Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Most Expensive Foosball Table

A little about my airplane trip:

Business Class Seats

The airplane was a 767-200 with a strange looking business class area. There were three aisles in business class, with one seat in each aisle. The seats each looked like little oval cubicles. You can't see it from the picture, but there's a separate footrest in each cubicle.

I wasn't one of the fortunate who could afford such luxury, but economy class was also not so bad. Three aisles, three seats in the middle aisle and only two in each of the side aisles. Not like the jumbo 747's with 9 or 10 seats per row.


Each seat had not only it's own video screen, but the screen was a touchscreen with VOD services. There were about 40 or 50 movies, the same number of television episodes, and a few dozen music stations. There were also dozens of pre-loaded albums where you could listen to the entire album, shuffle the songs, or create your own playlist. Neato.

There was a games option in the menu system, but it wasn't yet working.

Each screen also had a USB port. I'm not entirely sure what this did, but I suppose it allowed you to listen to your own music while charging your device. I don't think it let you upload or download songs from the system ;-). It might also have let you, or in the future let you, access the onboard internet system.

Pretty wild. I was planning on sleeping, but as someone who doesn't own a television, it was hard to pass up the opportunity of 12 hours of screen time.

The selection of movies was interesting, too. I watched Wild Strawberries. A classic Berman film on a plane!

I saw Paris, Je T'Aime, a series of 20 short six minute stories all set in Paris. An interesting film and a fun watch. The episodes had nothing to do with each other, despite all supposedly being about some sort of love. The best was a short about a young Muslim girl and three punks she overhears catcalling women and a Wes Craven short about a couple who go to see Oscar Wilde's grave. Natalie Portman played in one of the segments as well, and while she was good, the segment was only so-so. Elijah Wood played in a really dumb but stylistic short about a vampire.

I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and part of a 20 minute "making of HP5" which was really just an advertisement for the movie. I like all the Harry Potter movies, and they all feel like they were directed by the same director. They're all well acted and well directed. Unfortunately, they're paced and scripted as action films, not the slow paced, humorous child-like books they are based on.

I began watching an anime movie called Paprika, but quit after 20 minutes when it was obvious where it was going. It's essentially a Dreamscape like movie, with dreams and reality completely confused in a wild acid trip. I easily dismiss it, but if you're an anime fan you'll probably love it.

I saw episodes of Frasier, Desperate Housewives (first time, just to see what it was about), and the first 10 minutes of a nature show Planet Earth, narrated by David Attenborough.

I listened to Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin, and an absolutely wonderful audio book Kingfisher Days by Susan Coyne. Susan's book is a story about a lovely summer during childhood where she discovered a hidden fireplace and received mysterious letters from the hidden elves who lived there in secret.

Expensive Games

I've got a new entry into the world's most expensive board games: Deuce game tables and tabletop games. I've asked for a price list, but so far I know from the in-flight magazine that prices range from $28,000 to $38,000 for game tables such as Backgammon.

The in-flight magazine also listed what is surely the world's most expensive foosball table: the Opus from ElevenForty.

What's interesting about the Opus isn't so much it's laser crafted this or service to anywhere in the world that, but that it's advertisement says that they will craft the players on the table to whomever you want, for example the Ghandi team versus the Hitler team (that was the actual example given in the magazine).

Price: $27,000 to $46,000.


Toronto Trip Report 1

I had my most uneventful plane trip. Of course, not entirely uneventful.

My flight was scheduled to leave at 11:30 am. The best way to get to the airport from Jerusalem is the Nesher airport service, which usually leaves whenever you want it to. For a flight at 11:30, I needed to leave Jerusalem at 8:00.

Unfortunately, Nesher was leaving Jerusalem only at 7:00 or 9:00. The 9:00 would only arrive at the airport at 10:15 if there was traffic, which seemed a tad tight. So I bit the bullet and took the 7:00, which was really 6:45.

Only in the morning at 6:15 did I receive an email that allowed me to do online checkin service with Air Canada. Which I did. Which meant that I really didn't have to arrive at the airport now until 10:30. Which meant that I could have slept an additional two hours.

Nesher only had a problem picking up one of the passengers ("WHO?" "It's Nesher! Nesher! Outside your house!" "WHO??!!!") and we got to the airport at 8:15. Air Canada's flight was now scheduled to leave at 11:45. But their ticket counter said 11:55. And they only open their counter 3 hours before the flight, which meant 8:55.

I stood at the front of the line for the "Web checkin baggage only" counter. They opened at 8:55. Their computers didn't work until 9:35.

During the 40 minute wait, I almost got the checkin counter woman to show me a magic trick with a deck of cards, but as she was shuffling and sorting them her boss gave her a disapproving stare. I decided that taking a picture of her shuffling the cards would probably get her fired, so I didn't. Instead, I played Gin Rummy with a guy in the line behind me. I lost the first game and won the next three.

After finally checking in, the rest of the day went pretty smoothly. Well, the airport's kosher McDonalds refused to admit that an item was on their menu even when I was pointing at it, but other than that.

I'll tell you about all the cool movies and stuff on the plane, but I just got here, so later ....


P.S. Packing board games into a duffel bag is a challenge. Luckily, none seem too damaged. I stuff them with socks and underwear in order to help keep the box integrity intact. I just have to remember to remove these before I trade away the game. I recommend sticking to boxes or suitcases for transporting board games.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Do Women or Men Play More Board Games?

I don't know of any statistics on the number of women playing board games.

Search Google and you'll find dozens of research articles on the prevalence of women video and computer game players and purchasers. Supposedly they make up more than half of all players and nearly three-quarters of all purchasers.

I would be thrilled to see similar research done on board and card game purchases.

Colloquial wisdom is that most board games - packaged toy store board games, that is - are bought my mothers, aunts, and grandmothers as gifts for their children, nephews and nieces, and grandchildren. I don't know if that would equally cover purchases of chess and go sets, playing cards and poker chips, and so on.

Girls and women appear to play as many or more board games than men, counting party games, girl's sleepover and party nights, and so on.

Board Game Geek has a forum section devoted to the female gamer geek, which strengthens the idea that they are in the minority. Some BGG women held a female-only game con once or twice. Women attend general game conferences in higher numbers than they did in the seventies when I was growing up. And I imagine that a board game conference such as BGG.con will record a higher percentage of female attendees than a CCG or RPG con, or even a video game con.

But the last paragraph is more about the game geek rather than the casual game player.

On the subject, here's an interesting study about whether boys or girls are more or less likely to play games created by other boys or girls.

Count Your Sheep obviously plays too many video games today.

I played two games of Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation with Saarya tonight as a goodbye. We switched sides, and white won both times. I won as white fairly easily. Saarya won by the skin of his teeth.

And now I'm going to bed, because tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of 6:45 AM I'm getting driven to the airport to catch an 11:30 AM flight to Toronto. It's only a 45 minute drive to the airport. You may wonder why I'm being picked up so early. Don't ask such questions.

And so the next chapter in my travelogue starts early.

Good night,

Sunday, October 28, 2007

2007 Holiday Gift Guide

This guide includes games for young and old, for every sex, generation, temperament, and culture.

Whatever you do, and whatever you celebrate, there is no better way to spend a Christmas, Hanukkah, or what have you than together with friends, family, and neighbors with a warm cup of cocoa and a casual board or card game.

I hope you enjoy the guide. Remember: the holidays are not only for sharing the warmth with family and friends, but also for sharing with those who have no one else to share with them. Give to your local shelters, hospitals, and so on, because that's the gift that keeps on giving.

Apples to Apples: Ages 10+, 4 to 10 players

Apples to Apples is a party game that is dirt simple to set up, learn, and play. There is no writing involved, and no board. And unlike many party games, reading all the cards doesn't ruin the game.

Each player has a hand of red apples (nouns) with which they have to match the green apple (adjective) flipped up. Each player has a chance to judge the best match. The cards you have in your hand never exactly match what gets flipped up; you have to do your best!

Backgammon: Ages 6+, 2 players

Backgammon is a classic game that is sure to be enjoyed by children and parents alike. While there is a large amount of luck in the game, there are also many meaningful decisions to make, which makes this a good stepping stone to future games with more challenge, such as Checkers or Chess.

Blokus, Blokus Trigon, Travel Blokus: Ages 8+, 4 players (Blokus) or 2 players (Travel Blokus)

Blokus, Blokus Trigon, and Travel Blokus are relatively new abstract games with very simple rules. Each round you take a piece and place it on the board such that it touches any previous pieces you played on a corner, and only on a corner. It can touch other players' pieces along corners or sides.

The rules are easy, the components are beautiful, and it's a lot of fun.

Boggle: Ages 8+, 2 to 10 players

Boggle is the "other" word game, whose simple rules - find all the words you can within three minutes - make it a game that is both fun and quick. Adults can play with kids by restricting the adults to have to find words of four or five letters.

Carcassonne and expansions: Ages 10+, 2 to 5 players

Carcassonne is a fairly new game that is a bit more complex than some of the other games here, but the beautiful pieces and the fun game play are worth the time to learn. Essentially, each round you pick a piece from the pile, rotate and place it so that it fits on the board (like dominoes), and then optionally place one of your pieces on that tile. There are several ways to score, some of which occur during the game and some of which only at the end of the game.

There are some more rules than that, but not too many more. The game play is engaging enough to make you want to play it more than once in a single sitting.

There are dozens of versions to the game, and some of the versions have several expansions. The one that I linked to is called "Hunter and Gatherers" and is a good standalone game to start with.

Checkers: Ages 5+, 2 players

Checkers is a classic, and rightfully so. The rules are very simple, although there are regional variations. Although the game often hinges on who makes the first major mistake, it is worthwhile learning the tricks and the care necessary to play well. With two experienced players, there is a lot of depth to explore.

It's cheap, and grandpa will play with you.

Chess / XiangQi / Shogi: Ages 6+, 2 players

These three games, Chess, XiangQi (Chinese Chess), and Shogi, are all top-tier 2-player games that can occupy a curious mind for an entire lifetime. They also have wide followings, so learning the game is learning a language that will admit you to a culture of fellow players around the world.

Board and piece prices range from inexpensive to very expensive, and Chess pieces come in many different themes.

Chinese Checkers: Ages 6+, 2 to 6 players

Another great abstract, and a pretty one if you find one with nice marbles. The rules are simple: move or jump your pieces from one side to the other. Finding chains of jumps is a thrill for all ages.

Connect Four: Ages 5 to 12, 2 players

Connect Four is a classic two-player strategy game, where the object is to get four in a row before your opponent does. Easy to set up, easy to learn, hard to master.

Decks of Cards: Ages 3+, 1 to any number of players

Decks of cards, whether they are the well known Western type with 52 cards in 4 suits, or special European or Asian decks, are a great starting point for any number of wonderful games, including Bridge, Hearts, Skat, Cribbage, Pinochle, Oh Hell, Bullsh*t, Durak, President, Spades, Solitaire, and many others.

Check out for the rules to these games and to thousands of others.

For Sale: Ages 8+, 3 to 6 players

For Sale is a quick bidding game in two stages: first you use money to bid on houses, and then you use your houses to bid on checks. The player with the most checks plus money at the end of the game wins.

The exact rules are a little longer, but the game is simple and fun, and the thirty house cards (ranging from a cardboard box to a space station) always get a few comments from new players.

Go / Pente: Ages 6+, 2 players

Beyond Chess, Checkers, or XiangQi is the absolute perfect game of Go; it's so popular, there are twenty-four hour television stations dedicated to it, an anime series based on it, and it's considered one of the four arts of the Chinese scholar.

It really is that good, and the rules are easy, too. Best of all, a built-in handicap system allows two people of any skill levels to enjoy a challenging game against each other.

The link I provided is to a nice but expensive board; you can play with a much simpler board and plastic pieces for under $10.

Pente, a game of getting five stones in a row, can be played on the same board. The rules are just as easy as Go, and while the game has much less depth, it is also a little less intimidating to new players.

Hive: Ages 8+, 2 players

Hive is another new game with simple rules and cute buggies. Each round, you either add a piece to the table so that it is connected to the other pieces, or you move a piece. When you move a piece, you can't break up the hive while doing so. The winner is the one who surrounds his or her opponent's queen bee.

Each player has eleven pieces, with five different bugs and abilities. Its simple rules and nice pieces make this a game that generally gets several plays in one sitting.

Ingenious: Ages 8+, 2 to 4 players

Ingenious (sometimes called "Connections" or "Mensa") is another new and neat abstract game, where you score points by placing domino like pieces to create lines of colors. Your final score is whatever color you have the least of.

It's another pretty game with simple rules and a lot of replay. Amazon's copy is pretty expensive, and you should be able to find a less expensive copy in your local game store.
It's Alive: Ages 7+, 2 to 4 players

A little plug for my own game. This is a simple set-collection auction game with a Frankenstein theme. It fits in well with the other games on the list: easy to learn, quick to play, lots of replayability.

Of course, I may be biased, since I designed it. This game is available from Reiver Games.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation: Ages 10+, 2 players

This is a game that plays similarly to Stratego, but it's theme and the special powers each piece possesses elevates the game to another level. It makes a tense exciting game of light vs dark, and it plays in a mere 10 to 20 minutes.

MahJong: Ages 7+, 4 players

This is a rich version of a rummy game, using tiles. It is one of the two games on this list that I have not yet had the fortune to play as of yet, but it looks great, and who am I to argue with a billion Chinese?

There are variants for playing with 2 to 5 players, as well as a solitaire game that can be played with the same tiles.

Mancala: Ages 5+, 2 players

This is another ancient game, widely known around the world under various names (e.g. oware), and the national game of many African countries.

The rules are easy: pick up all the seeds in one of your bowls and place one in each bowl around the table. If you land on an empty space on your side, you win the seed and any seeds opposite.

There are a few more rules, but that's about it. It takes a few games to get up to speed; early victories tend to be lopsided. Once you get the hang of it, you can play several, quick, challenging games in succession.

Memory: Ages 3 to 12, 2 to 5 players

This is a first game for kids and adults, and a great game for it, because kids get the hang of it very quickly and adults find it a real challenge without having to pretend. All you need are one or two decks of cards, but an infinite number of these games are sold with various different pictures and themes.

You can play with more than 5 players, but I wouldn't recommend it.

No Thanks!: Ages 7+, 3 to 5 players

This is an easy to learn and addictive little card game. A card is flipped up, and you either take the card and any tokens on it or place one of your tokens on it and pass it to the next player. Cards are bad, and tokens are good. But runs of cards only penalize you for the lowest valued card.

A simple and fun game.

Pit: Ages 7+, 4 to 10 players

I don't know if you can play up to 10 players with the original game, but you should. This is a loud trading game. The cards are dealt out, someone says go, and everyone shouts for what they need. The first player to collect a full set wins.

Raucous and fun. The deluxe version comes with it's own bell to signal the start of trading.

Poker: Ages 6+, 2 to any number of players

Playing for money is not a good habit, but a nice set of poker chips and some decks of cards is a great way to spend an evening. There are countless poker games, too.

Rummikub: Ages 7+, 2 to 4 players

Another game of rummy, but a good one. And also playable with the grandfolks.

Scrabble: Ages 8+, 2 (or 2 to 4) players.

Scrabble purists will tell you that you should only play with 2 players and a Chess clock, but for casual purposes it can be played with up to four. It is The word game, and for a good reason.

My favorite way to play is to ditch the board and just play Anagrams: turn over tiles, and first to call a word gets it.

The link is to a beautiful deluxe version of the game, but you can also find less expensive versions on Amazon.

Set: Ages 6+, 2 to 10 players

Those who don't have it won't enjoy it. For those who do, it hits just the right spot in the brain. All you have to do is call out matches when you see them, but the matches have to match or not match in all four characteristics.

Settlers of Catan: Ages 8+, 3 to 4 players

This is the perfect game for beginning adult gamers that I use to hook new players into my game group.

All you need to do is collect ten points through building settlements and cities, connecting roads, adding developments and trading with your fellow players. A unique board that changes each time you play, constant interaction even when it's not your turn, and a great balance of luck versus strategy makes this The Game to acquire if you still think that board games are only for kids.

Stratego: Ages 6 to 15, 2 players

By the time I was in my teens, I had outgrown this, but it remains a seminal game for early players, a great introductory war game with all the basic elements: strategy, tactics, and bluffing. Avoid the electronic ones; they break and they're noisy.

Ticket to Ride: Ages 8+, 2 to 5 players

Many of my fellow bloggers think that this, rather than Settler of Catan, is The Game. I disagree, but who am I to argue? New players will probably find this a great intro game, with lots of choices and great game play.

There are several editions of the game.

Time's Up: Ages 8+, 4 to 10 players

This is the only other game on this list that I haven't yet had the pleasure of playing myself, but it consistently ranks as the number one party game on all of my fellow bloggers' lists. It's the number one ranked party game on Board Game Geek. Which says something.

Uno: Ages 6 to 12, 2 to 8 players

This could be a child's second game, after Memory, and before moving on to real games. There's not much in the way of thinking involved, but its simple rules, portability, and quick play make it an ideal game for younger kids in almost any situation.

Just be sure to move up to better games when the kids are ready.

Wits and Wagers / Beyond Balderdash: Ages 8+, 4+ players

These are party trivia games where knowledge of trivia is not so important. The question is asked, and each player writes down an answer. These are revealed and players then bid on the answers they think are best. The winning answer, and the winning bids, all score points.

Wits and Wagers does this in the form of a poker game setting, while Balderdash requires you to make up funny possible answers. Both have won awards and acclaim as a generation better than you-know-which famous trivia game.

Other game gift guides around the web:Yehuda

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Reassessing Shear Panic

I decided to play Shear Panic again before I traded it away.

I owe another apology, this time to Gordon Lamont, the game's designer. He fell victim to something others have fallen victim to in the past: a less-than-enthusiastic assessment from me of their game owing primarily to my having understood some key rules incorrectly.

Which only goes to show one or more of the following things:

1 - I have to reread the rules several times before making judgments.

2 - The best way to learn is from someone who definitely understands the rules, and not by myself.

3 - Publishers really need to write better rules, especially for games with more than basic complexity like Shear Panic.

Unfortunately, the latter is a serious problem here. I wonder how anyone, other than the original author, could have read the rules and not understood that they were confusing.


Let me now explain the rules as I understand them:


- 8 white sheep with a spot of color: there are four colors, 2 sheep in each color.

- 3 special figures: black sheep, ram, and sheep shearer

- 48 tiles: twelve tiles in each of four colors. Each tile represents a special action of some sort. In addition, four of the tiles are also numbered 1, four are numbered 2, and four are numbered 3.

- A 9 x 9 game board with a numbered track running along the edge

- score markers for each player

- the black phase marker

- a d6, with four sides corresponding to the four colors, and the other two sides indicating black and white.


Each player controls two white sheep with spots of their color. The players take the tiles of their color.

In a three-player game, each player also takes three tiles, numbered 1-3, from the remaining fourth color. These tiles are turned over; the reverse side of the tiles shows only the number (1-3) of the tile, and not any special action.

In a two-player game, each player takes an entire additional set of tiles from one of the unused colors. These tiles are turned over; the reverse side of the tiles shows only the number (1-3) of the tile, and not any special action.

The starting position is as indicated in the rules.

Start of Game

Before the game begins, each player rolls the die and bumps once, selecting a bumping sheep according to the color rolled.

Bumping sheep means choosing a bumping sheep and a bumped sheep. The two sheep must lie on the same line. The bumped sheep must have an unoccupied space directly on the other side from the bumping sheep. Any number of other sheep may lie between them.

The bumped sheep is bumped to the unoccupied space. All other sheep in the line, including the bumping sheep, are lined up in the spaces before it.

In a two-player game, each player alternately bumps twice.


On your turn, you play a special action card and perform the action. The phase marker is advanced according to the number on the played card.

In a three player games, a player may choose to add one of his additional face down tiles to his played tile in order to move the phase marker additional spaces. In a two-player game, a player must add one of his additional face down tiles.

If the phase marker would otherwise move past a "well" space, the phase marker instead lands on the well space.

If the phase marker lands on a bumping space, the player additionally rolls the die and bumps, as above.

The played tile or tiles are discarded.


Scoring may take place after a player's turn.

- If the phase marker lands anywhere in Phase 1 ...

- If the phase marker crosses the wall or lands in the well in Phase 2 ...

- If the phase marker lands anywhere in Phase 3 ...

- If the phase marker crosses the wall or lands in the well in Phase 4 ...

- In a three player game, at the end of the game you must subtract two points from your score for each face down tile you didn't use during the game.

The Tiles

The tiles:

- Bump with one of your colored sheep

- Move one of your sheep into an adjacent unoccupied space

- Turn all sheep 90 degrees. Move any special figure to the side of the board in which direction the sheep are now facing.

- Jump one sheep over any number of sheep or spaces in a line, landing in the first unoccupied space after a sheep.

- Slide all sheep one space along a line.

- Draw the smallest square which contains all the sheep. Slide each sheep to one edge of this square. (*)

(*) This was the biggest source of problems in my previous games. I understood from the rules that you had to slide all sheep to the edge of the board, i.e. the entire playing area. NOT just to edge of the current flock of sheep wherever they may currently be. My interpretation made subsequent bumping rather difficult and therefore the game rather dull.

Undoing Actions

Two of these special actions cannot be "undone" according to the rules, but the rules are not clear on what "undone" means. Maybe they can't be undone immediately, but can be undone on the next round following? As to the slide all sheep against the side of the smallest square action, even if you play the same card and specify the other direction, it doesn't "undo" the action, but slides all sheep to the other side of the new smallest square. Is that "undoing"? Who knows?

In the rules, the face down tiles handed out in two and three player games are called "movement tiles". The rules only say that they may be added to an additional tile that you play, but it doesn't say what happens as a result! I had to figure out that "movement" meant moving the phase marker additional spaces. I thought it might mean move a sheep that number of spaces. I may still not have it right, actually.


With the correct ruling for the sliding tile action, and implementing the face down tile play correctly, the two player version of the game was decidedly much better. So much so that I have decided not to trade the game away immediately if I can convince others in my group to give it another try. I think there may be more depth and life to the game than I previously thought.

I suspect that the three player game will also be much better, and the four player game somewhat better. Even so, it's not a phenomenal game. The sheep sure are cute, though.

Blog News

My site dropped in Page Rank last week to PR5 from PR6, and this week to PR3. Which is an awesome drop. Net consensus is that this phenomenon, of which my blog is not at all unique, is entirely do to the presence of text link advertising on my blog.

Since I'm making a good proportion of my income ($100 of the $300 a month) from these ads, I don't intend to remove them as long as the advertisers are happy. Still, I wonder if the fact that people were moving away from Google's own Ad-sense ads in favor of text link advertisements may harbor yet another step Google has taken to the dark side. After all, they are hardly an unbiased party in this. Using monopolistic muscle to put rival advertising firms out of business seems rather evil to me.

Important News About Online Game Stores

The U.S. has seriously weakened one of its major 97 year old anti-trust regulations, that of price fixing. Price fixing is when a producer forces retailers to sell a product at a minimum price. This practice is bad for the consumer and purely in the producer's interest.

It is now no longer automatically illegal to price fix, instead instances of price fixing will be decided on on a case by case basis as to whether they harm the consumer.

How does this affect you? Mayfair Games has already sent out letters to all retailers telling them that they may no longer discount Mayfair products, such as Settlers of Catan, more than 20% off of retail. That means big price increases for Mayfair games, even if you try to buy it from an online store.

Until now, discount online stores were spreading gaming across the world by making gaming affordable to those who would otherwise not be able to afford the hobby. As a result, local brick-and-mortar stores were suffering, since they could not compete with the discounts the online stores offered.

Now, the online discount stores will have a hard time competing with the brick-and-mortar stores, since they will not be able to compete on price, and of course already can't complete on timeliness.

Mayfair Games is in favor of this as they claim that rather than online stores being good for the game industry, it is brick-and-mortar stores which are good for the game industry, since they have presence in local communities, display the games, and host game sessions.

Other game manufacturers are liable to follow in Mayfair's lead. So buy online at discount while you still can.

Game News

There is a blog devoted to an upcoming DVD wrestling board game, where the developers are seeking input about the game from the public before it is developed.

The Motley Fool has a stunningly good list of economic board games, sourcing both Mark Jackson's Apples project and Jonathan Degann's Journal for inspiration.

Front Porch Classics, makers of beautiful coffee table games, have many new games in their line up including kids games. May have something to do with their merger with Sababa Toys.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Upcoming: Win Over $100 in Cash and Prizes - Watch This Space

I will be giving away over $100 in cash, gift certificates, and games through this blog when I get back from my trip at the end of November. Prizes will include: a $25 Amazon gift certificate, $25 certificate to a game store, a copy of my game It's Alive, and more.

And it won't simply be some dumb trivia contest; it will be through games, of course. Just my way of saying happy holidays and thank you for reading / subscribing / commenting / linking to me.

If you want to add to the giveaway bonanza or sponsor prizes, email me or comment on this post. Sponsors will get at least two extra links from me and hopefully some good will and traffic.

If you'd just like to support my blogging efforts, you can always click the Paypal link on the sidebar of my page.

Thanks for reading, and see you on the other side of shabbat.


Weekend Coming

There's nothing in this post for you; it's all about me. You can safely skip it.

Games moved

In preparation for my trip on Tuesday I have moved half of my games over to Nadine's house. Nadine will be hosting the game nights for the three weeks I am gone.

Blokus Trigon

I also finally picked up my free copy of Blokus Trigon, a gift after the fact for writing a post about Blokus's new website. Thanks, and I hope to play it before I leave. One thing that interests me is that it looks like it plays well with 3 players, something which wasn't true with regular Blokus.

Trading Games

I'm taking my tradable games with me to Toronto and to BGG.con, hoping to trade them somehow, somewhere. I'd like to get involved in the BGG.con math trade but I'm still to dense to figure out how it works, except at a very high level. I've asked Misha for assistance.

Playing Games

I'm also taking games to play. Puerto Rico to play with Rachel in Toronto, It's Alive to play in Toronto and at the con.

Yehuda Swag

I've sent a T-shirt and a mug with words of wisdom and a cartoon from my blog (using my Cafepress store) to Dallas already and I hope to use them at the con.

No Game Design

I don't have a new game design ready for the con, unfortunately. But I do have some ideas of how to make my presence at the con a tad more interesting. Maybe I'll get it done by then, or maybe not.

Weekend Coming

Tonight I'm off to a Bar Mitzvah; I got the boy a gift certificate to Toys-R-Us since I know he loves games. Tomorrow I may get to play Blokus Trigon with Nadine, if I'm lucky.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

'Tis the season?

From Google Trends:


Session Report, in which I re-evaluate Colossal Arena

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Colossal Arena, San Juan, Bridge, Power Grid, Pirate's Cove.

I was evaluating whether or not to trade away Colossal Arena, so we gave it another go.

Last week I pointed you to a bunch of online virtual tabletops for gaming, most of which were specifically designed for role-playing. Cyberboard is one that I missed.

On some other site I saw a mention of online roleplaying the old-fashioned way: play-by-post, play-by-email, and so on. How many of these are there? RPG Gateway is a huge list of them, over 1000, as well as links to hundreds of other resource sites. I don't think the lists are well taken care of, so there are probably a lot of dead links, but there you go.

Some popular ones include Myth Weavers, Roleplaying Online, Plothook, DND Online Games, and many more.

Here's a new way to play my favorite game online: Puerto Rico. Other places to play Puerto Rico online include Phial, For Whom The Web Rocks, BrettSpielWelt (not at the moment; it may come back), PR-Game, and a downloadable Puerto Rico program from Eagle Games. Rumored to be coming to the XBox, too (and the reason it is no longer available on BSW).

Trivial Pursuit is now set to become a television game show. Wouldn't be the first board game to do this.

Catholic Games offers "church approved Catholic games", for your pleasure enjoyment edification.

Hardcore Ludography makes fun of the recent "Dumbledore is gay" announcement by reporting that Bruno Faidutti has made the same announcement about one of the characters in Citadels.

Opposite Day in the Charlotte Observer means people playing games together.

Rapid City Observer also talks about board games with some suggestions for new ones to try.

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on a weird online/offline game of conquest being played by students at the Ivy League schools.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Plush Cthulhu Dolls and Other Horrors

Chtulhu, the brainchild of H. P. Lovecraft, is the most atrocious, horrific, and insanity-inducing being in the known universe. An elder god whose mere name invokes abject terror in mortals, his multi-tentacled and grotesque presence is supposed to drive humans in a one hundred mile radius gibberingly insane.

Therefore it is somewhat, um, surprising to see what toy-makers have done with it.

The following are all from Toy Vault and available on Amazon. Click through to Toy Vault to see even more figures. Quotes are from Amazon's product descriptions.

Cthulhu plush doll

Finally, a Cthulhu that won't keep you awake all night with fear! This is a very cuddly representation of the Cthulhu depicted by H.P. Lovecraft. This figure can sit on a bookshelf with its legs dangling over the edge. This Cthulhu plush is 12 inches tall and filled with plush and beanies.
If that's not enough for you, try the electronic screaming version:
Cthulhu screams! Really. As all H.P. Lovecraft aficionados know, Cthulhu has a number of phobias that cause him to be rather high strung. Things like a scuttling mouse, a lace doily, or a broken mirror cause him to shriek in terror. This cute and cuddly 12-inch Cthulhu plush is sensitive, too, and he can be a real freakish screaming terror. So, look out. Don't sit on him or he may scare the pajamas off you!
Also comes in hand-puppet and giant sizes.

Secret Agent Cthulhu Plush

Cthulhu Miskatonic University Graduate Plush

After 4 long years hitting the books, Cthulhu is presented with his degree from the ancient Ivy-covered institution Miskatonic University, graduating with double honors in Human Sacrifice and Perdition. Makes a great gift to a graduate or cannibal.
If green horror isn't your fashion, try ...

Valentino Cthulhu Plush

With the following helpful description:
Dressed in a sensational ensemble that shows off his fashionable side, Cthulhu is dressed this spring in this evocative outfit from designee Toee Vouwt.

It is true that Cthulhu gravitated from the gaseous green star of Xoth to invade a nascent Earth. Cthulhu and his varying cohorts fought the good fight, but at the end of the day they were still imprisoned, Cthulhu in the submerged non-Euclidean city Râlyeh.

There, somewhere within the slanting vaults of Râlyeh, Cthulhu slumbered, using his dreaming mind to cultivate droves of screwball human followers who might eventually propagate Cthulhuâs release. These brave men and women were ready and willing to light the black candles and throw on their rubber octopus masks. As a reward they might one day be stamped out like cigarette butts or meet their ultimate demise somewhere at the apex of dark gelatinous tentacles.

However, apparently Cthulhu has communed with his rambling nimrod followers enough to know that now, these days, style and fashion apparently go hand in hand with the destruction of everything sane in the world. Accordingly, the Main Man Cthulhu has now sheathed himself in sporty new colors guaranteed to drive those that see him insane---the Lovecraft version of insane, like mumbling opium addicts who decide to write down their unbelievable tales of polyanthropomorphic horror before they ultimately eat a bullet.

So, when Râlyeh does finally bubble back up like a giant cork somewhere in the Pacific, and some nearby ship is foolish enough to mistake the city for an island, be prepared to see Cthulhu to squeeze his way out of that oblong vault door bespangled in his new cinnamon and ebony color scheme.

Dracula "Dracthulhu" Halloween Cthulhu Plush

Aw, how cute.

Cthulhu Plastic Figure

In case one elder god sleeping in your bedroom isn't enough, you can also get:

Gug plush doll

Nyarlathotep plush doll

Moon Beast Plush

These beasts are Nyarlathotep's servants.

Ithaqua Plush

Hound of Tindalos Plush

According to HP Lovecraft, "No one who has ever actually met the Hounds has survived." If you are disturbed enough to order this plush, may you survive your encounter.

Tynes Cowen also has many ridiculous Cthulhu products, including a stuffed Cthulhu, "Got Cthulhu?" bumper stickers, and more.

If you don't want to buy lovable old Cthulhu, you can make one as an art project, like the above baby coat or a crocheted doll.

Of course, John Kovalic's My Little Cthulhu by Dreamland Toyworks is still the best.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Artistic Expression In Games

The question is: what type of artistic expression can games convey? The following is not remotely academic; I'm just organizing some thoughts.


The components of a game can be artistically rendered, e.g. a beautiful chess set or artistic landscape in a video game; games can be the subject of art, e.g. Death playing chess in The Seventh Seal.

Uninteresting. Not writing about that.

Interactive Art

Interactive art is a type of interactive activity and a type of art. Some interactive activities are interactive art. Some art is interactive art. All games are interactive activities.

This doesn't imply that all or any games are interactive art, but some games could be.

What does interactive art convey that one couldn't equally convey using non-interactive art? Considering messages which can be conveyed with interactive art, such as tragedy, heroism, love, guilt, and so on, one sees that these can also be conveyed with the plastic and performance arts.

The usage of interactive art is a choice to portray something that could also be portrayed in other ways. This is true for all artistic choices. Like different languages, a particular medium may lend itself more readily to conveying certain types of messages.

As a choice, an artistic message can be conveyed though means of a game, which is merely an interactive activity with some constraints. It doesn't matter how we define a game: requires winners and losers, goals, rules, points, or what have you. Whatever definition we use, it is can be a medium within which to create art.

Suitability for Children

Anybody who complains that the message conveyed by a game is not suitable for children understands neither games nor art.

Games used to convey artistic messages need not be wholesome, fun, enjoyable, or even replayable, any more than messages conveyed through any other artistic medium. The notion that a game must enable flow or draw people into a zone, or anything other than exist as a medium is to conflate marketability with message.

Art should never be designed with marketing requirements in mind. Viewing an ugly painting that you would never place in your house is equivalent to interacting with a horrific game that you would never play for more than two minutes.

A game which provides flow and draws people in may be better able to convey certain types of messages, and perhaps less able to convey others. These messages are typically ones that are conveyed through repetition or narrative.

Winning Conveys Only Perseverance

At any point during a game where winning is the conscious goal of the participant, any other artistic message is necessarily excluded. This is because winning is not an artistic message of anything, other than perseverance.

All competition necessarily has a common experience, namely overcoming obstacles. This experience is independent of the particular game being played. Therefore, it is not useful in deciding if a game can carry a specific message unless we exclude the message of perseverance. Messages other than perseverance can also be conveyed by any type of competition, such as ethics and grace.

Winning is calculating and numeric. In a dance competition, where the winning dance is the most artistic, the dance is artistic, but the points and other aspects of winning the game are not. Remove the game, and the dance remains equally artistic. Remove the dance, and no art remains other than the message of perseverance.

Art vs Instruction

Art is different than instruction. Teaching about the Holocaust is different than experiencing art about the Holocaust, whether the art is a game, play, or painting. Any part of a game that is simply instructional is not carrying an artistic message. An artistic message is one which is understood without, or beyond, instruction.

Most "educational" games are simply "instructive", and are boring. All games are inherently educational, although some may convey unpopular messages.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Make Your Life More Like a Game

While companies around the world are trying to make games seem more life-like, a few are trying to do the inverse: make life more game-like.

At the latest Web 2.0 Summit, Jane McGonigal talked about how adding game-like features to traditional activities makes them more fun, and ultimately more productive. Such as experience points for doing housework (Chore Wars) and trading virtual favor tokens at work (Seriosity).

BBC News picks up the subject of Seriosity, as well as virtual company meetings in Second Life.

Nolan Bushnell, the man who practically invented the video game (invented Pong and founded Atari, for instance), goes seriously ballistic on modern video games. "Video games today are a race to the bottom. They are pure, unadulterated trash and I'm sad for that," says Bushnell. Instead he recommends board games for social interaction. One of his favorites is Go.

He has also started a project called uWink, which is a chain of restaurants featuring casual video games you play on the table surface.

Callapidder Days writes occasional kid's game reviews that raise the bar for excellent game reviews. (via Buffalo Game Buffs)

Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress is an upcoming book about a woman and the D&D games she loves.

Kate Milani wrote some nice things about three board game blogs in her Blog Watch column in the Wall Street Journal Online. This site was one of them, as was ekted's Gamers Mind and Gone Gaming. You can only access the article if you're subscribed, but Kate was kind enough to send me a copy, which I will pass on to anyone who wants.

Illinois Central College is beginning a video game design degree program which it claims will also be applicable to board game design.

Did you know that there is a special board game and a special collectible card game designed for and available only to children of the U.S. National Guard?

I've written previously about Eye of Judgment, which combined trading cards and a video camera to make an hybrid card and video game. When I first heard of it, it sounded cool. Now that I think about it, it actually looks pretty dumb. You have to look back and forth between the cards and video to play the game. It's horrendously expensive to start playing. And now it looks like most of the cards aren't going to be ready at launch time.

Man shot during a card game catches a flight instead of going to the hospital. After he lands, he finally goes to the hospital. He refuses to press charges. Probably doesn't want to have to testify that he trumped his partner's Ace.

And Shocking Autopsy. Just like the game Operation, but instead of a buzzer going off, you receive a nasty electric shock.


Travel Plans to Toronto and Dallas


Leave Tel Aviv: Tue 30-Oct 2007 11:45
Arrive Toronto: Tue 30-Oct 2007 18:25

Air Canada keeps changing my flight times. This is the latest.

I go straight to my wife (and stepson and dog). Yay! I will be working from home in Toronto during the day. Night time is for game time.

Possible events:
- Tue Nov 06, 2007 8:00pm Ani DiFranco Danforth Music Hall Theatre (also Wed)
- Free Concert Series The Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts Concerts are every Tuesday and Thursdays from Noon to 1pm and the first Wednesday of every month at 5:30pm
- Public Talk by the Dalai Lama Rogers Centre October 31, 2007 04:30 PM
- Fred Eaglesmith Hugh's Room Sat Nov 3
- Jonathan Byrd Hugh's Room Wed Nov 7
- And just about anything else at Hugh's Room

- Monday nights at Comic Warehouse
- Thursday night Nov 1 at Dueling Ground
- Thursday night Nov 1 at Gryphon Games (really?)
- Thursday night Nov 8 at Two Headed Dragon

It would be nice if there was something web or blog-related happening here, but I don't see anything scheduled. Any blogger in the Toronto area want to meet up?


Leave Toronto: Tue 13-Nov 2007 09:10
Arrive Dallas: Tue 13-Nov 2007 11:39

I didn't know they scheduled flights to the minute. How optimistic of them.

- Tuesday night Dallas game club
- Wed night BGG.con arrivals.
- Thurs - Sun BGG.con, except that Friday afternoon until Sat star-rise will be shabbat.


Leave Dallas: Sun 18-Nov 2007 17:00
Arrive Toronto: Sun 18-Nov 2007 21:03

Not much happening here.


Leave Toronto: Tue 20-Nov 2007 17:30
Arrive Tel Aviv: Wed 21-Nov 2007 07:25

Home, sleep, home. Of course, nothing unusual ever happens to me when I travel.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Games for Halloween

Bring a game to celebrate a night of murder and mayhem. Games appropriate for Halloween come in all the major themes to suit your taste. Here's a guide to some good ones, sorted by spooky style:

Board and Card Games


Braiiiiiinsssss ... For some reason the animated dead skeletons and corpses of dead humans have always been a main feature of our horror stories. Something to do with people coming to collect money from you even when you thought you were finally safe, I guess.

Last Night on Earth The Zombie Game was designed by Jason Hill, is for 2-6 players, and plays in 1.5 hours. It's got dice rolling, heroes, weapons, blood, gore, and all the features you would expect from a video game. And one or two of the players gets to play the zombies.

Other zombie games:
Mall of Horror - zombies in the mall.
Dawn Under - a zombie game for kids, believe it or not.
Zombies!!! 2nd Edition - A hundred zombies, and half of them are women zombies (zombettes?).
Zombie Plague - Two-player, one plays the zombies.


Another undead, vampires have considerably finer manners than their zombie cousins. They won't come in unless they're invited, they don't spend all their time preening in front of mirrors, and they throw pretty good parties.

Fury of Dracula was designed by Stephen Hand and Kevin Wilson, is for 2-5 players, and plays in 2 hours. One player plays the Prince of Darkness, the others the vampire hunters intent on killing the vampire before he, uh, gets six victory points.

Other vampire games:
Vampire: The Eternal Struggle - considered one of the best CCGs other than Magic.
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer - rumored to be pretty good. Buffy has a CCG, too.
Dracula Board Game - 2 player game of hunt an chase.
Vampire: Prince of the City - everyone plays a vampire in this game, vying for control of the city.
Munchkin Bites - A send up of roleplayers and vampires in general.


Werewolves are cursed humans who grow a little hair and a little wild on nights of the full moon, and without drinking, too. Since you have to be bitten by a werewolf to become a werewolf, one wonders where the first werewolf came from.

Werewolf is a public domain party game also known as Mafia. One person moderates the group, one or two play the werewolves, one plays a seer, and the rest play villagers. Each night the werewolves strike, and each day the villagers lynch someone by voting, until only werewolves or villagers remain.

It plays with around 6 or 8 players up to 20 or more, and takes about an hour or two to play. The above picture is one of numerous published versions supplying cards and alternative characters for added enjoyment.


"She turned me into a newt!"

Women throughout the ages have been condemned for being ugly, single, or simply healthy. Sound fair to me.

Wicked Witches Way is by Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala, is for 2-6 players, and plays in 30 minutes. A game of speed and pattern recognition, where you have to quickly scan the pattern on nine dice and recreate them. With several twists.

Other witch, wizard, and warlock games:
Techno Witches - witches on vacuum cleaners.
Magic: The Gathering - Kind of fits here, I guess. The famous CCG, play a witch or wizard battling for control in Dominia. Anyway, there are lots of vampires, zombies, and ghosts in Magic. Play black.


Back to undead, ghosts are insubstantial, and consequentially I never understood why they cause so much terror. They can't touch you. And since they can possess your body, you have a great excuse when it comes to making mischief.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is by Bruce Glassco, is for 3-6 players and plays in 1.5 hours. All the players explore a haunted house until one player triggers a trap, becomes possessed, and tries to kill all the other players before they can escape.

Other ghost games:
Ghosts! - a hidden forces game (like Stratego).
Spooks - a lightly themed card game.
Ghost Chase in Canterville Castle - a kid's induction game (like Scotland Yard).


When the zombies don't get around to animating themselves, it is up to the overworked, underpaid mad scientists to do the job for them. And what thanks do they get?

It's Alive was designed, by a startling coincidence, by yours truly. It's for 2-5 players and plays in 30 minutes. Players collect, sell, and auction body parts to make their monster.


HP Lovecraft wrote an entire mythos based on the "elder gods" occasional visit to Earth (usually the fictional town of Arkham, MA), and this thread was picked up by a later science-fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard.

Arkham Horror was designed by Kevin Wilson and Richard Launius, is for 1-8 players, and plays in 3 hours. It is very highly regarded on Board Game Geek, playing a little like an RPG combat scene, complete with character upgrades and intense combat. The game also has several expansions.

Other Cthulhu games:
Call of Cthulhu CCG - another well regarded CCG after Magic.
Munchkin Cthulhu - for lighter fare, this is one in a series of funny games about roleplayers.

Other Aliens and Monsters (Mummies, Demons, Devils, Bats, Spiders, and Creepy Crawlies)

The list of single creepy creatures and foul fearsomes can continue as long as there are movies to watch on Sunday afternoon. Suffice to say, you don't want any of these sneaking up on you.

Doom: the Boardgame is one of a new breed of board games based on video games, unlike say, Civilization, which is a video game based on a board game. The Doom board game is by Kevin Wilson, is for 2-4 players, and plays in 3 hours or so. Expect a lot of weapons and gore, and don't expect a cakewalk. One player plays the aliens.

Other monster or alien games:
Monsters Menace America - you play the monsters attacking the military, and you try to get the military to pick on the other monsters.
Aliens - based on the movie of the same name.
Cosmic Encounter - more aliens than you can shake a stick at, and some are cute, too.
HorrorClix - an easygoing miniature game of horror.
Hive - a two-player abstract game of swarming bugs trying to encircle your opponent's queen bee.

Criminals (thieves, murderers, and cannibals)

And just so you always remember, even if all of those monsters and aliens aren't real, there are lots of other all-too-real madmen out to get you and eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

Clue Master Detective was an updating of the original Clue with more possibilities. Said to be somewhat more challenging than the original.

Other killer games:
Mystery of the Abbey - some claim that this is a superior version of Clue.
Mystery Rummy - themed rummy games with special cards and stories.
Mr. Jack - you play Jack the Ripper trying to evade pursuit. Some very interesting mechanics in this game look quite fun.

Video Games

Think FPS and you can't go wrong.


A number of RPGs have tackled horror themes, some quite well. For a good list of these games, try here. Here is a list of free horror RPGs.

Murder Mystery Party

Another great game for a Halloween party is the Murder Mystery. This is an elaborate game that requires a team to carry out, and a bigger group of guests to play, but it's well worth it for large groups. There are sites, kits, and books to help you with this.

Finally, for the discriminating way to end a good Halloween party, you should always watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.


P.S. Boo.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Three Player Bridge

I spent shabbat at my parents. My brother was there as well. My father prefers not to play with us too often anymore; it's hard for him to sit at the table and he wants to read his newspaper. Still, he did play a few hands with us.

Otherwise, my brother, Mom, and I had to play the two card games we usually play with three: Progressive Rummy and Three-Handed Bridge.

If you want a good bridge game for three players, your best bet is for one player to play two hands, partnering for the other players. Or play a three player game, such as Skat or something. But my Mom and brother are used to this already, so it doesn't look like we're going to be changing to a new paradigm any time soon.

Three Handed Bridge Rules

Three-player Bridge has come in several forms, but the one we play is as follows:

Deal four hands. Turn face-up exactly 8 cards of the fourth hand. Players bid for the contract. Whoever wins the contract gets the fourth hand as a dummy. The remaining 5 cards of the dummy are revealed after the first lead.

This makes for difficult bidding, as you don't know if the remaining five cards contain no points or ten points, two suits or four suits. Furthermore, with players bidding without conventions, less information is available for the play of the hand. Still, a lot of the game still remains and it's still enjoyable.

Other sites I've seen indicate that 0, 4 or 6 cards are turned up, instead of 8. The people I played with in college played that the dealer could choose open as many or as few cards of the fourth hand as he or she wanted. In this case, the decision as to how many to open had to be finalized before looking at your own cards.

Wikipedia has another variant, and other variants exist, such as Dummy Bridge and Cutthroat Bridge.

Other games played

Ben also played some Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers with my mom, and Sorry! with his kids. I tried, again, to teach Ben how to play Netrunner, but he once again resisted. He keeps asking why we don't just play Magic.

Game News

Lifelearning is running a competition for a logo for their yearly award for best homeschooling resource. Prize for the logo is $100. What does this have to do with board games? Well, gaming and homeschooling are both non-traditional means of education. And Lisa's a cool chick who likes my site.

Do you live in Ireland? Invite me for a week! No wait, that's not what I meant to write. Oh yeah: schools across the Midlands are being encouraged to support children with autism by taking part in a National Boardgame Day.

A new company called I Can Do That Games has acquired the rights to produce games based on Dr Seuss books. Four games are already printed.

Police solved an old murder case by giving inmates playing cards with unsolved murder victims' information on them.

I somehow missed this entirely awesome ... something on the subject of video games and art: Gamescenes. It's packed with nifty articles on the subject.

Boylston's blog points us to Kasparov's appearance on the Colbert Report, where Steve beats Gary in a game of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots.

There's an article in Wired magazine entitled "It's Alive" about the persistence of the Frankenstein myth. Someone should make a board game on the subject.

There can never be too many Islamic Barbie dolls. Here's the latest one: Elif, who kneels and performs namaz.

And JK Rowling has given many Q&A's about Harry Potter, but this one is one of my favorites. Aside from declaring that Dumbledore was, in fact, gay, she fielded this tricky question:
Q: In the Goblet of Fire Dumbledore said his brother was prosecuted for practicing inappropriate charms [JKR buries her head, to laughter] on a goat; what were the inappropriate charms he was practicing on that goat?

JKR: How old are you?


JKR: I think that he was trying to make a goat that was easy to keep clean [laughter], curly horns. That's a joke that works on a couple of levels. I really like Aberforth and his goats. But you know Aberforth having this strange fondness for goats if you've read book seven, came in really useful to Harry, later on, because a goat, a stag, you know. If you're a stupid Death Eater, what's the difference. So, that is my answer to YOU.

[loud applause]