Elliot’s funeral

You got quite a crowd, Elliot. And a fair few shedding tears for your passing. There were a lot of hespedim (eulogies) – more than I had experienced before – but they were a blessing. The hespedim shone a light on the range of your good characteristics, good deeds, and fine examples, and brought back happy memories of your life, of your vibrant, infectious, happy spirit. I am grateful that I came to know you, and shared some moments of Torah and baseball. You were one of a kind, and you’ll be missed.

Five for Friday

Because of Shavuoth (Sunday) this was a short work week, making it seem like an even faster sprint to the weekend. And it was also the week of Susan’s birthday which we celebrated with a night out at Sarah-Lee & Tomer’s cinema. We saw The Judge, a feisty little film about family, law, loyalty, and death. Unfortunately, the death part has been a bit of a theme this week, with some all too early tragic losses occurring. May those families be spared sorrow for many years to come.

Whatever happens, as we quickly learn, life goes on. The world does not stop. So, I won’t try and resist that tide. As usual, I offer the following mix of links to mark the arrival of the weekend. Have a good one.

Shabbat Shalom!

It’s a plot!

As you may have heard, the USA authorities are pursuing corruption allegations against FIFA.

As Harry’s Place highlights, some in the anti-Israel brigade see this is a conspiracy, given the current moves by the Palestinians to get Israel thrown out of FIFA:

h1

I have not linked to the Stopper website.

Meantime, in the world of twitter, there is plenty conspiratorial material (being polite) inspired by the situation:

tw1

Really? There’s worse:

tw2

Hasbara?

And we all know what Zionist is a code word for.

The state of the world today.

Long haul

This week’s session was an intense encounter with Terra Mystica by John, Sheer, and me.

It was just as well there were only three of us; the box says playing time is 30 minutes per player, but in our case it proved to be 60 minutes per player, making for a long game. However, it was our first session with this meaty, meaty game, and in subsequent plays we should be able to cut it down to 55 minutes per player. And no, that’s not a joke.

terramystica

Terra Mystica is a resource management and worker placement game, with several straightforward enough mechanics knitted together to make for a challenging whole. There is a lot to it – for example, the rules explanation including setup was close to an hour – but, as usual, once you have a couple of turns under your belt, it’s much more accessible.

The game is played in six rounds. In each round there is a scoring bonus for doing certain actions (like creating a particular building type) and a cult bonus (for having influence in a particular one of the four cults). On the main board, you are trying to develop your settlement. You are one of 14 races, each with its own special quirk. For example, I was the Witches, and on building a certain structure, that enabled me to freely settle one new space each turn. I think John was the Nomads and Sheer was the Alchemists.

There are eight actions (plus bonuses) available, and you need to gather in and combine power, money, workers, and priests as resources, and use them for these actions. You need to settle the land (which has different types, only one of which suits your tribe) using spades, another resource that you can acquire in certain circumstances.

Each round, you take an action in turn, and keep taking actions as long as you want to. When you drop out, you hand in your old mini bonus tile and pick up a new one. The first player to drop out gets to be the new first player in the next round.

You score points during the game and at the end. You can generally see what is going on, and I suspect that in some games there might be more of ‘kill the leader’ than we experienced.

In short, you are trying to do a lot, with never enough of what you need to do that, and all the time you want to do it better than the other players. In that regard, there is some player interaction – for example, in racing to get the special actions first, and in settling spaces that are attractive to others. However, the competitive elements are not overdone, and that aspect of the balance of the game quite appealed to me.

In our game, Sheer managed to get his pieces combining well ahead of the rest of us, and he was the eventual winner, though not by much. John and I were close behind.

So, after three hours of play, the general conclusion was that we would play it again, but not with a fourth. That would be too long. It suggests there might be a better, shorter game, stuck inside this one. But as a challenging game for three committed players, this was damn fine stuff.

Thanks to John and Sheer for coming along and making for a great session.

We do things differently here

So it appears. For example, let’s talk about our new government. What does Haviv Rettig Gur, writing at the Times of Israel, have to say about the topic:

“And it is true that Israel’s new government, its 34th in 67 years, takes some explaining. The list of seemingly incoherent appointments is a long one. The minister of justice has no background in law, the minister of science none in science, the minister of tourism is also in charge of the police and prisons. There is a full minister in the Communications Ministry, but he’s not the communications minister; that title is reserved for the prime minister, who is also the minister of health (but promises not to act as such) and of foreign affairs, a portfolio effectively leaderless at a time of growing diplomatic tensions. The absorption minister is also the strategic affairs minister, while the transportation minister is also in charge of a newly christened “Intelligence Ministry.” And on and on.”

And if you think that’s bad, try this out:

“Billions of shekels are now promised to the Education Ministry and various welfare agencies — not because anyone sat down and worked out what exactly was needed in each place, but because ministers demanded it as a condition for taking their posts. Countless millions are now being promised to the police, if only Erdan [Likud’s number two, Gilad Erdan] agrees to join the government. If Erdan chooses to stay out, in a flagrant challenge to Netanyahu’s authority, then by the magical logic of coalition-building the Israel Police apparently no longer need the money.”

As we speak, presumably there are teams of consultants from the Israeli Police, camped outside Erdan’s office, giving him 1,001 reasons why he must – absolutely must – join the government.

The situation is not good. It does not make for good government, and it seems a miracle that anything is achieved in this chaotic environment. But stuff is achieved. Yes, we do things differently here.

Read it all, and wonder.

The Stranger – Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben is a gifted writer who knows how to grab the reader by the balls, and grip harder and harder. Sometimes his plots are so far from believable, that you can escape the grip. But when Coben gets it right, it’s a near perfect experience. This book is a terrific example of Coben near the top of his form.

Take a successful suburban family man like Adam Price. He is happily married with two kids. No marriage nor money woes. No health issues. Perfect. Introduce a stranger who exposes a lie. Watch what happens.

Corben’s setup is perfect. The twists and turns – because you never go in the direction you are thinking about – are brilliantly crafted in the main, and the excitement builds up. This is a fine perfect example of a page turner. Partly, that overcomes the one or two rough patches in the book (small, but noticeable), though Coben’s observations on this type of American lifestyle also might grate. They somehow appear as spiteful rather than thoughtful. Perhaps to balance that, Coben introduces a couple of good characters that help out when Adam Price needs help most of all.

The characterization is mostly shallow, but the action draws you in so deeply you may not notice. You may have to suspend your disbelief at one or two plot devices, but you will be rewarded by experiencing a good, entertaining, read. Not Coben’s finest, but well worth reading. But don’t start it unless you have time to finish it…

The Doll’s House – M J Arlidge

This is the third of a crime series featuring Detective Inspector Helene Grace, a female character of some complexity and depth, and for that alone we should be grateful.

In this book, Grace – while battling internal enemies and worrying herself sick about her missing nephew – tackles a serial killer who likes to kidnap and kill young girls. We are given a good insight to the character of the latest victim, and that is some of the strongest writing in the book.

The hunt for clues and the general progress of the police investigation did not come across so well, with some of the writing very much falling into the let me tell you what’s going on here, dear reader mode. The baddie’s portrayal is a bit lackluster, too. That having been said, the author does more than enough to build up the tension nicely.

The plot was passable, the pacing – as hinted above – was good, the characters a mixed bunch, and all in all this was an OK book, rather than a great read. I have this suspicion – completely untested – that a quality editor let loose on the manuscript could have really sharpened the impact. As it was, it came across as just another crime book, with only Helen Grace to make it rise above the masses.

I won’t be reading any of the earlier books, but will probably keep an eye open for newer outings to see if things improve.

 

The Explorer – James Smythe

Cormac Easton is the journalist added on to a crew of astronauts sent on a mission into deep space. Very quickly, things go wrong. To tell much more than that would spoil the plot, but it’s maybe safe to say that Cormac faces some tough choices.

It’s not a space opera adventure, and neither is it a hard space puzzle or mystery; there is a puzzle though, and you must be patient to await the final disclosure. What it is, is a well written, easy to read, baffling tale. You must go all the way to get the maximum reward for your effort. And if you do go all the way, it may spark some thought and reflection.

In short, it’s a gentle, unsettling read that will not be to everyone’s taste.

Another Red Wave

This month’s meeting of the Israel ASL Club took place at my home. Daniel and I played A107 The Red Wave, while Josh and Ran played AP 38 Infiltrators.

First, the following from Josh:

“Infiltrators is not your standard scenario. It features a strange armor battle of armored cars, halftracks, trucks and some infantry.

Basically the Germans have to destroy the British truck convoy. We started off just generally scrapping, punko vs. punko, with Ran getting the better of me and destroying my halftracks. But as the scenario wore I started to find my footing as my troops got in PF range. One of Ran’s main weapons was recalled and this helped balance things.

Ran’s trucks came on protected by his tanks and it looked like he found a clear path off. But then, like the Japanese battleships that slipped past the American fleet into Leyte Gulf and stumbled upon an unprotected landing, I found a hole and attacked the truck convoy from the rear with armored cars.

At this point I had a chance. My first armored car rammed the last truck, but rolled a 10 in the OVR attack. The second armored car stopped to take a shot, but was destroyed by an annoying 2 from a far-off tank that swiveled. Another HT guarding a pass behind bocage was destroyed, and then I realized Ran would be able to exit his three-truck quota without problem and I surrendered.

I would love to play this scenario again. I have a lot of good ideas how to beat the British…

One last thing, the Germans choose three of the four groups. Who not to choose? There is no question here. The group with the motorcycle is immediately rejected.”

Thank you, Josh.

Ran comments as follows:

“I enjoyed my game with Josh. My main remark to Josh’s game report is that I think the Germans must try to avoid contact with the British as much as possible, while still blocking the roads, and force the British trucks to remain in convoy as long as possible.”

Interesting. Thanks, Ran.

Meantime, back to my game of Red Wave.

This was my second play of this, also as the German defender. I requested it to see if I could put to use the lessons learned against Ran. And, on the whole, I was pleased and thought my performance was better. I still lost…

Here is the game with both sides set up.

setup

Notice the toe to toe arrangement in the middle, with a killer Soviet stack against a puny single German squad and SMG. This happened because I misread the Soviet setup instructions. They are allowed to set up in half hexes of their board. My defense was too far forward.

Daniel suggested I should defend further back, but I am unconvinced.

This is what happened.

The Soviets attacked, declaring a Human Wave that swept into my forward defenses. (My squad and SMG survived the attack, and lived to fight another day. But it was a short day!) My defensive fire and sniper activity killed off two of his leaders and at least one squad. But my forces were worse affected.

At this point, I was trying to put together a second line of defense.

action

My left flank forces were successful and repelled all assaults. However, elsewhere, although I took out one of his tanks – with the gun hidden in H5 – the other tank alone was the main cause of damage. Not directly, though. Daniel, expertly, used his vehicle to freeze a stack at a time (occupying it so as not to allow the defending stack to fire out of the hex) while advancing with infantry. The infantry jumped in during the Advance Phase, entered close combat, and – despite some heroic enduring stands – were successful in eliminating the defenders. Rinse and repeat.

He had to do this because, gradually, my defensive fire had taken a sufficiently high toll that he could not win by exiting units. So, in part, a success. Instead, the Soviets won by claiming control of the victory locations.

Enthralling and immersive, again. Quite a gaming experience. Thanks to Daniel, Josh, and Ran for coming along and making it all so much fun.

Five for Friday

Living outside of Israel, one of the issues facing observant Jews is the two day yomtov. One of the advantages of making aliyah, is that you can put that behind you (except for Rosh Hashanah, which is two days everywhere in the world). But every so often, the calendar conspires to combine and remind you what it’s like to endure the two day yomtov. Like this weekend: we have Shabbat, then immediately after, Shavuoth. In short (ha!) a two day yomtov. Not my favorite experience.

Meantime, here are the regular weekly set of links for you. Enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom! Chag Sameach!