Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You're With Yehuda


Over the years, people in Israel have been able to receive very little in the way of English language radio.

There is a very small news program broadcast daily by the IBA. The time allotment for the program shrinks every year and it is always in danger of being canceled. In addition, a few years ago we had an all-English language station for about eight months before it was closed down due to a lack of proper licenses. Jordan also had an English language station for some number of years which shut down a while ago.

That leaves only the steadfast BBC World Service.

British broadcasting services such as Sky News and BBC represent all that we hate in the world of biased journalism. As an example, a few years ago a Palestinian maniac snuck a gun onto a bus and began shooting women and kids right in the face until he was killed by the police. Sky news reported it as "A Palestinian militant was shot and killed a few blocks from an Israeli police station in East Jerusalem." The BBC is similar.

I lived in a settlement in the West Back for five years. When the whole peace-process thing was starting out and Israel was reluctantly dealing with the PLO, BBC came to our settlement to interview someone. They found me.

As I bemusedly watched, they unloaded their van, set up their tripods, loaded their camera, checked their sound, and so on for about five minutes. They finally asked me what I thought about dealing with Arafat. I said that, like all Israelis, I am in favor of negotiation, that improvement in the basic lives of both the Palestinians and Israelis should be the focus of these discussions, and while we are theoretically willing to give up some land for a real peace, Arafat cannot be trusted and I don't believe that he speaks for his people or is interested in a real peace.

The interviewer called "cut" and looked at me unhappily. They spent another five minutes packing up all of their equipment, went to the other side of the settlement and found someone who was willing to shout into the camera: "No peace with the Arabs! They cannot have our land! Arafat is a terrorist!" and so on.

The BBC news reported that while the average Israeli and Palestinian may want peace, the settlers are an obstacle to peace and want to kill all the Arabs.

This is one of several instances in which I encountered first hand what "news" really means:

- News does not mean "what is happening", it means the extreme exception to what is happening. Otherwise, it's not news. Do you want to know what's happening in 99% of the world? Look outside your window. Nothing is happening. People are making food, going to school, going to work, the weather is clear. That's what's happening. If you see something on the news, that means that you are seeing something that is not typical of what's happening.

- News presents both sides of a story as if support for both sides is equal. If 99% of the people want something, and 1% want something else, you can count on seeing one interview for each.

- Nevertheless, newscasters already know the story that they want to present before they present it, and all the visual and audio you see is intended to support that story. News guys don't go out to uncover the truth. BBC wants to show that settlers are wild, crazy Arab-haters - and that's the way BBC will present them. The truth is an inconvenient fiction and won't sell.

- News is a business. Bad news is good business. Poor quality reporting is also good business.


Still, I listen to BBC, because that's what there is. Knowing what I know, I know that I can't believe anything I hear. But it is sometimes entertaining.

Every hour the BBC ends the hour with some jingles. The jingles used to end, "... wherever you are, THIS is the BBC." Lately they have switched to "... YOU'RE with the BBC."

It's not much of a change, but I think it's a good change. "You're with" gives you a sense of community, where "This is" is just self-promoting. "You're with." It's got a nice ring to it. Yes, I am. I am with you. I hate you, and I can't trust you, but I'm with you while I'm listening to you, so, yeah. I'm with you.

So here you are, dear readers; you're with Yehuda. I may be the one choosing the subjects, but you've got the comments. Together we make this blog. We're a family.


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Monday, January 30, 2006

BGIA's are up

A broad range of picks, although not much in the way of war gaming, to my disappointment. Next year we may split the categories into Euro/Wargaming to facilitate this, or perhaps just promote the awards to more war gaming sites.

While most of the awards make sense to me, a few I feel are a little odd; I won't say which ones, because I don't want to reveal who voted for whom.

For me, the hard part wasn't picking my votes but preparing the final posting. Blogger has four views of a post:

Edit HTML, which is what I usually work in.

Compose, which is supposed to be a featured composer, with WYSIWYG formatting, only the formatting still isn't the same as the real post.

Preview, which is supposed to mirror the real post, but it doesn't, because it doesn't apply any of your css.

The real post, with full css.

None of these look remotely the same. That's fine if you're dealing with text, or a single image. But when you're dealing with multiple images, and aligning text around them, it is a nightmare.

My initial formatting had a nice alternating series of images on the left and right, with paragraphs flowing around them. Unfortunately, each of the three preparatory views looked different. When I fixed it for one view, it broke the other views. Fearing a huge mess as the end result, I opted for the linear look you see in its final form. There may be too much whitespace, but it's better than strange breaks between paragraphs, links askew, and overlapping pictures.

I need some real blogging software. Maybe it's time to download Wordpress or something. What's free and easy?

Anyhoo, I hope the game world is broadened and enriched by this experiment and I look forward to being part of it again next year. Expect some changes. As I always say duing someone's first game: the first play is a learning experience.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

RPG Video Roast

Slashdot points to a short video making fun of RPGers. Some might call it funny. I was amused as it started out, but gradually got annoyed and then angry as the stereotype of male nerdery turned more and more ugly.

Still, judge for yourself.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

In other news

The Menorah Game has now been officially turned down by all publishers. *sniff* I have a few options for self-publishing (I would change the theme, of course) and even investors willing to pay for it. I have to decide if I want to do that and risk all of their money. Because we would still have to advertise and distribute it somehow. What should I do?

In case I haven't said it a thousand times already, time to make some more games.

BGIA awards should be here soon ... a little late, but hopefully not too late.

BGG.con now has a date. I have little hope of attending, but maybe there'll be another miracle this year.

Gone Gaming is now six months old.

My game group members have overwhelmingly said that they want to try out RPGs and Magic, so our next few sessions will be slightly different than usual.


Weekend Gaming

As I may have mentioned, it is rare to get my older kids, Ariella and Eitan to play anything. We had a rare weekend with just the two of them, and in the comfortable glow after dinner I got Eitan to say he is willing to play a quick game of Rook and Ariella to say she is willing to play a quick game of Set. Neither would play the other game, however.

I couldn't find Rook, initially, but I took out Set and Ariella and I played. Eitan "didn't play", didn't look over our shoulders and didn't call "set" four times, adding them to Ariella's piles. Of course. You can't not play Set when you are near a Set game.

In the end, A+E had 12 and I had 12.

Later Rachel and I played a PR game. Some of the buildings weren't being bought in previous games, so I added a few new ones into the mix:

Strip Mine: Once per turn you may turn over an empty plantation and take a gold piece. You may also discard Strip Mine and the colonist on it for a gold piece.

A little on the more powerful side, but still not as powerful as Small Market. I played it. Yes, it combines with Hacienda, but that's 2 buildings, and still no better than Hacienda + Constr Hut.

Irrigation: Produce one extra barrel of any type that you are producing (like Craftsman privilege, but at the same time as you take other goods).

Excellent, balanced building. Rachel took it.

Lighthouse: as rules.

I had moved it to 8, but decided to try it back at 7 again. The extra gold for taking captain is too much. Overpowered as is. Maybe lose the bonus gold for captain. Rachel took it.

The other buildings were my usual mix. It was a better game. PR is always a better game when there is potential for all the buildings to be bought, rather than just the usual ones that everyone buys.

I thought I was winning fairly well, even until the last moment, but Rachel somehow beat me by four points. R had Indigo/Tobacco, Small Warehouse, Lighthouse, and Small Fashion District, plus Cathedral and Fairgrounds. I had Corn/Sugar/Coffee with Large General Workhouse, Discretionary Hold + City Hall and Fortress. I even had a coffee boat locked midgame. Still can't figure it.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Session Report Up

Games played: Maneater, Louis XIV, Power Grid, Torres, Puerto Rico + expansion.

I should also note that my son Eitan played a game of PR with me earlier in the week; this is the son who almost never plays anything with anybody, so it was a delightful surprise to hear that he kind of liked the game. He wasn't too thrilled about losing to me, but he's only played it two player about three times, to my several hundred, so what can you expect? He did pretty well, actually.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

MB Gamemaster Series Podcast Episode

Front Row Crew's "GeekNights" has an individual episode covering the Milton Bradley Gamemaster Series: Shogun, Axis & Allies, Fortress America, Broadsides and Boarding Parties, and Conquest of the Empire.


Update: - Actually, they have a number of episodes that cover board games, or touch on board games.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Games Grandpa

Games Grandpa (Gerald, from Colorado) is one of Gone Gaming's regular fans; it's a great pleasure for us to read his comments.

Now he has started two blogs of his own:

Time Capsule is his personal blog. It's got four entries, one of which is a small session report, and I'm sure there will be others.

Word Sketches is a literary blog with some nice prose material. From the looks of it, the posts are material he wrote a while ago. Nice stuff. I hope he has more to come.


P.S. Did anyone notice that BGG's top 100 now has 47 wargames, if you count wargame-like games such as Wallenstein and Game of Thrones? Yowza.

Monday, January 23, 2006

An Interview with the Designer

God has this to say about ... itself: I got started designing things early on ... time being one of my first inventions, it is hard to place exactly when that would be in human terms, of course. I played around with the usual stuff: alternate realities, black holes, pasta salad, and so on. The easy stuff. Basically short creations and variants on these designs.

My first successful grand design was a beautiful universe where beings lived in happiness, accomplished great things, and pretty much all got along. They also had discovered the unifying equation for all forces and made a pretty darn good domestic beer. Unfortunately, I lent my only copy to one of my knuckleheaded angels for playtesting and it left the designs lying around where they fell into a puddle of star-fat. They were so ruined that I eventually threw them out with the trash down a black hole.

It took me a while to reconstruct this design; I think I managed pretty well. Some changes were introduced by the development team before it got released. I'm still not entirely happy about some of the changes they made, but I guess it's my fault for offering to let them contribute to begin with.

What inspired you to come up with the idea for a universe in the first place?

Well, the angels and I were playing around with a game of galaxy dice (not recommended - when you roll them, they tend to crash into each other, merge, and then spin off all mixed up in random directions; damn chaos theory!) when I got the idea of creating a game with more detail about the stars themselves. You know, so you could have more personal control over local fusion, that sort of stuff.

Then one day Sammael was just soused up on a cheap domestic hydrogen nectar, and said, "Hey, wait, wait! No, wait. What if, like, we are just, like, our entire concept of existence was just, you know, inside the tentacle of some strange being? Yeah, no wait! And like, what if you know, inside this, you know, galaxy, were these really teensy, teensy, little *hic*, um, like, ..."

That's all it got out before falling over into a puddle of its own puke. But it got me thinking. I could go even smaller than the stars, you know? Put some little life-forms in there, let 'em have a little free-will, and see what happens.

You know the rest.

Did you have any help with the design

Yes, like I mentioned earlier. I created the basics on my own, but due to some contract negotiations, union stuff, and so on, I felt that I needed to take on some production assistance for some of the actual creation; good will, and all that, you know. The angels got to make some of the components (following my guidance).

Some of them went beyond what I asked, and some design changes and errors may have crept into the results. Especially the cooperation and reward charts. Some of them got quite excited while working on the game, but a few of them couldn't really handle the job. One of them, for example, kept babbling something about his "lovely little crinkly work" on the fjords of Norway, so I had to remove him from reality and place him into a work of fiction.

Some of the major flubs were not in my original plans, of course; I had nothing to do with Justin Timberlake.

The best contributions came from the archangels: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and the rest of that gang.

Did you do a lot of playtesting? Any major revisions?

Of course, we played the heck out of it a couple of times. Early versions were crap, of course. Mostly I was trying to recreate the one that I lost.

Well, the original design was tops. OK, yeah, I know, it's "the one that got away," but it really was. After reconstructing the game, I went through seven revisions before agreeing to release it. The previous versions ranged from being too easy (boring) to too hard, etc...

You'd be surprised by the amount of loony input you can get from a bunch of divine beings after a few drinks of entropy juice. Everyone wanted to have their input, and they made these wacky suggestions: the creatures could trade and spend resources to build big towers and make space-bridges, or the animals and people would cross-breed, or people would be able to own resources, like countries, objects, or ideas.

In the end it was all my own design. I didn't use any of their suggestions, although occasionally some of the suggestions pop up in the finished work in some minor way. These generally cause headaches, which I solve by rolling an event tesseract.

How did you get it published?

The game was self-published in a signed, limited-edition format (one printing). It was more expensive, but I felt that the quality was important.

Actually, some people have complained about the quality of the components. The playing surface is easily ruined and there don't seem to be enough resources to go around. Others complain about the lack of a coherent rulebook, random events, and so on. Any response?

Well, with regards to components, that's not a design flaw in the game; it's a problem with the players. The game is meant to be cooperative, not a war-game. If you took a game of Pachisi and complained that it wasn't an accurate military simulation, or that it didn't supply you with enough different units, you can't blame it on the game.

As far as rulebooks go, I thought the rules were simple enough that they didn't need a rulebook. When I saw everyone floundering around, I gave a few hints and verbal instructions to some of the key players. Then I gave out the designer notes, then comments, and eventually an FAQ.

The problem is not the lack of rules but the damn rules-lawyers. You wouldn't believe the crap people come up with trying to justify all sorts of garbage, trying to get away with it by saying "Well, the rules don't say that I can't", or "But if you read it this way or that way then you should be able to do this", or even "I spoke to the designer and he said such and such", even when it is completely contradictory to my obvious intentions.

In my opinion, the less rules the better. People need to have meaningful choices and be able to play without any early-player elimination. If the game is played cooperatively, most people are not going to find themselves in a position that they just don't have a chance. Yeah, there are random events, but you can still prepare yourself for most of them.

And remember: the win conditions allow for multiple winners - everyone can win.

If the players ever got in line they would get to the next stage of the game which goes beyond resource management, trading, and building; right now you're still pretty far away from that.

How are the expansions working out? Any further expansions coming?

I'm not very much in favor of expansions. The original rule set is actually pretty flexible, and there's a lot of game play left in it.

I still have a complete expansion ready to release which I'm keeping hold of. I guess most people have been hearing about it for so long that they thing it's vaporware, but I assure you that it's been ready to go for a while. Since no one has even mastered the basic game yet, I'm still keeping it in reserve.

What other projects are you working on?

I'm pretty busy with customer service issues regarding this universe. A couple of trillion planets, moons, comets, ethers, and pulsars full of people is no walk in the park, let me tell you.

But I'm working a new universe made entirely of pasta salad. It's based on string cheese theory. It's going to be a Muenster warp game.

Any advice for aspiring designers?

Yeah. How long can you tread water? (ha ha ha)

Thanks for agreeing to the interview. It was great to have you. Any final words of advice?

Stay out of dark alleys. Don't eat yellow snow. Treat other people the way you would want to be treated. And stop watching television and playing on your computer; There's a whole world I created out there.

Be good.

Thanks, God! -Yehuda

Sunday, January 22, 2006

As Long As We're Linking 5

For more information, see As Long As We're Linking 4.

New sites that have come to my attention with board game content:

a random gnome's random lair: "Gnome" Konstantinos, Athens, Greece. No further bio information. Blog is about computer and board games, tech, and so on.

Boardgame Babylon: E.R. Burgess, San Gabriel Valley, CA. A board games podcast.

chumpmonkey.com - version 4.7: Allen Vailliencourt, Greer, SC. Board games and so on. Just restarting, and trying to find its feet.

Game Designer Wannabe: Michael Keller, Matawan, NJ. Reports on sessions and game design.

Marquand.net: Matthew Marquand, Columbus, OH. More and more about board games, including pictures from session reports.

Mike Doyle's Art Play: Bergen County, NJ. Mike is the Artist Laureate of board gaming, with breathtaking redesigns of many great games. Now he has added comprehensive game reviews.

Overboard Games and Puzzles: Olga and Hans, owners of a board game store in Manzanita, OR. Other board game stores write blogs about their new games ("This just in!"); Overboard's blog has some actual game content, including links and some short reports.

Pulp Gamer: A board game podcast from Fantasy Frontiers, Nashville, TN. Three geeks doing reviews and interviews.

Reflections of an Apostle: Scott Firestone, Evan, CO. Yet another Christian spirituality/board games. Was going fine for four months, but now hasn't updated for a month. I hope it continues.


A review and a pillow-fight

Here's a nice review of my game (in prototype format) by Coldfoot; thanks!

And we were all secretly wondering if the recent girls-only game convention "Nobody but us Chicks!" was going to have a pillow fight; turns out it did!


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Weekend Gaming

I include my blog URL in my signature, so whenever I send an email, there's my blog address.

Our guests on Friday night were a mother in her fifties and her twenties son. I sent my dinner invitation via email. During dinner she said that she saw the address at the bottom and though she would check it out, "and the thing that I really want to know is: who in the world would really be interested in all this?"

It was meant to be semi-rhetorical; she was curious about the appeal that this sort of thing had to niches of people interested in a certain subject. But my wife laughed and clapped her on the back and said, "right on!"

Rachel thinks I'm married to my blogging. According to her, I'm on the computer in the morning, and it's last thing I check before going to bed. A spouse just doesn't understand these things, especially one who is working on her doctorate first thing in the morning, and also the last thing before going to bed.

The son stayed after dinner to play Power Grid with Saarya, Tal, and me. As a first game, I decided to try out only Step 1, as is recommended. Unlike the 6 player games I played at BGG.con, I found it a smidgen repetitive, but not enough to make the game unenjoyable. I think that, as in a number of these games, if the game is played politely it doesn't hold a tremendous amount of tension. When played more cutthroat, the game shines. We played politely.

Saarya built early while I hung back. I thought this would be good, but with only 4 players, the good prices never went that high, anyway. Also, with only 1 step, there was less conservation required. Or something. In any case, Saarya bought early and often and sailed into an easy victory. Tal was flush with cash and could have given him more competition if she had bought more.

The next day, Tal had a friend over who was open to trying some games. We played three way China Moon (best with three) which Tal won with a complete set of yellows, the black and the blue. I had four whites and 2 reds.

Then the two of them played Set.

I am reading a trilogy by Julie E. Czerneda called the Trade Pact Universe, books I picked up and Half Priced Books in Dallas. Enjoyable stuff. The telepathy is similar to the type of mental communication I foresee in my Sarah novels.

And to those of you who don't understand why anybody would be interested in this, blah blah gobble gobble blah blah games blah blah blog blah blah gobble gobble blarg blork blarf.


P.S. And I played and won a 2 player PR game with Rachel in the evening. The usual substituted buildings.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Games, games, ... urk!

A shipment of games arrived, courtesy of a generous friend of mine who went to the states and dragged them back for me. Some of my friends ordered Cities and Knights, Seafarers, Puerto Rico, Runebound, Louis XIV, and Torres. I ordered Power Grid and Maharaja. Yummy.

Thanks to my favorite online game store, TimeWellSpent. There are a few other game stores that are close to my favorite, and I will check them out before ordering, as well. TWS is usually close to cheapest and has great service.

Having just got embroiled in a small controversy regarding mistakes on other people's websites, I will certainly say nothing about the updating counter on the bottom of Joe Steadman's new war gaming site counting down all of the non-Christians who die every day and who are all going to Hell.

I should probably post another list of new blogs/rss feeds; they keep on coming. Should the next one be another incremental one, or a revised complete edition?

It is great to have Saarya back for the weekend. And Tal.

I wish peace and comfort to everyone, both in this world, and the world to come,

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Princely Exaggeration?

The San Antonio Board Gamers blog had a mistake in a Princes of Florence session report. I pointed it out here on my blog because I didn't have the email address of the poster and their site didn't allow comments.

After discussion, they fixed their session report. The rest of this post was deleted upon request of one of the embarrassed parties. No malice was intended on my part.


Session Report Up

Games played: Ingenious x 2, Yinsh, Cribbage, San Juan, Cities and Knights of Catan, Entdecker, Attika, Modern Art.

Question regarding Ingenious: we only had the Hebrew rules. We played that after you get to 18, then every time you place a tile that gives you point in that color you place an additional bonus tile. That resulted in three or four tiles a turn after midgame. The English translation rules on BGG seem to indicate that you get a bonus tile only once when you get to 18, and not thereafter.

Which is correct?


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A T&E Game in Machon Lev

Saarya is in sleepaway yeshiva, and only comes home once every three weeks. It wasn't too bad around the holidays and all that, when he came home often enough. Now that we are at a normal schedule, it is really a long time. It is like early empty nest syndrome. He's not old enough, yet!

And it's ridiculous, seeing as I live only twenty minutes away from his dorm. Last week I repeated an offer that I made to him earlier in the year to come visit him on Tuesday evenings, if he could spare time away from his studies. I finally got a chance to try it, last night.

In the very scant free time that they have, Saarya had taught his friends Settlers of Catan and The Menorah Game. We made some time tonight and I brought along two games: Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation and Tigris & Euphrates. I wasn't sure if we would be two player or more.

He asked me to pick up some pizzas on the way, and we ended up being four players with a number of spectators.

T&E is a game that Israelis seem to like a lot, even when they have little gaming experience. I introduced the game to the two boys sitting down with us, one to my left and one across the table. After every sentence, Saarya translated into Hebrew since my Hebrew is still poor and one of the boy's (to my left) English was poor.

I usually explain T&E with a very brief thematic description, after which I simply refer to everything by their colors. I note that we all have four color leaders (and their names), that there are four color tiles (and their types), and four color points. Then I say that the object is to gain points in all colors, and that our score is the color of which we have the least.

Next I say that on your turn, you have two actions of four types: place/move leader (gains no points, but leaders establish kingdoms), place tile (points to leader or king if in a kingdom, blue on rivers, others elsewhere), place disaster (usually to break kingdoms), toss and draw tiles.

After that I say that there are only four more things to know:

1. Internal conflict by placing a leader; only placing a leader can cause an internal conflict. IC's are always in red. Count red tiles around the leader, attacker adds, defended adds. Ties to the defender. Loser leaves, winner gains a red point. Repeat: IC's are always fought in red, with red tiles surrounding leaders.

2. External conflicts by placing a tile joining kingdoms; only placing a tile can cause an external conflict. Tile placed to join two kingdoms (not groups of tiles, only kingdoms) scores no points. There may be up to 4 EC's and you choose how to fight them. [I lay this out as I demonstrate]. Let's choose green first. Add all green tiles in entire kingdom, not just next to leader. Attacker tosses, defender tosses. Loser removes leader and all colored tiles in entire kingdom, winner gains point in color for all items removed. Onto the next conflict ... look there in no longer a connection and therefore there is no longer a conflict, see? So order of resolution is important. [I leave out some details, such as red external conflicts, can't join three kingdoms, and that leaders can't be placed to join kingdoms]

3. Green leader in a kingdom that has two treasures takes one. That's the only way to get treasures. You don't act to take treasures, you simply have to be there if it happens. Treasure is a wild point.

4. If you form a square, you can make a monument. At the end of your turn, whenever your leader is in a kingdom with a monument that share's its color, you get a point in that color. [I leave out that you lose the support of the tiles for external monuments, and that leaders may be removed from the board when a monument is made, and other exceptions like that.]

I then review: you gain points by placing tiles into kingdoms where you have the leader or the king, or by fighting an IC for a single red point, or by fighting an EC for a number of points in the color fought, or by taking a treasure with a green leader, or by being in a kingdom with a monument.

Game ends when only two treasures remain or we are out of tiles. And don't forget to use your disaster tiles, but you only have two!

That usually gets everyone started. During the first few turns I will explain some strategies as we go: Red tiles supporting leaders. Tiles the color of your leaders supporting your leaders. Black and Green leader special abilities. Kingdoms are not "owned" by any player. How a treasure is acquired. How a thin kingdom is vulnerable to disasters. Remember to get points in all colors. Don't shy away from conflicts you can win because you always draw back up to six tiles. And so on.

My LHO started first, and it seemed like we were all doing ok, but gradually my opposite opponent seemed to get more and more confused. Eventually you could see that his brain had hit swapping limit. With a rueful grin he asked if one of the spectators could take over. And that was the one who understood my English. My LHO who hadn't actually got the game and did quite well.

Treasures were taken fast and furious, and kingdoms stretched long distances without any disasters. In a very unusual situation, a player had a choice between the treasure in the lower left corner and the upper right corner. I felt I was doing pretty well, with a score of six, when Saarya decided to end the game by taking the last treasures. Doing so gave me three black cubes, however, which pushed me to seven. Saarya had four, my LHO had five, and my opposite opponent had three (which included two treasures).

I packed up and wished him well, leaving him LotR:tC. Perhaps he will have a chance to play a quick 2-player some evening. Happily, this is one of his shabbats with me.


Google Books

I said this a half a year ago or more: Google is losing it. A brash bold useful company with so much to offer whose motto was once "do no evil" is starting to unravel.

Consider Google's acquiescence to China to work together with the authorities to ban thousands of search phrases from their search for Chinese IP addresses. Google's explanation is a) if they didn't do this, then China would ban all of Google, and b) they don't want to lose business. Does that sound like a "do no evil" policy to you?

Now here comes Google Books. Originally this was going to be Google's way of bringing more information to the world; that's what Google is here for, right? Here's a quote from Google's Google Books FAQ:

... the aim of Google Book Search is to help you discover books and learn where to buy or borrow them, not read them from start to finish.

Kaching. What a kowtow to the book publishers. "The aim is to learn where to buy and borrow books"?

The search service is still in Beta, so it may yet improve, but come on. You can only see two pages of the book? Only certain pages? Only if you're registered? Etc.. Whose interests are being served here? Isn't this a little overboard?


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Monday, January 16, 2006

BGIA nominations are up

The good news: there were many great nominations, some lesser nominations, and a few disqualified nominations (lots of people nominated and then read the rules, in that order).

The major point of any award series is to help publicize the great stuff that is out there, and I think it did a great job. There were quite a few items nominated that I had never heard of: many publisher sites, slews of online gaming sites (including a few that we had to leave out that were not in English but are easy enough for English speakers to use), at least one entire podcast (PulpGamer), and so on.

Big thanks to whomever nominated me, of course.

The bad news: a few categories didn't receive many nominations, even though I know that there was plenty of material out there for these categories. These were mainly article categories; I guess people didn't feel like wading through old posts to find the links required to submit the nominations. The exception in low number of nominations was Best Journal; I think so many people simply thought that The Games Journal should win that they didn't bother with any others. With the exception of Indepth, which was also nominated, the only other ones I can think of are Games International and Knucklebones (or is that print only?)

Best of luck to all nominees.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Too Little of Nothing

* I had to buy a new cell phone, an older model. Rather than pay extra to reactivate my old number I slipped in my son's old phone SIM card which he stopped using when he got a new phone a few years ago. His SIM card was set to display "Run for your life" whenever my wife called him.

* I finally found a new job and gave notice at my current job. I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing, since the terms aren't that different, but I hope to be a little happier at the new job. My old job doesn't finish until Feb 11, and the new one doesn't start until Feb 15. Which gives me only three days respite, and one of those is shabbat.

* We're wrapping up the post for the GG:BGIA nominations summary and should be posting that soon.

* Still finding more blogs and posts about board gaming. I'll write them up when I get a chance.

* Split pitas into halves, sprinkle with olive oil and pizza spices. Toast. Parmesan is optional.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Weekend Gaming

We had another old friend for lunch, Rachel. Rachel left Israel about seven years ago, had some rough times, got divorced, and finally made it back a few weeks ago. She brought back with her her seven and a half year old daughter.

Rachel is the daughter of Ephrayim, a war gamer who lives down the road from us. Eph came to our group a few times, but didn't really like the Eurogames, and couldn't find people willing to play the old time Avalon Hill games he has stacked in his closet.

Rachel's daughter also loves games (shoot, I can't remember her name - I'm terrible with names). After lunch, while the grown ups went off to do the boring things that grown ups do, she and I played a whole bunch of games:


The Menorah Game, which she liked. We played twice.

Yinsh, also twice. The second game was very close. She actually pulled ahead of me and I only managed to eke out a win.

Go, which she wanted to learn in order to play with her cousin. We played on a 9x9 board and I gave her a 4 stone advantage. She beat me with 46 spaces.

Kings in the Corner, a rather brainless card game which she taught me (and won).

She calmly asked me questions, and not just about rules, but about strategy. She was VERY bright and VERY well mannered, aside from accidentally knocking things around the board a few times with her sleeve. She was always polite and happy to play whether she won or lost, and was determined to finish a game even when she knew she was losing. Much better than a number of grown-ups I know.

I hope to see her again.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006


References: Brian and Tom at Tao of Gaming.

Brian implies that strategy means "plays that give better positions rather than immediate tactical advantage":

Is Caylus Strategic? More so than PR. There are "positional" affects (things that aren't immediately tactical, but that affect play). Larry brought up an example of "If I'm doing the shipping strategy, I'm going to want a harbor, or If I'm doing the factory, it will change my builds." Well, that's certainly true, and you can see "I want this, then this, then this." But I'm not sure it's positional. You could model the same effects as 'evaluation of future values'. If I have the factory, it's better if I have lots of good types. Ditto Harbor, but the Wharf wants specialization. My current position makes those better (or worse), and I don't have to look ahead to see it.

As usual, Brian is of the opinion that Puerto Rico is all tactical, and not strategic. We've argued about this before.

In the comments, Chris Farrel argues that strategy may just mean "what to do when you don't know the right tactics":

I wonder if a game with completely open information and no random elements must be purely tactical by definition. I've talked about it with the folks I've played it with, and nobody thought it was anything more than a highly tactical game.

A game can appear strategic because we just don't understand it. If there are lots of factors I haven't grasped yet, I'll attack them by making a generalized strategic choice ("OK, I'll focus on building castle bricks") because making all the tactical decisions is too burdensome. But that doesn't *generally* make the game itself any less tactical.

Others go on to imply that perhaps strategy is only possible with hidden information. Tom's post is then largely devoted to supporting this.

I don't think there is such a thing as a game where there are no hidden elements. As usual, I find example games to be helpful in this situation.

GAME A: Each player chooses an Ace or a King to play face down. The cards are revealed. If they match, player 1 wins, if they don't, player 2 wins.

Each player has complete control over what he chooses (no dice), and complete information as to the available options available to their opponent (no hand full of random cards). However, the game has a large and very crucial element of hidden information: what your opponent will choose.

GAME B: The same game, but player A reveals his card first, and then player B has to choose what card to play. You no longer have a game. Of course, this is dramatically simplified, but player B now evaluates the board with complete knowledge of what his opponent will do by the end of the game and chooses the best move. What you have is now a puzzle.

So unless we simply want to define strategy out of existence, we will have to come up with something better than "a game with hidden information", since there are no games without.

One thing you have to realize is that even if a game is "understood", it doesn't mean that there can be no strategic choices to make. It all depends on what you mean by "understanding".

If you have "solved chess", then for any given position you know the optimal play to make assuming that there is an optimal play. This assumption is a big one. Consider the following situations:

a) Your opponent can always win from this position if he plays perfectly. However, you know that he has a blind spot when it comes to tactical play. So you make a move that tempts him to make a mistake.

b) There are several different moves that are equally likely to produce a victory. How do you decide between them? For instance, Rock, Paper, Scissors can't be solved except by statistical analysis of all humans. When playing against a single human, it is more important to know THAT human.

c) Even if you have an optimal move, sometimes you may find a sub-optimal move is better against certain opponents, or, dare we say, more rewarding for the game playing experience.

What these factors have in common is the human experience. If you want to talk only about play that does not only mean "the best play given the information that I can calculate", then strategy is the decisions you make that are based on the human experience.

Maybe one day we will solve PR, but a strategic choice is to invest in high cash goods or high shipping goods. These choices are not necessarily "the best" choices, and they are not necessarily "sub-optimal" choices. They are human choices. Maybe your opponent is not good at handling your chosen strategy. Maybe you feel most comfortable handling it, yourself. Maybe it just makes the game more interesting for you or your opponent.

Either way, the real definition of strategy hasn't really changed much. We all can agree that tactics is evaluating your position and making the best of it. Strategy is still, according to me, a guiding philosophy about the game that colors your tactical choices. It may be that from a grand distance that tactics and strategy have no firm clear border, but that doesn't mean that they don't exist as distinct concepts in human terms. We are not computers.


Update: I think I am letting you guys off the hook too easily. Even if you can see the optimal play from the start of the game, you can still define strategy as the overriding series of plays you will be making, and tactics as each of these plays. As Wikipedia puts it:

* The overall goal is to win a war against another country.
* The strategy is to undermine the other nation's ability to wage war by annihilating their military.
* The tactics (told to the combatants) are to do very specific things in a specific place.

In games, a game is strategic (and less tactical) if there are at least two different paths to achieve the same goal and the tactics you choose specifically favor one of these paths. A certain tactic becomes less valuable or more valuable depending on which path you are following. From the same position, two people will choose a different tactic both of which may be close to optimal or equally optimal based on their strategy. It is tactical (and less strategic) if there is only one path, or the paths are sufficiently muddied that from any position you have the same options and make the same choices regardless on any path.

Obviously I feel PR is at least somewhat strategic, but others don't.

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Peter Olotka (Cosmic Encounter) Interview on Braincloud

I'm sure Board Game News will pick this up momentarily, but I have to link, given how much of a fan I am of the board game.

I haven't played online, yet. Mostly this is because I don't have much time for online gaming, other than the pbem variety offered by pr-game and so on. But also because I don't like fancy interfaces.

Maybe I'm also worried about the unique crazy feel of the game being lost online: player negotiation, easy back and forth. Something about the game was meant for intimate friends, rather than strangers. Lastly, I don't know what they did with the rules. I haven't looked, but at the very least I see only four home planets, pods, and other weirdness. And how do they handle house rules?

Probably one day I will spend some time checking it out and love it.


Session Report Up

Games played: Yinsh, Anagrams, Tigris and Euphrates, Puerto Rico + expansion. Note the freewebs URL.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Telling it Like it is

A link to what is probably the best session report ever for Monopoly.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

BGG and me

Template tweak on my blog

I was informed by an IE user (Thanks, Simon) that my blog didn't work properly on IE due to a few errant pixel widths. I fixed this. Hopefully this didn't wreck anything on anyone else's browser.

BGG and me

My most often used Board Game Geek features are, in order:

Notification on content I have posted or tagged - If I have posted a thread or comment, or I just really like the thread, I want to know when people add comments. BGG sends me notification via email.

Active threads, sorted by game - This was much better than "recent additions", because I don't want to know about new games, new images, geeklist comments, and so on, and I want to see only one line for a thread change, not one line for each comment.

Unfortunately, this feature seems to have disappeared.

RSS notification on new forum postings - BGG allows me to receive RSS on new posts to a forum category or a specific game, new articles, new geeklists, and so on.

Game specific information - When I get a new game, I check out any rules troubles or variants that people have posted. After playing a few times, I will check out strategies or gameplay issues.

My BGG - I review my contact information, game ratings, and comments here. If I've played anything new, I add it to the ratings. I also like to see if anyone has added me to their Geekbuddy list.

Latest/Popular Geeklists - I check occasionally.

Top rated game list - Checked when I am in the market for new games.

BoardGameSpeak - I've heard most.

Auctions/Marketplace/Trades - I check rarely, but not never. The marketplace is always too highly priced for me. The auctions can be nice, since I usually only have to pay GeekGold. And trading is hard.

Other - I played T&E on the Geek a few times. I've also answered some "Why did the Geek?" and Geekquestions, when I'm really bored.

The new BGG

Of course, I owe a large part of my gaming and a lot of my online game presence to BGG, so I don't feel any immediate need to criticize when things are changed. So long as they work and are not too annoying.

So the first thing I did after the latest change to the site was to configure my home page: Recently viewed (left col, a nice new feature), News + Recent Geeklists(30) + Recent Marketplace(20) (center col), Recent Forums(20) + Recent Game Forums(20) (right col).

I'm not happy with the increase in ads on the front page (4 places on the page is a bit much) followed by asking readers for a donation to remove them. That strikes me as a questionable business model. But I can hardly complain. I've contributed content to them, and they've given me useful access to content from others, so the relationship is still good. Not to mention that they throw a great con, and they're both super nice people.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Now Voting for JIB Awards

Click above to vote in the first round of Jewish and Israeli blog awards. One of my posts is nominated for best post. They still have it mislisted as written by "BGG.con/Yehuda". What can you do?

They have a strange voting procedure: The public votes for their favorites, and the top six in each category make it to a second round of voting. Strange: you can vote every three days. Strange: you vote for your favorite from column A and/or from column B in each category, which pits certain blogs against each other based on their alphabetic order. Strange: This seems to open up lots of opportunity for shill voting.

Vote away.


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Sleepy Yinsh

L'vannah Bielsker

After a sudden reacquainting with an old friend from college a few weeks ago, I received yet another sudden reacquainting from another old friend from college who is/was in Israel for a few days: L'vannah Bielsker.

The last time she was in Israel, it happily coincided with my wedding. That was eight and a half years ago. She was able to drop in this time for Sunday night dinner at the same time that my mom-in-law was packing up to leave. We had a nice chat while the rest of my family watched Madagascar in the background. They laughed the whole time, so it must have been amusing.

L and I traded info about our old Cornell friends, her life and teaching, and so on. After college, she hiked in Alaska for several summers chasing eagles, taught in Italy for two years, did residency in Costa Rica, and spends her free time hiking in the mountains and along California's coastline. Now she teaches high school Biology and Chemistry. She is still one of the most beautiful women I've ever met (my photo doesn't do her justice). After achieving almost everything she ever wanted, I think she is finally looking to meet someone to marry. If you're Jewish and traditional and looking to meet someone special in her thirties, let me know.

Eventually I brought out a small game just to show her what I "do". I like Yinsh, but I'm not good at it, so I thought it would be a good easy intro. L was already starting to fall asleep (it was about 10:30 pm) before she started playing. She placed disks slowly and sleepily, removing one of her rings first. I followed with two, and then she took a second.

At this point I realized that there was no way she could drive back to Tel Aviv to finish packing without getting a little rest first. I put her to bed for an hour, but she woke up after twenty minutes feeling refreshed enough to go. Hopefully she will return again, this time in less than eight years.


Sunday, January 08, 2006

Guess who just lost his cellphone?

Somewhere between Ramat Gan and Jerusalem. *grumble* *grumble*

Only a week left to vote for the Board Game Internet Awards. We have lots of nominations for some categories, but a few could use a little more competition:

Best Series of Posts

Best New Blog, Podcast, or Videocast (2005)

Best Strategy Article (2005)

Best Online Journal or Magazine (maybe there aren't that many?)

Best Promotional or Advocacy Article (2005)

Best New Site (2005)

Best Session Report (2005)

Best Humorous Article (2005)

Please get your nominations in this week!


Saturday, January 07, 2006

As Long As We're Linking 4

My my, they just keep on coming ...

This article follows As Long As We're Linking 3, As Long As We're Linking 2, and As Long As We're Linking 1.

These are links to board game bloggers who actually have something to say, or are very new and look like they might have something to say sometime soon. They also say it frequently enough for me to want to check on them. If you use bloglines, you don't really have to worry about checking on them, but I like to give props to people who really keep their blogs active.

Here are the changes since last time. And this little article from Dana Blankenhorn who proves that he doesn't know how to play Risk doesn't count.

A Weblog: Mark Hamzy, Texas. Apparently plays games with the Rozmiarek's of the Game Ranch. Many pictures, closeup and fuzzy. Also disk golf.

Best of Board Games: A cooperative blog that links to their favorite articles from other blogs and the geek. Replaces the Best of the Blogosphere postings by Alfred.

Board Games with Scott: Scott Nicholson, Syracuse, NY. A video blog demonstrating games.

Bruno Faidutti News: Bruno Faidutti is a premier game designer in France. Great site. His feed gives updates to his site.

Critical Gamers.com: A group blog of some sort. Promises new and more frequent content, soon.

Day Gaming: John Gravitt, Texas. Another gamer playing with Rozmiarek.

Duly Exhausted: This is the new name of Anye's blog (formerly Diet Evil, Dancing Eggplant).

The Game Shelf: This is a new URL for Doctor J's blog.

Gaming with Fish: Someone named Fishbulb, from West Virginia. Only posts once a month, so far, but interesting.

Gaming Report: Primarily an RPG/CCG site, with some info on board games, occasionally.

NeverEndingBooks: Lieven le Bruyn, Belgium. A math researcher, starting to do analysis of games. Try his game related feed: http://www.neverendingbooks.org/index.php/category/games/feed/atom/ .

Spotlight on Games: Rick Heli, San Francisco, CA. A huge site with many reviews and articles. Now a feed.

Taxovich: Taxovich (name?), Salt Lake City, Utah. A student, just starting to blog.

Traditional Game Reviews: Daniel Smatt, Missoula, Montana. A game store owner, posting game reviews. Last one was in November, but here's hoping for more.

Traveling in Multiverse: Ricky, Hong Kong. Another very new blog finding its wings. I'm waiting to see if it will fly.

The Vintage Gamer: Promises to be a podcast about pre-1990 games.


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Weekend Gaming

Friday night I played Scrabble with my mom-in-law. She is a kind person; too kind. She plays by allowing everyone to play with eight letters, letting people look through the dictionary while tying to find words, no time-clock, replacing blanks with letters from your own hand, and so on. All to make it easier on the people playing, and "more fun".

In my humble opinion, this also removes a lot of the tension from the game. No bluffing, no challenges. I had seven letter bingos in my hand several times but they were not bingos with eight letters. I managed to get a full nine-letter bingo: "mortified", which helped me win the game.

Also beware of some new words in fourth edition Scrabble include: "qi", and "za".

Om Friday night dinner we had an unexpected four guests who had walked to the area for shul and wanted to stay in the area for a shiur (learning session) but hadn't arranged previously to do so. Rachel invited the kit and caboodle for dinner. Amazingly, we had enough food.

One of the guests writes area articles for the Jerusalem Post and expressed interest about writing up our board game group for the newspaper. That could be interesting.

Sat afternoon, two of these people, and two others again showed up at 4:30 asking if they were too late for yet another shiur which they thought was in our house (because Rachel teaches it). However, the shiur was about ten minutes away, is an hour long, and had started 30 minutes previously. Oops.

How about a game?

So I introduced them all to For Sale. For Sale is not a game that I liked when I first received it: a little too slight, and while I love blind bidding, I want the blind bidding to be part of a larger game. However, For Sale is an easy game to teach, accommodates 3-6 people, and is quick. As I've been bringing it out to teach a lot of new people, the game has grown on me.

My fellow players, playing their first non-traditional game (or so I thought), spent more time talking about the houses than actually playing. But we managed to finish the game and they seemed to enjoy it. The winner has won just about every house as second place winner, and then won just about every check as second place winner. She won by a minor landslide: 67, 56, 52, 39.

It then turned out that one of them was German. I asked her if she could translate the rules to the game Sticheln that I had also received a while ago, but had never played due to it not having an English translation (yeah, I could probably find it on the geek, but I haven't looked, yet).

She tried, but although she could read the German, she had a very difficult time with rules in general, so she couldn't translate it easily. While she was struggling through it, I decided that we should play a game of David and Goliath using the same cards. There's another quick game that is easy enough to explain and play.

It then transpired that our German guest knew the game Settlers of Catan, and had played some games with her family back in Germany, such as Through the Desert, and probably others. I invited her (and all of them) back for Wed night games. We shall see.


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Friday, January 06, 2006

PR league sponsorship

The PR league will be starting soon. I am interested, not the least because it has a cool cash prize of $5000 for the winner, as well as a vacation in Las Vegas, but because the play will be against the best of the PR world (hopefully).

Still, given my current financial situation, I am loathe to pony up the $190 in competition fees and possible fee for flying to the competition should I qualify. Anyone want to sponsor me? We can split the prize if I win. For what it's worth, I'm currently number one on Pr-game and I had a close to 50% win record on BSW while I was playing (multiplayer game, remember). If you're a company and you want to sponsor me, you get free advertising, too.

I've played around a thousand times and I rarely get tired of it.

Yehuda (shadejon at gmail)

P.S. I'm all the way up to 106,000 on Technorati. Whee! And Gone Gaming broke 50,000. For those of you who read my blog but still don't link to me, I would be much obliged if you could rectify that. Thanks.

P.P.S. If you haven't yet, please cast your nominations for the Board Game Internet Awards. You only have a week left to nominate, and I'm sure that plenty of good stuff hasn't yet been nominated.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Seven Tips For Sony Regarding Its New Book Device


We haven't forgiven you for your CD DRM fiasco, so it is with dread that we now hear that you are planning a new electronic book device. Here are seven tips to keep you from fouling it up:

1. Don't allow only Sony provided content onto the machine. In fact, open up your format so that anyone can produce a book for your machine. Allow Sony content to be readable on other machines as well.

2. Don't DRM anything. Don't work together with content providers to lock anything. Don't issue content that will only work on a single device. People who buy books for your machine may also want to read them online. Let them. People who buy books online may want to read them on your machine. Let them. Assume your customers will be honest. The billions you make from happy customers will offset the thousands you lose to book copying, which is still illegal. And you're not going to stop them, anyway.

3. Price your books in such a way that we know that we're not paying for printing, binding, distribution, and all the other things that no longer apply to eBooks. In other words, price the eBooks less than regular books. Don't worry that every eBook sold represents a loss of paper sales; it doesn't, any more than DVD sales represent lost movie ticket sales. They coexist.

4. Allow us to resell the content. Allow us to resell the devices. Otherwise, it's not going to work, and you'll find someone to blame, but it will be your fault.

5. Design it for the 99% of the people who are going to buy it and how they are going to use it. That means: portable, easy to read in all light conditions, no eye strain, water-resistant, scratch-resistant.

6. Make the reading experience as book-like as possible, but include the following key features: text-to-speech, for the hard of hearing; option for big text and contrast, for the hard of seeing; bookmarks; highlighting; hypertext; wi-fi and USB connections for emailing, blogging, sharing, and tagging; automatic screensave and powersave; long battery-life; easy and cheap to fix; few and simple navigation controls.

7. Do not automatically send a unique device ID to anyone whenever the device connects to the internet. Do not try to suck any information about anything I read in order to transmit it to anyone, ever, even in bulk. Get that information from the distributors when I buy it, if you must.


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Session Report Up

Note the link while I try to regain jergames.com, which will take a few months.

Games played: San Juan, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, Primordial Soup, Princes of Florence, Taj Mahal.


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Blog Redefining

I have been going back to some posts and relinking them properly, adding Technorati tags, and so on. So if you see old posts showing up in bloglines, that's why.

Speaking of old posts, I have been very late in getting the next chapter of Encounter to Gone Gaming. My previous entry is here. One of the major reasons I have been late with chapter 5 is that the story naturally contains some sexual themes, and I have been trying to find a way of telling what needs to be told in such a way that I can post it to a public blog. I think it's almost there.

And speaking of Encounter, the new Entertaible sounds just like the table I briefly described in my last chapter. If I don't get out the rest of my story soon, it won't be science fiction anymore.


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2005 Bloggies

THE award for blogs in the world. Go nominate your favorite blog/s!


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Great Bits and Gaming Report

Ever since I set up my own Google news searches I hadn't visited the nifty site Great Bits, so I never noticed that it had passed on and merged with Board Game News.

I think that all Ward does is reformat the same information you could get with a Google search, but unless you're a freak like me, it is simpler for most people to just point their browser to Great Bits (now BGN) to find out about mainstream media coverage of board games.

I'm still subscribed to my Google searches; it's fun to see what articles hit by my search do or don't get covered on BGN's media watch.

Also, looking at Tom Vasel's list of links I noticed Gaming Report, a pretty rich site devoted to game news that is mostly RPG related, but also has some board game stuff. A wonder I never noticed it before. I wonder how it compares to RPG Net.


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Dangerous Ideas

So it seems that I am unwilling to completely run this blog as a "content-only" blog, as opposed to a "linking" blog. I will just have to challenge my idea that a blog can only be one or the other.

Anyway, the link above is to an amazing article asking over 100 thinkers to propose "dangerous ideas" as topics for discussion. Highly interesting and thought-provoking.

Link comes by way of Slashdot. The link, by the way, is to the "printable" version of the article, which is the only way to see it all on one page.


ObGame: Taught my mom-in-law how to play Anagrams last night.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Followup on an Old Thread: Luck

Follow up to an old thread on Gathering of Engineers:

1. Dave Wilson, like me, distinguished between "after" and "before" luck. This follow-up is meant to clarify this.

Consider the following two games:

A) Each player tosses a beanbag onto a rectangle with ten squares numbered 1-10. Then a card is drawn from cards numbered 1-10. If your beanbag is on the square picked, you win.

B) A card is drawn from cards numbered 1-10. Each player tosses a beanbag onto a rectangle with ten squares numbered 1-10. If your beanbag is on the square picked, you win.

Game A is entirely luck. Game B is entirely skill. What's the difference?

In Game A, players have no information on what card will be drawn, nor any control over what card will be drawn, nor any ability to plan probabilistically for the card draw. After the card is drawn, there is no opportunity to respond. The game is already decided. Your initial toss, therefore is not the result of any meaningful decision.

In Game B, the randomness only serves to vary the game each time, after which each player can react as they like; the randomness does not determine any hardship or boon for any player. The game is entirely about meaningful decision and skill.

Now consider the following games:

C) As in game A, but the deck contains 1 of each card numbered 1, 2 numbered 2, and so on.

D) As in game B, but the field is large enough so that some of the squares are closer to some people than to others.

In game C, the results are still luck, but enough probabilistic information is given that players can make a meaningful decision to try to hit areas 9 or 10. As a Eurogamer, I would then be happy to end the game after the bags are thrown and just say that the players who hit 10 are the winners. Nevertheless, many games then require you to flip the card to determine the results (e.g. Louis XIV).

In Game D, the random draw has hindered some people and has helped others, but each player still has the opportunity to win. It's just that some have an advantage. If the advantages and boons are slight, and the game were extended to a long series of such draws, and the determination of exactly who benefited and who didn't were more hazy, the game would still interesting to the players (e.g. Puerto Rico).

2. Greg Aleknevicus said about the possibilities for cards vs dice:

Much better are the games in which no single card can be said to be better than another. Consider Titan: The Arena. Is the 10-Titan better than the 5-Titan? Not absolutely; in some circumstances it will be better but in others it will be worse

Consider the following Game X: A player must draw one of ten cards. After drawing the first card, the cards are shuffled together and the player must again draw the same card in order to win.

In Game X, each card is of equal value, but the value of a card depends on the circumstances. Yet, Game X is entirely luck.

It makes no difference that some cards are better than others in certain circumstances. All that matters is that you do or don't get the cards you need when you need them due to luck of the draw, and whether you can do anything about it; either by planning to increase your odds of success, or by reacting to the draw without undue advantage or disadvantage.

To be fair, I know nothing about Titan: The Arena, but I assume a mitigating fact is that you can draw the cards and hold onto them until you need them, so that it is less a matter of which cards and more a matter of timing.


Previous post by me on this topic: Dice, Luck, Bah Humbug

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Right on Cue

The Cue

Many moons ago I acted in a play called Tevye Comes to Israel, an amateur sequel to The Fiddler on th Roof. In TCtI, Tevye finds that the horrors of Russian pogroms and the loss of his daughters to assimilation are nothing compared to the difficulties of surviving Israeli bureaucracy. After being visited by a slew of tax collectors, Tevye sings a song about how happy he is that he's not a rich man so that he doesn't have to pay much taxes.

When you perform or produce a play, you become familiar with a specialized guiding force that exerts major control over your actions: the cue. You may want to be listening to the whole play from the wings of the theater, but you can't get lost just listening to the play as a whole. You need to recognize the phrases and movements that occur on stage when they are relevant to your own entrance. You need to wait patiently while someone still has more to do or speak, and you need to act when they are done, knowing what to do and speak at that time. It doesn't matter what part of the play you are involved in: acting, directing, costumes, scenery, lights, or sound. Each part plays a coordinated role, and each one needs to know its cue. Once the momentum starts, you are carried along for the ride at the pace of the play.

The Game

A well designed game is a play. Forget about opponents, confrontation, theme, and so on. A game is a story from beginning to end. With improv.

The play begins with a prelude: you take it off the shelf and set it up. After being opened and set up, the first act finds the players getting a feel for what is going on. By act two, you may already be familiar with the characters in the play. You can now see their character development deepening, either through position or through acquisition. In act three, the plot turns; major characters fall or rise, major transitional scenes occur. In act four, each player faces off his or her character flaw against his or her own dramatic conflict. The conflict may be one of their own failings or an external conflict with another character. Resolutions occur. Act five sees the mop-up; the good guys win. Peace is restored to the world. Epilogue: The villains have been vanquished and the hero returns home. The game is put away.

The scenes that occur in a game have to hit the right cues. If the resolution walks in during act two, the game is ruined. If you skip right to act four, your game lacks tension. This doesn't mean that all games have exactly these scenes in exactly this order, or that each of these scenes must be exactly the same size. There are as many types of stories as there are cultures and peoples. But a good story is a good story. The cues have to be hit in the right order, and at the right time. When you play a game with a bad script, you wonder what you're doing.

The Players

If you are a player in the game story, you have a job to keep the story moving along. Don't start rolling the dice when it's not your turn. Don't wait for people to say "Hey! It's your turn!". Don't miss your cues.

The other part of making a good story is that the story should be interesting. What is interesting depends on the story being told.

In your home, if you have the opportunity to lock a player out of the game at the beginning of the game, it doesn't make a good story. Sometimes it is best to find an alternative. After all, the story is the important part, not who actually ends up on top.

On the other hand, in a tournament, one game might be only a scene in a longer tale, in which case you may need to take that advantage early in the game. You don't ruin the story by doing this, you only create a dramatic turn of events.

Whether you are creating a game from the game point of view, or acting the game from the player point of view, the goal is the same: make it a good one.


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Naturelich received the two copies of the Menorah Game that I sent to him; I hope he enjoys them.

The Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club web site will be at http://www.freewebs.com/jergames until further notice. Please adjust your links accordingly.

My wife's mother, Margaret, is here for a visit. She's a sweetie; the type who is always supportive and happy to do just about anything with anyone in the family just for the together time.

Also visiting is my good friend Shlomo, who visits me whenever he is in Israel and also shows up for game nights. I invited him over for dinner.

To that end I dragged them both into playing/they wanted to play/ the Menorah game. We played four ways: myself, Shlomo, Margaret/Rachel, and Saarya (who was home on his last day of vacation from school).

The game was slow, but intense and enjoyable, as both Shlomo and Margaret learned the ropes. Margaret and Rachel spent a lot of time huddling and trying to decide what to do with the candle they flipped up each turn. It was also an unusual game where a lot of candles got bought out of discard piles, when that is usually a rare occurrence (sometimes not at all during a game). We all got hit with exactly one soldier during the game.

Despite Margaret/Rachel having two wilds and lots of cash near the end of the game, I managed to pull off a victory through a combination of luck and planning; I had also saved enough cash to buy my last candle out of a discard pile, if necessary, but instead I just flipped it up and bought it to win the game.

As a small aside, my office had a little game during its latest work "pow-wow". We played a small combination of trivia followed by pictionary with Hanukkah/work related themes. I should really volunteer my services for the next "pow-wow".


Monday, January 02, 2006

News: a new game journal

A new board and computer game journal is trying to get off the ground: Game Journal. Note: this is not a rebirth of The Games Journal. However, I have been made to understand that Greg Aleknevicus, formerly of TGJ, was approached to edit the board games part of the new journal; I'm six-pointy-star-ing my fingers that this happens.

The journal will be covering, quote:
Game Theory
Online Gaming
Board Games
Pen & Paper Games
Console Games

unquote. They are looking for quality submissions, particularly academic game theory stuff, but also practical game reviews, design, strategy, and so on.

That's about all I know. Good luck to them. Time to brush off my academic quills.


Update: Greg comments on this post in the comments, saying he will probably not be getting involved.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

JIB competition

Many of the posts competing against me for best article are quite good. Among my personal favorites:

Air Time:
Friday Night Races

Elms in the Yard:
When Bad Behaviour is Kosher

Lab Rabbi:
My First Date at a Morgue

Mirty's Place:
Things that Change your Life

Orthodox Anarchist:
On Becoming Shomer Shabbat

Orthomon 9/11

Daddy Syndrome


2005 JSGC Nickels and Dimes

It was a good year at the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club. We rarely had less than five people, and we managed to play straight through summer vacation, only to skip a few weeks during BGG.con.

Speaking of BGG.con, the first post of my trip to BGG.con was nominated for a Jewish and Israeli Blogging award. Of course, I nominated it :-) . But it still had to make some sort of cut, so, yippee. My friend David also submitted this post for nomination for the Board Game Internet Awards.

Anyway, the following list, as usual, represents only games played at the club. I may add notes about my personal plays. Note: If a game has few plays, it doesn't mean that we didn't like it. It may mean that we haven't had the game long, or that only some of us like it or that it is hard to find time to play.

I mark with a "+" games that we will surely play again, "+/-" for games that will be played if the mood strikes, and with a "-" games that we surely won't play again. If, "-", I explain why. "Not right for us" means that we think the game is good but not our style. "Flawed game" means we think the game is bad, but that shouldn't stop you from liking it.

10s (all +'s)
Puerto Rico x 26
San Juan x 25
Geschenkt x 22
The Menorah Game x 19
Settlers of Catan x 13
Dvonn x 12
Pente x 12
Amun Re x 11

Taj Mahal x 9 (+)
Boggle x 7 (+/-)
Bridge x 7 (+)
Princes of Florence x 7 (+)
Tikal x 7 (+)
Yinsh x 7 (+)
El Grande x 6 [once with K&I] (+)
For Sale x 6 (+/-)
Go x 6 (+/-)
Louis XIV x 6 (+)
Traumfabrik x 6 (- sold)
Web of Power x 5 (- returned to owner)

Just missed
Advanced Squad Leader x 4 (- players no longer attend)
Cities and Knights of Catan x 4 (+)
St Petersburg x 4 (- flawed game)
Starfarers of Catan x 4 (- returned to owner)
Tigris and Euphrates x 4 (+)

Attika x 3 (- flawed game)
By Hook or By Crook x 3 (- not right for us)
Cribbage x 3 (+/-)
Havoc: The Hundred Years War x 3 (+)
Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation x 3 (+)
Magic: the Gathering x 3 (+)
Traders of Genoa x 3 (- returned to owner)

Alhambra x 2 (+/- needs expansion)
China Moon x 2 (+/-)
Cosmic Encounter x 2 (+)
Domaine x 2 (+/- need to try again)
Gin Rummy x 2 (+/-)
La Strada x 2 (- needs expansion)
Modern Art x 2 (+)
Primordial Soup x 2 (+)
Torres x 2 (+)

Abalone (- flawed game)
Billabong (+ need to try again)
Can't Stop (- not right for us)
Checkers (+/-)
Chess (+/-)
Crossword Squares (+/-)
Evo (- not right for us)
Flinke Pinke (- flawed game)
Gobblet (- not right for us)
Grave Robbers from Outer Space (- not right for us)
Hansa (- flawed game)
Oasis (+/- bad first experience)
Oceania (- traded, ok game but too slight for us)
Othello (+/-)
Quiddlers (- flawed game)
Ra (Lo Ra) (+)
Railroads of Catan (+/- needs retry with shorter variation)

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Weekend Gaming

The Kids

A weekend with all of my kids is a rare and wonderful thing.

Ariella and Eitan are half-time with their father. When they are not with him, they are often with friends. Rachel insists that that be kept to a minimum, however. Saarya is at a sleep-away school that has him coming home two out of every three weekends. Unfortunately, one of those two is to his mother, and one is to me. So that's one out of every three weekends. Tal is with me one out of three weekends.

Of course, all of the above have numerous exceptions: the party, the bat-mitzvah, the visiting relative, and so on. Which means we are lucky to have them all together one out of every six weeks.

A little truism for you: if you are still married to your children's other parent, you dream about getting away from your children. If not, you dream about having your children more often.

No matter how you slice it, after a divorce, your kids have gone from fourteen parental units of attention each week to only seven. Step-parents can be good models and influence and make a huge difference in their children's lives, but it is rarely the same.

So anyway, this weekend of Hanukkah was one of those syzygies.

Tal specifically likes to play games with me. Usually Saarya does, too, but he spent his time reading. So I played with Tal:

Spit (Speed): Tal beat me for the very first time. We were playing with plastic cards (not plastic coated). They were hard to grasp.

Settlers of Catan: Tal won again. I used to find this game slightly boring two player, but now I find it more than slightly boring. Tal took longest road early enough, but never solidified it enough. I was all set to sweep in for a victory by stealing it, but she won before I could do it.

Yinsh: Tal surprised me by winning this one, too. I think I underestimated her. This game is harder for me than Dvonn. I'm still playing with the failing tactics of getting four in a row whenever possible, even though this is pointless when she can just break the line apart again. In the process, I missed Tal's winning lines.

This is a known psychological problem that people have in games: hoping that reality won't disturb your wish that a play will work, when there is no hope that it can. What is really going on is that you are too lazy to actually work at finding a winning strategy. This happens to many people at the end of Puerto Rico games ("if I craft, will you ship?").

Cribbage: I taught this to Tal. I almost lost this one, too. It came down to the wire, and she only lost by two points.

Chess: I won this one, but only through mutual takebacks. Chess is hard for me. However, Tal is only beginning to explore how the pieces interact.

Late at night, after I had gone to bed, I understand that Tal and Eitan played some games of spit and chess, or something like that.

The Concert

Sat night our new shul put on a benefit concert to raise money. It was very good. The musicians were world class, and the program was very unusual, a wierd mix of different styles of music from different millenia.

One of the singers was my friend Rachel Jaskow, of the renowned blog Elms in the Yard. Nice to see/hear her again.

I snapped some pictures which are on the shul site's navbar (Lhadlik1-3).


Update: Added link to Haaretz article for concert.

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