ASL Israel Event

The second open ASL Israel event has been rescheduled, and will now take place at theTzuba Hotel at Kibbutz Tzuba (between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) from 26-28 March 2015.

Details here.

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Traveller Ascension

Good news on the boardgame front. As featured at ConsimWorld:

2014-11-04_06-44-10

Click the image to go to the Kickstarter page and see more (or click here). My piece about the game is here. (I have no commercial connection with the game, beyond the fact that I have backed it.) I am really looking forward to seeing this game being produced.

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Other side of the counter

Counter magazine has been the host of the best, most consistent, most honest, and worthwhile (euro) game reviews since its first issue. After 66 issues as a dead tree press publication – one you can read in the bath without risking electrocution – the latest issue announces the end of that era. From December 2014 issue, Counter will only be available as a downloadable online magazine.

Last post for Counter

Last post for Counter

Good stuff: it will be cheaper – certainly for us alien overseas subscribers. It will have some color. There will be no postal delays. Most importantly, it will continue.

Bad stuff: Counter’s current online presence (here and here) does not show much promise of being up to date, nor a place of activity. (I wonder if there’s more happening at Boardgame Geek, a forum I really, really, really, do not like as a discussion place. It appears not.)

I am fearful that the Counter guys have underestimated the effect of switching to an online publication. They may need to make more of an effort between issues than they would like. They may suffer from comparison with other online review sites. (There, speed of review after game publication seems more highly valued than the quality of the content.) Maybe I am wrong and they have it all under control and well planned. Presumably there will be a wee bit of time spent discussing this at Essen.

I do wish them luck. I very much want to see the other side of the Counter, and for it to continue for a long time.

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ASL Israel Event [Updated]

The second open ASL Israel event has been rescheduled, and will now take place at the Tzuba Hotel at Kibbutz Tzuba (between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) from 26-28 March 2015.

The format is open gaming. Participants are encouraged to submit a list of 3 desired scenarios (including scenarios from historical modules). We will make an effort to see that each participant gets to play at least one of his chosen scenarios. There is no formal competition, although the win/loss record of every player will be noted and published.

So far as accommodation is concerned:

“Just a 20 minute car-drive from Jerusalem and 45 minutes from Tel Aviv, Hotel guests enjoy easy access to the authentic village Ein Karem and to the main attractions in Jerusalem. The Wine Route through the Yoav Yehuda Region, horseback riding, hiking and biking trails, Mini Israel and Kiftzuba Amusement Family Park are all close by.”

The hotel website is here.

If you are an English speaker, you don’t need to worry about the language barrier!

All are welcome.

Transportation to the event location from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ben Gurion airport can easily be arranged.

For further information or queries, or help with transportation, contact Ran Shiloah at ran.shiloah@gmail.com or Ellis Simpson at s4simpson@gmail.com.

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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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Gamers as scientists?

This – from the Guardian – stopped me in my tracks:

How online gamers are solving science’s biggest problems

A new generation of online games don’t just provide entertainment – they help scientists solve puzzles involving genes, conservation and the universe

Really?

The really wicked part of me wanted to know if these games could help scientists solve puzzles involving the genetic tendency for liberal newspaper journalists to develop blind spots – like those that develop when it comes to seeing Israel in a fair and reasonable light. But, hey, you cannot have everything.

The piece begins as follows:

For all their virtual accomplishments, gamers aren’t feted for their real-world usefulness. But that perception might be about to change, thanks to a new wave of games that let players with little or no scientific knowledge tackle some of science’s biggest problems. And gamers are already proving their worth.

In 2011, people playing Foldit, an online puzzle game about protein folding, resolved the structure of an enzyme that causes an Aids-like disease in monkeys. Researchers had been working on the problem for 13 years. The gamers solved it in three weeks.

A year later, people playing an astronomy game called Planet Hunters found a curious planet with four stars in its system, and to date, they’ve discovered 40 planets that could potentially support life, all of which had been previously missed by professional astronomers.

On paper, gamers and scientists make a bizarre union. But…

Fascinating. No doubt, some of this is overblown, exaggerated, and slanted to give a particular message. But at the core, it remains – at least to me – fascinating. Read it all, here.

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Life lessons from D & D

I’m late to the party with this, but it’s too good to let pass:

All I needed to know about life I learned from “Dungeons & Dragons”

It’s by Ethan Gilsdorf (author of the highly rated book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) and here is how the piece starts:

When Dungeons & Dragons appeared in January 1974, 40 years ago this month, it was a fun twist on traditional war gaming. No one guessed it was also revolutionary.

For sure, endless homespun cops-and-robbers-style “make-believe” games existed, as did charades and improv theater. Vast tabletop war games also enacted battles with hundreds of miniatures. But no one had married these concepts into a single game, in a box, with rules for role-playing a single character — paladin, thief, wizard, barbarian, elf, dwarf, holy man — giving a personal stake for the player who controlled him or her.

“Those war gamers who lack imagination,” the game’s co-founder, Gary Gygax, wrote in the game’s first introduction, “will not be likely to find Dungeons and Dragons to their taste. But those whose imaginations know no bounds will find that these rules are the answer to their prayers.”

[…snip…]

After a long hiatus, I play the game again now, as a 47-year-old, mostly grown-up person. Today, with my +5 Goggles of Hindsight, I can see how D&D was subtly helping me come of age. Yes, it’s a fantasy game, and the whole enterprise is remarkably analog, powered by face-to-face banter, storytelling and copious Twizzlers and Doritos. But like any pursuit taken with seriousness (and the right dose of humor), Dungeons & Dragons is more than a mere game. Lessons can be applied to the human experience. In fact, all I really need to know about life I learned by playing D&D.

Read it all. It’s worth it.

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Speeding up solitaire play

Every gamer has their own techniques when it comes to playing a game solitaire. Over the years I have come to prefer using a deck of cards instead of rolling dice, as a mainstay of my approach. Why?

Do you feel lucky?

First, I find flipping cards to be faster than rolling a die (or rolling dice). You do not have to worry about finding the damn things, nor whether they are properly flat. And you banish the type of disaster that can occur when a stray die cuts a swathe across the mapboard, sending counters everywhere.

Second, using a fixed set of numbers means each result will happen, but no more often than it should. So, for example, the “1” will show up 10% of the time in a 1-10 deck. This does not eliminate chance, but it curbs the impact of the extremes.

Third, I confess that there have been times when rolling dice in a solitaire game, and I have been tempted to reroll a ‘bad’ result – perhaps with a pretense of justification. (“Oh, I did not roll the dice properly.” Or “That die is not quite lying flat.“) And, yes, I have sometimes fallen to that temptation. However, because using a deck of cards gives the correct range of random numbers (and because it’s much more difficult to persuade yourself that a card has been improperly drawn from a deck) I found the temptation had disappeared. So, using the deck has improved the purity of the play.

Fourth, and it’s related to the speed aspect, I like to assign random chance to choices when playing solitaire. For example, I assess there’s a 20% chance this unit will sit tight 40% it will move up in support, and 40% it will charge into contact with the enemy. So, there is more need for the generation of random numbers when playing solo. And therefore, using the faster card deck delivers even greater savings of time.

Band of Brothers

Recently I have been playing a lot of Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer. (See my review here.) In that system, infantry type units must take and pass a morale check every time they want to move or fire; this involves a 1d10 roll, needing to score less than or equal to their morale rating.

On the face of it, that’s a lot of die rolling. However, until they take any losses or suppression, units have a morale rating of 10. This means they do not need to take such a check. However, I wanted to tweak the system so that there was some small chance of even a 10 morale unit failing. I believed a house rule to that effect would add to the chaos of the game, as well as the fun.

For a game such as Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer, I use a standard playing deck of cards, with all the Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Jokers removed. That leaves 40 cards in four sets of 1-10. (Playing solitaire, I use one deck for the game. With an opponent who wanted to try out the cards, I would use one deck for each player.)

To try out the house rule, I added one Joker to the deck of 40. So now units had to check morale, even with a 10 rating. However, units with a 10 morale only failed if the card drawn was a Joker. (I suppose, it’s an 11!) For all other purposes, I treated the Joker as a 10.

I played the infantry training scenario and was reasonably happy with the results. It was bit more fiddly, but not excessively so.  However, it had close to no effect – only once did a unit get stopped in its tracks – and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort. So, I added a second Joker and that seemed to be a better balance; it delivered more of what I was looking for.  And although it is purely subjective, I didn’t feel that the additional cards had a disproportionate effect on other game systems.

I still need to try this with one of the full scenarios and see how I get on. Yes, of course, I may be tempted to do further tweaking…

The good thing is that the game continues to be a blast. (I cannot wait for the updated Screaming Eagles counters to be available!)

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Ghost Panzer

ghostpanzer

Ghost Panzer is the second game in the Band of Brothers series. Designed by Jim Krohn and produced by Worthington Games (now Worthington Publishing), the series deals with tactical level WW2 ground combat, with units being individual squads, weapon teams, and tanks. Each hex is 40 yards, and each game turn represents two minutes of real time. This particular game in the series features the 11th Panzer Division in some of its battles in Russia, from 1941-1943.

I’m a fan of tactical level WW2 games and am always searching for the perfect game that hits all the sweet spots. This game doesn’t reach that impossible to achieve standard, but it’s a breath of fresh air, clear thinking, and an excellent addition to the hobby. Continue reading

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SPI memories

SPI (Simulations Publications Inc) has a fond place in my gaming memories. Even though it is long gone, its influence still percolates through the wargames industry hobby, and beyond. The following pair of recent quotes may partly explain SPI’s status.

First, from Joe Balkoski at BoardGameGeek:

There’s no doubt that the job I held at SPI from 1975 to 1981 was the best job I ever had and most likely ever will have.<snip>

the atmosphere was electric and consistently stimulating.<snip>

The staff interactions were fantastically positive — so many people remain friends to this day. And the talent level was unbelievable…lots of future authors, many still in game design, others in top-notch careers. Outside of work, the bonding was strong.<snip>

SPI was a place defined by its energy, youth, and talent, and I don’t think a day goes by during which I don’t miss it in one form or another. The skills the designers learned there were put to good use as we grew older, be it for games, books, or anything else we decided to learn.

Then from David Isby at Consimworld:

Joe Balkoski is totally on target. I was there, from 1970 to 1979 when the death spiral was starting. At its best, it was as he described it.

But I think the most important thing (which Joe, a man never given to self-publicity, omitted) IS THAT WE THOUGHT WE WERE DOING SOMETHING IMPORTANT AND VALUABLE.

We were not making silly-ass games to amuse our contemporaries amongst the baby boomers. Nor to allow gamers to “roll some dice and kick some ass”, but to provide valuable insights into historical or contemporary events that we believed the manual simulation made uniquely possible.

Making this possible was the existence of a sophisticated audience in sufficient numbers to make money selling to them. There were 4,000 grognards at their height, but half of all game sales were to them. They would let you know if you tried to pass off an inferior product. In recent years, I have been involved in using simulations with government clients, and I will tell you that senior military personnel will accept limitations in simulations costing millions of dollars that would have led to angry feedback if we had done the same with a fifteen dollar game.<snip>

I told you what I was trying to do in the last paragraph of my TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND DESIGNERS notes. I am pretty sure Joe B. and most of the folks we worked with (though not all, by any means) were trying to do something similar.

I will always appreciate what Balkoski, Isby and everyone of the good guys at SPI were trying to achieve.

[A tip of the hat to David Hughes and John Kranz.]

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