Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Games Are Not Supposed To Be Fun

Woody Allen said yesterday, on the recent death of Ingmar Bergman (paraphrased): He (Ingmar) was a director of high art who didn't care about the commercial aspects of his films.

It hit me like a thunderbolt.

When I advocate that game designers make games with more substantial tactics and strategy, and that gamers choose to play games that add to their life and are not simply gambling or passing time, someone always comes back with "Games are supposed to be fun."

I've always said, yeah, games are supposed to be fun, but it's better to use that same time while having fun to also build character. But I get tired of saying it, because that isn't the "primary" point of games, right? Games are, after all, first and foremost supposed to be fun. If they're not, they don't get played.

Well here's a spoke in your sacred cow: Games are NOT supposed to be fun.

Games are not supposed to be anything. Games are a medium, like movies, books, and painting. The problem with games, and the game industry, and gamers, is that no one has ever thought about games as other than a) how fun they are, and b) how many people play them. Everyone believes that a better game is one that sells more or that more people play.



Paintings are made to communicate artistic ideas, and they may also be made to have commercial value. These two ideas are not exclusive in any way. However, nor are they related in any way.

If you say paintings "have to be decorative", you're a few centuries behind the times. An artistic painting might be neither commercial nor decorative, but still be great art. Or it might be great art and pleasant to look at, too. Or pleasant, but not great art. Or neither, of course.

The vast majority of painters in the world judge their work by how commercially successful they are. That doesn't mean that paintings are "supposed to sell well" or are "supposed to be pleasing". It just means that most painters are not creating art.


Hollywood churns out movie after movie trying to make money. From Hollywood's point of view, movies are "supposed to be entertaining". Maybe that's your point of view, too.

People who use movies as media to create art have another purpose in mind. Their movies may be made to be commercially successful, or not. They may be made to entertain or not. This is orthogonal to the idea that movies can be art.

Movies are not "supposed to be" anything. Movies are a medium. If you want to use it to be commercially successful and popular you have one goal in mind, and if you want to use it to make art, you have another goal in mind.


And so we come to games.

Every yokel and their friend knows that games are "supposed to be fun". But it just ain't true.

Game production is caught in the same overbearing industry grapples as every other medium. The companies controlling their production want to make money. In order to do this, games have to be commercially successful. In order to get people to play them, they have to be fun.

Does that sound like a way to make great art? Of course not. Some designers may succeed in adding elements of great art into their games, but it is surely under difficult positions.

If you throw out the idea that games have to be commercially successful, and if you throw out the idea that games have to be appealing or fun, you end up with a medium like any other.

Games can be created that are not appealing and that no one would buy for entertainment. But interacting with them can communicate the artist's vision, just like would a painting or a movie.

Are there any artists using games as their medium? The answer is extremely disappointing. That's because until now, even artists have tried to make their games fun and successful, in order to attract people to play with them. Because, until now, everyone has been hampered by the idea that games have to be "fun".

It just ain't so.


Updated Dec, 2007: Six months after I wrote this the discussion picked up again.

I have to clarify this post now. It has become obvious that it failed to communicate what I wanted to say. It begins with a defense of things that I did not say:

I don't think the industry that makes games should change. I think any game made to sell MUST be fun, and that fun is more important than elegance, mechanics, or anything else.

Nothing I wrote was meant to argue with any of this.

What I wrote was about the definition of the word "game". That's it.

It's a theoretical discussion which was meant to have implications only for artists, not for game players, designers, or publishers!

No company should ever try to sell a game for entertainment that is not fun. Nobody should ever, in the context of their house, family, or game group, ever play a game for entertainment that is not fun, for whatever your definition of fun is. Fun is paramount to games when played for entertainment.

My point, which again I'll agree was made badly both because I'm not a great writer nor any kind of artist, is that the "game format" should be usable as an art form as well, like any other interactive art format.

And my point, ditto, was that this has not seriously happened until now because the word "game" is currently only associated with corporations, homes, entertainment, and game groups. [I stand corrected about this.]

I'm NOT saying that corporations, homes, entertainment, or game groups should change! I'm saying that other people in other industries could make some interesting experiments out of the game like process, experiments that are not purely sales-driven, fun-driven, and entertainment-based.

That's it.

Oh, one more thing. I also never said that for something to be artistic it has to not be fun. There is no relation between them. Something could be both, either, or neither.

Hope that helps.

The phrase "Games are NOT supposed to be fun" caused a lot of brou-ha-ha, and makes sense only in the context of the article, which is a reply to the statement "games are supposed to be fun". MY definition of "game" doesn't include fun in it. My definition of commercial game or game which anyone would bother to play for entertainment includes having to be fun. My definition of game is rules, goals, and abstracted.

Furthermore, I I said that if your definition of the word "game" includes "must try to be fun", then of course I can't argue with you. In that case, take an activity that is the same as a game but does not have to be fun and use that word instead. That activity would make an interesting art form.

And lastly, I was wrong to say "Everyone believes that a better game is one that sells more or that more people play."


Monday, July 30, 2007

6 Fantastic Board Games You Can Play For Free

Summer is here and you find yourself with nothing to do and no budget to spend. Don't despair! After you get bored of sports, hiking, and gardening, you can still have great summer fun without spending any money.

1. Manacla

The wonderful thing about Mancala is not so much that it is the world's oldest game, and still a good one at that, but that the color of the pieces are irrelevant.

I've spent many a bored hour with a friend waiting in some remote location for another group to join us while playing Mancala. It's just so easy to make.

Pick up 36 stones around the same size, draw 12 circles on the ground, 2 rows of 6 circles each, and you're good to go.

Each move consists of picking up all the stones from one of the circles on your side and placing them one by one around the board or into your store as you go. At the end of the game, the player with the most stones wins.

2. Checkers / Lines of Action

Some people feel that they've outgrown Checkers by the time they've reached adulthood, but it remains a challenging and intense game for adults. And the best way to play is on a larger board, such as 10x10 or 12x12, which you can draw with a pen and paper. For checkers, you can use just about anything: coins, beans, cereal, chips, what have you.

It may take you a few games to remember most of the tricks, but it's only after you get those tricks out the way that you begin to start looking deeper into the game.

You can also play a number of other good games using a checkers board and pieces. Lines of Action is one of the most highly regarded of these games.

3. Diplomacy

Diplomacy is the world's most popular negotiation game. Played by millions of people, including governments and militaries, for the last fifty years, it's a tense game of skill, bluff, and deceit. Don't play it if you're thin-skinned.

You need to move your pieces each round to control territory. Whoever controls the most territory by the end of the game wins. Simple enough; but no one can make any real progress without forming, and breaking, multiple alliances.

You can download the rules and maps for playing Diplomacy from the above link or from the official web site. All you need to supply is a pencil, a few hours, and preferably six very good friends.

4. Glik/Glak

These two print and play abstract games played on the same board are both highly rated on the Geek. They were invented by Adam Kałuża from Poland.

5. Go

The contender for the world's oldest game is still the world's best game, and it can be played for free. You only need a large sheet of paper, a pen, and pencils of two different colors.

It's an abstract game, but it's so much more. As you place your marks trying to control territory, the areas of the game become alive.

The game has a different feel the first time you play from after you've played fifty or a hundred times. And its built-in handi-cap system let's any two players play against each other and enjoy a challenging game, regardless of relative skill levels.

6. Battle for Moscow

War games are a rich field of gaming. Unless hampered by a really bad rule system, every war game encompasses deep strategy and tactics, while simultaneously teaching significant historical lessons.

There are hundreds of free print and play war games online. Battle for Moscow is widely regarded as an excellent example of the genre.


Here are some other ways to while away the hours and play free board games:

Play Online

Almost every single game you can think of has been implemented for online play, and the vast majority of these are free to play. You can Google for your favorite game, or consult various lists of online games, such as this one.

Acquire Geek Gold

Board Game Geek's user contribution system gives you Geek Gold whenever you submit worthwhile content to their site. While this "gold" can be used for BGG perks, such as uploading an avatar, you can also trade it to other users for real-life games by checking BGG's auction pages.

Find a Game Club

Of course, the best way to play games for free, and to find people to play with, is to find a local gaming group! Not all gaming groups are free. Some are, and some charge token entrance fees. Many will be happy to let you come and try out the games.

To find local gaming groups, check out BGG's Game Groups forums.

Happy Gaming,

Bank 1, Robber 0

Israel is one of the few countries where people walk into banks carrying guns and no one bats an eyelid. In the last few years, a guard may check for a gun license, but that's due to wanting to catch terrorists, not robbers.

Of course, every once in a long while, you get something like this (source):
A 40-year-old man attempted to rob a Bank Hapoalim bank in Beit Shemesh on Monday, but failed due to the stubbornness of the bank teller.

According to reports, the man gave the teller a note on which was written, "this is a robbery." When the teller refused to give the man money, the would-be robber fled the scene.

The man was arrested a short while later, and now remains in police custody.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

On Meditation


Yes, Judaism does have meditation within its culture, but it's not mainstream, and it's certainly not an essential part of our religion. Neither, however, does Judaism reject meditation, except when the meditation theories start talking about divine consciousness, chakras, energy sources, and so on.


Let's just say that I, one of the least spiritual of human beings, have integrated meditation into my life. But there's nothing mystical about it. It's just my way of finding a little peace. If you've ever shut the door and curled up with a good book, or taken a long bubble bath, you've done the same thing. It's that mundane.


Imagine that you just step onto a boat. The constant rocking of the boat is fine to start with, but eventually you become out of balance. Not immediately, but gradually, little by little, your sense of control erodes, until you're nauseous. As long as the boat keeps rocking, you can't find your footing. You need a breather, just a few moments of no rocking to re-find your balance and settle your stomach. Then you can get back onto the boat and start over.

The same goes for juggling. When you start juggling, everything is in control. Little by little, the balls begin to drift out of plane, and then you're reaching to try to keep them going. It's the same juggling, but now all off balance. If you stop juggling for a few moment, calm yourself, and start again, you start off in balance.

That's what meditation does for me.


I admit trying to "meditate" when I first got divorced, wondering if there was anything particularly spiritual about it. To do this, I sat in a dark room with a lit candle. I tried to empty my thoughts. No matter how I tried, I couldn't do it.

It's because I'm a measurer. I kept checking myself: are my thoughts empty yet? And, of course, if you are aware of your thoughts, you can't have emptied them. "Nope, not empty, yet."

So that didn't work.


My solution was to stop worrying about if my thoughts were empty or not.

When I meditate now, I no longer need the candle. I just imagine one in my head. I imagine the dark room and the single light, and I concentrate on the light. That's it. My thoughts never empty, or maybe they do, but I don't care.

I don't have to do much to meditate. Just stand or sit still and close my eyes. I imagine the candle. I breathe deeply once or twice. I imagine myself being calm. I let go of emotions and other hooks into my life; actually, I just put them down for a few moments.

After resting for a few moments, I pick them back up, and go back to what I was doing. That's it.

I've found that it makes me pretty calm, most of the time.


Of course, it's not always that simple.

"Daddy! Daddy! What are you doing! Are you me'tating? Are you Daddy? Are you? Huh? Can I me'tate too? Can I? Can I Daddy? Look Daddy! Look! I'm me'tating! Daddy, he's both'ring me! Go 'way! We're me'tating! Can I help you me'tate Daddy? Can I? I can make the me'tating sound! Listen! Are you lis'ning Daddy? Are you? Lis'en. OMMMMMM! Hear that Daddy? I'm helping you me'tate. Aren't I, Daddy? Aren't I? ..."


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Darn Hot

Today was. We went to a bar-mitzvah in the morning where there was no air conditioning and it was, too.

Tal and my guests played It's Alive a number of times (I joined in on the last game). This is amazing, as my guest is a non-game player whose favorite game is usually something like "Whoever picks the highest number wins, ok? I pick 84. Your turn."

Since we had guests, Nadine, Rachel and I passed our usual shabbat afternoon Puerto Rico game. We only have one more week for it. In a week an a half, Nadine heads on vacation for a few weeks, and gets back after Rachel has left for Canada.

Funny play by play of a game of Hollywood Blockbuster.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Adrian's Games

I just played a game of Oh Hell with Tal where, instead of bidding sequentially, we bid simultaneously. It definitely made the bidding a little wilder. I suspect that the variant shines with more players in the game.

Trying variant was a suggested by Adrian Morgan, a fellow blogger who has designed a number of interesting looking games for use with standard components. Check his blog for details.

Next Gen reports that the price of video games is now averaging $60 a pop. Considering that these keep only one person happy at a time and eventually get solved, board games for $10 to $40 sound like a bargain.


Weekend Coming

Friends coming for shabbat, a bar-mitzvah to go to in the morning, and games will be played later in the day.

I'm not making much money as a professional blogger, yet, but I sure am happy.

See you on the other side of shabbat.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Difference Between a Hebrew and an English Invitation

The majority of the invitations that I receive to Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and Weddings come in both Hebrew and English.

What's interesting about these invitations is that there is often little correlation between the English and Hebrew wording, other than a last name, maybe a date, and the general gist of things.

Here's an invitation I received yesterday, in English and translated Hebrew. This is entirely typical, reserved even.

We are pleased to invite you to the wedding of
Joe Shmoe and Jane
Sunday, Aug XX, 2007
Such and Such Hall, Town
Reception 18:00
Ceremony 18:45 (before sunset)
Ms Single Parent
Mr and Mrs Other Parents
RSVP by Aug YY, 2007 to foolish@aol.com

Hebrew (translated)
With the help of the Heavens
Thanks be to God with all of our hearts for great kindness, bounty, and blessings,
Song and the voices of praise
We are greatly pleased to invite you to participate in the rebuilding of our people and the Holy city of Jerusalem
In the canopy and holy ceremony of marriage of our dear children
Yosef Mosef (son of Reuven Shimon, may his memory be blessed) and Yael Zvi
That will take place, with the help of the blessed God
On NN of Elul 5767 (Aug XX, 2007)
In the hall "Such and Such Hall", Town
The reception of faces will be at the hour 18:00
The canopy at the hour 18:45 (before the sun has set)
Come in happiness and joy
Ms Single Parent (Grandparents 1 & 2, Grandparent 3)
Mr and Mrs Other Parents (Grandparent 4)
Please confirm your participation until MM (comfort us) Av (Aug YY, 2007) to foolish@aol.com


Session Report, in which I review and we play Lost Valley

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up here. Games played: Lost Valley x 2, Caylus, Power Grid.

I review Lost Valley and already sink my variant paws into it.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A New Blog, A New Game

Life as a professional corporate blogger is interesting. There are many sites with advice about blogging qua blogging - i.e. making money directly from your blog. But many fewer resources available for corporate blogging - more specifically, how to transform from a personal blogger to a corporate blogger.

For one trivial example, a corporate blogger doesn't give a whit as to how many hits the blog gets, only how many more hits it generates for the main site.

To that end I've just started a new blog, Blogging Without a Wire. This blog will be about corporate blogging, tips specific for corporate bloggers, and how it differs from the traditional blogging advice. I'm going to move my posts about blogging to this new blog, unless it's something particularly personal.

Don't click yet! It will take me a day or two to get it set up.

Along with a new blog, I think I need to try out a new game. I've got a half an hour to kill before the game group starts. I think I'll crack open Lost Valley and read the rules.

I also got linked from two carnivals this week: Carnival of Internet Pros, and Game Carnival.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Gamers Gone Wild on Local TV

The gaming convention Gamers Gone Wild was briefly covered by a local news channel. The comments at the end by the newscasters are classic.

Google is tentatively looking into Ad-Sense for online games. Makes sense. Integrating the ads into the Flash will result in a much higher click-through.

Scott Nicholson apparently gave a well researched talk on gaming in libraries. Lots of interesting details about forming game groups in public places and the results of doing so.

There's a new blog carnival for game designers. And another carnival called game carnival. Unlike previous carnivals, these both specify that board gamers are welcome.

(Meanwhile, there's also a new blog carnival about modesty.)

Capforge points us to this story in Entrepreneur magazine about Don McNeill who has made over $5 million from his board game You've Been Sentenced.

The Bicycles, a pop group, are launching a DVD board game about themselves.

Following his invincible Checkers program, Jonathan Schaeffer is working on creating an invincible poker program.

Lucknow Newsline in India tells its readers to get back to board gaming.


Monday, July 23, 2007

How Marcel Duchamp Destroyed Our Copyright System

The arguments about copyright law have missed one important issue: that copyright applies ONLY to artistic and scientific works.

Copyright originally stems from the idea of encouraging useful and important works to be contributed to society by their creators. Copyright laws created a limited time period where the artist or scientist hold exclusive rights to their creations. During this time period, they collect money from others who want to buy or rent their works. After this time period, the work enters into the public domain.

For example, the U.S. Constitution reads:
[Congress has the power to create laws ...] To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.
All other countries use similar language.

The idea is straightforward: if the public will benefit by having your work, it is worthwhile encouraging you to produce it and make it available.

In order to receive copyright protection, you used to have to register your creation with the Register of Copyrights, for a fee. This changed in 1989 with the Berne Convention.

The Berne Convention essentially made everything copyrighted, with or without copyright registration or even copyright notice. Yet, even here, the language continued to imply that these laws apply only to works of artistic or scientific merit:
The expression "literary and artistic works" shall include every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression, such as books, pamphlets and other writings; lectures, addresses, sermons and other works of the same nature; dramatic or dramatico-musical works; choreographic works and entertainments in dumb show; musical compositions with or without words; cinematographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to cinematography; works of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving and lithography; photographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to photography; works of applied art; illustrations, maps, plans, sketches and three-dimensional works relative to geography, topography, architecture or science.
"... every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain." A hundred years ago, anyone could have told you that a "production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain" meant something considered a work of literature, art, or science. After all, copyright law was created so that this "production" will be released into the public domain so as to benefit the public, overall. A grocery list wouldn't get this sort of protection one could reasonably assume. Nor a "discovery" of something that already exists.

But the world changed about a hundred years ago, because of a guy named Marcel Duchamp, and many others like him. Marcel shook the artistic world by popularizing the ideas of "Conceptual Art" and "Found Art". By doing so, he destroyed the idea of copyright.

Conceptual Art is the idea that art requires no skill other than deciding what goes where. After deciding this, anyone with any skills whatsoever can reproduce the item. Found Art is the idea that anything an artist declares as art is art, even if the artist has done nothing more than identify it as such.

Both of these ideas are illustrated by Marcel's iconic Fountain, a presentation of a urinal on it's side with his handwriting on it. The idea was to deconstruct art altogether; to kill it's basic meaning. It succeeded. Fountain was voted the most influential artistic work of the twentieth century in one 2004 poll.

The consequences of this piece on the art world were tremendous; in my very humble opinion, quite negatively so. But the consequences on the laws of copyright have never really been examined.

For if, originally, a work in the artistic or scientific field originally meant something with skill, merit, or importance, now it meant, quite literally, anything at all. It is not, after all, the province of lawyers and judges to decide what is or isn't art.

Marcel Duchamp's legacy is that all of the intended meanings of "authors and inventors" and "writings and discoveries" in the laws were lost. Now, this simply means: anyone and anything. Preserving the words "production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain" in the Berne Convention and the definitions of protected items within U.S. copyright law are now so much waste of ink; anything and everything is now protected, simply because the meaning of art has been destroyed. It may still say in the copyright laws that only "works of fine, graphic, and applied art" are protected, but if anything is art, what does this mean?

A grocery list - who's to say it isn't fine art? A line drawn on the sand - graphic art? The discovery of something that already exists - who's to say that the discovery isn't artistic, and not simply the writing about it, which is what the original wording says?

That's how we got to where we are now: people copyrighting their name, cooks trying to copyright recipes, every sentence written now automatically copyrighted. Regardless of whether or not the public will benefit from this "creation" once it becomes public domain.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

As Long As We're Linking 23

New and Noteworthy:

The Beastly Boardgame Blog - Not sure about this site, which is currently reviewing mostly traditional board games.

Cuzco Boardgame - Antti and Juha Linnanen, creators of Cuzco. Finland.

Games games and more games - Posting a large quantity of dice games recently.

Hardcore Ludography - group blog about Eurogames from Western Massachusetts.

Heng's Gaming Blog - Heng Aik Yong, Malaysia.

Hiew's Boardgame Blog - Hiew Chok Sien, somewhere in Asia. Good stuff.

Little Wooden Cubist - A podcast by Charley Eastman.

Splitting Eights - Nathaniel Todd, Parishville, NY. Gambling and board games, just starting out.

Thoughts on Games - Pedro Santos, Portugal.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Life is Still Nowhere Near Normal


You might think that after my trip that life would be returning to normal in these parts, but they aren't.

Ariella, our oldest daughter, started the army on Thursday. She will be training for four months and then be a drill sergeant for troubled kids: drug abuse, discipline abuse, and so on, who would otherwise have no prospects.

Meanwhile, aside from being hot and cramped, it's a lot like camp. She knows just about everyone who was inducted at the same time as her. She's not only knowledgeable about all the words used in the army that are really abbreviations (and therefore undecipherable to us), but also knows most of the unwritten rules between what's cool and what makes you a "green".

Rachel is preparing for her 10 month postdoc in the University of Toronto, which she starts in late August. Eitan has already gone ahead.


I've been blogging part time for my new company for two weeks. I'm thrilled, and I think I'm doing a good job, but I'm running up against some expectation issues. As a result, I'm not entirely sure what's going to be happening in the near future.

Meanwhile, I'm entertaining other part time blogging opportunities for the other half of my day, while trying to get the Hebrew version of Apples to Apples off to the publishers, and not getting any time at all to move forward on game design.

If you know of any companies that want a part time blogger (1 to 2 posts a day), do let me know.


Nadine, Rachel and I played Puerto Rico. Still a fascinating game, every time we play. In part that's due to my standard set of buildings, all of which are useful enough that the game varies greatly from game to game.

Rachel won from second position, which is the second second-position win in a row. I started the game feeling pretty well until about midway. I had a coffee monopoly, and a reasonable amount of victory points and money. But somehow I stalled when the Trading House became blocked and Rachel was leveraging the ships against me.

Nadine's Hacienda brought her only Indigo's, so she got an Indigo plant and a Wharf, which gave her lots of victory points in the last few rounds, but not enough. Rachel started off feeling like she was behind, but pulled forward inch by inch to a hard-fought victory.


Splitting Eights has a nice post about playing board games, both seriously and for fun.

Big Brother apparently had a board game day last week. Games played: Downfall and Operation. Whoopee; 37 and 42 year old physical dexterity kids games.

One of Gleemax's first online board games will be RoboRally.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Review: Roger von Oech's Ball of Whacks

Summary: Much ado about a neat little toy.

The publishers of the Ball of Whacks sent me a copy to review. While it's not a game - it's a toy - I thought some readers might be interested in reading about it.

The Ball of Whacks is a d30 - a rhombic triacontahedron, to be precise - where each face is actually the base of a separable pyramid. The proportion of the diagonals in the base of each rhombus is one of my favorite numbers, the golden ratio.

The pieces hold together through the use of small magnets in the sides and bases which provide a medium amount of pull.

You can buy it from Amazon.com.


Simply taken as a toy, which is really all that this is, it's a fairly neat toy. You can take the pieces apart or squoosh them together. You can make all sorts of interesting shapes with the pieces, although they only really hold together well in their canonical configuration.


But the story only begins here.

Take a board game, add a theme and sell it for $10.00. Take another board game, add a theme and sell it for "only $199.95". Both teach the same principles; maybe one does so slightly more overtly than the other.

That's marketing for you.

The inventor of this toy was so taken by playing with it that he decided that it possesses all sorts of creativity enhancing benefits. In this, he's not wrong. It's just that ANY toy you can play with possesses all sorts of creativity enhancing benefits.

The instructions tell you to take the ball in your hand and play with it. By virtue of throwing it, arranging the pieces, considering the forms, and so on, your mind will drift away from the mental blocks you have and enhance your mental clarity. Well, I guess it will, for many people. Although why the BoW does this any better than, say, a superball, is never really made clear.

The Ball of Whacks is so called because playing with it is supposed to give your brain a whack.

The Guidebook

The ball comes with a 96 page "creativity guidebook". Luckily, only about 2/5 of the book tells you "how to play with the ball".

The next 2/5 of the book are a series of practical steps for achieving creativity, most of which boil down to trying to think about your problem from a different perspective. In each of these steps, of course, you are instructed to first use the Ball of Whacks as a meditation tool, but that's really superfluous. As a guidebook to creativity, it's fairly nice and may be useful.

The last fifth of the book is information about the geometry of the pieces, the golden ratio, and inspirations for the design.


My ball came in a single color, red. Other versions come in other colors or even multiple colors. Get several balls together and you can make more elaborate sculptures, just like if you had several boxes of Lego rather than one.

As I said, it's a neat toy, and fun to play with. It's being sold as a unique creativity tool, but don't let that bother you too much.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Checkers "Solved", Finally

According to Discover magazine, Jonathan Schaeffer has finally "solved" checkers with his Chinook program.

I read Jonathan's book One Jump Ahead: Challenging Human Supremacy in Checkers almost ten years ago when his brother Dan (my neighbor) gave me a copy. It's a great book. The recurring theme was that everyone kept asking him "Isn't Checkers solved, already?"

Well, it wasn't until now. Chinook finally knows every possible position in Checkers and how to win or draw from that position. Which doesn't really make the game "solved"; not until a winning strategy can be explained to a human player who can then implement it perfectly every time.

Oh yeah: who wins? From the starting position, black to play can only draw against a perfect opponent.


Session Report, in which we play Order of the Stick and other new games

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up here. Games played: Shadows Over Camelot, Order of the Stick, Shear Panic, Bridge, Go, It's Alive, Power Grid, Colosseum.

First play for Order of the Stick, first play for me of Colosseum, first official play for the group for It's Alive.

Game News

You've probably already heard the one about the parents who played video games while their babies near starved to death. *shiver*

Here's a neat comment from within the middle of a thread about Chess and tactics, wherein the commenter explains in clear language the difference between playing a game of Chess and playing Chess.
"And then you did something very interesting. A very unconventional move, but I've seen it used a few times. When I was 13 someone did this to me and it really threw me off my tempo since it was not like any standard opening. I lost that game in 25 moves."

Mark was 35 and he was telling me about a game he played when he was 13. At this point I began to understand that I was out of my league.
Much hubbub about the game inventor of Bulletball whose idea was shot down on American Inventor. The main focus seemed to be the inventor's sob story, rather than the game itself, which looked pretty simple. The inventor does a followup interview wherein he seems a little less broken than he did when he appeared on the show.

Some time ago I reported on the World Bank looking for game designs for a game about street signs. BoardGameNews points us to the winners.

I don't know when this article from Life appeared, where they tell you how to breathe life into your old board games.

Mmm. Almost forgot: Infogrames had the rights to electronic versions of games using the Dungeons and Dragons licenses as well as many of Hasbro's popular board games, such as Monopoly, etc. In a recent deal, Infogrames keeps the D&D rights for the next ten years, and sells the other games back to Hasbro for about $19.5M, $4M of which goes to Atari for some reason. (source, press release)

And today's Adam is a must see for any Eurogamer. Thanks, Saarya.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Definitive List of Harry Potter Games (2007)

In the spirit of the release of the 5th movie and the 7th book, I decided to survey what's out there in terms of Harry Potter games (not including HP puzzles, toys, costumes, action figures, Lego, online flash trivia games, etc...)

Unfortunately, most of the games, from what I can tell, are not specifically too good. But that isn't going to stop you from buying them, is it?

Board and Card Games

Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets Trivia Game
A trivia game for two teams playing either Griffindor or Slytherin. Snitch question is the only one that counts.

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire Quidditch Dice Game
From the rules: Roll the dice and place them on the Quidditch Pitch to earn goals and catch the Golden Snitch, or to block your opponent from scoring. The first player to "catch" the Golden Snitch ends the match, and the player with the most Goal Points wins.

Harry Potter Mystery At Hogwarts Game
A variation on the game Clue (Cluedo, for you Brits).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Through the Trapdoor
A simple roll-and-move game. The game looks like a book.

Harry Potter Quidditch Card Game
Each player selects a card on the ball played, high card wins. Kind of a blind bidding game for kids.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Quidditch Chapter Game
Another game that looks like a book. Roll the die and try to hit your opponents with the Bludger, knocking them off their broom.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Contains a series of mini-games. Apparently, the rules are a complete mess.

Harry Potter Sorcerer's Stone Trivia Game
Another roll-and-move trivia game.

Harry Potter Casting Stone Game
Paper, Rock, Scissors, except by rolling dice.

Harry Potter Championship Quidditch Game
An electronic game of shooting quaffles through hoops and so on. Might be a fun dexterity game.

Harry Potter Dicers Game
A collectible dice game. Lots of dice rolling, with some decisions to be made.

Harry Potter Gnome Toss Card Game
I have no idea. Looks rather silly.

Harry Potter: Halls of Hogwarts
A little like Amazing Labyrinth, but with too many random cards.

Harry Potter Hogwarts Dueling Club Game
A rather odd multiplayer game where the cards you collect need to be "decoded" and are worth different values to each player. May have some playability.

Harry Potter MagiCreatures Card Game
Looks a bit like Pit.

Harry Potter Rescue at Hogwarts 3D Game
Race cooperatively against an electronic timer. But the pieces are unstable and may fall over.

Harry Potter Trading Card Game
Looks quite decent, if you're into CCGs. There were four expansions.

Harry Potter Whomping Willow Game
An electronic game where you have to pick things off of the rotating tree branches.

Harry Potter: Adventure through Hogwarts Castle 3D Game
More electronic bells and whistles. Roll and move to explore 11 rooms and plays spells on each other.

Harry Potter Diagon Alley Board Game
A roll and move set collection game that looks particularly annoying, as there are no decisions, and not enough items for each player to win.

Harry Potter: The Triwizard Maze Game
Players navigate through a maze in the grounds of Hogwarts to be the first to capture the Triwizard Cup.

Harry Potter Quidditch The Game
Something like the card game, but includes a board and pieces.

Scene It? Harry Potter DVD Game
HP trivia and the usual Scene-It game. Comes in regular and deluxe editions.

Scene It? Harry Potter 2nd Edition
HP trivia and the usual Scene-It game. Comes in regular and deluxe editions.

Uno: Harry Potter
Uno, with two special cards.

Harry Potter Wizard Chess
The pieces are finely detailed plastic replicas of the figures that Ron and Harry battle with in the movie.

Harry Potter Sorcerer's Stone Electronic Levitating Challenge Board Game
Ball actually floats in mid-air. Race against time. Set up the 10 interchangeable obstacles in over 200 maze combinations.

Video Games

My son played the first and second of these. He reports that they are fun, but, as is typical with these types of games, really puzzles, not games. That means that once you solve the game, there is no further challenge in playing them.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

In the Lego Creator games, you create scenes and then they animate.

LEGO Creator: Harry Potter

LEGO Creator: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Other Games

An interactive Harry Potter browser based role-playing game, also known as an RPG, a MUD, a MUSH, or a MMORPG.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

June Gaming at the JSGC

As usual, this list includes games played at the club, not my own personal gaming. For two of the game sessions I wasn't around, so I don't really know much about how the games were received (Adam's session reporting is a bit more oblique than my own).

Backgammon x 2 - A simple pass time.

Blokus - A nice abstract game, works ok for two players (but the mini version is better for that).

Bridge x 2 - A staple at the end of the evening.

Caylus x 2 - Most of the people in the club continue to enjoy this more than I do.

Chess - Some of our more traditional players continue to play this while waiting for other games.

Colosseum - I have no idea, but I think it was well received.

Crossword Dominoes - I borrowed this from my Mom'd house to see if it was any good. It makes a nice puzzle, but a fairly simplistic game.

El Grande - A well-loved staple.

Go - A well-loved two player abstract by some.

Medici - I didn't play it. One of the players who did likes Modern Art and also liked this.

Power Grid - A well-loved staple.

Puerto Rico - The Game.

San Juan - Used as a filler. OK, but desperately needs expansion cards.

Settlers of Catan - A well-loved staple, especially for those who haven't played it several hundred times.

Taj Mahal - A well-love staple.

Thor - Retheming of Flinke Pinke, I think. Some added action cards may ad some pizazz.

Tic Tac Toe - Ahem. Someone actually won a game of this, too.

Tichu x 2 - A staple at the end of the evening.

Toutankamon - I didn't play it, but it looked interesting.


I'm sorry for my feed problems

I tried switching my Blogger feed to Feedburner, and it's been reposting the entire feed every day, at least on bloglines.

I just switched back and I'll see if this makes a difference.

Sorry for inundating you with posts.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Cosmic Hearts

I've long held the belief that all games become better the more they become like Cosmic Encounter. There are few games that couldn't be spiced up by the addition of random player powers.

Apparently I'm not alone.

The latest interview with Richard Garfield in Escapist magazine indicates that he is working on a version of "Cosmic Hearts". It turns out that he's not the first to have thought of this marriage.

Back in July, 2001, the Seattle Cosmic game night played a rousing round of Cosmic Hearts, and they recall playing the game almost a year in earlier as well, in July, 2000. In their session report, they describe the powers used and their effects, including the Connoisseur, Insect, Filch, Changeling, Trader, Chronos, and (oh heavens) Schizoid.

Sounds like fun.

Frugal Journey tells its readers to make homemade board games, and then links to over 100 free board games around the Internet, including the likes of Wiz War. Looks like a great list.

Edwin Wong writes up board games in the New Straights Times online.

The Seattle PI also covers Eurogames in an article about a new games store, Blue Highway Games.

Chesspark, an online chess playing site, has raised over $1,000,000 in funding.

The Lansing State Journal talks up the upcoming Gamers Gone Wild.

The endless rain in the UK has at least driven up board and card game sales.

Every day there are articles about doctors or researchers using board or card games for medical studies or therapy. Here's one about using the game Snap to research ADHD.

Magic: the Gathering is now on its tenth edition.

Quasr is an online CCG where you are allowed creative control over the cards, or so I gather.


The Reasons Why We Travel - Read Before You Go

Before I travel, I always get advice that I "have to" do so and so or I "have to" see this or that place. This advice is well-meaning, but people travel for many reasons.

If you don't know your reasons for traveling, you're going to end up going places and doing things that you don't really enjoy. Which is a waste of the precious money and time that you've budgeted.

Before you go off on a vacation, you should check this list of reasons for why people travel. Then plan what you're going to do around what you really want to do, and not around what you're supposed to do.

To learn history, arts, and sciences

Books cannot substitute for direct exposure to art, history, and experiments with real items. Seeing an item up close concretizes the lesson a thousand-fold. Whether you're studying the sculptures and paintings of a national gallery, studying a building's design, learning the history of a castle in a guided tour, or taking samples of the Earth's core, there is no substitute for a hand's on, up close experience.

If you are not "studying" these things, you may simply be interested in "viewing" them up close. To expand your own mind as to how the disciplines work, to be able to talk about them, or simply to appreciate them.

After studying or viewing places and items in person, you make them a part of your world. Then you usually find reading about them all the more fascinating.

To resonate with the history or media you have learned

The opposite direction holds true, as well. When I was last in London, my wife wanted to "walk in Hyde Park" because that's what Mrs Dalloway did. Perhaps it was to give her a fresher understanding of the novel, or simply to experience the joy of recognition. Or the thrill of taking a rare opportunity.

Either way, being in the places and seeing the items that you have learned about rekindles the joy which you felt when you first learned or read about them.

To see beauty, hear beauty, experience beauty

Sometimes, you just need to see or hear something beautiful once in a while to restore your sense of peace. A beautiful mountain, stream, or forest might do.

You might see beauty in the crowd of a festival or in the quiet of a lake. In buildings or in nature. Know what beauty means to you. You can also be open to new experiences, but don't force yourself into having to do something, just because everyone else does it.

To get away from our psychological tethers

In a familiar place we are hooked about with the responsibilities others have place on us, or we have place upon ourselves. Whether it's work, family, organizations, or the need to clean up the house, rebuild the car, or check your email, these are all little burrs that weigh us down. Some we carry with love, and some we carry resentfully.

It does a body good to shower these burrs off ourselves once in a while, if only so that we can pick them back up with renewed strength. It may also make us realize which of these responsibilities we don't really need to shoulder all the time.

To escape from an uncomfortable existence

Sometimes, travel is more of a permanent need. You may be a criminal, a battered spouse, have a bad reputation, or need to move away from somewhere you've come to despise.

In which case, travel is more about where you're coming from than where you're going to, so long as the new place is not just like the old one. If it is, that may be because you brought the problem along with you.

To satisfy wanderlust

Some people just need the "new" all the time. This may be expressed in new clothes, new games, new technology, or new views out the windshield. Or new people to talk to.

To experience something in particular

Many people travel to attend a particular event: a convention, a festival, a religious experience, or an eclipse. Or, they may feel that life cannot be complete until they have ridden that roller coaster, prayed in that temple, or dived off that cliff.

To see friends and relatives, or to trace roots

We visit. Sometimes, as an afterthought after picking where we're going. (Sometimes, we pick where we're going to avoid visiting.)

Reconnecting with out present friends and family gives us both the immediate joy we find with these friends and family, as well as a reflection and reconnection as to who we are and where we came from. The same can be said about tracing our origins.

To shop, to find, and to eat

Or maybe better, "to consume". There are things that simply don't make it to our part of the world. If we want to escape from the drab sameness that is foisted upon us by our local marketing agencies, we have to get out into another culture.

People travel the world looking for better clothes, better knick-knacks, and better cuisine. In some instances, we may even find unique and precious items stuck in the back alley of some city or lost in a far-away cave.

These found treasures van be a great joy.

To splurge without guilt

You could take the money you put into a vacation and eat out every night of the week at your favorite local restaurants for much cheaper. And you'd still have most of the money left over for shopping.

For some reason, many of us can't enjoy luxury guilt-free unless it's "out", on vacation. Then we can stay in a hotel and eat at a fancy restaurant, because, after all, we're on vacation, and the object of a vacation is to enjoy oneself as much as possible.

To live simpler

As a contrast, other people reject all the busy materialistic items that surround us and head off into the natural world, no computers, no clocks, no electricity. Different people have different lines as to how far they want to take this - no toilets, no heat, and no coffee may be too much for some.

To find excitement, to be challenged

Thrill seekers hope that something will happen to them. Nothing ever happens at home. They travel to the busiest events and places, or seek out dangerous or wild adventure trips. Travel might also be a form of exercise.

Just planning and executing a trip can be an ordeal, which, if it runs smoothly, is a triumph.

To conduct business

Either because you need to meet your clients face to face, fix their equipment, or seek out quality or cheap goods to import. Or to go to war, or to keep the peace.

To help and to report

People join the Peace Corps to help other people in need. People travel to learn about and report back what they find.

To learn about other people and cultures, and our own

Many people don't know much about other people, or even about themselves, until they've met them face to face. So much mistrust and hatred arises out of a simple lack of placing a human face onto others. And the mixing of ideas are vital to the way we live as humans.

When traveling, learning about another people could not be easier. You simply navigate around their country, shop in their markets, eat their food, and sleep in their cities. A single day of this might leave you confused, but a week or two while engaging strangers in conversation will give you a good sense of what goes on in that culture.

To expand your mind about the world

Traveling makes the world smaller. The more dots you've visited, the more the world, as a whole, begins to form into a complete picture.

For some people, it is not enough to think of themselves as residents of a particular town or country. They are citizens of the world, and they feel that they owe it to themselves to see it.

To travel

And some people just like traveling: moving, flying, watching the world go by, being rootless, or what have you. They're just as happy, or happier, moving from place to place as being in any one place.

Before you travel, understand the reasons that you travel. If you enjoy learning about history, that will color the places you should visit and the things you will want to see. If you can't stand history lessons, that too will affect your decisions.

Don't let someone tell you that you have to see so-and-so unless it fits in with what you need/want to do. Pack in to your travel itinerary the experiences that will meet your travel needs.

If you are traveling with family or companions, it should be a given that no two people like to do all the same things all of the time. Separate sometimes; this will give you things to talk about back at the dinner table. Or compromise on some experiences in return for doing some of the things that you want to do. You may end up enjoying some of these experiences, despite yourself.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Song: Lucky Penny

As I was walking down the road, the day both bright and sunny
I saw a shining in the grass, it was a lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
I saw a shining in the grass, it was a lucky penny

I shouted out, all full of glee, with chortles deep and many
Oh happy day, I did declare, to find a lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Oh happy day, I did declare, to find a lucky penny

It was so sweet, to find it there, twas oh so sweet as honey,
That I began to sing and dance about my lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
That I began to sing and dance about my lucky penny

I sung and danced the day away, 'til I fell on my fanny
And all because it was so dear to find a lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
And all because it was so dear to find a lucky penny

When I was done, I caught my breath, and reached to take my penny
But when I looked, to my surprise, I found there wasn't any
Wasn't any, wasn't any,
Wasn't any, wasn't any,
But when I looked, to my surprise, I found there wasn't any

I searched the ground, and all around, in every nook and cranny,
It seems while I was singing, someone took my lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
It seems while I was singing, someone took my lucky penny

Since then I've learned that when you find a penny, do be canny,
And don't go singing on and on about your lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
And don't go singing on and on about your lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
And don't go singing on and on about your lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
And don't go singing on and on about your lucky penny
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
Lucky penny, lucky penny,
And don't go singing on and on about your lucky penny

Yehuda Berlinger

Saturday, July 14, 2007

June Board and Card Game Patents

Board game assembly - A design patent for a board consisting of a square of 3x3 boards that holds marbles.

Riposte sword-fighting card game
- Play cards with different values indicating attack type and defense type. By Scott Hungerford.

Knowledge-based casino game and method therefor - This patent compares the idea of casino games, where the idea is for the house to make money, against trivia game-shows, where the idea is for the house to give away money. It tries to present a trivia based casino game.

Family vacation game - A choice-free roll and move game designed to teach children about how much a vacation costs. It goes on and on for pages explaining how beneficial board games are to teaching children real values.

Football board game - A Fantasy Football game tracking play across a season.

Apparatus and method of playing cribbage as a casino game and as a slot machine - A casino game that vaguely resembles the initial card deal of a cribbage game.

Blackjack with a hedge bet - The player wins the hedge bet if the dealer has 19-21.

Game board and game thereof - I think the abstract clearly explains the patent:
A game board for playing a game thereon using a magnet sensitive game piece. The game board includes a substantially flexible and substantially non-magnetic first sheet of material defining a first sheet first surface and a substantially opposed first sheet second surface. The substantially flexible and substantially permanently magnetized second sheet of material defines a second sheet first surface and a substantially opposed second sheet second surface. The first sheet second surface is secured to the second sheet first surface so as to substantially prevent a relative displacement therebetween. The game board is selectively rollable and unrollable respectively between the substantially cylindrical rolled configuration that is substantially flat unrolled configuration. When the game board is in the unrolled configuration, the first sheet first surface is usable as a playing surface for receiving the game piece thereon. The latter is releasably secured to the game board by the magnetic force generated by second sheet of material. When the game board is in the rolled configuration, the game board is relatively compact for facilitating transportation thereof.
'Nuff said.

Tower board game - Vertical board symbolizing advancing the corporate ladder. The game is called Bankers and Brokers.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Session Report, in which we play Atlantic Star and other new games

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up here. Games played: Atlantic Star, Settlers of Catan, Shear Panic, Cosmic Encounter, Bridge, Queries and Theories, Chess.

Game night finally back in my house after my vacation. Several other session reports were also posted in my absence.

My Geek of the Week thread was removed from BGG when the originator of the thread fled the site for reasons unknown to me, taking all of his content with him. Aldie finally restored it.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Catching Up / Yorkshire Pictures

These are the last of my UK pictures. Enjoy.

England 2 140
York Chapel

England 2 144
York bridge

England 2 147
A York native

England 2 143
A brief clear moment on the beach at Scarborough

England 2 164
A stream in Pickering

England 2 165
A garden in Pickering

England 2 167
Ducks in the fishing pond in Pickering, each one having paid 8 Pounds for the privilege

England 2 171
Pickering Castle

England 2 178
A swivel bridge in Whitby. The entire road segment swivels around to let a ship through and then swivels back.

England 2 181
The docks at Whitby

England 2 185
Above the docks of Whitby

England 2 161
It's Alive games in production

England 2 163
Jackson Pope with his two games, Border Reivers and It's Alive


Two further notes:

- Note the muddy brown water. When the water runs over a falls, it looks like beer. I mentioned this to someone in Scotland, and she replied that if it was beer, no one in Scotland would ever get any work done.

- Guides at various castles and other ruins would try to impress me by how old the sites were. "Thayre boot nahn hunerd yeers owld, I figgers," they would say. To which I would reply, "Pshaw. I live in Jerusalem. Don't bother me unless you have something more than 3000 years old."

Gee, I remember when they tried to tell us that 200 years old was ancient at sites in the U.S.