Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Game of the week: Clue

I grew up in a family that played board games, and my best friend's family played, too, so I got a lot of exposure to the limited stable of games available in the 1960s such as Go To The Head Of The Class, Sorry!, The Game of Life, Monopoly, Scrabble, Stratego, Operation, etc.
But somehow I missed out on Clue, which is another real classic, but one I didn't really get to play until fairly recently.
Clue is one of a fairly limited class of deduction games, where players use information gathered during the course of the game to deduce some hidden information. As such, it's a little rigorous compared to many other family games. You do have to think a bit. It's therefore a little hard for younger players to get into. Even some real "underagers" can play games like Monopoly with a little help because there's some luck involved and scope for advice and guidance because most information is open. Like Scrabble, Clue is really for a little older part oft he family.
For the ones old enough to get it, though, Clue is a good game and a lot of fun. It's a little clunky compared to newer games designs. The movement rules and spaces between the rooms are inelegant and inefficient, introducing a luck element that feels out of place.
I picked up the 50th anniversary edition, which comes in a tin and has deluxe pieces, including miniatures for the six suspects. This edition also has an extra weapon (poison) adding a little bit of challenge compared to the standard game, which has just six weapons.
All-in-all, it's a well-deserved classic game, still going very strong after more than five decades.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Air Force planning for Iran strikes

Here's an interesting report about a supposedly secret Air Force working group drawing up plans for an air campaign against Iran:

This is interesting on several levels., but there may be less to the report than meets the eye. It looks like this is an Air Force show, so I'm not sure whether it's an actual planning group or a mere planning exercise. The planners don't seem to be working for the commander who would actually be conducting the campaign and jointness would normally mean that the Navy would be involved in the planning as well.
On the other hand, the Air Force is the one service that seems to believe, institutionally, that it can win a war all by itself, so there is some scope for concern if they're able to persuade the administration that some kind of "victory" or "success" is possible. Any war with Iran would necessarily have to rely on airpower, the Army being otherwise engaged.
The article mentions that they want to add a touch of "brilliance" to the planning. Now, there's nothing wrong with a little brilliance, of course, but a lack of tactical brilliance has not been our problem of late. Our conventional military superiority is so profound, that it's hard to see how being even more brilliant will make any difference in the outcome. If you're playing a High School JV football team would having Tom Brady's Patriots make any noticeable difference compared to having the Buffalo Bills on the field?
No, there can be absolutely no doubt that the U.S. can do whatever it wants from the air, destroying anything it can find while taking minimal losses. The question is what comes after that? What's the political outcome we desire and how is it brought about? Grand strategy has been our weakness and there's no hint that's about to change.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Game of the Week: Monopoly

Another old-timer this week.
My introduction to Monopoly came at my best friend's house when I was in grade school. Like most families, they didn't exactly play by the rules. Specifically, they were one of those families that played with money accumulating on Free Parking. It's well-attested that this rule tends to lengthen playing time by putting more money into circulation and I believe it, because the games never seemed to end!
It was great fun, however, and I still have fond memories of those marathon sessions.
Once I got my own copy later in life I realized that the rules didn't say that. Indeed. later versions of the rules are specific that free parking is just a free space. of course, late in the game a free space is a nice thing to find.
It is amusing, however, that the most popular family boardgame is played with the "wrong" rules more often than not. For many families Monopoly is the only game they may play. One of the slogans used by boardgame enthusiasts trying to spread the word is that there are games "Beyond Monopoly."
Still, as much as boardgame enthusiasts tend to diss Monopoly, there's no denying it's still on top of the heap in the general public's view, with no Chance that Puerto Rico or any of its ilk will take its place.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Game of the Week: Sorry!

A game must have something going for it to be in print for more than 7 decades, so the success of Sorry! since its 1934 debut deserves some consideration.
The game's best attribute is its family-friendly nature. I have fond memories of playing Sorry! when I was a kid back in the 1960s and I know that my youngsters now love to play whenever we get the chance.
Unlike Snakes & Ladders, Sorry! is not a game of pure luck. Players have some control over the outcome, although perhaps not as much as they perceive they do. I say this because it's been my experience that no matter who is playing and what they do, it always seems like at least 3 out of the 4 players always have a shot of winning the game. In many games this would be a flaw, but in Sorry! it's a virtue. It's important that the young players have a shot of winning, even though they're far from being able to engage in strategic play. Yet the older children and adults can have some fun making what seem to be strategic choices that might help them win in the end.
What you end up with is one of the few games that you can literally play with a group ranging from 8 to 80. Actually, precocious 4- and 5-year-olds can play. It's a good game for teaching such beginning level game playing skills such as counting spaces and playing habits such as waiting your turn.
The genius behind the design is the card mix and even the use of cards at all. While a Parcheesi-style game, unlike most of that genre Sorry! does not use dice. The use of cards just about guarantees evening out the luck factor. A typical game will see the players going through the deck several times, so everybody will get every card many times. The requirement for landing on home by exact count provides a lot of scope for come-from-behind victories as the guy in the lead can wait a long time for the exact card needed to get that last piece in.
Another key part of the game is the Sorry! card, which means no one is ever really out of the running. As a matter of fact, the more behind you are, the more you can use a Sorry! card. The leading player may very well have no pawns left in their start, so any Sorry! cards drawn are just a wasted move. Meanwhile, the unlucky player who's been landed on by everybody and anybody can get right back into things. There are 13 cards that can get a pawn out of Start (five 1's, four 2's and four Sorry!'s) so no player should despair about being behind. This, also, proves to be a good game-playing and life lesson that will be handy later on in life.
Like some of the other classic "family" games Sorry! doesn't get too much respect from the "serious" gamer, but it may deserve more respect than it gets. Sorry! lays the groundwork for more serious gaming later on, while being a lot of fun.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

USAF has a big oops

The Air Force lost track of some nukes recently:
Much of the media coverage of this misses the point, surprise, surprise.
The important point is not that some nukes were flown over the country. That happens all the time. It used to literally happen ALL the time when we had bombers on alert 24 hour a day.
The key thing is that the bombs were not where they were supposed to be, and that is supposed to be impossible. Some serious heads should roll for this one.

Craig not out?

Now Craig's saying he might not go.
I have very mixed feelings about this case.
On the one hand, I think he's a hypocrite and he probably was trolling for sex in a men's room, which certainly isn't the kind of behavior we should expect from a U.S. senator.
On the other hand, I'm not sure what he actually did, (as opposed to what he might have done, if given the opportunity) amounted to a crime. I'd like my crimes a little more concrete than tapping feet and running hands along bathroom stall edges.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Media cowardice

Apparently a couple dozen newspapers,including the Washington Post, are not publishing this Opus cartoon out of fears that it might offend Muslims:

Needless to say, none of those papers have refused to publish similar cartoons that might offend Catholics, Jews, or Evangelicals. Indeed, the point of a cartoon like Opus is to be provocative. If it doesn't offend someone (Republicans, Democrats, Corporations, Environmentalists, Soccer moms, human beings, ratty cats or penguins) then it's probably not a very good Opus.

It really doesn't serve the long-term interests of the media or Western society to self-censor like this. One of the fundamental ideas that have to become generally accepted among Muslims is that they will sometimes be offended, just like everyone else. So the Post and its several dozen like-minded (if weak-willed) colleagues, deserve their brickbats.

I'm proud to say that the newspaper I work for did run the cartoon.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


One of the truisms of fighting a counterinsurgency is the information war is vital. One unfortunate corollary of this is that there's a natural tendency on the military's side to start trying to manipulate the numbers. There's nothing wrong with making your best case and it's useful to try to influence the perception of all parties concerned so long as it's done smartly and honestly. But it's very important that the military doesn't lose sight of the true facts of the situation. It's very easy to delude oneself and tendencies in that direction have to be resisted. if they are not, reality will eventually bite you in the ass.
One of the worst failings of the current administration has been its willingness to not only spin, but apparently believe it's own spin. This can only lead to a disaster in wartime. We made a lot of fun of Baghdad Bob and his ilk during the first part of the war. Not only did he spout nonsense, but there's every indication he believed it. There was a case of an Iraqi general who was captured in his personal car by U.S. troops during that initial campaign who had no idea the Americans were in the city. Unfortunately, it's not so funny now, as evidence mounts that our side is doing the same thing.

From Obsidian Wings/Andrew Sullivan we find out that the military's accounting of Iraqi civilian deaths is getting funky:

UPDATE: IraqSlogger has a useful story on changes in the Pentagon's figures. A graph from the story, courtesy of Ilan Goldberg of the National Security Network:

And an explanation:
"Goldberg explains the abnormalities as best he can:
Abnormality A: Between August and November 2006, DOD started reclassifying “casualties” as “deaths by execution” and suddenly you see a dramatic drop in killings. For example, in March 2006 right after the Samarra Mosque bombings you go from 1,750 “casualties” to 750 “deaths by execution.” Between November 2006 and March 2007 “Deaths by Execution” becomes “Sectarian Murders” but the numbers remain the same.
Abnormality B: Between the March 2007 report and the June 2007 report there was a dramatic change in the number of killings that were reported for the second half of 2006. In both cases the numbers were described as “sectarian murders.” The impact here is that it makes the “pre surge” situation look extraordinarily dire and therefore signals progress thereafter.
Abnormality C: Somehow the reclassification that occurred between the March and June 2007 reports caused the violence numbers in April and May of 2006 to drop dramatically. This was in the months following the Sammara bombings in February 2006 when sectarian violence was escalating."