Friday, December 30, 2011

Jerusalem Session Report and wishes for 2012

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

I had a difficult and tumultuous 2011, with a few bright spots. I hope you all had an easier and happier year, and I wish you all a happy, memorable, and peaceful 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

True Hearing

A non-gamer hesitating on his first turn in a simple filler game with me recently made the following comment: I don't like not knowing what to play.

The very act of calculation against the unknown possibilities was not fun for him. I wanted to explain that decision-making was the definition of fun; I had to fight myself to listen to what he was actually saying: I don't find this fun. It was a difficult, but important, struggle. I think of decision making as the heart of a game and the heart of the fun. This is not the case for everyone.

Some people don't enjoy games, period. Some enjoy the company. Some like to watch what happens, and may even be excited about the game as it happens; they just don't want to guess. Let them pick a card or tell them to roll the dice. Give them a skill to perform or all the information they need for a quick calculation, but don't force them do math or memory or decide whether or not to buy something with a hidden value.

We need to listen to our gamers, just like we need to listen to our children or our parents when they tell us something. We can't just think that they're not seeing it the right way.

Raanana Session Report

Participants: Laurie, Daniel, Ellis, Jon, Rochelle

I arrived as Laurie set up a filler game Piece o Cake for Ellis, Laurie, and me to play. This was the first play for all of us. It's a simple food-themed game of set collection with a divide and offer mechanic. There are five piles of cards.

Cards are worth a small number of points if they are "consumed" as soon as they are acquired, or nothing if not consumed; if, however, you have the most in a set of unconsumed cards, you gain a larger number of points. For instance, a cherry pie slice may be worth 7 points for having the most unconsumed slices at the end of the game (it doesn't matter how many of them you have, so long as you have the most), or they may be worth 2 points each if you simply consumed them. Note that if you will acquire all the cherry pie slices during the game, your best move it to consume all but one of them: the 6 slices will then be worth 2 points each consumed, and the remaining slice will be worth 7 points as the majority holder of unconsumed slices.

On each turn, someone opens a stack of 11 cards and arranges them into a circle without changing their order. The player then divides the cards into groups by the number of players; the division must not rearrange any of the arcs, but the division does not have to have an equal number of cards in each circle. Players then, in turn, select a group and consumes or not each of the cards in the group. Repeat for 5 turns. Score.

On turn three I had essentially reduced the game to its math, including how many points I was wasting trying to maintain majorities and how many slices were left in the deck so as to determine whether I really needed to keep one more slice unconsumed. Even with tracking, the game still holds interest, since you don't know the order in which the cards will turn up or how the other players will divide them. Ellis consumed nearly all of his slices. I squeaked out a win by 1 point over Laurie.

I then taught Rochelle, Ellis, Laurie, and Daniel how to play Amun Re. Of course, I changed the theme of stage four, and also changed the power card that lets you correct the offering value. In the latter case, I let players decide to use these cards after seeing the results of the offering and also to act in collusion. Even with these boosts, the cards were used only once to boost the offering from level 3 to 4.

I won the money war in the first half, and I was tied for the lead in points. I messed up round four by not buying the best province, ceding it to Daniel instead. I spent a lot of money to build my pyramids in the second half. On the last round, I wasn't able to complete four complete pyramid sets by a few gold. In fact, completing the sets lost me so much gold that I received no bonus points for money at the end. Meanwhile, Ellis solidified his points in the second half. On the last round, his bribe bonus was two power cards, both of which gave him extra money from the harvest, which was enough to bump his money holdings to first place. He was five points behind me in scoring, and then he took his six point bonus for money and ended the game one point ahead of me.

Daniel ended one point ahead of Laurie, about 8 points behind Ellis and me. Rochelle brought up the rear. The game took just shy of three hours to teach and play.

P.S. The JSGC had a game day on Hanukkah.  Games played: Highland Clans, El Grande, Egizia, Princes of Florence, Louis XIV, Year of the Dragon.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

38 Years of Bridge With These Guys

I stopped in for a quick dinner at my brother's house, attended also by my other brother's family and my mother (and my son).

I've been playing Bridge with my brothers and mother for 38 years now. It's surprising how poor I am at the game (well, mediocre, actually) after all this time, especially since the skills I learned from Bridge help me to do fairly well at most other games. Still, it's nice that we're still playing together after 38 years.

As far as holidays goes, Hanukkah is a pretty nice one' hope you're having a nice one if you celebrate it. Merry Christmas to the rest of you.

Some Hanukkah vids:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Guests or Not

Bill and Shirley came for shabbat, bringing decadent donuts from Roladin. These are donuts with fillings, icings, decorations, and even little syringe tubes with more filling that you can inject into your pastry moments before ingesting them. Over the top, but tasty.

Rochelle came over for lunch. After lunch, we all played Tichu. I taught them, we played two hands, and I won both hands. Then I taught them Apples to Apples, which I also won. Then I taught them For Sale, which I also won. Really, guys, I don't win every game I play, it was an accident. I tried throwing Apples to Apples rounds by playing cards that couldn't possibly get picked, but they started going for ironic or ridiculous choices and picked my cards anyway. It's hard to throw a game of Apples to Apples.

Anyhoo, after shabbat my guests left and I prepared for a small party I was throwing, my first in Raanana. I had sent invitations to everyone I currently know in the area (and some I don't). The only replies I got were from people who were not coming. I heard tell of three people who might come, and some people said that they might try to drop by toward the end.

Only one person (other than my kids) came. We talked a little and I showed him my Hanukkah Jeopardy game for this year. And these were probably among the best latkes I ever made, and some pretty good brownies, too. More for me, I guess.

Huh, I think there's something wrong with my belt.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I Had a Busy Weekend

First off, last week's Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club's session report is up, in which they play Train of Thought too seriously.

Thursday evening was my my only niece's bat-mitzvah. I picked up my kids and we drove out to the boondocks to their little community of Kochav Hashachar. The bat mitzvah was small but nice. Sis-in-law gave a heartfelt speech. Niece read a nice dvar torah (written in part or more by other sis-in-law).

Saarya, Tal, and me; pic by sis-in-law
After the bat-mitzvah, I slept in Jerusalem. Friday morning I was supposed to meet someone, but she cancelled. I found myself with some free time in Talipot right next to the wedding of a Facebook friend, a wedding I didn't think I would be around for. I dropped in to say hi and stayed to see the reception.

Friday evening I went to my old Carlebach shul and said hi to half the community that I had left when I moved to Raanana. Nadine joined me at my mom's house for dinner. After dinner, I read the first two chapters of Another Fine Myth to Tal, whereupon she finished the rest of the book. Classic.

Sat I went to the other shul I used to frequent and said hi to the other half of the community. Lunch was at Nadine's with the games gang and sundry: Nadine, me and Tal, Bill and Shirley (visiting from the US), Eitan and Emily, Shani and Shachar, Adam, and some moms. After lunch, a couple played Glen More, a group played Small World Underground, and I taught Shirley, Adam, and Nadine to play Inca Empire.

I hoped IE wouldn't take more than two hours, just like the people playing SWU hoped it would be a short game. Each of them took about 3.5 hours. I won IE with some major road playing at the end (I was forced to do this, since I was low in workers, but I was receiving a number of bonus roads from the played cards). I netted a good 20 or so points from this.

Nadine looked like she was winning for most of the third age, having played the card that let her (and only her) net 7 points a round from one of the temple/cities. But in the end she only ended the third age a few points ahead of me, and my board was stronger.

Adam suffered greatly from the loss of many roads in undiscovered areas (I warned everyone, and most of us (including me) lost a bunch of roads to this card several times). Shirley was pretty close to Nadine's position.

Sat night I went to see a showing of The Golem, the 1920 movie, playing alongside a live trio playing musical accompaniment to the silent film. The Golem is a good movie from a historical perspective, much in the way that a talented five year old can produce something quite enjoyable to look at, but not really be in the caliber of something objectively good.

The acting and direction is beyond bad; it's that stereotype of old silent films that is so weird that you wonder if the actors on film are actually Martians. They exhibit emotions and make movements that I've never seen any humans make in real life. What were they thinking? This was probably the height of good acting and directing in its day, and it looks ridiculous (I will mention in contrast that Charlie Chaplin films hold up quite well, even today). I was trying not to laugh out loud during the smoldering romantic or hysterical wailing scenes.

The story is well formed, though entirely straightforward and unsubtle. The cuts are kind of erratic, and, of course, they knew little about smart camera work or sensible lighting. It's supposed to be a horror movie, but it's not scary in the least. Except for its insulting portrayal of Jews.

And why is everyone, even the romantic leads, so ugly?

The live music was nice, though a few parts were kind of loud. The musicians are brilliant players; I prefer to simply hear them play their music without them having to sync it to a movie.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Raanana Session Report, in which I play Settlers with two Rochelles

Participants: Laurie, Daniel, Jon, Ellis, Rochelle, Rochelle 2

Game night at Laurie and Daniel's as usual. Rochelle 2 is a friend of mine who was willing to try something new; she has no previous experience with games as an adult.


Jon 27, Laurie 11, Ellis 10, Daniel 6

Scores approximate. I brought over my box of four Dominion games and selected a random assortment from all of them.

Kingdoms: Market, Great Hall, Masquerade, Swindler, Ironworks, Sea Hag, Tactician, Bishop, Bank, Expand. No Platinum or Colony.

This is the first play for any Dominion expansions by the others. Actually, they're all still in single digit plays for Dominion altogether. Turns are still kind of slow going. There was a lot of trashing, of course. Swindler has the side effect of causing piles of cards to disappear rather quickly, which is why the game ended up with three piles gone, rather than the usual Provinces. I managed to nab three Provinces before the game ended, all by using Tactician.

An interesting combo was Ironworks to take Great Hall, which gave two out of the three bonuses with no drawbacks. Swindler also handed out a lot of curses, mostly to Daniel.

Settlers of Catan

Jon 10, Rochelle 7, Rochelle 2 5

Rochelle had played this once before but had forgotten many of the rules. So it was essentially a first play for both of them. They both picked it up without much difficulty. The resource distribution was pretty even, and so were the dice rolls. No one had to toss out cards from a roll of 7.

Rochelle took Longest Road fairly early. She also acquired a port mid-game, but it wasn't one she could use. Rochelle 2 built a few settlements and was often one road away from taking Longest Road from Rochelle, though she never threatened to do so. Luck was against her, and she often rolled up a resource right after she had traded for it.

I built an early settlement and then city on the ore, and then city on the brick. I had a port for brick and used it nicely. I ended the game with my ninth board point and a revealed development victory point.

Race for the Galaxy

Ellis, Daniel, Laurie

I didn't see how the game (or games) went. They actually play with an expension or two thrown in, though I don't know which.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Irresistable Plea

A game company is asking - begging - me to change their game to make it better. To add some "zazz". They're offering me (a currently unspecified amount of) money to do so.

It's a children's educational game. The thing is that the game is actually already pretty good. Yeah, it's roll and move with parent/child discussions about the topic interrupting the game flow, but it has nice components, a decent flow, quick turns, catch-up mechanisms, some clever collection mechanics, and engaging ideas. The topic is interesting and universal. In fact, there are three games in the box, and at least one of them (what appears to be the throwaway third game played only with the game cards) looks like a lot of fun, even for grown up game geeks like me.

The game has already won several industry awards and recommendations (some of these are handed out just for showing up, I think) and garnered good reviews from players and educational professionals alike. Of course I can throw some modern game ideas at them, but I am constrained by being not allowed to change the board or cards, only the rules.

I'm not sure what I can do for them, but I'm thinking it over. Even with the constraints there is a lot to work with.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Growly in the Garden

For lunch I had a guy and his three kids (ages 14, 9 and 7) and a single woman. The guy and kids (and his wife, who couldn't come) are homeschoolers and game lovers. They are hoping to have me over some time to play Settlers with them 4-player. The 14 year old was suitably impressed with the game collection and took some time to look through some of my Magic cards.

After lunch, I taught them Pit. The woman (who is not really a gamer) didn't care for it, and the youngest one had some trouble with it (actually, all of them kept forgetting that you couldn't pass the bear alone). But the others really liked it.

The family then taught me a game that they had brought over, A Growly in the Garden. It's a cooperative kid's game with some interesting risk calculation. There is a 4x4 grid you have to fill with flowers (tiles), and a ring of spaces for tiles around the grid. You gradually flip tiles, and must place them as they appear. Some of the tiles are growlies who eat flowers in a row or column, unless they are scared away by scarecrows or get the special item they need to go back to bed. Your job is not only to preserve as many of your flowers as you can, but also have the growlies get their items without going away sad. I told them that I thought it had a subtle ecological theme.

Like most coops, it's easy for one player to dominate with his suggestions to the other players. Unlike most co-ops, or any games, for that matter, there is no clear win or loss at the end, only a final score.

As kid's games go, it's pretty good. Still, I wish there had been some more tension. Co-op games have become more interesting since Dr Knizia tinkered with them, and there's no reason that kid's games can't adopt a bit more of that interest.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Raanana Session Report, in which I teach Agricola

Participants: Laurie, Jon, Daniel, Rochelle

Ellis was in the middle of moving. He should be back next week.

Race for the Galaxy

Laurie 40, Jon 38

I arrived early and Laurie chose this as a two-player game for us. We played with no specific two-player rules, just one role each round.

I picked too many 6 point cards early on and had to toss most of them out. Still, I didn't fare too badly. I played the 6 pointer that makes other developments cost 2 less early on, and then I mistaken played a development which I thought gave me another 2 discount on further developments, but I noticed later that it gave 2 discount on worlds, not developments. That put a kink in my plans.

Laurie meanwhile started taking victory points early and ended the game when I only had 9 buildings out. My second mistake was not to realize that this was going to happen and to build in what was sure to be the last round, instead of uselessly produce. Really, the only thing that bothers me about this game is the way that it suddenly ends and the way one player can rush the ending out under another. I would like the game a lot more if it simply went 12 rounds or something.


Daniel 34, Jon 29, Laurie 26, Rochelle 23

We started the explanation for this at around 8:30 and finished the game at just before 12. It's an odd game in that it has a lot to explain, and even during the game there is a sense of being overwhelmed, but the basic flow is easy to grasp. This is in contrast to other games that are difficult to explain but not overwhelming once the game is in play, like Princes of Florence, or remain overwhelming and also hard to understand the flow, like Puerto Rico.

Daniel insisted that we draw and keep our fourteen cards, rather than do something to ameliorate the luck factor, since it would only do to help the newer players. In fact, I drew reasonably well; nobody had any real game killers.

I played unusually with a lot of occupations and minor improvements, all of which helped me get points but not food. I didn't have a good food engine and so occasionally had to scramble for food at the last moment. I played a card early on that gave me four wood but also gave any player who ended the game without any negative points a five point bonus. That seems like overkill, since the person who has no negative points is typically winning anyway. I often end the game with no negative points, so I thought it couldn't hurt me.

Unfortunately, in the last two rounds when I needed at least one of the Plow actions (I had an improvement that let me plow three fields, rather than one), both were taken before I could get them. Not only did this leave me with negative spaces, it also left me scrambling for food, lacking points in the food items (I was also going to plow them, and no one else could effectively plow), and forced me to give up several other items since I had to use my actions elsewhere. It represented at least a 10 point loss for me.

Laurie also experienced people blocking what she needed on various occasions. She finally took the Start Player action, but didn't feel like it did much for her. Daniel is the only one who finished with no negative points, and the five points he got from my occupation card handed him the clear victory.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Raanana and Jerusalem Sessions Report


Participants: Daniel, Laurie, Ellis, Peleg, Tal, Jon

Back in the group for the first time in a few weeks. The games are currently held at Laurie and Daniel's house, so that they don't need to get a babysitter.

Finca: This game was set up and being explained as I arrived. Tal's eyes were glazed over, so I took her place. Daniel and Laurie played as a team.

Like the first time I played it, the game feels pastoral and mathematical, despite the pretty board and nice wooden fruit bits over which Laurie sat adoring. I don't mind it - not very high praise, but not damning either - and the calculations aren't that great, unless you want to start calculating what each of your opponents plans to do, which you really should but which I couldn't be bothered. As a result, I lost out on my final delivery.

Daniel and Laurie played slowly, but they also won by over 20 points. I came in last (actually Peleg left mid-game).

Dominion: We played with cards from the base set only, and it wasn't an inspiring set: Moat, Workshop, Bureaucrat, Gardens, Remodel, Thief, Laboratory, Library, Mine, Witch.

Actually, a Thief/Workshop/Gardens combo might have done well. But note that there are no extra buys and only Laboratory gave an extra action, and that only one. I played with the most Labs, with Moats, Gardens, and Remodels. I won by some 6 points over second. Ellis did poorly; I think he needs to play it more.


Participants: Gili, Eitan, Jon, Estzer

My first play at the JSGC in quite some time, I just happened to have to be in Jerusalem on Wed evening. Knowing that Estzer cane from Hungary, I brought her a game that I received from someone while I was in Hungary but which contains no English instructions. I hope she will be able to translate the rules for me (BGG has been no help in this regard).

Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix: I had played this at the Dallas games group on the night before my first BGG.con, and had been interested in picking it up ever since. It's rare to find a mid-weight strategy game that works well for up to six. It worked fine with four, too.

I read the rules briefly, but messed up a few of the rules, without any detriment to the game. For one thing, I allowed people to move cars in any order, rather than in the order listed on the card. This provided more, rather than less decision making, so I don't think it was a bad thing, but also made more cards more useful. I also allowed people to immediately play a movement card together with a switch card and had the switch card expire right before their next turn. Apparently this is a good thing, as none of us would have been willing to sacrifice a turn to play a switch card, otherwise.

I also had the last round give a double payout, bit Eitan (who was leading before the last round) objected to this after the fact, since it makes a lucky swing of events in the last round too punishing.

Our biggest objection to the game was that people whose car had already finished (and sometimes even those whose cars had not finished) had too much kingmaking power on the final results. In the case of players whose cars have all finished, I could solve this by having them play their cards randomly and the cars moved in the order on the card (which is how the game is supposed to be played). However, this doesn't address all kingmaking situations. It remains a flaw in the game, perhaps a small flaw if you go into the game accounting for this.

Otherwise, we all enjoyed the game experience, though I lost very badly. Gili won.

Hearts: I wanted to teach Team Hearts, but it turns out that Estzer hadn't even played Hearts, so it was enough for her to learn just the rules for the regular game. We played two hands; in the second hand we played with teams, but didn't use any particular passing conventions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 19-20: A Round of Applause

Sunday morning my friends dropped me at the Westin and began their trip back to KC.


I wandered around the gaming area looking for something short to play and finally joined a game of Pax. Pax is a short card game about contesting Rome. It's a set collection game with one of two objects. If, between all players, at least one player beats the board in at least four of the seven categories, then each player scores the points on their board and the player with the most points wins. Otherwise, players score only the points in one category (intrigue) and the player with the most points wins.

They call it semi-cooperative, but it's not really. I didn't understand all the rules until the end of the short game, so I didn't fare too well. It's not a bad filler, from what I could tell. I need to try it again to see if there's anything to the game.

BGG.con was very enjoyable and, as usual, amazingly well run. I and my friends all had a great time. I end up playing less games than it would seem time would allow, but more than it would seem possible. I meet many other gamers, people who know games and aren't puzzled or confused as to why I play them or how to play them. But mostly, I simply meet nice people, people whose work I admire and/or the occasional fan of my own blog or games.


I caught the 10:00 am shuttle to DFW. People on the shuttle discussed games they played. At the airport waiting for the flight to Toronto they discussed games they played.

I saw a redhead in line, and asked her if she was Jewish, divorced, around 40, and hoping to live in Israel, just to be sure I didn't miss my last opportunity to find one on my trip, but no such luck. While waiting for the flight, I heard a sustained thunder of applause that continued for ten minutes; it was a group of American soldiers returning on some flight, I assume from Iraq.

I watched Unknown, a thrilled about a man in Germany whose life is suddenly co-opted by someone else (even his wife appears not to know him) and his struggle to figure out what's happening. It was ok, well acted, and January Jones is always a pleasure (though she doesn't have much to do). Similar to The Bourne Identity series, but a little less so; doesn't add anything new, anyway.

Bought some Canadian Club in Toronto, used the free wi-fi, and then flew to Israel. I watched Bad Teacher. No one to root for and not funny enough. She supposedly undergoes a little personal growth by the end of the movie, but it was hard to see when that happened. I watched Hannah. It was quite good, with good attention paid to the cinematography, something they sometimes forget about in American made movies. Well acted, it's at or near the top of the pile for assassin movies.

I also watched some Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory. I didn't sleep much. In all, I was awake from Sunday morning 6:00 am Dallas time until Monday evening 8:00 pm Israeli time, with about an hour of dozing on the plane.

All my kosher food was in place on all my flights, and I experienced no delays.

The Haul

Games I hauled back include Navegador and Inca Empire (secret santa gifts sent to my hotel), Troyes (bought with box damage from Z-Man), Innovation, Amun Re, Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix, El Capitain (these four acquired through the virtual flea market), Highland Clans (aka Mac Robber), Train of Thought (these two from registration), some Magic cards, and one other game which I'm forgetting right now.

I return to massive amounts of cleaning, bill sorting, and all the other mundane tasks of life, jetlagged and still a little sick from my chill in Ireland. The trouble with vacations is that they come to an end.

Nadine blogs

Nadine has blogged the trip as well here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 18: Shabbat in Dallas


Shabbat was with my friend David. He made a vegetarian meal for us (pizza, with a tofu one for me). Friday night we also went to a "tish" reception for a visiting rabbi. Many of the other synagogue members were away for another member's wedding (or something), so it was a low-key reception.

At the tish the ewish geography was thick. I think there comes a point in Jewish geography when it's just a way of turning the conversation back to yourself. "I went to Cornell and ..." "(interrupting) Oh! I have a cousin who went to Cornell!"

Lunch and several shiurim at the synagogue, and I still felt sick, so I slept for nearly the rest of shabbat. We packed up and raced back to BGG.con with the expectation that I was supposed to finish up the scoring and present the award for Spare Squares.

Back at the Con

Like my arrival on Tuesday, everything was already done by the time I got back. Participation in the game was good (over 50 submissions). Most of the entries were in track A, which had 12 perfect scores. The rest were in the other tracks, each of which had a single winner. Owing to wanting to get through the awards ceremony as quickly as possible, Aldie simply announced the winners. I didn't get to tell a joke I had prepared for the announcements.

Still, I shook hands with the winners and heard some good things about the game, which appeared (despite the color problem) to have gone fairly well.

After this, I finally got in touch with the remaining people who were selling me used games.

Nadine and I played a game of Agricola with Jim Ginn and Chris Brooks. Jim played some amazing food production cards, but didn't follow through with the rest of the goods (animals, farm spaces, etc). Nadine didn't seem to move anywhere, except for her clay house. Chris did well with animals and house, etc, but I managed to squeak a 2 point victory over him in the end.

It was a good game, especially the company. Chris and Jim are just two of the nicest people I know.

We left early to go back to the hotel room, eat some kosher frozen dinners, repack for tomorrow, and sleep.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Day 17: Half-Day, Actually

We are leaving in a moment from the Westin hotel to go to my friend David for shabbat.

This morning I played:

- A game called "Goblin Market" using a special deck of cards called Decktet. The cards each have two or three suits out of six them, and the numbers go from 1 to 10. The game was a simple auction game, where your score is the number of suits symbols you have in three suits minus the number you have in the other three. You gain money in a couple of ways during the bidding. I enjoyed it, though I realized mid-game that it was going to be hard for anyone to get more than 5 or 6 points, and that the maximum score was 14.

- Inca Empire: On my wish list, and I've always wanted to try it. It took a lot longer than I expected it would, or maybe it only felt that way, but it was still a very good solid game of route connection and resource management (with a punish the leader catch up system that works well). I thought that one of the rounds could have been eliminated.

I'm having a tough time finding the people I am selling games to/buying games from, but I'm down to only two left. They don't answer their phones. Hopefully I will find them on Sat night.

Ok. Shabbat shalom.


Day 16: Many New Games

Games Played

Belfort: A worker placement, area control game by Tasty Minstrel Games. with a fantasy city building game. Actually, the only fantasy element is that you have elves, dwarfs, and gnomes as workers, instead of humans with specialties. The artwork is pretty but very busy, making the game appear to be FFG level complex when it's really straightforward worker placement.

Place guys to earn money, resources, more guys, or bonuses, including private worker placement locations. use resources to buy buildings in the five areas. Reward control in the areas after rounds 3, 5, and 7. Works fine, but nothing new.

Nefarious: Another game by Donald Vaccarino, designer of Dominion. Yesterday's other new game by him (Kingdom Builders) was pleasant enough spacial manipulation, but not really special imho. This one is better.

It's a bare distilled Race For the Galaxy/7 Wonders with a very light invention theme. The game is nothing but cards. Each round, all players select one of four roles to play and reveal. Each player ears money for the roles selected by his neighbors if he has assigned meeples to that role on his board. Then the players do the roles in number order. 1) assign meeples to roles. 2) pay money to play invention cards. These give points and usually a benefit like earn or lose cards or money. 3) take 2 coins and an invention card. 4) take four coins.

Repeat until someone has 20 points. One more thing: each game, two random special rules (out of 30 or so) that modify the game are revealed at the beginning of the game. That's it.

It was quick (20-30 minutes normally), challenging, and essentially perfect. However, in our game we drew the absolute worst two special rule combination possible (I checked afterwards, and I'm not exaggerating). After every invention was played, everyone other than the one who played the invention lost all of his or her money. It made for some frustration, but some humor as well. Plays for up to five, I think. Unfortunately, FunAgain was charging $60 for this card game, which was way too much.

Tanto Cuore: Nearly an exact clone of Dominion, except it's from Japan, so the game is themed about hiring maids with various skimpy outfits (nothing too salacious). It was being demoed by a girl wearing a skimpy outfit, too; she must have been freezing in the hall. The cards were unique to the game, at least, and there were a few minor rule twists, but nothing that changed it from being Dominion.

Meltdown 2020: A "rescue all your guys from the board" game, usually seen in a fire or volcano themed game. This one had hexes with scattered nuclear plants, which melted down. The more they melted, the more damage they did to neighboring citizens. Each citizen could take three cumulative points until dead. You had three vehicles of various sizes and capacity to rescue them. And the entire game ended if the plants hit a certain level.

It's a light filler route planning game, although I expect it's marketed and priced as a full meaty game. It was good. Didn't inspire me to buy it, but I'd happily play it.

7 Wonders: I joined yet another game, and played straight blue again. This time I was entirely straight blue, earning 15 points from my wonders, 37 points from blue, and -5 from military. That was it. I came in third with 47. The two winners each has 53.

Walnut Grove: By Lookout Games. This is a meaty western themed town and farm game. It was late, so I don't feel I gave it my all. There are eight rounds (years) to the game. Each year has four seasons: pick farm tiles and add to your farm, allocate workers to produce goods on the farm (one good for every contiguous tile in an area), move your guy in the large town rondel to buy stuff with your goods or buy more goods (worker placement, pay money every once in a while), pay your farm hands in food and heat.

It's a tough system, and you're (at least I was) constantly struggling for food and heat, making progress very difficult. There are many avenues for victory points, most of which I never had time to explore.

If you enjoy the Alea games, this will fit in nicely; if you don't, you'll probably be tired of games with pastoral themes and pushing cubes about. I'm happy to play again until I can get a handle on the game, at least.

Indian Food

For lunch, my friends and I went to Dallas to the one of three kosher eateries in Dallas, the Madras Pavilion. It's veggie Indian, authentic enough that most of the people eating there were Indian rather than visibly Jewish. It was also pretty spicy but good (better than my constant stream of cold cuts and peanut butter, anyway).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 15: Games and People

I woke up early and slipped out to BGG.con at 7:00. The lines were just starting for registration that officially opened at . I parked my games and lunch on line and promptly left the line to go volunteer. For the next two hours I unpacked boxes, shelved games, and broke down boxes.

A number of others also volunteered, and all of us received our registration and goodies early. I left my stuff on the registration line anyway, so that Bill and Shirley could take it when they arrived (which they did at around 9:50). I didn't have a place held for Nadine, so she took a longer time to get through registration.

Nicer than all the games was seeing so many people again and having so many people come up to me to say that they know me from wherever.

What I Played

Agricola: I started with a game I already knew. The other three also knew the game already. Everyone was convinced that my RHO was going to trounce the rest of us, and he definitely had a huge improvements advantage. However, he also had no fields and 7 empty farm spaces. He came in third with 43 points. I won 47 to 46 over second place, also with a hefty improvement bonus.

Kingdom Builder: A new game from Queen by the designer of Dominion, this is a simple settlement/route creation abstract on a multi-terrained map. Think Through the Desert meets Taluva, perhaps. You place three guys on the selected terrain every round, but you always have to place your guys near your already existing guys if you can. You can earn special actions that let you split your settlement areas into multiple areas.

The trick is to find ways to split your territories and leave yourself with the flexibility of where to put your pieces each round to score best. Scoring is similar to TtD, but three special scoring optiona are available each round.

I thought it was good, but nothing special. The people I played with liked it more than I did. We had misinterpreted one of the special scoring cards, and so some of us were going for one type of area control while others were going for a different type; as a result, we weren't really playing the same game. I definitely won using one interpretation, but probably would have one with the other type as well.

The Manhattan Project: A new game from Minion Games (we played on a game that was half actual and half prototype components. It's a worker placement game of building atomic and plutonium bomb. The story was the same as it was for Kingdom Builder: I thought it was ok, the other players liked it more. There was an odd mechanic of getting your workers back and then spending them all in one turn on your buildings.

And once again it ended partially unresolved. I saved up and won the game with two bombs, only to discover that I only had 48 points, not the 50 needed. I easily had those other two points by taking an action on my previous turn, bit I didn't bother to take the action because I thought I had counted to 51. The others decided to give me the game, even though I was willing to continue, without rewarding my stupidity.

7 Wonders: Joined a game with 2 other experienced players and 2 newbies. I produced almost no goods and came second: Scores 55, 50 (me), 48, 43, 40.

Tichu: I wanted something short, so Rick Thornquist agreed to partner with me and we found two other players (Aaron and Sean). This was the shortest and most insane Tichu game I ever player. In half an hour - five hand - we lost 1000+ to less than zero. Our opponents bid and made three grand tichus. On on hand, opp opened a ten card straight that included a five card straight bomb. I bombed it with four jacks, opener bombed with four aces, and my partner bombed the aces with a straight flush. And they still succeeded with the grand tichu.

Crokinole: Jim Ginn and I played a game. We traded scores back and forth for a while, and then it took me four or five rounds, 5 points at a time, to finally win.

It's Alive: I taught this to some people. I lost; LHO won with the five point bonus.

Tobago: I stopped to teach this to three others, including the rep from Mayfair. I won, entirely due to my experience with amulets. We played with the curses, but said never again (with the original curse rules, anyway.

Nadine's Plays

Nadine played K2, Power Grid Sparks, Coney Island, Flashpoint, and Niagara. Bill and Shirley spent the entire day playing a single war game with each other.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Day 14: A Long Drive, A Welcome Return

We woke early for our nine and a half hour drive from Kansas City to Dallas (actually, Irving). We miraculously fit everything in the car (including all of our food and snacks until Sunday). We drove south the entire way on I-35.

Kansas was flat and dull.

Oklahoma turned into some pretty territory after we passed Oklahoma City.

We didn't see much of Texas between the state line and Irving, but it was all steakhouses and other urban sprawl.


We arrived, unpacked, and walked over to the Westin. It was a heady, joyful feeling to be walking into a conference where I know I will have a great time, where a few people know me, and where I have a new game ready for people to enjoy.

I went straight to the administrative area, said hi to some good friends and the BGG admins and took a peek at the game cards for Spare Squares. As I had been told, the green and blue colors did not come out quite as I had expected (or as the graphic files look) and are closer in appearance than they should be. However, they are distinguishable when placed next to each other, so I think the game is still playable. Everything had already been packed up and placed in the kitty bags for registration, so I had nothing to do but play some games.

I showed Nadine how to play Crokinole. Then the four of us ate some dinner. Bill, Nadine and I sat down with someone who looked a little lonely to play a game of Roll Through the Ages. It's a dice-based game, so not one that's usually on my list. However, like many modern dice-based games, they try to make it so that nearly all the dice results are useful in some way or another, so that the choices you make are of primary importance.

You roll dice on your turn, adding results to complete bonuses: bonus points, bonus dice, bonus special abilities, etc, until the game is over, typically within 45 minutes. It was nice. However, there is barely any interaction in the game; a few attack results wouldn't have hurt the game (if the attacks could be handled in a manner that didn't end up in one player getting picked on).

I ended up winning, to my surprise.

Nadine and I then wandered around and found someone willing to teach us Troyes. A fourth person joined us as we learned the rules. It's another game of assigning dice for results, though quite different than the way Alien Frontiers handles it. It's actually quite complex, and the available options for gaining points is also complex, which makes it hard to wrap your head around. I thought I kind of figured out where it was going by mid game, but I ended up in last place. Nadine asked the most questions, and she ended up winning (I think, to her surprise; definitely to mine). I quite liked it, and hope to pick up a copy.

The Mayfair rep

Part of the library, not including Essen releases
The main room


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Alive iOS v1.1 Available

An updated version of the iOS version of It's Alive is now available for download. Improvements include local leader boards, random start player, bug fixes, and additional features. Still at a fantastic price.

Go download it and leave a rating.

Day 13: Kosher, Spanish, and Chinese Style

I feel like I slept through much of the day, a result of my jet lag and continuing sickness (slowly getting better, I think). As a result, most of what I recall are some images or driving around and food.

Me in Bill and Shirley's backyard

Kosher in Kansas City

The Hen House supermarket in Leawood has the most extensive kosher bakery I've ever seen in America, larger and more diverse even than several kosher bakeries I know in Brooklyn. It encompasses the entire supermarket bakery, and includes breads, cakes, donuts, pies, and everything else I expect to not be able to eat at a regular supermarket; all kosher. Very impressive.

The super also sports a kosher meat and deli counter with some prepared foods (similar to the one in Tom Thumb in Dallas), and the more ubiquitous three columns of frozen kosher products; there may have been shelves of non-frozen items as well, but I didn't look for it.

Spanish Architecture

We took a drive down Ward Parkway, a very wide and prestigious KC street that sports more elaborate mansions as you get closer to the plaza at the end of it.

The plaza is Country Club Plaza, a clean midtown shopping district dating back almost a century, but still looking pretty modern. The architecture contains Spanish influences with colored squares and diamonds. I didn't photograph the whole place or the most interesting places, just around the area where we sat down to eat.

Kansas City also apparently has a lot of fountains.

Everything on interest in KC is closed on Mondays, so the only other thing we could do was stop outside the WWI memorial and look out over downtown. We also checked out the science gift shop in Union Station (I almost bought a Star Wars Mad Libs for its high geek factor).

Looking up at the WWI memorial column

Looking over downtown KC; Union Station is in front

I went home to rest, and woke up to some more of Shirley's incredible cooking, a fusion of American and Chinese styles (but mostly Chinese). Yum.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Day 12: A Long Road and Good Friends

After ten days of walking the lonely, beautiful country of Ireland, it is so wonderful to be back among good friends.


The Sunday morning flight from Dublin to Newark was uneventful. The 757 had personal screens. I ended up watching three movies, all of which I had seen before.

The first was A Fish Called Wanda. The second was Music and Lyrics (I don't know why; I think I just wanted to hear the song). The third was My Sister's Keeper, over which I cried again. I just can't watch the beach scene (with that amazing song) and not leak like a faucet.

I was pre-cleared for US customs in Dublin airport. Dublin airport has a US only section of the airport (I remember when certain airports had an Israel-only section). So, in theory, I could just waltz over to my other flight at Newark.

However, I had tentatively discussed with my friend Yitzchak who lives in Teaneck about meeting him in the Newark airport. We didn't arrange a time or place, and I didn't have a mobile phone, and he hadn't exactly confirmed that he would come.

But I dutifully exited the secure section and wandered around the international terminal (C) and then the domestic terminal (A) to see if he was there, but he wasn't. Boingo gives 20 minutes of free internet, which was just enough for me to send him an email asking if he was around. He didn't respond by the time my free time ran out. So I checked in again through the ridiculously long security theater (1/2 hour) to my gate.

At the gate I found, for some odd reason, a free internet connection that existed for a brief time (around five minutes). Just enough time to see that my friend had responded and was, indeed, at the airport and headed over from terminal A to terminal C looking for me. I wrote back No! and dashed out of security. We finally found each other.

We talked until Nadine arrived; Nadine was in NJ and is joining my on my trip to KC and BGG.con before heading off to see her family. And so I went back through security for the third time. At least one of the guards was puzzled as why he had seen me before an hour earlier.

Our plane is small enough for me to wrap my arms around. Nadine and I played musical chairs with two other singles and a family of four in order to end up in contiguous seats.


Kansas City

Our friends Bill and Shirley picked us up and took us home and gave us an incredible meal at their lovely (ridiculously large and beautiful) house.

Shirley preparing dinner

Bill, Shirley, and Nadine

Monday will be shopping for kosher food and otherwise preparing for Tuesday's drive down to Dallas (actually, Irving).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Day 11: It's a Small Jewish World

Coincidental meetings are common enough in Jewish circles that experiencing one, while it may get a surprised look and a laugh, is to be expected now and again.

So I was surprised, but not stunned, that Friday night dinner at the rabbi included two members of my synagogue from Jerusalem, friends from only a block away from where I lived. I wrote it off as coincidence. It's to be expected that a religious Jew passing through Ireland will have dinner at the rabbi's house, and it's merely coincidental that, if they are Israeli, I happened to know them.

But I was stunned when the same things happened the next day, with a different person at a different host's house. This time a very good friend of my (ex)step-daughter, and someone who had been in my house in Jerusalem on several occasions.

Like last shabbat, both meals by the warm and welcoming Jewish community members of Dublin were delicious.

Game Night

I headed out to central Dublin to meet some BGGers for a game night. It wasn't the brightest idea, as it meant a long trek in the cold while I'm sick. However, the people I met were lovely, and so was the evening.

Eoin on the right
Just don't expect me to remember their names, as I couldn't pronounce them. I gave Eoin (pronounced Owin) a copy of It's Alive as a gift; but then I decided to take a taxi back instead of a bus, and I was shy some cash, so he gave me some, so it ended up being kind of a sale.

They had never heard of my game, so we played that first. I'm not a fan of playing it five players, but the basic game worked out pretty well. The advantage of the basic game for five players is that both the high and low cards are worth something; since it's a while between each of your turns, this matters more. They played fairly slowly, but we still finished in 45 minutes. I think they all enjoyed it.

We then played Carcassonne, or one of its many variants. All I really need to know is what scores when, and how much, and if it scores incomplete at the end. I got some of this information - I didn't catch the half score for incomplete cities and roads, for instance - but it didn't matter because I couldn't draw the tiles I needed. Ever. I had three cities waiting to be capped, two from near the beginning of the game, and they never got capped because I couldn't draw a capping tile.

While frustrating, the game is still fun to play as you can mess up other players or just make pretty pictures.

Tomorrow: the airport.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Day 10: Half-day, actually

This morning I saw the National Gallery in Dublin. A small collection as far as national galleries go: about 300 works, half of them from Ireland and the other half from the rest of Europe. Some nice pieces, once again highlighting the dramatic drop in talent as art entered the twentieth century and became "modern". Free entrance, so can't complain.

The gallery is around the corner from one of the four national museums, three of which are in Dublin. The one round the corner is the archaeological museum. I poked my head inside, but wasn't in the mood for more unearthed bone pins, clay pots, and gold necklaces.

It's raining so I'm back in bed in my effort to continue to get well. I stopped on the way back only to pick up a present for my friends in Kansas City, which is my next stop after Ireland.

Shabbat shalom.

Day 9: The Beauty that is Culture

Absent Moonlight

Yesterday evening I was too tired to go out or even take a picture of the town of Castleconnell. Here are some snaps from outside the B&B this morning.

The B&B

Now imagine that with a full moon over it.

Everything takes twice as long to get to/drive to as I originally planned. Therefore, I have ended up driving hours more than I had hoped to. Still, I can't say that I didn't love what I saw.


My only plans today were to drive back to Dublin, rest, return the car, and see a play to which I had already bought the ticket.

However, I was feeling worse than I had yesterday; this is not unexpected for a week-long cold. The throat issues generally kick in after three days, so that was right on schedule. Then I begin to get better after a few more days. I didn't want to suffer my entire trip (nor cough during the play), and just to be sure that nothing more nefarious was happening to me, I decided to get a check up at a doctor. Hopefully my travel insurance will cover this when I return to Israel.

The first two doctor offices I visited at random were bust; the doctors weren't in. Finally I found one available about midway between Limerick and Dublin. She said that nothing nefarious was happening, but she gave me a prescription for paracetamol and an anti-biotic. The former to control the hot and cold flashes that were leaving me drenched, and the latter to take only if I got worse.

Later in the evening I acquired the paracetamol and some cough syrup, and twenty minutes later I felt much better.

A Play and a Book: A Perfect Evening

All that driving around, only to discover that a perfect evening can be had reading a good book in a pub followed by a great theater experience.

After resting and returning the car, I hung out at a pub reading Dubliners and drinking a pot of tea.

Most of Dubliners is lovely - some of it is a bit weaker - but I have promised myself to read all of it in order to reward myself with the final story: The Dead.

At 7:30 (or as they say in Ireland, "half seven") I saw the production of Little Women at The Gate Theater. What a fantastic job. The sets, lights, and sound were very clever. The acting was phenomenal. Jo (Lorna Quinn) in particular had such a range of facial expressions, from a scowled, scrunched up face of disgust to happy bliss to pitiful tears. I'm a sentimental old fool, so I cried.

The screenwriting and directing was also quite good. The use of the scenery and some split stage work were quite inventive. My only complaint, perhaps, is that many of the scenes felt rushed or cut; too much emotional change occurred too quickly. But that's what you get for taking a very long book (I actually remembered it as too separate books, not one) and squishing it down to 2.5 hours.

The price was pretty good, too (20 EUR), though I paid the "preview" price; the official run prices are slightly higher.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Day 8: Still Sick

This morning at around 9 I left Killarney heading toward Limerick. And promptly got stuck motionless for 30 minutes due to road work. I didn't get to Limerick until nearly 12.

My first stop was at the South Court Hotel which is supposed to have a large antiques and craft fair, only I didn't notice that the fair is scheduled for Sunday, not today. My second stop was at the Hunt Museum, listed as a top destination on tripadvisor. Even though the hotel was "straight down the road, can't miss it", it once again took me an additional half hour of driving around - missing the museum, looking for a place to park - to get there.

Not the Hunt Muesum

Not the Hunt Museum
Also Not the Hunt Museum
As far as the museum goes: eh. It's an eclectic collection that was originally the private collection of some rich guy. The individual items might be interesting if you see them at a friend's house, but in a rich guy's house, or castle, or in a museum dedicated to just this guy's stuff, I feel like I'm watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It's voyeurism; not deep enough to give any real history or be especially interesting. I can't stand castle tours for that reason; I have to pay a rich guy to see his stuff? Please.

Now, if the collection of historical items, jewelery, ceramics, paintings, etc were divided up among the national museums, each added to the proper collection, I would feel differently.

And that's the way Yehuda c's it.


Anyhoo, the real reason I thought it might be worth my while to check out the museum in the first place was that there was supposed to be a poetry reading at 2:30. In this case, I had the right date, and the poet in question showed up only a few minutes late. Funnily enough, no one else turned up, so I was the entire audience.

The poet in question was a man named Barney Sheehan, who doesn't have much of his own poetry (I think). He runs a poetry reading night Wed nights at the White House pub in Limerick for the last ten years, which has apparently attracted some good Irish talent. Barney came to read selections from a book he created/edited containing pictures, quotations, and poetry from Desmond O'Grady, a man who counts as influences his personal relationships with Ezra Pound and others. O'Grady is still alive, but doesn't get out much.

Barney was thrilled to meet me, as someone from Israel and someone who has tried to organize poetry readings (and who has written some poetry of his own). Barney spent too much time reading the introductory notes and quotations from the book and not enough time reading the actual poems; he was proud of his work and it was important to him to impress on me the importance of Desmond. It didn't matter much, as I enjoyed meeting him and listening to him. And I got to read a few more of the poems while other people were wandering around us, viewing the exhibits and talking.

He was kind enough to gift me a copy of a different book containing poems read at the White House during the first years of the poetry gathering. He really wanted/wants me to come back to the gathering tonight, but I'm too sick. If I get out at all, I'll poke my nose around Castleconnell, which is where I'm staying.

Tomorrow it's back to Dublin.

Day 7: Beautiful Killarney


I basically missed Cork, owing to my being sick. I'm still sick, but I was determined to make the most of my vacation. I drank hot drinks and liters of grapefruit juice, I bundled up and I rested. In between, I saw some lovely sights. Unfortunately, only one of them was Irish.

One of my stops was at the Prince August toy soldier visitor center and factory, which I have blogged about on Purple Pawn.

Somewhere on the Road From Cork to Killarney

Yet another church
Yet another small town

Same town

Pottery shop and proprietress

Yes, there is Celtic knotwork on the vase and an Irish word on the plate, but the potter hails from the US

Moo crossing
More moo
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park is beautiful: lake, hills, moss, ferns, etc. I hiked two km from what looked like an entrance to the Muckross House. Then it began to drizzle on and off, so I drove about 15 km south around the shore and then back. Someone told me that I should have kept going because the scenery gets even better. I'll have to take her word for it.

The first entrance to the park. I walked from here.

Muckross cathedral

One of the world's perfect spots
Same spot, looking right

Same spot

In order to give a better feel for the above spot, I have uploaded a p.o.v. video pan:

On the drive
On the hike
On the hike

Moss and vine fighting over a tree

Path to the Muckross House (a mansion in the park)

This place must have been used in some movie, no?

Looking right from the above shot

Somewhere in the park

Somewhere else in the park

After rest and drinks, I hazarded out to town to see what the local nightlife was like. Turns out: full of tourists.

There are a few spots with music. The crowded one was the Grand Hotel, with nightly entertainment starting with "traditional" Irish music and then a band on one side and a disco on another. The band wasn't bad, quite good in fact; a bunch of old-timers playing well and singing very well. They played to an entirely tourist audience, however, and the audience was loud, shouting while the music was playing and crowding the musicians.

One girl did some clogging, which was much appreciated. However, she hailed from Chicago.

I left the Grand and went down the street to another pub (O'Connors) with a younger Irish band playing American country music. Most of the patrons in that pub were watching a match on the telly.

Killarney at night

At the Grand