Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Battle Cry as a Gateway Game

My son Eitan only used to play strategic computer games (although he would often used cheat codes, apparently playing it more for the destruction than the strategy). I bought Battle Cry for him, but aside from liking the pieces, he didn't seem to take to the game, wanting a lot more complicated rules.

Then I found him an ASL player (Ran), and he took to it, playing with our game group now once every few weeks when Ran is available. Interestingly, he is now starting to play with Battle Cry a bit more, with my other son Saarya, and introducing it to his friends. I think ASL awakened something in him, the desire to play with others, and not just with the computer. As he feels that ASL is too complicated for his friends, he is looking at BC in a new light, as something he and his friends can do together (most of the time he is with his friends they hang out wondering what to do).


Monday, May 30, 2005

More Tidbits

Still no time. Likely won't have much this week.

This game design thing came out of nowhere, and while I don't expect any money from it any time soon, it is still a Great Thing to be asked to design games with the possibility that they may go to print.

I am finding that exposure to Sid Sackson books, Knizia's designs, reading and playing lots of games, and a creative brain, are more than enough to get started designing games. Let's hope the designs work.

Saw Star Wars III last night. I won't say that I feel cheated, because the plot worked and I wanted to see how it turned out, but I can't say I recommend it to anyone looking for a good movie. I'm happy that GL is not making any more.


Saturday, May 28, 2005


When my head is on straight again, I will try to flesh out the details. To summarize:

- A game company called me and asked me to design numerous games for them - simple games for kids to be handed out by large companies as advertising. Yowza.

- Chris Brooks says he may be coming to Israel and would like to drop by. Looking forward to it.

- I played several games over the weekend, including: a game I invented in a few minutes, to give to this company, based on the Can't Stop genre; Casino (the card game) with my daughter; Paks, a card game from A Gamut of Games, with my son; Taj Mahal with both of them; and Puerto Rico with Rachel (61), Nadine (48), and Saarya (64) (which I lost miserably (41)).


Thursday, May 26, 2005

Session Report Up

At the site. Games played: Geschenkt, Starfarers of Catan, El Grande + King and Intriguant, Magic: the Gathering.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

More PR

I'm happy to report an insignificant piece of news: I am climbing the ranks on www.puertoricogame.net. I'm now number 1 accoring to the "Harkness" rating (I don't know what that means, but it sounds nice). Number 5 or 6 otherwise.

In the meantime, game with Rachel last night playing almost a complete set of normal buildings, but University at 7 and comes with a colonist proved too much of a temptation to Rachel. In the past, this adjustment has given her a good game, but she focussed too much on getting it rather than on making points and cash; she let me buy Small Market, and she let me trade coffee. In the end, I won by one point.


Monday, May 23, 2005

When Children Play

I have two sons, Eitan and Saarya. Eitan is the rebel, and pretty much doesn't like to do anything, but he always loves violent but strategic computer games (Red Alert, Caeser, etc...).

Saarya is the consonant gamer who likes all types of games, like me. Our tastes differ, but no more than any other two gamers. He doesn't play Bridge or Magic, and doesn't like Puerto Rico too much, but he loves Goa, Prince of Florence, El Grande, etc... Saarya has been a regular at the game club.

Saarya and Eitan share a room, but almost never talk. Yes, they both play computer games, but they are otherwise very different. Saarya is the quiet one who does all of his homework at the beginning of the year. Eitan also does well in school, but does as little homework (and school) as possible.

Recently, I was contacted by an ASL player in Jerusalem who heard about the group, and even though ASL isn't my thing, I put him in touch with Eitan. Now the two of them come to the game group just to play ASL with each other, which is good.

I had bought Battle Cry to play with Eitan, before the ASL player came along, because I wanted to engage Eitan in some game, and I was hoping we could at least play this.

Last night we found that it is a good middle ground for Saarya and Eitan to meet. While I was helping my daughter with a project, both of them came to me bored, and I sent them to play Battle Cry with each other. You would think they would have played together at some other point in the last eight years they have been living together, but it has never happened.

So they played Battle Cry, and from what I hear, they had a close, enjoyable game. Saarya was up 5 to 4 flags at one point, but Eitan managed to get the last two he needed before the game ended. I hope they continue to play together, as this would be a good contact point for both of them. Good for Eitan to have something to do other than hang out in the center of town. Good for Saarya to have someone else to play with.


Sunday, May 22, 2005

Weekend Gaming

Fri night we were invited to a friend: single mom with a boy my son's age.

I considered bringing Traumfabrik, which this friend had played and seemed to enjoy, but I was sure that we wouldn't be the only guests, and Traumfabrik is limited to five people.

So I brought Set. I was also ready to play Zendo, which can be played with any items you have lying around (such as knife, spoon, and fork). I would have like to have tried it, since I haven't really had a chance yet, but as it turns out I only ended up playing Set with her son. It's still hard to convince normal people to play games.

Set is a problematic game in that you really, really need two people with equal abilities, or it gets embarrassing. Her son was not bad, but not good enough to make a challenge, so I just sat there without calling Set while waiting for him to find the sets. I guess you can try to get better at the game, but it basically hits one space in your brain, and if you happen to be good at that sort of thing, there you go.

Otherwise, two games of PR with Rachel. In the first one, I bought buildings badly, played badly - my brain stopped working. Rachel also played very well, and she won by something like 63 to 54. In the second game, I started off with a poor play (Builder/Small Indigo - there was no Small Market), and of course she took Mayor, and then I took Settler anyway, taking a corn. I thought I was already toast, but this time I played exceptionally in the zone, always taking Mayor before she built, Builder before she could buy it. Basically, the game was as confrontational as you could get in a non-confrontational game. Final scores were high, with me winning 69 to 64.

The "official" Tel Aviv group by Gilad seems to have burnt out temporarily; they haven't had any sessions for a while. Hopefully they will get back on track.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Session Report Up

On my site. Games played: Settlers, Starfarers, ASL. As Coldfoot warned, there was not much in the way of trading during Starfarers. However, I quite enjoyed it, even though it took a fairly long time. It didn't feel like it was dragging. Looking forward to playing it again.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Ethics Article 1 Written

I finished the first article in a series on ethics in gaming. It is five pages. I sent an email to Greg Aleknevicus of The Games Journal asking if he is interested. Now to give it to my wife to critique.

I am also happy to note that I am slowly accumulating at my relatives in America some nice games at very low cost. I hope to be able to get them over here by the end of the summer. All bought for peanuts, trades, or geek gold.



Dvonn x 2, Puerto Rico

Two games of Dvonn with Saarya. The first game I cornered Saarya into a forced move and then captured his last piece. The second game I cornered Saarya into a forced move and jumped one of his last pieces, but his remaining pieces were still two disks higher than mine. 1 - 1

Dvonn continues to baffle me. As my friend David complained about a few of my own game designs, there are just too many options at certain points during the game. The worst case of this is while laying pieces. Yeah, ok, try to ensure control of the red pieces, try to have the most liberties. Is there really anything more to it? About halfway through the laying phase we just dump the rest of our pieces on the board.

The capture phase is much more interesting, primarily due to the sequence of capturing a red piece and then jumping it across the board, thereby eliminating half of the pieces on the board. If this gives you the most remaining stacks, there are good odds that you will then win. My basic strategy is to ensure that this is so.

One game of Puerto Rico with Rachel. What a fiasco. I took Hacienda on my first move, and drew 3 corns and a tobacco. There I was, producing coffee, tobacco and five corns, with Wharf, while she was producing 2 indigos, 2 sugars and a corn. I thought this game was so wrapped up in my favor that I offered to start again, midgame. She obstinately decided to continue.

Somehow, I still don't know how, she managed to buy two big buildings while I bought none. She finagled, forced my goods onto ships, left the trading house blocked, etc. Everything. Perfectly. And she beat me, not by a few points, but 62 to 50. Youch!

I was going to say that I am starting to get tired of Hacienda, since, whether it gives you good luck or bad luck, it is still luck, and therefore not so interesting. However, even with the good luck in this game I still didn't win, so perhaps its influence isn't as strong as I thought. I'll leave it in a while longer.

I borrowed the game Starfarers of Catan from a neighbor, and am waiting to play if the opportunity arises. Chris Farrel gives it a 10, while most others think of it as overly long and finicky. It certainly is odd looking, but interesting looking nonetheless.

What makes me most nervous about the game is the "encounter" that occurs every two turns, which seems like a) it will slow the game down to excruciating speed, both by interrupting the game play and by draining players of resource cards, b) gives needlessly random results, no matter what you do, and c) always pits you against the player on your left, which seems to be a poor design (random, in this case, would actually make more sense).

We'll just have to see.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Misadventures in Gaming is Back

I'm not much for hyping other links, but one of the funniest series about gaming ever was Misadventures in Gaming by Dan Bosley. The original 19 were on the Terminal City Gamers web site, which is now defunct. Actually, they kind of bogged down in the middle as Dan went on some fantasy trip about one of his guests cheating at David and Goliath, but overall they were a riot. A complementary series about Staging a fake Murder at a restaurant was also really good (again, slightly ruined with some over-weirdness at the end).

A one off new episode was on the Games Journal. It was quite funny.

Now there is supposedly a new series starting on Gamefest. The first episode is here. Let's hope it continues.


Saturday, May 14, 2005

PR Games

Rachel won a 2-player game of PR against me on Fri night, 53 - 46, with lots of changed buildings. You know different buildings are doing their job of changing the strategy of the game when: the first buildings we bought were Hospice, Office, and Hacienda. I can't give you the entire building set, but these were the right buildings for the moment. Always a different game.

On Sat afternoon, we played two games with Nadine, straight set, except for Discretionary Hold. Nadine won the first, 52 - 48 (me) - 42. I won the second with three large buildings and 11 VPs, 53 - 52 (Rachel) - 49.

I'm offering a few bids on eBay for some games; here's hoping.

No game club last week, since there were too many special days, including Memorial Day (taken very seriously in Israel, since all of us know someone personally who has died, or at least a family member thereof), and Independence Day, plus a few other distractions. Next week we are back on schedule.

Peace Upon You All,

Friday, May 13, 2005

When Smart People Play Dumb

I do it too. At least, I like to think so, because I can't otherwise understand how such an intelligent person such as myself just can't beat my brother at 9 Men's Morris, a pathetically simple game. I also expect never to win at wargames, such as Battle Cry, mostly because I am too impatient to care.

My wife is getting her PhD; she can often beat me at Puerto Rico and Scrabble, and just as often lose. She can read deep difficult English sentences in philosophy and literature that make my head swim. I can read difficult rules and technical manuals that make her head swim. Playing dumb ... or lack of interest? (I refer you to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.)

I played T&E with someone who played dumb last game. No matter how many times I explained the game - top to bottom, bottom to top, how to score points, how to score points more efficiently, how to take treasures, how to "get your leaders into a kingdom", and that this is not "your kingdom", she refused to understand.

I think T&E is a showpiece for this type of problem. It is not really that hard:

- If you place a leader into a kingdom with another leader of the same color, you cause an internal conflict. Internal conflict strength is the number of red tiles surrounding your leader plus red tiles from your hand. Loser removes his leader. Winner gains 1 red point.

- If you place a tile that merges two kingdoms, the tile placed scores no points. If there are now two leaders of the same color in the new kingdom, there is an external conflict. There may be up to four external conflicts. Strength is all tiles of the color of your leader from the previous kingdom plus tiles of that color from your hand. Loser removes leader and all tiles of that color from the previous kingdom (exception: red). Winner gains 1 point of that color for all removed items. After resolving one conflict, the kingdom may be separated, and the remaining conflicts may no longer exist. Otherwise, resolve the next conflict.

- After resolving all conflicts, if any, if a green leader is in a kingdom with more than one treasure he takes all but one.

- If you place 4 tiles that form a square, you can flip them to form a monument that shares at least one color with the flipped tiles. At the end of any player's turn, if he has one or more leaders in the kingdom that match one of the colors of the monument, he gains 1 point of that color. This may happen multiple times for multiple leaders and/or monuments. Check at the end of each player's turn.

That's the rules, give or take some minor items. Certainly no harder than Dvonn or Backgammon. But the phenomenon of not understanding this game is just amazing.

"How do I get my leader into that kingdom?" "How do I get all those points?" "How can I get the treasure?" Of course, that's not the question, the question is not "How does one get a treasure?" but "How can I get that treasure?" Sort of like, "How can I do that checkmate thingie?" I try to answer the first question, and then I try to give some help for the second question, but ... but, the answer is: experience. Try it and see. Just please don't throw your hands up and say you can't figure this game out because you can't figure out how to get that treasure.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Discarded Bit of Humor I Can't Make Funnier and Have Gotten Bored of Playing With

We're here at the game collection of Yehuda Berlinger, the founder of the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club, or JSGC as he refers to it. It might interest the viewer to know that the JSGC also stands for (I'm not making this up):

Japanese Society of Gastroenterological Carcinogenesis
JavaScript Garbage Collector
Jain Society of Greater Cleveland
Jersey Shore Golf Club
Jill Stein for Governor Campaign
JeffSol Glycerine Carbonate
and John Shelley Garden Center

among others. The game collection is off the kitchen on a set of shelves. Sci-fi books take up the first two shelves, and games the next three. All in all, about 30 games are here. And here is our host, Yehuda


Hi. So, give us an overall picture.

Well, about 30 of these games are mine. About ten are borrowed, and about five of mine are leant out to other games groups or people.

What's your favorite?

Puerto Rico. What a game. Listen, just feel how fun this game is.

But I ...

No, just stand there and feel it. Go ahead. What do you feel?

I don't feel anything.

Well, yeah. But you would though, if we were playing, right? What a game. OK, look at this one, Goa. Great game. Great game. Perfect game. I mean, this game is so perfect.

Really, it's perfect?

Yeah, perfect, man. Beyond perfect. So perfect, it's almost all the way back to sucks. Noone ever wins this game. Yeah, we all play, and we all lose. Every time. In fact, each game we do worse. This game rocks.

Doesn't someone have to win?

Ah, no, no. No one wins. That's what's so great. I mean, we just open it up on the table. Bam. We lost. We don't even have to take the pieces out. Bam. We lost.

Wow, that is ... quick.

Yeah. Every time. I think next time we lose just thinking about it. Yeah, I'm not thinking about it. I'm scared to lose. Don't think about it. Don't think about it.

I'm not.

Yeah, you are. Stop thinking about it. You'll make us lose. Stop. Stop. All right, we've seen enough of that one. Let's move on. Let's move on. Oh, yeah. Die Maker. Yeah. What a game. You know this is "the" game. The game your parents didn't want you to play.


Yeah. Die, Maker! You kill the gods, man. You have to kill the gods.


Yeah, you take these, like knives and stuff, and you roll the die, and if you win, you just stab, man, cut out its throat. Argh!

Actually, "Die Macher" means "The Top Guys". It's a board game about the German elections.

[Pause] Well, yeah, of course, yeah, we never really played it, you know, we just heard about it. Nice bits, though.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bat Mitzvah, Come and Gone

Well, all four of my children are now Bar or Bat Mitzvah'ed. Makes me old, although I still feel pretty young. I'm only 36.

Friday morning I took out a few moments to play Crossword Squares with Tal. A cute little pen and paper game, quick. Players alternate picking letters to fill their personal 5 x 5 grid with words. At the end of the game, players score 1, 2, and 4 points for 3, 4, and 5 letter words. Across and down only, overlaps ok, but not wholly contained words. (This is called Maven on BGG)

Shabbat afternoon, after the hard part was over, games were played in my house:

- I played Scrabble with Rachel, who quit after I got a bingo (Gastric) and a triple word, while she only had 4 R's in her hand.

- I introduced San Juan to a neighbor's child and my brother's child, both of whom have played Puerto Rico. I thought that the game was a foregone conclusion for one of them when he started off with Carpenter, Quarry, and Prefecture, but they reported a tie game, with the other player winning by hand count. Later, Saarya said they probably miscounted the points.

- I then introduced the above children and my brother to Taj Mahal. Fortunes waxed and waned, but eventually I pulled ahead. The last round was close, but I kept my lead by a few points. I played mostly commodities, and my main opponents had a mixture of both. My brother had an initial early lead, but overextended himself, and then complained as the game wound down and he was no longer in contention. Afterwards, he reflected that the game will take some learning to figure out. First game is a learning game, as I always say.

- Little children played cards, and Taki (Uno), and other such fluff.

We lent El Grande to the neighbors as their kid left, although none of them ever played it. I hope they managed to figure it out.

This week is both Yom Hazikaron - memorial day in Israel - and Yom Haazmaut - Independence day - so I don't think there will be an official game club evening. Maybe during the day sometime.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

No time

Busy busy week. I'm happy I made some times for games on Wed night, amidst all of the celebrations: friend's bat mitzvah's, brit for my my new nephew, my daughter's bat mitzvah on shabbat.

I am feeling very overwhelmed and panicky, even though not much is left to do, except the little stuff, like set up the warming trays, and organize people to their places when the come.

I'll probably play Bridge on shabbat afternoon with my family, or some other games, after the torah service and the kiddush. Right now, it's hard to breathe. That just happens to me, sometimes.

If only, if only I could make it to the U.S. this summer, I would travel around visiting game clubs and tournaments. Wouldn't that be fun! All I need is time and money. Where can I get me some of that?


Session report up

on www.jergames.com.

Games played: Tigris and Euphrates, Crossword Squares, Puerto Rico.

Monday, May 02, 2005

JSGC Games Played in April

We hosted a Games Day on Passover, which was enjoyable. Our attendees wanted to play only the real meaty games: Taj Mahal, Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, etc...

I welcome suggestions for other lighter games, such as Geschenkt. I would also like to acquire other types of game to please non-gamers, such as party games or the like. Again, any suggestions welcome. Party game requirements: no writing.

Games played in April:

Amun-Re: A game club favorite.

ASL: Not really played at the club, but my son went and played this during games day at someone else's house.

Attika: Probably won't be played again.

Cities and Knights of Catan: Wierd how this has aged. When this was the only thing I owned, it was played continuously, even two player. Now, it is creaky and difficult. Early leader tends to win.

Dvonn: I like. Quick and simple. I have almost nothing to say about the first half of the game - I don't really see the point of it, actually. The second half is where I begin to think.

Geschenkt: quick, but kind of played out right now. Getting a rest.

Princes of Florence x 2: Played twice during games day. Surprising, as this is a pretty dry game. Even though very little happens, that seems to be the point, and the group loves it right now.

Puerto Rico x 5: The Game.

Quiddlers: A card game with words that plays like Gin Rummy, but it's too easy to form words. Looking for alternative scoring or rules to make it better.

San Juan x 2: Another staple, usually while waiting for another game.

Settler of Catan: More than a quick game, less than a meaty game, this one is usually fun and simple, unless the dice are screwy, which they were this time.

Taj Mahal: A favorite.

Traumfabrik: Hard to tell. Never a first choice. I suspect if we had Ra, it wouldn't be first choice either. Not sure why.


Sunday, May 01, 2005

Weekend Gaming

Passover is over. I spent the last day in Beit Shemesh with my parents, where I also lived for five years. I left behind a few gaming seeds, including the Elkins, whom I mentioned before, and the Ehrmans. Eli Ehrman, the father, formerly ran the 2am computer gaming company, and is also a former D&D player. His family now has Settlers, Puerto Rico, and some other games. One is Junta, which looks like a long Diplomacy type game with Steve Jackson sort of humor (but comes from West End games, 1984). I don't think any of them have actually played it.

We were invited for lunch. They always have something like 15 to 20 for meals on shabbat, and today was no exception. They are also all extremely bright. Yet, when I walked in, I found two teenage boys playing ... War. I guess even brightness needs to take a break once in a while.

They invited me to play Bridge, but, unfortunately, most of them don't know any bidding conventions. I don't know. I guess I acted kind of snobbishly, but I told them that playing Bridge without conventions was like playing Hearts. I kind of scuttled it, and convinced them to try Pit, which I quickly formed out of a deck of cards. They were happily yelling at the top of their lungs a minute later, for which the Bracha, the mother, thanked me from the kitchen (with humor and good grace). I told them to try the silent version next time for a change of pace.

Anyway, I always bring a new game with me, and this time I brought Tigris and Euphrates, which I can't get my game group to play, for some reason. Luckily, Saarya likes it, as do I. We played after lunch, and it went over pretty well. Saarya won 6/7 to my 6/6, with the other players at 4. Eli asked his children if they thought it was worth buying, and the ones who played said yes, so rah! The Ehrmans will hopefully spread the games to others, and thus the infection spreads until it overcomes all of humanity.