Friday, October 20, 2017

Near and Far (Red Raven Games)

When I first entered the world of modern board gaming, one of the first games I discovered and fell in love with was Above and Below. The art was beautiful, the components were top notch, and the game play was fun and engaging. However, what made it stand out above other games I had tried was the story element. On your turn, you could explore and read from a story book that immersed you even more in the game. The more I played this game, however, the more I realized that the stories were a little biased towards doing the right thing or choosing the moral good. You could read them and realize, if I don't make the right choice this is going to hurt my reputation and potentially cost me the game. Plus, there were only so many stories, so eventually you were going to experience them all. The additional stories (Desert Labyrinth and Underforest) offered through future Kickstarter projects helped with the story selection immensely, but I still wanted more!
In July 2016, Red Raven Games launched a Kickstarter for Near and Far (the sequel to Above and Below). The game play was a little bit different, but the heart of the game, the stories were back, so of course I backed it and waited impatiently for May 2017 to arrive so I could play it. The first big difference I loved was that there were specific characters to play with. Instead of being some generic wanderer, you could play as one of eight specific characters that range from a lizardfolk to an automaton. Each of these characters had their own stories in the story book that you could explore to flesh out their backstory, which added a personal connection to who you were playing with  and made the stories take on more meaning and not just optimizing your decision for maximum points.
Another difference big difference which was a game changer for me was the campaign mode. Instead of playing on the same map over and over again, you and your friends can play on ten different maps. Each map has specific stories related to that map with each map having more stories than ability to visit each play through. In addition to that feature, some stories branch off into their own follow-up stories which reveal a deeper and richer story. Lastly, your characters could level up from map to map, acquiring talents and creating a little bit of asymmetric powers for them in future maps.
I haven't played through every map so far, but the ones I have so far have been highly enjoyable. I love the great art as always. The metal coins that came with the deluxe version have a nice weight to them and the plastic gems have a tactile feel to them as you excavate them from the mine. I especially loved the tents you placed on the map as it give a nice 3-D look to the map as it was further explored. However, there was a lot of cardboard in the box...A LOT! Now don't get me wrong, the art on the cardboard pieces was very beautiful, but from character standees to food, banners, and even pack animals, there was tons of cardboard. I understand this is to keep costs down, but a campaign game like this that you're going to play over and over again deserves more wood in it! Enter MeepleSource!
MeepleSource creates beautiful wooden pieces to upgrade your game and make it feel more deluxe. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can get replacements for the characters, banners, food, and pack animals. I personally have the characters and pack animals currently and am debating the food and banners at the moment. They really make the game pop more and I love that when it is a game that is going to see my table regularly. It is the first game I have done this for, but I can see myself doing it for future games as well, because I was very pleased with the quality and how closely the art matches the art from the game. It was a seamless integration!

In summation, my final thoughts on this game are a bit of mixed bag, but mostly positive. I love the art, the campaign, the story, and playing experience that my family and friends receive from this game. This is a worthy sequel to Above and Below, and while it won't cause me to remove Above and Below from my collection, it is one that I will play when given my choice of the two. What I didn't like about this game were a few minor game play features. In the town, there were a few places you have to visit sometimes, but you don't really want to. If I want some coins/gems or both, I have to go to the mine. Sure, I can place a tent, but it doesn't feel that rewarding. The Mystic Hut lets me collect a treasure, but I could do that on the map as well. Lastly, the Threats dealt with on the map are nice for placing a tent and getting some end game points, but I needed a balance of short and long term as well to make me want to engage them.

Well, I must not have been the only one who felt this way, because Red Raven Games has launched a Near and Far expansion on Kickstarter called Amber Mines that addresses these issues. I don't want to call them problems or fixes, because the original game wasn't broken. Each of my above niggles have modular expansion options that you can add or subtract to the game to create a new and different experience. Looking over them, I like them all and can't see myself ever playing the game without any of them (when the expansion is finally in my hands), but I think the game should be experienced as it was originally intended, before you add more to it. That's not to say don't buy the expansion. Just don't dive in head first with the expansion before playing the original as is first. So I guess what I am saying is buy this game! Buy the expansion! And if you're like me, buy those MeepleSource upgrades too! This is a game you will be playing many times over!

This game was purchased with my own money. All opinions are strictly that.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Flying Inn (Ignatius Press)

G.K. Chesterton is one of the greatest Catholic authors, not just of the 20th century, but possibly ever. He wrote drama, poetry, mysteries, and theological works. Some of his most famous works include Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, and my personal favorite the Father Brown series. I was recently introduced to a work of his that I had never heard of before called The Flying Inn. It was originally published in 1914 and was reprinted by Ignatius Press.

The story takes place in England, but not the England you or I know. It takes place in future England, and is a political satire. In this future England, the Temperance Movement has allowed Progressive Islam to dominate England's political, cultural, and social landscape. Two laws were passed which effectively killed local bars and pubs. The first law made pub signs illegal, and the second made it illegal to serve alcohol in a place without a sign. You see the problem for local bar owners? Pub Owner, Humphrey Pump, and Captain Patrick Dalroy aim to right this wrong and travel the countryside with a cart, a cask of rum, a wheel of cheese, and of course the sign. They wheel the cart around, setting up makeshift bars long enough to serve a round of drinks and then hightail it before they are caught by Lord Ivywood. Each chapter is a mini and zany episode that eventually will lead to a final confrontation.

The book is hilarious in nature, especially the drinking songs/poems which are scattered throughout the book. However, behind this outlandish nature of the story is some political foreshadowing that could almost be described as prophetic. Prohibition did occur in the U.S. about six years after this book was published and like in the story the rich were able to skirt the law by buying their alcohol in the pharmacy. What's even more scary is how accurate Chesterton was about Islam's pervasiveness in Europe. At the time this book was written, the Ottoman Empire (with Islam as its religion) was on the brink of extinction. Now, all of Europe has been taken over by Islam with them going so far as to claim that they are the religion of Europe. Overall, I found this to be a fun and interesting read and one that I am glad I was exposed to.

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Great Heresies (Ignatius Press)

Hilaire Belloc was an Anglo-French Catholic writer and historian. In the early 20th century, he wrote works of many different natures including poetry, satire, and politics. It was his Catholic faith that formed his views and were reflected in his works. Recently, Ignatius Press has been re-printing some of his works including Characters of the Reformation and The Great Heresies. Today, I would like to tell you about the latter.

The Great Heresies was published in 1938. In the introduction, Belloc discusses what heresy is and how most people equate it with something from ancient Christian times. He goes on to explain that it is of high importance for anyone looking to understand European history and Christian orthodoxy. He then gives us a formal definition of the term to be a denial of an accepted Christian doctrine and something which affects not only the individual but all of society. It is heresy which shaped Europe and would have made Europe a completely different world had it succeeded. The book is divided into the following chapters:

1. The Arian Heresy
2. The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed
3. The Albigensian Attack
4. What Was the Reformation?
5. The Modern Phase

"The Arian heresy proposed to go to the very root of the Church's authority by attacking the full Divinity of her Founder." In layman's terms, it questioned the divinity of Jesus. "The Mohammedan attack threatened to kill the Christian Church by invasion rather than to undermine it from within." Belloc saw this as a heresy and not just a new religion attacking an old one. Belloc viewed the Albigensian heresy as the one that was nearly successful. This was a precursor to Protestantism and dealt with a duality of the universe, good and evil in an equal and constant battle with each other. The Protestant attacked authority and unity within the Church. Lastly, the modern phase has seen attacks of rationalism and positivism. Belloc chose these specific five, because they showed all the different directions from which the Church can be attacked. What I love best about reading Belloc's words are the truth they still hold today. It is nearly 80 years after this was first published, and his words still ring true.

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