Monday, December 31, 2007

Movie Review: Music and Lyrics

Music and Lyrics is a fluff romantic comedy made nice by Hugh Grant's usual appeal and a bunch of nice songs that were written especially for the movie.

Formulaic is the idea here, but even with formulaic movies there are bad ones, mediocre ones, enjoyable ones, and great ones. This is not a great one, but it's enjoyable, with no wrong moves, ridiculous hysteria or major plot problems.

Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) is a lyricist and the other half of a musical duo that had a few pop hits in the eighties. Obviously based on the story of Wham and George Michael, his ex-childhood friend and partner dumped him when the opportunity came to make it big as a solo artist.

Fifteen years later he's given the opportunity to write a song for one of the hottest and stupidest female performers (Haley Bennett) on the planet, a Britney-like singer who's heavily into what can only be described as sleazy Buddhism and who apparently thinks that the Dalai Lama is actually a llama. Only he needs a lyricist, since he only knows how to write the tunes.

Guess what undiscovered talent his new, cute, but ditsy hired plant-waterer (Drew Barrymore) turns out to possess? (A clue: it's not a propensity for taking care of plants.)

What saves the movie from mediocrity is the appealing performance of Hugh, who is his usual charming self, and a host of pretty good songs written especially for the movie. You will probably find yourself humming or singing the theme song after the movie is done.

Amazingly enough, Hugh, Drew, and Haley do all of their own singing for the film, and they're all pretty good.

Movie Review: Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde is a thrilling and romantic film about an old myth.

I read on its IMDB entry about how the story bears resemblance to Romeo and Juliet, but it's much closer to the love triangle of King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guenevere. Lo, and behold, the Wikipedia entry on the original story backs me up.

Essentially: Tristan (James Franco) is from Cornwall and loyal to King Marke (Rufus Sewell), one of many kings of a divided post-Roman Britain. Ireland is harrying Britain which can't fight back because its kings can't unite against their common foe.

Tristan kills Ireland's champion warrior but is in turn poisoned by the warrior's blade, and falls into a death-like state. He is sent out on a funeral boat and ends up falling into the hands of the proto-feminist Isolde (Sophia Myles), who happens to be the daughter of the Irish king and happens to be the unwilling betrothed of the now-dead champion.

Before you can say "uh huh, right", Isolde nurses Tristan back to life and sends him back to Britain, but not before they have fallen madly in love. Through various new plots, Isolde ends up married to Marke in an attempt to unite both Britain and Ireland, or the kingdoms of Britain, or something of that sort, and there follows a love triangle which puts the fate of both nations at risk.

Unlike most movies of this sort, there's not a lot of yelling and cutout characters. It's well-crafted and acted, and very carefully not overdone, except for a bit of superfluous and repetitious poetry. It has action for the lovers of sword fights, and passion and romance for the lovers of hopeless tragedy. All in all, it's a lovely film, without any long stretches of downtime, and without too many rushed scenes (except for the beginning, perhaps).

IMDB also claims that the movie is based on Wagner's famous opera, Tristan und Isolde, which is quite changed from the original legend, but the movie is sufficiently changed from the opera that only the basic characters and setting remain.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Movie Review: Children of Men

Children of Men is a violent but excellent movie about a near dystopian future where no children have been born for 18 years. No explanation is given for this premise, nor is one really needed.

As you might expect, the world is pretty down about this, fearing for the end of mankind after the current humans die in a way that doesn't seem to bother our current civilization (which is why science-fiction is the best of all metaphorical fiction genres, holding up a mirror to ourselves by changing something that we often take for granted).

The movie also presents the entire world as essentially reverted to barbarism, with the lone exception of Great Britain. But GB doesn't get off easy. They have their hands full beating up, killing, or throwing out the waves of illegal immigrants trying to get in, as well as handling the roaming gangs of thugs in the countryside who are out for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Theo (Clive Owen) plays a man going about his business who suddenly gets "recruited" by an old girlfriend (Julianne Moore), a "terrorist" leader: she needs him to help smuggle a young woman out of the country. A young woman who is mysteriously, and miraculously, pregnant.

Along the way we meet violence, a bit of friendship, more violence, betrayal, more violence, and more violence.

Theo is an anti-hero. He does what he has to do while the forces around him are slowly circling in, but he's fragile, weak, and scared. Lots of people beat up, slice, or shoot people in the film, but he's not one of them. As a result, you feel the fear along with him.

While I disagree with the need to show so much explicit gore (not excessively much, but too much anyway), the movie is beautifully shot with many very long single shots, which gives an air of reality to the narrative.

As far as the pregnancy goes, this is just as unexplained as the premise itself. Nor is any explanation given as to what exactly will happen with a single baby born into this mess of a world. Which is all to the good.

Some people said that the best sci-fi movie of the last decade was Gattaca, but I disagree; Gattaca was an good premise but a rather poor movie shot with little flair and too tightly wrapped up. This is far better; better movie-making, and better story.

Movie Review: Enchanted

Enchanted is a wonderful Disney movie that manages to both capture the spirit of family entertainment while simultaneously mocking it at the same time.

The movie begins with a fifteen minute animated sequence about a girl (Amy Adams) in the forest with her woodland animal friends pining for her true love's kiss just as if the last fifty years of feminism and modern sensibilities never occurred.

The handsome prince (James Marsden), out for his daily jaunt at beating up ogres, swoops in to rescue the girl.

"Who are you?" he asks.

"I'm Gizelle!"

"Gizelle! We will be married in the morning!"

And so they ride off into the sunset.

Hopefully no one will have bolted out of the theater by this point, because this is where it gets truly wonderful. The prince's stepmother, fearing the loss of her kingdom should her step-son marry, pushes Gizelle into a magical well where she wakes up as a live action person in New York City.

About what you would expect occurs, but it's done so well. It's not overdone slapstick, it's not racy, it's not all the bad things it could have been. Instead it's sweet, lightly comedic, and captivating. There are even a few song and dance numbers that are actually good, not forgettable like so many other recent musicals have been.

And even though things work out in the usual Disney manner, enough modern sensibility is thrown in to make it not too cloying.

The movie enters some weak territory when it tries to resolve just what magic works in the real world and what doesn't. But you can ignore that. And it carries a poor message about the magic of credit cards, which is harder to ignore, but doesn't take up much screen time.

My daughter Tal (14) saw it with me and hid her face in her hands when the movie started out, thinking that it might be all animated and old-fashioned, but in the end she was singing the songs out of the theater.

This is not a deep, thoughtful life-changing movie, but it's great entertainment and a welcome member of the Disney collection.

Hurry Up! Last Few Days to Nominate for BGIAs

Here's your last chance to nominate the best game related online material of 2007. Click through to the BGIA awards to cast your nominations.


Rachel and I played two games of PR last night. I shook up the board a little by returning Small Market and swapping Hospice for Guest House and Discretionary Hold for Small Wharf.

In the first game, Rachel took Small Market but could barely use it. Meanwhile I did some nice damage with Guest House and Large General Workhouse, although Rachel was careful enough to Mayor before the game ended by my filling in my last building space. I won by around 48 to 43.

In the second game, I took Small Market and Factory, a very ordinary strategy. Rachel had Large Business, Office, and Small Fashion District. I had to leave moments before it ended, but Rachel says that I also won by a point. But that was only because she wanted the game to finish. She could have made the game go one more round and beat me by a point, instead, I believe.


The Story of You 2007

Gamer props

For the funsmith, who keeps finding it in all sorts of places: Bernie DeKoven

For being Head Geek of Board Game Geek and still rocking the house: Scott Alden and the rest of the staff

For Board Games with Scott, a video blog that's unexpectedly great: Scott Nicholson

For the Board Game Babylon, the classiest board game podcast: E.R. Burgess

For the second stop for board games on the internet: W. Eric Martin and the rest of the gang at Board Game News

For Reiver Games, for publishing my game and for letting the world in on the details of how that happened: Jackson Pope

For Buffalo Gamebuffs: Tim

For Critical Gamers, continued coverage of all things gaming: The Staff

For Critical Hits: Dave Chalker

For Gamer's Mind, continuing game reports and analysis: Jim Cote

For Gone Gaming, now merging with Board Game News: The Staff

For his work on Joystiq and Escapist: Scott Jon Siegel

For NYC Gamer and BGG posts: Tom Rosen

For doggedly trying to keep the new Game Carnival going: Jeff Myers

For BGG.con friendship: Mischa Krilov, Chris Brooks, Jim Ginn, Aaron Fuegi, and Chad Ellis

For The Dice Tower, Secret Santa, and lots of other goodness: Tom Vasel

For the Tao of Gaming: Brian Bankler

For comments on more than one of my posts this year: Brian, Maksim, Gnome, Seth, Dave, Mischa, Brenda, Mikko, Chris, Eric, John, Avri, Dani, Simon, David, Jeff, Scooter, Gavin, Dee, Pleader, Jonas, Nathaniel, Alfred, meowsqueak, Anthony, Gerald, Eddie, me-ander, Jack, Gabriel, Keren, David K, Nadine, Timothy, and Jackson

For everyone who linked to, sponsored, quoted, or republished my stuff (with permission)

Israel / Jewish props

For Haveil Havalim and other goodness: Soccer Dad

For Treppenwitz, awesome writing and poignant stories: David Bogner

For trying hard to get games going in Israel: The members of the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club, Avri, Gilad, Johnathan, and Helena

For continuing to talk: The Staff of Good Neighbors

For awesome reporting: Michael Totten

For being so happy and idealistic: Yael

For fighting the good fight: Orthomom

For food: Joy restaurant and Burgers Bar.

Tech and Blogging Props

For headlines: Brian Clark

For perfection: Kathy Sierra

For wit and wisdom: Hugh MacLeod and Seth Godin

For building communities: The Staff of Performancing and Darren Rowse

For tech happenings: Slashdot and Techdirt

For pictures: Snagit, Picasa, High Quality Photo Resizer, and Flickr

For videos: Videolan and Youtube

For browsing: Firefox

For connecting: Gmail, Google Talk, and Jajah

For utility: Time Calendar, AVG virus, Startup Control Panel

Distraction Props

Boing Boing


The Daily Show

Comics: Girls With Slingshots, Punch 'n Pie, Something Positive, Indexed, Order of the Stick, xkcd, 9 Chickweed Lane, Count Your Sheep, Dilbert, Doonesbury, For Better or For Worse, Funky Winkerbean, Kevin and Kell, Pearls Before Swine, Questionable Content, Stone Soup, Tom Toles, User Friendly, and Zits

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Weekend Update

A quiet shabbat, but I got in three games of It's Alive with a guest after lunch.

This was a guest to whom I taught Havoc a year or two back, and he went out and bought it. He hasn't been over since then, but he also claims to occasionally play Settlers with his nephews and nieces.

I taught him my game and he asked to play two more times, despite losing each time. He was getting better by the third play, at least.

Best of Board Game Geek 2007

Aldie posted a fantastic series of posts collecting the highest rated content of BGG over the past year:

Top Images
Top Strategy Articles
Top Session Reports
Top Reviews

There are lots of gems in some two hundred articles and images. Among them is this fantastic story about someone's last game of Chess, and a great article about how the game Zendo is the right way to teach kids about science.

Game News

The Herald has an article that explains why a board game business based around licensed games is a Bad Idea.

Jon Scott Siegel posts another intriguing game design in Escapist. Actually, it doesn't look like much of a game, but it does look like an interesting look at a single game mechanic.

The Financial Times gives a shot at suggesting some alternate games for the holiday season.

BizThoughts runs the idea of a Board Games Cafe as a business past its readers.

Play 2 Relax doggedly continues the Games Carnival.

Bernie (via kottke) links to an event called Scrabble for Cheaters, which looks like it could be turned into an interesting variant for Scrabble.

Ten amusing principles in game design from Chimera.


Friday, December 28, 2007

The Story of Me in 2007

Another year of blogging has nearly come to an end.

The biggest news of my year is when I switched to become a professional blogger mid-year. This blog doesn't support me, but doing it made me confident enough to hire myself out as a corporate blogger.

Here's some more reflection on my year of blogging:


I began to have real fun with the Haveil Havalim (Israel/Jewish blog carnival) with Speed Dating.

I continue to diss the concept of winning in Winning is Incompatible With Art.


I moved to the new Blogger format.

I ask if blogs are art.

I post the Canadian copyright code in verse.

Continuing with IP, I remind people that nobody ever pays for content.

12 Games With No Components for Large Groups.

My 1000th post gave all of my earnings until then back to my readers.

I talk about the Myth of Multiple Paths to Victory.


My game finally gets the nod and is scheduled to be published by Reiver Games, with a slight change in theme.

A special news article: God sues all IP holders.

My post The Top Ten Most Expensive Games in the World becomes a hit, and its contents are promptly stolen.

I also post my Blogger Code of Ethics.


Another popular post, Celebrities Who Play Board Games.


An entry in a Problogger contest, Five Games You Need to Play to Live Well.

My most ambitious Haveil Havalim in cyberpunk format, The Derezzing.

Flak magazine hosts an article of mine on Puerto Rico.


I become a professional blogger and post How I Did It.


I take a trip to London and Scotland, returning with lots of pictures and a few posts (scout around for many other similar posts).

I write a strange article about copyrights and Marcel Duchamp.

But the most noise comes from my provocatively titled post Games Are Not Supposed to be Fun. The post is nearly universally misunderstood and I intend to re-write it more clearly.


My next Haveil Havalim is called "The Sex Edition", making me instantly unpopular with other religious Jewish bloggers. Not coincidentally, I haven't been asked to do another HH since.

The Difference Between Reward and Punishment is a nice piece about my daughter Ariella and growing up.


I meet with other Israeli and Palestinian bloggers and post about it.

The strange story of my dog getting lost at the airport unfolds.

I post the first in a series of lists of jobs in the game industry.

I also note that online game sites don't seem to know much about the people who actually play their games.


I begin to notice the growing wave of pink games.

I publish my Holiday Gift Guide a little early, as I'm off to Canada.


I report on BGG.con, the first of many posts.

I also begin a series of contests to give away board games and other gifts.

My post on Sex in Board Games gets some attention.


I note the most important gaming events in human history.

My year end posts about the most important game news and strangest board games.

Year Round

All year long I also bring you session reports, the latest in game news, game bloggers, and new game patents.

I hope you've enjoyed. If you have any comments, requests, or complaints, let me know.

Have a Peaceful New Year,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What Games Did We Play This Year?

A good indication of a great game is that it's played often.

There are many reasons why a game may not get played often. You may be a sucker in the "cult of the new" (always playing new games). Or the game doesn't really have the drawing power in practice that it has on paper. Also, you might lose a game, or only acquire a game at the end of the year.

Some great games are played only once or twice a year, such as long complicated war games, although a single "game" may take several dozen sessions to finish. And some great games don't get played at all if you can't find willing opponents.

But a game that survives the initial plays and is played often throughout the year is a good indication of high game value. This is especially true in a game group where there are many games to chose from. High game value, or extreme boredom and laziness.

For that reason, at the end of each year, many gamers and game group organizers like to list what games they actually played that year. We call them "nickel and dime lists"; games played five or more times are "nickels", ten or more times are "dimes", and so on.

The 2007 JSGC Nickel and Dime List

I don't bother doing a personal nickel and dime list, but here is the nickel and dime list of my game group, the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club.

Of course really light board games are played multiple times in one session. So ten games of Boggle: is that 1 play or 10 plays? I'm afraid that I'm inconsistent about this. I usually count all Bridge hands as a single game, while I count several plays of Boggle as individual games. So whenever I do that, I'll explain.

In parentheses is the number of times that we played the game last year.


Bridge x 31 (19) - The greatest card game for a standard deck of playing cards. Some core players in our group are just getting started with this game and happy to play every week. I wouldn't mind playing some other light games, but I don't mind playing Bridge, either. It's an incredible game. Each game night includes between 3 and 12 hands.

Caylus x 11 (8) - A heavy eurogame of building and resources. I don't like the game much because it's very repetitive, mechanical, and long, but other members in the group are happy to play it just about every week.

Cosmic Encounter x 15 (12) - A classic chaotic board game which has been around for over thirty years. A game can be long and tedious or furious and hilarious, but it's always wild. That's what makes it so good. We play more now that I own my own copy.

Go x 11 (10) - The perfect two-player abstract game is too perfect, sometimes, as it's hard to take losing, and you can't get better unless you play an awful lot.

It's Alive / The Menorah Game x 21 (18) - A light auction and set-collection card game. We got the published version mid-year, but we've been playing the prototype version all along. This is my own game, and a good choice as a filler, especially for 3 players.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation x 14 (29) - A themed bluffing game using the Stratego mechanic. One of the members who loves this game didn't come to the group much this year. A quick but tense filler game for two players.

Magic: the Gathering x 17 (22) - The definitive collectible card game. While occasionally others will play this, most of the plays are between David and me. Still a fantastic game, and always will be.

Netrunner x 11 - Another CCG. I really love this game, but the only other people who would play it with me were David and Binyamin. David ended up never wanting to play it because there is too much luck, while Binyamin and I haven't had more opportunity. And I have new cards which I haven't played with, too.

Power Grid x 21 (18) - A game of route connections and money management. This has become the game of choice for most evenings. I now have some new maps to play on, too. Lots of money counting.

Puerto Rico x 12 (15) - This is The Game, number one game in the world for a reason, but it doesn't get so much group play because many of us play it so often outside of the group. And Rachel will play it in the group, but she's been in Canada for the last half a year.

San Juan x 13 (13) - PR's little brother the card game is nice but less filling. Seems to be the default opening filler for some people while waiting for others to show up.

Tichu x 14 (4) - A ladder card game. A really nice alternative to Bridge which requires less thinking and exactly four people, but most people in the group would rather just play Bridge.


Chess x 6 - Played by a few specific members on occasion.

El Grande x 5 (3) - A hefty area-control game, the best. It's nice to see its numbers go up slightly. I could play it more often.

Lost Cities x 5 (1) - A simple card game. I tried this and decided it was simply brainless. Maybe very good for non-gamers. Traded away.

Lost Valley x 7 - A nice medium game of resource collecting and buying special abilities, but can occasionally turn into a runaway game. Slightly flawed in that regard. But I still want to play it.

Princes of Florence x 9 (6) - A classic and well-loved game, very cerebral. Tight money management and set collection. Lovely theme.

Settlers of Catan x 8 (12) - The original and best introductory euro game of resources and civ building. Tends to get played by the newer players as a gateway game to other games. It's by now brainless for me, having played it a thousand times, and old hat to some of the others, but still a good game.

Zendo x 5 (7) - A pure induction game. One of our members loves this game and brings it with him. He hasn't been around much lately, however.

Zertz x 5 - A nice GIPF game, I prefer Dvonn, Yinsh, or Tzaar. All the GIPF games are pretty two-player abstracts.

Near Misses

Amun-Re x 3 (5) - A building game in ancient Egypt. Played less because I returned the copy of the game I had borrowed. Nearly everyone likes the game well enough.

Children of Fire: the Boardgame x 4 - An interesting game of blind bidding. Binyamin notes that the setup can result in some people having more natural allies than others, making for unbalanced starting positions. More concerning are some rules problems and no guaranteed end to the game (solve this by declaring the game over after 8 turns).

Geschenkt x 3 (5) - A quick and very light filler card game, excellent for new players.

Mr Jack x 4 - A new deduction game in the collection. Fun, even though one of the sides can lose the game with one mistake, while the other just has to be fairly competent and hope for luck.

Mykerinos x 3 - A decent game of area control, but not especially gripping.

Santiago x 3 (7) - One of my absolute favorites, unfortunately others don't feel the same way. It's an elegant area connection game with a brilliant auction system.

Taj Mahal x 3 (7) - A set collection route connection bluffing game. Another great game that doesn't get played as much as it used to, owing to other games being even better.

Tigris and Euphrates x 4 (8) - An excellent area connection tile laying game, this is a great game, but much more confrontational than some of the others.

Wildlife x 4 (1) - We tried this area connection game and found it to be overly long and not so interesting after all. Don't know why. I traded it away.

Yinsh x 3 (9) - One of the best of the Gipf games.


Backgammon x 2 - Rarely played, except as an unusual choice for a filler.

Blokus (and Trigon) x 2 - Beautiful abstract games, but better suited for non-gamers. Somehow too abstract for our group.

Boggle x 2 - I still enjoy this, but most of the group doesn't like word games, and those who do don't want to play this for some reason.

Carcassonne (all types) x 2 (2) - A great intro tile laying game. I don't own a copy at the moment, but this is another good game that doesn't seem to go right with our group. Too many possibilities with each move, possibly. I like it.

Colosseum x 2 - An overproduced OK euro.

Die Macher x 2 - A great German political game, but really, really long. We keep trying but never finishing a game.

Dvonn x 2 (5) - Another excellent in the Gipf series.

For Sale x 2 (11) - Great auction card game for non-gamers, not enough substance for the group.

Mau x 2 - I loathe this induction card game. A few of our members like it.

Pirate's Cove x 2 - I haven't played this euro. Well received, I believe.

Robo Rally x 2 - Really fun and chaotic game for computer and engineering geeks, but play with a very small board and only one goal, and then see how long it takes. Can take a long time to play on a large board.

Saboteur x 2 (1) - A light Mille-Bornes like card game which scales for 3 to 10 players. I seem to have misplaced my copy.

Shear Panic x 2 - Poorly written rules, and really cute pieces. It's an ok abstract game, but not enough for us. Traded away.

Tic Tac Toe x 2 - Don't ask.


24/7 (1) - A nice tile laying math game for kids, but not interesting enough for our group. Traded away.

Apples to Apples (1) - An excellent portable party game for non-gamers, totally not right for our group.

Arimaa (1) - A modern, slow abstract played with chess pieces. I just don't like the mechanics.

Arkham Horror - A new game, long, complex, and RPG-like. A cooperative game with little player interaction. But greatly themed and fun. But did I mention long? And lots of bits.

Atlantic Star - I really like this simple card drafting game, but all the people I played with didn't see its depth. I haven't been able to get it out again.

Blue Moon City - A very nice area control game which belongs to Binyamin. I wouldn't mind playing again.

Bus - A pickup and deliver game with a very interesting but greatly flawed bidding system. I would love to fix it so we can play the rest of the game.

By Hook or By Crook (4) - The definitive rock-paper-scissors game, a mechanic only some of us like, but others hate.

Casbah - A very simple and simplistic abstract.

Checkers - More depth than most people give it credit for, still not exactly thrilling.

Chrononauts - I didn't play, but I believe that I would hate it.

Cities and Knights of Catan (3) - We used to play this a lot, but there are runaway winner problems. Still a good game for occasional play. Based on Settlers, but with more special cards and pieces.

Cleopatra and the Society of Architects - Lots of 3D components and an OK euro.

Colossal Arena (3) - Not a bad bidding card game, but nothing too exciting for its category. Traded away.

Cribbage (2) - A time killer for two people and a deck of standard playing cards.

Crossword Dominoes - Old game that I wanted to check out. Not worth much.

Down Under - A new tile-laying game. I think it's quite nice. Good for 2-4 players. The other people I played with didn't like it.

Feurio - Awful game, unfortunately. The designer made a slightly better game with the same components, Vulkan.

Grave Robbers From Outer Space - Old-style game for those that like that sort of thing.

Havoc: the Hundred Years War (15) - A nice poker-like game for up to six players, good for non-gamers especially. A little long for its class.

Hearts (5) - Good card game, but a very good game when played as teams.

Intrigue (2) - Total backstabbing game for those who like this sort of thing. I hate it.

Leonardo Da Vinci - Looks like a nice Euro, but we didn't actually finish a game.

Louis XIV (3) - An OK area control, but feels a bit clunky, especially the scoring. Playable.

Medici - I didn't play, but supposedly a good auction game.

Metro - A light tile laying game, I didn't play.

Mississippi Queen - A nice brain-burning route-planning game. I'd like to get this out on the table again.

Modern Art (8) - A pure auction game, too pure. Lacks a little substance.

Nautilus (3) - An OK Euro, ruined by the random scoring chips that you have to pick up.

Odin's Ravens - A nice light two-player card game. Not too much thinking.

Order of the Stick - Another RPG like game, very funny if you know the comic. Typical dice game with encounters.

Palazzo - An average set collection auction game.

Poker - I like to play this if it's not for real money.

Queries and Theories (1) - A decent introduction which is actually educational.

Ra (Lo Ra) (3) - Another classic auction game, we play Nadine's Jewish themed version. Still, it's a bit dry.

Railroad Tycoon - I love pick up and deliver rail games, and this one is a decent one, but the physical components, rules, and graphics just suck so badly that the game is unplayable.

Samurai - A very abstract tile laying game by Knizia. I haven't mentioned Knizia until now, but this is probably the twentieth game of his on this list, so far. It's a very good game, but unlike all other Knizia games, I don't like the scoring mechanic here.

Schotten Totten - A light card game which I have yet to play. I'm hoping it will be better than Lost Cities.

Shadows Over Camelot (8) - One of the definitive cooperative games. I don't really like the mechanics, but it has a lot going for it. It plays equally well with 3 to 7 players, and people can join or leave the game at any time without disrupting it. We would play more, but I don't actually own a copy.

Shogi - Japanese Chess, I don't get to play this enough.

Stephenson's Rocket - Another rail game, but not an exceptional one.

Thor - A very, very light card game. Geschenkt is better in this category.

Tikal (1) - An exceptionally beautiful game, and a really good one too. I have no idea why we don't play this more. We should.

Toutankamon - I didn't play this and know little about it.

Tower of Babel - Ditto.

Vegas Showdown - Ditto.

Vulkan - The slightly better game for Feurio pieces, it's still not a great game, but it's ok.

Wall of China - I didn't play and have no idea.

Winner's Circle (6) - My daughter Tal's favorite game, it's a dice racing game that actually has some fun take that tactics. Not a bag game, but lots of dice rolling and not at all strategic.

World of Warcraft (1) - Another long sprawling RPG like game which I won't touch, as I don't care to play 6 hour dice rolling combat games.


These games were played last year, but were not played at all this year.

AD&D (5) - I finally had enough of this system, and I'm hoping to try another system sometime this coming year. I still like RPGs.

Age of Steam (2) - This is a brilliant wonderful rail game. Has a few flaws, but not many. Unfortunately, I don't own a copy. Wish I did.

Alladin's Dragons (1) - An OK blind bidding euro.

Andromeda (1) - No idea.

Anagrams (2) - I actually love this game, even more than Scrabble. You flip over tiles and try to form words as you see them. Our group is not into word games, however.

Attika (1) - I played this more than once, and hated it every time. I must have something wrong with the rules, because lots of people like it. I can't figure out why. It's a dull tile laying game.

Bernini Mysterie (1) - A dirt simple abstract that never ends with good play.

Beyond Balderdash (1) - An excellent party game, definitely not for our group.

Big City (1) - No idea.

Bohnanza (1) - A set collection card game with a funny theme and some funny rules. It's OK, but not tense in any way. I think of it as a kid's game. I traded away my copy.

Capitol (2) - An OK euro.

Clans (3) - An area connection game that seems too easy to me. I got bored of it after one play.

Davinci Code (1) - No idea.

El Caballero (1) - A decent tile laying game, but not good enough to warrant keeping. I traded it away.

Elfenland (1) - An average route-planning euro.

Empire Builder (1) - An old style train game, nice for the first hour and then gets repetitive.

Entdecker (1) - I didn't play this.

Fluxx (5) - Lord preserve me from ever playing this again. A horrid but slightly amusing game where the rules change with every card played.

Gipf (1) - Another Gipf game, I didn't like this one.

Goa (1) - I traded this away, despite it's high praise. It's another heavy euro with a complicated integrated series of progressions and resource collection, but every path seemed about equal to every other path, except for the one slightly broken strategy of card collection. It was slightly boring.

Goldland (3) - This seemed like an average euro after one play. It played with the same sort of mechanics as Lost Valley, but didn't seem as elegant. I should try it another time or two.

Hive (11) - A simple abstract game played without a board. Kind of like thumb wrestling with bakelite pieces. A bit dry for my tastes, but I'm certainly willing to play many more times.

Ingenious (2) - A really good abstract game of area connections. Available under many different names, including MENSA and Connections. I would play more if I owned a copy.

Keythedral (1) - I didn't play it, but I heard good things about it.

King's Gate (1) - No idea.

Kotsuku (5) - A game given to me to review, it needed a slight fix to make it a decent very, very quick and lite game.

Letter Hold'em (2) - Just a deck of cards with letters on them, meant to restrict the type of poker hands you can make.

Lift Off (1) - A speed card game of slapping cards onto the board in a certain order. Cute, but not my type of game. Traded it away.

Maharaja (2) - This is really a very good area control game that it totally ruined by the scoring mechanic. I loved this game, until we get to the last third of the game. The winner is always already decide by then. A terrible shame. I traded the game away, but I think I should simply have fixed the scoring and kept it.

Maneater (3) - An abstract game where the guy playing the shark decides who to kill and everyone else wins, or so it seemed. A little more to it than that, but not enough.

Martian Chess (1) - An abstract game played with Icehouse pieces. I didn't play.

Medina (1) - Another I didn't play.

New England (2) - A decent auction set collection game, with a few too many mechanics and some silly attempts to fit a theme in. I would be happy to play it again.

Nexus Ops (1) - A back and forth light war game with missions. Not my type of game. You keep hitting each other until someone wins. It's better than that, but that's the essence.

Odds and Evens (3) - Don't ask.

Oh Hell (2) - A luck-filled game which is still sun to play. My daughter loves it.

Origins of World War I (1) - A negotiation and area control game, somewhat like Diplomacy. A simple game for the war gamers.

Primordial Soup (2) - A nice game of civ building, whose only problems are its length and runaway leader issues. That's a deadly combination for problems. Not all the games exhibit these problems, and the ones that don't area really good. A few too many did, however. I traded it.

Quo Vadis (5) - A negotiation game, needs exactly four or five players. It's a bit too long for what it is, but it's a decent game.

Railway Rivals (1) - A rail game that didn't excite me overly much.

Reef Encounter (1) - I didn't play it, and I'd love to.

Rheinländer (1) - An OK euro.

Rook (1) - A classic trick taking partnership game which doesn't get played owing to Tichu and Bridge.

Runebound (1) - Another long and complicated RPG-like game with lots of dice based combat.

Santorini (1) - A simple abstract which only works for two. Didn't hold much interest for me after a few dozen plays.

San Marco (4) - A nice area control game with a cool card splitting mechanic. I don't find this too challenging and I enjoy it. But it's definitely top-tier.

Scotland Yard (1) - An old deduction game, really a two player game. Like Master-mind, the game is eventually solved.

Seargent Major (1) - A card game I don't know.

Secret Sevens (1) - Ditto.

Set (4) - An excellent pattern matching game for non-gamers, but only for those that "get" it. Those that don't will hate it. Everyone should try it. One good feature is that any number of people can play it at once.

Settlers of the Stone Age (1) - I didn't play it.

St Petersburg (1) - Another well-regarded game that I really don't like. I really tried to like it, but it's just deeply flawed. I traded mine away.

Tarot (1) - A card game which I don't know.

Thurn and Taxis (2) - A light game of route building that somehow managed to have no tension and is therefore rather dull.

Ticket to Ride (3) - A super intro game for new players, it just didn't hold my interest enough.

Torres (2) - Another excellent game that doesn't see enough play. You build towers and maneuver your knights around them.

Trendsetters (1) - A card game. I thought the central mechanic was really bad.

Twilight Imperium III (2) - Yet another RPG-like game of combat and dice rolling that takes several hours to play. Some nice mechanics, but too long.

War (1) - Don't ask.

Ys (2) - A blind bidding area control game, this is a set of nice mechanics but almost soulless in the way of theme. Has too many tracks for scoring points. Still, a fun game if you like lots of complicated scoring tracks.

Zero In (1) - Essentially a light party game, it has two hundred questions and then you're done. Very portable, though.


Last Game Session of the Year, in which we play Down Under

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Down Under, Power Grid - Benelux, Taj Mahal, Cosmic Encounter, Bridge, Magic.

We play Down Under and the Power Grid Benelux board for the first time.

Chess News

Art Info has an article about the most expensive chess pieces. A set was sold last May at Christies for $300k, and the article has a lot more info on antique and expensive sets.

Of course, "most expensive" and "art" are not necessarily connected, but the ones they show are kind of pretty. Of course, "pretty" and "art" and not necessarily connected.

Chris Reuber on BGG links to a few articles: Chess played by soldiers in Iraq. Afghan chess boards are a popular item for shipping home by soldiers in Afghanistan.

And Gaping Void links back to one of his earlier articles on the origin of the movement of today's traditional chess pieces.

Other Game News

A slew of people in Beaverton played Warmachine for a good cause, paying their entrance fee in cans of food and the like.

Boston is doing a similarly worthy event for under 5's playing Candyland.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Four Games Played

Rachel and I played Mr. Jack on Sunday evening. Rachel is never too enthused about trying a new game, but gave it a go since Nadine recommended it. She played Detective, and I played Criminal.

I made two mistakes: It is far easier to keep people lit than to keep them unlit. I had the five remaining suspects unlit, and with her last character on turn three I let her move two of them together. The number of suspects was narrowed down to three.

In turn four I needed to move either Mr Jack or one of the other suspects, and I moved the other one instead. That move separated the two and kept them unlit, but the other one was now able to escape the next round - when it should have been Mr Jack that was able to escape the next round. As a result, when I didn't escape with the other one, he, too, was eliminated as a suspect.

She won on turn five. I doubt she will play again.

The second game we played was our usual perfect two-player variant of Puerto Rico with the usual substitute buildings from my sets. It was close, but she beat me nicely 52 to 47. I think she beats me around 60% of the time. Which is nice. Keeps both of us happy.

On Monday, I received a call from Mitchell Thomashow of board game geek, in Israel as keynote speaker for a conference and looking to escape from a very strict lecture and touring schedule for the night. He came over for dinner and some games. I invited Nadine over as well, so we were a threesome.

Mitchell couldn't stay too long, so we needed some quicker games for three. It's Alive is fairly perfect for that, and he hadn't played it before. Rachel had a cross-conversation with him while we were playing, so we didn't concentrate fully on the game, but I think he enjoyed it. I won 47 to his 38 and Nadine's 37.

Another quick game for three players is Blokus Trigon, which I've only played once or twice, and so was eager to try again. I enjoyed it more this time than last time, although my basic comments still hold.

It's much more serene than the original Blokus. It's really hard to get trapped, and hard to get blocked until the very end of the game. Where in the regular version you may end up with five or six pieces left, in this game it's hard to end up with more than three pieces left. Everything just fits until the very last moves of the game.

Nadine managed to block my last pieces, however, and then play out completely. As a result, she won, Mitchell was second, and I was last. Nadine doesn't usually win these spacial games, so it was nice to see her do so this time.

Even though it's not that hard to use most of the pieces, it's still fun to think about how to use them, so it's still an enjoyable game. And it gets tense at the end.

Game News

MIT has a tradition of doing yearly pranks, or "hacks". They are so elaborate and interesting that many of their hacks have passed into Internet legend. This year's pranks included dressing up some familiar buildings around campus in a board game theme.

If you're into beautiful playing cards, here's an article about hand painted Ganjifa cards from India.

The Times Online has a basic list of links for gaming and game related creative activities.

Another card game stabbing (Athens, GA). Another car game robbery (Reddick, FL).

Here's an environmental game called Play Rethink. You pick a random subject and have to come up with a new environmental use for it. Then you upload the card to the site. I don't know if there are any specific rules of winners, although each month they pick a winner and possibly help the person develop the idea. Is it a game?

And oh yes: Happy Christmas to all my readers who celebrate it.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another Perspective on Copyright

The misuse of IP is often conveyed by comparing the result of an overreaching copyright claim or enforcement to the "original intent" of copyright law.

The so-called "original intent" is often derived from the text of the U.S. constitution, which writes "The Congress shall have Power [. . .] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

What does this mean? Essentially, that the natural state of being is for there to be free expression. In other words, assume that no copyright exists and that people are free to say, perform, or write whatever they want.

In this state, people have no incentive to produce anything that requires any sort of invested time or money, since they will not receive any guaranteed compensation from it. The result will be a general loss to the public - the loss of the words, music, and art that was never produced.

In order to solve this, the law steps in and slightly limits free speech, free press, and so on, and grants a time-limited monopoly to those who produce something worthwhile, so that they can use that time to make money from the work. In theory, the law limits the public's rights just enough to encourage the creation of the work, and no more. After the copyright has expired, the work passes to the public, which was the entire point to begin with.

Even if this was the original intention of the framers of the U.S. constitution, this is not the only argument for the existence of copyright, nor is this necessarily the only "original" intent of copyright laws.

Copyright laws pre-date the U.S. constitution. Even before the printing press, some books claimed within them the exclusive right to reproduction and warned others about divine curses should they make copies. After the printing press, a whole series of laws, precedents, and international systems were bandied about (such as the Statute of Anne), before the Berne convention essentially became the de facto international standard.

Libertarians argue that intellectual property qua property is a modern invention, but it's really not. It's not that weird to believe that someone "owns" a worthwhile idea, phrase, writing, artwork, or piece of music. It's natural and moral to acknowledge the source of a particular work; claiming to be the originator of an idea or phrase that isn't yours, or neglecting to mention whose it is when you know, strikes most people as morally problematic. Once you acknowledge that something ephemeral has a source, it's not a big leap to believe that they have some rights to its presentation or dissemination.

If this is the case, than claiming that the sole intent of copyright is to benefit the public and not also a moral right of the originator of a work is somewhat disingenuous, regardless of what the U.S. constitution writes.

The problem is one of conflicting rights: namely, the right to free expression (speech, press, and so on) versus the right to possess or control intellectual property. Which right is more important? Can there be a balance? Can there be a win-win for all sides?

According to many philosophers, the only natural rights that all people possess are to life and to liberty. Already you have a conflict. The notion of a right is of something that limits the liberties of others. My right to life is only usefully defined if it includes a duty for all other people to not abrogate that right. All other people must be forcibly constrained from acting in a way that limits or lessens my life.

Other philosophers add a number of other basic rights to this list: the right to property, i.e. that what you hold others cannot summarily take from you, the right to be free from torture, and so on.

Regarding the right to property, the issue here is physical property versus intellectual property. The big difference is that I must be dispossessed of a physical object for someone else to have it. For instance, if I claim a piece of land, the only way someone else can have some of that land is for me to have less of it.

Intellectual property, on the other hand, can be obtained by others with no actual loss to me. I may own how to create a fire, but if others also spread this knowledge, I don't lose this information. It is analogous to the spread of fire itself. I may possess the only torch. If another torch is lit from mine, mine is not diminished.

However, there is a loss involved, even for intellectual property. If I am the unique possessor of a piece of information, it has value in that others must come to me to obtain it. The more the information spreads, the less valuable my property. So loss is incurred by "stealing" and copying my information.

Many would argue that information wants to be free. That, unlike physical objects, or perhaps more like fire, once information exists and begins to spread, any attempt to control it is unnatural. Therefore, I should never have evaluated the holding of this information as having any value to begin with. However, all that this means is that I should have obtained a much larger sum up front for releasing the information to the world at once, rather than expecting to obtain a small amount from each person who wants it.

Supposing that we discard the idea that information wants to be free and that copyright exists only to liberate it from those who would otherwise not release it. Let's, for a moment, agree that people should have a right to own their intellectual works.

This still begs an important problem: all progress we make as humans relies on incremental steps that incorporate all previous human knowledge. Every piece of science, math, art, engineering, and so on is built on every other piece. If all knowledge is locked up with the owner of that knowledge, we may as well just throw in the towel as a species.

Excessively restricting knowledge is detrimental to human progress. It seems to me that there is one more natural right: the right to use ideas to create new ideas.

Limits should be placed on any knowledge ownership, so as to ensure that all works enter the public domain in reasonable time. In addition, more severe limits should be placed on derivatives created from owned works. Otherwise, the human race ends up strangling in a quagmire of IP holdings. Even if IP is a natural right, it is in conflict with a right to use the collected knowledge of our species to grown and contribute back to our species.

Copyright law should still strike a balance between these two rights.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Shabbat Gaming

Having my wife back is nice. Although, between her jetlag and my trying to get over being sick, we slept a lot.

Nadine came by in the afternoon, though, and played Mr Jack with Tal. Tal played the criminal, and lost to Nadine's Detective. Then Tal, Nadine, and I played Oh Hell, which Nadine vaguely remembered playing once before. She declared it to be too much luck, which of course we already knew. Nadine then began to teach Tal how to play Bridge. But then shabbat came to an end.

Game News

The Seattle Times has an article about games, Eurogames, and a local games store.

The NY Times ran a crossword puzzle with board games as the theme.


Friday, December 21, 2007

I'm a Prophet

At the end of 2006, I made ten predictions about what will happen with board games in 2007. To no surprise, I was right about all of them, with only minor correction.

For item 2, people finally got the idea that single-player versions of board games on computers is not where it's at. Multi-player versions finally came around, and are doing nicely.

For item 6, I think Settlers of Catan is finally starting to make a few ripples, twelve years after its initial release. I would put the number of people who know about it at 0.5% now, rather than 0.1%.

And for item 10, I was surprised to see half a dozen mainstream articles actually pick some better board games this year, rather than the same old tired picks from last generation.

Rachel's Back

My wife is back in Israel for a three week winter break. Yeehaw! Expect some 2 and 3 player Puerto Rico game reports.

Gone Gone Gaming

Gone Gaming, a cooperative blog I helped launch two and a half years ago, is shutting down. Not too surprising, as the output has been slowly decreasing over time. Still, they always manage to produce some fine writing.

Thankfully, the remaining writers are merging their talents into Board Game News.

I've been asked to write a last article for them. Trying to think up something.

Game News

Some of those people who try to produce their own board games actually have some success, such as this man who created a game called Things... 128,000 sales by an independent in a few year is pretty impressive. Now he's selling out to Hasbro. I'm not entirely sure why.

Kotaku reviews Blokus for the PSP, and finds that it added some surprising and annoying theme to the otherwise wonderful abstract game.

NikDaum plays Heroscape and lists a number of Settlers of Catan variants he created.

The Chattanooga Times gives its board game recommendations, and quotes as having board game industry statistics holding steady at around 800 million dollars. I couldn't find this information on . Anyone?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top Ten Board Game News Items in 2007

Here are the top ten board game news events of 2007, as I see it.

It's been a great year for board games, in general. While newspapers have been touting the board games' come back since the late 1990s, many ran decent articles about games as the year came to an end.

As usual, Hasbro, the only major American player in actual board game sales, features highly in many of the year's top stories.

1. Cash or Charge?

I reported on the new electronic banking edition of Monopoly way back in mid-2006 (Israel had copies on the shelves back then already), but it was only in 2007 that credit-card versions of the game Monopoly, and then The Game of Life, gained worldwide attention. And the reaction: mostly negative.

The best news coverage was neutral: "Hey! Look! A credit card version of Monopoly! This will appeal to kids because, uh, kids like video games. And credit cards are kind of electronic, sort of." Or words to that effect.

Far more reactions were negative, especially towards the new Visa branded Life game, Twists and Turns. Some simply missed the iconic fake bills. But many bemoaned the foisting of realistic credit cards on young children. Why do they need to be more likely to go into credit card debt at an earlier age? Not to mention the inherent consumer culture values these items foster.

With cash, you have something to tangible to control, manage, and lose. With credit, it's just numbers flashing on a screen. And the new versions even explicitly allow you to go into debt during the game.

2. Games Express: Little and Late

Just as people were getting fed up with video game solitude and longing for more family time, Hasbro introduced the express versions of their classic board games Monopoly, Sorry, and Scrabble. The express games are essentially dice games and not much more. The justification: people don't spend enough time sitting down with their families, so we'll make board games that don't take more than 10 minutes to play.

I haven't seen many reactions from people who actually played the games, but those I heard are negative. Many columnists argue that these are a necessary step to compete for the attention that video games currently hold. In the meantime, a world-wide movement to reintroduce meaningful and longer family-time activities makes this argument moot.

3. No Lead Here

This year saw a huge story on lead-contaminated toy recalls and consumer fears about toy safety. One of the fallouts from this was an upsurge in board game purchases as presents at year's end. Just one of many factors contributing to this year's high game sales.

4. Checkers is Solved

It's been a common belief for more than twenty years that Checkers was solved. This has been a constant source of frustration for Jonathan Schaeffer, the top man actually working on the problem. He wrote a great book on the subject ten years ago, One Step Ahead. His computer program was able to beat any human player. But was Checkers solved? Unfortunately no. The only way forward seemed to be brute force.

And that's what he did. This year, after thousands and thousands of hours of computer processing time by project Chinook, Checkers has finally been solved for a computer. You can play Jon's program, but you'll never win.

Of course, just because a computer can solve the game with brute force search, doesn't mean that humans have a quick and easy step-by-step solution guide on how to win. Until they do, it will remain a classic favorite for all ages.

5. Board Games are the New Video Games

Among the hottest video games this year were board games. Essential modern board games such as Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne were released on the XBox to great reviews. Ingenious and Blokus also received electronic versions. Scrabulous, an unofficial Scrabble version on Facebook, is one of the platforms most popular applications.

The calls for more board games in video game format continues. End of the year articles reminded people that board games' popularity stems from ease of play and sociability, something that most complex video games lack. Mid-year, Electronic Arts, a major video game studio, bought the rights to electronic versions of Hasbro games.

6. And Next: Horses?

Who would have predicted that a trading card game around horses would be a phenomenon?

Bella Sara is not only a trading card game for girls but an online world and environment. It seems to have everything right: it's non-violent, friendly, educational, fun, natural, and international all at once. More than 30 million cards have been sold.

It's also a pin in the balloon of those who stereotype video games as male-targeted and violent, and another great marriage between the cardboard card game world and the online virtual one.

7. OK, Granny! Up Against the Wall!

Private poker games played for money has always been illegal in most states, but this year saw an upsurge in the pathetic and mindless interpretation and enforcement of these laws. In some cases, the laws were discovered to be too vague: playing any game with cards, even if not for money, could be construed as illegal.

Around the U.S., private residents playing for pennies, veterans associations playing cribbage, and even old-age homes playing cards for fun got raided by overeager enforcement agencies.

Clarifications and reworking the laws are now on the agenda of several states.

8. Who Invented Trivial Pursuit?

Speaking of lawsuits, the inventors of the game successfully defended themselves against another lawsuit by someone who claimed to have "invented" the game first.

As is usual, the so-called "inventor" didn't playtest, didn't create components or graphics, didn't put together any questions, didn't spend time and money on marketing, and didn't spend countless hours peddling the game into international success. All he claims to have done was told the actual inventors about the idea for the game and the shape of the pieces. After it became big and lucrative, which happens for maybe 1% of all great game ideas, he sued them for stealing his idea.

And as usual, the courts threw out the case.

9. Here and There and Now

Hasbro's campaign to revitalize the Monopoly brand by introducing new Here and Now versions of localized board began in 2006 (maybe earlier) and continued throughout the year. The UK, Scotland, and Australia all received new official Here and Now versions.

Unfortunately, the campaigns have not been unqualified successes, owing to either too much caring about the results, or not enough caring by the local residents. People were asked to vote for places in the new versions. In many places, wide-spread vote rigging occurred. In France, the top spot on the board was given to a town whose name translates into "my bum".

Meanwhile, in Australia, voter participation was minimal, as no one seemed to care. Sydney was so apathetic that it didn't end up on the board altogether.

But residents of cities left off the board were less unhappy than residents in cities occupying the "cheapest" spot on the board.

Guys? It's a board game. Get over it.

10. Next Up: Aliens vs Board Games

Hasbro's last major pitch this year for beating the dead Monopoly horse was to sign Ridley Scott to direct a movie about the game. Other Hasbro toys and games are also slated for the movie treatment. In the meantime, Trivial Pursuit is scheduled to become a new TV game show.

To quote what I wrote last June:

Hasbro is trying to turn more board games into movies. Meanwhile, Brash Entertainment is trying to turn more movies into video games. Meanwhile, Fantasy Flight Games is trying to turn more video games into board games.


Top Ten Eurogame News Items from 2007

While this site is geared to all board game styles, it's no secret that I like modern Euro games, and that I associate with the modern Euro-game crowd: BoardGameGeek, Euro-game bloggers, and so on.

The Eurogame community has it's own ups and downs, shake-ups, and important events. This post is my take on the top such events in the last year.

My top ten general board game news items of 2007 is still to come.

1. Michal Barnes is banned from BGG

Board Game Geek's members also have a slant to Euro-gaming. The top 200 games on Board Game Geek are mostly Eurogames, although a large number are war-games or war-game crossovers. Excessive dice rolling games and modern American board games tend to be disliked by the vocal majority.

A number of BGG members were unhappy about this, and felt that American-style, heavy-themed, heavy-conflict games don't get their proper due on the site. While most contributors to these discussions were civil, a few were not. As membership to BGG grew, the number of forum discussions on BGG about American games vs Euro games began to spiral out of control. American gamers embraced the term for their games as Ameritrash, and began referring to Euro-game adherents as Eurosnoots (both terms by DW Tripp, I believe).

BGG's administrator, Aldie, repeatedly called for civility, but some posters prickled at the idea that they needed to adhere to one person's groundrules. After several warnings, one particularly vocal Ameritrash advocate, Michael Barnes, got banned from BGG altogether.

This was the first public banning of an individual from BGG and it sent shockwaves through the user community. Many members of BGG protested the move or canceled their own membership, withdrawing years worth of contributed content from the site. Many others expressed delight. Some claimed that American gamer voices were being silenced, while others said that this was simply aimed at a person who refused to get along with others. Some sympathized with the ban, but weren't happy about losing Michael's posts because, whatever his civility level, he is a damn fine writer.

A number of AT gamers turned around and created the blog Fortress: Ameritrash. F:AT has a loyal and devoted following and produces quality and regular material. When they write about their passions, it makes for great reading. Unfortunately, many of their earlier posts, and occasionally some of the current ones, contain hateful diatribes about Eurogames, Eurogamers (in general, or specific ones), or BGG. Many of the commenters continue to pile on bitter and pointless personal attacks.

Back on BGG, the forums have quieted down, although there are still quite a few people with not much nice to say.

2. Euro Games Come to Consoles

Early in the year we found out that Microsoft was finally getting into the Euro-game business: Settlers of Catan was on it's way to the XBox. On the heels of that announcement we heard that Carcassonne was joining Settlers, with other Euro-games to follow. When Puerto Rico was removed from BSW, the online German gaming portal, it was rumored that Puerto Rico was next.

Settlers on the XBox turned out to be a big hit, as was Carcassonne. Blokus, Ingenious, and other games have also now found their way to computer platforms. By the end of the year, news articles from video game sources claimed that the next big thing in video games ... was board games.

3. Magic Rat Passes On

Magic Rat, aka Jason Sato, was a devoted gamer and a staple board game blogger, writing one of the best and most consistent blogs in the field. They covered his weekly or special gaming sessions in great detail. Everyone who knew him had kind words to say.

It is only fitting that he went out while playing games with his local games group. Each of his blog posts ended with the same phrase: Peace Out. Peace Out, Magic Rat.

4. Mike Doyle's Game Boxes

Mike Doyle is an incredible artist who, for reasons unfathomable to us mortals, decided that his calling in life was to make better artwork for board games. Last year he started playing around with beautiful remakes of existing games and how he would like to redesign them.

This year his work finally began hitting the covers and components of a slew of board games, including a make over of Modern Art and Caylus, and some new games such as Containers.

5. Chris Farrell stops blogging

Chris Farrell's blog was the net's finest blog on board games, winning the first Board Game Internet Award and basically a must read for fine lengthy analysis pieces and no-holds-barred reviews. Unfortunately, although he continues to contribute to BGG, he hung up the towel in January. And the blog reading community is the poorer for it.

6. Mayfair sets price discount limits

The second biggest brouhaha on BGG this year was when Mayfair Games suddenly sent letters to some? all? of its online retailers forbidding them from discounting Mayfair games beyond 20%. This was done, according to the fine print, in order to allow brick and mortar stores the ability to compete. Why was this important to Mayfair? Because, according to the finer print, Mayfair believes that brick and mortar stores are where gamers are made, and therefore more important to the industry as a whole than discounted sales.

Many people cried "foul" and "price fixing", which it was, but an earlier change in U.S. law made it possible for manufacturers to engage in this sort of activity if they could prove that it was ultimately beneficial to the consumer. Half the BGG community supported Mayfair in their aims. The other threatened to boycott Mayfiar products.

Some online game stores toed the Mayfair line, while a few others refused to do so. In the meantime, bigger online retailers such as Amazon continue to sell Mayfair products at greater than 20% discounts.

7. Cosmic Encounter to be Reprinted (again)

Cosmic is one of modern board gaming's most influential games, and a favorite of many people. It has gone through several reprintings. Of all of the various editions from various publishers, the only respected ones are the original EON edition and the short-lived edition from Mayfair Games. Avalon Hill's version, which was the last and prettiest, still fell short in the fun department.

Rumors surface once in a while about a reprint, and some consider it the holy grail of reprints, if it would just get reprinted right. This year Fantasy Flight Games, known for their beautiful game components and epic game themed announced that they would finally do a reprint. Throughout the year, they've been collecting requests from the community in order to do it right. And they even gave it a general release date.

Along with Cosmic, they also indicated another holy grail of reprints would be coming, albeit with a change of theme: Dune.

8. Tzaar replaces Tamsk

Kris Blum's GIPF series of abstract games has found a large place in the heart of Eurogamers. They're great games, they come with nice pieces, and they all have funny names.

The series was said to be complete, but Kris was never happy with the second game of the series, TAMSK. So he booted it from the "set" and gave us TZAAR instead, which somehow ended up being among the best of all of them.

Pretty pretty.

9. BGG.con plays to 550 people

BGG.con grew in its third year to 550 attendees.

There was free-form gaming throughout, lots of games given away, tons of new Essen games to play, and everyone seemed to go away happy. Which if you think about it, is a minor miracle. Unlike in previous years, the vendors also left happy, as their vendor spots were moved to the sides of the main gaming room instead of "down the hall".

Probably, the Essen convention should share this spot on my list, but, while that's where most of the games make their debuts, far fewer actual Eurogamers seem to attend.

10. Top Discussed Games of 2007
  • Agricola - the new star of Eurogaming, but still hasn't dethroned Puerto Rico.
  • Tide of Iron - A big box WWII game from Fantasy Flight.
  • Starcraft - Another big box game from Fantasy Flight, this time a space game.
  • 1960: the Making of the President - A two-player game of American politics following the 1960 electoral race of Kennedy vs Nixon.
  • Brass - The new big Martin Wallace game.
  • Race for the Galaxy - A Thomas Lehmann card game produced by Ystari and Rio Grande.
  • Age of Empires III - A sprawling civilization game based on the video game.
  • Notre Dame - The next Alea big box game.
  • Thebes - A Eurogame with simple mechanics which somehow manages to have a well-integrated theme.
  • Caylus Magna Carta - Said to be all the Caylus, without the excessive game time.
  • Zooloretto - Family game of the year according to dozens of awards.

Session Report Up, in which we play Bus for the first time

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Mr Jack x 2, Odin's Ravens, Bus.

Nadine begins to see how catching Jack is not so easy, and we play Bus for the first time.

Game News

Marshall P gives us an excellent three year history of his game group.

Jeremiah writes a great introduction to Euro games.

Jonas writes up about how you can lose money on even bets.

Valerie Putman writes about the fear of joining a gaming group.

Here's a game called Lawsuit, which introduces players aged 6 and up into the joys of suing and the legal profession.

Turns out that, Big Surprise, the makers of the hit Facebook application Scrabulous didn't get permission from Hasbro. Uh oh.

The Arizona republic notes that Settlers of Catan is the number one rated toy on Amazon. But the funny part is this quote:
The Settlers of Catan board game is on 9-year-old Bear Harshfield's wish list.

"He likes anything to do with history," says his mom, Bobi Harshfield of Tempe.
The ledger wraps us up with a nice article about gaming throughout history.


Monday, December 17, 2007

The 30 Strangest Board Games From 2007

Here are this year's strangest games (so far; still 14 days to go): strange titles, strange themes, strange components, or just plain strange.

You may want to compare to 2006 and 2005.

Antler Island

The Lamont brothers bring us another game about animals mating. What is it with these Scotsmen? Only this time, after your stag mates with a doe, the doe disappears from the board. I guess they like it rough in the wild.


In Blasphemy, you take part in the fate of a would-be Messiah. Your aim is to convince your compatriots that your Jesus, and your Jesus alone, is the genuine article.

To accomplish this, your Jesus must cut as impressive a figure as possible. He must give stirring sermons, perform miracles, attract devoted followers, and generally carry on in a Messiah-like fashion. Your Jesus must make every effort to discredit his rivals, and in the end, he must get himself killed. Yes, alas, the price of fame was dear in those days. It was clearly written that the Messiah would come to a sticky end. Accordingly, you win the game if you're the first player to get your Jesus nailed up.


I remember tinkering with a similar design once, called "Court the Maiden". The NPCs in my D&D campaigns played it, and Tim "Fingers" Finnegan always won. The essence of the design: play cards to "win" girls with wildly-changing moods.

Bushwhackin' Varmints out of Sergio's Butte

No explanation really needed, here.

Cleopatra's Caboose

Nor here. An irreverent train game based in Ancient Egypt.

Code Monkey

Code Monkey is a cute short downloadable game based on the song of the same name by Jonathan Coulton. Be the first Code Monkey to win the heart of the Pretty Receptionist and complete two projects for Boring Manager Rob.

And oh yes: Jonathan Coulton? Best cover song ever.

Deer Hunter 2050

It is the year 2050, and radical animal rights activists have released dangerously intelligent, strong, fast, and aggressive mutant deer into the wild. Can you bring your quota to the Fish & Game Bureau before the other hunters? Suburbia is depending on you to protect them!

Don't Drop the Soap

Fight your way through 6 locations in hopes of being granted parole. Escape prison riots in The Yard, slip glass into a mob boss' lasagna in the Cafeteria, steal painkillers from the nurse's desk in the Infirmary, avoid being cornered by the Aryans in the Shower Room, fight off Latin Kings in Gang War, and try not to smoke your entire stash in The Hole.


Here's a version of Truth or Dare that skips straight to the dares. There are six types of tests: uncomfortable, revolting, awkward, mischievous, easy, and self-serving. Do you like snorting pepper? Here's your chance.


I actually covered this game on my blog when I first heard of it. You draw cards and try to get your dog - your real dog - to do tricks.

Funny Domino

After playing a card, you make the noise of the animal that has to be played next, and players race to play the card of that type.

Galaxy Trucker

This game was the second biggest hit of BGG.con, after Agricola. You play plumbers who need to install a sewer system somewhere in outer space. Can you build a space ship durable enough to weather storms of meteors? Armed enough to defend against pirates? Big enough to carry a large crew and valuable cargo? Fast enough to get there first?

Gassy Gus

This is just gross.

Ghost For Sale

The Italian translation of the marketing material is a bit hard to understand, but I believe your object is to populate your castles with just the right number of ghosts that will attract tourists but not scare them away.

Hats Off

Game requires you to balance one of your cards on your head while you play.

House of Whack

To quote from the opening description: Can you take a swig of Whack Juice and still fend off the Queen of Heartaches with only a Hamster Launcher while teetering on the edge of Inevitable Darkness?


Sometimes, you get tired of killing Zombies and get to wonder how the other side feels. Here's your chance. Poor Zombies are being attacked by the big bad humans.

I Don't Know, What Do You Want to Play?

A game created specifically to figure out what game in your collection your group really wants to play. You get a unique deck of cards that matches your BGG collection.


The purpose is to accumulate lamb chips, by purchasing shekels with dollars, and then using those shekels to purchase lamb chips. However, it is only when tithing on your income (paying 10%) that players are allowed to purchase lamb chips, which are tokens for caring for the poor. By Jawbone Productions.

Kill the Hippies

Yet another game intended to be as un-PC as possible. You play the rednecks.

Lawn Darts

I just can't imagine the need to turn something already so pastoral and serene into yet another dice-rolling game. Good lord. A lawn darts board game.

For what it's worth, this game is by Michael Bourgeois, whose first three games were all published this year, all of which made this list.

Leaping Lemmings

Each player controls a cloned clan of lemmings that have been specially trained to compete with the other lemming clans, all trying to scurry down a canyon and hurl themselves over a cliff. Distance and style points are important.

Martinis & Men

Less overtly sexist version of a "win the women" game, in this game you send couples to encounter each other where someone may get shot down or find true love.

Monster Tykes

In Monster Tykes, players lead a Team of young fantasy Monsters or Heroes who just can't wait to grow up and be like their parents. Too anxious to wait, they bully other Teams around the town, in schoolyards, and underground caverns. The first Team to send the other home "Crying to their mommies" wins!

Pigeon Poop

You play the pigeon. Poor Mr. Bones.

Shhh!...Mom's Asleep

It's afternoon and Mom is having a nap with Baby. Don't wake Mom & Baby before the chores get done.

This is a game where solutions arrive in the form of player discussions.

Supervillain University

Try to graduate intact by performing Evil Deeds.


Posts and articles about this game appeared all year long on the Net. You get the chance to compete to become the new Pope. The game appears to be fairly educational about the real process.

Whack a Catgirl

Neko-chan the anime catgirl, is cute! Therefore she must be pelted with various objects.

Zombie Baseball

It's Zombies vs Humans in a different sort of contest.