Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kevin Bales: $10.8 billion to end all slavery, forever

In time for Pesach, here's Kevin Bales from freetheslaves.net.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pesach Cleaning

It takes a good amount of time to thoroughly clean a kitchen for Pesach, even a simple one like ours.

Today I'm off to work, while Rachel will shop, drop our remaining chametz products off with our non-Jewish friends, do the final touches on cleaning, and possibly do some cooking. Tonight we'll do bedikat chametz, or ritually search the house to see if we missed any chametz. Tomorrow we'll burn whatever is left and finish the cooking.

I usually prepare some interesting activity, project, or questions for seder night, but I'm currently blank so far. Any ideas?

Have a happy and kosher Pesach.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two-Player Age of Empires III

It's been about five years since my step-son last played a game with me. He is into computer games (and was into Warhammer). He never liked Euros (except Settlers when he was little), CCGs, or anything that didn't involve visceral killing and complex war strategies.

Upon recommendations, I picked up Age of Empires III on my last visit to the US. While I understood that it is a Euro, I also hoped it might tempt my step-son, who had played the computer game, and who had, at least, looked curiously at some of my other recent Euros that sported pictures of generals and armies (though typically had no combat). So I was thrilled that he was willing to try it.

AoE3 (at least, for two players) is not really a war game, less of one than either Antike or what I remember of Wallenstein (played once about four years ago). But the combat is in there, and we did use it; actually I used it first and more viciously than he did. I'm a big fan of "remove one for one" combat in comparison to dice rolling; my step-son prefers the dice rolling.

Actually, AoE3 is a game of worker-placement, resource-management, and area control. The object is to earn the most victory points, which you get from a) buildings (ala Puerto Rico and Caylus), b) areas discovered, c) your end-of-the-game income (excepting any bonuses from buildings), and d) three times during the game from areas controlled.

Each round you have five guys to allocate between a) turn order, b) moving to the areas, c) adding guys to your contingent ready to discover an area/discovering an area, d) buying a building, e) getting an additional special guy to use next round, f) taking an income source, or g) declaring your intention to battle.

The income sources are various commodities, which you can also get from discovering one of the areas on the board, as well as one "wild" commodity. Three of any commodity gives you $1 income, three of a kind gives $3, and four of a kind gives $6. Money is good for buying buildings, declaring a total war on another player (rare), or (useful only in a game with multiple players) one space that lets you buy a special guy for use on the next round.

The special guys are worth double value, or give you income once, or can be used to shoot the other player's guys in an area during a battle.

Each area has an initially-secret strength you have to overcome during discovery (essentially, how many Indians you have to slaughter :-( ). When you run out of areas, you can still discover areas off the board for more victory points, but you don't actually move guys to them. Control of an area is worth 6 points, second place is 2 points; this is counted three times during the game.

In our game, we both scored about equal for this over the three scorings.

At the end of the game, you also score your income levels. I scored a bit higher for that. You also score your discovered territories. Again I scored a bit higher for that.

Lastly you score your buildings. The big point-scoring buildings only appear in the last two round of the game, so it is essential to be first or second to claim these in one of these rounds. My step-son miscalculated the importance of these, and his buildings only amounted to some 17 points total, while mine totaled some 35 or 40. Earlier buildings give you bonus cash, bonus guys each round, bonus income, etc...

Oh yes, combat. If you declared combat, you can pick one player in one region and have each of your soldiers in that region remove one of the other player's guys. If you pay $10, you may instead declare total war against a player and have this occur in every region of the board. I killed a few of his guys first, and then he loaded the board up with more soldiers. The object, of course, is to be the one with the most in an area during scoring turns.

The game is a scant 8 turns long. The entire game took us about 45 minutes on our first play, which was impressive, maybe even a little too short. We could both tell that the game becomes richer and more competitive with multiple players, so probably 4 or 5 players is ideal.

I quite enjoyed it, and my step-son thought it was a good game, though he would have liked more dice and more combat. I'm looking forward to trying it out with the game group.


This week has been overwhelming: I'm essentially working two jobs (I missed a lot of work in the US), keeping up my blogging, fixing a whole lot of things, dealing with various money issues, and cleaning for Pesach while the wife is away (coming on Friday). And I started the week with a bad stomach virus of some kind.

I had to cancel both game night this week and games day I usually host over Pesach. Luckily, one of my gamers is hosting a smaller version of games day at her house, which I will try to attend after work next week.

A video review of It's Alive.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Shabbat Gaming

Played Apples to Apples Friday night at the behest of the hostess at whose house I ate, together with 3 others. I called it a game after she had 7 green cards and none of us had more than 2.

This morning I play-tested DD Mau, which was sent to me by the publisher in response to my having called it "UNO+" in a Purple Pawn post after reading the ad copy. He took offense at that description. So now I can post an actual review after having played it.


Right now I'm suffering from a debilitating bug or food poisoning, or something. Ugh.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Session Report, in which I win 3-Player Steam

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Hunting Party, Saikoro, Steam.

First play for Hunting Party, second for Steam.

Overwhelmed with Pesach cleaning ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

What Happens If You Show Up to Confront Your Past, But It's Gone?

I've always known that you must not let all the opportunities pass to show appreciation to your loved ones. I never knew that you must act just as quickly to confront your demons. Turns out that both kinds of opportunities are ephemeral.

I went to my 25th high school reunion. No one I knew from high school was there. I met only adults, forty year old doppelgangers, descendants of the loved ones and demons that I remembered from high school. I went expecting to confront the past, but the past wasn't there. It was too late to confront people from the past. The only past I could confront was within me.

I met a more or less familiar group of strangers swapping news and memories. Some memories I shared, some obliquely intersected my own, many were new to me. Lord help me, I liked all of these people (at least, all the ones with whom I spoke).

A girl who, as far as I remember, never spoke to me in high school, was now a woman who greeted me like a friend and was genuinely warm and happy to see me. I truly liked her, too. A boy I remember as rude, obnoxious, annoying, and awkward was a man, and not at all rude, obnoxious, or annoying (ok, still a little awkward). Another girl who was indifferent to me in high school was a woman who laughed when I told her that no one from high school was actually present. "Good thing," she said, "I didn't like a lot of them. Even myself."

It was, perhaps, the most surreal experience of my life.

We had not held any other reunions; this one, the 25th year, was the first. If we had met every five years, maybe it would have been different. More of the same cliques. More comparisons of progress and more jealousy.

I didn't recognize half of the people, even at close range, until they told me their names. After the first such incidence, I didn't let it bother me any more. Some of them looked radically difference from how I remembered them. Others looked exactly the same, or nearly the same, with some broadening of faces and bodies.

I was surprised at how beautiful the women were. And the men so handsome and sharp. They all seemed to be more or less happy (only half of the class attended, so perhaps some of the ones that did not attend were less beautiful and less happy).

The fact that so many of them came, and the fact that so many of them are still connected to a daily Jewish life, was a pleasant surprise.

Nothing can change the fact that I suffered through my school years, and that I experienced reverberations of this suffering in the years following. I came to the reunion hoping to confront this past as a self-assured adult. But the past had died. With no one left to confront, there was, is, a certain lack of closure. But also now an acknowledgement that I can finally let it go.

When you walk into a bar mitzvah or wedding, there are generally a handful of people with whom you want to catch up. This was like speed dating: you got three minutes to connect and then you had to move on. Still, there were a few people with whom I really wanted to reconnect; a few of these few (or rather, the doppelganger descendants of them) came. And I had the privilege of spending a few precious minutes with them. It was amazing. They were not exactly the people I knew in high school, but they were the closest I was going to get. They were those people and 25 years added on.

What a night. Pictures later.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Can You Judge a Game By Reading The Rules?

For a movie, or a book, or a dance, or a song, you never really know what's coming. You can infer based on what you know of the skill of the author, the genre and culture in which the work is set and made, and so on. But you never know for certain. It could change in a moment; the book may suddenly pick up, the dance change direction, the song change rhythm. The author may, at any moment, take the work in a new direction.

For a board game, with the rules laid out in front of you, the author can explicitly take you in a new direction only if the game requires you to bring heretofore unrevealed external media - a movie, a piece of music, a paragraph of text - into the game play during the game. For the typical abstract, roll-and-move, or trivia game, you've seen everything the author put into the work the moment you've read the rules, and sometimes the moment you've read the back of the box.

Barring the author having you consult external media during the game, if you have imagination and experience with similar games, you can do a fair job of envisioning what the experience with the board game will be like. The dice may be screwy and you may pick all the wrong cards, but a trivia game is a trivia game, an economic game is an economic game. The other players will be the main unexpected factors in the game.

However, there are exceptions to this. Games like Go or Chess looks and initially play like simple abstract games. However, there are depths in these games that reveal themselves after several plays, depths that you could not have expected or understood from simply reading the rules.

Discoveries like these can occur in other games. Many of these will be bad, when you come to realize that the game is not really balanced or enjoyable for certain reasons. Some of these will be good, when you come to realize that there are hidden, novel, pleasurable experiences in the way the game mechanics interact.

Sometimes this is the voice of the author, whose twists remain unrevealed until the game is experienced. Often, it was a happy accident to the author as well, who discovered these twists the same way that you did.

For games, as well as for any well crafted media, even after these twists are revealed, and even after you know when to expect them, you should be able to enjoy experiencing them repeatedly.

Shabbat Gaming

Played Magic with the 12 year old daughter of the friends in whose house I stayed on shabbat (in Teaneck). She had been beating her parents at the game recently, and I thought I could show her how the game is really played.

I used one of her decks, simple red and white with fire, pacifisms, and some burn. Unfortunately, I didn't draw any red mana. Still, I slowly whittled her down with fliers, pacifying anything that could block them. All was going well I had her down 14 to 6 - until she tossed a bunch of instants onto a trampling green creature, one for +7/+7 and a few others for +3/+3. And I went down.


I then played Puerto Rico with Rachel and our hosts. It was back and forth, as games of PR can be. I won with 56, second was 54, and the other two had 46. No one really knew who was winning until the final counting.


I met with a good friend from Cornell this evening. But the big event is the high school reunion tomorrow evening. I already found out what a number of them are doing, and I know what many of them look like from Facebook pictures.

I'm guessing the usual attitude is to compare yourself and your success to that of your classmates: am I making more money? Do I look better? I must admit that I'm a little annoyed to see that one person who was a jerk to me in high school is doing quite well, financially. But I'm more curious to see what kind of personalities these people have now, and how they compare to the personalities I remember.

I'll take pictures.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Shabbat Coming

Thanks for the New York gaming suggestions I received, but I managed to miss all of them.
Instead I should like to warn you: mint coffee is revolting. At least, coffee with mint syrup from Starbucks is revolting. I just thought I'd give it a try.

Our Town was a great production.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Off to NYC: Itinerary

Thursday: Arrive in NYC in the morning. Probably MOMA, some cheap kosher takeout, and an evening play (Our Town).

Friday: Rachel will hit the Natural History Museum, and I'll devise something to do that involves games. Neutral Ground is closed; what else is there to do game-related on a Friday morning/afternoon in Manhattan?

Shabbat in Teaneck, NJ with good friends.

Sunday: I say goodbye to Rachel :-( as she will be teaching at JOFA, and I'm basically free until my high school reunion in West Hempstead on Sunday evening.

Monday: I'm free again until around 2:00, then I'm off to the airport.

I'll have no trouble filling up the free time with interesting things to do in NYC - hopefully, I'll also hear from work - but I'm happy to hear from you if you want to meet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Scrabble, Interrupted; and Movies

Rachel and I started but didn't finish a Scrabble game. I was to go first, and I had all vowels, so I tossed in. Rachel went first instead. A few rounds later she had all vowels, and she complained for several rounds before I managed to convince her to skip a turn and toss them in.

By that point she was behind some 50 points and didn't feel like continuing.

My Sister's Keeper: Lovely tearjerker with beautiful visuals and music. I'm not entirely thrilled with the direction the story takes at the revelation scene near the end of the movie; it's a cop out. Instead of resolving the difficult moral problem the story raised, it all gets pushed aside, unresolved. Nevertheless, the revelation, given the characters involved, is sensible. Somewhat too much Hollywood. Still lovely.

Dead Man Walking: Fantastic movie that proves that you don't have to cut away from the difficult moral problem raised. This movie goes straight into the heart of what other movies shy away from and keeps going right down to the bitter, inevitable conclusion. Highly recommended.

Up In The Air: Hollywood formula, pleasant, shallow, and predictable, not at all deserving of the praise it received.

The Boat That Rocked: The equivalent formula from Britain. A trip through the early rock-and-roll era. The sides of the issue (rock music) are presented in a totally one-sided manner, as are many of the people involved. Still, the characters on the boat are sometimes fun. Also pleasant.

Crows N Bones magazine has an interview with Reiver Games, my publisher.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Mary Couzin and I are Mutual Fans

Today was brunch with Mary Couzin of CHI-TAG at Bagel Country. Good bagels, good mock-liver spread, not-so-good hash browns.

Then a quick jaunt to the Maxwell Street Market, which was underwhelming. I might have enjoyed it more if I could eat non-kosher Mexican finger food. The rest was mostly crappy, knock-off handbags, cheap sunglasses, cd's, etc. Saw some Yu-Gi-Oh cards, but nothing else interesting gaming-wise. And the market is outside and it had started raining.

For the drive to and from Chicago we listened to parts of Middlemarch from Libravox.org, a repository of audio books in the public domain. What a great site. Although, different chapters of Middlemarch are read by different people, some better than others. Most are excellent. Only one was not-so-good.

Listen to The Age of Innocence, the entirety of which is read by Brenda Day. She's the gold standard for audio book readers.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Chicago Blues + MOSI Pictures

I've never been to Tokyo, Paris, Shanghai, San Fransisco, or many other major world cities other than Manhattan. However, I've been to Tel Aviv, London, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Dallas, and some other cities, and I've never seen another city that so looked and felt like Manhattan other than Manhattan, until I came to Chicago.

The width, texture, lights, traffic, and shops lining the highways and streets, the colors of the dirt, subway tracks, billboards, buildings, and sky (they even have yellow cabs), the outsides, insides, flooring, molding, doors, and windows on the buildings, the sounds, the smells ... it's all so Manhattan to me. No other city, at least none that I've been to, has that pitiless overwhelming iron-steel-concrete-dingy feel.

Rachel loves it; then again, Rachel loves Manhattan.

As a Gibson-reading cyber-citizen urban sci-fi lover, I'm probably supposed to love it, too; but I don't love Manhattan. I can't stand being in a place where I am surrounded in 26 directions by clusters of people. Yesh gvul.

Nevertheless, I admit that it's nice to have access to a place where you're bound to find something you want to do, see, or eat at any time for nearly any price range.


Thursday afternoon we left Rachel's busy bird-feeders in Oxford, OH and drove to Chicago. Thursday night we ate at Taboun, one of Chicago's numerous kosher restaurants. Decent.



Following several recommendations, we started the day with one of Chicago's famed architecture tours. While mildly interesting and educational, proto-skyscraper architecture is not interesting enough to me to have justified the time spent. Rachel loved it.

I could only think how Chicago would never have been built if the copyright laws were as strictly enforced back then as they are today. Every building copied innovations and styles from other buildings recently built or designed.

Gypsy Music

After the tour we caught the tail end of a live Gypsy band at the Cultural Center while we ate lunch. It was weird. It started in one place and then seemingly wandered randomly around for while before returning. I think it's an acquired taste.


Friday afternoon I finally did what I really wanted to do in the first place, which was hit the Museum of Science and Industry. I mistakenly thought I could get there from the end of the green subway line, but I ended up having to walk 40 minutes across a park and all of U of Chicago to get there. Take a bus or drive (or take the Metra).

I ended up having an hour and a half at MOSI, and I thoroughly regretted every moment I had wasted earlier in the day. MOSI is FANTASTIC. Unfortunately, I had to run through the rooms with barely any time to stop. The museum closed at 4:00 and anyway I had to get back to where I was staying before shabbat. It deserved at least four more hours, probably more.

Friday night was Carlebach davening and some lovely hosts. Rachel was scholar-in-residence.



No secret kiddush club. Sniff.


Sat night I decided that the Chicago experience would have to include some Chicago blues. I chose B.L.U.E.S. bar, since we could walk to it, it had good reviews, and the band sounded good. The band was awesome. The crowd was very heterogeneous: old, young, mixed races, probably gays and straights. A small place without much room to dance, but we found a way.

Stealing the bird seed.

A shot of a huge wind farm in Indiana.

Our architecture tour was along the famed street abutting the lake, where the earliest skyscrapers were built in the 1880s and after. The city was built out of stone and steel, following the great fire of Chicago.

Most skyscrapers have "legs", "torso", and "head", mimicking a style developed in Europe. Actually the entire city was planned out, and much of the inspiration came from Paris.


Apparently a federal prison. The guide wasn't going to point this one out, but I immediately noticed it because the windows on each level are not regular from level to level. Leading to the conclusion that the window arrangement must form some kind of secret code or message. More pictures at the link.

MOSI, just one of the buildings

Mailbox outside of MOSI

LEGO FallingWater in a room with other LEGO info and tables to build



Fire engines


A dollhouse; I don't know what a dollhouse was doing in a museum of science and industry

Some kind of Platonic solids

One of the best rooms was the following one about future technology.

Soccer playing robots. It could lie down and do pushups, balance, kick, and so on. I don't know if it could jump.

Another interactive table idea.

Interactive clothing

Another interesting room, this one attempted to explain the Internet.

You could buy an RFID card for $1 and pass through each exhibit scanning the card. Then various things would happen, such as creating an avatar with your face, a visual representation of your avatar being sent across the net, and so on. I don't know why they charged an extra $1 for this, as it prevented most people from experiencing it.

About Internet security.

Small part of Internet history.

Packet switching. You play the nuclear bombs, hitting the nodes in an attempt to prevent the data from getting through.

Someone convinced them to add a display of ESR's definition of hacker as white hat and cracker as black hat.

I posted about Mindball on Purple Pawn only a month ago. The object is relax your mind as much as possible, which causes the ball to move toward the opponent. This is the opposite idea from Mindflex.

She lost. It was easier for the middle-aged father to flatline his brain activity.

An ad on the subway. I'm sure that was meant to be a woman with a ponytail, but a few seconds extra looking revealed it to be an extra-terrestrial with a thick, bent neck. Which makes sense.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Session Report, in which the girls play while the guys are away

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Year of the Dragon, Princes of Florence.

I posted an article and pictures about my trip to Iron Wind Metals on Purple Pawn.

Off to Chicago tomorrow for the weekend. Work isn't giving me work, which worries me, since I'm not getting income (other than minimal blogging income) in the meantime. Anyone need something written, edited, or proofed in the next week?


Monday, March 01, 2010

Columbus Synagogue Stained Glass

Front of shul

Back of shul

Days of Creation: Intro and Day 1

Days of Creation: Day 2 and Day 3

Days of Creation: Day 4 and Day 5

Days of Creation: Day 6 and Day 7

Board Game Blog World Roundup

This post lists blogs / podcasts new to me since my last roundup. Check my sidebar for a comprehensive list of active game bloggers and podcasters. If you've been dropped from the list, it's because you haven't posted anything in the last three months or so.

Board Game Development: Ema, Padova, Italy. From the company Mind the Move.

GamePeople: Ed Stephens reviews board games on a UK site primarily devoted to video games.

Games Overboard: Video reviews and general commentary by Brian, TJ, and others.

Isleworth Boardgamers: Session reports from West London.

I've Been Diced: A podcast by Tom, Scott, and others.

Santa Doesn't Make Toys: Ron Weingartner, Mass. Co-author of The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook.

Sunblush: Stephen Tudor, Penn.

Table Gamer Weekly: Podcast by Yuri and Brett.

Tea Time Games: Rye and Mike. Mostly about game development.

The Bureau Chiefs: The creators of @FakeAPStylebook and various other online projects. Various games will be covered on Thursdays.

The Game Aisle: Kim Vandenbroucke, aka Brainy Chick. Has designed games for some major companies.

The Game Shepard: Thoughts on games from a GA store.