Friday, November 27, 2009

In Toronto

Toronto is old hat to me, I guess. Other than a brief trip for Chinese at Golden Chopsticks (ok, but nothing amazing), Cafe Bistro with Rachel (very nice dairy), and to pick up some games, I've been inside, working.

Rachel is scholar-in-residence one more time, this time at Beth Tzedec, a big Conservative synagogue. She also did two gigs on Wednesday and was interviewed for the TV show Israel Today this morning. I'm "her husband" again.

Haven't played anything.

Maybe the only thing amusing that I saw was on a bus: the bus driver was driving, and behind him was a Plexiglas barrier, and, behind the barrier, a bus supervisor was standing. On the barrier was a sign that read: "We stand behind our bus drivers."

Ha ha. Ok, not much happens in Canada, you know.

Session Report, in which they play Galaxy Trucker while I'm away

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played Galaxy Trucker, It's Alive.

First play of Galaxy Trucker for everyone, I think.

Next week back at my house.

Games Shed and Acquired On This Trip


It's Alive x 4
Carpe Astra
Merchants of Amsterdam
Beyond Balderdash
Greedy Greedy
Bridge Troll
Verrater / Meuterer
El Grande expansions
Winner's Circle
Griddly Headz Baseball
Die Macher


Dominion Intrigue
Dominion Seaside
Pillars of the Earth expansion
Hare and Tortoise
In the Shadow of the Emperor
Le Havre
Mu and More
Play4D playing cards x 2
Robber Knights
30 Magic cards
Reef Encounter

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Zauberenhändler aka Wizard Trader

I ran a game at BGG.con which I called Zauberenhändler, which I hope means Wizard Trader in German (that's what it was supposed to mean).


There were 1000 cards, 10 identical copies of 100 different cards. The 100 cards contained a) a name, such as "David", which is the person represented by the card, b) an age relationship between two other people on two other cards, such as "Claire is 26 years older than Gwen", and c) a bonus that may be absolutely applied ("add George's age to your final total") or conditionally applied ("add +20 points for each person whose name begins with the letter "G").

The rules to the game were printed on the back of each card. Each of the 100 people had a unique age between 1 and 100.

The complete list of cards, and age key


Each player received one card. Players were told to trade and collect cards. By Saturday evening, they may hand in to me up to five cards, with no duplicates. Their score is the total of the ages of the people they hand in, plus any applicable bonus scores.

Top three scores win prizes.

The Good

I received several thank yous from happy players and non-players alike. Some began playing and then passed their cards on to others, but still enjoyed the idea. Some enjoyed watching others play.

One couple took the game very seriously and traded candy and chocolates for cards, amassing some 350 cards by Saturday night. They spent several hours trying to create perfect sets. He and she came in second and third place. A friend of theirs came in first.

The game, as usual, enhanced social interactivity, which was really its entire point.

Jon Theys helped clarify the bonus values and text, added a graphic, did all the production, and even wrote an Excel program that let me simply select the card names to find the total. Awesome.


I enjoyed creating the game. I was expecting that this game would be much simpler than the previous game, because there was only one type of puzzle, and only a hundred cards and ten copies of each card. I also figured that, by the time any one person had amassed 40 or 50 cards, the ages of all of them would be pretty much known, and that this list would propagate to any other interested players. All that would be left was physically obtaining the cards and calculating the maximum bonuses.

So I was slightly worried.

Turns out I should have run some computer generated runs. The couple who had amassed 350 cards only had 70 or so unique cards, but even from that could not figure out the exact ages of nearly anyone. This drove her entirely crazy. I realize that I made a mistake of not putting any base ages in; however, I did put in a few "X is times as old as Z", which should have acted as bases to help you find sane age values.

When I learned of her frustration, I realized that she was going to keep calculating until she had "solved" the game. I also immediately realized that this was simply not necessary. All that was required to do was take five cards and make your best educated guess. The more information you have, the better your chances of guessing well. If you can't figure out the entire table, at least you have a good idea as to whose ages are relatively higher and whose are relative lower.

And you know: this is even better. I thought it would be too easy, and it turned out that finding all the information was difficult. Difficult, but not necessary. The three people who won were the three people who had spent the most time making the best guesses that they could. And that's exactly how it should be.

The Bad

Unfortunately, fewer people that I hoped actually turned in any cards. This bothered me, of course. Then the complaints rolled in.

- Couldn't understand/find the rules

This from gamers who spent four days pouring over 40 page instruction manuals and went seeking any of the dozens of available game teachers to teach them how to play. For some reason, they couldn't understand a single sentence on the back of a card, or be bothered to ask an administrator what it meant.

I have no sympathy for you. What exactly do you expect in your game bag at a game convention from a game designer? A lottery ticket? You already got three of those. I can't stand lotteries, which is why I don't play games with dice. If I make a game, it's going to have something more than a random drawing. Don't like it, don't play it.

- Couldn't understand the strategy/Didn't know what to do

I'm nearly as unsympathetic to this one as to the previous one. Haven't you played Settlers of Catan? And you don't understand what trading is?

Maybe the rules were too short: "Trade and collect these cards." It seems I should have added more: "You may trade the cards, give the cards away, use them as ante for another game, give them or get them in exchange for candy, beg, borrow, or steal them. Just try to amass five good cards. To know if cards are good, you are going to have to trade information with other players or collect a crapload of cards. Good luck."

Honestly, I thought this was implicit in the rules. I guess others didn't think so. Next time, I will make this explicit.

- Only got one card

Continuing with the previous criticism, a number of people were in despair of playing because they only got one card; how were they supposed to get five? See my answer to the previous complaint.

I sympathize with this one a little more. Mischa explained it to me. It would have been better to give a bunch of cards and ask for a bunch of cards, like I did the first time. For several reasons. First, having multiple cards gives players a better idea of how the cards vary, and so what they can expect to find if they trade with others. Second, it is not so hard to get a few cards when everyone had several, while it is hard to get four more cards when everyone has only one. It didn't help (though it's slightly amusing) that Alex Dupres was discouraging other people from playing by scorning them if they only had one card and then happily taking it from them when they decided not to play. Heh. You did play; you just lost.

But lesson learned: next time, each player will get multiple cards.

- Couldn't solve the game

As I mentioned above, that's not a bug, it's a feature. You didn't have to solve the game to win. Getting clues and a general idea was enough to win. I sympathize with your OCD, but I'm laughing at you, too.

- Couldn't find Yehuda

Yeah, sorry about that, but all the admins knew that I would be away Friday afternoon until Saturday evening. Some of them didn't know that they could collect cards on my behalf; I'll ensure that that doesn't happen again next time.

For those of you who didn't know who I was, you just had to ask. The admins knew me, as did around 100 other people walking around. And I was the only one with a kippah on my head. Maybe I'll put my profile on the cards next time.

- Didn't know the prizes

I wish I had known them before, too. Putting them on the cards would have been a good incentive to play.

Future Plans

All the complaints are being taken into account, and my third version will hopefully build on the positive aspects of the first two. It will be back to a situation where you don't have to solve anything to make a best guess, and you will receive multiple cards. I'll add more explicit rules, a little about the prizes (if possible), and how to find me. I'll make sure the admins stand in for me when I'm not around on shabbat (or if I don't come to the con, I'll ensure that they know how to handle this). I may put up a box for submissions again, like Aldie did the first year.

And I will try to ensure that the game makes its way into the official con schedule listing, so as to give its presence, and the rules, wider exposure.

Session report, in which many people I don't know show up at game night while I'm away

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up, quite belatedly (last Wed's). Games played: Fluxx, Year of the Dragon, Shadows Over Camelot, Notre Dame, Vegas Showdown, Tichu, Puerto Rico.

Many people appear in the session report whose names I don't know. Go Nadine.

Airline Found My Ticket

I have verbal assurance from American that they will be refunding me my $1200. And it only took three hours on the telephone to four different airline reps at two different airlines. Here's what happened:


Tickets have a ticket number (14 digits) and a record number (6 letters). You generally use the record number to do automatic check in, though you can use the ticket number as well.

My flights were/are El Al Tel Aviv to Newark to Cincinnati, American Cincinnati to Dallas to Toronto, and El Al Toronto to Tel Aviv.

It is also worth noting that my ticket is under the name "YehudaJonathan", since my Israeli passport is Yehuda and my American is Jonathan. Generally this causes no problem.

Bought and Reissued

I bought my ticket in June, and my travel agent reissued the ticket in July, with a different ticket number and the same record number, though the old record number was not printed on the new ticket: instead there was a "reference number", also six characters long but containing both numbers and digits.

I only discovered this the night before I left; I tried to check in online with El Al using my old ticket number but the old ticket number was not recognized. I quickly got the new one from my agent and successfully checked in for my flight. I had both the old and the new tickets printed out in my bag.

No problems getting through to Cincinnati on El Al/Delta. And no problems getting from Cincinnati to Dallas using the original record number.

The Problem Starts

When I tried to check in in Dallas, the record number didn't work. Rather, it worked but it was associated only with the old ticket number, not the new one. Therefore, the counter agents at AA could only tell that the old ticket had been changed to something but they had no idea what, or even with what airline. The Cincinnati to Dallas one did not suffer this problem because it was a separate leg of the trip, not associated with the El Al portions to and from Israel, and so remained under the original ticket number. Though why they let me check through two bags for free when traveling from Cincinnati to Dallas remains a mystery.

I gave them my new ticket as well, hoping this would resolve the problem. However, the AA ticket agents looked at the "reference number" on the new ticket, said that this isn't a valid "record number" for AA, and so this printout only applies to my El Al portion of the trip, not the AA portion. They never bothered to actually enter the new ticket number to check that. I didn't catch this; I thought they also checked both old and new ticket numbers, but I didn't insist on it. They also were not able, for a reason that remains mystery number two, to find my new ticket using my name and flight number.

The Resolution Starts

When I called AA today, they told me the ticket number they had associated with the record number and told me to find out what happened at El Al, since there was nothing they could do for me. Contacting El Al, they said that there was nothing wrong with the ticket, and was I sure that AA had used the correct ticket number. That's when it began to dawn on me that maybe they hadn't.

I called back AA, explained the story again from scratch to a sympathetic service rep, and we found the new ticket. Turns out that AA had assigned a completely different record number to the new ticket number, a record number that is entirely different from the original record number that El Al and my agent continue to associate with the new ticket. Mystery three.

Naturally, that ticket showed me as a "no-show", since I booked it but didn't use it. Of course, since I had bought a third ticket and used that, instead. She told me to go ahead and ask for a refund using their online refund system, explaining the story in the appropriate text field. It sounded like they were ready to refund the ticket and just had to fill out the form.

Unfortunately I hung up to do this, only to discover that the online form refuses to even let you ask for a refund if the ticket was issued as non-refundable and already used. Instead, the online form told me to call AA customer service if I needed further assistance.

Call rep four, who's overly sensitive and less sympathetic, and also, over the course of the next half hour ask me multiple times for the same information as her computer keeps crashing and she neglects to write the information down on any note paper, which is what she should have done the second time she asked me.

But after many minutes of holding and questions, she verbally assures me that they have gone ahead with the refund. She offers me no written, faxed, or emailed confirmation of this, but says I should be able to see this online once the refund enters the system. So I thank her and hang up.

It's now 9 hours later and I still don't see the refund in process online, but I'm hopeful.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Airline Lost my Ticket

I just spent a half an hour arguing and pleading with American Airlines to give me a discount after they lost my ticket Dallas to Toronto. They said it was my agent's fault for changing something; they could see my name there, but there was no longer an associated ticket. I had to spend $1200 for a new one way Dallas to Toronto, which is as much as my entire ticket from Israel to and around the US and back.

The AA reps at the gate refused to help me, except to blame my agency (closed in Israel, as it is after hours, and I couldn't find an emergency contact number). They said that if they did something to help me that was against the rules, they could get fired.

One of them went on break while she was supposed to be helping me, and the other one looked at me like I was nuts when I asked if she could call the first one back from her break.

BGG.con: One Night in Dallas

My taxi ride from the Westin to Dallas proper ... or, I should say, one of my taxi rides.

I forgot to mention the several times that I played Tichu, one of which was pretty epic. We decided to play to 500, after our opponents got 300 on the first hand. In the next hand, my partner (playing for the second day of his life) called Tichu, and was having a difficult time making it. My hand was filled with high cards and various low pairs. Every time I led, LHO overtook my card and partner couldn't overtake that. I overtook LHO and had to lead again. I broke up every single pair in my hand and was working on all the low singles before partner finally got in and was able to play out his Tichu.

And my last hand I made Grand Tichu. I recall it was also some tricky playing, but I no longer remember what. We won by 20 points, 560 to 540.

I stayed to help organize, pack up and clean up (everyone else got a Geekgold award card for helping, but when they got to me, all they had left was a rock.)

The trip to Dallas by taxi was as expected. We didn't take George Bush highway, which is a good thing because although the highway says that it goes to Dallas, it actually ends about a third of the way there at a sign that says "Mission Accomplished". And then goes over a cliff.

I got to spend about ten minutes in a smaller Half Priced books (picked up my third trilogy from Julie Czerneda), and finally got to blog.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

BGG.con Sunday

At the Geekbuzz station. BGG.con is now wrapping up and I'll try to help clean up, get a ride to Dallas, hit 1/2 Priced Books, and a bridge club this evening with David. Then to Toronto tomorrow.

Played Time's Up (a expansion about titles) - it's a party game, hard, but fun. Played a game whose name I can't remember with Chris and Jim: nice, I'd play more times, but not deep enough for the group. More on it later.

Played an abstract game of demolishing and building towers with Mischa. Very abstract, very solid, decent filler. Again, more later.

Played Infinite City: it was a so-so tile laying game, fans of chaos will like it. I didn't like the constant back and forth, making planning near impossible (though I toasted the guy demoing the game to me 26 to 16). I thought it would make a nice CCG, like Chizo Rising.

Listened to the demo guy explain the rules to Homesteaders, and combined with that and that Alex Rockwell designed it and he likes what I like, I bought it.

Also traded my copy of Carpe Astra for Sumeria. That's everything.

Oh yes. I also got to hand out the three prizes for the trading game I created. A number of people thanked me, many complained that finding information was too difficult. More on that later, too.

BGG.con Saturday

Rachel was scholar-in-residence, and I was "her husband", for shabbat. We stayed with and ate at lovely people's houses, but I felt a little out of place; most of the conversations were about sports, business, Republican politics, drinking (which I don't, much). But they were great people, served fantastic food, and had large, beautiful houses.

Saturday night I made it back in time to catch some of the Golden Geek awards (Pandemic and Dominion each won something), skipped the grand prize giveaways (having given Mischa my ticket), and started making myself visible to collect entries to the wizards trading game.

I also played a game of Time's Up - it's a party game, but it's pretty challenging. And Tichu - at which I played epically; I'll write more when I'm not at a public computer.

More games I forgot to mention that I played on previous days: Mah-Jong for the first time - man is that a wacky game. If you know the strange conventions of Cribbage, it's times 100 more than that. Special ways to place tiles, move tiles, pick tiles, and hundreds of unrelated hand types you're looking to meld. You have to devote some time to understand the game.

I also taught, played, and then sold a copy of It's Alive. Speaking of selling, Mischa also sold off two more copies and my El Grande expansions for me at the flea market this morning while i was away. Mischa has been my angel at this con, like he was the last time I came to the con, too.

And I played Crokinole, of course.

Rachel dropped by briefly and headed to the Day's Inn where were staying. I'll stay a little while longer to collect more game entries and then join her.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

BGG.con Friday

More info

Rachel is scholar and residence in Dallas this shabbat (not a coincidence). She landed in Dallas at 1:00, at the same time that I found my good friend Chris Brooks. Chris let Rachel crash for an hour in his room, and then I introduced Rachel to Aldie, Derk, Mischa, and Ted. Then the shul Rabbi picked us up and drove us to our hosts.

Dallas has a lovely Jewish Ortho community and it's growing.

Games played

Tobago: An Essen game, this is a neat game, light but doesn't feel insubstantial. You play cards that narrow down the possible locations of treasures on an island, and then you run to pick them up, splitting the values between the clue providers and the picker upper - but not simply splitting. I will write a lot more about it, but I enjoyed it, nearly completely. It had one irksome mechanism, which is the one where you can collect tokens that give you extra turns, and then spend them all at once. Not a good thing. But a minor problem, and easily corrected.

I lost pretty soundly.

Dominion Intrigue x 2: Only DI cards, and I learned to hate the Saboteur (and won against it anyway, so there). I won one, and lost the second.

Prototype 1: I'll fill in the guy's name later when I find it: he's from New Orleans, and the game was like hex using d4s, where you kill two nearly adjacent d4s by putting one equally their total in between them. The game was flawed, unfortunately, and the designer agreed with me.

Triumvirate: A small self-published game, I wasn't thrilled with it, though I only played a third of a game - it felt longer, though it was only 15 minutes. The problem is that it was very repetitive. I also felt like I got screwed with luck, but recognize that I may not have played optimally to counter the screwage. You might like it if you're looking for a light card game reminiscent of a trick-taking game.

Prototype 2: Micha's prototype, the game worked, at least, but there were some physical problems to work out, and I'm not enthused about the game play, yet. But it's mature enough that I think it could work out. I'm hoping to give him some constructive feedback on Saturday night.

Also, I forgot to mention yesterday that I played Age of Scheme, a fairly clean train + stock + merger game, not as frustrating as some similar efforts (where you cannot catch up if you're screwed), and it plays fairly quickly, too. The name is a deal-killer, however. It was remade into something sensible, I believe.

Friday, November 20, 2009

BGG.con Thurs

More info and pictures

My computer decided to start working again, so I'll write while I can. Games played today:

Russian Fish

This is Go Fish for six players (possibly more). The 8's are removed from a deck of cards, yielding 8 sets of 6 cards in each suit (high clubs, low clubs, etc). All cards are dealt out.

On your turn, IFF you have a card from one of the eight sets, you can ask any of your opponent's for a specific other card from that set IFF you don't have that specific card. For instance, if you hold the 9 of diamonds, you can ask opponent B for the jack of diamonds. You can't ask for the jack of diamonds if you already have it, and not if you don't have one of the top six diamonds. if you get the card, you get to ask one of your opponents for another card, using the same criteria. When you ask for a card and don't get one, the person whom you just asked gets to ask next.

Whenever it is your turn, you can score a set if you and your teammates have all six cards of the set AND you can name exactly in which hand each of the six cards of the set are. Which means that many of the questions you and your teammates ask will not be to acquire a card, but just to inform your teammates (indirectly) about which cards you don't hold (and therefore, which card you do hold).

It's pure memory, and very difficult. It's not my type of game, but I know a lot of kids and other families who would like it a lot.

Our team won.

Le Havre

I very much wanted to try this one, even though I know the game is priced somewhat higher than other games in this weight category. But it was supposed to be comparable to Agricola. I like Agricola, though I'm not as big a fan of it as some people are; Puerto Rico is still a better game, by a good margin,

Le Havre does have some elements that compare to Agricola, but it seems more like Caylus in certain regards. It's a fantastic game, and easily better than the somewhat awkward Agricola. I'll try to describe it at a different time. Suffice to say I think my group would absolutely love it. I may need to swallow and splurge.

I came in second out of four with 92 points (the winner had 108).


I head this was a nice light into game, and it turned out to be a nice light intro game. Too light and simplistic for my group: scoring is too direct. Feels a little like Thurn and Taxis, from which is borrows a few mechanisms. But not a bad time. Again, more description later.

I cam in third out of four. Don't remember the scores.

Power Grid: Special

I played on someone's original version of the power grid board. I forget the name of the designer and of the special version.

The rules were the same as the regular game, with the following exceptions: There are four "island" cities that only have spaces in rounds 2 and 3 (for 15 and 20, respectively). The cost to connect to them is high (between 27 and 42), but you MUST have a plant in one of them in order to win the game.

I inherited a position around turn 3 or so, and it wasn't a particularly good position. The game was pretty much going to my RHO, until the last round, when my LHO foolishly bought a plant, "just because", which gave me access to a much better plant, AND opposite opponent failed to block the locations I needed to win. I had 16 cities, compared to no more than 14 by anyone else, but it was more their loss than my victory.

Dominion: Intrigue

I squeezed in a game of this. I came in second with 28. Maybe I'll write more about this later (but I doubt it).

Greed Incorporated

This is a Splotter game, and anyone who knows Splotter knows that their games tend to be longish, very creative, but ultimately flawed (I heard this was not true of Indonesia, but I don't know). This game is no exception. The object is to take your personal money and buy doodads for points. But you can only get personal money as payoff for being fired from your job as executive of a company. And you can only get fired if your company makes less this year (round) than it did in some previous year. So your job is to build a company to make a lot of cash, then burn it out so you get fired and steal the money from the company on the way out.

It's not at all bad, but quite unintuitive. I was halfway through the game and I didn't understand the reasons for doing anything I was doing. It finally clicked somewhere. But that's where it breaks down.

Because in order to win, you have to buy production not for the profit it generates, but so that you're guaranteed most payout when the company collapses. And then, only the people blamed get fired, which is a bad dynamic, as you can't blame yourself [Update: see comments]. That leads to kingmaking decisions at various points in the game. It's filled with promising mechanics that don't seem like they get used very much, since they're not relevant to actual game success.

It could be that we were doing something wrong, or that further plays will elucidate our mistaken ideas of how the game is supposed to run. But it was already a long game, and the payoff wasn't big enough to warrant another play. Certainly not for a game costing over $100.

Though I was initially losing, I came in second due to some insights in the game flow during the last four rounds.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

BGG.con Wed

For more information, see my Purple Pawn entry.

Games I saw a lot of, so far: Tichu, Race for the Galaxy, Endeavor. Mischa brought me kosher food from New Orleans. Yum.

After helping set up, I played some games:

Peeper: Ted Alspach demonstrated this ladder-climbing game from Korea for me, Rick Thornquist, and Marshall. The game uses tiles, instead of cards, and his version was a deluxe version. Tiles go from 1 to 15 in four colors, as well as four X tiles, which are either 16s (when played alone), or jokers when played with something else. Valid plays are a single tile, pairs, ladder pairs, or straights of three tiles or more. Three and four of a kinds are bombs, which must be played on your turn.

Each round, each player scores one negative point for each tile left in his rack after someone goes out. We played to 50 points, and I won handily.

Tarantel Tango: Ted then demonstrated this new game from Essen. It is a silly party game. Each card has one or two animals and zero, one, or two spiders. You have to play your cards quickly, making the sound of the previously played animal and playing your card on the correct pile. Various kinks thrown in for good measure. A barrel of laughs for those that enjoy this sort of thing.

Automobile: I was hankering to play this and managed to find a spot in a five player game. It's a Martin Wallace game, what more needs to be said? A lot of worker placement, tight money, player interaction, painful results for miscalculation - but not TOO painful. With a scant three actions each round, in four rounds, you need to build factories, produce cars, and either get them to distributors or meet the market demand. As players buy plants, older ones become obsolete.

Tight, fun, dry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Last Day in Oxford; Next Stop BGG.con

Visited the Oxford Gaming Club to play a little more Magic. This evening, attendance was low and people had to go early, so we didn't play an entire draft and Swiss rotation like we did last time.

I started with a game of ... I don't remember the name. Oops. I thought it was The Great Wall of China by Knizia, but the description on BGG doesn't match what I played. Here's a description: A partial map of Italy (I think) divided into 17 areas. Each player gets 6 cubes. The object of the game is to win 6 areas, or any 4 contiguous areas.

There is a deck of cards, with various numbers of tan cards valued 1 to 10 (missing some numbers, I think). In addition, there are several special cards, such as a red 10 unaffected by other special cards, a red 1 that gives you control over where the next fight will take place, winter which cancels spring and changes all yellow cards to value 1, spring which cancels winter and gives a 3 point bonus to all highest valued cards, a raven that lets you take back a card, a cross that ends the round immediately (winning the current battle for whomever is currently in the lead), a drum that doubles all your card values, and others.

The play is like Havoc: each player continues to play cards, one at a time, until everyone passes. Once you pass, you can't play any more cards. The winner is the player who has played the highest total value. Every player then redraws back up to 10 cards plus the number of areas he or she already controls (the rich get richer).

I lost a few rounds because I didn't know what I was doing. By round 4 or so, I knew what I was doing. I lost one more highly competitive round, but then took 4 of the next 6 rounds, winning with 4 contiguous areas. The cross cards are deadly, and the drums nearly as deadly. The ravens are worthless.

It was ok. It worked, but it wasn't anything special. Kind of like Odin's Ravens or Traders of Carthage.

Next up I played a few games of Magic. I didn't have any cards, and we weren't drafting, so I played against a guy using one of his decks against one of his other decks.

My deck was WUG with Allies, which are very powerful. So powerful that I beat him while he was playing what he said was the stronger deck. We switched decks, and now I was playing BRG with a number of strange combo cards, such as cards that do damage to your opponent whenever your opponent tosses a card, and many cards that cause everyone to draw and toss cards. This time he won with his "weaker" deck, but I may have played my deck incorrectly, as the cards were all new to me.

One more game against a different opponent, this time with cards that had the new ability to give +1/+1 to any of my creatures until the end of the turn if it attacks alone. And since nearly every card I played had this ability, I did quite well. Especially once I got out another card that gave me a second attack round each turn; at which point I discovered that not only did I get +X/+X for my first attack, but +2X/+2X for my second attack (since the ability triggers twice and lasts until the end of the turn). And some of my creatures were unblockable. My opponent played an Elf deck, which is more annoying than effective, though it was close. He kept gaining life equal to the number of Elves he had in play, but I was still doing more damage than he could gain. Even when he played some Planeswalkers, all of which I believe are terribly overpowered.

After game night, I came home and played Scrabble with Rachel. She had two bingos to my one, and she also scored well with a double triple-letter X. Final score was around 400 for her to 320ish to me.


Now in the CVG airport.

I bought the ticket for this flight together with my entire international ticket, but my travel agent warned me that this particular leg to Dallas wouldn't be counted as part of the international ticket, so I would have to pay extra for my luggage (and wouldn't get the usual two free pieces). When I called American Airlines last night, they told me not only this leg, but also my leg to Toronto from Dallas wouldn't be considered part of my international flight, and I would have to pay extra suitcase allowance for that leg, too.

When I checked in this morning at the airport, the machine let me have two free suitcases on this leg, after all. I suspect that that's what will happen again when I check in for my flight from Dallas.

There was no one else checking through security; no one at all. Just me and six TSA agents. Out of boredom, they took a little extra time to pat me down (upper body only).


Monday, November 16, 2009

Slices of Heaven

I'm usually the one who leaves his cell phone (or overcoat) in the airplane lounge. It wasn't me this time. I gave the phone to the agent at the gate, and it turned out to be the guy sitting in front of us.


Sunday morning I walked down Broadway, ending up at Kosher Delight. It may be fast food, but nothing beats a real New York hot dog, followed by a dish of Chinese beef and snow peas with fried rice.

While I played hooky, Rachel gave a successful talk at Lincoln Square Synagogue, and then we met at Port Authority to travel back to Cincinnati. The plane was a little delayed, and the gate was changed at the last minute; we were taken out to the tarmac, driven over to the new gate, directed back into the airport, asked again for our boarding pass, and then sent back out to the tarmac and onto the plane. Everything else went well; I didn't even get picked for the random extra security check.

More and more games are ponying up the minimum $75,000 fee to appear in Skymall's catalog, including some that I can't imagine will recoup their investment.

We arrived a little late in Cincinnati but made our way over to a night of entertainment so wonderful that I still haven't caught my breath.

Cindy sings and plays guitar and fiddle perfectly, just like she does on her albums. Grey is also wonderful: beautiful flute and tin whistle, fiddle, concertina, and harmonium, as well as harmonizing with Cindy's singing. I could happily listen to his music for a lifetime, but despite his great talent, I hope he won't be offended when write that it's Cindy who I find to be most incomparable: her melodies and her voice enter your body and soul like a hot cup of tea on a stormy New England night.

They work very well together, and should not be missed.

Grey, Cindy, and me

Rachel and Cindy

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Continental CVG to EWR

Rachel foolishly scheduled a Skype interview for 3:30 pm, which meant that we had to be at our destination and connected to the Internet by that time. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:30 from CVG and arrive at 1:30 in EWR (Newark). We reserved a service to take us to NYC from the airport - more expensive than AirTrans, but hopefully faster. All told we should have arrived at our destination at 2:10 or so.

I'll give you a moment while you clean up the coke you just snorted out of your nose and onto your keyboard.

I should have know what was in store for us when I saw this at Continental's boarding counter:

I'm pretty sure those went out of production in the 1970s (that's a TI Omni 800 series 810 RO).

Our flight was officially delayed by 1/2 an hour, and unofficially by an additional 1/2 hour. We left at 12:30, scheduled to arrive at 2:30. The delay was due to storming in Newark.

There's no storm like a storm experienced in a small airplane. The plane rocked back and forth like a boat in choppy water. We descended through clouds, descending and descending with nothing but white outside the window. I was sure we were going to land and still not be able to see anything. But some visibility did return at about 1,000 feet.

Our right wheels hit the pavement, then the left wheels. Then the right wheels left the pavement, then the left wheels. Then the reverse, and so on a few more times. But miracle of miracles, we landed.

We disembarked at 2:45, with only hand luggage. Our driver was quite good, and we only had traffic when we got into Manhattan. Breathlessly, we arrived at out destination at 3:25, paid the driver, and off he went. The apt number was E. The numbers on the door read 1 to 10.

Luckily Rachel had her cell. Turns out that she wrote down the wrong address: not 20, but 201, and not apt E, but apt F.

We walked the two or three blocks, arriving at 3:45. Luckily we were able to contact the interviewers during the walk.

New York Shabbat

We davened at Lincoln Square Synagogue (which is in the process of building a new building one block south from its current location). We stayed with, and ate with, wonderful families. Dinner was with a couple and their three wonderful children, with whom we sang and Rachel waltzed during dinner. After, we stayed to play Bananagrams and Anagrams.

I was stuffed. I got even more stuffed the next day when I ate at three kiddushes at shul, two with kugels and cholent. And then even more after another incredible meal.

Thank you for hosting us, wonderful families of New York.

Saturday Night Odyssey

Rachel's plans had canceled on us, so I contacted my good friends Yitzchak and Avigayil at the very last minute to "do something" on Saturday night. I poked another friend who didn't answer me back, but maybe I'll get to see her Sunday morning.

Saturday night, while my friends were scrambling to get the family in the car and drive in from Teaneck, I searched around for something that still had tickets available. We missed out on a lovely looking Irish dance thingie, but managed instead to score tickets to a production of Shakespeare's Pericles at American Theater Actors (54th and 8th). We had no idea if it would be any good.

I enjoyed it, but it was amateur theater. Of the cast, some of them were not very good, while others were quite good (Pericles was good). One was a substitute for this evening, and read half of his lines out of a copy of the play he held. There was no production or costuming to speak of.

The real trouble was the play, not one of Shakespeare's best plays: misogynist, confusing, rehashed plot materials from his other plays, and no standout lines that I can recall. Still, I enjoyed the night out, some of the acting was good, and I could usually follow what was going on.

On the way back, we walked past Lincoln Square.

We then spent an hour trying to find something kosher and open at 11:30 pm in the area. We finally had some H&H bagels at their warehouse store on 80th and Broadway; no place to sit. But darn good bagels. They deliver internationally.

Friday, November 13, 2009


We're off to NYC for the weekend. Rachel was invited to give a lecture in honor of Malka Bina, director of MaTaN, on Sunday morning. I have no idea where we're staying and what we'll be doing while we're there (Rachel does), but I know we'll have barely a moment to breathe.

We fly back on Sunday afternoon to go straight to a private, intimate folk music concert on Sunday evening by Cindy Kallet and Grey Larsen, given in honor of donors to some charity, and hosted by Grey's mom. Yowza.

Shabbat shalom.

A Revolution With Momentum

I met Philip duBarry over delicious kosher vegetarian Indian food in Cincinnati.

Philip is the designer of Revolution!, now published by Steve Jackson Games. Here's the official site and BGG entry. His blog, Starting a Revolution, documents the trials and tribulations of getting his game to market.

Revolution is a pretty looking Eurogame. It's a blind-bidding area control game. There are seven locations on the board, twelve different things on which you can bid each turn, and three different types of currency (force, blackmail, and money).

Each round, you secretly allocate your coins to the twelve things. Each thing is resolved in order, with the player who allocated the most for the thing getting the thing: one or more coins, cubes in a location, points, some special action (such as swapping two cubes on the board), or (usually) a combination of several of these. If two players tie for a thing, no player wins the thing. All bids, win or lose, are lost to the bank. At the end of a round, pick money until you have a minimum of five coins of any currency.

Continue until all locations are filled. For final scoring, the player with a simple majority (plurality) on a location gains all the points for the location; other players get nothing. If there is a tie, no one gets anything.

It looks great, and I'd probably enjoy it. My game group is not big on blind bidding, but we love area control. I was trying to think how to change the bidding to something a little more open, such as worker placement or card play. It should be possible.

Philip also showed me two prototypes. The first was a worker placement game set in ancient Palestine, with mechanics partially based on the Caylus building mechanics. It looked interesting, if a little divorced from the theme. The second was a card driven area control game of influencing King Henry, which looked exactly like the type of game my group would go for. I hope I can get a copy to play-test when it's ready.

He's got yet another prototype under consideration at a publisher, and it also sounded good. If these games live up to their potential, Philip is going to make quite a name for himself in the Eurogame designer world.

I was going to give him a copy of my game, but he already had a copy; my publisher had sent him one.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Session Report, in which Abraham uses a crooked die in Stone Age

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

BGG.con prep:

I'm flying in on Wed morning and out on Monday morning.

It looks like I'll have a convention-wide game for 900 simultaneous players ready for BGG.con again this year. It's similar to the one I ran two years ago, but somewhat less complicated. And hopefully the rules will be printed on the cards this time.

I only sold/bought one item in the math trade, leaving me another 5 items to get rid of or lug back to Israel. Make me an offer.

One nice thing about the math trade is that I guessed the trade percentage correctly and won some kosher food, which means I will be set for food at the con without having to bring a lot of my own or traipse into Dallas to buy some.

I have a second bed available for Thursday evening, only, at the Days Inn across the street, if anyone wants to share.

And one more thing: As usual, I'd like to pick up spare Magic cards for my game group: commons or uncommons or unpopular rares or whatever. Anything from the last five years. People are often willing to give me a couple hundred cards for free, but I'll pay up to $0.02 each.


I Can't Give You Water Because We Sell Water

Or, Adventures in Cincinnati

Half-Priced Books

I drove along small roads, because I couldn't figure out how to get onto and off of the major highways. Cincinnati's highways look like an overturned bowl of spaghetti. Look at your hand with your fingers spread out. That's what the end of I75 looks like, only, each finger has another hand coming off of it, some fingers merge back together, and there's no telling which ones go left or right around the bend.

Driving the small roads was, aside from a lengthier drive, a tour of the underbelly of Cincinnati. It's not pretty, at least the part I drove on (mostly Rt 27). But I discovered a Half-Priced Books. I loved the Half-Priced Books in Dallas. This one was ok, but only a third of the size of the one in Dallas.

I used to buy a lot of audio media: now I cycled through the records (my player doesn't work anymore), the cassettes (too fragile), and the CD's (I'll get these on occasion), and discovered that I'm really not in the market for audio media anymore. It's not that I don't listen to audio. It's that I can find any song for free, legally (a video, a promotional website). And, more importantly, I have access to so much music today, that I don't need any one particular song. I like genres of music now, not particular songs or artists. OK, I still like some artists more than others, but there are so many great artists that I'm not going to miss any one if I don't have their music.

That left games and books. I found one or two things I would consider reading, but nothing I would consider buying.

Newport on the Levee

Newport on the Levee promised shopping, an aquarium, movies, and I wasn't sure what else. Not really a fantastic choice. I think the zoo or Krohn Conservatory would have been better bets (and there's supposedly some downtown fountain area that I don't know much about).

Parking was $2, which was fine. I hit the aquarium, which was $20, which was about 50% too expensive.

It's a nice aquarium. Nice setups, interesting fish and slimy things, with the occasional out of place display (what's an owl doing here?). Staff are friendly. But it's smaller than I was hoping for. No jumping dolphins or whales, no sea shows. Little in the way of hands on exhibits. In short, it was worth $10, not $20.

Some pics:

This display included "four-eyes", little fish that hover at the surface of the water like submarines, their bubble eyes only above the surface, with split vision below the surface as well. You can't really see them in this picture.

I've got Australia and I'm going to wait you out.


Bark bark. (These animals go a bit crazy in here.)


Birds at an aquarium. Whatever.

This guy was mammoth, and was slithering his way through the electric cables in the ceiling, crunching the light fixtures in his way.

The jellyfish display was the nicest part.


A shark ray, pretty rare. She just got a mate, and they are trying to play matchmaker.


One of the few hands-on displays, you could pet these sharks.

Help, I've fallen and I can't get up. (Which reminds me: What did Jesus say when he wasn't allowed into the Disco club? "Help! I've risen and I can't get down!")

The gift shop through which they force you to walk was ok, but there was only one game on display: Oceanopoly. Hey Z-Man! Try sending them a few copies of Reef Encounter. Actually, I think I'll write to Zev about it.

It's Not Me

After the aquarium I went to the attached mall, which is mostly a waiting room for a multiplex cinema. Not much here, but they had free wifi.

Here is what life is like in America, for those of you who don't know:

Me: "I'd like some water, please."

Pleasant counter person: "I'm sorry. We sell bottled water, so I'm not allowed to give you water."

Me: "The sink is right there. There's a plastic cup right there."

PCP: "I'm sorry. It's not me. Those are the rules."

Me: "You realize that this is not good for PR, or for business?"

PCP: "It's not me."

Me: "Thanks, bye."

PCP: "There's a water fountain right over there."

Me: "So you can't sell me water, but you can point me to the water fountain?"

I sat down and connected to the wifi, but my battery was running low. There was a plug on the wall, behind a stand at which you stamp your parking ticket if you've been to see a movie, so that you can get some of your parking money back. The stand was not really close to the wall or the plug.

I plugged in.

Pleasant Mall Worker: "I'm sorry, sir, but you can't be back here."

Me: "I'm just plugging my computer in."

PMW: "It's not me. They just don't want anyone behind the stand."

Other than the mall work staff, there was no one else in the mall.

Me: "... Ok, I'll just sit here, a few feet away and not actually behind the stand."

PMW: "That's ok then."

I sat on the floor near a doorway into some shop, Christmas lights dripping over my head. Unless they stick a turkey into the manger, I think Thanksgiving decorations are no longer functional. Out came a shop worker.

Pleasant Shop Worker: "I'm sorry, sir, but you can't sit here. You're blocking the shop door."

Me: "I am?"

PSW: "Yes, it's not me. They don't want anyone blocking the door, so that people won't trip."

I scooted a few inches back toward the stand.

Me: "How's that?"

PSW: "That's fine. It's not me, you know. That's the rules."

Game Night at Yottaquest

Yottaquest is a game store in Northern Cincinnati, run by an amiable and well-loved guy named Matthew. Goodman Games chose it as America's favorite game store in 2009. They have plenty of space for gaming, and a newsletter.

And they have good taste in games (note the game on the left).

There were some 20 to 25 people gaming ...

All night gamers playing Descent ...

Euro gamers playing Power Grid ... (including me. I trounced them, playing somewhat unusually. I started with plant 4, and then, seeing the competition for cheap places to build, I rushed to build more cities than I could power. No one contested me for early high capacity plants. That let me rush through to stage 2, and pretty much end the game while others were scrambling for capacity.

The player on the left gave me the most competition, but he hung back in cities, not expecting me to push through to stage 2 so quickly.)

Playing Dungeon Lords ...

Playing Endeavor, which I really wanted to play, rather than Power Grid.

And, in the back room, playing miniatures ...

And role playing.

After Power Grid, I played a filler card game for 2 to 6 players called Alice and Wonderland Parade. The game has zero to do with Alice and Wonderland. It is a simple avoidance card game like Geschenkt.

There are 6 suits, each with cards numbered 0 to 10. On your turn, you add a card to the end of the parade and draw a new one from the deck. You then may have to take cards from the back of the parade and place them in front of you (negative points). You take cards as follows: Let's say you place a card of value N with a color of C. E.g. a 7 Red. You ignore your own card and the most recently placed N (7) cards in the parade. For all other cards in the parade, you take all cards of value N (7) or less, as well as all cards of the same color C (Red) as your card.

The game continues until the deck is exhausted, and then all players play one more turn without drawing any new cards, which leaves them each with four cards in their hand. Each player chooses two of these cards (simultaneous select and reveal) to add to their board in front of them. Then points are counted.

Count the face value of all cards. However, in any color in which you have, or are tied for, the most cards, you score only one per card. Lowest score wins.

On first play, the mechanic, like Geschenkt's, appears to be brilliantly balanced. There are no good or bad cards, but how you play them is quite interesting. It plays quickly and for up to 6 players (though I suspect it is best with 3 to 5). I loved it.

The cards were really thin and pathetic, unfortunately. I'll probably just play it with my set of Sticheln cards. Sorry, designer/publisher. And what's with the meaningless theme?

After this, I joined a Dominion game. Several games had already been played throughout the evening. We played with a mixture of cards, but many were from Seaside, with which I have no experience.

I got thoroughly trounced. The set contained very little in the way of bonus coin value; only Pirate Attacks gave dependable coinage boost, but I didn't recognize that until too late and they were all gone. Some other cards let you draw Silvers and so on, but the Pirate Attacks just robbed them away from you, especially in a five player game where you might be hit by three attacks by the time it's your turn again.

There were also no bonus actions, except for the Pearl Diver, which didn't do enough.

I ended with 6 points, while everyone else had at least double digits. The winner had 24 or 26.

I showed some people how to play It's Alive, but, again, I didn't see how it went, and, again, they didn't choose to play it a second time. Hmmm...

Another nice group of people and some fun gaming.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gaming in Dayton

Dayton's game group generally only meets on shabbat, which would preclude me from attending. Perhaps in response to my request for an alternative day for gaming while I was in the area, or simply by coincidence, one of the gamers - Bruce - held a day of gaming in his house this past Sunday.

Bruce. Note the three shelves stacked with games behind him.

Although Bruce's house appears on Google Maps if you know where to look, searching for the street, or the cross-street, or any other street nearby only yields locations in other parts of Dayton. I managed to find his street on GM only by visually tracing the directions he gave out on the Dayton gamers mailing list (directions which were not otherwise helpful to me, as they assumed an origin from the north) until I located his street. Then I clicked the street and asked for "directions to here". At which point GM grudgingly admitted that the street existed, and spit out the directions.

Upstairs, from sometime before I arrived at 2, until sometime after I left at 7, four or five people played one of the Axis And Allies games.

Football games were shown continually and in succession on large screen TVs upstairs, and smaller screens downstairs.

Downstairs a group was playing Chaos in the Old World when I arrived.

When I left, some of these same people, and some additional ones, were playing Battlestar Galactica.

I saw a copy of Dominion Intrigue, and although I already have a copy waiting for me in Toronto, I wanted to get in a play. It also played quickly and for two to four people, which would make it convenient while I waited for others. We played four players: myself, Jim, Bruce, and David. I think. I may have the names or people wrong.

Our kingdom set contained none of the new hybrid kingdoms, which made things a little less confusing. There were a number of cards that looked quite good but that I didn't get to play: such as the card that gave you two of +2 coins, actions, or cards, depending on the top two cards in the deck of the player on your left.

I played Upgrades and a lot of trashing. After a dozen turns, I still had around 12 to 15 cards, just none of them were Estates or Coppers. I also trashed curses as they came in. I also played another card that we misplayed: I read it as giving you +4 coins if you trash an Estate, but you actually have to discard the Estate, not trash it. Oops. Luckily I'm not the only one who played it incorrectly.

I began drawing Provinces well ahead of everyone else. I won, but a little closer than i would have liked. I had 36, David 29, Bruce 22 or so, and Jim, who had played the original much less and seemed to have some trouble grasping the game gestalt, finished with 3 (13 less 10 curses).

After that we briefly considered a few games that could accommodate 6 players (or splitting up into two groups, or not letting Bruce play) and settled on History of the World.

I'd played once, and wasn't too impressed, it being a dice-based combat game, and a fairly long one at that. However, I was willing to play nearly any game, so long as it wasn't Fluxx.

My opinion of the game went up a notch; ok, it's more enjoyable than Risk. And the game experience was certainly fun, since the group of players was good company. However, the game is still inordinately luck based. You don't lose too much when you lose as defender, like you do in Risk, but failing to win combat as the aggressor is just as painful as it is in Risk. Furthermore, so much depends on the kingdoms you draw in each of the seven rounds, and there is far too little control about that.

Whatever, we had a good 3.5 hours rolling the dice and moving our counters on and off the board. I rolled fairly well most of the time. Bruce rolled fairly poorly most of the time, and he still equaled my score. Jim and David both shined. We only made it to the end of the fifth turn. It was running late, and one of the players had to go. Our points ranged from 115 to 95, with me tied with Bruce for fourth and fifth place at 100 points even.

The players were nice, and the day was enjoyable. It was good to meet them. Unfortunately, I didn't get to show off It's Alive. And I didn't get a chance to see anything else in Dayton.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Hueston Woods State Park

Some 20 minutes north of Miami University, Hueston Woods State Park is a small lake surrounded by short hikes and picnic grounds, riding, boating, a small nature center and a small beach. The park is entirely tame, the hikes are very simple. Yet it's a very beautiful spot.

Alien brain pods scattered around the park.

We spent the morning walking some of the trails. Rachel likes to get us lost on purpose during a hike. She was happy. We were never lost for very long, though the trails are not well marked.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Silvoor Biological Sanctuary

Friday I walked around the Silvoor Biological Sanctuary ...

One of several plaques

Rickety bridge

I also stopped at the University Coop bookstore, which was a waste of time for anyone not interested in either U of M branded memorabilia or textbooks.

Sat afternoon Rachel and I started a Scrabble game, but she quit about halfway in, when it was clear she was losing. She was also playing with the most liberal two-letter word list I've ever seen (included CE, VE, VI, and others that are not generally accepted).