they would get Cosmic, too, if it were reprinted.

Michael, Elijah's father, was an old school gamer, and I saw copies of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Illumiati, various civil war games, Awful Green Things from Outer Space, and so on on his shelves. Also a few scattered Magic cards. We were hoping to play Puerto Rico after dinner, but we were all a little tired.

Nowadays Rachel and I don't have time for our shabbat afternoon Puerto Rico game anymore, as the class she teaches finishes only a few minutes before shabbat is over. A shame.

Greg announces an online chat on 10/25 on the subject of "Are Games Art?" It will be 4 am in Israel at the time, so if anyone can record or summarize it for me, I would appreciate it.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Weekend Coming

We are invited out for dinner to Michael and Anna's. Elijah, their son, is a regular at the game group, and Michael shows up occasionally, too.

No kids this weekend, except Eitan who will be in and out for lunch tomorrow (if that). I know many parents would kill for that, but divorced parents don't feel that way. Yeah, it's nice to have quiet, but if we had our druthers we would see the kids more, not less.

Is my last post with all the pictures causing any problems? Too large? Too many broken links? I tried to load it on a different browser and had some problems the first time (not the second), but I'm downloading to Israel, after all, which is always a few orders of magnitude slower.

I'm working on a post about scoring and winning, which I'll probably post to Gone Gaming next week. The two questions are:
  • What makes a good score for a game? 0-0-1? 0-1-2? 3-4-7? 10-12-76? 45-163-306? 306-306-307? 4-19-10,0005?
  • No matter what we score in a game, the end result is always 0-0-1 (or sometimes 0-1-1), i.e. winners and losers. Is there anything we can do about that?
If you have any thoughts, add them to the comments. You may see your name in print in my next post on Gone Gaming!


Rick Thorniquist's video on the first day of Essen is very well done. He is really upping the quality and professionalism of his reporting.

This week's Vintage Gamer covers some board game books. I haven't heard it yet, but it's downloading.

Raph points to a MMORPG set in the world of Shakespeare. It's not built yet, but it's a great idea.

I found a blog devoted to Cosmic Encounter, and the official blog of Cosmic Encounter Online which is updated by Peter Olotka.

Oh. And do you want to play Puerto Rico Monopoly?


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Israel, By Its Colors

Notes regarding pictures: These are not my images. I am pointing to various images around the web, mostly on Flickr and Wikipedia. I have tried to include only images under public domain, creative commons, or fair use. If I have inadvertently violated any copyrights, please inform me and I will replace the image (if it is indeed an infringement). Click any image to see the attribution. Not all images are from Israel.

Israel's history was strongly influenced by a series of white papers issued by Britain.
The tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl worn every morning in synagogue and at the Western Wall. The tallit also has vertical stripes of blue or black, as well as white fringes. On some tallits, one of the fringes is blue.
The Israeli flag, colored white (and blue) to symbolize the tallit.
White robes and kefiyyahs worn by a majority of the Arab population. A few Hassidic sects also dress in white.
White sands in some parts of the Negev desert.
White waves on the shores of Ashdod, Tel Aviv, and Acco.
White water on the upper Jordan River.
White wildflowers
White birds.
White snow which falls every decade or so over the country, and every year on Mount Hermon.
White colored cars (thankfully, this trend is disappearing). White ambulances, ever too present. White U.N. license plates on the odd car, here and there.
White kippahs, kittels, ark curtains, and bimah covers from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur. White shirts every shabbat. White flowers in the synagogue on Shavuot.
Ashkenazi wedding dress.
Most of the interior walls of our houses are plain white.
Matzah, the bread of Passover, is white or pale tan with brown spots. White cheese and white yogurt.
Humus, a national food.
White pages. We are the people of the book.
Jerusalem is called the city of Gold.
White wines from the Golan winery.
All buildings in Jerusalem are faced with "Jerusalem stone", which turns gold at night in the sunset or in the streetlights.
The Dome of the Rock
Yellow wildflowers.
Israeli yellow pages.
Paz (lit. "refined gold"), a leading Israeli gas station
The yellow and/or green etrog used on Sukkot.
Yellow grapefruits.
Yellow license plates on Israeli cars and yellow bus stop signs.
Shabbat candles.
A non-citizen's identity card is orange.
Israeli oranges
Orange was, and is, the color of protest against the disengagement from Gaza.
Orange wildflowers.
Sunset over the Mediterranean.
MDA safety vests.
Orange Israel, a leading cellular phone provider and fashion trend.
Police car license plates in Israel are red. A red and white curb means no parking.
Sunset paints the mountains across Jordan red.
Chili powder and paprika in big piles in the shuk.
In March, hillsides and valleys are covered with poppies.
Coca Cola is Israel's soft drink, partly because they ignored the Arab boycott in the 1970s.
The Israeli Post Office
Red roofs on the houses in most settlements.
Red tomatoes.
Red pomegranate seeds.
A whole lot of people seem to have a strange color of red hair.
Israeli paratroopers wear red berets.
Magen David Adom: the Israeli ambulance service. Also the color of too much blood that has been spilt.
Purple is known as a "holy" color. Some Israelis adopted purple as a sign of unity between those who wanted disengagement and those opposed.
Purple wildflowers.
Purple grapes make red wine.
Purple eggplant.
Givati soldiers wear a purple beret.
Beret colors for both military police and navy. A blue and white curb means paid parking for up to two hours.
The citizen's identity card is blue.
The sea and the sky. And the stripes on the flag and some tallits, as I mentioned above.
Blue buds on trees.
Police uniforms.
Tzfat is known for it's rich blue colors.
Chagall windows at Hadassah Hospital.
The "green line" marks the boundary between Israel proper and the "territories".
Evergreen forests, planted by the JNF.
Green Egged busses. They used to be red and white. Someone decided that a dark color that is hard to see at night would make for a good color for busses in a country with one of the world's highest traffic accident incidences.
Dumpsters and recycling containers are green in most places, yellow or orange in others.
Green romaine lettuce, used on Passover and all year round.
Green (and black) olives, an ancient Israeli industry.
The ever present Israeli soldier in green army uniform. Green army vehicles, too.
Women in Green - for a united Israel.
Our torahs are held wrapped around brown handles.
Any part of the land not covered by streets, or by trees in the spring.
Brown fox.
Brown bird on a brown wall.
Camels wander around the desert. Wild goats and sheep are also brown.
Brown scorpion. Most Israeli animals are brown.
Brown tree without leaves. Many trees are actually gray.
Brown challah, the bread of shabbat.
Brown shofar.
Falafel in pita, a national food.
Goldstar and Macabbi are the national beers, but there are many others.
There used to be a black market until currency exchange became legal. Army license plates are black.
Coffee, with or without milk or sugar, is the other national drink. Some Sephardi Israelis put different spices in their coffee.
Black coats and hats of the Haredi.
Black olives.
Black bird.
Women in black - for the end of the "occupation".