Friday, December 30, 2011

Jerusalem Session Report and wishes for 2012

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Nile, Agricola.

I had a difficult and tumultuous 2011, with a few bright spots. I hope you all had an easier and happier year, and I wish you all a happy, memorable, and peaceful 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

True Hearing

A non-gamer hesitating on his first turn in a simple filler game with me recently made the following comment: I don't like not knowing what to play.

The very act of calculation against the unknown possibilities was not fun for him. I wanted to explain that decision-making was the definition of fun; I had to fight myself to listen to what he was actually saying: I don't find this fun. It was a difficult, but important, struggle. I think of decision making as the heart of a game and the heart of the fun. This is not the case for everyone.

Some people don't enjoy games, period. Some enjoy the company. Some like to watch what happens, and may even be excited about the game as it happens; they just don't want to guess. Let them pick a card or tell them to roll the dice. Give them a skill to perform or all the information they need for a quick calculation, but don't force them do math or memory or decide whether or not to buy something with a hidden value.

We need to listen to our gamers, just like we need to listen to our children or our parents when they tell us something. We can't just think that they're not seeing it the right way.

Raanana Session Report

Participants: Laurie, Daniel, Ellis, Jon, Rochelle

I arrived as Laurie set up a filler game Piece o Cake for Ellis, Laurie, and me to play. This was the first play for all of us. It's a simple food-themed game of set collection with a divide and offer mechanic. There are five piles of cards.

Cards are worth a small number of points if they are "consumed" as soon as they are acquired, or nothing if not consumed; if, however, you have the most in a set of unconsumed cards, you gain a larger number of points. For instance, a cherry pie slice may be worth 7 points for having the most unconsumed slices at the end of the game (it doesn't matter how many of them you have, so long as you have the most), or they may be worth 2 points each if you simply consumed them. Note that if you will acquire all the cherry pie slices during the game, your best move it to consume all but one of them: the 6 slices will then be worth 2 points each consumed, and the remaining slice will be worth 7 points as the majority holder of unconsumed slices.

On each turn, someone opens a stack of 11 cards and arranges them into a circle without changing their order. The player then divides the cards into groups by the number of players; the division must not rearrange any of the arcs, but the division does not have to have an equal number of cards in each circle. Players then, in turn, select a group and consumes or not each of the cards in the group. Repeat for 5 turns. Score.

On turn three I had essentially reduced the game to its math, including how many points I was wasting trying to maintain majorities and how many slices were left in the deck so as to determine whether I really needed to keep one more slice unconsumed. Even with tracking, the game still holds interest, since you don't know the order in which the cards will turn up or how the other players will divide them. Ellis consumed nearly all of his slices. I squeaked out a win by 1 point over Laurie.

I then taught Rochelle, Ellis, Laurie, and Daniel how to play Amun Re. Of course, I changed the theme of stage four, and also changed the power card that lets you correct the offering value. In the latter case, I let players decide to use these cards after seeing the results of the offering and also to act in collusion. Even with these boosts, the cards were used only once to boost the offering from level 3 to 4.

I won the money war in the first half, and I was tied for the lead in points. I messed up round four by not buying the best province, ceding it to Daniel instead. I spent a lot of money to build my pyramids in the second half. On the last round, I wasn't able to complete four complete pyramid sets by a few gold. In fact, completing the sets lost me so much gold that I received no bonus points for money at the end. Meanwhile, Ellis solidified his points in the second half. On the last round, his bribe bonus was two power cards, both of which gave him extra money from the harvest, which was enough to bump his money holdings to first place. He was five points behind me in scoring, and then he took his six point bonus for money and ended the game one point ahead of me.

Daniel ended one point ahead of Laurie, about 8 points behind Ellis and me. Rochelle brought up the rear. The game took just shy of three hours to teach and play.

P.S. The JSGC had a game day on Hanukkah.  Games played: Highland Clans, El Grande, Egizia, Princes of Florence, Louis XIV, Year of the Dragon.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

38 Years of Bridge With These Guys

I stopped in for a quick dinner at my brother's house, attended also by my other brother's family and my mother (and my son).

I've been playing Bridge with my brothers and mother for 38 years now. It's surprising how poor I am at the game (well, mediocre, actually) after all this time, especially since the skills I learned from Bridge help me to do fairly well at most other games. Still, it's nice that we're still playing together after 38 years.

As far as holidays goes, Hanukkah is a pretty nice one' hope you're having a nice one if you celebrate it. Merry Christmas to the rest of you.

Some Hanukkah vids:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Guests or Not

Bill and Shirley came for shabbat, bringing decadent donuts from Roladin. These are donuts with fillings, icings, decorations, and even little syringe tubes with more filling that you can inject into your pastry moments before ingesting them. Over the top, but tasty.

Rochelle came over for lunch. After lunch, we all played Tichu. I taught them, we played two hands, and I won both hands. Then I taught them Apples to Apples, which I also won. Then I taught them For Sale, which I also won. Really, guys, I don't win every game I play, it was an accident. I tried throwing Apples to Apples rounds by playing cards that couldn't possibly get picked, but they started going for ironic or ridiculous choices and picked my cards anyway. It's hard to throw a game of Apples to Apples.

Anyhoo, after shabbat my guests left and I prepared for a small party I was throwing, my first in Raanana. I had sent invitations to everyone I currently know in the area (and some I don't). The only replies I got were from people who were not coming. I heard tell of three people who might come, and some people said that they might try to drop by toward the end.

Only one person (other than my kids) came. We talked a little and I showed him my Hanukkah Jeopardy game for this year. And these were probably among the best latkes I ever made, and some pretty good brownies, too. More for me, I guess.

Huh, I think there's something wrong with my belt.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I Had a Busy Weekend

First off, last week's Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club's session report is up, in which they play Train of Thought too seriously.

Thursday evening was my my only niece's bat-mitzvah. I picked up my kids and we drove out to the boondocks to their little community of Kochav Hashachar. The bat mitzvah was small but nice. Sis-in-law gave a heartfelt speech. Niece read a nice dvar torah (written in part or more by other sis-in-law).

Saarya, Tal, and me; pic by sis-in-law
After the bat-mitzvah, I slept in Jerusalem. Friday morning I was supposed to meet someone, but she cancelled. I found myself with some free time in Talipot right next to the wedding of a Facebook friend, a wedding I didn't think I would be around for. I dropped in to say hi and stayed to see the reception.

Friday evening I went to my old Carlebach shul and said hi to half the community that I had left when I moved to Raanana. Nadine joined me at my mom's house for dinner. After dinner, I read the first two chapters of Another Fine Myth to Tal, whereupon she finished the rest of the book. Classic.

Sat I went to the other shul I used to frequent and said hi to the other half of the community. Lunch was at Nadine's with the games gang and sundry: Nadine, me and Tal, Bill and Shirley (visiting from the US), Eitan and Emily, Shani and Shachar, Adam, and some moms. After lunch, a couple played Glen More, a group played Small World Underground, and I taught Shirley, Adam, and Nadine to play Inca Empire.

I hoped IE wouldn't take more than two hours, just like the people playing SWU hoped it would be a short game. Each of them took about 3.5 hours. I won IE with some major road playing at the end (I was forced to do this, since I was low in workers, but I was receiving a number of bonus roads from the played cards). I netted a good 20 or so points from this.

Nadine looked like she was winning for most of the third age, having played the card that let her (and only her) net 7 points a round from one of the temple/cities. But in the end she only ended the third age a few points ahead of me, and my board was stronger.

Adam suffered greatly from the loss of many roads in undiscovered areas (I warned everyone, and most of us (including me) lost a bunch of roads to this card several times). Shirley was pretty close to Nadine's position.

Sat night I went to see a showing of The Golem, the 1920 movie, playing alongside a live trio playing musical accompaniment to the silent film. The Golem is a good movie from a historical perspective, much in the way that a talented five year old can produce something quite enjoyable to look at, but not really be in the caliber of something objectively good.

The acting and direction is beyond bad; it's that stereotype of old silent films that is so weird that you wonder if the actors on film are actually Martians. They exhibit emotions and make movements that I've never seen any humans make in real life. What were they thinking? This was probably the height of good acting and directing in its day, and it looks ridiculous (I will mention in contrast that Charlie Chaplin films hold up quite well, even today). I was trying not to laugh out loud during the smoldering romantic or hysterical wailing scenes.

The story is well formed, though entirely straightforward and unsubtle. The cuts are kind of erratic, and, of course, they knew little about smart camera work or sensible lighting. It's supposed to be a horror movie, but it's not scary in the least. Except for its insulting portrayal of Jews.

And why is everyone, even the romantic leads, so ugly?

The live music was nice, though a few parts were kind of loud. The musicians are brilliant players; I prefer to simply hear them play their music without them having to sync it to a movie.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Raanana Session Report, in which I play Settlers with two Rochelles

Participants: Laurie, Daniel, Jon, Ellis, Rochelle, Rochelle 2

Game night at Laurie and Daniel's as usual. Rochelle 2 is a friend of mine who was willing to try something new; she has no previous experience with games as an adult.


Jon 27, Laurie 11, Ellis 10, Daniel 6

Scores approximate. I brought over my box of four Dominion games and selected a random assortment from all of them.

Kingdoms: Market, Great Hall, Masquerade, Swindler, Ironworks, Sea Hag, Tactician, Bishop, Bank, Expand. No Platinum or Colony.

This is the first play for any Dominion expansions by the others. Actually, they're all still in single digit plays for Dominion altogether. Turns are still kind of slow going. There was a lot of trashing, of course. Swindler has the side effect of causing piles of cards to disappear rather quickly, which is why the game ended up with three piles gone, rather than the usual Provinces. I managed to nab three Provinces before the game ended, all by using Tactician.

An interesting combo was Ironworks to take Great Hall, which gave two out of the three bonuses with no drawbacks. Swindler also handed out a lot of curses, mostly to Daniel.

Settlers of Catan

Jon 10, Rochelle 7, Rochelle 2 5

Rochelle had played this once before but had forgotten many of the rules. So it was essentially a first play for both of them. They both picked it up without much difficulty. The resource distribution was pretty even, and so were the dice rolls. No one had to toss out cards from a roll of 7.

Rochelle took Longest Road fairly early. She also acquired a port mid-game, but it wasn't one she could use. Rochelle 2 built a few settlements and was often one road away from taking Longest Road from Rochelle, though she never threatened to do so. Luck was against her, and she often rolled up a resource right after she had traded for it.

I built an early settlement and then city on the ore, and then city on the brick. I had a port for brick and used it nicely. I ended the game with my ninth board point and a revealed development victory point.

Race for the Galaxy

Ellis, Daniel, Laurie

I didn't see how the game (or games) went. They actually play with an expension or two thrown in, though I don't know which.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Irresistable Plea

A game company is asking - begging - me to change their game to make it better. To add some "zazz". They're offering me (a currently unspecified amount of) money to do so.

It's a children's educational game. The thing is that the game is actually already pretty good. Yeah, it's roll and move with parent/child discussions about the topic interrupting the game flow, but it has nice components, a decent flow, quick turns, catch-up mechanisms, some clever collection mechanics, and engaging ideas. The topic is interesting and universal. In fact, there are three games in the box, and at least one of them (what appears to be the throwaway third game played only with the game cards) looks like a lot of fun, even for grown up game geeks like me.

The game has already won several industry awards and recommendations (some of these are handed out just for showing up, I think) and garnered good reviews from players and educational professionals alike. Of course I can throw some modern game ideas at them, but I am constrained by being not allowed to change the board or cards, only the rules.

I'm not sure what I can do for them, but I'm thinking it over. Even with the constraints there is a lot to work with.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Growly in the Garden

For lunch I had a guy and his three kids (ages 14, 9 and 7) and a single woman. The guy and kids (and his wife, who couldn't come) are homeschoolers and game lovers. They are hoping to have me over some time to play Settlers with them 4-player. The 14 year old was suitably impressed with the game collection and took some time to look through some of my Magic cards.

After lunch, I taught them Pit. The woman (who is not really a gamer) didn't care for it, and the youngest one had some trouble with it (actually, all of them kept forgetting that you couldn't pass the bear alone). But the others really liked it.

The family then taught me a game that they had brought over, A Growly in the Garden. It's a cooperative kid's game with some interesting risk calculation. There is a 4x4 grid you have to fill with flowers (tiles), and a ring of spaces for tiles around the grid. You gradually flip tiles, and must place them as they appear. Some of the tiles are growlies who eat flowers in a row or column, unless they are scared away by scarecrows or get the special item they need to go back to bed. Your job is not only to preserve as many of your flowers as you can, but also have the growlies get their items without going away sad. I told them that I thought it had a subtle ecological theme.

Like most coops, it's easy for one player to dominate with his suggestions to the other players. Unlike most co-ops, or any games, for that matter, there is no clear win or loss at the end, only a final score.

As kid's games go, it's pretty good. Still, I wish there had been some more tension. Co-op games have become more interesting since Dr Knizia tinkered with them, and there's no reason that kid's games can't adopt a bit more of that interest.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Raanana Session Report, in which I teach Agricola

Participants: Laurie, Jon, Daniel, Rochelle

Ellis was in the middle of moving. He should be back next week.

Race for the Galaxy

Laurie 40, Jon 38

I arrived early and Laurie chose this as a two-player game for us. We played with no specific two-player rules, just one role each round.

I picked too many 6 point cards early on and had to toss most of them out. Still, I didn't fare too badly. I played the 6 pointer that makes other developments cost 2 less early on, and then I mistaken played a development which I thought gave me another 2 discount on further developments, but I noticed later that it gave 2 discount on worlds, not developments. That put a kink in my plans.

Laurie meanwhile started taking victory points early and ended the game when I only had 9 buildings out. My second mistake was not to realize that this was going to happen and to build in what was sure to be the last round, instead of uselessly produce. Really, the only thing that bothers me about this game is the way that it suddenly ends and the way one player can rush the ending out under another. I would like the game a lot more if it simply went 12 rounds or something.


Daniel 34, Jon 29, Laurie 26, Rochelle 23

We started the explanation for this at around 8:30 and finished the game at just before 12. It's an odd game in that it has a lot to explain, and even during the game there is a sense of being overwhelmed, but the basic flow is easy to grasp. This is in contrast to other games that are difficult to explain but not overwhelming once the game is in play, like Princes of Florence, or remain overwhelming and also hard to understand the flow, like Puerto Rico.

Daniel insisted that we draw and keep our fourteen cards, rather than do something to ameliorate the luck factor, since it would only do to help the newer players. In fact, I drew reasonably well; nobody had any real game killers.

I played unusually with a lot of occupations and minor improvements, all of which helped me get points but not food. I didn't have a good food engine and so occasionally had to scramble for food at the last moment. I played a card early on that gave me four wood but also gave any player who ended the game without any negative points a five point bonus. That seems like overkill, since the person who has no negative points is typically winning anyway. I often end the game with no negative points, so I thought it couldn't hurt me.

Unfortunately, in the last two rounds when I needed at least one of the Plow actions (I had an improvement that let me plow three fields, rather than one), both were taken before I could get them. Not only did this leave me with negative spaces, it also left me scrambling for food, lacking points in the food items (I was also going to plow them, and no one else could effectively plow), and forced me to give up several other items since I had to use my actions elsewhere. It represented at least a 10 point loss for me.

Laurie also experienced people blocking what she needed on various occasions. She finally took the Start Player action, but didn't feel like it did much for her. Daniel is the only one who finished with no negative points, and the five points he got from my occupation card handed him the clear victory.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Raanana and Jerusalem Sessions Report


Participants: Daniel, Laurie, Ellis, Peleg, Tal, Jon

Back in the group for the first time in a few weeks. The games are currently held at Laurie and Daniel's house, so that they don't need to get a babysitter.

Finca: This game was set up and being explained as I arrived. Tal's eyes were glazed over, so I took her place. Daniel and Laurie played as a team.

Like the first time I played it, the game feels pastoral and mathematical, despite the pretty board and nice wooden fruit bits over which Laurie sat adoring. I don't mind it - not very high praise, but not damning either - and the calculations aren't that great, unless you want to start calculating what each of your opponents plans to do, which you really should but which I couldn't be bothered. As a result, I lost out on my final delivery.

Daniel and Laurie played slowly, but they also won by over 20 points. I came in last (actually Peleg left mid-game).

Dominion: We played with cards from the base set only, and it wasn't an inspiring set: Moat, Workshop, Bureaucrat, Gardens, Remodel, Thief, Laboratory, Library, Mine, Witch.

Actually, a Thief/Workshop/Gardens combo might have done well. But note that there are no extra buys and only Laboratory gave an extra action, and that only one. I played with the most Labs, with Moats, Gardens, and Remodels. I won by some 6 points over second. Ellis did poorly; I think he needs to play it more.


Participants: Gili, Eitan, Jon, Estzer

My first play at the JSGC in quite some time, I just happened to have to be in Jerusalem on Wed evening. Knowing that Estzer cane from Hungary, I brought her a game that I received from someone while I was in Hungary but which contains no English instructions. I hope she will be able to translate the rules for me (BGG has been no help in this regard).

Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix: I had played this at the Dallas games group on the night before my first BGG.con, and had been interested in picking it up ever since. It's rare to find a mid-weight strategy game that works well for up to six. It worked fine with four, too.

I read the rules briefly, but messed up a few of the rules, without any detriment to the game. For one thing, I allowed people to move cars in any order, rather than in the order listed on the card. This provided more, rather than less decision making, so I don't think it was a bad thing, but also made more cards more useful. I also allowed people to immediately play a movement card together with a switch card and had the switch card expire right before their next turn. Apparently this is a good thing, as none of us would have been willing to sacrifice a turn to play a switch card, otherwise.

I also had the last round give a double payout, bit Eitan (who was leading before the last round) objected to this after the fact, since it makes a lucky swing of events in the last round too punishing.

Our biggest objection to the game was that people whose car had already finished (and sometimes even those whose cars had not finished) had too much kingmaking power on the final results. In the case of players whose cars have all finished, I could solve this by having them play their cards randomly and the cars moved in the order on the card (which is how the game is supposed to be played). However, this doesn't address all kingmaking situations. It remains a flaw in the game, perhaps a small flaw if you go into the game accounting for this.

Otherwise, we all enjoyed the game experience, though I lost very badly. Gili won.

Hearts: I wanted to teach Team Hearts, but it turns out that Estzer hadn't even played Hearts, so it was enough for her to learn just the rules for the regular game. We played two hands; in the second hand we played with teams, but didn't use any particular passing conventions.