Thursday, January 27, 2011

Session Report, in which we let a designer show us his games and try Bridgetown Races

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: some prototypes, Tobago, Bridgetown Races, Carson City.

We try Bridgetown Races, and decide that it and Carson City are both imperfect.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

RIP Jack Vasel: Nov 15, 2010 - Jan 24, 2011

My good friend and colleague Tom Vasel and his wife Laura Beth Vasel lost their 2 month old prematurely born baby boy yesterday. There are no words, really. But I wish Tom and Laura my deepest condolences on their terrible loss.

Tom has chronicled every step of Jack's birth and sickness on Facebook, as well as other sites, throughout the process. He wrote about the great anticipation that the entire family felt for finally having a boy baby, the joy that each day that Jack's life gave to them, and the terrible decision that they needed to make when faced with the knowledge that there was no longer any hope for brain function.

Tom's friends and relatives regularly sent prayers and wishes, but no less - in fact, greatly more - were the prayers and wishes of thousands of BoardGameGeek gamers who have read Tom's reviews and The Dice Tower listeners who have listened to his excellent game podcast. Tom surely has received strength and some small measure of comfort from the gamer community. I'm proud to be a part of the community, proud of my fellow gamers.

Tom and Laura: May God continue to shine his light on you and your family. May Jack's memory be a blessing.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Gaming

Friday night at my friends, I played with their kids: Jungle Speed (Tal won in a three-player game) and Blokus Duo (I won twice).

The next day I headed to my cousins for one of the kids' bar mitzvahs. I brought some big box games to play with my cousins and brothers' families over shabbat, but they never came out. Everyone was busy with lunch, etc, and then Settlers of Catan, Apples to Apples, and Magic, and playing with the pet chameleon and its food supply (a box of live wriggling worms) and talking. There were too many kids and adults running around to bring out a more contemplative game.

And yet, they were always asking me if I had any new games. Whenever I said "of course", there was a chorus of 12 to 15 people of all sizes and ages yelling that they wanted to play too, and then wandering off to do something else, play something else, or just fight, before I could bring anything out. None of my games could take 12 people, anyway.

I read a book.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Session Report, in which we try Gosu again and still find it confusing

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Tobago, Gosu.

Emily and Eitan come and I introduce them to two new games, both of which they like. hey think there should be more curses in Tobago; we'll try mixing them back into the deck next time. And they like Gosu, but I suspect that they're the only ones in the club who will.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shabbat Gaming

I went to Cliff's to play some games with his kids and with Mace and his kids (and fiance's kids). Lots of kids, suffice to say.

The kids wanted to play Bang. There's a reason I don't like Werewolf; it's the same reason I sold my copy of Bang. This session reminded me why. We had 6 players, and I was the renegade, already a generally hopeless position in which to start the game. I was eliminated after taking only one turn, for no particular reason and with no way of preventing it. I watched for the next 45 minutes while one of the outlaws refused to kill the sheriff because he thought it would be a "better win" if he killed all the other outlaws first.

The kids then wanted to play Munchkin, and I said no way (at least, not with me). I convinced the adults and two of the kids to play Terra Prime, a game I wanted to learn. It's the other first game from Tasty Minstrel games, whose game Homesteaders is one of my all-time favorites.

Terra Prime is an exploration and settlement game, similar enough to other games in the genre. There may be more to it than what I experienced on my first play since I only made it through a few rounds before I had to leave. In particular, in this kind of game, I need to know how the scoring works at the end of the game, so I can't say that I've actually played the game yet. I'm keen to play a whole game, however.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Session Report, in which we try Gosu and Tobago

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Gosu, Tobago, Carson City.

We try Gosu and I give a brief description of it, the problems we had with it, and how it might still be interesting.

We try Tobago and like it, except for Binyamin who thinks there is too much luck.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

25 Meters from Death

Gaza residents have fired mortal shells into Israel and planted bombs all week, as they have for several weeks prior; some Thai agricultural workers were injured this week from some of their shells.

My step-son Eitan returned from patrol on Friday evening and went to sleep. He was awakened shortly after and told that militants were in the area. A sharpshooter team was dispatched, and simultaneously a group of soldiers in control of a Keshet mortar system was told to target the militants.

It's still unclear as to what caused the error: a software problem, or an input problem. I'm not sure why both a sharpshooter team and a mortar team were assigned the task. Whatever the reason, at least one shell from the Keshet fell on the sharpshooter team. Nadav Rotenberg lost his arm and leg and died a few hours later. A commander had his face blown off ("moderately wounded"), and three other Israeli soldiers were injured.

Eitan was 25 meters away from the explosion. He was among those who tried to give first aid.

I remember Eitan telling me about one of his paratrooper jumps a few months ago; he told us that one of the soldiers broke his leg when he landed but still walked to the target location; it was his job to serve as a beacon for the other jumpers. Apparently, that was Nadav. Returning after a ten week recuperation, Nadav was told to stay out of combat, but he refused.

He was one of Eitan's friends. The funeral is today.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Session Report, in which we try Carson City

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion/Prosperity, Carson City.

We play some new cards in Prosperity, and I give a quick overview of Carson City.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Two calls to customer support

The phone and internet services in Israel will give you special plans that last a year, and they won't call you to tell you that the plan is about to run out. Instead they will bump you to the new unfavorable plan automatically, hoping that they can screw their customers.

So I make these calls every year to review my service and find a better service, if they have one, or move to a new company if they don't.

Call with HOT

ME: What plan do I have?

HOT: You have 1000 minutes free to landlines for 39 NIS, and 20 AG/min to cellphones.

ME: So I pay 3.9 AG per minute for 1000 minutes of landline service, paid up front.

HOT: No, you get those minutes free.

ME: I pay 39 NIS for those minutes.

HOT: You pay 39 NIS for the plan, which includes those minutes free.

ME: Right, whatever. What are my other options?

HOT: We have a plan for 500 minutes to both landlines and cellphones for 69 NIS.

ME: So given that that is 30 NIS more than what I pay now, and cell phone calls are 20 AG/min, I would have to talk at least 150 minutes to cell phones for the plan to be worth it, right? Is that worth it for me, given my calling history?

HOT: That's us to you.

ME: What do you mean it's up to me?

HOT: It depends on what you want.

ME: ... Do you know my calling history?

HOT: Yes.

ME: How much do I call?

HOT: XXX minutes.

ME: So it's not worth it to me.

HOT: It depends on how many minutes you call.

ME: Yes, but you know how many minutes I call. You just told me how many minutes I call. Given how many minutes I call, you can tell me which plan is right for me, can't you?

HOT: No, it's your preference.

ME: It's not a matter of preference. It's a matter of mathematics. You have no way of telling if I would be better off in another plan?

HOT: It depends on how many minutes you call.

ME: ... (carry the 1, ...) no, it's not worth it for me. How much have I been paying each month until now on my current plan?

HOT: Between 45 and 62 NIS.

ME: So, obviously, it won't be worth it for me to switch to a plan that charges, minimally, 69 NIS, right? You could have just said that, right?

HOT: It depends on how many minutes you call.

ME: Sigh. Is that it? Do you have any other plans?

HOT: We have a plan for 24 NIS, but you pay 12 AG for every landline call and 20 AG for every cell phone call.

ME: Why didn't you tell me about this plan? Do I have to ask to know about each of your plans one by one? Are there any magic words I need to speak to hear about a fourth super-secret plan?

HOT: I don't understand. Do you want this plan?

ME: Given my calling history, which you have right in front of you, would it be worth it for me to switch to this 24 NIS plan, assuming that I call the same number of minutes each month as I already do right now, as you can see right in front of you.

HOT: It depends on how many minutes you call.

Call with Netvision

Press 1 for customer service, press 2 for technical support.


45 seconds of music

Press your customer number and then star, or just press star.


50 seconds of music

NV: Keyn?

ME: Can I speak to English customer support?

NV: Rak regah. [Transfer number 1]

90 seconds of music

NV: Keyn?

ME: Is this English customer support?

NV: Rak regah. [Transfer number 2]

45 seconds of music

NV: Keyn?

ME: Is this English customer support?

NV: Rak regah. [Transfer number 3]

180 seconds of music

Press 1 for English, press 2 for ...


30 seconds of music

NV: Keyn.

ME: I'd like to speak to someone who speaks English in customer support.

NV: Rak regah. [Transfer number 4]

90 seconds of music

Press your customer number and then star, or just press star.


Yes, boys and girls, this went on all the way to Transfer number 13, going through the same menus and the same people several times on the way. I finally said:

ME: I would like someone in customer service who speaks English to call me back.

At which point they took my name and said that someone who speaks English from customer support would call me back. And asked me if I would like to be transferred, instead of having to wait for a callback.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The 121-Year-Old Nintendo Game

Hanafuda Cards By Matsuyuki

This is a guest post by Kenji Crosland of TeachStreet. TeachStreet is a website dedicated to providing local and online classes, as well as card and board game classes.

Pop Quiz: What was Nintendo’s first product ever?

If you answered “Donkey Kong” or “Super Mario Brother’s” I’m afraid you get zero points. The correct answer, actually, is Hanafuda.

Hanafuda is a traditional Japanese card game which has taken many different forms and had many different rules over the past few centuries. In 1889, long before the company skyrocketed with Donkey Kong, the founder of Nintendo, Fusajiro Yamauchi, began selling hanafuda cards made out of mulberry tree bark. This version of Hanafuda had 12 suits of four cards each. Each suit represented a month of the year and had painted pictures of maple leafs for October, cherry blossoms for March, pine trees for January and so on.

Hanafuda, just like Western playing cards have many different games, although some are more popular than others. One of the most popular rule variations include matching eight cards that are displayed face-up for all players to see, much like the “flop” in Texas Hold-em Poker. Players then try to get as many special combinations for as many points as they can. There can also be a betting element involved (in a way similar to Blackjack but more fast-paced).

The first time I ran across the game was in college when some Korean exchange students in my dorm played a version of Hanafuda with nickels and dimes. Because the suits are determined by elaborate drawings and not by symbols or numbers, it was nearly impossible to figure out the rules of the game just by watching them play. The rules, however, aren’t too hard, and have about the same level of complexity as poker. Like most of the great puzzles and games out there, it’s relatively easy to learn, but relatively hard to master.

For the rules of the most common Hanafuda games, you can check out this page on, a website that provides a free online flash version of the game. I checked and I founds some cards that sold for about $25. The original nintendo brand cards are a little pricier, but at $50 it’s not a bad price for the hardcore collector. If you ever have a friend going to Japan, you can ask them to stop by a Toys-R-Us or similar toy shop and get them for a lot cheaper.

Hanafuda is a time-tested game that’s managed to stay relatively popular over the centuries. Also, if you’re a real game nerd, you can look into the history of the game, one that involves Japanese warlords, emperors and yakuza gangsters--fascinating stuff. Overall, it’s a great way to mix up game night.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A New Year, a New List of Blogs on the Blogroll

A new year, a new update to my blogroll. Game blogs new to me that cover games in general and update occasionally. If I've removed your blog from my blogroll, you haven't posted anything about games since last August, at least.

101 Best Board Games: Adam Lewis and Keith Pointo of Best Served Cold, a web design studio. I don't know if this site will regularly update.

Boards and Bees: Jesse Hickle, IN.

Dice Hate Me: Chris Kirkman, Durham, NC.

Dicecreator's Blog: Abaraham Neddermann. Creates custom dice.

Gamer's University: Ian Stedman and wife, Phoenix, AZ. About life and all types of games.

Gaming Fix: Akiva, Washington DC.

Boardgames Rejuvenate: A board game shop in Singapore. Games and reviews.

Homefront Wargame Center: A team blog on wargaming.

I Slay the Dragon: Jonathan Wolf, Carol Stream, IL.

IantheCool's Movie Reviews: A guy from Canada. Movie and game reviews.

iPad Boardgames News: Jamie someone. Notes, reviews, and ranks board games for the iPad. John Fong, I think from Korea. How to make and learn from home made games.

Plastic Polyhedra: Tom someone, location unknown.

Playing and Designing Board Games: Dave Ross,IA. A game design blog.

Purposeful Games for Risk Management: Will McGill, Penn State. Risk management games.

The Big Idea (Playology): Games content from Playology, by Jill and Gina.

The Hopeless Gamer: Chuck, Andrea, and Paul, out of Janesville, WI.

The View from the Turret: No info. A wargame blog.

Third Point of Singularity: Mr Nizz is back on my radar.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Shabbat Gaming

Friday evening we went to some friends. I played Five Stones with one of the kids. Later in the evening I saw them playing a game I hadn't seen before: Spin & Trap. They didn't have the rules, and were obviously playing it wrong, since one person simply undid what the next person did ad infinitum. The real rules don't allow you to place the larger spin device onto your opponent's marbles, which helps a bit, but not much. I think the game will still be unterminating.

I played Anagrams with my shabbat guest, and Sunday night I played Scrabble with Rachel. She shot ahead by some 60 points, while I was stuck with racks of six vowels. I managed to score a Bingo (terrier) near the end of the game, and squeaked out a victory solely due to the points left on her rack (went from -3/+3 to +3/-3).

Watching Scott Pilgrim inspired me to read the graphic novel series, which I just finished. It's very cool. It's got flashes of deep: a transparent metaphoric structure, but it works it well and, in some cases, subtly and skillfully. A fun read, and the drawing and layout are well executed.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Fives and Dimes for 2010: A Year of Gaming in Jerusalem

The following games were played by the game group last year. This list doesn't include games I played personally outside the group. We had fewer players attending over the course of the year, thus the game counts are down in general.

The number of plays is followed by the number of plays last year in parentheses.


26 (33) Dominion(INT 23/SEA 22/PRO 1)

Yeah, this was a quarter last year and a quarter this year, as I predicted. We just got Prosperity and got one game in. I predict that the game will continue to be popular next year.


15 (20) Magic: The Gathering

Only a single dime, which is pathetic. And we tend to play more than one game of Magic in a single evening when we play it, so this isn't really a dime, either.


9 (7) Tichu
8 (7) Bridge
8 (1) Homesteaders
8 (1) Tribune
7 (2) Mr Jack
7 (0) R-Eco

Homesteaders is the only meaty game here, though Tribune and Mr jack are medium weight. I personally love Homesteaders, so it comes out often on my request.

Tichu slightly edged out Bridge, but I expect that to reverse next year. I like them both for casual play. For serious play, Bridge is several order of magnitudes better, of course.

R-Eco proved to be a nice opening game for 2-5 players.

5 (0) Age of Empires III
5 (1) Dvonn
5 (8) It's Alive
5 (0) Steam

Age of Empires III is enjoyed, and It's Alive is used as a filler (not generally requested by me, if you can believe that). I like Steam, but I have trouble getting the group to play train games other than Power Grid.

Dvonn is a great game, but it's hard to find the right players for that, too.


4 (7) Antike
4 (1) Cuba
4 (0) Nile
4 (1) Phoenicia
4 (7) Puerto Rico
4 (3) Settlers of Catan

I love Antike, but again I'm the one to suggest it. I only played Cuba once, and didn't like the orthogonal board restrictions, and didn't see what was particularly interesting about it, but I'm happy to try it again.

We gave Nile a try, but weren't terribly impressed. Phoenicia is now a sometimes games. Puerto Rico is still a great game, but suffers from overplay by some. So does Settlers of Catan, but I bring it out for new players. Some of the players who prefer lighter games still like it a lot; I like it, even though I prefer meatier games.


3 (0) 1955
3 (0) David & Goliath
3 (1) El Grande
3 (1) Le Havre
3 (7) Pillars of the Earth

We play-tested 1955 and enjoy it, though it doesn't blow us away just yet. We'll play it again.

We didn't get any David & Goliath in last year; I owned a copy and got rid of it. Any plays this year were for nights that the game group was held at Nadine's or Gili's.

El Grande is still enjoyed, though it's long. Le Havre is also long, and I like it, but it seems to be too much for other people in the group. I initially liked Pillars of the Earth, but I've been screwed over too many times by the luck in the Master Merchant drawings.

3 (5) Power Grid
3 (4) Princes of Florence
3 (0) Saikoro
3 (0) Schotten Totten
3 (0) Summoner Wars
3 (2) Vegas Showdown

Power Grid is a staple, and I'm surprised it wasn't played more. I get the feeling that people always feel like we just played it the previous week, and so want to pay something else. Princes of Florence is the same.

We didn't play any Saikoro last year, but it deserves to see the table once in a while. The company that makes it has gone out of business, I'm sorry to say.

I've owned Schotten Totten for a while, but in German. For some reason I never thought to download the English rules. I was all set to trade it away, but didn't due to various circumstances. I finally learned to play it near the end of the year and I found it to be a decent filler. I'll probably keep it.

A friend who moved away owns Summoner Wars, and it's a typical two-person-move-your-cards-around-the-grid combat game.

Vegas Showdown has become something of a staple game.

2 (7) Agricola
2 (0) Container
2 (0) Endeavor
2 (0) Hunting Party
2 (0) In the Shadow of the Emperor

Agricola is long, very long, but we still enjoy it. Container belongs to our friend who moved away. Endeavor is nice, but has a lot of pieces and is kind of fiddly. Just the long setup dissuades me from pulling it out more. It's also not truly special.

Hunting Party is Gili's, and it wasn't that interesting. In the Shadow of the Emperor is interesting, but also not truly special. It will come out one or two times again next year.

2 (1) Louis XIV
2 (0) Mu
2 (5) Notre Dame
2 (0) Oltre Mare
2 (2) Parade

I don't like the scoring conditions for Louis, but the game is good and it will come out again. We played Mu for the first time and it will probably come out again as a filler for five players; with four, we will generally turn to Tichu or Bridge.

Notre Dame is a staple, but it feels like the play is a little constricted. We'll play it again. Oltre Mare was surprisingly decent, and I hope to bring it out a few more times.

Parade didn't get as much play as I expected it too. Curious.

2 (2) Race for the Galaxy
2 (0) Robber Knights
2 (0) Robo Rally
2 (4) San Juan
2 (1) Taj Mahal

I soured on Race because of the ability for one player to rush the end game, which destroys the fun. However, when no one does that, the game is really fun. We tried Robber Knights and found it to be dull. Robo Rally doesn't come out more because Gili doesn't like it.

San Juan has been replaced by other filler card games.

Taj Mahal is a staple.

2 (1) Tigris and Euphrates
2 (6) Year of the Dragon
2 (1) Yinsh

I wish T and E were a staple, but somehow I'm the only one who suggests it. Year of the Dragon gets the same attention that Notre Dame does, though it's more painful to play (for some, that's the fun).

Yinsh, like Dvonn, doesn't have the right audience here.

1 (0) Aton - I didn't play it
1 (0) Blood Red Sands (RPG) - an RPG played on Games Day
1 (1) Boggle - Played on Games Day
1 (2) Claude - Played only when Claude comes to exhibit his game
1 (5) Cosmic Encounter - A few of our people don't like it, which is a shame
1 (0) Dungeon Lords - Belongs to the friend who moved away
1 (7) Fairy Tale - Replaced by other filler card games
1 (3) La Citta - I thought about trading this away, but another play won it some more fans
1 (3) Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation - Still sees the occasional play
1 (0) Navegador - Binyamin brought his copy near the end of the year, and I loved it; I will be picking it up asap
1 (0) Netrunner - Can't get anyone else to play it; sold it ( :-( )
1 (0) Power Grid: Factory Manager - We didn't really like it
1 (0) Reef Encounter - I acquired it mid-year and need to get it to the table again
1 (0) San Fransisco - Binyamin brought his copy and we thought it was silly; I won by playing nearly entirely randomly
1 (0) Scrabble - Played on Games Day
1 (0) Set - Not a game for the group
1 (2) Shadows Over Camelot - Played at Nadine's
1 (0) Sticheln - I learned the game but forgot it again
1 (8) Stone Age - Gili owns the game; it would get played more if it lived here
1 (0) Torres - Sadly, I don't think this will get too many more plays; a shame
1 (2) Trias - Our friend who moved away liked it, and so do I; nobody else likes it much

Played Last Year, But Not This Year

0 (8) Traders of Carthage - Our friend took his copy
0 (7) Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm - Ditto
0 (6) Chess - Not a game for the group; played once with a particular visitor
0 (5) Pivot - Played once to play-test
0 (4) Bridge Troll - We tried it and found it to be so-so
0 (4) Jamaica - Our friend took his copy
0 (4) Pentago - Played once to play-test; looks solvable
0 (4) Taluva - Didn't go over with the group
0 (3) Amun Re - Gili doesn't bring her copy enough
0 (3) Amyitis - I bought this but haven't gotten it out to the table; we played Binyamin's copy once and liked it
0 (3) Jambo - Gili likes it, no one else does, really
0 (3) Santiago - I like it, no one else does really
0 (2) Apples to Apples - Not for the game group, played on Games Day
0 (2) Ark of the Covenant - Brought by someone to play-test
0 (2) Atlantic Star - The game group wasn't thrilled with it
0 (2) Carpe Astra - We really didn't like this
0 (2) Fluxx - I really don't like it, but they sometimes play it at Nadine's house when I'm not there
0 (2) No Thanks - Yet another filler, a good game but superseded by other games
0 (2) Path - We play-tested it, and didn't really like it
0 (1) Age of Steam - Replaced by Steam, which also doesn't see much play
0 (1) Battlestar Galactica - Our friend took his copy
0 (1) Blokus Trigon - Not really a game for the group
0 (1) Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers - Our friend took his copy; I own Carcassonne: The City, but despair of getting it to the table
0 (1) Caylus - I find this too long
0 (1) Checkers - Not a game for the group
0 (1) Cities and Knights of Catan - Will probably see another play next year
0 (1) Galaxy Trucker - Our friend took his copy
0 (1) Greedy Greedy - Play-tested and found wanting
0 (1) Hacienda - Not enjoyed enough by the group
0 (1) Hare and Tortoise - A kid's game, not really for the group
0 (1) Imperial - Not enjoyed during play-test
0 (1) Market of Alturien - Brought once, I wouldn't mind trying it
0 (1) Medici - We don't really favor pure auction games like this
0 (1) Merchants of Amsterdam - Play-tested, we hated it
0 (1) Metropolys - Brought by Binyamin once
0 (1) Odin's Ravens - Gili likes this, no one else does, really
0 (1) Pirate's Cove - Gili's game, it has a bit more luck than the group usually likes; I actually like it
0 (1) Pitchcar - Nadine's game, non-portable; Not really for the group
0 (1) Rock Paper Scissors - Michael didn't play it this year
0 (1) Rook - Played to teach the interested, but we have other games; I still like it
0 (1) Winner's Circle - Not really a game for the group, though I think some wouldn't mind playing again; I got rid of it