Thursday, July 31, 2008

Session Report, in which I fail to connect with Alexander the Great

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Year of the Dragon, Texas Hold'em, Metropolys, Alexander the Great, Princes of Florence, Bridge.

First plays for Texas Hold'em, Metropolys, and Alexander the Great.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Friendship and Facebook

The day before we left for our trip last weekend, an old college friend of my wife's "friended" her on Facebook, asking where she lived. Turns out that this old friend lives in Tzfat, a half-hour drive from where we were going, so we ended up spending half of Sunday in Tzfat.

This is a real-life friendship that might have occurred without Facebook. Maybe they would have seen each others' names in the back of some issue of the Reed alumni bulletin. Or they would have met through a more niche version of electronic social networking, such as an online Reed forum, or simply jointly listed in the CC list of an email sent from a mutual friend.

But the odds of reacquainting through Facebook are becoming increasingly high, day by day. When I first started on Facebook, I was the only one of a class of 67 from my high school class. Today there are 10 of us. The rest will probably soon follow, and the real question is why it's taking them so long.

This reacquainting raises many questions for me. I wasn't very popular in high school, being a computer nerd and all. Some of the jocks were downright miserable to me, and their ceaseless tormenting had huge impacts on my personality, negative and positive, throughout my life. One of these jocks is now a friend of a friend on Facebook. 67 people is a pretty small graduating class.

Am I supposed to invite this guy to be my friend? Or respond if he invites me? After all, it's been over twenty-five years; he may be a nice guy, now. Should I begrudge a friendship to an adult for what he did to me as a child? Of course, he may not be any nicer now than he was then. Does that mean he shouldn't be my "friend"?

What is a "friend" on Facebook, anyway? The one word includes spouse, child, friend, neighbor, co-worker, old high school buddy, friend of friend, and guy who looks like he might be interesting to know someday. Some of you probably include strangers among your Facebook "friends", but I felt the need to put a limit somewhere. Luckily for me, I'm old enough and secure enough not to need the count of my Facebook friends as a litmus test for my popularity.

When people say that the nature and meaning of "friend" is changing as a result of the Internet, they're not simply speaking semantics. It's not only that the word "friend" is being used synonymously with "contact". The landscape of friendship is actually shifting.

For example, the unwritten knowledge about friendship is being made explicit: now you designate people as friends, you may even rank them or their qualities. And if you feel like dropping contact, you no longer simply don't return their phone calls; you de-friend them. One woman's friends found out about her breaking off an engagement instantly when her ex-fiance changed their relationship status; Facebook sent a message to all of them that their "relationship status" had changed, with a little broken heart icon.

Many of us expect that we will remain bosom buddies with some of our best friends from high school and college for the rest of our lives, when the sad truth is that we tend to fall out of touch with nearly all of them. Email, forums, and mailing lists didn't change this reality. But Facebook does. You register your high school or college class, and there they all are for the rest of your life. You don't even have to work at it. My generation kind of missed this; we have to "get reacquainted" with our high school classmates. But my children are growing up with no concept of this "reacquaintance" thing of which I speak.

I've always had some friends that I didn't communicate with too often, unless one or the other of us would be visiting the other's city. Now I have a hundred times as many relationships like that. Except that now I may drop an email about something they did or accomplished, or send a funny link, or just "booyah" them on a birthday to let them know that I still care.

And as I said, I limit my Facebook friends to people who I actually know, or have personally met. Yet I still have 120 "friends". Which doesn't include the many other neighbors, co-workers, and past schoolmates that haven't yet registered for Facebook or friended me. That's a damn lot of people, some, or most of them, may even care about me a little. That's an interesting thought in itself.


P.S. Another fine read

Review: Acquire, new edition

The following is a guest post by Moshe Sambol:

I heard from Funagain Games about a month ago that they had a new stock of Acquire. Having played the game a few times on an old board of my in-laws', and not having had luck finding a reasonably priced copy of the old edition(s) to buy, I was happy to pay $24 for a new copy (not including S&H). I received it on Thursday via visiting American Mom service.

The construction of the new set is a real let down. Everything is cardboard at best. Whereas the old set includes plastic tiles which are placed on a plastic board, the new tiles are simple cardboard squares that you have to punch out of a few sheets of cardboard before your first use. The board is a simple piece of cardboard that folds down the middle. It and the tiles are plain gray. Even the font used on the pieces is not my taste, the E is rounded and practically indistinguishable from a 3.

Aside from the board and tiles the set includes play money, stock certificates, and legends to help players figure out the values of the hotels.

The stock certificates are very nicely done on colorful, tasteful, sturdy-enough card stock. The money is the same junk you'd get with a Monopoly set, albeit at higher denominations. The legends, though, are a real embarrassment. They are printed on the last few perforated pages of the instructions booklet and you have to tear them out. That the manufacturer didn't even bother to print these on cardboard was shocking to me.

The final components are a set of six cardboard racks which can be used by each player to hold his or her tiles. These must be punched out and assembled, like the tiles.

Even the box itself is inferior to the old sets: it doesn't have compartments for the various pieces, you just dump them all back into the box when done. With the tile racks assembled it's a tight fit, but I wouldn't recommend taking apart the tile racks as after a few re-assemblings they'd certainly start falling apart.

In the old set there were separate compartments to hold the stacks of stock certificates during game play. With the new set, you'll need table room for those.

Having said all that about the construction, after having played once last night I'm glad I own it. Our group included game enthusiasts and non, and the game kept all of our attention and was fun and interesting.

I first learned Acquire a year or so ago. Since then I've played (and acquired) Settlers and Puerto Rico. In my opinion Acquire is more interesting than Settlers and significantly less challenging than P.R. I liked that it's quick and easy to teach to a new player. The luck factor is present but low (random tile draw). Our game took over an hour but certainly less time than PR would have taken. I think I'll be able to teach this to my (young) kids just as easily as Monopoly, but will be much happier with a game that doesn't involve running around the board.

Overall for those who don't own it I recommend it, but be prepared to be let down by the materials. The stock certificates are the one reason not to just put this together yourself.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Golan in Pictures and Words

Rachel and I went on a trip to the Golan with our synagogue last weekend.

We stayed in the Hermon field school, a ramshackle of little motel-like rooms outside the small settlement of Snir, along the Hermon river, otherwise known as the Banyas.

Snir is just across from my favorite spot in Israel, Tel Dan, a national park with a series of gorgeous treks through deep shade and freezing water. The air may be over 40 degrees Celsius, but the water is so cold that you get chills if you stay in it too long.

Dozens of entrances to the natural cool springs flowing down from Syria dot the 99 highway, including "Banyas", "Snir River", and rafting businesses. All these locations have fees, between $5 to $10 to $20 an hour (for a tube or kayak).

Some of these place no longer let visitors go in the water at all, since generations of visitors has had a somewhat negative overall effect on the area's wildlife and beauty. But .... that's the reason everyone visits the area. You don't pay $5 to go to see beautiful cold water on a hot summer day and then not go into the water! I'm hoping that these restrictions are temporary (or just rumors).

You don't have to go into the river through one of the above points, as there are several free access points to the river from the country's vast connection of national trails. One such entrance was to be found behind the field school, and a fifteen minute descent brought us right to one of the most beautiful locations on Earth.

The only problem with using the trails to enter the river, rather than go through the parks, is that you see interesting things and have no idea what they are. This castle-looking thing was visible from our trail on a neighboring hill, but I don't know it's story.

On the other hand, the view in the other direction needs no explanation:

This is simply marked by a sign which reads "Syrian Tank". The tank is upside down at the bottom of a ravine where a tank should not be.

There was a "forbidden grove", a wall of trees and vines covered with gossamer cocoons.

I found this sylph reposing on a branch overhanging the river and I took her home.

The path we took led to She'ar Yeshuv, the next settlement down the road. At the end of the path was a little concession stand where the mists of water sprayed onto the plants floated over and onto us. The person who ran the place had covered every table, chair and wall in mosaics. He even covered the ice cream cart, the posts, the floors, and much of his nearby house and barn in mosaics. It was psychedelic. Below is a table with Chess and Backgammon mosaics (with one of our synagogue members).

If you come the right time of year, you can go blueberry picking on the Golan, but we missed this by a few weeks.

We met a Teimani group of three families from Raanana and included them in our Carlebach Anglo-Ashkenazic shabbat davening, alternately listening to some of their songs and leyning. We also sang together with them during the communal meals. They were so impressed by our singing and joy that they asked to be called and told when we next have a shabbaton so they can join us. Hooray for cross-cultural ties!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

German Video Review of It's Alive

If you want to practice your German, check out this German video review of It's Alive.


Weekend Gaming

I'm stealing time at a computer at a hospital in Tzfat while my wife visits an old friend. More on our trip later.

Rachel, Nadine and I played Puerto Rico, which Rachel won with 63 to Nadine's 53 and my 50. I was second place with no corn up, which hurt, not only in terms of victory point losses, but in terms of limited building options (Factory was less of an option for me, for instance). Nadine built a Discretionary Hold when she should have built a Wharf, as she was concentrated in corn and ended up tossing a bunch.

Games I gave to the kids to play: R-Eco, For Sale, It's Alive, Set, and Apples to Apples: Jewish Edition. Only A2A was a big hit; they enjoyed the others, but not enough to ask to play more than once.

The kids also played Risk, Rat-a-Tat Cat, War, President, and other card games.

On Saturday night, Frances (an adult, not a gamer), Rachel, and I played Rummy 500. There are many different ways to play Rummy, but we ended up playing "Rachel's rules", which she revealed to us slowly as we played (on her assumption that everyone must already know the "right" rules to Rummy).

The rules were:
  • 7 card hands
  • meld sets as you go
  • aces are high or low
  • pick from deck, top card of discard pile, or entire discard pile
  • can add in front of you to other people's straights (or to their additions)
  • the round is over when someone goes out with no cards after a discard
  • from your played cards, aces net you 15 points, 10, J, Q, K net 10 points, all other cards net 5 points
  • cards left in your hand are subtracted from your score [so a card played is effectively double]

Francis went out most of the rounds, and was ahead for most of them, too, but in the last round I netted 195 points and ended up winning 325 to her 290 to Rachel's 220. Lots of other people sat around and watched us play.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Thirtieth Week Posts

The 4 Challenges That Games Provide

Fond recollections of playing with broken game components

What makes a game "for children"?

A cartoon from the Lebanon conflict: Here and There

How Marcel Duchamp destroyed our copyright system

The state of music industry lawsuits in Israel hasn't changed in two years


My shul is having another getaway weekend, this time to the Golan. I may not get back to the blog until Sunday night or even Monday. Or I may find a way ;-) .

Shabbat shalom.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Session Report, in which we play Pandemic

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: R-Eco, Notre Dame, Pandemic, Vegas Showdown, Settles of Catan, Tichu x 2

Back up to 11 players. Yay.

We play Pandemic for the first time, and bring Vegas Showdown back to the table.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Price of a Cup of Tea

I met a co-worker at a coffee shop this morning. I ordered tea for 10 NIS. I happen to like reusing my teabag for a second cup, so I asked for more hot water. I figured the 10 NIS was for the tea bag and the time. There are still some restaurants where you get an entire pot when you order tea, not just a glass.

The guy behind the counter decided that a cup of hot water would be the full price of 10 NIS, even without taking another tea bag. I decided not to order lunch at his coffee shop.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Scrabble With Rachel

She beat me, 330 to 300. Rachel started with JUICE and it took me most of the game to catch up, point by point. When I did, she played QUIRE, I responded with OXES (double word)/Squire, and she played VITA (double word)/To/Ax above it. That was the game.

On shabbat I played Oh Hell with Tal, and we went back and forth, pointwise, each round. I just happened to win on the last round.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Patents and Literary Criticism

I've been reading a slew of books on biblical criticism, literary analysis of the bible, poetics and narrative, etc... and I'm struck by how similar the construction of literary criticism is to a patent submission.

A patent looks like:

"Our process / method is in the field of X. Previous inventions in the field of X include: A, but A isn't good enough for such and such; B, which is good for this, but not for that; and C, which goes further, but fails to do so and so. Our process / method solves all of these problems by doing blah blah."

Literary criticism looks exactly the same, except that after describing blah blah, the rest of the book actually uses the process to accomplish what it sets out to do (to greater or lesser success). A patent merely describes what the patent submitters intend to do.

Literary criticism might involve taking an old methodology and applying it to a new body of text, or an altogether new methodology. Patents try to make their claims about methodology as broad as possible so that if anyone does anything remotely similar in some other field, they can sue for the credit. Literary critics imply similarly, although they only want a citation.

Imagine if methods of literary criticism were subject to patents. Wouldn't that be a great way to destroy yet another field of human progress?

Friday, July 18, 2008


I played Boggle with Rachel (wife) and won twice by such large margins that she refused to play with me any more. Rachel beats me in Scrabble often enough. Quick pattern recognition is more my thing, I guess. And she apparently thinks she's not going to get better at Boggle if she keeps playing it with me. Or that it's not fun to lose by that much. Or not worth it.

I played Boggle with Tal (15 yo daughter), letting her use three letter words while I could only use four letter words, and I beat her, too. She was game to keep playing, for the experience. Tal gets better each time she plays; she might beat me one day, if she keeps trying.

After Chess Boxing

What's next after Chess Boxing?

Fence Tac Toe: Players try to hit a grid on their opponent's chest. When they make a hit, they get to put their mark in the appropriate square. Three in a row wins.

Sockers: Players try to kick the ball over the heads of their opponents, who are then eliminated from the game.

Go Karts: Player try to complete as many laps as possible between moves in a Go game. Each lap is added to your score.

Jengaball: Players try to knock blocks out of a guant Jenga game by throwing basketballs.

Monopogolf: Two activities that are just as exciting to watch as to play. Whenever a player's token lands on someone else's property, he or she takes a swing at the board with a golf club (actually, that's just like the games I usually play).

Strategonnis: Players whack their pieces over the net. The piece attacks the opposing piece into whose space it lands.

Trivial Baseball: Players have to answer a trivia question related to the base on which they landed. The base doesn't count unless the answer is correct.

Roundup: Three Years of Twenty Ninth Week Posts

My top 10 requirements for a great game

Top 10 reasons you should be playing games

What my game group is like

Harry Potter games

Games and Punishment, a parody of Fyodor Dostoevsky

The 60 second primer on modern board games

People use the word "game" to mean too many things

Reasons we travel

One of my favorites: The Interchangeability of All Things

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Session Report, in which we double the amount of visitors from last week

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Cribbage, Notre Dame, Cities and Knights of Catan, Magic: the Gathering.

Still low attendance. I was still sick, but getting better.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Ugh. Sick again. Hopefully be on the road to recovery tomorrow. I was supposed to be working at home today, but I found it hard to concentrate.

Played Gin Rummy with Tal. I knocked after three picks on the first hand and she asked to start over. Then she got to 72 points, I struggled up to 79, but she finally won with one more hand.

Listening to oldies on Youtube. Where else can you find the TV special featuring Olivia Newton-John with special guests Andy Gibb and Abba?


Monday, July 14, 2008

Why Top Earners Earn More

I've always been fascinated with reports on how the top 1% or 10% of people earn as much as the bottom 10% or 50%. I don't see how this is news.

If you take 100 people, and each earns $1, $2, $3, ... $100, i.e. a perfectly flat distribution, then the top earner earns as much as the bottom 13. The top 10 earn as much the bottom 44.

This is because the top earner earns 100 times what the bottom one does. If the top earner earns only 5 times what the bottom one does, i.e. the salaries go from $100 to $500 in steps of $4 (and change), then the top earner earns as much as the bottom 4, and the top 10 as much as the bottom 29.

This assumes a flat distribution. With a natural bell curve, we end up somewhere back to something that looks more like the first case: the top earner is going to earn more than a boat load of people at the bottom. This makes sense.

This doesn't sit well with a lot of people. Either it's because the top earner is presumed to have acquired his wealth/income through unfairly distributed luck, childbirth, or access to resources, or because the top earner should be paying more to help society based on his income.

If everyone paid 10% of his income to taxes, then the top earner is paying 100, or 5, times more than the lowest earner. More is demanded, because even after this payment the richest should be able to afford more. Presumably, this more isn't so much so that, after paying, the richest earner takes home the same amount as the poorest.

So a "fair" amount is enough so that less well-to-do, less lucky, or less hard working people feel that the rich person has contributed more in both absolute and percentage terms, but not so much so that the rich person throws up his hands and says "why bother?" This "fair" amount is going to leave the rich person still richer than anyone else, by several multiples.

So if the highest earning person earns XXX% more than the lowest, or earns as much as X number of lowest earning people, does that mean that something is wrong? Is our goal to make the income of the highest and lowest earners as close as possible? Or to make the life of the lowest earners as good as possible?


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Repackaged Games

At lunch today (I was a guest), another guest showed me the "latest game" that she had bought: Snatch. I hadn't heard of it, which surprised everyone.

When I saw it, it was immediately obvious that it was Anagrams. It simply had redesigned letter tiles and a white cardboard tube.

It's curious how many games are simply a repackaging of other games without even acknowledging their origins. Not even including *-opoly's and games intended to bypass copyrights and trademarks.

An infamous case is Alien Encounter, which, for all it's fancy space-themed board and tokens, is simply the game of Go on a 9x9 board.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Review: Wall-E

Wall-E is the latest movie from Pixar/Disney.

Summary: Ambition wars with formula to produce an exciting, epic movie with great visual appeal and safely tread humor, but little in the way of emotional connection or chracterization.

Plot: Wall-E is the last remaining functioning robot on an over-polluted and abandoned Earth. During the day he collects and compresses garbage into blocks, while keeping an eye out for curious items to take home to his little homestead. At night he sorts through his collection and watches old videos on a VCR hooked up to an Ipod.

One day he encounters a sleek, modern probe in search of something, we don't know what. He gradually befriends the probe (feminine) and shows her his life. She finds what she was looking for, and the two get whisked away from Earth, back to the spacehips where the last residents of the Earth while away their time in a utopian world of floating chairs and liquid foods on demand. Humans are so atrophied, that they are big blobs who can't even walk.

Will Eve and Wall-E be safely reunited? Will the humans learn to walk? Will the Earth ever be cleaned up?

Reactions: Wall-E is the most ambitious movie to come out of Pixar. It's epic in scale, with several distinct parts to the movie. The first 40 minutes or so is rambling around Earth and the meeting of the two robots. Most of the rest takes place on the floating Earth ship, where we meet a whole new array of different robots and the occasional human.

The animation can hardly be called animation anymore, it is so realistic. The film quality is rich and lively. The writers' and animators' imaginations are also incredible. While there are typical site gags, a great amount of what passes by on the screen exceeds expectations, where it could merely have met them. The visuals, scenes, items, accessories, and so on that appear are always fresh and never simply the easy or expected. A whole world is imagined. Two whole worlds, actually, if you count the ship.

Wall-E is part drama, part comedy, part romance. The comedy is where the imagination works best. I laughed aloud a number of times. Although not substantially different than other Pixar comedies, the formula works well and they always find new ways to be surprising. The drama is also pretty tight. Eve has a mission, and it gets thwarted. Wall-E has his own mission (to find and woo Eve). The story may drag for younger or more impatient viewers at certain times, but not overly so.

Where is fails is as a romance. While cute that two robots are supposed to find romance, the robots, as well as the few humans encountered during the film, have little in the way of interesting characters. Wall-E is a bit like Charlie Chaplin's tramp, but only superficialy; he's playful and pathetic. Eve scolds and worries over Wall-E. That about wraps up their characters. The captain of the ship, who has the biggest role, also doesn't do more than just fit a need in the plot.

As a result, the few sequences where the romance between the two robots is extended are the weakest parts; sentimental, but not engaging. Typical Disney without even strong characters to back it up. The ending, which spends time wrapping up the romance rather than properly wrapping up the drama, suffers therby.

Luckily, these parts don't take much on-screen time. The rest of the movie, as I mentioned, has an epic feel to it. At the end, you don't feel like you've seen just a single plot. You feel like you've seen a history unfolded before you. Wall-E is ambitious, fun, and mesmerizing. It could have uses a bit more "New Hope" Leia, and a little less "Return of the Jedis" Leia. It's still highly recommended.

A little word about the ending credits: they're beautiful and brilliant.

The picture and link above takes you to an interactive Wall-E toy, as the DVD isn't yet released. On the other hand, you can play the computer game, download a print-and-play game, buy a stuffed Wall-E toy, the Little Golden book of Wall-E, the Art of Wall-E book, coloring book, music, posable figures, poster, digital watch, pajamas, lunch box, flashlight, and cake topper set.

Session Report, in which, again, only one other person shows up

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation x 2, Yinsh, Tigris and Euphrates.

It's not a very long one, so dn't get your hopes up.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Games and Our Consumer Culture

We used to buy only what we needed. We reused what we could, and fixed, rather than threw away, when we could. An item had worth if it was usable, not only if it was fashionable. When we bought something, it was to last for a lifetime.

We had less money. Things cost less money. Now we have more money and things cost more money. But the equation doesn't hold up. We don't treat our spending power the same way.

Now we treat our objects like they are transitional, dumped at the first sign of wear or when they are no longer fashionable. Sometimes we treat each other the same way.

We no longer entertain ourselves with what we have, we entertain ourselves with what we buy. After it's bought, we're done with it, and we look to buy the next thing. Our economy is built on this premise. We spend, on average, $1000 buying gifts each holiday season, for the sole act of giving items. Not for the items themselves, but for the giving.

We don't need this $1000 worth of stuff. Nor thousands more for birthdays and other holidays.

Gaming culture mirrors this consumer culture. Web sites about gaming are about the gaming industry: turnover, profit, sales. These games aren't created because they are quality pieces of craftsmanship. We don't look for the best games to acquire so that they'll last us a lifetime.

Most of the games we buy have had effort placed in the selling, not the playing. They don't need to be playable more than once, because they, like everything else, are bought to be played once, and then tossed away as the next item is bought. And so they rely on fancy graphics, slick packaging, promotions, iconic fads and characters, or appeals to activities, communities, the thrill of the meme.

You don't need to buy into this. You can stop buying into this culture, stop buying the latest games, stop buying new stuff, period.

You can stop acting like buying the game is the game itself. That playing games means spending your resources on the next game. Instead of buying the next game, take a look at the last ten or fifty years of gaming. Buy only the games that you can play for all of your life.

Is there a computer game that you will enjoy playing for the next forty years? A board or card game? Anything less than a lifetime of enjoyment from a game is a compromise. Sure, not every book you read, movie you see, or game you play has to be a classic. But do you have to buy them?

Don't worry about the economy. Worry about quality.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Four Assumptions Created the Bible: a Lecture by Prof James Kugel

James L. Kugel (1945-) is chair of the Institute for the History of the Jewish Bible at Bar Ilan University in Israel and the Harry M. Starr Professor Emeritus of Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature at Harvard University. (Wikipedia) He's also an Orthodox Jew.

Prof Kugel has written 15 books; his latest is How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now.

Kugel demonstrates not only thorough and exhaustive research, but an open and accessible writing style. I heard him speak tonight about his new book at a lecture given on behalf of the Bat Kol Institute (website currently down). My only previous reading of his work was his book In Potiphar's House, which examines how midrashim originate and change over time.

Midrashim are interpretive texts on the bible written throughout history. In particular, important midrashim were written from two to three centuries B.C.E. until a few hundred years C.E. These midrashim form the basis of how nearly all Christians and Jews interpret the bible today.

According to Kugel, the basic texts' original meanings may have had nothing to do with our current interpretations.

For instance, using the same text we have today, the original Adam and Eve story, when compared with similar texts and similar versions of the text in the same period, is a story about moving from a hunter/gatherer culture to an agricultural one, from naked beasts to humans in clothes. Today, it is nearly universal to read this story as a tale of "the fall" from a state of innocence to sin. How did this happen? Gradually; and amazingly, without changing the text.

As what we come to know as the biblical texts were brought together, assumptions as to how to treat the texts crept in. These assumptions caused textual problems and that's when the midrashim arose.

The four assumptions are:

1) The texts are cryptic and symbolic.
2) The texts are prophetic and homiletic.
3) The texts are consistent.
4) The texts are divinely inspired/given.

Give these assumptions, interpretations were needed to explain when the plain meaning of the texts didn't appear to reconcile with these assumptions.

For instance, in the Adam and Eve story is the sentence by God that "on the day they eat of the Tree, they will surely die". This didn't happen in the narrative, so what gives? How do you interpret the text so that it's perfectly consistent? Was God making an idle threat? Was it God's mercy? Can we use the interpretation that a unit of time "day" is not meant in human terms (which we can pull from various sources in the Prophets: 1000 years = day to God)? The latter doesn't answer why the delay of the punishment. The Rabbinic midrashic answer which best fits became the standard interpretation: the text means "you shall become mortal" i.e. a dying creature, not "you shall die".

A later question then asks (as now the interpretation gives rise to its own problem): why did their descendants become mortal? Is mortality hereditary? The answer that fit best: sinfulness was heredity (so, in fact, the punishment is continuous onto each generation). Sinlessness is not possible outside garden.

Early Jewish, pre-Cristian sources agreed with this; in the battle of interpretations, this won out, like a Darwinian species. 4th Ezra, a Jewish text, concurs with this interpretation, for example. Later, the rise of Christianity forced this interpretation out of Rabbinic interpretation.

The text is now no longer about hunting and agriculture, but about morality. The same text, with a different interpretation.

Similar re-interpretations can be made for Abraham being the father of monotheism, Jacob being a "good guy" (and King David), and texts such as "eye for eye", various prophesies, the Psalms, and so on.

Modern biblical scholarship in a product of the Renaissance. Knowledge of Hebrew and Greek began spreading to Christian scholars. They became the first challenges to Jerome's Latin translation of the bible from the 4th century; people could now do their own translations and decide that Jerome was wrong. Protestantism met this movement, putting interpretation into individual hands (scripture is holy, not the pope).

Then these hit the enlightenment and science (Hume, et al). Protestantism had no easy answers to radical interpretations by individuals (hoist on its own petard, so to speak). Then came modern archaeology. Then came biblical critical scholarship which matched and compared biblical texts to other ancient texts. Biblical texts now just looked like one set of texts among many others from the same period.

For a man of faith, how do we deal with these four assumptions and yet also accept modern scholarship about biblical texts?

Kugel's suggested answer is that what you read depends on what meaning you're looking for in a text. Text is interactive between a reader and a text. The original texts didn't change, but the interpretive reading of them did. That means that "The Bible" didn't exist until interpretation was imposed onto a text. Bible scholarship is not about "The Bible", it's about the biblical texts, which are not the same thing as "The Bible". When a critical scholar drops the four assumptions to critically read the text, he or she is dealing with a different entity than The Bible.

In my view, it's still a hard leap from there to divinely inspired interpretation imposed onto a set of texts. It means that the texts were divinely inspired when written but only recognized for what they meant when they fell into the right hands; or that the divine inspiration was taking the tools (texts) that were lying around and forming them into what was required.

Kugel's answer to the question as to how he remains Orthodox, is that the early Talmudic scholars were aware of all this. They took texts, decided what to keep and what not (sometimes changing their minds), imposed interpretations on what they knew wasn't the original interpretation, and were fine with it. Consider the midrash about Moses looking into a class by Rabbi Akiba, and not being able to follow along. So if they could do it and be religious, so can we.


Shabbat Gaming: Coloretto Review

I went to Beit Shemesh for the shabbat and played Coloretto for the first time with my friend Gavriel. Gavriel sometimes makes it to the Beit Shemesh game group.

Coloretto is a simple card game for 3-5 players that will appeal to children but can also be enjoyed on a light level by adults. The cards contain chamelions in sveen different colors, three "joker" chamelions, and around a dozen "+2" cards. There is also an "end of the game coming" card that is placed 15 cards from the bottom of the deck after shuffling.

Each player starts off with one chamelion card of any color, so long as no two players have the same color. In the middle of the table, there is one virtual stack for each player (five players = five virtual stacks). The stacks start empty.

On your turn, you have two choices: 1) take a stack of cards. 2) flip the top card of the deck and add it to one of the stacks.

No stack can have more than three cards in it, so once all the remaining stacks have three cards, you are force to take stack. Once you have taken a stack, you cannot play again until all other players have also taken one, at which point the last player to take a stack starts the next "round" with a fresh set of empty stacks.

That's it. The important part is the scoring.

For the three colors in which you have the most cards, you score 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, or 21 points for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 or more cards in that color. You then subtract a similar amount from your score for all other colors you have. Jokers count as any color card, and +2 cards simply ad 2 points to your score each. Highest scoe wins.

This is like a cross between Ra and Geschenkt, nearly as simply as Geschenkt but just a tad less elegant. The basic decision is whether to take a stack that weakly helps you but doesn't harm you or to risk flipping more cards and hoping an even better stack will come back to you again on your turn.

The slightly obvious tactics have to do with where you put your card when you flip it. If it helps you, add it to a stack that helps you, if it doesn't also help your neighbor. If it doesn't, use it to sink a stack that will otherwise help a neighbor.

Beyond that, there's not much to think about, and the decisions aren't that difficult. Which makes it an ok, kinda brainless filler for gamers, or fun for the younger or non-gamer set.

We played with Gav's three daughters and ended up in a three-way tie or first place at 25 points.

Gav, two daughters, and I then played Carcassonne, the original without any expansions (not even the River). This game also ended in a three way tie for first place, with the fourth only two points behind.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Twenty Seventh Week Posts

What makes a game elegant?

Ethics in Gaming 2.0 - Playing games without buying them

My first blog posts, four years ago, were about:
(Happy blog birthday to me)

The story of Little Stick Man and his various bouts with disaster and death. Interestingly enough, the same sign in Israel, that in Britain shows LSM getting electrocuted on a pole, shows LSM not climbing the pole. In Britain slipping on the floor; in Israel pushing the mop. Britain falling off a cliff; Israel staying away from the edge. Curious.

More about London: stories, travel tips, and photos

Perhaps my most popular non-gaming post ever: The U.S. Copyright Code, in verse

June Board and Card Game Patents

Method and system to incorporate game play into product transactions - A method of playing a game at the supermarket checkout, where if you win the game you get the product for the entry fee, and if you lose you simply get the product for it's usual price. Supposedly, this type of game of chance will not be considered "gambling" in those places that disallow gambling.

Method, apparatus and article for random sequence generation and playing card distribution - Card shufflers were invented to speed up and more thoroughly implement card shuffling at casino tables. This patent thinks they're not fast enough, and wants to simply generate a pseudo-random deck arrangement via computer and then either sort the cards to this arrangement, or print a brand spanking new deck in this arrangement.

But it doesn't stop there. I said pseudo-random, right? That's because the patent also specifies that the arrangement can be created with a house advantage.

Method of playing a card game involving a dealer - Place a bet. Deal one card. Pay out rewards. Place another bet. Deal another card. Pay out rewards. Repeat up to five times, depending on results.

Casino card game having Mahjong attributes - A card game with Mah-Jong symbols and a poker-like game to go with it.

Dice board game - You conceal point markers on your side of the board. Then a die is rolled, and each player moves a pawn according to the game's markings. When you reach the far end, you get the concealed point value. You win when you get a predetermined number of points. If the value is "Game Over" you win, regardless of the current point score.

Player-banked four card poker game - A four player poker game, where each player and the dealer gets an additional card and discards it, and then you have to beat the dealer. I'm unsure how the odds are kept in the dealer's favor this way.

Method for providing a blackjack double down wager - Probably the worst excuse for a patent I've yet seen this year.

You already have the option of splitting cards in a blackjack game, if the cards are below a certain value or are doubles. This patent lets you split your cards in other situations and for additional ante.

Modified method of playing blackjack - Blackjack, where an additonal bet is placed that your hand will be the highest valued hand at the table. I must admit, this one comes close to the last one in terms of an absurd excuse for a patent.

Marble board game - A Pachisi game, where the board is a track for marbles and the movement is played with a hand of five standard playing cards.

Movie Theater Games

Here's my next brilliant idea: movie theaters are losing money, but people are looking for new ways to play video games and socialize.

How hard would it be to create multi-player games playable from all seats in a movie theater on the screen before a game starts? Or, dare I suggest, even turn one theater in a cinema-plex over to full-time massive gaming?

They wouldn't even have to be online, although they could be. Think about a game of 100 versus 100 in some other theater. Charge per hour, per day, per month. Make guilds, have ads, sell pop-corn. Etc..

More people can play in a movie theater than can fit around my TV screen.

While we're at it, how come arcades (what's left of them) aren't doing this? Is anyone?


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Review: Star Wars

I just saw a series of six movies called Star Wars , directed by George Lucas (American Graffiti).It's a science fiction adventure series set, or so it tells us at the beginning of each movie, "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." But it's not steampunk or alternate history; it's your basic futuristic space opera.

There are six movies that follow roughly one main story arc through two generations of characters, approximately 30 odd years, in total. The main character of the first three films is a boy soldier who becomes evil owing to his own character flaws and the machinations of a tyrannical man. The second three films focus on the soldier's son, who, through various coincidences, ends up fighting his father in an attempt to overthrow the tyrant.

The Plot (contains spoilers)

The main story takes place against the backdrop of an historical war, which goes as follows: Tens of thousands of planets across the galaxy form a great Republic. So great, that the Senate which allegedly governs them is ineffectual. One man, Palpatine, decides to take over the Republic and set himself up as Emperor.

Palpatine has mystical telekinetic powers, having been trained to exert mental control over tiny sub-microscopic bacteria that exist in literally every corner of the galaxy. The ability to exert this control is called "The Force".

A select group called Jedi learn how to control this Force. Jedi act as advisers to the Senate, and occasionally assassin, diplomat, or armed guard. They wield nifty energy swords called light-sabers. Palpatine was once Jedi, but used his powers for selfishness, hate, anger, and so on, which is called "the dark side of the Force", a Jedi no-no. People who use the dark side of the Force can shoot lightning bolts with their fingers.

Where was I?

Palpatine commissions some cloners to create an army out of some Australian New Zealand dude named Jango Fett. The clones are altered to be crack military troops, but Jango gets to keep a little, unaltered, clone for himself, name Boba.

Palpatine (aka Sidius) establishes control over a few dozen member of the Senate, including members of something called the Trade Federation. He has the Trade Federation invade a planet called Naboo.

The point of this arranged invasion is to show up the powerlessness of the Senate in dealing with it. When this happens, he manipulates a vote for a new Senate leader, and gets himself elected. While secretly strengthening the Trade Federation and other separatists, he complains to the Senate that they need to give him emergency powers to control the "uprising".

They do, whereupon he brings in his clone army, dissolves the Republic and establishes himself as Emperor, all the while in the name of bringing "peace" to the galaxy.

The empire levels martial law around the galaxy, and everyone begins to realize their mistake, but it is too late. The emperor builds a big moon/weapon called the Death Star which can blow up an entire planet. The separatists become "the Rebellion", led by a number of star systems and some sympathetic senators.

They steal plans for the Death Star, and are chased around the galaxy. Eventually, the rebels blow up the Death Star, but still have to flee as the Emperor still has general control and a vastly larger clone military.

The rebellion get chased around again, only to discover that the Emperor has yet another Death Star in development. This time they manage to destroy it with the Emperor on it, and then the last movie ends and you don't really find out what happens next.

So who is this father and son dude?

Anakin Skywalker is a young boy when the Naboo crisis happens. He joins the story when two Jedi - master Qui Gon Jinn and apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi - are sent to Naboo to defuse the crisis. They fail but succeed in getting Naboo's queen, Padme, off Naboo. They stop on a planet called Tatooine to repair their ship, and discover Anakin, who is strong with the Force. They collect him on their way to the Senate.

The Senate is useless, as predicted, so they head back to Naboo, and chase the Federation away. (Movie 1)

Padme's term as queen ends and she become senator. Ten years later she and Anakin meet again, and Anakin is now a Jedi apprentice to master Obi-Wan. Unfortunately, Anakin is a thick-headed ill-willed, arrogant, fearful and hateful young man, which anyone except for Obi-Wan and Padme could see in a moment.

Anakin is sent to protect Padme who is receiving assassination attempts, and so takes her home to a remote country where the two of them fall in love. Since a Jedi is supposed to remain free of relations, and a Senator is a busy person, they resolve to put their feelings on hold.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan discovers the clone army, and gets captured by the separatists who are planning their next moves (under coordination from Palpatine). Anakin goes to rescue his mother he left behind on Tatooine, and fails. She dies. This begins his slide into the dark side of the Force. He and Padme go to rescue Obi-Wan but get captured.

Yoda, head of the Jedi council, swoops in at the last minute with the clone army and all the Jedi to rescue them and to fight the separatists. The war between the clone army of the Republic and the separatists commences. Anakin and Padme, seizing the day, secretly marry and Padme becomes pregnant. (Movie 2)

Palpatine finds Anakin teetering on the dark side of the Force and turns him completely by promising him the ability to save his wife who is augered to die in childbirth. He can do this only with the powers he can learn from the dark side of the Force; Anakin longs for this power as he was unable to save his mother from dying. Palpatine/Sidius renames Anakin "Darth Vader" and takes him as his new apprentice. Anakin/Vader, and the clone army, turn on the Jedi, killing all of them except for Yoda and Obi-Wan, who escape. Palpatine and Anakin "crush" the separatists, but the Emperor, who has complete military power, won't give it back, citing threats and traitors to the Republic.

Obi-Wan and Padme show up to confront Anakin/Vader about his actions. Anakin, in his madness, nearly chokes Padme to death, thus ensuring that she will die in childbirth. He blames Obi-Wan, and they fight. Obi-Wan wins and leave Anakin/Vader cut up and burning at the edge of a lava pit. Palpatine/Sidius saves Vader and dresses him up in a black electronic suit within which he must live for the rest of his life. Anakin/Vader is crushed when he finds out that Padme died after all.

Before she died, she gave birth to twins; a boy, named Luke, who is hidden with Anakin's mother's husband and kids on Tatooine, and a girl, named Leia, who is hidden with the leaders of the rebellion, Senator and Lady Organa. Yoda flies off to hide on a planet in Degobas, and Obi-Wan changes his name to Ben and settles on Tatooine to watch over Luke from a distance. (Movie 3)

Leia grows up as a princess and takes her part in the rebellion. She is caught smuggling plans to the Death Star while (coincidentally) flying over Tatooine, but ejects them onto the surface, where they are found (coincidentally) by Luke. She also sends a message for Obi-Wan to deliver the plans to the rebellion as she has failed. Luke and Obi-Wan meet, while the empire searches for them.

They escape with a space pilot named Han Solo who is on the run from a mafia guy named Jabba the Hutt. Together they get caught on the Death Star where they rescue Leia. Obi-Wan fights Darth Vader again, but this time purposely loses the fight. Somehow, although he dies, this allows him to go on living as a spirit who visits Luke intermittently over the course of the rest of the movies.

Luke, Han, Leia, et al escape the Death Star and bring the plans to the rebellion and then Luke, aided at the last moment by Han, blows up the Death Star. Luke, under tutelage and guidance from Obi-Wan's spirit, is beginning to learn how to use the Force. (Movie 4)

The rebellion jumps around, with the Empire always hot on their heels. Eventually Luke gets a message from Obi-Wan's spirit to go to Yoda and learn how to be a Jedi from him. Han and Leia begin to fall in love, but get caught in a trap by Vader. Han is tortured so that his pain will spiritually call to Luke to come rescue him, which he does despite Yoda warning him not to go before he had completed his training.

Vader freezes Han in carbonate and sends him off with Boba Fett who was sent by Jabba the Hutt to capture Han. Luke confronts Vader and learns that Vader is his father. He is bested by Vader, but he and Leia escape. (Movie 5)

They go to rescue and unfreeze Han, and it appears that Luke is now nearly fully-trained in his Jedi powers. Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt die during the rescue.

The Emperor purposely leaked fake plans for his new Death Star in order to lure the rebellion into attacking it. Han, Luke and Leia go to take down the defenses, but before they do, Luke realizes that he has to confront Vader and see if he can get him back from the dark side of the Force. Before he goes to do this, he tells Leia that she is his sister, which he learned from Obi-Wan's spirit.

Luke surrenders to Vader, sure that Anakin, his father, can't kill him. Vader and the Emperor are counting on Luke turning to the dark side, while Luke presses Anakin/Vader to find the good within him. Luke won't turn, so the Emperor begins torturing Luke, who pleads with his father for help. Anakin/Vader decides to kill the Emperor rather than let his son suffer, which supposedly brings him back from the dark side just before he dies.

Meanwhile, Han and Leia disable the Death Star's defenses, the rebellion blows up the new Death Star with the Emperor still on it (already dead), and Luke manages to escape at the last minute. Han and Leia begin a new relationship. Some scenes show people on different planets celebrating the death of the Emperor, but it's not clear exactly what will happen next to the vast army and empire that remain. (Movie 6)

Reactions to the Story

First movie (The Phantom Menace)

This was a neat movie. The good guys and their light swords are ubercool. Obi-Wan, Qui Jon, Yoda, and Palpatine are all played well enough, although they don't exhibit much more than one-dimensional personalities. Padme is a feisty heroine, but she really doesn't have much to do or say in the movie. She just wanders around.

It culminates in a battle to recapture the Naboo palace, and a wicked fight scene with light sabers.

Unfortunately, the actors who play Anakin and his mother are pretty bad, as are some of the hokey lines of dialog. Some of the dialog is inconsistent. For instance, the mother lets Anakin go off with Qui Gon Jinn to be a Jedi, and then two seconds later Anakin asks if he can go. Du-uh.

The Trade Federation's droids are supposed to be menacing, but they're fairly ineffective and say a lot of things that don't make sense for a droid, such as "Uh oh". And there's a race of annoying aquatic people on Naboo who talk with Jamaican accents and blubber a lot, added as comic relief. They were dispensable.

Second movie (Attack of the Clones)

This one is about the same as the first, with the light-saber coolness ratcheted up a notch. Palpatine and Obi-Wan are the same as the last movie, and Yoda also does some serious butt-kicking. The Fetts are introduced but don't add much to the movie. The fight scenes are elaborate and engaging.

This time Anakin is played so poorly, I found myself squirming when he was on screen. His delivery is constantly like a pouting crybaby, and he so overdoes his spoiled arrogant nasty behavior it's inconceivable that anyone would allow him to continue to be a Jedi in training.

His partner, Padme, is just as difficult to watch, but this seems more to do with the stupid lines she is given to deliver. And let's not forget that she's not supposed to be leading him on, but they spend their time in hiding together barely dressed, romping around, play fighting, and saying mushy things to each other; big surprise that they fall in love. When not in a love scene, Padme's back to feisty and gets to kick some serious butt.

All signs point to various lapsed Jedis causing havoc, but each time they discover something gone wrong that only a Jedi could have done, Obi-Wan and the rest of the Jedi are surprised and confused.

Third movie (Revenge of the Sith)

This was a pretty dark movie, with lots of dying and betrayal. Anakin still doesn't know how to act, although now he can glare with his eyes rolled up into his head. Palpatine spends a lot of time transparently telling him how wonderful he is and how little the Jedi really care for him. Anakin laps it up, as if Obi-Wan never told him to beware of flattery.

Anakin's conversion to the dark side was somewhat lame. Anakin is this arrogant guy who thinks he should be emperor, but then he meekly submits himself to obeying any orders the Emperor gives him. He's still asking himself why he did such bad things, but immediately becomes an automaton and goes off and does even worse things.

Padme now has not much to do.

The fight scenes in this movie don't add much to the ones that were in the previous one. It just seemed like they were hurrying to finish the movie and get on with the next one. And how Obi-Wan could walk away from a dying, but not dead, Anakin to slowly burn up on the shores of a lava lake makes no sense to me. Kill him and put him out of his misery, or rescue him while he's crippled; but leave him to slowly burn to death? Sheesh.

Fourth movie (A New Hope)

This movie introduces the second main set of characters: Luke, Leia, and Han. This trio has a lot more on-screen charisma than the first trilogy's (Anakin, Padme, Obi-Wan) does. Obi-Wan has turned into a kindly old man. Leia is a serious fighter, although she ends up having to be rescued. Han is a reluctant hero.

The pacing is slower in many areas, and the film quality is dirtier but richer for that.

The movie introduces a number of new inconsistencies with the previous movies. For instance, Obi-Wan meets a droid he met many times in the first few movies but can't remember it. Also, he's been hiding out on Tatooine for thirty years not doing anything about the Empire because he and Yoda couldn't face the Emperor on their own, and now he expects Luke to get involved and learn to be a Jedi and fight the empire, on his own.

Also, if Luke is supposed to be hiding from Anakin/Vader, why did he adopt the name "Skywalker", which was Anakin's last name?

The light-saber fight scenes and the space combat scenes have slowed down considerably since the first trilogy, and were not impressive.

Fifth Movie (The Empire Strikes Back)

Another dark episode, although not as dark as the third movie. The characters continue to appeal, and the acting is generally ok. But Yoda, who was a wise and awesome figure in the first three movies now looks like a Muppet and appears to be half-crazed.

The plot in this movie is tight. Like the second movie, you get to see a Jedi in training (Luke), who is tempted to the dark side. Only this time, it's not a foregone conclusion that he is going to fail (as his father did).

The light-saber fight scene is back to being cool, as is an asteroid chase scene midway through the movie. But the battle scene at the beginning of the movie where the empire rides around in clumsy armored elephants with no maneuverability and the ability to only see and shoot forwards was just plain silly. Even more silly that the rebellion fighters fly at them from the front and sides, instead of just parking behind them and shooting.

More inconsistencies: Obi-Wan in spirit form implies that Yoda is the one who taught him how to be a Jedi, when we already saw that Obi-Wan learned from Qui Gon, who learned from Duku, who learned from Yoda. A few teacher/student relations seem to have gotten lost.

And the timing seems to be off, too. Han escapes from a planet at the same time that Luke does at the beginning of the movie. Han seems to take about one or two days to get to a scene near the end of the movie, while Luke seems to take a few months to get to the same place at the same time.

Once again, it's not clear why Yoda (and Obi-Wan's spirit) are training Luke to face Vader and the Emperor when they both ran away from him in the prime of their powers thirty years earlier.

Sixth movie (Return of the Jedi)

The fight scenes are pretty cool, but the acting suddenly got really bad. In particular, Leia, who was once a feisty fighter is now a maudlin soap-opera actress.

The opening scenes at Jabba's estate in particular were pretty nifty, except for a horrid horrid dance and musical number at the beginning, which looked like a Pixar movie superimposed on the real movie.

Vader/Anakin's propitious turn from the dark side to suddenly turning on the Emperor seemed as unbelievable as his turn to the dark side was thirty years earlier. I guess we are supposed to believe that he saved his son because he failed to save his mother and wife?

The cute little furry characters who help Han and Leia deactivate the Death Star's shields for a good fifth of screen-time were also pretty annoying; like watching the Teletubbies.

Update: forgot another big inconsistency: Leia claims to have vague memories of her mother, when her mother died while giving birth to her.

The Characters

Palpatine/Sidius - This guy's character is pretty straightforward, but no reason is given for his intense evil. He's acted well enough.

Anakin/Vader - From boy to dying, he's supposed to be the complex character, but he's simply jolting. He was born to follow the dark side, and it seems impossible for no one to have noticed it until it was too late. Then he tromps around outrageously for thirty years serving a master even less generous than Obi-Wan, until the very last second where he kills the Emperor and himself at the same time. It's a nice idea, but some actual conversation and believability would have been nicer.

Obi-Wan/Ben - He sees most things except his student's character flaws. His single-minded devotion to his job gives us little insight to his character. Think paladin.

Padme - Eminantly watchable, except when on-screen with Anakin. But aside from her devotion to being a senator, some nice gymnastics and shooting, and then a lot of fretting at home pregnant, she doesn't get a lot to do.

Yoda - Short and cerebral, Yoda can soar and fight like a whirling dervish when he has to. He spends more time thinking than doing, however. At the end, he became a bit crazed. Well acted, I guess.

Luke - Innocent and determined, he radiates hero. He struggles through many battles and emerges changed after each one. And he's well acted, too.

Leia - Leia starts off fierce and commanding in the fourth film, then becomes a bit of a tagalong in the fifth film, and a hopeless wreck in the last one. Great to watch in the fourth and fifth, painful to watch in the sixth.

Han - Han is a "scoundrel", the reluctant hero, in the fourth movie. He tries to stay the reluctant hero in the next two movies, too, but it becomes less believable each time. This is not a problem, however, as that is exactly his character, becoming more and more involved with what he claims to not care for. He's also well acted, and pretty cute sometimes, too.

Droids - The two main droids in the movie are C3PO and R2D2, They're kind of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the main action. C3PO especially just wanders around, on and off the screen, being frightened and saying double-entedres. R2D2 actually plays a helpful role on occasion, usually with a spare arm ready to hold down a broken wing on a spaceship, blow a smokescreen, or tap into some computer and do something ridiculous. Other droids also wander around, mostly in order to get blown up.

Minor characters: Lando is a pilot friend of Han's who helps rescue him in the fifth movie and then helps the rebellion in the sixth; not much to say about him. Jango/Boba are the models for the clones. Jango tries to kill Obi-Wan at one point, and Obi-Wan has surprising difficulty dealing with him for some reason. Later on Boba is a bit of a nusiance, but then dies. Chewbacca is Han's tall furry co-pilot. He yowls and yips a lot, but doesn't do much else. And many others.


It's flawed, and has some bad acting, but overall the story is mythic and rich and the action scenes are fun to watch. The ideas behind the characters succeed somewhat more than the characters do themselves, leaving you to wish that they had been acted and/or written somewhat better in this regard (Luke and Han being the exceptions). The movies, although paced differently in different movies, tell really good stories, and reach tension and climaxes at all the right times.

Many of the lines are great, but many are forced or just painful. I wish the movie would have slowed down for a few scenes here or there and given the characters consistantly better lines. And too much of the movies seems aimed at small children.

There's also a rich and varied world of technology (ships, weapons, and so on) and aliens (all types, shapes, and sizes, although most have plastic faces and little facial expressions, and the others move and act like cartoons), which should please some people.

Overall recommendation is positive, especially if you're into action scenes.