Monday, July 31, 2006

Minnesota Law to Impose Fines for Renting "Adult" Games to Minors Struck Down

Apparently, this is just the latest in a series of similar incidents around the country.

When I first heard about the law, I thought that it made sense. After all, I though that there were similar laws fining movie theaters if they let minors in to see R rated movies. It turns out I was wrong. The MPAA ratings are, and have always been, voluntarily enforced by movie chains, and are not legally instated.

Having learned this, I changed my tune and opposed the legislation.

Just FYI.


Original source here.

Linkety Link

Smite responds to my article on the future on board games with his own. Interesting read.

Meanwhile, Craig Perko considers the optimum number of people for which to design a game.

And I can't believe that I forgot Adventure in my history of video gaming articles. Bats and golden keys, indeed.


Israeli Board Game Tournament Aug 24

Silver Stars is hosting a board and card game day and tournament on August 24. The tournaments will be for Munchkin and Citadels.

Location is the Miphal Hapayis building, 88 Derech Yitzchak Rabin, Givatayim (across from the mall). It's a seven hour tournament from 13:00 to 20:00, and there will also be games from 10:00 am on, including World of Warcraft and Twilight Imperium III.

Johnathan Aloni from Silver Stars also pointed me to an Israeli web site that I didn't know: Men in Black, which represents Steve Jackson games in Israel. Silver Stars translates and imports alternative games into Israel.


As long as we're linking, here is a link to hundreds of activity games for children.

Session Report Up

The JSGC game night was early this week, and the latest session report is up here. Games played: Shadows Over Camelot, San Juan x 3, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, Andromeda, Power Grid, Tigris and Euphrates, War.


Blog is slow, I know

I think it's my tracking code. I will experiment to see if I can speed it up.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

It's a Bit Rich by Max Fatchen

It's a Bit Rich
by Max Fatchen

Playing Monopoly's
Really my scene.
I hang onto houses
And play very mean.

I take all the money.
There's often a stack.
I'm not very pleasant
When giving it back.

I'm harsh as a landlord.
I've nothing for sale.
I'm buying your station.
You're going to jail.

My fistful of money -
It seems such a shame
When bedtime arrives
And it's only a game.

Star Trek 8

I'm not an associate of Amazon because I want you to click through me to Amazon when you plan on buying something from them so that I can get a commission. It's just a convenient way to get pictures for my site. Really.

ST8 is the first ST movie that combines good acting, not annoying characters, reasonably good story, and passable directing. It doesn't bump the amusing-even-if-sometimes-poorly-acted ST4 from its throne, but it comes in at number 2 on the list of ST movies, bearing in mind that I haven't yet seen ST9 or ST10.

As I mentioned about ST7, unlike the actors from the previous generation of ST movies, the current lot actually acts well. I don't really blame the old guard; if you look at all TV shows from the sixties and seventies, the acting was all around poor. People just didn't know any better. It's hard to believe that we once considered that level of acting to be acceptable. It's likely that they were pandering to what they thought was a less sophisticated audience.

Furthermore, the characters in ST8 were not given the same obnoxious types of scenes that they had to play in ST7, so the annoying aspects of their personalities were in the background.

The plot was far-fetched, but not overly so for sci-fi. There are some discontinuities for the viewer, however. Georgie is suddenly without his visor, and now has bionic eyes. What happened to Troi [Oh, that was her on Earth, being silly and useless], and who is that blond woman who doesn't do anything useful? Not much information is provided about the Borg, but we can pick up enough as we go.

The story moves back and forth between different types of tensions, both physical encounters, and human struggles, which provides a good contrast.

Still, there is what to complain about. The characters, while not annoying, are certainly not deep. They act out scenes with no substance to them, and nothing really important is discussed.

I'm a little annoyed at the generic anti-septic look and feel that the producers use for spacecraft, uniforms, and so on, as it has very little distinctive style and looks just like every other modern futuristic show or film.

The time travel problems are not so annoying, although why the history books seem to ignore both Riker and Georgie being on the first Warp flight is a little strange. With so much easy access to time travel at everyone's disposal, can't they find some interesting things to do with it? And who went to collect all of those escape pods from the surface?

The captain being persuaded to change his course of action because some ignorant stowaway yells at him was cliche. And the sex scene between cyborg A (Data) and cyborg B (Borg) was just pathetic.

But the only real movie-killer was the end, when the Vulcans step off of their spaceship having never met any humans and speak IN ENGLISH: "Live long and prosper." Uh, yeah. That's the first thing that I would do if I landed a mammoth spaceship for the first time on an alien race's planet. Speak bland greetings in the native language to a bunch of ragamuffins.

Other than that, the movie was pretty enjoyable, a nice mix, and a down to Earth kind of plot. Notice that the reason that the odd-numbered ST films are constantly failing is that they all deal with life-after death issues, something that ST writers apparently don't do well. ST3 dealt with them the least, and it was the best one.

Game night is tonight instead of the usual Wed night this week, owing to Tisha Ba'av. Session report tomorrow, hopefully.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Weekend Gaming

None, actually. Nada. Zip. Zero.

Still reading?

Friday night was at my good friends the Goodstein-Hilbuch's, who play Settlers, but have never progressed beyond it. Sokay with me. Dinner started late and ended late.

Around 11:00 pm, the kids started coming in. The GH family is located right near a young center, and is just one of those places where all the kids come on Friday evenings. In this case, it was the oldest boy's friends, aged 19 or so, that came by. We counted on our watches trying to bet how many minutes until the next one came in. By the time I left for the evening at midnight, fifteen or so had gathered.

Excuse me while I change gears, here.

Board Game Man

It was late in the evening. Things were quiet. Too quiet.

A group of teenagers were sitting around a room. One of them had brought the Hebrew version of the game Taboo, but no one wanted to play it because they knew all the cards already.

"If only we had a better board game to play!" cried one.

That was my cue. But how to change out of my secret identity?

"Look!" I shouted, pointing at the Taboo game. As all eyes turned to the game, I quickly donned my secret costume, and jumped up from the table, tripping over the chair.

"What is that?" one of them cried.

"Is it a meeple?"

"Is it a pawn?"

"That's just Jon," said the ringleader.

"Oh, hi Jon," they said.

"No! It's me! Board Game Man! I have come to help you. What seems to be the problem?"

"Well, er ... Bored Gay Man ... we don't have any games to play. What will we do?"

"Fear not! Have any of you every heard of the game Apples to Apples?"

Shakes of heads, mutterings, questions from the ones who don't speak English wondering if I have any alcohol.

"Stand back! I will fix everything!"

"Here you go," I said. "No need to thank me. All in a day's work ... for Board Game Man."

"Uh, thanks. How many people can play this?"

"Up to ten."

"Well, we have fifteen. Maybe we'll try it later."

"Oh. OK."

On the way out, I heard someone say, "Who was that weird guy?"

The End

The Taboo game came with this rather strange squeaky toy that you are supposed to squeak if someone uses a word that they are not allowed to, or when their time is up.

The next day at lunch I was with other friends, Mel and Dina, also with no hope of a game. However, Dina described a word game that she uses to teach children with. It plays a bit like Mastermind.

One player picks a five letter word, and the other players try to guess the word by trying five letter words. Like Mastermind, the first player indicates after each guess how many letters are correct, and if any are in the correct locations.

In both this game and Mastermind, players have to figure out the basic logic of what letters must be in, and what letters cannot be in, based on their previous guesses. Unlike Mastermind, however, you can also use basic ideas about language and letter probabilities to assist you in finding the word, not to mention any knowledge you may have about the picker and what type of word he or she might have chosen.

The rest of the day I read.


Best mainstream take on the new Monopoly credit card:
For years, Hasbro has been doing "theme" Monopoly games -- special versions named after your college or city, where all the properties reflect real places. Hasbro does this because it knows every home in America already has a Monopoly game hiding in a closet and that you're not buying another unless Hasbro gives you a really good excuse, like calling it "Spokaneopoly" or "Altahama Technical Instituteopoly" or my favorite, "Lord of the Ringsopoly." ...

The average American couple owes around $8,000 in credit card debt. If they make only minimum payments (and don't charge anything new), it will take that family 22 years to pay it off. The idea of supplying kids with little training-wheel credit cards is so diabolical that I wondered whether Hasbro is secretly owned by MasterCard.
A British chess player falls to her death in the middle of a chess tournament.

A giant version of Risk.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Lonelyyyyy, I'm so lonely.....

Rachel, Eitan, and Ariella are now in Canada, and Saarya and Tal are with their mother.

I don't miss them yet (Eitan I do, since he's been away for two weeks), but I will soon. In the meantime, I would have brrn happy to get some rest with a quiet shabbat.

In the end, I was implored to join people for meals, so I won't be alone all shabbat, only some of it.

I rented two movies (can't watch on shabbat, but I can watch them before and after): It Happened One Night, and Star Trek 8. IHON was something I always wanted to see; now I've seen it and can forget it. It's really amazing how much better movies are today. It's not totally bad. It has flashes of good acting and some deeper characterization, but generally not.

I'm not expecting much of ST8, either, so I can't be that disappointed.

Aside from continuing work on my Encounter story (which people appear to either dislike or be indifferent to - oh well), I am writing some political things which I must get off my chest. I"m looking around for some place to post them. If only I had a blog ...

Great quote I saw as a headline, somewhere: "Cry bias, and let slip the blogs of war".

Let slip the blogs of war, indeed. Much has been made about the continuing contact civilians in Israel and Lebanon have been having with each other through blogging, some of it actually civilized. There may yet be hope for the free people of the world if they keep holding each other's hands.

Please let sanity prevail. Please ignore the media - it is lying to you. Please everyone pray for all of us. Please instill love in our hearts for freedom and tolerance. Please let us be strong in the face of terror. Please let us forgive our enemies if they are ever ready for real coexistance. Please let our enemies forgive us.

Please let us all have clean water and enough food, clean air, clothing and shelter, healthy bodies and minds, good relations with our family, friends, and neighbors, and time enough to enjoy playing games.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Four Challenges That Games Provide

Do kids win by strategic thinking or by pattern recognition? What about adults?

Pattern Recognition

"Pattern recognition". More testimony to William Gibson's genius in using that phrase to capture the essence of so much of life. (The book is now being considered as a movie to be directed by none other than Peter Weir ... yes!)

Pattern recognition is, of course, a well-known field of study within the discipline of Artificial Intelligence. The belief is that an essential prerequisite to being able to make sense of the world comes from being able to process input, divide it into sensible and distinct objects, and identify those objects.

Gibson ascribes pattern recognition as a key element in the ability to "cool-hunt", namely to discern trends, brands, and items that are just on the verge of becoming popular. Nothing really new there, of course; economists, futurists, anthropologists, and marketers have been trying to find these patterns for a long time.

But to reduce it to this phrase is important, because Gibson is saying that essentially, in our confused rapidly changing world, there is really nothing else to go on any more. Unlike previous generations, when you could plan somewhat for the future, in anticipation of previous trends repeating, this does not hold true today. Our grandparents knew what the world would be like when they got old; we don't.
"We have no future because our present is too volatile. ... We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment's scenarios. Pattern recognition."
One of the key differences between children and adults is the way that they plan for the future. The theory goes that the older you get, the more you engage in long term planning as opposed to short term rewards. Does this translate into the way that we play games?

The Four Challenges That Games Provide

Any game features up to four types of challenges:

1. You vs yourself
2. You vs your opponent
3. You vs the rules
4. You vs luck

The first challenge is to grow. Grow in concentration, in information juggling, in perseverance, in deduction, and so on. As your synapses tackle certain type of challenges, pathways are strengthened that will make future versions of these same challenges easier.

The second challenge is to outguess and outplay your opponent. Assuming that you have the intellectual tools to master the game on par with your opponent, winning will depend on guessing what sorts of moves your opponent will make, where his weaknesses and strengths are, and what will throw him off his game.

The third challenge is to master the rules of the game. Given a set of pieces and rules, how do you manipulate this into victory. For some games, it may be of middling difficulty to do this. It is not that hard to achieve a victory in Chess simply by using the rules; the challenge is your opponent working to thwart your moves. On the other hand, it is a challenge to achieve victory in some types of puzzle games (including most computer games), and complicated Euro games, such as Princes of Florence.

The fourth challenge is to overcome luck situations. Generally speaking this means preparing to maximize your odds of winning, after which overcoming the challenge means getting lucky. Having no control doesn't mean that it's not a challenge to overcome, it just means that you have no control over whether you will overcome it.

The Container

I've discussed previously the many definitions of strategy and tactics. How much of strategy and tactics is really only pattern recognition?

All of it.

You've seen that this doesn't work, you try something else. You recognize the power of this piece, so you use it better. You map out a path based on pieces of a puzzle that fit together in a certain way. Your opponent tends to do this or that.

For all but the luck element of the game, this recognition represents the basic building blocks of overcoming these challenges. Even if you are new to a particular game and/or opponent, the general patterns fit. Pattern recognition equals experience and intuition, plus the ability to reason, either through deduction or induction.

Children lack experience, of course. And it seems that they lack a highly tuned ability to reason. They don't look ahead as far, and they don't get the patterns just yet.

Through all of their life experiences, and particularly through playing games, children slowly build up this capacity. It's like stretching a container before filling it with liquid. It's not only the amount of liquid you put in, it's working on increasing the capacity of the container. And while you're at it, ensuring that the container is sound, and handing over the keys to the pump.

Adult strategic thinking is no different, really, than children's; it's simply walking in in the middle of the story.


Session Report Up - Empire Builder, and links

The latest JSGC session report, wherein I rip into Empire Builder after my first play, is up here. Games played: Empire Builder, Age of Steam, Winner's Circle, Taj Mahal, Tikal, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation x 3.

There sure seem to be a lot of links to board games popping up. Boing Boing had two yesterday:

One is the story of the development of the board game Viktory II, originally cited on RandomDude, and then cited by Boing Boing. I sent this link and the source to Best of Board Games yesterday, and it showed up here. I wasn't cited, however, and neither was RandomDude, so I assume that the editors must have found the article themselves or had received other submissions about it before I sent it to them. The developers used Settlers of Catan hexes for the initial version of the prototype.

The other one is the now ubiquitous story about Monopoly's addition of a credit card reader to one of its versions, cited here, for example, and on Boing Boing here. I wrote about this already back in May, and it's strange to see old news suddenly surface like it's new news. Board Game Geek has several dozen threads about it, and none of them by anyone who actually likes Monopoly, so why are they talking about it?

As long as we're linking (some of this is old news):

This site is run by video game players who will charge you $45/hour to come to your house and teach you to be a better video game player (via Joystiq).

This site has mock motivational posters all based around RPG wisdom.

While this site sells:

(They say "Sin All You Want, We'll Print More")


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Board Game Geek - The Stage Play

In my continuing efforts to bring you the latest in board game culture (except for the art of box covers and game graphics; for that, go to Mike Doyle's site):

Board Game Geek - The Stage Play

Games Night - A new play by Tim & Bruce Sturrock
'The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth'

"To be staged 'cabaret style' so you can drink whilst enjoying the show. Performed by 6 professional and semi-professional actors. A 'sit-com' style play where the situation is the board game and the comedy is in recognizing yourselves and other members of your own game groups. Stampede is an award winning theatre company based in North West Leeds. Directed and co-written by a member of the board game geek community fresh from his award winning production of 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest'"

September 21st-23rd 2006 7:30pm - Yeadon Town Hall
Tickets £10.00 or book a table for 10 for £90.00


What Makes a Game "For Children"?

What combination of characteristics defines something as either childish or for adults? Simplicity? Theme? Duration? Limited choices? Limited depth?

All of these, of course. But really; is this the list of characteristics of "children's board games" or "mainstream board games"?

If the mainstream press tells you that you should take a break from television and computer games in order to spend some quality time with your friends or family playing board games, what games do you suppose that they recommend? I'll give you a hint: it's not Civilization.

Honest to goodness, they recommend playing Candy Land and Sorry. Why? Because they are simple, have an unchallenging theme, don't take too long, present limited choices, and don't require too much thinking. So someone, either the mainstream press, or the game manufacturers, think that you're all children.

The only exceptions I've seen are in the theme department: party games, such as Taboo, Dirty Minds, etc. Not for children, no. For snickering young teenagers, perhaps.

There really is a spectrum of ambition among both children and adults. On one end of the spectrum is the child who takes an interest in something and wants to learn it. Self motivated. This type of child can play civilization building computer games, learns how to program both a web site and a VCR, and can probably beat you at chess. On the other end of the spectrum is the child who in uninspired, unmotivated, doesn't want to think, and doesn't get it. May have a wonderful personality or be the class clown. Either this child is slightly less intelligent, is tired, is not at all interested in playing right now, or has an attitude problem.

All of which sounds a lot like the adults I know.

In my opinion, games for adults are games for children. Games that we currently call "for children" are for no one. A child's first game should be checkers, fox and sheep, chinese checkers, or similar. Not Candy Land.


The State of Music Industry Lawsuits in Israel

Copyright Infringed Material is Readily Available

Despite being close to a first world country in technology and quality of life, Israel still acts like a third world country in certain less savory senses.

One of these is the huge government interference in business, high taxes, and so on. Another is widespread availability of illegally copied media. Israel has a systemic problem of copyright infringement.

Copied DVDs, CDs, and cassettes are available not only in the open air markets and back rooms of small stores, but in front store displays of numerous stores around the cities and in the major bus stations. It is simply inconceivable that the authorities don't know about this; it's not at all hidden.

I don't buy these goods, although I accidentally bought one or two before I realized that they were infringed material.

This is not because I think my buying the original goods is a better moral choice. I don't have any wish to support the music industry whom I think are the real thieves, bullies, racketeers, monopolists, thugs, and essentially one of the greatest dangers to creative expression and cultural heritage in the world today.

Nor do I think any artists would suffer by my buying these copies, because my alternative is to not buy anything at all - I believe in the interchangeability of all things, and couldn't care less what music is on my stereo or what shows I'm watching, so long as they have value. There are so many to choose from, that I can always find something just as worthwhile at a lower price.

No, I don't buy them because the infringed goods are generally poor quality, come without the benefits of the original goods, such as liner notes, lyrics, and pictures, support criminal activities (probably including terrorism, as much of the infringing material comes from nefarious sources, or so I've heard), and lower Israel's good standing in the world business community.

Online Copyright Infringement

I don't feel the same way about copying songs online, although I did once. I recognize that it is still illegal, but I don't support that law, and would like the law to be radically curtailed or erased. The copyright laws were written to protect the business model of the production and distribution of media containers, not the media itself. I believe that artists need incentives to produce, but modern technology has made this business model obsolete without resorting to turning back time on technology, destroying future access to our common cultural heritage, and having to be propped up with an ever growing industry of arcane and needless laws.

I am in favor of providing incentives; I don't think that they should be based on the idea of restricting copies. There are plenty of other business models that also work.

Nevertheless, it is still illegal as of today. I just don't think it's immoral; or rather, no more so putting your larger than average 13 year old in the front seat when the law says that only 14 year olds may sit in the front.

Any lawsuits from the music industry in Israel, yet?

The Israeli version of the RIAA is the IFPI, whose entire goal in life is to protect against copyright infringement. I found two Israeli lawyers on Recording Industry vs the People's latest directory of lawyers willing to defend against the music industry lawsuits: Jonathan Klinger and Yoram Lichtenstein. I wrote to them to find out.

Jonathan's answer:

As far as i know, Israeli file sharers have yet to be sued in Israeli courts. The only suits which were filed were against the Israeli file sharing sites and were dismissed after a settlement agreement was signed. However, several statements regarding the possibility of suing Israeli file sharers were stated already.

There are a few bodies which sue on behalf of Recording Artists, depending on the right that was breached.

Jonathan pointed me to two news articles (in Hebrew):

Article describing eventual intent to sue file sharers
Article describing the lawsuits against the file sharing sites

Jonathan has a Hebrew blog that deals with Israeli legal issues.

Yoram has a website. He represented at least one of the file sharing sites, trying to claim that Israeli copyright law was based more on the Canadian rather than the U.S. model.

He directed me to this article (English) by an Israeli artist who slammed the RIAA and their ilk for treating customers like criminals and burying their head in lawsuits rather than face up to the real problems of the music industry: high prices and poor selection.

If the RIAA keeps on suing file swappers, undoubtedly some people in Israel will eventually be hit. As usual, it will cause some people inconvenience and do nothing to stop copyright infringement, which is rampant in the streets, protect the artists, or even boost the music industry's sales.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Questions: What Makes Something "Childish"

What combination of characteristics defines something as either childish or for adults? Simplicity? Theme? Duration? Limited choices? Limited depth?

When a kid beats you at Concentration, the action choices are limited, but the actual number of items available to choose can be pretty extensive. What about when a kid beats you at chess? Is he or she a super genius, or did his or her parents simply believe in, and invest time in teaching, him or her more than yours did? Does that make chess "for kids"? Or for all ages?

Do kids win by strategic thinking or by pattern recognition? What about adults?

What makes something "for kids" in one country while in another country it falls within the purview of adults, such as anime or video games?

No post yet, just thinking out loud ...


Link: Raph Koster Interview on the Escapist

A good interview with Raph Koster on the latest Escapist magazine. He talks about his online gaming successes and failures.


Bestselling Board Games

The bestselling board games on are:

1. 2. 3.
4. 5.

(For those of you reading via RSS, the above don't display properly, so here they are: 1. Settlers of Catan, 2. Blokus, 3. Scrabble Deluxe, 4. Scrabble, 5. Apples to Apples crate)

And you were expecting Monopoly, Sorry, and Candyland, perhaps? I'm encouraged, because these are all great games, worthy of being best sellers.

What have the other stores got?


1. Knockdown Blocktown Domino Building Set - Construction Site - I didn't realize that this was a board game.
2. Cars Later Mater game - Looks like a Perfection variant, from the recent movie.
3. Deal or No Deal - From the NBC TV show. Some sort of press your luck game.
4. Chutes and Ladders
5. Monopoly Junior


Barnes and Nobles

1. Apples to Apples crate
2. Rush Hour
3. Scrabble
4. I Spy in Common - find matched characteristics within a time limit.
5. Loaded Questions - guess which person gave which answer to a question.

Better than TRU, but still ...

1. Trivial Pursuit DVD '80s edition
2. James Bond 007 Monopoly
3. Sudoku 5x5
4. Cars Later Mater game
5. Deal or No Deal



1. Tengamo Series 1, 3-Pack - somce sort of collectible magnet game.
2. Scene It? Disney DVD Game
3. Family Feud DVD Game Show
4. Cranium Hullabaloo Game - number six on Amazon
5. Elefun Game - A tower shoots pieces of paper into the air which the playes have to catch with butterfly nets.

Proving that either children really want more electronics in their board games, or parents think that they do. Or that the people who shop at Walmart are easily distracted.

KB Toys

1. Pictionary
2. Trouble
3. Candy Land
4. Connect Four, travel edition
5. Sorry

Ugh. Either the store is aimed at much younger children, or the people who shop there are buying games as gifts, rather than to actually play them.

Meanwhile, on our side of the world:


1. Rage
2. Carcassonne: the Discovery
3. Havoc: the Hundred Years War
4. Carcassonne
5. Queen's Necklace


1. Thurn and Taxis
2. El Grande, Decennial edition
3. Goa
4. Settlers of Catan
5. Carcassonne

So, does that make Amazon one of us? How is it that Amazon shoppers have some taste and knowledge, while the rest of them don't?


Monday, July 24, 2006

Linkety Link

Games blog points us to an article about someone in Shang Hai losing his eye sight after playing video games incessantly. And I thought that was an old wives tale used to scare teenage boys.

Here's another one about a ten-year old girl who was raped and killed after "she went to play video games at the man's residence". I'm was trying to figure out what she was doing visiting this man until I noticed that he was a relative. OMG.

What do either of these stories have to do with video games? Nothing. I mention them here only because connections to video games were mentioned in the original articles. Undoubtedly, the boy would have lost his eye sight doing something equally stupid, and the relative would have murdered the girl regardless of why she visited him. So I am being just as silly as the original articles in reporting a connection that doesn't really exist.

Speaking of things that may not exist, the game addiction clinic which I posted about several months ago has opened for business and is swamped.

On a lighter note, this guy collects games about cats and then donates them to the Elliott Avedon Museum & Archive of Games in Waterloo, Canada, which I didn't know existed. For the copyright enthusiasts here, try copying text from the latter's site and see what pops up. I've never seen a pop-up copyright notice before.

An article in a mainstream Malaysian rag about Edwin Wong, CEO of Panglobal Insurance, and why he is a Euro gamer.
I especially hate Monopoly. It does not allow you to think; it is just a matter of rolling the dice while the outcome usually depends on luck. Playing board games requires you to think and strategies, which is why most people aren'’t interested in it and it becomes too technical after some time.

Update: Just noticed that Edwin is a Board Game News columnist.


Technorati just got a face lift

Technorati just changed their look. They still haven't managed to get all the numbers to match up, yet, however. The number of links to my blog varies from page to page, and sometimes even on one page.

They have decent customer service, however, especially as the service they provide is free.


Vacation Plans

Like Treppenwitz, and Chayyei Sarah, I have had to reassess my vacation plans. Of course, the very fact that I am away from the fighting, healthy, and able to take a modest vacation, is a blessing that I am not unaware of, just as I am cognizant of all those who are less fortunate. I can't do very much about that.

We had been planning to go to the north, but neither my wife nor ex-wife feels that that is a good idea at this time. I may go by myself for a day or two in order to visit various bomb shelter and teach people board games. It's something I can do.

Rachel and her two kids have gone or are going to Canada. My kids will be with their mother most of the time. We have rented out our house again for three weeks. Another plan busted - I was planning on letting someone fleeing from the north stay in it for free, but someone who was coming to Israel also needed it and offered us rent, too. I can't complain.

The new plan is to go to the coast for a day or two. I prefer the wooded cooler climate of the north to the smoggy central beach area of the center, but so be it. The plan is to go to the beach (I'll be fully clothed, sunscreened, and under a tent, too), maybe go to a movie and/or a restaurant, window shop, visit the Tel Aviv board game store, play some games and read.

One day I hope that I can vacation in Lebanon and meet some Lebanese board gamers, if there are any. So far all I've found is the Lebanese Chess club, and a meetup reference to some warcraft fans.

Next year I am definitely taking a real vacation; some Israeli workers have a savings program from work which is released to you every six years. There's enough in it for a trip to Ireland, a place I've always wanted to go. Any Irish readers out there?


Here and There

Sunday, July 23, 2006

More on the Topic of Luck

After playing Winner's Circle, I admit that my basic conceptions about luck vs randomness are overly simplistic.

My current definitions are:

- Randomness: something random happens.
- Luck: your fate is determined without any control on your part.

When randomness happens before players take their actions, there is generally little or no luck as a result. When randomness happens after players take their actions, it is all luck. Of course, better strategic or tactical play before the random event occurs can swing the odds of the forthcoming event in your favor by a great margin. Nevertheless, once the actions are finished and the die rolls begin, it is senseless to lose because you rolled a 1 on a d100, just as it is senseless to win if you rolled 2-100.

I'm gradually coming to believe that there is something in between these two extremes.

I don't mean that "luck will always even out over time," if you play a thousand games or so, for instance. I don't have the patience to wait 1000 games for it to even out. Losing the first three games due to poor luck is enough to discourage me from continuing, even if this is not anomalous.

I also don't mean to consider a multitude of dice rolls as any different from a single die roll. Ten red dice versus three white dice is reducible to one die roll, however much you may lose the "excitement" and "theme" by doing so.

In Winner's Circle, there are seven horses that can be moved at the start of each turn. Each horse moves 4 different space amounts, depending on the results of the die. E.g. one horse will move 7 spaces on a 1-3, 2 spaces on a 4, 6 spaces on a 5, and 5 spaces on a 6, while another horse will move 2 spaces on a 1-3, 15 spaces on a 4, 1 space on a 5, and 5 spaces on a 6.

After you move a horse, it cannot be moved again until all horses have been moved this turn. At the beginning of the next turn, all horses are flipped back up and the next player to roll has a choice of all seven horses again.

Is this simply a luck game? After all, the results of the dice determine who will win quite often. Or is this a randomness game, where after the dice are rolled, the player's choose how to react to the rolls? Or something in between?

A purely strategic game would go as follows: the dice are rolled fifty times, and the results marked in order. Each player then chooses to bet on the horses. Then, the players begin to resolve the horses' movements one by one. Lots of randomness, no luck. Still challenging, because each player can choose horses in unexpected ways.

A purely lucky game would go as follows: the players choose which horses will be moved in which order, constantly rotating. Then the dice are rolled, applying to each horse in order. You can still mitigate your chances by calculating which horses are more likely to win, and which will pay off more. But after you are done, the dice take over.

So what is this space in the middle? At the end of the turn, when you have only one horse to move, the die roll is simply luck. At the beginning of the turn, after rolling the die, you have seven options from which to choose. You can choose to advance your own horse if the die is a good result for that horse. Or, you could choose to advance another horse that you don't want to see win if the die is a bad result for that horse, thus preventing another player from moving it more spaces later in the turn.

These choices only exist if the die result is not already the favorable one for your opponent's horse. In this situation, bad luck gives you no choice, and good luck gives you a choice; or good luck gives you the one result you need to move your horse a great distance before someone else can move it less. So there is certainly luck, enough to ruin the game if you run into a bad string of it. Hopefully, the possibility of this string of bad luck is low enough that it won't happen very often. If bad luck doesn't reign, then you are left with the usual strategy as a result of randomness.

This quasi-middle ground can make a light game still a tactical game without luck dominating overly much. In the case of Winner's Circle, my opinion is that it falls a bit over the wrong side of the line. As the number of horses you can move gets reduced, you're just rolling dice to see who wins, which is not that exciting for me. Still, enough of the game is interesting to warrant some replay. Of course, if you feel differently about this sort of luck in games, you will like it more.


Weekend Gaming

Our new acquisition Winner's Circle is a big hit with my daughter Tal, so she was up for a few games of this. We only managed to get in one together, and then she dragged the game to her friend's house to play.

Summation: This game is a good intro game, with a nice mix of control and luck. The mechanics are a little repetitive, however.

We played with Tal's friend in the evening, but didn't have time to finish, so we picked it up again the next day. I won after the last race with a third place victory for a horse that only I was betting on. I quickly learned that most of your movement choices should involve moving other people's horse, rather than your own.

Tal and I also played Oh Hell. She led until round seven, while I was getting crappy hand after crappy hand. Finally I got a good hand and took her down two tricks, winning in the end.

Later in the afternoon Rachel, Nadine, and I played two games of Puerto Rico. Fewer changes to the buildings than usual: Assembly Line instead of Small Market (a must), you can move a colonist onto Hospice immediately after buying it, Discretionary Hold instead of Large Warehouse, and Library instead of University. We played with Harbor, unlike usual.

Nadine was due to start with corn, and she ended up winning. I was fairly convinced that Library would be too strong in a three player game, so I bought it at first opportunity - round five, I think. I used it furiously, taking colonists when I couldn't take doubloons. Rachel had six corns, but her shipping was kept to a minimum. Nadine managed to lock a coffee boat and also collect income. Both Rachel and Nadine had Discretionary Hold, which is sub-optimal for both of them.

In the second game, I abandoned the Library idea and instead opted for Hospice, my own coffee monopoly, and after some painful consideration, Large Market. Rachel was again shipping furiously, but this time I picked up a Harbor, and then three large buildings, while she didn't get any. She shipped 44 VPs, but I shipped 22, and my building VP count was much higher. Nadine came in second. It was valiantly fought.

Coffee monopoly won twice in a row. A strong strategy.


Friday, July 21, 2006

Ten Reasons You Should Be Playing Board Games

We never outgrow the need to break from everyday life. What are we alive for, anyway? To work? Working can be enjoyable, and it can be for the benefit of your family and mankind, but mankind's benefit is not "more work". Somewhere along the line, someone is meant to sit back and enjoy life.

Even if you are faced with disease, hunger, war, or terror, or perhaps especially if you are faced with these things, you can't focus on this twenty four hours a day. [1] Everyone needs a little leisure time.

Spend it with people you know, or spend it getting to know people. Don't let the hypnotic screen grab you or your children, whether television or computer. Don't spend it getting wasted or wasting time. [2] Build fun into your education, build growth into your leisure, build a better life into your every day living.

If you've followed this blog, you know that when I'm talking about board games, I'm not talking Candyland or Monopoly. I'm talking Go, Bridge, Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, and Command & Colors: Ancients. Leisure that not only [3] bridges the social world, but [4] staves off dementia, [5] increases your manners [6] and intelligence, and [7] makes you feel whole and good, not pissed off and bored.

Great board games are accessible to you right this second! You can order the games online right now. Go to TimeWellSpent and order (no, I'm not associated or affiliated with them). In a week the game will be on your doorstep. A few minutes after that, you will be starting your journey on a path to a new world. [8] Not only will you always have something to do, [9] you will have a new opportunity to make new friends and [10] you will join a fellowship of board game players around the world.

[Not a good reason] Plus, you'll learn a whole new language. Meeple meeple!


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Games and Punishment

I might as well slay one more sacred cow, Russian literature. This is a more accurate translation from the original Russian novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

He walked into the bar with his head held high. "And why not? Why shouldn't I? Who is to stop me? No cockholds of the matter! No board games here or there. This day is not unusual, is it? Should a bar be no place for a feather? Birds together, all alike! I am used to getting drunk, and damn the policemen!"

To the waitress he said, "A jolt cola! A jolt cola and a whiskey, my fine plumpet! And not just in a carrying case, but in glasses, two in a row, for drinking like sugarplumps! Ha ha!"

Right beside him, Zerrezemozich the police commissioner suddenly turned around to his eyes. Pointed eyes at him, as if in surprise, having known him his whole life. He was looking as he had in the afternoon, intelligent wristwatch and flouncy trenchcoat with dust on the hems. A stringent peacock.

"What? You here? When this afternoon you were like to bury dead, in a grave ten feet deep and made of scrums and butter? Mdm. Rezzoreznickz said surely not! Ah ha! And why not? Who indeed? Yes, and why not indeed, Mr Berzhinevsky?" His hat fluttered in a poker, and he was smiling good-naturedly and glancing around.

"Very good! Very good! Of course I am! Who else should I be? A board gamer? Ha ha! I would be here if I were a board gamer, wouldn't I? Maybe I am one! How would you know? What would you do about it?"

"I don't know," he answered, his eyes suddenly askance. "Why what would I do about it, then?"

"Ha ha! You are all the same! You strut about like a poppinjay, eating my sock, my good gentleman. If I were a board gamer, I would do just this: I would start a blog. A goodly one with my own name in the title. Precious metal for all it will do you! And I would write day in day out about board games, sad, melancholy, quite the heart-render! Slowly but surely I would take down video games, no! Not at once. One at a time, sir, one at a time. A little pawn here. A meeple there. I would count my access logs slowly and surely, see who is coming from video game sites, and then count them again! Tubes on the Internet! Then I would attract the very video gamers who read other blogs to mine and begin changing them, first very slowly. Introduce them to board games. Put an introduction to board games at the top of my blog! Make friends with video game bloggers. Post on the Carnival of Gamers. Ah ha ha! That is what I would do! And how would you catch me at that! What would you write about, if you had nothing better to do then chase after cockles, officer? That is what our smart board gamer would do! A child could do it! Maybe I am he!" he spoke suddenly realized what he was saying.

Zerrezemozich's face went pale, "You? Is that possible?" he trembled.

"You believed me just now, didn't you?" exclaimed Berzhinevsky.

"No, no, not at all. I believe it even less now."

"I've caught a cat in a parakeet jar! So you believed it more before, you believed it some, didn't you?"

"No, you are crazy. Leave me alone."

"Oh why not ask me? Look, I'm drinking jolt cola. I'm writing a post about you right now? See? Tomorrow maybe, the day after, maybe two or three years from now I will post it on a blog. About board games!" he shouted. Getting up, wild and hysterical, he plunged through the doorway, bare-headed, into the loud din of the outdoors.

"Berzhinevsky is a blockhead," Zerrezemozich finally decided.


Session Report Up

The latest JSGC session report is up here. Games played: Magic: the Gathering x 2, Twilight Imperium III, Winner's Circle, Caylus, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, Santiago, (Lo) Ra.


The Top Ten Important Aspects of a Game

Tom Vasel asked for my input for the latest Dice Tower episode, which I was happy to provide.

Unfortunately, we couldn't work a Skype hookup, so I had to call from Israel to the U.S. to leave my items on his answering machine, which he then picked up for re-editing in Korea. Tom's answering machine can only hold 2.5 minutes of sound, and my list went on for four messages. Needless to say, it sounds really awful. I'm sorry about that. It was not Tom's fault at all, but mine.

In addition to the poor quality of audio, I was reading from the email I had previously sent him, and I ended up sounding bored, smug, or I don't know what. Anyway, since you may not be able to make out what I was saying, here is the text from which I was reading, my top ten important aspects to look for in a game.

Tom and Sam,

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your show. You guys are doing a great job, so keep it up. I hope the following list is entertaining and informative. About the only thing I can guarantee is that it will be quite different from Tom's!

10 A Non-Offensive Theme

I suppose that this should really be number one, since I'm not going to play a game with an offensive theme, no matter what else it has going for it. But that would make an anti-climactic list. So I will place it here. If you want to know what I feel is offensive, my Ethics in Gaming 6.0 article should be coming out or have just come out on The Games Journal with more information. Basically, a game that tries to push decency standards, that finds humor in racial, religious, or sexual stereotypes, or whose mechanics include explicit violence, rape, or humiliation, would be over the line.

Along with a non-offensive theme, I would also probably not play any games from an offensive company, i.e. one that practiced racial, sexual, or gender discrimination, offensive politics, or was ecologically irresponsible.

09 Limited Decisions on Each Turn

Probably my biggest problem with war and grand scale civilization games is the vast amount of decision opportunities on each round. For instance, I enjoy Civilization up until the point where you have 50 units on the board that all have to be moved each round. Aside from the massive amount of downtime and analysis paralysis this causes, it just gives me a headache.

I don't think that this means that a game is bad if it has it, only that this is not my thing.

08 Heaviness, without Dragging

I cannot help but say that I like middle-weight to heavy games better than light games. That's who I am. A game to me is a meal; I want it to be full and satisfying. It's almost impossible to get that feeling without spending an hour or two playing. Less than that is fine and appropriate for many situations, but not what I'm looking for in a game. More than that and you get into dangerous territory where the game begins to feel more like work than play.

Really good play adds to the bearable length of the game, but it is a vastly sharp drop off. Caylus is 5% over the line at 2.5 to 3 hours. Die Macher is 20% over the line at 4 to 5 hours.

07 Multiple Strategic Goals

For this I have to explain, because this is a very tough balance to achieve. Some games have only one basic strategic goal, and they be fine but boring.

Some games have multiple strategic goals, but they are all essentially equal, which makes them just as boring. Just having multiple paths doesn't make them good. There has to be a reason to assess why in one game, a particular path is going to be better than another. Both Goa and Thurn and Taxis appear to fail here. The best you can hope for is to achieve a one or two point difference, and it will be mostly by luck.

Other games appear to have multiple paths, but one or more of the paths are simply flawed, which leaves you with only one real path. If you still have multiple paths, fine, but if you end up with only one, bad. I feel that St Petersburg falls into this category.

Which leaves the truly balanced games, such as Puerto Rico, Tigris and Euphrates, Princes of Florence, Age of Steam, and so on. Great games, with multiple meaningful strategic paths. (Naturally, I disagree with those who feel that PR is purely a tactical game, a subject for another discussion.)

06 Randomness, without Luck

I have written extensively on the difference between what I call "randomness" and "luck". Randomness is when something random happens, and then everyone uses that as a starting condition to play. Luck is when everyone does their thing, and then something random happens to determine the winner.

Regardless of whether proper strategic play can achieve you odds of winning at 100 to 1, it is simply boring to me to roll dice, flip the cards, or whatever to see whether or not you win. You have already won. Rolling a 1 on a d100 doesn't make you suddenly a loser, just like rolling 2-100 makes you suddenly a winner.

Luck is gambling, pure and simple. Cheering good dice rolls or flipped tiles appeals to people because gambling appeals to people. Lovely, if that's what you like. I don't.

What I like is when every game is different because the initial starting conditions are different every game, or because a very small random event occurs at the beginning of each round, like goods available in Age of Steam, or plantations in Puerto Rico. It happens, it makes the game different, and the tactics begin after the event has occurred, so barring huge anomalies, from there on it is skill versus skill. Note that in some games, bad "luck" can also be mitigated by good play, such as trading or negotiation, so it is not always so bad.

05 Interaction, without extensive negotiation

The best prominent feature of Eurogames is constant player involvement; not that we never had such a thing before. After all there was always Hungry Hungry Hippos.

This involvement is due to staggering the game phases and a lot of player interaction, often in the form of auctioning, trading, or negotiation. Of these three, I like negotiation the least, since some personalities dominate too much, others get left out, and people who are otherwise enjoyable to play with suddenly aren't. Negotiation also always goes on for far too long and rarely stays within the described rules of the game.

Trading is a form of negotiation, but a severely limited form, so more enjoyable to me.

04 Depth, Depth, Depth

All of the previous factors now begin to combine to make the remaining four factors. The first of these is depth.

With limited decisions each round, multiple paths to victory, and random setups, you get an exciting game that has depth. Depth is what it is all about.

Games where you can master the game in one sitting, or where the entire game is tactical, do not achieve the same sort of love from me as ones where game after game, play after play, more of the game becomes revealed. The ideal game will have never ending layers of this, where you get better and better as you play, only to discover that you still have new avenues to explore.

The downside is that games with depth are difficult to play between unequal players, with some exceptions (such as Go). But even then, some great games give new players with radical new ideas a fighting chance, either to win, or to feel that they've played well. After all, games are not only you against your opponent, but you against yourself. Good play is a victory, regardless of the winning scores.

03 Extensibility

I am a massive game tinkerer. A game that can be broken into parts and that provides an opportunity to add or modify the parts makes me excited. That is why I love PR (because I can make new buildings), Cosmic Encounter (new races), Magic (new cards), and so on.

A good game is an entire game system. It is a springboard to a whole new set of game designs and ideas. Which leads me to ...

02 The Game Experience

The reasons that most great games are great is that they offer an entire game experience. I wrote an article about this on Gone Gaming once.

It is a combinations of depth, uniqueness, and extensibility, that makes this happen. An RPG is not just a game for a few hours, but weeks of immersion in creating the game, creating the characters, and discussing the results. CCGs are days of deck tuning and discussion on on-line boards. Bridge is weeks of working on bidding systems and discussing hand results. Online computer game worlds also provide this experience.

Not every game with that type of immersion appeals to me, nor do I necessarily have the time anymore to immerse myself. But when I do, the game becomes a way of life far beyond a simple "game". It becomes brilliance.

01 Replayablility for a Lifetime

Maybe this is now redundant after all, but the best game is not a game that makes you say "Oh, that's clever" a few times and then sits in a corner collecting dust. The best game offers you a good experience every time you play it, whether a hundred times or ten thousand times, and whether you are young or old, male or female.

My best game is a game for a lifetime.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoyed,

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

As Long As We're Linking 12

See my sidebar for earlier versions of these posts (Board Game Blog Links).

This post includes information about newly discovered non-commercial board game blogs that update frequently enough to interest me. Also included are changes to existing blogs, or blogs dropped from my radar.

5 Minute Boardgame Reviews - Coldfoot started this blog, but the same material can also be found on his own blog, and he hasn't updated it in a month, anyway.

Apostle Reflections - This used to be called Reflections of an Apostle.

ArsCompendium - Rebecca Lanham started doing children's game reviews on this mainstream site. So far she has only covered mainstream games, but she told me that she is open to suggestions.

CSI Games - Guy Shalev, Israel. Guy is working on games that marry RPGs with competitive board games. He's written some musings on game design.

Gamer's Notebook - Mike Siggins is supposed to be back once a month, but he is overdue for his second article.

Gryphon's Games - Mergryphon, Washington, D.C.

Mike Doyle’s Game Art Gallery - Like Coldfoot, Mike Doyle started this blog to showcase particular posts, but you can also see these on his regular blog.

RFC Blog - Formerly Boardgamer's Pastime.

The Spiel - A board game podcast by Stephen Conway and David Coleson, UK if I'm not mistaken. - Formerly Gaming in Pearland.

Off the radar:

Blogging the Game of Life - Gone
Columbia games - Site is too commercial for me, not enough general interest.
Diary of a Made Gamer - Gone
Games as a way of life - Gone
gamethoughts - Gone
Gathering of Engineers - Gone
Habergamer - No updates
Karl CA Wilde - No updates
My New Adventures in Board Games - Gone
The One Hundred - No updates
Traveling in Multiverse - No updates
Wargamenews from Joe Steadman - Gone

Game night will start early, tonight

Owing to a) Binyamin coming early to set up and play TI3, and b) David coming early to play Magic.

I will have to make up work hours later in the month. Not a problem, as Rachel is leaving for Canada near the end of the month; the last few days I will be able to stay late. Rachel will be gone until Aug 21 or so.

I was hoping to rent out my apt again this summer, but I haven't had any serious offers to rent, yet; nor have I received any requests from fleeing northern residents, yet. If I do rent it out/offer it out, I can always stay with a number of other people, including my parents, if need be.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Misappropriating the Word "Game"

I remember recently hearing about some butcher's association whose members were tired of the way that the word "butcher" had been so thoroughly misappropriated to mean "killer".

It's not that the misappropriation is not sometimes justified. Calling a reckless murderer a "butcher" can be a graphic means of describing a killer's acts as so barbarous that s/he treated his/her victims as no more than pieces of meat to be slaughtered. However, this constant usage, especially when not allegorically appropriate, was having a detrimental effect on the canonical usage of the word "butcher", such that many in the profession were seeking for an alternative name to what they do.

And no, please don't pipe up with how killing and dissecting animals is actually just like killing people, anyway.

I feel the same way about the misuse of the word "game". The word seems to have been misappropriated to mean ruthless war and heartless politics. Everyone is playing the "blame game". This or that side did such-and-such, which changes the "rules of the game". Someone is playing a "dangerous game" of cat and mouse. What's the "end-game" scenario, and which targets are "fair game"?


OK, I get the point. War is stupid, everyone is acting like children, and people are dying because instigators and leaders don't consider their actions any more carefully than they would if they were playing a board game.

My own opinions on that aside, and to make an extremely unimportant point amidst all of the important ones that I choose to ignore on this blog, I'm tired of seeing the good word "game" brought down to this level.

When I tell people I'm a gamer, I have to explain "really, I play board games", and not that I'm a secret military strategist or a terrorist monkey.

The "blame game" sounds like a dumb Hasbro party game which I would never play unless I was drunk.

The "rules of the game" have to be agreed by everyone before the game starts, and if someone tries to change them in the middle of the game, you tell them to wait for the game to be over. If you can't agree, fire off an email off to the publisher or designer of the game, or just agree to play something else.

I don't know what the "dangerous game" is, but if it's anything like Truth or Dare, I'm out. The "end-game" just means that the game is over and whomever has the most money or victory points wins, and "fair game" is a game that gives everyone an opportunity to win, or is played fairly by all players.

Leave games to the gamers; they know how to play without hurting each other.

Instead, you can "spend precious amounts of futile time accusing each other of having acted precipitously and being intransigent", agree to "adhere to signed agreements and standards of combat and non-deception, so as to minimize misunderstandings and casualties for non-combatants", stop "acting in a hostile and aggressive manner such that a militant response is likely", "find a way out of this mess", and "only damage as much as is appropriate to protect yourselves and your citizens".

Works for me.


Linkety Link

More proof that board games lead to violence and crime:

Four people sent to the hospital after an argument over a Carrom game in India. (via)

Man killed in an argument over a Scrabble game in New Zeland. (via)

Forty year old woman lured thirteen year-old boy to underage sex using games of Monopoly.

Meanwhile, you can look at the War on Terror board game, with nukes, suicide bombers, kidnappings, and so on. (extreme leftist satire, their site equates the war against terrorism with terrorism itself, and the game looks like a dumb variant of Risk)

Finally, another licensed version of Settlers of Catan: Megaman, also known as Rockman.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Everything but Gaming

Not everyone is immersed in the game experience like I am, I know. Some people just play games, and when they're done, they go home and do other things. It's only crazies like me who have to find ways to keep the game experience trailing after them between game nights like so much comet dust.

That's one reason why I blog about games.

I keep hearing about people blogging for a few months or so, and then they find that they have nothing left to say, and then they drop out. This hasn't happened to me. Now that I'm just past my two year anniversary of blogging, I'm actually finding it easier to blog every day. In fact, I need to write more and more. (Now watch me have sudden writer's block ...)

How I've kept immersed, so far this week:

I've gone back to finish my Sarah story, the one I started on Gone Gaming last year. I've always known the plot, I just never had the umph to finish it. Hopefully soon.

I just recorded a top ten list for the Dice Tower, which may end up on their show, if the recording worked.

I just received another request to reprint my first Ethics in Gaming article, this one from Games Workshop. They also offered to send me a mini or two as a token of thanks (my son sometimes plays WarHammer). Thanks!

I may get involved soon in one of those game days that Binyamin is organizing for kids, since it will be in my former home of Beit Shemesh, and for mostly English-speaking kids.

And I recently turned down a request to promote or review a company whose games some people might enjoy, but I don't like their style of humor.

The game experience: everything but the game. Revel in it.


Not As Seen On Television

No politics, but after I signed up on some online list offering to host families from northern Israel who have been displaced due to the hostilities, I was contacted by a major Israeli television program wanting me to appear on their morning program.

I was forced to decline, however, as the program and questions would have been in Hebrew and I still sound like an idiot when trying to speak Hebrew. Many people think foreigners are stupid because they don't speak English well; they may actually be mental geniuses, but trying to convey that in a language that you don't speak well makes you sound stupid.

Why me? Either I was one of the first to sign up, or I was picked at random. In any case, all I could think of afterwards was how I might have been able to use the opportunity, between speaking to families displaced by the shelling, or others talking about politics or what have you, to slip in some reference to my game group or blog. Surely the residents of bomb shelters need some board games to pass the time.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Interchangeability of All Things

I've gotten interested in the music site Pandora. Pandora is a streaming music site that plays music related to other music that you already like. It is a bit of an eye-opener for me.

I fed it a list of artists that I liked and listened as it fed me other artists and other songs that sound similar to them. And listened. And listened. And listened. All without repetition.

Now, true, some of the artists were better than others. But I think I could listen for more than a year hearing new artists and new songs, perfectly content.

So let me ask you this: why should I ever buy an album again?

Why do we buy any album? When the chances of finding what you want on a radio are little to slim, you buy the album because you get to hear the sounds you want when you want. But if you love your radio station, then there is no reason to buy any album, unless you really need to hear that one particular song.

As more and more music gets played, recorded, and released, the long tail of listenable music grows. If nothing is ever lost in time, then the amount of music that fits into my narrow range of interest, however small or large this may be, gradually becomes larger and larger.

As more and more sites provide listening one offs, music videos, promos, demos, and free music, the possibility of hearing any song that I want, or certainly any genre that I want, grows larger, too.

For music, movies, books, and so on, the business model of selling based on scarcity hits one more wall of impracticality.

We already hit that wall with books sometime last century. Anyone with good taste could spend their entire lifetime simply trying to catch up to the great works already written, almost all of which are now, or will soon enough be, in the public domain.

Books, music, and movies sell today because they are fresh or new, not because they are good. Interest and purchases revolve around cultural memes, not any particular talent. Just look at toy sales. Toys that sell well are the ones that match the latest movies, not the ones that are the most fun or the best made.

That is another effect of the Long Tail. It once more demonstrates how the publishing model is failing, and will continue to fail. But it also demonstrates how it can continue to succeed, if it reorients itself. Trying to hold on to content after it is released is a colossal waste of time. It is not the content that matters, it is the fresh access to it. People will always pay for earliest access to cool content. After that time period, which can be measured in weeks, not decades, the meme passes and the content is no longer relevant.

Games may follow this pattern, eventually. As the catalog of games gets larger and larger, and our access to all of these games becomes instant (Boardgamegeek) and global (eBay), the next best game is going sell due to its freshness, not due to its being better than other games.

That's where we hit the difference between gamers who have to keep playing new games, and gamers who are happy to only play the best games repeatedly. Is someone who buys one game, and plays only that one repeatedly, "hurting" the game market? Every time he plays the same game, it represents a lost sale of another game! Of course not. The game market is sustained on providing new games to new adapters, not in providing the best games. As Lost Garden writes this week, unless you've come up with something several generations ahead to start with, you're not going to corner any market.

This article seems to be ending up in a direction that I wasn't intending it to, but let me end by saying this: you, as a consumer, are being guilted into supporting the industry based on its current business model, whether it is games, music, or movies. Don't fall into that trap.

If you don't buy a piece of music, whether its because you copied it, bought it used, didn't like it, borrowed it from a friend, heard it online, sung it to yourself in the shower, boycotted the band or the publisher, or any of a thousand other reasons both legal and illegal that results in a lost sale to the artist, don't feel guilty about it. This lost sale is part of an outdated business model that shouldn't exist, anyway. Content can no longer support itself in sales. The providers have to provide other reasons to exist: freshness, tokens, tickets, something indispensable. Something that is not interchangeable.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Weekend Gaming

Most people just glance over these Weekend Gaming posts, so I can say anything I want and no one will know.


Let's start with what I've been reading - actually re-reading. I always need to re-read once in a while anything by William Gibson, and Tam Lin by Pamela Dean.

Gibson is the writer we use to prove to the rest of the world that science fiction can first and foremost be good fiction. And Tam Lin is just something lovely and literate that strikes something in me. Soothing.

El Grande

For lunch on shabbat we hosted Nadine and Adam from the game group, Zeke who used to come to the game group occasionally, and some other nice folk.

After lunch we played the classic El Grande, which Nadine has wanted to play again for some time. Zeke didn't mind playing it either, and Adam had never played.

I started out not worrying about intermittent scoring, which left me behind a bit in points but better in position. So at the first scoring, I pulled out in front by about ten points. The others caught up some and then I pulled ahead more by the end of the second scoring round, about fifteen points.

It ended with another catch up and pull ahead, with me ending at about 106 to 93, 91, and 88 (roughly). Still pretty close, actually, although I feel I played pretty tightly, and area control games are my thing.


Nadine then left to go to the shiur with Rachel, after which Adam and I would meet them to play Puerto Rico. Adam asked to play Go, which I was thrilled to oblige.

I had thought I was already advanced enough to graduate from the 9x9 board to the 11x11 board, but apparently I'm not. We started off giving Adam a two stone advantage and the game ended very closely. For a new player, he is quite strong. Some forced battles in the corner, and I lost with 36 points to his 45.

In the second game he only received the first move advantage, and aside from one wrong move on my part, I played a slightly better game. Of course, the one wrong move - not securing a double eye for a territory that I needed, but felt that I could just get later - was a fatal mistake. I noticed it immediately, and would have asked fro my move back, but I wanted to see what would happen. I watched for fifteen moves as he forced my moves in some other area of the board until he finally looked back at that location and then took the spot that I should have. So I lost again. Very nicely done on Adam's part.

Go is a great game.

Puerto Rico

We met up with Nadine and Rachel for Puerto Rico, still the best game in the world despite a wee problem of imbalance when a new player plays. Adam made some mistakes - perfectly reasonable ones for a new player - which resulted in Rachel being able to capitalize on them for some huge bonuses. I struggled along, but without much hope.

The strangest move was when I, with a Harbor, took Captain, which was practically begging for Adam to monopolize a coffee boat (he had a monopoly in coffee). I did this just to prevent Rachel from having continuous access to free boats in order to stop her from shipping her four corns every round. But Adam wouldn't bite, since he wanted to trade the coffee.

For a change, we tried to play with minimal advice given, which was nice.


A forum site for tabletop sports games. Not that I've ever played any, or likely ever will.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Games and Marketing

Following the previous post, it should come as no surprise that I read some of these marketing blogs as do many others.

Is it because:
  • Marketing is human beings at their most creative and sexy?
  • When you think about marketing, you increase your self esteem, because you have to believe in yourself to sell yourself?
  • Marketing is the only ethical means we allow to manipulate other's opinions, similar to the way that Dale Carnegie's books operate?
  • Marketing and business really are the essential powers of our world, and so are important in their own right?
I don't know. Maybe all of the above.

The subject of marketing intersects the subject of games in numerous ways:
  • Game developers have to market their games to game publishers.
  • Game publishers have to market their games to game retailers and the public.
    They're doing a pitiful job with that right now. It's not that they don't have products to sell that are good. They do. What they are not doing is selling the sexy. I want to see a few well placed ads in Newsweek, in computer and video game journals, or as ad placement in movies. Outside of the traditional media, they have to think how to hit the web 2.0 crowds.
  • Game players have to market themselves during games in order to win.
    Not only during negotiation games, but also trading games, cooperation games, and any game where you need to present yourself as more or less than you actually are.
All potential subjects for some good posts.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Top Blogging Subjects

There is an odd assortment of topics that is the mainstay of the Internet digerati. I don't know if the question is "Who died and made these people experts?", or simply "Why are these the main topics?"

One might naively suppose that the top blogs would cover topics very similar to the topics covered in mainstream magazines and print journalism. After all, people are people. Magazines and newspapers surely know their audiences, and these audiences can't be that different from the blogging audience.

OK, only 15% of the world is online, and even less read blogs, so we may slant our audience assumption to include readers with more interest than average in tech and other more educated subjects, such as science, politics, and news.

The topics covered by Amazon's top 100 selling magazines include: tech, celebrities, sex, lifestyle (including beauty, crafts, autos, and cooking), sports, news, music, general consumer products, science, investing, travel, history, cultures, children, health, business, photography, animals, video games, anime, literature, architecture, and RPGs.

While Infoplease's top 100 magazines cover: Finance, literature, television, lifestyle (beauty, house, autos, crafts, cooking), news, celebrities, travel, health, sports, sex, parenting, video games, architecture, science, culture, music and entertainment, and scouting.

Let's look at the topics covered by the top one hundred blogs, according to Technorati. Other blog ranking services are similar, and I'm skipping the blogs that are not in English.

The topics covered include: politics, celebrities, cool or weird things, lifestyles (including cars, cats, and yarn), hardware, software (including video games), personal journals, and marketing.

That's it? That, in itself, is strange.

Strange thing number 2: Cool/Weird things, such as Boing Boing. Do we have an equivalent like this in mass market media? National Enquirer? No, BB is better than that. What is it about blogging that make it the right medium for this type of reporting?

Strange thing number 3: Personal blogs. Would 50,000 people subscribe to Paul Graham's paper magazine? Maybe not, but perhaps that many would listen to his radio program. Think Alistair Cooke, perhaps. OK, not so strange.

Strange thing number 4: Marketing. That includes Seth Godin, Micro Persuasion, Shoemoney, Gaping Void, Creating Passionate Users, 37 Signals, Buzzmachine, and Problogger, not to mention Performancing, a couple of search engine blogs, and who knows what else, inside and outside the top 100.

I consider this the grand-daddy of strangeness. All of these people are interesting and can write well, and what they are writing about is how to sell things.

I can't help but compare this to the "I made it big and so can you" hucksters that we've seen in every generation, on every frontier, and in every other media. And I don't know how to say that without it sounding sour and nefarious. Maybe "I made it to the top; let me help you".

Personally, I love reading Gaping Void. But I reserve a big dollop of skepticism that marketing has been suddenly reinvented, or that all of the old ways are out and only the new ways are in.

Marketing is a big sexy topic of the nineties and today. Marketing is our interface to big corporations. The writers of cyberpunk imagine that these corporations are taking over our lives in the way that big government wants to. Just pick up any book by William Gibson. Maybe there is some truth to this. But it seems a strange obsession.

Half the time the blogging world is warning us of the danger we face from encroaching corporate power (IP abuse and so on), while the other half of the time they are selling us ways to make our businesses more slick.

There are no major marketing magazines in the top 100. Suddenly we find ten marketing experts in the top 100 blogs. Is blogging really the first voice that they have ever had? Are people suddenly interested in marketing? Why are there no major marketing magazines, television shows, or radio programs?

Strange thing number 5: Look at what's missing from the top blogs. I would expect sports. Nope, no sports blogs. No general news that is not political opinion. No finance, literature, culture, science, sex, music, parenting, photography, travel or architecture. is a little about sex, so maybe there's that. But no literature? Reader's Digest, Harper's Bazaar. No science? Discover, Scientific American. No culture? Smithsonian, National Geographic. No health? No finance? Where are these bloggers?

We bloggers are still living in a myopic world.


Eye Contact

There is a gaming spectrum:
  • Mainstream board games - The games don't really matter, it's the social experience.
  • Eurogames - The games matter, and the social experience matters.
  • Electronic games (video/computer) - The game matters, the social experience doesn't.
Is this a generalization? Yes, it is, but a fair one, I think.

In mainstream games, the game can facilitate or hinder the social experience by being fluid or boring. Good party games or roll-and-move games with fun themes can make good conversation starters. But no one over the age of ten cares who wins these games, or thinks that trying to excel in the game represents any sort of valuable effort.

And in MMO games, the social experience is not always completely absent. People do "meet" and interact virtually, albeit usually in a negative way, but sometimes not. Even so, the vast majority of any social interaction that happens during one of these games is going to happen only so long as it doesn't interfere with the game experience. And of course, the vast majority of electronic gaming isn't interactive with another human, at all.

That leaves the games in the happy middle. Although I labeled it Eurogames in the above chart, the happy middle also includes classic strategy games, such as Chess, and Go, and so on. Essentially, any game where people come together and the game itself also matters.

In this day and age, there are other options for coming together to engage in activities that aren't simply an excuse to get together. You could meet to work for a benefit, jam music together, garden, and so on. How nice it is to also be able to do that over something as delightful as gaming; where the games themselves are healthy for your brain, too.

It's so much nicer than seeing people playing a game where the game is nothing more than a distraction from the point. Or from seeing someone break eye contact and turn away towards the faceless, glowing screen.


Session Report Up

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up here. Games played: The Menorah Game, Havoc x 2, New England, By Hook or By Crook, Settlers of Catan, Shadows Over Camelot, Set, Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, Bridge.


Gaming Narrative and Go in Israel

Gaming Narrative section

Attack of Opportunity talks about the lack of narrative in online RPGs, and his suggestions sound suspiciously to me like turning RPG games into Eurogames. Lucky for him there is a new book called Game Writing: Narrative Skill for Videogames. And while we're on the subject, The Play Ethic talks about emotional narrative in video games.

Israeli Go section

The Jerusalem Go club now meets twice a month in a new location.
Place: Bein Aza Le'Berlin is a choumous place on Shlomtzion Street, 100m down the street from "Daila". The address is : Shlomtzion 12, corner of Ben Sira.

Time: 18:30 first and third MONDAY of the month. Next Mon, 17 July, and then August 7 and 21. If they get enough response they will consider weekly.
And speaking of Go, the following ad appeared in Janglo today:
Learn to play GO and be a winner! Fun, GO boards and green tea are guaranteed!!

Private GO lessons in English, Russian and Hebrew, to all ages in Merkaz HaIr (one-to-one), Ramot (groups) or in your place.

One-to-one lessons cost 80 s.h. and 3-5 participant group session cost 50 s.h. per student. 7+ participants lessons cost 30 s.h. per student.

Call Sensay David at 052 569-4559 (English) or e-mail at to set up your FREE introductory lesson.

Personal Section

I took a day off from work today to do a number of things: try to get a network set up in my house (which didn't work), discuss retirement and insurance with an agent, go to the dentist, and visit my parents.

Tonight was game night, and the session report will be up tomorrow, hopefully, including first impressions of New England.

Someone offered to trade me Santiago for Goa, which I was happy to accept, seeing as I never really warmed to Goa, and I am passionate about Santiago. To exchange, I had to get Goa back from the Tel Aviv group, and while we were doing that, the TA group got back from me Amun-Re for which they had also received a trade offer for.

That hurts, as Amun-Re was a standby in our group. We may just have to buy it. While I was sending games back to the TA group, I sent along three other games we had borrowed from them but never play: Evo, Oasis, and Attika.

Someone is translating my first Ethics in Gaming article into Latvian, for inclusion on a website.

USA Today complains about the new Ultimate Board Game Collection, in that the games aren't any fun without real opponents. I could have told them that. The point of silly board games is companionship, since the games themselves aren't worth anything.

I also have to add that I'm impressed at how well Binyamin from my game group is doing with his game teaching in Beit El. He is running classes for kids of many ages every day of the week. In school, after school, and full games days. And he is getting great attendance, and the kids love it. An entire generation of kids are being turned on by his efforts. Kol Hakavod, Benny.