Five for Friday

If you are a gamer, does a week with two nights of gaming flash past even faster? Or does the double dose of fun stretch out the week? (See. I can do serious philosophy if I want to.)

My advice is not to spend too long thinking about it though. It’s probably much better to instead try and get some gaming in, and see for yourself. Embrace your inner geek. Grab a euro – the game, not the currency – and flex your thinking cells. You know you want to!

Meantime, by way of intellectual warm up, here are the usual mix of Friday links to mark the passing of the week, and remind you of that big, bad, and beautiful world out there.

Shabbat Shalom!

Look to leeward

Now there’s an oblique game reference for you. Got it?


This week’s regular session, courtesy of Erez, saw us playing Bora Bora, a Stefan Feld, supercharged, dice and worker placement game.

First, a great big round of applause for Erez. He had prepared well, and taught us – Laurie, Rochelle, and me – the rules of this tricky game, without faltering.

The theme is native development on Bora Bora. Each round you roll three dice. Each player takes it in turn to place his die on an action card. Generally, the higher the die is not always an advantage. It has some nice balancing mechanisms so do not worry if you think you are unlucky at rolling dice. There are lots of ways to win.

There's a lot going on there. But what is going on there?

There’s a lot going on there. But what is going on there?

But what are you trying to do to get victory points? Complete tasks, buy jewelry, build buildings, explore the islands, catch fish, recruit talented men and women, visit the temple, get tattoos, and stuff like that.

On top of that, there are cards from the gods – red, green, blue, and yellow from memory – that let you break the rules or restrictions, as you seek your goal. It is a jam packed game. It’s long, but quite involving.

It is also difficult to work out what is going on, certainly just out of the box. Put it this way: there are six rounds to the game. At the end of the first round, I did not have a clue what was happening. At the end of the second, I had a clue, but just did not understand what it meant. At the end of the third, I could read the clue and understand it. But I still couldn’t see what to do. By the fourth round, it was sort of becoming clear…

Green's player mat. Full of tips on how NOT to play the game. (Ellis' mat!)

Green’s player mat. Full of tips on how NOT to play the game. (Ellis’ mat!)

Erez sacrificed his playing by keeping us on track with the rules. What a gentleman. What a nice guy. What happens to nice guys? Yes, they finish last. Erez was last.

I was nearly as nice. Or, to put it another way, I was truly bad at the game and did not have the excuse that I was explaining the rules. So my score was as low as Erez’s.

The two ladies were much snappier. Despite Rochelle announcing she did not know what was going on, her score was way better than Erez and mine. And, as for Laurie, her score was out of sight. A crushing win for her.

I’m hoping we will get to try this again. I’d like to see if I learned anything from the first playing. And it was fun, though at times it was also hard work. Intriguing.

Thanks, especially to Erez for introducing the game. Another good night of gaming.

Mayhem Monday


This month’s wargaming session saw me acting as a tutor, introducing brave soldiers Dave and Roy to the joys of Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer, then Fading Glory.

I have done a few pieces about Ghost Panzer, a WW2 tactical game, and my motives in teaching this were purely selfish: I was looking for more face-to-face opponents for a game system I really like.

Charge! You first. No, you first!

Charge! You first. No, you first!

Well, to cut a long story short, in the infantry training scenario we played, Dave’s Soviets on the attack, were stopped in their tracks by Roy’s Germans. And when one brave Soviet soldier made it into the objective, the poor sod blew his morale check and routed into oblivion. I guess I failed to pass on any decent tactical hints.

Here comes trouble...

Here comes trouble…

Next up was the Waterloo battle, one out of the four box set of Napoleonic encounters in Fading Glory. This is a small, simple system, with added frills, and GMT’s great graphic production standards.

Oh dear...

Oh dear…

Dave took the Anglo-Dutch & Prussian forces, while Roy was in command of the boys from France. He took the matching blue die, and spent the night rolling lots of 6’s. Great for him. Not so great for poor Dave.

Both enjoyed this much better, however, and although we had to call it before the end, it seemed settled the French were likely to win. Roy’s victory was probably due more to his ability in rolling 6 on that damn blue die than anything else. (He might dispute that, and say he played well. However, for sure, luck was on his side. I seem to remember Napoleon commenting that he preferred lucky generals to good ones...) But Dave had put up a good fight. Both would, doubtless, do things differently in a rematch.

If anything, among these players, it settled that tactical gaming is not their thing. I can narrow my search down for games to play in future sessions. And I had fun watching them; they were so polite as I struggled to remember the rules and get them suitably condensed.

All in all, a good night. Thanks guys.

Compare, contrast, and consider

  1. Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon blasts US Secretary of State John Kerry. (See here.)
  2. John Kerry fires back and Ya’alon has to apologize. (See here.)
  3. Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi calls the Americans liars, and wants armed resistance. (See here.)
  4. [The sound of silence]

Consider what is going on here. Don’t you think this is relevant to the peace talks? So, where’s the coverage? Where’s John Kerry now?

Jews doing capoeira

Source:  Ester Inbar via Wikimedia

Source: Ester Inbar via Wikimedia

Capoeira? No, I had never heard of it either, till I came across this at the Guardian:

Jewish brothers perform capoeira in Jerusalem

The ultra-orthodox Jewish Hayat brothers perform capoeira in Jerusalem – a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. The brothers work to promote the martial art in the ultra-orthodox community in Israel

Anything that portrays Jews – perhaps, especially orthodox Jews – not in a negative way, is warmly welcomed. Shame it’s so rare at the ironically named Guardian.

Check out the pictorial report, here.

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


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.

Where did Japanese “whisky” come from?

From the Scotsman:

IN JAPAN she is considered by many as the mother of the ­domestic whisky industry. But despite being the woman who helped create the country’s own dram, she remains ­little-known in the nation of her birth.

Now Scot Rita Cowan is to make history more than 50 years after her death, after it was announced that she is to become the first non-Japanese character to be portrayed in one of the national broadcaster’s hugely popular daytime dramas.

More than 20 million people are expected to tune in later this year to watch NHK’s Massan, a 15-minute story based on the tale of Masataka Taketsuru, founder of the renowned Nikka Whisky Distilling Co, and his wife Jessie Roberta, also known as Rita.

Massan, taken from the name Rita called her husband, will focus on the Japanese man who dreamed of producing a bottle of Japanese whisky and his Scottish wife.

The story of how the couple met and married in 1920 while Masataka was studying organic chemistry at Glasgow University, learning the secrets of making Scotch, is famous in Japan.

Although I am slightly surprised at the Scotsman using “whisky” instead of “whiskey”, it doesn’t spoil the story. Some will see it as being about love and devotion conquering all. Some will see it as being about whisky and whiskey!

Read it all, here.

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.”


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.

Burns’ night

Tonight is Burns’ night, the time when many throughout the world celebrate the life of the Scottish Bard with a Burns’ Supper. We had our annual Burns outing at the home of Lenny and Shula Wolfe on Thursday evening, and a fine night it was.

(Spurred on by a comment someone made there, it made me think about the connection to Scotland. In particular, do I care more about Burns because I no longer live in Scotland? Probably. But why? That will  have to wait for another time.)

Let’s mark the occasion tonight with the closing words of Burns’ A Man’s A Man For A’ That

“Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

Amen to that.

Five for Friday

I have discovered something about weeks in 2014: they are remarkably similar to the 2013 variety. For example, they are just as fast, just as frenetic, and often just as full as they can be. It makes me very grateful for the break that is Shabbat.  But before then, here are a few links to the big, bad, and beautiful world out there.

Shabbat Shalom!