The Green Bay Packers and Settlers of Catan

As the Green Bay Packers take on the Seattle Seahawks in tomorrow’s NFC Championship game, I found this story interesting about how part of the team spends its time playing Settlers of Catan:

There may not be a more unusual bonding tradition in the NFL than the gang of Packers who get together regularly to play a boardgame called “Settlers of Catan.” For the past two months, it’s been the talk of the lockerroom. The number of players that have devoted a long night to the game is in the double-digits—including most of the team’s starting offensive line, among others. And don’t let the words “board game” fool you, this is not Candy Land.

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On any day in Green Bay’s locker room, you can find starting tackle David Bakhtiari, who introduced the game to the team, rounding up players for a Settlers get-together that night—and there’s no shortage of willing participants. But players may not know what they are in for. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn said he was interested in the game because it was “a nonviolent version of Risk,” referring to Parker Brothers’ notoriously lengthy game of world domination. But Flynn said the players take it so seriously that when he stopped by to play for the first time after a win last month, he was shocked by what happened when he attempted to turn on some celebratory music.

I visited Green Bay in December and it is true what they say: there isn’t much to do in the city when it gets too cold.

On Playing Video Games in Iraq

Simon Parkin, writing in The New Yorker, chronicles how video games have become a welcome refuge in the war-torn Iraq. For many kids, it’s a way to spend significant time at home and staying safe in the process:

The rise of video games in Iraq is a relatively recent phenomenon. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, it was difficult to buy them, and only relatively well-off, professional-class families like Mohammed’s could afford to import titles from Europe. Until the advent of disc-based video games in the mid-nineties, it was too difficult to pirate game cartridges. “The industry is still in its infancy in Iraq,” said Omar M. Alanseri, the owner of the Iraqi Games Center, one of only a small number of dedicated video-game retailers in Baghdad, which opened sixteen months ago. “But each year, more people get involved. I’ve seen the audience vastly increase, especially among teen-agers.”

Nevertheless, finding stock for Alanseri’s store shelves can be a challenge. “It’s not easy for me to get new games,” he said. “Mostly we import from online sites like Amazon.” Relatively few video games have been created by Iraqis. “Many games created here are not good enough to be published,” said Abdulla. “There is one title called Labaik Ya Iraq, which means ‘Iraq, We Answer Your Call.’ It is a strategy game, but not as good as, say, Command & Conquer.” Consequently, piracy remains rampant, and many copied games can be purchased for around a dollar.

This is unsurprising:

Some of the most popular video games in Iraq, as in America, are military-themed shooters, in which the player assumes the role of a soldier and blasts through waves of virtual enemies. “Almost all of my friends play video games like World of Tanks [and] Battlefield 3,” said Abdulla. “In fact, we have some of the top-ranked players in the world here.” The interest in military games stems from the local environment as much as, in the case of many players, male vanity. “Growing up, my life was completely military-focused,” Abdulla said. “It is the way we are raised. For example, I was taught how to use an AK-47 when I was in elementary school. Younger players who are not so affected by Saddam’s agendas play other game types more easily than we do, like Minecraft and other non-military games.”

Many of these first-person shooters, often created with input from U.S. military advisers—a handful of Navy SEALs was punished for consulting on the 2012 video game Medal of Honor: Warfighter—are set against the backdrop of fictionalized real-world conflicts, often within Middle Eastern countries. Some have entire sections set within Iraq, like the Battlefield series.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Zynga is Failing, in Charts

Caleb Garling, in an illustrative post on San Francisco Chronicle’s site, explains why Zynga is failing (and perhaps is destined to fail):

One, since its inception, most of Zynga’s revenue was from users on Facebook. If you are a business, and you have tied your success to another business — especially one with aspirations of world domination — you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak. Zynga tried to get people to go to Zynga.com to play — and avoid Facebook taking about a third of every dollar it made — but never really pulled it off. (And frankly, any app developers with big aspirations should take a lesson.)

Two, your attention span. Most casual gamers don’t want to wait to get to their computers to play. In fact, the best time to play games for many people — those with jobs — is between computer time, commuting or waiting for the dentist.

Three, building games for many different platforms is just hard! You have to deal with different screen sizes and technical requirements, not to mention deciding whether certain devices have a demographic that will create a positive return on investment for that particular game on that particular platform. And all the while, individual developers, that can be a little more nimble, eat away at market share for games on each one.

Love the charts.

As for me? I am wary of games (and most apps, really) that are free but target you with in-app purchases. For instance, Real Racing was a great game for iOS, until they decided to ratchet it with in-app purchases.

I only play two of Zynga’s games: Words with Friends and Scramble with Friends.

A Hodgepodge: Games People Play

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a series of op-eds on “Games People Play.”

My favorite quotes (with links to the originals) below.

Francine Prose on solitaire and the “fireworks” on your computer:

No wonder so many writers (including myself) play more solitaire than we should. All I have to do is complete a decent paragraph to feel I’ve earned the right to take a break and play a few games. Like many sports, it’s right on the border between addiction and pastime. That’s why teaching someone to play computer solitaire can feel like the equivalent of a giving a junkie that first shot, though the toll it takes isn’t in money or health, but in time, the writer’s most precious gift.

Of course, there are moments when I think: what a ridiculous waste! I keep resolving to quit. But how could I ever give up that little burst of hope whenever a new game deals itself out, or the lightly adrenalized buzz of seeing the cards, when I’ve won, bounce in joyous cascades across the screen and set off computer solitaire’s version of fireworks?

Pico Iyer on the ping-pong culture in Japan:

In Japan, Ping-Pong is how you keep your wits about you and your reflexes, limbs and senses intensely sharp. Almost every afternoon for nine years, I’ve walked 15 minutes uphill to our local health club, here in suburban Nara, or taken a bus to an ancient gymnasium in a nearby park, to engage in furious bouts of table tennis with a group of 30 or so Japanese neighbors who teach me about engagement in their retirement years as once they did with co-workers or family members.

I soon begin sweating even on mid-February days while some of my pals are swathed in jackets, mufflers and gloves and our breath condenses in front of us, indoors. When it hits 100 degrees in the old wooden space in July, I slip away discreetly after 90 minutes, while my aged friends continue for up to four hours. “Pico-san,” they say, next time they see me. “What’s up? You’re the youngest by 20 years and you’re the first to stop.” “I’m the only non-Japanese,” I want to say.

James Atlas on the “love-love” of tennis:

 By the end of two hours, I’m dripping as if I’ve just exited a Navajo sweat lodge. Why do we put ourselves through this ordeal week after week? Our exertions have changed nothing in our lives. But it’s not about athletic prowess; it’s about forgiveness. To forgive the teammate who double faults (a small number when you consider how many faults most of us commit in a day); the opponent who, having sensed that you’re about to poach, slams a wicked passing shot down the line; above all, to forgive yourself for the netted volley, the backhand that went long, the drop shot that failed to drop. And, having forgiven, to persist. I cite the tennis enthusiast Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Charles A. Murray on the diversity of poker (it is America):

A poker table is America the way that television commercials portray it but it seldom is. A normal table of 10 at Charles Town has at least two or three Asians, one or two blacks, maybe a Latino, another one or two players who hail from some other part of the world, and maybe four or five plain-vanilla whites like me. Age is distributed from young guns in their 20s who raise relentlessly to geezers like me who are too tight and passive.

And last, but not least, Jason Lucero on the fluidity of ultimate frisbee:

It’s fluid in the way basketball and hockey are fluid — fast-paced and constantly evolving between offense and defense. But even in its most contested moments, the culture of the game requires civility. It’s only a matter of time until professional football players carry handguns during games. In ultimate, there is no bullying — no hard fouls to earn respect, retaliatory fouls to show even less respect, none of it. We don’t have or need referees — we play with a commitment to fairness. Our hippie forefathers reasoned well: ultimate is a game; it should be fun and only fun. It is.

If I had to pick a favorite of the five, it’s probably Pico Iyer’s piece, simply because the dialogue made me laugh out loud. But all of these are a quick read and worth reading.

Monopoly: Now with More Cats

I hope you like cats in your Monopoly. According to The Associated Press, the iron is out and the cat is in, after Hasbro put the stake of a new token up to a Facebook vote:

The results were announced after the shoe, wheelbarrow and iron were neck and neck for elimination in the final hours of voting that sparked passionate efforts by fans to save their favorite tokens, and by businesses eager to capitalize on publicity surrounding pieces that represent their products.

The vote on Facebook closed just before midnight on Tuesday, marking the first time that fans have had a say on which of the eight tokens to add and which one to toss. The pieces identify the players and have changed quite a lot since Parker Brothers bought the game from its original designer in 1935.

I thought this was a really interesting manifestation of the campaign:

The social-media buzz created by the Save Your Token Campaign attracted numerous companies that pushed to protect specific tokens that reflect their products.

That includes garden tool maker Ames True Temper Inc. of Camp Hill, Penn., that spoke out in favor of the wheelbarrow and created a series of online videos that support the tool and online shoe retailer Zappos which pushed to save the shoe.

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(via Consumerist)

Rappers Embracing Words with Friends

I am not a big fan of Zynga (previously), but I am a big fan of one of their games: Words with Friends. I usually have at least three or four games going on at once on my iPhone/iPad.

And it appears the game is making a big splash not just with the general public, but with celebrities. GQ has an interview with rappers Big Boi and Fabolous about Words with Friends and how they got into playing:

GQ: So when did you get into Words With Friends?
Big Boi: I started playing ’cause my wife was on it. Her and her friends, they were playing the game on the phone all the time. I was like, “What the fuck is this?” They said, “Just start playing, you’ll get into it.” So then we started playing for a $100 a game. When we started she’d kick my ass. She can’t beat me no more.
Fabolous: I think I just started from that same engineer who brought it into my studio. Then it advanced to the phone, and he started having it on his phone, and we could play each other on the phones. His name is Scribble, actually.

GQ: Do you have a default strategy? 
Fabolous: I definitely play it defensively. When you first start playing you start playing with an offensive mindset, just trying to make words. And as you learn how to play, you get better. It becomes clear that you wanna play on defense, to let other people not get words, and not get the spaces that get you points.
Big Boi: I’m a little strategic but it’s different each game. It’s whatever strategy for me to get my championship belt.

GQ: When you get jammed up with bad letters, do you swap out letters?
Big Boi: I swap it out. I swap my shit out.
Fabolous: I swap it out sometimes. Sometimes. Depending on how close the score is, I might not swap out. I might just try to hold steady. But if you can’t make a word, definitely, swap out the letters.

GQ: Do you have a favorite word that you’ve played?
Big Boi: I think I played ‘zooms’ for like a 107.
Fabolous: If I get over a 100, I tweet the screen shot. But I had an issue where I did that before. I put it on Twitter because I’m thinking that I wanna shit on somebody and show the whole world what I did, but they seen my [WWF user name] and I got so many friend requests that it ended up freezing my account. I can’t even put my name out there.

They also mention a few gripes with the game, such as people taking many days to make a move. I think Zynga fixed this issue, and now automatically resigns someone if they haven’t made a move in two weeks (I still think that’s too long). And if you’re curious, the biggest word I’ve ever played went for 157 points.

And no, unfortunately the handles of the two rappers aren’t provided in the interview. But if you want to play me, leave a comment with your WwF handle, and I’ll respond to your request.