Sunday, April 30, 2006

Are Games Art?

There has been noise lately regarding this question. Of course, the question is usually addressing video games, as opposed to any old games, such as board or card games, or sports, etc.

I started trying to write about this a few days ago, when I realized that the primary reason that people argue about this type of question is owing to the lack of agreement about the basic definitions, rather than the actual purported question.

So to approach this question, you have to bring it up (or perhaps down) one level to first talk about the underlying assumptions behind the words. Once you agree about what you mean by "games" and what you mean by "art", the question becomes superfluous.

Deconstructing the question

Before answering "Are games art?" we need to answer three basic questions first:

1) What do we mean by art?

2) What do we mean by games?

3) What is the importance behind the question, i.e. what does it matter if we can or can't classify games as art?

A little diversion about language

There is a brilliant novel by Suzette Haden Elgin called Native Tongue. The plot background of the book is astonishingly obnoxious, of the radical feminist male-hating sort: all rights of women in the U.S. have been repealed and women are now considered animals. All men basically go along with this (to higher or lesser degree). The book then implies that even the best men cannot be trusted. It is this type of offensive view about men that does no good for the world of feminism.

The story of the book is good but standard sci-fi fare.

However, one of the main parts of the story is the development by women of a new language Laadan. This plot point is the main idea behind the theme of the book, which is its brilliance.

The theme is that the words of a language determine the cultural importance of an idea within that language. If a language has no word for "peace", then trying to describe "peace" to someone within that language will make you sound like an idiot. Suzette uses this to examine if the very languages we use disenfranchise women by having no appropriate words for ideas that women consider important, such as particular types of sensitivity, emotions, or taboos. If a woman has to wave her hand and use cumbersome language to explain how she feels or what she means, then society tends to ignore them. On the other hand, if they can say that something is "fleep" (let's say), then everyone would understand and accept this idea as both normative and significant.

That is an elegant and interesting idea. You can see how this works from the way that we have been naming medical conditions that used to simply be considered bad manners with new scientific terms, e.g. ADD, hyperactivity, etc. By naming these as illnesses, we then feel justified in spending a lot of time and effort in examining them, as well as excusing those who have them from their poor behavior.

The central tenet of her argument is arguable: does language precede significance, or vice versa? But anyway, that's not what I came to talk to you about. Go read the book. The reason I bring this up is only to explain why the language we use to categorize things, such as art or games, has significance.

A little diversion about definitions

Philip José Farmer wrote in the introduction to one his very racy sci-fi novels about the most dangerous of people: those who seek to define things, like 'pornography', 'art', 'morality', and so on. The reason that they are so dangerous, he wrote, is that they seek to stop the world and pin down definitions, imposing their beliefs on others.

I am afraid that I represent one of those 'dangerous' peoples in his eyes. In my opposing view to his, I find that people who intentionally refuse to make definitions to be far more dangerous. People who refuse to define poverty, thereby eliminating any possibility of addressing it. People who say that all morality is relative, and that people who purposely blow up babies are merely one side of a point of view that one cannot really rationally argue against. Sorry, not for me.

I will admit that every line in the world is fuzzy, and the closer one looks at the line, the fuzzier it gets. I agree that if you look down to the deepest levels, that one can argue just about anything. I simply don't subscribe to that as a realistic way of viewing the world or of making policy decisions.

For this reason, I am willing to define art. It will simply be my own limited definition. There is no reason for me to expect that everyone else would adopt this definition of art. However, if you are going to be arguing about whether games are art, it is entirely useless to do so before you agree on your definition of art. Otherwise, he will say yes, she will say no, and you can argue all you want without getting anywhere.

What do I mean by art?

There are many possible required components that make up the definition of art. Since I will never satisfy everyone, I will only attempt to give my interpretation and move on from there. You can choose to accept my interpretation or not, but my answer to "Are games art?" simply follows from my definition of art.

We used to have pretty clear definitions of art until the modernist movement came along in the early twentieth century and deconstructed this definition piece by piece, until the modern world gave up in disgust and now refuses to define it. Now we are all arguing about it, in terms of what should be displayed, who should be funded, and so on.

From my own limited perspective, here are the necessary components of art:

* Art must be made, not found. For me, art implies deliberate design. This doesn't preclude a certain amount of randomness in the execution, such as throwing paint at a canvas. But it does imply that the judgment of the artist be used to include or not include the resulting creation within a contained and separated piece. A found rock is not art, nor is a piece of paper on the floor, unless the paper was put on the floor in a particular way.

* Art must be original. An exact replica of another created work, or even generic imitative copies of some work, can only be considered craft, however beautiful they may be. Craft may be lovely; craft may even be art.

* Art must tackle one of the 'deep' issues, such as beauty, truth, faith, innocence, divinity, evil, love, etc. There is no art about a direct representation of something. Two people can paint the same mountain. One might make a beautiful picture of the mountain, but it would be considered craft. The other may make a picture of the mountain, but when you look at the picture you see faith, or hope, or glory. That's art. Excellence without great meaning can never be more than craft.

It is not my intention to describe how one tells the difference between these two for any particular piece. I expect that there will always be items about which people will argue whether they are art or craft. I am merely expressing my own idea of what is necessary, not how to distinguish this.

Things that I think are not necessary for art include:

* Beauty. Not all art need be beautiful, in my opinion.

* Lack of function. An artistically made chess set can be art, even if you can play with it.

* Function. A perfect cup that elegantly does what a cup is supposed to do I would consider craft, not art.

* Talent. Note that I have not differentiated between good art and bad art, only between art and craft. A finger painting may be original and about a great theme, but it's poor execution may preclude it from being good art. I would still consider it to be art.

What do I mean by games?

It should be noted that there are a number of different possible ideas of what people mean by games in this question:

* The game components. Few would argue that some game components, such as a beautiful chess set, could be considered art.

* The game rules. If the game rules are particularly elegant, perhaps they can be considered art. In this case, we would have to decide if it is the elegance of the ruleset, the actual expression of the rules, or the beauty of the game that can be played using these rules, that constitutes the actual "rules" of the game.

* The game experience. The rules may indicate how to play, but they are static and non-experiential. It could be that when we talk about games being art that we mean the actual experience of playing the game. In this case, the game would be a form of participatory art, akin to dance.

I prefer to consider the two latter possibilities as related. That is, the same way that a painting is a dialog between the artist and its viewers (ignoring "art for art's sake"), I will consider a game to be a dialog between the game designer and the game participants.

What is the difference whether games are art?

The answer to this is not whether certain games should be hung in a museum or be funded by an arts council. Nor is it the respectability gained by being able to tell people that you are not only "playing games" but participating in an artistic event.

It is a philosophical question inherently interesting in its own right. Answering it gives us a broader definition of what art is, as well as what games are or can be. Also, by tying together games with other artistic endeavors, we can use the parallels between these endeavors to discover new things about games, as well as about other types of art.

The answer

If you have reached this point, the answer to the original question "Are games art?" should be entirely obvious: yes, no, and maybe.

Some games are good art, when they are original and provide the player with a deep perspective on essential truths. An example of this, in my opinion, would be Go.

Other games are bad art, in that they may tackle important questions, but in an amateur or facile way.

Other games are not really art, but are lovely craft, such as Tikal or Shadows Over Camelot.

But the exact division between which games fall into which categories is beyond the scope of this article, and likely subject to a lot more controversy.


Update: Alfred responds here.

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Linkety Link

Play stupid board games with amusing gloss (via WebZen): Chicken Tic-Tac-Toe, Worm Battleship.

And speaking of Zen and board games, an old Ozy and Millie comic, as well as Zen Scrabble. And what the heck, the Kamasutra Cow game.


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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Weekend Gaming and Tidbits

Well, Chris never made it, but I hope he had a successful visit (on business).

Puerto Rico

Nadine came for dinner, anyway, so naturally we started a Puerto Rico game. We played with Wildcat Strikers, Guesthouse, Trading Post, Bank, and other changes (see here for details).

Wildcat Strikers is the wildest one, and really adds a dimension to the game. This is the first time that we played with it more than two player, so I faced a strange situation. Since you "sacrifice" the building when you use it, you can use the building, and then buy it and use it again, if the second one has not yet been taken.

We started the game, but after two round, Rachel had a class that she wanted to go to, so we broke and saved the game until the following afternoon, when Nadine returned.

I made nice use of WS in the first game, blocking the Captain for one round to ensure that I would be able to ship first on my turn. Rachel then bought the other copy, manned it with her Guest House, and used it the next turn to prevent both Nadine and I from manning our large buildings before the game ended.

I started with corn, and I used the advantage well to win the game anyway.

In the second game I again started with corn, and again used it to my advantage. This time no one used WS, but the game ended early when a lot of large production buildings were bought and the colonists ran out prematurely. I had the only large building at that point, and Guest House to man it.

Some news items

Via, the AP reports that Atlantic City is not happy with the new version of Monopoly taking the spotlight off of its city. I'm not sure that I understand the problem, seeing as there are over 900 versions of the game.

I know very little about Paladium games, but they seem like a nice little company and in touch with their fan base. The owner reports that someone on the inside has just destroyed his company through embezzlement and theft to the tune of $1,000,000, and he is appealing to his customers for help in avoiding complete bankruptcy by offering special hand-made prints for sale. (via Infinity Games)

Tom Vasel continues his post on advice to board game designers (part 2) from the greatest designers in the business.


P.S. Oh, and my friend, who played Havoc with me once a few months ago, told me that he tracked down a copy and bought it online at Funagain. Another convert.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Are games mud?

Oh, forget it, this is pretty juvenile. I'll just have to write the real article. Maybe Sunday.


Article deleted to spare the innocent any more suffering

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bloglines back, most of the way; movies

Two of the three addresses of the feed for this site seem to have restarted on bloglines, after a five day hiatus. I'm hoping that this means we are back in business.

The three addresses are: - That's the correct address for the feed, and the one that I recommend. - I don't know where this one came from. What does "bsuser" mean? In any case, this address is still showing an error. Update: this one is back online now, too. - I imagine that this should be identical to the first one, but it is tracked separately on bloglines.

So welcome back; I'm sorry that you probably got deluged with ten or so posts at once.

Young Adam

I just saw Young Adam, primarily because I didn't see anything else in the video store that I wanted, and because I remembered it being touted as the "best Scottish movie" on Gaping Void.

We got the NC-17 version with lots of nudity (Ewan McGregor is not Jewish, in case you wanted to know). As far as the movie goes, it had good acting and a nice screenplay. The film was shot beautifully. The characters ranged from compelling to a little blase. It didn't quite hit greatness for me.

This was partly because the main character, McGregor, didn't really do much except for nail every woman who walked within ten feet of him, especially if she was already married. His character was supposed to represent someone so far out of society that he was on the periphery of moral conduct. However, despite a few inklings of conscience, his character doesn't move anywhere, which is a bit of a failing. In fact, no one's character really goes anywhere. Update: my wife disagrees with me, by pointing out that the character's inability to grow was the point of the movie.

If the movie had made the characters a bit more breathable, it would have been better. As it is, it was a pleasant, and sometimes erotic, diversion.

Star Trek I, II, III

I said a while ago that I was going to go through the Star Trek movies again, and I'm doing it slowly.

Star Trek I was a complete disaster of a movie, as I'm sure most of you know. The basic problem with a Star Trek movie is that you can't cast the characters; only the known actors get to play these roles. And they are actually pretty bad actors. Even, and I hate to say this, Leonard Nemoy was pretty poor, and he's a hero of mine (for his reading of the Golem of Prague, if nothing else). William Shatner was probably the best of the lot.

But the directing, oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. Could nobody really see that five to fifteen minute shots of nothing but slowly moving CGI is absolutely tedious to look at? Intersperse that with yet another shot of Sulu looking over the con into nothing, and then slightly moving his head. Or two other characters looking at each other, smiling, and then back out the window. Ahhhh! I had to skip forward.

Add to that a dozen ridiculous scenes, like walking off the ship onto a brick walk, Vger in a short skit running around making dewy eyes, and so on. 'Nuff said, let's move on.

Star Trek II was a really good story, by contrast, and the pace was much better. The acting was still rather poor, however. And the great genius Khan sure makes a lot of dumb mistakes and gets outsmarted pretty easily by Kirk too often. But whatever. Ricardo Montalban was fun to see.

Star Trek III was as good as II, in my opinion, although Christopher Lloyd does sort of remind me of his role in Taxi ("So Kirk, mmmmmmmmmmmm, are you going to give me Genesis, say?" "No." "Hmmmmmm, well, uh, okey dokey." [1]) I couldn't quite figure out why they were headed for Genesis and not straight to Vulcan, nor why anyone would have a ritual to restore a soul to a body, when most people don't have a spare body lying around. And the final fight between Kirk and Kruge was ridiculous.

However, the humor was starting to flow; Bones trying to do a Vulcan nerve pinch, and "How can you not hear with ears like that!" There were some good lines. I haven't yet rewatched IV, but I remember that IV had the most humor (that was funny), which made it the most fun to watch.

I'll get to that one soon.

Trois Couleurs: Blue, White, Red

These films, Blue, White, and Red, by French director Krzysztof Kieslowski, are all very good movies, although none of them are perfect. Actually, they go from good (Blue) to very good (White), to great (Red). Rachel and I watched the last one only a few weeks ago. There is nothing like a good film to erase the memory of a shelf of mediocre films. You'll just have to endure the subtitles.

You don't have to be stuffy and intellectual to enjoy it, but you do have to be willing to think through the issues that the director is exploring and approach the movie as a dialogue, rather than the typical straightforward plots of Hollywood movies. They are just so beautiful: great acting, great filmmaking, great dialog, great lines.

I am still sad that Chris doesn't look like he will be making it, even though he really should. There's still a chance ... In any case, Nadine from the game club will be over for shabbat dinner and a game.


[1] I vaguely recall some comedian doing a parody on this, but I don't know who. Update: apparently it was Maurice Lamarche on a Rodney Dangerfield HBO special.

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As Long As We're Linking 9

See the sidebar for previous entries, or follow this to the last entry.

More board game blogs that contain content of general interest and update with regularity:

A Dark And Quiet Room - Seth Ben-Ezra, Peoria, Illinois. Blog contains only sporadic game entries, but frequency is increasing.

Board Games - Creation And Play - a combined UK blog about game design.

Carpe Delirium - Justin Walduck, Gaythorne, Brisbane, Austalia.

Diary of a Mad Gamer - Stephen Glenn, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Just started, may not continue.

The Escapist Blog - The blog of Escapist magazine. It is primarily about computer gaming, but late articles have crossed all fields and the articles are wide-ranging and well-written. The articles of the Escapist are also available via RSS. - Matt Forbeck, Beloit, Wisconsin. Another game designer blog.

Galfridus - Geoff Speare, Allentown, PA. Other than the GoF reports, he hasn't written about games, but here's hoping.

Jeremiah Wittevrongel - Calgary, Canada.

Logic and Nausea - Darth Tanyan, Tracy, California.

MetroBurb Gamers - Session reports from a Boston area games group.

Roll_The_Bones - Erik Weissengruber, some sort of Canadian teacher, from what I can tell. Theory on games.

Tiki - Derek Croxton, Winchester, VA. Blogs and articles about games.

Computer Games:

There seem to be a number of computer game blogs that caught my attention recently, because they are talking more and more about game theory or plain old non-electronic board games. Here are three:

Games * Design * Art * Culture - Greg Kostik
King Lud IC - Patrick Dugan
Raph's Website - Ralph Koster

Changes:'s RSS feed changed. Please tell us when you do that!

Blogs that have fallen off my blogroll: Taxovich, Game Store Confidential, Austin Boardgamer.


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Session Report Up

The latest session report is up here.

Next week will probably be roleplaying.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Game taglines: surely I could get a job making these up

You know the rules. I'll give you 15 free points to start with. Good luck. (Answers are here.)

  1. Adventure for two starfarers
  2. Adventures of discovery
  3. Adventures under the crescent moon
  4. Amazing game for 1 to 4 brains
  5. America's favorite word game
  6. Caravans and desert oases
  7. Challenging game of gods, men and their monuments
  8. Classic detective game
  9. Classic game of battlefield strategy
  10. Classic game of India
  11. Classic marble race game
  12. Classic riddle game
  13. Comic clay puzzles
  14. Control the fate of the world
  15. Corner the market card game
  16. Corporate acquisitions
  17. Crazy cookin' card game
  18. Cross-country train adventure game
  19. Culture, crisis, conflict, and civilization
  20. Culture, politics, and warfare
  21. Cutting-edge of strategy
  22. Daring adventure for two
  23. Discovery, settlement, and trade
  24. Divine feud for two
  25. Dungeon-crawling adventure
  26. Edge of your seat fun
  27. Energetic economic game
  28. Epic board game of galactic conquest, politics, and trade
  29. Ever-popular bidding card game
  30. Exciting civil war battlefield game
  31. Exciting game of bidding and development
  32. Exciting game of deal making, negotiation, and cutthroat bargaining
  33. Exciting game of migration and development
  34. Exciting game of wares, messages, and traders
  35. Exciting journey of discovery and colonization
  36. Explore a dangerous paradise
  37. Family game of visual perception
  38. Fast paced game of multiple personalities
  39. Favorite game of Egyptian pharaohs
  40. Fierce game of deadly combat...
  41. Flying races for two clever ravens
  42. For gods and other immortals
  43. Fortunes on the ocean floor
  44. Frantic game of hilarious comparisons
  45. Frantic marble munching game
  46. Frenzied race filled with computer driven chaos
  47. From the far tundra
  48. Global domination
  49. Great bluffing game from Germany
  50. High adventure
  51. High stakes bidding in the galleries
  52. How far can you push your luck?
  53. International intrigue
  54. Land, wealth, power, prestige
  55. Make your city grow...
  56. Medieval cities, nobles, and intrigue
  57. Military strategy, courage, and cunning
  58. Minute to learn... a lifetime to master
  59. Mob vengeance
  60. No guts, no galaxy
  61. Number one motor racing game
  62. Once loved by sea captains and kings
  63. One step ahead
  64. Outrageous bidding game for 2-5 players
  65. Palace building in India
  66. Power and intrigue in ancient Rome
  67. Power and majesty in India
  68. Profit through words
  69. Property trading game
  70. Sea full of danger and oceans of fun
  71. Seafaring, exploration, and trade
  72. Simple, clever tile-laying game
  73. Strategy game of patrons, artists, and scholars
  74. Sweet revenge
  75. That breaks its own rules
  76. That ties you up in knots
  77. The 3-minute word search game
  78. The ultimate game of trump
  79. There's trouble in the bubble
  80. Thrilling game of outlaws, sheriffs, and fast guns
  81. To bean or not to bean
  82. Truth never counts when your playing
  83. Valley of two rivers
  84. Which road leads to riches?
  85. Which roles will you play in the new world?


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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Once you start linking, it's hard to stop

If you are into good game journalism and you don't have the Escapist on your reading list, you are missing out. Here's my second link to them in as many days: an excellent history of the board game and card game threads that led to the creation of computer games.

Paper games are largely ignored by both the industry and general press, and it's understandable why: Non-digital games, as a business, are an order of magnitude smaller. But the reality is that the two sides co-evolve - the growth of digital games brings new players to paper ones, and the ability of the paper field to innovate and experiment at far lower cost than digital games gives it a disproportionate influence on the imaginations of designers

In other news, I'm thinking of collecting the definitive list of Scrabble versions to go with my Monopoly list. If I do, I musn't forget this one: l33t Scrabble.


Holocaust Day

Today is Holocaust Remembrance day. I wasn't going to say anything, but the impossibly good Treppenwitz had a story to tell and to which I wanted to link.

It is unfortunate, but the story of the Holocaust is not about the ones who survived. Many great Hollywood movies would like you to believe that, as they pump out movie after movie with some sort of triumphant ending. That's not the story of the Holocaust. It is the story of the six million Jews who didn't survive, as well as the other five million civilians killed.

If you like, it could also be about the millions around the world who are still being killed, and people who are intent on murdering millions more.


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Google, again

Well, I restored Google's Adsense to my site, despite the fact that I ranted about it on numerous occasions. Why? Because I have no principles.

No, it's because I blog on Blogger, which is a Google site, and I use Gmail, and I search with Google; what's one more Google product? Furthermore, although they have been dropping balls, they are still not (yet) as bad as many other companies. And I think I had misread the agreement changes that I needed to agree to in order to continue using their services. They do not require me to release my financial information to them to use as they please, as I had thought, only to use my financial information on their financial statements. Which is not exactly the same thing.

And I haven't found any other advertising programs that work, nor received any sponsorship advertisement. And despite the fact that blogging, like every other easy rags-to-riches idea, only benefits the very few at the top, I would still like to make a go at this blogging thingie.

Of course, it remains to be seen if I will yield more than $1.39 during the next three months.



Not only was Blogger inaccessible yesterday, all Google services other than Gmail were also inaccessible for several hours. So were a whole slew of other sites. Yahoo I could reach. Technorati I couldn't.

My ISP said that there were general problems. Usually when a link is down to the States, all sites are down, not only a cross-section of IP numbers. It was spooky.

This week is TV turn off week. Grab a board game.

Last night I played Anagrams with myself while Tal finished her homework and Rachel was too tired to play Scrabble. Anagrams with yourself is still a challenge, but you just know that you are missing words that a competent opponent would be finding. It's those words that you missed but should have found that can make a real game of Anagrams most interesting.

Afterwards, Tal and I played Oh Hell which once again came down to the last round. She won when I was forced to bid 1 and lost.

Apparently, her classmates now play card games during recess, and Tal has them all playing Oh Hell. What card game should I teach her next?


Monday, April 24, 2006

Blogger Blues

I don't know when this post, or my last post, will actually show up, seeing as how Blogger is unable to publish my posts today.

Yesterday's posts took most of the day to publish on bloglines, by which time everyone else had also published the little snippets of news that I had written (the article about the Baby Blues comic showed up as a BGG forum post, article about Game Rules as Art on both BGNews and RCKs blog). Either that, or great minds think alike. (Or great minds steal news tidbits from each other, whatever.)

Jonathan Degann's Journal of Boardgame Design showed up in Blogs 0f Note on Blogger (Update: Gone Gaming has, too, and "The One Hundred" showed up last month):

BoardGameGeek is down, again.

Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.

Meanwhile, continuing with games and chocolate:

Chocolate dice, poker chips, and a playing card

Chocolate checkers and chess set


Hard Day, San Juan

Some days are just hard days, and yesterday was one. A project at work is better than none, but a doomed one that I don't really understand is frustrating.

I spent a few extra hours at work and came home stunned and depressed. I needed Tal to play a game with me, and I chose San Juan.

I opened with Carpenter, while Tal opened with Prefecture. She had Library by turn four, and then Chapel. It looked grim, but she is still young. I had Silver and then Library soon after, and I picked all of the six pointers I needed, while she only got out City Hall. Close game, 42 to 36.

I thanked her and sent her off to bed, as it was already late. I probably should have been more gracious about it. She'll get an extra kiss tonight.

My father had his hopefully last surgery for his internal ileostomy, yesterday (following the first surgery and then six months of chemotherapy). A few more days in the hospital and maybe maybe he can get on with his life.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Game Commercials

There's nothing quite so ... vapid as a game commercial. These ones can be found on Retrojunk:

Battletech, Connect Four, Crossfire, Don't Wake Daddy, Dungeons and Dragons, Electronic Battleship, Guess Who, Henry, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Kerplunk, Knock Out, Life, Monopoly, Perfection, Real Pitch Baseball, Stratego, Topple, Trivial Pursuit 1, Trivial Pursuit 2, Upwords, and Wordster.

And some more:

GI Joe Commando Attack Game

Early Birds Attack Game



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Songs About Board Games

I don't know whether to count REM's Man in the Moon: "Let's play Twister, let's play Risk, ..." The song is about Andy Kaufman.

An entire album devoted to Cheapass Games by the Beatnick Turtles. They also did the intro for Geekspeak.

Chess, the Musical. John Greshak has an entire page devoted to more songs about chess. So does Bill Wall.

Mousetrap on Pac-Man Fever, by Jerry Bruckner and Gary Garcia. You can listen to a snippet.

Stratego, in German? I need someone to translate.

Scrabble: scroll down for lyrics (some naughty words) by Otis Lee Crenshaw here. Or listen to most of a song about Scrabble by Emily Kaitz here.

Backgammon: Backgammon By the Bay has a page of songs to listen to while playing backgammon, including a link to a composition called Backgammon.

Monopoly: Listen to a snippet from Monopoly, the theme song (from the short lived game show). Other snippets or lyrics: Urge-Overkill, Richard Berman (click to start the song), Rivermaya, Donsen Park, Martinets.

I'm leaving out a number of instrumental-only songs titled after games, such as "The Game of Draughts", "Chinese Checkers", and so on.

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Baby Blues: How to Play a Board Game

Insert humorous link: here.

Insert humorous quip: Looks a lot like my game group.

Insert signature: Yehuda

Update: Well, well, two in one day. Stone Soup also has something to say about board games today.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Weekend Gaming

Gin Rummy

Tal wanted to play something while we were waiting for our guests. I had already played a lot of Oh Hell, so we played some hands of Gin Rummy.

Surely Gin Rummy is one of those rite-of-passage games, where you learn the basics and then there is nothing else left to discover.

A quick review of the rules as I play it:

Each player is dealt ten cards, and one is flipped up. Each player on his turn takes either the face up card in the discard pile or from the top of the deck. On the very first play, the first player may take the face up card, or if the first player does not want the face up card, the dealer may opt to take it and begin play. Otherwise, the first player picks from the deck. A player must always discard. After discarding, the player may call Gin, knock, or pass.

Players are trying to form melds of length 3, 3, and 4. Each meld can be a three-of-a-kind or a straight in one suit. Cards go from Ace up to King, Ace is like 1.

If you call Gin, you have all required melds (ten cards). The opponent discards his completed melds and counts up the remaining points (pictures are 10 points each). Add 10 and then add to your score. For the purposes of completed melds, the opponent may discard any melds of three or four cards, including three 3-card melds or two 4-card melds, even though they would not be useful for calling Gin, which requires exactly two 3-card melds and one 4-card meld.

If you knock, you discard completed melds and count your remaining points which must be 10 points or under. Your opponent does the same. If his points are greater than yours, you add the difference to your score. Otherwise, your opponent adds the difference plus 10 to his score.

If you pass, it is your opponent's turn to play.

I am aware of a number of variations. Some play that the first player is dealt 11 cards, instead of the elaborate offering of the face up card to the dealer. Some play that Gin is worth 20 points. And so on.

Rummy strategy appears to be pretty straightforward:
  • Keep track of discards, as well as cards taken by your opponent, and don't play matching cards if possible.
  • Pulling outside straights (to a 7-8) is twice as likely than inside straights (to a 6-8) or a straight on the border (A-2 or Q-K).
  • A standard set of cards is a trio such as (7-7-8) where any of four cards can complete the set, after which the odd card is discarded.
  • It is never worth picking up a card from the discard unless it actually forms a set, since the odds of picking an equivalent or better card are high and you don't want to give out information to your opponent.
  • If you are going to knock, knock early, before round four or so, or don't bother, unless you have only one or two points.
This is easy enough that I pretty much play on automatic, although Tal is still learning.

In one hand, I had 8c-7c-6c-7d-6d-6h. This can form either a straight and a trio, or a three-of-a-kind and a trio. The trio is limited; if I use the straight, the trio only has three possible completions instead of the usual four, since the other 6 is already in the straight. If I use the three-of-a-kind, again the trio only has three possible completions.

However, as a whole, the entirety has six completions, which is decidedly better than any run of the mill meld and an unassociated trio. I suppose that I've always noticed this instinctively, but never explicitly. Moral: always lump your trios and melds near each other numerically, if possible.

Michigan Rummy

Looking for something else easy to play the next day, I remembered another game that I enjoyed as a kid, Michigan Rummy. This game became the published game Tripoley. While I enjoyed this as a kid, playing it as an adult is just a little silly. It is still kind of enjoyable, although probably the closest you can get to the border between some skill and no skill, just on this side.

Basically (these rules look almost nothing like the rules at the above link, by the way):

A chip is anted onto each of eight piles: 10h, Jh, Qh, Kh, Ah, KQh, 8-9-10, and last-card. One hand more than the number of players is dealt. The dealer looks at his hand and can decide to keep it or swap for the extra hand (no going back is swapped).

Left picks any suit and leads the lowest card that suit. Any player with the next highest card in that suit has to play it. E.g. if a 4s is led, whoever has the 5s must play it. Continue until the next highest card isn't in play, because it is in the discarded hand. The player to play the last card then starts with the lowest card of either of the opposite color suits. E.g. if hearts or clubs was the last suit led, he must start with either his lowest heart or lowest diamond; it doesn't have to be the lowest card from both, only from either. Ace is high.

Anyone playing 10h, Jh, Qh, Kh, or Ah takes the pile on that card. Playing both Qh and Kh takes both piles as well as the QKh pile. Playing any 8-9-10 in sequence takes that pile. The first player to empty his hand takes the last-card pile and no further cards are played that round. Re-ante onto all piles, and dealer rotates.

There are only two real decisions to be made in the game. As dealer, you can decide whether to keep your hand or swap. The other is when, or if, you actually have to lead, which suit among two to lead. In 75% of the hands you get, it will make no difference. But once in a while, the correct lead ensures that you get the 8-9-10 before someone else can, or ensures that the round ends before other players can play their cash cards. It is for those precious few times that the game is slightly interesting, other than the general gambling excitement to be gained from watching someone finally produce an 8-9-10 after several rounds without one thereby gaining a windfall.

I doubt that I will suggest the game again, but it is ok for a non-confrontational gambling game.

Puerto Rico

The family visiting Nadine was still around, so we made another trip over in the afternoon. They were playing bridge, and requested my assistance for one hand, before we moved to Puerto Rico. Players were Rachel, Ginat (Nadine's daughter), Nadine, myself, and Beth together with her daughter, in that order.

Ginat and Beth don't play that often. Ginat was independent and stubborn, happily doing what she wanted to do, and often doing pretty well. Beth was more open to persuasion, and thus subject to an endless barrage of advice from Nadine and Rachel, and occasionally myself.

Rachel and I played by the book, mostly. Rachel started a little unusually with Builder/Small Market, but other than that, all went normally. There were three opening corns in the lot, so I guess she counted on getting one of them, and she did. I started with sugar by turn two, and coffee by turn four. I held a coffee monopoly, pretty much, and then got Factory, Indigo, Small Warehouse, Harbor, and City Hall, plus. Rachel got Indigo, Tobacco, Sugar, Factory, Harbor, Guild Hall, and so on, basically shadowing my steps.

Rachel won owing to having the additional extra corn, which gave her a slight vp boost, as well as enough colonists to run her Factory at a higher level for a few more turns than me. I also muffed one turn by taking some extra cash when I should have shipped, but Rachel also missed something similar later on, so it evened out. She ended up with one more shipping point and two more building points, winning 60 to 57, while the others had 51, and 40s.


Tom Vasel has a new link with advice for game designers from many of the best, collected from his numerous interviews.

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Friday, April 21, 2006


Two fellow bloggers posted about personal difficulties yesterday: John Farrell and Darth Tanyan. Send 'em some love.

Escapist Magazine ish #41 has an article on Game Rules as Art . (via Ralph Koster).

We've got more Mennonites coming for Friday night dinner. I don't know where they are all coming from. We just keep getting calls from this tourist group asking us if we can host some more of them in order to give them the Jewish shabbat experience. Must all be part of one large group, since we haven't received any other Christian denominations. I wonder if Mennonites (pacifists) would play confrontational games.

Rachel and I haven't played Puerto Rico for a while. She may be burnt out, since it's the only game she plays with me regularly. She expressed interest in playing Havoc again, however. I would really like her to want to play Power Grid, Louis XIV, Tigris and Euphrates, or a train game of some sort. Still working on it. Nothing can really compete with that elegant role selection mechanism, however.

Saarya and Tal will be coming for shabbat as well, so I expect we will be playing something.

Next week the regular game group resumes. And Friday afternoon and evening we are looking forward to having Chris Brooks and co-worker Eric as our guest.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Site Tinkering

You can see some changes to this blog if you visit the web page; the sidebar now contains my writing highlights. You may find them interesting, because they are kind of "best of" for my posts.

Soon I hope to place my resume and other personal info on the site, as well. I would like you to think of this as my home page, since I don't really have another one. There's no excuse for that. At this point, everyone should have a unique home page on the internet. Otherwise, who knows what might be the first thing that pops up about you when your name is typed into Google?


Linkety link

Do you guys like these linkposts?

Deep thoughts on game design

1. Creating Passionate Users gets down on cognitive seduction:

Is Sudoku seductive? Is chess sexy? Is crafting code a turn-on? To our brains, absolutely. But while most of us don't use the word "seductive" in non-sexual contexts, good game designers do. They know what turns your brain on, and they're not afraid to use it. They're experts at the art of "cognitive arousal", and if we're trying to design better experiences for our users, we should be too.

2. Patrick Dugan's King Lud IC is aimed at that other genre of gaming, but his articles cross the fields. Same with Ralph Koster.


3. A nifty strategy article about El Grande on BoardGameGeek. If their site was responding, I could provide a link. Update: it's here.

Mainstream Press

4. NYT article on Travel Blokus (signin may be required)

Usually my husband loves board games. He was the one, after all, who packed our Carcassonne tiles in a Ziploc bag to take along to France.

But Blokus rubs him the wrong way. He says he dislikes the very aspect of the game that appeals so much to the rest of us, the fact that winning requires excellent spatial skills. A successful player is strategic enough to envision various ways the 21 different geometric shapes could be linked together to keep marching across the board even as they block an opponent's progress.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Passover is over, just in time for one day of work followed by the weekend.

What's been happening?

Not much in the way of games.

In shul this morning I saw a young child slowly and methodically putting together some puzzles with 9 or 12 pieces. It took a lot of brow furrowing and turning, but eventually it all came together. I was thinking how this was a bad lesson for life, since in real life success is not necessarily your reward for a job well done how inspirational and lovely it was to see a child learning and growing.

Later in the day Rachel and I attended a "end of holiday" gathering. A hassidic story was being told, but I sat down with the kids who were playing Monopoly until Rachel told me that I was being rude.

The edition was the Millennium edition. It comes in a silver cookie tin. The pieces are a cellphone, a monitor (which they call a computer), a spokeless bicycle, and so on. The money was ... how shall I say? Disgusting. It was translucent and looked like Monopoly money that had been soaked in grease. But it was intentionally printed that way. And the board sparkled. Ugh.

I was curious as to how I might feel about playing the game with the real rules: no free parking money, auctioning off properties, and so on, but I never got the chance. I did get the chance to teach the correct rules to the stunned children, who couldn't believe that they didn't get double the money for landing on Go and so on until I pointed this out in the rules.

I got to observe the game for a while, and I have to say that even with the correct rules, it is a mind-numbing experience to watch. Roll, land, buy. Roll, land, pay. Roll, land, pick card, pay/take. That's about it.

I generously assume that with adults there is at least a little more interest during the trading portion of the game. I assume that really really good players might even make future trades, even before the game started, such as "I will trade you this if I land on it for that if you land on it, and you won't have to pay me rent the first two times." Or something.

But really, there is just nothing you can do to get rid of the problem of those infernal dice. Except play something else.


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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Choose your pawn

You chose:

Red: Attack me, go ahead * I'm right here; come and get me * I love confrontation * Approach me and die * I am passionate about my gaming * I'm after blood

Orange: I'm juicy * I scorch * I have no worries * I'm warning you that I may be reckless * I will not be contained * I'm a fanatic

Green: I'm trying to blend in to the green board so you won't see me * Kiss me, I'm Irish * I'm cool as the grass * I'm supportive * I'm envious * Let's make a pact

Blue: I'm here to serve you * I'm sad and lonely * I am a stalwart defender * I match my pants * I will envelope you like the ocean * I'm trustworthy

Purple: I am royal and regal * I like unicorns * My color is prettier than your color * I'm radical, like a blacklight * I'm insane * I'm going to win, if it costs me everything

Yellow: I'm happy * You can't get me down * I will claim a moral victory * I'm coming your way * Approach me and I will tell you not to approach me again * I am insatiable

Brown: I'm earthy * I feel fine * I'm all natural * I'm neutral * I'm going to harvest you right up, as soon as I'm done planting * I'm right at home, here

White: I'm trying to not be noticed * I'm the good guys * I will wait for you guys to fight it out * My position may be small, but it's growing * I wouldn't attack you, honest * I'm pure

Black: I'm bad, man * I'm in pain, so stay away * You will be assimilated * I know what I'm doing * This won't take long * I'm mysterious


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Game news

My tagline: All the news that BoardGameNews won't print.

1. New Monopoly version: Italian prostitution.

"In Puttanopoly (which roughly translates to Whoresville), eight players become immigrant prostitutes enslaved by the mafia. The game, created by the Committee for Prostitutes' Civil Rights, aims to raise awareness of the growing problem of sex slavery."

[ED: I'm trying to figure out to what age level this game is aimed at.]

2. Only three more shopping days until the first European Chessboxing championship.

"In a chessboxing fight two opponents play alternating rounds of chess and boxing. The contest starts with a round of chess, followed by a boxing round, followed by another round of chess and so on."

[ED: A version of chess at which humans are still better than computers.]

3. Buy chocolate board games (via slashfood)

"This stunning take on the traditional game will make anyone smile! A solid dark chocolate board, with hand drawn milk and white chocolate snakes and ladders. This modern design is based on a spiral that you follow, the first person to reach the centre is the winner. Perfect for presents! Wrapped in cellophane."

Disclaimer: No indication that the products are kosher.

[ED: A version of Snakes and Ladders that is actually useful after it has been played once.]


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Monday, April 17, 2006

My second cousin Skyped me

I've just been Skyped out of the blue by a second cousin that I didn't know I had, one Dovid Pink. His mother is Chana, her father was Yehuda Berlinger, and his father was my great-grandfather, Naphtali Berlinger. I was named after Dovid's grandfather.

He has his own blog: It contains only pictures of their family, so is not of general interest.

But, hey, cool. We talked on Skype, messaged URLs and email addresses, exchanged blog info, and I wondered how my great-grandfather would have felt about this incredible power for exchanging information that we each held at our fingertips. Families wandered around for years or decades trying to find each other only half a century ago.


Games Day Session Report

Attendance: 20

Games played:

Bridge x 8
Carcassonne: Princess & the Dragon
Magic: the Gathering x 3
Modern Art
Oh Hell
Power Grid x 2
Saint Petersburg
San Juan
Settlers of Catan
Settlers of the Stone Age
Ticket to Ride
Twilight Imperium III
World of Warcraft

Session Report here.


Saint Petersburg: Binyamin and Zvi

San Juan: Shani and Adam

Havoc: David, Tal, Jon

Most of my games

Amun-Re with matzah


Amun-Re: Nadine, Tal, Adam, Yitzchak

Ticket to Ride

Settlers of Catan: Jon explains

Magic: the Gathering: David

Set (there is a set here)

Twilight Imperium 3

Twilight Imperium 3: Binyamin, Yitzchak, Adam

Settlers of the Stone Age: Tikva, Nadine, Zeke

World of Warcraft

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hike, Town, and Gaming


Mistakes were made

Friday, the first day of Hol Hamoed, is the second day of Passover, and the first day that is half mundane/half holiday. That means that, while food restrictions of Passover are still in effect, other proscriptions are not. And, since it was a Friday, and we were going to Beit Shemesh for shabbat and did not need to prepare meals for shabbat, it was good day for hiking.

For the competent, that is.

My first trouble was the fact that it was a really hot day. Nowhere near summer heat, but hot. At least it wasn't raining, like it would be the next day.

My next problem was that Rachel wasn't available to come, so it would be just me, Saarya, and Tal. In order to boost the companionship, I invited some friends who had two young kids to join us. Their kids are only 2 and 3 years old, something which should have bothered me when considering whether to invite them on a hike. However, the kids were not too much problem, as the parents were willing to carry them most of the time, and they didn't whine overly much (a bit, but not too much)

The biggest problem was my ability to follow directions. A tour-guide friend of mine gave me directions to the hike, which included "drive to the end of the dirt road, and then get out, cross under the train tracks, and begin hiking the black trail".

Unfortunately, my ability to understand "the end of the dirt road" did not include the logic that the dirt road ends at the big sign that said "only 4x4s beyond this point". Me and my little sedan, followed by my friends and their little sedan, looked around at this point, didn't see the bridge under the train tracks, and decided to keep on going down the dirt road, slowly.

For an hour.

Until I realized that there is a reason why only 4x4s should go beyond this point. I then had to make a painful and nervous turnaround without falling off the road into the polluted stream, and drive for another hour slowly back to the sign.

That effectively killed a lot of our hiking time, not to mention probably all of my tires. They're not deflated yet, but I expect them to have lost half their lives, at least.

With a little bit of looking around, we now found the bridge and the black trail. Now, my instructions were to walk up the black trail, rest at the top, and then go down the blue trail until you hit the green trail, and then down the green trail until you end up back at the start of the black trail. This is because the black trail is more populated by other hikers, while the blue/green trails are nicer, slightly longer, and less populated.

Naturally, we started up the green trail, intending to come back down the black trail. Actually, that was not so bad; it really was a lovely trail, shaded, great flowers at this time of year, and great views. However, owing to having started so late, we were still on the blue trail after an hour and we had no idea of how long it would continue before we got to the top and could return on the black trail. And we were running out of water.

It was already getting close to shabbat, and both Saarya and I knew that we could descend the way we came and get to Beit Shemesh in time for shabbat, whereas we had no idea, other than instructions and hope, that if we continued that we would make it back in time. After all, we may have been going completely the wrong direction, for all I knew.

The other family decided to continue, while we returned the way we came. A little frustrated for having backtracked twice in one day. We heard later that they got back to their car about half an hour after we did, which would still have worked, but would have been cutting it close. In any case, the prudent course was the best choice.

These types of minor disasters happen to me all too often. The only time they are worse is when Rachel comes. Rachel's Battle Cry of Hiking is "Let's get lost!". She's only happy when we no longer know where we are and are scrambling around the side of a garbage dump next to an eight meter drop into a barren pit, or crossing a live firing range (both true events).

Back to nature

Israel has extensive marked trails and nature preserves, when they are not being burned down by our enemies or careless hikers. Leave any city and you will see numerous brown signs and little paths pointing you to the start of trails, overlooks, historic sites or ruins (by the bucketful), and so on.

You can actually get all the way from the tippy top of Israel to the bottom of Eilat on a series of connected hiking trails. The nicest ones also have water during the winter and spring (watch out for flash floods in rains).

The biggest problem for me is that most of them feel dry. You don't get that sort of wet, fungus, lichen, ferns, green misty sense that you do hiking around new England. Instead, unless it has literally just rained, the trees and air always feel dry and rough. There are usually thistles and some cacti on the train.

What we do have, in March and still in April, are beautiful wildflowers, especially blood-red poppies, as well as various white and purple things. Books are available on the subject, if you are interested. Sorry, I didn't bring my camera on the hike.


Nofei Aviv

Nofie Aviv is a community within Beit Shemesh. It is basically an Anglo enclave, although some native Israelis or others also live there. Picture a banana shape of about 200 houses around the base of a hill. The residents are almost all very well off. Houses sell for $400,000.

Off of the convex side of the houses, you get fields going up another hill to the Beit Jamal monastery (makes lovely ceramics). On the convex side, and a little higher up the hill, are the "tromim", which are stucco apartment buildings with very poor people, including many immigrants from Ethiopia. The Ethiopians are Jews who were rescued from the warfare and poverty in their country, but haven't quite been integrated into society, yet, either due to cultural, political, or economic reasons.

Continue past the tromim, and you get the rest of Beit Shemesh, in its various forms, about 40,000 people. Nofei Aviv is one of the wealthiest spots, strangely situated right next to one of the poorest spots.

The attitude of Nofei Aviv is the conflicting attitude of the wealthy but religious. They complain about their neighbors trashing their park and playground, breaking in and stealing their bicycles and cars, and generally looking threatening. On the other hand, they donate tons and tons of clothes, food, household items, and so on, run education programs, both religious and economic, and hire them when possible at modest wages.

The shul and its colors

One place where this stands out most is in shul. The shul is a generally modest but large building right up against the tromim apartments. The entrance to the shul is even facing these apartments. The shul may have cost $800,000, but this is mostly due to its size and air conditioning units; it is pretty understated and not flashy. The exception to this is a humongous ostentatious chandelier which someone donated recently and hung in the main sanctuary; it might be kind of pretty in the oval office, but looks totally ridiculous in the shul. Most people in Nofei Aviv feel the same way and are angry about it, but it was, after all, donated.

But what's interesting is that some of the Ethiopians from the tromim come to shul. It started with one or two families, and is now about eight or ten families. And every single one of these black-skinned people sits in the back corner of the shul in a little group.

There is no discriminatory policy in this shul, as far as I know. Each of these people gets called up to make blessing on the torah like any other person would in the shul. They get honored with holding the torah, or opening the ark. No one, to my knowledge, has ever so much as given them a dirty glance that would make them uncomfortable if they chose to sit more scattered around the shul. People say hello to them and shake their hands after shul like they do to everyone else they see after shul, although they don't speak English or much Hebrew.

I asked someone about this, and he said that the truth is that many sub-cultures sit together in shul. The French speakers all sit together, too. It's just that this isn't noticeable because you can't tell a French speaker just by looking at him or her, as you can an Ethiopian. When an American or British black visits, as they do on occasion, they sit anywhere in shul without any problems or particular notice (well, everyone notices a black in a room full of whites, but no more particular notice than that). I guess it is just the fact that they are all in the back corner that makes it seem weird.

But enough about all that.


In Dallas I stayed with my friends the Elkins who are on sabbatical for a year. In Beit Shemesh, we stayed in their house which is still occupied by their 19 year old son and 18 year old daughter. We would have stayed with my parents, but they are in Haifa for Passover and had rented out their house.

In the Elkins house I get to play Billiards, another one of my little passions. I am passingly competent in many things, and Billiards demonstrates this very well. Although out of practice, since I never play unless I visit the Elkins, I am still capable of breaking, sinking balls, positioning shots, and so on. Not with any real professional competency, nor with great consistency, but pretty good. I managed to win five games before losing one.

We are not likely to get a Billiards table in our house any time soon, not only because they are grossly expensive, but because the act of playing Billiards somehow seems even more indolent to my wife than playing board games.

Friday night we ate at the Ehrmans. They are a good match for us, in many ways. The father is a torah learner like my wife, and a passionate Jew, singing songs and so on during the meal. He also used to run an online computer game company called "2am" and has many years of game experience.

They have some good games in their house, like Settlers, Carcassonne, San Marco, Junta, and so on, and they play a lot of Bridge (not too well, I gathered).

Last time I was there I taught the kids (seven of them, plus friends) how to play Spit. This time I was nicer to my hosts and avoided a game with screaming, and taught them how to play Oh Hell. I seem to be on an Oh Hell kick, even though the game is fairly random, and I don't really like the rule about the dealer having to not bid a sum that would add up to the number of cards.

We started with 5 players, but lost one after two rounds, and finished with 4 players. I won by a large margin. All the while, one of the players was complaining about how the game was "all luck". I was trying to explain how there is "luck" and "all luck", but without much success. The fact that I won 40+ to single digits all around should have been enough to convince her, but apparently it wasn't.

The next day at lunch we went to another family, one that I have mentioned before. They have visited us for shabbat a few times. The parents don't play anything; well, David, the father, is willing to play the game: going around in a circle, each person says a number and the person who said the highest number wins.

Luckily, the son Shlomi plays, and he was keen to play Go with me again, as was I with him. Last time we played, I thought that I would be better than him, but it turned out that he was even or slightly better than me. This time we played eight games, taking turns going first, and each time the person who went first won. That is about as even as you can get. We played on a 9x9 board. I invited Shlomi to Games Day which was on the following day.

Back at the Elkins house in late afternoon I taught and played some more Oh Hell and Billiards.

I also played some Settlers of Catan, and completely failed to teach an 18 year old girl how to play. She was the type that would just look at you and smile, and cringe and complain that she can't understand a word that you are talking about. She begged to be released from the game before it began, and I realized that it would have been pointless to try to encourage her to play any further.

Instead, I played three player, stealing the Longest Road from Saarya, who stole it back to win the game. I can't remember the last time I beat Saarya at any game, and he's only 14 years old. My son.


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Friday, April 14, 2006

First Day Gaming

Well, I've made it to the other side of the Seder. I even have some digital pictures of our Seder table, taken before Passover started, which I might upload.

We had 17 for the Seder, which I think is a lot. Funny enough, some of our friends have that many for every meal on shabbat, and more for Passover Seder. Therefore, our conversation goes like this:

Friend: Oh, we had a small Seder, only 23 people.

Me: Well, we had a really large Seder, with 17 people.

It's all relative, as they say.

The next day, recovering from too much matzah, we played a few games. I played and lost Yinsh to my son Saarya (his choice of game). I played and won a game of Oh Hell with my daughter Tal (my choice of game). In the latter game, I started off +20 to her -10, but the gap gradually narrowed until the last hand, when we differed by only three points. The game was decided by the last card.

Some of our guests for the Seder included Nadine from the game group and a family from America who are friends of hers and also game players. Rachel and I went for a walk in the afternoon and meandered over to Nadine's house to play. I brought Havoc with me, because I didn't know how many people we would be; Havoc plays 2 to 6, and is fairly easy to teach, and good game for the complexity (similar to my game, in that regard).

We started off playing Puerto Rico with Rachel, Nadine, myself, and one of their kids. Rachel was corn 1 and I was corn 2, and we started off mirroring each other. By turn 4, however, it was obvious that the other player (Devorah) wasn't really into it; too complex for her tastes, I gather.

By then, the parents had come home, so I brought out Havoc. We played five players (Rachel, Nadine, me, Devorah, and Beth the mother) while Rachel also had a conversation with the father about his trip to Poland. Despite this distraction, I managed to teach the game, and we played and enjoyed it. Beth, Rachel, and I started off well; Beth and I ran out of steam, while Rachel was just getting started.

Meanwhile, I was collecting 14s and the other players starting winning a few points. Nadine totally stole Agincourt with a pair of 10s, as no one was interested in competing with her for it (no second place score). I eventually pulled a full house for battle 8, and 5 14s for battle 9, netting me second place in each. Rachel scored in neither of these battles, so I pulled ahead to first place.

Due to the distraction of the side conversation, some of the players missed some of my rules explanations, such as only being allowed to play 6 cards in a battle. Naturally, this "failure on my part to fully explain the rules and ascertain that all players understood" was noted and complained about by some players. To this I say: Pttthhhhhft! First game is a learning experience.


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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Passover Greetings

I don't know if I will be able to blog again for the next few days, so let me take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a happy holiday, even if you don't know that you are having one.

I may still post again, but I will leave you with these thoughts on freedom.

Physical Freedom

The Haggadah tells us that in every generation we are required to see ourselves as if we, personally, had been taken out of slavery to freedom. Many people try to recreate that experience by talking about our own personal enslavement, such as slavery to money, to fashion, to other people's opinions, to our own cravings, and so on.

While these are important issues, it would do us well to remember that real physical slavery exists today. Even in the U.S.

- Bonded Labor. From

"[Bonded laborers] are non-beings, exiles of civilization, living a life worse than that of animals, for the animals are at least free to roam about as they like. This system, under which one person can be bonded to provide labor for another for years and years until an alleged debt is supposed to be wiped out, which never seems to happen during the lifetime of the bonded laborer, is totally incompatible with the new egalitarian socio-economic order which we have promised to build.

--Justice PN Bhagwati, Indian Supreme Court, 1982

Today, there are at least 20 million bonded laborers in the world.

- Child labor. From

The International Labor Organization estimates there are 246 million working children aged between five and 17.

Across the world, millions of children do extremely hazardous work in harmful conditions, putting their health, education, personal and social development, and even their lives at risk.

- Human Trafficking. From

A US Government report published in 2004, estimates that 600,000-800,000 people worldwide are trafficked across borders each year. This figure does not include those who are trafficked internally.

I'm sorry to say that Israel has its own human trafficking problems; as many as 5,000 women unwillingly work as prostitutes, many of whom came from other countries and were promised jobs in Israel but were lied to and imprisoned upon arrival.

Other resources: - Coalition Against Trafficking in Women

What can you do to help?

At the very least, consider donating to one or more of these organizations. Talk about it in your church or synagogue. Make it a priority in your life to help save at least one person. The Talmud says that he who saves one person is counted as if he had saved the entire world.

Spiritual Freedom

Back to spiritual slavery. I didn't mean to dismiss its importance, only to put it into context. Here are a few quotes on slavery and freedom, some of which you may agree with, and some of which you may not. Discuss.
(sources:,, Quotes on Freedom,

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.
Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

If you want to be free, there is but one way; it is to guarantee an equally full measure of liberty to all your neighbors. There is no other.
Carl Schurz

They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.
Benjamin Franklin

The only freedom that is of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say, freedom of observation and of judgment, exercised in behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worth while. The commonest mistake made about freedom is, I think, to identify it with freedom of movement, or, with the external or physical side of activity.
John Dewey

The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.
John Stuart Mill

People hardly ever make use of the freedom they have. For example, the freedom of thought. Instead they demand freedom of speech as a compensation.
Søren Kierkegaard

So long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.

Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.
Lord Acton

If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.
Samuel Adams

Freedom cannot be given... It can only be taken away.
David Allan Coe

Happiness to all,

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Monday, April 10, 2006

I'm just bitching because nobody invited me to GoF

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