Friday, April 29, 2016

My Catholic Bible and A Missal for Children (Ignatius Press)

We're entering the time of year when second graders throughout the United States will be receiving their First Communion. What kind of gift should you get this child? A rosary? A crucifix necklace? A wall crucifix? All of these are good options, but my favorite gift, my go-to gift is always going to be some kind of book. Today, I have two such recommendations from you, both from Ignatius Press. They are entitled My Catholic Bible and A Missal for Children.

My Catholic Bible is an illustrated Bible for children ages 7 and up. It begins with an introduction on what the the Bible is and how to read this edition of the Bible. It is then naturally divided into the Old Testament and New Testament with further divisions based on overarching themes. For example, the Old Testament addresses Creation, Abraham, Exodus, David, etc. The New Testament divides itself into Jesus' parables, miracles, His death, and His Resurrection. It also speaks of the first Christians, St. Paul's journeys, and the end of the New Testament.

Each section begins with a brief introduction and the Scriptural reference. Each section then contains a mixture of story and actual Biblical quotations, which are identified with italics. At the end of each section, there are references/stories that put the section into a historical context. The pictures in this book are prolific. It's not merely one every five to ten pages, but they are on almost every page. I would describe the illustration style as watercolor. Using this illustration style creates a soft and inviting touch. The writing style is very approachable for young readers, but it doesn't dumb down the truth of the Word of God. The presentation style caps this off as it has gilded pages, a ribbon bookmark, and comes in a gift box. This is the perfect Bible to give to your first communicant.

A Missal for Children is a portable semi-leather book that is designed to help children understand what the Mass is and participate more fully in it. It is also designed to help children with morning prayer, evening prayer, and Confession. The book, therefore, begins with the meaning of the Mass and a guide to the Liturgy. These explanations contain information about Liturgical colors, the Liturgical Year, and the mystery that is the Mass. The book is then divided into the different parts of the Mass - Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, the different Eucharistic Prayers, and Concluding Rites. Each section contains a brief introduction and all the prayers of the Mass. The prayers of the Mass are numbered, because there is also a brief explanation on each individual prayer.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with this book. It is of high quality, so it hold up to the frequent use of weekly Mass. It is beautifully illustrated to help enhance learning and keep the attention of young minds. It is also useful for times outside of Mass, including family prayer and it contains a glossary of difficult terms and objects your child will see when attending Mass. This book will stand the test of time and be of use to your children throughout the rest of their elementary years!

These books were provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Quests of Valeria (Daily Magic Games)

In order to keep my audience informed of the latest and greatest games, I am embarking on a new route for reviewing games. Today, I am reviewing a game that won't be available until 2017, but is currently on Kickstarter. It is entitled Quests of Valeria, and it is produced by Daily Magic GamesQuests of Valeria is the third game in the Valeria series, with the first two being Valeria Card Kingdoms and Villages of Valeria. It is created by Isaias Vallejo and the illustrations are by Mihajlo Dimitrievski (also known as The Mico). It is designed for 2-4 people, ages 14 and up. (The age recommendation is more due to the content of a small minority of the cards than actual gameplay. For example, some quests deal with death and assassination.) The cost of the game is $20 on Kickstarter ($17 + $3 shipping), but it will retail for $25.

1. Shuffle the Guild Master cards together and deal one face down to each player. This is your secret role/goal that will guide you on what types of quests give you the most points.
2. Shuffle the Citizen cards together and deal three to each player face down. Deal another six face up in a row below the Tavern. Place the remaining cards face down to the right of the Tavern to form the Citizen Deck.
3. Shuffle the Quest cards together and deal the appropriate number face up below the row of Citizens at the Tavern (four for two players, six otherwise). Place the remaining cards face down to the left of the Tavern to form the Quest Deck.
Gameplay - On your turn, you can perform two Actions from any of the four below, including the same one twice:
1. Draw: Draw one car from the Citizen Deck.
2. Hire: Hire 1 Citizen from the Tavern or your hand.
3. Reserve or Reset: Reserve one quest from the Tavern and place it in front of you or discard all Quests from the Tavern, refill the Tavern with new Quests and then reserve one Quest.
4. Complete a Quest: Complete one Quest from the Tavern or one that is in front of you.

Each Quest has its own requirements to complete. For example, to "Bless the Town Well," you need a Citizen who is Holy. (Other Citizen roles include Worker, Soldier, and Shadow.) You also need three Gold and two Strength, which can be found on the Citizens you hire. (The other resource is Magic.) The game ends when one player completes their fifth quest. You add up the total number of points that your quests gave you and the person with the most points wins!

The beauty of this game is its complex simplicity. For starters, the game is more or less a deck of cards. There is no board to play on, dice to roll, or tokens/pawns. Even the rule book was able to fit on a card. So why do I call it complex simplicity? To put it simply, each action can have a huge chain reaction. For example, let's say the Summoner card was in spot 0 at the Tavern. You hire him for a cost of 0 and then his card lets you perform two more actions - draw one card and hire one Citizen. Since cards in your hand are either potential hires or currency, this increases your flexibility. Continuing the example. if the Monk was in spot 1 at the Tavern, you could choose to hire him for one card and his special ability lets you draw two cards. So for just on of your two Actions, you were able to hire two Citizens and increase your hand size by one.

The artwork is also stunning to behold. I own other games which The Mico illustrated, and like those games, this one did not disappoint in visual appeal. The game is also portable, super fast to set up, and quick to play. All that for only $20 makes this a steal on Kickstarter. Most games that end up on Kickstarter feature a lot of exclusive content that is impossible to get once the game hits retail. With this campaign, there is only one exclusive card, so I always appreciate that. Kickstarter is supposed to be about making games available and making them better for everyone, not making games better for a select minority. So if you are looking for a game that is gorgeous to the eye, heavy on theme, and won't break the bank, then consider backing Quests of Valeria.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality (Image Books)

Today, I am wrapping up my month of Mother Angelica book reviews with her book Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality. Like the bulk of her books, this one was edited by Raymond Arroyo and published by Image Books. The book is approximately 220 pages long as divided into fourteen broad themes, including Everyday Holiness; God's Will and Providence; Sin and Temptation; and Saints and Angels. Within these broad themes are subsections. For example, in the first chapter "Eternal Perspectives," we see topics like God Loves You, God Chose You, and The Way to Heaven. These subtopics are what I would describe as sound bytes. Each one is no more than a paragraph in length with some merely just a sentence.

In addition to her spiritual wisdom, her wit and humor is on full display. One particularly insightful and funny passage is entitled God's Choice. In this lesson, she says, "God is not hindered if He wants to use you, whether you are holy, perfect, imperfect, good or bad. He can speak through an ass if He wants to. And He did. Remember, that's how He spoke to Balaam the prophet (Num. 22:28-30). So there is hope for all of us."

The book is a very quick read if you want to read it all at once. However, I recommend taking your time and reading through it slowly, and especially gravitating toward sections appropriate to your current situation in life. Mother Angelica was many things to many people, but I will always remember her for being a brilliant teacher. As with all of Raymond Arroyo's books about her, I highly recommend this one as well. Be on the lookout for what looks to be his last book on Mother Angelica entitled Mother Angelica Her Grand Silence and continue to support EWTN.

This book was provided to me for free by Image Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Manual for Eucharistic Adoration (TAN Books)

Eucharistic Adoration is a beautiful practice that I have always struggled with. The few times I have placed myself in front of the Blessed Sacrament, my mind immedtiately begins to wander. I try and force myself to pray and just clear my mind, but  the distractions unfortunately kept coming. I knew I had to find a book to help with this if I ever was going to have any kind of success at adoration. Recently, TAN Books published the Manual for Eucharistic Adoration, and I knew that I had to give this book a try.

The manual is divided into two parts - 1. Preparing for Eucharistic Adoration and 2. Aids in Eucharistic Adoration. It then provides a brief explanation on how to properly use this book. In a nutshell, it says that the first part helps you better understand the importance of this devotion, and the second part provides Scripture, prayer, and texts to help you grow in this devotion. I found Chapter 5: Guidelines for Adoration to be particularly helpful. In this chapter, it clears up the misconception that love, fervor, and devotion are required for adoration. Adoration is an act though, and not a sentiment or emotion. I also found the different meditations and devotions in the last chapter to be extremely helpful, as it helped to focus my thoughts and provided me with words I was lacking.

The Manual for Eucharistic Adoration is a marvelous book that will prove beneficial to veterans and novices alike. It contains a nice blend of history and practical spirituality to help you grow closer to God. It is also beautiful in presentation with Premium UltraSoft leather, sewn binding, and a ribbon bookmark. Probably best of all is that it's small enough to fit into a pocket or purse, so that you can always have it handy if you feel the sudden desire to go to Eucharistic Adoration. I would pair this book with the Manual for Spiritual Warfare and consider getting these books for the recent high school graduate in your life, because college can be a perilous time, and they will need all the help they can get. You could also package them together as a wedding, ordination, or just a birthday gift. Any Catholic will find great treasure in both of these books.

This book was provided to me for free by TAN Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sapiens (IELLO)

Any fan of games has played with dominoes before. However, when talking with people, I've learned that most people didn't realize that you could actually play a scoring game with them and not just line them up and knock them over. Game designer Cyrille Leroy has re-invented the domino laying game mechanism with his board game Sapiens!

Sapiens is a board game for 2-4 players ages 10 and up. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $40, but you can find it for about $25 on Amazon. In the game, you are a cave man (or cave woman) who is chief of their clan. Your current home has grown to crowded, so you must lead your clan to new lands. You will be seeking food and shelter, but both are equally valuable, so don't devote all your energy to one or you'll find yourself the loser.
Put the Scoretrack on the table with Mammoth Steak tokens and Bear tokens next to it. Shuffle the 63 Tribe Tiles and place them face down in a stack. Remove the specified number of tiles depending on how many players there are (12 with 2 players, 18 for 3 players, and 6 for 4 players), and then deal five tiles face up to form the common pool. Then, each player randomly takes two half boards (one left and one right) and assembles them to form their Valley Board. Each player chooses a color (red, blue, green, or yellow) and takes their eight Mountain Tokens and randomly fills them on the eight squares on the edge of their Valley Board. After this, they draw four Tribe Tiles and place them face up next to their board to form their personal pool. Lastly, they put their three Fight tokens next to their board and their Shelter Point and Food Point tokens next to the Scoretrack.
The object of the game is meet your tribe's needs in the two categories of Shelter and Food. You begin by playing one of the four Tribe Tiles from your personal pool in one of the six starting caves on your Valley Board. The icon on the cave must match the icon on the half of the tile you are placing over the cave. You take the Mountain Token from the cave and score the higher number of Shelter Points next to the cave by moving your Shelter Point token along the Scoretrack. You then draw a tile from the stack of Tribe Tiles and is then refilled.

After everyone has made their opening move, the game flow consists of putting a Tribe Tile from your personal pool onto your Valley Board (making sure the symbols match), drawing a tile from the five tiles in the common pool, and refilling the pool to five. Each time you connect tiles, you earn Food Points based on what half of the tile the matching icons occurs. For example, if you match a symbol by covering up a square with the number three, you score three Food Points. You then resolve the matching icon scene. There are eight different scenes and the rewards for these scene include items such as play an extra tile, take a Mammoth Steak, earn more Shelter Points, etc. You could also play a Mountain Token that you previously claimed, which give you the same bonuses with a few exceptions further explained in the rule book. Once both the stack and common pool are empty, the game ends (making sure everyone has had an equal number of turns). You check the Score Track and find what you scored the fewest number of points in (Shelter or Food) and that is your score.

Final Thoughts
For starters, the game components including the plastic insert were fantastic. The game pieces well all either thick cardboard or wood. The insert tray was perfect and all the pieces fit nicely into it, which made for easy assembly and easy clean up. This might not sound like a big deal, but there are so many games with worthless inserts. As for the game itself, my wife and I liked most of the mechanics of this game. The idea of playing tiles in a domino-like fashion is easy, and the fact that you are playing the tiles on your board and not a communal board makes you feel like you have a fair bit of control of how the tiles will play out. Also, the simple game mechanic of matching a tile that allows you to both score points and resolve an action adds a nice level of depth to the game. The two things my wife didn't really like were the Fight tokens and placing Bear tokens. These two elements add a "take that" mechanism that she found a bit too cutthroat for her liking. It is a legitimate strategy, but it can make for sore feelings if you focus on using these tokens too much. With all of that said, I think Sapiens is an excellent game that you can play with the family. It has replaced dominoes in my household because of the depth and design.

This game was provided to me for free by IELLO in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Prayers and Personal Devotions of Mother Angelica (Image Books)

If we want to become Catholics, we cannot do it on our own. We must follow in the footsteps of spiritual leaders before us. Why? Because any path we walk, they have walked before. They will be able to see pitfalls, we'd otherwise miss. Other ways we can learn from them is by imitating their prayer life. That is why today I am reviewing The Prayers and Personal Devotions of Mother Angelica.

The book is approximately 200 pages long and is divided into three sections - private prayers, personal devotions, and meditations. In her private prayers, we see morning and nighttime prayers, but we also see pleas and prayers she prayed in difficult moments. In personal devotions, we see meditations on the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Stations of the Cross, but we also see devotions, she held close to her heart, like the Divine Child Jesus. The meditations section is the shortest of the three, and it contains very brief meditations on subjects of healing, pain, suffering, and love.

We appreciate people more when they are gone than when they are here. And while, I doubt any American Catholic did not appreciate Mother Angelica while she was here with us, I think we can all step back now and see how far-reaching her touch really was. As with all the books that Raymond Arroyo has edited on Mother Angelica, this one shows not only her spirituality, but keeps her personality alive in it as well. Mother Angelica's biggest legacy will always be EWTN and the numerous archives of her programs, but these books will find their way into people's heart and homes and make an impact on their personal and spiritual lives.

This book was provided to me by Image Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Happiness! (Ignatius Press)

Since May 2015, Fr. Robert Spitzer has released three books for Ignatius Press as part of his "Happiness, Suffering, and Transcendence" series. The books are as follows - Finding True Happiness, The Soul's Upward Yearning, and God So Loved the World. In addition to these books, they have also released a DVD study program that is both approachable and affordable! It is simply called Happiness! and I am going to tell you about it. Happiness! takes up only two DVDs and is divided into seven lessons. The lessons are as follows:

1. The Four Levels of Happiness
2. The Comparison Game
3. The Faith to Reach Transcendence
4. Level 4 Evidence: Near-Death Experiences
5. Level 4 Evidence: The Resurrection
6. Transcendence: Is Unconditional Love Real?
7. Happiness, Love, and Suffering

The two presenters of the video series are Eric Johnson and Jennifer Milani who conduct interviews with guests such as Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, Leah Darrow, and of course Fr. Robert Spitzer. Each video lesson is approximately 30 minutes long and presented in a way that makes the material very easy to learn. However, the companion book is the best part of this program. Each lesson comes with exact timestamps in the DVD that sync up with the page in the study book. There are ample room for notes, and perhaps the most captivating part are all the illustrations. These illustrations are comic in nature, but they really reinforce the main points of the lesson and help it stick in your brain.

This study focuses a lot on Level 4 happiness, because that is the ultimate happiness, but what I really took away from this program was a self-realization of how I view happiness. The four levels in the most basic form are pleasure, comparisons, empathy, and transcendence. I would love to say that I hover between Levels 3 and 4 all the time, but unfortunately, I still find myself in Levels 1 and 2 from time to time. There are times when I am merely worried about what I want/what will make me happy and other times where I find myself envious and making comparisons. Both of these are fleeting and shallow happiness. Pleasure doesn't last forever, and with comparisons, there's always someone better and worse than you. This study opened my eyes to my own shortcomings and helped me realize I need to get beyond Levels 1 and 2, and aim for Level 3 to start off with, but ultimately strive to reach Level 4. It was a very humbling experience.

I highly recommend this study in large part because of the humbling experience. We are all searching for happiness in the world, and a lot of people haven't found it, because they are dwelling on the first two levels. This study will open their eyes to this reality and get them aiming for a higher level, which can only be found in God. This seems like a perfect study for young adults, but anyone could benefit from this study. With its short length (7 lessons) and affordability (under $50), this is a program that every parish should consider investing in.

This program was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Codenames (Czech Games Edition)

There were a lot of amazing games released in 2015. Perhaps none surprised the gaming world more than the release of CodenamesCodenames is a party game that I would describe as Password meets the CIA. It retails for $20 and can be played by as few as two players, but is best played with four or more. My setup and review for this game will assume that you are playing with at least four players (a standard game).

17 - Agent Cards (8 Blue, 8 Red, 1 Double-Sided)
7 - Innocent Bystander Cards
1 - Assassin Card
40 - Key Cards
200 - Codename Cards (Double-Sided so 400 words total)

Begin by dividing the four players into teams that are as close as possible in terms of size and skill. For each team, pick a color (Blue or Red) and a Spymaster (person who will be giving the clues), and have both Spymasters sit on the same side of the table. Deal out 25 Codename Cards in a 5 x 5 grid. Have a Spymaster draw a Key Card. The color surrounding the Key Card determines the first player. Each Spymaster receives their 8 Agent Cards and the first player receives the double-sided Agent Card flipped to their color.

Gameplay is simple. Each turn a Spymaster looks at the the 5 x 5 grid and gives a one word clue followed by a number. The number represents the number of words on the grid that the Spymaster believes relates to his clue. The Spymaster can give no other words, expressions, or body language to guide his teammate to guessing the correct word(s). For every word guessed correctly, the Spymaster takes one of his Agent Cards and places it over the correctly guessed word. You may always guess up to the number the Spymaster gave plus one, so if the number given was two, you may guess three, but you don't have to and could instead opt to only guess one or two. An incorrect guess has three results, which all result in ending your turn or losing the game. 1. If the other team's word is guessed, that team gets to place their Agent Card over the word and turn ends. 2. There are seven words denoted by a tan color on the Key Card that belong to no one. If you guess one of those, your turn ends and an Innocent Bystander Card is placed over that word. 3. If you guess the word denoted by a black color on the Key Card, you automatically lose, because you found the Assassin.

If my explanation wasn't clear, I defer you to the video by Rodney Smith of Watch It Played who gets paid to clearly explain games:

Final Thoughts
To put it mildly, I LOVE this game! It is such a simple concept of giving a one word clue to make your opponent guess other words, but you have to be careful that your clue doesn't match words that aren't yours or you'll quick find your turn over or worse, the game over. What's more is the components are brilliantly made. The box comes with 40 Key Cards and you might think that means you only have 40 grid arrangements. WRONG! Since the grid is a square, you can orient each card four different ways, meaning you have 160 grid arrangements. There are 200 Codename Cards, but each are double-sided. That means no two grids will have the same 25 words arranged in exactly the same way. It also means that playing back-to-back games is simple, because instead of replacing all 25 Codename Cards in the grid, you simply flip them over, and you have a new layout. It is no wonder this game has rocketed to the #1 spot among party games. It's easy to learn, fun to play, and competitively addictive. The makers of this game could easily release an expansion with more Codename Cards and people would buy them in a heartbeat. However, they instead are choosing to release a game called Codenames Pictures, which will get people thinking with a different part of their brain, and I for one can't wait for it to be released.

If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mother Angelica's Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures (Image Books)

One of the first Audible books I listened to was Mother Angelica's Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures. I listened to this book countless times throughout the years and always walked away with some new nugget of wisdom. Unfortunately, when I listen to audiobooks. I almost always space out, so I feel like I missed as much as I learned. For that reason, I knew I needed an actual copy of the book that I could read/reference whenever I needed to. The book is divided into three large sections - The Old Testament, The New Testament, and The Epistles.

The book begins with Creation and the Fall and moves on to Abraham. We then fast forward to Exodus and Moses. There are a surprising bit of entries on Numbers and Judges. The Old Testament section is than wrapped up with a few select passages from different prophetic books. The Old Testament section was much shorter than I had hoped it would be, but the amount dedicated to the Gospels is more than sufficient. In addition to reflections on key events like Jesus' birth and the Flight into Egypt, we receive meditations on a great deal of the miracles and parables of Jesus. The closing section covers both Paul's Epistles and the Catholic Epistles with no reflections on Revelation.

Like her programs on EWTN, this book is full of Mother Angelica's wisdom, wit, and insight. However, this is book is merely an appetizer, if you will. Mother Angelica had much to share with others, both on the air and in small groups, on Scripture. It would be amazing if we were able to compile it all in book format, but I don't know if that will ever happen. Instead, we must rely on this book and others compiled/edited by Raymond Arroyo to provide us with as much as he can on this potentially future saint. Be on the lookout for his latest book, Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence, coming May 2016.

This book was provided to me for free by Image Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass (Ascension Press)

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass is one of the shortest study programs offered by Ascension Press, weighing in at five lessons. However, don't let the length of this study fool you. It is also one of their most important and powerful study programs. The program is led by Dr. Edward Sri, who also did the study programs Mary; A Biblical Walk with the Blessed Mother and the upcoming Follow Me: Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of John. In the beginning of the Leader's Guide, there is some background information on the course and a method on how to effectively lead people through this study. The lessons are then as follows:

Week 1 - Introduction
Week 2 - The Introductory Rites
Week 3 - The Liturgy of the Word
Week 4 - The Liturgy of the Eucharist: Preparation of the Gifts and Eucharistic Prayer
Week 5 - The Liturgy of the Eucharist: Communion Rite; The Concluding Rites

The Introduction begins with the question, "Do you ever wish you could 'get more' out of Mass?" I'm not sure if everyone has wondered this before, but I sadly have. We then are provided with what the Mass is, why it is so important, and an overview/outline of the Mass. The rest of the lessons walk us through the different parts of the Mass, including the Sign of the Cross, Opening Greeting, Act of Penance, the Kyrie, the Gloria, The Collect, the Readings, the Homily, and all the parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Apart from just explaining to us each part on a basic level, Dr. Sri dives deep into the Bible to show us exactly where to find each part of the Mass. There is an optional lesson, which takes place after the above mentioned five where the group goes to Mass together and then meets for a meal afterwards to discuss how their view of the Mass has changed after this program. I highly recommend getting your group to do this, because it ties a nice bow on the package.

I have read a lot of books by Dr. Sri and also taken another study of his. He is an excellent teacher, who makes difficult concepts accessible and makes you want to learn more about your faith. You walk away from a lesson not realizing how quickly the time passed and wishing that the lesson was not over. If you have never attended or even led a study program, I highly recommend this one for both the length and affordability of it. At $79, it's a steal, and with only five lessons you could cover this in just over a month. The length is just enough to get people used to the idea of a study program without feeling like they have to commit a quarter of the year to one. It also lets you see if you want to attend more studies, and if you do, Ascension Press has a lot of great ones. I highly recommend it. If you'd like to see a little sample, check out the video below.

This program was provided to me for free by Ascension Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Martian Dice (Tasty Minstrel Games)

Martian Dice is a pocket-sized filler game with a press your luck element to it. For those unfamiliar with those terms, allow me to explain. Pocket-sized means it's a tiny game, which is composed of only 13 dice and nothing more. Filler game denotes the time to play the game, and this one takes approximately 10 minutes per player. So if you have two players, you're looking at 20 minutes, but the more you have the longer the game is unless you buy multiple games. (If you have a large family, you might want to as you can have as many or as few people as you want with this game.) The press your luck element means you roll your dice and you can keep rolling them to get a desired result, but by doing so, you might get an undesired result and your turn would end, and/or you would not score any points.

The 13 martian dice in this game are custom-made with unique images on each side. On two sides of the die is the image of a Death Ray. The other images on just one side are a Human, a Cow, a Chicken, and a Tank. On your turn, you pick up the 13 dice and roll them. Immediately set aside all Tanks. These dice cannot be re-rolled. You then must then choose, which single image you want to keep - Human, Cow, Chicken, or Death Ray. If you set aside HumansCows, or Chickens, you cannot set them aside again on later rolls. However, if you set aside Death Rays, you can set those aside on later rolls. After you have set aside the tanks and one of the other four symbols, you take your remaining dice, roll, and repeat until you can no longer set aside dice, or you choose to stop rolling and not press your luck anymore. Then, you score your set aside dice and it is the next players turn until someone reaches 25 points.

So how do you score? For starters, you must have at least as many Death Rays as Tanks or else, you will score 0 points. After you have performed that check, you then add up the rest of your dice. Each HumanCow, or Chicken counts for 1 point, but if you set aside at least one of each, then you score 3 bonus points. Some people play a variant where you get 3 bonus points for each set of HumanCow, and Chicken, but that can be overpowered, if someone has really good dice luck. To further illustrate the scoring I am going to do a quick sample turn.

First roll (13 dice) = 4 Tanks, 3 Death Rays, 2 Humans, 2 Cows, and 2 Chickens. The 4 Tanks are automatically set aside and I choose to set aside the 3 Death Rays.

Second roll (6 dice) = 1 Tank, 2 Death Rays, 0 Humans, 1 Cow, and 2 Chickens. The 1 Tank is automatically set aside and I choose to set aside the 2 Death Rays.

Third roll (3 dice) = 0 Tanks, 1 Death Rays, 2 Humans, 0 Cows, and 0 Chickens. I choose to set aside the 2 Humans and then opt to roll no more, as I don't want to press my luck.

The score is 2 points, because my 5 Death Rays were at least as many as my 5 Tanks, and I had 2 Humans.

Overall, this game will scratch an itch if you have a hankering to chuck some dice and gamble with how lucky you think you will be. The theme is clever and the actions makes sense. The designer - Scott Almes is excellent and one of my favorite designers of little games (particularly the Tiny Epic line). The packing makes sense (dice come in a cardboard cup, which doubles as storage and a dice cup). The price point is low ($15 MSRP, but $11 on Amazon). Children can play this at a very early age. 8+ is recommended, but younger can play. And it's just fun! (Unless your Tanks outnumber your Death Rays) So if you are looking for a clever game to take on the go or just gather your whole family around the table, pick up a copy (or 2) of Martian Dice and see who the best alien in your family is.

This game was provided to me for free by Tasty Minstrel Games in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Praying with Mother Angelica (Sophia Institute Press)

In late 2015, Sophia Institute Press joined with Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) to form a publishing house to print books, publish content electronically, and further extend their global reach. Given the recent passing of Mother Angelica, I found it only fitting that the first book I review from this joint venture to be Praying with Mother Angelica. For those unfamiliar with this potential future saint, she was a Franciscan nun; creator of a religious order; builder of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament; and most memorably, the creator of EWTN. She was also well versed in Scripture and had a deep devotion to Jesus and His Mother. This is on full display in the book Praying with Mother Angelica.

The book itself is approximately 200 pages long and focuses on two of the most popular Catholic devotions - the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. For those unfamiliar with how to pray the Rosary, the book begins with a brief how-to guide as well as the texts for all the prayers that make up the Rosary. The book then devotes a chapter to each of the four sets of mysteries - Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious. The next section focuses on the Stations of the Cross and contains an opening prayer, meditations for all fourteen stations, and a closing prayer. The book ends with a section of brief "conversations" that Mother Angelica had with God. Such subjects include love, humility, faith, anger, and forgiveness.

This work is more than a compilation of Scriptural meditations, not that there is anything wrong with that type of book. Instead, this book is Mother Angelica on display. We see her personal relationship with Jesus and her deep love for Him and His Church. I want to emphasize the word personal again. These are her words, her reflections, and her meditations. It is written in a first person point-of-view, so you are not only reading her words, but when you read them you put yourself in those words and they become your words. This was a powerful book and one I would recommend for anyone who wants to become more familiar with the Rosary and Stations of the Cross, or perhaps one who feels in a rut with their prayer life and wants to try some new meditations.

This book was provided to me for free by Sophia Institute Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Second Greatest Story Ever Told (Lighthouse Catholic Media)

The Second Greatest Story Ever Told begins by providing background on "The First Greatest Story Ever Told," because it's crucial for understanding "The Second Greatest Story Ever Told." In this chapter, he discusses covenants, both old and new; trust; love; Divine Mercy; and the Eucharist. In the second chapter, there is a little bit of Church History, which touches on Jansenism; the Protestant Reformation; and closes with a brief account of the impact that St. Thérèse of Lisieux had. Chapter Three then discusses amazing moments in Polish history. The author believes that God chose Poland several times in history to save the world. These three chapters serve as background and help set the stage for the rest of the book.

As evidenced by the cover, the main character in this book is St. John Paul II. Millions of my generation were impacted by this man, and we have read countless works by him and about him. He was the first pope we knew and before Pope Benedict XVI, the only pope we knew. Because of his life, suffering, and death playing out in the public eye, we felt we knew everything there was to know about him. The author, Fr. Michael Gaitley, shows us just how wrong we are. This book ties in the Secrets of Fatima; Divine Mercy and St. Faustina; World War II; Pope John Paul II; and the Virgin Mary. All these people and events further illustrate to us how closely tied we are both as humans and as Catholics. There is no event in history that doesn't have ripples and effects on the rest of history. The book contains two appendices, one on the Lord's final coming and the other on the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy.

Overall, I found this book to be a very enlightening and eye-opening read. With Divine Mercy only a few days away, this is the perfect read so that you can better understand the devotion. Be sure to check out other books by Fr. Michael Gaitley, including his Consoling the Heart of Jesus and 33 Days to Merciful Love.

This book was provided to me for free by Lighthouse Catholic Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!