Home – Harlan Coben

home-hc
Apart from the somewhat fractured and frosty relationship between Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood III (Win), this is another rather formulaic, albeit high tension, adventure.

Ten years ago, two six year olds (Patrick Moore and Rhys Baldwin) were kidnapped, never to be seen again. Now, Win gets an email telling him where one of the kids is to be found. But Win’s encounter with the alleged victim is somewhat messy, and things spiral out of control. Soon Win and Myron are forced to go back to the very beginning and hope a fresh approach will yield clues to help them solve the puzzle.

On the plus side, the formula delivers plot twists aplenty, and the whole narrative is fast-paced. And the friction between Myron and Win is absorbing.

On the negative side, some of the motivation behind the behavior of certain characters is less than persuasive. And the involvement of Myron’s young nephew – a crossover character from other books – did not ring true to me. I understood the attraction of building a link between the characters. But here, it was a whole bridge, and it seemed to be suspended in midair. To put it another way, it didn’t work.

If you can put your critical faculties on hold, you will get a cracking read. Otherwise, sadly, this is an OK book, but not one of the author’s best.

Continuing slaughter – on the roads

From a Ynet report dated yesterday:

Traffic fatalities rise in 2016

The number of fatalities in road accidents in Israel currently stands at 32,959, more than all the fatalities of Israel’s wars and terrorist attacks. Of that total, 5,038 were children.

For the fourth consecutive year, the amount of fatalities has increased. 2016 has thus far seen 328 Israelis die on the roads, 14 more than the same period last year. To put that into perspective, 100 more fatalities were recorded in 2016 than 2012.

2016 marks an increase of 15 percent in the amount of drivers killed and a 20 percent increase in the amount of train passengers killed. However, in contrast, 2016 registered a decrease of 16 percent in the amount of motorcyclists killed and a decrease of 10 percent in the amount of pedestrians killed.

Part of the explanation is provided:

In 2015, the state comptroller issued several reports detailing the failures of the government in dealing with the dangers of the road. The report was critical of the lack of effective speed cameras, Ministry of Transportation policies that paralyzed the National Road Safety Authority, the severe shortage of police officers in the traffic division and the lack of effective police enforcement of regulations for pedestrians.

The comptroller attacked the Ministry of Education for drastically scaling back traffic education in schools, particularly on motorcycles, scooters and electric bicycles.

There has been a new law put in place to try and cut down the number of accidents involving electric bicycles and youngsters. There is no sign of that having any effect in Ra’anana. Kids still ride these electric bikes dangerously; they often overload them, drive too fast on the pavement, swerve in and out of traffic lanes, wear no protection, and rarely have any lights. They might as well be wearing a sign saying “Accident waiting to happen.”

Therefore, so far as I am concerned, passing laws is not good enough. Without enforcement that law is a public relations pretense that action has been taken. Action? Yes. Effective? No. Waste of time? So far, yes.

But the real slaughter involves cars on the roads. As if to underline the statistics, this is from today:

Three killed, toddler seriously injured in car crash

Crash took place overnight Saturday after two vehicles collided on Highway 79 in lower Galilee; paramedics forced to pronounce death of a man and two women after being extricated from vehicles; toddler evacuated to hospital having sustained head injuries; another man and woman hospitalized in serious condition, two youths lightly wounded.

Tragic.

Something needs to be done.

The non functioning speed cameras are a disgrace. The undermanned traffic police situation is also a disgrace. The lack of a modern, efficient traffic court system is, you guessed it, a disgrace. There’s a gaping hole in the concern our lawmakers have for the people of this country.

Deadline – Barbara Nadel

nadel-deadline
Inspector Ikmen is, reluctantly, taking part in a charity event. It is a murder mystery hosted at Istanbul’s famous Pera Palas Hotel, where once the legendary Agatha Christie stayed. In short order, Ikmen is forced to take part in a real life murder mystery. With the clock ticking towards a dreadful deadline, Ikmen has to work out who the killer is, and who is behind the deadly show.

Once again, this author delivers a fine character portrayal, backed up by the wonderful color of Istanbul, past and present. While this plot is more far fetched than I would have liked, veering dangerously towards Hollywood style excess, it just about keeps its feet on the ground. I couldn’t quite buy into the motivation some of the characters had for taking part in the real murder mystery, but the overall impression of the criminal enterprise was well constructed, and worked better than the individual parts.

In short, not the best Ikmen story, but well worth reading.

Orcs, Trolls, and Other Nasties

lotr

Sheer and I took on the baddies in this week’s session, as we tried out The Lord of The Rings: The Card Game. This is a solitaire or cooperative game – you have to beat the system – where your heroic party is set a quest. On the quest, the constructed encounter deck throws up locations, nasty events, and even nastier monsters. Look out for that Hill Troll! The player or players (maximum of two) choose their starting heroes, and construct their own deck. The more powerful the hero, the higher your Threat score. When this rises to 50, you lose. The forces of evil inflict such damage if you do not handle them well.

In a previous session we had won the first quest, so tried out the second. I think the rules rate the first quest as being level 1 (on a rising scale from 1-10) and the second one as level 4. There is a third quest in the game rated as a 7…

In short, we tried this out twice and were beaten up both times. Given that it is a solitaire style game, that is probably right. It is no fun if it is too easy to win. And the challenge is designing the deck and combinations that can get you the win. There is, therefore, work to do.

The production standards are excellent. The cards are high quality, and the illustrations match that standard. The rules are quite good, with only a couple of minor issues. The system is fun, with some neat ideas. The Threat mechanic is especially cool, giving a real sense of the ticking clock and urgency. Sure, there’s an element of luck, but it is not overdone.

There’s a good amount of replayability in the box, and we will probably go back to the drawing board and try our luck again. I have the first set of expansions for added fun.

Thanks to Sheer for being my fellow traveler on the quest.

Over the bridge and far away

yelnya

Recently, I had the chance to play the ASL scenario The Yelnya Bridge against Ran and Josh, as part of my continuing (and long suffering) learning experience with this amazing, challenging game system.

The scenario (set in October 1941) features a small Soviet force, defending a bridge crossing amidst rugged terrain – wooded, with a valley and hills on the Soviet side dominating much of the board. The Soviets have a bunker and a couple of trenches, a decent anti-tank gun, an MMG and 50mm mortar, a mixed bag of infantry, and badly needed reinforcements. The German attackers have to take the village (three building hexes) or exit units by passing through the defense line. They have a couple of armored cars, a couple of lightly armored tanks, and SS infantry support.

The key to the defense is the gun and bunker combination. In my first game against Ran, I set the bunker up with a limited arc that covered the bridge. That meant it did not cover a chunk of the board. So, Ran took his opportunity, got his tanks through the fire zone quickly and soon his combination of forces was too good to hold back – especially as I had no real anti-tank capability. As Ran put it:

“The rest of my advance went well against the thinly defended board. I moved as quickly as possible across the difficult terrain. Ellis did his best to reinforce the attacked area, but was one step behind the attackers. My much superior infantry, supported by armor, easily dealt with the few defenders that crossed its path, and killed a reinforcing Russian platoon that tried to block the exit. I lost one armored car to a Russian ATR, and managed to exit the other armored car, two tanks, and enough infantry to win on the last turn.”

Ran’s win.

In my second game against Josh, I learned a lot from the first encounter and, this time, set the bunker and gun up in a much better position. Josh brought his armored cars up the road to the bridge and used them to try and suppress my mortar and machine gun (who were in trenches around the bunker, on the dominating hills). As Josh put it:

“My elite (blue) SS began their assault through a valley. I should have expected it, but wasn’t really thinking when Ellis opens up from higher elevation with gun, mortar and MMG. The scariest being the mortar because of its 2-1 shots and high rate of fire. I thought this game got off to a bad start, and my troops were getting slaughtered in the valley. But those who survived found cover, and SS rally easy, so I was able to get a second wind, this time wiser.

My vehicles had trouble maneuvering and I didn’t even want to try moving my armored cars off-road with a stream in their path. They just stayed on the roads taking potshots until a two was rolled, which I got.

In the end I was able to exit off the board with the infantry requirements providing the minimum needed for the win.”

The main reason I lost here was of a stupid mistake. Josh dangled some infantry in front of my gun. I took the bait and fired. He promptly ran his armored cars up the road, across the bridge, and off the other end for a whopping ten out of the needed 16 exit points. My desperate intensive fire with the already fired gun, of course, failed. After that, it was just a matter of time.

“Ellis’s reinforcements could have saved the day. They moved in at the edge of the board where I was exiting. But half squads and significant dancing allowed me to get by them. Ellis advanced a huge concealment stack next to a unit at the edge of the board. If Ellis had advanced on the German unit instead, he would have likely killed it in close combat as he would have had 3:1 odds and been concealed. This would have denied me the exit points.”

My reinforcements could have gone for the close combat. However, that meant they were not able to defend the other part of the map edge, so Josh would have found it easier to get his other forces across the winning line.

Bottom line: two games, two defeats, and multiple lessons learned. Again!

Take care with that Fidel Castro coverage

Fidel Castro. Source: Wikimedia/Antonio Milena - ABr

Fidel Castro. Source: Wikimedia/Antonio Milena – ABr

As you will have heard, Fidel Castro has died. If you read the information at the Guardian and the BBC, you might get the impression he was some kind of sainted hero. Other views should be considered. For example, as Guido Fawkes points out:

Nothing however beats the BBC’s coverage. They are reporting Castro death more favourably than Thatcher’s. No ‘controversial’. No mention of the thousands summarily executed after the revolution. No mention that he demanded the USSR nuke the USA. No mention of the decades of impoverishment and human rights abuse. No mention of his secret police rounding up homosexuals and putting them in concentration camps. Castro gets a free pass on democratic norms – “his critics accused him of being a dictator”. Does the BBC think that is only an allegation? Particular congratulations to the BBC News Channel, who interviewed “Cuba expert” Richard Gott, without mentioning he was a KGB agent of influence. Slow clap.

In other words, he was a classical, brutal, dictator. Except, that’s not the case for the BBC and the Guardian. For example, here’s what the Guardian has as its token concession to truth:

Critics liked to argue that “General” Castro was no different in essence from any other Latin America dictator, yet such criticism was hard to sustain.

Eh? Liked to argue?  Hard to sustain? The only thing that’s hard to sustain here is the idea that this piece was an attempt at an objectiver obituary. It’s hagiography, pure and simple.

If that type of coverage doesn’t tell you that real journalism has gone nuts, nothing will.

Embarrassment of the week

Time to look away from the world of politics. Let’s look at the world of hi-tech business. How embarrassing is this:

Twitter bans own CEO Jack Dorsey from Twitter

Twitter briefly suspended the Twitter account of Twitter cofounder and CEO Jack Dorsey today. It sparked some fears the big boss had been unceremoniously booted out of the troubled biz or had fallen foul of his own anti-abuse complaints system. But it was probably a bug or something mundane like that.

The Register has the story here.

Count the money!

acquire

This week, Susan and I were joined by Azriel, Nechamiah, Peleg, and newcomer Yair.

Yair was a latecomer (by arrangement) so the first five of us settled down for a quick game of Ticket to Ride: Europe. Peleg won this, but it was a close, close game, with everyone within one or two scores of one another. Great stuff.

Yair joined us, Susan departed, and we tackled Acquire. Peleg and I had played it before, so I explained the rules and off we went. It didn’t take long for players to understand what was going on, though by then most had lost track of who bought what shares.

I had a reasonable idea that I was doing well, especially when I secured the biggest shareholding in the biggest chain. When it came to the final counting of the cash, Nechamiah was closest. Then he recounted and discovered he had more money, so he was the winner. (Yes, I recounted my own money too, but my pile did not grow!)

We finished with a session of Codenames that we called after one round apiece to the respective teams.

Thanks to all who came for another good night of gaming.

 

Tabletop Happenings

I have taken MBT off the table after reaching the point of being reasonably happy that I had the rules well enough absorbed, and my own house rule experimentation – for command and control and morale – was stuck in a bit of a rut. I much prefer my own systems, but they are not working completely to my satisfaction. So, I will let the challenge simmer away in the background, and if I return to the game again, a fresh perspective may solve the issue.

First replacement on the table was Panzer Battles from MultiMan Publishing. It is one of their Standard Combat Series games, designed by Dean Essig, featuring the 11th Panzer Divisions’s battles near the Chir River in 1942. It’s a classic, well studied campaign of mobile defense and counter attack. The game’s special rules tack on a chit pull activation, but apart from that it is similar to Day of Days and It Never Snows in its scale and slightly tweaked combat processes (artillery in the main).

The game is very playable solitaire, and cracks along at a decent pace. Given the chit pull mechanism, the replayability and tension are both high, though I wonder if the possibility of a blowout – for either side – may be a touch too high. I played through the main scenario once, and it was fun. I seemed to be doing a better job with the Soviets, so probably need to practice a bit more if the contest is to be more even. Good fun.

The next replacement was, and is, Ben Hull‘s Fields of Fire from GMT Games This is a solitaire game where you command an infantry company of the 9th US Infantry (Regiment). There are individual missions in each of three campaigns (WW2, Korea, and Vietnam) where your progression depends on mission success, and building up the experience and expertise of your forces. Part of the challenge is dealing with replacements (who tend to be green troops) and keeping casualties down (and recovering them from the battlefield) so as not to be operating below strength.

The game uses a deck of cards for terrain (one for each campaign), and another deck to resolve all game action. No dice! Units are HQs and squads with individual weapons teams and vehicles.

It is not an easy game to win, but otherwise it would be boring. You have to plan, measure your risks, and rise your luck. Planning, for example, involves deciding what signals will be allocated to the various colored smoke you have at your disposal.

The down side is that the game’s original production was botched, with incomplete rules. There is a second edition which is much improved, but there are still some gaps. A third edition – by all accounts much improved – is due to be released next year with a second edition printing. The fact that it is being reprinted, despite those rules issues, tells you that this game is worth persevering with. It can be frustrating, and the systems are a touch on the clunky side, but it can also be very rewarding. It’s a different experience from the up close and personal action of ASL, but it is nonetheless engrossing and absorbing.