Goodbye 2016

It is not long now, and we will be saying goodbye to 2016, another year that has flown past like the proverbial rocket. The highlight for Susan and me was undoubtedly Sarah-Lee and Tomer’s wedding. Earlier in the week we saw some of the rough video – not yet edited into anywhere near final form – and the wonderful memories were refreshed. We have been so blessed, so lucky.  Here’s hoping for another great year for everyone, and that 2017 is a time of health, happiness and prosperity. Happy new year and Shabbat Shalom.

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Dauntless

opdauntless

On the table is Operation Dauntless, Mark Mokszycki‘s game about the June 1944 Normandy battles for Fontenay and Rauray, published by GMT Games. The first game of Mark’s that I played was the excellent Red Winter, and this looks to be even better.

The box is overflowing with gaming goodness: the physical production standards are the usual top notch, though there are one or two minor pieces of errata. Apart from the expected map, counters, rule book, and play aids, there’s a chunky Scenario Book (complete with programmed instruction starter scenarios to teach the system) and a very impressive Reference Book with commentary, supporting notes, and a ton of historical detail. Finally there is a Play Book with many examples of play, material about how to link the scenarios into a campaign game, tips, and other bits and pieces.

The system is somewhat more complicated than Red Winter, the key differences being additional rules to cover defensive fire and anti-tank combat. The latter has a unique action and reaction cycle which took me some time to become comfortable with. However, there is a play aid with a flowchart that handles this subsystem better than the dry body of the rules.

I have played through most of the programmed instruction scenarios, and setup and walked through the first couple of turns of the first actual (historic) scenario. The game has lots of rich tactical detail which makes it play a bit slower than Red Winter. Whether this is worthwhile is a matter of taste. I enjoy the immersive experience, so for me it’s a positive feature. It may have taken a while to get to the table, but the timing is fortuitous, given I have a wee bit extra free time to devote to this beauty.

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On being laid off

contemplation

This last week I received official notice of my redundancy – Work Force Reduction as it is internally labeled. It wasn’t a surprise because me and my colleagues – around 200 are affected – had been given advance verbal notice a couple of weeks ago. Since then, as the powers to be have decided to kill our product, people have been polishing their CVs and their LinkedIn profiles. And the atmosphere in the office has been dreadful; like those awful moments when you gather for a funeral, before the body is committed to the grave. The difference is that some of the ‘mourners’ are secretly happy, because they have kept their job.

Financially, I will receive an enhanced package. That aspect cannot be faulted. But, regrettably, I wouldn’t give very senior management anywhere near pass marks for the way they have otherwise handled the situation. I’ll say no more than that.

So, with my updated CV and LinkedIn profile, I have been (and am) on the hunt for a new job. (My last day of work at the current place is to be the end of January 2017.) Fortunately, the world of Israeli high-tech is busy at this time, and there are lots of jobs out there in general. I am reasonably confident that with my skills and experience I will secure new employment. I don’t think I’m worried about that, but I could do without the aggravation, the balagan, and the uncertainty.

I do hope everyone else gets fixed up. I have had the privilege to work with some amazing, talented people. Every organization has its plonkers, but there were not too many of them. Instead, the quality of some of these men and women was very impressive. If there’s any justice out there, they’ll go on to great things.

The situation for me is bit like it was after I made aliyah, and was networking and looking for work. I have more free time than usual, but am unsure how long it will last. I have learned from that experience, and this time around am going to make good use of it. The cliche every cloud has a silver lining is spot on. On the other hand, I’m not looking forward to clearing out my cube. It’s amazing how much stuff you can accumulate in just shy of six years. It’s probably time to ditch the reference books.

I can now add being made redundant to my life’s experiences. Regardless, I have been lucky to date, and am ever hopeful that as one door closes another opens.

 

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Chanukah Sameach!

To those who celebrate the Festival of Lights – which has just started – Chanukah Sameach!

So good you can eat it - by Sarah-Lee

So good you can eat it – by Sarah-Lee

I see some donuts on the horizon…

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The infamy of alchemy

alchemy

This week, I was joined by Azriel, Peleg, and Sheer, and we started off with a couple of games of Alchemy, one of the Dominion expansions sets that none of us had played before. We used two recommended deck setups with the basic Dominion cards.

In the first game (without Peleg, as he arrived late), it was a tussle between Azriel and Sheer, with me trying to keep out of the way (unsuccessfully). Azriel was gifting Sheer and me tons of Curse cards. Meantime Sheer used the Possession card to steal the benefit of several turns of mine for his own use. It was no surprise that this nasty, nasty card was responsible for him edging out Azriel. Even Sheer didn’t like the card. Well done Sheer!

We had better luck with the second set, with Peleg now joining in. The scores were much more even, though Azriel’s combination had done enough to get him the win. Well played Azriel!

The cry went out for a short game to finish, so we played Take It Easy! Azriel hadn’t played before, but quickly picked it up to get a decent score. Sheer doesn’t do well at this game for some strange reason, and he played true to form. Peleg did well, but lost out to me. Sorry Peleg. It was close.

Thanks to the three guys for another great games night.

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Meanwhile, on the table

fof-lotr

I have been plugging away at Fields of Fire, having managed to get through the first two missions of the WW2 campaign. Mission 3 is a series of combat patrols where you have to, in turn, get each of your three platoons to complete a patrol into enemy territory. The defenders are veteran troops, and although the troops have the cover of operating at night, there are likely to be causalties. One tricky aspect here is that the company, having improved in quality by virtue of its experience, will really suffer if the losses are too high, as there are never enough veteran replacements kicking around. So in this game, you cannot only go for the win. Here there are ongoing consequences if your losses are too high.

Thankfully the same does not apply to the Lord of the Rings: the Card game. Thanks to some great material at the Hall of Beorn, I was at last successful on a solo run of the second of the three quests in the box. However, it took half a dozen attempts, and required all the stars to be aligned: a good starting draw, and plenty of luck in the way the encounter deck turned out. That having been said, it proves you can win the game. And it’s also fair to say that I picked up some great tips on technique, improving the quality of my play enormously.  The third quest is even tougher, so there will be a further refining of the deck, and some more reading and preparation before trying that one. After that, I have some of the expansions to work through.

Both these games are solitaire (though LOTR can be played with two players against the system) and it seems that this is what I enjoy most at the moment. I have several non solitaire games that I keep meaning to get to the table, but failing to do so. That’s probably a testament to the high quality of the two games above. They are simply excellent – not without their foibles – but overall, wonderful gaming experiences.

 

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Moskva – Jack Grimwood

moskva

This is a Cold War novel set mostly (and unsurprisingly) in Moscow, featuring a British Secret Service Agent (Tom Fox) who has been posted there to get him away from some trouble on his last assignment. Fox is in the midst of a marital breakdown following the death of his daughter, and there are inevitable reminders of his pain, loss, and suffering when the daughter of the ambassador’s wife goes missing. But the story is far from a simple missing person hunt, as it gradually becomes apparent. The Soviets are not keen on a Western agent doing any investigation, but Fox perseveres taking him into greater danger as he becomes enmeshed in the morass that is Soviet Russia.

The characterization is good, including more than just Fox as rounded, believable people. Fox’s personal struggles are, on the whole, pitched at the right level. And the locals are a strange, intriguing, and welcome mix of people and personalities. The interactions are good. The action is intense, and the plot is solid, and well constructed. The author handles the strands of the various complex factions with some skill, and at all times ensures the skilfully described backdrop delivers a heady dose of realism and atmosphere. There were one or two patches where a different editor might have sharpened the text, these being some of Fox’s ruminations about his dead daughter, which at times seemed flat and overdone. The writing is not as sharp as Martin Cruz Smith‘s Gorky Park, but that is probably an impossibly high standard to match or beat. This is a good, solid, entertaining read.

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Honest Endeavor

endeavor

This week, Susan and I were joined by Gillian, Peleg, and Sheer. We started off with Endeavor, a chunky worker placement game. Neither Susan nor Gillian had played this before, and Sheer took on the responsibility of explaining the rules. If I had paid attention, it would have dawned on me that Sheer’s flawless explanation meant he knew the game well – really well. And so it proved.

endeavor2

Anyway, off we went on our individual voyages of discovery (the game has an exploration theme), doing our best to put up some kind of competition for Sheer’s relentless point scoring. We failed. However, honorable mention should be given to the efforts by Susan and Gillian. For a first time play, they did pretty well. Peleg and I did not have any excuses, and were simply outplayed.

endeavor1

In our defense, I think both of us could see that Sheer was well in the lead from early on. However, it would have been less fun if either of us had done some table talking, and encouraged attacks on Sheer. Four against one? That would have been unfair (albeit deserved) and besides, the first time you play a game like this, it’s all about learning the ropes. Next time I expect there will be more serious challenges. Meantime, Sheer won.

Susan retired leaving the four survivors to engage in a quick cut down version of Ticket to Ride: The Card Game. Peleg still had work to do, so it was a bit rushed. Sheer and Peleg did quite well, and I did quite poorly. But Gillian did very well, and was the deserved winner.

Thanks to all who came and made it such a good night of gaming.

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Oblivion – Arnaldur Indridason

oblivion
Having finished off Detective Erlendur Sveinsson’s career, but finding there were more stories to tell, this author set about creating some prequels, of which this is one.

As a newly promoted detective, Erlendur has a newly discovered battered body to deal with, as well as a cold case involving the decades old disappearance of a schoolgirl nagging away in his head. Our hero is quickly mixed up in matters that involve the basest human emotions, and the grandest political arenas.

Top marks to the translator (Victoria Cribb) for a flawless piece of work, rendering this somewhat sparse Icelandic tale as it should be: dark, cold, and threatening. The characters are life like, and the backdrop authentic and enthralling. Erlendur and his colleagues stay true to their calling in the dogged pursuit of justice, even if it does not always take them where you might think.

Classic crime fiction as it should be. It leaves an impact long after you have read the last word. And then you begin the wait for the next one.

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More Shabbat Gaming

takenoko-bamboo

I felt less than well over our Shabbat away in Metar, but managed to introduce Susan, Peter, and Anne to Takenoko. As usual, I did such a good job of explaining the rules, that I lost! Susan edged me out by two points, with Peter and Anne close enough behind me.

Peter had a dreadful run of luck with the die, rolling five or six ‘Storm’ results in a row. Anne was less unlucky with that aspect, but her victory card draws were too tough. Susan latched onto the game mechanics quickly, and was consistently ahead.

Good stuff, though it did highlight the potential unbalancing effect of the damn die. Maybe an experienced Takenoko player would have been better able to weather the storm of bad fortune.

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