Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jerusalem Touring and Gaming with Chris Brooks

Sorry, Chris has all the pictures, which you'll probably eventually see on his blog.

Our weekend plans were:

- Tour old city on Friday morning
- Go to lunch after the tour
- Go back to my house and game a little, if time permitted
- Synagogue
- Dinner
- Game
- Chris sleeps over and then heads to the airport on Saturday morning

Not everything went according to plan, but it was still a great time.

Tour Start and Guide

I arrived at 9:05 and met the tour guide I had picked out for them. I thought I might be late, but it turns out that Chris and co had traffic and the usual navigation problems crossing Jerusalem and didn't arrive until 9:45.

The tour guide, Ellie, turned out to be a nice guy and a competent tour guide, easily navigating through centuries of history and geological and political facts.

Arab Market

Since 2000, I haven't been to any predominantly Arab areas, anywhere, least of all the Arab market in the old city. I have heard too many stories about tourists or Jews getting attacked. It turns out that Jews and certainly tourists still walk through there regularly, especially residents of other parts of the old city. The market is almost on the border of the Jewish (and Armenian) quarter(s).

I first thought that maybe I should take off my kippah, but after a short time I realized that it wasn't necessary.

The market is packed to overflowing with beautiful clothing and wares, and most of them are reasonably priced. Of course, any price that they start off with is literally fifteen or twenty times the price they are willing to accept, with the exception of basics such as spices or food.

Chris will tell you all about it, I'm sure.

My Bad

One of the things that I forgot when I accepted his invitation to accompany them on the tour were the numerous things that I wouldn't be able to do, that they can do. Such as: eating anywhere they want, or going into churches.

When they went into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for instance, I sat outside. And again when they stopped for lunch. I think they felt a little bad for me, and I felt a little bad for them having to feel bad for me, and in the latter case, for the manager of the restaurant who I wasn't trying to insult.

Chess, Backgammon, and Thirty-One

During lunch, I wandered around a little bit. One thing they sell all over the market in great amounts are these awesomely beautiful Chess and Backgammon boards. One was so beautiful that I had to take pictures of it (on Chris's camera). Of course, the owner wanted to sell it to me. He started at $700, and was down to $200 when I left him desperately trying to get me to at least agree to a starting point for negotiation.

By the way, they play at least five different games on a Backgammon board. I observed two fellows playing "Thirty-One". The rules are similar to Backgammon, with the following changes. You start will all of your pieces on your first space (1 or 24). You move similar to Backgammon, including doubles. You cannot take off any pieces; a single opponent's piece blocks a space. One would think that this would make for less strategic play, but the ability to impede your opponent's movement is greater.

Big Yellow Taxi

There is, of course, so much to see in the Old City, and they were enjoying the tour so much, that they decided to continue with the tour for longer than planned. That left two problems.

One was that I had to get home before shabbat; it was already 2:30 and shabbat started at 4:30. And two, they only had use of the parking garage until 3:00 and had to move their car.

Chris decided to take us to the car while the others continued with the guide. He dropped me and his luggage off at my house and then returned to the tour.

Rather than walk to the car, we decided to take a quick taxi ride over to the car, i.e. from the Golden gate to Jaffa gate. About two minutes.

Unfortunately, we had to refuse the first taxi who wanted to take us for 40 NIS; not only a ridiculously high fee, but illegal not to use the meter. He agreed reluctantly to drop to 35 NIS and started yelling at me when I went to another cab.

Then, according to Chris, he turned to him and said "You're a Christian and he's a Jew; what are you doing together?" Lovely. Of course, he thought I was a tourist because I have an American accent.

The cab fair, on the meter, was 16 NIS.


Chris returned at 6:00, in time for dinner. He missed a rolicking good time at my synagogue, too bad.

The others also stepped in for a few hellos, and then they were off. Also over for dinner were three of my kids (all except for Ariella) and Nadine and two of her kids. We had a nice dinner, and then Adam came over at 8:00 as we were winding up.


Chris delivered the game I had shipped to him: Tichu, San Juan (for Josh), Saboteur, Lost Cities, Children of Fire, and Wildlife. I am going to try to save some of them for Hanukkah.

He also delivered a new copy of Sunriver's newest game, 24/7. But first, I wanted to inflict him with my game another time, using my new reprinting.

This was a good thing, because it got him out of playing Puerto Rico with Rachel and Nadine; the last time he was here was also the last time he had played Puerto Rico, and on that occasion he was toasted soundly. So he owes me a favor.

The Menorah Game

We played this, and it confirmed the rather odd thing I had discovered about the game: it is best with three players. It's still good with four and two, but best with three.

Saarya played with us. I took the game, and then Chris requested that we play another one. Saarya narrowly won that one, followed by Chris, with me in third. Since KC had the copy of the game I had given them last time, I was happy to give Chris a copy for himself, with the promise that he would play it occasionally.


We played without the printed rules (which Chris had forgotten), and therefore without the theme which appeared to be completely irrelevant to the game.

Essentially, there are forty tiles, four of each numbered 1 to 10. There is a 7x7 board, with a center square and 8 locations marked "x2". Each time it is your turn, you place a tile and pick a tile. You may not place a tile such that any line of tiles formed with that one totals more than 24.

You score for placing a tile which does any of the following:

- the entire line of tiles adds to 7 (e.g. a 3 placed next to a 4, and no other tiles extend the line) [2 points]
- the entire line of tiles adds to 24 [4 points]. After doing that, you cap the ends with some stones to show that other tiles can't be placed.
- forms a run of 3 or more [the length of the run]
- forms a kind of 3 or 4 [5 or 6 points]
- is the 7th tile in a line [6 points]
- forms both a 7 and a 24 [12 points, total]

If the tile you placed was also on a "x2" you double your bonus. Game continues until no one can play a tile.

The game is a nice game, even easier than Havoc. It is not a brain burner, although you have to look each and every direction that tiles might score. The odds are great that on most of your turns you can score something, and creating a sum of 24 is not difficult.

I liked it enough to want to see if there was more depth to the game. The first game we played resulted in long walls of locations where we couldn't play anything, so there wasn't much to think about most of the time, at least for me.

To tell the truth, my first thought was "Oh, I could play this with Rummikub tiles." And my second was "I wonder if you could award special bonus points for the way the markers are placed on the board after a line of 24 is made."

Since the Puerto Rico game was ending, and we were going to be four people, we didn't play again. After my first play, I gave it a 7.

I played again the next day with daughter Tal, 13, and she liked it. I also liked it better the next day as a two-player game. You have more control and the (very slight) possibility of setting up moves. I upped my rating to 7.5 . It scores higher for kids, and is a good means of drilling simple math skills.

I'm not sure, but it might also be a little better to play with less tiles in hand, as I felt it was too easy to score points.

One definite problem: the box is way too big, by a factor of 2.5 or so, like El Grande's box. Chris says that they should have fixed that before going to production.

Puerto Rico

Rachel won by at least ten points over the next player. No surprise.


Since we had 4 (Chris, Adam, Nadine, and me), and Adam and Nadine like Bridge, Chris taught us Tichu, which I had bought solely on it's reputation.

I have to say that I was nervous about it. It plays with a mechanic that other game that I don't like use, such as The Great Dalmuti, President, and so on. On each trick, one person leads an X, and everyone else has to play a higher X until someone can't. The last person to play takes the trick and leads again. First one out of cards wins. If that's the whole game, I wasn't going to like it.

I was very happily surprised that instead enough kinks were thrown into the game to make it into a very good game. For one thing, there are several wild cards that do various things. Second, it's a partnership game, which is always more fun. Thirdly, the game goes until only one person is left with cards. Fourth, even after you've taken a trick, there is the possibility you will lose the collected points.

All in all, there are many subtle strategy points, and I liked it.

One thing that bemused Chris: Like Hearts, you pass cards to other players, although in this case it's only one card to each other player. Nevertheless, Adam and I immediately started working on passing signals, which is pretty hard when you only have one card to pass. But we stuck to it, anyway. Chris thought we were aliens.

We played four hands, and Adam and I were ahead, so it must work. :-) I called and make Tichu on the last hand.


Saturday morning, Chris decided to go to Bethlehem while we were in synagogue, and he returned at lunch time. Even though he was supposed to leave, he stayed around and ate a bit with us before taking off.

Another lovely visit, and I hope to be able to reciprocate by visiting him in Oregon, some day.

Apples to Apples

Later that night, Ariella, Tal, Yoav (Ariella's boyfriend) and I played Apples to Apples. It was pretty fun. I had managed to collect Powerful, Patriotic, Idiotic, and Corrupt, which made me all set to declare my presidency, but then I acquired Thoughtful (or something like that) so I had to give that up.


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