Monday, March 28, 2011

Board Game Blog World Roundup

For a complete list of active board game blogs, see my left sidebar. The following blogs are active and new to me since my last roundup.

Board Game Info: The new BGI site has several feeds.

Board Game Reviews by Josh: Josh Edwards, Missouri. Reviews.

BoardGameGeek News: The defunct BoardGameNews moved to BGG. Eric now does news roundups.

The Opinionated Gamers: Meanwhile, most of the other BGN contributors moved here.

Eye of the Vortex: A team blog covering topic on various genres; currently mostly focused on Magic and RPG material, with some other stuff.

Father Geek: Cyrus Kirby (and others), Elgin, Minnesota. Games and fatherhood.

Ludology: Ryan Sturm and Geoff Engelstein, to oftime Dice Tower contributors covering geeky game topics in a new podcast.

Matt's Board Game Back Room: Matt Stevenson, Eugene, Oregon.

Meople's Magazine: Kai, Germany. Hoping to have more contributors.

Plankton Games Journal: Dave Dobson, Greensboro, NC. Game design.

Smartplay (Thinkfun): Charlotte. About play.

State of Play: Thomas McDonald, a professional game journalist and contributor to Games Magazine (among others). All types of games.

The Mystical Throne: Another site attempting to catalog games, organized by theme.

The Obsessive Compulsive Gamer: Toronto, ON. Playing through his game collection.

The Superfly Circus: Peter Ruth, Kentucky. Game reviews, interviews, and commentary.

Zwischenzug: Frank Feldmann, Dayton, OH. Family game blog.

Divorced Again

I am now divorced for a second time. I have nothing bad to say about either woman with whom I shared a few fleeting years of my life. They were not "bad" people; nor do I think less of myself for having not sustained the marriages. I someday will find myself on the cusp of another marriage and I would not hesitate to send my prospective partner to talk to my exes.

Now I am in a ditch; divorced again. I have acquaintances, some few friends and family, but I am alone in a very real way; no daily companion with whom to dine, walk, and laugh, no warm body to share my bed, no woman to sit unfailingly by my side were I to take sick. My divorce, however much it is for the best, is still a tragedy.

Yet, even in a ditch, I have only to look up to see the stars, the moon, the blessed rain, and the wide, wild world. The world holds a great deal of love, life, laughter, and beauty. Someday, someone will sit with me under a blanket on the couch, our hands intertwined, as we each read to ourselves. Someone will wonder - she will know, that I am thinking of her every day and it will be the most important thing in the world to her; and perhaps, she will think of me, and it will be the most important thing in the world to me.

I love. I have loved. I will love. My heart is broken but beating strong. It bursts with a lifetime of love to give. I will give it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Gaming

I spent shabbat at the house of my friend and fellow gamer David K and his wonderful, hospitable family. I've known David for 30 years; the first time I visited him at his house in Maalei Adumim was 25 years ago. I don't visit him often enough, so I see the kids in a kind of strobe: one in a teen and another is a little child - flash - now the older one is married, the former child is a teen, and there's another little child.

Even though I hadn't met the little children often, my reputation preceded me; they were expecting games. Here's what we played:

Before lunch we played half a game of The Settlers of Catan. I partnered with the littlest girl, and I let her make many of the decisions for the early parts of the game. As a result, though we weren't too far behind, we weren't winning either. Lunch came along and we had to leave the game alone until we could resume it later.

After lunch, the principles from Settlers had gone out to play, so David and I started a game of Homesteaders. It was only the third or fourth time for David; but even though I had played a few more times (maybe 10), the game still feels like a vast uncharted sea of possibilities. My respect for the game grows and grows. It's really a stunning achievement for a first time designer, and probably in my top ten games at this point.

Some of the principles from Settlers returned while we were halfway through Homesteader, so we left it set up and started a game of Bridgetown Races. (That left two games in progress, Settlers and Homesteaders, while we played a third.)

The problem with BR is the last third of the game, when there just isn't much to do. The mechanic where a particular flag is assigned to a particular bridge on your scoreboard means that you have to not only hope that the right flag colors appear but that they appear in the right places. There is only one "swap" action available for all players, so you can't do anything if the draw isn't right. So what do you do in the last one or two rounds? And the all or nothing scoring doesn't help.

I figured to solve the problem by assigning points to the flag colors equal to their movement rate, so the game could end with an immediate win, but otherwise you count the flag points. David said even early on in the game that the points should be reversed, i.e. the flags with less movement rate and thus harder to acquire should be worth more than the flags with a higher movement rate. And he is right. But more so, I think you should just toss out the whole bridge scoreboard, and simply count all flags you pick up; none of this tossing out and replacing nonsense.

The game just needs a good final follow-through. One of the kids won.

After BR, we returned to finish our game of Settlers, which I and little girl won barely by completing eight points and then spending three rounds trying to steal Longest Road, eventually successfully. After that, David and I returned to our game of Homesteaders, which I won 75 to 54. I played with a second round Gold Mine, rather than the usual Market or Farm start. I did pretty well until the last round or two when, for the first time, I couldn't buy the building that lets you also buy another building in the same turn, neither in round 9 or 10. I successfully bought some good buildings nonetheless, including the 10 point building in round 6 (for a gain of 20 points).

I retired to read a book, and David taught his kids and a neighboring kid how to play Tichu. After one of them left, I joined them. I think we only played one hand.

The rest of shabbat was sweet and mellow.

Session Report, in which we begin to like Mu

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up (actually, has been up since last week). Games played: Dominion, Princes of Florence, Mu.

We introduce a new player to Dominion and PoF, and we try again to like Mu, with some success.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Rocky Horror Purim Show

One day a year, the Jews dress in costumes and gather together to act out a raucous participatory play.

A story is read: The Book of Esther; in Hebrew, it is Megillat Esther. The reading varies from the sedate and straight to the wild and humorous. Audience participation varies from the very sedate to the wild and humorous with sound and visual effects.

Unlike Rocky Horror, the participation is generally family friendly (little kids are usually present, and there is, after all, a required commandment to fulfill, namely to hear the story read). But similarities abound: even to the point of (otherwise religious) men coming to the event dressed as transvestites.

One prevalent custom performed in nearly every synagogue around the world is the custom of wearing costumes (like Halloween), originally masks. Participation in this custom is more uniform for children; nevertheless many adults also do this. Costumes are often associated with the Esther story, but can vary as wildly as Halloween costumes do.

Another prevalent custom performed by nearly every synagogue across the world is to "drown out Haman's name". Namely, when the name of Haman is read during the story (about 70 times), everyone present stamps his or her feet, boos, or whirls some kind of noisemaker (often a "gragger", which is a spinning, clacking noisemaker designed specifically for Purim). Since there is an obligation to hear every word read, the reader must finish reading the name before the noise starts, and must wait for the noise to end before continuing. Or must repeat the name and continue, if the noise actually drowned out the name. However, many people are not careful about this.

Yet another custom is for certain of the foreboding sentences to be read not in the traditional chanting tune used for The Book of Esther but in the tune used for the book of Lamentations.

Those are some of the most prevalent customs. However, many other acts of audience participation crop up into the reading, and these vary from place to place.

In synagogues I've been to:
  • When the word "runners" is read (runners delivered the messages to every kingdom), the audience stamps its feet like runners.
  • People boo and make noise when Zeresh's name is mentioned (Haman's "evil" wife: it's only equal rights that we boo both of them, right?) and when the words "and the king imposed a tax" are read.
  • When the words "and a great cry went out over Shushan", I let loose a bloodcurdling scream, something I learned from my friend David Elkins when I was in his synagogue.
  • This year there were a few vuvuzela's in the audience for use as noisemakers.
  • The reader uses a faux feminine voice when reading Esther's lines in the text, and a gruff voice when reading Haman's lines. Certain lines are spoken with dramatic raising of the voice or dramatic pauses.
And so on. This year, I stood next to a friend, and whenever we had to "drown out" Haman's name, I leaned over and said in a British accent things like: "I never really liked the man!", "The man can't hold his liquor, tut!", and "I lent him a fiver once and he never paid me back!", etc.

In normal years, in most places, this all takes place while people are still fasting from the Fast of Esther (the fast is during the day, and the first reading occurs on that night). However, when Purim falls on Sunday, the fast is pushed back to Thursday. And in Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated a day later, but the fast is still on the same day, so there is always (at least) a day break between the two.

What is the fast for? Some think it is because of when Esther fasted in preparation for intruding on the king to make her request. Some think it is for the fast that Jews did before going to war. And some think it is in atonement for whatever we must have done to bring the calamity (that was ultimately overturned into a festivity) upon ourselves. And because, though Haman is defeated, his descendants live on today.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend Gaming, Purim

At Nadine's house, I played Puerto Rico for the first time in (what feels like) a year. I had actually been hoping we might play it after lunch.

Puerto Rico is still my favorite game, but we just don't play it much at the group, as a) some of the players play it obsessively online already, and b) we received many new games last year.

I played with Nadine and her daughter Ginat. I was second player, and the only building substitutions were Small Wharf for Large Warehouse and Library for University, neither of which were bought.

Despite my not having played in a long time, I still wanted to try something a little different. So my second building purchase (after Small Market, duh) was Construction Hut; I hesitated between it and Hacienda, another building I don't play much. However, I could see my way to producing corn, indigo, and coffee by the first half of the game already, and I didn't think I needed to worry about more production. My coffee was in front of Ginat who also had coffee, Nadine was already working on sugar, and I didn't think I was going to go for Residence.

Well, it worked well. I bought Harbor. Together with a few coffee sales, and some judicious Captain-taking to ensure the boats were always filled with my goods, I was able to advance in both shipping and building. Final scores: 58 to Nadine's 51 to 45.


Tonight is Purim outside of Jerusalem. I will be joining my brother Ben for a seuda tomorrow (and expect to play something) and then I will return for Shushan Purim (celebrated in Jerusalem). As an avel (mourner), my partying is limited: people aren't supposed to send me shaloch manot, I can only send two, and I can't go to any parties, though I still have to do the seuda and other mitzvot.

However, for those not in mourning, I recommend the shpiel my synagogue is putting on, and in which I would be participating if I could:
In celebration of Purim, Kehilat Mizmor LeDavid's Kosher Hams present the
new comedic musical revue: DEAD SEA DISCS - The Saga Continues!

Written by Allan Rabinowitz and Performed by the Kosher Hams

Join us following Shushan Purim Megilah reading!
Sunday, March 20
9:00 PM
The Masorati Auditorium
30 NIS

Masorati School, Beitar 8, Talpiot, enter by way of Giladi/Efrata Streets.
Tickets sold at the door, first come first served, costumes encouraged.
Further information:, or 02-673-5338

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fun Board Games to Enhance Students' Learning Experiences

The following is a guest post from Brian Jenkins

Playing board games is a great way for students to learn because children retain more information when they're having fun. Games get children motivated. Math and spelling won't induce boredom when they're integrated into fun games. By playing board games, children enhance their logic and reasoning skills, learn to solve problems, and gain skills in strategic thinking.

Kids also enhance their social skills while playing board games. They learn about following rules, taking turns, fairness, and how to graciously win and loose. Of course, gracious losing might kids some extra time to get the hang of!

Let's take a look at some of the best board games for young students:

Dino Math Tracks Place Value Game

This game has received the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal which is given to toys that enrich the lives of children. Players race around the game board with a pack of prehistoric pals. The game emphasizes the mathematical concept of place value and is a fun way for young students to learn addition and subtraction. The game includes multiple levels of play for children of different ages and abilities.


UPWORDS is similar to Scrabble and exercises the same skills. However, it is easier to make words and score points because kids can stack onto existing words. Therefore, it's a better choice than Scrabble for younger kids. Also, the scoring system is simplified.

Primary Pups

This fun game integrates 1st through 3rd grade curricula. Players answer multiple choice questions from the following subject areas: Math, science, history, grammar, health, and geography. Students advance their puppies along the game board by correctly answering questions.

Flip 4

Flip 4 is designed for ages 8 to 12. It's a strategy game that teaches math and logical thinking and planning. Kids role the dice and then add, subtract, or multiply to land on board squares. Students try to strategically flip their opponents out of the game. The game received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award, a Dr. Toy Top 10 Game Award, and an iParenting Media Award.


This game is a mathematical version of Scrabble. Kids use tiles to make horizontal or vertical math equations. In addition to teaching kids how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, the game requires kids to think strategically and creatively. Equate received a Parent's Choice Recommended Award, a Games Magazine Best Game award, and a Dr. Toy 100 Best Children's product award.

Word Pirates

It takes spelling and strategy skills to win this game. Kids try to be the fist player to reach the treasure by building a path of words and bridges. The game is designed for ages six and up and received a Creative Child Magazine Preferred Choice Award.

Have Kids Create Their Own Board Games

Besides playing with fun, educational games made by adults, let students have the opportunity to make their own games. Give them criteria to meet and allow them to use their creativity to develop a game. This is a great challenge for students!

Board games are a great way to break up the monotony of everyday classroom instruction. Fun and education is always a great combination!

Brian Jenkins writes feature articles, including pieces that offer career information for elementary school teachers, about a variety of different education and career topics for

The opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the blog owner's.

Session Report, in which I beat David in Magic, suprisingly

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Boggle, Glory to Rome, Magic: The Gathering, Tribune, Bridge.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Game Closet

Or as Rachel calls it, the eyesore:

Some games not present (lent out to game club members) and some games behind the shelf (Go board, extra copies of It's Alive, etc). As I said, it's not many games; I keep it small by regularly trading away or selling games that didn't go over well in favor of new games.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Session Report, in which I win both Glory to Rome and Shipyard

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Glory to Rome, Shipyard.

Yay me, I won both games.

I just reorganized my game closet; Rachel thinks it's an eyesore. I think it's a thing of beauty, except that it has so few games (about 75; naturally, everyone else thinks I have "so many" games).

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Simultaneous Play: Where Winning Doesn't Matter

Set is a card game. Every card has an abstract picture. Cards are flipped over and players try to be the first and fastest to note and claim a "set": three cards that match exactly, or differ on all three cards, in four characteristics: color, shape, number, and fill. At the end of the game, the player who has collected the most sets "wins".

Anagrams is a tile game. Every tile has a letter. Tiles are flipped over and players try to be the first and fastest to note and claim words: either by anagramming the loose tiles in the center of the table, or by fitting a loose letter into a rearranged word currently claimed by a player. At the end of the game, the player who has collected the most words (or letters, or points on letters) "wins".

In both games, all players play simultaneously. As each tile or card is revealed, players quickly scan the field in hopes of being the one to announce a valid pattern. Each claim is a victory, a "win". The first to find the pattern and take it claims a victory, but the gain doesn't give the player any further advantage toward claiming the next match . The next set of tiles or cards is a fresh opportunity for every player; each round is unique. The game doesn't really end, except by the limit artificially imposed by the number of cards or tiles.

By the time the game is over, it doesn't seem to matter much who "won" the game in any conventional sense. I never count the sets at the end of a game of Set. I don't even know what scoring method to use for Anagrams.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Shabbat Gaming

My brother has four boys who play games, especially Magic and D&D. They also have friends who drop by to play with them. He has acquired a narrow collection of board games from those I've taught him over the years, and I recently donated to him a few thousand newer Magic cards from my overflowing collection.

This shabbat I taught him Age of Empires III; we played four players. I took a small early lead, and became a target for the rest of the game. My brother especially urged the other players to spend their actions ganging up on me while he, free from having to do the dirty work, slowly moved forward himself. Ah, brothers. In the end, I beat him by 7 points.

I also taught them Glory to Rome. I taught it slightly better than I did for my first play (see the last game group session report), but they still managed to do nearly every step wrong over and over again. One would think that, after doing a step wrong a few times and being told how to do it correctly, they would finally do it right; apparently the brain needs to truly understand certain processes before it can accept instruction on them.

Unlike my previous game, no one built any game-ending buildings, so we played until the deck ran out (only two sites left). I didn't think I was in last place, but I also wasn't sure that I was winning. I actually was winning, it turns out, until my brother dropped a late building that gave him 1 point for each 2 resources left in his stockpile, and with that he beat me by 1 point.

The blue cards (move to the Vault) were very scarce, for some reason.

Lastly, we played some Magic, two against two. Each team had 40 points. My brother likes to fix games to complement the strategies that he likes to play, rather than go through the work or gain the experience required to actually play the game as it was designed; occasionally I fix games, too, but nowhere near as radically as he does, and only after reading up on other people's experiences first, to be sure that I'm not being myopic.

For Magic, my brother plays that each player gets to pick 60 cards from the collection at random. Then, for every two gold cards the player tosses out, they can pick one more card of any specific color that they like. Then they can pick 8 more cards of any specific color or colors that they like. That's the draft.

Each player can, at any point during the game and only once, toss a non-land card from his hand and pick a random land from the deck. In addition, all lands automatically have "Cycling 2".

That's not to mention some of the rules that he gets wrong, but those at least he lets me correct.

I played partner with my brother against my nephew and a friend. We did a lot of damage, knocking them down from 40 to 16 while only taking 5 points of damage ourselves. However, their army kept getting bigger and better; this was partially due to one of our opponent's having miraculously picked nearly all of the better, newer cards during his random drafting. He finally slammed us for 19 points during one turn. We were reduced to pinging them, and it still took him four more rounds to finish us off.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Session Report, in which we try and like Glory to Rome

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Fairy Tale, Glory to Rome, In the Shadow of the Emperor.

I discover that I like Fairy Tale more than I remembered. We all like Glory to Rome. And ItSofE was interrupted for going on too long, too late.


I went to see Tal do her "bagrut" performance of Twelfth Night (in Hebrew), and she was great. My ex-wife and my current-but-soon-to-be-ex-wife met and sat together talking for a while, and also sat together during the play. I'm pretty sure that they weren't talking about me, but it was still weird (they were once friends, before I married the second time).