Tisha B’Av +1

This year, Tisha B’Av (9th 0f Av) is on Shabbat (which has just ended). Since, other than Yom Kippur, we don’t fast on Shabbat, the fast is pushed back a day. That means the fast is now on, and ends on Sunday night.

Over Shabbat, I read the Dry Bones Tisha B’Av cartoon in the Jerusalem Post. It’s here and well worth a look.

Meantime, the Elder of Ziyon has an interesting post about Christian marking of Tisha B’Av. See it here.

If you are fasting, have an easy one.

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Back to Skye

isleofskye

First, an apology. In the last session report (here) I forgot to mention that we played The Walking Dead Card Game, and Peleg was the winner. He is handy with zombies is Peleg! There are people who say the game is all luck, but not me. I say it is a game of great skill, with a mix of psychology as you try and work out what the other players are likely to do, mixed in with some card counting, and fine judgement. It’s a really simple, but engrossing game. In my opinion.

So, this week I was joined by Azriel, Joseph, Nechamiah, Peleg, Roslynn, and Sheer.

We started with old favorite 7 Wonders, with everyone playing it, some for the first time. This game has a completely different feel when it is a seven player encounter, from when it is four or five. I sort of worked out what was necessary to keep in contention, but Sheer, Roslynn, and Joseph were doing better than me. However, in what is becoming something of a habit, first time player Azriel was the winner. He managed this despite that close competition, and occasionally pretending he wasn’t doing well. He did brilliantly. Well done Azriel!

Then we split into a five player session of Isle of Skye, which Sheer ran very successfully. So successfully that he won! Well done Sheer. That game continued to be well received, and it may well get some more exposure.

At the same time, Peleg and I had a win apiece at 7 Wonders: Duel.

Finally, after Peleg retired early, the remaining six played The Walking Dead Card Game. You know, that highly skillful game.. Funnily enough, I won that…

Another good night. Thanks to my guests for making it such fun.

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The Burning – Jane Casey

burning

This crime novel about the hunt for a serial killer called The Burning Man (because that’s what he does to his victims, after pummeling them to death) was something of a strange experience. The central character – Maeve Kerrigan – is an interesting enough female police detective, who has to cope with the expected alpha male environment of the cop shop, all the while trying to solve crimes. However, I wasn’t entirely convinced by her narrative.

The book is written in alternating first person viewpoints, switching between Maeve and a person of interest: Louise North. North was a friend of The Burning Man’s last victim, and Maeve wonders if that victim’s boyfriend may be the killer, and may be setting his sights on North as the next victim.

North’s narrative is more convincing in places, but still doesn’t quite carry me along with any sense of dread or excitement.

The combined narratives (and other characters’ contributions) do tell a decent enough tale, but I had things worked out well before the half way point, and didn’t feel the quality of the writing was good enough to make the rest anything but a slog.

Spoiler Alert!

All of that having been said, there were some purple patches. For example, I thought the showdown with The Burning Man was damn fine, and enjoyed a couple of the encounters Maeve had with her boss.

On the whole, it was OK. And that’s as far as I am prepared to go.

[I want you to know, I showed great restraint, and never said this book was a slow-burner, that failed to spark my interest, nor set the heather on fire, and could not match the hype. nor…]

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False impression

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

So, now the Royall report (available here) about alleged antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour Club. has finally been published. Shami Chakrabarti may not be happy about that, as there may be fallout for her. Why?

As the Jewish Chronicle reports:

Speaking to the JC about the Royall report in July, Ms Chakrabarti said: “My impression is that the NEC redacted it because there were individuals involved who were then referred for disciplined.”

“So my understanding is that is what happened there.”

Ms Chakrabarti, the former director of human rights group Liberty, added: “I know it is going to upset people when you can’t publish in full, but I almost feel like it was a hybrid enquiry.

“Because it was a bit thematic like mine, but also quite specific and Baroness Royall referred individuals who were in that report, to be disciplined, so obviously pending the discipline [It could not be published].”

As the JC also reports:

The report contains no names and no redactions.

Ooops!

It appears that Shami Chakrabarti’s impression was false. Now, why might that be?

At the very least, she has some explaining to do. It would be the, er, honorable thing to do…

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The Olympic Memory

munich-11

The Rio Olympics are due to start this weekend. In many countries, the focus will be on that team’s prospects of winning medals, and the potential to become their most successful representatives ever. That’s certainly some of the media coverage in Israel. But there is another significant point of interest here, and it’s an important (and emotional) one. We will never forget.

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Agent of the Imperium – Marc Miller

aoti
Background: Marc Miller is the designer of Traveller, a long established, highly successful and enduring science fiction role-playing game. This book, set in the Traveller universe, was a Kickstarter project that I backed, partly because I wanted to read the book, and partly because I wanted to give some support to Marc as thanks for the many hours of enjoyment Traveller has given me. I wasn’t expecting such a good read; yep, it’s a winner.

The story is largely told through the perspective of Jonathan Bland and the personas he occupies. He is a digital personality of a long dead Imperial Agent – a Decider – who is downloaded onto a living host when the forces of the Imperium need help with a situation. In that role, Bland (acting in place of the Emperor) has supreme authority, and is unafraid to use it. His personality is responsible for more killings than anyone else in the history of humanity.

The story starts with a bang, as we see Bland leap into decisive action to quell a threat to the Empire. From there on, the reader is taken on a roller coaster of a ride, through many situations, back and forwards in time, as the pieces of the puzzle are ably presented by the author. I found myself reading and rereading some chunks to try to keep a handle on the story. Eventually it dawned on me that the Imperial date that prefaces each chapter is there for a reason. Once I started using that as a pointer, things became a lot easier.

There is no need to know anything about the Traveller universe, as there is plenty of supporting material. For example, some of the game systems are described so you can better understand the worlds that the characters are interacting with. This helps do more than set the scene, as it gives a fine sense of the breadth and depth of the adventures, as well as the extent of the variety in the Imperium. However, Bland’s adventures may well carry you through all on their own. They are economically portrayed, with one eye on the ticking clock as the suspense builds.

But don’t think this is just some smash and grab all action pulp fest. There are thoughtful questions posed in the book, and not all seem to have straightforward answers. In short, there’s more than enough to make you think. So much so, that after finishing the book, the first thing I did was to go back to the beginning and read it through again.

This had a sense of classic science fiction, and gave me back – for the first time in a while – that combined sense of awe, amazement, and bewilderment I had the first time I discovered the genre. (Sort of my own time travelling experience!) I thoroughly enjoyed this, and recommend it for all who read and enjoyed the classics of science fiction.

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And then there were eight

caverna
This week, Azriel, Eilat, Nechamiah, Peleg, Roslynn, Roy, and Sheer joined me for a bumper games session.

We split into two groups of four with Roy and Eilat introducing Roslynn and Azriel to Caverna. This is a serious, meaty game, with lots of things to do each turn, and all sorts of linked consequences. I have it, but have never played it, because you need the right people, the right time, and the right setting. Since I was introducing the others to a different game, I missed out on this, and spent some time looking over to Caverna trying to work out what was going on. (This is, of course, me building up one of several excuses from my crap performance in the games I was supposed to be playing.)

I might get a report from the players, but it was clear that Roy and Eilat did a masterful job of explaining the game, as the newcomers seemed engrossed. Further, Azriel proved beyond all shadow of a doubt that he has the killer touch, by producing a masterful performance and winning! Well done, Azriel. (I am so jealous…)

isleofskye

At the other end of the table, I introduced Nechamia, Peleg and Sheer to Isle of Skye. It was a first play for all of us.

This is a tile placement game, with an interesting buy mechanism. Each turn, each player draws three tiles to potentially add to his kingdom. The tiles, in the right combination, generate victory points in different categories. There are four  VP categories (drawn randomly from a selection of 16) which are available to everyone, and operate in different rounds. On top of that, some tiles have victory point generators for different categories. For example, you might get points for connected tiles, or sheep, or cattle, or whisky, and so on.

But, from the three tiles you draw, you must discard one. And you must put a price on the other two (this is done simultaneously by all the players). Then all tiles are revealed (with prices) and each player takes it in turn to buy one tile from any of the other players. So, at the end of the round you may have three tiles to add to your little empire, or two, or one, or none. Guess how often I had none?

In theory, if your tiles are bought you should be OK because you get the money. It may not be enough. I think there is a real skill to setting the price, and I did not master it.

We played twice and each time I beat everyone. To the lowest score that is… Sheer won both games. In the first, Nechamiah and Peleg gave him some serious competition, but in the second he blew us all away, threatening to lap me on the scoring board. Well done, Sheer.

It’s a fun game, and I would gladly play it again. However, I am not sure about the balance. Sheer deserved his win, but he did admit that certain things had gone his way.

splendor

Well, the trend continued, with Sheer also winning at Splendor, I did spot some good fortune. To do well in this game, you want to make economical purchases. If you have taken two turns to acquire five tokens, and use all five to get the card you want, that is economical. However, on several occasions I got to the same point but some other player bought the card I wanted before me. That left me with the wrong tokens. I know it happened to the others too, but Sheer magically seemed to avoid this. He quickly built up an engine to generate the tokens he needed, and ran out the winner far ahead of us. Interestingly, Eilat told me that one of her kids used a ‘buy the expensive cards only’ strategy, and that seemed to win always. So, Splendor may need a more critical look the next time we play it. I still like it.

A great night of gaming. Thanks to all who came and made it happen.

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Those We Left Behind – Stuart Neville

twlb

A long time ago, a twelve year old boy (Ciaran, one of two brothers) was convicted of the savage murder of his foster father. As this book opens, Ciaran is about to be released from prison, where his brother Thomas (released earlier after his shorter sentence for involvement in the killing) and concerned probation officer, Paula Cunningham, await. Our heroine, DCI Serena Flanagan, who secured Ciaran’s confession ten years ago, is nervous about the release, but can do nothing to stop it. She has her suspicions about the role of Thomas, and is fearful about the consequences of both brothers being at liberty. Meanwhile, the natural born son of the slain father, is about to have his relative peace shattered.

From this point the story develops in a fairly predictable manner. I will avoid any spoilers, but will say that despite the lack of any significant surprises, this is a thoughtful, well written, psychological crime drama, with good observations built into a set of believable characters. The two brothers and Flanagan are well done, and somewhat hog the scenes. Flanagan, having recently recovered from breast cancer surgery, gets involved in another case about one of her fellow suffers from a support group. The case shows Flanagan’s impulsive side, and does not endear her to her colleagues. But that apart, I found it a strange detour and wondered what the point of it all was.

Paula Cunningham is also a good character, and her scenes contain some of the sharpest writing. It’s almost as if the author thought about how far he could develop that character, and was trying her out as a potential star in her own right. Interesting.

At the end, I had enjoyed the experience, but felt strangely disinterested in learning any more about the adventures of Flanagan. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the character, but she just doesn’t draw me in the way others do. So, even though there is a series – apparently popular and successful – I won’t be going there. For me, there was something missing.

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This never happened in Scotland!

On a recent bike ride – passing through the wilds of Herzliya – a couple of riders passing us in the opposite direction, took time to give us a warning message. Potholes? No. Broken traffic lights? No. Snake? Yep.

It would be fair to say that we cycled somewhat tentatively through that part of the ride… Thankfully, we never saw the snake. But I am going to see about beefing up our first aid kit, just in case.

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