In This Our Life.

Every decision, right or wrong, must be reached alone, and enacted in complete loneliness.

Ellen Glasgow won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1941 for her novel In This Our Life, which was adapted into a 1942 film starring Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland that altered key plot points while causing controversy by keeping the novel’s portrayal of racial discrimination in the South. The novel is depressing as hell, really, as nobody ever really gets what s/he wants out of life within its pages, despite the fact that the two generations follow entirely different paths in search of an elusive happiness.

The novel centers not on the two sisters played by Davis and de Havilland, but on their father, Asa Timberlake, who is married to a possibly-hypochondriac woman, Lavinia, in a totally loveless marriage to which he feels honor-bound because of her illness and their modest financial condition. He’s in love with a widow, Kate, whom he’s known for decades, and who keeps two dogs of which he’s also very fond, as Lavinia never permitted him to have a dog in the house. His two daughters, strangely named Roy and Stanley, are polar opposites to each other, Roy the practical, mature older sister, married to a young doctor named Peter, while Stanley is spoiled, immature, and demanding, using her looks to try to get whatever she wants, even if what she wants belongs to Roy. Stanley is due to marry Craig as the book opens, but ends up running off with Peter, setting in motion a series of calamities that ruin almost every life involved, including Asa’s.

The racial discrimination story is secondary to the novel’s plot, but by far the most interesting aspect of the book today, given the change in social mores around divorce and infidelity since the novel’s publication. Parry is an ambitious young black man, the son of one of the Timberlakes’ servants, who wants to become a lawyer and is hopeful that Lavinia’s cousin William Fitzroy will help finance his education. Parry works occasionally as a driver for the families, but when Stanley, driving drunk, hits a family and kills a young girl, she and her mother conspire to frame Parry for the crime – something which Asa can’t abide, which triggers the one real inflection point in the story, where he’s forced to consider taking an action against his family for what seems to be the first time in his life.

Glasgow’s prose around Parry and his family is dated, but the ideas are still relevant – social and economic discrimination, differential treatment by law enforcement, the understanding that opportunities for black youths would be limited in a still-segregated south. The racism of the whites in the book, especially Lavinia and William, is less overt than even in contemporary Pulitzer winners, but no less insidious for its talk of keeping black people “in their place,” and discouraging Parry from aiming at a profession because, in reality, the idea of an educated black man scares them. This subplot stays in the background of most of the book, but it’s far more interesting than watching the machinations of the pampered, entitled Stanley, and the way everyone – including her uncle William, with whom there are intimations of inappropriate attentions (or worse) – bows to her wishes. She damages everything she touches and has the audacity to put on a “why me?” act, which directs all the reader’s sympathy to Roy, who at least has some complexity to her character and shows growth through the series of crises precipitated by her husband’s betrayal.

Apropos of nothing else, I enjoyed this quote, which Roy says to her father about Craig:

I mean, he notices. He can see the color in the sky, and he knows that the change from baseball to football isn’t the only way to tell when it is autumn. Some men don’t know any more than that about seasons.

I’ve got just two Pulitzer winners left to read – James Cozzens’ Guard of Honor and Mackinley Kantor’s Andersonville.

Next up: Angela Carter’s Wise Children, which appears on the Guardian list of the 100 best novels ever written.

Music update, October 2017.

Happy Halloween! Lots of great new tracks and albums this month, including a few totally unexpected returns from artists who’ve appeared on my playlists before, plus one metal act I haven’t really bothered with since I was in high school. If the widget below doesn’t appear you can access the Spotify playlist directly.

Django Django – Tic Tac Toe. Huge comeback single for the Mercury Prize-nominated act after the mild disappointment of their 2015 album Born Under Saturn, which had a few good tracks (notably “Shake and Tremble”) but no breakout hits like “Default” or “Hail Bop.” This song is a promising tease of their third album, especially the swirling, textured chorus where the song’s structure is turned inside out.

Wolf Parade – You’re Dreaming. Cry Cry Cry, their first record since the band reunited, came out on October 6th, but I found it overall a bit weak – but I was never a huge WP fan the first time around. This was the best track to my ears.

DMA’S – Dawning. Compared to Oasis after their first record, this Australian band goes more Britpop on this lead single from their upcoming second album. I admit to a bit of nostalgic affection for the song, given how much it reminds me of that late-90s movement that by and large never caught on in the U.S.

Quicksand – Cosmonauts. Their first album since 1995, Interiors, is due out on November 10th. They’re still touring, but without guitarist Tom Capone, who was arrested and charged with trying to steal over 40 items from a Phoenix-area CVS and then resisting arrest. Song’s good, though.

Bully – Kills to Be Resistant. Bully is fronted by Alicia Bognanno, who seems way too young to be producing music that is so reminiscent of the less-polished side of 1990s grunge. Their first record earned quite a bit of positive press, but I found it lacking in actual musical interest – not enough hooks, not much connection between vocals and music, etc. This track, from the band’s just-released second album Losing, is my favorite from Bully so far.

Beck – Colors. The title track from Beck’s latest album is one of a half-dozen bangers on the record (which includes my #1 song of 2015, “Dreams,” in two versions), which is a complete departure from the sound on his Grammy-winning last album Morning Phase. This is the Beck material I love – inventive, layered, genre-crossing.

Blushes – To the Bone. I’ve seen reviews comparing Blushes to Foals … okay, yeah, this sounds a lot like Foals, or at least like Foals’ best stuff, so we’re good here.

Porches – Find Me. Porches is led by singer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron Maine, and they’re weird – that’s mostly a compliment, although it sometimes doesn’t work very well (like on “Country,” another single off their upcoming third album). “Find Me” is more in line with their haunting 2016 single “Hour,” a nicely creepy track for Halloween.

Gulp – Morning Velvet Sky. Gulp is Scottish vocalist Lindsey Levin and bassist Guto Pryce, who’s better known as the bass player for Welsh rock icons Super Furry Animals. This track is less rock, more synth and bass, with a hypnotic, driving bassline throughout the ethereal song.

Sampha – Blood on Me. Sampha Sisay just won this year’s Mercury Prize for his debut album, Process, which gives us an unsteady marriage of classic R&B sounds, especially in the vocals, and current electronic/drum-and-bass sounds. This song, my favorite from the album, actually first appeared as a single in August of 2016 in the UK; it’s more uptempo and I think more intense than the rest of the album.

MisterWives – Never Give Up On Me. This was a surprise, given that MisterWives just released their second album in May, without this track on it. This might be their poppiest song yet, but it’s also a great showcase of what Mandy Lee can do with her voice when she lets it rip.

Prides – A Wilder Heart. Prides’ “The Seeds You Sow” was my #8 song of 2014, but it didn’t even appear on their disappointing debut album the following year. Their seven-song EP A Mind Like the Tide, Part 1, just dropped on Friday, including the single “Let’s Stay in Bed All Day,” which I included on my September playlist, and this slow builder with a strong finish.

Tune-Yards – Look at Your Hands. Tune-Yards are probably best known for the alternative hit “Water Fountain,” which has a fantastic chorus and some great drumwork, but which loses me in the verse. I still don’t love Merrill Garbus’s singing voice, but this track is more evenly mixed between vocals and music, and her musical inventiveness gets higher billing as a result. It doesn’t quite have the huge hook of “Water Fountain,” though.

Alice Merton – No Roots. I’ve been remiss with this track, which I had earmarked for my September playlist and forgot to include, so I’m putting it here for completeness’ sake even though you’ve probably heard it. It’s already hit the top ten in several countries in Europe and is #14 on the next Billboard Alternative Songs chart, still trending up.

Sleigh Bells – Rainmaker. Yep, that’s the drum loop from “Paid in Full.” That’s all I’ve got here.

Liam Gallagher – I Get By. I’ve seen more praise for the Oasis singer’s solo album As You Were than I could possibly muster; it is long, and it certainly tries to recapture the peak Oasis sound, but it only barely scrapes the bottom of what his former band was able to do over its first three albums. Lead single “Wall of Glass,” which made my June playlist, is solid, as is this song, but the rest feels like filler, like an artist who wants to mimic a specific sound rather than write compelling singles.

Versing – Body Chamber. If you listened to just this song, and I asked you their home city, you’d probably guess it on one try. Their debut album, Nirvana (we’re not even pretending, are we), just came out at the very end of September.

The Dear Hunter – The Right Wrong. This song is the lead single from the prog-rock act’s new six-song EP, All Is As All Should Be (which, by the way, is definitely NOT true), with some clear nods to progressive icons like King Crimson and Marillion but within a manageable running time.

Catholic Action – Propaganda. The Glaswegian quartet just released In Memory Of, its first album of punk-tinged jangle-pop, on Friday; it’s hit-and-miss, with short, quick bursts of guitar-driven melodies that don’t always click, with this song the best track on the record.

Sleater-Kinney – Here We Come. They’re back, and they’re still angry, and why wouldn’t they be?

Helloween – Pumpkins United. I admit to a certain fondness for Helloween’s two late-80s underground classics, parts one and two of the Keeper of the Seven Keys series, which contained a number of surprisingly catchy power-metal tracks that seemed to bridge the gap between Iron Maiden and other NWOBHM acts that still brought big hooks and the less melodic thrash bands that were coming out of California at the time. This new track is the first song to feature original guitarist Kai Hansen since he left the band after the second Keeper album.

Moonspell – Evento. Moonspell is a Portuguese gothic/melodic death metal act who are consistently big sellers in their home country, with four different #1 albums in Portugal, but little recognition outside it. Their 11th album, 1755, drops on Friday; it’s a concept album about the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year (which also inspired a new boardgame, Lisboa, that just came out this summer), sung entirely in Portuguese, with symphonic elements along with the expected death growls. Stuff just sounds more menacing when it’s not in English.

The Westing Game.

A mystery novel aimed at kids, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game is perfectly charming even for (much) older readers. I tackled it to vet it for my daughter (who then said she wasn’t interested, but I bet she’ll come back to it at some point), finding myself caught up in how the author packed such a clever, intricate plot in a short novel. It won the Newbery Medal for the year’s best work of children’s literature; I think it’s only the fifth winner I’ve read in its entirety (along with The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, The Graveyard Book, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH). Although it takes a temporary turn towards the dark in the middle, I’ll spoil it just a little bit to say that Raskin wraps up the entire story very nicely, and shows the reader just how many clues were right there the entire time for the characters and the audience alike.

The start of the book is a bit of a slow burn, but once you get about a third of the way into it, the pace picks up dramatically, once the long setup is done. Samuel Westing, a reclusive millionaire and owner of Westing Paper Products, dies right at the beginning of the book, and has set up an elaborate scheme for his sixteen “heirs” – most of whom are unrelated to him and surprised they’re even mentioned – to compete in teams of two for the prize of the inheritance. Many of the heirs have unspoken connections to Westing or his family; some are in the apartment building where the story takes place, Sunset Towers, under false names. Each team gets a set of five one-word clues and must try to follow the oblique instructions in Westing’s will to identify which of the heirs killed Westing and thus win the prize.

The star of the story is the youngest heir, “Turtle” Wexler, a mischievous, astute thirteen-year-old girl who will kick the shins of anyone who pulls her hair braid, and who plays second billing to her older sister Angela within the family. Turtle and a judge, J.J. Ford, an African-American woman who is open about her connection to Westing, do the bulk of the real investigating, Turtle to win (and also to make money in the stock market), Ford for the thrill of the hunt. The narrative jumps around to other pairs as well, which I think helps to obfuscate the actual answer to the mystery by giving the reader too many ideas about the various clues, enough to send me in the wrong direction for about half of the book. There’s no other character as magnetic as Turtle, who seemed to me to be a direct ancestor of another of my favorite child protagonists, Flavia de Luce.

The real gift of this book is how Raskin has her characters playing with words, thinking about their meanings, the order, even messing with pronunciations or misspellings, all to try to decipher the clues. It’s a subtle encouragement to the reader to do the same – to expand one’s thinking about how we use words, and how tiny shifts can alter the meanings of anything we say or write, including, to pick one relevant example, the irregular will of an eccentric millionaire.

There’s one scene that might be disturbing for younger readers, although it’s eventually resolved in a way that should satisfy everybody. The remainder plays out as a fairly straight mystery novel, with a structure that certainly recalled Agatha Christie’s ‘bigger’ novels, where she uses a larger cast of suspects and moves the narrative around frequently with shorter chapters. The Westing Game feels in spots like a mystery for adults that was slimmed down – not dumbed down, just made shorter – for younger readers, given how quickly the narrative jumps, often with one character noticing something or coming to a conclusion right before the switch. It works, and might keep younger readers more engaged, although given how many mysteries I’ve read for adults I did get the occasional sense of watching a video with too many jump cuts.

Next up: I’m halfway through Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, her second novel, written before the Neapolitan quartet that begins with My Brilliant Friend.


Frederik Pohl’s 1977 novel Gateway won the sci-fi awards triple crown the following year (Hugo, Nebula, and Locus) and was even loosely adapted into a computer game in 1992 – but it’s kind of lousy as a work of science fiction. Pohl ignores much science that was known or understood at the time, and other elements have become even more ridiculous over the last few decades, and he handwaves a lot of stuff away by filing it all under the mysterious technology of a lost alien civilization. If you can suspend your disbelief of all of this nonsense, though, he’s actually telling a pretty good war story that delves into issues of PTSD and survivor’s guilt while also looking into the risks that desperate people might willingly take to win the equivalent of a lottery prize.

Set at some unknown date in the not terribly distant future, Gateway follows the story of a successful explorer named Robinette Broadhead (variously referred to as Bob, Robbie, etc. depending on who’s talking) who left a dead-end life on earth as a food ‘miner’ to go to the asteroid known as Gateway. Within this story, humans have discovered the artifacts of a vanished alien race, known as the Heechees, who left tunnels on Venus and built a space station by hollowing out a large asteroid, from which they appear to have launched intergalactic exploratory missions. Humans have now occupied Gateway, which is run by a supranational corporation, and send willing explorers out on missions on the ships that they found docked in Gateway. Each ship’s destination is preprogrammed – changing it blows up the ship – and the destinations vary widely, with some ships returning with valuable weapons or tools, some returning with nothing, and some never returning at all or returning with the crew dead of starvation or worse.

We meet Robinette as he’s talking to Sigfrid, an artificial intelligence psychotherapist (everything is automated!), and it becomes apparent that whatever happened on his last mission has left him with guilt about something – even though he came back to a significant reward. The narrative alternates between short chapters of his conversations with Sigfrid and longer flashbacks detailing his tenure on Gateway, including the months where he stalled rather than jump on an outbound ship. Those passages cover a common theme in dystopian sci-fi, where characters with no hope for adequate employment, money, or food end up taking on enormous risks for a shot at a life-altering payout. It’s more powerful than the conversations with Sigfrid, which read like an unintentional parody of Freudian psychoanalysis and become overbearing, like we’re getting a commentary track on the main story. Pohl has crafted a small set of characters, centered on Robinette, who face long odds with a high risk of a very unpleasant death and still choose to board these ships because it’s their one chance at a decent life. (Pohl even has characters yearning for “Full Medical,” which sounds a lot like really good health insurance.) The explorations that matter in this book aren’t the ones on the Heechee ships, but of how these characters respond to this extreme scenario, with evidence of the risks and rewards arriving daily.

The science-y stuff here is really silly. Einstein showed that nothing can exceed the speed of light, and anything with mass would see that mass increase without bound as it approached the speed of light. Pohl has humans living in tunnels on Venus, even though scientists had known for at least ten years that the climate of that planet was totally inhospitable to our sort of life. The infrastructure of Gateway itself would have worked better if Pohl had tried to explain it less – the point isn’t how it works, but what such an environment does to the characters. Of all of the sideshows in the book, the idea that space tourists would come to Gateway, which has no apparent attraction for visitors beyond its existence, rang the most true – it’s about bragging rights, or signaling one’s wealth, both universal values that would still be in full force in Pohl’s bleak vision of our future.

The conclusion, where Pohl reveals just what happened on Robinette’s last mission, is very clever even if (I think) it also plays fast and loose with the science, where Robinette made a choice that made him the sole survivor without him realizing that that’s what the outcome would be – and now he carries the emotional scars from it. You can draw easy parallels to the wartime experiences of soldiers who’ve had to make decisions that cost fellow fights their lives, or who managed to escape a situation that killed many of their comrades, which gives Gateway a war-novel feel without the war. Even the missions themselves could work as allegories for the kinds of sorties Air Force pilots might have been asked to make in mid-century wars, or excursions on land into enemy territory with high rewards but high risk of capture or death. If you can get past the silly science, there’s quite a good story underneath here.

Next up: I’m just about done with J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians.

Stick to baseball, 10/28/17.

No new Insider content this week, as I was writing up the top 50 free agents package. That and a look at the offseason trade market will run the week of November 6th. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

I spoke with Arizona’s KJZZ about my book Smart Baseball and the rise of Big Data in the sport. You can find links to buy the book here.

I also run a free email newsletter with personal essays and links to everything I’ve written since the previous newsletter. If you’re already a subscriber, thank you, and yes, I’m overdue to send another one out.

And now, the links, with boardgame stuff at the end as usual…

Everybody Lies.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz made his name by using the enormous trove of data from Google search inquiries – that is, what users all over the world type in the search box – to measure things that researchers would typically measure solely by voluntary responses to surveys. And, as Stephens-Davidowitz says in the title of his first book, Everybody Lies, those surveys are not that reliable. It turns out, to pick one of the most notable results of his work (described in this book), that only 2-3% of men self-report as gay when asked in surveys, but the actual rate is probably twice that, based on the data he mined from online searches.

Stephens-Davidowitz ended up working for a year-plus at Google as a data scientist before leaving to become an editorial writer at the New York Times and author, so the book is bit more than just a collection of anecdotes like later entries in the Freakonomics series. Here, the author is more focused on the potential uses and risks of this enormous new quantity of data that, of course, is being collected on us every time we search on Google, click on Facebook, or look for something on a pornography site. (Yep, he got search data from Pornhub too.)

The core idea here is twofold: there are new data, and these new data allow us to ask questions we couldn’t answer before, or simply couldn’t answer well. People won’t discuss certain topics with researchers, or even answer surveys truthfully, but they will spill everything to Google. Witness the derisive term “Dr. Google” for people who search for their symptoms online, where they may end up with information from fraudsters or junk science sites like Natural News or Mercola, rather than seeing a doctor. What if, however, you looked at people who reveal through their searches that they have something like pancreatic cancer, and then looked at the symptoms those same people were Googling several weeks or months before their diagnosis? Such an approach could allow researchers to identify symptoms that positively correlate with hard-to-detect diseases, and to know the chances of false positives, or even find intermediate variables that alter the probability the patient has the disease. You could even build expert systems that really would work like Dr. Google – if I have these five symptoms, but not these three, should I see a real doctor?

Sex, like medical topics, is another subject people don’t like to discuss with strangers, and it happens to sell books too, so Stephens-Davidowitz spent quite a bit of time looking into what people search for when they’re searching about sex, whether it’s pornography, dating sites, or questions about sex and sexuality. The Pornhub data trove reveals quite a bit about sexual orientations, along with some searches I personally found a bit disturbing. Even more disturbing, however, is just how many Americans secretly harbor racist views, which Stephens-Davidowitz deduces from internet searches for certain racial slurs, and even shows how polls underestimated Donald Trump’s appeal to the racist white masses by demonstrating from search data how many of these people are out there. Few racists reveal themselves as such to surveys or researchers, and such people may even lie about their voting preferences or plans – saying they were undecided when they planned to vote for Trump, for instance. If Democrats had bothered to get and analyze this data, which is freely available, would they have changed their strategies in swing states?

Some of Stephens-Davidowitz’s queries here are less earth-shattering and seem more like ways to demonstrate the power of the tool. He looks at whether violent movies actually correlate to an increase in violent crime (spoiler: not really), and what first-date words or phrases might indicate a strong chance for a second date. But he also uses some of these queries to talk about new or revived study techniques, like A/B testing, or to show how such huge quantities of data can lead to spurious correlations, a problem known as “the curse of dimensionality,” such as in studies that claim a specific gene causes a specific disease or physical condition that then aren’t replicated by other researchers.

Stephens-Davidowitz closes with some consideration of the inherent risks of having this much information about us available both to corporations like Google, Facebook, and … um … Pornhub, as well as the risks of having it in the hands of the government, especially with the convenient excuse of “homeland security” always available to the government to explain any sort of overreach. Take the example in the news this week that a neighbor of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook mass murderer, warned police that he was threatening to do just such a thing, only to be told that the police couldn’t do anything because his mother owned the guns legally. What if he’d searched for this online? For ways to kill a lot of people in a short period of time, or to build a bomb, or to invade a building? Should the FBI be knocking on the doors of anyone who searches for such things? Some people would say yes, if it might prevent Sandy Hook or Las Vegas or San Bernardino or the Pulse Orlando or Columbine or Virginia Tech or Luby’s or Binghamton or the Navy Yard. Some people will consider this an unreasonable abridgement of our civil liberties. Big Data forces the conversation to move to new places because authorities can learn more about us than ever before – and we’re the ones giving them the information.

Next up: J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians.

Klawchat 10/26/17.

Starting at 1 pm ET. Questions go in the frame below, NOT in the comments!

Keith Law: You can do it your own way – if it’s done just how I say. Klawchat.

Keith: How important a role does a particular team’s development capability and track record play in your rankings? It strikes me that the abilities of individual teams to develop talent varies widely and often is underrated when assessing a prospects progress. What teams do you think are better in this area? Does it vary by positions? Any prospects you think we harmed because they were drafted by the wrong team?
Keith Law: I don’t consider it at all. The rankings of players are team agnostic because a player can change orgs at any time.

Deacon Phillipe : What’s your reaction to the Girardi firing?
Keith Law: Confusion. But I know there may be details we don’t know.

Guy F.: Am I correct to profile you as an index fund guy? Do you own individual stocks outside what you might get from Disney as part of your comp package?
Keith Law: I am an index funds guy, period.

Deacon Phillipe : I’ve been rooting against the Astros because I hate seeing their blatant tanking rewarded. I know they were playing by the rules of the game, but they basically made a mockery of 3 seasons worth of games to get higher picks. Even the Cubs never sunk so low when they tanked. (I rooted against them last year).
Keith Law: I disagree. One, what they did wasn’t just legal, it was smart – the rules gave them every incentive to do this. Two, asking teams that aren’t going to win anyway to throw away cash on veterans just to win a few more regular-season games does nothing for me. I’d rather see prospects and fringe players get those opportunities. Maybe you’ll find a JD Martinez or a Chris Taylor or a Marwin Gonzalez in there.

Chris: Pax Unplugged will be my first gaming convention. I’m only able to go for one day (Friday) and was wondering if you had any tips for how to approach it? I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the options and going solo so my schedule is whatever I make it.
Keith Law: They can be pretty overwhelming. I’d say leave yourself lots of time to wander the floor and just explore all the new stuff on display, and if you have certain games you love, look for their tournaments or for any free-play sessions. I’ll be at PAX Unplugged all 3 days, and on the Saturday (Nov 18) I’ll be signing copies of Smart Baseball if you bring yours along.

Jimmy Z: Keith, (sorry, screwed up and hit enter before asking question): Joe Girardi. 2014 – Yanks have a -31 run differential, yet win 84. 2016 – Yanks have a -22 run differential, yet win 84. 2017 – Yanks are picked by no one to make the playoffs, and in their “2nd rebuilding year” Joe takes them to Game 7 of the ALCS. Am I missing something here?
Keith Law: I can’t believe that this was about Joe’s on-field results. I also don’t think he can be blamed in any way for their ALCS loss. He made some mistakes, and had some weak spots, but they were legitimately beaten by a better team.

Angel: Hey keith do you see Albert abreu in the top 100 at some point next season?
Keith Law: Possible but not likely. Secondary stuff isn’t that advanced right now.

Joe: As someone who spent so much time in recent years scouting many of the guys killing it in the World Series this year, how cool is it personally to see them all come together like this on the biggest stage?
Keith Law: It’s very rewarding to watch these guys reach the pinnacle.

edward: thanks, keith – thoughts on who the phillies should be looking at for their next manager?
Keith Law: Someone with a strong developmental track record. Gabe Kapler is on their list, and I know him fairly well, enough to recommend him. (The reports that they’d chosen Dusty Wathan already were not accurate. I don’t know where that came from.)

gus johnson: Do you think a player’s salary should be considered in the MVP Voting? To measure the true value of a player, shouldn’t we consider both the results AND the cost? For example, Stanton’s 6.9 WAR isn’t as valuable as Rendon’s 6.9 WAR from a cost perspective.
Keith Law: No. No. Also no.

Chris J: How do you see the Red Sox setting their lineup with Pedroia out around 2 months? Mookie at 2B? Chavis at 2B? Brock Holt?
Keith Law: Probably Holt. Chavis is pretty questionable at third, no reason to think he’ll be able to go right to 2nd and handle it.

Jimmy Hillman: Thanks for the chat! Of the two Pirate prospects that were exalted by many in 2015-2016 but had a rough 2017 – Glasnow or Meadows – which one do you think has the better chance to bounce back in 2018 and reclaim some (all?) of that shine?
Keith Law: Meadows. Health will go a long way for him.

Lyle: The last several Mariners GMs have generally failed to develop and keep position player prospects (essentially Kyle Seager and Mike Zunino are it for the last dozen years). Everyone else either busts (Ackley, e.g.) or is traded away for pennies (Adam Jones, Chris Taylor, etc.) How do the Mariners go about changing that culture in their system before Kyle Lewis and Evan White arrive?
Keith Law: They already changed GMs since all that. But also ownership has to say they’re willing to take a few years of losing to rebuild it – I think the mandate now is for DiPoto to try to win, and that may mean trading someone like Lewis for major-league help.

Mike: Bote has been crushing in the AFL but I’ll give that to a SSS and the Arizona climate. A story came out that he has changed his swing over the last couple of years. He is already 24, but do you think he has a chance as a starter?
Keith Law: Probably a bench guy. Think he can hit some, maybe not enough bat + defense to be more than a second-tier regular at 2nd base, but likely a real utility guy you can plug in at four or five positions.

Brian: Keith what is your take on Nicky Lopez in the Royals system? Looks to be good defensively at short and has a good approach at the plate. Utility infielder or potential starter? Thanks.
Keith Law: Outside chance to start. Can hit, can play short. Power is light, approach isn’t actually that great. Good instincts, though. Stands out in a weak system.

Evan: What are your thoughts on the Mets new manager Mickey Callaway?
Keith Law: He’s never managed, so we just don’t know. I’m not a fan of hiring managers with zero managerial experience at any level.

jp: Does the huge number of cord cutters mean clubs are gonna struggle with future TV deals? Seems like a bubble that could burst, but then again, plenty of fans are still gonna want to watch the games.
Keith Law: It depends on where and whether cord-cutters go for their baseball content. If ends up with a local team option, then that might balance out the revenues – but also provides another chance for MLB to smooth out the revenue gaps between the largest and smallest markets. If 100% of TV revenue came from, for instance, then they could simply divide it equally among all teams. Then the revenue gap would be from attendance and corporate sponsorships, so large market teams would still have an advantage, but much less of one, and maybe revenue-sharing could even go away.

Moltar: If the Mets don’t add Guillorme to the 40 man, he’ll definitely get rule-V’d, no? I feel like the glove would play off the bench at the minimum.
Keith Law: I’m not sure – I wouldn’t say it’s definite. It might be an 8 glove and a 3 bat. That’s not easy to carry.

Dan: Albert Almora Jr. improved mightily against RHP in the second half (123 wRC+). With his above average defense and ability to crush LHP seems like he’s turning into an above average regular.
Keith Law: I do think he’s a regular.

Ben: Have you gotten a chance to see much of Andrew Knizner at AFL? How would you compare to Carson Kelly?
Keith Law: Not even close to Kelly for me. Kelly’s the same seasonal age and already has succeeded in AAA, with good receiving skills and more bat. Knizner has to catch or he’s not a prospect, and I don’t think the glove is a sure thing.

John S: Houston makes the world series. Its rebuild has been marvelous even if not perfect (Aiken, Appel). And… they fire their scouts. What gives? I read that the org wants to focus even more on analytics. Fine and well, but it’s not like there is some cap on what can be spent on scouting. Is it an issue of too much information dilutes useful information?
Keith Law: They believe pro scouting is becoming obsolete. I disagree, of course, but it is their philosophy that trackman data and video ‘scouting’ can replace it.

Stuxnet: Its been a disappointing few years for the Texas Rangers, and they look like they have a mediocre major league team with a bad farm system, putting them in a bad spot for the future. Is it time for them to get a new g.m. in place, since it appears the rest of the league has passed Jon Daniels by?
Keith Law: They won the AL West in 2016, Van Winkle.

Moltar: Consensus seems to be that Calloway is a good hire, but what kind of impact can we expect to see him make on the Mets’ pitchers in the upcoming season?
Keith Law: I would guess very little, now that he’s the manager and not the pitching coach. The latter will be the name that matters to your question.

Amy: Cora got his gig! What will you do with all this free time? Also, thoughts on how Sox get some power in there?
Keith Law: I’m thrilled for him. It’s a good situation given the solid young core on that roster … and potentially difficult given some of the personalities among the veterans. Devers has power, Betts showed more power in 2016 than 2017, Bogaerts has power when his hand isn’t hurt, I think Benintendi will be a 25-30 homer guy. What they could really use is a power hitter at 1b, but the four big 1b free agents (Hosmer, Santana, Morrison, Alonso) aren’t really power bats. I like Sam Travis a lot as a prospect, but I think he’s more a hitter for average than for power.

Craig: I keep thinking back to Brett Gardner’s amazing at bat in Game 7 of the ALDS. I was rooting for the Indians, but by about pitch 10, I just wanted the at-bat to be over. If I felt that way watching it, I can’t imagine how Cody Allen felt trying to pitch to him.

Is being able to continually foul-off pitches a skill that can be taught? If so, how?
Keith Law: I think it’s a function of hand-eye coordination above all else. That is the biggest thing I didn’t see with Pedroia as a rookie (well, that and he was out of shape in September 2006) – he was exceptional at fouling off pitches he couldn’t hit, which is how he made that really unconventional swing work.

Jake: How has Tyler Jay looked in AFL?
Keith Law: What I saw was great, but I talked to Eric Longenhagen last week and he saw about 2 mph less on the fastball than I did.

Dennis: Which are your favorite Agatha Christie novels?
Keith Law: Murder of Roger Ackroyd always stands out for me. I’m nervous about this movie … the ending of Murder on the Orient Express is so iconic that they can’t change it, and I think a lot of people know it, so how will they craft a compelling story where a decent portion of the audience knows the culprit?

Warren for Pres 2020!: Do you think that whenever Trump’s reign of terror is over, we’ll see a cascade of books from various current/former WH staff, such as Sean “Puffy” Spicer and Sarah Huckabee “Don’t Call Me Colonel” Sanders, detailing their true feelings about the human bottle of Ipecac they’re forced to defend and rationalize on a daily basis?
Keith Law: No question. Once it’s safe, there will be dozens of books, documentaries, even some “Game Change” style TV series about it.

Alex: Keith what do you make of all the coaching/front office changes the Giants have made? From the outside the coaches seem like the least of their problems.
Keith Law: I’d heard they felt like the clubhouse had gotten stale. Whether that’s true, or at all relevant to the on-field performance, is another matter.

RSO: Is Brett Gardner criminally underrated? He has the 47th best WAR all-time for a left fielder, and was second this year in WAR (ahead of Gary Sanchez) on the Yankees.
Keith Law: He’s spent about 1/3 of his games in CF, which probably skewed those rankings, and I’ve noticed some centerfielders who play left end up with crazy defensive numbers there because the average at that position is pulled down by the Matt Kemps of the world (hey, we can’t play this guy anywhere, so put him in left). His WAR puts him right with Jeff Heath, a player from the 1940s who played in a roughly similar number of games, and whom I’d never heard of till just now.

Dennis: Are Jahmai Jones and Brandon Marsh of the Angels top 100 prospects? If not, are they close?
Keith Law: Jones was on my top 100 already.

Bort: Hey Keith, thanks as always for your writing and for the chat. If Luis Castillo’s changeup continues to be effective against lefties (21% whiff rate, .110 ISO this year) but his fringy slider doesn’t improve, do you think he will still be an above-average starter? Do you think he’ll be better than Dinelson Lamet, who seems to have a fringy changeup but an effective slider?
Keith Law: I think I’d rather have the FB/CH guy than the FB/SL guy. You can still get same-side hitters with the CH but it’s really hard to get other-side hitters out with a breaking ball (as a starter – lots of relievers do this).

Ron: HI Keith- Any thoughts on the Twins hiring of John Manuel? Good, bad or not any impact? Do you think Molitor is going to embrace more analytics or still old school? Thanks!
Keith Law: Very happy for John. I wouldn’t say the hiring of any area scout, no matter how good, would have an impact the average fan would see. That’s no slight on John, whom I expect to do excellent work for the Twins.

Darryl: Starting a MLB team from scratch today…who’s your 1st pick? Trout? Harper? Correa? Seager?
Keith Law: Still Trout. All great choices. Machado belongs in the discussion set, though.

Amy: Do you think Mookie could still play 2b? Is he capable?
Keith Law: I do, he was very good there, but you’d lose a lot of defense in the OF from doing so.

Matt: The Cards have put together a pretty nice, cost-controlled rotation ( Weaver, CMart, Reyes, Flaherty). Knowing that young SP can be fickle, how do you think this sets them up for the next few years?
Keith Law: I don’t think that’s enough in bulk innings or starter certainty. They can certainly supplement from outside – and you didn’t include Hudson or Alcantara, both reasonably close – but that’s only a beginning, not a complete solution.

Sam: Considering the success Altuve is having do you see scouts being more open to not rule someone out because of size or other traditional measures or is he just so far of an outlier that it will have no impact?
Keith Law: Bregman was the #2 pick in the draft, and wasn’t going much later than that anyway, and he’s maybe 5’8″. Benintendi’s no giant. Stroman might be 5’9″, Sonny Gray 5’8″. Nick Allen is 5’6″ and got $2 million (I think) in the draft last year. So teams are open to it. It’s just one factor among many – if you’re small, but strong, with a sound swing, and play a skill position, you’ll still get lots of consideration. Altuve was just so small at 15 that he couldn’t even get the Astros to sign him – they cut him the first time from their scout team in VZ and he had to come back the next day with his dad to beg for another chance.

Jesse: Have you tried Century: Spice Road yet? I think you and your family might really enjoy it. It’s similar to Slendor with maybe a little more strategy.
Keith Law: I played it at GenCon and agree it’s very similar to Splendor, with maybe a little more variation in how you can approach the game. But I didn’t think it was novel – it felt familiar to me.

Evan: Was Avi Garcia’s season a BABIP driven mirage, or is he actually good now?
Keith Law: Can it be both?

Chris: Do you have more info on Jhailyn Ortiz, stats looking good and as a Phillies fan never heard of him
Keith Law: Very interesting power bat with feel to hit, better athlete than expected given his size. They gave him a lot of money as an amateur, and I know some scouts were down on him because they thought he’d get fat, but so far he’s looked great.

Matt: I haven’t seen this mentioned, but the way the Dodgers managed the game last night was…odd. Using 9 relief pitchers in a game vs Verlander?
Keith Law: Hill was wobbly early, no problem with going to Maeda. Really, I can’t blame Roberts for anything. Hinch pressed the “HIT DINGERS” button and that was that.

Eddie Gaedel: If Kong is allowed to return in 2018, do you have the same moral aversion to him as you do to domestic abusers? After all, he risked people’s lives by driving drunk, and he was a serial offender. Can baseball allow him to return on a probationary period, and should they?
Keith Law: I would have no problem with MLB banning him, or even the government saying he can’t get a work visa now. He’s dangerous.

Jimmy: How much do teams factor in Coors for free agents leaving Colorado? I’m mostly wondering if teams will overlook some of Jake McGee’s struggles and treat like he’s the same guy he was with the Rays.
Keith Law: Statcast data will help players in extreme environments, I think. I’m a big McGee fan and will have him fairly high for a reliever on my FA rankings, which I believe go up 11/6.

Matt: What is your degree of confidence that any of De La Cruz, Albertos, Clifton, or Alzolay will be able to help Cub rotation at some point in ’18 or ’19?
Keith Law: 2018, very low. 2019, Alzolay or maybe Clifton. De la Cruz can’t stay healthy and Albertos, while very talented, has barely pitched.

RSO: I know in the past you said Gleyber Torres is best suited for SS, but with Didi Gregorious in tow, what position would you rather play him at 2B or 3B?
Keith Law: Moving Torres off shortstop wastes a good portion of his value.

Ed: I spatchcocked my Turkey last year, and am already getting request this year for it despite not even hosting TG. There is no going back
Keith Law: Really is a game changer. Plus it cooks faster.

Evan: Do the Braves have a hidden gem at catcher in Alex Jackson or is he still too big of a liability behind the plate?
Keith Law: You need to read my AFL posts. He was the lead item in the second one.

Harrisburg Hal: Thanks for posting about the board game apps last week – after feeling like I’d mastered Splendor, I purchased Jaipur and got repeatedly pummeled by the AI.
Keith Law: The Jaipur app’s medium AI kicks my ass. I am not good at that game.

Pete: Last night’s game was fun to watch, but to me, the best play was Hernandez’s tying single that scored Forsythe, which was more fun than watching solo home run after solo home run. If baseball keeps the same ball, combined with the length of games, this isn’t a good long-term outlook for the enjoyment of the sport. Thoughts?
Keith Law: Agree – the last three innings were exciting, but I’d much rather see more balls in play and fewer HR/K. It also felt like we were just waiting for the next homer. It’s aesthetic, though – it was still a great game.

Kelly : How does being on the disabled list affect the Rule 5 draft? (For example, Sam Coonrood in the Giants system was Rule 5 eligible but is on the DL for Tommy John’s.)
Keith Law: There is no offseason DL. All those players must be activated and assigned to a roster.

Steven: Last night Smoltz implied the analytics were to take Hill out after 4 but that seemed to hurt them later when they were very low on bullpen depth when it mattered. Seems like this was a case of over analysis rather than a manager observing that he had a guy who was pitching well with a decent pitch count. Had the been able to get another inning or two out of him it may have made a big difference in the 8-11 innings.
Keith Law: Maybe, but I didn’t think Hill looked sharp, and you really can’t manage inning 5 around innings 10 and 11.

BigPapaChuck: Do you think the Braves already know their fate but have to keep silent until MLB announces it after the WS? They have to have a lot of contingency plans in place, no?
Keith Law: I don’t think that is the case.

Pat D: The word is that the Yankees will look for someone with a mind to analytics. So obviously Dusty isn’t a candidate, right? Is there anyone you know of who might fit that bill who’s ready?
Keith Law: I never heard that Girardi was anti-analytics, so maybe they just want someone even more in favor of using it? It’s a little strange to me. I also don’t know if they’d consider a rookie manager again, or if they want someone who’s managed MLB teams before. Manny Acta is one of the latter who I know is very open to analytics, since I worked with him on BBTN.

JP: % chance Stanton is traded this offseason? And best guess where to?
Keith Law: Low. 20%.

Tom: In the post game last night, Frank Thomas said he didn’t like bringing guys in for a 6 out save essentially because they haven’t been in those situations all season, and hence haven’t practiced it. Granted this was on the heels of Jansen and Giles both blowing leads, but do you find merit in this logic?
Keith Law: I don’t, and I don’t think it was the reason they blew those leads. Jansen threw one bad pitch to Marwin. Is that because he wasn’t used to facing five batters in an outing?

Chris : Who’s going to shell out years and dollars to this year’s starting pitcher FA class? It seems like all clubs realize second contracts for SPs dont make sense unless your name is Scherzer or something.
Keith Law: Except that they’ll all get to the GM meetings, look at their depth charts, and realize they need pitching, and this market is all they have. Guys will still get paid, at least on a per-year basis.

Daniel: Shipley is now old for a prospect but is he still a SP for you? Stillhas two solid secondaries and is a great athlete despite the dip in velocity.
Keith Law: Still a starter, but he needs his old fastball back to be more than a five.

Dr. Bob: You go to the AFL every year. If it is a lot of SSS and guys working on things, what are you and other scouts hoping to see there?
Keith Law: It’s not really guys working on things – that’s instructional league – just guys getting more reps. So it’s a good way to look at swings, deliveries, BP, guys facing better competition than they saw during the year, plus a lot of players on the 40-man bubble (like Guillorme) on whom you might want one more scouting report.

Chris : Would you move Wheeler or Matz to the bullpen? Does it even matter, bc more likely than not they’ll both just get hurt anyway?
Keith Law: I’d consider it depending on what the doctors say. Relief work isn’t a panacea for arm trouble; some guys would get hurt with all the back-to-back usage too.

Daniel: I read that you had Houser 92-95 with a good CB in the AFL. If he can remain healthy he’s a SP, yes?
Keith Law: He’s a starter.

Martha Stewart: Are there any cooking shows you watch besides Iron Chef? Do you have a favorite ‘ethnic food’?
Keith Law: I don’t watch Iron Chef, just Top Chef. Isn’t pretty much all food ethnic?

Jimmy: I’ve read a few times that the Yankees’ player development people have great success helping their pitching prospects throw harder. It always comes up in profiles about Chance Adams. Do you know if there’s any evidence that they’re actually better at it than other teams? Or is this just an anecdote someone noticed and a bunch of other people grabbed?
Keith Law: It’s anecdotal evidence across a pretty long list of players, so I’m inclined to believe it. I know I’ve seen a lot of these guys in Trenton the last few years. Adams isn’t even the best example, with a slightly above average fastball. They got Tate’s fastball back. Sheffield throws harder than ever now. And they keep finding these relievers, like Cody Carroll, late in the draft who get into the system and suddenly start bumping 98.

Craig: How do you feel about Trump’s tax plan announcement?
Keith Law: I think the evidence does not support their claim that tax cuts for the highest income levels will boost economic growth. That may have been true in the 1960s, when the top marginal rates were over 50%, but it appears to be untrue today, when even the top rates are moderate for a developed country. I do think tax cuts can stimulate the economy, but need to go to people who’ll increase consumption as well as investment, and I think no one wants to talk about the benefit of radical tax reform because both parties love to regulate behavior through taxation. (But please, tell me why anyone should be able to deduct mortgage interest – up to $1 million of it! – on a *second* home.)

Timothy : How much stock do you put into the AFL? (Ex: Alex Jackson)
Keith Law: AFL performance is close to meaningless. It’s too small of a sample, in a very hitter-friendly environment. Joey Terdoslavich led the league in homers one year and Atlanta fans went nuts when I said he wasn’t really a prospect.

Patrick: What do you think of Thario? Can he be marketed as a starting infielder and used as trade bait, or is he better served in a utility/depth role? Do you like him or Wade better?
Keith Law: Thairo is a second division starter for me, or a good utility guy. Might have more value in trade in a package given their depth chart.

Clyde: Did Michael Gettys make any progress this year? 191 whiffs certainly suggest not, but he did up his walk rate, I believe.
Keith Law: He was repeating high-A. No.

Nick: Does Justus Sheffield have #1 stuff?
Keith Law: Sure looked like it in the AFL. We’ll see if he can pitch with that stuff for a full season, but it’s very promising.

Brian: Can we please kill the K Zone, now also appearing on Fox? I would like to see the pitch with my own eyes. If it’s a debatable call, show me the K Zone on replay. Am I wrong?
Keith Law: Not a huge fan either. I have Gameday for that stuff. I tend to watch games both ways.

Antonio: What is it about Chance Adams that doesn’t really get him prospect list love? Supposedly throws hard and the numbers are obviously there. I don’t get it.
Keith Law: Doesn’t throw that hard, doesn’t have a real out pitch, undersized without great fastball plane.

Patty O’Furniture: Giancarlo’s not really going to the Giants, is he?
Keith Law: It makes no sense for either club. The Giants’ system is weak at the moment, so the Marlins wouldn’t get much of a return. And the Giants would be taking on an albatross contract for a player who doesn’t make them a contender right away.

Sean: Keith, having just finished your book and reading about the Astros use of high-speed cameras and such in their pro scouting, I have a question about player development. How much is this stuff being used in the minor leagues?
Keith Law: It’s all over the place. You can’t go to a minor league game without seeing the cameras the parent clubs have set up to record their own guys and the visitors.

Daniel: Is it just injuries that have derailed Gilbert Lara so far? Or is he not that good?
Keith Law: I think he’s just not that good, but he’ll turn 20 on Monday and I don’t want to entirely write him off.

Pete: Isn’t a stale clubhouse what you get when all your players are old?
Keith Law: You might say that, yes.

Ridley Kemp: Are you aware of any benefits that Major League Baseball is involved with for Puerto Rico? I’ve been poking around and can’t find anything, which surprises me given the league’s ties to the island.
Keith Law: They gave $1 million in the wake of the hurricane, and individual teams have done more as well (I think the Pirates in particular have).

Patty O’Furniture: Would a bad contract swap of Matt Kemp for Jacoby Ellsbury be beneficial for either team? Or is that just kicking the can down the road?
Keith Law: I’d rather have Ellsbury. I don’t think Kemp has any value at all.

addoeh: I assume you have started your free agent list. How difficult is it to get to 50?
Keith Law: Getting to 50 isn’t hard, but the quality drops off right around 30. Beyond that, my capsules will be much shorter.

Ryan: What are your thoughts on the direction the Pirates are heading? They obviously had a fantastic 3 year run, but are now coming off of back to back losing seasons and the young reinforcements that were supposed to be arriving to bolster those playoff rosters have not lived up to expectations aside from Bell and maybe Taillon. I’m concerned the window already shut without them ever even getting out of the NLDS.
Keith Law: Might be time to churn the roster a bit – not a full rebuild, but to trade away some guys approaching free agency before they leave. They also had disappointing years from four of their top five prospects, and that has to turn around, obviously.

Dennis: As an Angels fan, I’m glad that Mike Scioscia’s ridiculous 10 year deal is up after next season. Do you agree that they should hire a new manager?
Keith Law: Yes. If they won’t just fire him, they should tell him beforehand this is it, and if he wants to stay and manage, they’ll honor him at season-end with some big celebration or whatever. I don’t care. They just need new thinking in the dugout and he’s not providing it.

Matt: I’ve heard you mention often that the Orioles aggressively revamp their young pitchers’ deliveries. Zach Davies also mentioned this briefly in a Fangraphs interview. Could you give us some specifics? What are they doing? Is this a Dan Duquette thing? Or a Buck thing? Or just a long-standing Orioles thing?
Keith Law: My understanding is that it’s been Buck and also some of their pitching coaches, not Duquette. I personally don’t like it – I would never change a pitcher’s delivery unless he was having injury or effectiveness problems. You’re asking for trouble.

Alex: Have you heard any scouts discuss Kolby Allard’s year? Was his velocity as down as reports say – 88-92. I know you had him in your Top 50.
Keith Law: He was 88-93 the last time I saw him in HS, and generally is 90-93 anyway, so I don’t know how this is “down” enough to worry about, especially for a young guy who doubled his workload this year.

Sage: Thoughts on Chili Davis new cubs hitting coach.
Keith Law: Who knows? I really don’t think we know much about the values of most coaches, unless they have several big successes or several big failures.

Max: What kind of return do you think the yankees would get if they traded Didi this offseason?
Keith Law: I wouldn’t deal him for less than a mid-rotation starter. And you might get more, if one was available. With Torres coming off TJ, though, there’s no urgency for a deal.

Ghost of Randy Smith : Do you think the Red Sox would take Miguel Cabrera?
Keith Law: They’d be foolish to do so.

CL : I saw on Baseball America that Max Fried was comped to James Paxton, would you agree with this assessment?
Keith Law: I would not. They’re so different from delivery to stuff to health history.

Matt: Pete is wrong. The best play was clearly the 2nd Base Ump getting drilled in the nads.
Keith Law: It worked on so many levels!
Keith Law: I just realized we’re way past 2 pm, so I’ll wrap this up now. Thank you all as always for reading and for all of your questions. I should be back as usual next Thursday to do this again. Enjoy the rest of the Series! #fyeahbaseball


Tokaido came out in 2012, the third hit title in three straight years from designer Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders, Takenoko), and like those previous two titles, it combines elegant rules and beautiful artwork into a short game time that allows for frequent replay. This year brought a Tokaido app (iOSAndroid) that has fantastic animations and a solid tutorial, although I did hit one glitch in one game.

The Tokaido was the most important of the Five Routes of the Edo period in Japan, all government-regulated paths for travel and trade, with the Tokaido connecting Edo (now Tokyo) to the imperial capital of Kyoto. In this boardgame, each player takes on a specific character of a Japanese traveler who will move along a straight track that includes various stops where the player can take a specific action, as well as four inns where the player can buy a meal for victory points. The order of the stops varies along the track, and the player who is furthest back on the track gets the next turn. There are six distinct types of stops in the game: gain 3 coins; take one “encounter” card (which gives you something good at random); donate to the temple for one point per coin; buy one or more souvenirs; take a hot springs card for either 2 or 3 points; take the next card for one of the three panoramas in the game. The souvenirs come in four types, and cost 1 to 3 coins each; you gain points for each different type you collect in a set, 1 for the first card, 3 for the second, 5 for the third, 7 for the fourth, so potentially 16 points for each quartet you collect. The three panoramas are all different lengths, and you gain points for each card you collect; the longest is five cards, and you’d get 15 points for completing it (1+2+3+4+5).

At each inn, you can choose to buy a meal, each of which is worth six points. Some cost 1 coin, some cost 3, and the first person to reach the inn thus gets first choice of all of the meals for that round (you draw one card per player plus one more). If you get there last, you get the last choice, and may have to pay more, but you will be the first to leave the inn for the next round. You can’t buy the same meal twice in the same game, however.

There are also seven bonus cards for 3 points apiece. The first player to finish each panorama gets a 3-point card. The player with the most encounter cards, the most meal cards, the most hot springs cards, and the most souvenir cards at game-end gets a 3-point bonus card for each as well. The temple gives bonuses to the most generous players, 10 to whoever gave the most over the course of the game, then lower bonuses to each donor below that.

The nature of the game means blocking other players can be an effective strategy, especially given the way the scoring rewards players for hitting the same destination type (or color) repeatedly. I think it’s more valuable in 2- or 3-player games, where only one player can occupy any stop on the track at a given time, than in 4- or 5-player games, where some track locations have a second spot for another player. You may wish to stop another player from finishing a panorama, or keep a player who’s low on cash from hitting the 3-coin space. That said, even in a smaller game, I wouldn’t use this as a primary strategy; there’s a big opportunity cost to skipping spaces if you’ve visited that color type earlier in the game.

Although you can move as far along the track as you want on your turn, in reality, your best move is nearly always to take the next open space. Skipping spaces can give other players additional turns before you get to go again, so until the fourth section (the last set of spaces before the game ends), you’ll probably want to take the next space every time, maybe occasionally skipping just one space to get something specific, like moving to a yellow spot to get 3 coins if you’re out of cash. In the fourth section, it can make more sense to move ahead to complete a panorama or try to get the fourth souvenir in a set because those deliver higher points rewards than other moves. Those will depend on what you’ve accomplished earlier in the game, and sometimes what others have done – there’s a 3-point bonus for being the first to complete each panorama, and end-game temple bonuses depend on who donated the most – will alter your choices.

The app, by Funforge’s digital division, looks fantastic. Rather than simply implementing the boardgame as a 2D experience, they’ve animated everything, so you see the board from an isotropic view and the player-characters jog from space to space. There’s also a line at the bottom of the screen that represents all the possible stops between inns, so you can see what’s coming up, and you can press there to select your next destination or you can scroll through the 3D view to get there. Each time you stop at any place that will require a decision, you get a fresh screen that shows you all of your options – for example, at the souvenir stand, you’ll see the three choices for you at that stop, and on the left side are the four symbols with numbers indicating how many of each you already own. (I played the iOS version.)

I did experience one bug in the app, just the second time I played it, and it hasn’t recurred since: one of the animated AI characters ran to the next stop but couldn’t quite get there and ended up sort of running in place. I had to kill the app and restart it to get out of that. There’s only one level of AI player, but I’ve found it to be perfectly competent, enough challenge for me as a relative newbie to the game.

Bauza’s got quite a track record of successful designs, and I’d rate Tokaido behind three of his better-known titles – 7 Wonders, Takenoko, and the two-player game 7 Wonders Duel – but ahead of the Spiel-winning coop game Hanabi or 2016’s Oceanos. My daughter, now 11, loved it right out of the box and picked up the strategy pretty quickly, so I’m comfortable recommending it as a good family game that you can easily play on a school night given its 30 to 40 minute playing time.

Years of Grace.

I’m deep in the forgotten winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – mostly titles that won while the award was still called the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, as it was until 1948. At least a dozen winners from that period are either out of print or only available for an exorbitant cost (likely intended only for sale to academic readers and libraries). T.S. Stribling’s The Store was one of the latter, but the dated, racist language in the book more than explained why it’s almost completely forgotten today. Margaret Ayer Barnes’ 1931 winner Years of Grace, also only available at a ridiculous price ($42 on amazon as I write this), differs greatly from some of the other ephemeral winners of its era, in that it’s actually a fine book that holds up adequately despite the 80-plus years since its publication. The moral compass of the protagonist (and, I presume, the author) seems old-fashioned, but the same is true of novels from the Regency and Victorian eras of England, and no one seems to mind those. Instead, Years of Grace, seen through today’s lens, reads as a contemporary look at the changing roles of women in American middle- and upper-class society at a time when their rights were starting to expand.

The plot here is a bit by-the-numbers, salvaged by the rich development of the main character, Jane Ward. The three sections of Years of Grace cover three distinct periods of her life: her teenage years, where she has a girlish crush on a young French artist, but their plans to marry are scotched by their parents; the early part of her marriage, where she nearly consummates an affair with her best friend’s wayward husband; and when her children are grown and similar extracurricular activities complicate their lives and Jane’s as well. Jane evolves over the course of the novel, from innocent and somewhat flighty teenager to a young mother feeling hemmed in by her solid but unexciting marriage to her later years, where she takes the role of her own parents but lacks the same power over her children. The parallels in situations are too on the nose, and the transition from her teenage years to her ennui in marriage is rather abrupt – it’s never clear whether the problem is Jane playing “what if” in her mind or if she just married a really boring man.

The real flaw in Years of Grace, however, is that there’s so much talking and not a lot of doing. In the third section, when there’s a scandal among Jane’s children (a plot device that also appears in another Pulitzer winner, Ellen Glasgow’s In This Our Life), it’s shocking not because of what the characters involved have done, but because the book has been so sedate up until that point. Jane’s brief dalliance with Andre while they were still teenagers feels like nothing to us today, and would feel the same to her children if they knew. The mores of her generation and those of the the next generation are worlds apart, and she can’t make the adjustment – that, in and of itself, is enough to fill a novel. Barnes’ heroine makes difficult choices, but because she pulls up short, her subsequent regrets seem overly dramatic:

“When you love people, you’ve got to be decent. You want to be decent. You want to be good. Just plain good – the way you were taught to be when you were a little child. Love’s the greatest safeguard in life against evil. I won’t do anything, Jimmy, if I can possibly help it, that will keep me from looking anyone I love in the eye.”

Barnes’ prose is the novel’s other strength beyond Jane’s characterization, as the book flows quickly despite a relative paucity of action. Perhaps writing ten or twenty years later would have allowed to her to do more with the character – to have her put her marriage into real danger, or to go further in the mental what-if gymnastics that bother her throughout her married life. Perhaps some of the more dismal entries in the early years of the Pulitzer Prize have made me go soft, but I actually didn’t mind Years of Grace even with those flaws. It’s a quaint read, but a well-written one, with a main character you will like even if you don’t agree with her choices or feelings.

Aside: There’s very little about the book available online, but it makes an incongruous appearance on a Real Simple list of 50 books recommended by modern authors. It didn’t even merit a full review in the New York Times when it was first published, appearing as the first review in a two-page collection of shorter writeups.

Next up: I’m reading Ellen Glasgow’s In This Our Life, which I mentioned above.

Entropy: Worlds Collide.

Entropy: Worlds Collide is a very quick-playing card game of simple set-collection and not-so-simple actions, because you can’t do the same thing another player wants to do on the same turn. These “clashes” can result in players repeatedly unable to do anything – unless one of them takes the card that resolves clashes in their favor, which can spur a whole new set of fighting over who gets that card.

Entropy has players take one of six potential character cards, each with a unique ability, and asks players to collect the four cards (called “shards”) representing that player’s “reality.” The players are supposed to be characters from parallel universes whose realities have become jumbled, and thus must fight to be the first to reassemble one’s reality – placing all four shards face up – to win the game. The four shards from each player’s reality are shuffled into a central deck (the “nexus”) along with four cards from another, unused reality, plus one wild shard, and each player starts the game with one such card, face down, in his/her “hold.”

Each player has the same set of six action cards, numbered 1 through 6. Once you play an action card, you discard it to the table in front of you, and can’t reuse it until you have used all your actions or played your Reset (card 5) action. Card 1 allows you to use your character’s ability. Card 2 allows you to flip over one face-down card anywhere on the board – including in another player’s hold. Card 3 lets you take the top two cards from the nexus and place one in your hold (discarding what’s already there if you have one). Card 4 lets you take a shard from anywhere on the table – the nexus, the discard pile, or an opponent – except from an opponent’s reality. Once a card is played to someone’s reality, it’s there for the rest of the game. Card 5 is the aforementioned reset, and Card 6 lets you take the Anchor card.

Players all play their actions simultaneously, but if two or more try to play the same action, they clash and no one gets to play that round – unless one of those clashing players has the Anchor card. If you have the Anchor, you win any clash and can take the action in question, while everyone else in the clash has to sit the round out. So the game truly hinges on the Anchor, which starts the game in the middle of the table but should change hands frequently (unless you want one player to run away with things).

Because the deck of shards is so small and you can go through the discard pile, there isn’t much deduction involved in collecting your cards, other than perhaps trying to guess what’s in other players’ holds. The deduction in this game is around the action selections – you need to figure out what other players need to play, and then try to play something different, unless you have the Anchor.

Entropy is a light, diversionary game, although I think it aspires to a bit more. The clashes would seem to invite negotiation (and lying), but there’s no direct mechanism for this in the game, and no currency to use to try to ensure compliance or convince someone else to do what you want. There are certain character/action combinations that seem overly strong, such as the character who can play an action and force all other players to discard that action card … which, if you do it with Reset, kind of blows the other players out of the game.

Entropy: Worlds Collide also has a separate expansion called Echo of Time that introduces a second storyline, some new roles, a one-versus-many option, a way to play with five players (although the rules warn you there will be many clashes), and a second, stronger Anchor card for players to fight over. We found Entropy enjoyable, but a filler game, and probably not one we’ll go back to a ton because there seem to be little imbalances in the game play. The game was available at Rule & Make’s booth at GenCon but won’t ship to buyers until December 2017. The publishers do have another game out, Skyward, that we like a lot more, and that will be the subject of my next review for Paste in early November.