Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club: Nickels and Dimes of 2009

Last year's number are in parentheses.


Dominion x 36 (0)

A fantastic new filler game, Dominion's numbers only inflate if you add the expansions (listed below) which we got late in the year. I'm fairly sure it will be a quarter next year, as well.


Magic: the Gathering x 20 (26)
R-Eco x 14 (17)

Sad to see only two dimes, and both of them short card games. The Magic sessions included several 45 minute drafts. I expect Magic to continue next year, and every year for the foreseeable future.

R-Eco is a nice game, but it could easily show less plays next year in favor of better ones (such as Parade).


It's Alive x 8 (12)
Stone Age x 8 (0)
Traders of Carthage x 8 (0)

More light games. It's Alive will continue to be played, of course. ToC is in the same boat as R-Eco: a nice game, but an easily replaceable filler. Stone Age is somewhat meatier; the group enjoys it (I enjoy it, but not as much as they do).

Agricola x 7 (4)
Antike x 7 (1)
Bridge x 7 (8)
Fairy Tale x 7 (0)
Pillars of the Earth x 7 (1)
Puerto Rico x 7 (12)
Race for the Galaxy: the Gathering Storm x 7 (0)
Tichu x 7 (8)

Finally some of the meaty games. Agricola is very hefty, and a good game experience. But it's very hefty. I love Antike, but some of the others in the group don't like it as much. I'm surprised at the poor showing of Bridge, but Tichu tends to eat into its play space. Fair Tale was acquire with a trade for Saboteur, and I think both of us are happier for it; it's light, kind of random, filler game.

Pillars of the Earth is a nice worker placement game, but several other games are now competing against it, including Tribune, Stone Age, and Endeavor (yet to be played). Puerto Rico is The Game, and will always be around. RftG expansion can be combined with the base game for play total (see below). It was played five times straight on Games Day.

Chess x 6 (2)
Year of the Dragon x 6 (9)

Chess only gets played during special events, such as by newcomers on Games Days. YotD competes with other mid-weight games, especially Notre Dame (below).

Cosmic Encounter x 5 (4)
Notre Dame x 5 (17)
Pivot x 5 (0)
Power Grid x 5 (9)

Cosmic is a classic, but a strange kind of strategy game, and so doesn't come out too often. Notre Dame now competes with Year of the Dragon and other new games. Pivot was a prototype played only during a Games Day. Power Grid didn't see as much play as I expected, but should continue to see some play next year.


Bridge Troll x 4 (0)
Jamaica x 4 (0)
Pentago x 4 (2)
Princes of Florence x 4 (7)
San Juan x 4 (0)
Taluva x 4 (0)

Bridge Troll and Taluva are decent games, but didn't grab the group's interest. Bridge Troll I traded away; Taluva will likely share that fate next year. Jamaica is a good, not great, game. We played Pentago one game evening by request; it's not that deep of a game, but good for non-gamers.

Princes of Florence is still a great game, and likely to see play next year, still with low numbers. San Juan seems to have lost out in favor of RftG; it really needed to have an expansion made for it soon after it was published (there is a mini-expansion available now).


Amun Re x 3 (3)
Amyitis x 3 (0)
Jambo x 3 (2)
La Citta x 3 (2)
Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation x 3 (3)
Santiago x 3 (2)
Settlers of Catan x 3 (7)

Amun Re is not stored at the group, and so sees less play than it probably would otherwise. Amyitis was brought to us by Binyamin, and I picked up a copy late in the year. One play of it by some new players wasn't successful. I hope to bring it out again.

Jambo is a fluffy filler for two-players. LotR:tC is a better filler for two players. La Citta and Santiago are two meatier games that are good, but typically not chosen as first choice. Settlers of Catan is The Game for new players, but not played much by old-timers. Some people would like to play it more.

Alice and Wonderland Parade x 2 (0)
Apples to Apples x 2 (0)
Ark of the Covenant x 2 (0)
Atlantic Star x 2 (1)
Carpe Astra x 2 (0)

Parade is not yet available outside of Germany, so we used a Sticheln deck to play it. It's a very good filler. Apples to Apples is a party game, only played on special occasions with the right group; not a game generally brought out to the strategy gaming club.

Ark of the Covenant was brought by a one-time only attendee who wanted to learn how to play it; it plays similarly to Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers. Nice. Atlantic Star is not a favorite of the group, though I think it's quite nice. It's biggest problem is it's reliance on a crayon to write values. We tried Carpe Astra, didn't like it, and traded it away.

Claude x 2 (0)
Dominion: Intrigue x 2 (0)
Fluxx x 2 (0)
Mr Jack x 2 (6)

Claude is a prototype someone brought for us to play. We only got Dominion: Intrigue late in the year, so it's play count will go up. Fluxx is only played when I'm away, thank goodness. Mr Jack is a nice, meatier two player game, for when Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation is not long enough.

No Thanks x 2 (3)
Path x 2 (0)
Race for the Galaxy x 2 (17)
Shadows Over Camelot x 2 (2)
Trias x 2 (1)
Vegas Showdown x 2 (2)

No Thanks is a nice, quick filler for up to five, but Parade is also good for this spot. Path was an ok abstract which I traded away. RftG is enjoyed by several in the group, but with its expansion now (see above). Shadows is a good cooperative game; I find it a bit straightforward. It can take a lot of players, who can come and go without disrupting the game flow.

I love Trias, but haven't gotten others to love it, yet. Vegas Showdown always surprises us as to being a good game. We played it to see if we wanted to keep it, and we did.

The remaining games were played once:

Age of Steam (0)
Battlestar Galactica (0)
Blokus Trigon (0)
Boggle (1)
Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers (0)

Age of Steam is awesome, but long; I just got the slightly lighter game Steam, at the end of the year. Battlestar Galactica is another good coop game, which will probably see more play than Shadows Over Camelot, if a cooperative game is called for. It's also pretty long, however.

Blokus Trigon is lighter than the usual fare played, but I think it's an excellent game, especially for new or non-gamers. Boggle is not usually played by the group, except on a lark; we don't play word games. C:H&G was traded away in favor of Carcassonne: Cities (which didn't get any play). I need to introduce it to new players; the older players are not enamored with the Carcassonne series, for some reason.

Caylus (3)
Checkers (0)
Cities and Knights of Catan (3)
Cuba (0)
Dominion: Seaside (0)

Caylus is too long for my tastes, and the game tends to play you; others like to play it occasionally. Checkers was played on Games Day by transient attendees. Cities and Knights was played by newer players. I still like it, but only if you add a rule that the game ends once a player is 5 points ahead of any other player.

We played Cuba once, and have to explore it a lot further. Dominion: Seaside will also see more play next year.

Dvonn (0)
El Grande (4)
Galaxy Trucker (0)
Greedy Greedy (0)
Hacienda (1)

Dvonn is a great abstract that doesn't see enough play. I'm shocked to see El Grande only at one play, but it's also a pretty long game. Someone brought Galaxy Trucker while I was away, so I can't comment on it. greedy Greedy is a variant of Farkle which someone wanted me to review; traded away. Hacienda is an ok medium-weight game, but not good enough to keep.

Hare and Tortoise (0)
Homesteaders (0)
Imperial (0)
Le Havre (0)
Louis XIV (1)

Hare and Tortoise is a nice, friendly game; not sure how much play it will get next year. Homesteaders was played once by some of the others, who called it fiddly; it looks like a great game to me, and I hope to try it out. Imperial we either played incorrectly, or it's just not for us. Le Havre is fantastic and should see more play next year. Louis XIV is a good game, a little annoying at the end, but a good medium weight. Not sure how much play it will get next year (probably 1 play, again).

Market of Alturien (0)
Medici (0)
Merchants of Amsterdam (0)
Metropolys (1)
Odin's Ravens (3)

Market was brought over by Binyamin; the players liked it enough, but no one asked me to buy it. Medici is a good auction game, but straight auction games always feel a little empty. Everyone hated the Dutch auctions in Merchants, so we traded it. Binyamin also brought Metropolys, with the same results as Market. Odin's Ravens is a fluffy two-player game.

Phoenicia (0)
Pirate's Cove (2)
Pitchcar (0)
Rock Paper Scissors (0)
Rook (0)

One play of Phoenicia which we all liked. Pirate's Cove has too many dice for some people; oddly, I like the game. Pitchcar is not a strategy game, but was brought over for Games Day. Michael insisted on playing RPS on Games Day. Rook is a nice partnership trick-taking game, in the same space as Bridge and Tichu.

Taj Mahal (3)
Tigris and Euphrates (3)
Tribune (0)
Winner's Circle (1)
Yinsh (1)

Taj Mahal is an old club favorite, now pushed aside by all the other games in the same weight category. It's a scandal that T&E only got one play. Tribune is an excellent worker placement game, sure to see more play. Winner's Circle is fun for non-gamers only, and I traded it away. Yinsh is another excellent abstract, which sees occasional play as a filler.


Played last year, but not this year.

Alexander the Great (1): It was boring.
Anagrams (1)
Arkham Horror (1): Too long.
Before the Wind (2): Flawed.
Blue Moon (2)
Blue Moon City (1): Good game, but brought by Binyamin.
Carcassonne: the City (1)
Children of Fire: RPG / Universalis (2)
Colosseum (1)
Cribbage (1)
David and Goliath (1)
Down Under (1)
Dungeon Twister (2): We're not a FFG group.
For Sale (1)
Go (3): Adam didn't come that often this year.
Havoc: the Hundred Years War (3): Not really a gamer's game.
Industria (2): Good, but not good enough.
Kingsburg (1)
(Lo) Ra (1)
Lost Valley (1)
Mexica (2): Flawed.
Mission: Red Planet (1)
Mississippi Queen (1)
Mykerinos (1)
Netrunner (1): Damn. I think I'll end up trading these away. A pity.
Pandemic (1)
Reels and Deals (2)
Robo Rally (8): Great game; one of our regulars hates it. Might see some group play again this year.
Saikoro (4): I wouldn't mind playing this quick game on occasion.
Samurai (1)
Scrabble (1)
Solomon's Stones (2)
Texas Hold'em (1)
Tikal (1)
Torres (1)
Tower of Babel (3)
Ubongo (1)
Verrater (1)
Zertz (1)

Two Religious Jewish Weddings. Really.

This is the tale of two religious Jewish weddings, one from the far, far right (Belz Hasidic) and the other from the far, far left (Conservadox).

Both of the weddings followed halacha (Jewish law) - kind of.

The Hasidic wedding adhered to halacha and a whole lot more, adding strictures and stringencies to separate the genders as much as possible. The Conservadox wedding adhered to halacha, but used the most lenient and minority opinions it could find to equalize the genders as much as possible (and went a few inches over those opinions).

The Hasidic wedding added a number of customs that were developed over the last few decades and centuries, but which, they claim, go back to the bible. The Conservadox wedding jettisoned several well-known customs that originated in the last few decades and centuries, because the couple didn't feel that they engendered a sense of equality.

Both of the weddings were rather odd compared to the more usual religious weddings I've attended in my twenty years in Israel.

Wedding 1: Tue, Dec 29, 2009

The bride and bridesmaids before the wedding starts. The bride is already wearing a sheitel (wig). In modern religious weddings, the bride doesn't cover her head with more than this bridal headpiece until she leaves the wedding, after which she might wear a sheitel, hat, snood, tichel, or whatever.

The father of the bride (front), Rachel (looking at camera). The bride's family is Conservadox; their daughter became Belz Hasidic over the last few years.

The signing of tenaim and ketubah. The tenaim are extra marriage agreements, a custom of certain Hasidic groups which has infiltrated to a minority of modern Orthodox congregations, as well.

The hall was sparse and utilitarian. I've had good, even fantastic, food at Haredi weddings; the food here was abominable (sorry, guys, we love you anyway). The music was loud but good: two great singers singing in harmony, one drummer, and one guy operating a music computer system (all men, of course).

The ketubah text is traditional, and specifies the husband's obligations to the wife, and sums to be paid upon divorce. Unfortunately, in Israel, the ketubah is generally ignored by both religious and secular courts (the wife is assumed to agree to waive its contents).

The wedding was held outside, after dark. The parents held candles.

Here comes the bride, assisted by her mother and soon-to-be mother-in-law.

In a modern religious wedding, the bride typically has double translucent veils on her head, both veils behind her head until the badekken. At the baddeken, the groom then takes one of the veils and places it over her face. Under the huppah, the veil stays over her face until the second cup of wine is sipped, at which point the front veil is moved behind her head again.

Here, the bride's face was covered with what appears to be a thick cloth napkin, or perhaps a small tablecloth. This covered her more than a burqa would have. For all the groom knew, anyone could have been under there.

She couldn't see. A wide series of hoops in her skirts completed the effect by making her unable to walk without tripping every few feet.

The bride circled the groom seven times.

The groom kept his eyes closed during the badekken, except for a brief flash before he tossed the napkin onto her head. He kept his eyes closed, fervently praying, during the entire huppah. Likely the bride did the same.

Stamping the wine glass, in remembrance of our broken temple.

The groom gives the ketubah to the disembodied hand of the bride.

The dancing after the huppah is usually full of joy and happiness, as it was in this wedding. Under the huppah is usually joy mixed with holiness. Under this huppah, there was holiness, but no external expressions of joy.

The Rabbi intoning the last traditional blessing - which includes the words "... Who creates joy and happiness, bride and groom, gaiety and gladness, rejoicing and jubilation, love and comradeship, peace and affection ...", and is usually accompanied by singing from the audience - made the blessing sound like an anguished prayer for forgiveness.

The bride emerges from the veil after the ceremony is complete (wearing a sheitel, of course). Off to the dancing!

Wedding 2: Wed, Dec 30, 2009

Mother of the groom.

The location: on the shore of the Dead Sea, with traditional Moroccan furniture and fixings: elaborately tiled walls and tables, hand-sewn cushions, and Tangeen pots. All the food was vegan, and very good (although pity that Moroccan's don't know about chocolate). The music was somewhat anemic (sorry, guys, we love you anyway).

Father and brother of the groom.

Groom and bride before the wedding. The usual custom is a white wedding dress for the bride, and a kittel or white over-garment for the groom, symbols of purity (not virginity, as it is for Christians). The white wedding dress was discarded, I'm not sure why. They might have felt it was sexist, for some reason.

Traditionally, the bride and groom don't see each other before the wedding.

Dancing before the huppah.

Much of the wedding party, before the wedding.

Signing a prenup.

A woman cannot force her husband to divorce him, unless she can prove something about the husband that should have been revealed to her before the marriage (such as a lame leg, or infertility). If a husband refuses to let a woman get divorced, she is "chained" to him, a status called "agunah".

In contrast, a husband can divorce a wife for nearly any reason; in modern Israel, however, the courts will not give the divorce against her consent. A husband can get around this by taking a second wife (in certain communities this is still legal) or by gaining signatures from 100 respected Rabbis.

Many people feel outraged by this discrepancy in the modern world (I'm one of them), but changing the system within the framework of halacha is tricky. One possible solution is in the form of a carefully-worded pre-nuptial agreement, such as the one they are signing here. Their doing so, as they announced while doing so, was also meant to encourage others to take the same step in the hopes of eventually establishing parity in the laws.

The huppah, hand-sewn by 75 of their friends. Patches include those for the struggle in Darfur (an issue about which they work to raise awareness), love of Israel, and so on.

No aisle. No baddeken. No veil. No circling the groom. The bride and groom held hands.

The groom gave a ring to the bride, as "eirusin". Then, for "kiddushin", the groom accepted a ring from the bride as a symbol for agreeing to the terms of the ketubah (which was slightly modified from the traditional text in certain ways).

They broke a cup in remembrance of the temple.

Women and men both recited the traditional blessings under the huppah (according to the the booklet that they handed out before the ceremony, the extreme lenient opinion allows for women to make the traditional blessings only at the wedding meals, not under the huppah; I'm not sure how they justified this.) The blessings were repeated in both Hebrew and English (the English served as a translation).

The couple, right after the ceremony. Minority opinion allows a married woman to go with uncovered hair. Off to the dancing!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Cheating That Is Not Cheating

Froggie Boogie

There's a fantastic children's game called Froggie Boogie. The game comes with a lily-pad track, a small frog for each player, eight larger frogs in two colors each, and two eyes for each frog. A fly is pictured on the bottom of one of the eyes on each frog; the other eye has a blank bottom face.

On your turn, you roll the dice. The two colors rolled on the dice indicate a specific large frog. You choose to look at the bottom of one of the frog's eyes. If it shows a fly, replace the eye in its place, move forward on the lily-pad track, and go again. If it shows a blank face, replace the eye in its place and pass the dice to the player on your left. The first player to reach the end of the track wins.

At the start of the game, picking the eye with the fly is a matter of luck. However, you should, in theory, always be able to pick the correct eye once you've "done" a particular frog. In practice, you tend to forget, again and again, which eye has the fly, much to the amusement of your children who win at least as often as the parents do. It's a fun game for kids, or for kids to play with adults.

Solving Froggie Boogie ...

About halfway through my first game of Froggie Boogie, I realized that the game is solvable. I could assign an order number to each frog, and a binary bit to each eye (for example, right eye is 0, left eye is 1), and thus, after every play, adjust the value of the bits in order, convert the binary number to a decimal number, and remember the decimal number. On my turn, reverse the process to determine the correct location of the fly.

... is Cheating

I could have ... but I didn't. Instead, I continued to play the game the way I believed it was "meant to be played": I tried to remember the locations visually. I got better as the game went on, but continued to make the occasional mistake. In turn, my memory got some exercise.

Why did I do it this way? Because using my solution would have been cheating. On the one hand, it wasn't against the rules. On the other hand, it was against the spirit of the game; solving the game wasn't what the game was "about" [1]. It wouldn't have exercised my memory. And it would have made the game phenomenally boring for me, and for all of the other players. In other words, it would have taken a fun game and turned it into a waste of time. That's wrong.

Winning Should Be a Challenge

In a competition for $1,000 or a trophy, one is expected to try to win at all costs, so long as one plays by the rules and exhibits sportsmanship; in this case, my solution would not be cheating. In a family situation, there is a limit to how many personal resources you are expected to bring to bear in playing a game. You don't go all out against your four year old while playing tennis. You give a weaker player a handicap while playing Go or Chess. That makes it fun for all players, and that's the point; winning is besides the point.

Trackable Information

In some games, information is hidden but trackable. For example, in Puerto Rico, you are aware of how many victory points a player gets when he or she gets them, but you are not "supposed to" keep track of exactly how many each player has [2]. In It's Alive, you can track how much money and which tiles each player has, if you really want to. But you shouldn't. You should guess; it's part of the game. If I had wanted players to keep exact track exactly how many coins and which tiles each player had, I wouldn't have given each player a personal screen to hide them. Exactly keeping track of this information slows down the game, and also makes the game a little boring.

Analysis Paralysis

Over-analysis of a game situation may lead to better results, but it leeches away the fun and the game time from others. When you over-analyze, you get more play time than the other players do, and you may even prevent an additional game from being played later in the evening.

Over-analysis is spending 1/6 more time taking your turn than the average time spent by each other player taking his or her turn. If everyone else spends, on average, a minute to think through a move, you should spend no more than, on average, a minute and ten seconds. You may do better for thinking longer, but that's not the point of this particular game. You are expected, in this particular game, to think only so far, and estimate the rest by instinct.

Thinking for up to a minute or two should be able to get you to take the path with 33% chance of success over the path with 1% chance of success. If several more minutes of thinking gets you to a path with 55% chance of success, then you're over-analyzing, or you're specifically using the game to think through a particular type of strategy [1, 3], or you're playing Chess, where each player's turn is long and deep thinking is encouraged.


Froggie Boogie's game play is simple, light, and fairly quick. Its child-friendly theme acts to discourage playing the game in any way other than the canonical way.

Same games have open information; this makes tracking information simple, but additional concrete information can lead some players to additional over-analysis.

Some computer games and some board games prevent over-analysis by not providing you a lot of options, or by providing you many options, or by not providing complete information. Providing few options results in a narrower, but possible deeper, search tree. Providing many options results in a search tree that is so broad that anyone with sense should quickly realize that a complete analysis will take too long. Incomplete information is not much of a help on its own, if players can still work hard to analyze the odds.

Many computer game, and some board games, prevent over-analysis by requiring you to make your moves under a time constraint. You can institute your own time constraints (an hourglass or a kitchen clock works well) for any game, if you so desire.


[1] These sentiments do not apply for all occasions. For example, solving the game might serve as an instructive exercise for a class in math, logic, or algorithms.

[2] In a two-player Puerto Rico game, you can't help it, since you know how many you and the bank have, and you know how many there were to start with. To solve this, the bank's current total should be kept secret. Use twenty five 1 VP chips, and the remainder 5 VP chips. Place the 5 VP chips beside the board, and the 1 VP chips in an opaque bag. When you gain 1 VP chips, take them from the bag, tossing 5 of them back into the bag in exchange for a 5 VP chip when appropriate. Players may not count the chips in the bag.

[3] And for some people, that's the fun in a game, regardless of what the game play is "meant" to be.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Some Finer Points on Skill and Luck

Let's say that a game gives me two opportunities: I can try to pick a black card from 2 red cards and 1 black card, or I can try to pick a black card from 99 red cards and 1 black card.

I have a 100% chance of successfully choosing the opportunity that I want [1]. There is no waiting for the results, no possibility of error, and nothing my opponent can do to prevent or overturn my choice.

Nevertheless, the game doesn't end after that choice. Once I have chosen, I must still pick the card and await the result. Between the time that I chose my opportunity and the moment that the card is revealed to me, I contribute nothing to the game. There is no skill I can exercise, no feat I can accomplish. All I can do is await the outcome. [2]

In a game of Chess, when I choose to make a legal move on my turn, there is a 100% chance of my move occurring. Between that move and my next move, my opponent may respond in many different ways. There is no skill I can exercise, no feat I can accomplish [3]. All I can do is await the outcome.

The difference between these two games is that in the former case, I await pure chance to determine the results, while in the latter case, I await the skills of my opponent to determine the results. In either case, I can be lucky or unlucky. Luck in picking cards is obvious. In playing Chess, luck may have to do with my opponent's mental state, somehow having hit a blind spot in his evaluation or knowledge, his having a weakness to which I played [4], and so on.

Here's a third game: I'm shown the location of the black card in a set of three cards, and then I go read a book. Now I come back and have to remember where the black card is. I remember that it's not the right card, but I can't remember if it is the middle or the left card. I decide to pick one of those two cards.

My choice is partially skill and partially luck [5]. My skill has reduced the amount of luck. After my decision, I must again await the result of my choice.

If I play the game a dozen more times, I will win every time - no luck involved. The first time I played, I didn't realize how hard it would be to remember. Or, perhaps, I hadn't yet come up with a workable mnemonic system.

If the first game is luck, and the twelfth game is not luck, when does the game change from being one of luck to one of skill? After all, some people will win every game, even the first one; they have a natural skill. Some will always rely on luck.

I determine from these questions that a) my skill can reduce the amount of luck, or eliminate it entirely, and b) beyond the reach of my skill there is still luck. A wild guess. Or an educated guess. A wild swing. The hope that my opponent will under- or over-estimate my play.

If a game relies entirely on skill, it is a puzzle, or it is a foregone conclusion (e.g. tug-of-war with a baby).


[1] Assuming that I can evaluate the situation correctly, and assuming that my opponent can't cheat or otherwise manipulate the odds as I understood them.

[2] Roman's comment on my last post noted that, though my choice of a card is in fact irrelevant, human nature ascribes importance to the selection of the card; if the card is simply flipped at random, it doesn't feel the same as my "picking" a card. This is true, and a fact of human nature that good games exploit.

[3] Assuming that I cannot influence the decision through meta-game actions, such as trying to make him nervous. I could, however, use the opportunity to plan my next move.

[4] That can also be skill on my part, and not only luck; for instance, I may play moves quickly, thereby rattling him.

[5] Of course, it may actually be the right card, and I remembered incorrectly.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top Game News Items on Purple Pawn

My top twenty board and card game news items, and my top ten Eurogame news items, are both on Purple Pawn this year.


The 25 Strangest Board Games of 2009

See entries from 2008, 20072006, 2005

+6 Bag O'Munchkin Babes

Following Steve Jackson's other release +6 Bag O'Munchkins. Aside from the weirdness of using these in a game of Munchkin - you can put one in front of you in order to gain a benefit during the game - SJ added a whole level of weirdness to them by allowing you to use the pieces in any other game.

For instance, you can whip out a munchkin babe to add or subtract from your die roll once in some other roll and move game.

This is so cool, that I hope the concept spreads (and I'll be stealing the idea for my next game at BGG.con, so look in your goodie bags).


Architecture in the stone age. One player is the architect who sees a card with blocks in a certain order. The other is the builder who doesn't see the card.

The architect has to communicate to the builder using grunts and movements to tell the builder which blocks to pick up, rotate, and where to put them. If the builder does an action right, the architect bangs him on the head with a bludgeon. If he's wrong, he bangs him on the head twice.

Admiral Ackbar "It's a Trap!" Game

Based on the line from Return of the Jedi, this is a phrase-forming game using letter and punctuation tiles.

Beer & Pretzels

From the BGG description: Players throw coasters onto a table. And then they get money. And then they throw more coasters. And then they get more money. This very complex and detailed process repeats until the end of the game at which point the player with the most money wins, just like in real life.

At that point the winner will claim that Beer & Pretzels is the best game ever, and the non-winners (to be super politically correct) will claim that the game is fundamentally flawed, and most likely broken.

The BoardGameGeek Game

The game based on the web site, in this game, you play a game company trying to sell your games, and you also play players at a game group trying to acquire the best games for their group.

Designed by Richard Breese, the game features a thousand avatars from registered BGG users.

Bridge Troll

You're a troll who throws boulders to attract travelers to cross your bridge. Half the travelers you rob for their money, and the other half you eat. This allows you to pay for repairs on your bridge. From the boulders you've thrown.

The Bugman's Game

Each player has to guide his dwarf to the bar to pick up booze and grub and then make his way back to his table avoiding trouble and piles of vomit.

Bunny Bunny Moose Moose

The hunter looks for the animals who casually saunter away, trying to convince the hunter that he must be looking for something else. While the hunter strolls through the forest, players try to look like an animal the hunter won’t shoot (waving their fingers over their head).

Burg der 1000 Spiegel

A box with randomly arranged objects where the only way to find them is by putting mirrors into the box and looking through the sides. And since you're all vampires, if you find the objects, you collect blood tokens.

A web-published redesign of Invisible City's Cthul-B-Que. Capture and cook Cthulhu Mythos monsters without losing life, limb or sanity. End the game with the most monstrous dishes in your serving area.

Deadly Russian Roulette: Die or Be Rich

A game simulating Russian Roulette with foam bullets. OMG.

Doorways to WTF

A print and play game based on Sid Sackson's games Doorways to Adventure and Doorways to Horror. You watch specific Youtube videos, looking for clues.


Pick the dish you want to try to eat from the buffet, roll the dice and see if you manage to force it down or if you lose your lunch. Be careful not to eat too many different flavors and avoid gross food if you can while you race to victory.

Eine gegen Eine

No information is given about the game contents, genre, or rules, and there is no rulebook. Part of the game is to discover how to play using the contents.

Fictional Rummy
A game with no components. The object is to describe the hand of cards you would have gotten, if you had actually been drawing cards. The best fictional hand wins.

The Game of Life: Extreme Reality Edition

It's Life, but you might get married while skydiving or give birth to sextuplets. And it's published by Hasbro.

HFP - Hard Furry Pets
Players become little anthropomorphic animals who try to charm sweet girls of wavering morality.

Hamster Combat

Hamster martial arts. 'Nuff said.

Insult Bingo

Bingo cards, where each space is an insult or vulgarity. Players take turns reading (shouting) the spaces, marking them off on their own card as appropriate.

Mr. Bacon's Big Adventure

Navigate your way through the Mustard Marsh, cross the eerie expanse of Wiener Wasteland and sail on the Sausage Sea. If you make it past the deceptive detour of Vegan Alley and avoid getting grounded in Gristle Grotto, you might just make it to the Great Frying Pan at the end of the trail.

Poo: The Card Game

Players are monkeys in the zoo having a fight ...

Poopsock! The MMORPG Addict Card Game

A card game poking fun at MMORPG players. A poopsock is an item that allows a player not to have to go to the bathroom, thus avoiding wasting valuable level-up time.

Red Shirts

Your goal is to kill off your opponents' Star Trek security personnel. Of course, they all eventually die in the end.

Top Ten: The Ten Commandments

Players battle over creating a new version of the ten commandments. Each player has a different goal.

Win, Lose, or Banana

The game comes with three cards. Pick one to find out if you win, lose, or banana.

More of the Same, and Games

If it's 8:30, it must be a bar-mitzvah

Our dear friends had a bar-mitzvah for their (4th? 5th?) son on shabbat morning. The BM boy read beautifully and then spoke very quickly.

Shul was followed by a kiddush.

If it's 11:30, it must be another kiddush

I ran from the bar-mitzvah kiddush to the kiddush at another shul, where my wife gave a small d'var torah in honor of our dear friends who just finished walking the entire Israel trail, in order to raise money for ALS research. They completed the trail, and also (with 6 km to go) raised their target goal: $36,000, or $36 for each kilometer walked. The walkers all lost several kilos. They have a haunted look about them, like they don't know what to with themselves now that they're not hiking.

You can still contribute, of course.

If it's 7:00, it's bar-mitzvah take two

The party for the bar-mitzvah boy takes place after shabbat (sometimes later in the week) so that there can be fresh hot food, gift giving, book signing, videos, music, and microphones.

The father of the bar-mitzvah boy did the worst karaoke rendition ever of a U2 song; on the plus side, the IDF is looking into using his talents for riot control in the territories. The food and company was good, though.

And then (9:30) a shiva visit

To the friend whose father's funeral we attended on Thursday.


Rachel has banished my game collection from the living room closet to the shelves near the washing machine. I admit that they fit better there. But still. The collection no longer dominates the living room. Sniff.

I didn't play anything this shabbat, but last shabbat I introduced some kids who love games, but are as of yet only familiar with mainstream games and with my game It's Alive, to Alice and Wonderland Parade (they liked it) and Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation (they loved it). They played ten games of LotR:tC, returning it to me the next day.

Friday, December 25, 2009

From (One Person's) Bris to (Another Person's) Funeral. And a Play.

On Rachel's first full day back, we went to a bris, a funeral, and a play. I reminded her that Jerusalem isn't like this all the time. But considering all of the other events that will occur in the next two weeks: two weddings, a bar mitzvah, New Year's, ... I'm not sure I convinced her.

A day on which you go to a bris, a funeral, and a play, is not a day in which you can get much else done. From birth to death to performance.

If it's 8:00 am, it must be a bris

Rachel hugging the sister of the imminent amputee.

Wednesday night we went to a birthday party for a Norwegian friend; most of the other attendees were Norwegian. Thursday morning's bris was for a Swedish couple, held at the Swedish something-or-other on HaNeviim street, and most of the other attendees were Swedish. Though each of these friends are dear to us and part of our usual social circle, neither of the circles at the events contained many people from the usual social circle; in other words, it wasn't a "shul" or "neighborhood" event.

The baby's three young, beautiful children all love Rachel, and had missed her while she was away. They always congregate on her lap in shul.

If it's 1:00 pm, it must be a funeral

A Mount of Olives burial, men at the graveyard, women (and many men) looking over the railing

The funeral was for the father of another dear friend of ours, who was supposed to be the next Rebbe of a certain Hassidic sect, but declined the mantle because he considered himself too involved in the secular world (he had an influence on Herschel, for instance).

Our friends are not Hassidic. It was hard to get close to the graveyard to shovel dirt on one's own, but anyone who wasn't wearing Hassidic garb was assumed to be a family member, and so I (and the gray-haired husband of the one who lost her father, see below) were specifically ushered to the grave for this purpose.

After the actual burial was completed, the women came down. The separation of the sexes at a Jerusalem burial (even the daughter, wife, or mother must remain behind the railing) is not one of my favorite customs (nor is it required in Judaism, I believe, but Haredim control such things in Israel, and their customs tend to prevail).

If it's 8:00 pm, it must be a play

Tal as a maid in The Pirates of Penzance

Tal is my youngest, 16 years old, who is somehow managing to perform in two plays (Pirates of Penzance, Another Antigone) and still keep up her schoolwork. I'm both stunned and proud.

PoP runs again next week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and is well worth the exorbitant ticket price for an amateur production; it's the best show I've seen in Jerusalem, excepting an amazing Shakespeare productions that I saw last summer in Jerusalem's botanical gardens. It has a lovely live orchestra and excellent singing. And it's Gilbert and Sullivan, of course.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Session Report, in which we try out Phoenicia

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Phoenicia, Atlantic Star, Alice and Wonderland Parade.

First play of Phoenicia for four of us, first play of Atlantic Star for two of us, first play of Parade for one of us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Two Weddings, A Funeral, A Bris, A Bar-Mitzvah, and a Wife (and some Movies)

Rachel is returning tomorrow, God willing, for semester break.

Over the next two and a half weeks, we're scheduled to attend two weddings, a funeral/shiva, a bris, a play, a bar-mitzvah, one or two sheva brachot, a shul shabbaton, and God knows what else. Oh yes, a birthday party.

This should be amusing.


Moon: It's a lot like Solaris. Both were intelligent movies for grown ups, with similar plots.

Broken Flowers: Not bad, but doesn't go far enough to sustain an entire movie.

Julie and Julia: Amy Adams is fetching, as usual; Meryl Streep is brilliant, as usual. They prettied up the less-palatable real life of the protagonist.

Knowing: Typical Nicholas Cage, typical plot loopholes in a sci-fi disaster movie.

500 Days of Summer: Zoey Dechantel is fetching, as usual. A decent, but not fabulous, romantic comedy.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Board Game Blog World Roundup

This post lists new (to me) blogs since my last roundup, which was around three months ago.

You may also want to check the sidebar on my blog to see if your blog was dropped from my list, which it was if it has not been updated (or contained no game postings) in the last three months or so.


2d6: A staff of people doing video reviews and interviews.

2p Co-op: Alan and Gillian from the UK. Beginning gamers player two-player games.

Board to Death TV: Michaela and Steve, Montreal. Video reviews.

EdGames: Students of EdTech 670 course. All about everything having to do with games.

Endless Bag Of Dice: A 25 year old guy with the pseudonym MKay, Helsinki, Finland. Mostly RPGs, but promises to get more board game material in.

game thought: Nolan Lichti, Indianapolis, IN. Thoughts on games, but I don't know how serious a blogger.

Geek Pride: Ethan Gilsdorf, Somerville, MA. This blog is on Psychology Today's site. Pop culture, mass media, and gaming.

MetaGames: James Sheahan, Guilford, UK. Mostly reviews from a consultant.

Strategos Utopia: News from a board game store in Indonesia.

The Board Game Family: Trent Howell, UT. Reviews, text and video.

The Board Game Nut: Kevin Michaelis, West Valley, UT. Reviews from a hobby business owner.

The Word From the Outpost: Darren Johnson, Glendale, AZ. Industry info from a game business owner.

Session Report, in which every game played is our first play

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Hare and Tortoise, Cuba, Amyitis.

First play for all of us on each game. First looks at Hare and Tortoise and Cuba.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

eLuna: I screwed up

Praise is a fantastic, invaluable web site.

The site contains a large list of kosher restaurants around Israel, and offers - for free - 10% discount vouchers for nearly all of them.

You can also pre-pay for vouchers with even better percentage deals, or bid on weekly auctions for vouchers with yet even better percentage deals. I've bid on numerous auctions and won dinner for 300 NIS paying only 200 NIS, which is amazing. Bidding is free. If you win an auction, you pay a 10 NIS service charge to eLuna, which I factor into my bid price.

Suffice to say, eLuna has saved me hundreds or thousands of NIS, gotten me out of the house more (canceling some of those savings :-) ) and introduced me to many tasty restaurants that I never would have tried.

One drawback

The only real problem that I have with the voucher system is that, other than the 10% vouchers, the pre-paid or auction vouchers can take a few days to get to you, sometimes up to three days. Which means that you can't pick where you're going for dinner and get a pre-paid voucher for that evening. Or pick where you're going on Thursday night, win the auction on Wed night, and hope to get the auction voucher by Thursday night. It can sometimes take them until Sunday before they send you the voucher.

The vouchers have a limited lifetime; you have to use them within two or three weeks.

One other minor problem is that they don't include a telephone number on their site. They include a fax number and an email address, but they're just as likely to take two or three days to answer an email, by which time the voucher that I thought was lost will have arrived.

Until now, this has not been too much of a problem.

eLuna's Misstep

Last Wed I won an auction voucher, dutifully paid for it when I got a message indicating to do so on Thursday, and expected the voucher by Sunday, at least. Since I was going to Tel Aviv on Thursday (tomorrow), and the voucher was for a place in Modiin (on the way to Tel Aviv), I had to have it, at latest, by Wed evening.

The voucher didn't come by Tuesday. Tuesday at 12:10 pm I sent an email to eLuna asking what the deal was, and that I needed the voucher by Wed at the latest. The voucher didn't come by the afternoon.

So I sent a letter to Janglo on Tuesday afternoon (4 ish), asking if anyone had a telephone number for eLuna, complaining about the delay, and expressing my annoyance that the contact info was not on the site.

Several hours later I received the voucher from eLuna. I responded with thanks, and told them next time not to take six days, or to at least send me some kind of communication in the meantime if they are having technical problems. They apologized and offered to call the restaurant if I have any trouble with the voucher due to any expiration problems.

On Wed (today), someone sent them a copy of the post I sent to Janglo, and they were rather upset that I chose to malign them in public. They have asked me to issue a retraction to Janglo, which I have done, but I don't know yet if Janglo will post it.

What I Screwed Up

- I should have emailed eLuna on Sunday or Monday, and not waited until Tuesday when time was now pressing. Perhaps they would have seen my email and sent me the voucher earlier. In any case, by waiting until Tuesday to deal with it, I put myself into a situation of desperation and frustration.

- I should only have emailed to Janglo a request for contact information, WITHOUT mentioning the problem. Though what I wrote was accurate, there was no reason to share my frustration with Janglo. Janglo readers never heard from me after the many, many times that things went well with eLuna, so by sending a complaint, I did not paint a complete picture.

Now I'm rather sorry that eLuna has to deal with a couple of emails from people asking what the deal is (spurred by my complaint) and I can understand their being upset with me. Not that this didn't start with something that they did wrong; it did. But I didn't handle it properly.

To show my appreciation for eLuna, I'm hereby letting everyone know that eLuna's a good site, with great deals and great information. I use it a lot, and I would recommend that anyone else in Israel looking for a kosher restaurant use it, as well.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shabbat and Hanukkah Gaming

Dinner at Nadine's. I brought Tribune. It supports up to five players, and is fairly easy to understand.

We played with Beth, a longtime friend of Nadine's from LA who comes from a gaming family, and I-can't-remember-her-name-but-Nadine-will-in-the-comments, a friend of Nadine's son who just made aliyah. She is not a gamer I think, but had no problem learning the game.

In fact, Tribune goes very smoothly if there is someone around to teach the game. The game narrative is very straightforwards, but there are all these little niggly things to remember. Even though these are all printed on the cards or player boards, they're not so easy to remember, anyway.

Everyone enjoyed the game, and we also all saw the potential for getting better at it as we learn how the mechanisms interact and can make particular choices as to which paths to take. And begin to make our decisions based on what others are doing. So it looks like a keeper.

We played a medium game, and Nadine was the only one to get the victory condition. Beth was one coin away (29 instead of 30). I was one faction marker away, which is not quite as close.

Hanukkah Jeopardy

Saturday night I had a Hanukkah party. It was supposed to be music and a game, but nobody brought music. In one corner, Nadine taught four others how to play R-Eco.

Later, the whole group played a Hanukkah Jeopardy game that I made. Since our group is fairly knowledgeable, I tried to make it a little harder than the usual "on this day of the month of Kislev is the holiday of Hanukkah". My questions were more on the order of "this was Antiochus' second in command, who dispatched the Greek/Syrian armies to Israel". And the group managed to answer correctly 80% of the questions.

Details about the answers/questions are available upon request.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Session Report, in which we play Homesteaders and Tribune

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Alice and Wonderland Parade, Dominion: Intrigue, Magic: the Gathering, Homesteaders, Tribune.

Nearly all new games brought back from America.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Watching vs Performing vs Mastering

Watching vs Performing

There are two distinct aspects to board gaming; so distinct, that they aren't the same activity at all, though they look the same from the outside, and most games package some combination of them into the same box.

These are: luck and strategy. Passive and active entertainment. Watching and performing.

It's no crime to enjoy both. Moods vary, depending on the lateness of the day, alcohol consumed, and other factors.

When you roll the dice and laugh, groan, or jump for joy at the outcome, you are enjoying passive entertainment. Your having to push a button to cause the random event doesn't change that. The entertainment value is from seeing what happens to something outside of your control. Like watching television.

When you're called upon to think or make a decision, you are enjoying active entertainment. There are different levels of active entertainment, from the simple (trivia: do I know it or not?) to the complex (how do I get my battalion to that base?). Regardless of complexity, you can rank better or worse players, and most of the time you can work to improve yourself.

You can't rank or improve performance of experiencing passive entertainment; the participant isn't performing.

Obviously the writers of this article had expectations that games are there to amuse the players while the players watch. That's fine, if that's what they like. Unfortunately, they didn't realize that watching games play out is a different sort of entertainment than performing them. I'm sure that they would diss Chess as too boring.

Performing vs Mastery

My friend David pointed out this article about a division within active gaming: performing vs mastery. There are two types of activities within active gaming: performing what you know well (relishing an easy win), and mastering what you don't (struggling, failing, and eventually succeeding at a difficult win). The article is a good read.

The author claims that, while in action games, the player must improve in order for his or her performance to improve (mastery), in RPGs, the player's character gains performance disproportionately to the player's actual mastery. It's like: see what skills you've gained, though the player hasn't really achieved any new skills. I think that's a little unfair to RPGs, especially the ones that require actual player thinking. But mostly because RPGs are simulating a different type of fantasy: real players shouldn't have to get more physically fit for their characters to become more physically fit.

But the general point is sound: people play games for different reasons, depending on what types of entertainment or recreation they want at a given time. Ranking different types of games against each other is pointless if they are meant to provide different types of entertainment.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Shabbat Gaming

Five of us played Alice in Wonderland Parade and Vegas Showdown.

Not having been to Essen, I didn't have a copy of Parade, but it was easily made from my Sticheln deck.

I'm pretty sure I got most of the rules right; I wasn't sure what happens if two or more players tie for most number of cards in a color. Do they all get the reduction, or none of them? We played that they all did.

Fun game. Elegant rules. It took some a while to grasp the implications behind the rules. They kept trying to assess which cards were better or worse, and the answer was always "depends". The most common physical activity was pointing at the line of cards and counting them.

Nadine won the first game, 6 points to my 8. Mace triggered an early end game by having each of the colors. Mace won the second won with 9 points, to Ksenia's 11. Nadine totally hosed me in the second game, and I repaid her in turn, taking us both out of contention.

Vegas Showdown was also a good game, as usual. I'd played before, but I still didn't feel like I knew what I was doing. Ksenia and Shirley each tied for first place (Shirley had the tie-breaking cash).

Friday, December 04, 2009

Shabbat Coming

I'm invited out for dinner, and I made lunch: roast potatoes, noodel kugel, veggie cholent, cheese, bread, wine, salad, apple pie.

Gamers are coming for lunch, so I expect to play something after. Maybe I'll bring something to dinner, too. I think I'll create an Alice in Wonderland Parade deck out of my Sticheln deck, until I get a real copy.

I woke up at 11:00, shabbat is at 4:00 and I'm just shy of being overwhelmed.

Session Report, in which we play new games, especially Le Havre

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion: Intrigue, Dominion: Seaside, Tichu, Le Havre, Pillars of the Earth, San Juan.

First plays for both Dominion expansions and for Le Havre.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Back in Israel

I forget that my blog, Twitter, and Facebook accounts aren't a single entity; yes, I'm back in Israel.

Saturday morning Rachel spoke before davening at a small service whose name I forget, while I davened at Shaarei Shamayim, the large modern Orthodox central shul.

I sat down, in a huge sanctuary in the back, and asked the guy next to me to take me to the secret kiddush club. Naturally, there was one. Secret Kiddush clubs are usually during, or after, haftorah and serve Scotch (and the like), herring (and the like), soda, and crackers. At least, that's what I got at all three secret kiddush clubs that I've been to.

Rachel and I then walked to Beth Tzedec, a vast Conservative synagogue, where she gave a lecture after their kiddush, as well as another one later after Mincha. A little disconcerting to me to see and hear the occasional person with a cell phone. And there was a microphone available, which Rachel didn't use, of course. Though some guy asked her to use it, refused to move forward when she wouldn't, and then got up and left two minutes later.

Meals were arranged, and were lovely. And unlike every household I was in in America, no one (except my father in law) had a vast big screen TV dominating the household, and no one talked about sports.

Saturday night we went to see old friends of hers, the Weinrebs. Later that evening, I tried to do online checkin for El Al, only to have my ticket number refused. A call to El Al revealed that they had secretly changed my ticket number, again. The new one worked.

No further problems for that flight, thank goodness. Except that it was a 767, which didn't have personal video screens. Movies: Post Grad (girls can't find a job after college, and when she finally does, she quits it to be with her boyfriend, the end), Stone of Destiny (Scottish nationalists steal a rock from the English and then let the police take it back again, the end), The Edge (Guys get lost in Alaska wilderness and try to make it home in one piece; decent, but formulaic). I wish I could sleep in airplanes.

Home sweet home. Kids, dog, mail, clean, food, work, sleep.