Counter magazine

The latest issue of Counter magazine (issue 64) arrived this week, and what joy it brings. What is it?

“Counter magazine is a quarterly print magazine devoted to board and card games. Each issue contains dozens of reviews, articles and commentary from gaming enthusiasts from around the world.”

For example, this issue has nineteen meaty reviews of games (including Coal Baron, Fuba, Global Mogul, Siberia, and a Study in Emerald) and a set of mini-reviews.  It also includes some interesting top 5 lists, and a decent spread of gaming articles.

I have found the reviews to largely match my own experiences, so I often use Counter as a buying guide. That alone makes it worthwhile. And there are quite a few of the hobby’s prominent designers and players who grace its pages.

Counter does not compete with websites; it supplements them. Arguably, you get a better class of writing and depth of knowledge in the Counter material than in most online sites. You often have to trawl through crappy comments online. Here, you get decent writing, decent editing, and the pleasure of knowing you can read it without being connected to the wired world!

You can see more at the Counter website.

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Five for Friday

The combination of feeling less than 100% with deadline week at the office, has meant I have had no time or inclination to blog. But, having reached the best day of the week, the deadline is over and I can do a bit more rest and recuperation. And blogging.

First up, the regular set of links to inform, entertain and, perhaps, annoy. But I prefer you enjoy them. Here they are:

Shabbat Shalom!

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Real war

From the current edition of the Economist:

War games

To understand war, American officials are playing board games

TWO evenings a month, four dozen defence and intelligence officials gather in an undisclosed building in Virginia. They chat informally about “what if” scenarios. For example: what if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites? Recent chats on this topic have been fruitful for a surprising reason, says John Patch, a member of the Strategic Discussion Group, as it is called. Nearly a quarter of those who regularly attend play a board game called “Persian Incursion”, which deals with the aftermath of just such an attack. For half the players, such games are part of their job.

You don’t need a security clearance to play Persian Incursion. Anyone can order it from Clash of Arms, a Pennsylvania firm that makes all kinds of games, from Epic of the Peloponnesian War to Pigs in Space. Yet playing a war game is like receiving an intelligence briefing, Mr Patch says. It forces players to grapple with myriad cascading events, revealing causal chains they might not imagine. How might local support for Iran’s regime be sapped if successful Israeli raids strengthen claims that its anti-aircraft batteries were incompetently sited? Might a photo purportedly showing Iran’s president with a prostitute help the Saudi monarchy contain anti-Jewish riots? Might those efforts be doomed if the photo were revealed as a fake?

Paul Vebber, a gameplay instructor in the navy, says that in the past decade the government has started using strategy board games much more often. They do not help predict outcomes. For that, the Pentagon has forecasting software, which it feeds with data on thousands of variables such as weather and weaponry, supply lines, training and morale. The software is pretty accurate for “tight, sterile” battles, such as those involving tanks in deserts, says an intelligence official. Board games are useful in a different way. They foster the critical but creative thinking needed to win (or avoid) a complex battle or campaign, he says.

Some games are for official use only. The Centre for Naval Analyses (CNA), a federally funded defence outfit, has created half a dozen new ones in the past two years. Most were designed by CNA analysts, but commercial designers occasionally lend a hand, as they did for Sand Wars, a game set in north-west Africa.

CNA games address trouble in all kinds of places. In Transition and Tumult, designed for the marine corps, players representing groups in Sudan and South Sudan try to whip up or quell local unrest that might lead American forces to intervene. In The Operational Wraparound, made for the army, players struggle to stoke or defeat a Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Avian Influenza Exercise Tool, a game designed for the Department of Agriculture, shows health officials how not to mishandle a bird-flu epidemic.

Board games designed for the government typically begin as unclassified. Their “system”, however, becomes classified once players with security clearances begin to incorporate sensitive intelligence into it, says Peter Perla, a game expert at CNA. If an air-force player knows that, say, a secret bunker-busting bomb is now operational, he can improve the dice-roll odds that a sortie will destroy an underground weapons lab. During official gaming sessions, analysts peer over players’ shoulders and challenge their reasoning. Afterwards, they incorporate the insights gleaned into briefings for superiors.

One reason why board games are useful is that you can constantly tweak the rules to take account of new insights, says Timothy Wilkie of the National Defence University in Washington, DC. With computer games, this is much harder. Board games can also illuminate the most complex conflicts. Volko Ruhnke, a CIA analyst, has designed a series of games about counterinsurgency. For example, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? (sold by GMT Games of California) models “parallel wars of bombs and ideas”, as one reviewer puts it, on a board depicting much of Eurasia and Africa.

Even training for combat itself can be helped with dice and cards. Harpoon, a game about naval warfare, has proved so accurate in the past that hundreds of Pentagon officials will play it when the next version comes out in a couple of years, says Mr Patch. One of its designers, Chris Carlson, is also responsible for the “kinetic” aspects of Persian Incursion (ie, the bits that involve shooting). Mr Carlson is a former Defence Intelligence Agency analyst; Persian Incursion’s data on the nuts and bolts of assembling and commanding bomber, escort, and refuelling aircraft “strike packages” for destroying Iran’s nuclear sites is so precise that on at least two occasions intelligence officials have suggested that he is breaking the law by publishing it.

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Israel as Millwall

From the “as others see us department”, courtesy of Brendan O’Neill at the Spectator:

Talking to Israelis feels a bit like talking to fans of Millwall FC. ‘No one likes us, we don’t care,’ sing Millwall fans. Israel is the undoubted Millwall of global affairs, loathed by almost every Westerner who considers himself decent and they’ve adopted a similar cri de coeur. ‘Europe doesn’t like us. Americans do not like us. We can live with this,’ says a kippah-wearing guy at the Western Wall. He sums up a sentiment I hear across this country.

If you were in Iran or North Korea, long-time chart-toppers in the international community’s gallery of rogue states, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid when a citizen expressed disgruntlement with the wicked West. But Israel? This tiny nation was for so long the West’s best bud in the Middle East; a bright democratic outpost in an otherwise autocratic desert. To hear Israelis speak ill of the West, to see them raise their eyes to the heavens at every mention of the United Nations or the European Union, feels weird.

Everywhere I go, people wonder out loud why the West, especially Europe’s chattering classes, hates them so. Israel is being treated like a ‘pariah state’, says Uri Dromi, executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club and former spokesman for the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments.

Interesting. I thought the conclusion was brave, and the comments below the line had a lot less rabid hate than the Guardian equivalent would have. Read the whole thing, here.

[First spotted at Elder of Ziyon.]

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Five for Friday – “Susan’s back” edition

Susan’s back in Israel after an extended visit to her family! Definitely the highlight of the week. (The return, that is.) Unfortunately, I have been struggling with a cold and cough, so the week has dragged, dragged, and dragged. But Ben Gurion Airport finally let her go, and the refreshing winter rain and I were there to greet her.

So we made it at last to the end of the week, and it’s therefore time to offer up a dose of distraction from the woes of winter and real life. Enjoy:

Shabbat Shalom! And Purim Sameach!

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Incendiary and insulting, or true?

On Sunday in Manhattan, there was a demonstration – a “mass prayer rally” – by haredim, protesting against the drafting of yeshiva students to the IDF.

The Jewish Press newspaper covered this with an article. Its headline was:

50 Thousand Haredim March So Only Other Jews Die in War.

The Times of Israel reports the outcome as follows:

Jewish Press fires columnist for blasting ultra-Orthodox

Yuri Yanover’s piece was titled ’50 Thousand Haredim March So Only Other Jews Die in War’

A Brooklyn-based Jewish newspaper apologized for a column that was sharply critical of the haredi Orthodox community and fired its author.

The Jewish Press dismissed Yori Yanover, its Israel-based online editor, after he published an article Monday with the headline “50 Thousand Haredim March So Only Other Jews Die in War.”

Yanover was writing about a mass prayer rally of Haredi Jews in Manhattan on Sunday against a proposed Israeli law to draft yeshiva students.

“They flooded downtown Manhattan with the anti-draft for Haredim message: everybody else is welcome to get themselves killed,” Yanover wrote. “What was even more astonishing was their honesty regarding the bankruptcy of their entire school of faith and study.”

The Jewish Press removed the article from its website (a cached version can be found here for now). The paper’s publishers, Jerry Greenwald and Naomi Mauer, issued a statement saying the paper “apologizes to its readers for the unfortunate Op-Ed article, along with its incendiary and insulting headline.”

According to the statement, the article “was posted without authorization and approval of The Jewish Press newspaper” and “the sentiments expressed in the article and headline do not represent these of The Jewish Press, its officers, editors, and staff.”

In a letter to The Jewish Press posted Tuesday on his Facebook page, Yanover said he had authorization to publish the article.

“I wrote the article after discussion with my supervisor and then submitted the article for review, as per the protocol you established,” he wrote.

In an interview with the online news site Vos Iz Neias?, Greenwald described Yanover’s views as “reprehensible and insolent.”

”Since its founding, The Jewish Press has striven to be a Torah newspaper, one that recognized the centrality of the Torah and Torah study to the Jewish people,” Greenwald said.

Yanover’s column criticized opponents of the draft law for arguing that army service would erode the religious identify of Haredi Jews.

“[T]he post-Holocaust haredi world is all about fear. Fear of new things. Fear of books. Fear of voices. And above all, fear that the education a young man receives during his 20 years in a haredi yeshiva is worthless, because as soon as he encounters the outside world, those 20 years would vanish, melt away like Cholov Yisroel butter on a skillet,” he wrote. “What an astonishing degree of honesty regarding the bankruptcy of an entire school of faith and study.”

I’m unsure how long the cache version will be available, so I have copied the text and posted it here.  If you read the whole thing, you will see Yanover is against the new law, as well as being against the haredi protest!

The article is worth reading. It perhaps is incendiary. It perhaps is insulting. It perhaps is true.

[You may want to head over to Facebook and take a look at Yori Yanover’s page. Could be fun to follow.]

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Yanover’s piece

This is the article by Yori Yanover, first published in the Jewish Press, then removed as they sacked him. I think it’s worth preserving:

For the record, I believe the new Shaked-Lapid-Bennett draft law is by far worse than the one it came to replace, the Tal Law. Most importantly, because the Tal Law was getting results, without the idiotic, needless, divisive rancor generated by the new legislation. Killing the Tal Law, or, rather, issuing an edict that it had to be replaced by something that worked faster, was the parting poisonous gift of Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, protégé of that beacon of light unto the nations, Chief Justice Aharon (evil genius) Barak.

Since then we’ve seen one demonstration of a few hundred thousand Haredim against the new law in Jerusalem (but not a single day’s work was lost!), and yesterday, in downtown Manhattan, another 50 thousand Haredim marched to condemn the evil decree.

I went on the vosizneias.com website to check out the rally, because I expected them to bring the authentic stuff. I wasn’t disappointed, even though they just lifted the AP story without attribution:

“We’re all united against military service for religious men in Israel because it doesn’t allow for religious learning,” said Peggy Blier, an interior designer from Brooklyn. “The Israeli government is looking to destroy religious society and make the country into a secular melting pot.”

Every single point made by Peggy Blier is a blatant lie. Of course the law allows for religious learning, it merely suggests that at some point—way past the age non-Haredim serve, and for half the time that normal Israelis give freely of their lives—”religious Jews in Israel” should participate in caring for the security of their country, or, if that’s too much, serve the equivalent time in vital organizations inside their own communities for their own neighbors.

That, according to Peggy Blier, is a conspiracy on the part of the Israeli government to destroy religious society.

Shmuel Gruis, 18, a rabbinical student from Phoenix studying at a Long Island yeshiva, said, “These kids, a lot of them don’t know how to hold a gun. They don’t know what physical warfare is.”

Are you kidding me? Have you ever been to a Shabbes demonstration? Those kids can throw a rock at police like born Palestinians.

“Their whole world and their whole lifestyle is peace and love and in doing mitzvahs,” he said.

OK, who can argue with that description of Haredi behavior? I’m sure non-Haredi women walking the streets of Beit Shemesh or boarding the bus in B’nei B’rak would attest to that pure goodness.

Some of the Hebrew prayers were led by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, a spiritual head of the Satmars living in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. If the IDF only enlisted the Satmar folks who ever participated in the clashes with the Satmar followers of the other spiritual head of Satmar, they could forge a most brutal and violent commando unit that would put to shame even the late Lee Marvin’s Dirty Dozen (and those included Telly Savalas and Trini Lopez).

Next Verena Dobnik, the AP reporter giving news content for free to Vosizneias, interviewed Yitz Farkas, a member of the Brooklyn-based True Torah Jews organization (step aside, all you False Torah Jews), who informed her that “The problem is, anyone who goes into the Israeli military becomes secular, and that would erase our whole tradition.”

I always enjoy that one. See, you and I are pretty sure the Haredi costume is just that – a costume, underneath which hides a regular Joe, with desires, even lusts, like you and me. The only thing that keeps Joe Haredi from going apecrackers is not the Torah he has learned and integrated into his personality as a shield against evil—it’s the long bekkesh, the velvet yarmulke and the shterimel. Take those away, and Joe Haredi will become a beast overnight.

That, essentially, is the main argument being advanced by the deans of Haredi yeshivas: We have no trust in the Torah we’ve taught our students. we know better. This is why the only means we have of keeping them in line are extreme social pressure and intimidation. You take those away and Joe will spring the trap and become a normal man, availing himself freely of the gifts of a modern society. We can’t afford that. If we do, as Yitz Farkas put it so eloquently, “that would erase our whole tradition.”

The word Haredim is based on Isaiah 66:5: “Hear the word of God, you that tremble at His word.” The “you that tremble” part in Hebrew is “Haharedim el dvaro.” Meaning that there’s urgency on your part to fulfill His word impeccably. It’s not about fear but about devotion.

But the post-Holocaust Haredi world is all about fear. Fear of new things. Fear of books. Fear of voices. And above all, fear that the education a young man receives during his 20 years in a Haredi yeshiva is worthless, because as soon as he encounters the outside world, those 20 years would vanish, melt away like Cholov Yisroel butter on a skillet.

What an astonishing degree of honesty regarding the bankruptcy of an entire school of faith and study.

You know, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked how come he’s not afraid that his Shluchim, the emissaries he was sending out into the farthest and darkest corners of the Earth wouldn’t be tainted by the unholy stuff that surely awaits them there. He responded by citing the laws of kashering-cleansing a vessel in preparation for Passover: k’bol’o ken polto—the way the vessel absorbed the substance so it would let go of it. Meaning that, had the emissary remained clean in body and spirit during his training years, he has nothing to fear “out there.”

I miss him very much. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his passing, and his absence today is felt more than ever before. He would have devoted a segment of a Shabbat farbrengen to the draft bill, and it would have set the whole thing straight: these guys are right on this and wrong on that and vice versa. now go and behave like dignified yidden and stop attacking one another.

What a strange, low-key ending to a piece that began as an exhilarated attack on Haredi IDF bashing. I guess I got tired of it. We’re not going to change the Haredi leadership’s position, we just have to rejoice in a merciful God who made them, like the rest of us, biodegradable.

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Chance to be a real martyr

A lovely bit of commentary from Harry’s Place:

BDSers: here’s your chance for martyrdom

Speaking today to the Knesset in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Cameron denounced the anti-Israel BDS movement and noted:

“[Israeli technology] is providing Britain’s National Health Service with one in six of its prescription medicines through Teva and it has produced the world’s first commercially available upright walking technology which enabled a British paraplegic woman to walk the 2012 London Marathon. And together British and Israeli technical expertise can achieve so much more.”

One in six prescriptions? BDSers: those are dangerously high odds that an Israeli-made drug may cure you. I expect you to demand to know which of your medications are of Zionist origin, and to refuse treatment with such drugs for yourselves and your family members. If you or they suffer and die as a result, just consider yourselves martyrs for the anti-Zionist cause.

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