Friday, April 29, 2005

Mazal Tovs

Just a little Mazal Tov to my brother Ben and his wife Yael on the birth of a baby boy two days ago.

Also, my cousin Julie is due any minute, and my wife's brother Jeremy/sister in law had a baby two weeks ago.

My son Saarya's English birthday is today. And my daughter Tal's bat mitzvah is next weekend.


Game Day Session Report

Posted at (specifically

Thanks all for coming to the game day, and hope to see you all regularly.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Game Day tomorrow

Tomorrow is game day. Some number of people are coming, many new. Here's hoping they will turn into regulars.

My problem is that I don't have a huge crown coming. If I did, I could afford to start a long game, knowing that if a single player walks in, s/he will be able to find a pick up. Instead, I have to commit to shorter games. If a single walks in, I will probably get up and sit him or her down in my spot. Then if another walks in, I will play with them two player.

Maybe next time I will warn in advance that games tend to start on the hour, or something like that.

Anyway, it could be a huge success, like most of the last game days. Or it could ...

Wish me luck.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Happy Passover

Saturday was shabbat, as usual, and Saturday night/Sunday the first day of Passover. Only the first day and last day of Passover qualify as "holy day" holidays. The in-between days count as semi-holidays - I can still go to work ... unfortunately. I'm taking off Thursday for the JSGC GAME DAY, of course.

Saturday you can't prepare for the seder night, so everything had to be done before shabbat, leaving us a long dull shabbat day without a good book to read. I finally convinced my wife to go for a walk with me and we ended up at Nadine's, where we played a five player Puerto Rico game. Usually these games come down to between Nadine and Rachel, and it looked that way to me for most of the game. However, the other two players were still sufficiently new that they chose roles without looking too much at what it did for the other players. Somehow I ended up benefiting from this, although I still don't know how.

I know I made the correct decision of Wharf versus Harbor, which is usually correct for five player, and won handily at 57 to 46/44/41/33.

Sunday afternoon Rachel and I played two games, First game 52-51 in my favor. Second game 52-51 in her favor. Really time to move onto a new game, here.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

Session report up

Well, we really didn't have a session. We cleaned for Passover. But when we were done, my wife and I played Puerto Rico. Here.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Accosting Strangers

As an addendum to the Toy Shop incident: you should know that this really happened, including my shouting "Woo Hoo!" and accosting passing strangers. Anyone who knows me would know that.

On my vacation, when we were lost in the woods, totally in the middle of nowhere, I was in the middle of a discussion with my son about the finer points of the Hagaddah, the book with the Passover service that we read on Passover night. Religious Jews study the Hagaddah, or other Passover laws, before Passover. We were stuck on two questions regarding the origin of some parts of the service.

Suddenly we ran into this religious couple and their children in the middle of nowhere. I immediately went up to them and said "Hi, we have two questions regarding the Hagaddah," and proceeded to ask the questions. Without any hesitation, I got two cogent and intelligent answers from the guy. We wished each other a happy Passover and I continued on our way.

It is always nice to be members of some clubs, just for the assumed kinship that is generated when you run into other members of them. Religious Jews form a club. I think board gamers in general do, too, and especially this little sub-group of board game bloggers.

When you think about it, all of us belong to overlapping clubs of some sort, most likely. If only we all realized it.



Well, the vacation was nice, but not really relaxing.

The first day was a drive up, followed by a short hike, lost in the woods, running away from a bunch of cows and bulls (who weren't chasing us, except in the mind of my daughter), a Bar-B-Q and some late night games.

When the other family arrived, they played some hands of Gin while I played Anagrams with David, the father, the Scrabble expert. He has a voluminous knowledge of short words, but I am quicker on the draw and more creative. Both of us have certain letters we are waiting for in order to steal a word or two. It was a tough match, but I gained a good lead, and only lost most of it by the end.

Later at night I introduced their 19 year old son Yoni to Tigris and Euphrates, which I can't seem to break out at the game night (I thought that they liked it when we first played, but I think it may be too dry for them). Anyway, I played with Saarya and Yoni an enjoyable game. Yoni really liked it, and we thought he was going to win after he put down a monument and nobody seemed to be in a position to challenge him. I lost huge when I challenged Saarya twice in my turn, once to an external conflict and once to an internal one. Out of the six tiles he had he could only beat me if he had exactly 3 black tiles and 3 red tiles. Guess what? ... Saarya ended up winning 8 to 7 to 6 (me). I was about to go to 8 myself.

Late at night, my daughter played Pop, some sort of pencil and paper game that works with both Hebrew and English letters. Players alternate placing "p"s and "peh" (Hebrew version of "p") in various places and then placing "o"s and "vav"s (Hebrew version of "o") between places making the word "pop" in Hebrew or English. I don't know the rest of the rules, but I will try to find out.

The next day, Monday, we split up into various groups, water hiking, horseback riding, winery, and a great dinner at night. Too tired for games.

The last day, Tuesday, was a bust, since no one was willing to commit to anything except what they didn't want to do, leaving everyone hanging until the day was basically over. I started a Scrabble game at one point which I was losing at by about 40 points, but never finished it.

This week is the rest of cleaning and then cooking for Passover, so probably not much in the way of games. Next week is game day, however, if all goes well.

Happy Passover, to one and all, and may your life be meaningful and peaceful.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Surprise in the Toy Shop

I turn to look in the toy shop in the mall. There are no doors; each day they just fold up the glass accordion doors until the entrance to the shop becomes the entire side of the store.

I don't usually stop in these stores - they are filled with cheap plastic crap, markers, rubber balls, toothpick kits, baby items. But every once in a while I go in just to see what's new in the game shelves. Who knows what might be there? The old stuff is always there: "Monopol", "Straeggo", and other Hebrew versions of Battleship, Clue, Pachisi, Twister, Snakes and Ladders, etc... Lots of really crappy cards games, all of which are something like Go fish with animals.

Last time I stopped in, about six months ago, I found a few new things.

For one, Haim Shafir had put out a new game which is a copy of Take 6. Like his wildly popular Taki, which is a slightly modified version of Uno (although, he says he got it from crazy 8's, like Uno did), and Race (practically a carbon copy of Mille Borne), this version is basically a carbon copy of Take 6. I didn't check, but hopefully he credits the original designers. I met him; he's a pretty nice guy, and he does have some original games - not my type, but you can't argue with sales and success. I lent him my copy of Settlers of Catan, which he said he enjoyed very much.

For another, I found copies of Blokus, a game that is actually interesting.

Anyway, today the shop has in front of it a bright display with stacks of Monopoly, original edition, Monopoly "Wonders of the World" edition, and Classic Rummikub, Israel's great claim to game design fame. Kodkod seems to be the only major game production company in Israel of any note, sort of the Ravensberger of Israel. They put out tons of stupid games, many versions of Rummikub, and a few actually interesting original games, such as DisX and Blanko (the former is an abstract strategy game which I have played against the computer (Google it), and the latter is some sort of word game with tiles like Scrabble).

Well, with a board game display out front, maybe there is something new inside. So I went in to see.

I found the usual stuff. Lots of Israeli model kits, cheap games, "games" with Barbie and Lion King themes, etc... And then ... oh my god, it can't be. Yes it is. A full version, with Hebrew box and instructions, but English components, of TransAmerica by Winning Moves. For $30, which is on par with the rest of the games (that's what the American version of Monopoly sells for (the Hebrew one sells for about $15)).

I stood up and shouted, WOO HOO! I pulled the guy over from the next aisle and told him this is what he wants to get. See? It's new and it's good! What are you holding? Put that back and get this!

But I'm shopping for my 3 year old, he said, edging away from me.

Don't worry, he'll grow into it. Just don't let him stick the pieces up his nose. And anyway, this is for you! You'll like it and play it yourself.

Oh, I don't play games, he says, turning and running to find his wife.

Wait! You should! I yell. Games are for grown ups! Hey you, I said turning to the woman walking by me. Buy this game! I yell after her as she runs away from me out of the toy shop.

Well, at least we're moving into the 1990's. Give us 10 more years and we'll get there.


PRG speed

I started three games of PR on at the same time last week, one three player, one four player and one five player.

The three player games is on round 15, almost done.
The four player game is in the middle of round 6.
The five player game just finished round 3.

Yowza. And I'm not going to be here for three days next week.


Going on a small vacation next week

Packing games.

We will be traveling with another family who I hooked on Settlers and then Cities and Knights, but I haven't been able to play with them since, so that is where they are stuck. Except he likes Settlers, and doesn't like Cities and Knights, and she likes Cities and Knights, and doesn't like Settlers. He was also Israeli Scrabble champ one year.

What to bring? What to bring?

I think Taj Mahal, Geschenkt (when we play with their kids), Dvonn, Amun Re. A Scrabble set for Scrabble and Anagrams. Deck of cards. They are the type who would probably also like Chez Geek, etc... Actually, with the exception of Scrabble, the above are all borrowed games.

Of course, we will also be hiking and swimming and whatnot. But really.

I am also planning a game day during Passover, so if any of you are coming to the Holy Land, drop me a line.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

No news

I haven't played anything since last report. Oh no!

Thinking quickly, I asked my son's friend to arm wrestle me. We were evenly matched. Does that count as a game?

I am working on an article concerning gaming and ethics. If anyone has any pointers to other information already written about this, I would be much obliged. (aside from the numerous discussions on BGG)


Saturday, April 09, 2005

Chutes and Ladders

Most Friday night dinners or Saturday lunches we either invite in or are invited out. This Friday night we went to friends.

Despite my years of trying to spread the message, about 99% of my friends and neighbors haven't caught on to the joys of Better Gaming. A large part is the lack of any good games in Israel. Of course, the problem is catch-22, since the market drives the import, and the availability drives the market.

Anyhoo, Friday night we enter to find the mother playing Chutes and Ladders with her 5 year old. As we are still waiting for the father to come home from a different synagogue, we sit down while she tries to have a conversation with my wife and simultaneously spin the spinner and move her piece.

I can't help it.

I blurt out, "You know, this game would be a trifle more interesting if you each play two pieces, so that each time you spin, you have to choose which piece to move. Game over when your second piece hits 100. That way, you actually have a some decisions to make."

I was very pleased with her reaction. Her jaw dropped for about 3 seconds, and then she said, "That's a fantastic idea." Over the protestations of the 5 year old, she restarted the game giving herself and her daughter two pieces each. Unfortunately, she still wasn't able to both play and talk to my wife, so I let her off the hook and sat down to play until the father returned.

There are actually several levels of decision making involved. The first level is simply to realize that by moving two pieces, you can pretty much avoid all the chutes, and increase your chances to hit the ladders. A more subtle level is when you realize that it better if both of your pieces are different numbers away from something you want to avoid or reach. Lastly, that your choices are only available so long as both of your pieces are still on the board.

This game didn't teach my opponent much of anything, I fear. She moved only a single piece, and managed to avoid every single chute, reaching 100 while my first two pieces were still on something like 8 and 11.

Her next piece was not so lucky, as she hit a series of chutes on the first three levels, while mine climbed and climbed until one of my pieces was in the eighties and the other reached a hundred. Naturally, I hadn't hit any chutes, but my opponent was convinced that she was simply unlucky.

Unfortunately, once one of your pieces reaches the end, the game goes back to being the dull repetitive boring game it always is. She began to climb numbers while I cycled through chutes. Eventually, I won the game, but not before my brain exploded. Luckily the father came home about then.

On a positive note, the mother promised to try out the variant next time they play, and was impressed that I could come up with it. One more client should I ever decide to go into business teaching games to families.


Sat evening was my regular PR game with Rachel, who toasted me by about 8 points. This was partly my own fault, although Rachel is quite a savvy PR player. I purposely tried to play a slightly revamped version of one of my buildings:

Strip Mine 1/1: You may turn over one unmanned plantation to pay 1 less for a building. Turned over plantations occupy island space and are useless (but count for Residence).

This is revised from the original which let you turn over as many as you wanted each round. We found that one too strong, since the player could frequently buy a nice building on round 2 or 3 already, without much of a penalty.

Naturally I bought Hacienda to go with it, and I wasn't producing much less than Rachel was, but she managed to get Coffee going before I could get Tobacco, and she was doing quite well. All in all, I would try it again, possibly adding that the player can also sacrifice the Strip Mine itself for an additional one-time reduction (losing the VP from the building).


Friday, April 08, 2005

Lopsided Scrabble Victory

Over time, luck evens out, so they say. And this may be true. In theory, a game with srategy will most often be won by the better player, who will lose only the games where luck is truly lopsided against him/her, and win the games where luck favors him/her, as well as a more numerous amount of those in the middle.

All of this is not of comfort to the winner or loser of a single game, however.

Tonight's game was Scrabble, and the game started with us drawing to go first (I pulled an A) and then drawing my initial tiles while Rachel finished watering the plants. I drew my rack:


Bingo, I said, laying down BINGERS at H3, and scoring 76 points. Rachel groaned, and said she would be done in a minute. Meanwhile I drew the next rack:


I'll give you ten seconds to come up with a bingo. I came up with 2 in that time [1]. I told Rachel we were starting over.

When she finally sat down, the resulting game didn't give any bingos, but it was still awfully biased in my favor. I drew the Z, Q, X, J, K, three S's and one blank. Hard to compete with that.

The game:

([rack] = [word] (other words) at [location] for [score]/[total score])
where location is [letter][digit] if across, and [digit][letter] if down.

J:EGIILNJ = JINGLE at H3 for 44/44
R: = YOUR (YE) at G9 for 20/20

This J basically killed the upper left of the board for most of the game.

J:DDGIKPR = KIND at 6F for 19/63
R: = HIVE (YEH) at I9 for 27/47

And this K didn't help any.

J:ADGRPTX = EXPAT at 12I for 28/91
R = BOND (JO, IN) at I3 for 21/68

J:DDGIMR* = DIG (BI, JOG) at J2 for 24/115
R = COIR at 12D for 12/80

Rachel looked this one up before playing it. The C killed the upper right part of the board.

J:DMNRRS* = R(O)DS (D(O), BID, JOGS) at K1 for 24/139
R: = SAY (EXPATS) at N12 for 27/107

J:AAEMNOR = MAN (AM, YA) at O13 for 24/163
R: = UP (UP) at 11K for 20/127

J:AEOOQRT = ROTOR at 1K for 18/181
R: = TRIKE at F3 for 9/136

Rachel, as you can see, was rather unhappy with both the board and her letters, and played this just to open things up.

J:AEEGQVW = WAVER at 4B for 22/203
R: = RELIE(S) (TRIKE(S)) at 8A for 27/163

J:AEEGMQT = QAT at C3 for 24/227
R: = SOL (KINDS) at J6 for 17/180

Q didn't open up the oard either, I'm afraid.

J:AEEEGIM = REIMAGE at 8J for 13/240
R: = IF at 10I for 13/193

I just wanted to dump some tiles.

J:ACEENSU = LANCES (REIMAGES) at 8J for 60/300
R: = NO (YOURN) at 13G for 12/205

Needless to say, although I thought my play was both pretty and elegant, Rachel was not very happy about it. After drying off my head, we continued [2] ...

J:ABEEFTU = BEEF at B7 for 19/319
R: = EH (HI) at E4 for 20/225

J:AEETTUZ = ZOEA at E11 for 36/345
R: = OWN at H13 for 18/243

I had seen my friend play ZOEA before, and I remembered looking it up.

J:ELOTTU = TOTAL at 14B for 14/359
R: = AIR (TI, OR) at 15A for 13/256

J:EU = CUE at M8 for 6/365

R is left with AU. Final score: J:367, R:254 .

I sense a rematch coming up.



[2] Just kidding. But I'm hiding the watering cans next time we play.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Modified Monopoly

Finally, someone has come up with a good use for Monopoly.

Morton Ender, a Sociology Program Director at West Point Military Academy, uses modified rules for Monopoly to teach cadets about social inequality. He has the cadets play the game with varying rules regarding starting money, income passing go, limitations on where you can buy property (simulating racial discrimination) and rolling to keep yourself out of jail (for the wealthy).

See it here.

I would love to hear this man on Geek Speak.


Session Report Up

on my site. Games played: Puerto Rico, Geschenkt, San Juan.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Abstract Games

Did you know how many abstract games there are in this world? Take a look at for a quick peek at a just a few published games. How many ways are there to push black and white counters around on a board?

And how many mechanics have been invented to support these games: board size and shapes, connection lines, initial piece holdings, initial piece positions, goals, win conditions, piece movement, capture criteria, piece removal, piece addition, jumps, stacks, lines, combat, turn alternation, free moves, special configurations, etc..., etc...

To think that Gipf could come up with 5 unique games in such a short time, in such a crowded space, and yet have their games be considered so good, is just amazing. I have only played Dvonn, and I have watched Yinsh.

I have some ideas for a game I have been toying with for a long time. I really have only a theme. I have tried numerous times to create something new and interesting from this theme with pieces and some unique mechanics. I did succeed in coming up with some unique and interesting mechanics (I think they're unique, but just look at all these games. Who knows?) What I haven't succeeded in doing is coming up with an interesting game with these mechanics and theme.

How does one go about it, anyway? I sit at the table and lay out the tiles of a Settlers of Catan board. Stare at that for a while. Then I flip the tiles over so I have 19 white hex tiles. Stare at that for a while. Next to that is an empty chess board. Stare at that, too.

I place colored counters on the board in different positions. I lay down cards, pick up cards. I consider how the pieces will move. Combat mechanics? Pick one - there are already so many to choose from. Goal? That's tough, but I have several I toy with. Game buildup and excitement? Scritch scratch. Can't figure it out.

Every once in a while something clicks in my head. But, when I try it out, it always seems to have some fatal flaws which don't go away with simple cosmetic changes to the rules. Fatal, deep flaws. Back to the drawing board. Very frustrating, as you can imagine.

I try all sorts of different ideas: big boxed type game, connection game, abstract game (I can't really do abstract - how can I compete against such a vast sea of games?), all loosely based around my theme and with many different variations of elements from the mechanics I thought up. Still nothing.


OTOH, I seem to be pretty good at taking existing games and adding or tweaking them. I have added tons of material to PR and San Juan, tweaked Princes of Florence and Amun Re - definitely for the better, etc....

Does tweaking hit a different brain space than actually creating a new game from scratch?

Is there a way to take an existing game and change it significantly enough to call it a new game, rather than an adaption of an existing game? People do it, but it sounds kind of ... to me.

Anyway. Anyway anyway.

Nose to the grindstone, and all that.


Monday, April 04, 2005

Jerusalem Rain

Rain in Jerusalem is a blessing. This is probably the last rain of the season.

I took a bus ride through the center of town today. Jerusalem looks beautiful from a distance; the red sun off the white stone in the sunset is amazing.

Up close it can be kind of dingy, especially while they are ripping up the streets to put in a faster rail / transit system. Like we used to say at Cornell, the city is beautiful, except when it's ugly, which is all the time, because they are always ripping it up to make it more beautiful.

Unfortunately, while people do notice, our energies, resources, and focus are always tied up towards preventing the next murderer step up to a bus or a yard full of children and blow them all up.

I remember that Rick Heli asked me if I play games about Israel or Jerusalem in my spotlightongames interview. No, I said. I play games to live my life despite my country's problems. I have no interest in recreating them.


Each year in Tel Aviv there is a large roleplaying convention called Bigor. They usually have a side contingent of warhammer and stuff like that. This year, the new Tel Aviv board game club has three board game competitions: Settlers of Catan, Tigris and Euphrates, and Tongiaki (this one I never played).

I may be able to make the Settlers tournament, along with my two kids 14 and 12, who are just as likely to win as anyone else, since they've been playing for 9 years. I am just a little concerned as to the types of people they would be playing against, however. Well behaved or jerks? We shall see. I've never been to a game convention.


It was my birthday yesterday :-) . I was sick :-( .


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Panic Attack

First, a few words from my panic center:

Every once in a while I check my statistics on BGG. I have a number of anonymous geekbuddies; I don't know who they are, but I guess either they like what I write, or the volume that I write. But I seem to have lost two geekbuddies in the last few days.

Oh no!

Does what I write interest people? Have I offended someone? Are my posts too condescending or pedantic? Is my sense of humor just not funny? I'm not getting enough page impressions on AdSense! Nobody's reading my blog or clicking on the ads! I'm not going to be able to retire due to online advertising!

OK, I'm done.

Sure, I'd like an ever growing audience. But I have to write what I know, and how I can. I certainly hope I don't cause offense, but I'm not perfect. Writing this blog gives me the opportunity to practice writing in a way in which I hope people will enjoy. Call it a writer's sandbox, an online experiment in prose. I hope that anyone who reads this knows what to expect; and I do hope that what I write gets better over time. But who can tell?

As to page impressions, I get the feeling that most people who read this read it via RSS or XML or what have you, and have never set finger on the actual site (if you are one of those, raise your hand.) So I think that Adsense was doomed before I ever got it up and running.


- Fri night's guests included a ten year old boy who was thrilled to play chess with his father using my son's Attack of the Clones chess set. Yoda is king of the good side, standing on a large pedestal to make his piece taller than the other pieces.

- My daughter Tal, age 12, took all of the glass stones that I bought to a) play Go, and b) create games, and created "figures in glass stones":

- Lastly, Nadine dropped by for a shabbat PR game, in which Rachel soundly beat us 62 to 53 to 51. We missed Nadine at the club this week, so it was nice to see her.