Sunday, May 30, 2010

My current list of top games

On BGG, I've rated 436 games. Here are my top games, right now:

Bridge - The ultimate card game
Cosmic Encounter - The game where every game really is different, and every rule can be broken. The link is to a newer version of the game, which I haven't played. I am familiar only with the original EON and Mayfair versions.
Go - The ultimate board game (for two players)
Magic: the Gathering - A classic CCG, designed by a fan of Cosmic Encounter. A fantastic game, both for its deck-building and play experiences.
Puerto Rico - Possibly the ultimate multi-player board game, though it greatly benefits with a few building changes or a variable set of buildings.

Age of Steam/Steam - The best route-building train games. The first is decidedly heavier than the second.
Anagrams - The link is to Bananagrams, but that's not the game I'm referring to. To play Anagrams, pull tiles out (from Bananagrams or Scrabble) one by one. Call words whenever you see them to win the word. Steal or change a word by calling a bigger word using someone's existing word and one or more new letter tiles.
Antike - In my opinion, the ultimate RISK-killer, though I recognize that some people must have their dice-rolling; I can recommend a few RISK-killers for them.
Dominion - A game based around building your deck as you play from a common pool of cards. Using a limited number of available cards from an ever-growing pool of cards makes for infinite re-playability, and it's a great game, too.
Dvonn - One of two excellent abstract games from the GIPF series on my list, this is a game that you uncover slowly each time you play. It's quick and fun.
Homesteaders - A fantastic board game designed by a Puerto Rico fan, he has created a game that just may challenge Puerto Rico for the throne. It's accessible, with dozens of options and no clear dominating strategy (yet).
Le Havre - From the designer of the hit game Agricola, this is a much better sprawling epic of a Eurogame.
Netrunner - The other CCG on the list, this is an excellent game of hacker vs corporation, and almost always a tense, thrilling game (with occasional exceptional bad luck, which is why it's only a 9).
Pente - The second best thing to do on a Go board. Every once in a while I think the game is simple, only to discover new depths.
Princes of Florence - A tense, yet beautiful and serene auction game.
Santiago - Elegent, simple crop irrigation game.
Scrabble - One of the few modern games that has not diminished with age. Too many modern two-letter words break the integrity of the game.
Tichu - An excellent partnership ladder game (think President, but oh so much better).
Tigris and Euphrates - Knizia's true masterpiece, the rules are not difficult, but the implications of each rule and each play can be hard to wrap your head around.
Tikal - Beautiful game board, and a great game of jungle exploration using action points.
Trias - Appears to be insubstantial, but a wonderful light game of drifting tiles and dinosaurs, nearly abstract.
Tzaar - The other GIPF game, it has a lot of the same magic that Dvonn has.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rachel Returns Tomorrow

It's after midnight, so technically she returns today. Although I see that her plane is delayed. Rachel's father, stepmother, and half-brother are also in the country for a visit.

Rachel is moving back because the possibility of a position that is non-tenured and doesn't pay much isn't enough to keep her away from her family and the community she loves. Speaking of which, I never showed you guys the Purim shpiel our community did, with Rachel and me as narrators.

Here is the first of nine videos (this first song is pretty weak, but they get better).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Session Report, in which we play and love two games of Homeseaders

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Magic: the Gathering x 3, Homesteaders x 2, Dominion, It's Alive, Tribune, Parade, Tichu.

We play two games of Homesteaders and have a good time. And I achieve a once-in-a-blue-moon victory in Magic over David.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

10 Celebrities Who Changed Their Names AFTER They Were Already Successful

And I'm not counting people who take on the last name of their spouse (Courtney Cox), or who legally change their name to match their successful stage name (Miley Cyrus, Cher).

10. James Joseph McGuinn III, called Jim, was the lead singer of the Byrds. The Byrds had already scored their big hits by 1967, when Jim decided that his name was too plain. He wrote to Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, aka Bapak, the founder of the spiritual movement Subud, with ten name suggestions and asked him to pick one. Bapak picked "Roger", having told him that a new name would better vibrate with the universe.

9. In 2004, following several years of kabbalah study, Madonna (born Madonna Louise Ciccone) changed her name to Esther, which the Talmud relates may be the Persian word for "star", but probably is simply a bastardization of the goddess Ishtar. Should have gone with Cokhava.

8. Lisa Michelle Boney was a teenager on The Cosby Show, and an adult in the movie Angel Heart. After divorcing Lenny Kravitz, she changed her name to Lilakoi Moon, and went on to name her second and third child (born from father Jason Momoa) Lola Iolani Momoa and Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa.

7. Terry Marsh was an undefeated light welterweight boxer, since retired. In the UK 2010 election, Marsh changed his name to "None of the Above X" and put himself on the ticket in South Basildon and East Thurrock, to protest the lack of such an option on the ballot (a party may not call themselves None of the Above, but a person may). He is now legally known as Mr X.

6. Terence Trent Howard is better known by his stage name Terence Trent D'Arby. However, following a successful musical career in the late 1980s and 1990s, he changed his name in 2001 to Sananda Maitreya, after he had a series of dreams that told him to. He used this change to start an independent label.

5. Elvis Costello, born Declan Patrick MacManus, legally changed his name back to Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus in 1986. For some reason. And this is the only post by an Israeli/Jew about Elvis Costello that is not about that other topic.

4. Whenever you see someone mocking pretentious, strange female singers, they're probably making fun of Jane Siberry, who has been making a career out of weird since the early 1980s. In 2006, Jane changed her name to Issa and got rid of all of her belongings except her guitar and a case of Miles Davis CDs. Over two years, she recorded two albums under the name Issa, while deep in soul introspection. She has recently changed back to Jane Siberry.

3. Chad Javon Johnson is a wide receiver for the Bengals. In 2006, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, he changed his name to Chad Ochocinco, making it legal in 2008. Ocho Cinco is 85, his jersey number. He soon intends to change his name to Hachi Go, which is 85 in Japanese.

2. Cat Stevens (born Steven Demetre Georgiou) is one of many who take on a new name when converting to another religion. In his case, he became Yusuf Islam. Yusaf has been involved in a number of controversies over the years as to how his strict Islamic activities can be reconciled with his earlier peace-loving hippie music, but, it turns out, the rumors about his support for extremism and fanaticism are overblown media inventions.

1. Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson) changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol for seven years to protest Warner Brothers' control over his contract, music, life, and art. As it was unpronounceable, everyone simply referred to him as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince", or "The Artist" for short. He eventually got out of the contract; however, "Prince" is currently a trademark owned by Paisley Park Enterprises, Inc.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mecanisburgo looks like a decent game

Abraham bought himself a copy of Mecanisburgo, and I took it home to learn the rules. It's a worker placement (hidden values)/area control game, with conflict resolution like Cosmic Encounter, money management like certain war games (cards can be used either for fighting power or income), and a dictionary of symbols like Race for the Galaxy ... squared.

Some people have complained that the confusing symbols combined with the confusing rulebook is a drawback to the game, but it doesn't look all that bad to me. I guess we'll find out when we try to play.

I'm also still hoping to get Mu to the table one day.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Calculation is Not Decision Making

Decision-making occurs when you have multiple options. When you are evaluating the worthiness of a decision, you use calculation and prediction. Calculation requires you to add up the facts: known numbers and odds. Prediction requires you to mentally juggle possible reactions to your decisions, reactions that are not calculable or predictable; well, perhaps predictable if your opponent always plays rationally and to his or her maximum benefit, or has a blind-spot, but not predictable as in mathematically "set in stone".

Some amount of calculation is ok. Too much calculation is boring. Poker against the house is pure calculation, and ultimately futile; you only have one "right" decision, which you can arrive at after much calculation, and it's never going to win in the long run. Poker against other players also requires calculation, but also a lot of incalculable prediction, and is therefore more interesting, at least as far as decision-making goes. Caylus, and several other meaty Eurogames I could name, favor too much calculation in the decision-making process.

Your game is fiddly if you mistake calculation for decision-making.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Weekend Gaming: Tichu

We had a farewell lunch to our good friends Bill and Shirley, who are leaving the country for an indefinite period of time. We expect them back soon: either July, or September, or 6 months from now at the very least.

The Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club gave them a copy of Rummikub: Israeli game, actually fun, language-independent, and also easy enough for any non-gamers they run into.

We split into two groups to play. Bill, Abraham, Sarah, and Nadine played Dungeon Lords. They started at around 4:00 and were still going when I left at 7:30. It's an epic game.

Meanwhile, Shirley, Tal (my daughter), Toby (her boyfriend), and I played Rummikub. I think she enjoyed it, although the game gets kind of thought-intensive near the end. Most players are usually one turn away from winning when the game ends.

After Rummikub, I taught Shirley and Toby how to play Tichu. Tal , who has played many times, insisted on being my partner, which left the teams a tad unfair. However, Tal is unskilled in the art of calling Tichu (she never does ... or had never done so until today). Shirley is Chinese and grew up in China, and so found Tichu's ad copy amusing. She says that the symbols on the backs of the decks are random gibberish words.

Both Shirley and Toby were overwhelmed by the initial explanation, but within a few hands, they were up to speed. Things swung our way to start with, and stayed our way throughout the game. At one point we were up around 600 points; that gap eventually narrowed to within 250.

Toby was the first, other than me, to venture a bid of Tichu. Unfortunately, it took him until the third time that he called Tichu before he actually made a bid of Tichu. As a result, they were down to nearly -200 at one point. Tal utterly failed to bid of Tichu early on which she should have, and then finally ventured to bid, but not make, Tichu later in the game.

With all of the failed Tichus, the game took quite a lot of time. Tal and I cycled up and down in the 600s for several hands, by which point Toby and Shirley had climbed to the 300s. We finally made it to 775 to 525. I then made a Tichu, and we made enough in the last two hands. In the very last hand, we only made it because Tal just managed to go out before Toby, and so didn't lose all of her accumulated trick points to Shirley.

A fun, funny, and long game.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A friend was nearly scammed and robbed on Craigslist

The scammers, robbers, and thieves in the world often prey on the too-trusting elderly; in the case of Internet scammers, the non-techworldly elderly.

If you know a nice, trusting, technophobe who uses the Internet (such as your parents), do them and the world a favor by explaining to them that there are thieves out there, how the thieves hide their tracks, and how to not get robbed. My friend is just - nearly - starting to get it.

Her email, after she advertised a computer for sale on Craig's Listl:
Mike Anderson wrote to me and stated that he wanted to buy the PC for his grandson who was in Nigeria (that alone should have been a red flag for me), and that we would safeguard our deal by him putting $900 into my PayPal account and once they notified me that the money was there, I could safely send the package to Nigeria, to his grandson (he provided a nice long address for me).  Sure enough, I received confirmation from PayPal and I went to the Post Office and mailed the package out and got insurance (I didn't really need insurance, I figured out later).  Anyway, I wanted PayPal to transfer the money to my checking account but they said I would first have to prove that I sent out the package by giving them the tracking number.  I did that.  While I was waiting for my money, I quickly wrote to a young savvy computer guy that my daughter works with to thank him encouraging me to put the PC on Craig's List and to tell him what I sweet deal I got.  He immediate called and said he wanted me to go to the Internet and log in with my codes and see how much money was in there.  I did that immediately and my heart felt like it stopped beating.  $0 and I had just send out my PC to a major thief.  I could not think straight because I could hardly move.  Nevertheless, this young man kept writing to me and telling me to take immediate action, namely go to the post office in [nearest city] ([my town] was already closed) and take immediate action.  I did.  I was supposed to have someone track down the package and return it to me.  The postman said that if it got on the plane early next morning, I would never see it again.  All alarms were on.  I was very ill and despondent.  However close to 9 pm, I received a call that the package was found.  She would hold it.  I would have to fax a release form.  She made sure I got it back the next day, Saturday.  I did.
I'm somewhat confused about Paypal asking to see a tracking number to release funds, but I'm amazed and happy that she got her package back, and is now only out the $85 shipping fee. Many others have suffered much worse.

Session Report, in which I play both Summoner Wars and Dungeon Lords for the first time

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Summoner Wars, Homesteaders, Dungeon Lords.

First pay for me for Summoner Wars and for Dungeon Lords. Well, first half a play for Dungeon Lords, anyway.

I forgot to mention that my aunt, uncle, and mom had a great time going through the questions from the trivia game Moot on Shavuot.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shavuot Gaming

I followed Tal to one of her friend's, whose parents are also friends with my parents, and discovered that the parents are secret Cities & Knights of Catan players. How come I didn't know about this when I was living in Beit Shemesh?

How did they get into the game? The guy was on his way to a theater in the US, and the theater ended up being closed, so he popped next door into an FLGS and asked for a recommendation to bring back to his family. It was Settlers of Catan.

They also had Bananagrams (popular in Israel), which Tal played with her friend, and Zobmondo's Would You Rather?, as well as some other fluff.

I played a three-way C&K game with the couple. I started out strong, but I couldn't gain an ore to save my life, or much in the way of wheat, either. The other two caught up to me, but I stayed 1 point ahead of each of them throughout the game - despite trying NOT to do so, since several cards give a benefit only if you have less VP than another player.

Eventually, one of them succeed in gaining 1 point more than I had, and I got to use my card. The game was close. When I made it to 8 points, I planned out the rest of my game. I plunked down a settlement and then finally had enough to upgrade to my second city. The next round I played Merchant and a road to steal Longest Road.

This was my first time playing C&K 4th edition, and there are a few changes from third edition. For example, the Saboteur, instead of knocking down someone's city, makes them discard half their resource cards. There were a few other small changes like that.


I left them to visit Abbagav, who was playing a card game he had designed with his kids. He had also brought it to the Beit Shemesh board game club a week or so ago.

I liked it. It's in the same space as No Thanks and Parade, but a little odder and perhaps a little more frustrating to figure out. I will have to analyze it more to see how it replays. More about it when I can.


I also played a number of hands of Bridge with my mom, aunt, and uncle. It's been a long time since my aunt and uncle have played.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Parents, Relatives, and Bridge

Tal and I are off to my parents in Beit Shemesh for Shavuot. My aunt and uncle will also be there.

My aunt and uncle and parents played Bridge before I was born. My father took it somewhat seriously, but he was never a tournament level player - though he got upset with everyone else's mistakes as if he was. The other three were casual, social players.

My parents taught my brothers and me how to play as each of us turned four or five years old. By the time we were ten or so, any of us could outplay any of them. My dad eventually gave up playing because it led to too many fights. We can still rope him in occasionally, for short sessions, if he doesn't partner with my mom. My mom's playing has deteriorated somewhat, though she's still quite intelligent; other than for the made up modern Scrabble words, she's a tough Scrabble opponent.

Both of my brothers excelled beyond me in Bridge. David became tournament level, while Ben became even better and actually won or placed in several tournaments. Partially, I didn't excel as much because I also enjoyed playing other games as much as Bridge, while both of them thought, and think, that Bridge is the only game to play when you've got four people.

It's probably too late to teach my parents and aunt and uncle new games. My mom has tried Settlers of Catan and It's Alive, but both without much enthusiasm. She prefers Sorry, Scrabble, and Progressive Rummy. But I would like to see how they fare with something like Tichu or Mu. Heh. Or RoboRally.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Slap Deck, a game for 2 to 6 Players

Shuffle a standard deck of playing cards. Flip over cards one at a time. Whenever any player wants, he or she may slap the face up pile and take it, placing it face down in front of him or her. A player may only do this three times. Players may not look at any face down pile during play. Whenever a 2 is flipped, remove it along with the face up pile. Continue until all players have slapped three times, or until the fourth 2 is flipped.


A matching pair of black and red number cards are discarded (for example, a red 8 and a black 8)
Then, two matching red number cards are discarded  (for example, both red 8s)
Black number cards are = +points equal to their value
Red number cards are = -points equal to their value
Two matching black number cards are +5 points
Picture cards (J, Q, K): 1 of a kind = -10, 2 = 10, 3 = 30, 4 = 50Aces: All player(s) with the most aces split 36 points

High score wins. Alternately, with more than two players, high score wins the high pot, low score wins the low pot. Alternately, play multiple hands, accumulating scores until a set value. Suggested:
2 players 500
3 players 350
4 players 200
5 players 150
6 players 100


Sunday, May 16, 2010

My Publisher is Shutting Down

Jack started his company Reiver Games on the basis of my game It's Alive. He sold out a first edition of the game, and then 2/3 of the second edition. He also published two other games. But he wasn't able to make enough money to keep cash flow and to keep it going. On the verge of publishing his fourth game, he decided instead to fold up shop. He blogged, and continues to blog, the whole sordid affair here.

I think he is now in discussion regarding selling the remaining stock and/or the company IP, including name, publishing rights to the games, etc. So I'm not sure yet what's happening with my game rights. If no one buys the rights, they could revert back to me. Otherwise, they would go to the buyer.

A shame. Jack's cool.

In other news, maybe I'll get to publish The Menorah Game, again.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shabbat Gaming

Why does a stitch in time save nine? Why not eight? Or ten? Or 215? Better yet, why not save the whales? Isn't saving the whales better than saving nine?

All aphorisms can be improved by changing their ending to "save the whales". A rolling stone saves the whales. Look before you save the whales. He who hesitates saves the whales. Sounds a lot better, right? And we'll save more whales.


I played Anagrams one and a half times with my Scrabble-champion friend. The first game started off rather slow for me; he's better at finding strange words I don't know about, especially of the three-letter variety. However, I'm somewhat more creative when it comes to anagramming on a busy board, and I slowly depleted his words as the game went on. I ended with more letters and words, though he had all the high-point letters.

He challenged me to a rematch, and this time we played a four-letter minimum word length. I started as strong as he did, and that, combined with a headache he had from too much Krupnik's Polish honey liqueur, led us to abandon the game midway. It's no fun to win when your opponent isn't into it.

Plus, it isn't whether you win or lose, it's how you save the whales.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Shabbat Coming

Two weeks until Rachel returns. I just video Skyped with her, and though the sound kept dropping off on her end (so I could hear her, but she couldn't hear me .. which is about normal, anyway), I still melt over her smile. Sigh.

I'm also missing my C Lanzbom CDs. I wonder where they went.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Session Report, in which I play Reef Encounter for the first time

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion+, Trias, Taj Mahal, Cuba, Tichu, R-Eco, Dvonn, Reef Encounter.

I play my first game of Reef Encounter. It doesn't displace Tigris and Euphrates. And I get to play Trias again, yay!

My brother isn't coming for shabbat after all, but I'm still having my friends and some other guests for lunch.

Only 55 minutes late

This shabbat I've invited my brother and his family, game players. And also some mutual friends of ours; the husband is a happy game player (Bridge and Scrabble, especially), and the wife likes Settlers of Catan and a few other games.

Funny that none of Rachel's students took the time to rate her on Rate My Professors. Anyhoo, she should be in Costa Rica right now, or soon, which is where her mother lives most of the year (in Monteverde). I've never been there :-( .. And she returns to Israel in about two weeks.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Longer the Line You're Standing On ...

... the less likely that it will have been worthwhile to have done so. This applies in Israel. I don't know if it applies elsewhere.

Monday, May 10, 2010 Free Downloadable Audio Books

I recently had to travel to and from Tel Aviv every day for a spate of work. The travel time is between 1 to 2 hours each direction, depending on the time of day and whether I drove or took the train.

BBC gets pretty repetitive, not to mention the fact that their concepts of interesting and balanced don't match mine, and Israeli radio stations are hit and (mostly) miss. And I can't listen to game podcasts all the time. So I was thrilled to find, a site that does for audio books what Project Gutenberg does for books: convert them and put them online, for free.

There's something about listening to a soothing voice read a literary classic that makes even the most complex book enjoyable and accessible. Those of you who have a hard time sitting down to read an 18th or 19th century novel might just get hooked if you can listen to it being read. I think it evokes the primal pleasure of being read to as a child. And a reader - a good reader - makes any text more vibrant and comprehensible.

The audio files are divided by chapter. Some books are read the entire way through by a single reader, while others are read by different readers. Quality varies, but most are good. Some are excellent. My favorite so far, and my lucky first choice to which to listen, was Brenda Dayne reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

The version of Anne of Green Gables that I listened to had a few middle chapters read by someone with a cloying voice, but there are at least five versions on the site. Silas Marner was also read excellently.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Game Idea: Comic Book Collector

Something I just thought of three days ago, and haven't worked on yet.

A game for 3 to 6 players about collecting comic books, played over 9 rounds. Each round, copies of the latest issues for several comics arrive at the comics store. The issues are good or bad objectively (i.e. they receive a hidden objective rating). The past issues still in the store drop in price. The previous past issues are sent to the used bookstore. At the used bookstore, the ratings of issues are known, and the prices are determined by a) how many of the previous issues have sold, b) whether the issues were good, and c) whether the comic series is good or bad, on the whole.

When someone buys an issue from the comic store (where the rating is still hidden), he or she gives the issue a personal rating. If someone else buys the issue based on their recommendation, and the issue's rating is, in fact, good, they gain Cred. If they mis-represent an issue's value, they lose Cred.

The game starts with asking your parents for money. This amount is limited until you've paid back all the money, after which the amount you can borrow increases. Repeat, with the amount increasing each time.

There is a trading phase.

There is a phase of selling to, and buying from, the used bookstore.

At game's end, you gain Cred or cash for your collection. There are two winners: the player with the most Cred is the Cred winner. The player with the most money is the cash winner.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Session Report, in which we play In the Shadow of the Emperor

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up (and has been since Thursday, oops). Games played: Set, In the Shadow of the Emperor, R-Eco, Container.

I review our first play of ItSotE. And we sure seem to be playing Container a lot.

Shabbat Gaming

Lunch at Nadine's with the usual crowd. I played another game of In the Shadow of the Emperor with Bill, Shirley, and Ksenia (first play for all of them). The game went for me pretty much the same as the last game went, only I made a few more VP's before I was wiped off the board for the rest of the game.This time, I thought I was losing more than I actually was.

Ksenia took the province that gives 1 VP per round during setup and managed to keep it the entire game. I figured that she was winning, and I was right. Scores were closer, so the few VP's that were decided arbitrarily by one player in favor of one of two other players made more of a difference. For instance, Shirley's last decision as to whom to hand the Emperor on the last round change the standings between me and Bill.

Final scores: Ksenia 22, Jon 21, Bill 20, Shirley 18.

While we played, Nadine, Adam, and Sarah played Reef Encounter (second play for Nadine, first for Sarah and Adam), and Abraham taught Emily, Eitan, and Shachar how to play Container.

About This Blog

The last post on many a dormant blog is an apology for not posting more frequently in the recent past, followed by a promise to post more often in the future. For that reason, you'll get neither of these out of me.

I have full time work right now, as well as a household to manage on my own until Rachel returns at the end of the month, and most of the rest of my spare time is spent on Purple Pawn. Still, it makes me sad to see this blog cultivated so sporadically.

I'm not apologizing (except, perhaps, to my sponsors). But I think I've gotten out of the habit of posting on this blog partially because I was afraid to post anything less than the endless series of high-quality posts that I posted in 2006-8. I have to get over that fear.

And so, I am going to try to post something, anything, on this blog again, at least once a day. It might be complete junk, a single sentence, a picture or link, or whatever. But it's the only way to get started again. Good posts follows naturally from a regular posting habit. You'll just have to bear with me for this phase until I get my groove again.