Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Session Report, in which Nadine wins a lot and we try 5 player Power Grid Benelux

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion Intrigue/Seaside, Power Grid - Benelux, Phoenicia, Bridge.

First play of Benelux. We inflict Phoenicia on some newbies.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Session Report, in which we play a close game of Age of Empires III

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Parade, Age of Empires III, Vegas Showdown, Bridge.

We had a nice, close game of Age of Empires III.

Earlier in the week, Rachel and I played Scrabble. Rachel was tired, but still beat me 322 to 314. She had only two scores in the 200s, jumping from 199 to 224 to 261 to 304.

Do You Need Game Expansions?

Some game expansions are worth buying, and some are not. Before buying, consider:

- How frequently you play the base game

The less frequently, the less you require an expansion.

- How often you have already played the base game

If you don't play the game frequently now because you're tired of it, but you played it to death when it first came out, an expansion might rekindle interest in the game.

- How rich is the game play experience of the base game?

A game that's already wildly imaginative and plays differently each time doesn't necessarily need an expansion.

- How much game play the expansion adds

The price should be proportional to the change in the game play.

- How disruptive the expansion is to the base game

Does it offer more options, or does it entirely change the game mechanisms? More options is good if you like the base game but need more to keep it stimulating. New and changed mechanisms means a new game, which you must want to choose to play in place of playing the base game.

All of these questions lead to the ultimate question: how often will this actually hit the table? My track record for expansions varies wildly:

Age of Steam, Power Grid, etc. (maps): Train and other connection games that don't come with a randomized board setup can use expansion maps. These don't hit the table often in my group, so a few expansion maps is sufficient for us. Beyond that is a waste.

Agricola: Agricola comes pre-packaged with expansions, including the various decks. It needs no further expansions. I have successfully avoided them.

Alea Treasure Chest: This is a box with small expansions for seven Alea games, of which I own six of them. We use to play a lot of Puerto Rico, and I created my own expansion buildings for it, so I was open to playing the Nobles expansion. It's good, and will probably come out again.

I haven't tried the other expansions yet, but I suspect we will get to them. We don't play the other games all that often, so I don't know how often the expansion will come out even if the base game does ... unless the expansion significantly improves the game. In which case we will no longer play the base game without the expansion.

Apples to Apples: If you play often, additional cards can be fun. However, A2A is designed well, so that you don't really need expansion cards. No two hands are the same.

Blue Moon: I didn't find the base game all that interesting. I didn't try the expansions, but I doubt that you can play the base game too often without them.

Carcassonne: The standalone games such as Hunters and Gatherers and The City don't need - and don't have - expansions (there's a very small tile expansion for H&G). The base game required some expansions to spruce up some imbalances in the scoring. I don't know much about them, however.

Chess: Changing anything in Chess means playing a different game; Chess is Chess. Chess means memorizing openings and very specific evaluation strategies. Any and all expansions to Chess are simply abstract games played on a Chess-like board with similar rules to Chess. I prefer the variants.

Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic was built to have expansions, since the game is designed to be wild and full of surprises. The more the merrier. However, I don't like several of the expansions, notably the ones that disrupt the game play (moons, variable hexes, ...).

Cuba: The designer sent me a few tile expansions to the game. I don't play frequently enough to judge these. They don't disrupt the game, but I wouldn't have gone out of my way to buy them, either.

Dominion: Dominion is already a fantastic game, and several of the expansions are fantastic, if slightly-less balanced. There comes a point, however, when you have enough already to make every game different; at that point, the only reason to buy expansions is for the same reason you buy packs of Magic cards: you want a particular card. Don't do it. Pick two expansions and no more.

I'm going to violate what I just said by buying Prosperity; however, I could easily give up Seaside.

El Grande: I tried the King and Intriguant variant several times. The concept wasn't inherently bad, but some of the cards were annoying, and wouldn't you know it, every player played on of those cards at least once a round. In the base game, those cards can only come up once or twice. So I banned those cards in the variant.

Turns out that we simple didn't play El Grande enough to warrant the expansion at all.

Homesteaders: An amazing game space which I haven't come close to exhausting. But I think there's room for a set of expansion buildings. Just one.

Magic: the Gathering: This game, as all TCGs, is built around the concept of expansions. Luckily, making some cards rare meant making other cards common, and thus worthless. You can pick up thousands of "worthless" cards for a song, after which you don't need any more expansions.

The Pillars of the Earth: I bought the expansion, and the group played it once. We don't play the game enough to warrant it. Actually, I've grown sour on the master building drawing mechanism, so, unless this expansion fixes that, I probably won't be playing it.

Power Grid (deck): Unlike the maps mentioned above, the deck provides variant plants to acquire during the game. While it did, it had hardly any noticeable effect on the game.

Puerto Rico: I've already created half a dozen expansions to this game, and they keep the game from going stale.

Setters of Catan: The expansions to this game were a mix of additional options (Seafarers) to disruptive (Cities and Knights). I like C&K, but it's a different game, which doesn't come out all that much anymore (we played it to death). I didn't think Seafarers was worth the money, after playing it once. The 5-6 player expansions made the game long and cumbersome.

What's the moral of this post? While the Tribune expansion looks tempting, I don't need it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Session Report, in which we play La Citta for 4 hours

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Nile, La Citta.

Yeah, four hours for La Citta. We enjoyed it, thought we also remembered its (non-fatal) flaws.

This shabbat we said farewell (again) to our friends Bill and Shirley who are going back to the US for a year. Nadine hosted 21 people for shabbat lunch, after which we played.

I taught Homesteaders to Cliff, Mace, and Adam. Still one of my favorite games. The final scores were me 63, Mace 43, Adam 41, Cliff 34 (or something like that), but the others still really liked the game. Though I won by a landslide, I still feel like I'm not playing anywhere near optimally. I took both 10 point buildings, though I took five debt to do so; I only managed to pay off two of those debt at the end of the game.

Other games played include Castle Panic, Race for the Galaxy, and Ticket to Ride.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Movie Reivews: Scott Pilgrim, Social Network, The American

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: This is probably the best movie of the year. It's utterly charming, original, captivating, stylish, quirky, and relevant. The acting, storyline, direction, effects, and production are all fantastic. The movie is quotable, sometimes hysterically so, from beginning to end.

The movie is a straightforward presentation of the graphic novel of the same name by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a 21 year old dating 17 year old Knives Chao but who sees - in his dreams and then in real life - a funky girl closer to his age named Ramona Flowers. To win Ramona, not only does he have to ditch Knives life a man, he has to fight Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends. In the movie and book, this is done physically in video game fashion; in both, this transparently represents the not-too-deep metaphor that people have to overcome past relationship crap before they can move into a healthy one.

The movie is not for everyone, just like The Breakfast Club was not for everyone; it's geared to a young generation, immersed in modern culture. It's not incredibly deep. But oh, man, is it entertaining.

Entering movie quotes legends: "We are Sex Bob-Omb and we are here to make you think about death and get sad and stuff."

The Social Network: For a movie about a hacker and the lawsuits he defends against after creating a successful website, the movie is surprisingly appealing and accessible to the general public. I suspect that hackers and their ilk will find that their sympathies lie more with the protagonist of the movie than do members of the general public.

I heard that the movie was a negative portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, but aside from social awkwardness and conning his friend and initial backer out of his rightful share of the company, Jesse Eisenberg's Mark is a hacker hero. The Winkelvoss's, Harvard students who ask Mark to create a website for them but provide him no code or design - just an idea - and yet end up extorting him out of $65 million when Mark "steals" their idea, raise no sympathies at all. Their claims, as seen in the film, appear to be entirely ludicrous. At best they should receive $650.00 for breach of contract, or something.

The story is told as flashbacks from the two lawsuits he faces. Acting and direction are good. Women don't have much of a role to play in the movie, other than as eye candy. The script takes you from the night that Mark creates a girl comparison site called Facemash to the night Facebook cracks 1,000,000 registered users.

Mostly I learned how big a role that Napster's Sean Parker played in Facebook's development. It was a fun movie, for Facebook fans.

The American: Like the last two George Clooney movies I've seen - Up in the Air and Michael Clayton - this movie is a straightforward drama without any high pretensions. All three felt short, like adaptations of short stories. All were well acted, tightly shot and directed, clean and cold. Clooney plays loners on the edge of society and barely cracks a smile in any of them; when he does, it's usually in response to irony.

In The American, Jack is a guy who can craft precise weapons, which he does for a nefarious contact. He tends to have a problem forming relationships, sometimes having to kill people who get close to him if he suspects that they are trying to kill him (which turns out to be the case, occasionally).

He wants out, and you know what that means. He's going to have trouble with his contact. A simple thriller, with good acting and direction, an appealing prostitute, and well done. And that's about it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

TEDx Talpiot

TEDx is a locally-organized conference based on, and with the blessing of, the TED project. TED's rules for TEDx are that the event not be for profit, not promote any political, national, or religious agenda, and that it stick to the premise of "ideas worth spreading".

TEDx Talpiot, held yesterday evening at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, was a successful and enjoyable event. Around 300 or so people heard six speakers and two musical interludes, all but one of which ranged from good to great. None of the speakers were as mind-blowing or jaw-dropping as the best lectures you can find on TED.com; but, after all, those are the best of the best, so that was to be expected.

The event was partially sponsored by ROI Community, which gathers Jewish innovators, and Leadel, which does the same.


The organization was good, especially considering that the event was free. I assume that the food was donated, as they had cookies, drinks, and a catered bagel meal for everyone. Sweet.

Every attendee had a personal QR code on the back of their name tag, which, when passed very carefully in front of a smart phone with the appropriate software from Mobalic.com, loaded the owner's information into the phone. These were harder to use than the software maker would have you believe; the phone and tag had to be held still and at just the right distance; not as good as RFID. But they worked.

The sound, lights, and projection had occasional snafu's. Nothing cataclysmic. Wifi didn't work inside the hall.

Everything started and finished on time, and the speakers stuck to their time frame, for the most part.

The Content

Read the abstracts

1. Eti Katz (he): Something about visual learning.

My Hebrew is not very good, so I had some trouble understanding Eti's talk, but it looked good.

Essentially, different children have different ways of understanding the world. We must teach them each according to their understanding. She presented pictures of people outlines with different, funky pictures in them, and went on to explain each case of a child and his or her relationship to it.

While interesting, I couldn't see anything remarkable about the content; then again, I may have missed it. The presentation was fine, but also unremarkable.

2. Zvia Agur (en): Virtual patients

This speech was allegedly about the development of a personalized, virtual patient, used to test the effectiveness of drugs on a patient before administrating a course. That would have been interesting on its own. However, this was covered only in the last few minutes of the speech.

What the speech was actually about was freakin' bizarre.

Zvia said that swings have frequencies, and that pushing harder doesn't make the swing go back and forth at a higher frequency, only at a faster speed and higher height. If you push at the same frequency, the swing swings higher; if you push against the frequency, the swing slows. So far, so good.

Then she dropped this one: A population's size has a frequency that can be contrasted against the frequency of disasters that befall it. If the frequencies match, the population thrives. Otherwise, the population falls. What????

From there, she went on to say that the same applies to cell growth in an organism. And that this mathematical frequency theory can be used to time the application of chemotherapy to the rhythm of healthy cell growth: the frequency matches the growth of healthy cells in the body, which means that the healthy cells will continue to grow well, but works against the frequency of cancer's cell growth, which means the cancer cells will suffer.

She said that her experiments have proved a double survival rate using this theory. But it was hard to get funding in an academic or medical institution due to skepticism. So she and some others have developed their own research company and pharmaceutical company to test and develop these.

In the process, they have developed a virtual cancer patient. They extracted information from a patient with aggressive cancer. They used their math to design the virtual patient. Used virtual treatment models to treat the virtual patient. Tripled frequency of one of the drugs. The patient improved for some time.

I had no idea where she was going, and she didn't back up what she was talking about, so disses to her confusing presentation. But the content was certainly fascinating.

3. [someone] Lipshitz

Played piano. Tchaikovsky

A fantastic piece played by a fantastic musician.

4. Prof Avshalom Elitzur (en): Beauty of Quantum Design

An introduction to quantum theory, concentrating on how the observer works.

Light = waves, but only when the photons are not observed closely. Talked about the Mach-Zehnder Interferometer. If you shoot photons one at a time, it works. But shoot the photons and observe them, it doesn't work!

An application: the Elitzur-Vaidman bomb testing experiment. Test a bomb without having to explode it.

Another weird thing: Two particles, one up and one down. Judge whether a particle is entangled with another gives you some yes and some no; but even when the particles not entangled, they are, by forcing them both to either be entangled or not.

I wasn't sure how much of this was revolutionary, but it was interesting. Presentation was ok. Most people didn't understand him, and he didn't present any compelling universal benefit for his research.

5. Dr. Oren Harman (en): Evolution of altruism

Where does kindness come from? Some animals appear to have evolved to behave to their own detriment. For instance, an antelope that jumps up and down when they see a lion, sacrificing themselves so that the rest of the herd can escape. Certain bees and amoeba. Etc.

Types of altruism:

- Nepotism: I.e. survival of the genes. W.D. Hamilton.
- Reciprocation: Which invokes game theory. Robert Trivers.
- Group selection: Group evolution sometimes trumps personal evolution. (several people)

What is the relationship between biological altruism (I lose something to give you something) vs psychological altruism (the intent matters). All still under research. Several false leads.

The story of George Price (Oren summarized the book he wrote about him). George ran away from his life and then published a seminal paper in Nature without any background in the field. Claimed that psych altruism is always selfish in nature. Then tried to argue against his own findings by being overly altruistic with his life, to prove that spirit triumphs biology. Failed and committed suicide.

An interesting but not revolutionary talk, very well presented.

6. emotiv - TED TV presentation

This was simply a video presentation of Tan Lee and her mental headset. Available on TED.

A great presentation, but I don't know why they showed it here.

7. Maurit Beeri (en): Fixing babies is more than medicine

Healthy babies today, and in the past, all develop at roughly the same pace. Modern technology doesn't make them grab or walk any faster. They don't need specialized playthings.

Kittens raised in darkness until five months never developed sight in the brain. More generally, developing children need many different stimulation, not a small set of the right ones.

Babies can survive adverse early conditions so long as they get love and stimulation eventually, but within a certain time window. Babies' early reflexes must be replaced by learned patterns to fill the same needs. Otherwise, if still young, they need pediatric rehabilitation and specialized playthings. If the window of opportunity is closed, they may never acquire the skills. A baby fed through a gastro tube may learn to eat if the tube is taken out before a certain age, but not after that.

It's not enough to fix physical problems without considering the neurological and psychological effects.

Interesting content, adequate presentation

8. Musical interlude

A dude played a Chabad melody on a saxophone. All of two or three minutes.

9. Joseph Dadoune (he): Film, architecture, desert.

A truly awful presentation by a likely talented artist who might have done some good work, but I couldn't sit still while he talked endlessly about himself. I heard from those who stayed until the end that it didn't get any better. He showed a picture of a house.

Overall, it was a great event, one that I hope will be repeated. I assume the videos of the presentations will make their way online, eventually.

Pictures From Sukkot Games Day

It's been a while since I've dumped my memory chip, I see...





Shachar and Mace

Mr. Jack

Mr. Jack: Jon and Michael

Agricola: Shachar, Mace, and Elijah

Homesteaders visits Agricola

Agricola: Shachar and Mace

Homesteaders: Jon and Oren



Homesteaders visits Agricola

Puerto Rico: Yardena and Mace

Puerto Rico: Mace, Rachel, and Oren

Antike: Shachar

Antike: Elijah and Michael

Antike: Shachar

Session Report, in which we play El Grande for 3.5 Hours and the New Player Wins

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Yinsh, El Grande, Puerto Rico with nobles expansion.

First play and thoughts for the Puerto Rico nobles expansion.


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Session Report, in which we try San Fransisco

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Dominion/Intrigue/Seaside, R-Eco, Settlers of Catan, Tigris and Euphrates, Mr. Jack, San Fransisco.

We get T&E on the table after an absence, and we try San Fransisco for the first time, with some trepidation.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Guest post: 7 Tips For Improving Your Chess Game

The following is a guest post:

Chess is not your typical board game, as not much is left to chance except maybe when your opponent "chances" to do something stupid. Becoming a skilled player involves an ability to devise a strategy (with adequate back-up plans) and some capacity for anticipating your opponent's next moves. The more you play and study the tactics of skilled players, the better you will become at developing your own unique strategies. A few best practices, however, are well-known and can be applied by any amateur player who wishes to take steps to improve their game.

1.) Don't underestimate the power of your pawns. These little guys are a great protective measure for your king, and work great in chains for organizing an attack. However, they're close to worthless when they're isolated from each other on the board or if a chain of them is blocking powerful players, like your bishops and rooks. It's usually a good practice to build inverted V chains of pawns rather than going for V-shaped chains, which are weaker. Try to maintain the pawns in the middle of the board, while remembering to open up chains for your power players.

2.) Get your knights in the middle when the board is still crowded so they can wreak more havoc against your opponent. Too many novice players leave their knights close to the sidelines where they have a more limited range of motion from which to make their L-shaped attack.

3.) Remember that bishops and rooks are much more useful in an endgame scenario than a knight or a pawn because they can cross vast distances if need be on the open board. If you're forced to sacrifice a knight or a bishop early into a game, sacrifice a knight.

4.) Don't take the queen too far out too soon. She may pack a punch, but she's also your most valuable asset.

5.) Castle your king early. This will help protect you from an early checkmate.

6.) Attack invisibly. In other words, your opponent is more likely to anticipate an attack from the piece you move. Attacking invisibly often means you move a piece merely to free up another of your pieces to attack on the next move. Your opponent is less likely to organize a defense for the invisible attack and you are more likely to capture the piece you're after.

7.) Sometimes offense is the best defense. When you're cornered and a piece of yours is about to be taken, see if you can position yourself to capture a more valuable piece from your opponent. Your opponent will then face the decision of whether to rescue his or her own piece or proceed to take your piece as originally planned.

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of college courses. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.

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