More wonders!

Also just arrived, a couple of expansions for the popular 7 Wonders game.

7wondersexps

The Leaders expansion adds cards of that type, to expand the player choices and challenge of winning the game.

The Cities expansion adds cards of that type. As well as the consequential increase in player options, it includes a team version of the game for up to 8 players.

I expect to be under pressure to familiarize myself with these quickly, and get them ready for playing.

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Ghost Panzer

ghostpanzer

Although my playing time with Band of Brothers has been limited, I remain impressed. So much so that I pre-ordered the next in the series: Ghost Panzer. It arrived yesterday, despite Worthington Games putting my address as “Ra’anana, Hong Kong.” Ahem. Somebody spotted the error and redirected it to its rightful destination.

This game features the 11th Panzer Division in some of its battles in Russia, from 1941-1943. It has a couple of introductory scenarios to ease the newcomer into the system. It all looks good – a decent selection of infantry, tanks, and weapons, and cool map art. I am looking forward to playing it.

 

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Nuts

When people ask me about my job, and what it’s like to work in hi-tech in Israel, I tell them about how good the working conditions are. For example, each floor of the building I work in has two fully stocked kitchens. And when I say fully stocked, I mean really fully stocked. You could fix yourself breakfast, lunch and dinner from what’s available. (And people do, though the on site milky cafe and meaty dining room are more common locations for lunch.)

Unfortunately – for my sweet tooth – the available food also includes less essential, but desirable items. For example, each kitchen has three different, and perpetually topped up, big jars of biscuits. Fairly regularly, reinforcements of cake are introduced. And apart from labane, hummus, and cottage cheese, there is one spread that is forever popular and a regular part of the scene.

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It’s enough to make you hungry!

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Long route home

dominion7wondersbattlelinettr

This week’s session started with Amir, Susan and I playing Dominion, while Ben and David warmed up with Battle Line.

Susan has been unbeatable at Dominion, and her winning streak continued in this game. All Amir and I could do was watch… Meantime, David won at Battle Line.

Laurie joined us, Susan dropped out, and we turned to 7 Wonders. Last time out, newcomer Amir won a novice victory. This time, unfortunately, it was not to be.  Ben, David and I were outclassed by Laurie who won by a big margin with a blue (victory card) strategy, backed up by a couple of great Guild cards.

Amir left us to get ready for his early start, leaving Ben, David, Laurie and myself to enjoy a cracking game of Ticket to Ride: Europe.

David insisted on drawing cards blind. He kept picking up locomotives (wild cards). He was so successful at doing this, at one point he held a near monopoly and severely curtailed the other players’ building efforts.

David also said he was doing this to mimic my strategy, as seen in previous games. Well, I can only say that my strategy did not include picking up so many flipping locomotives. At least, I was never that successful!

Ben was quietly sticking to the task at hand. He didn’t know it, but some of his route building made things trickier for me in the bid to build the routes I wanted.

Twice in succession – for the 8 and 6 train routes – I decided not to build routes, but get some spare cards in case the tunnel draw went against me. And on each occasion, Laurie seized the day and grabbed the damn thing ahead of me.

So, Laurie was doing well, and I was falling behind. However, when the end of the game arrived and we totted up everything, Ben had won a fine victory. It was a very tight game. Ben won the longest route bonus by only a whisker. If anyone else had claimed that bonus, they would have won instead of Ben. David’s decision to take an extra ticket almost gave him the win. Again, he just missed out on the longest train bonus. Laurie had been stymied by a shortage of locomotives (ahem) and yellow cards.

It was a good win, and a great contest. Well done Ben!

Thanks to everyone for coming. As usual, I was buzzing at the end and struggled to get to sleep. If only I had played…

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On missing football

Source: Ludovic Péron via Wikimedia

Source: Ludovic Péron via Wikimedia

I miss not being able to play football. That simple statement covers a wide range of experiences and emotions I no longer have access to. Maybe, one day, I’ll get myself back into a good enough condition, and my dud knees will co-operate, so as to have more time on the hallowed turf. Till then, it’s only dreams for me.

Take that as background part one.

Background part two is the story of Darren Fletcher.

Darren is a Manchester United and Scotland player who has been battling ulcerative colitis, a medical condition that stopped his career in its tracks. After trying some drug treatments, he gambled on surgery. It appears to have worked.

Obviously, my word of football is a billion miles away from that of Darren Fletcher, but there are shared experiences and a context that may be useful in understanding where I am coming from.

In particular, I offer the following quote from Gordon Strachan, Scotland manager, on hearing about Darren Fletcher’s return to action:

“I was just thrilled to see Darren back. I was on the train coming up the road and I got a text saying he was getting on. I’m told he got clattered within minutes of going on. Trust me, that would have felt like heaven. He’s been through so much, but he’d have loved that. He’d have been lying there in the mud thinking: ‘How good is this?’”

How good? Brilliant! If you understand that, you can begin to understand; I miss not being able to play football.

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The Prophet – Michael Koryta

Adam and Kent Austin had a little sister. One night, instead of getting a lift from Adam, because he was otherwise engaged with his girlfriend, she walked home. She never made it.

Haunted by that tragic past, each brother has grown older and tried to deal with the murder of their sister in their own way. Kent is the high school football team coach, and Adam is a bail bondsman. They live in the same town, but are distant and apart. Kent is the one the community looks up to. Adam is the one keeping his sister’s memory alive – as he would have it – by maintaining her bedroom as a kind of shrine, and confiding in her.

Now, twenty years on, a young girl comes to Adam for help. This sets off a chain reaction that tears apart the world of both of the brothers, and their community of Chambers, Ohio.

The author’s characterization, especially of the brothers, is top notch. The story telling is excellent, with one caveat: I enjoyed the American Football sequences. But a reader with no interest in that sport will be derailed temporarily. It may have been better to cut these, or to, er, tackle them in a different manner. The author does explain, in a note at the end, the significance of the football content, and it works for me. But it will not work for everyone.

While I remember, in reading the book I got a good sense of the community the author was describing. I thought his portrayal of family connections and strains was realistic and sharply observed. He did not waste time in clever asides, but the thoughtful reflections of his characters never seemed indulgent nor out of place.

Do not be misled, though, for this is a real page turner. While the plot is neither complex nor tortuous, there is a great big ball of dark, dark atmosphere hanging over and around you as you read it. There’s action and violence and at least one sharp twist of the author’s knife. Indeed, the author skilfully plays on your heart strings and delivers the sure fire mark of a good read: I was sad to get to the end.

I know little of the author’s other work beyond So Cold the River, but this raising of the standard will set me looking. I can hear my Kindle getting ready as I type this!

In short, recommended.

Score: 7/10

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I kept mine

Source: Linn web site

Source: Linn web site

Marcus is to blame. (Hi Marcus!) He schooled me in the dark art of real music. He took me away from the mega brands of Sony and Sanyo, Bose and Bang and Olufsen, and introduced me to Linn. After that, I had to have one: a Linn record player.

Years pass, and despite the rush of technology, Linn is still at the leading edge, having adroitly moved with the times. They are masters of digital music. However, they no longer make CD players. But they do still make record players. Why?

Some music buffs believe the sound from a record player source is better than a digital source like a CD or MP3 (or MP4 or whatever). Marcus did tell me this, all those years ago, when CDs were first introduced. I think the words he used to describe analog record music included “warm” and “complete”.

So Marcus gets the blame for me keeping my record collection and my record player. Or, more honestly, Marcus gets the credit.

As a worthwhile aside, and although Marcus might blush if he ever reads this, that stance of his was only one of many where he railed against conventional wisdom and perceived truth. At time he was a lone voice. Yet, over time, he has often been proven correct. He has a track record of independent thought and terrific analysis. Oh, and he knows a thing or two about engineering and music.

Meantime, there are others who have discovered the beauty of vinyl. Not as a replacement for modern music delivery, but as a different experience.

From the BBC:

Vinyl is back. Steam may have gone the way of, well, steam. And we don’t use quills anymore. But vinyl is back.

Even in Germany, the home of “Vorsprung durch Technik” – Progress through Technology – the craving for what in ancient times was called ‘playing a record’ is growing. New record shops are springing up in trendy Berlin, selling only vinyl. German manufacturers, always alert to new possibilities, are scouring the world for the old machines that once pressed records to put them back into service to satisfy the cravings of a new generation of vinyl junkies…

A bit over the top, but you get the drift.

…Around the world, sales of vinyl records are at their highest since 1997. Last year, 4.6m vinyl records were sold in the United States, nearly 500 per cent more than five years earlier. In Britain, 389,000 vinyl albums were sold, a 50 per cent increase. Across the globe, the industry reckons that sales of vinyl added up to $171m, compared with $55m five years earlier. That is a good rise in anyone’s book.

More specific evidence comes in the way hard-nosed commercial enterprises are investing in vinyl. These aren’t sentimental, retro-nostalgics but companies that want to make money. Optimal Media is a classic German “mittelstand” company. It’s situated on the outskirts of the small town of Röbel in northeastern Germany and, in its ultra-modern factory, it specialises in producing books, making CDs and increasingly, vinyl records. Vinyl is where its big growth lies.

And here is part of the explanation offered:

More and more people like the vinyl experience. It’s not a digitally dead sound. There’s a warm sound.” He thinks part of the appeal of vinyl is that it is a more active way of listening to music. “Some people like the experience of having to get up from their chair and putting the record on the player and adjusting the stylus. These people are not nerds. They love vinyl. Some are spending a lot of money for the record players.”

See? I am not a nerd!

One enthusiast says:

“If you buy a vinyl record, you buy free time for yourself. You slow down. You hold the record and it needs time. You look at the cover. You read the lyrics. You can do all that, slowing down. If you do that on a computer it’s like being bombed with information. That’s the difference. With vinyl, you hold it in your hand. You take your time: put it on the record-player and listen to the music.”

Taking time out for yourself. Sounds good.

So far as the commercial viability of it all, note the following:

The industry is being canny in that it is often selling vinyl albums with a code to unlock a download – you buy the LP, so you can gaze at it and enjoy the ritual of playing it on the altar of a turntable, but you have a digital back-up, perhaps for use from your phone or in the car.

So what is behind the renewed love for the old format? It may be similar to the appeal of books. Who can doubt the convenience and logic of carrying a library around on a computer card? But books do persist – probably, in part, because people like the feel of them. It is a triumph of old technology.

Marcus was right.

You can read the whole thing, here.

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Surprise sighting

I wish to confirm that early this morning (while it was still dark) making my way to work I saw a helmet wearing cyclist riding a bike with a rear light and a front light. Both lights were working. And he was cycling on the correct side of the road given his direction of travel, keeping as close as to what passed for the kerb.

Remarkable.

I’ll let you know when I next see such a rare sight.

 

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