Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Guest Post: Some Cheapass Game Reviews

The following is a guest post from Moshe Sambol:

All from "Cheapass Games," who unfortunately include their name on some of the cards in the game (it's only a matter of time until I hear "Abba, what does Cheapass mean?"):

1. Light Speed: my 6 year old has lots of friends who constantly carry with them various card games which I believe are fantasy role-playing kinds of things. He doesn't have anything like these yet as I was never into the genre. I thought maybe for a change it was time to get him something that is just plain fun. Light Speed - although not at all a RPG - seems to have hit the nail on the head. He learned it immediately and fell in love. He has introduced it to his friends and delights in destroying me at the game. His 8 year old sister immediately dismissed it as "such a boy game," which probably just adds to its appeal for him. There is a variant that adds some strategy, but I don't see a group of adults taking this one out for a strategy game. It is what it is: a $4 fun, colorful, really fast paced game that anyone can play and enjoy.

2. The Very Clever Pipe Game: Whether or not it's "very clever," it's clever enough to be somewhere between dominoes and blokus. (I'm new to tile laying games, so there may be much better analogies, this is just what I thought of.) Gifted to my 4 year old, he understood quickly and is able to play at a basic level. This is good enough for him as it's "his game," and I'm happy to have something not brain-numbing to play with him. The 6 and 8 year olds are happy to play this one too. Game play conveys some tactics that will be useful in many other games - like taking sets, quick small ones vs. large ones; taking points vs. blocking the opponent's progress; deciding which of your cards to play and which to hold for later. Also $4.

3. Girl Genius: The Works: Intended for my 8 year old daughter, she was turned off by the long instructions and hasn't put in the time to learn this one. I played a few games with her brother and have mixed feelings. The directions are indeed quite long for what seems to be a rather simple game. The cards are pretty but ugepatchket [busy] - too much stuff going on, much of it about the theme (taken from a comic book) and not contributing to the game. There is some strategy to this game, but only at a late stage in the game. We got most of the way to the required 100 points with very little thought. Perhaps for a fan of the comic from which the characters are taken this would be a big hit; with us, playable, colorful, different, but overall a letdown. $12

Best wishes.

I Made My Coworkers Happy With Games

The Setup

My boss asked my coworker to organize something different for a group meeting for the last day of Hanukkah. Since I had mentioned in the last group meeting that I organize a game group, my coworker asked me if I would be willing to bring a game.

I figured that I would be one of several people asked to do things, and that I would have five or ten minutes for the game. But then he asked me to make sure that my game didn't last more than two hours.

Two hours!?

Turns out that I was the main event; they were planning a games meeting, and I had to lead it. From my coworker's phrasing, I realized that he expected me to bring in some form of trivia game for everyone to play. Little did he know.

The Games

What to bring? There were going to be twelve people there, so I was made to understand. What with sickness or under-counting, I expected 10 to 13 people. I was prepared for less, but hoping for no more; if there were more, I would have to split people into groups. I could split the people into groups anyway, but I wanted to see if I didn't have to.

The question was: what to bring? One game for an hour and a half, or several games? Did they all have to be party games, or could I get away with something different? These weren't gamers; some probably hadn't had any desire to play a game for over thirty years. They all read English, but they weren't all native English speakers.

Here's what I ended up preparing:

- Two decks of cards: For Pit and Haggle
- Apples to Apples: A mixture of cards from various sets
- Set
- Boggle (didn't expect to play this, but could use for a small group if we split)
- Scrabble tiles: For Anagrams (ditto)
- Scrabble dictionary: For word games, such as Dictionary (Balderdash)
- Pens and paper: For various games
- Haggle rules

Pit is fantastic ice-breaker, but it could fall flat with older people who don't like to yell and wouldn't understand the trading mechanic. I've played with up to 8 players before, and games typically last between thirty seconds and a minute. Could it work with 12?

Haggle is Sid Sackson's classic party game, but it requires a pre-defined list of rules and a judge. The person who knows the rules (me) is the judge and can't play. I created a vast game for 600 people at BGG.con 3 which was loosely inspired by Haggle's mechanics, but I never ran an actual Haggle game. I figured Sid can't go wrong, though.

Apples to Apples was straightforward.

I didn't think Set would work with 12 people, but then again it might, and it could also be used for half the group.

I figured that between these games, and a vast supply of parlor games such as Password and Dictionary, I could probably find the right game for 12 people for half an hour. Actually I expected to get through three games (which is what happened). I had no idea which games they would respond to, however.

The Event

After everyone gathered and I was introduced as MC, I started with a brief speech on the continuing popularity of tabletop games, and a little history of the modern game. I told them that they would be playing a few games from a rich history of games that spanned several centuries.

Why? Not simply to be informative but to establish that I knew something about games and that they could trust me. And that, even if they didn't enjoy the games, they would learn something.


My first choice was Pit. There were exactly 12 people including myself, so I removed the jokers and all but two aces from the decks, shuffled, and dealt out the cards. I told them what year Pit was created, what the name meant, and what type of game it was. Then I explained the very few, very simple rules.

A little something about teaching a large group of non-gamers: you have to be very clear, very concise, and very repetitive. No matter what you say and how you say it, some of the people won't understand the first time. They'll shake their heads, complain that it's too complicated, and so on. If you're lucky, as I was, some of their neighbors will be happy to restate what was said.

As I said, Pit really is pretty simple. But we were sitting around a table; I made everyone stand up and move around. It took only a few moments after saying "Go!" before we were all yelling and trading. Some yelled less than others (the fifty year old guys), but even they were willing to trade with people who asked them first.

12 player Pit is tough, much tougher than 8 player. After we had already gone on for a minute, I began to fear that it was going to end up being too tough to find what you needed and start to get boring. But it wasn't and it didn't. I won after about 4 or 5 minutes with a complete set of jacks. I heard of one report of someone mistaking the rules and trading two differently ranked cards instead of two of the same rank, but only once.

Everyone loved it. Really, really loved it. Later in the day, this was the game they all commented on, and congratulated me for.

Apples to Apples

To change paces, I took out this recent party game, introducing it as an excellent choice for shabbat (no writing). Only one person had played it before, and she hadn't had success with it.

I couldn't see doing 12 player Apples to Apples, so reluctantly I split the group into two parties of six. I explained the rules and off we went.

Once again, they loved it. I told each group to play around the circle twice, but both groups decided to go around three times and would probably have been happy going around more. Several of them wanted to know where to buy it, and if it came in Hebrew. The one who had played before unsuccessfully said that she really enjoyed it this time.

Yay, two successes. Half hour to go.


I had prepared 13 rules, hoping that there wouldn't be too many more people than that. One new person joined us just before the game, giving us 12 players, which was fine.

Haggle also involves trading like Pit, but it's a negotiation game. It's also more low key than Pit. I gave everyone 5 random cards and 2 rules, and set them to playing.

I gave them 10 minutes, but within 7 minutes I had gotten back everyone's sets. This is when I realized that should have brought along an assistant; it takes five to ten minutes to calculate Haggle results at the end! I should have realized that from the BGG.con experience.


While I calculated Haggle results, I gave Set to someone who had played before and asked her to teach the group. Moments later, hearing confused sounds, I interrupted my calculations and tried to explain the rule of sets myself. The game Set essentially has only a single rule, but it's not easy to explain, even with examples. Furthermore, it's somewhat difficult to play with 12 people.

One or two sets had been collected when I finished my calculating and announced the winners for Haggle. At that point the meeting was over, so Set was put away. Probably a good thing. Set is best with a group of 8 or less.

The Aftermath

The organizer and my boss said that the games were fantastic, and that I had done wildly better than they had expected. I said that I had a few thousand more games that I didn't get to. They said that they're looking forward to me bringing more next time.

All the other people gave me various levels of congratulations when i saw them later in the day. Some told me that they hadn't had so much fun in a long time. All of them especially loved Pit.

Score one for games.

P.S. My Haggle rule set:

Each player gets five random cards from 2 decks, and two random rules. Players may trade cards, rules, or information at will. At the end of ten minutes, players return as many cards as they like to the judge; these cards constitute the player's entry. Each player's base score is 1 point per card returned, plus bonuses as specified by the following rules.

01 All diamond cards are worth twice as many bonus points as club cards with the same number
02 All heart cards are worth three times as many bonus points as club cards with the same number
03 Spade cards are not worth any bonus points
04 Club cards, other than face cards (J, Q, K, and A) are worth their numerical value in bonus points
05 Face cards (J, Q, K, and A) of any suit are worth 5 bonus points each
06 A pair of diamond Q and spade J are worth 25 bonus points if handed in together
07 Any marriage (K and Q of same suit) handed in together is worth 20 bonus points
08 Any full house (3 card of one value, and two of another value) is worth 25 bonus points
09 Any four of a kind (4 cards, all of the same value) is worth 30 bonus points
10 Black 2s (club 2 and spade 2) are worth a bonus of 20 points each
11 You score no points at all if you do not hand in at least one spade
12 Rule 02 is completely false and will be ignored
13 Notwithstanding rule 11, any ace handed in alone (with no other cards) is worth 30 bonus points

Monday, December 29, 2008

We Hosted a House Concert: The Hazel Hill String Band


Rachel and I sometimes host folk music house concerts. Apparently this is an uncommon thing, which puzzles me. When else can you easily and cheaply hear great music live and up close for the price of some snacks and cleanup? It supports the arts and artists, and if it takes in enough money, you get the price of your snacks covered. You might get a free CD or t-shirt, to boot. And you don't have to leave your house.

The first several house concerts we hosted were successes. We could hold around 40 paying customers at maximum attendance, and each time we had between 30 to 45 people reserving spaces. After these successes, things took a downturn.

We hosted an incredible band, the Goldoolins, but only succeeded in attracting 12 paid audience members. The Goldoolins are gantastic, and they put on a great show, but we were crushed that so few people came out to hear them. We didn't even think of taking money to cover snacks on that occasion.

The last concert we tried, we had so little in the way of responses that we canceled it the night before. Depressing. It's been over a year since we tried to host another.


The Hazel Hill String Band play at the Contra dancing event each month. They are fronted by an old-time folkey I know from various folk music events, and he asked us to host them in a house concert last month.

We warned them that they would have to do some of the publicity to ensure a crowd came; we didn't want to be solely responsible if not enough people came.

I began to get worried when no one was reserving spaces the week before the concert, but the band said not to worry. So I worried, but we went ahead anyway.


Turns out my worrying was on the ball: the audience consisted of only four paying attendees, and me, and the wife and mother of one of the musicians. I also paid for my entry; that made five.

And, although I didn't know this in advance, the band consisted of 7 people! Plus a guest musician. And the aforementioned wife also sat in to play on half the songs. Which meant that the size of the band was larger than the audience. I was mortified; but at least I wasn't totally to blame.

And the band gamely went ahead and put on a great concert. Truthfully, I wasn't expecting too much, as their playing at the Contra dancing was nice and all, but nothing special. And our small audience surely wasn't going to provide much energy.

Thankfully, this time I was wrong. The band was really good. They played with much more energy and variance than they do on Contra dancing night (where their selections are constrained). They were peppy and fun. They did some singing along with the playing, too. The singing wasn't anything special, but it was fine. And the whole evening was really enjoyable.

I had a lot of snacks left over. The musicians didn't even drink the beer I got for them; they said they had to drive back. Huh. Who ever heard of musicians that don't drink beer, eh?

My recommendation: if there's going to be a house concert near you, go to it. It's inexpensive up-close entertainment that beats the hell out of almost anything else you could be doing. And if you have a chance to hear The Hazel Hill String Band, take it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Antike is Brilliant

Antike is, in my humble opinion, the next generation of game after both Risk (too much luck and too much conflict) and Civlization (too long and too had to catch up).

It's got no luck, but lots of chaos. It's long enough to feel really meaty. It has a bit too much conflict for me, but enough to satisfy nearly any conflict-interested player. And you don't have to have the biggest area to win.

I played it two-player with the dual-color/one-nation variant to 15 cards. It worked very well with starting players Greece and Romans. I was Greece and lost. I concentrated on the knowledges and first level in all the other areas. My opponent got first to Currency and Democracy, but I got first to every other knowledge.

He also expanded much greater that I did. I never got above 11 cities, while he had 16 by midgame and then hit 20 near end-game. I was one card ahead of him throughout the game. But at 12 cards, I finally ran out of steam. My opponent was only at 10 cards but was poised to crush my remaining two temples. From there it was a quick step to take the bonus knowledge card and then additional city or seas cards. I, on the other hand, had the possibility of maybe taking out one more of his temples, but was nowhere near any other cards. So I conceded.

If the card requirement was just one or two cards less, then my less expansionist/less confrontational strategy might have worked. It also didn't help that I accidentally bought Wheel in the early game when I explicityly meant to buy Sailing. When I went to use my Sailing, I found that I didn't have it. Oops.

This was my second game, my first two-player. Two-player Antike includes a lot of ship and legion kamikaze that doesn't happen in multi-player. I'm looking forward to more multi-player experiences. Maybe if the card requirement is reduced by one, or the defense power is boosted by 1, less-combat strategies could be serious possible paths to victory. As it is, I'm not sure that they're possible. Which means you have to be careful not to run out of steam.


I played three games of It's Alive (one basic and two advanced) with my daughter and her friend, and lost them all. Still a great game.

I also taught my friend and his daighter Tichu. They are seriously the most difficult people to which to teach games; while very smart, they constantly interrupt. It took two rounds of play and they caught on well enough. Tichu is also still a great game.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Fifty-Second Week Posts

Predictions about gaming in 2007 made in 2006. No need for new ones; each year the predictions are the same.

An analysis of my game It's Alive, formerly known as The Menorah Game

A look at what's making a comeback, a tired journalistic expression. And more tired journalism with regards to the abuse of Christmas poems.

When is it good enough?

So ends a year of wrapping up my first three years of blogging. Lesson learned: I created some kick-ass posts in my first three years. I'm quite proud of them. But I'm humbled; I've got many more posts to write, but I can't possibly keep up with the intensity and schedule I did during these last four year, especially now that I have a game news blog keeping me busy. My goals in 2009 are to grow Purple Pawn, complete at least one book, and publish another game.

I still expect to post here several times a week. Maybe sometimes I'll even post something brilliant. More often, I'll just keep covering the thoughts I have on gaming, IP, Israel, philosophy, and whatever else comes to mind. I'm sure we'll still frequently have interesting things to say to each other.

Thanks for reading my blog in 2008. Thanks for linking. Thanks for subscribing. And thanks, especially, for commenting. Have a happy new year.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Session Report, in which we don't like Mexica

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Jambo, Taj Mahal, Mexica.

I still liked Mexica, despite some problems, but neither of my fellow players did.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

30 Strangest Board and Card Games 2008

3 Times 4=Swat!

Solve a multiplication problem and then be the first to hit the answer on a fly-shaped card with your flyswatter.

54 Jones

"A tile based game, where you play clones of sewer worker 54 Jones on a training day in the sewers of subterranean 12 Station City. However, 54 Jones unleashes a tidal wave of 'shunk' to try and drown the competition. The first clone to reach high ground wins the game."

Atom Smasher / Atom Smashers

Two downloadable games from two different authors.

Atom Smasher: "A lunatic angel investor has ... gathered the world's most capable physicists to demonstrate their prowess with a particle accelerator, using it to carefully and precisely chisel off subatomic particles from a huge atom. Players take turns flicking or sliding a small opaque pyramid (called the smasher) into a cluster of pyramids (called the atom). Each pyramid which is smashed a sufficient distance from the atom scores points equal to its pip count for the player."

Atom Smashers: "Each scientist starts with 10d6 which represent atoms placed within a particle accelerator. Scientists compete with each other by selecting from one to three atoms with differing charges to accelerate towards other player's atoms within the atom smasher. The player with the most electric charges at game's end wins."

Crazy Cat Lady Game

You try to collect more cats than any of the other players. Really, only strange because of the name and paste-on theme.

Dead Heat

"It was the dawn of a new age. The age of the Zombie. An age where the undead walked the earth instilling fear into all. All except for those few intrepid souls that could "think outside the box". Like Jim Bob Joe Hobbs and his younger brother Warren. The founders of ... DEAD HEAT - Professional Zombie Racing."


"Security at the Primordial Soup Kitchen, that wondrous and mythical repository of Oith's genetic legacy, has been lax of late to say the least. Following an insane night of fermented circuspi nut binging, impromptu (and painful) interior redecorating, and decidedly unsexy pillow fighting between you and your fellow guards you awoke from a booze-addled stupor to discover someone left the goosin’ doors open. Again."

I don't even know what that means.

Dirty Deutsch

A card game designed to teach you all the curse words in German, as well as how offensive they are and how to use them in conversation.

Dope Fiend

"Players take turns dealing drugs, then they ingest, inject or snort stuff into themselves, while trying to cause other players OD or get busted."


"Each player tries to erode their mountain and generate the most amount of sediment in their delta."

Evil Vendetta Pie Fight

"You're all evil magic-wielding nightmares from the human psyche and you hate each other's guts. Your union won't let you actually hurt each other, so the only way to settle this like, well not like men, is to have an…Evil Vendetta Pie Fight."


"Naturalist Florian Flügel photographs everything that flies in the air, whether bumblebee, butterfly or hot-air balloon. However, in doing so, he often overlooks what is lying in front of him in the meadow. The players move the magnetic game figure of Florian Flügel over the gameboard, trying to have him avoid stepping into the hidden (also magnetic) pieces of horse- and cow-dung."

Flapjacks and Sasquatches

A logging game, where your axe damage is boosted by eating pancakes and you have to watch out for the meandering Bigfoot.

Geek Fight

"Geek Fight takes place in a convention setting where you, the Geek Fight player, might run into a hairy anime character wearing thigh-high boots and an ill-fitting sports bra moments after being detained by a Stormtrooper demanding to see your credentials. You can also expect to encounter any and all of the stereotypical convention characters, vendors, swag, items, and crazy events that appear at conventions, or "cons."

What's most strange about the game is that each card is sponsored by an advertiser, making the cards relatively low cost (sometimes free).


"In Genji, players take the roles of courtiers out to woo fair princesses. Players score points for writing the finest poetry, or winning the most hearts. But beware: other courtiers will be waiting in the wings to steal those hearts away!"

I once created a fictitious card game for an RPG campaign called "Court the Maiden". Nice to see it finally come around as a real board game.

Hadronen: Big Bang Card Game

"Players are manifestations of the Strong force soon after the onset of the Big Bang with the goal of collecting sets of quarks to form baryons and mesons ..."

Really, do you need to hear more than that? One of several games by the Dutch Physics Association.

Hot Dog Hooligans

"Rounds begin with the first player flipping over a hot dog to attempt to eat. Play proceeds to the left with the next player playing a topping card on the hot dog to attempt to make the first player lose their lunch. Toppings include everything from lemons to fish heads. Then the initial player has a chance to play negative toppings such as pepto or antacid to make the hot dog edible. If they can't (the hot dog has a higher level than the character in at least one state), they lose their lunch.

By the way, did I forget to mention it has BARF cards?"

How Not to Be Seen

"Players try not to be seen. They must occasionally risk being seen in order to obtain points, but risk certain death if they are seen."

Based on the Monty Python sketch.

It's All Chinese To Me

"You are starving. You are in the middle of Chinatown and only one restaurant is open. Oh no! The menu is written only in Chinese. You only know 5 Chinese characters, one for each meal type (beef, chicken, lamb, fish and vegetables). For each meal type, you are hesitating between two Chinese characters. You will have to try to order using your very limited knowledge of the language. The waiter, slightly confused, will bring you what he thinks the majority wants. The player who successfully orders the most meals will score the most points and win."

Kitten War

"This adorable take on the classic card game War features 100 kittens from Kittenwar.com, the top-rated Web site with a devoted following. KittenStats like "Stealth" and "Paw to Paw Combat" contribute to each feline's overall score. Players build their kitten armies—and dodge the Kitty Litter—in three different game variations. Let the battle begin!"

No, I have no idea how this plays.


The object is to get rid of the lice on your head by shaking it onto the head of one of your classmates.


"Each player is a particularly slimy snake oil salesman, traveling between different regions, trying to sell their elixirs to eager balding or ailing customers.

Once a player has successfully demonstrated in an area, there will then be a limited number of turns before that area will become dangerous for other salesmen... The people of that region will soon realize that the last product they bought was bogus and they will be more skeptical of new salesmen coming to town.

Particularly bitter areas will send out police or mobs after the shysters, and so players must be careful to avoid being jailed or injured, which will set back their efforts.

After a certain number of regions in the area have become hostile, all players must make it to a train station within another turn in order to escape. The player who escapes with the most money is the winner."


It's a tile-laying game where you have to match tiles to complete pictures, which is not strange. But the pictures you have to match are pills, as in capsules for medicines. I honestly have no idea why pills.

Playing Gods

"Enact the religious struggles ripped from today's headlines with Moses, Jesus, and others, or step back in time to don the mantle of the Norse ruler Odin, the Roman god Mars, the Celtic warrior Morrigan, or Kali the Hindu god. Wiccans can battle Scientologists and ancient Mayan gods for control over the world... the only limit is your imagination. Unleash floods and plagues on each other's followers, while protecting your own flock. The god with the best strategy, skill, and luck shall rule the world...."

Controversial by design.

Presidential Scrabble

Not by Mattel or Hasbro, but by Fundex.

"All of the extra scoring spaces are replaced with the various states [which] gives an additional bonus equal to the state’s Electoral College value (after all other modifications). So for instance California is a triple letter space and gives a bonus of 55 points as well (it is also way off to one side)...

Finally there is a deck of cards showing all of the Presidents. Each card has a bit of historical information and gives a way to either get an extra bonus when played or change the rules in some fashion. The Nixon card for instance allows one to play a word with one letter misspelled. Players receive five of these cards at the start of the game, and can play at most one per turn."

Supermarket Psycho

"Now it is all about survival. Suddenly all the people in the supermarket look strange. And they stare and they scream and they push and they are everywhere. Will you crack? Will you make it out alive?"


"Santa has only five houses left to deliver gifts to this Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, the town is rife with hunters that only want one thing for Christmas--venison! Will Santa be able to deliver all the toys to the good little boys and girls before the hunters shoot all of his reindeer down?"

What Did I Step In?

"Use the sneaker to step on a card - the suction-cup heel will pick it up! If the card you step on matches a card in your hand you get to keep the match. Players compete to collect the most, all the while trying to avoid the worst thing you can step in - dog poop!"

Zombie Mosh

"In Zombie Mosh players strive to be the last zombie standing at the end of each song. As they flail about the limbs start flying and start flying off! Lose too many limbs and you are out at least until the next song. The danger doesn't just come from your fellow players of course there is a whole pit full of Zombies, and they are more than happy to flail into the players at full speed!"

Zombies Want Fluffy

"Fluffy has had a lot to drink and is looking to “visit” a tree on his way home late one night. And he’s found his mark -- a beautiful, secluded tree right there in the back corner of the cemetery. Unbeknownst to poor Fluffy, the cemetery is filled with man-eating, er..., dog-eating zombies who just woke up for a midnight snack. Fluffy is gonna be that snack if the shambling menaces having anything to say about it. Can you help Fluffy race to freedom (and relief!) before his bladder explodes or he becomes zombie chow?"

PitchCar and Bowling


Nadine received PitchCar from her Secret Santa. Tal and I went to her house on the first night of Hanukkah to play it with her, her son Yona, and Yona's girlfriend. Tal and I had played PitchCar before, at Jack Reiver's house in York when we visited England.

Yona proved to be quite good at the game. Nadine could only play with a glove on, after hurting her fingernail the first time she tried to flick her car.

Surprisingly, it's possible to catch up if you're behind, if the leader makes a mistake and you make a good shot. But this is definitely a game where practice makes for better play. It's fun, like kinetic games are wont to be, but I still prefer Crokinole or billiards.


Tal took Saarya and me bowling for Hanukkah.

Bowling is pretty close to a table stop sport, even though it's played on the floor. In any case, it's not a sport like Soccer or Track and Field. I actually took two college classes in Bowling (as I was not suited for most sports), and I used to bowl every week or two as a child. Back then, I lived pretty close to a bowling alley and games were only $1, which made it the equivalent cost of a couple of video games.

It takes me a number of practice rolls to regain some of my bowling skills. In this case, nearly half the game. But the era of practice rolls is long over.

The only thing electronic when I was growing up was the pin resetter. You kept score on paper. Today, the alley operator opens the lane for you with the specified number of players keyed in and an electronic screen overhead indicates whose turn it is and what the score is. And the lane shuts automatically when the game is over. No practice rolls allowed.

The screen has multiple animations for every type of roll. If you miss a lot of pins, for instance, an animation might show you a bowling pin from The Matrix, dodging your bowling balls as they shoot at him on the rooftop. Very cute; but can't I go anywhere without a television screen? Worse, mind-numbing trance music is playing at high volume the entire time.

The concession guy came over to me as we were just starting and tried to make me throw out my bottle of water that I had brought from home. Outside food and drink isn't permitted, see, because they run a concession stand that sells food and drinks. I argued that it's just water, and he argued that I still have to leave it outside.

So I asked to have three cups of tap water brought to us. He said that he can't bring me tap water; if I want to drink something, I have to buy something. So I asked to speak to a manager, turned around, and ignored him. I watched him go find the manager who told him not to bother me about it. Sheeyash.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top Ten Eurogame News Items from 2008

1. The economy hits board games

Following lead scares from last year, the game industry had its share of economic troubles. The biggest effect was the rising cost of fuel. This raised prices on specialty games that rely on pieces imported from Asia.

On the flip side, an economic crunch is a boon for toys and games come the holiday season, and the mainstream press not only pushed board games, but even dipped into the Euro game business on a number of occasions. Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride made a number of recommended top ten lists, and Settlers was a best-seller on Amazon.com for while (following a large price reduction).

2. RIP Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax, father of roleplaying, passed away in February. Gary's roleplaying legacy can not be overstated when it comes to the design of modern board games, fantasy games, cardboard translations of online games such as Doom and World of Warcraft, and on and on.

Gary is also remembered for a number of other games, such as the highly regarded Robo Rally. Update: Sorry, that's Richard Garfield. I meant to write Chainmail, Dragon Chess.

3. Überplay closes

Überplay seemed to be doing quite well, providing some standard Euros as Ra, Alhambra, Metro, New England, For Sale, and Hansa.

Sadly, they folded up shop in April.

4. Agricola tops BGG list of games

It took five years, but a game finally dethroned Puerto Rico from its number one spot on Board Game Geek: the rather long and intricate Agricola.

Agricola still has far less votes than Puerto Rico, however. We shall see as time passes whether it can keep the spot.

5. Knizia wins Spiel des Jahres twice

Dr Reiner Knizia, widely regarded as one of the best modern game designers, had, as of 2008, yet to win the most prestigious prize in board gaming. That changed in 2008. Knizia won best game for Keltis, and the best kid's game with Wer war's.

6. Board games on the XBox

Last year Settlers and Carcassonne, this year Wits and Wagers, Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, and Blood Bowl, plus many other board games. Not Talisman, however, because it's "too long".

Board games are now also making their way onto the IPhone, with several applications providing realistic dice shaking simulation.

7. Dice and card games

For some inexplicable reason, many of our favorite board game made some rather strange transitions this year into card games (that's fairly normal, at least), and dice games. Ticket to Ride and Samurai (still not quite released) became card games, while TtR, Ra (still not quite released), and Settlers all became dice games.

It may be possible to translate the fun of a board game into a card or dice game equivalent, but this is usually not the case; it's more an issue of continuing the brand.

8. BGG joins Facebook and Iphones

We can now get our daily BGG fix with applications that interface to BGG on Facebook and Iphones. Content trumps design, yet again.

9. Hot games
  • Battlestar Galactica: from Fantasy Flight, which means rich on components. And a well-loved game, as well.
  • Dominion: A non-collectible card game that plays like one, with on the fly deck-building.
  • Pandemic: A cooperative game with simple rules about fighting disease breakouts around the world.
  • Stone Age: Yet another resource collecting, civ building game.
  • Le Havre: The next release from the designer of Agricola, said to resemble Agricola in many ways.
  • Sorry Sliders: The name doesn't sound like it fits here, buy Sorry's kinetic pawn rolling game was deemed to be a Crokinole-lite.
10. Hot reprints
  • Cosmic Encounter: Always the most anticipated re-release, the new version from Fantasy Flight contains a lot that looks good.
  • Titan: While this dice-fest can hardly be considered a Euro, it's regarded with reverence by many (possibly due to the amount of money old copies could cost you).
  • Chinatown: A favorite negotiation game finally makes a second coming.

Session Report, in which I'm sick and we don't play much

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: La Citta.

I was sick, and few people came, so we played one game and ended early.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why I Am Not (But Still Am) a Professional Blogger

From June 2007 to June 2008 I was a professional blogger, by which I mean I earned the bulk of my income from blogging. Right now, I work full time as a technical writer and continue to blog on the side. My side blogging earns me some income, around $200 a month.


Unlike the majority of people who think of "professional blogger" as someone who makes a direct living off the advertising or affiliate income of his or her blog, I leveraged my blogging skills into landing corporate blogging jobs.

The story of how I became a professional blogger is here.

Lessons Learned From Being a Corporate Blogger For Hire
  • Once you have blogging skills and some know-how, it's easy to get a full-time paid corporate blogging position that pays a little less than a technical writing position. Many companies know little about blogging except that it is good. If you can prove you know about blogging, you can get a job. Since it's not in the company's current budget, it won't be a high paying job, but it will be more than $5 or $10 a post, which is ridiculous.
  • The hard part is teaching companies what blogging is, what it isn't, and defining the blog's goals. Do as much of this as you can before you accept the position. Remember, you are (probably) not planning to have the company make direct income off of the blog.
  • Corporate blogging is marketing. If you're a corporate blogger, you're a marketer. Welcome to a new field.
  • You don't control a corporate blog, the corporation does. That means posts may be edited and vetted, and you represent a company, not yourself. Mistakes are not tolerated.
  • No one on the internet writes about how to be a corporate blogger for hire. I had to start my own blog on corporate blogging for hire, which I stopped updating when I stopped working as a professional blogger. It contains a lot of good info about my experiences.
  • I'm just as happy earning a good living as a technical writer and doing blogging on the side as I was earning a poor living doing blogging full time.
Why I Didn't Go the Straight Route

Earning direct income from blogging is possible, if you:
  • have massively good content
  • write posts that are original and useful
  • are a great editor
  • have very easily hookable content
  • write excellent titles for nearly every single post
  • have no filler content on the blog
  • write in a niche that lends itself to rich advertisements
  • have little competition in this niche
  • have laser-like focus
  • procure lots of insider connections
  • spend lots of time marketing
  • spend lots of time social networking
  • have a few years to kill
  • have incredible luck
Don't have all of these? Don't bother trying to earn a living directly from blogging. And please note the last one. You can meet the other requirements and still not make a living directly from your blog.

But wait! There is a secret way you can shortcut these requirements. Want to know the secret?
  • Already be a famous person
Things That Matter

My main blog dropped from 10k to 100k on Technorati over the last year, because I'm doing barely any networking. I still have regular readers, maybe more than last year. But I'm not getting many links, PageRank hates me, and I'm not getting the notice I could get if I did any marketing.

I don't have a laser-like focus for my blog. That means that, unless you're willing to wade through all the topics I write about, you're not going to read my blog regularly; a lot of it won't be relevant to you. That's why I started a new blog devoted solely to my main topic: tabletop gaming.

I rewrote or erased a few posts, wrote an occasional less-than-stellar post, and have been wrong about things on occasion. All of which are not conducive to gaining authority. Them's the breaks. I had more important things to do this year than gain authority on this blog. And it shows. The content on this blog in 2006 and 2007 was incredible; this year's it was simply good.

Several times over the past few years I've done giveaways on the blog: my entire ad income from my first year of blogging income ($75), $100 of ad earnings (plus $200 in donated items), a $25 giveaway, and recently a game from my affiliate earnings. Every time that I've given away money, I've made back the amount that I gave away in less than a month.

It took me a year of Google ads to earn $75; after the giveaway I earned $75 in the one month from donations and new text ads. In my last giveaway, I gave games worth around $40 earned from several months of affiliate link clicks (and a game company offered and gave dozens of games in donations as well); in the last few weeks I've earned $40 in affiliate link clicks from grateful readers. How about that?

Stats matter a great deal. Not because of the ego boost. Stats matter because they let you know when people link to you, allowing you to take part in a conversation that may be happening elsewhere. They also give you a feel for how well your content is performing in general terms, which helps you decide how to proceed with subsequent posts. And they give you an idea of what people are looking for when they come to your blog.

Things That Don't Matter

There are a number of things that really don't matter when you blog:

Worrying about advertising is a waste of time. First build a great blog. Advertising is easy. Try a few things here and there, and keep the ones that work. I make most of my blog income from Amazon affiliate links and text link ads. Some text links are through Text Link Ads, and some are negotiated directly. Some paid reviews, Google Ads (very little), and Project Wonderful money, too.

Stop swapping links and playing blogroll games. My site has a large, up to date blogroll of all the blogs in my niche, but it is there to serve my readers. It's the only comprehensive list of its kind on the internet. I don't swap links. [Update: To clarify, linking out to relevant sites is a great idea; so is getting linked to. I mean that you should avoid just swapping links with random sites to boost your pagerank. If your links are useful to your readers, you will lose authority.]

A nice design is nice, but not critical. People should be able to easily navigate and read the text. There should be RSS and email feeds. Anything else is cream.

I've been linked to from nearly every big site there is: Boing Boing multiple times, Problogger, Gaping Void, Seth Godin, Kotaku, Joystiq, and so on and on. Hits result in a large influx of traffic that dies away, one or two subscribers, and a few hits over the next several months. One-off hits don't mean much for your blog; they are appreciated, of course, they're an ego boost, and they could be the stepping stone to a relationship with some fine people. What counts for your blog is keeping readers with continuously good content, not bursts in traffic. Now if I could get semi-regular hits from big sites, or a link on the side of a big site, that would be something.

Much professional blogging advice is only worth implementing if you already have a lot of traffic.

What is a Successful Blog

Given all this, what do I think makes a successful blog? Any one or more of the following:
  • Your writing and/or marketing skills grow.
  • You learn about your blog's subject, and can become an expert.
  • People know about or talk about your site, or consider you an expert.
  • People notice your posts (traffic).
  • People read what you write (subscribers). Notice the difference between subscribers and traffic. I can get 30,000 people to visit my blog in a month, but 25,000 of them will hit one post and leave. That may be ok for ad impressions, but not for becoming an influence.
  • People leave comments and engage you in discussion.
  • People link to your site, increasing your "ranking".
  • Readers tend to do what you ask them to do. You use your blog to sell products you've created, such as books, music, and so on. Or people who read your blog help you to find jobs when you need them.
  • You receive direct income from your blog.
There are many ways to have a successful blog, and many ways to evaluate what is successful.

The Future of This Blog

I'm going to continue this blog, but I'm probably going to move more of my gaming content, such as monthly game patents, to Purple Pawn. This blog will be even less commercial next year; hopefully, Purple Pawn will continue to grow.


Monday, December 15, 2008

I Built a Compost

I live in an apartment building with six apartments. My downstairs neighbor and I built a compost bin on Friday. We used scrap wood that we found at a building site.

It doesn't look like much. It will also get a cover and maybe some chicken wire around the outside.

It has two compartments, allowing one to ferment while the other is in use.

That's my neighbor. I can't successfully wear a hat.

That's me.

The Rule of Two

A thing is worth doing if it provides two benefits.

A compost reduces waste output and also gives you a better garden. Two things. Worth doing.

Drinking water or homemade iced tea is less expensive than bought drinks and better for your body. Worth doing. The same can be said about most cooking.

Brushing and flossing your teeth after dinner gives you healthy teeth and also discourages you from midnight snacking. Worth doing.

Walking or bike riding is less expensive and better for your body. Worth doing.

And so on. Others ideas?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pink Games 2

Last year's list of pink games included:
  • Pink Monopoly Boutique
  • Pink Jenga
  • Pink Chess
  • Pink Checkers
  • Pink Playing Cards
  • Pink Dominoes
  • Pink Poker Chips
  • Pink Poker Table
  • Pink Scrabble
  • Killer Bunnies Pink expansion pack
  • and something called Pick and Tell Games
Here are some new additions:

Pink GLD Casemaster Deluxe Dart Case and Viper Pink Lady Steel-Tip Darts (20-Gram)

Hot Pink Basket Weave-Mah Jong Set

Pink The Game of Life

My Little Pink Book Board Game

Set of 5 Pink Dice 16mm Round Corners
(good for playing pink Bunco)

Pink Risk pieces

Pink Backgammon

Pink Uno Chic

Pink Ouija Board

Twister Pink Game with Exclusive Plush Carry Bag


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meeting the Jerusalem Chess Club

I met with Alon, the founder of the Jerusalem Chess Club on Thursday night.

The club is only a few years old, and they're already doing quite well, with some 60 club members. Last summer they held a tournament in Jerusalem and got 300 players, the mayor of Jerusalem, and a lot of nice local press. (more information)

Alon is on the left.

As a multi-game gamer, I am not an expert in chess. I've gotten a little better from playing all of my other strategy games, but I still have a tendency to lose my queen within around 20 moves or so. I played two games Thursday evening, and that's what happened in both games. Which is a shame, because, aside from losing my queen, I was actually doing fairly well (I sneakily grabbed a pawn in one of them).

Alon is naturally doing another convention this summer, but was in talks with the municipality about possibly expanding the convention to other games. Plans are very preliminary, purely in the idea stage. That's where I came in.

I was able to work through with him the types of activities and games that could work and what types of organization we would need. I have information about other games in Israel, as well as several contacts.

I have nothing more to say about it, for now. I'll let you know if anything concrete starts to happen. But it may turn out to be something very exciting, and very big.

Doing Instead of Blogging

I've been doing a lot of things lately, and I'll be posting about them as soon as possible. Doing can sometimes get in the way of blogging.

Puerto Rico

This weekend Nadine, Rachel, and I got a chance to play Puerto Rico on Friday night, something we haven't done in a while, and something we won't get to do again in a while: Rachel is off to the US and London this Thursday, and won't be back until January 2.

We played with our usual set of mixed buildings, but I added Library as a cost 7 building in place of Factory. We nearly never buy it at 8, so I wanted to see how it would do at 7. Turned out to be pretty good.

It was a close game. Nadine took Library, but didn't have a trade good, and not too much corn; very different from her usual play. Instead she had 4 indigos going, and the first sugar. She won with 47 points and 4 coins. Rachel had the only coffee, but it was very late. Still, it earned her enough for Wharf and a large building. She ended with 47 points and 3 coins. I had a first and early tobacco, second sugar, and a bunch of corns, as well as a Discretionary Hold. I thought I was doing ok, but I ended with 45 points. Rachel ran the colonists out to fill her Fortress.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Fiftieth Week Posts

The canonical list of Christmas board games

The first Board Game Internet Awards were in 2005 on Gone Gaming. In 2006 also on Gone Gaming, and in 2007 on Board Game News. This year?

Luck vs Randomness, my definitions

Tennyson Would Have Played Seafarers of Catan, a poem based on Ulysses

What's "making a comeback" have to do with it?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Session Report, in which we play Jambo and La Citta for the first time, and also Netrunner again

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Jambo, Tichu, La Citta, Agricola, Netrunner.

We play Jambo and La Citta for the first time. Liked Jambo, loved La Citta. Agricola is deemed too long a game for some, and I finally get to play Netrunner again and still love it.

I found R C Bell's Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations: v. 2 in a used book store today, and now I'm off to talk to the organizer of Jerusalem Chess about a summer board gaming event that might happen in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

R & R Games - The Secret Santa

For some reason, my emails to weren't getting through, and that's why I wasn't able to confirm until now that R & R Games is the company that offered to send games to the recipients that I'm not able to.

They're sending out games to 8 or 10 people absolutely free, just because they were moved by the stories on this post, and knew I couldn't get to all of them.

R & R Games produces some fantastic games, including the world's most highly regarded party game, Time's UP!. They have dozens of other fantastic games for kids and families, including Smarty Party, Hide & Seek Safari, Thingamajig, You Must Be an Idiot, and many more.

In fact, I sent Time's UP! as a gift just last week, and it was received very well.

Thanks, R & R Games. May all your holidays be merry.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Review: No Contest: The Case Against Competition

The Book

No Contest: The Case Against Competition by Alfie Kohn


A must-read for every parent, teacher, manager, and game designer. Presents several revolutionary ideas that should be integrated into every level of our society.

Notwithstanding this, Kohn loses his way when discussing certain issues, such as play and self-confidence. He sets up some straw man arguments, and tries to claim that, since extreme competition is extremely bad, moderate competition must be moderately bad.

Overview, with Comments

Competition pervades our culture. Things are not enjoyed, they are evaluated and ranked (who's the best opera singer? what are the top ten games?). Competition is not only our instinctive attitude, but it is also built into nearly every structure or our society, with artificial exclusive attainable goals: who is the highest in class, the thinnest in the room, all or nothing politics and justice, best business, and so on. Everything is built around winning and losing. [Actually, this is not entirely true. There are many instances where an independent percentage score is relevant, where a middle rank is better than a lower rank, or where performance is not simply competition based.]

Competition, when structured, seems to be inevitable: only so many acceptances to a college, only one company can get your business, only one winner in a tennis match. But goals can be achieved competitively, cooperatively, or independently. People believe competition is a) unavoidable "human nature", b) motivating and drives success, c) fun, and d) builds character and self-confidence.

As to human nature, that argument is often a convenient one for maintaining the status quo, especially if many of our institutions are already built around it. Yet, train people to act cooperatively, show them the benefits, and they will take to it. Furthermore, many societies behave far more cooperatively than others; competition is built into the Western world because everyone thinks it's better. So we train children to become good at it. That's a vicious circle.

Consider the classroom: raised hands mean competing against fellow students. The right answer is rewarded, the wrong answer is punished. Grades set some students above others, some as triumphant, some as failures. This is not inevitable. Classrooms could be organizes so that a student struggling gets help from others instead of attempts to best him or her. Grades could instead be evaluations and recommendations; and schools don't have to be rigidly organized into years the way they have been for the last century and a half; they weren't always like that.

As to animal nature, competition exists, but so does vast amounts of cooperation, within families, herds, species, and between species.

As to competition motivating and driving success, one should be careful not to equate success with victory. If victory is the only measure of success, competition may sometimes be inevitable. But racing against oneself can be just as motivating as trying to best someone else. In fact, a lot more so, because once it's clear whether you're going to win or lose, your motivation disappears.

Rewarding everyone in a group for learning a problem is no less motivating or driving than rewarding only the winner. [Unless there are a few who are simply determined not to learn, in which case it could in fact be demotivating. In which case, independent rewards are still motivating. But intervention, separating out the problems and addressing them individually, can help to solve this problem.]

Competition for newspaper stories doesn't produce better journalism, nor does competition for most food sold equal better food, or most business earned mean better service. It produces people who are good at winning and losing, not at doing the actual tasks they are supposed to be doing "better". Competition benefits some people, but usually at the expense of many others, usually the poor or the ill-connected.

The canonical idea that competition will produce better vaccines and better cars doesn't hold up to the fact that competition really produces cheaper erectile pills and bigger hummers. And poorly treated workers. And safety violations.

When the object is winning, and not performing best, cheating is inevitable. Trying to deal with cheaters one by one is ignoring the structure that breeds cheating to begin with.

As to fun, here Kohn drops the ball. He defines "play" as a free activity, disconnected with the real world, not serious, and non-goal oriented. And then he shows how competition is antithetical to his definition of play. And therefore, competition isn't really fun. He then goes on to talk about the effects of extreme competition in child's sports and so on, which serve to make the game less fun and more work for everyone.

I must not be having fun when I play games, I guess.

As to building self-esteem and character, he brings in the cases of extreme competition which produces winners and losers, and can have a deleterious effect on self-esteem, even for the winners. However, trying to transfer the same argument to light competitions just doesn't work. If failing to achieve something is something that everyone experiences, and harder work will let you win more often than before - in other words, if failure is safe, then the effects of extreme competition don't really apply.

Still, a pervasive competitive society, where everyone tries to be the thinnest, richest, most beautiful, most admired, and so on are detrimental, not enhancing, to most people's self-esteem. And everyone knows people who are "so competitive", and we don't really admire their character.

Competition bred into our work and schools leaks into our personal lives. Many women, and some men, know the husband or wife who is always competitive, showing off, showing off their spouse, and otherwise ruining a good relationship. Competition between cultures and nations results in wars, disparate resources, dependency, aggression, mistrust, and so on.

Wrapping it up, Kohn states that our society is caught in a circle: we think we have to be competitive because that's the way our system works. And our system is built around competition because that's the way we think it should be.

Breaking this cycle is difficult, but not impossible. Kohn has written dozens of books on the subject of education and parenting, the best places to start undoing the learned competition. From the quality of this book, they're probably worth checking into.

- Unconditional Parenting

- The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing

- The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards"

- The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools

and others.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

I'm a Pain to Wait On, But I Tip Well

I'm always a pain when it comes to ordering food in a restaurant. I don't understand why only the items specified are on the menu, and why they're priced the way they are.

At a local bagel store, you can buy two bagels for 7 NIS, and a container of cheese for 15 NIS, but two bagels with (less) cheese is 30 NIS. At another place, hot water is free, but hot water with a tea bag costs 10 NIS. Which is ok, but when I want another glass of hot water in which to put my used tea bag a second time, they want me to pay another 10 NIS.

I don't understand why, in some restaurants, you can order a sandwich with A and B, or with C and D, but not with A and C. Why not just provide an item cost and a mathematical formula? Wouldn't that make more sense? Or is everything pre-made and reheated in a microwave?

Then there's the kasrut issue. Back in college, I would sometimes to go out with friends to Friendly's, where the only thing kosher was the ice cream. When I ordered, I requested that they bring me ice cream in a glass, not a ceramic dish, with a plastic spoon, not a metal spoon, and could they serve the banana on the side whole and unpeeled, not cut up? And, of course, they always brought me the banana peeled and cut as a courtesy, and I would have to ask them to send it back and get me another one.

I went out with my son to The Waffle House this evening. Nearly everything in The Waffle House is dairy, and I'm now lactose intolerant, which means that this wasn't the greatest choice, but it's close and it's open on Saturday evening.

The focaccia they had was a pizza focaccia, and I asked the waitress if I could order it without the cheese. She looked at me curiously and said that I probably didn't want to do that, really. It took a little convincing, but eventually she agreed to get me one. The focaccia comes with a side salad, but there were two of us, so I looked at the menu to see how much an additional side salad cost. Side bread, side cheese, side ice cream: no side salad. I asked, anyway. The waitress asked the manager. The manager gave me a price.

Both the salads and the focaccia were good.

At the end of the meal, I asked the waitress about the flavored sodas in the menu, and she said that they're made by combining soda water with one of the flavored syrups they have on the shelf. I looked at the shelf, and the first syrup I saw was vanilla. I looked back at the soda list in the menu: apple, pineapple, coconut, lemon-mint, strawberry, and raspberry. No vanilla.

How about a vanilla soda? I asked. She looked at me curiously and said that I probably didn't want to do that, really. She had never heard of vanilla soda, and couldn't imagine why anyone would want to order it. This was too much.

I went up to the serving bar where the manager was handling orders and so on and asked him about it. He had never heard of vanilla soda. The vanilla syrup was for coffee. He, too, was sure that it would be terrible.

I'm pretty sure that vanilla soda has been one of the most popular flavors in the history of carbonated beverages, yet no one in Israel has heard of it (nor root beer, for that matter). I made him make me one on the spot, and it was freaking delicious. I asked him to try mine, which he declined, but he dutifully mixed a little syrup and soda together in a cup and tried it; he didn't like it. Nevertheless, I told him a) let the waitresses try it, and b) if he offered it on the menu, a whole lot of Americans in the neighborhood would be very happy.

Hacking restaurants. I just can't help it.

Want to Help Someone Out For the Holidays?

For my holiday giveaway, I received 27 comments, of which I determined that 12 of the submissions looked like they could really use some cheering up for the holiday.

I hate to have to pick only one, but I did. That leaves 11 other cases that could use help. I've already got an offer to cover 1 of them from someone; that leaves 10.

A game company contacted me, saying that they were willing to send up to 10 games to whomever I didn't cover. So no one will get left out.

But rather than send a list of 10 people to this game company, I wanted to know if any readers wanted to handle one of the cases. That way the actual game requested could be sent, and the generosity of the game company wouldn't be unduly over-extended. (Actually, some of the cases could probably use more than one game, anyway!)

If you want to help, let me know, and up to how much you can spend, and I'll send you one of the cases.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Forty Ninth Week Posts

The 10 most important game events that ever occurred

The desperate board room conversation that resulted in Magic: the Gathering

Bidding, passing, and playing partnership conventions

Last year, I turned my blog into a series of games, giving away $300 in prizes. That was fun.

Some thoughts about advice

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Session Report, in which we play Hacienda for the first time

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Hacienda, Tichu, Agricola.

First play for Hacienda, and min-review. Also some additional thoughts on Agricola and farming vs building.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world

"I vow that we will avenge the deaths of Gabi and Rivki," announced Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Chabad's educational arm, from New York, referring to Mumbai emissaries Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka.

"But not with AK-47s, not with grenades and tanks. We will take revenge in a different way," Kotlarsky said.

"We will add light. We will add good deeds. We will make sure that there is not one Jewish man who does not put on tefillin. We will make sure that there is not one Jewish woman who does not light candles."
F#%ing Jews.

- at the funeral (source)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

November Board and Card Game Patents

Board game - The design of a word based board game called "Giving Thanks" by Keith Johnson.

Gaming machines with board game theme - Monopoly slots. I'm fairly sure I covered something just like this a year or two ago. And I'm not sure why a machine needs patent protection for such an obvious implementation.

Method of playing a bonus wager - After playing a game of Blackjack or some such, the players' cards are used to form a poker hand.

Interactive sporting event game - A card game to be played while watching a sporting event. Occurrences in the sporting event affect the card game somehow.

Gift exchange game - White elephant is a well-known gift exchange system used at large parties, where each player brings a wrapped gift to a party, and then attendees, one by one, take one of the gifts without knowing what is inside the wrapping.

This patent describes a white elephant system, where the order of the taking of the gifts is decided by dice rolling. I kid you not. An additional implementation is given where, after presents have been unwrapped, attendees roll dice again to steal gifts from each other.

Chess game piece - The design of this chess piece:

Poker card game - Texas Hold 'Em has a problem:
Although it is a game requiring skills and experience, like most other card games, Texas Hold 'Em depends on probabilities of poker hands for excitement and action. Betting strategies can be developed based on the chance a player can form a poker hand as high as possible using their pocket cards and communal cards. When the chance to form a good poker hand is low, players tend to give up the game early, resulting in poor table action and low payoff.
This patent "solves" the problem by attempting to patent Texas Hold 'Em with any deck that has four suits but doesn't have 13 cards in each suit (e.g. European decks, and so on).

Leaving aside the fact that I can't see how this solves the problem, does this guy really think that he can patent Texas Hold 'Em with a 40 card deck? Someone tell me what I'm missing here.

TRI board game - The abstract to this one is worth reading. Three times.
A board game device having a plurality of tri-squares, four corners and a diagonally arranged border row of eight tri-squares of a conspicuous hue extending between two corners of the board and dividing the board into two triangular sections, with a plurality of parallel rows with the center row thereof perpendicular to the border row, having a contrasting hue on different sides of the border, with proximal and distal ends thereof forming player positions at the other corner wherein each game piece has at least a tetrahedron first body member.
Nope. I still don't get it.

Ah, here's a picture of the board:

The game combines various mechanics of strategy, tactics and chance. There's money for some reason; I think captured pieces give you money. And there are dice for some reason, but not to select which pieces you move. You can move a piece the height of the piece, or move additional times if you land of your own piece. I don't get the rest of the game, but it looks interesting enough.

The game is by Anthony Rollando Robinson.

Golf board game - OK, there have been other golf board games. What does this one add?
The general purpose of the present golf board game, described subsequently in greater detail, is to provide a golf board game which has many novel features that result in a golf board game which is not anticipated, rendered obvious, suggested, or even implied by prior art, either alone or in combination thereof.
Do tell.

After looking at the game, I can't see exactly how the game does this. It's a golf game with dice. Actually, it's got a resolution table, crossing the die roll against the club chosen, which will make old-time war-gamers a little nostalgic.

One notable aim of the game is "to promote good manners and teach golf etiquette to players." I didn't see how this was accomplished.

Systems, methods and articles to facilitate playing card games - A complicated card carousel and computer system that can generate a random or psuedo-random card shuffle and then physically assign the cards according to its "shuffle". The idea being a) that cards and statistics can be tracked, and b) the system can raise or lower the odds when it, or the controller, feels like it. Or even assign a specific card, I believe.

I'm not sure how this solves the problem laid out by the patent: "Casinos and other gaming establishments are continually looking for ways to make gaming fresher and more exciting for their patrons. For example, many casinos offer the ability to place bonus wagers and/or progressive wagers. New approaches to varying existing card games are highly desirable."

Wall decoration and game apparatus - A cribbage board on the backside of a wall-mounted fish. Also has a compartment for the pegs.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Yehuda's Alternative Results for Competitions (YARC)

I've written before about the problems with all-or-nothing victory conditions in competitive games:
  • Unless a game is close, neither the winning nor the losing players have any incentive to play well.
  • Simply besting other players does not produce the highest quality performance. Players are only motivated to achieve relative success.
  • Winning is often a matter of gaming the system, which is not reflective of the intention of the competition.
  • Society teaches that it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game, but our games don't reflect this.
  • There is no reason to artificially limit rewards to a single player, so long as we do not reduce the motivation to succeed (i.e. effort and results must still count)
If you disagree with these points, please comment on the original articles in which I made them.

To address these points, here are alternative ending results which can be used for nearly any competitive game. Some people will hate them; they don't have to use them. Others may like them as an occasional alternative. Still others will find that these results embed values that they already use informally.

Yehuda's Alternative Results for Competitions (YARC)

Step 1: Play the game

Play and calculate the final scores for any competitive game, as usual.

Note: In a game where your success is due in large part to non-tactical and non-strategic play - such as luck, knowledge of trivia, or communication skills - the game is won if all players enjoyed playing the game.

Step 2: Calculate base results against each other player

There is no overall single winner for the game. You win or lose against each other player. Total the scores and use the YARC table to compute a base result for each other player.

YARC Table
Comparison to other playerResult
< -50%unbalanced match
-50% to -20%inferior challenge
-20% to -10%lesser challenge
-10% to -5%greater challenge
-5% to -1%superior challenge
-1% to 1%tie
1% to 5%inferior win
5% to 10%lesser win
10% to 20%greater win
20% to 50%superior win
> 50%unbalanced match

[1] In nearly all games, a 1% win/loss indicates little about the skill of the players or of the play; the final scores are a result of a minor luck element, or the manipulation of some small event near the end of play that had nothing to do with the overall play.

[2] In the case of a >50% win/loss, either a) the game is very low scoring (final score is 3 to 1 or some such), or b) the winning player made an exceptional play, series of plays, or gamble which determined the game, or c) the losing player made an exceptionally bad play, series of plays, or gamble which determined the game, or d) the players are grossly mismatched in skill levels.

[3] For some games, calculating the difference between each two players is easy: simply compare victory points, money, seconds, and so on. For other games, you may need to massage the ending values into a more complex score.

For instance, in Yinsh, the competitive value between the two players may be measured roughly by the number of disks placed during the game. For games in which you are eliminated for not completed a certain task, you may assign a negative value to the failure to complete the task.

Step 3: Derive final results from base results

If you've played the same game with the same opponent before, compare this game's base results to the final results of the previous game against the same opponent.

This is not always possible. In a multi-player game with five opponents, having previously played one of the opponents in the same game with three different opponents may not present a clean opportunity for comparison. If you've never played this game with a certain opponent before, you might evaluate how well you've played similar games (such as abstract, area control, or auctioning) with this opponent. If the tactics or strategy are similar, you may use the mitigating factors proportionately to the similarity.

Derive final results by choosing one of the following percentages and re-visiting the YARC table with the new percent:
  • your base result in this game vs your final result in the previous game, OR
  • your actual score in this game vs your actual score in the previous game, OR
  • both players' total actual scores in this game vs both players' total actual scores in the previous game, assuming that your base result in this game is the same as your final result in the previous game.
Step 4: Then stop

There is no "real" or "best" winner. Someone with three "better wins" is not the overall champion over someone with one "lesser win" and a small "loss".