Gaming in Israel
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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Israel has a serious need for diversions from daily life, and one of the diversions is tabletop games, of course.

I run the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club (www.jergames.com - link is down right now, but hope to be back up soon). While we are the most diverse game club in Israel, and the only (official) one playing Eurogames, you will also find:

- Bridge. Every night of the wek, in most major cities
- Go. Once a month plus tournaments once or twice a year
- Diplomacy. FTF games a few times a year, plus on line
- Scrabble. The world's largest English language Scrabble club is in Jerusalem.
- Chess. Many world class champion chess players immigrated from the former Soviet Union over the last 20 years
- Backgammon. Probably as near as possible to "The game" played by the typical native Israeli
- Rummikub. The best homegrown game we have produced has many devotees
- RPG. A large and growing FRP base, spirred on by translating the core D&D books to Hebrew, and a growing scifi contigent. Mostly D&D, Gurps and other brand names.
- CCG. Same as above. Lots of Pokemon and Magic:TG

We also have a lot of locally produced variations on famous games, such as Taki (a derivative of Uno), Monopoly, trivial pursuit type games, etc... We also have thousands of crappy children's games, many of which are bible influenced to educate morals in the religious population, all of which are basically trivia, set matching or roll and move (e.g. Moishey's Marvelous Mitzvah Bicycle Race).

Representing our own gaming club, here is the list of games we have played and our general reactions. We welcome suggestions. Unfortunately, these games are not available in Israel (somebody does import Settlers of Catan, someone else imports Ravensburger). We get games by finding them at the discounted retailers, such as Game Surplus or TimeWellSpent and shipping them, for 50% the cost of the games themselves, sometimes more. Therefore, cost and weight are a strong consideration.

Group rating indictates how I feel our group would rate this game. My rating follows, as I tend to any game in general more than no game, and I am always willing to try out games on new players, even if they have not been successful with our group.
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1. Board Game: 6 nimmt! [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:574]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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6 nimmt is just not strategic enough for repeated game play, although it may be brought out as a filler occasionally. If we have 4-5 players and not much time, we prefer David and Goliath.

Group rating: 5
My rating: 7

UPDATE

Now no longer brought out at all. GR 4, MR 5
 
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2. Board Game: Acquire [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:208]
Yehuda Berlinger
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Jerusalem
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Acquire, compared to many of the other games here, has so far fallen pretty flat. It can be enjoyable, but the theme is dull, and the path to victory is also pretty straightforward, although the tactical choices can be painful (and often not really under your control). At the end of the day, you swap around a lot of money and add it up.

We are spoiled now, having played all the beautiful games from Alea, Hans im Gluck, etc... which offer so much more.

It is for this reason that I have been hesitant to get other stock based games, such as Age of Steam and others, as I am afraid that the basic mechanic distills into money counting.

Group rating: 6
My rating: 7

UPDATE

Gone up in ratings, with a number of successful plays with 5 players. Still not as enjoyable as prettier, deeper and more interesting newer games. GR 7 MR 7
 
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3. Board Game: Apples to Apples [Average Rating:5.90 Overall Rank:3152] [Average Rating:5.90 Unranked]
Yehuda Berlinger
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Not a gaming club game. This is a game that works well ONCE with any group of players, after which it is kind of dull. The exception seems to be Israeli teenagers, who can play this game over and over. This is because the don't understand all of the cards or the references, but they are facinated with American culture, and, when the game is done, each player's personality is suppoed to be reflected in the green apples that they have won.

My rating: 5

UPDATE

GR 3, MR 5 (but not at the group)
 
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4. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:368]
Yehuda Berlinger
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Jerusalem
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The group finds this game pointless. We play it if our kids beg us. I am still willing to be convinced that there is more to it.

Group rating: 3
My rating: 5

UPDATE

Sold the game. GR 4, MR 4
 
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5. Board Game: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:389]
Yehuda Berlinger
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Jerusalem
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We bought this version, since it seemed better balanced than the original, which would have required us to buy the expansions as well, equalling more $$$.

This is a good filler game for 2-3 players. It does suffer from a certain amount of luck in being able to pull in that piece you need. However, skilled players win far more often than unskilled players by a) knowing which tiles are still available (the crucial ones, anyway), and b) actively blocking off opponent's tile liberties, while actively ensuring their own, thus giving luck a bit of a helping hand.

With 4-5 players, the luck is more pronounced, and planning becomes nigh impossible, you are highly unlikely to get the tile you need (and when you do it is by luck), and you can't control your open liberties, since 3 or 4 people can wreck them for you.

Group rating: 8
My rating: 9

UPDATE

Doesn't see much play when there is other good stuff around. GR 6, MR 8
 
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6. Board Game: Citadels [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:316]
Yehuda Berlinger
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Jerusalem
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A complete bust. We have tried this with 2,3,4,5 and 6 players, all to no avail; iit is, perhaps, best with 2 players.

The reason is that the assassin makes somebody's life boring, the objective of building the buildings is unengaging (if all buildings had special powers, it might be more interesting), and the repetitiveness of the role choosing which is effectively rock-paper-scissors in trying to avoid the assassin. Netspeak is that this is a game of "bluff", but it doesn't seem like it.

Group rating: 3
My rating: 5

UPDATE

Sold the game. GR 3, MR 4
 
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7. Board Game: Catan: Cities & Knights [Average Rating:7.47 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.47 Unranked]
Yehuda Berlinger
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This one was a real winner for a long time, and stil enjoys popularity for occasional play. We ditched Settlers in favour of this for a while. We started getting new players again and so moved back to Settlers, which I began to reappreciate. Now we have some who prefer Settlers, and some who are bored by Settlers and prefer this.

Group rating: 9
My rating: 8 (it says 10 in my personal ratings, but that is my recommendation, not my preference)

UPDATE

Many still enjoy it, where I have grown bored with it, and now prefer original Settlers again. GR 7, MR 6
 
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8. Board Game: Catan: Cities & Knights – 5-6 Player Extension [Average Rating:7.14 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.14 Unranked]
Yehuda Berlinger
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Jerusalem
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Way too long for sanity. I sold my copy.

Group rating: 5
My rating: 6

UPDATE GR ?, MY 4
 
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9. Board Game: Cosmic Encounter [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:801]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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We play only Eon or Mayfair versions. I doubt the AH version would get many votes. The point is its unpredictability, the wacky rules violations and the ganging up on the leader (and negotiations involved). Also, a game that can produce multiple winners, and, rarely, all winners. The only sour point, for my part, is the Void, which makes the game dull after a certain point.

Group rating: 10
My rating: 10

UPDATE

No change. GR 10, MR 10
 
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10. Board Game: David & Goliath [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:1900]
Yehuda Berlinger
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This is a great filler for a late night or while waiting for another group to finish. No card game is ever really good enough for bridge players, which many of us are, but most of us aren't, and we don't always have exactly 4 players.

Group rating: 9
My rating: 8

UPDATE

San Juan now more likely to be played. GR 8, MR 8
 
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11. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:54]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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A current rotating standard, played whenever possible. Not quite enough strategy for my taste, and occasionally a runaway winner problem. Bu it is beautiful, highly tactical, and always engaging.

Group rating: 10
My rating: 10

UPDATE

Sometimes best to cut this dow to 6 turns, but that leaves an empty feeling. GR 9, MR 9
 
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12. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:70]
Yehuda Berlinger
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Jerusalem
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A sad story here, as I think E&T is a great game. Problems:

We don't own the game, as I don't have the money to find it and spring for it, yet. It was brought to our group by one of our members, for one or two sessions, and then he moved to Haifa.

I and one other member picked it up from the first time or two we played, and, while I am very bad at it, we get it, and think it is great. The other members, however, only had one or two chances to play it, and they didnt get it. They kept asing, "So how do I get my king into your territory?", and I would have to explain, again and again, this is an internal conflict, and this is an external conflict. And even if they got the rules, they couldn't grasp the implications of what they were supposed to do with it. "So how do I get my king into your territory, again?"

Overall, they didn't get enough exposure to it, in my opinion. I really hope to get my hands on a copy of this again, in the hopes of changing their mind, but it is possible that they will just never get it.

Group rating: 5
My rating: 9

UPDATE

Purcahsed recently, and now a favorite. GR 9, MR 9
 
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13. Board Game: History of the World [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:597]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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We have played this only once, a member having brought it over. I think there is a good game in there, but I am put off by a number of minor things, and one major thing. Let's just say the major issue is that the actual combat plays exactly like Risk, that huge behemoth of dicefests, and HotW relying on this mechanic is just pitiful. Why can't it do something simpler, more elegant, and slightly more controllable, like E&T? We MUST change this.

The most prominant of the minor quibbles would be the selection of dynasties, which just seems terribly weak and random and worse, historical accuracy substituted for game balance. Whenever you hear someone say "Well it should even out over the course of the game" he better be talking about 100 events (like dice rolls in Settlers) and not 7 events.

A much better dynasty selection mechanism would be an acution like PoF or blind bidding like Die Macher, where bids = VP's.

I hope to try the game again with some sort of changes.

Group rating: 6 (not enough info yet)
My rating: 6 (ditto)

UPDATE

Unlikely to play this again without variants. Wallenstein is a better possibility. GR 5, MR 5
 
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14. Board Game: Lost Cities [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:294]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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Tried this one, and was't too enthralled, but I was playing it wrong. Next ...

UPDATE

We still don't own it, but are not enthused to.
 
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15. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:156] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked]
Yehuda Berlinger
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If you avoid the collectible part of the game, and just draft from the thousands of cards you already have each time, this game is a perfect pregame liesure activity for any number of players except 3. Luck does factor into it, but drafting is half the fun, and each game is short enough that you can just toss it in and start again. Great theme and always different.

Group rating: 10
My rating: 10

UPDATE

No change.
 
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16. Board Game: More Cosmic Encounter [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
Yehuda Berlinger
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See Cosmic entry. A must when playing with Mayfair, although we never play with moons, comets, lucre or other exotic stuff.

UPDATE

No change.
 
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17. Board Game: Once Upon a Time: The Storytelling Card Game [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:1278]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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Not even a game. In the "what were they thinking, dept". If you dispence with the game mechanics, and use the cards to tell stories, you might have a good time if you're a girl scout.

Group rating: 1
My rating: 4

UPDATE

I lower my rating to reflect my real valuation. GR 1, MR 1
 
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18. Board Game: Pente [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:1411]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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I can't get them to play Go, but I can do this for two players who are waiting for another group to finish. As long as the first stone put down by the second player touches the first stone put down by the first player, the game is ejoyable (otherwise it is an automatic win for first player).

Group rating: 7
My rating: 8

UPDATE

GR 7, MR 7
 
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19. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:116]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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This game is only suitable for certain people. It is certainly not the be all and end all of games. We hold a very friendly crowd. They have to be urged to bid against another player ("Well, I wanted a Jester, but you haven't got one this game yet, so you can have it.") Without a proper auction, the game is just boring.

It is the auction and aftermath that makes it interesting, and that is basically the core of the game. The rest is almost all math, but covered very nicely in a pretty theme. I'm afraid that there isn't much more to it. I'm not sure it will ever be amazing. Maybe if you did your actions, and THEN held the auction, it would be more engaging.

We are playing this on rotation right now, and I hope it will remain interesting as people become more competitive.

Group rating: 8
My rating: 8

UPDATE

A little tweaking to make all players have an even chance helps this. GR 9, MR 8
 
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20. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:15]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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THE game (used to be Settlers, then Cities and Knights). Puerto Rico is always requested, usually played in a double set, one game of straight PR (with slight alterations), one game with a random setup from my expansion buildings. The first gives a dose in deep thought and player interaction tactics, the second gives a dose in planning and strategy which has all but disappeared in straight PR.

Group rating: 10
My rating: 10

UPDATE

No change. Still a staple
 
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21. Board Game: SET [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1220]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
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We tried this once. This is the classic example of a game for only some people, and you don't have to feel guilty if you don't enjoy it. It hits one spot in the cerebellum, and you may be perfectly intelligent and just not have that one spot.

For those that get it, it is a fun mental workout.

Group rating: 4
My rating: 7

UPDATE

No change.
 
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22. Board Game: Catan Card Game [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:739]
Yehuda Berlinger
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We tried this one a few times, and haven't got it, and we kind of gave up. I am definitely still willing to give it more time. It seems very fiddly, with more card tapping than Magic:TG . I need to find the right opponents, or it may be that other games are better use of my time.

Group rating: 4
My rating: 6

UPDATE

Sold it. GR 4, MR 4
 
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23. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:279] [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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THE game for beginners in our group. This is the one that sucks them all in. The classic in trading and negotiation (again, sometimes a pain when your players are too nice to each other "A sheep, sure, I don't need it, you can have it"), with the classic luck problem that is really not as bad as it sounds, because noone has ever had bad luck more than one game in a row, and the fun is in the playing, not the winning.

Game rating: 10
My rating: 10

UPDATE

Still the best game for new players. Experienced gamers get a little bored. GR 10, MR 8
 
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24. Board Game: Catan: 5-6 Player Extension [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Yehuda Berlinger
Israel
Jerusalem
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Not quite as bad as Cities and knights 5-6 player, but still not good, as the game flow kind of disintegrated, we couldn't figure out why you weren't allowed to trade with your ports before you built or why you couldn't win out of turn. And the game board numbers were not balanced well enough. I sold this with the C&K expansion. Still, it helps if you have people who really want to play Settlers and you don't have two sets or 6 people.

Group rating: 7
My rating: 6

UPDATE

Sold this a long time ago. GR 7, MR 5
 
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25. Board Game: Die Macher [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:185]
Yehuda Berlinger
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Out of order here, since this is too long for our game group (as is Civilization), but I think it will speed up now that we have played the first round once through.

It looks amazing, and I hope to have a special gaming night to play it.

Is there any way of playing shorter, such as 5 elections instead of 7?

UPDATE

Group tried a few times. Very enjoyable, but long, and we sill haven't played it through correctly. GR 7, MR 9
 
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