Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Surprising Benefits of Good Musical Taste

My favorite singer of all time is Cindy Kallet. She is a singer-songwriter-guitarist from Maine. Her guitar playing is fantastic, her voice is rich and warm, and her songs capture the vivid sense of the rocky shores, seas, and forests of New England.

I can't say enough about her first three albums: Working on Wings to Fly, 2, and Dreaming Down a Quiet Line. Right now she's doing collaborations with another musician Grey Larsen, and they have a new CD Cross the Water.

Although she has performed and taught guitar playing across America, outside of a narrow folk music scene she's unknown. She's not a superstar, and, in fact, doesn't devote all of her time to her music and promotion. She's a "soccer mom".

Which happens to be very good, for me. Why? Read on ...

Whenever I visit the US or Canada (or anywhere else), I look up events in the areas I will be staying: music, theater, festivals, game clubs, and the like. Much of the regularly scheduled culture in Israel is not in my original language, and the scant English speaking events we get from abroad are expensive, or simply few and far between.

I don't get out of Israel that often. So I drink up as much culture as I can in the places I'm visiting when I do. I do a lot of web research. I usually know far more about what's going on in an area than my hosts do.

When I went to the first BGG.con back in 2005, I found a number of events that were happening in Dallas over the week. One was a U2 concert. I love U2, and if ever I was going to go to a rock concert, U2 would be it. But tickets were sold out, and in any case expensive ($80 or $100 or so). Lots of other big name events events also were happening that week: expensive, crowded, sold out.

Another, much less publicized event was a house concert by Richard Berman, a folk musician. I had never heard of him, actually. But I listened to some samples on his website and decided that this would be the best use of my time and money. Entrance was only $10 and he played for a few hours. And he fantastic. Actually, as with many folk musicians that shine in house concerts, he was far better live than he is on his recordings.

Which brings us to this year's trip in November. I scanned the event calendars for Cincinnati, the theater and club schedules, and the tour dates for my favorite musicians, especially the ones that I had yet to hear live. I found some interesting theater events and the local game club schedules for Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus.

To my surprise, I also found that Cindy, who tours so rarely that I have never gotten anywhere close to her in the dozen years I've been looking, would be performing on Friday and Saturday in Louisville, KY area, on one of the two weekends I would be in the Cincinnati area. OMG! Louisville is only two hours away from Cincinnati.

But ... I'm a sabbath observer. If she performs at 8:00 pm on Friday night, I can't hear her, and at 8:00 pm on Saturday night, I can't possibly get to the concert in time even if I leave directly after the sabbath goes out.

Oh no! A tragedy.

Now here's where we come to the title of the post.

If this were U2, or any other popular, well-known superstar band, that would be that. You can't ask U2 to change their concert time or add another performance to their tour schedule.

But this is folk music we're talking about.

So I wrote to Cindy through her website:
Is there any hope, any hope at all, that you will be giving a morning or noon performance on [Friday] Nov 13 in Louisville? And not only at 8 pm? *whimpering doggy eyes*
Not expecting much, but hoping for a reply, at least. This is what I got back:
Your whimpering doggy eyes have led Grey and me to the conclusion that we need to do a house concert in the Cincinnati/Oxford area on the Thursday or Sunday surrounding our Louisville and New Harmony concerts. How does that sound?


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Shabbat Gaming


Yael is a friend of mine and my wife's for multiple reasons. She's brilliant, beautiful, creative, and charismatic. She recently published a fantastic book that took ten years of research: Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar.

And she's also been a Settlers of Catan fanatic for the last five years or so, ever since I introduced her to the game. For a long time she didn't want to play any other games; she would only play SoC with her friends on the other side of town, and didn't come to the game group. Only recently I've gotten her to try Amun Re, which she also liked and which she asked to play Friday evening after dinner.

Unfortunately, I don't actually have a copy of the game, and it was only two of us and late (Rachel went out to walk the dog). So we played Anagrams. She was good, which is good.

Anagrams and Set are two games that I'm pretty good at, sometimes too good at. I don't like to win either of these two games by too much, as it's discouraging to play them unless you feel like you're playing with a reasonably matched opponent. If I'm winning by too much, I will sometimes slow down a bit and let my opponent catch up. I didn't have to do that with Yael.

Only these two games, really; maybe sports, too. I think it's because they're straight measurable ability based games that hit a certain area of the brain. After it's clear that you're faster than the other person in that particular area, there's really no point in continuing.

Of course, I've also met people who can beat me in either of these games; I don't mind that at all.

By the way, Yael is - incredibly - still single. Time's a-wasting, guys.

Robo Rally

I had promised to introduce Tal's friend Nechemia to a board game, and Nadine also stayed after lunch. Robo Rally was the right length of time and weight for the occasion.

I chose a simple board with a few tricky spots, and three flags. I was liberal with "reprogramming" in the first the rounds, and we played with infinite deaths and no options. It was a little repetitive, but still quite fun.

Nechemia won without ever getting a single point of damage, as he took a slightly different route than the rest of us did. Silly and fun game, if it doesn't go on too long.

Puerto Rico

Nadine, Rachel, and I played our final game before Rachel leaves for the US (Rachel will still be here two more shabbatot, but we won't be able to play on them). I switched Small Market's and Construction Hut's costs.

Playing third player, I had to decide whether to spend 2 for Small Market on round 1 phase 2. I opted to pass in favor of Construction Hut, which I would otherwise never buy. Nadine, as first player took Indigo Plant.

Round 2 then went rather crazy. Rachel took builder again, and Nadine took Small Market with her manned quarry. I took Craftsman and Nadine left me both Trader and Captain for round 3 with two coins. I took Trader and felt like I now had a decent start.

I got a coffee monopoly, and never produced more than 1 coffee and 2 corns the entire game. Nadine had tobacco, Small and Large Markets, and Discretionary Hold. Rachel had Small Market, Small Warehouse, and lots of the three cheaper goods.

My strategy was to trade coffee and build quickly. I ended three big buildings.

Last move of the game, I had to decide whether to man my third big building and also Nadine's only big building. It would give me 5 points, but I didn't know how much it would give Nadine. Or, I could take Settler and a plantation for 2 bonus points (for Fairgrounds). I opted to man the buildings.

Final scores: me 45, Rachel 43, Nadine 42 . If I hadn't manned the buildings, final scores would have been: Rachel 43, Jon 42, Nadine 38.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blood and Fungus

Dropping books off at a book swap yesterday (nothing interesting to take in exchange, but I took three for appearance's sake), I found myself beside a blood drive, and so donated blood. I don't donate much blood; I used to have very low blood pressure, and giving blood would make me faint and woozy. But I've gained weight since then, so decided to give it another try. I now have 120/80 BP.

You know that instant of pain when the needle first pricks you, after which you don't really feel it? Well, the first of three workers stuck the needle in me and the pain didn't go away. For two minutes I felt pain like a knife cutting slowly through my skin. Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow.

First worker apologized and sent me to a different station to try the other arm. Second worker prepped me, and then got called away to assist someone who had fainted. Third worker then called me to his table, and everything proceeded as normal. Now I have bruising on the arm from which I didn't actually give blood.

Hope they actually can use the blood for some good.

Later in the evening I took Tal out to her favorite fast food chain: Tal Burgers. Being the Nine Days, we couldn't eat meat. I was less than thrilled with the server guy whose pants were down below his worn and sheer underwear; seeing him from behind, I decided not to order anything on a bun. We settled for salads with portabello mushrooms.

Obgaming: Tal, Rachel, and I played a Scrabble game without keeping score, which drove Rachel crazy. It plays very quickly.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Session Report, in which we play San Juan and Caylus after long absences

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: San Juan, R-Eco, Stone Age, Caylus, Dominion, Antike.

I win both Caylus and Antike. Yay me. Abraham and David are fearsome opponents for each other.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Non Decisions: Calculation and Guessing

Game play is either calculation or guessing. Neither of which are decisions.

Calculation is not really a decision: you calculate correctly and succeed, or you calculate incorrectly and fail, or you don't to calculate - or recognize when you can't, because the information is not available to you - and you guess.

Guessing is also not a decision: you guess with the odds, or against them which is foolish.

Calculation is made difficult by time constraints, limited mental capacity, and false beliefs. Time constraints may be explicitly enforced, such as in Chess or Scrabble, or implicitly enforced by social necessity: your friends will leave if you don't make a move already. Mental capacity limits how much information you can juggle in your head at any one time. False beliefs are those which skew your ability to calculate or guess properly, such as believing in false patterns or that something will happen because you want it to, very badly.

Calculating odds is not guessing. Calculation is the opposite of guessing. Anything you can't calculate you guess, and since you have no information, no guess is better than any other. Deciding whether something really is a guess or can be calculated, is also a calculation. More specifically, in deciding when a pattern is a pattern, and when it's just random noise.

Determining what your opponent will do is often guessing. Game Theory has a lot to say about it, often on the assumption that your opponent is rational and intelligent. But, in essence, your opponent's moves are just as much odds calculations and guesswork as any roll of multiple dice with constraints can be. Which means that even classic abstracts with perfect information - other than your opponent's future moves - are luck, on a certain level. Your opponent may not find the right move, or he might, by accident, when he guesses a play that is beyond his calculation abilities. Over the course of a long game, the odds of his repeatedly finding the right play by accident become slim to non-existent.

In some games, theme, role play, and humor also play a role. Setting this aside, where are the decisions in a game, if they not in the calculation and not in the guessing? Is decision-making an illusion?


Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Life of Game Play

The life of game play

Past, present, and future intersect around game play.

Some games are found, played, and forgotten in moments. Others occupy years of research beforehand, weeks or months of play time, years of reflection after the fact. The impact of the game on a life isn't always directly comparable to its length. A short game may change your life. A long one probably will.


A game play begins when you learn about the game, whether moments or months before commencing play.[1] You may look forward to playing it at some nebulous time, or make plans to play at a specific time.

You may learn about the rules, or you may acquire the components of the game. Either one of these may take some time.

You may need to teach the rules to others. In my game group, this usually happens moments before game play. For some groups it happens along with the first round or two of play. This is true for many video games, as well, where learning may continue well into several plays of the game. Or, you may learn or teach the rules a good deal of time before the game play, often to decide if the game is for you, or if the rules are very complex, or if more extensive game preparation will be required.

Many games involve you in building the game setting. RPGs require one player to build the entire world of game play, in preparation for the other players. Months of preparation, terrain building, and paint coats precede games of fantasy miniatures. Stadiums must be built for professional sports games, while only stones and sticks need be placed to mark the boundaries of a friendly game of soccer.

Many games also involve you in building your personal game assets. Professional sports involves days, months, or years of personal training. Character building in RPGs can take nearly as long. Many collectible card games require you to build your deck, and many people find the process more enjoyable than the games themselves.

You may also find yourself reading a few good books on Go before you play your second, or six hundredth, game.


While similar to, and often overlapping with, preparation, setup is required before the start of each game, while the types of preparation I mentioned above should serve for many games.

Circumscribing space - such as the sticks and stones for the soccer game border mentioned above - are a form of game setup. Simply choosing the location is a form of setup.

Along with space, time is allocated to the game. When to start the game is nearly universally understood and employed. A well-defined end-time, or at least an understanding of an approximate end-time, may also be present. Times for a game, or series of games, may be allocated over several time periods within a day, week, or months.

The players who agree to this time and space must be selected and gathered together.

The rules for the game may be known, but the rules for this particular match must be agreed upon, explicitly or implicitly (in the latter case, there is often cause for disagreement, especially among children). Touch or tackle? Deals enforced or unenforceable? The random opening move? The komi rule? Are breaks allowed? Who's the referee?

The components, having been acquired, must be organized: board and pieces setup, ball inflated, joystick plugged in.

For many games, teams are decided upon, and a starting player, if any, is selected. The starting player, and all other players, received their starting components, if any.

Someone, or the clock, now calls the game to start. Or clicks the mouse.


A player's whole being may be more or less devoted to the game during game play. He may be thinking of something else, which may be to his detriment during a game of high speed and concentration. Or he may have ample time to mix and match game play with other activities.

If the game lasts more than a few seconds, the course of play is typically divided into three time periods: the start game, the mid game, and the end game.

Nevertheless, there is room for time travel within and between these periods. You can go back in time by restarting the game, or a round, or by taking back a move. You can go forward by conceding a point or the entire game, or simply by quitting. And you can freeze time by calling a time-out.

Start Game

The start of the game is used for assessing your opponents or building an infrastructure, learning the lay of the land. Some might go for the quick unexpected knock out or an early lead, physical or psychological. This may backfire, if the lead cannot be sustained and the energy has been too quickly spent. Some may decide after the first round that the game is not really for them, after all.

Mid Game

With repetition setting in, and the end-game not in the immediate future, you may find yourself lagging here. It is mid-game where infrastructure turns to initiative. A solid lead here can follow through to a final victory. Find your second wind.

Traps are sprung. Here is where there is the least amount of luck and the most amount of game play; this is the part of the game on which you will look back to decide if you played well or not.

End Game

The reserves of energy can now be freely spent, with no expectation of needing them after the game is done. Infrastructure is discarded if it hampers progress.

You must, as they say, keep your eye on the ball, however. Casual mistakes or overconfidence can lead to an unexpected loss.


At some point, the game ends, permanently. A victory condition is met. Time runs out. The game is canceled on account of external interference. Someone quits or resigns. The game play is over.

After the game play, one or more players or teams may be rewarded: points or money is totaled, someone may be a winner, they may receive a prize external to the game rules. Any player may feel good or bad about his performance.

Someone then needs to clean up: reverse and take down the game setup. Put away the pieces, fold up the board, store the equipment, press ESC.


Many instances of game play lead to discussion, writing, even feature films.

Games inspire personal growth, whether from the math, language, and history learned, the strategy, tactics, and decisions implemented (or missed), or simply the patience, delayed gratification, cooperation, and courtesy experienced. Lessons learned may carry over to the next game, or may be transferred to experiences far afield from game play.

The game's memory may leave an indelible impression. You and your fellow players, even if you exchanged little in the way of conversation, shared a unique experience, which creates a social bond. One game is a shared experience; many games experienced, a game club, the language of a sport, discovery of a game flow: these form a community among people who share the experience and the love of the game. You have something in common. A living touchstone.

A game play may be long or short. A love of games is a whole life.


[1] Some argue that you can play a game without being aware of the fact.


Shirley cooked up an amazing Friday dinner for us. Yum! Some pics on my Facebook profile.

After dinner, Shirley, Bill, Nadine, Ben, and I played a great game of Cosmic Encounter, Mayfair edition. Shirley doesn't play often, but I think she'd played this game before. Bill had also played before, but not as often as either Ben or I had.

Config: Multiple revealed powers, no reverse cone, no moons, no lucre, no special hexes, 25 flares in the deck. I like to play light on the extraneous craziness, since the basic set of Edicts, Kickers, Reinforcements, allies, and Powers are already pretty crazy. So I add only 25 or 30 flares.

Powers: Jon: Vulch and Sniveler, Ben: Plant and Parasite, Nadine: Grudge and Berserker, Shirley: Pacifist and Spiff, Bill: Insect and Sorcerer.

My Vulch worked decently. Sniveler gained me my tokens out of the Warp once, and both my first and second foreign bases (I wasn't doing too well in the offense dept, as you can tell). I got a few attack cards, too, but they didn't help me much. I lost by one point on a few challenges, to the point that I decided that my motto would henceforth be "One Point Shy". Bill called me the fencepost player.

Ben's Plant and Parasite were a most deadly combo. Nevertheless, Bill and Shirley came very close to winning before he did. Plant could only take over one power, by the way.

Nadine passed over the powerful but game destroying Diplomat, and was partially happy with her resulting powers. She was of two minds as to whether the Grudge was strong enough, or actually too annoying to the other players. But it was just right in a five player game. Berserker didn't do much, other than get copied by the Insect.

Shirley's Pacifist worked well on occasion, and she used her Spiff successfully, once (or perhaps Bill used her power successfully once).

Bill's were the most visible power in the game. His Insect opposite Ben's Plant: he sometimes copied the Plant and then grafted a third player's power. And his Sorcerer was the high point of drama in many a challenge. He guessed right only about 2/3 of the time.

Ben and Bill both reached 4 bases, with Nadine and Shirley trailing at 3, while I had 1. I made it to 3, Shirley made it to 4, and we eliminated 1 of Ben's. We stopped Bill and Shirley from gaining their joint 5th, and then Ben and I gained our 4th.

Ben then attacked Nadine, with Bill and my support. We all gained a 5th base, and then Ben knocked out one of Bill's other bases as the challenge ended, leaving it a double victory for both Ben and me, instead of a triple victory that would have included Bill. Ben could have knocked out one of my bases, too, for a single win, but he was nervous about all the Edicts I held and didn't want to risk my countering his final play. Turns out he could have done it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Between Two Meals, or How Not to Explain Cuts of Meat on a Menu

Thursday Night

Rachel and I went out for a lovely mean at Selina with our friends. We had received a prepaid meal coupon from Rachel's study group as a thanks for a year's worth of teaching. Yum.

We speak a mixture of Hebrew and English, and so the waitress tried to explain specials to us in both Hebrew and English. At one point, she struggled to translate the Hebrew word for "breast", which resulted in her patting herself on the breast as a visual aid.

This is so wrong, I'm not even going to get into it. I won't. I won't. I won't. No, no, no, no, ok, I will.

Now that I was thinking of cutting off the waitress' breast and coating it in a roux and brandy concoction, I began to wonder what sort of visual expression she was willing to give us for chicken thighs or rump roast. One of my friends, thinking along similar lines, was hopefully scanning the menu to see if she could find bull testicles, and the other asked if the English name of the dish was Chicken Mastectomy.

All the food was delicious, and service was good.

Today is going to be a rather different experience.

We are friends with a Christian couple residing in Israel, who contacted us originally about gaming. Bill is from Kansas City, Shirley is from China. They're lovers of Jews and Israel, and here doing volunteer work.

We've had them over for dinner a number of times, and they've always wanted to reciprocate, but they don't keep a kosher house, of course. They took us out for dinner once, which was lovely.

Last week we went to see Coraline (great movie, by the way). Before the movie, my daughter Tal bought some crappy Chinese food at the mall court, about which Shirley declared that "that is NOT Chinese food". So I invited her to come over and cook real Chinese for us. Her eyes lit up.

Turns out to be exactly the opportunity she wanted.

Shirley spent a few days this week planning the menu, and in the process learned what was involved in kosher food preparation. And, since Chinese food really has to be cooked and served immediately, we decided to eat before shabbat, and have only the kiddush, challah, and dessert after synagogue. (And my brother and his four kids are coming, so dinner won't be too late for them; another plus).

The menu and ingredient list is extensive and sounds fantastic. It's going to be quite an experience.

Chicken Lettuce Wrap
Egg Drop Soup

Chicken & Green Peppers
Lemon Chicken
bean sprouts with green onion
mixed cucumbers
rice or maybe fried rice

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Session Report, in which Nadine wins everything except Dominion

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: R-Eco, It's Alive, Year of the Dragon, Apples to Apples, Dominion, Tichu.

Nadine thinks she's losing everything, as usual, and wins nearly everything.

I get a lot of book points in Year of the Dragon, and still lose. And I Chapel away many card in Dominion to win.

Monday, July 13, 2009

An Insurance Game Mechanic

1. The insurance company evaluates a stolen item as worth: N.

2. They pay us a value of: 4/5N*.

3. We buy a replacement item worth M.

3a. If M <= 4/5 N, we receive no additional payment. Net total received: 4/5N*.
3b. If 4/5N < M <= N, we receive an additional payment of (M - 4/5N). Net total received: M*.
3c. If N < M, we receive an additional payment of 1/5N. Net total received: N*.

*less D, the deductible.

There must be a game mechanic in there.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Scrabble and Dominion

Played one and a half games of Scrabble with Rachel. The first game I won with a late game bingo. It was pretty much tied up until then. The second game we were tied around mid-game when the lights went out.

Nadine came for lunch, as did Shachar and his mom. We taught him Dominion.

Our card set included several attack cards - Witch, Militia, Spy - and no defense cards - no Moat, no Renovate, no Chapel, no trashing of any kind. So our hands grew bulky and the game progressed slower than usual. I still thought it was a great game, Shachar really enjoyed his first play, but Nadine wants to ensure that we don't have that type of set, again.

I took an early Witch and used it to great effect. Nadine took one as well, but only got to use it twice. She went too early for the Duchys. Shachar used Spy well, which essentially replaces itself when played, but it wasn't super good. The only other extra action card was Festival Laboratory, and my hand didn't speed up until I took a bunch of them. I won due to most Provinces, a few Duchys, and a lack of curses.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Mysterious Case of the Lost Laptop

Person A was walking in Kiryat Yovel (a neighborhood of Jerusalem) when she saw what she thought was a DVD player on top of a car. She remembered that her daughter, Person B, was looking to buy a DVD player. Woman A took the DVD player off of the car, and brought it to person B. [1]

Person B said, "That's not a DVD player, that's a laptop computer". She opened it and saw a login name: Howard Adelman. She Googled the name and found no Howard Adelman's that could have sensibly left or lost a laptop in Kiryat Yovel.

She then handed the laptop over to a tech guy cousin, Person C. Person C uncoupled the hard disk and brought up the contents on another computer. Person C discovered my wife's resume on the disk and gave the telephone number to Person B. Person B called the number.

Yes, my friends: Person B called us to tell us that my wife's laptop, stolen out of our apt two weeks ago, was found in relatively working condition (the DVD player button is broken) and still juiced on top of a car in Kiryat Yovel.

But the mysteries only deepen from there.

Howard Adelman is the login name my wife uses, having acquired the laptop from her father. But the old password didn't work. None of the few passwords Rachel uses worked. A little scratching of our heads and I decided to try some common default passwords used in Israel. 1234? Nope. 12345? Yes.

I was in. But, Rachel's account had been changed from an Administrator account to a limited account. And we had no password for the Administrator account (a few obvious choices - 1234, abcd1234, admin - didn't work). I Googled admin password recovery on XP and found a few solutions. And my blogger friend Mischa pointed out another one that looked like the simplest.

We created what was essentially a stripped down Linux boot disk with a registry editor and user fixer program on a CD and rebooted onto the CD. We ran the program. When we saw the list of user names, there was a new Administrator user: "shir". A new admin user with no password. Shir is a common Hebrew first name, by the way.

Rather than reset the password, we rebooted and tried logging in as "shir". Voila. After some housekeeping, Rachel was ready to work.

Who's Shir? The thief? I'm guessing Shir is Person C. I don't know what he was trying to do, though.

But there's more.

At the beginning of this week, I tried to buy a new laptop for Rachel, but the company (Tiger Direct) charges an extra fee for credit cards or Paypal accounts with out of US addresses. To avoid this charge, I asked Mischa for a big favor: take my money and buy the laptop for me. He waited until the money cleared Paypal and went into his account; that took about four days.

Just as he was about to buy the laptop, we realized that we needed the receipt in Rachel's name, so that she could claim the complete insurance payout on the loss (strange, but true). So there was another delay as Mischa tried to discover if it was possible for him to buy the laptop but have the bill made out to Rachel. Turns out he couldn't. So he returned the money to me. I got it a few hours after receiving the call from Person B.

So the week's delay saved us from buying another laptop.

I already received partial payment for the laptop from insurance. Now we have to call the insurance and tell them we got back one of our laptops, slightly damaged. I wonder what their policy is for this?

And what happened to my laptop? I wonder.


[1] At least, that's the story as it was relayed to me; I may be missing or confusing some details.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Abbagav Broke His Shoulder (Antike)

Plans sure have a way of changing.

Rachel was invited by the Beit Shemesh women's tefilah group to give a speech after Friday night services and a shiur at shalosh seudot (Sat evening meal). Services on Friday night were supposed to be at Abbagav's house, and Abbagav and family invited us for dinner afterward.

I invited my brother to come to Beit Shemesh this shabbat so that we could see them as well, and they could see Rachel before she leaves for OH. And their kids and my kids could see each other, as they haven't seen each other in a long time. Since my brother's family takes up a lot of space at my parent's house, Rachel and I needed to sleep at a neighbors. One of my first thoughts was family X.

That's the setup.

Sunday, we heard that Mr X's mother passed away. No problem as far as finding a place to sleep; we asked family Y.

Wednesday, My daughter Tal decided not to come for the weekend because 20 of her friends from around the country were getting together elsewhere this weekend.

At 2:00 on Friday, we got a call that Abbagav broke his shoulder in a bicycle accident (he'll get better, I'm sure, but right now he's in pain). No problem. Services and dinner invitation switched to family Z's house.

At 3:00 on Friday we got a call that my brother's son had a fever and the entire kit and kaboodle were staying home for shabbat after all. No problem. Called family Y and told them we're sleeping at my parent's house after all.

My parents had an empty house and lots of food. We would be finished too late to eat with them or for them to join us on Friday night dinner, but we convinced Abbagav's family to join us at my parents for lunch (they live two doors down from each other).


I left my parents a copy of It's Alive; they hadn't received a copy yet. Maybe they'll take it out and play it, sometime.

I went back with Abbagav to his house after lunch to help take his mind off of his shoulder. Naturally I had a bag of games with me. I took out Antike. First play for him. It was a success.

As two players, we toyed with the right way to play, and ended up simply playing one nation each, with the pieces from two colors, until 14 points. Abbagav played Greece and built his temples close to his front, which proved to be a mistake. He built many more units and cities than I did, but I kept throwing units in his direction to threaten his temples, and that kept many more of his units pinned down for defense.

Meanwhile, as the Germanic tribes, I concentrated on Know-Hows, taking 6 of them first (6 points). By the end of the game, we both had complete sets of all Know-Hows (1 point). Add 10 cities (2 points), 14 seas (2 points), and 3 temples (1 point), and I was 1 point away from winning. Abbagav meanwhile had 2 Know-How points and 1 point for the complete set (3 points), 20 cities (4 points), 6 temples (2 points), and 14 seas (2 points). He was able to churn out three more temples, but I was able to built my 15th city and end the game.

He liked the game, but it's important to keep track of where your points are coming from and move toward that. And to remember that you don't lose points if you lose items (ships, temples, cities); you only lose the income and strength they bring to you.

Or, maybe I just won because his brain was fuzzed out from the painkillers.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Simple Framework, Special Abilities

Many of my favorite games follow this pattern: simple framework, special abilities. After the first few rounds, each player has a few simple unique choices from unequal forces on each turn. This format readily adapts to game expandability.


Framework: Essentially, one action per round. The number of different actions is large, but only a handful are typically appropriate each round.

Special: Each character has a set of special abilities based on stats, class, race, or equipment. This structure directly leads to an infinite amount of classes and class abilities, races, spells, weapons, feats, and skills. And you can pick or choose which to play with, without breaking the core structure of the framework.

Magic: the Gathering

Framework: Untap, Upkeep, Pick, Play, Attack, Play, End (plus Respond)

Special: Special abilities are written on the cards. You can choose to play with or without any of these abilities by including or excluding cards with these abilities. The number of cards continues to grow, of course.

Puerto Rico

Framework: Settle, Build, Mayor, Craft, Trade, Ship, Prospect

Special: The buildings, each of which grants special abilities during a particular role. Change the game by changing the buildings.

Cosmic Encounter

Framework: Flip, Point, Place, Invite, Play, Reveal, Settle

Special: Special cards (edicts, flares, etc) and special powers allow you to break the rules. It's easy to add more powers or special cards to the game.


Framework: Action, Buy

Special: Each card grants special abilities or additional actions or buys. Expansions are already coming out fast and furious.

War Games

Framework: A series of steps each round

Special: Each piece usually has unique abilities, such as range, movement, damage, etc. Actually, I don't like playing war games very much, because I'm terrible at them. But I really do admire them.

So naturally, I'm looking to design something that fits this format.

Session Report, in which I review Bridge Troll

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Traders of Carthage, Antike, Bridge Troll.

I love Antike, and I'm happy we ended up choosing it as the game the least amount of people disliked the least.

First play and review for Bridge Troll, a new game by Alf Seegert.