Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rampaging Vikings In a Fierce Competition to Control the Abacus

What kind of game do you expect when its description reads thus?
Trade, plunder and colonize the world of the early middle ages! Sail the oceans to the borders of the world. Fight bravely under the banner of the Crow and fearlessly cross the doors of Valhalla!

The civilized world will tremble before you and the priests will chant their more enthusiastic prayers: "Lord, protect us from the fury of the men of the North".
I expected some kind of Euro-war game hybrid. Dice-based combat, different ships, heroes, battle cards.

No, no, nope, no, and no. Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga, a game from the Rangar Bros, published by Asmodee, is a pleasant, pastoral game of action points, route planning, delivering goods, and set collection.


Rules

The map contains waterways for your ships to sail, and cities, half of which are grouped into sets of three. For instance, the three cities in Ireland all form one "set". Players start in Scandinavia. On each turn you get 7 action points.

If you are in Scandinavia, you can pick up sailors or one of three types of goods, or pick bonus cards. Each of these costs an action point. Your sailors plus goods capacity is limited to 5 (6 or 7 later in the game), and your card limit is three.

You can move out of a city, into a city, or from one water area to an adjacent water area. Each move costs an action point.

You can play cards for free, but can only play them if you're not in Scandinavia. Cards let you annoy another player, steal some resource or settlement of theirs, and so on.

You can return to Scandinavia for free, tossing out everything on your ship other than a single sailor, but that forfeits any remaining action points and ends your turn.

When you're at a city, you can trade, raid, or settle for free. However, you may attempt only one of these three actions, and only once, at any particular city each turn.
  • You can trade at any place that doesn't have a trade good already, and you collect the value of the city in victory points. The three cities in a set can only accept three different types of goods. The defense value (against raid and settlements) of a city with a trade good on it is lowered by 1.
  • You can raid cities, only if a city chip is on it. You roll up to three dice (or no more than the number of sailors you have), and must roll higher than the value of the city (less 1 if it has a trade good) on any d6. Any misses cost you a sailor. If you succeed, you take the face down chip and its victory points.
  • You can settle cities that don't have city chips. You roll up to three dice (or no more than the number of sailors you have), and must roll higher than the value of the city (less 1 if it has a trade good) on a d6. Any misses cost you a sailor. If you succeed, you lose a sailor which gets placed on the city. One sailor per city.
While all this is going on, mission cards are available, and whenever someone completes the mission (settle these three cities) they get the mission card and possible bonus victory points. You only have to finish the last city in a mission to collect the card, not do all of it.

Game End and Scoring

Game ends when the missions run out. At the end of the game, you score all your trading vps, your city chip vps, bonus for having the most city chips, vps for having the most missions of each of three types, and vps for your settlements. The last one appears to be the ballgame: you score only the value of the city if only one city in a set is settled (by anyone), but you score double if two are settled, and triple if all three are settled. So if you've settled just three cities in a set where each city has a value of 4, that's 36 points.

A bunch of other mechanisms are flying around, but that's the bulk of it.

Reactions

The map and pieces are pretty enough. City chips are 3-D little plastic cities, sailors are little plastic sailors, and so on.

But no, this is not a game of plundering, fighting, or even vikings. This is a game about maximizing your actions to scoring ratio. How many points can you gain this turn? That's your concern. You can take some points now, or plan a few turns ahead, take chips, settlements or cards that will gain you extra points at the end game, assuming someone doesn't wreck your plans with a card.

You have to decide if it's worth trading to a city first to gain the bonus of lowering its defense, weighed against the need to use an extra turn and carry an extra resource, and the possibility that someone else may attack it first after you did the work. And you need to roll well, in any case.

I'm thinking along the lines of Samurai or Through the Desert, if you've ever played one of those. There are dozens of paths to select from, and, from my first play, they seem relatively well balanced. The settlement set thing seems to be fairly huge, but it's hard to have a monopoly on them unless your opponents are being utterly stupid, so everyone typically has a good chance to get their share.

There's no battling other players, no trading with other players, no real interaction other than taking first what they might conceivably want, or playing a card to boot their ship out of some area or city that you want.

There's a bit of game progression, as the game naturally involves shipping the trade goods early in the game, moving to settlements later in the game, with raids kind of happening when the opportunity arises (or perhaps that's just the way we played it). You can't let one person get too big a lead in settlements, or control too many mission cards from two of the three sets. But the game's progression is kind of half-hearted. It would have been better if scores rose during the three phases of the game, but they don't. The end scoring is a wallop, but the interim scoring just kind of plods along at ten points here, another eight points there.

I also would have liked a bonus for failing to settle or raid, such as a free card, to offset bad dice rolling. That's just me.

Still, it's kind of nice and serene, with decent if not tough choices throughout the game, and not too many choices that the game will drag on from over-analysis.

There's too much going on for new gamers, but for those looking to step up from their first games to something more interesting and pretty, it might fit the bill. I'm not sure as to how many times the game can be played before it gets relegated to the back shelf. We'll have to play it a few more times to see. I'm looking forward to my next play, in any case.

In our game, I won 192 to 172 to 140ish to 130ish, by the way.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dogs, Math, and Path Traversal

Every time I walk my dog, I like to take a different route. Here is my local neighborhood, showing the two or three block radius I walk around my house while walking the dog.

I start and return to my house. Aside from my house, I do not traverse the same vertex twice. The two vertices at either end of my short block count as my house for this purpose; after leaving one of them, if I hit either one of them, I go home.

I didn't think there were that many unique paths I could walk. Turns out I was wrong.

Path Traversal

Much has been written on graph theory and path traversal algorithms, including finding all paths through all nodes, the shortest path between two nodes, and so on. I couldn't find my exact problem using a quick google.

I want to know how many unique paths there are between two nodes, where paths cannot visit the same vertex twice. (A more complicated question would be where you cannot visit the same path segment twice.)

Here's a simple graph:



To get from A to B, there are 12 distinct paths you can take, without crossing the same vertex twice:
SSEE
SSENES
SSENNESS
SESE
SEES
SENESS
ESWSEE
ESSE
ESES
EESWWSEE
EESWSE
EESS
That's already more than the number of vertices, and equal to the number of path segments.

For a 2x2 grid, there are only 2 paths. For a 2x3, there are 4 paths. For 3x3 there are 12 paths. The number grows quickly:
2x2 = 2
3x3 = 12
4x4 = 184
5x5 = 8512
As I mentioned, if you can repeat vertices, but not paths, the number inflates much quicker:
2x2 = 2
3x3 = 16
4x4 = 800
5x5 = 323,632
Yowza.

My son, Saarya, wrote some basic code for this (I amended a little):

#include<iostream>
using namespace std;
#define N 5
#define M 5
int cnt,tx,ty,lev;
int mat[N][M];

void print()
{
for(int i=0;i<N;i++)
{
for(int j=0;j<M;j++) {
cout<<" ";
if(mat[i][j]<=9) {
cout<<0;
}
cout<<mat[i][j];
}
cout<<endl;
cout<<"\n";
}
cout<<"------------------------------\n";
}


void go(int x, int y)
{

mat[x][y]=++lev;

if(x==tx&&y==ty)
{/*print();*/
cnt++;
mat[x][y]=0;
lev=lev-1;
return;
}
if(y-1>=0&&!mat[x][y-1])
{
go(x,y-1);
}
if(x-1>=0&&!mat[x-1][y])
{
go(x-1,y);
}
if(y+1<M&&!mat[x][y+1])
{
go(x,y+1);
}
if(x+1<N&&!mat[x+1][y])
{
go(x+1,y);
}
mat[x][y]=0;
lev=lev-1;
}

int main()
{
for(int i=0;i<N;i++)
for(int j=0;j<M;j++)
mat[i][j]=0;
cnt=0;
tx=N-1;
ty=M-1;
go(0,0);
cout<<endl<<"-----------------------\n"<<cnt<<endl;
system("PAUSE");
}

For path segments, Saarya's approach is to add extra matrix elements for the paths between each vertex and move two spaces each move.

Which all means that I could walk the rest of my life with my dog in a couple block radius and never take the same path twice.

Yehuda

Session Report, in which we play Tikal again ... for four hours

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Tichu, Puerto Rico, Race For The Galaxy, Tikal, Magic: the Gathering x 3.

We take a somewhat long time to play Tikal.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tichu: A Great Four-Player Card Game

Tichu is a ladder, shedding, trick-taking, partnership card game for exactly four players. While the specific rules and packaging of Tichu are new, the play is based on dozens of older card games such as Big Two, President, Zheng Fen, etc...

Deck

The deck contains 56 gold-backed cards. 52 are what we would consider a standard deck of cards (with funny suits), and the remaining four cards - Mah Jong (a small bird), Dog, Phoenix, and Dragon - all have special properties.

The box comes with an additional 52 black-backed card deck, a duplicate of the standard deck of cards with the funny suits. It is only used for games of five or more players. The game for five or more players (or for two or three players) is nothing like the game for four players.

Rules

You sit opposite your partner. Each player is dealt 14 cards.

After looking at the first 8, a player may call "Grand Tichu" if no one has already done so. This is a 200 point bonus if he (alone, not his partner) is the first to get rid of all of his cards, or a 200 point loss if he isn't.

After looking at all 14 cards, a player passes one card each to each other player, and receives in turn one card from each other player.

The player with the Mah Jong leads the first trick, but does not have to lead the Mah Jong.

When you lead, you may lead any one of the following:

- any single card
- any pair
- any three of a kind
- any two pairs, if both pairs are from sequential numbers (e.g. two 4s and two 5s, but not two 4s and two 6s). Similarly, you can lead any three or more sequential pairs.
- any full house
- any straight of five or more cards. Suits on the cards don't matter.

After a lead, the player on the left must play a card or set of cards exactly like the player before him or pass. The set must be higher in value. E.g. if the leader starts with a pair of 4s, the next player can play a pair of 7s. He cannot play a single 7, or a triple 7, only a pair.

As long as other players continue to play higher cards onto the pile, a player may continue to play higher cards on his turn. Passing does not prevent you from playing again if the turn comes back around to you.

Once three players have passed in succession, the fourth player (the last player to play) gathers all the cards in the pile and puts them face down next to him. He then leads the next trick.

Any time before playing his first card, a player can call "Tichu" if no one has called Grand Tichu or Tichu before him. This is a 100 point bonus if he (alone, not his partner) is the first to get rid of all of his cards, or a 100 point loss if he isn't.

Bombs: A four of a kind, or a straight flush of five or more cards (this is the only time that suit matters), is a bomb. A bomb may be played at any time and beats anything played before it, unless a higher bomb is played. A straight flush bomb is considered higher than a four of a kind bomb.

In the original rules, after a bomb the previous leader leads again, but I find the game works better if the bomb player now leads the next trick.

The four special cards:

- Mah Jong: The player with the Mah Jong starts the first trick. In addition, the Mah Jong counts as a "1" for creating a straight. In addition, when playing the Mah Jong, you name any card (other than a special card). After announcing the card, and as long as no on has yet played that card, the first player who has a legal opportunity to play that card must do so, even if it means breaking up a straight or having to play a bomb. Typically, you name the card you passed to your LHO.

- Dog: This card can only be played alone and as you lead. It is discarded, and the lead passes to your partner.

- Phoenix: This card is a wild card (joker) which can be used in place of any other regular card, except that it cannot be use to make a bomb. If played as a single card, it is 1/2 higher than the previously played card, and can even be 1/2 higher than an ace. So it beats any other single card played except a Dragon. It is, however, worth -25 points in final scoring.

- Dragon: This card can only be played as a single card, and beats any other single card. It can only be beaten by a bomb. It is worth 25 points in final scoring. however, when you win a trick with the Dragon, you give the entire trick, including the Dragon, to an opponent of your choice. You then lead, as usual.

Hand end and scoring: Once three players are out of cards, the hand is over. The player who still has cards remaining gives all of these cards to his opponents. He also gives all cards he collected during the game to the player who was first out of cards.

Points are counted: If both players in a partnership went out before either of their opponents, the partnership scores 200 points and forgoes the usual scoring. Otherwise, kings and tens are ten points each, fives are five points each. Tichu or Grand Tichu win or loss is counted independantly of any other scoring.

After the hand, deal again. Play continues until one team has reached 1000 points.

Reactions

Tichu is really a lovely game. It's not an intense brain burner like Bridge, but it still has a lot of opportunities for strategic play and thought. The four special cards, the passing, and the partnership really make the game. Without these, it would be much duller.

After experience with the game, most hands see Tichu being called. Going out first is the primary consideration (unless your partner called Tichu), and is far more important a consideration in nearly all instances than who has collected which points.

I'm a sucker for most partnership games, really. The passing opportunity, while not as flexible and informative as you get with Team Hearts, is still an opportunity to make important decisions and partnership agreements.

I generally hate ladder games because they typically have this rule that the player who lost the last game has to give their best cards to the player who won the last game, or variations thereof. And, without the special cards and partnerships, you tend to have little control of the play, and you end up just following leads.

Tichu for 2-3, or 5 or more players, is just such a game, and I hate it just as much as I hate President. Thank goodness that's not the case with the four player version.

For some reason that I don't entirely fathom, Tichu has a stellar reputation on Board Game Geek, where it is esteemed higher than any other card game (other than Race For The Galaxy). That's stretching it, as Bridge is the far superior game; it's just that Bridge requires time and investment to become good at it; Tichu is not hard to become good at, yet still remains enjoyable and challenging, albeit at a lower level.

The bottom line: It's cheap and it's a great game. It's light and fun. It's easy to learn and appealing to casual gamers, especially those who already play games like Hearts or President. Definitely add it to your game collection.

History

According to Larry Levy:

Tichu was derived from a Chinese game that has been around for at least 30 years and possibly much more than that. But I haven't been able to find any source that estimates how old it might be.

The source game is called Zheng Shangyou, which can be translated as "struggling upstream". The Western world was made aware of it in 1979, during a visit to China by some British Go players. Zheng Shangyou is a climbing game, so players must play a card combination of the same type as the leader, but higher ranked. However, points aren't scored by winning cards, but only for going out first. It can be played solo or with partners. There are a number of other differences, but it would certainly be recognizable to any Tichu player.

There is a related Chinese game called Zheng Fen, which has point scoring cards identical to Tichu's. Interestingly, the types of card combinations that can be made in this game seem very similar to the ones in the commercial game Gang of Four (which has yet another way of scoring points, namely the number of cards left in your hand).

As far as I can tell, Tichu designer Urs Hostettler took a number of concepts from several Chinese games and possibly added a few of his own to come up with Tichu. So he deserves credit for creating the game that we know and love. But the games it was derived from have been played for quite a while--I just don't know how far back they go. (source)
All the symbols and quips on the box and in the rules are jokes to add color; it isn't played by 642 million Chinese every day, for instance.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Another Shiva Visit

Just returned from a shiva visit to friends. He lost his mother. He lost his father a few months ago. She lost her father about a year ago. That's about two years of caring for sick parents and the change tthat comes about with their loss.

This isn't the first couple I know that lost more than one parent in the space of a short time. Friends of mine in Beit Shemesh lost two (three?) parents in the space of a month or two. And a couple in my shul in Jerusalem lost three parents over the course of as many weeks a few years ago.

In at least one case, one of the young children of one of these parents asked if any of her other grandparents were going to be dying soon.

...

At least I have a few weddings and bar mitzvahs to look forward to (too bad three of them are on the same evening).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Abandoned Games

I played a game of Oh Hell with my daughter, but we abandoned it when I was already ahead some 30 point after round five (six cards).

I played a game of Scrabble with Rachel, but we abandoned it when I was ahead by 100 points near the end of the game. Rachel was actually leading for a good 3/5 of the game, but I pulled a few atonishingly good racks, including a "Z" on the triple word and a bingo near the end of the game.

When you have no chance of winning, and it's a two-player game, unless you can sustain yourself on alternate goals that don't involve winning (such as honor, or a personal goal of achieving some score by the time the game ends), just bow out. And if you're the lucky one who is winning, let your opponent bow out and be graceful. You only won because your opponent agreed to play with you in the first place.

Yehuda

Missionary Material in My Mailbox

Got the following missionary booklet in my mailbox this morning. They were stuck into and around all the mailboxes in my building, on my block, and probably in the entire city.


If you're so disposed, you can fill in the last page where it asks you if, having read the rest of the booklet, you are now willing to admin that you've sinned, accept Jesus etc.. etc..

If you're not so disposed, be sure to toss it out.

FYI, Missionary activity in Israel is legally tolerated unless it is aimed at children; tossing booklets such as these into and around mailboxes where they can be easily found by children seems to me to be an abuse of this tolerance.

Yehuda

Friday, June 20, 2008

Games Don't Have To Be Fair

Last year I wrote an article entitled Games Are Not Supposed To Be Fun [1]. I got a lot of flak for that article, so it's only natural that I push the same buttons with a similar idea, namely that games do not have to be fair.

Fairness in games is already not as immutable as it may seem.

Theory

What exactly makes a game fair, anyway?

When you sit down to play a game, there's an unstated hope that the game is equally winnable by either player. For games of skill, that's hardly likely. The player with the greater skill has an advantage; but we call that a fair advantage. What about the player who's more tired?

For games of luck, it may be theoretically possible to start the game from a fair position, yet by the end of the first random occurrence, the game is no longer fair. Now one person is in a better position to win than the other, possibly or probably through no fault of his or her own. Is that fair? Of course not. But it's a special case of unfairness, which is called them's the breaks.

We regularly accept the idea of unfairness in our competitions and games, yet we still cling to an illusion that games must be, somehow, presented as fair.

Well, actually we don't.

Gambling

The odds are in the house's favor, but people still gamble. In this case, the reason people are willing to accept playing in an unfair game is two-fold.

First of all, we grudgingly accept the fact that the entity providing the gambling venue is entitled to be compensated for their outlay. In other words, the situation is one of unequal stakes. The casino laid out more money before coming to play, and therefore deserves a better percentage chance of winning.

Second of all, the thrill of winning in gambling is related to the the odds being against us. If we flip coins, it's not thrilling to win exactly half the time, but it is to win slightly more. Simply breaking even at a casino is an accomplishment. This situation is one of fighting the odds. Accepting the unequal nature of our winning conditions, we feel an accomplishment for whatever gains we achieve.

War games can be built around the principle of fighting the odds, and undoubtedly I'll hear about a bunch that already are. If you know that one side has only a 40% chance of winning the game, you're not going to complain about the unfairness of the game, you're going to relish the opportunity to beat the odds.

RPGs

In traditional RPGs, one player plays the Game Master (GM), and the others play Player Characters (PCs). The GM can do whatever he or she wants, including kill the characters, define the encounters, and so on.

This is accepted because the enjoyment for the GM comes from an entirely different source than the enjoyment of the PCs; they are effectively playing two separate, intertwined games. For the GM, the creation and narration are storytelling arts with captive listeners. Meanwhile, the players are trying to be clever, or they are gambling.

The GM is supposed to not run the game unfairly for the players. Each player should have approximately equal opportunities to succeed within the game, and the group should have a fair chance against whatever opposition the GM throws at them.

The situation of GM and players is one of differing roles. Players with more experience in a game, familiarity with otherwise hidden elements, or with control over the game play voluntarily hinder themselves in order to ensure that the other players have a good play experience. The person in this position is the game leader. The other players are simply the players.

Other Games

Ladder card games are often deliberately unfair to some of the participants. For instance, President [2] is game where you derive benefits to your position based on how well you succeeded in the previous game. The President (who won the last game) is given some better cards from the hand of the Peasant (who lost the last game). This serves to make it easier for the President to win the current game, perpetuating the win/loss states. How unfair!

The first reason why people enjoy playing with this mechanism is that it is a situation of fighting the odds. If you can succeed as the Peasant, and it's possible, the victory is sweet, especially as you get to knock the President off his or her throne.

The second reason that this works is that it is a situation of role play. The players are role playing the unfair advantages and disadvantages that have occurred in past societies, in fact that they see occurring in their very lives. And so, although the situation for one or more players is patently unfair, the unfairness is subsumed to the sense of story being enacted.

Art

Which brings me to art, or the message possibilities of games. Whether games are meant to be played for entertainment, or whether games are installed in a museum and meant to convey a message without regard for fun or repeatable play, a game can convey powerful messages by virtue of the unfair positions allotted to the players.

A peasant feels like a peasant when he lacks the resources, advantages, and hopes that a prince enjoys. Unequal doesn't necessarily mean unfair, but also doesn't require it.

The principle problem with unfair positions are when dealing with young children, or with people who are expecting fairness, or who equate fairness with fun. If you know what you're getting into, and there's challenge and at least possibility, the endeavor can be intense, vivid, and fun. That's because you measure your success in these situations against the expected outcome of someone in your situation, not whether you ultimately win the game. [3]

One More Thing

All of the above explorations about the nature of unfairness in games assume a certain egalitarianism between the players. In other words, the two people playing the game come to the board as equals, regardless of their actual status in real life.

Our culture rebels against the idea that a rich person should gain an advantage over a poor one if they play a game together (excepting the ability to pay for better training). But this is not always the case; and even if it were always the case, it is possible to envision a situation where it was not the case.

Consider a situation where the nobles gather once a year to play games with the peasants. The nobles play at an "unfair" advantage, but not egregiously so. Any peasant who can best the noble at the game wins something. Or in a company, bosses and employees sit down to play games once a month, where the bosses also get certain advantages.

We may group these situations as ones of unequal stakes. That is, the nobles offer up an ante, while the peasants don't. No one is forced to play the game, so we could accept the situation as fair, even though the game itself is not.

Now consider a game where your starting advantages are based on the first letter of your last name. People with a last name starting with "B" have an in-game advantage over people whose last name starts with "G". Wherever you go, the advantage or disadvantage goes with you.

Again, no one forces you to play the game. And likely, those with an advantage would offer bigger stakes to those without it, if stakes are involved, in order to make the game "fair". If they don't, the players at a disadvantage could get their enjoyment out of fighting the odds. It could work.

If the advantage were given to those of a certain race or religion, we're talking a different scenario; now we're entering into the field of art, politics, and morality. This idea will offend some people - it might offend me - but it could also spark ideas, if done right. Likely as not, the game wouldn't get much play, or those who played it would ignore the parts of the rules that offended them.

But this just goes to show how a deliberate introduction of unfair elements can be entertained when designing a game.

Yehuda

[1] "Not supposed to be fun" is in answer to those who tell me that "games are supposed to be fun"; the emphasis is on the word "not". The games you play at your game group, with your friends or family, or in nearly every situation must be fun, because you play them for entertainment. But that doesn't mean that games have to be fun; a game can be created for non-entertainment purposes. For example, games used entirely to raise awareness about an issue, without any intentions of having them be replayed, can be considered games, even if they are not fun.

[2] Similarly Tichu for 5+ players, and The Great Dalmutti.

[3] See my articles on alternatives to winning and losing in games for more information on this subject (sidebar of my blog)

P.S. An article with some similar thoughts

Roundup: Three Years of Twenty Fifth Week Posts

Every electronic game I ever played: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

The story of Grog and Mog, inventors of the first party game

On the subject of computer games being puzzles

The concepts of strategy and tactics, and how this applies to computer games

Photos from my trip to London and Scotland, part 1

I want government to stay our of people's personal lives, which is why I favor eliminating civil marriage

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Idea: Video Game Site That's a Video Game

Wouldn't it be cool if a general site about video games, like Joystiq or 1UP, was a video game in its own right? In other words, the graphical elements on the site, text elements, etc, in addition to providing you with the contents and navigation as you would expect, were also pieces of a puzzle game, such as Myst, or a casual game, or an adventure game.

Any sites like that, yet? If anyone want to develop it (out of my programming league) I've got a few dozen dozen ideas on how to do it. Free for the taking.

Yehuda

Sesion Report, in which I suffer a few humiliating defeats

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club sesion report is up. Games played: Princes of Florence, Caylus, Notre Dame, Magic: the Gathering x2.

A number of first plays for some people, and I badly lose at Caylus, and then Magic.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Firefox 3.0 Review

Here's my extended review: Yuck.

Here's my concise review:

  • The interface has barely changed, but the back button is now big and ugly for those who don't have a skin applied.
  • My old skin wasn't supported. When I tried install a few other skins, they required me to register with Mozilla. Bad enough, except that the registration didn't work; they were supposed to send me an email to confirm my registration, but I never received it, even after asking them to send it again. (No, it's not in my spam bucket. Update: Got it several hours later.)
  • Speaking of which, half of my plugins were also not supported. And they're not obscure plugins.
  • The URL bar has a star icon to bookmark a page, but if you accidentally click it, good luck "unbookmarking" the page. It took me half a minute to figure out where the heck it went in the bookmarks. It's too much trouble to allow you to unbookmark a page by clicking on the same star? Update: see comments.
  • There's a recently bookmarked menu, which replaces what used to be called "the bottom of the list". I organize my bookmarks, so I don't see the point.
  • When I typed in part of a URL, I used to get back previous URLs that matched what I typed. Now I get back any page whose URL or title matches what I typed, and boy is it hard to find anything in that mess. It's now two lines per item, includes the favicon, and it's not ordered in any sensible way that I can discern. I now have to type is a whole lot more to find the item I need. And I didn't see any way to turn this "feature" off.
  • Some people report that browsing is faster. I didn't notice this. Of course, I live in Israel, which may trump any gains that a browser provides.

And that's it. That's it? That's what they call a 3.0 release??? Back in the days, a whole number increase meant something. You young'uns are spoiled, I tell you.

Yehuda

Honeypot



Honeypot is the first game from Gizmet Gameworks, which is run by Marc Majcher. As is typical with new game publishers, Honeypot is also designed by Marc.

Marc gave me a complimentary copy of Honeypot at the last BGG.con, and I neglected to get it to the table until last night.

Rules

The board is a hex of hexes with four hexes along each edge, with the center hex missing (36 hexes total).

Each player has 20 disks. Each disk has a number from 1 to 9, and one or more arrows which point to adjacent hexes when placed on the board. Each disk also has a red or yellow side (like Othello pieces each have a white or black side).

On your turn, you place a disk on an empty space.

If one of the arrows on your placed disk points to an opponent's piece, and it's the only one of your pieces pointing at his disk, and the number on your disk is greater than his, you flip your opponent's disk to your color.

Alternately, if your placed disk points to an opponent's disk, and at least one more of your already placed disks also points to his disk, and the sum on these disks equals the value on his disk, you flip your opponent's disk.

Update: Marc writes: That is the case *only* if you're attempting to capture with multiple pieces; a capture made with a piece that is greater than the captured piece always succeeds, regardless of what else is pointing at it.

There are no chain reactions, i.e. flipped disks cannot flip other disks.

The game ends when all the hexes are filled. Add up the values of disks in your colors. Disks placed in one of the six corners count double. The winner is the one with the highest total.

Components

Honeypot comes in a poster tube with a yellow headscarf with the hexes printed on them for a board. The pieces are cheap wooden disks with the faces made from stickers. Rules are adequate and on a single sheet of glossy paper with color printing.

This is not a coffee table game and won't overwhelm you with its beauty. More problematic, the pieces are supposed to be sorted and handed out to each player by background color; one set has white background, and the other has very light gray background. Unless you have eyes like an eagle, you will have a hard time distinguishing between these two backgrounds. The publisher could have done better here.

Reactions

The elements of Othello are obvious. Your pieces aren't your pieces until they've been placed in a location where they can no longer be flipped. But it's more than that.

You want to drop your high numbers in places where they not only cannot be attacked by other pieces, but where they also turn another high piece as a result, preferably one that also can no longer be attacked. For that, you need to be aware of open spaces near your own space and what disks your opponent has left.

We played what must surely be an aggressive play style, dropping disks right next to other disks and flipping at every opportunity. I'm not sure if that is the only viable strategy. It could be that positioning a few disks at various place around the board might be a better idea. Unlike Go, however, the control you assert by a disk is limited to certain directions, so this may not work. Furthermore, asserting control of a space can be detrimental to controlling the space. If your 4 disk is pointing to a space, your opponent can drop his own 4 disk or a lesser value in that space and be immune to capture (since multiple disks must exactly equal, and not exceed, the value they are pointing at). See update above.

I also wonder if a mirroring strategy by the second player can guarantee a tie. I suspect so.

In any case, I like to be pleasantly surprised when I play a game the first time, and Honeypot pleasantly surprised me. On my first play I found a bunch of interesting decisions to explore, and not simply basic tactical choices, but deeply strategic ones. The game was won by what amounted to one medium disk flip; I'm expecting that an experience player can do much better than that.

I'm looking forwards to a few more games. Only then will I be able to see if it has staying power.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Card Games From India

I was contacted out of the blue by a businessman from India who markets for a customized playing card company looking for my business address. He also wanted the addresses of some Israeli distributors I know.

Apparently, he wants to make a trip to Israel in order to show his wares/form contacts. Or so he said. When I agreed to meet him if he came, there ensued a large number of emails passed back and forth, with him in his broken English trying to get me to fax a letter to the Israeli consulate in India indicating that he will be meeting me in Israel at my address for business purposes on such and such a date.

Since he will be, I decided it was ok to fax such a letter. He also tried to get me to fax it to his business' fax (tried, but it didn't work), scan him the signed fax and send it to him via email (I don't have a scanner), and send it to him by post (I will tomorrow; the post office was closed by the time the fax was done).

I'm guessing that travel to Israel from India for an Indian is a rather complicated bureaucratic ordeal.

Yehuda

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Story of Griddly Games

Griddly Games is a Canadian board game company run by two mom's, Reisa Schwartzman and Penny Osborn.

Their products include a line of sports games called "Griddly Gamez" which they bought from the bankrupt company Head Gamez, as well as a new catalog of games starting with the trivia game Wise Alec.

The Disaster That Was Head Gamez

I covered the news of the disaster that was Head Gamez as it happened throughout 2006. Head Gamez CEO Kerry Martens launched an ambitious project to start a 1,500 employee games production facility outside the small town of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia (pop: 900). He secured investments and acquired licenses for FIFA and NASCAR.

Good intentions were apprently not enough. Within a few months of the opening hoopla, Kerry abandoned ship and the company went bankrupt, with over $6 million in debt. The only surviving asset was the IP for the Griddly Gamez line, which Reisa acquired. Penny was director of operations at HG, and now fills the same role at GG.

Griddly Games is now trying to sell - more conservatively - what remains a viable product (according to them), as well as branching out into new territory.

They're taking the games to various events, getting the games to retailers, acquiring awards, and building up word of mouth.

Griddly Sports Games

The Griddly Games line of sports games is an elaborately produced series of games covering baseball, American football, hockey, and car racing (it was going to be NASCAR, but the license fee is too high).

They come in a 3D version, which contains a recessed dice pit for rolling dice combat, a family version with the same graphics but on a flat board, and a mini game which I don't know too much about. I received the family baseball game as a complimentary game to review.

The basic idea: You have 6 player pawns (two have special rules). Roll the dice, move around the track, and do what the cards say. You win if you get ten runs, lose if you lose twelve pieces of equipment, or lose if four of your players are ejected from the game.

Pros

There are a few twists to interest a mainstream (non-gamer) audience:

- The graphics are funny and elaborate.

- It's not often that you have a mainstream game where everyone can lose.

- You often have a choice of four players to move (like Sorry!), you can split the movement, some move backwards or forwards, and some do diferent things when they land on a square. While deciding what to do after the dice have been rolld extends the game a bit, it's nice to have options and decisions to make.

- There's a lot of player to player combat. When you land on certain squares, or pick certain cards, or land on another player, you roll a series of dice. Loser typically loses a piece of equipment, or the winner picks up a run.

- Another mechanic has you roll your die as fast as possible, and the first to get a 1 wins.

- Another mechanic has you knock something with a stick towards the center of the board, and the closest to the center wins.

- Some people will probably be attracted to the sports theme.

Cons

The games also have their drawbacks:

- These are not gamer's games, no sir. If you love rolling dice in head to head combat, you'll love this game. I hate dice (Settlers of Catan being the exception). Rolling to move is bad enough, but having to roll a few dozen times on every turn is unedurable for me. Similarly, the random card drawing effects didn't appeal to me.

- Some of the mechanics are fun, but they are not utilized as well as I would have liked. For instance, the ball batting was fun, but the person who chooses to enact the event is at a slight disadvantage, thereby making it less likely to happen. The game should encourage, rather than discourage, people to choose this option when it's available.

- The rules are pretty comprehensive, but are unclear on (at least) two points. First of all, they don't say how to play the game! They tell you all about specific squares, how the pieces work, and so on, but neglect to say something like "players take turns; on your turn roll the die, move your pieces, and do what the board says; then the turn passes to the player on the left." They forgot to include any sort of instructions for that, so we simply had to assume it.

In the case of the quick dice rolling mechanic, it was unclear if someone was suppose to shout out "Go!" before the players began rolling dice, or if the players were just suppose to reach for the dice as quickly as possible and begin rolling.

These are not games for me, or for my gamer readers unless they like souped up versions of roll and move games. But for those of you who still play games like Monopoly and Sorry!, and who also like sports, you will probably enjoy these games. They are fairly easy to learn.

Video Atrocity, or Media Manipulation?

This morning an article ran in Haaretz with a pic from a video of four masked men coming towards and then beginning to strike an unresisting man. The article connects the victim in the footage with a Palestinian man who was injured and is in the hospital. The BBC has the video and article, as does Reuters and a lot of Arab news sites (and no one else).

The story that goes along with the article and video is that a bunch of settlers came up to this Arab guy near their settlement, and told him to leave the area within ten minutes. They then went back to their settlement, put on masks, came back out, and began beating him up. The victim's wife was holding a video camera, and captured the sight of four ominous looking masked men approaching, and then stopped recording as soon as the first blow fell.

The Israeli police are investigating.

The special item here is that there is a video of the beating, using a camera supplied by the "human rights" group B'tzelem. The story put out by B'tzelem is that this is a typical occurrence, only now they have it on video.

My father-in-law saw the article this morning and said that it's shocking. I took a glance and said that I find it very hard to believe. Considering the history of faking videos and news over the last several years that I've been watching, we have to wait and see.

Now it's the afternoon, and I'd like to point out a few things:

Most articles about the video now note that the attackers are "claimed" to be settlers, when earlier in the day the articles simply called them settlers.

These so-called settlers acted rather strangely. They warned some guy while wearing normal clothes, went back to their yishuv, dressed up in Arab scarves tied around their faces without any signs of Jewish identity (no tzitzit hanging out of their shirts, no yarmulkahs, etc...), and then went back to beat this guy up in full view of a camera. Right.

How about the following possible scenarios: a bunch of Palestinian guys beat up some other Palestinian guy for some reason? Or, the entire thing was staged, as have so many other videos and pictures depicting so-called Israeli violence?

Without hearing from the so-called attackers, all we have to go on is a video camera from a pro-Palestinian rights movement, the word of someone who is hardly objective, a video depicting something ominous, and the loving word of Israel's friend, the BBC.

Settlers have beaten up Palestinians before (about once for every thousand deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians). It could be that this is what it's said to be. But just two days ago, Hamas claimed that Israel blew up a Palestinian baby, and forty-eight hours later even they are admitting that they did it - by accident, as Hamas agents were putting together bombs to blow up Israel babies (yet they still used it as pretext to launch rocket attacks against Israeli civilians). I think a wait and see approach is called for in this case.

Mon, 6/16 Update: This video has been around for a week, apparently, and the story keeps changing. First it was six settlers with guns, then four with baseball bats (except those are not bats in the videos, they're sticks). The only media sites carrying it are the BBC, Haaretz, and Arab media such as Iran and pro-Palestinian sites.

Tue, 6/17 Update: A father and son in the nearby settlement have been arrested, and international and non-left media are beginning to pick up the story. Most media sources are now being careful to refer to the hooded men as just that, instead of unequivocally referring to them as "settlers", until proven as such. Police are looking into whether the video was fabricated, who the Arabs in the area were, and what provocation or other events might have occurred beforehand. Looks like the story might be (more or less) accurate, after all.


Wed 6/18 Update: A nice point of view with more info.

Yehuda

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Shabbat Gaming

Nadine and another friend were over for lunch. Eliezer is not a gamer, exactly, but he's been turned on to the likes of Settlers, Havoc, and Blokus. The latter is his current addiction.

So I brought out Blokus Trigon after lunch. The beginning and middle of Trigon don't matter much, so long as a) you put out your larger pieces and b) you keep tendrils out to most areas of the board. The end game - when you have run out of your largest pieces, then becomes a matter of planning and blocking.

Fun game. I won 5 to 9 to 9. It's not Nadine's cup of tea.

Next I decided to try him on Mississippi Queen. The first time I played this, I liked it and wanted to try again. Everyone else liked it, too, but not enough to want to play it again immediately. After that, they always found some other game to play instead.

I managed to get it back onto the table again a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it, even more than the first play. I was eager to try again, and I decided to slake my thirst with these guys.

It ended up being more like the first play; fun, but not exceptional enough to make them want to play again any time soon. It might be because we all ended up within one round of finishing without too much difficulty, and that's even after stopping to pick up two passengers each.

Actually, the two of them tied, and I crashed in the same round, only able to slow down to 2, instead of the 1 I needed.

Last up was Settlers of Catan, to make up for MQ. Our board layout was very clumped, region-wise, which made starting with all the resources somewhat difficult. I managed to do it by placing one of my settlements onto a 3:1 port and the other on an 11 wood. I needed to trade for wood at the beginning.

Two reasons I ran away with the game: Early on, Eliezer opted to pass with 8 cards in his hand rather than buy two development cards, as he was saving for a city. I rolled a 7 and he lost the bundle. Then I placed the robber on his 8, and he lost about 4 or 5 ores in a row.

I began progressing a few rounds earlier than either of them, and stayed that way for most of the game. Nadine actually passed me in points at one point, but it was five settlements, Longest Road, and no ore production. I stole the Longest Road, and that was basically that. Final scores were 10 to 6 to 4.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Linkety Link

It's been a long time since I did a linkety post, since I now post most news onto Purple Pawn.

Purple Pawn is looking for more contributors! Please email me is you want to get involved. Let's build the best generic game news site on the planet.

Links

Presh does a great article and analysis of game theory in the Talmud on his blog Mind Your Decisions.

Paul Mackie's mother-in-law quilts an awesome Settlers of Catan quilt; picture on his blog the Mind Shaft Gap.

Yehuda

Roundup: Three Years of Twenty Fourth Week Posts

Web 3.0: The Future of the Web

Ethics in Gaming 6.0 - unasked for advice to game publishers and designers

What makes something "revolutionary"?

I set out to learn about computer gaming, having little experience with the topic, and here is what I came up with.

The two things you should never argue about

Tips to avoid playing games you hate

My genealogy

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It's Alive to be Re-printed

My first board game, It's Alive, is going back to the printers for a second edition.

Not much will change in this edition. The artwork will be tweaked, and some commonly requested rules changes will be changed.

You can pre-order a copy at 30% off at the publisher, or pester your local or online game store to pre-order copies.

Yehuda

Session Report, in which I confirm that It's Alive is fine the way it is

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Havoc, Power Grid, It's Alive x 2.

We enjoy Havoc after a break, and I try a few variants for It's Alive, only to discover that the game is fine the way it is.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

10 Spoof Board Game Commercials

To make a spoof commercial about a fake board game, all you need is a basic idea and a little artwork; the jokes and bad acting write themselves.

Mush Mouth - Stupid game ideas like this actually exist in the recycling bins of game publishers.



Number Scrabble - Demonstrating that obvious adaptation ideas don't always work. Letter card games that play like rummy are no better.



Smack the Lion - Those wacky Japanese.



Grand Theft Auto: The Board Game - Applying real world violence to a board game is a little too obvious.



Communist Monopoly - These guys had a similar idea a decade earlier than GTA, and it still seems fairly old.



NAMBLA - This one is probably offensive to most people, as is the organization.



25 Years to Life



Muttonopoly



Chess For Girls - One of several board game commercials done by Saturday Night Live. Actually makes a decent point.



Ball Buster - This was a real game, believe it or not. I don't think the commercial is a spoof.



Blackout

To make up for the previous entry which was a real game, you can view Blackout. It's a little too racy for my blog.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Greatest Quotes from Soccer Players

My favorite: - Fussball ist wie Schach, nur ohne Würfel. (Football is like chess, only without the dice.) - Lukas Podolski

source

Monday, June 09, 2008

Puerto Rico With a Few Switched Buildings

Rachel, Nadine, and I played a game of Puerto Rico with a few of my lesser played buildings in place:

- Aqueduct: I find this building problematic. It is too powerful, dominating the the shipping game early on. And it also makes the game less interesting, providing only one real avenue for winning success for the player. Which bugs me.

As a result, I changed it to allow either extra indigo or sugar production but not both. But I couldn't convince either Rachel or Nadine to use this change. They said, "what harm could it be to play it as it's written?" I agreed to let them try it for one more game.

Guess what? Rachel played it, and, despite playing against a tobacco monopoly, a coffee monopoly, and both of us having Factory and Wharf, she dominated the game, winning 67 points to 53 and 50 points. I rest my case.

- Bazaar 2/1: Return a VP or barrel to gain an extra colonists (Mayor) / Return a colonist or VP to gain an extra barrel (Craftsman) / Return a colonist or barrel to gain an extra VP (Captain).

This is a difficult building to use well, but I used it pretty well (I lost the game anyway, so maybe not well enough). I took Mayor a number of extra times in the early game, and then traded them for extra barrels and VPs in the later game.

- Salvage Yard 3/1: +1 doubloon / barrel tossed out (except corn). Rachel used this to good effect once, earning 5 gold (with that Aqueduct). Once was enough. It's a nice building if the other buildings aren't unbalanced.


I also played the game Griddly Games: Baseball, sent to me by the publisher to review. That's an upcoming post.

Yehuda

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Some Thoughts on Solomon's Stones



Solomon's Stone's is a simple abstract game from Solbenk. They sent me a copy to evaluate and review, which I did. My take was that it looked like a nice game for casual players and non-gamers, but held more interest as a puzzle for gamers.

Rules Review

On your turn, take any number of stones from a single row or column. Last person to take a stone loses.

First Analysis

Our first idea was to look at smaller triangles of size N. I.e.

O

(N = 1)

O
OO

(N = 2)

O
OO
OOO

(N = 3)

and so on, trying to solve the simpler patterns. Clearly, if a game of size N is a win for the second player, then a game of size N+1 is a win for first player, who removes the largest row or column, thereby reducing the game to N.

Game N = 1 is a win for second player.
Game N = 2 is a win for first player, who reduces the game to N = 1.
Game N = 3 is a win for first player, who takes stones A1 + C1 (top and bottom left on above diagram).

This didn't seem to be forming any patterns; N = 4 was not immediately obvious. One of my group members claims to have solved N = 4 and N = 5 as first player wins, but I didn't hear any more on the subject. That was a month ago.

The publisher wrote to me that some people tried to solve the game using symmetrical moves, but that this wasn't ultimately successful.

Second Analysis

I thought a bit more about it this weekend.

Let's start with some new terminology. A(N) is an arrangement of N pieces on a Solomon's Stone board such that all N pieces are on different rows and columns. E.g. for A(7) there is only a single possible arrangement:

O
XO
XXO
XXXO
XXXXO
XXXXXO
XXXXXXO

The stone in row 1 must be in column 1. The stone in row 2 must be in any column that the stone in row 1 doesn't occupy, which must be column 2. And so on.

For A(6), there are 127 possible arrangements:

I. There is one solution for A(6) if the stones occupy the first six rows, and it looks similar to the above diagram.

II. There are two solutions for A(6) if the stones occupy rows 1 through 5 and row 7. Row 7's stone can be placed either in column 6 or column 7.

III. There are four possible solutions for A(6) if the stones occupy rows 1 through 4 and rows 6 and 7. If row 6's stone is place in column 5, row 7's stone can be placed in column 6 or 7. If row 6's stone is placed in column 6, row 7's stone can be placed in column 5 or 7.

The pattern is now obvious. For the shape:

XO
XXO
XXXO
...

The first row has two possible choices. For either choice, the next row has two possible choices. And so on, leading to 2^N possible arrangements.

Continuing from above,

1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 = 127 (or simply 2^(N+1)-1)

First player loses for A(odd), while second player loses for A(even). One winning strategy is therefore to force your opponent to play an A(odd) position. If you see a position which can be reduced to A(odd), you win. Let's call this position R(1). R(1) is a position that can be reduced in one play to A(odd). All A(even) positions are R(1).

You should not leave your opponent in R(1). In fact, you want to try to force your opponent to leave you in R(1).

Unfortunately, I believe that a savvy opponent should always be able to, rather than leave you in R(1), remove a necessary stone for your A(odd) configuration. Seeing as there are 127 possible A(6) configurations, not to mention A(4) and A(2) configurations, you may be able to set up a fork situation, so that your opponent cannot block both A(even) positions at the same time.

At least, this is where I got to in my thinking over the weekend. With a board as small as Solomon's Stones, it's possible that I'm overlooking a simpler solution.

Yehuda

Shavuot Coming

Tonight and tomorrow are prep time for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot starting tomorrow evening. Literally "[The Festival of] Weeks", practically it's a one day (two days outside of Israel) festival of dairy products, flowers, staying up all night learning, and reading The Book of Ruth.

No gaming this past shabbat.

Yehuda

P.S. Requesting a reminder of where they would be meeting, Tel Avivs Tal Aviv tells Tel Avivs Aviv Tell Tel Avivs Tal Aviv tell Tel Avivs Tal Aviv Tel Aviv Tel Avivs Tal Aviv

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Session Report, in which Binyamin wins four out of four games

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Mykerinos, Mississippi Queen, Race for the Galaxy, Power Grid, Puerto Rico, It's Alive.

We play a few games I haven't played in a while. Binyamin wins four out of his four games played. And we play a three and a half hour game of Puerto Rico.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Status: I'm Working Again

I am employed full-time, again. Corporate blogging is a viable profession, but it takes hard, groundbreaking work which my financial situation can't bear for the foreseeable future. So I'm back to technical writing, a job I also enjoy very much.

I'm working for a technical communications service company, outsourced full-time to a major telecommunications company. I would like to stay in one place for several years this time, so here's hoping it works out. Let's see what skills I can bring from my blogging work into the world of technical writing. In the meantime, I'll continue blogging on the side.

Yehuda

May Board and Card Game Patents

Welcome to a new months of board and card game patents for fun and profit. Well, maybe just fun.

Apparatus for converting a table into a card table - Thin mat, felt, and plastic railing to cover a table.



Proposition wager for a card game - During a game of Texas Hold'em, players place a second bet on what the community cards will be in their own right. This is somehow supposed to make the game friendlier to less experience poker players.

Method of playing a dice game side bet - The patent includes a rare, easy to comprehend abstract:
A craps side wager. The player can choose whether the next roll will be even or odd. If the player chose wrong, the player loses the wager. If the player chose right, then the player can win even money on the wager, unless the roll is a craps number, in which the player can win less than even money.
Combined sudoku game board and game pieces for visually impaired users - This:



Bayesian scoring - I haven't a fricking clue what this is talking about, but I assume it's some sort of ELO ranking system equivalent. Any math brains want to take a crack at it?

Rotating pattern matching board game - A SIMON game on wheels:



Card-based board game and method of playing the same - The patent first describes "the three types of board games": race games, acquisition games, and strategy games.

It says race games (Candyland) are bad because players do not interact. Acquisition games (Monopoly) are bad because once players are in possession of an item, it's hard for them to lose it, reducing the winning opportunities of the other players. Strategy games (Risk) are bad because confrontations are either guided by rules (such as capture) or luck (such as dice).

This game solves all these problems, says patent. It's a roll and move medieval/fantasy game when you collect weapons, armor, and treasures, and then blind bid for combat. Winner selects a card from loser. How original.

Chess game piece - This:



Mathematics game and method - A very simple deck of cards with numbers where players play valid math equations.

Game of chance - A dice game with exceedingly complicated payout charts, which may have something to do with horse racing.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hebrew University's PhD Award Ceremony

My wife, Rachel, formally received her PhD yesterday from Hebrew University. The ceremony took place in their outdoor amphitheater overlooking the hills of Judea.




Here she is, sitting in the back row wearing a cap they gave out to shield her eyes from the sun.



There were around 300 other PhDs, as well as several honorary PhDs and some other award recipients. The entire affair was rather dull.

Among the more interesting moments:

Former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives Tom Lantos was awarded an honorary PhD. He was a Holocaust survivor and a friend of Israel's. Tom passed away in February, and his wife Annette accepted the posthumous honors on his behalf.



Bernard-Henri Lévy, a well known French socialite and "new philosopher", accepted an honorary PhD. He gave an impassioned speech about his love for Israel and education in general.



Shuly Nathan, who electrified Israel in 1967 by singing Naomi Shemer's Jerusalem of Gold, sang that song and Hatikva. She wasn't at the top of her game, but it was still a thrill to see her live for the first time.



And here's Rachel walking down to receive her PhD.





Congrats, Rach!

VCR Games

Games have been printed on hats, etched into rocks, and played via smoke signal. So why not the next new technology: VHS video?

The annals of media will not look back too kindly on VHS. It's bulky. The tape is weak and tends to break or wear. VCRs come with counters or displays that indicated seconds along the tape, but the controls don't allow you to jump to these counters or seconds. The best you can do was fast forward or reverse while watching the film and hope to land somewhat near where you wanted. So it's basically a one-track, one-way, non-repeatable experience.

You can pause. You can skip forward to some general location and begin playing from there. You can watch a series of clips from sports, television, or movies in a particular order. Given such awesome technology, what kind of game can you make?

Mystery - Mystery games are original scenes, which, after viewing, players have to solve the crime. These games are non-repeatable.

Perception - A bit like mystery games, after viewing a clip, scene, or series of images, players must answer questions, usually of some trivial element in the scene. If the questions are on the tape, the experience is non-repeatable. The questions can be on cards, however, which would make the game repeatable until you've been through all the cards.

Clock - In these games, the tape is used as a clock to impose a fixed time for the accompanying board game. As certain time elements pass, the video may direct some random event to occur during the game. Or, an element in the game may call for something to happen at a certain time on the clock.

In these games, the accompanying visuals and music are also meant to set mood for the game.

Respond - As the story on the tape unfolds, players must scramble to do something as subtle clues occur on screen. The first player to do something wins.

Trivia - Answer questions about on or off-screen trivia. The game takes the place of some other player asking you questions, as would occur in most trivia games.

Outcome - Rather than roll a die, you play the next clip in the video to see the result of your play. Although the order of the clips is determined, the need to use the tape will be the result of a random card pick in the game.

The Games

1985

Clue. VCR Mystery Game (1985) Mystery. Each player is dealt an identity, and players have to solve the mystery and also guess who is whom, based on clues they give.
Eyewitness Newsreel Challenge VCR Board Game (1985) Perception
Rich Little's VCR Charades (1985) Guess the charade that Rich Little is performing. Kind of takes all the fun away from the party game, although Rich Little was a funny comedian.

1986

Agatha Christie: Behind the Scenes (1986) Mystery
Candy Land VCR Board Game (1986) Respond
Chutes and Ladders VCR (1986) Respond
Commercial Crazies VCR Game (1986) Perception
Disney Cartoon Classic VCR game (1986) Respond
Disney Movie Classics VCR game (1986) Respond
Doorways to Adventure
(1986) Respond
Doorways to Horror (1986) Respond
Elery Queen's Operation: Murder (1986) Mystery
Flash Match VCR Board Game (1986) Perception. Answer questions about quickly flashed images.
The Honeymooners VCR game (1986) Perception
Joan Rivers Predicaments VCR Game (1986) Scenes are played and you answer what you would do next. I'm not sure what happens after that.
Three Stooges VCR Game, The (1986) Respond
VCR Hockey Night in Canada (1986) Outcome
The VCR Quarterback Game (1986) Outcome

1987

Hi HO Cherry O (1987) No idea, but I would guess Respond.
Lets Go to the Races VCR Horse Racing Game (1987) Bet on races and then watch them as they are run. Includes some mechanism that I don't understand for playing the game again even after you've seen the all the races.
VCR 221B Baker Street (1987) Mystery
VCR Basketball Game (1987) Appears to simply provide atmosphere for the game.
VCR College Bowl Game (1987) Outcome
VCR Hockey Game (1987) Outcome
VCR Top Rank Boxing Game (1987) Outcome
Winter Olympics VCR Game (1987) After watching a routine, you must pause the tape as it rapidly flashes through scores. The score you land on is your score.

1988

Clue II VCR Mystery Game (1988) Mystery
EPYX Play Action VCR Football (1988) Outcome
Epyx VCR Golf (1988) Outcome
Isaac Asimov's Robots VCR Mystery Game (1988) Mystery
RoboCop VCR Game (1988) Respond
VCR Baseball (1988) Outcome
VCR California Games (1988) Outcome
VCR Dogfight (1988) Outcome
VCR Wrestle Mania Game, The (1988) Clock

1990 - console gaming are beginning to make VCR games (even more) irrelevant.

America's Funniest Home Videos Game (1990) Perception
Elementare Watson (1990) Trivia

1991

Nightmare (1991) Clock. If no one wins when the time runs out, they all lose.
Nightmare II (1991) Clock

1992

Nightmare III (1992) Clock
Rat Rap Video Board Game (1992) Clock. An annoying rat provides atmosphere and random instructions to make a dumb game more frustrating and less enjoyable
Wayne's World VCR Board Game (1992) Trivia

1993

Dinoland (1993) Clock. Move close to the professor's piece using the clues he gives on the tape.
Dragon Strike (1993) The tape is used only for instructions and mood.
Nightmare IV (1993) Clock
Party Mania (1993) The tape is used only for instructions and mood.
Star Trek the Next Generation Interactive VCR Board Game (1993) Clock. A Klingon tries to commandeer and blow up your ship.
Video Grin 'N' Bear It (1993) The video give you tasks or dares to perform.

1995

Atmosfear - The Harbringers (1995) . Clock. This is a continuation of the Nightmare series.
Trivial Pursuit: Star Trek Edition (1995) Trivia
Trivial Pursuit Music Master Game, The Video Version (1995) Trivia
Trivial Pursuit Video - Film and TV Edition (1995) Trivia
Trivial Pursuit Video - Sports Edition (1995) Trivia

1996

Atmosfear - The Soul Rangers (1996) Clock
Flash Match VCR Jr. (1996) Perception
Star Wars Assault on the Death Star VCR Board Game (1996) Clock. Vader (James Earl Jones) provides the narrative and random instructions.

1997

X-Files Trivia Game First Edition (1997) Trivia

1999

VH1: The Pop Up Video Game (1999) When a card tells you to sing, you play the clip and must sing along.

?

Survivor (?) No idea
Video Bingo (?) Respond. The video does the bingo balls.
Interactive Television Cricket (?) No idea