A gathering

There’s only one way to explain what I experienced on my journey home from work tonight. There must have been, a surprise gathering (or conference) of bad and dangerous drivers called for tonight in Yehud. I can see the email invitation content quite clearly:

“Are you a bad driver? Are you a dangerous driver? Are you both? Well, come along to Yehud tonight, drive around and cause trouble.

Yes, we want you to reverse at speed into the main road.

Of course we want you to stop suddenly, start suddenly, stop suddenly, and then turn left while indicating right.

And you absolutely must charge across the stop line without stopping. You will get extra points if you don’t look to either side as you do this.

But if you cannot come, send a friend. Someone who drives on the other side of the road from time to time – just for variety.”

All this, and more.


The dominion, the prince, and the star


This week’s session began with a quick and intensive three player game of Dominion. John, Yehuda, and I fought over a high value set of Action Cards. However, it was the rather lowly Militia that did the damage, winning the game for John.

Sheer and Tal joined us for a game of Princes of Florence. Yehuda did his usual excellent job of explaining the rules to John and Sheer. Both of them did an excellent job of picking up the key points, and were well in contention save for some understandable errors. Tal seemed to lose her way a bit, possibly because she was still thinking about the work she was doing for a friend, when she should have been maximizing her score! It’s a tricky game to master, but Yehuda has done that, and his ‘come from behind’ approach showed us all how to win. Well done, Yehuda!


Tal dropped out to check out some music and allow the four guys to get a first shot at Among the Stars. We played the non-aggressive mode, fairly fast, made some mistakes but had some fun. As John and Sheer pointed out, once you build up familiarity with the cards, you will have a better chance of maximizing the score and doing well. Yehuda won, with Sheer and John not that far behind. I was well in last place. It was great to get the first run done and get used to the mechanics. The additions – goals and alien races – should make for an interesting combination. We are sure to play it again.

Thanks to all who came.


The Imitation Game


The Imitation Game is a film based – loosely – on the life of Alan Turing, the British mathematician (and eccentric character) who was central to the British WW2r effort to break the German Enigma code. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing – with a wonderful acting performance, backed up by the impressive Keira Knightley, and others. For example, I thought Charles Dance was perfect in the role as the establishment officer, and Mark Strong is equally good as the MI6 man. Roy Kinnear – so much like his dad – is good, though his role is a bit clunky. I suspect the editing there was less than the best it could have been.

The story is interesting – but hopelessly inaccurate, so do not take it as history, please – and there were very few dull moments. However, some of the cinematography is poor by modern standards. For example, the blitz scenes showing daylight damage are so obviously fake – the background shakes! – that I wonder why they bothered.

Overall, well worth seeing, provided you see it as entertainment.

Incidentally, apparently the film screenplay is by Graham Moore and based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.  The book gets rave reviews and seems to be genuine history and biography.


Shabbat Gaming

Last Shabbat, Chaim dropped in to join Lori, Susan and me in an impromptu gaming session. I was thinking about playing Among the Stars, but Chaim had brought Relic Runners, and we decided to give that a shot.


Relic Runners is a competitive game where the players are racing about the board, trying to collect the most victory points (and bonus actions to help them) from raiding – Indiana Jones style – places of archaeological interest in the jungle.

One core mechanic is that you have to pay for certain actions with the game currency of provisions. You can, in the main, get provisions by going back to base. So, you need to plan and time your raids so as to be able to efficiently get back and refuel.

The standards of production are high, and the game has a good feel. In short, it’s fun. It was just the right length, and the rules were straightforward with few queries after we had played a couple of rounds. There is an element of luck – you do not always know what you might find – but not too much for me. I really liked one mechanic that allows you to choose your special bonus, and even try and improve it.

Chaim having played it before, it wasn’t a surprise that he was the winner. Susan and I barely managed half his score. But Lori proved her abilities with an impressive 50+ points on that first outing, well above what a typical player would get, and damn close to pulling off a real surprise.

That was a good session, and a game I would like to try again.


A wondrous station

Out of the wrapper, my latest eurogame acquisition, Among the Stars and the two expansions:


I have not played it yet. It looks like an interesting variation of the 7 Wonders type of game, with the positioning of cards now taking some prominence in the decision making.

BGG says:

Among the Stars takes place in a war-ravaged galaxy where the warring alien races have declared peace in the wake of a threat with the potential to destroy them all. An Alliance is established to build space stations throughout the galaxy in order to promote trade among the races, strengthen diplomatic relations, and defend against this impending threat. Each player takes the role of one of those races trying to build the greatest space station. Through card drafting, the players select locations, and use these to build their station, scoring victory points based on the placement. The construction lasts four years, and alien race with the most points at the end wins.

I like the artwork, and hope the game play matches it. Maybe we will get to try Among the Stars this week.


Nasrallah is up a tree

Following Sunday’s attack by Israeli forces in the Golan heights (see here), leading analyst Avi Issacharoff has this to say in the Times of Israel:

At the end of the day, the key to what happens on the northern border in the wake of the Israeli attack in Syria on Sunday lies in Iran’s hands.

If Ali Khamenei and the Iranian leadership want an escalation, then an escalation there will be. If Tehran isn’t looking for one, then it simply won’t happen.

And further on:

Iran’s dilemma right now is whether or not to allow Hezbollah to respond with force, which could well lead to a general escalation. A Hezbollah response is not necessarily what Iran wants, especially when the White House is pressuring Congress not to enact new sanctions on Iran. Tehran does not want to be seen as responsible for a regional deterioration, which could bring about new sanctions. In addition, it doesn’t want to get Hezbollah stuck in another active front while the drop in oil prices has left Iran with less and less money to fund its operations in Syria. What’s more, Hezbollah continues to lose men fighting the Islamic State and other jihadist organizations.

On the other hand, ignoring the incident will be taken as weakness, even cowardice.

There look to be several unexpected benefits of the drop in oil price!

It’s noteworthy that the sanctions on Iran have had a real effect. Without them, there would be less reason for that nest of vipers to temper its thuggish behavior.

What about the tree?

Here comes the tree:

Hezbollah itself will want to respond, of course, even though it has an even more difficult dilemma. It may be that the decision would be easier were it not for the stupid, arrogant interview Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah gave on Friday to the friendly Al-Madayeen channel. As he usually does, Nasrallah explained how strong Hezbollah is, and how its ability to strike Israel is limitless. He described his advanced Fateh-110 rockets as outdated, and claimed that his organization already had those weapons in 2006, and that today it has much more advanced weapons.

What’s more, Nasrallah promised that any Israel attack on Syria would lead to an attack by Hezbollah, in a time and place of its choosing.

And now, only two days after the interview was aired, Israel has made it clear how high the tree is that Nasrallah climbed. Israel assassinated one of his senior commanders, and a major symbol no less: Jihad Mughniyeh’s father founded Hezbollah’s military wing, and was considered for more than two decades one of the Middle East’s biggest terrorists.

Now, Nasrallah is seemingly bound to respond, at least to show he stands behind his word.

I share the writer’s hope that the Israeli military leaders who approved the strike knew what they were doing. They knew what was going on in the Golan Heights, and the strike doesn’t appear to have directly prevented any immediate attack by Hezbollah or other forces. So why attack Hezbollah now?

We poor citizens are not in possession of all the facts, and can only guess the reasons for the undoubted ratcheting up of the tensions there. Perhaps Hezbollah is in a worse state than is thought? Perhaps Nasrallah’s speech was a bluff, and Israel decided to call the bluff?

I guess we will know soon enough.