Thursday, May 28, 2009

Session Report, in which I review Path and play Chapel in Dominon

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Path, La Citta, Dominion x 2.

I review Path, a decent Israeli two-player route-planning abstract. I try out the Chapel building in Dominion for the first time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Star Trek XI: Review

Star Trek (sans any numerology) is the eleventh Star Trek movie, and like the reboots done for Batman and Superman, a thoroughly modern reworking of the concept.

For my reviews of past Star Trek movies, see: 1-3, 4-6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Plot: A starfleet ship comes upon lightning storm in space and is surprised by Big Powerful Ship with shrapnel torpedoes. The captain of the BPS forces a surrender and kills the captain and much of the ship, while learning, to his surprise, that the stardate (year) is not what he thought. The first officer goes down with the ship in order to save the life of his wife and new son (and other escaping personnel). The new child's name if Jim Tiberius Kirk.

25 years later, the BPS jaunts through the galaxy causing problems, destroys a planet, and makes its way to Earth to destroy it, too - and the captain has a personal vengeance against a Vulcan named Spock, who didn't manage to save his planet, in the future. Captain Pike of the new starfleet ship Enterprise goes to stop him (along with other ships apparently populated entirely with crew wearing red shirts). Pike is abducted, and young first officer - half-Human/half-Vulcan - Spock takes command.

Spock is struggling with his identity - is he Human or Vulcan? - in the face of a personal tragedy, and he isn't entirely up to the job, so it's up to cadet Kirk to save the day - except Kirk's not really supposed to be on the ship, since he's on trial for behavior unbecoming of a cadet.

Along the way, a whole host of other characters are shown to work on the ship or find their way aboard.

Reactions: I really enjoyed the movie. As I mentioned above, it has a strong kinship with the new Batman movies, Ironman, and so on, regarding pacing, intensity, confused and dark POV. It also borrows from other movies: a whole lot of Star Wars - shots, action sequences. Also many similarities to Star Trek 2 - personal vengeance, a doomsday weapon (with a similar concluding sequence), dropping bugs into people's heads to learn their secrets, references to Kirk's cadet testing, and someone yelling the name of his enemy ("Khaaaan!", "Spockkkkk!").

The acting was universally excellent. It was funny in all the right places, with a phrase or a look, never desperate for a laugh (cough Star Trek V). The plot was decent enough, as far as time travel in Star Trek ever can be. I haven't seen much of the Star Trek canon, but this is the first time I remember them introducing an alternate history based on the actions of someone coming from the future: usually (c.f. Star Trek 8) actions in the past affect the extant space-time continuum. In this movie, a disruption in the past is simply understood to create a new space-time continuum.

And that was deliberate on the part of the director, who wanted to take the canon in a new direction without entirely pissing off existing Star trek fans. Because a whole lot in this movie, and apparently future movies, are going to have little to do with the existing canon.

The most obvious difference is the bridge on the Enterprise, which looks a lot more 2009 than 1969. That's fine with me.

This movie, like many "prequels" to famous franchises, spends a lot of its time introducing familiar characters to explain how they met. It felt rather rushed here. There are a lot of characters, and they all have to meet (meet Kirk and meet the Enterprise), so the scenes in which they meet come together blam, blam. Thankfully, this is not a huge deal: think of the character introductions in a movie like Oceans 11. It's too fast, but only the main characters really count, anyway. We'll find out more about the other characters in later movies, we hope. With what little time each character had, he or she did a good job of introducing themselves. And the time spent on this didn't detract from the story.

There are a few rather questionable aspects to the story, such as having a mutinee cadet hijack his way back onto the ship, get into a fist fight with the current captain (with no interference from the watching security guards) and then assume command when the captain recluses himself.

The characters:

Kirk is a speed devil and a total loose cannon. It's a wonder he made it a week in academy; discipline in the entire academy and on ships appears to be total chaos. He's not really entirely likable. But not too unlikable, either. I wasn't thrilled with his overdone casualness in the academy test scene. Otherwise, no complaints.

Kirk runs into Uhura early on, and she's feisty, but not really. She inexplicably kisses Spock a couple of times, and she doesn't seem to add much more to the movie than that. And, aside for a brief shot of Spock's mother, there are no other female characters in the movie. This is par for the course for Star Trek, but I was hoping for more; in fact, the IMBD entry indicates that the director and producers were careful to add strong female characters, but I must have missed them.

Kirk runs into McCoy on his first day of training (funny, I thought he was supposed to be older). McCoy is strongly played up as the character we know and love, but a few of his lines were a little forced, particularly his "Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a ..." line.

Sulu is now Korean, rather than Japanese, but apparently that's no problem. Chekov revisits the Russian-inflected English which got him into trouble in Star Trek 4, and seems to have potential. Both of these guys need much more to do in a future movie. Scotty is introduced midway in the show; amusingly. But once on the ship, fades into the same kind of repartee he is known for, without much more.

The bad guy was a bad guy.

Spock is played excellently, and in fact is more the main character than Kirk in the movie. If I have any complaints, it is that the script didn't give him quite enough time to detail his internal struggle. More on him and a little less on the exploding shrapnel might have been nice.

Star Trek was, once upon a time, full of philosophical inquiry and moral dilemma. Not much of that made it into this film; it was more Kirk's spit and vinegar, and Spock's struggle with his emotions. Beyond that, the movie didn't really mean very much. But it won't make you bored, and it will probably leave you happy.

Ranking: 4, 11, 9, 8, 2, 3, 10, 7, 6, (5 and 1 which are both the same and horrid).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Assorted Game Tidbits

Puerto Rico: Rachel and I played a tense shabbat afternoon game. We were pretty close but Rachel slipped up a role choice mid-game which gave me an extra shipment and trade. That was enough for me to win 68 to 61.

Scrabble: Played with Tal during the week; I don't play with her often. We played without counting points. As a result, the game board was pretty open.

I've also been playing some games of Lexulous on Facebook with a friend from college. She was the one who claimed that Arts majors get a more well-rounded education than Engineers, even though, as I pointed out, Engineers take both Arts and Engineering courses, while Arts majors take only Arts courses. We've played three games, so far, and she has yet to beat me; my last game ended with my making two bingoes on the fourth-to-last and third-to-last plays. Here's hoping she'll kick my butt in the next game; I don't want her to get too discouraged.

Moot: I find this to be a great activity for intellectuals who would otherwise not touch any other game, even another party or Trivia game. This one hits the right spot for them. Any other highly intellectual trivia games out there? Any literary or biblical criticism games?

Richard Gottlieb reproduced my Eurogames article on his Playthings blog (with permission).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Session Report, in which I am made a fool of in Pillars of the Earth as just rewards for dissing Stone Age

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion x 2, Pillar of the Earth.

Last week I complained about the luck in Stone Age compared to Pillars of the Earth, and I am made a fool of with incredibly bad luck in PotE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How to Get a Professional Corporate Blogging Job

I gave this as a presentation to the Jerusalem Technical Writers meetup group.

The Secrets of Corporate Blogging

I would like to begin with defining what corporate blogging is. There are actually four types of blogs that can be considered corporate blogs; I will list these definitions later. For now, suffice to say that I am most interested in corporate blogging as “professional blogging on behalf of a company”.

So first I have to explain: what is professional blogging? And to do that, I first have to explain: what is blogging?

What is Blogging?

A casual definition of blogging is writing articles and then posting them online so that they can be accessed chronologically. Blogging can be writing personal anecdotes about your cat or life - online. Or posting periodic professional articles - online. Or informal posts about a topic that raise questions. Or links to funny videos or new articles. All of these are blogging. They require a free online platform and some time to create the posts and hit publish.

This doesn’t actually scratch the surface with regards to professional blogging. It considers only content, platform (online), and some sort of chronology. That’s fine for “blogging” that is like twittering or updating your status on Facebook.

What is Professional Blogging?

Here are some of the key missing elements from this, that must be present in professional blogging:
  • Frequent: A professional blog is “frequently” updated. That frequency depends on the topic and the length of posts. It could be several times a day or once a week. It must be enough that people who are interested in whatever you're writing about consider you "currently" active.

  • Periodic: The frequency of a professional blog must be steady and known. It is unprofessional to write a bunch of posts one week and none on the next week. This confuses the reader, who no longer knows what to expect or when to expect it. Regular posting encourages regular readership. Regular posting boosts your rank on search engines.

  • Sustained: A professional blog may make instant waves, in very rare cases, but most simply don't exist until they have been around for a year or more. It's a detriment to your professionalism - or a company - if you start a blog and then abandon it. A couple of posts is simply not a body of work, nor enough to capture a following or a search engine.

  • Informative: Any professional blog must be relevant and informative to a target readership. It must be useful to its readers. You have to give value. You're competing with ten million other media sources. If you’re not providing value to your readers, you're not doing a job. That value can be information that can’t be obtained elsewhere, or in a particular format, or it can be entertainment.

  • Interesting: Value is not enough. You must be interesting. A professional blog is not simply about its posts; it’s about a relationship with its readers You're building a relationship; the posts are your means to do this. If you can't interest your readers in subscribing to your feed or following you as a brand, you've given out useful posts and gained nothing in return. Building interest means promising that what is yet to come is worth sticking around for.

  • Authoritative: When providing information, you must be the subject matter expert in what you're writing about. You must inspire trust with your posts. You can gain authority (and knowledge) as you blog.

  • Exclusive: Your content must be unique and unavailable elsewhere, at least for the first few minutes after you post it. It may simply be the selection of material that is exclusive, but if so, it better be a damn good selection.

  • Controversial: You must take stances on things that not everyone already agrees on, or you're simply repeating what everyone already knows. Where is your added value, then? Not controversial means no conversation, which means not leading in your field. I'm not talking about breaking social boundaries or being rude or insulting.

  • Professional: It’s hard to be both controversial and professional, by which I mean well-mannered and calm in the face of attacks. You must learn to use the phrases: “Thank you for reading”, “Thank you for your comments”, and “There are many other valuable sites out there who would agree with you more”.

  • Networking: All of the above is 30% of the work. The remaining 70% is building your brand and network. With rare exception, you have to get the message out to people who want to hear about it. That means finding the right people, contacting them in the right way, and inspiring links back to your content so that it can be found by the interested. If you’re not networking, you’re not blogging professionally.

  • Exciting: All of the above will gain an audience, but to grow an audience and turn a good blog into a brand, you have to inspire passion, inflaming new desires in people who weren't already inspired, or re-igniting a fervor in those who are otherwise quietly going about their lives.

  • Community: The people you turn on must eventually get to know each other; most people only feel comfortable in a group. If they’re not talking amongst themselves, they’re not spreading the message. You have to build buzz. You must turn people into evangelists for your product, your brand, or your ideas. You need to reach a point where you have fans on Facebook, a tribe on Squidoo, and an entry on Wikipedia (and you can’t be the one to do it).
If you do all of these things, there is a possibility of earning a living from blogging, either directly or indirectly. Directly earning a living from blogging means: earning money from posting your own blogs: advertising, affiliate links, reviews, and so on. Indirectly means: selling your services or products, with your blog acting as a face to your business: getting a position as a result of your blog, or selling other products or services that you personally represent: such as blogging on behalf of a company.

What Professional Blogging is Not

Having said all that, here's what blogging is not:
  • Income: No one starts a successful blog by concentrating on the income (well, few, anyway). Successful blogs build brands and sell ideas; income comes as a result of popularity, well after the goals of the blog have already been achieved.

  • Advertisement: Despite what most marketers would have you believe, people don't like advertisements, unless the advertisements are the content (like a blog about funny advertisements). When you are concentrating on advertisements, your audience is not. In particular, a corporate blog does not run Google Ads or any other type of advertisement meant to yield direct income.

  • Announcements: There are plenty of places to make announcements. Your blog is appropriate only if it’s about a brand that is already well established and people are hungry for that news, and they can't get it elsewhere. No one reads an announcement blog, except employees and investors. A few announcements mixed into an otherwise general blog doesn’t stop it from being professional, however.

  • Self-interest: A blog must provide value to your readers. It focuses on nothing else. If you begin writing to get value from your readers, or about things that are of no interest to your readers, they won't be there.

  • By Committee: A blog can't just publish anything - libel, company secrets, etc - but if it's overly controlled, it's pabulum, and fails many of the above criteria. It won't be controversial, and it won't be interesting, and it won’t be trusted, and it won’t be read. It will be safe marketing messages to which no one will pay any attention, except your investors.
Required Professional Blogging Skills

To create an effective professional blog, you need:
  • To learn blogging tips and tricks from other professionals. It takes skill to create hooks and eyeball retention, good titles, first sentences, and everything else. See Problogger, Copyblogger, and Performancing, especially their archives.

  • Design and usability skills, so that people coming to your site can easily navigate without frustration.

  • Expert knowledge and passion about the topic about which you're writing.

  • Passion and skill in content creation, sharing, and community-building, in general.

  • A niche that has enough to write about in the long haul, but not too much so that your blog loses focus or is just one of many thousands on the same topic.

  • To be able to take and manipulate pictures and/or videos.

  • Time to invest in creating a community through marketing, emailing, evaluating statistics, visiting other sites, and getting involved.

  • Defined goals, either direct or indirect: Subscribers? Visits? Links? Pagerank? Comments? Influence? Emails? Income? Product sales? A job? An invitation to speak?
What is Corporate Blogging?

Now what is corporate blogging? There are four types of blogs that are sometimes called a corporate blog:
  • An external corporate blog is a blog written by someone hired by the company to represent the company to the outside world. It's marketing. But it's a slightly different type of marketing that is not meant to directly sell a product. Instead, it is used to establish credentials, create a conversation, control the conversation (SEO), and build visibility. In other words, build a brand. To do this, it must be a professional blog, with all of the above requirements: fearless, responsive, marketed.

  • An internal corporate blog is written by someone in the company and targeted to employees of the company. It is used for team-building and information dissemination. An outlet for ideas, sharing of tips, notices, and so on.

  • A corporate blog may also refer to a blog about your company or products by someone outside of your company. For instance, a blog about Disney Corp by someone who is not from Disney. In this case, someone else is controlling conversation about your brand.

  • And a corporate blog could be a blog by an employee that is not about your company or products. For instance, many people at Apple and Microsoft blog, readily identified as employees of Apple and Microsoft. As a company, you can exhort some control over this activity (by threatening to fire someone who posts libel or company secrets). But in most cases, this is a good thing, as you're getting publicity about your company without having to spend anything.
I'm only interested in the first case: an external blog written by those hired to do so.

Planning an External Corporate Blog

As a professional looking to become a corporate blogger, you have to understand what a company SHOULD be looking for in a corporate blog. The company should do this itself, but you’ll probably have to do it for them.

So, as a company, or as someone hired to create a corporate blog, here are the steps you need to cover:
  • Define your goals: Blogging is not an instant success platform. You don't stick a blog onto a site and get 10,000 visitors the next day, no matter how good or controversial your post. With one exception: you're already a famous brand (personality or company). Instead, you need to know why you're blogging: creating a conversation, controlling the conversation, establishing a contact point, establishing subject matter expertise, building a community, traffic in the long term, sales in the long term. And answers to FAQs.

    If your goals on non-professional goals - you just want another place to stick the press releases, you can do that without a professional blogger.
  • Choose the blog subject: There are several possibilities here. If your brand or company is already big, you could write informational or entertainingly about it, tossing in the occasional announcements. If your blogger is already famous, he could write about what he wants, tangentially related to your field, with occasional links to your site. You can send product announcements through your blog, but that's not really the job of a professional blogger, and the only people following will be your employees and investors, maybe some media (who you could just as easily reach directly).

    That leaves writing a blog about a field related to your company, with the idea of establishing expertise, a community, and discussion around that topic. if your company makes lasers, you write about laser technology and its effects in the world and so on. You will most likely be writing about other companies. If you don't, you won't be a trusted subject matter expert.

  • Since you are representing your company, however, you have to have clear guidelines as to what is and isn't acceptable on the blog: defamation, liability, trade secrets, and so on.

    Posts must be edited for correct spelling and grammar.

    A corporate blog should not sound like a corporation. It must be personal. Without violating policies, it should not be dry safe. That is outside the comfort zone of many marketers and executives, but so be it. It must never sound vetted by the corporation, or it loses trust and authority.

    Other than "you suck", negative comments are your second best friend in the world, right after positive comments on other sites by your fans. It's invaluable feedback, it creates a conversation, it establishes that you're listening, and it establishes credentials: people are tired of companies that don't listen to them. It encourages a conversation where you can see it and respond to it. Otherwise the conversation will still happen, but elsewhere, where you don’t know about it and can’t respond to it.

    Linking out, especially to competitors, is hard for marketers to swallow. But there is no way for someone to follow your link without first having come to your site (or post) to follow it. You've controlled the conversation, and you've established that you know what's out there and you think yours is better. If you don’t link out, no one will link to you, and your pagerank and authority (and readership) can't grow without outbound links. Furthermore, promiscuous linking is a winning game strategy: 100 links out to 100 sites, and only 10 links back in, is still 10 times as many links in to you as you gave out to any one other site.

    One other important question, if the blogger has a personal blog: keep the two identities separate? If not, then the personal blog must, at least temporarily, adhere to certain rules about liability and secrecy.

  • The technical aspects: Leave the blogging platform up to the professional blogger, or do some research. Create a design and useful links, About and Contact pages. If you post multimedia content, you must ensure that people using all platforms that you care about can see it. Use several browsers and operating systems, and use vanilla ones - no add-ons.

  • To control the conversation, you need to figure out the keywords you want to control: your brand names, important names in your field. Use SEO techniques to ensure that these are part of your headlines, first sentences, internally linked, and so on. After doing this for several months, you can measure its effectiveness on search engines. But don’t try to game Google.

  • Marketing: research every other blog (and site) in your field or tangentially related to your field. Leave helpful comments and questions on every one on a regular basis. Your signature is the link back to your blog and/or site - don't overdo it! Provide useful content and show subject matter expertise. After your name is known, you can sparingly contact the administrators or other experts directly with important news or to establish relationships. Go to relevant meet-ups and conferences and network.
Who Writes the External Corporate Blog?

I would naturally assume that the CEO or CTO of a company would make an excellent subject matter expert, but many people used to feel differently. Some felt it was beneath an executive to "blog". I suspect that this is no longer the case. But mostly, a CEO should not blog unless he or she can also function as a professional blogger. Most can’t.

You can rope in one or more employees in your company. You can hire one or more outside expert users who are already familiar with your brand, if they can write well, passionately, and you can keep up a steady stream of writing for the long haul. Or you can hire a professional blogger.

If you are looking to hire a professional blogger, you need to find one with an established track record of good blogging skills, good social and personal skills, and fiery and passionate (or willing to be) about the topic you want associated with your company.

Do not let marketing, sales, legal, anyone arrogant or unsociable, someone with poor English, or someone who can write nothing but press releases anywhere near your blog. (Let legal near the blogger once, and then make them go away.)

How to Get a Professional Corporate Blogging Position

I got my corporate blogging jobs before the current economic crisis, when companies had some spare cash to try something new and speculative. I suspect that less companies are willing to create a new position or spend money on a blogger from outside the company. But there are probably still many opportunities.

Most companies want a blogger. Most companies that want a blogger do not even know that they want one right now, because they don't know what professional blogging can do or does. Most companies in which the idea of having a corporate blogger crossed their mind are just as ignorant, and also have no idea what a professional blogger can do or does. Of the few that have an idea, they have no idea where to look. Of the few who know where to look, they are inundated with bloggers who will work for below minimum wages to produce non-professional material.

If you want to get a paid position as a corporate blogger, try the following:
  • Be a blogger for a minimum of 6 months to a year and exhibit blogging skills: build a following, achieve ranking, create a conversation, achieve respect by other bloggers or within your blogging field.

  • Find open-minded companies (your own company, local organizations and companies, via social networks) that don't already have a blog and ask them if they want one.

  • When considering companies, you must have at least some tangential experience with the company and its products via research) and must evaluate to yourself on what you could blog and if you have a passion to do so in the long haul. You must propose the ideas to them, both what professional and corporate blogging is all about and why it will be good for them, even though it will not make ANY money directly (for at least a year). And that blogging is about a topic, NOT about a company, unless the company is already a known brand.

  • Since the idea that a blog is not initially designed to make direct money and takes a long time to build traffic will be a new idea to a company, offer to do it together with other work such as technical communication or marketing. For instance, if the company has only part-time work available for technical writing, offer to part-time blog to make up the difference in hours.

  • Work closely with the engineers and marketers to identify all related topics and fields related to the company. Sit down with the lawyers and CEO of the company and work out the rules of what you must and must not say. Don't take the job if they can't understand the point of blogging; it will fail. Pre-write a few dozen articles, always keeping a queue of material to post. This provides for when you are not inspired, and allows others to ensure that you're not violating company policy (the latter in theory; in practice, if this happens for more than the first few posts, you're probably in trouble).

  • Set news alerts and subscribe to feeds on all interesting information related to your field. Write about it. Love to create content on the subject. Love your audience.

  • See my defunct blog on the subject of hiring yourself as a corporate blogger: You should probably read it chronologically from the start (it's only 50 posts, and you can skip some).

Friday, May 15, 2009

I'm Giving a Lecture on "The Secrets of Corporate Blogging"

Monday evening I'm giving a lecture at the Jerusalem Technical Writers Group on The Secrets of Corporate Blogging to a room full of technical and marketing writers, many of whom have a passing but probably incomplete knowledge of blogging. If you're interested in attending, see the above link.

I'll post the entire presentation here after the talk. If anyone wants an advanced copy, let me know.

  • What is Blogging? (short)
  • What is Professional Blogging?
  • What Professional Blogging is Not
  • Required Professional Blogging Skills
  • What is Corporate Blogging?
  • Planning an External Corporate Blog
  • Who Writes the External Corporate Blog?
  • Planning an Internal Corporate Blog
  • How to Get a Professional Corporate Blogging Position

Are Any Modern Games Destined to be Classics?

In his latest podcast, Mark Johnson and guest Greg Pettit tackle the question of whether any of the modern games we play - by which they mean Eurogames - are destined to be classics in the way that Chess and Scrabble are. On his blog, Chris Norwood contributed his thoughts on the subject.

What is a Classic?

Greg proposes five criteria for a game to be a "classic":
  • replayability
  • availability (easy to find or make)
  • accessibility (easy to start playing)
  • adaptability (components or rules can be tailored for different groups or cultures)
  • relevance (strikes a chord in a culture, or teaches something useful)
Mark adds that he expects to find a classic game available in a hotel room drawer, the way you sometimes find Chess or Scrabble sets.

They try to compare classic in games to classic in movies or books, in the hopes that classic-ness can be transferred between media; but they couldn't really define classic in movies or books, other than that it "stands the test of time".

Their list of classics includes "old classics" such as Chess and Backgammon, and "modern classics" such as Monopoly and Scrabble. Actually, their list of existing classic games preceded the discussion; they tried to define "classic" so that it encompassed these games.

My Thoughts

Games are evolutionary. Chess today is not like Chess in the 12th century, even if it's still called Chess. Backgammon can trace ancestry back to Senet over 400 years. Can a particular instance of a game be a classic? Or is it the entire game family?

Games occur in movements. Trivial Pursuit started a wave of other trivia games. Since Trivial Pursuit lost a lot of market share to these other games, does that make it not a classic? Or could we simply consider the trivia game movement itself a classic? Later in the podcast, Greg and Mark posit "some version of" a war game surviving, without necessarily implying that any specific war game will survive. Can the war games movement be a classic, if no war game is?

Standing the test of time is also difficult to judge. A game can be popular for several hundred years and still die out. Does that stop it from being a classic? Is the first game in a genre or movement a classic, or the currently most popular game, or the best-selling game, or the "best" game?

Chess, for instance, may not "survive the test of time". Tric Trac was played for hundreds of years; Senet for thousands. These games were eventually replaced by the incrementally better (?) game of Backgammon. Does that mean that they were not (or are not) classics? Who is to say that Chess will still be around in two hundred years? Or Monopoly? I'm sure some version of a Chess-like game will be around, as will some version of a roll and move game with purchased property spaces. Today's Monopoly is now with cities from around the world and electronic banking. Tomorrow's may fold in additional Eurogame mechanics.

What about variants? Is a game and its variants one game, or are the variants evolutions of the game design? Can a variant be considered a classic without considering the base game?

Comparing games, which are evolutionary, to movies or literature, which are standalone immutable works, is not apt, thought movies and books also exist within movements. With rare exception, a movie is a movie, and that's it. Movies don't get adapted and reworked into new, similar, but slightly different movies (again, with rare but growing exception). Other movies are made in the same genre or style, or with the same plot. But you don't add an actor or cut out some dialog and release a movie again, unless you're the director. The same goes for books. On the other hand, that is the heart of every new game: similar to a previous game with incremental changes.

In the last hundred years or so, most new games are protected by IP claims. Copyright law currently lets others adapt the mechanics of the game and release an incrementally changed game, but for how long? A greater number of patent claims on games also hampers new designers, who risk the possibility of trampling on someone's IP.

Classic Modern Games

Mark and Greg's idea of classic preclude some definitions of classic. Seminal works are not classics, to them. Only a popular game that stands the test of time is a classic, not a genre-changer. Most importantly, they assert that popularity has a lot to do with being a classic. I don't believe that this is the case. Since that's a big gulf between us, it should be no surprise that I disagree with nearly every conclusion they come to as to what modern games could be considered "classic".

Going only by their definition, a game must be ubiquitous and popular in fifty years time for the game to be considered a classic. "Popular" is the problematic word here: what is popular depends greatly on what is marketed. By their own definition, regular Monopoly will no longer be a classic, since World Monopoly is currently outselling it, unless they are considering all variants of the game to be the same game.

They also ignore older modern games, such as Acquire, presumably because they are already considered classics. For some reason they diss Diplomacy, although if Acquire is a classic, Diplomacy is all the more so.

In my estimation, Settlers of Catan has a good chance of being played fifty years from now; it's taken fifteen years to even start breaking into the mainstream markets. Its popularity is only going to grow. The same holds for some of the other gateway games, such as Ticket to Ride. I will add Blokus, LCR (sad to say), Set, and Boggle (unless Boggle is old enough to be a classic already).

Hive, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, and others will probably survive as game mechanics in more accessible games. Some games like Tigris and Euphrates will survive intact within hobby niches, surely. I think we're in a golden age of game design; lots of trash games being made, sure, but many of these games are actually better than we realize.

Magic the Gathering? I don't know, but some card game with deck-building will be played. Same for party games, poker games, mini games, role playing games, and war games (Diplomacy is already a classic, as I mentioned). Many proprietary games will run into a problem when their publishing company dies, however, taking the IP rights with them. Where will Monopoly be when Hasbro goes belly up?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Session Report, in which I play Stone Age for the first time and go "meh"

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation x 2, Stone Age, Dominion, Cosmic Encounter, Traders of Carthage.

First play for Stone Age. Compared unfavorably (perhaps unfairly) to Pillars of the Earth.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Shabbat Gaming and Stuff

Puerto Rico with Rachel, Nadine, and her daughter Ginat. Order: Ginat, Nadine, Rachel, me.

Unfortunately, we played at Nadine's, and she doesn't have my expansion buildings, so we played with the regular set, only changing: Hospice and University allow you to move one of your colonists onto them when you buy them; Factory and University switch costs; and Discretionary Hold in place of Large Warehouse.

That left two of the most broken buildings in place: Small Market and Guild Hall. Both of which Nadine bought, and - big surprise - she won, but just barely. Nadine had 55 and 10 tie-breaking points to my 55 and 6 tie-breaking points. Ginat had 47 and Rachel 42.

I had a tobacco monopoly, while the other three had coffee. Rachel bore the brunt of that; even though she built coffee first, she never got to trade with it. She should have bought Large Market or Office to compensate for that, but she's less used to four player games and their timing issues. On round 2, Nadine took Builder instead of the scripted Trader+, and then Rachel took Craftsman+, giving me an early corn trade. I followed with an early indigo trade and then an early tobacco trade. In other words, I took three of the four first trades.

So I should have won. But Small Market for Nadine, and then an early coffee trade for her gave her first access to Guild Hall. Both of us had two big buildings, but Guild Hall was worth +10, while all the others were worth +4 or +5.


Next BGG.con

I'm working on a game for the next BGG.con, but in truth, the last one was so successful - other than some tweaks - that I might just do something similar. Piratenhandler had a lot going for it: easy to understand, social interaction, and you could play with just a few cards without having to see all of them, but you got better chances the more cards you saw. I need to balance out the paths, and make adding up the results a little easier. Unless I come up with something better.

Rachel Going to Ohio

Rachel got a job as associate professor next year at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I still have to stay here to act as home base for the kids. So we'll be apart again for several months. She'll visit and I'll visit. So I'll be playing at the Cincinnati board game club on occasion. I would play at the Dayton club, too, but they only play on Friday nights and Shabbat.

And since I'll be in the states, I imagine I'll sometimes get to some other places, and not only BGG.con.


There's a BGG forum thread following Brenda Brathwaite's Escapist article on board games created to evoke emotion. The thread starts off as predicted, but many of the later comments on pages 2 and 3 are worth the read. Of course, the big point: Games don't have to be fun, or replayable. Games made for entertainment have to be fun, but games do not have to be made for entertainment.

An article in Haaretz compares Backgammon to Chess, and how Backgammon became associated with gambling.

This NY Times article's headline reads: Gaza Militants and Israel Exchange Fire. One might think by reading that headline that Gaza fighters and Israeli soldiers shot at each other. Not, say, that Gaza lobbed rockets at Israeli civilians trying to kill farmers, families, and children, while the soldiers blew up tunnels for smuggling weapons to carry out terror attacks. One might think.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Session Report, in which two fellows from the BGS colloquium pay a visit

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Ark of the Covenant x 2, It's Alive, Dvonn, Claude x 2, El Grande, Settlers of Catan, Magic: the Gathering, Fairy Tale.

Gadi, the organizer of the conference, and Claude, a game designer and friend of Gili, show up.

First plays for Ark of the Covenant; much like Hunters and Gatherers. I taught Gili how to play Magic.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Some Game Plays With My Synagogue Group

On Yom Haatzmaut some of the members of our synagogue went to the country for a short tiyul and BBQ. I'm happy to say that, again, mine was the best and quickest BBQ grill and I used only one match and no lighter fluid. I'm a man.

I also brought along Scrabble. I wonder why I haven't done that before, since many of the adults in this group are Scrabble lovers, if not quite as competitive as Rachel and me.

We played a four-player game of Scrabble. LHO opened with a bingo. I ended the game a few points behind her and a few dozen points ahead of the other two players.

As many of the same group also went away for an entire weekend this last weekend, I also brought Scrabble. I didn't have to bring Apples to Apples, since that is already one of the hit games among the kids there, and someone else had brought a copy. I should really get a hold of Jungle Speed, since it's becoming popular in Israel (my non-gamer 20 year old daughter went and bought a copy).

I also brought Antike, hoping to get some of the boys to play it instead of Risk, which is what they always play. Unfortunately, they had just started a game of Risk by the time I found them after lunch, and I couldn't convince them to abandon it.

Instead I played Antike with Nadine and Cliff. Cliff lives only a few blocks from me and plays these games all the time, but never has the time to make it to game night, or even Game Days. A pity.

Cliff really liked Antike, and thinks his own boys will, too. Nadine manages the tactical elements fine, but is still working on the strategy (in her words). I was very happy playing it again, and was beginning to do some long term planning moves. Unfortunately, we had to interrupt the game midway as we were scheduled for a hike.

One other game I played, sort of: Zingo. Zingo is a little like a kid's game of Bingo. Using the correct rules, two plastic pictures pop out of the bottom of a plastic contraption, and each player has to shout the name of one or more of the items if they have it on their board (with penalties for shouting an item that isn't on your board). So it's way more of a game than Bingo.

However, I joined a grandmother playing with her 4 year old, and her method of playing was for each player to take a turn. The player checks to see if the tile will fit on his or her board, and if it does, he or she just takes it. Otherwise it goes to the next player who can use it. Then it is the next player's turn. In other words, the game was changed to a decision-less skill-less game.

The kids still liked it, and had learned the words. but she also wandered away about 2/3 of the way through the game. I guess winning isn't that important when you aren't bringing anything to the table.