Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Istanbul (Alderac Entertainment Group)

The bazaar district of Istanbul is filled with a controlled chaos as merchants and their assistants scurry from one location to the next. Each one is trying to gather and deliver their goods the quickest, so that they can gather rubies faster than their opponents. Will you be the most efficient in your strategy or will rival merchants beat you to the punch? Find out in IstanbulIstanbul is a game for 2-5 players, ages 10+. It takes about an hour to play and retails for $50.
1. Lay out the 16 Place Tiles in a 4 x 4 grid. There are several suggested layouts in the back of the rule book. For your first game, try the "Short Paths" grid which uses the blue numbers on the tile.
2. Sort the Mosque Tiles by color and then by number of goods in four stacks. Place them on the two Mosques (Tiles 14 and 15).
3. Place three Wheelbarrow Extensions per player on the Wainwright.
4. Add 1 Ruby per player on each Mosque and the Wainwright. Also add Rubies to the Gemstone Dealer and Sultan's Palace, continuing until you reach the appropriate space per number of players.
5. Place the Mail Indicators in the top row of the Post Office.
6.  Shuffle the five dark Demand Tiles, and place them face up on the Large Market. Do the same with the light Demand Tiles, placing these on the Small Market.
7. Roll both dice to determine the starting place for the Governor. Repeat this for the Smuggler.
8. Shuffle the Bonus Cards and place them face-down in a stack. Also, place the coins and dice near the game board.
9. Have each player choose a color. Give them a Merchant Disc and four Assistant Discs of that color. Also give them a Wheelbarrow and four Goods Cubes, placing them on the first space of each good of their Wheelbarrow. Lastly, place a Family Member disc at the Police Station.
10. Give the starting player two coins, and give each subsequent player one additional coin. Also, give each player a Bonus Card.
Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds with the following four phases:
1. Movement - Move your Merchant stack with Assistants under him 1 or 2 Place Tiles. You then either pick up an Assistant or leave an Assistant behind. If you don't want to do either, then your turn ends.
2. Encounter with other Merchants (if any) - If there are other Merchants where you land, you must pay them each two coins. (If you can't or won't, your turn ends immediately.)
3. Action - You may carry out the action that the Place Tile provides. If you can't or don't want to, proceed to Encounters.
4. Encounters (if any) in any order with - a. Other Family Members - send them to the Police Station and gain three coins or one Bonus Card for each Family Member. b. the Governor - Draw one Bonus Card from the face-down stack. Pay two coins to keep it or discard another Bonus Card from your hand. c. the Smuggler - Gain one good of your choice, by paying two coins or another good. (Note: After encountering the Governor or Smuggler, roll both dice and move them to the Place Tile according to the value of dice.)
5. Bonus Cards - On your turn, you may play any number of Bonus Cards, which will allow you to alter the rules one time on your turn. (Example: Take five coins from the general supply.)

The end of the game is trigger when one player collects five Rubies. Complete the current round. After this occurs, each player may play any leftover Bonus Cards that provide goods or money.

In 2014, Istanbul won the game of the year award in the connoisseur category. That means that they viewed the game as more difficult and strategy driven than a regular family game. The game was wholly deserving of the win, but I would argue that it is out of the family game realm. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve in explaining to people how to move their Merchant with the dropping an assistant off, but after a few rounds of play, it clicks. After that mechanism, the biggest thing is figuring out which routes/circuits are going to be the most efficient at getting you gems the quickest, because this game is a race. It is a true "pick up and deliver" game, where you must get various goods and exchange them for rubies. You will do this by travelling the smartest routes, cutting your opponent off from their routes, utilizing your family member, and playing bonus cards at the ideal time. I would argue that this is a gateway game, but I think someone who has played before would have an advantage over someone who doesn't.

What I like best about this game is the modular game board. This allows the game to scale in difficulty. When you are learning the game, you arrange the tiles in a beginner's setup so that you can learn the flow of the game. After everyone has gotten used to it, then there's a slightly more advanced setup that makes routes longer and more challenging. When you really want to ramp up the difficulty, you completely arrange them at random. That's when your brain really starts to burn a little as you're trying to find your best options before others can. Do I complete my wagon first? Do I focus on the Sultan's Palace before others? What do I do?! On its own, this is a great game and deserving of all the praise it receives. However, the designer decided to release two expansions to it to give you a little more to think about. The two expansions are called Mocha and Baksheesh and Letters and Seals. I have only played the first, so I'd like to tell you a little bit about it.

Mocha and Baksheesh introduces coffee and bribes to the game! These provide you new ways of getting rubies, which you will need, because you now need six rubies to win the game! In addition to these two elements of the game play, the modular board has grown larger. Instead of a 4 x 4, you are now making a 5 x 4 grid. Having these extra spaces gives you more routes to pursue and more options of winning. One of the "bad" things about the original game was if someone found the best route before you did, you would always be one step behind them. This expands both the game board and your options when gathering rubies. What I see as the biggest addition to this game is the guild cards. (I like to think of them as bonus cards on steroids.) These cards are so powerful that playing one takes your entire turn, but the benefits you get from them is huge. Pay one blue, one red, and one green to receive 20 coins. Take one free wheelbarrow extension. Do the tea house action and get double the income. It also introduces a strategy of sitting still. If you see an opponent is coming to your spot on their next turn, you can play a guild card and make them come to your spot and pay you to take their next action. This expansion really raises the bar on the game and adds more strategy and depth to an already great game!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Marian Veneration (Ignatius Press)

When I was in the process of converting to Catholicism, the biggest hangup I had was Mary. I don't know why honestly, and looking back on it, it was so stupid of me. Mary is Jesus' mother! He loved her with all His heart, why shouldn't we? It's not worship or idolatry to honor her. One of my favorite Cardinals, Francis Cardinal Arinze, recently wrote a book called Marian Veneration. I'd like to tell you about it.

The book begins with a chapter explaining two key terms - veneration and devotion. We then see Mary in Scripture in key events like the Annunciation, Visitation, Wedding Feast at Cana, and other mysteries of the Rosary. The next two chapters address her motherhood, both of God (Theotokos) and of the Church. We also have chapters, which show her place in salvation history and the Liturgy. Lastly, we see saints that had great devotion to Mary, different Marian apparitions, and various Marian societies.

The book is approximately 120 pages in length, making it the perfect introduction to Mary for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The book relies heavily on Scripture, Tradition, and history. We see references to Church Councils throughout history, as well as works from great Catholic authors. This is a book that I wish had been around 15 years ago, when I was in the process of my conversion. It would have crystallized things in my mind much more quickly, and I (hopefully) wouldn't have been as stubborn and ignorant on Christ's mother. If you know someone who struggles with Mary and her role in not only the Church, but each individual's life, I strongly recommend you get them a copy of this book!

This book was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Way of Catechesis (Ave Maria Press)

It's only been one year, but it feels like forever since I have been a catechist. If you are a Catholic in good standing and have never been a Catechist, you should consider volunteering one or assisting one at least one year in your life. It is both a thankless and rewarding job that has equal shares of joy and frustration. You'll get kids who want to be there and kids who don't, kids whose parents are super-involved and parents you never see. But no matter the type of children you teach, you want to help them learn about Jesus and the love He has for each of them. However, there is more to catechesis than just teaching children, there are also opportunities to instruct adults as well, not only in RCIA, but in other programs as well. As difficult as you think teaching children can be, adults present their own challenges and joys. Recently, Gerard Baumbach published a book entitled The Way of Catechesis, which walks us through the history of catechesis.

The book starts in the Old Testament and is used to provide us both historical context and examples of catechesis for the Jewish people, through God's prophets. We then move to the New Testament and are presented with Jesus, the ultimate teacher and catechist. The whole book could have been written on Him, His message, and how we do and should respond to it, but the author did a fine job reducing it to one chapter. We then work our way though the centuries, starting with the Early Church, stopping in on the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and present day. Each chapter has reflection questions at the end, which can be used for individual use or small group discussion. At the end of the book are helpful books to read, copious notes, and an index, which can all be helpful for further study.

On its surface, the book is a history lesson on where the Church has been with catechesis and how it has changed through the centuries. A closer read reveals that the book is actually a mixture of history and goals/plans for the future. The old saying about you can't know where you are going unless you know where you have been summarizes this book perfectly. In this book, Baumbach shows his love for Christ and His Church. He also demonstrates how he wants discipleship within the Church to be dynamic and fruitful. This is an essential read for both pastors and directors of religious education. Normally, after reading a good book I like to keep it in my collection to reference in the future, but this is one I plan to pass on and share.

This book was provided to me for free by Ave Maria Press in exchange for an honest review.