Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How To Disable Snap Preview Anywhere

Snap Preview Anywhere is a new "feature" on some websites where you move your mouse over a link and a small popup shows up displaying a miniature version of the web page that is linked to.

Apparently I'm not the only person who finds this "feature" incredibly annoying. You would have thought that we had learned this when we roundly rejected popups and pop-unders more than two years ago.

Note to bloggers: be wary of adding a feature to your site which claims to be of use to you ("Previews help you, the site owner, keep the user on your site instead of losing them to the site behind the hyperlink") but does not claim to be of any use to your readers.

Well, you can globally turn this feature off in either of two ways:

The first method is to click the options link in the top-right corner of one of the pop-up bubbles:

You will see an options screen like this:

Select to disable for ALL sites.

This turns off SPA globally for all sites.

Any sites that you have in your cache might still display the bubbles; you will have to reload them to get rid of them.

The other way is to visit the SPA FAQ, also available from the above box, or directly at

Select to disable SPA, and it will be disabled globally.

Either of these two procedures work only if you have cookies enabled, and only for the browser you are using.


Still Updating the Blog


I hope all of you that feed this blog have settings set to "new posts only" for the time being, as I am going through every single post (over 950 of them) adding Blogger tags. Each time I do this, it reposts the changed post to the feed.

While I'm doing this, it gives me a chance to correct some of the most egregious spelling errors. As to that, I can't believe that I misspelled "praise" twice yesterday in one post as "priase".

As I have experience in technical writing, I have experience in building indexes. This tag-addition work is almost entirely, but not quite, not like building an index.

Building an index is meant to ensure that several entries point to the item in question, and that any particular entry doesn't point to more than a few items. In the case of tagging, I am setting up my blog so that it can be split into feeds. That means a hierarchy of general through specific tags.

General tags, so that those only interested in "gaming" can easily subscribe to that. But if you're interested only in "board games", I have a tag for that, too. Or if you're interested in just "Settler of Catan", I have a tag for that, too. Which means that any post about Settlers of Catan has to receive all three tags.

For the gaming stuff, it's easy. For the non-gaming stuff, it's harder, since they don't all fall into any neat category, yet, other than "non-gaming", which I am hoping to not have to resort to. At the moment, they include "philosophy", "politics", "personal", "humor", "cartoon", "parody", "poems", "movies", and god knows what else.

As I continue to do this, I will try to figure out the best general tag to include all these, and that might mean my going back and re-tagging half of my posts once again.

Are you sure that a few separate blogs wouldn't be easier?

This entire endeavor is further complicated by Blogger's broken tag system. It miscounts the number of posts assigned to tags, making them impossible to delete when I want to get rid of them. If doesn't let you create new tags from the mass editing tool. And the mass post editing tool is screwed up, jumping around and not displaying the list of posts you ask it to. Honestly, I can't believe that this is out of Beta, as it DOESN'T WORK, yet.

Blogger's image facility is also still majorly broken, in that it a) always inserts images you upload to the top of the post you are working on, rather than where your cursor is, and b) still give you no way to reference or manage pictures you have uploaded, which means that if you lose the link you have to upload it again. My god, is that dumb.


Another U.S. visitor is scheduled to drop by tonight. He is here visiting on Birthright, and he plays in North Carolina, but he has never heard of BGG. I forgot to ask him how he found out about me, in that case.

If you want to pay the membership fee, you can try to snatch this job on writing rules for a board game.

Chris Farrell sadly hangs up his blogging pen. Hopefully he will continue to write online.

Chris Bateman does a first analysis of the difference between a virtual world and a video game. I may respond to this one.


Two miscellaneous pictures for you:

1) Amazon offers an incredible deal on a game (.05%!):

2) Microsoft Word offers a "grammar correction" for Rachel's thesis (she's discussing "original sin"):

Apparently the grammar correction tool holds by Christian theology.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sony mp3 player service issues

My daughter bought a 1 GB mp3 bean player six months ago. The parts are under warranty for a year, but the service only for ninety days.

You have to slide a little piece on the end to uncover the USB plug. This broke, which resulted in her not only being unable to uncover the USB plug easily, but also somehow prevented an adjoining button from working.

Sony has no service centers in Israel. Although they have centers in other Middle East locations and in Europe, we were told that the only service center than could help us was in the U.S. We shipped it there at our cost.

The player cost us $110 retail. They send me an email with a bill for $77 to fix the player. When I said that it's under warranty, they said that that's the cost of labor alone.

Now I don't know about you, but $77 seems to me about the wholesale price of a new player. I don't see how it should cost $77 worth of labor to throw out my player and send me a new one if I'm not paying for the materials. When I asked them this, they offered me a 10% discount on labor, which would have brought the fix price down to around $70.

I have a suspicion that by now, a half a year after I bought the player, the price of a 1GB Sony bean has probably dropped to around that price, anyway.

They were polite about it, and they were willing to ship the broken player back to me in Israel for no cost.

But Apple gave us a 1 year guarantee on parts AND labor for my son's Ipod.


Paeons of Praise


Monday, January 29, 2007

The New Blogger Has Some Kinks

One would think that after being in beta for, oh, a year or so, that Blogger would have fixed all the obvious problems. But no.

So far I've encountered:

* Captchas don't necessarily load with the page. You end up looking at "Type in the above letters" without seeing any above letters. Furthermore, captchas don't always work. I damn sure typed in the letters correctly, and it still sends me back to do it again.

* Managing posts is completely screwed up. When I set the number of posts to some number other than 50 and then click "Older posts", it only scrolls 50. Worse, I wanted to manage my labels in bulk, but every time I make any sort of change, I get sent back to the list of most recent posts again. Also, the number of posts indicated for each label if plain incorrect. Argh!

* Nowhere on the site does it explain what the special markup code is for labels, or for groups of labels to put on the sidebar. It only tells you to change your entire template and use their new layout system.

* Every post I add a label to, or update, is marked as changed on today's date. Since most feed readers are set to re-update posts from the last week or so, this results in your feed reader re-displaying every single post of mine as I update them with labels. In the old blogger, when I updated an old post, it remained marked as an old post, and wasn't picked up by the feed readers.

On the up side, it managed to transfer my blog without a hitch, and the labels do seem to work, which is good. And no more updating the entire blog when making changes is also very nice.


Moved to Blogger 2

Lo and behold, a day after I note that I can't move any of my blogs to Blogger 2 if at least one is a group blog, Blogger changes to allow me to move my other blogs overs anyway.

So, here we are on the new Blogger. Now to do some housecleaning and so on.

Sorry, but those of you who subscribe to the feed are going to see my entire blog reposted over the next few days!

The Best Stuff in the World currently lists these as the best board games. Give 'em a shake up.

Queensland University of Technology is regretting advertising their new Bachelor of Games and Interactive Entertainment degree, fearful that the great number of enrollees are going to be disappointed that they won't be getting a degree for playing games fifty hours a week for three or four years, but may actually have to learn something.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Little Authority

I rejected my first non-spam comment, but I felt a little guilty about it. It basically said a) I didn't read your post, b) something that proved that he didn't read my post, and c) my blog is crap.

I started comment moderation to catch spam, not to censure comments. Your comments have changed my opinions, on occasion, or have helped me to solidify arguments. I just couldn't see the point of this particular comment.

Which brings me to a question about blogs:

One of the qualities of a successful blog is its "authority" (or so Technorati calls it). That's a rather biased way of looking at blogging. It supposes that blogs must, perforce, follow the model of journalists and academics: a blog is a one-way street of authority. I'm the knowledge bringer. You're the readers. I get to speak from on-high. You get to passively appreciate, comment, or question.

That's a particularly narrow view of blogging, although it may be the normative model. As my experience with releasing "untested" variants for Puerto Rico showed me, a vast majority of people don't want to be engaged in a process of dialog; they want to be told what to do.

Is there room for a blogging dialog? Where the author and the commenters work together to arrive at a consensus? If I am supposed to be "right" every time I post, then I should be doing a whole lot more research and citing before posting. But if I'm not right all the time, am I failing your unstated expectations? Would that make my blog "crap"?

It may be that discussions among equals belong only in forums and chats. One can't help notice the caste difference between the Blogger, whose words are front and center, who wields controls over posting and the format of the page, from the commenters, who can't even edit their posts without deleting the old ones.

In which case, blogging really should be more like academics, and the 99% of the bloggers who are posting without checking their facts are wasting everyone else's time. Yet, I find it hard to look at blogging that way.

I reserve the right to post humbly, to assert an idea while accepting the possibility that I may be wrong and have to retract or change my opinion. I think if I only stick to ideas that I have researched thoroughly, I may as well be writing books, not blogging. I hope you are not investing your time here to read the whole truth, worked out.

In fact, I require a bit more of you than other bloggers; you have to keep on your toes and catch me when I make a mistake. I want a place to share ideas that are not necessarily wholly formed and need peer review by equally intelligent and capable people: that's you.


I have drafted the half-yearly index for Gone Gaming, and with it I will be posting a farewell message. Although, I may send GG a few articles now and then.

The only reason that I haven't converted to the new blogger yet is because people whose profiles include blogs with multiple contributors can't convert to the new format; or I'm just special, or something.

After I post this Tuesday, I will drop out of Gone Gaming, and then hopefully convert. Hilarity then ensues.


I have a few links saved on my Firefox tabs at work, for which you will have to wait. In the meantime:

Thomas Laursen has unveiled Board Game Prices, an excellent web 2.0 game pricing site.

The New York Times weighs in on the Super Columbine affair.

Valerie Putman makes an intersting observation about the ethics of going for the "dumb win".

And Home Tribune News covers Euro-games.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chess as a Euro-game


Friday evening we went to Nadine's house. Nadine had made a homemade version of the game Hive, because she doesn't like the bugs on the game's pieces.

So instead of beetles and crickets, etc, she had dogs, cats, horses, sheep, and a barn (the queen bee).

We played two games, switching sides, and I won both times. Nadine isn't actually a big fan of abstract games, so I'm not sure why she made it.


I haven't played chess in a number of years. Our non-playing guest after lunch said that he was willing to play a game.

Now, when you come back to chess after playing hundreds of Euro-games, you approach the game quite differently. Instead of seeing the game of chess as "chess", which has its own rules, patterns, and history, you approach the game like you approach any other tactical, area-control game.

Actually, not area-control. I approached the game as a resource game. Each turn I had one action resource, and I had sixteen meeples to play with, each with its own movement actions. The game ends when someone is about to lose their king meeple.

So my approach to the game was from an action point point-of-view. I figured that whenever I had more meeples, and more available actions from which to choose, then I was probably winning. And that meant that I could exchange pieces so long as I kept the upper-hand. Furthermore, when my opponent had less actions available, they were more likely to make bad ones.

That's how I played, and given that my opponent wasn't very strong, it worked quite well. After gaining a few pawns advantage, I swapped at every opportunity. When I couldn't swap, I worked to limit the number of possible moves that my opponent could make, regardless of whether the position was more or less helpful to me.

In the end, I could see his moves to a reasonable depth because he had few available options, so I was easily able to set up more piece swaps.

Once we got to the end game, I was ahead about five pawns and a rook, and then it was simply a matter of forcing his king into a corner while ensuring he couldn't snatch any of my pieces by mistake. A simple checkmate ensued.

(Speaking of chess as a Euro-game, Trabsact continues to put out interesting abstract game variations, by the way, including this one on Alternating Weapon Chess.)

Puerto Rico

At the end of the day, Nadine stuck around after Rachel's shiur on Job and we played a game of Puerto Rico. This time I was first, Rachel second, and Nadine third. Nadine and I discussed alternative starting plantations for three player, such as indigo-sugar-indigo, corn-sugar-indigo, and so on, without coming to any definitive conclusions. The truth is, taking out the Small Market is already a big step toward a solution, but third player still wins often.

Not this time, as between Rachel and I both taking Harbor, the VP supply drained very quickly. Nadine had the only big building, but she wasn't even able to man it.

Nadine was pumping out huge amounts of corn and tobacco, but we kept denying her boat space. I had a coffee monopoly, but the trading house emptied only once during the entire game. So I locked a boat, instead. Rachel still managed to trump me, once again with good Hospice play, taking a few corns and quarries when necessary, and then ending the game tied for me in shipping points (31 each), and 1 point ahead in building points. She won 44 to 43, while Nadine had 32 or so.

Monopoly Madness is an event to benefit the British Columbia Paraplegic Association and Boys & Girls Club Services of Greater Victoria. Saturday, February 24, 2007 at the Victoria Conference Centre, Canada.

Hasbro finally announced that it would be releasing various board games to play online on RealNetworks, including Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Game of Life, and Yahtzee.

Board Game News points us to the world record for Carcassonne playing - 42 hours and 48 minutes - with pictures.

And Slashdot informs us that eBay is delisting all virtual goods from Second Life, due to ownership clarification issues. Which may have an economic impact. On Second Life. Or eBay. Not sure which.


Friday, January 26, 2007

When I'm Gone



(photo credit)

Customer Service Wows and Woes

First, it was the burger place.

We've been ordering burgers for three years from the same place, probably around forty weeks each year. And unlike most Israelis, we almost always tip delivery service.

They mess up the orders occasionally, which is to be expected, and they generally correct them with a bit of arguing. This time, one of our members received a hamburger with mayo when the request was specifically to not include mayo, as the member can't/won't eat with mayo.

We called, and rather than coming with a new burger and taking the old, they were busy so they asked us to eat it and then they would send a new one next week. But nobody wanted to buy it, and our member was still hungry, so we refused this.

For some unknown reason, this resulted in them be willing to come and pick up the old burger (to ensure that we didn't eat it) but not to deliver a new burger that the member could eat. They agreed that they still owed us a burger next week. We ended up feeding this member from our fridge.

The next week, we reminded them that we were owed a burger, and they sent our order, but when I added up the tab, it included the price of the burger. I didn't realize this until after the delivery person left, unfortunately.

This week when we ordered, we pointed out the discrepancy, and they argued that they gave us a free burger last week and weren't going to give us another free one. Of course, we were at an impasse, since it was our word against theirs.

Of course, there are several things to remember here. Number one, even if the burger place was right and we were wrong, they didn't "gave us a free burger" last week, because we had paid for it the previous week and then they took it back. So at most, we would be getting one free burger.

Number two, we had been ordering from them over one hundred times; is it really worth risking several more years worth of business over a burger?

Unfortunately, I despaired. This was Israel, and very likely they didn't care. The Israeli socialist mentality is to give away nothing, because you're a monopoly. So to my surprise, after over fifteen minutes on the phone and then telling them that we're not sure we're going to order at all, they finally relented and sent out the burger for free, after warning that this was the last time they would do it.

Mixed feelings. I'm amazed that they gave in and realized our loyalty as customers, but of course I still had to argue about it for fifteen minutes.

That's Israel, for you. If they know you, they're willing to bend the rules a bit; not for the sake of good business, but for the sake of loyalty. But you get nowhere until you yell.

Now it's the Insurance

Someone broke into our car - again - but this time they pried open the entire door frame, ripped out the ignition and apparently tried to hot-wire the car, apparently to no avail.

Rachel found the car in this condition. Truth be told, I'm just happy that they left the radio, CDs, and my winter coat.

First our insurance agency tells us that the deductible is 1700 NIS, but that if we use a certain garage it's only 1500 NIS. So I have to call them and remind them that I paid extra for less of a deductible, and they check and say oops, I'm right, and it's only 1150 NIS. Still pretty high.

Next they tell me that I have a choice of "using" the insurance for costs over the price of the deductible, but then being subject to three years of increased payments on insurance, or simply paying for it myself anyway.

Everyone out there is going to laugh at me, but I said that that sounds like blackmail. I'm not a bigger risk now, just because someone broke into my car. And if the insurance company is going to raise my rates after making a payment to me, isn't that the same as simply giving me a much higher deductible? Furthermore, why can't I just get the final sum? What is my cheapest solution, tell me that, and that's it. Why do I have to play this game of figuring out over the cost of three years what will be the cheapest option?

The answer to all these questions was, of course, "Because, that's the way it works". And furthermore, every insurance company in the country does the same thing, which in my language we call racketeering and price-fixing.

So I was surprised when they told me that, at the very least, I could have a replacement car that I would ordinarily not get until Sunday. Mixed feelings again. A nice gesture, even though I only got it because I was arguing for another twenty minutes.

And Sony, too

My daughter bought a Sony 1MB Bean mp3 player for $110 from Amazon about six months ago, which broke. We sent it off to America for fixing, and they sent back a choice of fixing it for $77 or sending it back to us at no charge.

I said that $77 sounds like the wholesale price of a new player. Isn't mine still under warranty (for a year).

They said warranty for parts is for a year, but for service is only 90 days, and $77 represents the cost of the service only, but they could give me a 10% discount.

$70 still sounds like the wholesale price of the player to me, especially since the price probably dropped in the last six months since I bought the player. How much service is involved in simply wrapping up a new player and sending it to me? Given the price, I would prefer they send me back the player and I'll get it fixed locally for less money or just buy a brand spanking new one for the same price as the service.

I'm waiting for an answer to that one.

I know some people don't watch the news, but still ...

By the way, when I went to get my replacement car this morning, the girl behind the counter showed me on a map that I wasn't allowed to drive in the "pink" areas, which are the areas now under Palestinian control.

The map she showed me was an old map, however, because a third of Gaza was still marked as green rather than pink, which meant Israeli control. I pointed this out to her, and she said "It is? I don't know anything about that [Gaza having been given to the Palestinians]. I don't listen to the news."

Jaw drop.

And this is a native Jerusalemite.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Session Report, with a round-by-round of a Princes of Florence game

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up here. Games played: Mykerinos, Caylus, Poker, Princes of Florence, Wildlife, Tichu, Puerto Rico.

First play of Mykerinos, and I give a complete round-by-round analysis of a Princes of Florence game.

Marion Callahan in talks about attitudes towards winning and losing for parents.

An article in the London Free Press talks about the benefits of video games as a mental stimulant, but then concludes:
Culham says many of the benefits gained from video games can be found in plain old reality.

"I would suggest that people consider taking up tennis or playing strategy games like chess or backgammon with their friends," she says. "This way they get the intellectual benefits of a video game, but other benefits, too, such as cardiovascular exercise or social interaction and support."

Instead of shelling out cash for software, Culham says there are other ways -- just as effective but not as expensive -- to exercise your brain.

"Pull out the Sudoku from the newspaper, read some Jane Austen and play some games with your friends," she says. "That may do just as well -- or better."

Mykerinos: Review, Comments, Analysis


My second Secret Santa gift, Mykerinos (BGG, FunAgain), is another game from the new and ambitious publishing company that has put out the highly complex games Caylus and Ys.

While Caylus is a real brain burner, I'm actually not too fond of it, because there is just too much fighting with the game's mechanics, the board and tactics are overly complex, and the game lasts a good 40% longer than it really should. Ys suffers from a similar malady, having no less than ten separate tracks to keep track of, which is just complexity for its own sake. I enjoy Ys a bit more, because at least the game is shorter.

Happily, Mykerinos is the right length for complexity, and the complexity of the game is much simplified. Here we have a traditional Euro-game, a basic area-control game with choices and decisions that are not so complex that the aspect of competition is overwhelmed.

I came in expecting a cross between a light-Caylus and a Louis XIV, but the end result is that the game is much more reminiscent of Louis XIV than Caylus. In fact, the only aspect of Caylus to carry over is the passing track, where the order of passing is significant to the next phase of the game-play.

Essentially, like Louis XIV, there are four rounds of area control that are determined by placing cubes on a special arrangement of ability cards, and then subsequent cubes in a line from out from the first cubes places. During this time, players can use the ability cards they have previously acquired and which are also their main source of victory points (again like Louis).

After cubes are placed, area controllers then have the option of taking the ability card (areas) they have won, or leaving the card for the next person and instead placing a cube into a very limited museum area, the net effect of which is to multiply the values of one or two of the types of ability cards you have acquired.

There are five types of cards, and each area of the museum multiplies one or two of the card types. Only one person can occupy the x5 or x3 areas for a specific type of card, and there are x2 areas that each affect two of the types of cards. In our first play, it seemed that the obvious strategy was to quickly take control of at least one, but preferably two x5 locations. Failing that, at least one x5 location and one x3 location is necessary. Then you just acquire those cards for the remainder of the game.

Like a number of other games that seems to rely on the idea that you have a choice between acquiring what you need vs blocking what others get, the limited number of cubes you get each round appears to make blocking a self-sacrificing non-winning strategy, that will simply ensure that both of you lose, while other players continue on to victory. So the best you can hope for is to hinder your opponents with plays you wanted to make, anyway.

Since we only played once, I didn't get a good feeling for which card types to go for, initially. Additional plays should help with this.


All-in-all, the game was fairly clean and appealing, doing for area control sort of what Modern Art does for auctions. While some thought is required, the game will probably not devolve into too much AP. The choices are meaningful and interesting. I am looking forward to trying it again.

However, the game has number of obvious flaws, apparent even after one play.

First of all, the rulebook is watermarked with dark hieroglyphics behind the rules, making them very difficult to read. Apparently this is a printing error, but it's a bad one.

Secondly, the scoring tokens are too big for the scoring track. If a few players' scores are one number away from each other, the tokens simply don't fit on the track. You can instead use one of the little cubes of your color to keep score, but it's another sign of poor physical design.

Thirdly, the cards are faced on both sides, so there is no real way of randomizing them fairly, unless you pick them out of a bag. There was no need for this, as one side of the card indicates it's color and ability, and the other side represents the area markings used for the area control phase but also indicates the color of the card. A little redesign could have fit all of this information onto one side.

Fourth, if you are locked out of all x5 areas in the museum, you can forget about winning. A compensation bonus is given to collecting all types of cards rather than focusing on one or two types, but this bonus is inadequate to support such a strategy.

I will need to play a number of more times to see how this plays out. I suspect that it's not a problem, and simply a matter of poor play from not having experience. Nevertheless, an alternate version of the museum design could have prevented this type of situation from happening.

For instance, instead of the current museum design, imagine one where each player can advance a marker along one of the tracks in the five types of cards. At the end of the game, the player most advanced along any track receives the x5 multiplier, second place the x3 multiplier, and third the x2 multiplier. Anyone else, or not on the track, receives no multiplier. This type of arrangement would make the museum area of continual interest throughout the game, instead of only for the first two rounds.

As a result of the current arrangement, third and fourth place controllers in the third and fourth rounds receive nothing in areas, which makes the area control aspect less interesting as the game goes on rather than the reverse, which would make more sense.

Overall, the game is fairly dry, so won't appeal to those who are not expecting a mid-range Euro-game. Unlike other mid-range Euro-games, however, such as Elfenland, Rheinlander, and so on, the rule complexity to game-play ratio is right, making it a notch above the typical over-produced, underwhelming Euro-game. Even though nothing is dramatically new in the game, it is put together simply and well.


Each round you have eight cubes with which to play, for a total of 32 during the game. One of the cards gives you bonus cubes each round. Also, the order of passing gives you, in effect, bonus cubes, because ties are resolved in the order of passing.

Some of the cubes need to go into the museum. The most efficient scenario is three cubes in the museum, one in a x2 space, followed by two cubes in each of the neighboring x5 spaces. That is enough to assure that your card collection is nearly unblockable (2/5 of all cards on the board are now worth at least five points to you). If this happens your chances of winning are already pretty great, unless someone else managed the same thing.

If not, a x5 and a x3 are the next option, which also requires three cubes, preferably with the third cube on the x2 giving you a slight bonus for a third type of card, and not uselessly occupying the x3 location now nullified by the x5.

If you haven't managed this, you will need to spend more cubes in the museum, hoping to gain from the flexibility of being able to control any regions and specifically blocking others from gaining what they need, as well as collecting the bonuses for sets of cards. As I noted earlier, I don't think that this strategy is currently viable, especially as it requires you to put more cubes in the museum, which is less cards collected, which defeats the entire point.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Blogging vs Academia

What type of writing ...

- measures its success by inbound links?
- cross-links to peers on the same subject (out-linking to as many as possible)?
- presents huge lists of similar authors with each of its publications?
- gets its authors interviewed and invited to conferences?
- publishes posts chronologically?
- has A-listers through Z-listers?
- has better and worse platforms and authoring tools?
- tries to attract advertisements and sponsors?
- may get paid per post?
- has to publish regularly or loses its audience?
- tries to get the most eyeballs?
- must check facts or risk losing reputation?

There are still a few differences between academia and blogging:

- Academia relies on exhaustive research. Academic posts are supposed to survey all material on a topic, not only those that support their argument. Most blog posts survey only a limited amount of material, or are "off the cuff".
- Academia is painstaking and slow to write, too slow for the blogging world.
- Academia is usually meticulously edited. Academia is often peer-reviewed before publication. Blogs really should be.
- An individual academic writes about only one very narrow topic, consistently, while many bloggers tend to cover a wider range of topics.
- Academia is intended to further the sum total of human knowledge. Most blogging is for personal expression or entertainment.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Winning as a Goal is Incompatible with Art

I'm not sure if this post is the third in my series on Art and Games (1, 2), or the fourth in my series on Alternatives to Winning (1, 2, 3, as well as some others).

Quick Overview: Art Implies Message

For the sake of argument, let's stick to the requirements for art that I set out in my first article, namely that art is a) deliberately arranged, b) original, and c) attempts to convey something meaningful to the viewer or participant. While there are other ideas as to what makes "art", suffice to assume that I am not talking about whatever they define.

If a paper falls on the ground, I don't consider it art. But if someone puts a paper on the ground and attempts to convey something meaningful by doing so then it's art, regardless of the effectiveness of the attempt. It may be poor art, but it's art. My definition for art is fairly liberal, encompassing flat arts, video, written, sculpture, modern, and, most importantly for this post, interactive arts.

As a comparison, if the artist does not attempt to convey something meaningful, but the viewer finds meaning nonetheless, I don't consider this art, any more than I would if someone were to find something meaningful in looking at the Grand Canyon. Unless we want to consider God as the artist.

Quick Overview: Game Implies Goals

Video game or board game, party game or sport, "breaking Google's pagerank" or "team-building exercise", games are subject to almost as many definitions as art is. So again, I need to focus on what I am referring to. Whether or not we agree on what a game is, is not relevant to this post. I only need to clarify what I am talking about. If you hold a different idea as to what a game is, that's fine, but suffice to assume that I am not talking about that type of activity in this post.

Game to me implies an agreed upon rule-set, one or more goals, and the ability to distinguish between being in the game, out of the game, neither, or both.

For the sake of discussion, my definition of game here does not require interactivity between the players, but does require some interactivity between a player and something in his or her environment, such as seeing something and thinking, moving, or progressing something along from a non-winning condition to a winning condition. This usually entails some sort of competition or challenge, but I don't require that for my purposes (so I am perforce including video games and puzzles).

Nor does it require there to be relative winners and losers; that is, that some participants lose while others win, or that a winning or losing label is assigned to any players upon game completion. This logic for this last exception - no requirement for relative winners and losers - is discussed in my Alternatives to Winning posts (2 and 3).

Game Implies Interactive Progression Using Given Rules Toward a Goal

The essence of the game is not its physical, visual, or auditory components, which of course may be art. A game's essence is the interactivity of the participant with his or her environment. The abstract possibility of a game is realized only through the participation of one or more players in playing it out. It is like a play, only the path through is vaguely guided by rules rather than scripted in total. In some games, the path is more constricted than others, to be sure.

Consider Chess. The goal is to checkmate your opponent, or to achieve a draw otherwise. The first step is limited to the movement of a certain number of pieces. Although limited in nature, the first move of a Chess game is still much freer than the opening moments of a typical movie or play, which can follow only one path.

Game Implies Learning

As Raph Koster notes in his book A Theory of Fun in Game Design, games are educational on a deep level, allowing us to master challenges, and then, after we have mastered these challenges, they bore us so that we can move on to new challenges. It is why game-based education is so successful and engaging, and why many people look to games for specific educational purposes, from augmenting physical therapy to increasing math and spacial reasoning abilities.

Outside of this pattern learning aspect, we can increase our mental or physical abilities in many different ways as a result of playing games, whether from sports, trivia games, or games that incorporate educational material such as environmentalism or health.

Games and Art Both Imply Message

But where games imply learning, so does art. Because isn't the essence of art a meaningful message? A communicates something that someone doesn't know or remember, at least on a conscious level.

If you take the Mona Lisa, for example, you may learn many things by viewing the painting. Maybe about the hidden strength of women, the notion of independence, techniques in brush-stokes, or many other things. Whatever the messages are, these are something that, by definition, you have either learned or remembered by viewing the art. If you have not learned anything after viewing art, you have not gotten the message. Either the art failed, or it's purpose was too mundane, or you were not receptive.

The same applies to games, whether we accept Raph's notions of pattern learning from games or simply the external thematic experiences that the games try to portray.

Every message conveys something new; that's learning. Learning is a series of messages.

Games Are Interactive, And Art Can Be Interactive, Too

If both art and games are, at their essence, vehicles for conveying messages, regardless of their entertainment value, then what is the difference between them?

You can't say interactivity, because I can point to many works of art that make the audience an inherent part of the participation process. For instance, a room to walk through, buttons to push, your voice echoing back purposely altered. All of these include interactivity to convey messages, messages that cannot be conveyed without the interactivity, or at least not as well.

The message of a piece of interactive art may be a new way to feel from the act of decapitating a little figure, or of the loneliness of a large space. Either way, the participation is inherent to the message of interactive art.

Games and Art Imply Goal

Imagine a vast room, deliberately created as an interactive art work in order to convey the feeling of diminutiveness relative to a universe. Now imagine the two experiences of a) walking through the room with the goal of experiencing the message of the art, and b) participating in a race that takes you through the room with the goal of winning the race, but that gives as a secondary experience the same message of diminutiveness while you are racing.

You could argue that by focusing on the goal of winning the race, we lessen the impact of the message from the art, because our attention is divided. Or, you could argue that the message will be conveyed even more greatly, because by not focusing on the message itself, we let in the message subconsciously, which results in a higher impact.

The Goal of a Game is Not the Artistic Goal

Regardless of your argument about the impact of the message via these two methods of interaction with the piece, you must admit that in the second case, the goal of the art is not the winning of the race. That is not the message of the piece.

The race is part of the material that was used to create the art. Just like the space is created to convey something, the activity with which you interact it created to convey something. But the goal of the art is the understanding, while the goal of the game is to achieve victory in the game. The goal of art is never "to win". It is to accept the message of the artist. There is no winner or loser in the message of art.

Some Examples

Example: let's say that two people are running toward a goal. The first person is in a race to get to the goal. The second is admiring the view.

The first person's body can continue to race toward the goal while his mind also admires the view. But in this case, his body is inside the game, while his mind is outside the game. Admiration of the view is not part of the goal of the game, although it may be something that he is simultaneously learning.

Example: Let's say that you are playing Where's Waldo on a beautiful picture. The first person to spot Waldo wins.

Here your brain is more tightly wrapped up in the goal of the game. It can't wander admiring the beauty or managing the message of the art while at the same time working toward the goal of finding Waldo. At least, not on a conscious level. Any time you spend learning about the message of the art detracts from the goal of the game, and vice versa.

Example: let's create an art installment where you race against a man with no legs, so that the outcome is always that you will win. Here we have a game where the goal of the game is to win. Here we have art, where the message is to experience the sympathy for the man with no legs while we function well with our two. Even in this case, the goal of winning is something you do in order to feel the message, but the goal of winning is not the message itself.

It is not the game element that is teaching, but the experience outside the "game".

Winning as a Goal is Incompatible with Art

So, are games art?

Games that involve winning cannot be art "in total", although they can include art in them (and not just visual or aural art). But this art can be absorbed only when the goal of the game is suspended, or if the art is meant to be absorbed unconsciously during the process of playing the game.

If we remove the element of winning from the game, the game can still involves goals. But without the singular goal of "winning", other aspects about the game become integrated into the game itself, rather than external to the game. Games are then simply a subset of art, and the art they contain is a reflection of the artistic skills and messages that their creator's wish to convey.


Update: Please see the comments for follow-up discussion and clarifications.

Links Galore

First of all, the 2006 Board Game Internet Awards are finally up.

I went through all of the Domain Name links that start with "boardgame" and found about what you would expect.

* The vast majority were parked domains for rent or sale with the expectation that someone will want to pay cash for them.

* Many of the domains are familiar to my readers (boardgamegeek, boardgameswithscott, boardgamebabylon, etc...).

* A number of the domains are in an Asian language, and are probably storefronts.

* A few are local stores that didn't excite me.

* A number of them claim to be companies that will help you produce your board game.

Here are some of the remaining interesting ones: - A Milwaukee game store with game nights and game reviews. - Looks like an old site about German board games. - A small site by three people about German games with info on Mayfair games, mostly. Looks new. - Another fairly new site about German games, blog-like started in October, doesn't seem to have progressed. - Beautiful Go equipment. - Articles and Forums about kids and German games in Korea, in English. Connected to Boardgamecafe, which has some great game blogs. - Goody Games, also develops games and sells the games it has developed. - Yet another game store, but with some pretty good prices on German games. - Lots of info on German games, including links to ebay listings. Scraping its info from BGG, I think. - A great way to search all the major online game stores for game prices. - donate games to the victims of Katrina via the Corpus Christi School in Mobile, Alabama. - A German game friendly online game space. - A used and vintage game source. - Another discounted German game friendly store. - A wiki designed for board games. Currently empty. - Another discounted game store based in Holland, with fairly good international shipping rates.

Today's Links:

The Escapist weighs in on licensed board games.

Someone named Stephen Tallevi has created New Dice Games, with some new and original games.

Prof. Morgan McGuire ran a Game Design Studio for Williams College's Winter Study program, studying board game design.

Speaking of schools, students are playing a live game of Risk at Yale, something that started out as an art project and turned into a game owing to lack of funding. Over 350 students have participated so far.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Oh Hell, Down to the Wire

Tal and I played a quick game of Oh Hell last night, which I won. On the last round, Tal and I were exactly ten points apart.

The last round, a single card is dealt, so Tal could still have won if she had bid 1, which would have forced me to bid 1, and if she had then won the lead. The net result would have been +6 for her and -5 for me.

Unfortunately for her, the King of Diamonds was the trump-determining card, and I held the Ace of Diamonds in my hand.

Via Raph, a site that implores you to join First Life (Not Second Life).

Zenspace adds to the fray on whether videogames are art. Zenspace appears to be writing various papers about videogames and posting them on completion.

The Stanford Daily hits the right note about board games.

The latest issue of Toronto's Broken Pencil is all about games.

A beautiful new Indian board game in the Risk family is being developed at The Uttarakhand Board Game. The board, pieces, and rules are available for download and beta-testing.

NearbyGamers is another site providing meetup services for tabletop gaming.

My sister-in-law sent me this cute video about a grandmaster playing simultaneous games (not all the same game).


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Speed Dating at Haveil Havalim

"We're going to what?" Sharon asked, for the third time. The bright lights of the New York City streets rushed past, white, yellow and red streaks outside the frosted taxi windshield.

"Haveil Havalim," answered Mitch, for the third time. "It's a speed dating service on the upper West Side." Mitch looked handsome in his full-length overcoat. It's too bad it never worked out for them, thought Sharon, wistfully. But that water was long under the George Washington Bridge.

Sharon sighed and shifted her shoulders in her faux-bomber. Why was she doing this? "Why am I doing this?" she added aloud.

Mitch smiled a crooked smile in the dim light. "I told you. You get to meet a whole lot of people all in one evening. Supposedly people know whether or not they 'click' within the first few minutes of conversation. So Haveil Havalim lets you meet fifteen or twenty people all in one night. If you like each other, you exchange phone numbers. If not, you don't, and no harm done. It's like a blog carnival."

"Sounds like a meat market," moaned Sharon. "'I'll take twenty pounds of the tall one with the black hair, and a slice of that short guy if you trim off some of the fat.' This is ridiculous."

"Oh, come on, it will be fun. At the very least, it will be a new experience." Mitch streched out his long legs in the cramped back seat of the taxi.

"Oh, Mitch!" complained Sharon. "What am I doing here? They'll all be a bunch of freaks! Or they'll all think that I'm a freak for coming!"

Mitch let Sharon rant for the rest of the cab-ride, knowing that there was no real way to stop her. He just hope the evening turned out for the best.

After five more minutes, they arrived at their destination. Mitch and Sharon got out of the taxi and surveyed the small synagogue, converted this and every Sunday evening into its little matchmaking service. There were people of various sorts of complexion, disposition, and, apparently, religious observance talking on the steps in the chilly air. People walked in and out of the front doors.

"Please, can we just go?" whispered Sharon. "I promise I'll call that guy you told me about. Really!"

"Now, Sharon," said Mitch, taking her by the arm and gently forcing her into the main hall. "First of all, it won't be so bad. And second of all, I gave you that number three months ago. If you don't get out of your apartment now, you're going to crust over like the stale pizza you still have in the back of your fridge."

That doesn't sound any worse than going through with this, thought Sharon. But she gulped and allowed Mitch to lead her to the sign-up desk where they both put down their names. They paid their entry fee and received in return a clipboard, paper, pen, and some small blank business cards, to be filled out and proffered to prospective suitors.

The room was a long series of tables. The girls sat down at the tables, and the guys were supposed to move to each new table every three minutes.

"They're starting in a few minutes, Shar. Relax. It will be fun. Besides, everyone here seems nice. How bad could it be?"

"Mitch," Sharon breathed out with a small laugh. "You will regret those words by the end of this evening! Believe me!"

"It's a bet."

A few minutes later, Haveil Havalim began.

Sharon found an empty seat and sat down. In a moment, her first match took the opposite seat.

"Hi," Sharon began, with a faint smile. "I'm Sharon, what's your name?"

The tall guy with a beard blinked at her.

"Letters of Thought," he said.

"Oh that's ... uh, excuse me? What was that?"

"Letters of Thought."

"That's your name."

"Yes." He appeared uninterested.

"Oh. That's a very unusual .. uh, well, uh, 'Letters', uh, what do you do for a living?"

"The Shoes of the Wandering Jew."

"Come again?"

"I traveled around the world, Italy, Poland, eleven countries altogether. These are my shoes." So saying, he lifted his right foot up and put it on the table. "See?"

Startled, Sharon, drew back. "Oh, uh, that's very uh interesting." Freak.

Time was up, so Letters went on to the next table. In his place, five people, two girls and three guys, all tried to sit down in the seat.

"Hi, we're JBlogosphere. Hey Friends, It's JBlog Awareness Month!!!!"

"Uh, hi, guys, but what are you doing? Isn't this supposed to be one guy, one girl? Or is this some sort of group thing?"

"We need The Plan of Action! We're deciding what to do next!"

"Great. Could you do it somewhere else?"

"Sure, miss! Thanks for stopping by!" And they all moved off in a jumbled bunch.

Curiouser and curiouser, thought Sharon. I wonder what will happen next. As it happened, a young, handsome man sat down in their place.

"Hello," Sharon began, cautiously.

"Hello," responded the man.

"I'm Sharon."

"I'm Life in Israel."

"You're uh, what?"

"Life. In Israel." The man seemed to think these was nothing particularly odd about this. He waited for Sharon to respond.

"Life. Oh, is this a metaphor? Or, or a riddle?" she asked, rather desperately.

"And the Slifkin saga continues.... One Rabbi slanders another, and another responds. The situation grows complex."

"Wait," said Sharon, "I know this one. And, and a Priest says to the first Rabbi ..."

The young man lowered his head and said to her in a conspirational whisper, "We want blood."

"Ohhhh-kay, now you're creeping me out. Are you a vampire or something?"

"Oh, no. It's just that the government of Israel has to go."

"Oh, I see. Oh. Our time's up. Uh, see ya."

The young man went on his way. Sharon thought, well, that's three for three. Another young man wearing a large black kippah took Life's place.

"Hi, I'm Canonist. I write about religion."

"Hi, I'm Sharon. I exist as a figment of an author's imagination.

"Nice to meet you, Sharon. Is Social Justice the Soul of Judaism?"

"Wh.. what? Uh, hmmm. That's an interesting question. What do you think?"

"Of course not, but Jewcy wanted me to argue about it with Dan Sieradski."

"Well, if you know the answer, why did you ask?"

"Why did you sit down without being invited?"

"Well, there was no one else sitting here."

"Isn't that strange?"

Sharon didn't answer, thinking her companion very rude. Eventually, his time was up and he got up and left.

Well, I hope the rest of them have more manners than that one did, she thought.

The next one to sit down was a young woman.

"Hi, I'm A Mother in Israel. What's your name?" she asked.

"Uh, I'm Sharon. Aren't you sitting in the guy's seat?"

"Oh, yes. But I present An Interview with the Maggid. He's really very interesting."

"Oh, are you here on behalf of your son? Is he, like, shy, or something?"

"Child spacing, Part 1 When does chinuch begin? I believe that mothers need at least a year between pregnancies to recover from birth, and the toddler and the baby are also shortchanged with closer spacing. Excuse me."

So saying, the woman departed. Another woman took her place.

"Hey," exclaimed Sharon. "Am I in the wrong section? I thought this was just for girls to meet guys. I'm not into anything weird. Not that there's anything wrong with that, you know."

"Oh, me too. I'm just resting. I'm The IgNoble Experiment, a.k.a. Live Dangerously! Do you know anything about the Hasbara Management Central?"

"No, not really."

"Well, Jews ought to be more efficient with the way they handle criticism of Israel. Don't you agree?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Well, nice to meet you, uh..."

"Sharon." They shook hands.

The next person was a handsome gentleman with a white beard.

Oh my, thought Sharon, I didn't realize so many older people were here. I may as well be polite.

"Hi, I'm Sharon," she managed, sweetly.

"My word," said the man, looking Sharon up and down. "My Right Word."

"Your 'right' word?" The look-over made Sharon's skin crawl.

"My word. My word, my word my word." He paused.

"Um," said Sharon, trying to think of something to say. "So, what do you do for fun?"

"Twenty-nine years ago, permission was granted to establish a civilian presence near Tel Shiloh. I write all about it in Tel Shiloh Story - My Op-ed in today's Jerusalem Post. You should read it."

"Sounds interesting. Could you summarize it, maybe?"

"Just a moment. I'm getting a call." He pulled out a cellphone and said, "Hello? Hello? I cant hear you? Hello?"

Sharon twiddled her thumbs, while she waited.

"And Just Who Is 'Barbaric', Mr. Lapid?" Mr Word screamed into the phone. He gave a quick glance to Sharon, and then looked back at the phone. "Never call me again!"

He hung up the phone. "A Blogger Should Merit Solidarity, don't you think? Where is the outcry for the Egyptian blogger?"

Sharon, thoroughly confused, answered, "I'm sure I don't know. Well, it was nice to meet you."

"Oh, pardon me. Good night." He stood up, walked over to the candy machine, and began yelling at it.

Well, well, Sharon thought, looks like I'm going to win that bet after all.

Another guy sat down.

"Hi, I'm Sharon. And you are ...?"

"Sixty-five. Fourteen twenty-two. A bid on a branch. Five farthings for a comeuppance. Football's making a comeback. What do you call the survivors?"

"Well, I still don't know who you are, but you sound like a whole bunch of Random Thoughts."

"Exactly. Where did our love go? I could use that to make a fire. Two stars to the left and straight on til morning. Aliyah Musings."

"Aliyah? Are you making aliyah?"

"Life is one hell of a crazy journey. Good bye."

I guess the Mad Hatter will be next, thought Sharon.

But the next to walk by was another big party of people. They stopped at her table and looked at her.

"Kesher Talk," they said.

Sharon just stared back at them. Then she got up.

"Excuse me, I need to get a drink." She began to walk over to the tea table.

"Wait!" yelled the party, chasing after her. "The Threshold of Soul! Meeting the Lubavitcher Rebbe!"

Sharon ignored them, and they wandered off to ask some other people if they had put on tephillin today. She returned with a hot cup of tea and resumed here seat.

A nervous looking man sat down at the table. He kept looking around him. Sharon waited to see what he would do next.

Suddenly, he bent down and looked under the table. Sharon crossed her legs. Is this guy a pervert? she thought.

"Hi, I'm The Pragmatician."

"I'm Sharon. What's your problem?"

He looked conspiratorially left and right and then whispered, "Cynophobia: Fear of Dogs. I'm sorry, but I have it, and other people are so insensitive to it, they just let their dogs jump on me!" He began to look upset.

Sharon considered him fondly. "This is really a big problem for you?"

"Oh, yes," he was very nearly in tears now.

"I can help you," said Sharon.

"Oh, you can? How?" He leaned in to Sharon.

Sharon leaned back. And then she yelled into his ear, "Woof!"

"AHHHHHH!" yelled the man, leaping up and running to and fro, before he ran out the door. Sharon heard a large crash of garbage cans being upset and a moan of pain.

Sharon couldn't help laughing to herself, even though she told herself that what she had done was mean and uncalled for. Oh, but I need to amuse myself, somehow. What's next?

A great big circus tent sat down across from her.

"Let me guess. Your name is 'Circus'," she said.

"Circus Tent. Mr H and My M Tent, at your service."

"Well, what can I do for you Mr Tents, seeing as you're not here for the event that's happening."

"I wanted to let the blogging community know about a fantastic new Chabad cookbook that was just published. I write about it in Uplifting The Sparks In A Cookbook."

"OK, thanks. I'll be sure to read about it."

"You will? Thanks!" said the tent. It shuffled off.

Three women sat down across from her.

"How's it going? You look depressed," they said.

"Not so good. All of the people I've met are a little strange. Is it just me?"

They laughed.

"Oh, no, it's not just you. This is a rather strange place. You just have to meet it head on as strange as they come to you," said one.

"Take us," said another. "We come as a team. We're called 'Me-ander'. 'Me and her', get it? Only it's three of us."

"So you think I should come here as part of a team? I came with someone," she added. She looked around, and saw Mitch talking to something that looked like a six-foot hot dog.

"Yes. Because people come up with the weirdest things to say on the spur of the moment. For instance, you'll just be talking and they'll say 'And More About Buses'. It doesn't matter what you were talking about before. Now you're talking about same-sex buses, cholesterol, or who knows what."

"Yeah," added the third, "when before you were talking about "...who knew not Yosef..." re-writing history, like what's happening today."

"Thanks," said Sharon. "It's nice to know that I'm not alone."

"Well, good luck. You'll find someone, yet!" they added, waving goodbye.

The sessions resumed with a frum guy sitting down.

"Hi," he said. "My name is Heichal Hanegina."

"Hi!" said Sharon. "My name is Not Too Shabby. Broken Cars! And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street! Staying Alive is Back in the Saddle! What's Olmert Done This Time?!" She waited expectantly.

"Huh," said the guy. "And here I was hoping to have a nice conversation about Rav Baal Hatanya and Napoleon's March, but you're obviously too weird for me." And he got up and left.

"Wait!" She stood up. "Wait!" But it was too late. She sat back down, feeling miserable. I blew it, she thought.

Another frum guy sat down across from her.

"Hi, my name's ... oh! What's the matter?"

Sharon looked up and wiped her eyes.

"Nothing." She swallowed. "Sorry. Nothing. It's just all a little overwhelming. So, uh, what do you do, Oh What's?"

The man laughed. "Ha, ha! That's not my name. Who would have a strange name like that?"

Sharon smiled weakly. "It's just that so many other people here tonight ... I'm sorry. So, ahem, my name is Sharon. What's yours?" She lifted her tea and took a drink.

"My name's Boker Tov, Boulder."

Sharon just barely didn't spew tea all over her companion.

She collected herself. "Ah, ok, Boker. What should we talk about?"

Boker considered. "American Exodus?" he ventured.

Blink, blink. "You mean aliyah to Israel from America?"


Sharon waited.

"Well, what should do you want to say about it?"

"Beats me," said Boker Tov. "I thought you might know."

"Nice to meet you."

"Same here. Feel better." And he went.

Sharon looked at the clock. Oh no, not even half-way there! She wasn't sure how she was going to survive much more of this.

A young man with an Australian accent was next.

"My name's Israellycool."

"That's a nice name, uh, Isra."

"Did you know that the Palestinians try to compare themselves with Native Americans? I call this phenomenon Crying With Wolves."

"Really? That sounds ... cogent."

"Oh yes. When there are more parallels between Native Americans and Jews than between Native Americans and Palestinians."

"That sound interesting, Isra. But we're out of time. Shall we exchange cards?"

"Oh, yes, let's!"

They passed each other a card. Finally, someone normal, thought Sharon.

"Well, I'll see you," said Israelycool, cheerfully. "Just as soon as I see the other hundred people I see every day. Bye." And he waved.

After he was gone, Sharon tore up the card and dropped it in her purse. Next, she thought.

"Hi, I'm Ocean Guy," said the next fellow.

"Hi, I'm Sharon. Do you have any interests?"

"Yes, I'd like to talk More on Peace. Arafat talked about war, not peace."

"'More' on peace? How can we talk about more when we haven't talked at all, yet?"

"Oh, I talked about peace with the last person, too."

"OK. Uh, thanks."

"Thanks. Bye."

"And your name?"

Across from her sat a big black box. The words "History News Network" flashed on the side.

"Hello, Mr Network. What do you have for me today?"

The side of the box flashed: "SEGOLENE FOLLOWS IN HILLARY'S FOOTSTEPS. Segolene Royal, the official Socialist presidential candidate went to Lebanon and sat there listening politely to a Hizbullah MP called Ali Ammar ... Ali Ammer ... attacked what he called modern-day "nazism" in Israel. Royal listened politely and they said: "I agree with a lot of things you have said, notably your analysis of the United States."

The box slid away.

"Hi, I'm Daled Amos."

"Hi, I'm Sharon. What are you doing here?"

"Looks Like Hamas Has This Democracy Thing Down Pat."

"Not really."

"You're right. Bye!"


Sheesh. Next. Another young woman sat down.

"Hi, I'm Sharon, but I'm only interested in guys. Sorry!"

"I'm Rubicon3. Did you hear about the first Rabbi in Germany Afraid to Wear Kippah?"

"No, why?"

"He was accused of anti-semitism! Ha hahahahaha!" she continued to laugh.

"I don't get it."

Rubicon3 stopped and looked at her. "Oh, well, then you can't be my friend." And she got up and left. A well-dressed man took her place.

"Hi, I'm the Velveteen Rabbi."

"Hi, I'm ... oh I get it. I loved that book. What a cute name."

"I have A new way of relating to the Ashrei."

"Really, tell me about it."

"How about I call you and tell you about it over dinner?"

Sharon's eye arched. But she decided to go for it. "OK." The two exchanged cards and he left.

Hey, one score, she thought. Let's see what's next.

Another young man sat down.

Brightly, Sharon started, "I'm Sharon."

"I'm Life of Rubin. Would you like to hear about MY REVIEW OF HASC'S 20TH A TIME FOR MUSIC CONCERT: Part I?"

"Um, not really, but thanks. And you don't have to shout."


"No thank you, and please stop ..."


Sharon had her hands over her ears by this point.

"What? What was that you said? Stop shouting!"

"OK." He motioned for Sharon to remove her hands from her ears. "Sorry. Hey! There is a KOSHER Subway in Brooklyn Now!?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"Jblog Awareness Month: Thursday Morning Link Drops."

"I have no idea what you're talking about anymore. Thanks. Bye."


Ouch, thought Sharon, rubbing her ears.

Another well-dressed dark-skinned man sat down.

"Good evening. I am The Muqata."

"Hi, Muqqie. I'm Sharon.

"Muqqie? If you please!" said the man, indignantly.

"Sorry. Muq? Qata? Qattie?"

"Muqata, if you please."

"Sorry. Muqata."

"I had Breakfast With Jameel."

"Who's Jameel?"

"Did you meet my friend earlier. Random Thoughts?"

"Oh, yes, that guy. Strange guy."

"Yes, very. So are you. Nice to have met you."

"Thanks, me too. Bye."

I wonder if the sheep will eat my rose? she thought.

A young man sat down and began singing:
Oh yeah, oh yeah
I'm the Blogmeister
Oh yeah, oh yeah
I'm not a shyster

Oh yeah, oh yeah
It's an old adage
You know Religious Women
Rock the Stage..
And then he left.

Another young frum man sat down. He was scowling.

"Hi, my name's Israel Matzav."

"Nice to meet you, Israel. My name's Sharon."

She waited for him to say something.

Suddenly he yelled, "Dhimmi Carter and the Nazis!"

"Excuse me?"

He considered her response for a minute, and then went back to brooding. Then he yelled:

"Why Tzipi Feigele would be a disaster for Israel!"


Silence, again.

"How the British used Steven Wise to keep Jews in DP Camps!"

"Pardon me?"

And another pause.

"'Her His kiss is on my lips'!"

Ew, thought Sharon. "Nicetomeetyoubye!"

He got up and left, still brooding. Sharon wrote on the paper next to his name: has issues.

The next guy to sit down pulled out a gemara and began learning. Without looking up, he asked, "You Give Maaser, Why Aren't You Rich?"

"Uh, well, is that important?"

He ignored her, and a few minutes later began again: "Sharing in the Suffering and this Week's Parsha ..."

"Yes?" Sharon wanted to hear the rest.


"NEXT!" shouted Sharon.

"Hi," said the next man, "My name is It's Almost Supernatural."

"I'm sorry, are you saying that your name is actually It's Almost Supernatural, or that there is something supernatural about your name?"

The man thought for a moment. "The first."

"Ah. So, uh, It's, my name is Sharon. What do you like to read?"

"I just read Celsius 7/7."

"You mean Fahrenheit 9/11?"

"No, this book is an answer to Fahrenheit 9/11."

"Sounds interesting."

"His understanding of Israel’s strategic value (and also threat) is exceptional."

"Thanks. I'll look for it."

"Good. See you."


That wasn't so bad, I guess, thought Sharon.

A woman sat down.

"Hi, I'm Yourish. I just had to tell you about Stupid Virginia politicians. In the year 2007, a backward-thinking man in a state that likes to think of itself as forward-thinking managed to piss off blacks and Jews during the annual legislative session."

Yourish chatted with Sharon for a while, and they were soon joined by Baleboosteh.

"What brings you here?" asked Yourish.

"My Reasons... ... are complex," said Baleboosteh, who went on to explain the long path that brought her to convert to Judaism and then end up at the speed dating evening.

"Well, we have to go. Good luck!" They waved goodbye.

An old man sat down across from her.

"Hi," she began, guardedly. "Uh, are you in the right place? You're a little out of my age range. Sorry."

The old man held up his hand.

"My name is Elder of Ziyon. Gaza, 1955." And he told an interesting tale of history about the land of Israel.

Sharon listened, facinated. Too bad he's too old for me, because he's a fascinating talker.

He went on. "Two forgotten examples of historic Arab rejectionism. ..."

Sharon sat enraptured until he finally thanked her for being such a nice listener, wished her well, and went on.

The next person to sit down came with a big entourage. He must be famous, thought Sharon. One of the entourage proclaimed: "And now, please welcome The Volokh Conspiracy!"

And the whole entourage clapped. Sharon felt it polite to do the same.

"Today's topic is Carter and the Jews. Carter is being disingenuous." And he went on about Carter's claim to Jews trying to stop him from speaking.

I don't know if he's famous, but he certainly is interesting, thought Sharon. It would be nice to meet him without all these people around. Volokh finished speaking, shook hands, and left.

Next to sit down was a pleasant middle-aged man, who said his name was "Yid With Lid".

"So, what's under the lid, Yid?"

"There is no 'THE' in UN Resolution 242: CAMERA gets it straight from the Drafter's Mouths."

"Come again?"

"Quartet to Meet on Groundhog Day: How Appropriate is that ?"

"Well, I couldn't say. A quart of what?"

"Did the RJC Ad Go Too Far?: Wesley Clark and Jewish Issues."

"Um, I'm not sure that I follow you ..."

"American Jews: Can't We all Just Get Along?"

"Ah, there I agree with you. Well said, Mr Yid."

Yid looked pleased as he left.

A man dressed in quite colorful clothes was next.

"Hi, my name is Sharon. What's yours?"

"There are no feminists on a sinking ship."

"OK, but what's your name?"

"I just told you?"

"'There are no feminists on a sinking ship'? That's your name?"


"That's a mouthful. Can I call you There for short?"

There looked unhappy. "If you must."

"So, There. What's have you been up to?"

"The Orthodox Jewish 'I Have a Dream Speech'."

There recited the speech, which Sharon found amusing, so they exchanged cards, and There went. Well, that's two, which is, after all, better than nothing.

A woman called Shiloh Musings sat down.

"Are you almost done, here? Any luck?"

"Two. I was just about ready to run away to Israel."

"You Don't Have to go to Eastern Europe, dear."

"Europe? I said Israel."

"Oh, I thought you were talking about synagogues. I was Locked in the Tomb. Rachel's Tomb, to be precise. What an experience."

"But that's in Israel!" Sharon protested.

"Of course it is. What did you think I said?"

"I ... oh, never mind."

"Hello," said the next one. "Getting tired?"

"Yes, somewhat. I'm Sharon."

"I'm SimplyJews."

"That's funny, because you look like only one person."

"Has he changed?"

"Has who changed?"

"Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak."

"I don't know."

"Bunnies for Kim Jong Il?"

"You ask such strange questions, I feel all dizzy."

"You're not the only one. So do we."

"So do we who?"



Another man sat down.

"I'm A Simple Jew."

"Oh. How curious. Your plural was just here."

"My plural?"

"Sorry. Do you have a lot of friends?"

"Two Friends & Twelve Years."

"Don't you mean 'two friends in twelve years'?"

"No, I was talking about two friends who both graduated twelve years ago, taking very different paths to surprising results."

"Oh. Sounds interesting."

"Thank you. Well. Good evening."

"Good evening."

How many more to go, she wondered. Let me check ... oh, just two. Whew.

The guy sat down in a yoga posture.

"My name is The Israeli Tikkun Blog. Who are you?"

"I'm Sharon."

"No. No. *Who* are *you*?"

"Uh, Sharon?"

"My dear, you must learn the arts of Judaism, Zen and Basketball."


"All will be revealed to those who study. Goodbye."


Well, this is the last one. Thank goodness ... oh no.

A man sat down across from her and began to cry.

"Whatever's wrong?" she asked.

"N .. n... nothing's wrong, Ma'am. This is just what I do. I always cry." And he bawled out loud in great tears.

"Call me Sharon. Why do you always cry?"

"B ..b....because I'm The Town Crier! I'm paid to cry for the whole town, and I haven't stopped crying in five years! Waaaaaa!"

"There, there, Mr Crier. Don't you ever think about anything happy?"

"Well, I'm thinking about New Approaches to Holocaust Education. It's about the tragic failure of our schools to teach about the Holocaust, properly." He looked up at Sharon with hopeful eyes. "Does that count?"

"Ah well, it .. uh, no, not really."

He began crying again in a loud wail, and Sharon excused herself and went outside. She found Mitch.

"So, was I right? How was it?" asked Mitch.

"Mitch, Mitch, Mitch ..."

"Yes, I was right, wasn't I?" Mitch beamed.

"Mitch, if you ever take me here again, I'll punch you so hard you won't remember what sex you are."

And she grabbed him by the arm into the street to hail a taxi home.


Saturday, January 20, 2007


Puerto Rico: Still the best game in the world.

Friday evening we had over two families: the family of a friend of my daughter, Tal, and Nadine and son. One of the son's of the first family was interested in learning a game, and Nadine and Rachel were happy to play Puerto Rico, so he got his first introduction to new games via Puerto Rico.

While Puerto Rico is the best game in the world, it's not usually my first choice for new players, as it is a little more complicated than some of the other games, especially the longish set up time.

Once the boy got into it, however, he loved it. Unlike usual, we kept Nadine in check a little; she has a habit of explaining and offering advice for most every move when a new player learns PR. I instead gave the bare minimum, explanations here and there about what the buildings do, and a few warnings about some egregious moves he was going to make. Other than that, he played, and ... won. Yes, 50 to Nadine's 49, Rachel's 43, and my 39.

I was thwarted on almost every move and got almost no cash the entire game. Everyone else was able to sell when I wasn't. Harsh. When this happens, even I admit that it is a bit of a failing in a game when despite good play, you can end up with nothing to show for it. Even Rachel began to feel a little sorry for me.

The boy's initial purchase as first player was a Hospice, and he won against good players, so that will teach you. It helps when all the corns come up early. I manage to get a Harbor, but the big buildings were all gone before I could get them, and so actually bought a Large Warehouse for the first time in a year or so (the Small ones were gone, and I couldn't afford a Wharf). Rachel and Nadine, both corn players, both got Factories, but Rachel was producing Coffee along with two others, while Nadine had a Tobacco monopoly.

So, still the best game, but not perfect.

When it comes down to it, there are two types of games: games where the better player always wins, in which case it's no fun because the other player has no chance of winning, and games where either player can win, in which case it's no fun because better thinking and playing offers no reward. Ipso facto, games are not fun.

Zertz: A terminating abstract game

Zertz is my fourth game of the Gipf series, a series of six modern abstract games by Kris Blum. All the games come in futuristic looking boxes with otherworldly landscape designs on them, and the pieces are marble-like plastic with a heft. his contrasts with most designers' abstract games where they aim for wooden or metal pieces.

Along with the six games, Kris tries to claim that the games can be played interlockingly and with other games by means of "potentials", which basically means taking the pieces and using them in other games. The whole idea is grand and ambitious, but essentially silly, in my opinion.

However, he does have these six abstract games, and of the four I've played, so far three are quite good.

The one I didn't like was Gipf, the first and namesake of the series. This is because the gameplay is rather pedestrian, without any real "wow" factor, but mostly because the game doesn't terminate. With correct play by both parties, players continuously add and remove pieces from the board, or move them around (like Abalone), wating for an opponent to make a mistake. If they don't no one can win. Nope, not good.

The first game that I played was Dvonn, and it's the one I like the best, so far. Dvonn is a strange game of filling in all the locations with stackable disks in the first part of the game, and then stacking them in the second part of the game.

The first part appears to be very random, although there are plenty of things to take notice of while you are doing it. The second is quite interesting, as the person who ends up with the highest stacks with their color disks on top wins. A few other interesting rules make the game deep. And the game is guaranteed to terminate, because each move reduces the playing field until no more moves remain.

The second game that I played, and the highest rated on BGG was Yinsh. Yinsh is a nice terminating abstract game which plays like Othello on drugs. Instead of only flipping your opponent's pieces, you flip all pieces. Every time you make a line, you remove one of your own controlling pieces, thus making it harder to compete. This auto-balancing mechanism works great, and the gameplay is very interesting. The game terminates if the board fills up, at which point the winner, or a tie, is determined. Although, in practice, someone always wins before that happens.

I played Gipf third, and didn't like it, as I mentioned.

The latest in my collection is Zertz, which I acquired Friday, and I mentioned in my last post.

In Zertz, the board is built out of a hexagon of disks. Each turn, you either add a ball to the board and remove a disk on the outside of the space, or jump a ball with another and capture the jumped balls. Multiple jumps occur, as in Checkers, so it is not surprising to discover that the game is quite like Checkers in tactics. Checkers on drugs would not be too far off the mark. (You know, where you force them to jump you so that you get two jumps in return).

Each time you place a ball and remove a disk, you are reducing the area, so the game works its way toward termination. When you jump, you don't limit any area, but you capture a limited supply of balls, and so that also works toward termination. And owing to the winning conditions and ball distribution, once all the balls are captured, someone perforce has won. So the game must terminate.

And it's a good game. It's closer to Dvonn than Yinsh. It has few pieces, but readable depth, so can involve some analysis paralysis, but since the game is limited in length, you simply accept the length of the game as such.

I like Yinsh, and it's a very good game. It has a bit of a "wow" factor, much more than Gipf, but not as much as either Dvonn or Zertz, which are games that start with a great number of possibilities and then diminish.

I played twice with Saarya. The first game he won fairly easily, and I despaired of ever beating him. But the second game I took a bit more time to analyze and managed to execute two "Checkers-like" sacrificial plays that won me the victory.

I'm not going to go into more tactics right now, as they were fun to discover, but I will probably go into them more in future posts.

Hmmm, I think I need to discuss terminating vs non-terminating games sometime.

By the way, you can buy all six games of the Gipf series at once here.