Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Safety Quiz

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

2 plays of The Menorah Game / Card Games

I played The Menorah Game with Tal. She beat me in both. The first game was rather close. In the second one, I imprudently bought an early Gold candle to prevent Tal from buying it, and I got nailed with a soldier on the next round, which forced me to toss it. That hurt.

Tal's strategy is to auction a lot, a lot more than I would. It is a sound strategy in a two-player game. It probably wouldn't work as well in a multi-player game.

Still a good game. Someone ought to publish it. ;-)

Card Games

I was trying to think of the best card games using standard playing cards for N players, and this is what I've come up with:

1- Scaling cards, building card houses, scaling cards into card houses
2- 2-player Pinochle, Cribbage
3- ???
4- Bridge, Hearts
5- ??? Cheat? Oh Hell?
6- ???
8+ Haggle, Duplicate Bridge

Pretty pathetic, no?

I've got a few books with card games in them, like A Gamut of Games and Card Games Around the World, but I haven't tried to play many of these games yet.

There have to be better 2-player games. For three players, Skat looks like it might be interesting. Five or six players, anyone?

I played Spades many years ago, but I can't remember it. What essential card games am I missing here? I want to be prepared if I'm ever at a house that only has playing cards.


So far today

Posted a review for Santorini.

Posted a link to the missing Star Wars clip (see previous entry).

Posted an article on Gone Gaming.

Didn't post a scathing political article conveying my disgust about the world's handling of the so-called Palestinian "financial crisis", because even if I need to write about politics occasionally, I don't feel the need to post about it.

Responded to emails from one person wanting to know about game design in Israel, another wanting to know where to get Hebrew versions of Eurogames, and received a response from Out of the Box about Hebrew/Israeli Apples to Apples (there are Jewish and Yiddish versions, but no Hebrew/Israeli one, yet). Someone is working on one, however (Abe Blumberger of Jewish Educational Toys (JET) - if this is their site, it will be their first good game).

Read lots of game news and blog posts, including this one, also noted on Boing Boing, about how not to write about women and games.

Listened to the latest episode of the Dice Tower.

And Saarya called and said that he may want me to come out to his school again to play games.

Slow day.


P.S. Oh yes, I also worked.

Missing Star Wars scene

Via Digg, here is a missing scene from the first Start Wars movie (now entitled A New Hope), where Luke's relationship with Biggs is explored.

It starts out pretty grainy, but gets better. The audio was cobbled together from a radio version and some editing magic.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Nogas - a minor trick taking game

Tal taught me yet another game her friends play in school with a standard deck of playing cards. This one is thankfully a wee bit better than some of the others.

It can be played 4 or 3 players. With 4 players, the cards 2-6 are removed. With 3 players, the 2-5 are removed.

All cards are dealt out to all players. After looking at his cards, the dealer declares which of five types of rounds are being played. The choices are: kings, queens, hearts, tricks, or "fun".

For the first four choices, the declarer leads a card and players follow suit, tossing if they don't have. Winner leads, and so on until tricks are all taken.

In kings, the player who takes the king of spades loses 40 points. In queens, each queen is minus 10. In hearts, each heart is minus 5. In tricks, each trick is minus 5.

In "fun", which is the least fun of them, the declarer names a card that he doesn't have and the player holding it places it down in the center. Players then play in a circle, skipping turns when they can't play as required. To explain what can be played, let's say the first card played is the jack of spades.

The next player can play either the 10 of spades, queen of spades, or any jack. If he plays the 10, the next player can play the 9 of spades, queen of spades, or any jack. Until a jack of another suit is played, only spades can be played, adjacent to ones already played. Once the jack of another suit is played, then adjacent cards of that suit can also be played.

If a player plays an ace, he can also play all other cards in his hand that can also legally be played immediately.

The first person to go out of cards wins 100 points, second wins 60 points.

Although it sounds like there may be some strategy here, I assure you that there isn't. I tried, but I couldn't find a way to make the player after me have any less choices. I suppose that waiting as long as possible to open a new suit is probably best. And playing a king (allowing an ace to be played) is probably best done at a time when either only one suit is open, or only 1 card is left in someone's hand. But, no, it's not interesting.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes, after playing one round, the same dealer deals again, and this time has to choose one of the other round types, and so on until all five types have been played. Then the next player is dealer, and so on until all players have dealt five rounds. High score wins.

Trick taking is always good for a little tactics, and being able to choose what round type will be played before the round starts adds a little something, which raises this game to slightly better than the usual garbage her friends play at school (although they are mostly playing Gin and Oh Hell right now).


If I leave now

Sunday, May 28, 2006

No longer head Geek

My week of being Geek of the Week on BoardGameGeek is over. I passed the torch to Alex Rockwell, former co-blogger, but mostly a person who taught me a lot about heavy Eurogame strategy. His writings are excellent and his strategy is sound. Although we still disagree about the Small Warehouse.

My own stint covered a lot of Jewish territory. I have only myself to blame for that, considering my answers to the "two truths and a lie" question (see the first response).

Anyhoo ...

My Game Friends, a poem not by Yeats

I WILL arise and go now, and go to my game friends,
And many games I'll play there, of bone and cardboard made;
Games varied will I play there, but what we'll play depends,
For not alone are decisions made.

And we shall play in peace there, for peace comes rumbling in,
Rumbling on dice and counters, and yea from anything;
That lights our eyes and faces, from when the games begin,
Until the late night's faery wings.

I will arise and go now, for always day and night
I hear game boxes groaning unused on a dusty shelf.
While I sit at my work desk, by artificial light
I yearn to be not by myself.

As Long As We're Linking 10

Please see the sidebar for all previous versions of ALAWL.

In this post I list the game blogs that have come to my attention since the last posting. For a blog to be included, it must be updated with reasonable frequency, be available by RSS, and post content of general interest.

Spotlight on games: I already have a feed for Rick's site Spotlight On Games!, but here are a few others all from this site:

1001 Military Nights of Gaming
1001 Nights of Gaming
Spotlight on Games: Random Musings

attacks of opportunity: Tony, Phil, John Harper, Matt Wilson, JudaicDiablo, milo, and RogerT. Seattle game designers. RPG based, but the design topics are of general interest.

The Dread Gobinomicon: Gobi, from Norman, OK. Discusses quite freely his ongoing designs.

Into The Gamescape: Mike, Paul, and Si from the UK share board game reviews, session reports, and a podcast.

Lost Garden: Danc, Redmond, Washington. Game design.

Musings and Mental Meanderings: Thomas "Smerf" Robertson, somewhere in America. More on game design.

Playing board games: Sanjay Subrahmanyan from Chennai, India. A board games site from a BGGer.

strange games: Montegue Blister, location unknown. Trying to collate strange party games.


Midway between Monopoly and Chess

First off, a side note about my reading material.

There but for fortune

My Mom sometimes gives me some of her old Discover magazines, some of which I took for reading material. It was going to be a long weekend with little Internet access, and I couldn't count on playing games, so I brought these, as well as a newspaper and the final book of a sci-fi series I was reading.

One of the articles in one of the Discovery's was this one on the physics of bras. In order to learn about how bras work, and to study the natural tendency of breasts to sag, some scientists conducted numerous studies of woman jogging topless or with dozens of different types of bras, with light diodes arranged over various parts of the breasts to track their movements.

And all I kept thinking while I was reading this was: holy ****, am I in the wrong line of work.

There but for fortune, 2

This feeling was repeated when we went to the jacuzzi. The jacuzzi and dead sea pools are free, but if you want to have your body covered in mud, have someone hold their hands over your back and move them in circles, or place hot stones on your head, you have to pay $40 to $90.

Mud. Circles. Rocks. What the hell am I doing working in computers?

The Trade Pact Universe

These three books by Julie E. Czerneda are top notch books that explore humanity through the lens of a number of different alien psychologies (as do many good sci-fi books). They are great pieces of solid writing and skillful sensibility. She never hits you over the head with messages or panders to baser thrills. Yet the stories are thrilling.

The second one is the weakest one, as the tension in the plot is not that tense, since the reader knows what is going on long before the protagonist does. But overall, just lovely. Seek them out.

Apples to Apples

Although we went on a hike on Friday morning, the company didn't provide any team-building experiences, which was a little odd. So it was up to me to bring people together. Luckily I had brought Apples to Apples.

I found Yoav and his wife again on Friday night in a mess of people inside the lounge. When I saw Yoav, he asked me if I had brought a game, and at the word game, several bored people in the group perked up their ears. We started with six players, and a seventh joined us midgame. There were several curious onlookers, as well.

It was a big hit. I really don't know why there is no Hebrew version of this, yet (Hmm, I think I'll fire off an email and find out), but Israelis love American culture and most can read English well enough, especially those working in a tech company. The truth is, I think the game is cute but not really all that cute, but they loved it.

Like most people, most of my cards weren't very useful, but I did have some beautiful matches. For "powerful" I played "television". The next word was "idiotic", and I couldn't replay the same card, but I did have "Barney". Another one was "marriage" onto the word "hopeless".

Because of this, I pulled in 4 cards first, but we just kept playing until it got late.

Midway between Monopoly and Chess

I'm getting better at describing my hobby in a way that actually engenders respect, as opposed to bemusement. My latest is as follows:

You know how in every field there are some people who seek out the absolute best of certain type of items? You know, like people who know the best wines, or collect the best art replicas? Well, that's what I do with games. I find and collect the absolute best games in the world; games from Europe, Britain, Germany, Italy, and so on, that you can't find at your local toy stores.

They are games for adults like Chess, but they look a bit more like Monopoly. Monopoly is a luck game, the best game for kids, but really, there's not much to the game. Chess is a game you have to study all of your life that has no luck. These games are sort of midway between Monopoly and Chess: full of strategy, but you don't have to learn them your whole life to enjoy them. And they are quicker to play, are culturally interesting, and a lot of fun.


I am always trying to find another game to play with Rachel other than Puerto Rico. It's not that we don't keep playing it, it's that the same game over and over can make one feel tired of it. When we get tired of it, that means that we don't play it for a week or so and then we play again.

It would be nice to have a second game. Actually, we also will occasionally play Scrabble. But I mean a second Eurogame.

I was hoping Caylus would do it, just like I hoped Tigris and Euphrates or Goa would do it. Rachel didn't connect with Tigris and Euphrates, and Goa she said was ok but fiddly, which is about what I feel.

She didn't like Caylus on her first play, she said that it reminded her of Goa, only worse; it's very very fiddly. Collect the little cubes, play the little cubes, collect the other little cubes, trade for coins, trade back for cubes, buy a building, place the house. And so on.

It doesn't help that the main mechanic of the game is to try to trick you into forgetting something so that you smack your head later and say "I forgot that I needed this/wasn't going to get that!" It just doesn't inspire love.

I'm also feeling a bit of that, although after my third play, now, you get used to the patterns on the board, the paths of play, and so on, and this becomes less of an issue. As this was her first game, I pretty well slaughtered her, which also didn't help, I'm sure.

She asked how Nadine felt about it, and said that she would be willing to try one more time, on the assumption that her feeling of fiddlyness may go down on the second play. But it doesn't look like Puerto Rico is in much danger of losing its throne any time soon.

Puerto Rico

To make up for this, Rachel insisted that we play PR later in the day. I brought out only our classic set of buildings. We started playing while I was completely distracted and the game wasn't even set up properly yet, and I picked two incorrect roles in a row (which I wasn't intending on picking).

I complained and we started again. This time I was more in control of the situation, and at least picked what I was intending on picking. In a two player game, I like to start with Settler/corn if it is available, rather than Settler/quarry (we don't play with Small Market). Unfortunately it wasn't. I took Settler/quarry, she manned her corn and my quarry, and I took Large Indigo.

I ended up with indigo and tobacco, while she had corn, sugar, and tobacco. No coffee. I got an early Large Business, and she took an early Hospice. Sometimes an early Hospice can be devastating (we play that you can move a colonist onto it immediately), but not this time. I mayored whenever it didn't help her, and settled whenever it didn't help her.

She bought a Discretionary Hold which never came into play. The colonists quickly dwindled, and I was ahead in cash. With Large Business, I was able to compete with shipping and build a big building. The game ended before she could do the same.

But it was a good weekend. Good food and too much of it. Lots of sleep. It felt like a real vacation. Of course, the sad part about vacations is that they end too soon.


Friday, May 26, 2006

First Day Travel Report

Does anyone ever have uneventful travel? I can't remember the last time that I did.
This one wasn't so much eventful, but a bus I boarded at 3:00 pm only arrived at
our Dead Sea hotel at 5:30pm. In that time I could have driven to the airport and
flown to Turkey. Instead we managed a late start, bad traffic, wrong turns, etc.

And hot. Jerusalem only gets this hot for a few days here and there in the
middle of August. It was "wafting from the oven" hot way past nightfall here,
and it's only May.

The hotel is nice, and dinner was yummy. I am on vacation with two hundred
other people, but I barely know any of them. I only started working
at the company a few months ago, and I mostly work with the two other technical
writers and my direct manager, none of whom came.

The Dead Sea is a unique place, as I'm sure many of you know. It is the lowest land
spot on the Earth, at 400 m below sea level. The sea itself is close to
400 m deep. The water in the Dead Sea is far more salty and mineral rich than
any other body of water. You literally cannot sink in it. If you float in it,
the majority of your body is out of the water.

Another effect of being 400 m below sea level is that you have 400 more meters
of atmosphere over you. That means slightly more pressure, and almost complete
protection from ultraviolet rays (it takes a whole lot longer to get sunburnt).
If you wander around the area, as we did today, you see mountains of glistening
salt crystals. There is a rich history of who controlled and exported this
salt and such facts, which you can look up on your own. Nowadays, the hotels
offer a variety of expensive mud baths and massages, and these muds and
beauty products are exported around the world.

Last night I managed to convince a bored couple, my manager's manager or
something like that and his wife, to join us for a game. I brought two light
games: For Sale and Apples to Apples, and two heavy games: Puerto Rico and
Caylus, but I neglected to bring any middle games, like Settlers or Taj
Mahal. My mistake.

They were happy to try For Sale. She was tired and took a little while to understand what
was going on "But on what am I bidding?" while he took to it like the computer
professional that he is, trying to calculate who will get what if he bid or didn't bid.

He won the first game with 66 points, while I came in a pathetic last at 44. I
suggested another game now that they knew what they were doing and he was quite
happy to try again. This time I squeaked out a close victory with 62 points to
his 59.

He wrote down the name of the game, and I said that I could provide him with a
list of other good games. I also told him about Boardgamegeek. He is looking
forward to trying another game today or tomorrow. Yay me!

If only I had brought Taj Mahal or some equivalent. Dare I try them on Puerto
Rico? Or even Caylus?

Well, we can always play team Hearts.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Access, after all

Well, it looks like I have some access after all. Man, is it hot here.

Full report after I come home, but I've already turned two non-gamers on to For Sale. Played two games, and he took down the name of the game to buy it for his kids. New game tomorrow.

I didn't bring enough games!


Weekend vacation

My company is having a vacation weekend, starting an hour from now. They are taking us to a five star hotel on the Dead Sea, where I imagine there will be Internet access somewhere, but one never knows. So if you don't hear from me until Saturday night, that will be why. But you probably will.

I've packed Puerto Rico, which I know Rachel plays, along with Caylus, which I am hoping to teach her. In addition, I brought Apples to Apples, For Sale, and two decks of cards, in case I find any game playing co-workers.

Keep dreaming,

P.S. If you have any thoughts or comments that you've never written down, about my blog, about games, about the Internet, about Israel, about life, or about whatever, feel free to write them in the comments of this post.

Gamer theory book

This has been linked from a number of places, including Boing Boing, but it's worth another link.

It's a brilliant series of notes discussing issues of online gaming and its allegories to the real world. It's great on so many levels.

Literarily, the topics are interesting and the writing is great.

Technologically, the layout of the work is awesome. It works like a series of note cards. Each card allows for user comments on the side. What a great way to interface your writing to the world. All that's missing are hyperlinks to similar works elsewhere.

And conceptually, using this site either for gathering more material, feeling out the issues with others, or just as advanced marketing, it works.


Session Report - first play Thurn and Taxis

It's here. Games played: Dvonn x 2, San Juan, Cosmic Encounter, Shadows Over Camelot, Geschenkt, Settlers of Catan, Thurn and Taxis.

I'm probably more brutal with T&T than is warranted. I'm jaded after too many similar games.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Linkety Link - abstracts

Old hat, but every once in a while I re-notice Abstract Strategy Games, which has a really large list of games, including rules to many of them. Which makes the GIPF guys all the more impressive for coming out with six unique games that are actually good.

Lots of great stuff for the abstract math Geeks at Combinational Game Theory, including papers by John Conway, Richard Guy, and others who literally wrote the books on math and games. A treasure trove of fun.

And continuing in an abstract theme, the entire bible as done in Lego, at The Brick Testament.



My 16 year old son is the one who generally doesn't play games with me. Mostly, that's because I like Eurogames with no direct destruction of the other player's pieces. He plays third person computer strategy games. However, he often as not plays with the cheat codes that let him be invincible.

Whatever strategy and tactics he could learn from the game, and there really are a lot, are lost. His prime enjoyment seems to be to simply blow things up because it is cool. And even more bizarrely he takes some sort of pride in having done so - "I'm so cool!"

He also has a lot of Warhammer stuff. He plays with his friends and wins. I tried to introduce him to ASL, but the person to whom I introduced him was obviously going to beat him more often than not, so he dropped out of that. Losing ruins his aura of invincibility.

He spends a lot of time drawing little armies in his notebooks. They all look like ninjas or Romans or marines, sometimes all three mixed together. Then he draws little maps on grid paper with buildings and rivers and so on. Using these, he will challenge his friends to a war game using simplified combat rules that he cobbled together from Warhammer.

The war games that he plays out have no strategy or sense, usually. It is "your guys have to kill my guys, and my guys have to kill your guys". There's no weather, no reinforcements, no sieges, no ambushes, no infiltration, no spying, no falsifying orders, no daytime or nighttime, no politics, and so on. I once challenged him to one of these games a few years ago.

I took a few of his drawings and studied his map. My first moves were out of range of his troops. I walked all the way around the back, walked up to the back door, blew it up, destroyed his HQ, and killed everyone else from under cover. It was a rout. I was supposed to walk up the front of the building, because that's what all of his friends do.

A year later he challenged me again. This time he was defending a dugout. Of course, as usual, there is no talk about weather, context, reasons, spying, disrupting communications, etc. "Your guys have to kill my guys."

This time I noted that there was a roof to his dugout. I destroyed and blocked the front door, blew a hole in his roof, and proceeded to slaughter his troops under full cover from above. "You were supposed to come in the front," says he. "Sorry," I said. "Better luck next time."

Last night he tried again. This time my forces were in position A, and there was no possibility of me going left or right, because every other direction was completely impassable. And time was of the essence, I had to go forward right now. And I had to go through this tunnel and out the other side into full view of his waiting troops. And I had no grenades. I asked questions for a half an hour, but there was no way out.

I was to march my men straight into his fire with no possibility of any changes, tactics, or strategy. He just wanted us to roll dice to see how many people died. Cause that's cool. I declined to play it out.


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

No Dice

Dice have fallen into disfavor among Eurogame designers, with singular exceptions such as Settlers of Catan.

But these designers haven't eliminated all chance in favor of pure strategy. Ignoring random elements, which I define as elements that change initial play but thereafter allow all players equal opportunity to win, luck remains a factor in these games.

It appears that most designer's intentions are to choose a "some luck" route. Gone are the dice or cards that completely determine what happens to you, such as in Monopoly and Sorry. Instead they add luck elements that determine how just a few things happen, while the remaining aspects of the game are chosen directly by the player.

It is as if the game is split into two sets of parts: the parts of the game where you simply do things as you choose, and the parts where you flip or draw and see what happens. The theory is that a greater proportion of non-luck actions to luck-actions correlates to a more strategic game. Also, that if the luck elements are of minor effect, or occur early in each round, then they serve only to change the flow of the game and do not greatly determine winning or losing.

In practice, designers are more or less successful in implementing this theory. But they do go wrong. And not only because they don't perfectly implement the theory, but because the theory itself has a hole in it.

Using this theory as a guide, poorly implemented games are the ones where the card draw or flipped tile can result in a swing of points far in excess of any similar action performed by skill alone. If the element is optional, then you would be foolish not to take it because someone else will and then win without much effort. If the element is required, same difference.

The hole in the theory, however, applies even when the point swing from the luck elements are not excessively large. It is when the skill elements of the game are not strong enough or challenging enough to produce a sufficiently large point differential between closely skilled players.

If the decisions are basically trivial, all players are going to choose functionally equivalent paths and end up within a point of each other. That part of the game may have added theme or fun, but can be eliminated as far as affecting the outcome of the game. The effect of the remaining element, the luck element, is now greatly amplified and overshadows that of what can be acquired by skill.

One wonders if the simple elimination of dice may have blinded some designers to this fact. Instead of dice we have action cards, tile flips, cube towers, and so on. They look neat, and their results may be non-intuitive. But the game needs to be solidly designed, first. A bunch of action cards that tell you what to do is no better than a bunch of dice rolls that tell you what to do.


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Monday, May 22, 2006

How much is a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico?

board game comic

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Still waiting

board game comics

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The path to gaming

The path to board gaming seems to go as follows:

Play a lot of dumb board games in childhood, and maybe learn some good board or card games, too. In college become addicted to D&D or war games. Play a lot of all nighters until you give it up to become a family. Become interested again when CCGs came out / a new war game hits the scene in the early nineties. Lots of interest over the past few years from playing many different games due to BGG and the online community.

There are probably some exceptions to this:

- Younger people probably started at CCGs.

- Some people in certain countries like the Far East or Russia probably play a national game seriously, like Chess or Go.

These paths are unique features of our mentality and time period. For people who haven't ended up at board games, many of them would trace a path from board games to video games and console gaming. Modern kids are starting at console gaming; where will they end up?

Fifty years ago, the path was: play some games as a kid, or not, and then play no games later.

A hundred years ago, depending on where you lived, it might have been play some cards or checkers as a kid, and then chess or bridge as an adult.

A hundred and fifty years ago years ago it would have been ring-around-the-rosy and then whist.

My kids are now growing up with these games, because there is a board gamer in the family: me. Their game path remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: they have far greater choices than I ever did.

Even if the vast majority of children aren't growing up with better board games, I think it is safe to say that many of these games, or ones like them, are getting out there. Settlers of Catan and Apples to Apples are now fairly well known, and will stick around. If not them, then others like them.

Surely some small percentage of people will keep these new games alive. And all you need is one person here and there to at least give people the opportunity to know the games.

What will their paths be? Straight onto computer games for their entire life? Some hybrid of computers and electronic board gaming? A "back to the basics" resurgence in Chinese Checkers popularity that sweeps the country in 2015?

Or will games take off in a new direction that we don't anticipate. What if games became like IM messages, sent back and forth from bluetooths, and played all day long? What will happen with the massively multiplayer online games? Will they ever be recreated in the real world? Will people ever look at these as a "stage" in their gaming evolution?

"I started out playing massive multiplayer park games, then I played the usual hits from the bottle music gaming genre. I dropped out of games during college, but started a series of twenty-year games with each of my children. My daughter is eight and she just made a great move. I'm thinking of what to play for my response next month."


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Geek of the Week

I appear to be Geek of the Week on Board Game Geek.

Have at me. Thanks, Ryan,


Sunday, May 21, 2006

She knew what I wanted from her

board game comics

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We must play no games with ourselves

board game comic

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Keep Dreaming

board game comic

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OT: comedy video links

These aren't on topic, but I guess I must do what I must do, every so often ...

New teen comedy: 10 Things I Hate About Commandments

A Jim Carrey comedy video, that's actually very funny.

The evolution of dance in six minutes. Unfortnately it skips the sixties and early seventies, and glosses past the Macarena.


Weekend Gaming

I taught my parents how to play Havoc. My parents taught me how to play bridge, so I feel that I owe it to them. My father stopped playing bridge, since it always devolved into him yelling at my mother over some dumb play. As often as not, he would also be wrong.

In any case, Havoc, being a card game and with a semi-familiar poker theme, is less threatening to teach than some of my board games. Even so, we started playing without all of the rules fully explained, such as the last battle and the dogs of war. I never got to explaining the use of two dogs, because I didn't want to overwhelm them.

Both parents naturally overspent on the first few battles. My mom in particular called Havoc nearly every chance that she could. Meanwhile, I managed to save up not one, but two straight flushes. Holding onto these card gave me less play during the intermediate rounds, but I still managed to gain some nice points with some full houses here and there.

I ended up winning by a large margin. My parents though it was cute, and my Mom even mentioned the next day that she probably should have saved more for the last battles.

My Mom usually spends her time when she is not doing sculpture or reading one of her sci-fi books (she has 370 Star Trek novels alone) playing out card games with herself. Typically this means bridge hands. It's kind of a meditation, I suppose.

The next day we had lunch with our former neighbors, and I was reminded of why I don't like being in a house with too many children. And these were nice and good children and babies, but so asynchronous and so loud. I saw their pathetic games collection: four versions of Monopoly in different languages and states of repair, two sets of checkers and backgammon, and some puzzles, and felt depressed.

Later towards evening I played Set with some kids at other former neighbors and I lost. I rarely lose, so, while happy to meet a good player, I was even more depressed.

In the evening we went to hear some folk music, which cheered me a little. The singer was Tommy Sands. There is something so special about a folk music house concert. It feels a little like you are building the world. There's a lot to be said about the 40,000 person rock arena; that can be a special event, too (I've only been to one, and that was Pink Floyd). But folk music is family.

Linkety Link:

Raph Koster will be releasing his second book, A Grammar of Gameplay. I have only just ordered his first book, A Theory of Fun, and I'm looking forward to reading it. I'll report back here, of course.

The Long Beach City College is showcasing a line of eveningwear based on Candyland, and you can also buy a Candyland beach towel from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

And someone in Scotland thinks that playing more board games with your family will reduce your proclivity to engage in teenage sex:

PARENTS in the Lothians are being urged to spend quality time with their children as part of a new drive aimed at stopping youngsters having underage sex...

The radio campaign, which urges parents to spend time with their children by playing sport or board games, has been launched by the controversial pilot scheme Healthy Respect.


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Friday, May 19, 2006

Likes and Dislikes

The latest post on The Games Journal is about Risk and its descendants, and it is excellent, as usual. Which only serves to confirm my earlier comment that it is a hard job to produce unedited material with the same quality as edited material.

I'm back in Beit Shemesh for shabbat to see my parents. I will probably play some cards with my Mom, but other than that I don't know what to expect. Sometimes I end up playing with some of the teenage kids in the neighborhood. I brought Torres, Havoc, Modern Art, and something else. I also should have brought Puerto Rico to play with Rachel; it's been a while. I would like to try her on Caylus sometime next week.

In a BGG thread I explained again why I don't like St Petersburg, but only because someone asked me to. I really have no desire to convince anyone not to like a game that they like, simply because I don't like it. I guess my only purpose was to help someone whose tastes match my own and who is considering buying the game. They may save themselves some money.

Everyone knows that likes and dislikes are a funny sort of thing. In looking over why I don't like the game, the reasons that I give can be divided into two types: critical (objective) and subjective.

My critical reasons are those that serve to objectively evaluate the game design and its success or failure at achieving game balance. For instance, suppose that the game designer wanted to provide three strategic paths: path A, path B, or a mixture of both.

If I demonstrate that path B is either uninteresting or unachievable, then the only serious remaining strategy in the game is path A. Or, at least, the only interesting tension in the game is path A. Whether I demonstrate this or not, this is a critical assessment, which is, at least purportedly, objective.

Subjective reasons are where I say that I don't like this or that type of game mechanic, such as roll-and-move, or what have you. In fact, people may not really care if there are multiple paths to strategy in a game, so even if the game objectively fails in this fashion, it may not bother them.

These two types of reasons combine into one unhelpful mess of a numeric rating. That's why comments are so much more helpful than numbers. Or than "I really like this game!" But you know that.

This division between assessment types is no more nor less than the distinctions we make when evaluating anything, be it music, art, movies, food, and so on.

One evening about three years ago I tried to explain to my son this distinction. I said that I think that a particular (heavy metal) band is objectively talented and makes good music, but that I just don't like to hear it. It took him about a half a year before he could accept this, and I'm not sure that he really has. To him, there was music you like and music you don't, and nothing can be said to be objectively good or bad. No one ever says that something is good or bad except according to their own perspective, said he. Moral relativism is a big comfort to kids whose battle cry is "You can't tell me what to do! You're not the boss of me! Why do I have to do that just because you say so?!"

Alas for him, I don't believe in moral relativism. But I digress.

Is there a solid line between objective and subjective evaluation? Most people don't agree with my particular assessment of Saint Petersburg, and not only due to my subjective criticisms. It's possible that my objective criticisms are more subjective than I am willing to believe. Is it tautological that when people disagree about a criticism that it must be subjective? Or do we just fundamentally disagree on the conclusions? Have I simply not been articulate enough in my objective criticisms?


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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Wanted: A Game Viewer

Yeah, we've got Vassal and BSW, but why can't we get a good game viewer like they have for chess? I think I could make some pretty good Puerto Rico session reports with something like this.


Keeping up Quality

If only you knew the number of posts that I start and then discard, or start and continuously revise because they are not ready to post, all to ensure that you, my fine readers, get only the best quality material. Recent ones:

- Ten interesting inventions that say a lot about human nature.

- Ethics in Gaming 6.0: Creating Games

- A poem about blog comments

- and many others

Since starting this blog, twice I have posted only to retract the post a few hours later. I don't want to do that! And many times I post, and only then see that I need to make revisions, so I quickly re-edit and re-post, sometimes five or ten times right in a row, just to get it right.

What we need are blogging editors, who will take a look at your post and quickly tell you if it is junk, or if it needs some minor correction, before it goes live. But then we bloggers lose that spontaneity that makes us so endearing, right?


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Session Report - more Caylus thoughts

Report available here. I do a further analysis of Caylus. Note that I haven't read anyone else's thoughts on Caylus yet, so I may be repeating what others have said, or I may be saying something original.

Games played: Yinsh, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, Puerto Rico x 2, El Caballero, Caylus, Thurn and Taxis.

Link: A blog devoted to "strange" party games called Strange Games.


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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Linkety Link

My most recent trip to the local game store revealed one oddity: an edition of Monopoly (sorry to keep bring up that game, but there you go) that includes no money.

Instead, each player gets a credit card. The game also includes a double sided credit card reader. When you need to add, subtract, or trade money, you stick one or both credit cards into the machine and make the adjustment. Psyche. That could be useful for many games. Of course, pencil and paper might be just as quick.

How do you know how much money you have at any give time? Do you have to keep scanning your card in the machine?

Link: A news video from 1979 about a new game come to light called Trivial Pursuit. It's worth seeing just to see the stupid hair that guys wore in the 70's.

Link: Timeless Toys once did a look at how the cover to the board game Clue has evolved over the years. From their site, I also found the site for the Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors. From their site, they link to a number of interesting sites on board games, like this one that has hundreds of pictures of old board games.

Link: Creating Passionate Users pontificates on the results if Microsoft had designed Sudoku.

I added a Feedblitz email subscription form on the side of the page, for those of you who want to subscribe to this blog but don't want to deal with RSS.


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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Perky Goth Mechanics

Invisible City Productions, a collective of game designers, writers, and artists who occasionally release free games, has just released Perky Goth, a downloadable card game.

The theme and artwork is sure to please some, such as the Munchkin/Chez Geek loving crowd. Only one mechanic in the game interests me, and that is the scoring. Your final score is the average of your two point counts minus the difference between your two point counts. Very curious.

Like Tigris and Euphrates, this means that you have to progress in both counts at the same time. However, you cannot just simply grow exponentially in one count while making short gains in the other. You truly need a balanced score. A final count of 3 and 2 will beat a final count of 66 and 22.

Doing the math, you can see that given:

a >= b
(a+b)/2 - (a-b)

your score is:

a/2 + b/2 - a + b

which simplifies to:

-a/2 +3b/2

So you don't score any points at all if your higher score is 3 times as large as your lower score. Every one point less difference gives you a half a point for your score.

I kind of like it, and in any case, kudos for coming up with it, assuming that it is original.


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Beatles Trading Cards, etc.

Tonight is Lag BaOmer, a strange holiday where you take all the wood that isn't tied down or attached to a house, as well as some that is, and you pile it dangerously high and too close to someone's apartment building or something flammable like a forest, and then you burn it up. At least, if you are a kid.

Update: Firefighters had to put out 600 fires this year. One firefighter was attacked trying to put out a fire. 123 people treated for smoke inhalation on Mt Meron. And an 8 year old boy and a 20 year old man were both burned. Has this custom gotten out of hand, yet?

Needless to say, there is a lot of smoke writhing through the air this evening. We went for a small visit to share a teensy little bonfire with neighbors.

I mentioned my Big Monopoly Post News to them, and she brought out an old copy of the Maple Leaf edition (here, in the middle of the page). It comes with a moose token. I think I want to take it and use it in my next game of ASL. "Oh yeah? Well, my moose goes and rams the hell out of your Sherman, and then he craps on your infantry for good measure."

We also listened to some Buddy Holly and Sam Cooke tapes, and she showed us her Beatles collectible card collection. I never knew such a thing existed. There were numerous sets which you could get just like sports cards when you bought chewing gum. Here's a picture of one of them.

The front of each card has a cool picture, and the back has a news interview question and one of their trademark quirky answers.

Colin Crowley points out a sculpture of a nude woman made entirely of Scrabble pieces. I'm trying to 'get' the grand meaning from it, but I haven't gotten it, yet. Ah, yes. The article says something about it being on sale for £50,000.


P.S. I track blogs and sites that talk about board games, and this spam site popped up (don't worry, I put a 'rel="nofollow"' in the link). It looks innocent enough, but look closely and then check out some of the links. It is a cleverly disguised Spam blog, almost indistinguishable from a normal blog (which says a lot about normal blogs).

The fancy things here is that the site itself has no ads, only the multiple sites it links to. This looks like the next generation of spam trying to get around Google's filtering mechanisms.

P.P.S. I'm anticipating another spike in traffic since I used the word "nude" in this post. Oh! I did it again!

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Linkety Link: "Google news Edit-Me Edit-Me"

The phrase in the subject probably looks familiar to many of you. It is the default set of three links on the sidebar of any newly created Blogger blog with a default template.

Searching for this phrase on Google, Blogger's parent, yields 673 results. On Yahoo it's 8,700, a tenfold increase. On MSN it is 19,533,985, an additional 2,000-fold increase.

Gosh. What does this mean? Is Google too embarrassed to show these results? Or is MSN just stupid? Or both? Just how many Blogger blog sites have been created by incompetent people, lazy people, or spammers?

Meanwhile, Susan Sarandon has joined forces with Cindy Sheehan to protest the war in Iraq by sending the board game Risk to Laura Bush. Which makes sen... some se... a little s... um, I don't get it. (It might be this edition.)


"If you can read this page it means that the Apache HTTP server installed at this site is working properly."

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Games dispossessed

First: Playstation III wants to play a card game with you, using real cards.

Second: What is a Boing Boing link worth? 13 links, 3500 hits over 3 days, tapering off to another 50-75 a day following (as of now). Interestingly enough, The vast majority of new inbound traffic comes equally from Boing Boing and another site called Microsiervos, which is Spanish.

I bought the following games owing to their high rank and high regard on BGG and then traded them or sold them. It may not seem like many, but I haven't actually bought that many games in my life. Some of these we liked, but not enough. Or we grew out of them, or they weren't right for our group. Some we didn't like very much at all.

  • Acquire
  • Battle Cry
  • Bohnanza
  • Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers
  • Citadels
  • David and Goliath
  • Domaine
  • Oceania
  • Settlers of Catan card game
  • Traumfabrik
Any regrets? Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers. However, I am more interested now in acquiring one of the newer, better two-player variants.

The following games will be the next to go.

  • Alhambra
  • China Moon
  • Saint Petersburg
  • Hoity Toity
Make me an offer.

Games I bought based on BGG recommendations and have no plans of trading or selling:

  • Settlers of Catan
  • Puerto Rico
  • Princes of Florence
  • El Caballero
  • El Grande
  • Power Grid
  • Caylus
  • Tigris and Euphrates
  • Havoc
  • Louis XIV
  • Maharaja
  • Modern Art
  • Torres
  • Primordial Soup
  • San Juan
  • Yinsh
On the border:

  • Cities and Knights of Catan
  • El Grande expansions
  • Die Macher
  • Goa
  • Through the Desert
  • For Sale
  • Tikal

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Technical difficulties for Opera users

For some reason, the border width for images on this site is displaying unwholesomely wide in Opera. I tried to narrow it by setting the border-width to "2px" instead of "2", and somehow that resulted in some of the images not displaying at all on both Opera and IE.

I'm working on it. Advice gratefully accepted. Update: May be fixed... I think the missing images was simply coincidental.

Meanwhile, I seem to have written a lot of articles comparing game design to food, and now Jamie Fristrom of GameDevBlog has done the same.


The Missing Monopoly Version

I was going to post my own version of Microsoftopoly, but it looks like someone named Jeff Adkins beat me to it.

His version is all joke - basically, Microsoft already starts the game off winning. My version was going to have each player select a personality card - Gates, McNealy, Torvalds, etc.. - where the personalities are kept secret until a player has acquired his first monopoly, and then the player plays by a set of rules that reflect that player's personality.


Gates: Whenever any other player begins making money from a property, Gates must spend money to the bank each round trying to duplicate the technology. But if Gates lands on your property, he acquires it at face value (no negotiation) or releases a free version of the product, effectively turning your property into Free Parking.

Other players may declare bankruptcy and sue Gates. That player and Gates each secretly select an amount of money and reveal. If Gates reveals more than twice the money that the first player revealed, he pays his bid to the bank and acquires all remaining property of the challenging player, otherwise, Gates must give up a monopoly to the challenger.

Jobs can only own one monopoly, but it comes prebuilt with hotels.

McNealy plays by the normal rules.

Any player can turn his property into "open source", after which he collects no rent for that property. Any other player landing on the spot reduces his income from passing Go by $50 for the rest of the game, while the property owner increases his income by $5 for the rest of the game.

And, as the coup-de-grace, if Gates ever declares one of his monopolies to be open source, all players win.


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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Weekend Gaming

I had high gaming expectations for the weekend, since my guests included Nadine from the game group, Mace and his three kids who are also gamers, and three game-curious students of Rachel's.

Mace and the kids arrived before lunch, and while waiting for Rachel to return from shul, we started a few games. The kids played Settlers of Catan, which disintegrated into some sort of fight by the time lunch started. Meanwhile, I introduced Mace to Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation

I explained the game and took the dark pieces, while Mace fretted over the seeming imbalance of forces arrayed against him. Then he waltzed into the dark forces with Aragorn and proceeded to wreak havoc with a series of well-timed card choices.

Saruman managed to make a small comeback by killing a few lost Hobbits, but I was still down to three pieces late in the game. Fortunately, they were close to the Shire. We each had two cards left. He had a 1 and a 5, while I had a 3 and "ignore text on his card", which was effectively a 0.

I made the mistake of flying into the Shire with my Nazgul. I played my 3, but if he had responded with his 5, the game would have been over, with me having no way of stopping Frodo from waltzing into Mordor. But he played his 1. I was now able to walk into the Shire faster than he could get to Mordor. Mace said that he had forgotten about that alternate win situation, so we split the win.

El Caballero

Nadine, Mace, Shachar, and I sat down to play this little cousin of El Grande. It holds more similarity with Carcassonne, however. It's much better than the latter (which I think is good), but nowhere near the former at first glance.

The game consists of a number of land/water tiles, eight caballero tiles for each player, some ship markers, and some castillo markers. The caballero tiles are identical, and are all numbered 1-4 around the sides on one side of the tile, and 5-8 on the other side.

During the game, the map builds in the center of the board, consisting of both land/water tiles and your caballero tiles. Ship and castillo markers are placed onto your scoring tiles, ship tokens on the side of a tile covering a number, and castillo markers in the center of the tile.

Like other games of this sort, let's first start with the scoring rules, after which the mechanics will make more sense. There are two scoring rounds, after the fourth and seventh round. During scoring, for any water area touched by your caballero tile, you score the number of water tiles in the area times the number of ship tokens on your caballero tile adjacent to the area. For any land area touching your scoring marker, you score double its size if you have the highest numerical value on the sides of your caballero tiles adjacent to the area, single if second highest, or nothing at all.

Which is to say that water areas share all points without any conflict, and land areas must be contested.

Each round, you all play cards for bidding, which indicate both the order you play during the round and the number of caballeros you have to play with that round (you may also have some remaining caballeros from previous rounds). During your turn, you adjust your caballero count according to your bid card (using any spare caballero tiles to keep count), must place a tile on the board, may adjust the position of caballero tiles already in place or may add new ones to the board, by paying for these actions from your caballero supply. You may also deduct caballeros to add ships or castillos to your caballero tiles in play. Castillo tokens "protect" your caballero investments, as follows.

All caballero tiles can only have one face touching land. If a tile is placed that causes the tile to have two faces touching land, the caballero tile is lost. If you have a castillo on the tile, the invested caballeros and any ships on the tile are returned to your court; otherwise, they are returned to the general supply.

So the basic tactics of the game are to ensure that no one can place tiles so as to knock away your existing caballero tiles in place. The basic strategies are to achieve high scoring water areas or control of high scoring land areas.

There is more control here regarding tile selection than in Carcassonne, both because you select your tile from a pool of face up tiles instead of picking from the draw pile, and because you auction to determine the turn order in selecting these tiles. But the geometry of the available tiles can still make the difference between being able to secure an area or not.

Still, as I liked Carcassonne (actually, Carcassonne H&G), I like El Caballero. It is certainly a more substantial game, with a great many more options to do on your round, and some interesting tactical side-effects owing to the way the rotation of the caballero tiles interact on the board. I wouldn't pay top dollar for it, however. If you don't like Carcassonne, I can't see liking this game that much more. OTOH, Nadine likes the game, and didn't like Carcassonne, so there you go.

In our game, we were only able to play until the end of round four before Nadine had to go. I held a marginal lead at that point. Nadine had secured some water points, but I was able to secure the largest land area in a way that just barely kept both Mace and Shachar at bay, although it took a long time to convince them that this was so.

Amun Re, Yinsh, By Hook or By Crook

While we were playing El Caballero, Rachel's students decided that Amun Re was the coolest looking first Eurogame to play. And had a very good time. They pretty much got the hang of it by the end of the first round, and happily played to the end with out any major problems. The one who received the most cash at mid-game ended up winning at the end.

Two of them then played a game of Yinsh while some of us went for a walk. When we came back, the Yinsh players had taken out By Hook or By Crook. I warned them that the game wasn't up to the standards of the other games they had seen, but we played anyway. I took the game, and they both pretty much agreed with my assessment by the end of it.

Tadhg Kelly, on his video gaming blog particleblog, asserts that an interviewer can determine if a candidate is a good video game designer by sticking him in a room for four hours with a blank deck of cards, some dice, and some tokens and asking him or her to create a unique and enjoyable game from scratch.

"If the game that he invents is fun (or potentially fun), then he has talent. If it is not, then he does not."

Ah, if only it were that easy to create a good game. I wonder who retains the rights to these interview creations.


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Friday, May 12, 2006

Two Narrative Books about Go

The Master of Go, by Yasunari Kawabata.

This book tells the true story, more or less, about the final game of the reputed "Master of Go" and his challenger, 7 dan Otake. The game took place over eight months in 1938, and the author is a reporter who covered the match, as well as a Go player in his own right. The book uses a classic Japanese story form, starting at the end and then moving back and eventually returning to the starting point.

This is a nice little book that gives the feel of not only the game and its tense play and cultural significance, but also a bit about the family life of the players and the clashing worlds between the old style of Go player and the new one.

One illustration of this clash is described in the introduction of the "sealed play". In the old days, a player would simply make a play when he needed to. If a scheduled break occurred, the players would simply break and return to the game later.

This allowed unscrupulous players to time their moves so that the break would occur when it was their turn to play, allowing them to consider the board during the break without having to use up time on their time clock. In order to forestall this type of activity, the sealed play was introduced. The last play before a break is sealed in an envelope and only placed on the board at the beginning of the next session, thus preventing this type of dishonorable manipulation.

The Master had never played with this rule. The book represents it as one of many needless inelegances that the Master feels as having undermined the spirit of the game. So it seems, almost, as if this game is fated to be his last not only because he is getting old and soon going to die, but because his world has already faded.

And still, the Japanese players have much more in common with each other than they have with the rest of the world. The reporter meets an American enthusiast on a train who plays some games with him. He reports:

He had the forms down well enough, but he had a way of playing thoughtlessly, without really putting himself into the game. Losing did not seem to bother him in the least. He went happily through game after game, as if to say that it was silly to take a mere game seriously ... One always found a competitive urge in a Japanese, however inept he might be at the game. One never encountered a stance as uncertain as this. The spirit of Go was missing.

In contrast to this attitude of Go being a silly game, the master almost resigns when his opponent makes a move that seems almost insulting:

The Master had put the match together as a work of art. It was as if the work, likened to a painting, were smeared black at the moment of highest tension ... Everything is lost when suddenly a false note is struck, or one party in a duet suddenly launches forth on an eccentric flight of his own.

It is quite nice, but somewhat slight. It is not expansive enough to be a masterpiece, but it is a diverting read. You also have to know the basic rules of Go to understand the game play.

The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa.

This book of fiction is also based in the 1930's. However, here the game of Go is used entirely as an allegorical device around a more expansive narrative, a backdrop to the Japanese invasion of China.

A young Manchurian girl struggles through her daily life in a small village, including her self-image, friendships, boys and sex, her passions, and her family. Meanwhile, she passes her free time playing Go against a mysterious stranger. This stranger is a Japanese soldier/spy, who is undergoing his own trials and transformations.

This book is lovely and powerful. The armies on both sides are brutal, and the war take its toll on both human lives and human spirit. The book manages to capture both the intimate and personal strivings of the individual as well as the grand struggle of the nations.

Very beautiful, and recommended, although of less interest from a gamer's perspective. You don't need to know anything about the game to enjoy the novel.


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Thursday, May 11, 2006

More board games in comics

Following Baby Blues' and Stone Soup's recent strips, Sherman's Lagoon tackles analysis paralysis in today's strip.


Oh, and I've been "boinged" by Boing Boing.

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Session Report Up - Caylus first impressions

The latest JSGC session report is up here. Games played: (Lo) Ra, Clans, Taj Mahal, Caylus, Settlers of Catan. It includes my first impressions of Caylus.

I did a little template redesigning on my blog, which now has two sidebars instead of one. You can see the content again without having to scroll down. I had to lose the background star motif and the Alice in Wonderland picture. Maybe I'll find a way to put them back in again, later. Let me know if you likey.

Also: There is a board game forum on BellaOnline, a business community for women. A few posters are starting to comment about Eurogames.


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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Star Trek Movies 4-6

I covered Star Treks 1-3 in a previous post.

Star Trek IV: Easily the best of the first six movies, and also the least Trek like in many senses. There are no battles, no phasers or torpedoes, no enemies. The acting is up to fair, but the pacing is good. And yes, it is very funny in parts. Being funny without being stupid appears to be a difficult balance for the Star Trek writers, and they only really achieved it here.

The plot is pretty ridiculous and full of holes and great leaps of faith. It's not really satisfying sci-fi. But so be it. DeForest grins almost the entire movie.

Star Trek V: ST 1 was about lots of weird graphics with the enterprise floating along to discover some higher power. ST 2 was a cat and mouse adventure game. ST 3 was a road trip and cat and mouse adventure game. ST 4 was a comedy thriller. ST 5 was about lots of weird graphics with the enterprise floating along to discover some higher power. With bad comedy.

ST 5 was still better than the absolute disaster of ST 1, but not by much. The acting has fallen back down to poor. The screen writing is simply awful, with scene after scene simply being set up as if to say "look how clever and funny I am". Not funny, and not even warm and fuzzy. Just stupid.

The pacing was still better than 1. And I have to note that the camera work was actually quite good. I noticed that the actual shots throughout the movie were well done.

The plot, however, was just dull. And so forced. It is one thing for people to take over other people's minds, but quite another for the non-controlled Enterprise crew to continue going along with it even after they have been attacked. And the great big something was nothing.

Out of a sense of decency, I won't even mention how embarrassing Nichelle Nichols' and James Doohan's parts are.

Star Trek VI: Was back to ok. Neither as bad as 1 and 5, nor as good as 2, 3, or 4. The plot about making peace with one's enemies is fine, and was in fact a key plot development. But it was so transparently juxtaposed over Earth world politics that it was hackneyed. Chekov's "Guess who's coming to dinner" line represents this over-the-top problem.

The acting, for the most part was back up to fair, and even good. This time it was William Shatner who was at his worse. He seemed to have developed this weird sense of timing and intonation, like he was whispering all of his lines, or like he was reading for a radio-play, rather than acting in a movie.

For the first time, the movie appeared to be way too short. The movie would have been better if it would have been able to develop its points with more examination and background. Instead, we rush through contact, rush through the trial, rush through the imprisonment and escape, and finally rush through the rescue.

One thing particularly egregious about the final rescue scene is something that often happens in movies: suddenly everyone applauds a bunch of people whom no one could suspect of being anything but criminals. It's as if they too had been watching the movie and had all of this information with which to suddenly exonerate these people. By all rights, the Enterprise crew should all have been shot the moment they appeared in the hall. And how about disobeying orders, yet again?


I never saw any of the remaining movies, so the next three will be a surprise. Actually, I've only seen about one season of TNG, and maybe one episode of DS9, and that's about it, not counting most of the original series. So I get to pass judgment on the new stuff primarily from a movie-goers perspective.


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Modern Art

Not on the previous topic of art.

Saarya called me from school again, asking me to make a pizza run and bring a game to play for up to five players. I would have no more than 1:45 to play, I would have to teach the game to beginners, and teenagers at that, and I didn't know exactly how many players it would actually be.

I brought Modern Art, figuring that that would cover five players, and Torres for two to four. Torres? They may be beginners, but they are pretty smart, so I figured I could make do. Last time I taught some of them Tigris and Euphrates.

There turned out to be five players, so we played Modern Art. Everyone had a good time, and we had some occasional onlookers and kibbitzing. The players were myself, guy on left (GOL), Dvir, guy on far right (GOFR), and Saarya, my son, on the right. Saarya started us off.

In the first round only three artists were played, but after that we ended up with all five artists every round. I knew that I wasn't doing too well. Prices were generally going high, but I seemed to lose out on most of them and not get quite as much in return. And, as usual, I had only one double the entire game, which pretty much sinks any chance of winning.

Dvir had the most trouble understanding the economics of the game. We kept having to explain to him why it is better to accept the 107 for a pair of paintings worth 120 rather than buy it for 108. I expected that this meant that he would lose, but since he usually accepted the advice, he ended up winning, and not by small change either. Something like 530 to 430, two 300 somethings, and me, with my paltry 250.

Why did I score so low? Because the 160 I spent on two paintings that looked like they would easily be worth 180 became valueless when no one else played them. It was painful, but it looks like I wouldn't have won anyway.

In other news: Studies suggest that Mousetrap sucks the testosterone out of male subjects.


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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Go in Israel

Since I'm on the topic of Go, here's a little more about Go, as well as Go in Israel:

Go is considered one of the four arts of the Chinese scholar, which also includes the musical instrument Gǔqín (an ancient instrument, similar to a mandolin), calligraphy, and painting. If you saw the recent movie Hero, a very beautiful film, you would have seen all of these in use.

John Nash is alleged to have invented the game of Hex as a response to the game of Go.

Sensei lists a series of Go proverbs. Sensei is a pretty large place to get you started on Go terms and strategy. There are many others, as well.

In Israel, there is a national Go club called "Go Mind". Its putative link is here, but its real link appears to be here. Click on the English icon on the top left for more info, although the information in English is incomplete.

If you are in Jerusalem, the contact info is:

Jerusalem Go Club
Meetings: Every First Tuesday of the month, from 19.30+ Cafe Rimon, middle of Lunz Street, a pedestrian link between Ben-Yehuda and Yaffo. (City Centre).
Contact person: Uli (Sam) Freed, 054-4925747

Helena King of "The Educational Centre for Games in Israel", whom I mentioned once before, just held a Go meeting in Tel Aviv. She writes:

The Go Tournament on Yom HaAtzmaut in our centre was a great success. 49 young people from the ages of 8 to 18 took part in the tournament and got points of international standing. There was also a sadna for those who are still learning. Needless to say there were parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. They came from as far away as Beer Sheva and Haifa. The atmosphere was relaxed and happy and the participants look forward to the next tournament which will be on Lag B'Omer.(Not in our place.)

Helen's email is boardgames.ecgi at gmail.

Meanwhile, I'm still up for a game of Go any week at our game club.


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Monday, May 08, 2006

Are Games Art? Part 2

This continues the discussion of games being, potentially at least, art. The first part of the discussion can be found here here.

But first, a little digression about ...

The non-definition definition

One of the three criteria I cited as required for something to be art was that it tackled an important theme, or a deep meaning. Not necessarily deliberately, but at least in the experience of the viewer or participant.

Chris Farrell in the comments posited that any issue is sufficiently meaningful, not only 'deep' issues, such as love, hope, faith, etc. It's true that I did not define what makes an issue "deep". And deliberately so.

That is because I would first like to find consensus about the framework before discussing the specifics. In my opinion, what is meaningful changes from society to society, and generation to generation. When someone argues that any issue is sufficiently meaningful, it argues that no meaning is required at all. It is not enough to say that expressing "something" is sufficient. This non-definition drops out of the equation, altogether.

I suspect, although I could be wrong, that when someone retreats to the "any meaning" argument, it is out of a sense of defeat. It is impossible to agree with all people at all times as to what is meaningful. Therefore, rather than argue that the concept of meaning still exists but is subjective, we tend to argue that the concept of meaning doesn't exist at all because it is subjective. I don't agree with that.

As an example, the concept of morality exists. Many diverse segments of the world population can agree or not agree on specific ideas as being moral or immoral. The consensus will never be 100%. Instead, we can say that unprovoked killing of a civilian with religious beliefs different from yours is considered immoral by 92% of the population. Killing an unwanted fetus may be considered immoral by only 60%, or 40%. As the questions become more specific, the numbers may change. What stage in pregnancy? What is the health of the mother? And so on.

Just because we can't agree 100% that a specific act is moral or immoral, doesn't eliminate the idea that all of us can agree on the idea that it is better to act morally rather than immorally. OK, all of us may not agree even about that, but frankly, that is where I draw my first line; I'm simply not talking to the people on the other side of that line. Those of us on this side of the line, which even includes suicide bombers most likely, may point at acts diametrically opposed to each other and call them moral, but we at least have one initial common framework for discussion.

In the same vein, although we may disagree about what is meaningful, I think that many of us would agree that we would like art to include the concept of meaning in it, rather than simply wave our hands and say that since we can't convince people what is meaningful, that art doesn't have to be.

No dialog can ever really succeed without an initial common framework. That is why I choose to draw it for art, perhaps more restrictively than others might. My minimum first line is that art must tackle one of the classic ideas, a deep meaning. The line is wide and gray, but the line does exist.

In a similar conversation on Alfred's blog, Alfred and I talked a bit at cross purposes. Alfred doesn't define art, since as a historian he is more concerned about what society chooses to identify as art. That may be, but I was discussing frameworks, not anthropology. Here are my comments from that discussion:

As I mentioned in my previous article, when anything can be X, then nothing is X. In order for there to be art, there must be non-art. Otherwise, you have simply discarded all definition. I don't give up that easily.

I know that the definition of "meaningful" is subjective. However, I deliberately did not give a definition of "meaningful" in that paragraph. I am fully aware that, following my definition, one item can be considered art by one person and not art by another, or art at one time, and not art in another.

My definition does not suffer as a result of this discrepancy. It is perfectly acceptable for people to debate specific items from now until doomsday, so long as they have a definition upon which to debate. If they have no definition, then there is nothing to discuss at all.

By discussing whether something is or isn't art, you discuss the value and meaning of an item. Without that to discuss, then you accept all items, even those without value or meaning.

My definition does not pin down a specific item and call it art. It only holds up an objective for items to be considered against.

Also missing from my definition is "what is meaningful"? Hope? Faith? Sadness? Shame? These can also be discussed. But whatever you choose to place, or not to place, within the definition of meaningful, so long as it doesn't include everything or nothing, it is still fits within this workable definition for art.

A definition that includes within art "anything called art" on the other hand means precisely nothing. Actually, it is much worse than nothing, because it equates equal value of meaning to meaningless. [Note that this is fine for a historian studying a culture, just not for a philosopher studying art.]

One person can't dictate to another what is meaningful or not, but unless we hold that something can have meaning, we lose a vital concept of civilization. Just because we don't agree on a specific item as valuable, doesn't mean that we can't agree that valuable is better than valueless, and that it should be our goal.

I believe that people can be educated to make moral choices about behavior, even when other people say that all morality is relative. And I think that people can make critical distinctions about art, despite when other people say that everything is art.

So much for that. Of course, there can be reasonable objection that if nothing specific can be identified as meaningful, than meaningful really doesn't exist. I would prefer to not address that for the moment.

One more word: I notice that I left a hole here that would let slip in childish games that are facile attempts to instill morals or teach ideas, such as an eco-themed Monopoly style game. Let me state that I wouldn't consider these to be of any artistic merit, owing firstly to them being highly unoriginal, and secondly to their messages being shallow, at best. Didactic teachings, even about meaningful subjects, are generally neither meaningful nor artistic, in my opinion.


On to specific games. Since we are now entering a discussion that deals with specific games, and in which we will be talking about whether specific issues are, or are not, meaningful according to my definition, I expect my first tentative choices to be wholly unsatisfying to many people. That is fair and fine; arguing about meaning and whether an item is or isn't art is as good a use of one's time as anything else.

In my previous article, I suggested that Go should be considered art. Chris added that some other games, such as Settlers of Catan, Modern Art, and Lord of the Rings could be considered art.

It should be noted in the following that there is no connection between my rating or enjoyment of a game and what I consider its inherent artistic value. However, it is likely that a very poor game is likely to have little in the way of artistic merit.


Go is an elegant, yet extremely complex abstract game. When you are first learning to play Go, you learn many of the simple concepts of Go tactics, such as ladders, liberties, connections, threats, and so on. However, as your depth of the game increases (and mine is not all that deep, by the way), you begin to see not only general patterns about the game, but the patterns in the game as they reflect ideas of the world.

It is a bit hard to explain, since the lessons are not so much difference from ideas touched on briefly during other games. In Go, however, they are not just ideas that you briefly experience, but ideas to which you gain insight. The art of a single stone placement can ripple to all corners of the board. The simplicity of an individual becomes not only a part of a whole, but more than a whole. Balance of power, wavelike movement within seemingly immovable pieces, and the perseverance of will can all be experienced. After mastering Go, one looks at life itself differently.

For most other games, a play simply nets more points or less points. In Go, there are honorable and dishonorable plays, violent and respectful plays. All of this is experienced as a result of the dialog between the authors of the game and the players and onlookers.

I suspect that it has a lot to do with the lack of random elements, other than your opponent's mind, as well as the sufficiently large board that allows for several different phases of the game to occur.

Other abstracts

There are other complex abstracts, such as Chinese and traditional chess, Shogi, and so on. I would say that many of these have elements of art in them, although to a less successful degree that Go does.

Simple abstracts, such as Othello or Checkers do not seem to reveal any deep meanings as they are being played, at least to me. Therefore, I wouldn't consider them art.


Let's start with Settlers of Catan. Basic important principles must be used in Settlers of Catan , like many other games, such as: trading promiscuously is beneficial, early investment results in increased profits, lying low can help you avoid becoming a target, changing paths can be profitable if one avenue to success dries up, and not to lose sight of the ultimate goal.

Furthermore, we can also note a reasonable simplicity and elegance in the design, marred perhaps by the development cards which are not so elegant.

Perhaps the strongest argument is the integration of all players at all points during the game, while many previous games followed a strict turn structure.

What seems to be lacking here is that while you may need to bring important ideas into the game, and while you may even learn some basic concepts of tactics as a result of the game, nevertheless I don't feel that the game really touches upon an elemental human theme. Perseverance, yes, but no more so than any other game. Patterns, yes, but nothing that would awaken a sense of awe or inspiration, or cause you to look at the world differently.

This is where my insistence on deeper meaning exacts a harsh cutoff. I can't really think of any Eurogames that would qualify as art under my definition.


Instantiations of roleplaying games would need to deal specifically with moral, artistic, or philosophical issues. However, the roleplaying game is more akin to a pack of paints. Probably most systems can be used to produce specific campaigns or sessions that are works of art. There are exceptions, of course.

I don't know much about war games, but I think that I know enough to disqualify ASL, as it appears to be heavily technical and not very deep for all of its massive, massive breadth. I would look more for games where a specific engagement would directly inspire deeper feelings in the players. Perhaps missions of mercy, rescue, or terror, engagements that teach about judgment and consequence beyond the descriptions in the rulebooks, or highly stylized journeys through new and interesting territory and worlds.

There you go. That's as subjective as it gets. Not much in the way of art in games at this point. Maybe next time I'll try to describe how games can be designed with more art in them.


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Shameful form programming

Smart enough to tell me exactly what I should type into the form, but not smart enough to go ahead and process the form anyway. Site name withheld to protect the guilty.



Sunday, May 07, 2006


When will we finally rid ourselves of the board game that creates insipid minds, teaches nothing other than how to fight, cry, and take your turn, and starts children on the road to obesity and tooth decay? Not so long as we have a Candyland jumper for your baby.

Yet even the mainstream press is starting to revolt (the last is a mainstream blogger).

Here's a few somethings a little more interesting:

Mathematical analysis of Candyland

Murder in Candyland, tongue-in-cheek noir fiction.

In other news, Eric Raymond, open source wizard, has gotten into Eurogaming.


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