Right royal coverage

Newly arrived in Israel is the latest issue of Private Eye. Their front page coverage of the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first baby – George Alexander Louis – is worth recording for posterity:

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Notice the strapline at the bottom:

INSIDE: Some other stuff

What a wonderful antidote to the fawning and fluff from the mainstream UK media.

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Wonders of five

[Crossposted from the Ra’anana Boardgames Group blog.]

At this week’s session we had five – David, Laurie, Rochelle, Yehuda, and yours truly – and played one well known game, and one making its first appearance at the group.

First up was 7 Wonders. All had played it except David, prompting Laurie to announce that he would win it because every first time player had done so. We’ll see about that, thought the others.  Unfortunately, Laurie was right. David reaped a ton of points from his Science cards and sneaked into first just ahead of Laurie, then me. Rochelle made a bit of a boo-boo in her military campaign, otherwise she would have been right up there. Poor Yehuda got a right royal stuffing and probably made his lowest ever score. We were all very sympathetic towards him and did not taunt him about this…

Next up was Attila, Only I had played it before, so I taught it  and was so busy doing that, naturally everyone did better than me. (That’s my excuse, and I am sticking to it!)

This is a game of influence with the players competing among the six tribes rampaging across Europe. You score influence by playing cards, and when there is a scoring round you want to have the most or second most influence in as many tribes as possible. However, while playing cards and putting tribal representatives on the board, you have to watch out for overpopulation which leads to war and the potential loss of bodies.

It’s fair to say that David, Yehuda and I were quite (or quietly?) aggressive, as we sought victory. But we were so busy doing this we overlooked Rochelle’s silent approach. That got Rochelle the win, with Yehuda managing a respectable second.

Thanks to Rochelle for hosting  a fine night of gaming.

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Not a great start

You may have heard that we have just had elections for the posts of Chief Rabbi – one Ashkenazi, and one Sephardi. Rabbi David Lau won the Ashkenazi, ahem, race. Judging by this report, he is not off to a good start.

Incoming Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, elected to the post just last week, is already embroiled in his first scandal: A controversial recording of a remark he made on Monday about basketball players surfaced Tuesday, sparking angry responses.

Trying to convince young haredi men to refrain from the increasingly common practice of watching basketball games at neighborhood convenience stores (most haredim do not have television sets at home), the new chief rabbi asked, “Who cares if a bunch of paid ‘Cushim’ [a colloquial term for black people] in Tel Aviv beat a bunch of paid ‘Cushim’ in Greece?”

Oh dear. Whatever respect might be due to the man for his religious knowledge, he deserves no respect for this racist rubbish. In a short space of time, he has already demonstrated why many people justifiably have such a low regard for the post and the personage. I hope those who selected him are screaming at him now to deliver a fast and fulsome apology, and to bite his tongue in the future. Of course, it would be better if he wasn’t trapped in a dead end philosophy, but that’s another huge issue for a later time.

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Flying into combat

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I played a lot of Air Force when it first came out, a game about plane to plane combat in WW2. It was published by Battleline.

I have fond memories of our gaming group playing several epic fighter ace duels, and also trying to escort a dwindling formation of bombers past an all too effective defensive patrol. I don’t think any of us championed air combat as the only wargame type to play, but it was popular. I always thought part of the reason was the impressive amount of hard data in the package. Even if we didn’t know what was accurate and what was fudged, having, holding, and reading the data card for a Spitfire (for example) brought its own, unique, frisson of something. I’m not sure exactly what. But it was a good feeling!

The game belonged to one of the other guys in the gaming group back then, and so when Avalon Hill repackaged and republished it, I was a keen purchaser. But times and gaming interests had moved on, and apart from a couple of solitaire outings and the same number of face to face dogfights, the game has largely remained a static part of my collection. Until now.

Before last night’s session, I had asked novice gamer Peleg what period of history he was interested in. He replied: “World War 2.” So, to continue his wargaming induction, I offered him a choice between the strategic vision of Hitler’s War, or Air Force. Because he has a keen interest in aircraft, he chose the latter, and after a rapid reappraisal of the rules over dinner, I managed to teach him the basics. Then we played a straight fight between my pair of Spitfires and his Me-109s.

The game system involves written orders, using performance data from a card for each plane type.

Put your orders here...

Put your orders here…

The system handles performance in three dimensions, so you can dive and climb, as well as speed across the empty hexagonal skies. The basic rules include banks, turns, slips, half-rolls, and half-loops. The challenge is to get into a position to fire on the other bloke while avoiding his fire. To do so, you have to master the strengths of your plane and find the weakness on the enemy side.

The codes of war!

The codes of war!

The action in our closely fought game ended with all four aircraft taking some damage. The crucial factor was both my Spitfires taking engine damage. This reduced their ability to power up, and so they had to keep diving to regain speed lost in maneuver, or face a fatal stall. To that extent, Peleg was definitely in the ascendancy when we finished up. My chaps were heading for home, and probably had enough of a start to make it safely.

The session went very well indeed. So much so that Peleg is keen to try it again. However, I’m not sure if I should stay faithful to this old classic, or skip to Fighting Wings, a more modern design from J D Webster. The full version of that is very complex, but there’s a well respected set of Quick Start rues kicking about somewhere. Decisions, decisions! I really should just be grateful for another great night of gaming.

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Headline of the day

Israel HaYom‘s (Israel Today) front page this morning:

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The main headline translates as:

On the way to negotiations, with a heavy heart.

Short and to the point. It seems to be an accurate reflection of what many Israelis feel at this time.

My sympathies lie with those who have suffered at the hands of the soon to be released prisoners. Were I in their position, I am not sure my protest would be so restrained.

Please, let some good come out of this. Something really, really good.

[The English language website for Israel HaYom is here.]

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Bibi’s choice

[Warning: this is a long piece. But it is, after all, about war and peace…]

Perception on the world stage is reality. The perception is that Israel is to blame for the lack of peace talks. If Israel wanted to improve its standing on the world stage, it had to change that perception. Hold that thought.

Abbas and company refused to come to talk unless pre-conditions were met. Broadly speaking, these were the cessation of construction across the Green Line, and starting from the position that the Green Line was to be the border between Israel and the Palestinian state. Hold that thought as well.

The present position appears to be that neither of Abbas’ pre-conditions are being met – automatically. Instead, more than 100 convicted terrorists are to be released. How did Bibi get to that position?

To answer the question, first read this excellent opinion piece by David Horowitz at the Times of Israel. It includes this:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not want to alienate the Obama administration as he grapples with the potential existential threat to Israel posed by Iran’s relentless progress toward nuclear weapons capability.

Netanyahu does not want to see Israel blamed for the failure of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s relentless efforts over six visits to the Middle East to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

And Netanyahu, while entirely unconvinced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intends to take viable positions on the contours and modalities of a Palestinian state when those negotiations resume, is adamant that Israel must not return to what he considers indefensible pre-1967 lines and insists on seeking to drive a harder territorial bargain than his predecessor Ehud Olmert if the talks do make some headway.

These are among the central factors that led Netanyahu in the last few days to capitulate to the Palestinian demand to release more than 100 hardcore terror convicts — including men who planned and executed some of the most brutal acts of violence against Israelis in the years before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993

Second, read this softly, softly narrative from the Guardian.

“The release of 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners was approved by the Israeli cabinet on Sunday after an emotional debate when Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, stressed the need to take tough and painful decisions in order to move towards renewed peace negotiations.

The prisoners’ release is part of a deal brokered by the United States to begin preliminary talks on a possible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this week. Most of the men have been in jail for more than 20 years.

The Palestinians warned that without an agreement to free the prisoners…

[snip]

The first of four groups of prisoners…”

Note the repeated use of prisoners. If you read it, you will also see how minimal the mention of the terrorists’ crimes is – and it’s certainly not by the journalist. This is closely connected to the point made above about perception. To many Israelis these people are dangerous scum. To the Guardian and their ilk, they are nice people, more akin to a sewing circle talking politics, than a bunch of murderers.

Third, be aware of the common thread in the ‘progress’ towards the talks: the good old USA. Then read this snapshot from Arutz Sheva. The report may be a narrow focus of hardline views, but it is difficult to argue with this:

The United States would never do what Israel is being asked to do, they accused.

The accusers are right.  (The Elder of Ziyon has a pictorial version of the issue, here.)

I tend to side with David Horowitz on this. If Israel needed to give a concession to Abbas to get the peace talks going, why not go for a building freeze? The great unspoken hope is that in exchange for Bibi’s choice, the USA is going to sort the Iranian situation out. That’s a big leap of faith by Bibi – if it were the determining factor. If that is not the case, Bibi’s choice is only going to be vindicated by a comprehensive peace package. I am an optimist, but at this stage I cannot see it. I hope for the best, but fear the worst.

I will leave the last word to Mr H:

“It may be that Netanyahu is still betting that the releases will not come to pass — that the talks will collapse before the phases of the prisoner releases are completed and the worst of the offenders are set free. That would seem to be an improbable gamble, however, and would not change the fact that the prime minister has proved ready to do something for which he would unquestionably have castigated any other prime minister.

Oh, and so long as Netanyahu insists on expanding settlements, Israel will be blamed for the collapse of peace talks anyway.”

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Disjointed thinking

No matter what side of the political divide you occupy, you have to wonder about the apparent naivety of the EU when it comes to the Middle East. Having decided that they wanted to formalize their rejection of Israeli rule across the Green Line, they seem surprised that Israel has reacted – as seen here and here – by ending co-operation. Did they think that Israel would stand still and take the abuse? Indeed, as I write this, it strikes me that ‘naivety’ may be too kind a description. Would stupidity be more accurate?

Where is there any evidence of their joined up thinking?

For example, let’s turn the clock back a few months to the time the EU had decided it was going to formalize its policy. Didn’t anybody ask the question: if we do this, what will Israel do? If nobody asked the question, it is strongly suggestive of a level of managerial incompetence that would doom any commercial enterprise. Being free of such real life risks, they will continue in their bungling. So, we should expect more of the same in the future.

But what if somebody did ask the question? What was the answer? The eurocrats with more than single digit numbers of brain cells must have warned of Israeli retaliation, surely? And having made their decision, and publicized it, what options are left to the EU? In other words, they have come out with all guns blazing, full of righteous energy, and brimming with arrogance. But they have shot their bolt. Their room for maneuver is limited. And limited may be too generous.

It’s a bit of a puzzle. Do we assume they are daft, or they don’t care?

As a separate issue, it should be noted that part of the Israeli co-operation which is being ended, is that of the IDF. What do the IDF do? Protect the eurocrat representatives. Now, who do you think they are protecting them from? The irony runs deep. The problem is, on the basis of the evidence before us, Ashton and company are too dense to see it.

[Note: I suspect the EU action is illegal under international and European law, but that premise is unlikely to be tested. However, their own mantra of “illegal settlements” and “occupied territory” would not stand up to an independent court, were there such a thing. Have a look here and here at some of the factual, legal niceties that Ashton – and many Israel haters – ignore.]

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Borodino

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To try and get Marengo out of my system, I put Richard Berg‘s Borodino from GMT Games on the table. It uses the Triumph and Glory system, an accessible chit pull activation set of mechanics, with a small step up in complexity from the folio games of Decision, but a huge leap in terms of component quality. Borodino comes with a standard sized map, a couple of gorgeous counter sheets, a rule book and two copies of the double sided Player Aid card.

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The players draw chits to activate formations. However, each side is limited in the number of Orders it may give. If a group of units has Orders, it has full functionality. Without Orders, it has to roll to get that functionality, or the group is next to useless. Therefore, there is command control, and part of the challenge for the players is to get the Orders to the right units at the right time, while foiling the opposing attempts to do the same by posing threats at surprising times and places.

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Borodino the situation, however, does not have much room for finesse, as it is a head to head brute force struggle. That makes it very playable solitaire, though the lack of variety means a possible lack of replayability. There are two scenarios; one is a learning outing and the other is the full battle. Of course, I am playing the full battle.

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I have only dabbled enough after setup (and hunting down the niggling errata and replacement counters) to get the core rules right in my head. Even that limited exposure has been fun, though, because this is one of the battles most gamers interested in the period want to try out, and this game allows you to do that in quite a user friendly way.

Gripes? Well, hunting down the errata was more difficult than it usually is with GMT. The dud counters are very, very minor issues and certainly are not going to spoil things for you if you do not have access to the C3i magazine #17 with the replacements. One cavalry unit had the wrong Corps affiliation. Two infantry units had a wrong designation. And two activation chits were mistakenly blank on one side. Funnily enough, the original game map missed out a label for the Great Redoubt. However, my copy included a corrected version.

Finally, a bit of personal trivia: I did some proofreading of the rules. They misspelled my name on the credits!

Now, excuse me while I head back to Borodino for the action.

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Deadly diseases

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[Crossposted from the Ra’anana Boardgames Group blog.]

This week we had five hardy players – Ben, Laurie, Peleg, Rochelle, and me. So we had to start with a four player game of Pandemic

Explanation time. Pandemic is a popular game and there was good interest in playing it. And, since I am not that fond of co-operative games, I decided I would watch while the others played. It was – for me – more fun than playing!

The team of crack scientists converge on a research station.

The team of crack scientists converge on a research station.

Pandemic pits the players as the medical team trying to wipe out four rapidly spreading diseases before disaster strikes and the world population is struck down. Each player has a unique power, and part of the game’s challenge is to use your power, wisely,  for the common good. This is because you have limited actions, and you need to balance this with taking care of business, namely the disease spread going on at the same time. The game is driven by two decks of cards: one that players use to tailor their actions for movement from city to city, and another that generates the blocks of diseases.

Meantime, the deadly Black and the deadly Blue are spreading like...

Meantime, the deadly Black and the deadly Blue are spreading like…

Because it is a co-operative game, the players either all lose or all won. Unfortunately – which is not unusual with a first outing in Pandemic – the players lost. However, I think they enjoyed it, and it will be back for more in the future.

Then, a game of the classic, superb auction game, Medici. Unfortunately, more than my dislike of co-operative games, both Laurie and Rochelle hate auction games. (Ok, so now I know.) I’ll keep the pain short. I had a great game, but got turned over by Ben who won by a decent margin.

Peleg departed leaving four of us to enjoy R-Eco. This is a short card game with an environmental theme. You play cards to four disposal areas, and pick up cards. Pick up too many and you lose points. Get it right and you gain points. Timing is everything. This is fun, fast, and no small element of skill. Laurie won with a score of 6, the other scores being 5, 5, and 4. So, tight, and enjoyable.

Thanks to Laurie for hosting. Next session, no more auction games!

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