Thursday, September 30, 2010

Simchat Torah Gaming

A few teenagers who came for lunch were willing to try some games while we waited for the others to come home from ultra-long services.

I taught them Pit. One of the girls heard that it was a trading game and said that she didn't want to play, but I convinced her to stay in and to try. She won the game, and said that she liked it. "It's an interesting game".

I also brought out Set, which instantly gets players even without any formal declaration as to who is playing. I'm still pretty good, but I suspect that I may finally be slowing down.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Games Day Session Report

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up for Games Day, Fall 2010. Games played: Age of Empires III, Agricola, Antike, Dominion/Intrigue/Seaside, Homesteaders, Magic: the Gathering x 2, Mr Jack x 2, Parade, Puerto Rico, Scrabble.

Light attendance for a Games Day, but still fun.

Earlier, I played Puerto Rico with Rachel and Zeke (former game club attendee), and lost terribly: Rachel 61, Zeke 48, me 38. I also played Progressive Rummy with my mom and Tal; my mom beat us: Tal by a small amount, me by a lot.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Board Game Blog World Roundup

Yes more board game blogs, old and new, I have recently noted or rediscovered. See my sidebar for the current list of all regularly updating and active board game blogs.

A Game Comment Journal - Gerald "Linnaeus" Cameron, Nova Scotia, Canada. Also blogs at My Play.

Board Game Reviews - Monsieur Lapin, Calgary, Alberta.

Die Meeple Die - Alan Gaskell, Lancashire, UK. Reviews.

Forest of Games - James, Lincoln, NE. Reviews.

Game On! - Podcast out of OR, a different podcast than Game On!

Gameopolis - Podcast by Mark and Jeff.

Here Be Gamers! - Podcast by Marty and Nathan.

Inspiration to Publication - Jay Cormier, New Westminster, BC. Game design notes.

JP's Gaming Blog - Omaha, NE.

Nevermore Games Blog - Bryan Fischer and Corey Phillips company blog. Design notes.

Ninja vs Pirates - Company podcast with game designer interviews.

Point 2 Point - Jason and Scott. Probably the premier war game podcast.

The Adventuring Party - Shane, humbug, Liam and Cillian podcast.

The All Things Fun! Podcast - Ed Evans, Wes & Jess podcast.

The Board Broad - Shelda, Lincoln, NE. A woman's perspective.

The Game of the Day - Bryan Gahagan, Lincoln, NE. Movie and game reviews.

The Gaming Gang - Jeff McAleer, Elliott Miller, James Engelhardt. Reviews and more.

The How to Play Podcast - Ryan Sturm, Lancaster, NY. podcast on instructional subjects.

The Little Metal Dog Show - Michael Fox, Milton Keynes, Bucks, UK. Podcast.

This Week in Wargaming - Ken and Troy podcast on war games.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


A merry Sukkot to you all. That actually makes sense, since some of the Sukkot decorations they sell in Israel are Christmas decorations whose packaging comes decorated with Santa Claus, reindeer, and Merry Christmas, sold to a public often unfamiliar with these icons.

No game night this week, but next week is Games Day. The Janglo mailing list is no longer the force that it once was, so I don't know how many people to expect.

Got new bookcases.

Got the book Pente Strategy, which I intend to devour.

There is much confusion and busy work in the Berlinger Adelman household in preparation for past and future holidays, so I'll just say be well and be good.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Session Report, in which I finally get fed up with the master craftsman mechanic in Pillars of the Earth

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion, Tichu x 2, Pillars of the Earth.

A new player joined us.

Last shabbat afternoon Rachel, Nadine, and I played Puerto Rico. I don't know what I did wrong, exactly, but I fell behind early and stayed that way. Rachel won with 53 points to Nadine's 46 and my 39.

The week before last, Tal and I played Scrabble, and she surprising beat me (with a little assistance from me). I helped her place a 100+ point bingo onto a triple word score.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Games Exist in Dreamland

This morning, I walked from point A to point B beside someone else walking in the same direction. I reached point A first ... but I didn't win. Because we weren't playing a game. We were, physically and mentally, in the real world.

Games don't exist in the real world.

In the real world, things simply happen. Objects lie still or move according to the laws of nature. Living things lie still or move according to their needs or desires. Metabolic processes exist in the real world: work, sleep, sex, love, competition. Even play - not imaginative, but physical play that is jubilant or vigorous, such as a cat playing with a ball - exists in the real world.

The real world is where things exist because they exist. Consequences are natural. Amazing, important, fun, or tragic things happen; they are what they are.

Games exist in dreamland. An observer views reality and imposes onto it abstract consequences that do not exist in the real world. A game cannot exist without an observer, a recognition of change, and an evaluation.

That walk becomes a game when I decide that I "win" if I reach point B before - or after, or at the same time that - the person next to me does. If my boss acknowledges me for completing a project. If I am happy that I've found love - not happy from love, but happy from the finding.

Other things also exist in Dreamland: hopes, plans, imaginations, dreams, stories, myths. Worthy neighbors.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010 Holiday Gift Guide

This guide includes games for young and old, for every sex, generation, temperament, and culture.

Whatever you do, and whatever you celebrate, there is no better way to spend a Christmas, Hanukkah, or what have you than together with friends, family, and neighbors with a warm cup of (fair trade) cocoa and a stack of casual board and/or card games.

The overwhelming majority of the games listed here are meant for newer players, non gamers or the like. I don't list the complicated, heavier games for gamers only.

I hope you enjoy the guide. Remember: the holidays are not only for sharing the warmth with family and friends, but also for sharing with those who have no one else to share with them. Give to your local shelters, hospitals, and so on, because that's the gift that keeps on giving.

Apples to Apples: Ages 9+, 4 to 10 players

Apples to Apples is a party game that is simple to set up, learn, and play. There is no writing involved, and no board. And unlike many party games, reading all the cards doesn't ruin the game.

Each player has a hand of red apples (nouns) with which they have to match the green apple (adjective) flipped up. Each player has a chance to judge the best match. The cards you have in your hand never exactly match what gets flipped up; you have to do your best!
Antike: Ages 8+, 2 to 6 players

Risk is a long game of laying low, with player elimination and just too much in the luck department; this game is the perfect evolution to, and replacement for, Risk.

It plays quicker, there's dice-less conflict, no one gets to lay low watching while others fight, and - excepting truly poor play - everyone has a chance for most of the game. There's also a lot more to the game than just conflict, but the rules are short and elegant.

Unfortunately, it's out of print, so it's a bit hard to find, and pricey when you find it.
Backgammon: Ages 6+, 2 players

Backgammon is a classic game that can be enjoyed by children and parents alike. While there is a large amount of luck in the game, there are also many meaningful decisions, which makes this a good stepping stone to future games with more challenge, such as Checkers or Chess.
Blokus, Blokus Trigon, Blokus Duo: Ages 8+, 4 players (Blokus), 2-4 players (Blokus Trigon), or 2 players (Blokus Duo)

Blokus, Blokus Trigon, and Blokus Duo are recent abstract games with very simple rules. Each round you take a piece and place it on the board such that it touches any previous pieces you have played, but only corner to corner. It can touch other players' pieces along corners or sides.

The rules are easy, the components are beautiful, and it's a lot of fun.
Boggle: Ages 8+, 2 to 10 players

Boggle is a word game, whose simple rules - find all the words you can within three minutes - make it a game that is both fun and quick. Adults can play with kids by restricting the adults to have to find words of four or five letters.
Carcassonne, variants, and expansions: Ages 10+, 2 to 5 players

Carcassonne is a fairly new game that is a bit more complex than some of the other games here, but the beautiful pieces and the fun game play are worth the time to learn. Pick a piece from the pile, rotate and place it so that it fits on the board (like dominoes), and then optionally place one of your pieces on that tile. There are several ways to score, some of which occur during the game and some of which only at the end of the game.

There are some more rules than that, but not too many more. The game play is engaging enough to make you want to play it more than once in a single sitting.

There are dozens of versions to the game, and some of the versions have several expansions. The one that I linked to is called "Hunters and Gatherers" and is a good standalone game to start with.
Checkers: Ages 5+, 2 players

Checkers is a classic, and rightfully so. The rules are very simple, although there are regional variations. Although the game often hinges on who makes the first major mistake, it is worthwhile learning the tricks and the care necessary to play well. With two experienced players, there is a lot of depth to explore.

It's cheap, and grandpa will play with you.
Chess / Xiangqi / Shogi: Ages 6+, 2 players

These three games, Chess, XiangQi (Chinese Chess), and Shogi (Japanese Chess), are all top-tier 2-player games that can occupy a curious mind for an entire lifetime. They also have wide followings, so learning the game is learning a language that will admit you to a culture of fellow players around the world.

Board and piece prices range from inexpensive to very expensive, and Chess pieces come in many different themes.
Chinese Checkers: Ages 6+, 2 to 6 players

Another great abstract, and a pretty one if you find one with nice marbles. The rules are simple: move or jump your pieces from one side to the other. Finding chains of jumps is a thrill for all ages.
Connect Four: Ages 5 to 12, 2 players

Connect Four is a classic two-player strategy game, where the object is to get four in a row before your opponent does. Easy to set up, easy to learn, hard to master.
Carrom / Nok Hockey / Air Hockey / Billiards / Foosball, etc.: Ages 6+, 2 players

Carrom is the most played tabletop game in India. Like Billiards, the object is to knock pieces off the table area, which you do by flicking wooden disks with your fingers. Crokinole is another classic finger flicking game, as is a racing game called Pitchcar. All kinetic tabletop games, from snooker to billiards to foosball, are loved by players of all ages.
Playing Cards: Ages 3+, 1 to any number of players

Decks of cards, whether they are the well known Western type with 52 cards in 4 suits, or special European or Asian decks, are a great starting point for any number of wonderful games, including Bridge, Hearts, Skat, Cribbage, Pinochle, Oh Hell, Bullsh*t, Durak, President, Spades, Solitaire, and many others.

Check out for the rules to these games and to thousands of others.
Dominion: Ages 10+, 2-4 players

Dominion won nearly every major game award this year and last. It's a game based around deck building: as you play, you acquire cards which get shuffled into your deck. You need victory points to score, but too many early victory points will clog up your deck, making it harder to acquire more points.

A brilliant adaptation of a mechanic, it plays quickly and every game plays differently. The game now has several expansions, all of which are good.
For Sale: Ages 8+, 3 to 6 players

For Sale is a quick bidding game in two stages: first you use money to bid on houses, and then you use your houses to bid on checks. The player with the most checks plus money at the end of the game wins.

The exact rules are a little longer, but the game is simple and fun, and the thirty house cards (ranging from a cardboard box to a space station) always get a few comments from new players.
Froggy Boogie: Ages 3-9, 2 to 4 players

Froggy Boogie is a brilliant game to frustrate grownups and please younger children. All you have to do is remember where the picture of the fly is, under the left eye or the right eye? The dice have only colors - no counting necessary. It's a perfect first game.
Go / Pente: Ages 6+, 2 players

Beyond Chess, Checkers, or XiangQi is the absolute perfect game of Go (aka Weiqi); it's so popular, there are twenty-four hour television stations dedicated to it, an anime series based on it, and it's considered one of the four arts of the Chinese scholar.

It really is that good, and the rules are easy, too. Best of all, a built-in handicap system allows two people of any skill levels to enjoy a challenging game against each other.

The link I provided is to a nice but expensive board; you can play with a much simpler board and plastic pieces for under $10.

Pente, a game of getting five stones in a row, can be played on the same board. The rules are just as easy as Go, and while the game has much less depth, it is also a little less intimidating to new players.
Hive: Ages 8+, 2 players

Hive is another new game with simple rules and cute buggies. Each round, you either add a piece to the table so that it is connected to the other pieces, or you move a piece. When you move a piece, you can't break up the hive while doing so. The winner is the one who surrounds his or her opponent's queen bee.

Each player has eleven pieces, with five different bugs and abilities. Its simple rules and nice pieces make this a game that generally gets several plays in one sitting.
Ingenious: Ages 8+, 2 to 4 players

Ingenious (sometimes called "Connections" or "Mensa") is another new and neat abstract game, where you score points by placing domino like pieces to create lines of colors. Your final score is whatever color you have the least of.

It's another pretty game with simple rules and a lot of replay. Amazon's copy is pretty expensive, and you should be able to find a less expensive copy in your local game store.
It's Alive: Ages 7+, 2 to 4 players

A little plug for my own game. This is a simple set-collection auction game with a Frankenstein theme. It fits in well with the other games on the list: easy to learn, quick to play, lots of replayability.

Of course, I may be biased, since I designed it. This game is published by Reiver Games.
Jungle Speed: Ages 8+, 3 to 8 players

There are several games of speed reaction / pattern recognition on the market; I chose this one because of the components. Players flip cards in turn and grab for the totem in the middle as soon as two matching cards are revealed. Don't play with friends who have sharp nails or finger jewelery.
Lord of The Rings The Confrontation: Ages 10+, 2 players

This is a game that plays similarly to Stratego, but it's theme and the special powers each piece possesses elevates the game to another level. It makes a tense exciting game of light vs dark, and it plays in a mere 10 to 20 minutes.
Magic: The Gathering: Ages 8+, 2 players

After a decade and a half, Magic is still The Bomb when it comes to collectible card games, although Yu-Gi-Oh sells more cards. These are not easy games to learn, but quick start guides can get you off the ground fairly quickly, and then you have months and years of challenging game play ahead of you.

Don't get sucked into having to buy endless amounts of boosters; to play the game outside of a tournament, you only need a few hundred common cards which can be picked up for a penny each on various sites.
Mancala: Ages 5+, 2 players

This is widely known around the world under various names (e.g. Oware), and the national game of many African countries.

The rules are easy: pick up all the seeds in one of your bowls and place one in each bowl around the table. If you land on an empty space on your side, you win the seed and any seeds opposite.

There are a few more rules, but that's about it. It takes a few games to get up to speed; early victories tend to be lopsided. Once you get the hang of it, you can play several, quick, challenging games in succession.
Memory: Ages 3 to 12, 2 to 5 players

This is a first game for kids and adults, and a great game for it, because kids get the hang of it very quickly and adults find it a real challenge without having to pretend. All you need are one or two decks of cards, but an infinite number of these games are sold with various different pictures and themes.

You can play with more than 5 players, but I wouldn't recommend it.
No Thanks!: Ages 7+, 3 to 5 players

This is an easy to learn and addictive little card game. A card is flipped up, and you either take the card and any tokens on it or place one of your tokens on it and pass it to the next player. Cards are bad, and tokens are good. But runs of cards only penalize you for the lowest valued card.

A simple and fun game.
Pit: Ages 7+, 4 to 10 players

I don't know if you can play up to 10 players with the original game, but you should. This is a loud trading game. The cards are dealt out, someone says go, and everyone shouts for what they need. The first player to collect a full set wins.

Raucous and fun. The deluxe version comes with it's own bell to signal the start of trading.
Poker: Ages 6+, 2 to any number of players

Playing for money is not a good habit, but a nice set of poker chips and some decks of cards is a great way to spend an evening. There are countless poker games, too.
Puerto Rico: Ages 10+, 3 to 5 players

Go is my favorite two-player game; this is my favorite multi-player game. I hadn't included it in previous years because I thought it might be too complex for the beginning player, but I think I've been underestimating people. I've seen new players pick it up and love it.

It's not easy to learn, but it's not that hard, either; it's just hard to master. A brilliant, brilliant game engine.
R-Eco: Ages 9+, 2 to 5 players

This is another short and sweet card game, with simple clever mechanics that leads to enjoyable but no stress game play. Easy to learn and easy to play.
Rummikub: Ages 7+, 2 to 4 players

A game of rummy, but a good one. And also playable with the grand-folks.
Scrabble: Ages 8+, 2 (or 2 to 4) players.

Scrabble purists will tell you that you should only play with 2 players and a Chess clock, but for casual purposes it can be played with up to four. It is The word game, and for a good reason.

My favorite way to play is to ditch the board and just play Anagrams: turn over tiles, and first to call a word gets it. A similar, recommended game is Bananagrams, where players race to create their own crossword boards.

The link is to a beautiful deluxe version of the game, but you can also find less expensive versions on Amazon.
Set: Ages 6+, 2 to 10 players

Those who don't have it won't enjoy it. For those who do, it hits just the right spot in the brain. All you have to do is call out matches when you see them, but the matches have to match or not match in all four characteristics.
Settlers of Catan: Ages 8+, 3 to 4 players

This is the perfect game for beginning adult gamers that I use to hook new players into my game group.

All you need to do is collect ten points through building settlements and cities, connecting roads, adding developments and trading with your fellow players. A unique board that changes each time you play, constant interaction even when it's not your turn, and a great balance of luck versus strategy makes this The Game to acquire if you still think that board games are only for kids.
Shadows Over Camelot: Ages 12+, 3 to 7 players

A cooperative game, this is no feel-good game of cooperation. The hordes of Saxons, Mordred, siege engines, and sinister knights are out to destroy Camelot, and you have to work together to save it. But lurking among the players is a traitor who wins if you all lose. Or is there?

Pretty components, albeit more complex than most of the games on this list. But it's easy for people to join and leave midgame.

Another recommended co-operative game that made a splash last year is Pandemic
Stratego: Ages 6 to 15, 2 players

By the time I was in my teens, I had outgrown this, but it remains a seminal game for early players, a great introductory war game with all the basic elements: strategy, tactics, and bluffing. Avoid the electronic ones; they break and they're noisy.
Ticket to Ride: Ages 8+, 2 to 5 players

Many of my fellow bloggers think that this, rather than Settler of Catan, is The Game. I disagree, but who am I to argue? New players will probably find this a great intro game, with lots of choices and great game play.

There are several editions of the game.
Time's Up: Ages 8+, 4 to 10 players

This consistently ranks as the number one party game on all of my fellow bloggers' lists. It's the number one ranked party game on Board Game Geek. Which says something.

It plays a lot like the parlor game Celebrities.
Uno: Ages 6 to 12, 2 to 8 players

This could be a child's second game, after Memory, and before moving on to real games. There's not much in the way of thinking involved, but its simple rules, portability, and quick play make it an ideal game for younger kids in almost any situation.

Just be sure to move up to better games when the kids are ready.
Wits And Wagers / Balderdash: Ages 8+, 4+ players

These are party trivia games where knowledge of trivia is not so important. The question is asked, and each player writes down an answer. These are revealed and players then bid on the answers they think are best. The winning answer, and the winning bids, all score points.

Wits and Wagers does this in the form of a poker game setting, while Balderdash requires you to make up funny possible answers. Both have won awards and acclaim as a generation better than you-know-which famous trivia game.
Zooloretto: Ages 8+, 2 to 5 players

Winner of dozens of recent awards, Zooloretto is a cute game for kids and decent game for adults. Simply take the animals as they are revealed from the deck and try to fit them into your zoo without overcrowding.

A few extra rules and some clever mechanisms makes the game enjoyable for all ages.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

G'mar Hatima Tova / Happy New Year

I will be offline until Saturday night Israeli time for Rosh Hashana.

So please have a meaningful hag, if you celebrate it. Here's this year's task: find a loved one, ask what he or she would really like to accomplish by the end of this year, and help him or her to do it.

Peace, baby,

Sunday, September 05, 2010

First Look at Indonesia

My good friends Bill and Shirley have returned to Israel for a few months, and they brought with them four things I asked them to bring to me from the US: the board game Indonesia, a box of random Magic card commons, an ICv2 magazine, and a cookie.

Indonesia is a well-regarded but expensive game. I bought it using a coupon code for Boards and Bits that I had received as a birthday present from a friend (thanks Abraham), combined with a (comparatively) low price for the game and free shipping offer from B&B.

Indonesia is a Splotter game. Splotter is a Netherlands game company that makes wildly imaginative, fantastic looking, fascinating games. Their games often feature revolutionary mechanics that are adapted and popularized by other companies for other games (which become more popular and successful). In the two other Splotter games that I've played, the games had a few mechanics that disn't work, or had a long playing time and a lot of bits, or had very non-intuitive game play. Indonesia is their second highest ranked game on BGG, and the highest rated one I have tried, so I have high hopes.

I experienced some initial buyer's remorse when I suddenly realized that I had bought a game that takes 3-4 hours to play. My game group doesn't do well with longer games. We never even managed to finish a game of Die Macher. What had I done? Could we ever finish a game of Indonesia?

Indonesia is a route building, pickup and delivery, and company acquisition game, combining aspects of Acquire and train games such as the 18xx series. We opened the game up to play a few sample turns, so that we would be ready for a complete game. I sat in for a few rounds (after which I had to leave) while the others played another round or two.

The rule book is a freaking mess, running on for dozens of pages of small print where a few pages of tighter language, ordered correctly, would have been much appreciated. The components are pretty enough, but I have yet to figure out how the boat colors and shapes make any sense. The map spaces aren't big enough for the items that need to go into them. None of this is enough of a problem to ruin the game (I'm looking at you, Railroad Tycoon).

As the rounds progressed, we began to make sense of the rules, and they were not all that complicated. It looks like a fine game. I don't know how long it will actually take.

Many times, longer popular games get reprinted in new editions that streamline their game play, making them more family oriented. E.g. Age of Steam to Stream, Lowenhertz to Domaine, etc. The first thing cut is the auction for turn order, which takes up a fair amount of time. There's added value having this auction, and losing it certainly removes a strategic element from the game; however, it is not really necessary. Removing that strategic element lets you focus on the other elements. That will probably be the first thing to go, if I want the game to be playable in my group. Some monetary adjustment may have to be worked in to accommodate that.

Otherwise, looking forward to trying a complete game.

As for the Magic cards, I was happy with the cards I got, mostly. I was promised, and received, no more than 4 of each card. But I would have been happier with no more than 2 of each card, or even 1 of each card. I like playing with new cards and their variety; I don't need them to build decks. So really, I only received about 350 new cards for my $20, which is still a decent deal.

As for the ICv2 magazine, I thought it would have a lot more, but it was just one or two dispensable articles and their industry top 10 tables that they eventually post online, anyway. Simple top ten tables without any further info (the rest of the games, how much the sales were, the sites reporting) is not much use.

As for the cookie, yum.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Session Report, in which Gili and I play some two-player games

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Mr Jack x 2, Netrunner.

Attendance will hopefully pick up again next week. My Netrunner cards are for trade or sale (listed on my BGG profile).

I played Scrabble with Rachel over the weekend and won by 100 points (JEEZ on a triple-word helped).