Sunday, August 30, 2009

Blokus Trigon A Tad Hard for 6 Year Olds

I watched 4 small children, ages around 5 to 7, try to play Blokus Trigon today. I honestly thought they should be able to do it.

But no. While some of them at least grasped the rules, none of them exhibited any planning. They picked up random pieces to put down. Some of the time they put them on random places on the board until they finally played something legal by accident. Often they put the pieces onto the board but not into the grid, so that the piece was sticking out in a random direction.

One of them took about two minutes for each move. Looked at her pile of pieces. Looked at the board. Looked at her pile of pieces. Picked one up. Put it back down. Repeat for two minutes.

Ah, well.

Also, Tal and I played Boggle earlier in the week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Session Report, in which I win Agricola and review Greedy Greedy

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Jambo, R-Eco, Stone Age, Agricola, Greedy Greedy, Bridge Troll.

I win Agricola by a hefty margin (to my surprise), and we try out Greedy Greedy, a push your luck dice game which we expect not to like (and don't).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Best Game

Tom Vasel and some novices stood at a wall of games, deciding which one to play.

"Master, which is the best game?" asked a novice.

"The best game is the game that is enjoyed best," answered Tom.

"But what if I like Monopoly best?" asked the novice.

"Then Monopoly is the best game," said Tom.

"But Monopoly sucks!" said the novice.

"Then it is not the best game," said Tom.

"How can it be the best game and not the best game?" asked the novice.

"Mu," said Tom.

"Master, how about Crocodile Pool Party?" asked another novice.

Tom coughed. "Uh, let's look at some of these games over here," he said.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Games and the Unix Philosophy

Unix Philosophy

Perhaps the simplest form of early Unix Philosophy is as follows: every program should do one thing, do it well, and simply interface to every other program.

In (early) Unix, only one program handled the printer; any other program sent items to that program if they wanted them printed. Similarly, only one program parsed, formatted, justified, calculated, and so on.

Today's over-bloated software may not appear to have much to do with this philosophy, the core principals actually still guide programmers and operating system designers. In very early versions of Windows, each program handled printing. Windows hasn't done that for a long time.

Do one thing, do it well, and interface simply.


When you think of mechanics that do one thing and do it well, you think of party games, maybe dexterity games and sports. These are ideal games for many, and in fact look at the new mainstream games each year from Mattel and so on.

You also think of Knizia and his 250 or so games. Excepting his meatier games, Knizia's designs (Money, Flinke Pinke, Modern Art, Poison), appear to be to follow this principle. Not surprising, given his background in mathematics. I don't know that it really makes a good game. I think it makes a good mechanic, but all these little games leave me wanting more "game" in my game.

It would be interesting to take little games and interface them together to make a heftier game. On the other hand, better games feel like more than just a collection of disparate mechanics, but a total integration of mechanics. And theme, many would add.

And there's no one perfect way to do an auction or a set collection mechanic, like there is one correct way to send data to the printer.


On the other hand, as the TED talks demonstrate, this is an excellent guiding principle for giving a lecture.

A Student Asked Teuber

A student asked Teuber: How shall I play Settlers of Catan?

Teuber answered: Be like the robber. The robber receives from all players. The robber opposes the leader. The robber neither wins nor loses any game, but plays every game.

Another student asked Teuber: How shall I play Settlers of Catan?

Teuber answered: Be not like the robber. The robber always starts in the same position. The robber does not utilize his resources. The robber does not try to win.

A third student asked: How can one be like the robber and not be like the robber?

Teuber answered: How can one be like a student, and not be like a student?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Session Report, in which Cliff comes and we play Santiago

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Blokus Trigon, Dominion, Santiago.

Only three people attend. I'm confused about the correct strategy for Santiago.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Weekend Gaming

Tal's friends were over for shabbat, and they're a gaming crowd. I wanted to bring out Jungle Speed, but Ariella had taken it with her to play over the weekend with her friends.

We played:

Triple Team Hearts: Six players, three teams, two decks of cards. One of the two of clubs and two of diamonds removed from the deck. Passing only to your partner. Shooting the moon can be a joint effort with your partner.

I made it up on the spot, and it seemed to work ok. We only got through two rounds, however. Nechemya (and thus his partner) lost them both pretty badly.

Apples to Apples: The Jewish and Kids edition cards were mixed into the regular ones.

Antike: The boys were interested in playing this after I declared it to be a reason never to play Risk again. They all liked it, especially that you could never be entirely wiped out. And that, despite many paths, it can be a pretty close game. Nechamya played Greece and got too big, and then got hit by both Rome (me) and Turkey, which set him back. I was neck in neck with someone else to win: I needed two points, but I was one city away from 15, and one ship away from 14. He was only one point away, and built his sixth temple, and that was that.

Robo Rally: I taught this to Nechemya last time he was here and he attempted to teach this to the others, with some varying amount of success.

I'm fairly sure some other games were played as well, but I did have to sleep, occasionally.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Name of the Game: Israeli Games Fair

Israel is gearing up for its first multi-game game convention.

What: Spearheaded by SmartZone, an Israeli importer and publisher, the Israeli Games Fair ("Name of the Game") is supposed to be modeled on the Essen fair.

When: It will be three days (three freakin' days!) long during Hol Hamoed Sukkot.

Where: In the Afula industrial area. Partial sponsorship by the Afula municipality.

See the site for more details.

What to Expect: Expect there to be a bunch of publishers exhibiting and selling games, as well as organized game activities.

Vendors: Current participants include SmartZone, FoxMind (publisher), SilverStars (Eurogame and RPG importer), Bubima (wooden games, puzzles, and toys), Kapla (wooden games, puzzles, and toys), ToySmart (publisher), and hopefully more. Notably absent is KodKod (they rarely do anything in Israel; either they don't care or they're too big to care) and Haim Shafir (I think he has a conflicting event).

Conflict: Hol Hamoed is a typical time to organize large scale events such as this. Unfortunately, that also means that other events that might attract the same or similar crowd will also be happening during this time. ICON (link is to the English site, but the Hebrew site has more info), the Sci-Fi and RPG convention, which also usually has a strong CCG and board game showing, will also take place over three days during Hol Hamoed in Tel Aviv. And I will also be hosting my usual bi-annual Games Day on one day during Hol Hamoed.

Smart Zone

Smart Zone is one of the few Israeli companies that are really trying. These guys really love games and puzzles and they're doing their best to make new and better ones, while still facing the reality of selling to a public that hasn't progressed past Ricuz (Hebrew Monopoly clone from the 1950s) and Backgammon.

The above Cobra Cubes is a representative puzzle/game in the genre that includes Rush Hour and Tangrams. It's by Ariel Laden, an Israeli designer. It's pretty elegant: just four cubes that you have to rearrange in a bunch of ways to fit 40 increasingly difficult puzzles (can't speak for the difficulty of any of them). They did a previous game, World Passport, which was also a simple and elegant game in this genre.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Session Report, in which some new people come and La Citta gets dissed

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion x 2, Cosmic Encounter, R-Eco, La Citta, Taluva, Winner's Circle.

Dominion gets love and La Citta gets dissed.

It's not a particularly good session report, as I didn't keep notes or scores. Maybe the others will fill in some details.

What it Feels Like to Faint

I sat with Tal outside the operating room. She lay on the bed, uncomfortable to be wearing nothing under the hospital gown and blanket, and now with bare shoulders as she had to take her arms out to receive the anesthesia.

She looked so small, The bed looked so short.

The anesthesiologist tied a rubber band around her forearm and tapped the back of her wrist. She took a needle (the kind that lies in you for some period of time, so that tubes can be put into and out of you without having to do the needle each time, like an IV) and incised it into an artery on the back of the hand, up toward the arm.

That's when Tal began laughing. She was in pain; I imagine that it was the same type of pain that I felt when I gave blood a few weeks ago and, instead of a prick and then no sensation, the pain didn't stop. They had had to take the needle out and try again on the other arm. Tal was laughing at the pain. The she was tearing up and crying, still laughing, hysterical laughter. I looked and the needle covered with gauze was leaking blood, and there was blood on her hand. Tal was still laughing/crying.

I began to get that same feeling that I had when I was in the same pain: lightheaded, head in a tight headband. a fog swirling around my chest and throat. I knew where I was going. I was in shock.

I leaned back against the wall, and said "I'm going to faint". The lightheadedness increased. I thought "maybe if I just leaned my head against the wall", all the while saying to myself, "I need to lie down and elevate my legs."

Then, a blur. Not darkness, but deepness. Stillness. In some remote corner, I knew people were moving me, laying me down. There seemed to be a lot of people. Why were they here, instead of with Tal?

Head and back on the cold floor. Someone put a stool at my feet and lifted them. Stillness began to recede and I was surfacing. I'm coming out of fainting, I thought. "How is Tal? Is she asleep?" Her bed was not in the room any more, though seconds ago (it seemed) she was right next to me.

Over the next few minutes, six of the operating staff was around me while I lay on the floor. I was cogent within twenty seconds or so of laying on the floor, though my body was probably still very pale, gradually growing back to a normal color, and I was sweating bullets. From the floor, I answers all their questions, "How do you feel? Getting better? Is it coming back?" No, I'm fine, I'll just sleep here on the floor for a little while. How is Tal? Is she asleep yet? Is she frightened? Is she still crying?

Tal wasn't asleep, but they had wheeled her into the operating room. After another minute, I got up, because I didn't want them spending more time around me when they should be in the room with Tal. I went in to Tal and kissed here, asked how she was. She looked both sad, and sick, and ok. She wasn't crying or laughing. She said she was ok. Now I'm in the waiting room. A doctor just came out and said that the operation was underway.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hutzot Hayotzer: Steampunk Rhinocerous, Peruvian Chess, and Mosaic Iguana

I took Saarya, Tal, and her friend Nechemya to Hutzot Hayotzer last night, an annual ten days of Israeli and international arts and Israeli music at Sultan's Pool in Jerusalem.

Each year's format is rather the same, as are the offerings, but its still fun to go. The music is played so loud that we can hear it blasting through the windows of our apt building 2 km away in Arnona. Standing in front of the speakers, your body trembles with each bass beat.

But the music is only one part of the evening.

The Scene

Note: All pictures are shrunk from the originals. If you want to see details on a particular picture, ask me and I'll send you the larger original.

This is what it looks like in the daylight, coming in from the south at 7:30 pm. Those are the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem on the right.

And this is what it looked like from the west side, as we were leaving at 11:00 pm.

Flags of the participating countries flying along a perimeter wall.

Decorations around the area include these light-tree structures. Jerusalem events are always full of lights.

The Oddness of Security and Lottery Agents

Approaching the entrance at the south side, we were told that absolutely no one can get in tonight unless they had previously bought a ticket earlier in the day (or prior). No more tickets were available; we had to come back tomorrow. All the security agents on that side agreed.

So we walked around to the other side, bought tickets, and entered without any problems.

The left hand surely doesn't know what the right hand is doing. This security nonsense continued later on, during the concert performance (see below).

This guy was one of many selling lottery tickets. His shpiel included a pronouncement of how good an idea buying this lottery ticket was and how many millions of shekels we could win.

Me: If this is such a good deal, why aren't you rich, instead of selling lottery tickets?

Him: (laughs) Oh I never buy these tickets. Maybe that's why I still have to sell them!

Me: So you're offering me a product that you don't even use yourself?!

The Internationals: Countries and their Crafts

Although I have organized these alphabetically, they were actually situated somewhat more geographically. In that arrangement, it was clear that countries from the same region tended to have closely aligned artistic styles.


Not entirely sure what this is, but it looks somewhat apocalyptic.


Argentinian masks

A leather-detailed Chess board is not all that unusual ...

But Chess pieces made from leather strips is more interesting. $60.



South American countries had very colorful items, which we Americans and Israelis typically consider gaudy or childish.

Brazilian polka-dot chickens

Brazil rooster made enameled with beer bottle caps


I think this box came from Bulgaria, but I may be wrong. It was stunning, as were a number of other boxes in the collection. $1300.




China's booth was somewhat weak this year. It's usually stunning.


I tried on some Columbian shirts, but they weren't the right size. They were hard to take off without ripping. $20.


An iguana made from mosaic squares

El Salvador (and Guatemala)


African countries also have interesting colors, but usually darker with more solid shapes than the South American brights and patterns.


Not really sure what these are. Dolls with wicks, or something.


Cat City and Fish paintings from Hungary.


That's Tal and her friend, Nechamya.

These are miniature paintings on some kind of shells.


Indonesia always has their own grass hut.


This guy (in the turban) has been coming since at least 2005. The guy on the right from Israel is active on some Israeli/Arab peace web sites.



Assume it's South Korea

I don't know what he's writing, but on the bottom of the pic you can see the tip of the Hebrew bible that was open in front of him.





This bowl has a beautiful cracked glaze.


A Peruvian Chess set, pitting the Peruvians against Spain, I believe.

Hand weaving. Must have been a pain to drag that here from Peru.


Heavily Christian themed.



Made from flower petals and leaves.


South Africa

Beaded elephants. Lots of countries used elephants as an art theme. I don't know why.



They had three booths.


Shell owls

Glass sculpture.

The Concert

Sarit Hadad played. Madonna's a big fan.

The concert area had it's own section in the area, the south side which is a ring of stadium like seats facing a concert backdrop. Lots of standing room on the sides and in front.

Security was attempting to throttle the people going in and out by a series of metal police barriers. They yelled "You can't get in!" until enough people showed up at the gate and demanded that they be allowed in. Then they relented and let them all in.

Simultaneously, they told people inside "You can't go out!", which was ridiculous, of course. And when a queue of people went out, it made even less sense to try to hold out the people who wanted in. So basically, the gates opened and closed every few minutes for no particular reason.

Sarit singing beside the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who didn't know the words (or was shy) when Sarit asked him to sing along.

Of course, vast numbers of people filmed or photographed the concert.

I remember a time not long ago when security checked people's bags for video cameras and such things to prevent people from filming a concert. Good luck trying that now. If you looked at the throngs of people around the stage, it was a sea of lights from camera-phones. Hundreds of people with their hands in the air like the above guy.

The Nationals: Crafts

Moving to the Israeli half of the area, craftspeople worked the area.

Glassblowing. The Arab guy working this booth (not pictured) had a perpetual snarl on his face. It might have been the lateness of the evening.

Basketweaving (and other stuff made from basket canes).

There is an enclosed bar area, with acrobats spinning on drapes, silhouettes of backlit performers behind white screens (left), clowns, singers, and a band.

Along with rice engraving, there was hair braiding, and artist sketching.

Smart Zone

This was the only booth dedicated to games. Smartzone both imports games (Hive, Pentago, Tantrix) and is creating their own games. I've written them up before, and I will post more about them and their current offerings in another post after this one (including a games festival they are organizing in Afula with other Israeli game companies).

Here are some random Israeli craft pics:

Many ceramics and mugs

Blue ceramics is a large trend here

One of several interesting works by the same artist.

These, and the following are from Papafork, an artist who make stuff out of silverware and other metal discards. Very steampunk. He supposedly has a website at, but it doesn't work.

This is life-size.