Signs of Our Times

Here’s the sign above a shop in Herzliya:

Here’s how I imagine the conversation going:

Shopper: “Do you do home design?”

Shop Assistant: “That’s what it says on the sign. Of course we do.”

Shopper: “Do you design children? How does that work?”

Shop Assistant: “I’ll get back to you…”

Note that I am exercising restraint and not really commenting on the “House In” part of the crime scene.

Body Breaker – Mike Craven

The follow up to the passable Born in a Burial Gown, this is more of the same: a decent enough police procedural crime novel, with an interesting character at the core, a good measure of tension, a well constructed plot, and a shade too much telling rather than showing. It’s a level above what many would call an airport read, but there’s just something about the writing style that jars with me.

The action starts with the discovery of a severed hand on a golf course, and heats up with our hero policeman getting a visitor who stirs up memories of the past. and a view into the who, what, when, why, and where of the murder. If only he could figure out which way to go in the investigation.

For some, this detective will be so detective, they will not like the book at all. For others, that broken nature will be a main attraction. For me, it’s an interesting enough hook; unfortunately, I don’t see much more that will engage me long term.

Born in a Burial Gown – Mike Craven

This is a dark, atmospheric police procedural novel that features an interesting character, a passable setting, and a decent plot. The central character is Avison Fluke – when will we get a character called John? – a policeman who is facing his share of personal challenges. He built his house illegally, and is threatened with being made homeless. He is not in the best of health, but is hiding that for fear of losing his job. And he’s only back at work after an incident that involved him committing a serious crime. He is definitely a defective detective.

From here on, the book fairly rattles along. There are some good twists, and some decent writing. But there was a shade too much of the telling instead of showing.

However, overall, not bad, and worthy of a follow up.


Why, why, why?

Avri, Azriel, Sheer, and I played Caylus in this week’s regular gaming session. This is an old, but venerated game. (Avri calls the two player version ‘better than chess’ so he is clearly a fan.) It uses worker placement and a combination of different resources and converters (stuff that uses the resources to generate better resources, victory points, and so on) to give you a game where there are a lot of choices, but never enough time. And those pesky things called opponents keep getting in the way.

I had played the game a long, long time ago, and I wasn’t that taken with it. But Avri’s enthusiasm appealed to Azriel and Sheer, and I was willing to go along for the ride.

Avri’s explanation of the rules was good, as attested to by the fact we had very few questions during the game, and got just about everything right. Of course, the one thing I didn’t get right was my strategy, but no surprise there.

Avri’s familiarity with the game inevitably led to him winning. But Azriel’s ferocious building program gave him a wee fright, and Sheer came even closer by dint of his usual powerful analysis. Unsurprisingly, having made all the wrong choices, I was in last place. And I still didn’t like the game.

So, why don’t I like the game? That’s for another post.

Meantime, note that I still enjoyed the night. It gives me pleasure seeing gamers having a good time.


Guardian’s up to its usual tricks again

Check out this article.

Note the headline. What is the message that the headline conveys?

Then read the article. Look carefully at what was discussed: aid for Syrian refugees.

It appears the Guardian is trying to put the boot in because it’s Israel, and only because it’s Israel. That twisted headline would never appear for coverage of another country’s affairs. It also appears – actually, not so much ‘appears’, more like ‘is pretty damn certain’ – that the Guardian is more interested in bashing Israel, any friend of Israel, or any potential friend of Israel, than it is in securing help for Syrian refugees. How’s that behavior for a so called liberal newspaper?

I tweeted about this. Not that it will make a difference, but somebody has to call out this dreadful narrative.

First Cristot

Ran and I played the ASL scenario First Cristot, a June 1944 encounter between the British and the Germans. I was the German player, and Ran the British.

The British infantry start at one end of the board – eight squads, two leaders, a hero, three LMGs, and a PIAT – and have to break through the German line to climb the hilly terrain at the other end of the board to claim victory. The Germans have two SS squads, three SS half squads, a couple of leaders, a medium machine-gun, a panzerschreck, and a 50mm anti-tank gun.

Both sides have tanks. The British tanks – four Shermans and a Firefly – have advanced too far ahead of their infantry and are sitting close to where the infantry have to reach. The German tanks – two Panthers – enter on the first turn to face up to the British tanks.

The scenario – played in wet weather conditions – has one quirky rule: the British player has to choose in each turn if he will move his tanks or his infantry. Since his infantry need to get across the baord, they should get most of the movement opportunities, leaving the British tanks as sitting ducks. That simply means the British tanks have to set up well, and Ran managed it in his typically skillful way.

The scenario began with a weather roll that worsened the rain. That didn’t really affect the outcome. If it had changed by having the rain stopped, that would have hevaily favored the attacker since they could then use their smoke capability to mask their advances.

Unfortunately for me, Ran’s twin pronged approach breached my thin line on one side of the board. Led by his PIAT toting hero, he had soon cleared enough room so that the victory area was in sight.

Worse, one of my tanks had its gun malfunction. Things went from bad to worse. The Firefly killed the gun capable tank, then the other gun broke completely and it had to be recalled.

By then, the British forces were well on top and I conceded.

The next day, after checking, Ran was a gentleman and told me that his overachieving hero should have died. (It was wounded and wounded again.) That did have a major impact in cracking my defense open, but given the dreadful state of the tanks’ performance, I doubt it would have made a difference.

The posted results of the scenario favor the Germans, but I think we agreed the setup challenge for the Germans is a hard one.

As usual, I learned a lot from the game. If only I could remember it…

Blackout – Ragnar Jonasson

Despite the puff, this is run of the mill nordic noir, with not that much to raise it above the ordinary. It’s alright, but nothing outstanding.

The crime at the center of the novel is the murder by vicious assault of one man, a team leader of a crew working on a civil engineering project in remote Iceland. Ari Thór Arason, the lead policeman, is struggling with his personal life as well as the challenge of this case. Meantime, there’s a reporter snooping about, and another potential victim just around the corner.

It has its moments, but is largely pedestrian.

For dedicated readers only.

On the beach on the table

On the table, I’m on the beach – Omaha Beach on D-Day (6 June 1944) – trying to recreate the successful amphibious invasion against Nazi occupied Europe. The game is John Butterfield’s D-Day at Omaha Beach, published by Decision, and is a solitaire game with the system controlling the German defenders.

Essentially, the action is controlled by a deck of cards which uses a combination of colors (each matching a defending position), fire symbols (each representing different intensities of fire) and counter symbols (determining which units are hit) to give you a tough opponent. As the American player, you are given the historical forces to achieve your goals, but you have to survive the landing operation, brave the fire on the beaches, and get in close to wipe out the well dug in defenders. And all against the clock.

I have played the standard scenario several times and never got close to a victory. The extended scenario adds actions for the German defenders, making it a lot tougher.

Things I like: a genuine solitaire system that you cannot second guess. There are tough decisions to make every turn. The game does a good job of creating the right atmosphere, transporting you to that time and place. You do get a true sense of the bloody slaughter.

Things I don’t like: my success rate…

There are two more games using a similar system but about Pacific battles.

Highly recommended if you like WW2 and want a good solitaire game. Not recommended for novices, unless you have some to show you the ropes.


Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

This book begins like many contemporary thrillers with an ordinary guy going about his routine, until something out of the ordinary happens. For Jason Dessen, the unusual event is that he is kidnapped. And, when he wakes up from being knocked out, things are not what they were, to put it mildly.

At this point, the thriller becomes stranger and stranger. I don’t want to say more as it would spoil your enjoyment. If you are an open minded reader who likes their fiction with a touch of the bizarre spicing up some interesting ideas and classical morale challenges, this is for you. It’s an adventure with brains. If you read it, you may never look at the world around you in the same way.