Speeding up solitaire play

Every gamer has their own techniques when it comes to playing a game solitaire. Over the years I have come to prefer using a deck of cards instead of rolling dice, as a mainstay of my approach. Why?

Do you feel lucky?

First, I find flipping cards to be faster than rolling a die (or rolling dice). You do not have to worry about finding the damn things, nor whether they are properly flat. And you banish the type of disaster that can occur when a stray die cuts a swathe across the mapboard, sending counters everywhere.

Second, using a fixed set of numbers means each result will happen, but no more often than it should. So, for example, the “1” will show up 10% of the time in a 1-10 deck. This does not eliminate chance, but it curbs the impact of the extremes.

Third, I confess that there have been times when rolling dice in a solitaire game, and I have been tempted to reroll a ‘bad’ result – perhaps with a pretense of justification. (“Oh, I did not roll the dice properly.” Or “That die is not quite lying flat.“) And, yes, I have sometimes fallen to that temptation. However, because using a deck of cards gives the correct range of random numbers (and because it’s much more difficult to persuade yourself that a card has been improperly drawn from a deck) I found the temptation had disappeared. So, using the deck has improved the purity of the play.

Fourth, and it’s related to the speed aspect, I like to assign random chance to choices when playing solitaire. For example, I assess there’s a 20% chance this unit will sit tight 40% it will move up in support, and 40% it will charge into contact with the enemy. So, there is more need for the generation of random numbers when playing solo. And therefore, using the faster card deck delivers even greater savings of time.

Band of Brothers

Recently I have been playing a lot of Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer. (See my review here.) In that system, infantry type units must take and pass a morale check every time they want to move or fire; this involves a 1d10 roll, needing to score less than or equal to their morale rating.

On the face of it, that’s a lot of die rolling. However, until they take any losses or suppression, units have a morale rating of 10. This means they do not need to take such a check. However, I wanted to tweak the system so that there was some small chance of even a 10 morale unit failing. I believed a house rule to that effect would add to the chaos of the game, as well as the fun.

For a game such as Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer, I use a standard playing deck of cards, with all the Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Jokers removed. That leaves 40 cards in four sets of 1-10. (Playing solitaire, I use one deck for the game. With an opponent who wanted to try out the cards, I would use one deck for each player.)

To try out the house rule, I added one Joker to the deck of 40. So now units had to check morale, even with a 10 rating. However, units with a 10 morale only failed if the card drawn was a Joker. (I suppose, it’s an 11!) For all other purposes, I treated the Joker as a 10.

I played the infantry training scenario and was reasonably happy with the results. It was bit more fiddly, but not excessively so.  However, it had close to no effect – only once did a unit get stopped in its tracks – and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort. So, I added a second Joker and that seemed to be a better balance; it delivered more of what I was looking for.  And although it is purely subjective, I didn’t feel that the additional cards had a disproportionate effect on other game systems.

I still need to try this with one of the full scenarios and see how I get on. Yes, of course, I may be tempted to do further tweaking…

The good thing is that the game continues to be a blast. (I cannot wait for the updated Screaming Eagles counters to be available!)

Hey princess, what’s in the bag?

Checkpoints. Either Israel needs them for its security, or Israel needs them to inflict hardship on the Palestinians. Somehow, nobody – and I mean nobody – who rants and raves about the unfairness of the security fence and checkpoints, seems able to concede there might be a genuine security issue. These people seem incapable – or unwilling – to accept the possibility of a terrorist threat. It appears they would prefer Israel and its people were left unprotected. Now why might that be?

Meantime, back on the front line, one of these pesky checkpoints resulted in the discovery of a weapon in a kid’s backpack. From the IDF blog:

Late Tuesday evening, a battalion from the IDF’s Kfir Brigade discovered an improvised firearm and ammunition inside of a Palestinian vehicle during a routine inspection in the Jordan Valley. The weapon was found inside of a child’s bookbag at a checkpoint not far from the driver’s home. “The driver aroused suspicion after a preliminary search,” said Captain Sefi Mor, an IDF company commander involved in the inspection. “He seemed anxious, so we decided to perform a comprehensive search of the vehicle.”


Just another day trying to keep the people of Israel safe. Just another day proving that those who want to remove the security fence and the checkpoints are either dangerously deluded, or thirsty for blood.

How bad are the media?

How bad do you think the media are when covering Israel?

Hold that thought.

Now read this extract from an article by journalist David Akin in the Toronto Sun:

JERUSALEM — Sometimes reporters just don’t get it.

Heck, I’m a reporter and I’m the first to admit that.

But at a joint press conference here Tuesday, Canada’s Stephen Harper and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu essentially teamed up to say that, when it comes to politics in the Middle East, reporters just don’t get it.

What could he mean? Continue reading

How deep is your game?

Dungeons! Dragons! Not! Quite!

Dungeons! Dragons! Not! Quite!

This week’s session started with a five player encounter at Waterdeep – with the Lords of Waterdeep, to be precise – in a game that is labelled as having a connection to the famous role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. There is a loose connection, but the theme is a facade for a neat worker placement game, with some devilish backstabbing and wrecking potential.

You score victory points mainly by completing quests. To complete quests you have to acquire certain resources. Match the demanded resources to those on the the quest card, and you’re done. However, your fellow players can dump a mandatory quest on you – one you must do before any other – and blow you off course. And your fellow players can also trigger Intrigue cards that see you lose those precious resources, or at least enough of them to sabotage your quest completion for another round. Damn and blast!

I had not played it before, thus obviously explaining my last place finish (ahem). I don’t think Rochelle had played it before, but she picked it up better than me, and did quite well. David was a bit of straggler in the first half of the game, but made up for it with a better second half showing. With a decent lucky break, he could have been up there with the winner. Yehuda sauntered along and finished second. Oh, Laurie won ahead of Yehuda. Well done Laurie!

I did wonder about the skill and luck balance. This is not to take anything away from those who did better than me, but the swings of fortune did seem ferocious. For example, in the last round of the game, I had a mandatory quest in my hand. I could have dumped that on any of the other players and forced them to complete a quest for 5 victory points instead of the likely 15-25 they had lined up and ready to go. And there would be nothing they could have done about it. So my play could have determined the winner.

The funny thing is, I don’t think the game needs these negative actions. For me, there’s enough of a gaming challenge to put together the resources to complete quests in an efficient manner.

Yehuda came up with an interesting suggestion of having a house rule that allowed you to pay a monetary penalty instead of forfeiting a resource when triggered by an opponent’s Intrigue card.

The negatives here did not stop me enjoying the game. It is fun. As I remarked to the others, when it had last been played I was doing something else, and I didn’t especially like what I saw. However, it plays a ton better than it looks, and I really quite enjoyed it. I would play it again, warts and all, but would prefer some kind of smooth solution.

We finished with David, Yehuda and I playing San Juan. David rocketed off to  a great start, and was in a position to build his twelfth structure, end the game, and win. However, he dallied just too long and this allowed Yehuda to build some big victory point buildings that gave him the win ahead of David.

Thanks to all who came. A highlight of the week.

Brave man

As seen at Point of no return:

Professor Robert Wistrich is fuming about UNESCO’s cancellation of its Israel exhibition after two years in the planning. But equally furious is the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal, whose letter to Irina Bokova, the UNESCO Director-General, I have translated below. Sansal’s condemnation of UNESCO’s decision is all the more courageous because he still lives in an Arab country. (With thanks: Ahuva)

“I am sending you this letter to tell you of my surprise and discomfort following your decision to cancel the exhibition ” 3500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the Holy Land “.

“Your honourable institution actively participated in its preparation and agreed to host it at its premises at its headquarters in Paris. The cancellation has strengthened my decision and my pride in being part of the Honorary Committee of the exhibition alongside such eminent personalities as Elie Wiesel, Esther Coopersmith, Father Patrick Desbois, Lord Carey of Clifton and Mr Irwin Cotler.

” It seems that your decision was taken at the request of the Arab Group at UNESCO. They considered that such an exhibit would harm the peace negotiations and efforts by the U.S. secretary of State John Kerry, and undermine the neutrality of the UNESCO. I personally find it hard to believe that cancelling a cultural exhibition at the world headquarters of Culture and Science promotes current peace negotiations. This is at the very least to prejudge the content of the exhibition, and it surely introduces an additional hurdle to negotiations. The cancellation can be seen as a boycott and therefore adopting a political position.

“As a writer, my weakness is to believe that free expression is peace, it is the exchange of ideas, the dialogue with the Other, and as an Algerian, I know how the lack of democracy in our Arab countries prevents peace and breeds violence. Putting out the fire in one’s house, it seems to me, is more urgent than firefighting cultural exhibitions across the world.

“It is to have a narrow view of neutrality to demand that an institution have nothing to do with the Other. Neutrality means nothing; an institution like UNESCO does not have to be neutral: it must let everything and everyone see and be seen. A dialogue based on each and every individual reality can start and be profitable.

“The Arab Group can now celebrate its victory: it got an exhibition cancelled for exposing the Other. This suggests that far from being objective and neutral, UNESCO is being partisan. Now let’s hear about the lack of democracy in these countries which in the last three years alone has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.

“I’m sorry, Madame Director-General, to see you complicit in an affair that ultimately harms everyone’s name.

Yours faithfully

Boualem Sansal

Now that’s what you call a brave man of principle.

It’s worth repeating this part from his letter:

“The Arab Group can now celebrate its victory: it got an exhibition cancelled for exposing the Other. This suggests that far from being objective and neutral, UNESCO is being partisan. Now let’s hear about the lack of democracy in these countries which in the last three years alone has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.”

UNESCO seems as bad as the worst parts of the whole UN pit of poison. If only there were a way to get out of the UN, or to fix it.

High spirits

From the Scotsman:

A RARE bottle of The Macallan M single malt whisky has sold for over £380,000 at a charity auction in Hong Kong.

The ‘Imperiale’ 6-litre bottle of the exclusive 44.7% single malt went under the hammer at Sotheby’s auction house in Hong Kong this weekend.

Named ‘Constantine’, the bottle is one of only four ever created, with only two of those available for sale.

David Cox of The Macallan said: “We are absolutely delighted at the generosity of the successful bidder of the ‘M’ 6L decanter Constantine in securing such a wonderful contribution to a number of Hong Kong charities and at the same time setting a new world record for The Macallan. It is testimony to the craft, quality and passion underpinning the creation of this great decanter. It is a very proud moment for us.”

Regular bottles of The Macallan M went on sale to the public last year with a limited run of 1,750 bottles and a price tag of £3,000.

I wonder if, one day, the first bottles from Milk and Honey will be as valuable…

Shabbat gaming

Not a good hand!

Not a good hand!

Over Shabbat, Susan and I introduced Shosh to Ticket to Ride: Europe. We setup at one end of the hotel lounge, with Susan rearranging the furniture to prove to me there would be enough space under the less than brilliant light.

The other handicap was the waitress who delivered Susan’s tea by depositing it slap bang on the game board…complete with saucer stain. Thankfully, a quick wipe with a napkin, and both the board and my state of mind were restored to some semblance of order.

Shosh picked up the game quickly enough, and motored her way through her supply of trains, bringing the game to an earlier end than I would have liked. Unfortunately for Shosh and me, Susan was continuing her fine run of form, and with several completed tickets ran out a winner by a decent margin. But the next time…

What is and isn’t wrong with prayer

Give yourself a treat and head over here to read a thought provoking piece by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen at the Algemeiner.

“The way most of us pray today is very different to the way it was originally intended. What goes on in most Jewish “houses of prayer” of whatever community, denomination, sect, or form is usually far from an exciting, uplifting spiritual experience.

According to Maimonides (Laws of Prayer Chapter 1:11), it remains a Torah obligation to relate to the Almighty every day and in one’s own way, regardless of what may or may not happen in a synagogue. The Hebrew “to pray” is Lehitpallel, which literally means “to express oneself.” How many people do? We tend to rely entirely on what other people have said. Yet the formal prayers we have today were initially only intended to be a menu of suggested ideas for those who could not find the words themselves.”

Shame on me for forgetting the knowledge and wisdom of the man. You may not agree with all that he says, but you’ll be the richer for reading it.