Blog: July 2016

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Forums versus mailing lists

Somebody asked: why do people use mailing lists instead of forums? This person feels that forums are superior: you can search them, they don't fill up your inbox, and the back-and-forth on mailing lists can be hard to follow.

As someone who uses both, and has seen "let's move to a forum!" kill healthy mailing lists, I had some things to say: Read more…


Last Shabbat, friends introduced us to a new-ish board game, Splendor. Here's how Board Game Geek describes it:

Splendor is a game of chip-collecting and card development. Players are merchants of the Renaissance trying to buy gem mines, means of transportation, shops — all in order to acquire the most prestige points. If you're wealthy enough, you might even receive a visit from a noble at some point, which of course will further increase your prestige.

The game setup includes chips for each of the five gem types, cards in three levels of value that you can buy, and a small number of patrons who becomes yours if you satisfy their individual conditions. Every card counts as producing one gem of its color, and cards cost varying numbers of gems in different combinations. So, for example, if a card requires one red, one blue, and one black, and you have a black card, then you can buy the card for one red chip and one blue one. If that card produces blue, then the next time you can automatically pay black and/or blue without expending chips. So, the more cards you acquire the fewer chips you need... except that higher-level cards have higher costs, so you still need chips throughout the game.

Victory points come from higher-end cards (the lowest-level cards confer no points, only gem production) and from patrons. Patron conditions are based on cards, for example if you have four red and four green cards.

On your turn you can take chips, buy cards, or reserve cards (set a card aside that you will buy later, so someone else doesn't beat you to it). There are several cards available for purchase at any given time, so you're trying to balance costs (what can you afford), card type (you might want particular colors either to help with future purchases or for patrons), and what other players might do (if you spend this turn getting the chips to buy that card you want, will the card still be there next turn?). It's a well-balanced game, allowing for future planning without bogging down in it. We played several four-player and three-player games, and each took about half an hour.

The game is well-made; the plastic chips are hefty enough to saty where you put them on the table, the cards are sturdy, and -- rare for board games these days -- the molded compartments in the game box actually match up with the pieces. The game is pretty without the art impeding function.

The gem theme is just a theme; it's not intrinsic to the game the way, say, trains are intrinsic to Eurorails or building settlements is intrinsic to Settlers of Catan. The game would not play differently if rubies, emeralds, sapphires, onxy, and diamonds were replaced with wood, brick, stone, grain, and sheep. But the theme also doesn't get in the way, and even if we called the elements "red", "green", etc, there's no reason you couldn't treat them as gems.

Building the world of Pangaea

book cover

What would have happened if humanity had grown up on the single landmass that preceded the continents? Acknowledging the scientific challenges of that scenario and nonetheless asking “what if?”, this is the question that Michael Jan Friedman sets before us in the introduction to Pangaea. In the pages that follow, Michael and a baker’s dozen of other writers present stories in this world.

In some shared-world anthologies the stories are independent — the world is agreed upon, and each writer does his own thing within that setting. And some novels, presenting a single story, are collaboratively written. Pangaea is a collection of short stories, sometimes interlocking, that also tell an overall story. The result is a collection that is more than the sum of its parts — engaging stories that stand on their own and a mystery to solve that runs through the entire book. Read more…