Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Games are Art: "Eurogames" is an Art Period

After my presentation on Eurogames, one conference attendee told me that he was still confused. "What, exactly, makes a Eurogame different from any other game?"

I cited a number of different qualities, all of which taken together would lead to calling a game a Eurogame. This didn't satisfy him; he was looking for something concrete insofar as classification.

As he walked away, I immediately realized that Eurogames are not a class of games - such as race games and capture games - but a period of games, or an art movement.

There exists in the world today a game design movement called Eurogame design. Its roots run back to the 1960s, it began flourishing in the 1980s, and it spread worldwide in the 1990s.

A particular game might be from one branch of the Eurogame period. A particular game might straddle several design movements: Eurogame, war game, trivia game, and so on, taking elements of each to create a specific game meant to target those who enjoy one or more of these movements. We call games that seem to incorporate about 50% of their design each from two different movements "hybrid games", but many games fall in between movements, more or less.

You can see the working of game design periods/movements throughout the twentieth century and into this one. Morality games followed one after another in earlier centuries. After Monopoly, we saw not only clones of Monopoly games with different themes but different economic games with similar goals and mechanics. Hundreds of trivia games followed Trivial Pursuit. And, on a smaller scale, dozens of worker placement games have followed Caylus. Video games follow the same pattern.

Crassly speaking, we may look at later games as simple attempts to capitalize and monetize on the success of the previous game. This may be true in the vast majority of cases. On the other hand, like books, paintings, and movies, we can expect that at least some of the followup games see something interesting about the original game and incorporate the new mechanics, like new technology, in an attempt to explore a newly discovered territory opened by the original.

(We can see art movements within games themes, as well as mechanics. There was a sizable market for multiple morality games. Likewise, there is room in the hobby games market for multiple games about Renaissance Italy or WWII. I expect, though I have not looked, that games about certain themes come in waves, just as do games with certain mechanics.)

Considering the movements or periods of game mechanics, games are similar to any designed object: cups or chairs or cars. They seem different because we use and interact with games for a longer period and for different reasons. But how we look at these other objects in design terms should guide how we look at games.

Thoughts and Analysis Regarding the Board Game Studies Colloquia

I thought I had done due diligence regarding the BGS conference, which lead me to think that the attendees only knew about older, classic games, and that they primarily spoke about the history and culture of various games as discovered through archaeology and manuscript research.

It turns out I was sort of right, but I missed the very important word "primarily" in there.

The list of topics at BGS Colloquia

I did a little more work and was able to discover the abstracts for years 2001 (colloquium IV) - 2009 (colloquium XII). I couldn't find any session information for 2007, or any years prior to 2001. For years 2003 and 2006 I could only discover the titles; no abstracts.

I have assigned 17 topics to the sessions. This is not rigorous study, but a ballpark assessment, especially for the sessions to which I only had the titles. I evaluated 190 sessions.

1. Books: game compendiums or other written sources for games
2. Children: children’s particular role in games
3. Classification: classifying games
4. Classics: international classic abstract games: chess, checkers, mancala, pachisi, dominoes, backgammon, dice, etc.
5. Computers: the role of computers in games
6. Culture: games shaping culture, and vice versa
7. Design: the physical elements of games
8. Education: games used in education
9. History: historical facts about games
10. Math: mathematical analysis of a game
11. Mechanics: the play aspects of games
12. Medieval: any game not a classic, proprietary, or modern (until 1920s or so; this is a gross misuse of the word "medieval", but so there.)
13. Modern: modern American or European games, or similar (Monopoly or later)
14. Museum: game collections, esp in museums
15. Psychology: games shaping minds, and vice versa
16. Strategy: how to win
17. Toys: non-game objects, such as toys and puzzles

Here is the number of times that each topic is covered. One session may cover multiple topics.

Yes, history, classics, medieval, design, and culture are highly represented, but modern games are also covered frequently: a tribute to Sid Sackson, AH war games, modern variations on abstracts, Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, the occasional mention of a Eurogame, and so on. In each colloquium, there are one or two sessions on the mathematical analysis of abstract games. Computers get almost no mentions.

There are, to my mind, some notably missing topics:
  • Theme: while a modern game may sometimes be covered, the concept of theme in games is almost never covered; the design elements might be. Actually, theme is covered once or twice, such as when talking about a game of "vice and virtue" and similar moral elements within the game.
  • Industry: there were a few talks about how to create games, but nothing on the business or financial side of games.
  • Elderly: kids are covered, but only one talk mentions the elderly, as far as I know.
  • Cheating: not addressed.
  • Gambling: dice and so on are mentioned, as is luck, but not the culture of gambling.
  • Trivia: the second most prevalent modern game mechanic gets no mention.
  • Dexterity: no mention about dexterity games, such as tiddly winks, jenga, or pick up sticks.
  • Collectability: while some of the presenters are collectors, there are no talks about acquiring or the collectability of games.
  • Societies: no mention about game clubs or groups.
About the Attendees

Many of the attendees have been coming to all of the colloquia, and the age level is up there. A few are younger attendees. There is always a flurry of younger attendees from the host country that wouldn't travel to the conference elsewhere (such as myself).

They are a nice group, though some have some personal quirks (like academics tend to have). If you can write cogently and present a few interesting and original points on any of the above topics, they're happy to hear about it; it doesn't have to be thorough research manuscript information, but you do have to have decent knowledge on what you're talking about.

I was not the only one with a blog, but I was the only "blogger", and so impressed them with my daily updates about the conference. There is a web site for the board game studies journal, but no central location for sessions and abstracts for each colloquium. That should be fixed.

Part of every conference is devoted to touring the conference location. That's mostly what I missed on Friday night and Saturday.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Day 3 of the Board Game Studies 2009 Colloquium

Friday I had to leave at 5:00 in order to get home before shabbat. So I missed whatever happened after 5:00, as well as all the events of the fourth day. Much of that time was spent by the attendees touring around Jerusalem, I believe.

Sessions

1. Science Museum

We went to the Bloomfield Science Museum. I'm not familiar with other science museums other than the Ontario Science Center, but this one seems like a very nice one for kids, comparable to the OSC, if perhaps smaller.



We first sat down around a table while a museum staff member showed us a number of puzzles: an arrangement of balls you have to stack to make a pyramid, a rope with which you must make a knot without letting go of the ends of the rope, and ropes looped around two people's wrists and interlocked out of which you must get unlocked.

The staff member had only before done this with kids, of whom she claimed 25% were able to solve the puzzles. We told her right off that she was sitting with the world's experts in board games, which impressed her, so naturally none of us were able to solve any of the puzzles (except for the first, and except for those who had already seen the puzzles).

We then went to a games exhibit, where a number of games were set up, each associated with a specific area of thinking. Some were word games.



This one should look familiar: it's Quarto, a game that I think should be a forced draw for either player. In any case, I have never lost, and I doubt I ever will.



This second game was filed under "anticipation". On your turn, you may move a single one of your balls one grid space sideways in either direction. Or, you can jump any number of contiguous pieces (yours or your opponents) in any orthogonal direction. Like Chinese Checkers, the object is to get all your pieces into your opponent's home spaces.

However, there is a twist: on your turn you tilt the board toward you, so any single ball in a double grid slot slides back to your side.

Someone made a big mistake, and I'm fairly sure it's me; the above cannot be the correct rules. Without your opponent cooperating, it seems impossible to actually get your last ball in. When you tilt the board toward you, your last ball is always at least two grid spaces away from your opponent's corner, unless your opponent is kind enough to leave a ball there to prop it up. If anyone can solve this with the rules as given, let me know.

After some wandering around, we returned to Hebrew U.

2. Piet Notebart & Luc Blomme, A method to evaluate math games





Piet and Luc manage a vast collection of 10,000 games in Belgium. They are now organizing the games in various ways. One way it to evaluate the suitability of each game in the classroom setting.

They are first classifying games that can teach math concepts. They're classification categories are based on topics from the Belgium national, Catholic, and kindergarden math curricula. These curricula have 19 major math terms: number sense, quantities, early counting, operations, search strategies (Blokus, Ingenious), measuring (comparison, area, monetary, numerical), geometry, algebra, ... and so on.

Their method is to examine ten aspects of the game material and ten of the concept. Each aspect is evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5 for use in a classroom. All types of games evaluated (not only "math" games).

The material aspects: attractiveness (will kids want to look at the game), clarity of components, orientation issues (can children see the board if it's upside down to them), laguage independence, stability of components during play, durability and replayability of components, functionality (components actually work), clarity of storage solution (so as to quickly evaluate if all parts have been put away), space requirements, and setup requirements.

The concept aspects: complete and clear rules, explainability, knowable time requirement (and not widely variable time length), possibilities of different levels of play for different levels of children, involvement and interaction, matches curriculum goals, the ability for the kids to play independent of teacher assistance, employable in schools (I forget what this is), fun, and originality.

After establishing the categories, they sent questionnaires sent to teachers and also added their own evaluation. When available, they give suggestions to make games more suitable. If the game evaluated as very good (or can be made so), they would like to provide a logo for publishers to put on product. They also develop lesson plans for the games.

3. Yoav Ziv, Redesigning games



Yoav runs workshops where older teens and singles recreate old toys and yard games with new designs. These redesigns might change yard games into table games. Results of these workshops are games such as Ring-o Flamingo by Gamewright.

4. Fred Horn, The Game "Academie" of Mr Van der Gaag



Fred Horn is from Holland, organizes Chess clubs, and creates abstract games. He described his research on the history of game production in Holland, and specifically Mr Van der Gaag and his game "Academie".



5. Claude Hayat, Invention of Games as a Way of Expression


Gadi and Claude

Claude described his abstract games (see second day's notes), and followed with a little on a hard life.

And then I went home, leaving some of my games for them to play later in the evening. I may write some more thoughts about the conference in a followup post.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day 2 of the Board Game Studies 2009 Colloquium

The Sessions

1. Uri Globus, Communication in Board Games


Uri plays Igowin on my laptop, vastly increasing my Go rating in a few minutes.

Uri is the founder of the Israeli Go institute, and a computer game researcher. Unfortunately, I missed all but the last five minutes of this lecture; it sounded very interesting.

Essentially, he said, drawing on his experience from the game of Go, that how a person plays in a game communicates something about the person. There was dissension from the audience: Uri thought that play brings out the real you, while the audience proposed that play allows people to play in ways that they wouldn't in real life. I think that they're both right.

Uri told me he would send me a summary of his lecture.

2. Ute Retteberg, The Game of Chaupad in India



Chaupad, aka Pachisi. Known by many different names around the world. With 64 squares around the outside, in the classic game you start at center, move down your home path, circle around the board counter-clockwise, and return back home.

Chaupad is not considered a children's game; it plays an important part in the marriage ceremonies and culture of Rajput families. Played on festivals. A new board is woven for the bride before the marriage, and the game is played by and among women, or by women with their spouse or brother. Stories about proper behavior with gods and so on playing the game are told before the marriage ceremony.

Apparently, there are complex variations to the game that can make a game last for 2-3 months. It is associated with sports like wrestling and hunting.

3. Irving Finkel, The Lewis Chessmen



The Lewis Chessmen were found on the Isle of Lewis in 1831, in circumstances unknown and subject to myth. They are carved walrus ivory and contain at least four complete sets of pieces. All the pieces are white, but some were originally stained a deep maroon (such as the white vs red chess in Indian). Faraday (the guy who invented electricity) might have been consulted in how to "clean" the pieces, resulting in their loss of color. Dr Finkel was much peeved at Faraday for this.

Additional pieces for other games were also found with the Chess pieces. For more on the topic, see the Wikipedia entry.

Irving is dynamic, passionate, sarcastic, and humorous in turn.

4. David Parlett, Hyde and seek

[Forgot to take a picture]

David's lecture in the previous colloquia was about Francis Willoughby, a game researcher from the 1600s. This lecture was about Thomas Hyde (1636-1703 who wrote The History of Chess (1689) (including Xiang-qi). In 1694 he wrote a history of other games, including backgammon, go, mandarin promotion game, dice, dice towers, knucklebones, checkers, nine-men's morris types (merels), mancala, and many others (Arabs, Persian, Indians, Chinese), civil and war games, Chinese backgammon, chaupar, and so on. Then he combined both books into one. He was also preparing a book on playing cards, but no notes exist.

These are obvious precursors to Murray's fantastic books on the same topics.

Hyde's books include quotes from poems about Chess written by the Ibn Ezra, a famous Jewish Rabbi. Victor Keats translated the poems into English and has written a few books on the topic of Chess in Jewish sources from the Talmud on.

David was also a good speaker. Later in the day, he also complimented me on my talk from the previous day, which was an unexpected thrill.

5. Ulrich Schaedler, Tric-Trac to Backgammon



Around early 1800s, Tric-Trac declined in France, and backgammon replaced it.

We're not sure when or where Tric-Trac originated. The object is not to bear pieces off the board, but to make points, which are scored with cribbage-like holes on the side of the board. Pieces not removed from the board. Points are scored if you "could" land on certain points with your dice throws, though you don't actually land on them, you just note them and score - these are conventions of gentility. Your opponent can score any points you forget to mark, like cut-throat cribbage.

Tric-Trac was criticized (compared to other games) as being embarrassing to players when they are not attentive. Also there is a long opening phase without any conflict, since all the pieces start bunched up on the far ends. Also, the French thought that Backgammon was too fast and not complicated enough for a "real" game.

A solid presentation that went over time.

6. Simon Cohen, Anti-Semitic Games


Simon Cohen sitting, after his lecture

Simon presented derogatory, caricature, or propaganda games and pictures from his collection, from "The New Game of the Jew" circa 1790, through to "Kaboom! The Suicide Bombing Game" circa 2001.

7. Gadi Kfir, Jerusalem in Games



Gadi presented pictures of Go Fish and other games and toy figurines with pictures of Jerusalem landmarks, such as the Tower of David, specific and general Jerusalem characters.

Then we took a trip to the Israel Museum, where we saw (among other things):


Note the black stereotype image on the top left card game

8. Prof Israel (Bob) Aumann, Games where the first player can always win but no one knows how


Waiting outside the locked auditorium

Prof Aumann was the recent winner of the Nobel prize in Economy for his work on game theory.

He showed existence proofs: proofs that show that there is an answer, but don't say what the answer is.

There are two games that fit this: Asymmetric Gnim and Hex.

Symmetric Gnim is played on a checker board, with the lower left corner removed (63 squares). On your turn, you pick a square and eliminate the square, as well as all squares above or to the right of the square. Turns alternate. The player to make the last move wins.

This game is a win for the first player, and the method is shown: First player chooses square 2,7 - that is, 2nd from the left, 2nd from the bottom. After his play, two equal length lines remain: a vertical line of 7 squares and a horizontal line of 7 squares. From this point on, the first player mirrors whatever the second player does on the other line, until he has removed the last square.

This method will not work in Asymmetric Gnim, which is the same game as Symmetric Gnim, but with an additional column of squares (lower left square of an 8x9 grid of squares is removed). We can prove that the first player can win, but we can't prove how. The first player takes 1,9, the top right corner. Now if the second player can force a win, he now takes the square that initiates his moving sequence. Whatever this move is, we restart the game and the first player now takes this winning move as his starting move, instead of the second player, thus proving that the first player can force the win.

He didn't go into proving how to prove a first player win for Hex.

Additional Notes

They say that an academic convention is about the connections, not the sessions. I sold a copy of my game to Piet to take back to his Belgium museum, and I will also be selling another one tomorrow. I will also be teaching the game to Gadi and Piet, so they can teach others how to play tomorrow night.

I've had brief conversations with a number of the other attendees, some of whom I have admired for years, and some of whom implied that they would like to see me make it to next year's colloquium (at least, I think so), which will be in Paris. I've had requests for my email and blog info from many of them, and for further information on Eurogames.

There was a reporter from the Jerusalem Post who sat through all the lectures until we left for the Israel museum.

There was a guy named Claude exhibiting hand-crafted wooden games of his own design. I got to play all of them, and they were all pretty nice abstracts, worthy of being published by someone. He asked me not to describe the rules here until he finds a publisher.


Claude exhibiting one of his games


Some handcrafted games from Goa

Addendum

One more note about Fraenkel's lecture from yesterday: He mentioned an inverse relationship between board feel and solvability. In other words, NIM games, which are simple and possibly solvable, don't give a board game feel; you may be one or two moves away from winning or losing, and have no idea. On the other hand, complicated games like Chess and Go may be entirely unsolvable, yet they give a distinct impression that someone has a better or worse position, or that someone is winning or losing.

Session Report in which I lose Princes of Florence even after playing well

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Notre Dame, Princes of Florence.

A short report.

Final Version of My Presentation

This is the "final version" of my presentation. This is, nevertheless, not what I actually said: I extemporized quite liberally, reading no more than half of what is actually written.

The numbers in brackets correspond to the PowerPoint presentation (Warning: 20 MB!!). Unsourced pics in the PP file come from BGG. I was hoping someone would find the PP part occasionally funny, but nobody laughed. Must be a language thing.



[1] The Modern Eurogame Revolution

Board and card games used to be for adults. In the last century or two, board games in the Western world became simplistic and their audience became children. With some exceptions, today’s popular proprietary board games, such as Monopoly, Sorry, Candy Land, and UNO, require no more brain power than the average six year old can muster. [2] Popular games for adults, such as Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, etc... are the equivalent of parlor games, used only to break the ice at parties.

[3] We see an endless stream of the same games with pawns, dice, tracks, instructive cards, and trivia questions. Ask an executive at any large Western-world game publishing house about a game, and he or she will describe the game’s theme: it's about cars, it's about Star Wars, it's about menopause. [4] The mechanisms of the game (which I call “mechanics”) are not relevant to their marketing concerns.

On the other side, hobby games with serious devotees, such as war games, miniature games, and role-playing games have extraordinarily complex rules and long playing times. Classic abstract games like Chess and Go require deep thinking and a single-minded devotion to play competently. [5] Most of us can’t muster this much time or effort after graduating university. That leaves gambling and social games, such as Backgammon, Poker, Mah-jongg, and Dominoes, which are primarily based on luck.

Eurogames, otherwise known as German games, family strategy games, or designer games, are games for adults and families that bring innovative mechanics back to the forefront of game design. [6] This focus on introducing - in game after game after game - new and innovative game play is a modern revolution in board gaming. Eurogames’ roots can be traced back to certain board games from the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, but true Eurogames took their present shape in the 1980s and 1990s in Germany, quickly followed by the rest of Europe and the entire world.

In Eurogames, the mechanics are the heart of the game; the theme is icing to help market the game. I will come back to some of the mechanics used in Eurogames later on.

First, a bit more about what makes Eurogames unique.

Eurogames are not overtly, and generally not directly, focused on confrontation. [7] Instead of capturing other players' pieces, money, or territory, as in many American, war, or abstract strategy games, in Eurogames the winner is the player to reach a certain point value first, or have the highest value after a set end-game condition occurs. [8] For example, in Settlers of Catan, the first player to reach ten points wins. Yet, Eurogames are not purely race games, as they are also interactive. Players may compete to acquire resources from a limited supply, or interfere with other player's progress. [9] For example, in Carcassonne, only the player or players with the most pieces on an area scores for that area.

I mentioned "Family": Eurogames are aimed at families. Many are more complex than the typical mainstream family game, such as Candy Land or Parcheesi, but most have elegant rules and require simple, yet important decisions on each turn, in comparison to war games, [10] classic abstracts, or complicated card or role-playing games. The average Eurogame’s complexity is on par with Monopoly.

There is rarely ever player elimination, so all players are involved through to the end of the game. [11]

Playing time is oriented towards a typical family gathering: between 15 to 90 minutes for most games, with some heavier games taking 120 minutes, rarely longer. Family games means multiplayer, although many can also be played with two players, and a significant sub-genre of Eurogames includes two-player only games for couples. Unlike rigid turn-oriented games, many Eurogames have constant involvement of all players on every players’ turns, like party games, so there is little downtime between turns. [12] For example, in Settlers of Catan, part of each player's turn involves trading with other players, keeping you involved even when it is not your turn.

Unlike pure abstract games, or simulation war games, Eurogames are lightly-themed: enough theme to give context and color to the game, but not enough to complicate the rules or detract from the essential game play. [13] For example, Tigris and Euphrates is about conflicts between civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia, but the board is a simple grid, the pieces are differently colored tiles and disks, and each turn involves placing up to two pieces on the board, earning points in one of four colors, with conflicts arising whenever two disks of the same color end up in the same contiguous area.

Most Eurogame are mostly language-independent, or come with pieces and rules translated into two or more languages; [14] Eurogames are almost never word or language-based.

I mentioned "Strategy": Eurogames are rarely perfect information games, such as Go or Chess, but are never highly-luck based games, such as what Eurogamers pejoratively name "roll-and-move" American games such as Monopoly, or odds-based calculation games such as Risk. Instead, Eurogames may provide random elements at the beginning of the game or each game turn. You must then optimize strategy and tactics in reaction to these elements. [15] For example, in Power Grid, power plants appear on the market in random order; players take turns bidding for the ones they want, and then building a network of power supply stations and fuel dumps based on the plants they’ve acquired.

There are generally multiple paths to victory, so random elements force you to adapt your strategy rather than provide one player or another with better or worse positions. Unlike "roll-and-move" or "pick-a-card-and-do-what-it-says" games, players have a few simple yet important decisions to make each turn. If there are dice or cards, they provide randomized access to equal-valued resources, rather than better or worse fortunes. [16] In Bohnanza, for example, you receive a random distribution of bean cards out of which you must create sets by trading with other players, but higher valued beans are rarer and harder to use to create sets.

I mentioned "Designer": Eurogames are a modern form of entertainment for adults, like movies or music. The components and artwork are of nice quality and good stock. [17] They come with the designer's name on the box. [18] Players follow specific designers and publishers the way that movie lovers follow specific actors and directors, or oenophiles follow specific vineyards or wineries.

Now let's take a closer look at some example mechanics and themes that might show up in Eurogames.

Random terrain or resources: Many Eurogames randomize the resources available during each round or each game. Note that you usually know the available terrain and resources BEFORE you take an action, and so can use this information to plan your strategies, rather than the dice, cards, or spinners occurring AFTER or AS you take an action to determine if you have succeeded. [19] Example: Domaine.

Action cards: The optional action card that costs you a precious action to play, allows you to choose one of several possible actions (thereby forgoing all the others), or costs you one resource to gain another, is a common device in Eurogames. In well-balanced Eurogames, you do not win or lose based on your luck with which card you draw; instead, the cards you draw influence the strategy that you will best be able to employ. Many Eurogames let you select one of several cards when drawing, or make a selection of cards available to all players via an auction. [20] Example: San Juan.

Cascading points: Eurogames typically give all players a chance to win throughout the game by apportioning a small number of points in the early parts of the game and the bulk of the points in the latter part or end of the game. The early part of the game is often used for development of a point-earning engine, while early points may or may not make much of a difference in the final scores. [21] For example, in Puerto Rico, most players will only be able to ship a few barrels at the beginning of the game, earning only a few victory points, but may be able to ship many barrels on the last few turns, earning many more victory points, and thus possibly swinging the final score in the last rounds.

Game ending conditions: Eurogames have a built-in limit to the game's length. Eurogames end after a certain number of points is achieved, a certain number of rounds has occurred, or a certain number of resources are depleted. This prevents the game from dragging on, and is a necessary component when victory is not achieved only by means of destroying your opponent. [22] Example: Tikal.

Tile placement: Placing tiles is aesthetically pleasing - watching a map or area grow into a definite shape - thematic - as brave explorers discover new territory. Choosing where to place a tile provides you with a limited number of important choices on your turn. Since only one tile can be placed in a certain spot, the first player to get to a spot may gain a slight advantage. Meanwhile, your opponents place their own tiles in order to gain similar advantages. In Tikal, for instance, placing a new tile represents your exploration through the jungle; placing the tile adjacent to your own workers gives you an advantage in being the first to unearth the treasures the tile may hold.

Auctions: Auctions involve all players simultaneously, give all players a fighting chance, and easily create game balance by forcing (equally skilled) players to expend actual value for actual benefit. There are hundreds of variations on the auction mechanics. [23] For example, in Ra, each auction includes a number of tiles and an auction disk. You have a limited set of auction disks with which to bid. When you win an auction, you also win an auction disk that you will use in the next phase of the game, and you lose your current auction disk, which becomes part of the spoils for the next auction.

Trading / negotiation: Trading minimizes downtime, allowing all players to participate on all turns. Trading also helps to maintain game balance, as players are often willing to give better trade value to other players who are perceived to be losing - giving them a boost - and less trade value to other players perceived to be winning - preventing a runaway leader problem sometimes encountered in other games. Like auctions, there are many ways to implement trading mechanics. Many Eurogames also allow proscribed types of negotiation, again something that involves all players on all turns. [24] Example: Settlers.

Worker placement / role selection: In many Eurogames, the available actions each round are limited; this is another way of forcing competition for scarce resources. Players take turns claiming actions, denying others the same choice. [25] In Puerto Rico, for instance, each player in turn chooses an available role, denying it to all the other players this round. At the end of the round, the roles are returned and first choice for a role passes to the player on the left.

Set collection: Set collection is a race mechanic where players utilize resources to collect items - either the same, or specifically diverse - often from a limited supply, and is often used in place of more direct confrontation. [26] For example, in Tigris and Euphrates, your score is the number of cubes in your least collected color out of four colors. This forces you to diversify your tactics during the game.

Area control: You choose where to place your pieces, generally with limiting factors proscribing where you may place them, and after a certain number of rounds or a depletion of resources, areas are scored, giving full benefits to the player with the most pieces in each area, and partial or no benefits to players with less pieces in those areas. This mechanic forces you to choose whether to concentrate on a few better areas or a greater number of worse areas, and whether to concentrate on a few absolute wins or a greater number of secondary wins. [27] In El Grande, for example, you can try to place a greater number of cubes in a few specific locations, or a lesser number of cubes in a greater variety of locations.

[28] Modular boards that shrink one space at a time; planning routes across a map; actions and auctions whose values change over time or based on circumstance; secret and simultaneous movement selection; hidden roles; variable powers; variable phase or turn order; mission cards; personalized play decks that change each game; … The list of mechanics goes on and on from game to game.

What’s important to realize is that, although area control might be an integral part of more than one Eurogame, no two Eurogames are alike, with only a change of theme. Instead, each game includes a unique variant of a mechanic or combines several mechanics in unique ways.

Themes: Eurogames are often set in historical time periods. A Eurogamer might say: “If I see one more game about trading wares in Medieval Europe, I'll go crazy.” Typical Eurogames themes include [29] pre-historic (Primordial Soup, Stone Age), [30] ancient (Amun-Re, Tigris and Euphrates), [31] medieval (Carcassonne, Caylus), [32] renaissance (Princes of Florence, Notre Dame), [33] civilization (Entdecker, Through the Ages), [34] exploration (Lost Valley, Tikal), [35] industry (Power Grid, Industria), [36] agriculture (Agricola, Bohnanza), [37] city building (Puerto Rico, Alhambra), [38] political (Die Macher, 1960), [39] trains (Age of Steam, Ticket to Ride), [40] space (Race for the Galaxy, Mission: Red Planet), [41] fantasy (Battlelore, Lord of the Rings), and so on.

Eurogames are still a blip on the world board gaming market, although Settlers of Catan was in the top ten selling games on Amazon.com this past holiday season, and several other Eurogames were in the top 100. Nevertheless, they are already influencing games outside of their genre. Role playing games, collectible card games, American games, and war games are incorporating the mechanics and ideas of Eurogames to produce hybrid games, [42] such as Richard Borg's card-driven war game series. Previous generations of board games based on video games were of little to no interest to players or video gamers alike. Fantasy Flight Games produces hybrid Euro/war games, [43] including board game versions of World of Warcraft and Doom, that are highly praised.

Hasbro and Mattel at least have Eurogame-aware executives who are slowly introducing Eurogame-style (and video game) mechanics into their branded lines of products – [44] the latest version of Risk, for example, includes a less abstract theme, missions, action cards, and a limited game time – and more interesting mechanics into some of their newer game lines. They are also beginning to purchase smaller companies that manufacture Eurogames, in order to buy into Eurogames’ growing market.

Eurogames are making their way onto major video gaming platforms, such as online games, PC games, Xbox Live, the iPhone, and mobile phones, where they tend to be well-received. This exposes them to tens of millions of players who otherwise tend to look at board and card games (other than collectible card games) as old fashioned. Over the last several years, thousands of mainstream press articles have covered the resurgence of board games in general - and Eurogames and Eurogamers in particular, including positive write-ups this month in Wired Magazine and The New York Times.

[45] The primary source of information for Eurogames is the biggest English-language board game web site, Board Game Geek. Other countries have BGG equivalents, such as Germany’s Spielbox. BGG provides user-contributed information on over 40,000 games, user forums, reviews, session reports, variants, rule FAQs, game rankings, collection tracking, a marketplace, and much more. In 2008, BGG attracted 8.5 million unique visitors, 23 million visits, and 221 million page views. BGG has 225,000 registered users who posted 1 million articles in 2008, uploaded 100,000 images and 10,000 files (rules, variants, player aids, and so on). 80 of their top 100 ranked games are Eurogames or hybrid Euro/war games. Only 53% of these visitors were from the US; Eurogaming is an international phenomenon.

[46] One thing BGG doesn't cover well is news. Board Game News exclusively covers Eurogame news, while my own Purple Pawn covers news about Eurogames and other tabletop games. There are around a hundred and fifty active board game blogs, including my blog, Facebook groups, and a few mailing lists such as Spielfrieks. Hundred of Eurogames can be played online for free, at sites such as BrettspielWelt, SpielByWeb, and others. Eurogames are available at local hobby gaming stores, and online at Amazon.com, FunAgain Games (which also provides extensive information and user comments about the games), and dozens of specialty online stores.

[47] Industry awards exist to publicize the best games each year, including the most influential German award, the Spiel Des Jahres. One respected English-speaking award is the International Gamer Awards.

[48] Major hobby game conventions, such as GenCon and Origins, include tracks for Eurogames, while hundreds of smaller conventions are dedicated to Eurogames. Finally, thousands of game groups exist in nearly every major city around the globe, meeting weekly or bi-weekly to play Eurogames, supporting and pushing the Eurogame hobby. My own group, the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club, has been meeting on a weekly basis for over ten years. My group, like many others, has spawned other regular groups, and has turned on hundreds of new families to the modern Eurogame revolution. [49]

Day 1 of the Board Game Studies 2009 Colloquium

The conference was allegedly scheduled to start at 9:00 with reception and signing in, and the first lecture to start at 9:45. Strangely, when I arrived at around 9:30, the introduction to the conference by Gadi Kfir had already taken place and the first lecture was underway. Until lunch break, all the sessions started and ended earlier than scheduled.

The Attendees

I will tell you about the people I know, or know of:


Gadi Kfir, the organizer of the conference, is an expert on Israeli board games in the early twentieth century.


Dr Irving Finkel is curator of ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets at the British Museum, and a leading expert on ancient board games such as Senet and UR. He has also written some books.

Dr Finkel is infamous for being quoted in Time Magazine last year as saying that the last momentous innovation in board game design was acquiring properties in Monopoly. I briefly asked him about this, and he says he's taken a whole lot of flak for it. In fact, that's not what he said; he was highly misquoted. He was talking about race games of a certain type, and he wasn't implying that he was speaking about all the way up to the present day. I could probably get this more clarified, if anybody wants.


David Parlett designer Hare and Tortoise and wrote some definitive compilation books on board, word, and card games, such as The Oxford Book of Board Games.


Piet Notebaert organizes a vast library of board games in Belgium and also wrote a book that I can't read that included quotes from me.

Gilad Yarnitsky is the organizer of the Modiin game group, has influenced many in Israel regarding Eurogames, and is trying to publish his first game Space Junk.

Helena Kling, director of the Educational Center for Games in Israel, with game activities and a large game library.

And around 15 other people that I didn't know from India, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Israel, and other countries.

The Sessions

1. Gadi Kfir, Opening Talk

It started early, and I came late, so I missed it.

2. Rafael Sirkis, Morphing Sudoku from Newspapers to Children Books to Wooden Playground Toy to Hand-held Product

I missed the earlier part of this session which was on the history of sudoku and similar games. The latter part was about various sudoku products that Rafael and his students have created. (See the wooden toy in the following image)

3. Alda Carvalho (and three other Portuguese researchers), Computer-Assisted Board Games



This was on how computers are useful in that they can automate some of the work in board games that people find repetitious or boring, as well as allow certain games with hidden or changing information easier to implement. It was basic, but even so still news to some of the attendees, I think. The Portuguese group appears to be very intelligent, but some of them struggle to make themselves understood in English.

4. Haim Shafir, Playing With Children



Haim Shafir, Israeli game designer and educator, creator of Taki and Halli GalliHaim talked about how children need adults to play with them honestly and without alternative motives. Since children are less able to separate the importance of winning a game from winning in life, they need games that they have an honest chance of winning; meanwhile, parents need games that won't bore them. He tries to fill this niche.

Then we all played Halli Galli.

5. Yehuda Berlinger, The Modern Eurogame Revolution

When I first suggested the topic, I understood that the attendees weren't too versed in Eurogames. Then I was told that some of them know Eurogames quite well. When I walked around in the morning, I understood that no, really the attendees are not too versed in Eurogames, with the exceptions of people like Piet who catalogs them (but doesn't play all of them) and David who helped invent them.

Out of nervousness, I spoke really quickly. Also, unlike any of the other presenters, I occasionally looked down to speak from my notes, during which some of the people in the back told me later that I spoke too softly. Other than that, I think the presentation went ok. Mine was also a pretty basic topic: what are Eurogames, why they are a movement: the concept that a new board game = new mechanics, what the new mechanics look like, and a bit of BGG statistics.

I fielded questions afterwards, and I'm happy to say I was able to answer them all.

A few people said I was informative. Some said I spoke alright. Piet said that it was nice to hear how an outsider to Europe sees the hobby. I'm pretty sure that what I said was hard to understand by some of the people. At least one still didn't understand what made a Eurogame different from any other board game after the session; I believe he was asking from a classification perspective. Some people indicated that Eurogames don't seem to be reaching or aimed for the masses, and I compared them to the wine industry, where good products trickle down to the lower markets eventually, as they are now doing in Hasbro and Mattel.

Irving said that someone else had lectured twice about Settlers of Catan (only) at previous colloquia; I looked, but didn't see a record of this anywhere. Apparently not all talks make it into the records. The guy from Poland said that he knew about them, but they were way too expensive to buy in Poland. T&E cost 60 EUR, which was half a month salary, and Amazon and eBay don't ship to Poland.

6. Jorge Nuno Silva, Games and Moral



This was the first session that was pretty much what I thought all the sessions would be like: a deep look at a medieval game using notes from manuscripts and a reconstruction of what the game would be like (a game about virtues and vices with a triple headed spinner).

7. Piotr Adamczyk, Board Games in Museum and Education



Piotr is probably the lone academic in Poland devoted to board game studies. He only recently started trying to organize a collection and interview elderly about their childhood games. He works in a museum, dressed as a Viking, and organizing classic and ancient game activities for kids and their parents in the museum and at other events around Poland.

He is doing some groundbreaking work, all alone right now. Impressive.

8. Prof Aviezeri Fraenkel, NIM Games to Chess



Prof Aviezeri Fraenkel is a world expert on game combinatorics such as NIM games. He demonstrated simple NIM games, how they are solved using binary numbers, and progressively worked his way up to complicated capture games. I understood it, but I think it went over a lot of people's heads.

We then played a capture game on a board similar to Checkers, but with cyclical and acyclical moving patterns.

Three more days to go, although I won't be able to attend the last 1.5 days.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Introduction to Eurogames - Presentation for Board Game Studies Colloquium 2009

Here is my first draft for a speech I will be giving on Wed at the Board Game Studies Colloquium 2009 in Jerusalem. The audience members are top board game scholars from around the world and some top movers in gaming in Israel. My speech is not exactly academic, but aims at some level of expertise, at least.

One thing that worries me is that it's a pretty boring speech. Any comments and suggestions are welcome!

After finalizing the speech, I will work on a PowerPoint presentation to go along with it.


--

The Eurogame Revolution

In the last century there have been some, but not many, innovative mechanics in game design. 1959’s Diplomacy introduced a game with secret and simultaneous unit deployment and tactics employed both on and off the actual board. 1972’s Dungeons and Dragons introduced a table game with no set board, rules, or end game. 1993’s Magic the Gathering introduced a game where each player brings a unique custom designed deck to the table at each playing.

Eurogames, otherwise known as German board games, family strategy games, or designer games, are games that bring innovative mechanics to the forefront of game design. Their roots can be traced back to certain board games from the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, but true Eurogames took their present shape in the 1980s and 1990s in Germany, quickly followed by the rest of Europe and the entire world.

What are Eurogames?

Ask an American game publisher about a game, and he will tell you its theme: it's about cars, it's about Star Wars, it's about pregnancy. The mechanics are not relevant to their marketing concerns. Ask a Eurogame publisher about a game, and he will tell you its mechanics: it's an area control game, it's a set collection game, it's an auction game. The theme is icing to help market the game.

The heart of every Eurogame is innovative uses of familiar, or totally new, game mechanics: modular boards; boards that shrink one space at a time; cards that serve multiple functions, forcing you to accept both positive and negative effects when chosen, or forcing you to choose only one of several possible benefits (and lose access the others); choosing your opponent’s available actions; secret and simultaneous movement selection; hidden roles; variable powers; variable phase or turn order; mission cards; personalized play decks that change each game; … The list goes on and on.

Eurogames are not overtly, and generally not directly, confrontational. Instead of capturing other players' pieces, money, or territory, as you see in many American or abstract strategy games, in Eurogames the winner is the player to reach a certain point value first, or have the highest value after a set end-game condition occurs. For example, in Settlers of Catan, the first player to reach ten points wins. Eurogames are not purely race games, as they are also interactive. Players may compete to acquire resources from a limited supply, or interfere with other player's progress. For example, in Carcassonne, only the player or players with the most pieces on an area scores for that area.

I mentioned "Family": Eurogames are aimed at families. They have relatively simple rules and require simple decisions on each turn, in comparison to simulation war games, deep abstracts, or complicated card games. There is no player elimination, so all players are involved through to the end of the game. Unlike traditional race games, in most Eurogames you convert your resource acquisition to victory points. In this way, the resource leader often makes a trade off against progress in point conversion; this helps to maintain game balance and give all players a chance to win through to the end of the game. For example, in Power Grid, the player with the best power plants and city connections is last in line to buy fuel to power their plants.

Playing time is short and oriented towards a typical family gathering: between 15 to 90 minutes for most games, with some heavier games taking 120 minutes, rarely longer. Family games means multiplayer, although a significant sub-genre of Eurogames includes two-player games for couples. Unlike rigid turn-oriented games, many Eurogames have constant involvement of all players on every players’ turns, like party games, so there is little downtime between turns. For example, in Settlers of Catan, part of each player's turn involves trading with the other players, keeping all players involved, even when it is not their turn.

Unlike pure abstract games, or simulation war games, Eurogames are lightly-themed: enough theme to give context and color to the game, but not enough to complicate the rules or detract from the essential game play. For example, Tigris and Euphrates is about conflicts between civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia, but the board is a simple grid, the pieces are differently colored tiles and disks, and each turn involves placing up to two pieces on the board, earning points in one of four colors, with conflicts arising whenever two disks of the same color end up in the same contiguous area. In order to reach all families, most Eurogame are mostly language-independent, or come with pieces and rules translated into two or more languages; Eurogames are almost never word or language-based.

I mentioned "Strategy": Eurogames are almost never perfect information games, such as Go or Chess, but are never highly-luck based games, such as what Eurogamers pejoratively name "roll-and-move" American games such as Monopoly, or odds-based calculation games such as Risk. Instead, Eurogames may provide random elements at the beginning of the game, or each game turn. The players must then optimize strategy and tactics in reaction to these elements. For example, in Settlers of Catan, the board consists of 37 hexes which are arranged randomly at the beginning of the game; after viewing the initial setup, players plan their strategy for the game.

There are generally various paths to victory, so the random elements force you to adopt your strategy, rather than provide one player or another with better or worse positions. Unlike "roll-and-move" or "pick-a-card-and-do-what-it-says" games, players have a few simple yet important decisions to make on every turn. If there are dice or cards, they provide randomized access to equal-valued resources, rather than better or worse fortunes. In Bohnanza, for example, players receive a random distribution of bean cards out of which they must create sets by trading with other players, but higher valued beans are rarer and hard to use to create sets.

I mentioned "Designer": Eurogames are a modern form of entertainment for adults, like movies or music. The components and artwork are of nice quality and good stock. They come with the designer's name on the box. Players follow specific designers and publishers the way that movie lovers follow specific actors and directors, or oenophiles follow specific vineyards or wineries. Well-known Eurogame designers include Dr Reiner Knizia, Wolfgang Kramer, Klaus Teuber, Alan Moon, Uwe Rosenberg, Andreas Seyfarth, Klaus Jungen Wrede, Martin Wallace, Friedmann Friess, , and many others.

Let's take a closer look at some common mechanics and themes that make up Eurogames.

Mechanics

Auctions: Auctions involve all players simultaneously, give all players a chance, and easily create game balance by forcing (equally skilled) players to expend actual value for actual benefit. There are hundreds of variations on the auction mechanics. For example, in Ra, each auction includes a number of tiles and an auction disk. You have a limited set of auction disks with which to bid. When you win an auction, you also win an auction disk that can you will use in the next phase of the game, and you lose your current auction disk, which becomes part of the spoils for the next auction.

Trading / negotiation: Trading also minimizes downtime, allowing all players to participate on all turns. Trading helps to maintain game balance, as players are often willing to give better trade value to other players who are perceived to be losing - giving them a boost - and less trade value to other players perceived to be winning - preventing a runaway leader problem sometimes encountered in other types of games. Many Eurogames also allow or encourage proscribed types of negotiation, again something that involves all players on all turns.

Tile placement: Placing tiles is aesthetically pleasing - watching a map or area grow into a definite shape - thematic - as brave explorers discover new territory - and Eurogamey – choosing where to place a tile provides a limited number of important choices on your turn, and since only one tile can be placed in a certain spot, the first to get it to a spot gains a slight advantage out of it. Meanwhile, the other players place their own tiles and in order to gain their own advantages. In Carcassonne, for instance, placing a tile extends and creates new board areas, and allows you to place one of your limited supply of pieces onto that tile, helping you to assert control of an area.

Worker placement / role selection: In many Eurogames, the available actions each round are limited; this is another way of forcing competition for scarce resources. Players take turns claiming actions, denying others the same choice. In Puerto Rico, for instance, each player in turn chooses an available role, and all players perform the action designated by the role, while the player who selects the role gains a specific benefit. The Governor chooses a role first, and then each player after him chooses a role that hasn't already been chosen. After every player has chosen a role, the roles are returned, and the Governor moves to the player on the left.

Set collection: Set collection is a race mechanic where players utilize resources to collect items - either the same, or specifically diverse - often from a limited supply. For example, in Tigris and Euphrates, your score is the number of cubes in your least collected color out of four colors. This forces you to diversify your tactics during the game.

Area control: Players choose where to place their pieces, generally with limiting factors proscribing where they may place them, and after a certain number of rounds or a depletion of resources, areas are scored, giving full benefits to the player with the most pieces in an area, and partial or no benefits to players with less pieces in that area. This mechanic gives forces you to choose whether to concentrate on a few better areas or a greater number or worse areas, and whether to concentrate on a few full wins or a greater number of lesser wins. In El Grande, for example, players can try to place a greater number of cubes in a few specific locations, or a lesser number of cubes in a greater variety of locations.

Route planning: Found in numerous games with train themes, route planning involves optimizing how to get resources or pieces from here to there. Generally, only one person can build a connection point on a certain part of the board. Other players are blocked or must pay to deliver through that location. Players earn money or points for efficiently building the right kinds of routes. For example, in Ticket to Ride, each route can be claimed by only one player, and you gain points for the length of your routes and whether you fulfill certain mission cards that you pick at the start of, and during, the game.

Random terrain or resources: Many Eurogames randomize the available resources available during each round or each game. Note that the players usually know and can use this information to plan their strategies, rather than dice being used AFTER planning to determine if you have succeeded.

Action cards: The optional action card that costs you a precious action to play, allows you to choose one of several possible actions (thereby forgoing all the others), or costs you one resource to gain another, is a common device in Eurogames. In well-balanced Eurogames, players do not win or lose based on the luck of which card they draw; instead, the cards you draw influences the type of strategy that you will best employ. Many Eurogames let you select one of several cards when drawing, or make cards available to all players in an auction.

Cascading points: Many Eurogames keep all players involved throughout the game by apportioning a small number of points in the early parts of the game and the bulk of the points in the latter part or end of the game. Depending on how the game is balanced, the early part of the game is often used for development of a point-earning engine, while early points may or may not make much of a difference in the final scores.

Game ending conditions: A key factor of Eurogames is a built-in limit to the game's length. Eurogames always end after a certain number of points is achieved, a certain number of rounds has occurred, or a certain number of resources are depleted. This prevents a game from dragging on, and is a necessary component when victory is not achieve only by beating the other players down.

Themes

Something a Eurogamer night say: if I see one more game about trading wares in Medieval Europe, I'll go nuts. Typical themes of Eurogames include Pre-historic (Primordial Soup, Stone Age), ancient (Amun-Re, Tigris and Euphrates), medieval (Carcassonne, Caylus), renaissance (Princes of Florence, Notre Dame), civilization (Settlers of Catan, Through the Ages), exploration (Lost Valley, Tikal), industry (Power Grid, Industria), agriculture (Agricola, Bohnanza), city building (Puerto Rico, Alhambra), political (Die Macher, El Grande), trains (Age of Steam, Ticket to Ride), space (Race for the Galaxy, Mission: Red Planet), fantasy (Battlelore, Lord of the Rings), and so on.

Influence

Eurogaming popularity is still a blip on the world board gaming market as a whole, but is already influencing games outside of its genre. Role playing games, collectible card games, American games, and war games are incorporating the mechanics and ideas of Eurogames in order to produce hybrid games, such as Richard Borg's card-driven war game series. Fantasy Flight Game produces licensed games based on video games, but unlike previous generations of board games based on video games, which are of no little interest to players or video gamers alike, FFG games, such as board game versions of World of Warcraft and Doom, are highly praised.

Hasbro and Mattel, at least, have Eurogame-aware executives who are slowly introducing Eurogame-style mechanics into their branded lines of products – the latest version of Risk, for example, includes a less abstract theme, missions, action cards, and a limited game time – and more interesting mechanics into some of their newer game lines. They also have begun to purchase smaller newer companies that manufacture Eurogames.

Eurogames are making their way onto major video gaming platforms, such as online games, PC games, Xbox Live, and mobile phones, where they tend to be well-received. This exposes the games to tens of millions of players who otherwise tend to look at board and card games (other than collectible card games) as old fashioned. Over the last several years, thousands of mainstream press articles have covered the resurgence of board games in general - and Eurogames and Eurogamers in particular, including nice write-ups this month in Wired Magazine and The New York Times.

Resources

The primary source of information for Eurogames is the biggest board game web site, Board Game Geek (http://boardgamegeek.com). BGG, as it is called, contains user-contributed information on over 40,000 games, user forums, reviews, session reports, variants, rule FAQs, Geeklists, game rankings, collection tracking, a marketplace, and much more. 80 of their top 100 games are Eurogames or hybrid Euro/war games. In 2008, BGG attracted 8.5 million unique visitors, 23 million visits, and 221 million page views. It has 225 thousand registered users who posted 1 million articles in 2008, uploaded 100 thousand images and 10 thousand files (rules, variants, player aids, and so on). Only 53% of these visitors were from the US; Eurogaming is an international phenomenon. There are German equivalents to BGG, such as Spielbox.

One thing BGG doesn't cover well is news. Board Game News (http://boardgamenews.com) exclusively covers Eurogame news, while my own Purple Pawn (http://purplepawn.com) covers news about Eurogames and other tabletop games. There are around a hundred and fifty active board game blogs, including mine (http://jergames.blogspot.com), Facebook groups, and a few mailing lists such as Spielfrieks. Hundred of Eurogames can be played online for free, at sites such as BrettspielWelt (http://www.brettspielwelt.de/), SpielByWeb (http://www.spielbyweb.com/), and others. Eurogames are available at local hobby gaming stores, and online at Amazon, FunAgain Games (which also provides extensive information and user comments about the games), and dozens of specialty online stores.

Major hobby game conventions, such as GenCon and Origins, include tracks for Eurogames. Hundreds of local smaller conventions, such as the Gathering of Friends or the UK Games Expo, are devoted to Eurogames. BGG.con, hosted and organized by BGG, gets over 700 attendees each year for open and casual game play. The World Board Gaming Championships (http://www.boardgamers.org/) gets hundreds for more intense competitive play. EssenSpiel and the Nuremberg Toy Fair, both in Germany, get hundreds of thousands of attendees, and exhibit the newest games from all major Eurogame publishers, in addition to mainstream toy and game publishers.

Industry awards exist to publicize the best of each year's games, including the most influential German award, the Spiel Des Jahres. One respected English-speaking award is the International Gamer Awards.

Finally, thousands of game groups exist in every major city around the globe, meeting weekly or bi-weekly to play Eurogames, and supporting and pushing the Eurogame hobby. Among them is my own group the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club which has been meeting weekly for over ten years.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Passover Tiyul

Sunday Rachel, Tal, and I went on a tiyul with a few friends, and friends of friends. We went to Adulam, south of Beit Shemesh. It was a nice, short walk, and we luckily got there before the crowds. By the time we finished, at around 11:30, the place was jam packed and it was all we could do to squeak our car out of the parking lot and down the crowded dirt road leading up to it.


Rachel at the start of the hike. On the left is park information, in English, Arabic, and Hebrew.



Me. You can't see my red lock of hair. I got one lock of hair colored red for my 40th birthday (in honor of my midlife crisis).


Rachel on the hike.


Dry grasses already in April. The peak time for flowers is in late February and March, but there were still many flowers beneathe and around the grasses.


As well as thistles.


Just another thistle, but I could swear I've seen this energy bolt in some anime show.


Oh yes. We also brought our dog, Ginn. There's Tal getting along with her, for a change.


No pictures of the crawl through cave (it was darn cold and swarming with bees), but here's a large cave thingie pocketed with triangular shelves for doves? I think.


A closer look at the shelves.


I'm not very masculine, but I can still light a coal fire with a single match and no lighter fluid, something about which I take great manly pride.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Games Day Session Report

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. It was Games Day. Games played: Amun-Re, Cosmic Encounter x 2, Dominion x 3, Fairy Tale, Imperial x 1/2, Pivot (prototype) x 5, Power Grid x 2, Puerto Rico, R-Eco x 2, Race for the Galaxy x 2, San Juan, Santiago, Stone Age, Taluva x 2, Tigris and Euphrates, Year of the Dragon.

19 participants, 13 hours.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Shabbat Gaming

Went to Beit Shemesh for shabbat. I played a little Bridge (each played two hands) and Scrabble with my mom. Last time I played Scrabble with her she beat me. This time she wasn't on her game at all, and I won by a large margin, even with me helping her find better places to play on the board on some of her turns.

My son, on the other hand, played a number of games with his friends: Killer Bunnies, Ingenious, Ticket to Ride, and maybe others. I don't know these friends, and they didn't get their gaming love from me, or from my colleague who runs the Beit Shemesh game group. I think a number of them are recent immigrants (the last five years or less) who brought the games with them from the U.S.

Tomorrow is Games Day in Beit Shemesh, which I will be missing as I am going on a hike and then have dinner plans with some (gaming) friends. Monday is Games Day in Jerusalem.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Scrabble Session

RachelJon
24 BUNTED (8,3)14 NTH (D8,5) [no vowels]
50 eXAM (7,2), AB, MU28 RECENT (D4, 2)
69 PIVOT (7,8), PE, ID60 ABJURED (D7,4)
117 CLOZES (D2,13), PIVOTS86 OASIS (D1,8), ON, AT [Yeah, but I was desperate]
132 GREW (4,1)114 DAZE (5,11) [Again, desperate]
167 SAGE (D5,15), DAZES138 YANG (D1,1)
192 BOINg (3,3), BE, OW176 VOICER (2,10)
213 LOOK (D12,3), LE, OD212 WAKE (15,1)
232 HINNY (10,6)238 FE (1,14), FE, ER
251 OILRIG (11,9), YO268 GIRTH (D15,11)
299 EQUAL (6,5), EMU, APE, LID [And that does it]285 TAP (D11,2), IT, SALE, POD
317 FAD (12,8), YOD306 FAIR (D12,8)
331 AM (13,8), AM305 (-1)
332 (+1) 

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Slavery in Israel

The good news is that the percentage of people around the world in slavery, if not the actual number of people, is much lower than it once was. Every country in the world has laws against slavery, even when it is not well enforced. And modern morality has pretty much reached the point when most forms of slavery are generally condemned - obviously not by the slavers.

The bad news is that millions of people are still enslaved today. There are a number of different issues when is comes to slavery: bonded labor, forced marriage, child exploitation, human trafficking, force and violence. Israel, unfortunately, has all of these, as do many other civilized countries around the world.

Bonded Labor

Work to pay off a debt is not inherently a bad thing, if you're paid fairly and promptly for your labor. This is not the case for tens or hundreds of millions of people around the world today. In Israel, some optimists in third-world countries pay $8-$10 thousand dollars to get a VISA to Israel, only to find that the promised job doesn't exist, is paid less than minimum wage, requires over 12 hours of work a day, includes work far outside the scope advertised, or includes no benefits.

Crooked employers may threaten to go to the police, withhold the person's passport, withhold wages, and so on. Women, in particular, may be subject to violence and threats.

The organization Kav LaOved is the address to turn to for worker's rights in Israel. There are many labor laws and unions in Israel, and the court system is ready to help. The police should be helping, but it doesn't seem like they do much.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is a problem in some Haredi and Arab communities. Young girls are married off, often without consent, their family roles now imposed on them by harsh social stigmas, threats of violence, or even deadly violence in some cases.

"It's a cultural thing" is the usual defense. Luckily, when noted, the courts in this country don't agree with that. I don't have statistics, and I'm hopeful that relatively few women are in crisis situations like this. One hears occasionally about a woman in crisis or an honor killing in the Druze or Arab population.

For information about women's resources around Israel - crisis centers, shelters, and so on - including specific ones for religious women and Arabs, click here.

Child Exploitation

Israel has some child labor and exploitation issues. Some children ages 15+ work in excess of what is permitted by law, especially in rural occupations. This includes both Jews and Arabs. At least, this is generally due to poverty - "forced labor" due to economic circumstances - not to any organized system of enslaving children.

Radical Jewish elements sometimes indoctrinate children as young as ten to demonstrate for political or religious causes. On the plus side, our army doesn't allow children under 18 years old to serve, although there have been exceptions.

Many Palestinians of all ages are indoctrinated into violence and martyrdom. Since 2000, around 100 suicide bomber or shooting attacks were carried out or attempted by Palestinian children between the ages of 14 and 17.

Human Trafficking

Israel had a problem with human trafficking, although it is making steps in the right direction. Most people trafficked into Israel are brought across the Egyptian border.

The largest facet of the problem is women from Eastern Soviet block countries brought in to serve in the sex industry in the Tel Aviv area. Once, estimates reported as many as five or ten thousand women affected; that number has dropped to around three thousand. A 2007 Knesset report estimated a drop to less than one thousand women trafficked into the country each year.

Women are often physically restrained, earning almost nothing - or nothing - from the ten to fifteen clients they are forced to serve each day. Escape is difficult: the pimps hold their passports, tell them horror stories of what the police will do to them, beat them, threaten their families or children, etc...

Addresses to turn to for more on this problem include Task Force on Human Trafficking, an Israeli organization, and The Israeli Women's Network.

In addition to the sex trade, trafficking is also done for labor purposes, leading to bonded labor.

Shelters exist specifically for victims of human trafficking. Legal penalties for perpetrators have been raised to decent levels, when they are enforced. President Peres recently spoke out against the phenomenon.


This year, as you raise cups to freedom, remember that all is not well around the world, and even in your own backyard.

Global resources: Anti-Slavery, Free the Slaves, Wikipedia,

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Passover Cleaning Nearly Done

I got swamped with work at the same time that Rachel decided to finish her book at the same time that Passover cleaning arrived. Amazingly, I got up some posts at Purple Pawn.

Do a tag search on this blog for passover and you'll find a number of good games and thoughts for Passover. What else to add?

If you can read this, you've got an Internet access (probably unfiltered), eyesight, manual dexterity, literacy in English, decent cognitive function, and enough free time to take a break. Congratulations: you're healthier, freer, more highly skilled, and probably wealthier than at least half the planet.

See what you can do for the other half.

Happy Passover.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Blokus Kicks Ass

Only managed to get Blokus on the table on my birthday, but it reminded me how good a game it really is.

We played Blokus Trigon with four players; Blokus Classic is slightly better for four-player play. But classic Blokus is nearly unplayable with three, so I only kept Trigon in my collection. For two players, you can use any version, including Travel Blokus, the official two-player, portable version.

The other three players, including my wife, were new to the game. It takes seconds to teach, ten or twenty minutes to play, yet it's deep, fun, and endlessly replayable. Add to that the fact that's it's a gorgeous game, and doesn't cost very much. It deserves all the awards it's gotten over the last ten years.

In our first game, the two less gamer-like players both came in last. Rachel scored pretty well, and I went out entirely. They insisted on a second game, and wow, was it different. What felt like a cake-walk in the first game was now vicious and aggressive. I was cut off at every turn, as was everyone else. This time, I ended in last place and Rachel was second-to-last.

Definitely want to play it more.

Brief mention: last Friday night we played a game of PitchCar at Nadine's. I was doing pretty well until the last turn or so, and then I stalled out. Seems to be my lot in PitchCar.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Session Report, in which I beat David with blue fliers

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: R-Eco x 3, Agricola, Power Grid, Trias, Magic: the Gathering.

Another new player this week, and a return of a new player from last week. I get to play Trias again, and I actually beat David in a game of Magic.

No game night for the next two weeks owing to Passover, but there will be Games Day during Passover.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Up Close With Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary) in Concert

Tuesday night I went with my mother, daughter Tal, and her friend Josh to hear Peter Yarrow play and talk at a private concert at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv.



Who is Peter Yarrow?

Peter Yarrow is best known as the Peter in Peter, Paul, and Mary aka PPM. If you don't know their names, I pity you, but even so you probably know the music that they made famous: Puff the Magic Dragon (co-written by Peter), Blowing in the Wind, Leaving on a Jet Plane, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, If I Had a Hammer, and so many more. Anyone who's ever been to camp must have sung their songs, even now that it's 50 years on from the time Peter stood up to sing.

Why Was He in Israel?

Peter was in Israel to promote a project he has been working on for ten years now called Operation Respect, an organization aimed at wiping out childhood bullying and fostering dialog and communication among children. Hundreds of thousands of children are afraid to go to schools for this reason, and suicide is the first or second highest cause of death in teenagers in the U.S., depending on where you look. And let's not forget the numerous massacres in schools in recent years.

Peter is hoping that a pilot project will begin in 4 to 6 Israeli schools in the near future, and that it will spread. He's not looking to impose solutions onto our national woes, just to provide one more possible tool.

So I expected a bit of a lecture along with the concert, and wouldn't even have been surprised to see slide show or video presentation (but we didn't get one).

Peter was supposed to be here with his daughter Bethany, a talented folk and blues performer in her own right, but she (or her son) suddenly developed a bad cold. He also told us that Mary Travers was in a wheelchair, still recovering from both a certain kind of leukemia and the chemotherapy needed to cure it. She's still singing, though.

The Concert

Peter looked pretty good. He's showing his years in his face, and his voice now wobbles a bit, but he's still charismatic, strong, determined, touching, and a joy to listen to. In an hour and a half, he performed 8 full-length songs and one verse from a ninth. He spoke passionately about his concerns for children, peace, and so on; a bit too long, actually. But there is nothing compared to hearing the original songs from the original singers.

I wondered how he was going to sing harmony without his co-singers, but, since everyone in the audience knew all the songs, he was able to sing harmony with the audience.

The Set



1. Puff the Magic Dragon

Peter cannot play a concert without playing this song, a lesson he learned at least thirty or forty years ago. In fact, he's now moved it up to the beginning of his concerts, so that if there are any wee ones in the audience, they won't miss it by the time they've fallen asleep.

Tal was already quite moved by the end of this first song.



2. Don't Laugh at Me

This is the song that inspired his new project. It's a country song about childhood bullying, and about the humanity in all of us. To tell you the truth, it's a great song, but not THAT great a song, or maybe Peter didn't quite capture it perfectly; I believe he forgot a verse. But the message is undeniable.

3. Leaving on a Jet Plane

He told an anecdote here about singing this at the Republican National Convention, or some similar Republican meeting. Given his colorful Democratic history, he was facing a crowd of crossed-arms and suspicious glances. So he gave extra oomph to the lines "There's so many times I've let you down / So many times I've played around / I tell you now, it don't mean a thing ..."

He won them over by the end of it.

4. Some Walls

Peter is a life-long Israel supporter, but it's not surprising to hear he's not happy about the security wall, in the difficulty it poses to Palestinians meeting Israelis and each other. I can agree to disagree with him on this one, and it didn't stop me from loving this song. This was Tal's favorite.

After "Some Walls", Peter invited up Shlomi Goldenberg, who played with him on all the remaining songs (using either alto or soprano saxophones).



5. 500 Miles

Played a little too slowly, with the sax a little too loud (but great sax).

6. Blowing in the Wind

Lovely. Peter cannot help but be sincere and passionate when he sings.

After the song, Tal's friend Josh had clapped so enthusiastically, that Peter singled him out by asking his age (15) and asking him to stand up as a representative of the absence of cynicism in today's youth, to audience applause.

7. Gospel and Folk Medley

A medley of: Trouble in Mind, This Little Light of Mine, Down By the Waterside, I Woke Up This Morning, This Land is Your Land, and This Little Light of Mine (reprise).

Encore

Peter related driving with an Arab taxi driver to an Israeli checkpoint and being met by a young Israeli soldier woman who looked a lot like his daughter. The woman made them open the taxi's trunk and then clutched her gun and tensed up when she saw a closed guitar case. She made them open it.

When Peter opened it, he took it out and played "Erev Shel Shoshanim" for her - while relating the story to us, he played the first verse and chorus for us, too.

He continued with the anecdote: The soldier said to him, "You play nice. Have you ever sung on stage?" Then she got a picture with him. Peter was struck by how quickly people can move from tensed for war to "Can I have a picture with you?"

8. If I Had a Hammer

It may be corny to sing this song with your friends at home, but there's nothing corny about singing it out loud with the guy who sang it 45 years ago at the March on Washington, before Martin Luther King, Jr gave his famous I Have a Dream speech.

Touching Peter

After the concert, we hung out a little until Peter came out, and I introduced him to my mom (who heard him live 50 years ago, before he was with Paul and Mary), Tal, and Josh. Peter was very warm and talked with us with his hand on my shoulder. He called Tal a sweetie-poop (I think it was a compliment).

And yes, I asked: No, Peter does not play any board or card games, claiming to be far too busy.