Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Duke (Catalyst Game Labs)

When I was younger, I took up the hobby of chess. I played in two tournaments and finished 2nd place in my age group in both of them. (It's probably worth noting that there were only two to three people in my age group at these tournaments.) I liked the game, but I never liked it enough to get better. I knew all the names of the pieces and how they moved. I even knew what I considered were advanced moves, like how to castle and en passant. However, like I said earlier, I never liked the game enough to get better. Getting better took years of learning strategy, opening moves, defenses, etc. It seemed like a lot of work for a game, and it was not something I had the discipline to do. Therefore, I stopped playing and the boards and pieces sit on a shelf gathering dust. When I got into the tabletop gaming hobby, I learned of a game called The Duke. It was supposed to take the game of chess and make it completely obsolete. Let me tell you about this game.

The Duke is an abstract strategy game with imperfect information. It is designed for two players, ages 12 and up. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails on Amazon for roughly $30. Today, I will be teaching you the basic game.
1. Place the gameboard on a flat surface.
2. Give each player a set of tiles. One player will have unstained tiles and the other player will have the stained tiles.
3. Remove the Mountain, Dragon, two Flags, Duchess, and Oracle tiles from the game.
4. Take the Duke Tile and two Footman Tiles from each set of tiles and place them on the board for initial setup. The Duke Tile must be placed in one of the two center squares of the bottom row. The Footman tiles are then placed next to The Duke Tile so that one side is touching. (Note: All tiles must be placed with their name oriented towards the player and the icon in the center of the tile being the dark black pawn.)
5. Take each remaining set of tiles and place them in a separate bag, mixing them up thoroughly.
Game Play - On your turn, you must do one (and only one) of the following moves:
1. Move a Troop Tile on the gameboard using any legal move as shown on the tile and then flipping the tile over to its reverse side once the move is complete. (Note: There are many different movement possibilities on the different tiles, which include moving, jumping, sliding, striking from afar, commanding your Troop Tiles, etc.)
2. Pull a new Troop Tile from your bag and place it on the gameboard in an unoccupied square that shares a side with your Duke Tile.

The game is won as soon as a player captures their opponents Duke Tile.
The game is simple to set up and simple to play. However, it is hard to master this game! The reasons for this are twofold - 1. Imperfect information and 2. Constantly changing moves. In chess, you can see all of your opponent's pieces and know exactly how those pieces will move. You can also deduce how your opponent will react if you move one of your pieces. In The Duke, you don't know which tile you or your opponent will draw when you reach in the bag. Maybe, it will help you. Maybe it will hinder you. You also may know how your pieces currently move, but when you move them and they flip over, everything changes. Yes, you can look at the reverse side of your piece before you move it, but you have to not only think about how your pieces can change, but how your opponent's pieces can change as well. These two elements make the game ever-changing and never the same from one game to the next.

I've been playing this game for five months now, and each game is always a surprise. People who love chess might not like this, because chess is controlled and if you are a seasoned player, you can plan moves very far in advance. You can't do that with The Duke, because it's a random grab of what tile you will play and what tile your opponent will play. As I mentioned earlier, there are also advanced tiles and terrain tiles you can play which add more strategy and depth to the game. There's also a dragon tile which has a mind of its own and can wreak havoc on both players.

Lastly, there are several expansion sets, which can be used to add tiles to the game or replace tiles in the game. There are City Troops, Command Troops, Mystical Troops, Shock Troops, and Siege Engines. I haven't had the chance to try these yet, but I have had a chance to try the first three of the following four expansions - Arthurian Legends, Musketeers, Robin Hood, and Robert E. Howard. These expansions replace tiles in the base game and let you add more theme to the game. In the Arthurian pack, King Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Perceval are battling Morgana and Mordred. In the Musketeers pack, Porthos, Aramis, Athos, and D'Artgnan are battling Rochefort, Richlieu, and de Winter. And in the Robin Hood pack, Robin Hood, Little John, Maid Marion, and Friar Tuck are battling Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Sir Guy. As a fan of classic literature, this made the game even more enjoyable and helped add some playfully-themed banter between me and my fellow opponent.

I don't normally like two-player games, because I am someone who likes to play games with my whole family (or set of friends) and not just one of them. However, getting a group of people together is not always feasible, and sometimes family members just don't want to play games. (Perish the thought!) While, this game doesn't hit the table as often as other games in my collection, it fills a void I had and scratches an itch that I sometimes get. After playing it for five months, I can't say that the game has made chess obsolete. In some ways, it is a simpler game, but in other ways, it is so much more complex. I see this game as a viable alternative to people who want an abstract strategy game they have a shot at winning without having to spend years studying to become a grandmaster. My wife didn't particularly like this game, but I can't wait for my son to get a little older so that I can teach him this game and it can hit the table more often.

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Secret of the Stone Frog and Windmill Dragons (TOON Books)

Today, I am reviewing two graphic novels from TOON Books. Both are written and illustrated by David Nytra. They are entitled The Secret of the Stone Frog and Windmill Dragons. They also both focus on two children named Leah and Alan. Let me tell you about them.

Leah and Alan are your typical brother and sister. One day, however, they awake in their beds to find that they have been transported to the middle of a forest. Not wanting to be lost in this unknown forest forever, they begin to look for a way home. That is when they encounter a stone frog (hence the title of the book The Secret of the Stone Frog) who sets them on a path home. In typical child fashion, they don't stay on the path for long, because Alan is hungry. The first place they stop is a castle with a very large-headed woman. The lady has bees as pets that eat words to prevent you from speaking, so they must escape her and her bees. With Alan still being hungry, they wander to a different area with an orchard full of giant candied cherries. The owners of the orchards were proper talking lions, who were helpful in getting them part of the way home by riding on giant rabbits. They eventually get home, but not before more dangerous, adventures.

In Windmill Dragons, Leah and Alan are sitting in the woods at their house. Leah is reading a book and Alan sees some pictures inside the book that interests him. He asks Leah to read to him, and that is where the adventure begins. Leah and Alan are transported to a land where there is magic and they are knights. The magic, unfortunately, has stirred up the windmills and turned them into dragons. On their quest to defeat these dragons and restore order to this world, they must encounter a troll, save an aged knight, and face many other obstacles. I normally try not to spoil books like this, but if you've read the first book, then you know that they are able to defeat the dragons and return to their own home.

The illustration style in these books can be described as pen and ink. It is not colored, but it is highly detailed and makes the pages and the story come to life. The stories themselves clearly draw from popular literature, which is most obvious in the second story taking inspiration from Don Quixote. There are several things I liked about these books, including the close bond of Leah and Alan and the way the author/artist captures the power of dreams and imagination. Dreams and imagination are two powerful entities when you are a child, and while we might forget that as we grow older, to children they are just as real, if not more real than the actual world we occupy. The only complaint I have is that the books are two different sizes. The Secret of the Stone Frog is approximately a 6" x 9" book, but the Windmill Dragons is approximately a 7" x 10" book, and this creates an incompatible look on your shelf when the books are placed next to each other. If you can get over this gripe, then you should really check out these fanciful graphic novels!

These books were provided to me by TOON Books in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Praying the Gospels (The Word Among Us Press)

In recent years, I have used Fr. Mitch Pacwa's Bible Study books available from Our Sunday Visitor, and I have always been pleased with the books. When I found out that The Word Among Us Press had a new Bible Study series by Fr. Pacwa, I knew that I had to give this a try. The series is called Praying the Gospels and the first two books are Jesus Launches His Ministry and Jesus' Miracles in Galilee. Each book is designed to help you reflect better on specific events in Jesus' life and ministry. Let me tell you about the books.

Jesus Launches His Ministry is an approximately 175 page book that is divided into the following eight chapters:

1. The Baptism of Jesus
2. Temptations in the Wilderness
3. Between Baptism and Capernaum
4. The Wedding Feast at Cana
5. Jesus Inaugurates His Public Ministry
6. The First Exorcism and Manifestation of Jesus' Authority
7. The Transition from Capernaum to the Galilean Ministry
8. Put Out into the Deep

Jesus' Miracles in Galilee is also an approximately 175 page book that picks up where the first book left off. It is divided into the following thirteen chapters:

1. Jesus Begins His Preaching Mission throughout Galilee
2. The Cleansing of the Leper
3. The Healing of a Paralytic
4. The Healing of a Man with a Withered Hand
5. The Centurion's Request for a Healing
6. The Raising of the Widow of Nain's Son
7. Storms at Sea
8. The Healing of the Hemorrhaging Woman and Jairus' Daughter
9. The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish
10. Walking on the Storms of Life
11. A Syrophoenician Woman
12. Jesus Heals a Deaf Man
13. Sailing to Bethsaida

Within each chapter, there are several meditations, which break apart subsections of the Gospel passage. For example, in "The Baptism of Jesus." we see six meditations, which cover topics such as John the Baptist, Jesus' journey to the Jordan River, and the manifestation of the Trinity. Within these meditations, Fr. Pacwa instructs us with other Scripture passages, both Old and New Testament. He then probes the reader with reflection questions to answer and provides several lines at the end of each meditation to give you ample room to answer the questions and write your thoughts.

The books are nice in that they chronologically and thematically walk us through the Gospels. No one Gospel is the focus of these books, but instead Fr. Pacwa draws from all four of them to give us a complete picture. I also like the fact that each meditation is only a few pages long and only focuses on a tiny bit of the Gospel. Too often, when we read Gospel, we try and read a whole chapter at a time. These chapters contain a lot of parables, miracles, and other events that make it hard to grasp all at once. Fr. Pacwa eliminates this with his bite-size approach. I wish there had been a book before these two that focused on Mary, Joseph, and the infancy passages of Jesus, but the focus of this series seems to be the three years of Jesus' ministry and not the thirty years prior. That wish aside, I would highly recommend these books, for someone looking to take a slow, deliberate, and meditative walk through the Gospels. I look forward to seeing how many more books there will be in this series and am sure to recommend them as much as I recommend these two.

These books were provided to me for free by The Word Among Us Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rocky Road a la Mode (Green Couch Games)

Summer is upon us and the heat (at least in the South) is unbearable. As my boss likes to say, "I saw a dog chasing a cat the other day, and both of them were walking." Most people's favorite way to cool off in the summer is ICE CREAM! Well, today I don't have ice cream to review, but I have the next best thing, an ice cream themed game. Rocky Road a la Mode is a card game currently on Kickstarter. It is designed for 2-4 players ages 10 and up. It takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to play and a pledge of $19 will get you the game. (Note: You can pledge $25 to get a mini-game for two players called Rocky Road: Dice Cream)
1. Each player takes a Truck Card and places it in front of them
2. Place the Road Cards (could be upgraded to a board) in the center of the table to form a continuous loop.
3. Place one Rocket Pop Token on each of the three pothole spaces on the Road.
4. Place the Truck Tokens (matching the colors of the Truck Cards in play) randomly on the start square on the Road.
5. Shuffle the Treat Cards and deal three to each player to form their starting hand.
6. Place the remaining Treat Cards face-down in a stack in the middle of the table, turning three cards face-up in a row.
7. Place the eight Location Cards face-up in four stacks. (Note: Each stack will contain two cards with the same location. Place the higher point value on top.)
Game Play - Players do not alternate turns. The player whose Truck Token is furthest behind on the road takes their turn. On a player's turn, they may perform one of three actions:
1. Restock - Draw up to five Treat Cards and move their Truck Token an equal number of spaces clockwise on the Road. (Players may draw from the three face up cards or the draw pile, much like Ticket to Ride.)
2. Attract Customers - Place a Treat Card from your hand under your Truck Card by paying its time cost (found in the upper right corner). This will give you two customers to serve on future turns.
3. Serve Customers - Discard cards with the treat types (found in the upper left corner) that the group demands and move up one space on the Road. (You can only serve one group per turn. Once you have served the first group slide the card further under your truck to hide the first group. Once you have served the second group, place the card horizontally under the left side of the truck to show your Loyalty Points/Permanent Supply Bonus.)
1. Rocket Pop Tokens are wild cards that can be used for any ice cream flavor, but are returned to the Road after play.
2. Permanent Supply Bonus can be used to fill an order in place of a Treat Card.
3. When a player has completed a specific amount of orders (i.e., three blue or three orange), he can take a Location Card that will score him two to four Loyalty Points.
4. The first player with nine or more Loyalty Points triggers the end game, giving everyone else a chance to go again until the player who triggered the end game is furthest back on the Road. The player with the most points at the end is the winner.

This was a quick game with a fun theme attached to it. It also had a bit of depth to it that I wasn't expecting. For starters, you have to manage both your time and resources in this game. Since turns do not alternate (or go clockwise if more than two players), each decision will make you pause and think before you make it. If your opponent is two spaces in front of you, do you draw three cards and give them a turn? Or do you only draw two cards, so you can have another turn immediately? The cards also serve a multi-use function. Will you play the card under the truck to Attract a Customer? Or will you play the card to Serve a Customer? You will have to weigh several options carefully (the time cost, the items required to serve each customer, and the Loyalty Points/Permanent Supply Bonus) before making this decision.

After looking at the game play value, I look at the aesthetics of the game, and this game is not lacking in that department at all. I received a prototype of this game and it was a very nice prototype. The colors had a nice summery feel, and they had a way of making you hungry when playing the game. Unfortunately for my fellow players, there was no ice cream allowed when playing as I didn't want it to drip on even the prototype of this beautiful game. The choice of color for player tokens was not unnoticed by my wife. We are all used to playing with the standard blue, red, yellow, and green tokens, but this one had a pink token in it - a win for women gamers! Lastly, the cards had a nice feel to them. If they took the time to produce thick, quality cards for a prototype, then I know the actual game will have lasting components as well.

Rocky Road a la Mode is Green Couch Games sixth project on Kickstarter. Each one has been successfully funded to produce an excellent, pocket-sized game. I am proud to own all of them and enjoy playing them frequently with family and friends. The project itself is only a few days old, but it has already been successfully funded. It is now up to you to make this game better for yourself and all who pledge. Current stretch goals will make Truck Tokens into actual ice-cream shaped trucks. There will be bonus Treat Tokens added to make new ways of playing the game and increase replay value. The Road Cards will also be upgraded to an actual game board. So if this game sounds fun to you, I invite you to beat the heat, and back this sweet treat!

A prototype of this game was provided to me for free by Green Couch Games in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Epic Food Fight (Servant Books)

Epic Food Fight begins with an introduction on who Fr. Leo is, his famous defeat of Chef Bobby Flay, and how he learned the importance of food in the Catholic faith and uses it as a teaching tool. In the first chapter, Fr. Leo explains that God had a diet plan for Adam and Eve (not eating the forbidden fruit). However, they fell into the oldest and most common sin. They wanted to be God, to be like God. It was a sin Lucifer knew all too well, as it was what got him kicked out of Heaven. Fr. Leo then uses the rest of the first chapter to demonstrate other instances in the Old Testament of God feeding His people, primarily the Exodus and the manna from heaven.

Chapter Two focuses primarily on Jesus. It is appropriately entitled, "The Truth Becomes Flesh to Feed the World." In this chapter, Fr. Leo points out food references related to Jesus' life. We see Jesus was born in Bethlehem or the "House of Bread." He likens Jesus' uneventful day-to-day life that the Gospels don't speak of as leaven doing their work. He also points out that Jesus' public ministry began at a wedding feast, where He turned water into wine. The second miracle was then the multiplication of the loaves and fish. The book continues on with the food analogy, showing roles of the Church, the priest, and us individually in feeding the world. The book ends with a 10 Commandments of Personal Dieting, which is meant to be taken both literally and metaphorically.

This book was an interesting read, as it presented salvation history in a lens I had never thought of - food. Most/all of the information presented in this book was stuff I had already read/heard in other sources, but it was a creative teaching tool and one that will appeal to many people who have a strong connection to food. I, unfortunately, am not one of those people and eat to survive. With that being said, the 10 Commandments of Personal Dieting is a section I will visit again as I believe it will help me better appreciate the significance of food, both physically and spiritually. Therefore, while this book is 4 stars for me personally, I highly recommend it because I believe it would be a 5 star book for most other people.

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

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Earliest Christologies (IVP Academic)

When you consider all that we know and understand in matters of the Faith, we are very fortunate to live in the day that we live. Those in the 2nd Century were not as fortunate. Yes, they were closer to the original words of Christ and His Apostles, but there were also questions, debates, confusion, and unfortunately heresies. Today, I am reviewing the book The Earliest Christologies, which looks at five different views/images of Christ in the 2nd Century.

The beginning of this book discusses exactly what the Postapostolic Age, the scope of this book, and the five views of Christ in the 1st and mainly 2nd Century. We then are treated with a chapter on each of those five views. The views are as follows:

1. Christ as angel. Jesus was a human born of a virgin. He perfectly obeyed God and because of this perfect obedience, he was rewarded with an angelic spirit (the Christ). The union between Jesus and Christ was temporary.
2. Christ as prophet. Jesus was a human with no virgin birth. He earned the title of Christ, and therefore there was no real union between Jesus and Christ.
3. Christ as a phantom. Jesus was an illusion with no body. The Christ was a lesser deity who appeared to be human. There was no birth and the union between Jesus and Christ was just an apparition.
4. Christ as cosmic mind. Jesus was not really human but had an ethereal body. The Christ was a lesser deity, disguised as a human. There was no birth and no union between Jesus and Christ, merely an illusion.
5. Christ as Logos. This is what Christians believe today. There is the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the union between Jesus and Christ (union of human and divine).

The book ends with what orthodoxy is and why the view of Christ as Logos won out in the end. In addition to that view being the middle ground between the other four views, it also didn't diminish the human and divine nature nor did it separate the two. He also explained how these heresies, which were rejected, didn't fully go away. Instead they evolved and found new names such as Arianism, Doceticism, and Modalism. Overall, this book was an interesting read and one that helped me understand how people in the early days of Christianity viewed Jesus and tried to make sense of it all. Looking back on the wrong views of Christ, it seems almost silly that people could think such things. But as I said earlier, we are fortunate to live in a day where we have it spelled out for us thanks to years of struggling and discerning by those before us.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ion: A Compound Building Game (Genuis Games)

School is officially out and children have already begun to forget everything they learned the past year. If you don't keep them somewhat academically engaged over the summer, their brains will be mush before month ends. Keeping them engaged is easier said than done, because the last thing they want to think about is school and learning. (UGH!) So how can you make sure they don't become zombies, but do it where they are still having fun on their break? Play a game, of course! Genius Games is a "a game design company focusing on designing science themed and science based games for both the classroom and game room." Today, I will be reviewing their game Ion: A Compound Building GameIon is a card-drafting chemistry game for 2-7 players ages 8+. It can be played in 20 to 30 minutes and retails for $25.
1. Match each trio of "Select Two," "Take From Center," and "RXN" Action Tiles according to the letter in the bottom left corner.
2. Flip the Action Tiles over and give each player a random trio of these tiles.
3. Separate the Drafting Cards from the Goal Cards and shuffle each deck separately.
4. Flip four Drafting Cards face up in the center of the table, making sure that each card is different from the others.
5. Deal eight Drafting Cards to each player to make up their hand.
6. Deal two Goal Cards face up in the center of the table (or three if you are playing with 5+ people).
Game Play - The game takes place over three rounds with each round playing exactly the same.
1. Select one Drafting Card from your hand and place it face down in front of you. Once everyone has done this, flip the card over at the same time.
2. You will then bond the Drafting Card to an ion within your player area or lay the Drafting Card unbonded in your player area. (Once the card is placed, it cannot be moved.)
3. You may also choose to play one of your three Action Tiles at any time to modify your turn, but the points on the back of the tile will be subtracted from your final score.
4. After the Drafting Cards/Action Tiles are placed and resolved, you pass the remaining Drafting Cards to the player to your left.
5. Repeat the above Steps 1 through 4 until only two cards remain, which will then be discarded.
6. Score for the round by scoring Neutral Compounds, Noble Gases, and Goal Cards.
7. The person with the highest score at the end of three rounds is the winner.
Overall, I was pleased with the game Ion. I wasn't sure what to expect from an educational game, but it was surprisingly fun, and it didn't feel like you were learning at all, which is the best way to learn in my opinion! There are plenty of games with card-drafting as their main mechanic, but what makes this one different are the asymmetrical Action Tiles (meaning that one person's RXN tile might be -4 and another's might be -3), the communal Goal Cards, and the fact that you have to make neutral compounds to score your cards (aside from Noble Gases). A lot of card-drafting games have a "take that" factor in that you can see what your opponent is trying to play and prevent them from doing it by playing a card so they can't. Ion doesn't really have that element (no pun intended), because you almost always have cards to play that will help you.

Within this game there is also also a mini-expansion that includes radioactive cards. This adds another wrinkle to the game by adding a set collection element and new ways to score. I generally play without the expansion, because I like the simplicity of the base game, but whenever I want to rack my brain a little more, I throw in some radioactive elements and let things start to decay. Playing this game brought me back to high school and sitting in Chemistry Class. As simple as this game is, they upped the knowledge level by including more complex elements like Transition Metals and Polyatomic ions. This game is perfect in the classroom, for a homeschooling parent, or just a nice little family game to trick your kids into learning something.

This game was provided to me for free by Genius Games in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes! Be sure to also check out their other science games Linkage, Peptide, and Covalence!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Saints by Our Side (Pauline Books and Media)

When we think about saints, we are often intimidated by them. Most of us have an unrealistic expectation that saints walked around this earth (or floated) and were holy all the time. In reality, they were people just like you and me. Today, I would like to share with you two books about two amazing female saints - Elizabeth Ann Seton and Therese of Lisieux.

The book Elizabeth Ann Seton begins with an introduction on how the author, Anne Merwin, first became aware of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and how events in her life connected her to this saint. The first few chapters give us a background on Elizabeth and her husband's parents and lineage. It was here that I learned that her husband, William, had an ancestor who was a lady-in-waiting to Mary Queen of Scots. We learn of the marriage of William and Elizabeth, their five children, and sadly William's early death. It was his death and their financial circumstances that led to Elizabeth taking up a teaching job.This was not the only sadness the family would experience as Anna (one of the children) would die of tuberculosis. In addition to learning about her time in a religious order and her mission, we learn about the lasting impact she had after her death, which included affordable Catholic education and social services that religious sisters provided.

The book Therese of Lisieux begins with her birth and gives us some brief information on her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin. Louis was 49 and Zelie was 41 at the time of Therese's birth. They had four other daughters at the time that were living and there were three children that died as infants and one that died at age five. We also learn that Zelie documented stories of Therese as a child that would later show how she chose to live her life in devotion to Christ. In this book, we see how Therese lived somewhat of a dual existence. She was still a child and acted like a child in many ways, but she was also a holy being who was attune to God. Much of this, as noted in the book, can be attributed to her family, which is full of saints and near-saints. The main focus of this book, however, is Therese's gaze to Carmel and becoming a Bride of Christ, which she eventually experience, but much later in life than she liked.

Both books, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Therese of Lisieux, belong to the "series" entitled Saints by Our Side. I say "series," because at the moment, they are the only two in it. Perhaps, there will be more in the near future. What I liked best about these books is that there are equal parts biography and spiritual biography. Due to the saints chosen, I would say these books are more geared towards women than men, but that doesn't mean that it wouldn't benefit men to read these books as well. These would be excellent editions to a home, school, or parish library as your tween could read either of these books for a good role model or even a Confirmation saint.

These books were provided to me for free by Pauline Books and Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Discovering God Together (Sophia Institute Press)

Raising faithful Catholic children in today's generation is a challenging task for even the best parents. The amount of evil in the world is more visible and more accessible than previous generations. Due to the importance of this subject, Dr. Gregory Popcak and his wife Lisa have written a book entitled Discovering God Together. The book begins with an invitation, to not only pass on the Faith to your children, but to also deepen your faith in the process. It then proceeds to list the "Five Marks of a Faithful Family." They are as follows:

1. Catholic families worship together.
2. Catholic families pray together.
3. Catholic families are called to intimacy.
4. Catholic families put family first.
5. The Catholic family is a witness and a sign.

The rest of the chapters in Part One provide you with a general overview. Chapters walk us through the importance of rituals and routines, including ones for work, play, talk, and prayer. There is also a chapter on walking your children through the stages of faith, which go all the way from birth to late adulthood. Part Two of the book focuses a lot on prayer life and how to develop one as a family and also for your children. In this section of the book, there is also a chapter which speaks specifically to fathers )and mothers as well to some degree). There were some statistics in this chapter that were both eye-opening and sobering. It is the father more than the mother that will ultimately determine if their children grow up to become practicing Catholics. That's a lot of responsibility! The last part of the book focuses primarily on the Sacraments and has chapters for Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation, and Confession. There is also a chapter on parish life and its importance that I believe parents and priests could both benefit from reading.

The book is an easy and practical read by respected Catholic authors who know a thing or two about parenting. What I like best about this book is it is like there is a workbook built into it. There are reflection questions, a test to take, and some lines to fill out for brainstorming ideas. This is a valuable read for parents at any stage of the journey, but I would definitely recommend it most of all for new parents, because it is never too early to instill a love of God and the Church in your children.

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!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Above and Below (Red Raven Games)

Every once and a while someone comes along in a field that raises the bar for everyone else. In the tabletop game industry, I believe Ryan Laukat is that person. He is not only a board game designer, but he is also the artist for his games as well, and if you haven't seen his art, you are missing out! Today, I am reviewing his game Above and BelowAbove and Below is a story-telling game for 2-4 players ages 13+. It takes anywhere from 90 to 120 minutes to play and retails for $50, but can be found for about $40 on Amazon.
In this game, you take on the role of a survivor whose village was destroyed by a horde of barbarians. You journeyed across many foreign lands searching for a new place to call your home, until one you finally found the perfect spot. After building your first hut, you discovered there was more to this place than met the eye. There was a series of underground caverns full of treasures, resources, and adventure! You organized your new village to not only expand above ground, but below it as well! Let's set up the game for 2 players.

1. Give each player a Player Board, seven coins for Player One and eight coins for Player Two, one Starting House, and one of each of the three types of Starting Villager. The Starting Villager will start in the large grass area on the left side of the Player Board.
2. Place the Reputation Board in the center of the playing area. Populate it with the Round Marker, one Cider token, five Villagers, and a Cube matching the color of each player on the reputation track. Place the remaining Villagers and Special Villagers in separate face down piles near the Reputation Board along with any Goods, Coins, Potions, or Cider tokens.
3. Place 4 random Key House cards face up on the table.
4. Place all 6 of the Star House cards face up on the table.
5. Shuffle the House cards and Outpost cards and place them face down in two different piles. Deal the top four from each pile and put them face up next to their respective decks.
6. Place the Encounter Book, Cave Cards, and Dice near the playing area.
Game Play
Above and Below is played in a series of seven rounds. In these rounds, you can perform five different actions:

1, Explore - Draw a Cave Card. Place at least two of your Villagers on the Cave Card. Roll a die to determine which Encounter another player will read to you from the Encounter Book. Resolve the Encounter by making a choice from the options presented to you and rolling dice to determine if you were successful or failed.
2. Harvest - Use a Villager to harvest a Good from one of your House or Outpost cards.
3. Build - Use a Villager with the hammer icon and the required number of coins to purchase/build a House or Outpost card.
4. Train - Use a Villager with the quill icon and the required number of coins to purchase/recruit a new Villager. (This new Villager will start in the exhausted area on your Player Board.)
5. Labor - Use any Villager to work and earn one coin. (The first person to perform this action will also receive a Cider token which can be used to move a Villager from exhausted to active, if enough beds are not available for all your Villagers.)

After the first player performs one of the above actions, the next player may then take an action. Play continues this way until both players have no more Villagers to perform actions or pass. A new round is then started with a different starting player, new Villagers, Cider token, and Goods refreshed if necessary. Players then rest their Villagers and receive their Income.

My wife and I don't always agree on the games we play. She generally likes a lighter, quicker game, whereas I like the heavier European games with lots of thinking involved. However, this is a game we both thoroughly enjoyed. For starters, the game is just aesthetically pleasing to look at. The more I look at the artwork in this game, the more I love this game. Secondly, I like that there are multiple ways to win the game. This isn't a game where if you do X and Y, you will automatically win. You can collect Goods for points. You can build Houses or Outposts, which give you both points and goals to give you more points. You can also earn or lose reputation. Since different cards and Villagers present themselves in different order game to game, you'll have to adapt and choose which path you wish to follow for that specific game.

What my wife and I really love about this game is the Encounter Book. There are hundreds of different scenarios which you will be faced with. In this scenario, you can choose different paths to go down and that will dictate both your reputation and your reward. My wife and I found ourselves exploring more than any of the other four actions, just because it was so much fun. It is like Ryan Laukat took those old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books and adapted it to a board game. This game play mechanism is what made this game a huge hit with my family, friends, and everyone else I have introduced this game to. It is also why I believe this game should be the top game of 2015. Our only complaint is that the game was over in seven rounds. We felt like we were just getting started and then the game ended. You can extend the number of rounds if you so choose, but they test these things for a reason.

I would like to conclude with some additional fun facts about this game. Another one of Ryan Laukat's game, Islebound is said to have player tokens that can be used with Above and Below. Also, there is supposed to be an expansion for Above and Below, which is called Near and Far and will be an instant buy for any fan of this game. I know I can't wait for it to come out, and I have already found myself buying several of Ryan Laukat's other games, because this man is a genius with games!

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

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Prophetic Bishops Speaks to his People: Volume 2 (Convivium Press)

A Prophetic Bishops Speaks to his People: Volume 2 is the second of six planned volumes in Convivium Press' ambitious project to publish all of Archbishop Oscar Romero's homilies. I am going to provide the same background information I provided in my review of the first volume.

Oscar Romero was born in 1917 and died in March of 1980 (three years before I was born). He was the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador and spoke bravely against social injustice, poverty, and other issues affecting people in his city. He died a martyr, being assassinated while offering Mass. Many people proclaim him a proponent of liberation theology (interpreting Scripture and the Christian faith through the experience of the poor), but according to Romero's biographer he was not interested in liberation theology.

Archbishop Oscar Romero is credited with delivering 193 homilies while he was Archbishop. They were broadcast on the radio for everyone to hear and later transcribed and published. Due to the nature of radio broadcasts, there are times that not all the words were intelligible or caught on the tape recording. A Prophetic Bishops Speaks to his People: Volume 2 contains 44 homilies, which span from November 27, 1977 (the First Sunday of Advent) to May 28, 1978 (Feast of Corpus Christi). Many of the homilies in this book were given on Sunday or major Feast days with a few exceptions. Also, unfortunately, the homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is missing. Aside from that omission, I would like to tell you about some homilies that stood out to me.

For starters, I love a good homily on the First Sunday of Advent. It's a new year, a fresh start, and it's also a perfect time to reflect on the past year and set the stage for the coming year. Archbishop Romero accomplished all of that and tied it into the specific readings for that day beautifully. One of the more difficult homilies to read was the second one which was "To the Mothers, for their Disappeared Children." The readings for this Mass were carefully chosen to relate to this subject and Archbishop Romero's words in his homily had to be even more carefully chosen. It is a sensitive subject, which I can't even begin to imagine. However, he called the parents and the nation to peace and love and not to terrorism and retaliation. Those themes seem to be the common thread running through his words. The nation is in turmoil and there are horrible atrocities all around. However, we as God's people must not lose faith in Him or His Church. We must keep practicing what Jesus taught us and not become a people of violence and revenge. We must show love for our enemies and those who persecute us. We also must rely on God for judgment and not exact our own form of judgment. Like Volume 1, this is a series of powerful messages, and I look forward to continuing reading this series.

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

Friday, June 3, 2016

Joan of Arc (Ignatius Press)

If you are Catholic, then you are very familiar with the story of St. Joan of Arc. In a nutshell, she was a French girl who had visions that instructed her to support King Charles VII and rid France of the English people. In 1999, there was a three-part TV mini-series bearing her name. Ignatius Press has recently released this movie to DVD and I am going to tell you a little bit about it.

Joan of Arc is approximately three hours long. Leelee Sobieski plays the title role with other big names filling out the cast including Peter O'Toole, Jacqueline Bisset, Shirley MacLaine, and Neil Patrick Harris. The cast alone gave me reason to pause and question why proponents of the New Age moment and also openly "out" actors choose to play in a Catholic/Christian film. Those questions/complaints aside, I must compliment the casting of Ms. Sobieski. This was early in her career, so she had a quiet, yet powerful presence as Joan of Arc. Adding to her demeanor, her stature cast the shadow of a warrior. While she was the definitive star of the film, the other actors and actresses held their own and delivered solid performances.

The story is mostly accurate from a historical standpoint. There are some errors of course, but when does Hollywood ever get the whole story right? The length and pace of the movie drag at times. I understand this was originally a three part series that needed an hour each night, but you feel like chunks of this film could have been cut and you would not have missed anything. The backdrop of the movie felt like you were actually in Medieval France. There were many memorable moments in this movie, but the ones that stuck with me were not when Joan was in battle or rallying troops. Instead, I remember her early scenes helping to feed the poor and giving hope to a people who had lost all hope.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on this movie. Some of the casting is questionable, but Sobieski shines. Some of the information is inaccurate, but the movie mostly gets it right and stays true to the core spirituality and the heart of the story. Of all the recent movies that Ignatius Press has released to DVD, this one is probably my least favorite, but to be fair, it had very stiff competition. I think I would have liked the film a bit more if it was a foreign film in French with English subtitles, but to each their own. If you are a fan of St. Joan of Arc, then the movie is worth checking out for Leelee Sobieski alone.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Fidelitas and Best Treehouse Ever (Green Couch Games)

Welcome back to another week of game reviews! Today, you get two reviews in one post. Both games are from Green Couch GamesGreen Couch Games was founded in 2014 by Jason Kotarski with a mission statement of releasing "great little games that make great big connections." That means the two games I am reviewing today can fit in your pocket! The games are titled Fidelitas and Best Treehouse Ever. Both retail for $20, take 30 minutes to play, and can accommodate up to four players. Fidelitas is recommended for ages 13+ and Best Treehouse Ever is recommended for ages 8+.

In Fidelitas, you take on the role of citizens in a medieval city who are trying to exert their influence over other citizens to gain credibility to overthrow the corrupt monarch.

1. Place the five Location Cards in a row in numerical order to form the city. These cards will be bookended by the Castle card and the Harbor card. (These five Location Cards each contain ten locations to form ten different locations.)
2. Shuffle the Virtus Cards (citizens) and deal one face up to each of the ten locations above. Then, deal each character two cards to form their hand.
3. Shuffle the Missio Cards (goals) and deal two to each player.
4. The remaining Virtus and Missio Cards are placed in separate piles near the city.

Game Play
1. Play a Virtus Card to one of the two locations matching its guild symbol (located in the top right corner of the Virtus Card). Carry out the action at the bottom of the Virtus Card.
2.  Score one or more Missio Cards, if possible.
3. Draw a replacement Virtus Card (unless the one you played this turn had an X at the bottom) and draw back up to two Missio Cards.
4. When one player reaches a certain number of points (10 in 2 player, 8 in 3 player, and 6 in 4 player), play continues around the table to ensure that everyone had the same amount of turns. Player with the most points at the end is the winner.

Fidelitas is a hand management game where you are placing cards to complete your goals and indirectly hinder the goals of the other players. With only two cards in your hand at a time and a set number of places to go for each card, your decisions may seem limited, but the effect of the card you play will ripple throughout the city. For example, if you play the Baker, then you can move 2 cards to any 2 different locations. If you play the Professor, you can discard 1 card and draw 3 in its place. The other thing to consider with only 2 cards in your hand is that you can overthink your decision. Do you overtly go for your goal or do you occasionally throw your opponent off by doing something that has nothing at all to do with your goals?

There are a lot of pros to this game including artwork, portability, time to play, easy setup, and simple rules. However, the biggest pro is the replay value. With 14 different character actions and 20 unique goals, you'll always have a different game. This game is a solid 8 and one that has earned a permanent spot on my game shelf!

In Best Treehouse Ever, you are a child competing with other children to build the biggest and most impressive treehouse in your neighborhood, but you must keep it balanced or else it will tip over to the left or right, and you'll lose!

1. Give each player a Starting Tree Card, a Scoring Marker, and a Balance Marker with the Balance Marker placed in the middle circle of your Starting Tree Card.
2. Place the six Scoring Cards and the four Game Changer Cards (or two in 2 player) in the middle of the table.
3. Shuffle the Missio Cards (goals) and deal two to each player.
4. Shuffle the Room Cards and place them face down in a deck. Deal each player six of these cards.

Game Play
1. The game takes place over three weeks (rounds). At the beginning of each week, players are dealt six cards.
2. Players look at their Room Cards and choose one to build by placing it face down in front of them. After all players have placed their card face down, flip your card over and build it in your treehouse shifting the Balance Marker to the side of the tree you built on. It is important to note that a Room Card must be supported by two branches (except for cards on the edge), must touch a Room Card of the same color (except if it is the first Room Card of that color), and must not be placed on the same side of the tree where you Balance Marker already is.
3. Take the Room Cards that you did not play and pass them clockwise. You now have a new hand of Room Cards to pick from. If you ever find that you cannot play a card, simply choose one card and discard it.
4. At the end of each week, players pick a Game Changer Card and use it to cover up a Scoring Card of their choice.
5. The person with the most points at the end of three weeks is the winner.

To say that I am a fan of Scott Almes would be an understatement. He is one of the few board game designers whose games are pretty much an instant buy for me, because his little games always pack a BIG punch. Best Treehouse Ever is no exception to that rule. The game mechanic of card drafting is simple and familiar, but he made it kid-friendly in theme and design. What kid doesn't want an aquarium, a candy store, and a water slide in their treehouse? I have played this game dozens of times, and the fun isn't in winning, it's in seeing what cool rooms your treehouse has at the end of the game! With that said, the one downside to this game is the player count. It is made for 2-4 players, but the real sweet spot is at least three players. With two players, it is obvious what color of cards, your opponent won't let you score at the end of each week. That gripe aside, I love this little game and I know my son will too in a few years.  After a few plays, once you have grown accustomed to the game, you can add bonus cards (goals) to the game that give you room arrangements to aim for, which provide an extra challenge and more ways to score. Again, this is an excellent little family game that will not only provide hours of fun, but will also teach new/young gamers the concept of card drafting to prepare them for meatier card drafting games like 7 Wonders. Highly recommended!

These games were provided to me for free by Green Couch Games in exchange for honest reviews. If you decide to pick up these games, be sure to check out the Boardgame Geek Store for additional cards you can buy for each game at $5 a piece. Also check out their other games JurassAttack!, Avalanche at Yeti Mountain, and Wok on Fire. Finally, be on the look out for their next Kickstarter project coming in June called Rocky Road a la Mode!