Friday, October 31, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Forty Fourth Week Posts

The first in a series of posts to alternatives to all-or-nothing winning results in games.

One of my typical days wandering around Dallas before BGG.con

Last year's holiday gift guide was published early. Look for this year's soon.

Fifty original six word stories (total writing time: 35 minutes)

Ten Lesser Known Secrets of Blogging

The Problem With Blogs

Games in Transit

I auctioned off a slew of games and game books, and in the end got rid of nearly all of them. Could be because some of them went for as low as $0.01.

Rachel should be landing in Chicago soon with six packages to mail, and they will go out tomorrow (if post offices are open on Halloween) or Monday. She'll be returning with seven new games I ordered and shipped to a friend.

A number of them I sold or gave away in Israel. My games closet looks only packed, rather than overstuffed as it usually does.

I'm a big fan of recycling games. What we don't play, I'm happy to trade or sell, in order to get new games. And I'm happy to buy used. I'd be curious to know the first time someone sells/buys a used copy of It's Alive.

Speaking of It's Alive, Reiver Games took 840 copies of the game to Essen and only returned with 4 copies. Yes. He got rid of 836 copies of the game in three days. He sold 158 to passersby, sold 36 to shops, gave away 11 review copies, used 1 copy for demoing, and the remaining 630 copies went to distributors.

Nice work for three days.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bloggers and Pundits: Stop Spreading Fear

A campaign must be about issues, not fear. It must be about what some guy or gal is going to do over the next four years.

Instead of comparing the facts about policies and issues, left bloggers spend pages and pages on every gaffe, mistake, bad association, lie, and so on that McCain or Palin does or did.

Instead of comparing the facts about policies and issues, right bloggers spend pages and pages on every gaffe, mistake, bad association, lie, and so on that Obama or Biden does or did.

What the hell is wrong with you people? Of course fear works. People are ignorant and fears prey on them. So do guns, blackmail and bribery. But civilized people are supposed to be above disgusting tactics such as these. If you're smart enough to read and write an opinion, you're smart enough not to resort to one-sided political coverage. You complain about the low level of political discourse, and you're the one continuing it.

In the words of Bob Newhart, Stop It. Just stop it.

Lefties, I can't stand Bush's foreign or domestic policies either, but most people in America aren't yet dead, sick or poor. Four more years of similar policies aren't going to "destroy the country". You may not like McCain's policies. But is he really going to run the country into the ground out of stubbornness? You think he hates America?

McCain is a gentleman and a decent man as far as I can tell. He has political experience - not that experience means much if I don't like the policies that he bases on this experience. When he speaks, he generally exceeds my expectations. I really don't care if he gave political favors to friends of his ten years ago.

Righties, you may not like Obama's policies, but for goodness sake. He's not in league with terrorists, he's not going to drive the country into the ground, and he's not going to let terrorism run wild. He loves America and he supports Israel, just like nearly every other member of the government does.

He has different policies which may not work, but they don't include watching the world go to pieces and doing nothing about it. If things get to crisis levels, even he can change course. I really don't care if he was friends with a Palestinian sympathizer five years ago.

Argue about the issues and elect the one with better policies. Stop harping on their bad friends and colleagues, slipups, mistakes, gaffes, and labels. Sure, most votes are going to be cast because one's black and the other's white, one's a socialist, one's a terrorist, one's an old guy, one's out of touch, one's this, or one's that. That's because most of the people writing or talking about the election are not doing their job.

Session Report, in which we tire of fiddly rules in Power Grid

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Carcassonne: The City, Power Grid.

First play in a while for C:tC.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sukkah Ushpeezin Hopping

Every year I visit my parents on Sukkot and go Sukkah Ushpeezin Hopping.

Regular sukkah hopping is a perversion of the Halloween ritual that occurs around the same time of the year. Instead of dressing up in costumes and going door to door asking for candy, kids dress up in yom tov clothing and go from sukkah to sukkah, admiring the decorations, getting a d'var torah ... and asking for candy.

Imitating pagan holiday rituals - not for me.

Ushpeezin is a kabbalistic custom to "welcome" in seven guests over the seven nights of the holiday, starting with Avraham and ending with David (or Joseph, depending on your siddur).

Kabbalistic - not for me.

What I do is dress up and go around from sukkah to sukkah, pretending to be the visiting guest of the ushpeezin.

Dress up, no basis in custom, childish - that's for me.

Each year that I go to visit my parents, I'm there for a different night of sukkot, which means a different night of the ushpeezin, which means a different "guest". So I do something different each year. One year I went dressed as Joseph in Scottish clothing, and I went from house to house drinking Scotch, singing Bonnie Jean, and giving a d'var torah about how sukkot was really a Scottish holiday which we can learn from the movie Brigadoon.

This year, the ushpeezin night on which I went was the night for Aaron to be guest. I went as a detective. My kids followed along with me. The following lines aren't exact, and they were split between me and the kids, but it went something like this:

Burst into a sukkah during dinner; for the most part, I hit the same people every year, but I usually also end up in a few new sukkahs, often of people I don't even know well. Friends of my kids, or they just happen to be unlucky.

"Nobody move!" I yell. "We're on the trail of a dastardly thief named Aaron. Said to go from sukkah to sukkah, swipe the silverware, and then disappear."

If they didn't get me yet, which they often didn't, they will when I continue ...

"Calls himself a priest! Hangs around with his brother Moses, who is wanted himself. What for? For sedition, treason, and ... " Perry Mason style: "Murder!"

"Something of a disguise artist, known to change his clothes up to five times a day."

"A drug user, so much so that he's often known by his criminal nickname: the High Priest."

"Last exploits include conning an entire nation out of their jewelery, trading it for cattle futures (worth their weight in gold), and then the cow mysteriously disappears the next day after a meeting with his brother. Ha! Disappeared. A likely story."

"We're looking for anyone who may know where the cow went ... say," pointing at the food on the table, "is that meat?"

I couldn't think of a good ending, so I usually just slunk out with a "Call us if you hear anything, and hag sameyach".

Monday, October 27, 2008

Broken Link on Google Home Page

Wow. Two days man. Two days!

Google, you've got 10,000,000 employees and only 8 links on your home page, and you can't fix the one that's broken in two days?

For those who need to know, to get to "Advertising Programs", click "Business Solutions" and then go straight to "AdWords" or "AdSense". Until Google wakes up.


Update Tuesday: Finally appears to be fixed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How to Start "Benchin"

The Jewish Grace After Meals (aka "benchin" from the Yiddish) is a series of four blessings, followed by a number of pithy requests, thanks, and other extraneous material. It's a few pages long and takes a few minutes to recite.

Every Jewish household has a drawer full of benchers (small pamphlets with the benchin in them), since that's the one keepsake you have to take home from every Jewish celebration. If you threw a celebration of your own, you probably have a few dozen left over that you've been trying to push on friends and relatives who couldn't come, or weren't invited to, the celebration.

I have a vast collection of benchers from the weddings of once deliriously happy couples who have subsequently divorced. It's my acrimony matrimony collection. I'm thinking of sending it out on tour.

Ashkenazi Jews have a universal melody for benchin that kind of fits most of the paragraphs, but leaves a few that you have to intone in a sing-song manner. A great swath of the Sephardi world has picked up the melody (why, I don't know, since it's pretty awful), but some still use their own special melodies.

Despite the near-universal melody, benchin is not always sung. Sometimes the entire thing is just said (mumbled) under one's breath. If multiple people ate together, they might mumble the whole thing, or they might sing the first paragraph and then mumble the whole thing, or they might sing the entire thing aloud.

There is no standard as to which one is going to happen when you begin to bench. You might start to say it under your breath, only to hear others start singing, at which point you curse under your breath and wait for them to catch up to you so that you can join them. Or you may start singing, only to receive glares from the assembled teenagers who wanted to mumble the benchin quickly so that they can run off to join their friends for the usual game of "I don't know, what do you want to do?"

If less than three are assembled, the mumbled version is most common. If three or more are assembled, a call and response to begin benchin is required. Right after the call and response is finished is where the fun begins.

One person starts to mumble. Another starts to sing strongly, only to fade after a few seconds, looking around to see if someone is joining in. Is this a singing or non-singing household? Another who started mumbling stops short and begins half-heartedly singing along with the second guy. The two of them carry the first paragraph's melody to the end and then quickly look down and mumble the rest. Sometimes, if enough people start the singing or lustily join it, they may carry on singing until the end.

At other houses, what will happen may be understood. My father always sings the entire thing aloud on shabbat and holidays, for instance.

Until last Friday night, I never heard a guest ask what the custom is in the house, before the benchin started. My friend Avraham actually asked our mutual host how much of the benchin they sing before we started. I was flabbergasted. Asking? How weird? Don't you know you're supposed to awkwardly mumble, half-sing, and look around you furtively to see what everyone else is doing? Newbies!

He'll learn soon enough.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

4th Edition Settler of Catan is a Big Step Backwards

The bar-mitzvah of some friends' youngest son gave me an opportunity: I bought him The Settlers of Catan as a bar-mitzvah present.

He wasn't able to learn it himself. We were invited to dinner last night, and I was finally able to teach him. Avraham from the gaming group was also over for dinner, and it was his first play, too. I also roped in the daughter and the mother.

This was my first time playing with the 4th edition set, and I'm pretty disappointed. My biggest complaint with 3rd edition was the tenuous relationship between the illustrations on the different hex types and the resource cards they produced.

The problem is not solved in the fourth edition; if anything, it is worse. Come on. How hard is it to print pictures of the resources on the hexes? Or outline each hex and card in bold matching colors?

Worse, the hexes in 3rd edition were at least highly distinguishable. The hexes in fourth edition are much less so: slightly better artwork, but less distinguishable differences between the hex types. A step backwards.

The cards, rule summaries, and so on are neither better nor worse, and the wooden pieces remain the same.

The game comes with a sea board with built in unchanging harbor locations, which is much worse. The board does a fantastically poor job of keeping things in place. Land hexes still shifted around or slid under the water frame.

If you want to randomize the harbor locations, you use additional chips which you must lay carefully over the preset ones. These harbors are tiny compared to 3rd edition's, much harder to read and understand, and harder to figure out to which vertices they correspond, unlike the friendly, bold white dotted lines in 3rd edition's.

And it's more expensive, too, owing to Mayfair's "screw everyone but local game stores" selling policies.

My advice: stick to 3rd edition.

Avraham liked the game. The mom was getting into it, but the hour was late and she opted to go to bed mid-game, having the daughter take over for her. The daughter liked it a lot. The son, who's bright enough in most situations, is a littler slower when it comes to games, but he also enjoyed it. It was close the whole game, but the daughter won in the end.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Forty Third Week Posts

Poems: In anticipation of my trip to the first BGG.con (ala Samuel Taylor Coleridge). And another on Rick Thornquist's travels to Essen (ala Allen Ginsburg).

And here's the first of a long series of posts about my trip to BGG.con 2005. This one relates my rather extraordinary journey to Dallas.

What your scoring system says about your game

When to not give up

Artistic expression in games

Barbie and her many religions

What have they done with my Chtulhu?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

BGG.con Game #2

I've designed another game for BGG.con, even though I won't be going to the con unless some kind soul hands me the airfare. I've passed the idea on to Aldie, but have yet to hear if he will be implementing it, as it involves him having to print the cards again like he did last year, and they already have a lot of extra work to do.

Like the first game (Piratenhandler on BGG), this game had to fulfill the following conditions:

- Playable by 6-700 people simultaneously over the course of 3 days. Playable also by a fraction of those who will be interested.
- Don't have to see every card to play the game.
- Involves strategy, not simply chance (like a lottery).
- Easy to create, understand, and play. Doesn't require extensive (*cough* any) playtesting.
- Fosters fun and socializing, doesn't require rules brokering.

This year there was one other additional criteria: easy to score. I spent 3 hours totaling the scores of the 56 participants last year, and I didn't think any of the administrators were going to want to do that this year.

Core Design (#1):

- Object of the game: Help return Aldie's games to the game library.
- Each player gets 3 random cards out of three sets of 1000 cards. Each card features a single game on one side of the card. On the other side of the card is a list of games in a bundle.
- You win by handing in to an admin a) a card with a game bundle with b) all the games that fit into the bundle. The first N players win prizes (subsequent players receive lesser prizes such as geekgold).

Ideally, I would like people to combine efforts, trade cards with each other, trade information, use the cards as betting objects in other games played, etc...

The elegance of this design is that I can make the game bundles larger or smaller in order to make the game harder or easier. Furthermore, I can arrange to have only N number of possible victors. Furthermore, games can belong to more than one game bundle.

While I like this idea, I thought of another version of the idea which may be even easier to implement:

Core Design (#2):

- Object of the game: Help return Aldie's games to the game library.
- Each player gets 3 random cards out of three sets of 1000 cards. Each card features a single game on one side of the card.
- On the wall of the game room are five lists of games missing from the library, each rather long.
- You win by handing in to an admin as many cards as possible in one or more of the lists. The player who hands in the longest list of games on each list wins.

The benefit that this design has over the first design is that it's slightly easier for more people to play, and might also be less frustrating. On the other hand, it's likely that the winner of one list will probably be the winner of more than one. To avoid that, you could specify that each player can only submit to one list.

Anyway, let's see if Aldie bites.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yom Tov Gaming

Important Note: I'm screwing around with the hosting for both this site and for Purple Pawn, so you may experience disruptions.

Mr Jack

Adam came for dinner and I taught him how to play Mr Jack. He took to it very well. I squeaked out an escape on turn 8, but I suspect that he won't let me get away with that next time. It's a natural fit for a Go player.

Puerto Rico

Played with Rachel and Nadine. Rachel won again, 52 to my 49 to Nadine's "much less". Factory wasn't in the game, but Rachel did an unusual building strategy. I tried Library once again, just to see, and even though I played it to the max, it was still a sub-par use of my money compared to other buildings in the same class.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Couples Party Breaker

I went to an evening of "secret creativity", in which volunteers were supposed to bring their creative work. Being the hippie dippy group that we are, everyone was sure to be accepted, regardless of quality. Everyone had only 5 minutes.

There were several moments of music, reading from poetry or short stories, the intro to a book, and art passed around. There would have been dance, but the dancer had hurt her back.

I brought a game, of course, and it was the opener to the evening.

The question is what to bring to a group of people vastly uninterested in traditional gaming. The answer: a hippy dippie social game.

I brought pens and index cards. I asked everyone to write down a famous couple, real (dead only) or fictitious, with one on one side of the card and the other on the other side. I then took half the cards, tore them up, and randomly handed out singles of each couple to each person.

The game: find your partner without mentioning names. It was a quick game, around 30 seconds. There were 15 of us, so one person was without a partner. And one couple (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) had been repeated. As an aside, all the couples ended up as same-sex. :-)

Call it an icebreaker.

Doing it gave me several ideas for improvement. First of all, we could do it next time with pantomimes, only, although how you would pantomime Simone de Beauvoir is beyond me. Another idea was to use animals, and you could only speak your animal voice.

Which gave me an even better idea: Have Adam be the only one without a partner, and then dramatize his falling asleep and waking up with an Eve next to him.


Session Report for Games Day

The Games Day Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Cosmic Encounter, For Sale, Go, Kingsburg, Lo Ra, Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, Louis XIV, Magic: the Gathering, Mission: Red Planet, Mr Jack, Notre Dame, Power Grid, Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, R-Eco x 2, Samurai, Settlers of Catan, Shadows Over Camelot, Taj Mahal, Tower of Babel, Ubungo, Year of the Dragon x 2.

Some of the reports are sketchy or just a note, as I couldn't see all games played in depth. A short review of Mission: Red Planet. And we don't play Die Macher, again.

Number of players: 25.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

R-Eco Record Score

I taught my brother Ben and my Mom how to play R-Eco this afternoon. My mom was somewhat confused when I explained the rules, but she picked it up during the first game.

R-Eco is an excellent little filler game which can be played by people as young as 7 or 8, and plays well 2 to 5 (5 is a bit chaotic, however). There are interesting decisions to make during the game. Still, you can make great decisions and end up with nothing for your planning if you have bad luck. That's about where we're playing at.

In the first game, my mother just rocked the chips, pulling in score after score. She ended with a record score for the game: 30 points, which was 7 points in each color exactly, plus 2 points for not dumping. I had 6, and Ben had 1 (2 points for not dumping, and -1 in one color).

Despite this amazing discrepancy in scores, Ben was willing to give the game another go, which turned out to be a good idea. Mom looked like she was winning again, and she did score the most points in chips. But Ben pulled in a few late points and was the only player not to dump. Mom's score was reduced from 19 to 15 after dumping was counted, and Ben's score was raised from 12 to 16, giving him the victory by one point. I think I had 5.

So, despite my knowing how to play (I think) and having fun with the decisions, I scored pretty poorly. That's just the way it goes.

Ben was considering picking up the game for his family, where the ability to play two-players is an important factor.

Absent Blessings in the Synagogue

This morning, a small group of Jews slowly made their way toward the center of the synagogue as the torah portion was read.

Each moved with joy and anticipation. Though the others who moved with them were competitors, they nevertheless felt a spirit kinship. They were coming to receive the gifts of heaven. Some would get more than others, but all would get something. It would be sweet.

As the bar-mitzvah boy wrapped up, and the final kaddish intoned, the small group fell silent. The last words were uttered. The time had come for blessings to be bestowed on them from up high.

The synagogue broke into song, the traditional melody for the bar-mitzvah boy. Now.

Dozens of small head raised to the sky in eager anticipation. The eyes began darting back and forth. Right now it will be begin, now. The eyes searched the heavens, hands outstretched, hearts lifted in prayer. Now.

But ...

As the song went on, second after awful second, happiness began to vanish into confusion. The darting eyes swept more furiously across the heavens. Where was the sweet mana they were waiting for? Where were their paper-wrapped blessings?

The truth began to dawn. The eyes, so recently filled with joy and promise began to fall like so many autumn leaves from the dying branches. The sparkles were replaced with disillusionment. Why? Why did it not come, I heard one ask his father.

I don't know, was the only answer he had for consolation. And I thought of all the Jews, so like these little boys and girls, waiting for their eternal salvation from heaven. And I was moved. And so it was, on the morning of the bar-mitzvah of the boy whose family didn't believe in throwing candies after the torah reading.

The Sfas Emes

I heard a nice Sfas Emes tonight, which I will butcher right and proper.

Many of us have homes. We identify who we are with the trappings of what is around us: our jobs, our hobbies, our houses, our cars, and so on.

For those who are searching and traveling, for those who have no home - who don't see themselves as identified with a job, a hobby, a house, a particular sect or community - God provides them a home.

This is the lesson of Sukkot.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Forty Second Week Posts

Halloween Games

Every day is games day for a game designer

The devil's advocate on board games

Tools for online tabletop gaming

3-D Go

Israel, by Her Colors

Jerusalem Learning

MaTaN Celebrates a Birthday

Rachel and I attended a twentieth anniversary celebration of MaTaN: Machon Torani L'Nashim aka Women's Torah Institute. Rachel learned at MaTaN and is now teaching for them. MaTaN has centers around Israel, as well as programs around the world. Tens of thousands of women have now passed through their doors. 600 alone study in MaTaN Raanana.

Of Women and the Passing of Time

We've come a long way, baby.

The King David Hotel

The event was held at the King David Hotel, still the plushest and nicest hotel in Israel, not only in terms of building and history, but in terms of service and food. And it's kosher, too. Yum.

Just Off the Side of the King David Hotel

The King David's sukkah (actually, they have several) is large. Over 500 guests attended the event, and we all had lots of room, as well as room for a stage, band, cameras, dozens of serving staff, and so on.

The Miracle of Modern Communication

Guest speakers included the mayor of Jerusalem and Elie Wiesel. Elie comes to Jerusalem a few times each year, but on this occasion he had a sudden, last minute personal reason that he couldn't make it. Luckily for us, he was able to talk to us (and see and hear us) live via internet, so he could still give his speech.

Limmud in Jerusalem

Rachel also attended the first of two days of a city-wide massive learning festival taking place in Jerusalem called Sha'arayich. Unfortunately, the organizers are doing pathetic PR work, so attendance was pretty light on the first day, despite some top notch speakers.

Me Exhorting You

The second day will be on Sunday; if you're not coming to Games Day, take advantage of an incredible free and generous opportunity in your city.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Telling a Joke Without Telling a Joke

I've always thought that the best jokes were those that had the fewest words for punchlines. Really good jokes can get away with a single word, or even part of a word. Many a fine joke simply ends with "-er". And then there are jokes that you can tell without saying anything at all.

Tonight we ate at my friend Mace's for dinner. Mace is renting space in an apt from other friend's of ours, the Price's. The Price's children come back from the army or wherever every few days or so for a night.

Mace's rambunctious 13 year old boy Shachar is fascinated by a snake that one of the Price's boys keeps, although he figured not to touch the snake unless its owner was actually around.

"Do you think I should try to touch the snake?" he asked me.

"Well, you know what happened to One-armed Louis when he tried to touch a snake, don't you?" I replied.

Shachar smiled, thought for a moment, and then said, "I don't get it."

I smiled in return.

"What did you say?" he asked.

"I said, you know what happened to One-armed Louis when he tried to touch a snake, don't you?"

Shachar then started laughing. "I still don't get it!" he laughed. Over the next few minutes, every time he looked at me, he laughed. He told his sister, then his father what I said, asking them to explain, but every time he looked at me, he just kept laughing, throwing out guesses ("He died?") and saying that he doesn't get it. This went on for about ten minutes.

Eventually, I told him, "You're supposed to ask me 'What happened to One-Armed Louis when he tried to touch the snake?'"

He tried to ask, but he couldn't make it through the sentence. He burst out laughing every time he looked at me or tried to get a word out. He came pretty close to making it through the sentence once, but I stopped him in the middle and told him he has to start over from the beginning, "'Do you think I should touch the snake?'"

This went on for around half an hour. He kept trying to collect himself enough to ask the question. I had someone in stitches, and the joke had never even made it to the punchline.

Near the end of dinner, Shachar's older brother came home. Shachar dragged him into the room with me and said, completely composed, finally: "Do you think I should touch the snake?"

"You know what happened to One-armed Louis when he tried to touch a snake, don't you?" I replied.

And completely composed, he asked, "What happened to One-Armed Louis when he tried to touch the snake?"

And I said, "He didn't like it."

Shachar's older brother didn't get it. Neither did Shachar. My son Saarya was now laughing.

"Why didn't he like it?" Shachar finally asked.

To which I answered, of course, "Well, he remembered what happened to Snake-Bite Jim who had also tried to touch the snake."

Whereupon the conversation ended.

I Just Noticed a Few Weeks Ago

Adjectives have order. Not everyone agrees on the exact ordering, however.

Game Design

I'm fleshing out a game design for BGG.con . This one has to be easy to evaluate, since I'm not going to be there, and no one else wanted to spend several hours tallying the results, like I did last time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

When is Playing Games a Waste of Time?

The number one problem I have when trying to convince people to play game, or when simply explaining that I play games, is the response that games are a waste of time. Worse, I sometimes hear this from people just after they've played a game that I suggested. "Boy, that was a waste of time."

Undoubtedly, some game experiences are a waste of time. How do you know which ones will be so, before you suffer through them?

Busy People

There are people who don't enjoy games, and not simply out of ignorance about better games. Intelligent people who already have social, cerebral, or interesting hobbies may simply not be interested in investing additional time to pick up another hobby. And that's fine.

Of course, many people who say that they're not disposed to games hold a mental picture of an activity which has little to do with current gaming. They may picture children's games, play activity, lifelong devotions such as Chess, or strange hobbyists such as miniaturists. It's often difficult to replace these people's prejudices against the gaming hobby, because they wave their hand at you as soon as you try to explain.

Sometimes a really powerful analogy (such as comparing specialized gaming to the wine industry) can help. I like to describe how analog games have evolved over the last thirty years, just as digital games have. Or that fairy tales were once understood to be for adults until the last 100 years or so.

The best solution would be if intelligent games had another name that didn't evoke the associations with those games that these people already have dismissed. For instance: Ludography, Mind Sports, Intelligent Games, Analog Play, or some other name for this hobby might do wonders.

Bad timing

Even people who may be disposed to playing games given the right circumstances, may not be disposed "right now". Timing is important.

While the right game at the right time may give satisfaction of having experienced quality time, when a person is in a foul mood, or has more important things to do, or has issues that need resolving, and so on, they shouldn't be gaming, and especially they shouldn't be forced into gaming. They may also have just played the game three times in a row and need a break from it.

One bad experience due to timing can wreck a game, or the idea of gaming, for a long time. Save gaming for a time when you are open-minded and relaxed, with friends.

Bad group

A good group of people with which to play games is critical to enjoying the game experience. If you wouldn't have a conversation or a meal with a group of people, you won't want to be playing games with them.

And some otherwise lovely people are just disastrous as game players. While there's a good deal of flexibility as to gaming styles, the essential difficulty is when styles are mismatched. Players who are too serious when everyone else is lighthearted, or vice versa. Players who take a long time to think through moves when everyone else wants to play quickly, and vice versa. And then there are just those who have no game sense, and whose company should be restricted to lesser activities such as talking about politics or Goethe.

Inappropriate games

Just as there must be a match between players in a group, there must be a match between the game and the group. There are few games that will outright lead to bad experiences; mostly, there are the wrong games for the group.

Some people will feel they are wasting their time when playing games of chance. Others will feel this way when playing complex strategy games, especially against merciless and experienced players. Some balk at a theme, or at an activity, or at an association.

Choose games wisely. As a rule of thumb, if you played the game as a child, you may experience a sense of nostalgia when playing the game, but you'll also likely feel like you're wasting your time; you already learned everything you needed to about the game as a kid. Unless it's a screaming blast to play again and again, why not expand your horizons?

Other constraints

Even the right game with the right people in the right mood can flop, if other external circumstances interfere.

You may not really have enough time to play the game through, or you may be using the table someone's spouse needs to prepare dinner, or you may be playing on a small ledge on a windy mountaintop near a flock of famed cardboard eating goats.

Respect the needs of all players, and remember that games are games. The right games at the right time with the right people can be a meaningful, positive, fun experience. If the wrong elements are at hand, save the games for another time.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Puerto Rico with the usual

I played Puerto Rico with Rachel and Nadine. I added a bunch of less-used buildings to the mix:

- Forest House (working with 1,3,5, .. forests, instead of 2,4,6)
- Irrigation 4/2: Produce one extra barrel.
- Commodity Exporters 5/2: +1 VP when shipping indigo and/or sugar.
- Beachfront 6/2: You have wharf of size equal to number of forests you possess.
- Large Business 8/3: Both Builder's and Captain's privileges. Actually this is a standard replacement building, but it needs to be mentioned.

Rachel tried the forest strategy, and it did ok, but not spectacularly. Nadine had a Factory, but bought a late Wharf when she would have done better with a large building.

I bought an early Commodity Exporters, and then a Large Business. At that point, when I took Captain to ship, I was earning 4 points for shipping one barrel of Indigo. That was pretty big. I added Irrigation to the mix, but never got it to do much; Irrigation has been pretty good in other games, however.

In the end, we were all pretty close in building, but I was about ten points ahead in shipping.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Gaming in the Crossroads

Last night Rachel and I walked down to the nearest major traffic intersection to find four teenagers sitting in the middle of the intersection playing cards. There's no traffic island; they were just sitting on the pavement, traffic light hanging overhead.

That's Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. I don't think any other city is quite like it.

On Yom Kippur, the cars disappear from Jerusalem's streets. A few police cars park in the streets or slowly make their way from one neighborhood to another. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children dressed in white file out after evening services to congregate in the middle of the streets. Around them, the less religious kids zoom around the auto-free streets on bicycles and foot scooters.

It's a sight to see.

Owing to the short day, nearly all the next day until nightfall was spent in synagogue. It was an easy fast for me. Afterwards, I began setting up the sukkah, which will host Games Day a week from Sunday.

All you non-gaming Israelis who read this are welcome to come by and try your first game on Games Day.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Games are the Moral Choice

Every year around this time I start to write a guide for holiday shopping that reads something like: STOP BUYING THINGS FOR THE HOLIDAYS!

Holidays are not excuses to expect presents. Are you celebrating shopping, consumption, and hedonism? Reclaim meaning this holiday season. Reclaim family, and time, and activities. Reclaim holiness, discussions, laughter, togetherness. Stop buying things. Take the stuff you have and give to the less fortunate. Your house, your inner peace, and your family will love you for it.

That's the message I want to write every year. But each year I change my mind.

It's not the concept of buying that's a problem. It's what and why we buy. We buy items celebrating poor character, items that promote solitary enjoyment, and items built with planned obsolescence. We buy because we are supposed to. Because we're nagged to. Because the neighbors do. Because we say that receiving baubles and sugar makes our kids happy, and instant gratification is what counts.

I don't advise that you drop gift giving and replace it with nothing. Hush money gifts or nothing are not the only options. I recommend that you give gifts that build character, foster reconnection, and endure.

Give time. Give attention (but not advice). Give stories. Give hugs. Give walks. Give help. Give items that will endure. Give gifts that foster connectedness.

It won't surprise you that I think that tabletop games - not all, but some - are good candidates for gifts during the holidays.

Games that are more than just licensed toys will endure. Games stimulate and build character. Games are built around the idea of sharing and connection. Not the dice-rolling ones; those foster sore losers and thrown game boards. I'm talking about the ones where you measure your progress against yourself, and your opponents are as happy with your successes as they are with their own. The right people are also key here.

Games are the frugal choice. With high gas prices, not to mention the ecological damage of constantly driving or flying about, games provide an incredible value for your money.

Games are interactive and character-building. They are the choice for mental stimulation. Well, up there with reading books together, anyway.

Games are a moral choice. Choose to foster connectedness, not solitary play.

Of course, games aren't the only option. Hikes or excursions foster togetherness and don't have to be overly expensive or ecologically damaging. Creative projects, group activities, cooking, and community events can also work. I'm sure there are others.

The point is: make the choice. Make your life. It can become a habit.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Jewish Scraps

I'm working on a post, but it's failing to congeal.

Kosher Phones?

The BBC has a ridiculous article up about a "kosher" cellphone. Uh huh. Very nice. Do you believe what the BBC writes? Without a single source other than "Avi"? Let's just say that the one testable claim mentioned is that if one Googles "banana" one comes across numerous porn sites. Which is not true. Try it.

Unwashable Stains

Did you know that it's possible to get a stain on your overcoat that is so bad that a dry cleaner can't even get it out? I never knew that. I thought dry cleaners could get out anything if they try hard enough. Apparently not. My stain looks like oven baked oil and dirt, and, after around 5 tries, they hadn't made a dent in it.

I hope this isn't symbolic of upcoming Yom Kippur.


Rachel and I attended a small seminar by Ayeka (not this), a new organization dedicated to getting people to talk about important things again, such as God, forgiveness, and faith. Which, apparently, people tend not to do.

Their approach is guided workshops with both text study and heart to heart listening. Twas pretty cool.

Mincha Yom Kippur

I'll be leading Yom Kippur Mincha services in our shul, which is nice. Mincha on Yom Kippur has a special place in my heart, because it's the most neglected of the services. Poor service. And it has the entire book of Yona in it, too.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Session Report, in which I win almost every game

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Reels and Deals, Cosmic Encounter, Year of the Dragon, Mr Jack, Geschenkt x 2, Puerto Rico.

We speculate on how to improve Reels and Deals, and I win all the games but one Geschenkt game. Yay me.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Puerto Rico as an Intro Game

We had Nadine and Yael over for dinner. Nadine is a long time game groupie and Yael is a new student of Rachel's with no particular game experience. Somehow we convinced her to stay for a game after dinner.

I was nervous about using Puerto Rico as the first game for a new player thinking that it's complications would scare her off. Nadine argued otherwise. She said that Puerto Rico's very difference with other games is interesting to new players and she has experience explaining the game to new players in a way they can understand.

As usual I was appalled with the way Nadine explains PR. She start by handing out barrels to the player, taking some herself, laying out the ships, and then walking through shipping. Then she backs up and mentions production buildings and plantations and colonists, and then a little about buildings. Then she points to the roles and privileges and starts the game.

This is nothing like what I do when I explain the game. I explain the goal of the game, and the primary means of acquiring these goals. Then I mention the basic round structure, a little about each role, and the privileges. Then I review explaining how to combine the roles and rounds into the two major paths (to building and to shipping), and where the challenge of the game comes in. Then how and when the game ends. Then we start the game.

Somehow new players still manage to do well with Nadine's method, although she continues explaining parts of the game through the first few rounds. I also continue explaining during the first few rounds, but only to explain implications of what the choices mean, and the idea behind which buildings to consider.

Anyhoo ...

Usually the new player wins the game but this time Nadine won at 52 points. She had Factory and Guild Hall. Rachel and I tied exactly at 48 points + three items. I had an early coffee and Harbor. Rachel had Harbor, too. Yael ended with 42 points. She had Factory and a tobacco monopoly for much of the game.

Yael enjoyed herself. I still think that For Sale, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc. probably make better intro games.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Roundup: Three Years of Fortieth Week Posts

How and Why to Play With Your Children in six steps

Board Game Magic, in which the famed magician Edwin Greenwood reveals ancient board game manipulation magics from past ages.

The mechanics of sudden death

Pink games (the horror)

A drama: The Ten Trials of Abraham

Board Game Blog World Roundup

This is a regular post listing the active board and card game blogs around the internet that are of general interest to all readers. It excludes inactive blogs, blogs that post extremely infrequently, single game-blogs (such as Chess-only), company blogs that simply list their stock and sales, and blogs that have infrequent posts about games.

Please see my left sidebar for the entire list of known board game blogs and podcasts.

Deleted Blogs

I deleted a slew of inactive blogs (around 20) from my list. Three more are slated to be deleted real soon now, unless I hear from them soon.

New Blogs

Berlin Game Design - Jeff Allers, Berlin. Author of Postcards from Berlin on Board Game News.

Board Game Auctions - From Mikko Saari, an interface to board game auctions on eBay.

Game On - A podcast from Cody and John.

Mind Games - The Piseco family, NY. A family of four homeschools and games.

Rick's Café Américain - Rick Holzgrafe, San Jose, CA. Game thoughts.

The Gamer Hotsheet - Michael Salsbury, OH. Tabletop and PC gaming.

Toby-O Forever - Toby-O, Monroe, LA. Games, video games, etc.

Words on Play - Malcolm Ryan, Sydney, Australia. Stories and games and related books.


Headgames Podcast changed locations.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Planned Obsolescence in Game Design

There is a tension between game developers and game publishers. Game developers want you to play their games. Game publishers want you to buy their games. These two desires are not entirely separate, but neither are they entirely compatible.

A game developer, whether creating an abstract game that he hopes will join the ranks of legendary games such as Chess, or creating a themed game that she hopes will be taught in every 8th grade class around the world, wants to create a timeless game. He or she hopes you want to play this game for the rest of your life, and then pass it on to your kids.

A game publisher doesn't care if you play the game at all. They're happy if you buy it to put on your shelf to add to your collection. They want you to like what they sell, of course. But they're happier if you play the game once and then never play it again. That way, you're ripe to buy the next game they sell, which won't happen if you're still enjoying and playing the previous game.

Microsoft knows this; that's why their operating system is made only so good but not better. Windows XP was too good, and now no one wants to buy Vista.

Until the advent of television, the interests of game publishers and game developers were closely aligned. Publishers believed that selling great games was the best market strategy. They figured that it takes a long time to saturate national and international markets with a game, and by that time the next generation is going to want to buy a new copy.

Television changed this. National and international markets became instantaneous. Instead of steady sales for years and years to hit the entire country, everyone in the country knew about the game the moment it hit the shelves. And people became more interested in television than games as a form of entertainment. Appealing to them to break away from television meant producing games that allowed them to take the "fun" of the television with them to the table. That meant television licensed games.

The problem with television licensed games, other than that they are different on the outside of the box but not so much on the inside, is that their life span is as long as the television show that supports them. Dragnet the Board Game is dead once Dragnet the television show is off the air.

Did I say problem? It was actually a great benefit to game publishers, who could sell a few million copies of the game of the week and then go right back to the art and licensing departments to get the next game of the week. You can't design planned obsolescence better than that.

Well, maybe it's a problem once you get to the interactive age of computers and video games, and you discover that people don't want to play badly designed licensed board games when they can play interactive games that are actually original and fun.

And maybe it's a problem for the game designers, whose names don't appear on the game boxes, and whose profession has been reduced to art and licensing departments.

Now we have a publishing culture whose business is to get people to buy, not to play. That means games that don't last for more than a few plays, games that appeal to collectors or fad culture, and games that need quick massive sales in order to be worth publishing - because they're not going to be worth anything next year.

Away from the spotlight of quarterly statements and earnings reports is a world where craftsman still make cabinets and ceramics and games about which they are satisfied to get decent but steady sales over a long period. Perhaps because it's over a long period. These items are meant to be used for generations, not to be sold as quickly as possible while the fad is striking, and then ripped out to make way for the next one.

You have to ask: what business do you really want to get into? What kind of designer do you want to be? What kind of publisher?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

September Board and Card Game Patents

System and method for providing side wagering in multi-player wager-based games - This patent covers any player who is not involved in the game betting on the outcome. While you collect your jaw off the floor, I can only surmise that this passed because it gives as an example an Internet poker room, which must have confused the patent examiners into thinking that it was some sort of programming technique.

Maybe I've misread it, which would be a relief.

Card game - Each player is dealt five hole cards. Nine common cards are dealt into a 3x3 grid, with players discarding one hole card after each three common cards are turned up. Best poker hand at the end wins.

Method and device for playing a game in which values of game pieces are gradually revealed - A sliding door-like plastic thingie and a set of cards that allow you to slide the door and gradually reveal information about the card within.

Method, apparatus and article for hierarchical wagering - The problem: "Many games of chance, such as roulette, craps and twenty-one permit different wagers at different odds. The number of options may prove daunting to a beginner, discouraging new players from learning to wager. Additionally, many casinos have more patrons during busy times than can be adequately handled at the various wagering or playing positions in the casino."

Solution: Near as I can tell, it's an electronic system that let's you win or lose based on how someone else won or lost. In other words, if you like the way Person X is playing, you can simply bet on whether person X wins or loses, winning or losing with him or her. Automatically, I presume. If that's not enough, it allows you to do tertiary betting, betting on the success of some person Y who is also using the system.

Transcendental element card game using die - The principle of rock-paper-scissors in a card game. Not sure if this matters, but a die is included with the game to handle ties, if the players don't simply want to redraw. And text on the cards indicate something educational about the image ("20,000 tons of paper each year blah blah blah").

Method of playing a poker-type keno game - Texas Hold'em has a problem: "While watching people playing on these shows and at neighborhood gatherings, a novice to the game may feel overwhelmed and intimidated. This intimidation can take the form of feelings of embarrassment at not knowing how to play the games or not being able to play as fast or well as others, and can manifest itself by not trying the game or even in not gambling at all."

Solution: Five two-card hands are dealt out, and players bet on the hand they think is going to win.

Method of determining skill level in a tournament setting - Duplicate poker on a computer.

Biased card deal - Using a computer to a) deal equally valued hands to all players, and b) deal better hands to poorer players, rather than simply dealing out the cards randomly. Good luck with that.

Wagering game having a card propagation feature - From WMS Gaming, a game device that let's you hold cards from one round to the next.

No push card game - A three-card game of stud poker. Why this is original is beyond me.

Rosh Hashana Gaming

Blokus Trigon

We had friends for lunch on the first day, gamers mostly. I introduced the kids to Blokus Trigon. I think I can get rid of Blokus now that I have Trigon. Regular Blokus is a slightly better game for four players, but vastly worse for three players, so it's not worth keeping both of them.

Mr Jack

I taught this to Shirley, whose husband Bill has come to game group a few times (but is currently in the U.S.), and who promised to come as well. I know she has some game experience with Bill.

I had her play Criminal, but she didn't quite grasp all the rules of the game after my first run through, and after round one there were only two suspects. She managed to outdo that on the second try, leaving only one suspect after the first round.

I switched her to Detective, where she did somewhat better, but I sacrificed the characters I didn't need in round three, leaving me to escape the board with my first move on round four. Criminal has a slight advantage in this regard, as the even numbered rounds, when Criminal moves first, are also the rounds in which you know what the available characters will be.

Tigris and Euphrates

The three kids who played Blokus Trigon now moved over to T&E, as one of them had played once before and enjoyed it. Unfortunately, they didn't have enough time to finish, but they were having a good time (with lots of calls to me, the referee) as the game went on.

Reels and Deals

I tried this two player with Tal, and we played what was probably reasonably demonstrative of a normal game. Both of us finished two movies. R&D still suffers from one huge problem, in that the guy who makes two movies will always kill the guy who makes one. So, unless you've got the second one ready to go when the other guy finishes, you're out of luck.

Ensuring that this is possible requires a perfect set of scripts: two that are easy, so that you can fulfill them at a moment's notice, and two that are the ones you would really like to finish (worth more points). It also requires a lucky set of pulls for relevant actors and directors.

I can't understand why Tom Vasel dinged the game so much, as I find it enjoyable; I think he was just harping on the box quality and the lack of money and point counters. Pff. It's not a bad game. I just wish the ending weren't so abrupt.

Puerto Rico

Played with Rachel and Nadine, and a few buildings I don't always play with.

I used trading Post and Large General Workhouse to sell and ship goods fairly well. Rachel used Supermarket to sell corns and indigos, thwarting my attempts to keep the Trading House stuck, and buying two large buildings. I also got two large buildings, but Rachel managed to end the game before I could fill my second one. Meanwhile, Nadine had Large Business and an early Coffee sale.

It all ended very closely: Rachel 50, Nadine 48, me 47. If my big building had filled, I would have won.