We don’t need another hero

takenoko

This week, Azriel, Peleg, and Sheer joined me, as we welcomed Hero Realms to the group, and had another bash at Takenoko.

First off, the latest addition my collection: Hero Realms. It’s a development of Space Realms, and is a kind of supercharged Dominion – a deck building game – where you get to slash, kill, destroy attack your opponents while trying to fend off their assaults. In the standard game, each player starts off with 50 Life. Once you are down to 0, you are dead.

We played two multiplayer versions where the first dead player (so to speak) ended the game, and the player inflicting the fatal wound gets to claim the win. Sheer won two of these, knocking out (I think) me in one game, and Azriel in another.

Then we played a team version with Sheer and Peleg beating Azriel and me. That one dragged a bit, possibly because the suggested format gives each team 75 Life instead of 50. Just when I thought we were mired in a slow, slow draw, Sheer and Peleg broke the deadlock. As it happened, Azriel had built up a decent deck, and if we had lasted just one more turn, we would have won. So many near things…

In between we had played Takenoko, with Azriel wiping the floor with us. He seemed to be getting victory points every turn, no matter what he did. Quite an achievement.

Thanks to all who came. It was fun.

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths – Harry Bingham

strangedeathoffionag

The continuing adventures of Fiona Griffiths, as she starts off on a minor fraud enquiry that quickly balloons into something much more significant. What was it that lead to the death by starvation of a woman in her own home, and the brutal death of a computer expert by multiple amputation? Soon, Fiona is going undercover, leaving behind everything she has fought hard to acquire and be part of. She builds herself a new deep cover identity, and is taken into the heart of a cold, calculating, criminal enterprise. Will she be safe in the eye of the storm?

The author impresses me with the quality of his writing, his plotting, and the strength of the central character Fiona. Taking her undercover was a clever move, as it allows us to see a new world, removed from the routine police existence she was getting so settled in. And she meets new characters, whose lives and challenges she observes and comments on as only she can.

There were two minor disappointments. One was a story development that I would have preferred had gone in a different direction. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you read it, you will know by the end of the book what I am referring to. Second, there were a couple of encounters between Fiona and Vic (the main baddie she deals with) of an intimate nature. I found both less than convincing. They worked, OK, but weren’t as realistic as I thought. This is a matter of opinion, and it may be the author’s judgement is to be preferred. And, for sure, the two points are very minor in the scheme of the book, so there’s nothing material to get worked up about. (Dare I say it: I might have done it differently. One day…)

In short, this series goes from strength to strength, and I am going to keep reading them. You should too.

On Peace, Trump, Bibi, and the Media

Regardless of whether you are pro or anti Trump, or pro or anti Netanyahu, if you have a shred of objectivity, you will acknowledge that the media coverage – or perhaps barrage would be a better description – of the build up to their meeting, the meeting, and the follow up to their meeting, was largely partisan in nature. Each media outlet hammered away at its own position, with substantial swipes at both leaders. Some of these media people clearly hate Trump or Netanyahu or both. And, almost without exception, a combination of their hate, and their obsession with their own view as the one true way, blinds them to doing what they should be doing.

First, they should be reporting on the facts. Not the facts as they see them, but what the parties actually said or did.

Second, they are entitled to offer up analysis, but it should be credible, and honest. Much of it isn’t.

Third, if they have any pretense of objectivity, they should be offering a perspective from both sides. And not just from the so called liberal or left wing camp.

With all of the above in mind, they may care to reflect that the objective is to establish peace, and not to establish peace only on their preferred lines. And when you stop to think about it, you may come to the same conclusion that the estimable Elder of Ziyon has here. As he writes:

“The status quo is not ideal, and Israel every day has to balance its security needs with ensuring that Palestinian Arabs have the best lives and most rights possible. Whether the world likes it or not, that is the best peace plan available today. As long as the Palestinians refuse to compromise, the status quo will remain the option that optimizes real peace.”

To put it another way, there had better be a bloody good reason for messing with the status quo.

Meantime, again thanks to the Elder, we know that Israelis do want peace and are working towards it in a way that is more practical, more meaningful, and more long term than any of the media commentators or their outlets. But you won’t see that covered by the Guardian, or the BBC, or CNN, or the New York Times. And for that inexcusable lack, they are to be condemned and scorned.

An Israel Time Experience

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

The week starting Sunday 5 February, an email went round the office warning us that there would be an electricity outage on a particular morning between 7.30 and 8.30 AM. I was using a desktop, so followed the expert advice and turned off my computer before the scheduled break, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Eight-thirty came and went without a sniff of an outage. Back to work I went.

Later that week, another email announced that the outage had been postponed, and would be on the following Wednesday (15 February) from 7.30 to 8.30 AM.

Once again, come the appointed time, I followed the expert advice, turned off my computer before the scheduled outage, and waited.

And waited.

This time I waited until 8.20 AM before deciding enough was enough, and I had work to do. Can you guess what happened?

At 8.25 AM, while busy working away, the electricity was cut… Bastards! It was only a 15 minute outage, but why oh why couldn’t they have managed to do the whole thing inside the allotted time?

Ah well, at least my computer wasn’t damaged. Though I am having some problems with the printers..

On being back in employment

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

My time at HPE (after a few weeks of gardening leave) finished up, officially, on 31st January. That was a Tuesday. Technically, I was unemployed on the Wednesday and the Thursday. But on the Sunday, the 5th of February, I started a new job. Hooray!

I did not enjoy the job hunting process – I don’t suppose most people do – but am delighted with the end result. It seems to be a good company with good people and some interesting work.

The added twist is that virtually everything is different from how it was in HPE. This is not a criticism, but a recognition that I was so settled in that last post, I had stopped thinking about the world and employers outside. Of course they are all different; I just hadn’t taken that on board.

One of the real bonuses about the new job is that it is in Herzliya, making the commute that much shorter and easier. (You know how much I love driving in Israel.) Even better, it’s in easy cycling reach, so I will be able to pedal to work if I want to. Despite the winter weather, I have done it once so far, and had a blast. I arrived in the office soaked through, muddy, a bit tired, and very, very happy. (Yes, there are shower facilities!)

So here’s to me being back in employment. It’s a good place to be.

The Panda, the Jewel, the Potion, and the Artist

takenoko-splendor

So who can guess what games we played this week?

At one end of the table, I explained Takenoko to Azriel, Gillian, and Yoel. Azriel and Gillian picked it up, but poor Yoel was struggling a bit. I tried to help him out, but it was too little, too late, and he still finished last. Gillian won, and at least I have the excuse that my score would have been more of a challenge if I hadn’t done the decent thing by supporting Yoel. But that would be unfair, as Gillian truly trounced us all, so she deserves full credit for the win.

Then I explained Splendor to Azriel, Gillian, and Yoel. This was a perfect example of how some people ‘get’ a particular game, but just cannot ‘get’ another. From struggling in last place, Yoel quickly got into his stride here, and finished first equal with me. It was very tight – a sign of a good game, played well -and Gillian and Azriel were only one or two points behind.

At the other end of the table, Peleg, Rosalynn, Sheer, and Susan played a nice combination of games too. First up was one of my favorites, Dominion: Alchemy. They rattled off three games of that with wins for Susan, Peleg, and Sheer. Susan’s win was notable because they found out afterwards that Sheer had been misinterpreting one or two of the action cards in his favor, but still hadn’t been able to defeat Susan in that round. Well done Susan!

Then, they moved on to a little cracker in the name of Modern Art: The Card Game. Once more they got through three games, with wins for Rosalynn, Peleg, then (in a two player Sheer v Peleg confrontation) Sheer.

We then had a short debate about who would drive Azriel home. I forget who lost and who won, but Azriel did get home safely…

Thanks to all who came for making it a good night of gaming.

Love Story, With Murders – Harry Bingham

lstwm

The second of the series (my review of the first is here) featuring policewoman detective Fiona Griffiths, this continues the high quality, and develops the lead character in an enthralling fashion.

This time around, the story starts with the discovery of a body part of a young girl, killed several years ago. Then other body parts turn up, male, and freshly slaughtered. Who were the deceased, what’s the connection – if there is one – and who is or who are the killers?

Alongside a well constructed and well paced plot, reading this book gives you the continuing adventures of Fiona Griffiths as she makes her way in the world, all seen from her singular, quirky, fresh, and sparky perspective. The character truly is top notch, with ample care taken by the author to avoid familiarity breeding contempt, by managing to put in change just when required. Ms Griffiths is the kind of person you would love to meet in real life, but she would drive you to distraction, and you would never want to rely on her. She’s good, and very much on the side of justice, but her vision of the world is unusual.

The excitement and the action ramp up at times for a frightening brush or two with danger. The only weak spot of the book is the character Lev, who seems to operate as a sort of ‘Get Out of Jail free’ card for our heroine. That being said, that character’s abilities mean we avoid having to read an extra wad of narrative that may not add much to the enjoyment of the book. So, maybe the author’s approach is the best one. After all, if Fiona solved everything on her own, that would hardly make her credible, would it?

In short, a cracking read. True, apart from the heroine, there’s not much in the way of in depth characterization, but it is not missed. And it leaves room for future enhancements; perhaps we will see and hear more from her patient, sympathetic, and understanding boyfriend? But, regardless, I am pretty certain there are surprises ahead.

If you like crime novels, do not miss this series.

An Israel Post Experience

In December last year, I ordered a copy of Swordpoint Miniatures rules from Gripping Beast. Typically, stuff from the UK takes about 2-3 weeks to arrive. Over the festive season, deliveries slow up. However, I only received a note to come and pick up my package last week. Since it appears to have been posted in the UK around the 4th of December, that’s over 8 weeks. Quite a delay. However, in the scheme of things, the delay is nothing. But, this is what my package looked like when I picked it up:

swordpoint1

You may see the edges of the envelope are somewhat frayed. In fact, they are not frayed, they are severed. Here’s what the package looked like when I flipped the front of the envelope open:

swordpoint2

I didn’t need to cut or tear anything; it was already ripped on almost all of the sides. And the contents have been washed, dried, crumpled, and generally beaten about.

If this had happened on the UK side, the package would have gone back to Gripping Beast. So, it looks as if Israel Post lived up to its reputation of not caring a bit about the stuff it delivers. What can I do? Not much. The rules are readable, though I have had to tear apart some pages that were stuck together. It’s not exactly mint condition. I feel as if I haven’t so much paid for post and packaging, as having paid for post, packaging, pulverizing, soaking, drying, and bending.

Thank you Israel Post.

It’s all alchemy

alchemy-sanjuan-splendor

This week’s session saw us run through three different games in the one night.

First up, Azriel, Roslynn, and Sheer came long for a couple of games of Dominion: Alchemy. ┬áRoslynn won the first, and I think I won the second. I think, but am not sure. Why am I not sure? Because it’s so unusual for me to win a game of Dominion. But I either won it, or dreamed I won it, or have some kind of false memory syndrome. Anyway, two games of Alchemy, and that was that for Azriel and Roslynn who called it a night then.

By that time, Peleg had eventually finished work and joined us. The three of us played one game of San Juan and one game of Splendor.

San Juan was more of a challenge, with Sheer winning (47 points), Peleg second (38 points) and me well back in third (31 points).

Spelndor, however, was a complete blowout. Peleg and I might as well not have been there. Sheer got to the finishing line with 18 or 19 points, and Peleg and I had only 2 or 3 points apiece. A Sheer masterclass. I am still not sure how he did it, but he definitely did it. Well done Sheer.

Thanks to all who came.

Games are good for you!

Especially as you get older. From Purple Pawn:

“According to a study by researchers with the Mayo Clinic, seniors who play games are less likely to experience mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an intermediate stage of dementia. Nearly 2,000 subjects, 70 years or older were followed for 4 years, interviewed about mentally stimulating activities, and evaluated for cognitive function. Those who played games at least once-a-week were 22 percent less likely to suffer from MCI.”

The moral of the story? Play a game this week!