Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year

Researching companies for the Game Industry Survey is taking far longer than it should, because I'm checking the email addresses and actual activity of around 11,000 companies (last year, if the website responded I assumed all was well and moved on). What exactly does one do with a game industry database with 10,000 up-to-date contacts (aside from sell the database, which I don't intend to do)?

My book is still on hold, oh well. And I have another  - nice - distraction, and the usual mundane distractions. Oh well.

I'll pick up the pace in the distant future, so don't unsubscribe just yet.

Have a great year, keep gaming, and spread a little joy and love why dontcha?


Sunday, December 08, 2013

Movie Reviews: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Gravity, Frances Ha

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and the rest are back in the second installment of Suzanne Collins' fantastic book series. The first movie was great, and so is this one. Jennifer is a particularly sensitive and strong actress; everyone else also do fine. Cinematography, directing, etc are all fine.

I can forgive the movie for leaving out certain elements of the book, even though I don't know why they did. Some parts of the movie seem to be rushed, when they might had more effect with more screen time. I wouldn't have been unhappy with a longer movie.

The movie follows the book: Katniss and Peeta have to maintain the illusion of being a happy couple in order to convince the country that their last act in the previous games was done out of love and not out of defiance to the government. But it doesn't seem to matter, since uprisings are spreading, and everything they do seems to inflame them. The ending is a cliffhanger. Like the last movie, the politics only peek in here and there; the bulk of the movie, even more than in the books, is about the game. The real uprising is saved for the last book (which will be two movies).

Gravity: A tour-de-force 3D movie that I unfortunately saw only in 2D. It was still plenty gripping. It's basically a 90 minute disaster movie. Some astronauts are in space and experience severe catastrophe, including separation from their spacecraft, due to space debris. If you've seen the trailers, that happens at the start of the film (after a short calm setup scene).

I think ANYTHING said about the film is a spoiler, so here are some spoilers; I will try to make them as un-spoiling as possible. Several more incidents and settings take place over the remainder of the film. Even though things go wrong over and over again, these settings and possible salvations seem to be awfully conveniently located. There is speculation on the Interwebs to the effect that much of the movie starting from one of several possible points until the end might be a hallucination; this speculation is due to the unlikely conveniences mentioned above: if the movie were to have been set in the present, these settings are not now where they are depicted to be in the movie. As far as I'm concerned, since the movie takes place in the future, or some kind of alternate future, and since it's science fiction, we just have to go with it.

I've never been a big fan of Sandra Bullock, except for her outstanding performance in The Blind Side, but here she is even more outstanding. Every detail of her acting, from the tension in her neck to her breathing patterns is spot on perfect, which is no mean feat considering how much of the movie had to be constructed around the actors in a studio. Between Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games and Sandra here, it should now be established that strong women actors can handle the lead role in action movies. Hopefully this will be a trend.

Frances Ha: I really wanted to love this quirky character movie with Greta Gerwig, but I only liked it. Greta plays Frances, the very definition of graceless. She's enthusiastic and happy-go-lucky, but has not a whit of social sensitivity and her dancing, while functionally able, looks more like lumbering. She starts out with some things: a boyfriend, a very close woman friend, a job and the possibility of more (and I'm not sure how she got all of those things, considering her lack of grace), but gradually loses them all (to more or less extent). Only, her complete self-deception causes her to not acknowledge that all these things have happened, until she must finally come to terms with it.

I really liked the friendships and relationships depicted in the movie. They were very natural and realistic, something you don't often see in movies that rely on Big Fights and Big Drama. Here, it's just a quiet drifting apart. The acting and directing are fine. What bothered me was that the coming to terms with it simply happens and then not much else does.

The movie seems like a slice from of a Whit Stillman movie, only Frances would be one out of six other characters all sharing the screen. Just Frances' story seems a little weak on its own. Still, I liked it well enough.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Candle Quest keeps selling out at Amazon.com

When Candle Quest is in stock on Amazon, you can find it here. In the meantime, you can still buy it here, here, here, and here (UK).

I just sorted through my Magic cards and separated out the rares I have accumulated over the last few years. I'm happy to trade them for recent non-rares in bulk. I don't usually buy magic cards ... *dramatic pause* but when I do, I buy commons.

The only game I expect to receive this Hanukkah is from my secret santa. There was some scrambling around on his/her part on how to deliver it inexpensively, but I am assured that something will arrive.

Saarya finished the army service part of hesder and has returned to yeshiva (Yerucham). Tal is starting psychometric with the eventual aim of teaching. I continue apace.

Happy Hanukkah, boys and girls. May your flames burn strong, may your latkes be tasty, and may your gifts be received with joy.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Benefits of Playing Games with Others

The following is a guest post from Kathy Flute:

Games have a proven track record of bringing people together, whether through family game-nights or team-building corporate retreats. While games are designed to be entertaining, they also provide a considerable amount of developmental, physical social and mental benefits, especially when games are played with others.

Developmental Benefits
Playing games with others encourages the development of logic, critical thinking, coordination and spacial development, especially in children. Games force the brain to solve problems, as well as utilize association and recognition skills, especially when playing word games like Scrabble or strategy games like Monopoly. When a game requires the movement of game pieces, or requires participants to draw or act out key words or phases, this benefits hand-eye coordination and dexterity. Playing games also forces players to focus, which can help to increase attention spans. Games like Cranium or Pictionary also help people of all ages to develop creativity, innovation and imagination.

Physical Benefits
Team games and sports that require movement have additional physical benefits. Active indoor games like Charades, or outdoor active games like tag increase physical activity, which increases exercise and burns calories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all individuals get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, and playing games can help meet those requirements when they involve running, jumping or other physical movements. The CDC recommends even greater amounts of physical activity for children, or about an hour a day. Staying active helps stave off obesity and a long list of conditions, ranging from heart disease to cancer. Over time, active team games help children develop healthy habits with benefits that will extend way beyond adulthood.

Social Benefits
Playing games with others helps build social and life skills, such as verbal abilities, teamwork and how to appropriately interact with others. These skills are especially important for developing children. Children can learn how to take turns and to talk appropriately to each other while playing. These skills help children build important relationships. Winning or losing activities also helps develop sportsmanship, and teaches children how to appropriately respond when things don't go as they want them to.

Mental Benefits
If you're more concerned with psychological issues, then playing games encourages social interaction, which can combat loneliness and reduce depression. Most games are designed to be entertaining and cause laughter, which reduces the presence of hormones that contribute to stress, such as cortisol and epinephrine. Even children experience marked mental health benefits from playing games, especially with outdoor games. In fact, playing games outdoors can help reduce symptoms of ADHD and emotional disorders in children, suggests Dr. Garrett Burris, a pediatric neurologist from the Baylor College of Medicine.

While any type of game provides benefits, look for those that include educational or physical activity elements for maximum benefit. Video games can offer some of the benefits listed above, though more physical and interactive activities are preferable. That said, every platform has its pros and its cons!

Kathy Flute is a mother of three earning her master's in special education who enjoys writing articles about family, teamwork, and the Top 10 Special Education Master's Degree Programs Online.

Everything is a Close Call

I tell this tired joke on occasion: "Just this morning as I was driving a car barreled by at 120 km/hour right over where I had been only a second earlier! I could have been killed!" Ha ha.

Though I laugh, there is a hidden truth to this joke. Real danger passes by us more often than we realize. We rely on the fallible reflexes, good intentions, and social contract obligations of tired and distracted strangers, or on being one of the faceless individuals in a teeming herd who happen to not be picked out by someone with evil intent on that day. We live in denial about this, because we have no choice.

Yesterday, I was tracking my girlfriend's El Al flight from Hong Kong back to Israel on a tracking website and it showed the plane passing over Iran (see above). I was expecting either of two things as I watched the plane crawl over Iran: a) news reports of a plane crash in Iran, or b) the display to update eventually with the correct route, since El Al planes certainly don't fly over Iran.

Sure enough, a little while later the map was redrawn with the plane 1,200 km further north, somewhere over Kazakhstan near the Caspian Sea. Well, at least I don't have to worry about a plane crash, I thought. A few minutes later there was a news report of a plane crash: in Kazan, Russia, about 1,900 km north of her flight.

Ok, the plane that crashed was a Boeing 737, the model with the most number of crashes (because it has flown the most number of flights, although earlier versions had a notorious rudder problem), while the El Al flight was a 777, a model with an excellent safety record. The Tatarstan Airlines plane was previously known to have problems and Russian airplanes are notoriously unsafe. Still, I was happy to hear when the El Al flight touched down safely in Tel Aviv.

I suppose my point is this: live every day as if it was your first. The world is full of wonder: trees, sky, joy, books, friends, working limbs. You were given the capacity to feel joy; use it whenever you can. And ... oh yeah: look both ways before you cross the street.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Movie Reviews: Ender's Game, Jobs, Thor: The Dark World

Ender's Game: Ender's Game - the movie - is about the possible immorality of resorting to violence as a proactive defense. This issue dominates any part of the movie that is not a video game walkthrough, which is about half of the movie. Ender's (Asa Butterfield) personality is just enough to sustain this theme; his comrades have nearly no personality, and, of his three mentors, Colonel Graf (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) have one-dimensional personalities of devil/angel, while Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) has none at all. But that's not really the problem: the problem is that this issue isn't interesting enough to sustain a movie. It's an overused trope and the movie doesn't have anything new to add to it.

In the future, Earth is attacked by bugs in spaceships, and they are beaten back by Earth's forces and the brilliance (?) of a guy named Mackham Razer. Children are then recruited to control Earth's forces in order to deal a blow to the bugs in their own system before they can regroup and send another invading force. Children are used because they are good at playing video games. Ender, in particular, is singled out because he has a tendency to kick harder than he has to in order to make a point.

The acting is fine, the sets are cool, but everything is rushed without follow-through. Ender is supposedly set up to be a loner during training, but a minute of screen-time later he already has a band of friends. He is supposed to be learning something in training, but there are only two or three training sequences and he seems to know everything he needs immediately.

I try not to let my knowledge of the book influence my review of the movie, but it's nearly unavoidable here. While a main plot point of the book is, indeed, the above moral issue about unnecessary violence as a form of defense, the great majority of the book is about Ender's training and transformation: his fear, his sleep deprivation, his isolation, his slow change from loner to leader, and the dozens of battles that slowly reveal how he learns to think in 3D and survive by fighting cheating with cheating. The last part of the book was represented ok by the movie, but that part is really just the necessary cap to the book. This movie is barely a version of the book at all.

The movie introduces Ender's brother and sister but makes little use of them. It uses the story of the bug entering Ender's private video game world, but doesn't explain how and doesn't explain how the bug - a queen no less - could be walking distance from Earth's great military base or communicate with Ender. It completely dispenses with all of Ender's and Bean's brilliance and all of the politics.

If you haven't read the book, the movie will be a bit confusing but will probably be ok. If you have read the book, you're curious to see it and it will probably be a bit of a letdown.

Bottom line: I wouldn't call it necessary viewing, but it wasn't bad. Better if you like watching video game walkthroughs.

Jobs: Ashton Kutcher plays Steve Jobs, from his latter days in college to his firing from Apple in the mid-1980s. There are some very short scenes of his return to Apple in the mid 1990s and an opening scene of him announcing the iPod.

The movie's interest to computer geeks and non-geeks is on par with that of The Social Network, which was a better movie. This one wasn't bad. However, the movie spends a whole lot of time on Jobs' negative traits and personal fights and too little time on the brilliance and fun he had and brought to others (and barely any time at all on Bill Gates, who was a seminal part of the Apple story). The actual interesting aspects of the inventions are not discussed. This movie was obviously someone's vendetta.

The early parts of the movie are more entertaining and colorful; the latter parts are mostly boardroom scenes that lead to their well-known conclusions. All of the supporting characters are good, especially Woz (Josh Gad). Ashton does fine, though he seems to be just slightly shy of doing a parody of Jobs' mannerisms at certain points.

Bottom line: Possibly worth seeing on a small screen, but not necessary viewing (there are other biopics about computers and Apple that are better (Pirates of Silicon Valley was a nice TV movie), and you should probably just read the book).

Thor: The Dark World: The movie Thor didn't excite me too much, though it was sometimes humorous and Loki is pretty charismatic. This entry is a bit better: still sometimes humorous, Loki is still charismatic, and the action sequences are well-paced and not all over-the-top, which lets the characters (at least the main ones) drive the action. But the movie is still depressing.

The plot is 12th generation recycled boredom: There was a big battle and a big artifact of power was hidden away, but a human stumbles onto it, and some bad guys chase the human to get it, and some lone good guys try to prevent it (in defiance of other good guys who want to do nothing), and the bad guys catch up to the human and take possession of the artifact, and just when they are about to use it ... they do and the entire universe is destroyed (yeah right). Sound like any other Marvel movies?

With the exception of quick scenes in which Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Thor's buddy, and Frigga (Rene Russo), Thor's mother, fight, the women in this movie are helpless victims. Natalie Portman is wasted, spending her on-screen time fainting.

This movie has very little to do with its Norse mythology source; I know little about comics, but I suspect that it has little to do with its comic source, either. It's just a Marvel action movie, with little to distinguish it from every other Marvel action movie; and frankly, they're getting tiring.

The gods, and Asgard in general, are far more foolish and vulnerable than they should be. The mythology made them vulnerable, but not to simple attacks by space ships or basic deception that any mortal earthling would see coming a mile away. Asgard's line of defense is taken straight from the Gungans in The Phantom Menace: a field generator and some inaccurate laser guns.

Things made of rock fall to pieces all over the place, but if a main character is in a building, it doesn't fall on his head, even if all the support columns are knocked out. And no one cares about the thousand of innocents killed in all of the other buildings.

Lastly, and I can't go into it because it's a spoiler alert, but the major plot point around Loki's character is Badly Plotted. He steals all his scenes, and has good lines, but the movie introduces a plot turn for him and then undermines it with a bad resolution.

Bottom line: If you're into Marvel movies, this one holds up like the others - and it's better than Iron Man 3 - so I can't stop you.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

2013 Holiday Gift Guide

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

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

Remember that the most valuable gift you can give is time. Don't just give your loved ones a game; play it with them. Find or start a local game group and join or form a community.

I hope you enjoy the guide. Remember: the holidays are not only for sharing the warmth with family and friends, but also for sharing with those who have no one else to share with them. Give to your local shelters, hospitals, and so on, because that's the gift that keeps on giving.
Apple iPad 2

I'm starting with this unusual choice for a board game list, because the iPad (and other tablets) is a perfect platform for playing thousands of face to face games for two to four players. Because you don't need to buy the physical components, you can stack all your games in a teeny space, the games (if not the tablet) cost very little, and you don't have to cut down old trees to make them or use fossil fuels to ship them. Tablets have their own environmental impact in their making, so that's a trade off; but if you're getting one anyway, most of the games on this list are available electronically.
7 Wonders: Ages 9+, 4 to 7 players

This game took the gaming world by storm in 2010. This is a game of drafting cards. You get a hand of cards; pick one and pass the rest. Everyone reveals the card they picked and puts it into their tableaux. Repeat. Done. Score points based on the combinations of cards you have at the end of all the passing.

The graphics are fantastic, the theme not so visible. It's easy to learn, provides great choices, with depth enough to spare.
Apples to Apples: Ages 9+, 4 to 10 players

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

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

Other games that have copied A2A's mechanics with other themes, such as Dixit which is a picture matching game.
Antike: Ages 8+, 2 to 6 players

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

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

Other alternatives for the Risk player are Antike Duellum (for two players) and Risk Legacy (an odd game that moves in one game affect the next).
Backgammon: Ages 6+, 2 players

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

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

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

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

The pictured version is a little quieter and less bulky than the old boxy version, and comes with a builtin electronic timer.
Candle Quest: Ages 6+, 2 to 4 players

A little plug for my own game. This is a simple set-collection auction game with a Hanukkah theme. It fits in well with the other games on the list: easy to learn, quick to play, lots of replayability. The theme makes it appropriate for all ages, and there's nothing overtly Jewish about it, other than that it's a menorah, so anyone should feel comfortable playing it.

Of course, I may be biased, since I designed it. This game was published by Victory Point Games.
Carcassonne, variants, and expansions: Ages 10+, 2 to 5 players

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

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

There are dozens of versions to the game, and some of the versions have several expansions.
Chess / Xiangqi / Shogi: Ages 6+, 2 players

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

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

Another great abstract, and a pretty one if you find one with nice marbles. The rules are simple: move or jump your pieces from one side to the other. Finding chains of jumps is a thrill for all ages.
Carrom / Crokinole / Nok-Hockey / Air Hockey / Billiards / Foosball, etc.: Ages 6+, 2 players

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

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

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

Dominion is a game based around deck building: as you play, you acquire cards which get shuffled into your deck. You need victory points to score, but too many early victory points will clog up your deck, making it harder to acquire more points.

A brilliant adaptation of a mechanic, it plays quickly and every game plays differently. The game has several expansions, all of which are good.
Froggy Boogie: Ages 3-9, 2 to 4 players

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

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

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

You should play with the nicest board you can afford.

Pente, a game of getting five stones in a row, can be played on the same board. The rules are just as easy as Go, and while the game has much less depth, it is also a little less intimidating to new players.
Jungle Speed: Ages 8+, 3 to 8 players

There are several games of speed reaction / pattern recognition on the market; I chose this one because of the components. Players flip cards in turn and grab for the totem in the middle as soon as two matching cards are revealed. Don't play with friends who have sharp nails or finger jewelery.
Magic the Gathering: Ages 8+, 2 players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A simple and fun game.
Parade: Ages 7+, 3 to 5 players

Another easy to learn and addictive little card game. Add cards to the end of the "parade", taking cards from the parade into your pile based on a few simple rules. Points are bad ... usually.
Pit: Ages 7+, 4 to 10 players

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

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

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

Go is my favorite two-player game; this is my favorite multi-player game. It's a tad complex for the beginning player, but I've seen new players pick it up and love it.

It's not easy to learn, but it's not that hard, either; it's just hard to master. A brilliant, brilliant game engine.
Scrabble: Ages 8+, 2 (or 2 to 4) players.

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

My favorite way to play is to ditch the board and just play Anagrams: turn over tiles, and first to call a word gets it. A similar, recommended game is Bananagrams, where players race to create their own crossword boards.
Set: Ages 6+, 2 to 10 players

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

This, and Ticket to Ride, are the perfect adult games for beginning gamers.

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

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

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

Other recommended co-operative games that have made a splash in the last few years are Pandemic and Forbidden Island
Stratego: Ages 6 to 15, 2 players

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

This is an elegant route building game with a bunch of different scoring opportunities on each play. Simply place two camels on each turn to expand your camel trains. At the end, you score for oases collected, longest trains, and encircled areas.
Ticket To Ride: Ages 8+, 2 to 5 players

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

There are several editions of the game, and the 1910 expansion is recommended.
Tichu: Ages 8+, 4 players

A partnership "ladder" game, similar to the game President (sometimes known by its crude name). It's similar, but the addition of a few special cards, a partnership, and passing elevate this to a perfect game for two couples. This is THE card game in gamer circles, and it's not at all complicated.
Time's Up: Ages 8+, 4 to 10 players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Necessary Invention: Anti-Labels

Every time I add a label to an item in Google Mail, Windows Music Player, or what have you, the system should automatically add an "anti-label" to all other items indicating that they are NOT in the label group.

Unless I have literally only created exactly one label (so I can view all item without the label) or two labels (where all of my items are either labeled A or B, but never both) how can I find all mail items that are NOT relevant to my work? When playing music, how can I play all items whose genre is NOT podcast or comedy? I shouldn't have to select all items in every other genre, as well as all the music I haven't yet labeled.

As far as technical issues, adding a label X to an item should automatically remove the anti-label "not X". An anti-label should disappear the moment the last item with that label removes it, so, for example, if I accidentally create a label for a music item called "grudge", and then quickly delete the label and add a new label "grunge", the anti-label "not grudge" should go bye bye and the new label "not grunge" should be created. If "not grudge" has already been used for some kind of filter mechanism, it can be silently deleted from that mechanism. It would have been better form for me to simply rename the label "grudge" to "grunge", which will automatically rename the anti-label "not grudge" to "not grunge".

Thank you and good night.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: Rihanna in Tel Aviv

Source: http://instagram.com/badgalriri
Rihanna played to an audience of some 50,000 to 55,000 people in Ganei Yehoshua/Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv last night. Summary: She was late (as expected) but performed well. Everyone was happy and she promised to return.

This was her second performance in Israel; the last was in 2010. Like other international performers, Riri faced a vocal and loud series of absurd appeals from movements who wanted her to boycott Israel. And, like most (but not all) international performers, she didn't even acknowledge the boycott. [1]

This is the first ultra-massively large outdoor entertainment event I have been to and it will probably be the last. [2] I'm a little old for the volume (I stuck paper in my ears), the entertainment value is really lessened when you are so far from the stage that the performer looks like a small pink blur and you spend more time watching the video screen, and it's really expensive. For the same money, I can have several evenings of entertainment. It was worth it to say I was part of it: once.

We arrived at 5:00 or so for a concert that was originally supposed to start at 7:30. This allowed us to camp out closer to the stage, though it really didn't make much difference. Rihanna was supposed to come on at 8:30, or maybe 9:00. She started at 10:00 on the dot.

First up at around 7:45 was an hour set from some DJs called We Are GTA. I don't get electronic club mix: I liked some of the songs they were playing - dubstep, pop, grunge, rock - but they only sampled a minute or less of each song and they sped them up and added electronics over them, making them worse. Every two minutes they crescendo'd, paused for effect, and started a new beat. Every once in a while the beat was right and they had the audience; the rest of the time the audience was indifferent.

Every two minutes they tried to get the audience to do something, but always one of two things: a) wave your right arm above your head from left to right and back, or b) raise your hands over your head and clap. I get the clapping; I don't get the waving. It's pretty tiring keeping your hands above your head for an hour. In a symbolic moment, the banner advertising the band slipped off of the front of their control station about midway through the act.

We waited an hour and a quarter after that for Riri, and that's a long time. The moments drag on and on and kids begin to get tired. I don't know why there were kids there to begin with.

Rihanna's performance was spot-on, enthusiastic, and laudable. She really is a good performer. She did a lot of grinding, bending over, and shaking, and some occasional simple dance moves with backup dancers - she doesn't dance particularly much or well, but she was energetic and hit her cues. She sang over a recorded track, but she sang much of it live and she sang well. She's very beautiful. She wore a black bikini top and shorts/underwear and a black sheer half-skirt with heels. She smiled a lot and shimmied. She performed for an hour and a quarter with barely a letup (she changed her shoes once, that's all). Her songs have great beats and melodies. It was very entertaining.

She gave shout outs to Tel Aviv a dozen or so times, apologized for being late (apparently she had to take a dip in the Dead Sea and pose provocatively on the beach), apologized for being away for so long, complimented her Tel Aviv fans, and promised to return.

I thought it was as good a concert as Alanis', though I like Alanis' more. Why? Alanis didn't dance; she didn't even, apparently, know how to walk; she seemed to have trouble with certain notes; she's not particularly beautiful. But Alanis has depth. Rihanna sings well, and flirts with being soulful, but her songs and her singing are just "feel good" or "feel sad". Alanis' lyrics and singing are pure complicated, messy art. Rihanna is pure simple, clean (or dirty) entertainment. Both are very good at what they try to do.

The weather was perfect; just cool enough that the mass of bodies around you made you the right temperature. The night and the stage were pretty, and it was too loud, but not too too loud. Thanks, Riri.

[1] Several papers made mention of the fact that, while she called out Tel Aviv by name several times, that she never mentioned the country name Israel. And that she substituted in one of her lyrics "All I see is Palestine" instead of the actual lyrics "All I see is dollar signs". A) I didn't notice it. B) I don't think too much of it.

[2] I've also been to large indoor concerts of Alanis Morissette and Pink Floyd; somehow being indoors made it a little less massive.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Candle Quest: the Best Board Game for Hanukkah

Candle Quest is a new board game for Hanukkah, and really the ONLY good game for Hanukkah by anyone, anywhere. Sad to say, but true.

Game in Progress
Candle Quest is a re-theme of my game It's Alive, a light family strategy Eurogame, basically a set-collection auction game. It plays for two to five players, takes about 30 to 45 minutes to play, and is appropriate for ages 5 and up.

Unlike most "children's games", this game is a solid light Euro strategy game, and extremely enjoyable for adults, with high replayability. The game is nevertheless easy to learn, friendly, simple to teach, has kid-friendly graphics, and has a quick learning curve for younger players. My seven year old was regularly able to play competitively with me.

Draw a card, and then buy, sell, or auction the card. You can also buy a card from someone's discard pile. The game is over when someone collects all eight colored candles (each candle color also has a distinctive candle shape, so the game is playable by the color-blind), and the winner is either the first to complete their menorah (basic game) or the player with the highest value collection (advanced game). This new version slightly simplifies the "buy from the discard pile" option and also adds a simplified variant for younger players.

The fun comes from choosing which option to take on your turn, and how much to set the auction price. You can try for a quick win by buying all the low priced cards, you can sell cards on your turn and hope to pick up cards on other players' turns, or you can try acquire the highest priced cards with the most cash remaining.

I don't rate my own games on BGG, but if I did I would give this game a 7.5 or 8. I've played it hundreds of times myself and I still enjoy it. I even discover new strategies sometimes.

Available from Victory Point Games, Amazon (supposedly, but it appears to be out of stock and we're hoping it will be available with their free shipping option RSN), and NWS, The game comes in box and polybag versions.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

5 Health Benefits of Board Games

The following is a guest post by Kathy Flute:

Board games date as far back as 2500 B.C.E., and they continue to fill closets in households throughout the world today. Whether playing a classic game like Monopoly or newer names on the market like Settlers of Catan, board games entertain and bring people together through competitive and cooperative game play. However, board games provide much more than just entertainment. In fact, these games beneficially impact both health and development at any age. If this is news to you, here’s what you should know.

One of the primary benefits of playing board games is reducing the risk of cognitive decline, such as that associated with dementia and Alzheimer's. Board games help the brain retain and build cognitive associations well into old age. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex especially benefit from playing board games. These areas of the brain are responsible for complex thought and memory formation, and their decline is one of the first stages of dementia and Alzheimer's. While those who are elderly show the most benefit from activities like board games, never forget that (like any healthful activity) the earlier you start, the greater the benefits received.

Blood Pressure

Board games also provide health benefits through an often overlooked side effect of many games, laughing. If you need to lower your blood pressure, try choosing a board game that’s more about entertainment than competition. Laughing has been shown to increase endorphins, which are chemicals that create a feeling of happiness. This release of endorphins help muscles to relax and blood to circulate, which in turn can lower your blood pressure. High blood pressure is associated with greater risk of artery damage, heart disease and stroke.

Along with reducing blood pressure, board games may also boost your immune system. Research has shown that negativity and stress can reduce your ability to fight disease. Positive feelings, like the laughter and enjoyment that often comes with board games, counteracts these effects by releasing neuropeptides that fight stress and boost the immune system.

Coordination and Dexterity
Many board games require the use of fine motor skills to pick up or move pieces, actions that take both coordination and dexterity. Regular practice and activity improve these basic skills, which is important for children, people with mental or physical disabilities, the elderly and those recovering from accidents. Board games make a helpful addition to occupational therapy treatments, as well as work well in areas like special needs classrooms to help improve muscle and nerve function over time.

Child Development
Board games play an integral role in child health and brain development. Board games help children develop logic and reasoning skills, improve critical thinking and boost spatial reasoning. Encouraging children to play different types of board games can also increase verbal and communication skills, while helping develop attention spans and the ability to focus for longer periods of time (not to mention the importance of teamwork). Games like Monopoly (Jr) are great for math skills as well!

With so many benefits, it's easy to see why board games have continued to find a place in homes throughout the world for so long. Next time you pick up a board game to play with your friends or family, remember that you're not only having fun, you're also improving your health (and theirs)! 

Kathy Flute is a mother of three earning her master's in special education who enjoys writing articles about family, teamwork, and the Top 10 Special Education Masters Degree Programs (On Campus).

Shabbat Gaming

Some games I've played over the last several shabbats:

Nefarious: Enjoyed with five players, three of whom were first-time players. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. I'm glad I found a copy of this hard-to-find game.

Amun-Re: Taught this game to two other people. One of them really liked it, and the other one hated it; that's the first time I've run into someone who really didn't like the game. This is a game that everyone (until now) I know likes but no one loves. He said it was too dry. He ended up asking us to stop after the first age.

King of the Elves: My friends Shirley and Bill are back in the country for a multi-year stay; I broke out this game that none of us had yet played. It's a light card game with some odd rules about building villages and playing thieves and so on, and then visiting the villages with your assorted transportation cards. It was pretty chaotic and had a lot of luck, but the rules were intriguing and we have barely explored the tactics space. We played four players, but only completed 3 rounds before two of the players had to leave. It's unclear if there is much strategy to the game or if it is all tactics. Shirley in particular liked the game.

Nadine is in the process of developing a fairly abstract board game and we are her guinea pigs. As we play she changes the rules around us if she thinks the new ones will be more fun.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Concert: Prokofiev, Beethoven, and Mahler with the IPO

Lisa invited me and a friend of hers to see and hear the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra last night. The evening was sublime. Lovely women companions, dark chocolate to snack on, an energetic and emotional conductor (only 24 years old) who practically danced while he conducted, an orchestra of talented and tight musicians including a phenomenal pianist, and some lovely musical compositions.

Here is the program info.

Prokofiev/Overture on Hebrew themes: This piece reminded me of the incidental music from Star Wars: lots of tentative clarinet notes. It was fun and engaging. (amazon, youtube)

Beethoven/Piano Concerto no. 5: The Allegro was exciting, and the Adagio un poco mosso was emotional. I thought the Rondo: The Allegro ma non troppo was a little long (and really just more of the same without adding much to the first two parts). (amazon, youtube)

Mahler/Symphony no. 1: This was a lovely pastoral piece (with the exception of a single low violin note that played over the first several minutes and sounded a bit like ringing in my ears) moving through an awakening in spring but eventually moving to someplace a little dark. I was just beginning to get droopy eyes by the end, which was nearly two and a half hours after the concert began. (amazon, youtube)

It was a privilege to hear such music, to see such talented performers, to be able to take a night out of one's life to experience an auditory decadence in the company of three thousand other well-behaved audience members. Every night can't be like that, but I will be seeing Rihanna in concert later this month, so I'm feeling incredibly lucky right now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Tzolk'in

Tzolk'in is a worker-placement set-collection game with a funny name from Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, published by Czech Games Edition. It's a more complicated version of the popular semi-gateway game Stone Age, aimed at heavy gamers. It plays up to four - and appears to be best with four or three - and is supposed to take 2 to 3 hours, but in our group took 4 or so hours each time. This was not a bad thing: unlike other games during which you want to claw your brain out with a dull spoon when the game goes on too long, this game was interesting the entire time. While waiting for my opponents to make their moves, I was thinking about my own moves. I couldn't completely plan my moves, since I could not know the moves that would be left to me by my opponents. And sometimes my opponents really did take too long.

Tzolk'in is played on an unusual board with interlocking rotating gears representing the Mayan calendar or something.

Pretty, huh? This gimmick is actually necessary. The gears are all rotated one notch each round, which would be too much bookkeeping otherwise. Here's the gist of it: The game has 26 rounds (as does the central gear). Four times during the game you have to pay maintenance costs on your workers.

On each round, each player places or removes workers from the gears, but not both. On each round you place workers on the lowest spots in any of the gears. You must take the lowest spots available on each gear if you place on that gear. Placing multiple workers costs an increasing amount of money, so it is cheaper in terms of money (but not in terms of time) to place less each round. If the lowest spot available is not the actual lowest spot, you again need to pay extra - this costs you money, but you will more quickly reach the positions with the higher payouts. After each round, the gears are rotated and the workers move up to increasingly higher payoff locations (unless they fall off the board, which never happens).

When you take workers off the board, you either get points, resources, more workers, or the opportunity to use your resources: move up in the tracks (in the above image, the tracks are on the top and center right) that give you higher payoffs on the gears or points or extra actions, buy buildings or monuments that give you points (in the above image, the buildings and monuments are on the bottom right) or reduced maintenance costs , etc.

Three tracks are scored twice during the game (including a bonus for first place on each track). One of the gears (the blue one above) has locations that score points during the game (each location on this track can only be used once during the game). Buildings you buy during the game score as you buy them. Monuments score based on items collected or board positions by the end of the game. Player with the most points wins.

There are five different resources and scant opportunities to swap them around. Maintenance requires you to constantly support your workers, but there are ample opportunities to get these maintenance costs, so it did not present the kind of difficulty that it does in Stone Age or Agricola. Getting at least one extra worker seems pretty important, but owing to the amount of money you have to spend to place them it didn't seem to be as critical to get all of your available workers as it does in Hansa Tuetonica. After two plays, it looks like there are different paths to victory to explore; we chose different paths but the top scores were not too far apart. And they were all challenging.

There is not much player interaction except taking the spaces that you know others want, but those are nearly always the spaces you want anyway. There is some competition for bonus points on the three scoring tracks, but again not too much. This could be because, as new players, we are still learning the systems, playing against the board rather than the other players. As the game becomes more familiar, competition for certain actions, tracks, and buildings are likely to heat up.

I highly recommend that you DO NOT play this game with new players or with casual gamers, as they are likely to be quite confused. For gamers, so far I like what I've seen. The theme is not entirely absent due to the artwork and the necessary gear shapes in the board, but it's also not too present (so I can ignore the supposed "gods" theme attached to some of the tracks) and I had no idea what my actions were supposed to represent as far as real world activities. It's just a series of systems of: place, collect, compete, and maximize your points.

In our games, Mace concentrated on the gear that gave out points during the game and I concentrated on buildings and monuments; both of our choices were influenced by our starting position bonuses. I lost to him by 7 point from a single track in the final scoring.

Friday, September 13, 2013


It's at times like this ... when I've just sold one apt and bought another, when I've just sold one car and bought another, when I've just had minor surgery (corrected a deviated septum) and it's made me fatigued the whole week, when I've just started a dizzying new relationship, when I've been told by one person that I'm the most religious person they typically hang out with and by another that I'm the least religious person that they typically hang out with, when I've just had several discussions analyzing the choices I have made with my religion and whether they are the right ones, and when I want to do what's right, do God's will, be a better person for myself, and be a better person for the rest of the world, that I need to take some time for reflection. And look at this: here comes Yom Kippur. Yehuda

Monday, September 09, 2013

Guest Post: Games and Jewish Education

The following is a guest post from JETS Israel:

What will Jewish education look like in the year 2020? No one can say for sure but if current trends hold firm more and more educational frameworks will integrate online game models into their core curriculum as well as their enrichment activities.

Teachers throughout the educational spectrum are increasingly incorporating games and other online tools into their lesson plans. The new media that is available on the web enables young learners to develop and sharpen their abilities, teach themselves and mentor their peers using any of the dozens -- even hundreds -- of online platforms and games. These activities introduce new subjects and reinforce previous learning as they encourage students to problem solve, engage in role-playing, and strengthen their knowledge.

The Jewish educational world has been slow to embrace the opportunities that multi-media, online games and other digital tools bring to the classroom. Every year however, more Jewish schools, both day schools and afternoon enrichment programs, integrate these distance learning programs into their curriculum. Online Jewish educational groups such as JETS Israel incorporate games in an online venue as a way of heightening the students' engagement with the subject material and reinforcing the learning.

One popular activity involves "twinning" kids in Israeli and North American and challenging them to collaborate with each other to complete assignments. The wikispace model is a particularly adaptive tool for this kind of instruction. Kids can play any number of games with their peers across the ocean which highlight the lesson's main points and support the learning model.

Since one of the objectives of the twinning project involves strengthening the language skills of both groups (strengthening Hebrew for the North American kids and English for the Israeli kids) many teachers use the vocabulary from the subject to create online word games such as word scrambles, crosswords and -- a particularly popular game, description detective. Each pair of students -- one from Israel and one from the North American classroom -- receives their own sub-Wikispace where they join forces to complete the assignment as they compete against the other student pairs.

iPad classes offer another opportunity to bring online games into the classroom. When studying Israel's history or geography students can time themselves while placing Israeli cities and other geographical locations correctly on prepared map and then count the number of events that occurred in each location that they can identify. A timeline game offers the same challenges.

The web-conferencing model presents a perfect forum for trivia games, whether the subject involve Torah, Talmud, history or current events. As the teacher moderates the trivia game from his or her station anywhere in the world the kids can compete in pairs, in groups or as individuals. This game works best when the kids are split into groups and each group is represented by a different student, with the role of group representatives revolving among the students. Multiple groups can compete and as groups are eliminated, the last group standing becomes the trivia winner.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

5 Movie Reviews: Elysium, Before Midnight, etc


Pretty much the defining standard of a badly written movie, this clunker is a mess of bad, unsubtle writing that drove me to distraction. You can see the script-writers behind every scene and every line of dialogue: "Here we need a scene that needs a female and a vulnerable child. Act vulnerable!" "Here we need a scene with tough guys in a poor neighborhood. Act tough!" And so they do, unimpressively and unmemorably.

A guy on Earth (all of whom are poor and live on a planet with no vegetation (where do they get oxygen?) is critically injured and so, like many others, makes a daring attempt to get to Elysium, a floating ring-world where all the rich people live in style and comfort with universal healing machines. Lots of punching, snarling, meanness, and crashes follow.

Like Skyfall and dozens of other bad movies that inexcusably didn't spend a teeny fraction of their production budget on someone who knows anything about technology, I was once again laughing out loud at the future of computer technology. I love when mankind's highest and most secure technology can be brought low by a couple of twisted wires (why are they still using wires, and why is every wire a universal access port to "the entire system", and why do all access ports universally use the same communication standard as every ad-hoc laptop brought to hack it?).

The basic plot points, while obviously supposed to have political metaphor, don't really make any sense; one example: healing technology is free, limitless, and consumes no resources; why keep it away from the poor people?


Before Midnight

This is a sparkling achievement that demonstrates that there is endless possibility for great movies, and they don't need a single special effect or action sequence.

This is the third movie in a trilogy from director Robert Linklater and actors/writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I don't recognize Ethan from anything else, but I remember Julie from her equally fine performances in Kieslowski's great Trois Couleurs trilogy. All three of the movies in this trilogy (both trilogies, actually) are can't-miss movies, and they should ideally be seen in order.

The movies are sequences of long conversations, some of which take place in real time without a camera cut over the course of 15 or 20 or more minutes. They are daring conversations that present real conversations about universal issues while avoiding anything cliche. They succeed by bringing the individual and his or her perspective into the mix, so that the conversations don't use the exact words that we might use but they sure seem to cover the same ground.

They are insightful and thought-provoking, fascinating, captivating, and at times highly charged and emotional. One of these movies is worth the rest of the summer's multi-million dollar special effect comic book adaptations and Pixar sequels combined.

Must-see. Be warned that this movie contains an extended topless scene, but it's not very sexual.

The Lone Ranger

Speaking of overproduced multi-million dollar special effect movies, this one, like John Carter, was not bad, certainly not as bad as the critics and box office results would lead you to believe. This movie is mis-titled, since it's about Tonto (johnny Depp), with The Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) thrown in as his straight-man sidekick. Depp is fetching and he has some good lines; a lot of it was fun. The plot is ok: something about railway companies and money; it's about un-trust-able companions really, since the plot is not important.

It tries a little too hard, perhaps. But it's still better than Elysium.

Meh. If you must go out and there is nothing else to see.

Monsters University

An entirely unnecessary prequel that is wholly unoriginal and just not that captivating. This may have worked as a Pixar short. It's a straightforward story about a band of misfits and the same type of moral lessons driven home by Monsters Inc, which was a much better movie. Mike and Sully meet; they are not natural friends, but circumstances require them to team together with a bunch of other misfits in order to graduate. Cue the unlikely victories over the more deserving but arrogant foils.

It's not a bad movie. At least the ending is not bad.

Meh. Skip.

The Great Gatsby

Watching this solidified for me the problem with a whole bunch of recent movies: a director with an over-inflated ego. In this movie, as in Anna Karenina and most famously (and, paradoxically, least problematically) in Moulin Rouge, the director is so in love with himself that he treats the actors like scenery on which to hang the score and visuals. Instead of the movie being about the characters and the dialog, it is whiz, flash, sparkle, moving cameras, mirrors, paintings, and basically anything to avoid a single real moment of human interaction. The characters, when they appear on film, drop lines like they are part of the sound effects.

The result is all style and no substance, and I hate it. It's tiring, obnoxious, and the exact opposite of what a movie is capable of delivering. Like Anna Karenina, I abandoned this about a third of the way through.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Polite But Firm Refusal

You do not have to feel guilty about not giving beyond what is your obligation.

Everyone has the right to give or to not give at a level they feel comfortable with. Friends and strangers get used to habitually guilting you into giving, which just puts you into a position of feeling bad no matter what you do: bad if you say no, bad if you overextend yourself. They have no right to do that, but it is not they who must set your boundaries. You have to set them.

They may mean well; they have simply learned to keep asking until you say no. So you have to say it, firmly, politely and without guilt. These askers are always ready to try to overcome your explanations. They will tell you why should should want to, why it's great, why it's important, why it's your obligation, why it won't take much time, etc. All of these conversations are stopped in their tracks if you refuse to have the conversation.

"Can you?"

"I'm afraid I can't."

"But why not."

"I simply can't, I'm sorry."

"But it's for a great cause, surely it won't take much time ..."

"I'm afraid I simply cant."


"No. I simply can't."

Eventually they will give up.

This power is not just limited to getting out of externally set fictitious obligations. It is also useful for standing down salespeople. I once had an internet plan with a company that I wanted to cancel. Every time I tried to cancel, I was transferred to Retention who argued with me and gifted me until I gave in. Finally I decided to invoke the "no explanation" strategy. The conversation went something like this (I'm not making this up):

"But why do you want to cancel?"

"I just want to cancel."

"I need to know the reason."

"I just want to cancel."

"I can't cancel you unless you give me a reason."

"Yes you can. I just want to cancel."

"You HAVE to give me a reason."

"I want to cancel because I want to cancel. There is no reason."

"Is it cost? We can offer you 3 months free, blah blah blah."

"No, I want to cancel."

"Is there some other problem?"

"No, I just want to cancel."

This went on for another 30 backs and forths until finally:

"Look, if you don't tell me why you want to cancel, then there is nothing I can offer to you that will help your problem."


He then said he has to transfer me to his boss. The back and forth happened only 4 more times with the boss, and then I was canceled.

(Inspired by Miss Manners)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Gaming with Steve and Co

My college roommate Steve visited Israel with his wife Miriam and their children. I played a few games with Steve and his boys. They are familiar with old style games, like Avalon Hill, etc, and I used to play a lot of Bridge with Steve.

On the first night I saw him, we played two games of Nefarious. They enjoyed it, but not overly much. Seeing my audience, I taught them Antike. I explained that the game is about points, not only about conquest and battle, but naturally old Risk players are going to start with iron and armies, and so they did. I accumulated a few Know-Hows early, but they caught on and took the rest of them. It was neck and neck for a while. I ultimately won by diversifying to take the low-hanging points, rather than by concentrating on one track, which is slow (though one of them was producing 17 marbles every two turns near the end of the game). Oh, and the game took us to 1:15 in the morning, which was an hour and a quarter more than I wanted to stay up.

Last shabbat we got together again. Since I had to carry games to them in the center of Jerusalem, I brought some light cards games, the usual assortment: No Thanks, Parade, and Tichu. No Thanks went over well and we played twice. One of the boys (my opponent) didn't enjoy Tichu because it required thought. My partner and I lost the first hand 100 to 0, but we won the second 300 to -100 and the third 200 to 0. They also enjoyed Parade and we also played that twice.

Steve and I then walked over to Nadine's, where we also found Emily and Eitan. We played one long game of Hawaii. I taught Steve, and simultaneously refreshed the rules for Eitan and Emily. And, as it turns out, corrected a few rule mistakes that Nadine had been playing with (update from Nadine: One rule wrong!).

I'm still not sure what the best strategy is, especially with five players. Of course, the strategies will vary depending on what is cheap and who else is going for the same things. I generally aim for two boats as soon as possible with some extra foot productions; in this game, I also got extra fruit production. Since only Nadine was competing with me for boats, and since she used them mostly for high victory point islands rather than for the utility tiles that the islands provide, there was little competition for my strategy. I also had three villages with kahunas, a few bonus points for fruits, hula dancers, and boats/surfers, and a bonus of 4 whenever I scored at the end of the round, which I did four times out of five. I was usually second to last place in turn order. I ended nearly 50 points ahead of the other players, who were all within ten points of each other.