Sunday, February 28, 2010

Purim Evening in Columbus

I forgot how American synagogues, especially the older ones, tend to echo their European counterparts: vaulted ceiling, women's sections on either side, ornate light fixture, wooden pews, raised platform for the Rabbi and President, etc. Take a look at my pictures from the Dohany synagogue in Budapest. The last few synagogues I've been in had an upside down boat for a ceiling (the Dohany one didn't, but only because its ceiling was already so high), pillars and women sections on the side.

Note the six sided light fixtures with the flame motif. The front has a stained glass wall in a flame motif (which couldn't be pictured at nighttime), symbolizing either the burning bush, or the Jewish soul, or the trials of the Jewish people out of which will arise salvation.

Most shuls have some remembrance of the Holocaust. The wall around the corner displays pictures taken by the previous Rabbi of a specific death camp in Europe.

The Rabbi, dressed as the Straw Man for Purim.

The Rebbetzin, dressed as the Tin Man

A minimalist costume.

Obligatory princess 1.

Cookie hoarding 1.

Cookie hoarding 2.

Cookie hoarding 3.

Obligatory princess 2.

Thankfully not a princess.

She lost her wings (her mom had them).

The cleaner shares a l'chaim.

Shabbat in Columbus

Spent a lovely shabbat with friendly, down-to-earth, and generous families in Columbus. The shul is a work of art, but the population is dwindling (natural attrition, and owing to a stronger, younger shul gaining ground nearby) and the immense size of the hall and building complex dwarfed the number of congregants. Secret kiddush club only served scotch.

Dappled snowfall turned the sidewalks and streams to a winter wonderland and the streets into a series of near-collisions.

I overtalked about gaming at dinner, and so tried to underplay it at lunch.

Off to the megillah.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Weekend Coming

I'm off to Columbus, OH for the weekend and Purim. So close to CABS, but probably unable to drop by, unless I drop by late Sat night.

Our backyard window is constantly filled with birds (cardinals and robins?) since Rachel keeps several bird feeders outside.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Session Report, in which they play and enjoy Cuba

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: David & Goliath, Cuba + expansions.

First of three game sessions that I'm in the US.

Oxford Gaming Club

Tuesday night I played Magic at the Miami University of Oxford strategy gaming club, which is typically 5 to 10 Magic players, an RPG group, and occasional other strays playing heavy fantasy or horror games, such as Starcraft or Fury of Dracula.

My first game was a three-way: you need to deal 10 points of damage against both of your opponents, each of which has a separate life counter against you. Once you do 20 points, the opponent can still attack you, but you can't (and need not) deal any more damage to him. If a player is dealt 20 points each from both opponents, he is out of play. Otherwise, the first player to deal 20 damage to each opponent wins.

The above was my suggestion. I used a deck from another player (Phil Konkle) at another table. It was heavy on the landfall bonuses, but had no extra method of gaining lands into your hand, which seemed odd. Nevertheless, I was lucky with my land pick and so did well enough to toast both opponents before either could deal me any damage. Actually, what helped most was that my RHO with a burn deck was specifically concentrating on my LHO with an elf deck, and rightfully so. Elf decks are ridiculously powerful if they get off the ground.

In the second game, we played EDH, which is 100 card decks, no repeats, and "generals". A general is a card you can cast at any time, and when it is killed or removed from the game, you can cast him again with a +2 casting cost penalty for each time he is removed.

This game was slower. My deck had a cute three card combo. 1) Several creatures or cards gave me multiple token creatures. 2) Then I had an artifact that made all of my creatures +1/+1 and invulnerable, so long as I sacrificed a creature each round. 3) And then I had one creature that came into play with 2 +1/+1 counters for each creature I sacrificed when I brought it into play, and pumped out a 1/1 creature token each round for each +1/+1 counter it had on it. Ouch.

Unfortunately, I got out the first two cards, but LHO destroyed my artifact before I could play the third one on the next round. I still played it, but it got destroyed immediately.

RHO gained dominance for a while, but LHO and I took out some of his stuff, and I regained dominance. In the end, I brought out a creature that pumped out a 1/1 colored creature for each permanent already in play of any one color. Unless I read that wrong, this grows at 2^n speed and quickly dominates(d) the game. It was my game, unless something else happened, but we had to end early when Phil needed to take his decks home.

In addition to Magic, I tried a 3-player game of DD Mau, which was sent to me by the publisher to review. I only played one hand, which is not a complete game, so I don't feel qualified to review it, yet. The first game played like UNO, as I expected that it would, but the scoring options look like they may add some welcome complexity to the game. The rules - both the mechanics and the instructions for these mechanics - for some of the special power cards are somewhat obtuse, and added needless complexity to the game. So we'll see.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: Online Casinos Planet

The following is a paid review.


Online Casinos Planet


A neat, clean, and useful directory of real casinos worldwide, and not much else.


Online Casinos Planet is a website with directory information for over 1,600 casinos around the world. The pages are neat and clear, with no advertising or extraneous flashing images. If you're looking for a casino near you, this might be a convenient location to start.

The casino guide contains (as of this review) the addresses and telephone numbers of 1,682 casinos. Of these, nearly half (803) are in the United States, with the other 879 in 24 other countries around the planet (France is second, with 201).

That's the good news. The rest of the site is not bothersome, but not really of much use.

Online Casinos

The site "reviews" a scant five online casinos, and the reviews read more like ad copy than reviews. Though they might well be genuine, they don't contain much information. The links to the reviewed casinos are affiliate links, and thus not impartial. All five reviews are positive.

Casino Articles

Several articles on the site introduce the basic rules about the types of games, from Blackjack to Slots, that you will find in casinos.These articles include short strategy sections (strategy for slots?) which mostly amount to advice not to spend more than you can afford to lose.

Free online games

The site includes six free online Flash games, including Texas Hold'em, which is the only one I actually played all the way through. The game is against 1 to 4 computer opponents, and played smoothly. It was fun enough. I'm sure you could find similar games elsewhere.


Lastly and most strangely, the site includes a few links to video clips (from YouTube) of people winning slots at a casino or music videos about Vegas (such as a dance remix of Katy Perry's Waking Up In Vegas).


The site collects no information and sets no cookies. There is a standard contact form. The site claims to be the brainchild of a passionate casino player, with support from other such persons who work in casinos.


This site contains useful contact information for many casinos around the world, and not much else. It contains no annoying ads or pop-ups, and collects no private information. Which is not bad, for a small site. Only, what's with the fox?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Jet Lagged

That's my luggage for a month, except that I bought new shabbat pants at Target in Cincinnati when I arrived. Target had dozens of board games, but all were the usual or editions thereof.

The Orthodox community in Cincinnati is very welcoming and friendly. At least it was in the shul that I went to; I hear that there is only one other Ortho Jewish community, so it's not large.At shul on Saturday morning, I looked up at Haftora time and noticed that a few of the guys around me were missing, at which point I realized that no one had invited me to the secret kiddush club. I managed to find it, anyway.

Mostly I just jet-lagged all shabbat. Reading Spook Country.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Travel Notes and Movie Reviews

I traveled from Tel Aviv to Cincinnati on three flights, with two hour stopovers between each flight.

First flight: Tel Aviv to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Ben Gurion Airport, one of the most secure airports in the world, did not make me take off my shoes and did not prevent me from passing through security with a 1/2 liter water bottle.

Second flight: Istanbul to JFK on Turkish Airlines. There is a special transfer desk for those traveling to the US, which includes two special check-ins: passport and additional security, in a cordoned off area of the airport (away from all the stores and other parts of the airport). No liquids allowed, shoes off, every bag opened, and everyone got a full body pat-down. I flew on a 777, and I, like many others on the flight, had an entire row of three seats to myself. It was a good flight.

Both flights cost me - total - $640, round trip.

Third flight: JFK to Cincinnati on Delta. I had to leave the airport terminal and check in to a different one. Once again, the security procedure, but no pat-down.

I had no check-in luggage for any of these flights. I had a carry-on, a laptop case, a belt pouch, and a coat with pockets. For one month of travel time. Every time I fly, I take less.


Bright Star: I had head good things about this, but ended up switching to something else after ten minutes. I probably would have enjoyed the intense parts that were supposed to come later in the movie.

All About Steve: boring and shallow, I switched to something else after ten minutes.

New York: I Love You: An excellent experience, essentially a sequel to Paris, Je T'aime (see my review).

The Invention of Lying: I have nothing personal against Ricky Gervais, but I haven't found any of his movies interesting. I'm usually not a stickler for "sense" in a movie, but I'm an old-school sci-fi aficionado, and this is essentially a sci-fi movie. In a world where no-one ever told a lie, the dialog in the movie (bold-faced rudeness, what people "really think") could never happen, because everyone's expectations would be entirely different. And a lot of what they said (such as "I'm sorry", when they weren't) was incompatible with the premise. And it still looked entirely predictable. Switched off after ten minutes.

Walk the Line: About Johnny and June Cash. Nice enough, but also kind of predictable and shallow; unfortunately suffers in comparison to the much better Ray, about Ray Charles. Good acting, but Reese Witherspoon, while professional and capable of delivering emotion and dialog, seems to be incapable of acting like anything other than Reese Witherspoon.

Joueuse (Queen to Play): About a maid who suddenly longs to play Chess. Kind of enjoyable, if you enjoy a lot of Chess matches and a blatantly metaphorical movie about a wife not getting her needs met by her husband. Mediocre cinematography and direction, and an unbelievable script mar the enjoyment.

So much for the airplane movies. Here are a few others:

Avatar 3D: A three-dimensional movie with two-dimensional characters and a one-dimensional plot. As far as sci-fi adventure movies go, it's derivative but ok. As far as movies go, it's really bad. It's the intersection of Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves (not the union; the intersection).

The 3D was impressive, and the world building "bug on every leaf" was lovely, of course. The usual action stuff, with effects. There's nothing else there. That's it. What a waste. Really, the 3D was wasted on this movie; when the action sequences began, my mind pretty much blanked out any 3D aspects to what I was looking at and reverted to standard 2D mental image. I could really only focus on the 3D when not much was happening on the screen. I think the 3D will have more of an effect for me in a romantic or dramatic movie.

District 9: While - like The Matrix - this was perhaps a little too focused on violence, this was a phenomenal movie. It's metaphor to the treatment of blacks by white was transparent, but that just made it better. The decision to use non-humans to represent the blacks was perfect; it forced us into the point of view of the racist white who sees blacks as non-human, something which can't work using any other genre. Brilliant sci-fi.

Session Report, in which we play one of Claude's new games and like it

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Claude game, Magic: The Gathering, Power Grid: Factory Manager, Dvonn.

I'm not sure that the session report is accurate and complete. It was written on very little sleep.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Two More Exceptions

Two more exceptions to consider for my classifying the games industry post:
  • Should I separate companies that make supplies from companies that distribute or retail supplies (dice makers vs dice sellers)?
  • Should I separate retailers of in-print games from retailers of vintage games? Many companies do both, of course.
I'm traveling tomorrow morning with no suitcase. Time to figure out what games can fit into my carry-on luggage.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Classifying the Game Industry

First, a few additions to my previous post Where Do Board Games Fit? (read that first)
  • Games are a form of gambling
  • Games are a form of marketing or promotion
  • Games are a form of educational tools
  • Games are a form of media
  • Games are a form of hobby
I could go on, but you get the idea. Games are not a separate industry. Video games, toys, sports, gambling, media, and consumer goods are industries, each of which contains some parts of the game industry. I'm not sure where CCGs fall; probably both toys and video games. The Harry Potter CCG might be part of media, too.

Meanwhile, I doubt that any of these takes into account games made in-house for promotion or games included with educational products. I don't know whether poker chip suppliers are included (Toys? Probably adult entertainment). Are RPGs part of the books industry? Hence the impetus to create a new look at an industry that doesn't seem to officially exist.

When you start to sort through and follow links to 10,000 companies, you find yourself needing to classify them. I've got five categories, so far. A single company can belong to more than one category, though most belong to only one.

  • Suppliers: produces parts or consulting to help others create games. For example: game designers, miniature casters [1], dice, paint, box, and casino suppliers, game consultants, printers, and so on. Suppliers help create OTHER people's games. If they only create supplies for their own games, they are not a supplier. [3]
  • Publishers: creates games to sell, either public domain games or ones to which they have designed or acquired a license. They may use suppliers for nearly all aspects of producing the game. They may sell to both distributors or retailers. As a special note, publishers in this category must produce at least two distinctive games or game lines. Otherwise, they are single-game game companies.
    • Single-Game Game Companies (aka sggc): Sggc's produce a single game or a single line of games (such as "X", "X Jr", and "X family edition"). These companies are of particular interest to me. Most create highly unoriginal games [2], and most don't last more than a year and a half. If they publish a second game that is not simply a reworking of their first game, they graduate to a full-fledged publisher. Promising to create a second game doesn't count; MOST of them promise to do that but never actually get the second game printed.
  • Distributors:  Distributors take OTHER people's games and sell them to retailers. Some distributors sell both to retailers and directly to the public. If they only distribute their own games, they are not a distributor.
  • Retailers: Retailers sell OTHER people's games to the general public. If they only sell their own games, they are not retailers. Retailers may be web-only or brick-and-mortar, may sell only games, or may sell other things as well as games (such as a gift shop that sells a localized copy of Monopoly or a local artisan's chess board).
These categories have held up well for the first several thousand companies, but I'm wondering if I should make a few more:
  • Possibly separate game designers, miniature creators, or design consultant companies out from suppliers.
  • Possibly distinguish between retailers who primarily sell games (like a game store) and retailers who primarily sell other goods (like a department store or a gift shop). Of course, what do I do with (for example) Mike's Games and Comics Shop?


[1] Miniature companies who provide rules are also considered publishers.
[2] But don't realize it.
[3] Update: I forgot one more: licensing. License holders and license brokers also make money off of games. I currently classify these as suppliers.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Session Report, in which I finally win Phoenicia

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion/Intrigue/Seaside, Aton, Saikoro, Tribune, Stone Age, Phoenicia, Le Havre, Bridge.

I don't know how to report Dominion when played with several expansions; I think I'll just call it Dominion from now on (like Magic).

Busy Busy Busy

I'm working hard at technical writing, and in my "free time" I'm working hard at building a game industry database. I'm trying to create the an exhaustive list of every company that publishes, distributes, and sells board/card games or game parts, from Macy's to custom miniatures - any company that is currently earning money from games, in any form. I'm only interested in the ones that are actually alive.

Trouble is, I'm never going to get every company. For now, I'm going to ignore every company without both a web presence and some way of contacting them (that probably takes out many - but not all - of the Chess piece factories in China). I'm ignoring games that are only available in console/computer format. Does a gas station receipt or cereal box with a game printed on it count as earning money from games? Borderline cases like these are difficult to categorize.

It's easy to find partial lists of game companies mixed in with other pursuits: games and toys, games and sports, games and education, games and marketing, games and gambling, and so on. I've never seen one that covers all games in all these areas, while excluding companies that don't make games at all. I've already learned something about 10,000 companies, and I'm working my way to 100,000.

And next week, on Thursday, I'm on my way to the US. I'll be in Oxford/Cincinnati, Columbus, Chicago, and NYC, returning to Israel on Mar 16.

Friday, February 05, 2010

When I Turned 40

When I turned 40, I realized that everyone I had ever thought was smart knew and did everything that made them smart by the time they were 40.

And I realized that I was one of those smart people. I'm as much of an expert in my own fields as they are, or were, in theirs. What I thought was unobtainable skill and knowledge was only fortitude, attitude, and practice. When I turned 40, I was no longer in awe of anyone.

When I was younger, I never did anything truly ambitious because I thought I would never be as talented as those other people who did those kinds of things. When I turned 40, I realized that someday I'm going to think about doing something ambitious and realize that it's a younger man's game, not for someone old like me.

And so here I am, at 40, willing and able to do all of those things. No one else can do them any better than I can. And to think, some of you may be smart enough already to figure this out by 30. Or 20.

Now I realize why old people can be crotchety. They've earned it. By the time you're 40, no one else has the right to tell you what's best for your own good.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Session Report, in which I enjoy playing Magic and Le Havre

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Tribune, Le Havre, Pillars of the Earth + expansion, Magic: The Gathering x 3.

I enjoyed my games of Magic and Le Havre.

Ladies and gentlemen: is back in my hands (lost from my hands in Dec 2005). And I only had to ignore a dozen autobots that were promising to get it for me for $100 around the time it began to become available. I simply waited and it cost me $10.

Now to figure out what to do with it.