Gaming splendor


This week I was joined by Joseph, Peleg, and Sheer for a three game session of friendly competition.

First up was Splendor, a Marc André design published by Space Cowboys. (Ahem.) Each turn you can collect gems, reserve cards, or buy cards. Gems are the currency, so you need to collect them. The cards are what you buy with them. There are twelve cards visible at the start of the game, and you can reserve one for future purchase by taking it in to your hand. (As cards are removed, a new one appears.) This reservation stops an opponent from buying it, but obviously takes up a turn. The cards themselves give gem bonuses, so can be used to supplement the gems you collect. And, there are a small number of extra victory points you can acquire by having the right combination of gem bonuses. Essentially, you need to maximize the return on your action, so it is all about planning, planning, planning. (And not being screwed by your fellow gamers.)

In our first encounter with this game, we all liked it, but Peleg was that bit better at maintaining his focus, and he was a worthy winner. Sheer and Joseph were close, but I wasn’t. This is the type of game where, to do well, you need to concentrate.

It’s an easy game to play, quite quick, and satisfying. Over time it may become too bland if we play it too often, but it seems a perfect filler and stand by.


Next up was another game new to all of us: Samara. This is a Corné van Moorsel design, published by Cwali. It’s a worker placement game. The first twist is that the workers are on a monthly calendar board. Each action takes time, represented by moving the worker the requisite number of months down the calendar. So, the longer the action, the more opportunity for the other players to do multiple actions before it is your turn again. The second twist is that to buy one of the 30 (out of 36) available buildings on the board (all with victory points, some with bonuses, and some with penalties) depends on the prior acquisition of certain tools, and on the row they occupy. There is a row for one, two, three, and four, being the number of workers needed. So, to get something – a tool or a building – that is six months away on row four, means four workers need to start on the same space, and then get moved six months away.

There was a lot of planning and decision making in this modest little game, but it didn’t quite seem to hit the sweet spot. For example, I don’t think any of us were satisfied that the game’s random distribution of the tools worked. Further, the higher up the starting order you are in the first couple of turns, gives an advantage (OK, I was last in turn order; I admit it) that it can be difficult to overcome. Some of the building bonuses seemed too powerful, and the penalties were too penal. It was an enjoyable enough experience, and Joseph warmly deserved his victory. However, I didn’t see enough to guarantee that this will ever get another play. There are some terrific ideas here, but it lacks some final development that might turn it into something more than it is now.

We finished off with a Saboteur dominated game of Dominion: Intrigue. Sheer was the winner in terms of players. However, his victory point score was only half of the number of victory points in the trash pile. So, really, the trash pile won!

Thanks to all who came.

Continuing my ASL education

Last week, I continued my ASL education with a couple of run throughs of First Crisis at Army Group North against Ran.

Here’s Ran’s note:

It is an interesting scenario set in 1941. The Russians get 3 KV tanks armed with 76 mm guns, 4 more weak tanks, and some infantry and have to exit 3 tanks with functioning main armament to win. The Germans have 3 PZ III G’s, a 9-2 AL, a 37L AT gun that starts being towed by a halftrack, and an 88L AA gun arriving towed as a reinforcement on German turn 1.

The KVs are almost immune to everything the Germans have except the 88. But even if the Russians manage to get enough tanks past the PZ III’s and 37L gun, they still have to deal with the 88 waiting at the back, close to the Russian exit area and with good fields of fire.

We randomly picked sides and I got the Germans.

Main highlights were Germans setting the woods on fire to block a forest road, which started a huge forest fire, and a single PZ III with the 9-2 AL that took advantage of the fact that the 4 weaker Russian tank were left in motion, quite defenseless, and got close, destroying 3 out of the 4 tanks, before being sent to Valhalla by a KV that came to help his comrades.

The scenario is not well balanced and favours the Germans. After the game ended Ellis told me that he checked the scenario on ROAR and the German win loss ratio is about 4:1. Had I known this before I wouldn’t want to play the scenario, especially not as German, but as it was, I enjoyed destroying 5 Russian tanks, 3 with the 9-2 AL, one KV with the 88 and the fourth weak tank with my 37L AT gun.

What Ran is too polite to say is that we played this twice, me playing the Russians each time. First time out I made some dreadful mistakes, really screwed up, and lost before the half way point. Second time out I made different dreadful mistakes because Ran had pointed out the first batch. I had lost by the time we got to turn 5 out of 8.

It was a painful lesson, but worth enduring because it reinforced how important it is to take care and not just try things out on the spur of the moment. And I picked up some new and critical tips for tank on tank action.

Had I been more cautious, I would have lasted longer. It’s still a tough ask for the Russians, but the masochist in me wants to try again.

Regardless of the defeats, it was still an engrossing and enthralling experience. ASL is a fantastic game.

Dicing with death

Source: Wikimedia

Source: Wikimedia

This morning’s driving encounter was noteworthy because it has been at least a week since I had last seen the withdrawal maneuver. Withdrawal maneuver? Can you guess what it is?

The withdrawal maneuver is when a  driver, having taken a turn off a road – typically a main road, or motorway (highway) – changes his mind. He no longer wants to take the turn. He wants to turn back time. But because he cannot turn back time, instead he reverses back up towards the main road he previously left.

It does not matter if there is a lot of traffic, or a little. It does not matter if there is a hard shoulder (emergency lane) or similar, or not. It does not matter if… basically, it does not matter. The withdrawal maneuver happens, regardless.

So, as I came off the main road on this morning’s trip to work, I was nearly killed by somebody doing the withdrawal maneuver. Obviously I survived. And I suppose I can relax a little, because based on past experience, it will be at least a few days before I face the same danger…

Five For Friday

Sunset in Phuket, Thailand - November 2007

Sunset in Phuket, Thailand – November 2007

This week’s dominating features included the Fast of Esther and Purim, both of which put rather a dent in any attempt at a routine. In addition, poor Susan has been laid low by a virus or infection, and that rather scuppered several plans. Oh, and the clocks went forward one hour last night, so we lost out on some sleep. But the weekend is the weekend, and Shabbat is Shabbat. So we’ll be hoping it’s a marker of the end of the bad stuff, and the start of a great new week – especially with Susan making a full and speedy recovery. To help maintain the forward looking flow, here are the regular Friday selection of links.

Shabbat Shalom!

Keeping it in the family

A Globes report from the data presented at the Government Companies Authorities human resources conference, which took place earlier this week at Neve Ilan, includes this shocker:

Ashdod Port is the company with the highest rate of employees related to one another, at 42%. It is followed by Rafael, with 33%, IEC with 27%, and Haifa Port with 26%. At Israel Railways the figure is 3%, while at NTA [building the Tel Aviv light railway] it is zero.

How the hell do you get 42% of the employees of such a large business related to one another? That is mind boggling.

If the apparent clear cut cases of nepotism were not bad enough, the article discloses some of the big salaries bonus payments being made. A sensible observer would not criticize these payments without knowing the context: what were they paid for, how do they compare to other payments, and so on. But, you do get the impression, to put it mildly, that corporate governance is not exactly operating at the highest level in some of these organizations.


Andy Grove’s lost warning?

Former Intel CEO Andy Grove in 2003 with a 1978 photo of him with Intel co-founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. Source: Wikimedia

Former Intel CEO Andy Grove in 2003 with a 1978 photo of him with Intel co-founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. Source: Wikimedia

Holocaust survivor Andy Grove, credited with much success at the reinvention of Intel, died earlier this week. The obituaries have set out how much of a contribution he made. For example, at the Guardian, it says:

“[Grove]…was a mercurial but visionary leader who helped position Intel’s microprocessors as the central technology inside personal computers.

Grove’s bet-the-company gamble – moving Intel from memory chips to microprocessors in the mid-1980s to serve what was still a fledgling PC industry – helped rescue Intel from a financial crisis and set it on course to becoming one of the most profitable and important technology companies of all time.

“Andy made the impossible happen, time and again, and inspired generations of technologists, entrepreneurs, and business leaders,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said Monday.

Robert Burgelman, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business who started teaching management classes with Grove in the late 1980s, called Grove “one of the most incisive thinkers that I have ever come across”. He said Grove’s technical and strategic abilities were critical in building Intel and fending off threats from Asian competitors.

“I don’t think Intel would have been Intel as we know it, and therefore the US chip industry would not have been what it is” without him, Burgelman said.”

None of the obituaries, however, mentions his warning to western economies about the loss of manufacturing know-how.

The Register fills in the gap:

Lost in the obits: Intel’s Andy Grove’s great warning to Silicon Valley

You won’t prosper with a weightless economy

A few years ago, Andy Grove took the Davos crowd to task. The received wisdom at the time – and it still is – was that America’s future was as a “knowledge economy.”

It was 2010, and the former Intel CEO lamented that Foxconn employed more people – 800,000 in total – than Sony, Intel, Apple, Dell, Microsoft and HP combined.

Grove was fed up with being told that prosperity would come if the US continued to export jobs and manufacturing skills. And that the future was startups. This was a load of rubbish, he pointed out in a comment piece.

The lesson Grove had learned at Intel was that success was all about scale. As soon as a country loses its high-tech manufacturing base, it forgets how to do many things, and loses its ability to scale in a new marketplace. The spoils go to those who retain a competitive manufacturing base.

TVs were a good example, Grove wrote. Princeton economist Alan Blinder had written that the absence of TV production in the USA, as TVs became a low cost “commodity,” was a good thing.

“I disagree. Not only did we lose an untold number of jobs, we broke the chain of experience that is so important in technological evolution. As happened with batteries, abandoning today’s ‘commodity’ manufacturing can lock you out of tomorrow’s emerging industry.”

He compared it to a condemned engineer fixing a faulty guillotine, so it successfully chops off his head.

“Without scaling, we don’t just lose jobs – we lose our hold on new technologies. Losing the ability to scale will ultimately damage our capacity to innovate.”

Grove was sympathetic to the mixed model of free markets and strategic prioritization that Asian companies used, but with a more corporatist model, where the governments choose winners. He suggested imposing levies on manufactured imports, with the money raised being doled out on strategic loans.

The accepted position is that you cannot manufacture in the west, because you cannot compete with low cost manufacturing in China and elsewhere. But I know at least one lone voice in the crowd protesting that the accepted position is wrong. There are many more, though they are in the minority. It depends what you manufacture, how you manufacture, and what the local economic situation is regarding imports. If Europe, for example, has no import barriers, no wonder it is swimming in cheap imports. If tax allowances for investment in manufacturing equipment are woeful, no wonder there is a hesitation about such investment. Manufacturing can be done, but it needs the people at the top to recognize the whole situation, and put in place mechanisms that pay heed to the warnings that Grove and others have given.

Read the whole piece here. It includes an interesting note about the Dyson position, and a link to Grove’s original article.

Purim Sameach!

Yes, it’s that time of year again: the time of Hamantaschen, dressing up, skits, practical jokes, Megilah reading, more Hamantaschen, another Megilah reading, and even more Hamantaschen! It’s almost enough to make you forget the Fast of Esther. Almost…

Purim Sameach to all who celebrate the festival.

For your Purim laugh, check out the incredible Dry Bones here.

The train version of Dominion


This week, Peleg, Roy, and Sheer joined me for some gaming fun.

First up was Trains, a deck-building game that takes some of the familiar elements from Dominion, and applies a railway theme to it. All the cards are tied in to the theme, and the icing on the cake is that part of your potential for victory points is achieved by laying rail tracks on a map. We found it fast, fun, and a pleasant change from just building up our decks.


The physical production standards are excellent. The graphics are clear and easy, though we did use a play mat (with a summary of build costs and icon meanings) that I downloaded from BoardGameGeek. It made a big difference, and should have been included.

Sheer and Peleg were better at understanding how the whole thing fitted together, with Roy and I relegated to the ranks of spectators (or should that be passengers?) as they fought for the win. Sheer just nicked it by a couple of points from Peleg.

Next up, the other three of us introduced Roy to San Juan. As he had played Puerto Rico, it was no time at all before he was up and running. My starting hand was a good one, and that set me up for a nice boost that I managed to keep reasonably on course. I knew I was doing well, but Sheer and I had to share the win after a couple of topsy turvy rounds.

Another great night of gaming.

The property market in Israel

Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv

Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv

Here’s an interesting snippet of financial information about the Israeli property market from Globes:

“2015 is a year that Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon will want to forget. Completely confounding Kahlon’s stated aim of cooling off the market, activity in the real estate sector reached the boiling point. A summary published today by the Bank of Israel as part of its 2015 annual report shows that proceeds from the sale of new apartments in Israel totaled NIS 64 billion in 2015, 60% more than in 2014.”

That’s some difference. No wonder the skyline was (and still is) bristling with cranes.

Here’s another comparison:

“Real estate taxes accounted for 28% of Israel’s total tax revenue in 2015, compared with just 5.4% in 2014.”

From 5.4% to 28%? Incredible.

On the ground, there is a continuing debate about the property bubble. Prices, in general, are high. And they show little sign of cooling. Will the bubble burst, and if so, when?

The people suffering the most are those starting out in life: young couples, newly marrieds, and others trying to get on to the property owning ladder.There are schemes offering reduced prices for local residents, who then are unable to sell for a certain period (5 years). It should be noted, however, that such schemes do not prohibit buy-to-let. So, I do wonder if that is actually ensuring the fizz stays in the property market. And I also have my suspicions about how many of these first time buyers are nominees for property dealers.

The bottom line: there does not seem to be an effective plan to take the heat out of the property market.

Read the whole Globes piece here.

“I go to parties, sometimes until four…”

So, as I was saying, my record player is now working


The first record on the turntable was Joe Walsh‘s But Seriously Folks, a 1978 release that I bought on a whim, enticed by the bestselling single Life’s been good to me.

Unfortunately, I did not like anything else on the album at the time I bought it and first listened to it, and after almost 40 years nothing has happened to change that. In my defense, this acquisition was at a time when information about a record – especially how it sounded – was thin on the ground. Generally, a decent sounding single was as much as you might know. But after this disaster, I cut back on impulse purchases, and tried to buy only on the basis of recommendations from those people I knew with more extensive musical libraries, and reasonably compatible tastes.


The single still sounds good, and accompanying the brilliant guitar work, there are some quirky lyrics:

“I go to parties, sometimes until four
It’s hard to leave when you can’t find the door.”

I know how he feels.

According to Wikipedia:

The original eight-minute album version of this track was edited down to 4½ minutes for single release and this became Walsh’s biggest solo hit, peaking at #12 on the Billboard chart.

It’s a pleasure to listen to the full version of the song. I also note from the Critical Reception part of that article, that I wasn’t the only one who thought that the rest of the album wasn’t as good – accepting, of course, that all musical taste is relative.

This record does not – as some others do – transport me back to a time and place. Probably that’s because it got so little play compared to other albums; it truly was disappointing. At least that one track is worth a spin. Again. And again.