Friday, July 29, 2016

Memoirs of a Happy Failure (Saint Benedict Press)

If you're like me, you were probably introduced to Dr. Alice von Hildebrand through EWTN. She appeared on a variety of their shows from "The Journey Home" to "EWTN Bookmark." If you ever watched any of the shows with her on, you could tell that even in her advanced years, she was still a keenly intelligent woman. Despite her brilliance, what she is probably best known for is being married to Dietrich von Hildebrand. Thanks to Saint Benedict Press, we have the opportunity to learn more about her in the book Memoirs of a Happy Failure.

Memoirs of a Happy Failure begins when Alice was 17. She was onboard the SS Washington. She was traveling with her sister when they were informed that all passengers had to leave the ship, because it was intercepted by the Germans and was going to be torpedoed. They made their way to their assigned lifeboat, but it was full, so she expected to die that night. Clearly, she did not, but that had to be a very sobering experience at that early of an age. Chapter Two flashes back to her childhood in Belgium and how sheltered of an existence it was. This provided the necessary contrast in the book for her arrival to America. We then learn of her life in New York, going to school and excelling (despite her aunt and uncle thinking she wouldn't), but a bulk of the book deals with her teaching.

The bulk of the book deals with her as a teacher/professor at Hunter College, because that is primarily what her life was. After all, she taught from 1947 to 1984. That is nearly 40 years of teaching experience and is impressive no matter what level at which you teach. During her time teaching, we see that she faced many professional hardships from her peers who looked to stab her in the back at every turn. A weaker person would not have survived these attacks, but her love of teaching, her love of her students, and her love of the truth gave her the necessary strength and motivation to continue teaching. She knew that she had to keep "preaching" objective truth in a world of moral relativism.

When looking at her career as a teacher, she is considered a "failure" by most accounts, hence the title of her memoirs. One could argue that her students would view her as a happy success instead. She was fiercely devoted to her students and for the most part, the feeling was mutual. There is mention of her husband in this memoir, but he does not overshadow her like he did in real life. Even though, they were published by two separate companies, I believe this book is perfect to pair with her husband's memoir My Battle Against Hitler.

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

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mad About Monkeys and Wild Animals of the North (Flying Eye Books)

When I think of children's books that are both educational and beautiful, the one publisher that always pops in my head first is Flying Eye Books. Today, I would like to tell you about two of their latest releases - Mad About Monkeys and Wild Animals of the North.

Mad About Monkeys is a 40 page chapter book that is heavily illustrated. The chapters are only two pages each, but it still qualifies as a chapter book. The book begins by talking about what monkeys are and evolution. The next chapter talks about the differences between Old World and New World monkeys. Other chapters talk about differences between large and small monkeys, their social life, and what monkeys are best at certain things, i.e., speed and intelligence. One of the closing chapters discusses monkey mythology, including their importance in the Hindu religion and Chinese zodiac. The final chapter discusses deforestation and the impact it is having on the monkeys of the world. Overall, I found this book to be very informative. It contained a nice mixture of useful knowledge and fun facts. However, the star of this book were the illustrations. Owen Davey does a remarkable job making the many different species of monkeys come alive on the pages. The only complaint I have about the book is the matter of fact statement that humans and monkeys evolved from a common ancestor. This is scientific speculation at best, as it has never been proven. For that reason, I deducted a star from my review. If you end up buying this book and liking it, be sure to check out Davey's next book Smart About Sharks.

Wild Animals of the North is an over-sized picture book that takes the reader through animals of the Northern Hemisphere. The book is divided into three sections for the three different continents - North America, Europe, and Asia. Most (but not all) of the animals are given a two page spread, which includes their name, Latin name, and a brief paragraph that tells information about where the animal lives, what it eats, and other interesting trivia about them. I was disappointed there wasn't this kind of information on the red panda, because it looked like a fascinating creature, but this just encourages the child and their parent to investigate some animals further. The pictures in this book are breathtaking and Dieter Brown is a true artist. If I may be so bold, I would compare this book to John James Audubon's Birds of America. Some might view this as blasphemy of sorts, but you have to see this book and make that judgment for yourselves. Now, I must patiently await the book Wild Animals of the South to complete this beautiful set of books.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Grizzled (Cool Mini Or Not)

Allow yourself to travel back in time for a moment. It is August 1914. Austria-Hungary was at war with Serbia. Germany had declared war on Russia and had already entered Luxembourg, most likely to make invading France and/or Belgium easier. France and Belgium had mobilized, but like Britain they were not involved in World War I yet. This is the setting for the cooperative card game called The Grizzled. In this game, you and up to four other players will play as a group of friends, facing the grim reality of war, and trying to not only survive, but all come back alive. Let's get to the setup.
1. Each player chooses a Grizzled card (character) and places it with the Good Luck Charm side (indicated by a four-leaf clover) face up.
2. Each player gets three Support tiles - one left tile, one right tile, and one random tile (the random one could be left, right, double left, or double right.)
3. Place the Peace card (looks like a dove) and Monument card (looks like a statue) to the center of the table.
4. Shuffle all the Trials cards together. Deal 25 face down on the Peace card. This will form your Trials pile. The remaining 34 will go face down on the Monument card. This is your Morale Reserve.
5. Place the appropriate number of Speech tokens between the Peace card and Monument card (Five tokens in a 2-3 player game, four in a 4 player game, and three in a 5 player game).
6. The Mission Leader token (first player token) is given to the hairiest player, and the game begins.
Game Play - The objective of the game is to complete a series of Missions, trying to empty the Trials pile. The game is won if the Peace card is visible and all players have no cards left in their hands.
1. Preparation - Determine the number of Trial cards each player will be dealt from the Trials pile, with a minimum of one per person. (Note: On the first turn, each player must be dealt three.)
2. The Mission - The players (starting with the Mission Leader) may take one of the four actions:
a. Play a Trials card from their hand to the center of the table known as No Man's Land. Mixed within the Trial cards are Hard Knocks cards which will go next to the player's Grizzled card.
b. Use their Good Luck Charm by flipping their Grizzled card over and removing one card that has a matching Threat symbol (Night, Rain, Snow, Mask, Shell, and Whistle).
c. Make a Speech - use a Speech token by naming one of the six Threats. Each player may discard one card with that matching symbol from their hand.
d. Withdraw from the mission and play a Support tile. Your Support tile is played in secret face down and determines which of your fellow players gains support.
The Mission will end in Success when all players have withdrawn. The Mission will end in failure if there are three matching Threat symbols. With a failure, the cards in No Man's Land are shuffled back into the Trials pile.
3. Support - At the end of the Mission, players reveal their Support tiles and give them to the appropriate player. If someone received a majority (no ties) in Support tiles, they can get rid of two Hard Knocks card or recover their Good Luck Charm (if the mission was a success) or get rid of one Hard Knocks card (if the mission was a failure).
4. Morale Drop - Count the number of cards in all the players' hands and transfer that number of cards (minimum of three) from the Morale Reserve to the Trials pile.
5. The Mission Leader then gains a Speech token and passes the Mission Leader token to their left.
The first thing I noticed about this game was the artwork. It is drawn in a cartoon format, but not a silly type of cartoon, more like political cartoons. This spurred me to do a little investigating, and I learned that the artist for this game was Bernard Verlhac, also known as Tignous. Mr. Verlhac was a cartoonist for the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. He was killed in the attack that took place in Paris in January 2015. As if this game wasn't depressing enough, this added another layer to it. However, just like war is ugly, sometimes, life is as well. The theme of this game is a very somber one, but it is this real theme that permeates the entire game. The biggest example being that some of the characters in the game were real people.

The mechanics of the game are deceptively simple. Play a card and try not to make a set of three on the table. This simple mechanic is complicated by the fact that cards have multiple symbols on them. Add in the Hard Knocks cards, which also add symbols or just create additional hurdles, you must overcome, and you'll find that you lose this game more than you win it. This frustrated me to no end the first couple of times I played it, because I lost every time. I eventually stopped playing just to win the game and to enjoy the experience. Once I started doing that, I finally won a game. That's not to say I've solved the game. You can make all the right moves in this game, but sometimes the cards just don't fall like they should, and you still lose. (Another true to life theme)

About the only thing I didn't like about this game was the 2-player mode. It required the use of a dummy player, and it just came off a bit clunky. Luckily, there is an expansion called The Grizzled: At Your Orders. This expansions help improve 2-player experience and also adds solo play and mission cards of varying difficulty. Ramping up the difficulty is always good for people who find themselves winning too frequently.

When I received this box in the mail, I was surprised by the size of the game. The box is approximately 5.25" x 5.25" x 2", which is quite small for board game boxes. Don't let the size of the box fool you though! It is the perfect size and contains components that are beautifully simple and simply beautiful. The game also carries some weight to it (both in strategy and emotional toll). Even though you are just laying cards down, it still transports you back in time and makes you weigh each decision you make. Will your friendship be enough to get you through the war? Or will the war claim more victims, be it physical, emotional, or psychological? If you are looking to be introduced to the world of cooperative gaming or looking for a new challenge, I strongly encourage you to spend the $20-25 and pick up a copy of The Grizzled. You won't regret it.

This game was provided to me for free by Cool Mini Or Not in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek (Baker Academic)

Learning another language is rarely easy for people. Yes, there are some people who are naturals and simply excel at it, but for most of us it is a real challenge. It is an even bigger challenge when it is a language no one speaks anymore, like Latin or Biblical Greek. However, learning even the basics of these languages could prove infinitely useful and beneficial to your spiritual life. Today, I am going to tell you about the book Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek.

Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek begins with an introduction on why one should study Biblical Greek. Some of these reasons include slowing down when reading the Bible and noticing nuances you wouldn't get from the English language. The author, Dr. Rodney A. Whitacre, explains that two good ways to study Biblical Greek is by reading large passages (focusing more on fluency, than accuracy) and meditating on the Word. Chapter Two focuses on building a vocabulary. There are 5,393 lexemes in the Greek New Testament, but an introductory course will only teach you between 350 and 600. In this chapter, he teaches root words, word formation, etymology, and strategies for learning vocabulary. Chapter Three is by far the longest chapter, as it concerns parsing and endings. There are many helpful tables in this chapter, related to all the noun declensions. Dr. Whitacre recommends familiarity over rote memorization, but realizes that many people prefer the rote method, so he strongly encourages the reader to use all your senses when going that route. The remainder of the book continues to build on getting familiar with texts through sentences, passages, and meditation.

So who is this book for? If you have never attempted to learn Greek before, then you might be better off starting with Learn New Testament Greek and/or Basic Greek in 30 Minutes a Day. This book is better served if you have learned even the basics of Greek or are trying to reacquaint yourself with Greek. What I really liked about this book is that it places an emphasis on meditation like Lectio Divina. A lot of books are focused solely on learning Greek for academic purposes, but this author realizes that learning Greek will be good not just for your brain, but for your soul as well. For that reason, I highly recommend this book for seminarians, priests, teachers, and students. If you have ever had a Greek class (or tried to teach yourself Greek) and need some additional guidance, you should check this book out.

This book was provided to me for free by Baker Academic in exchange for an honest review. If you are looking for some helpful videos to accompany this book, click here!

Friday, July 22, 2016

On the Tree of the Cross (Holy Trinity Publications)

The doctrine of atonement is a tricky one as its origin in the English language is due to Tyndale improperly translating the Greek word for reconciliation. But what exactly is atonement? Some see it as the "at-one-ing" of God and man, by Christ's saving work. Others use it in conjunction with terms like expiation (making reparations for the guilt of wrongdoing) and propitiation (the act of appeasing God). When put with words like that, it's no wonder some scholars squirm and feel uncomfortable. In large part, Eastern Orthodoxy has steered clear of the term atonement and viewed it as an incorrect Western notion. However, one man, Fr. Georges Florovsky, devoted his life to clarifying and spreading the Orthodox teaching of atonement and showing that the division between East and West on the subject of atonement isn't as clear cut as many like to make it out to be. The book On the Tree of the Cross tackles this subject.

On the Tree of the Cross is divided into two parts. The first part of the book is a collection of papers which were delivered at the First Annual Patristic Symposium in Honor of Fr. Florovsky. The second part of the book is a collection of Fr. Florovsky's writings on atonement, much from previously unpublished and/or untranslated works. Some authors of the papers from the first part include Fr. John Behr (Dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary), Archimandrite Irenei Steenberg (Director of the Institute for Orthodox Studies), and Fr. Matthew Baker (Memory Eternal). In one paper, we see St. Irenaeus' view on atonement, with Jonah as a key example. In another paper, the Ascetic Fathers are our guides to atonement, both personal and intercessory. In the writings of Fr. Florovsky, we are presented with four writings that give us a small sample of his work. They were written over decades of time, but what is clearly seen in all of them is Christ's atoning sacrifice throughout all of Creation.

There were sometimes I had a difficult time reading Fr. Florovsky's works, but I attribute much of that too it being a translation from another language. That quibble aside, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the papers in the first part of the book. With all the references to Patristic writings, it felt like this book was compiled with me in mind. If you love Patristics, like myself, and want a better understanding of atonement, then I highly recommend this book. I leave this review wondering if there will be future books from other Annual Symposiums in Honor of Fr. Florovsky. I know I would be a customer if so!

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

World's Fair 1893 (Renegade Game Studios)

The World's Fair of 1893 was held in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's 1492 arrival. It was also used to demonstrate Chicago's revival after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It took up over 600 acres of lands and contained over 200 buildings, which contained food, art, technology, and entertainment. More than 26 million people visited the fair. One of the greatest sights at the fair was the Ferris wheel - an original invention meant to rival the Eiffel Tower, which was the showpiece of Paris' World's Fair in 1889. This Ferris wheel helped save the Chicago World's Fair from ruin and it serves as the game board for one of Renegade Game Studio's recent games - World's Fair 1893.  The game is designed by J. Alex Kevern and plays 2-4 (ages 10+). It sells for anywhere between $30 and $40, depending on where you shop.
1. Place the central board and top wedge together to form a Ferris wheel, making sure both sides match the number of players. (In a two-player game, there will be nine spaces to move on the Ferris wheel.)
2. Arrange the five area tiles (Agriculture, Electricity, Fine Arts, Manufacturing, and Transportation) randomly around the Ferris wheel.
3. Place the Ferris wheel car on the central board covering the start space and the round marker at on the far left space at the beginning of Round 1.
4. In a two-player game, remove one midway ticket card five main exhibit cards (one from each of the five categories mentioned above). Then, shuffle together all the midway ticketmain exhibit, and influential figure cards together.
5. Place two cards from this deck next to each of the five area tiles.
6. Give each player 22 supporter cubes of one color (purple, blue, white, or yellow), and have each player place one cube on each of the five area tiles.
7. Set all exhibit approval tokens, midway coins, and leader medals in an easily reachable area.
8. Randomly determine a start player and give each player a start bonus card, which corresponds to their player number.
Game Play - The game takes place over three rounds with a scoring phase occurring after each round. A round ends when the Ferris wheel card makes it around the central board one time.
1. Place a supporter cube in one of the five area tiles.
2. Play any influential figure cards you may have collected from previous turns and perform the action on the card.
3. Collect the cards from the area tile you placed your supporter cube, and place them face up in front of you. For every midway ticket card you claimed, move the Ferris wheel car one space.
4. Add three new cards to game board - 1 in front of the area tile, you just placed your supporter cube and 1 each in front of the next two area tiles (assuming they are not at their maximum card limit).
1. Redeem midway tickets - Gain one midway coin for each midway ticket. The leader (or leaders if there is a tie) gains a bonus two midway coins. Discard midway tickets.
2. Score area tiles one at a time - The player(s) with the most supporter cubes in an area tile gains a leader medal worth two or four points (depending on number of players) and may approve a certain number of main exhibits (depending on number of players and ties). Each exhibit approved receives an exhibit approval token of the matching color. These tokens will be specially scored at the end of the game, depending on the variety you have managed to collect.
3. Recall supporter cubes - For every pair of supporter cubes in an area tile, remove one from the area tile and put it back in your supply. (For example, with two or three supporter cubes in the area, you would have to remove one.)

This game is a Euro game at its core. You put cubes on a board, execute an action. The three game mechanisms for this game are area control (having the most supporter cubes on an area tile), set collection (having a variety of exhibit approval tokens i.e., one of each color to score fifteen points as opposed to five of one color to score five points), and card drafting (collecting the cards in front of the area tile where you placed your supporter cube)  So what makes this different from other Euro games? I would say theme and the approachable nature of the game. Let's look at each of those individually.

Let's start with the theme. A lot of themes in Euro games feel like they were pasted on and you are only focusing on the mechanics. World's Fair 1893 is steeped in theme, and one that makes sense! The game board is a giant Ferris wheel, which was the showpiece of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The main exhibit cards are beautifully illustrated and contain fun facts about the exhibits. For example, did you know that "Norway sailed a replica ship to Chicago to show that Vikings could have reached America."? The midway ticket cards also contain attractions that people were able to attend. Lastly, the influential figure cards contain several important people, like Daniel Burnham who was the Director of Works for the World's Fair. The only complaint I have with the theme is that I wish there had been more unique influential figures as opposed to multiples of the same ones.

The next thing that makes this game better than other Euro games is its approachable nature. I feel like I've said this about a few games recently, but it is easy to learn and quick to play. (Maybe my group just tends to steer towards lighter games.) I would say this game is even easier to learn than Stone Age, which until World's Fair 1893, was my go-to for teaching Euro games to people. World's Fair 1893 also takes half the time to play (30-45 minutes compared to 60-90 minutes) compared with Stone Age. However, this ease of learning and playing doesn't make the strategy and decisions any less tense. For example, if someone played in the Agriculture area the turn before you did, then there would only be one card up for grabs in that area on your turn. However, you might really need to go there to get a specific card or re-gain majority. So do you go to that less than desirable spot and give up potentially more cards and/or the chance to tie/gain a majority in another area? TOUGH DECISION!

Euro games are usually tough to bring to my game group, because we are all parents with young (sometimes very loud children), so we have to play quicker games usually. However, this is a quicker Euro game, and because of that it has received the most playing time. The first time we played through it, we were more focused on getting used to the game and well, winning. (Because who doesn't want to win?) The next couple of times though, we slowed down a little bit and appreciated the art, factoids, and theme of the game. So if you are new to the hobby or haven't found a Euro game to introduce to your group yet, look no further than World's Fair 1893.

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Memorize the Mass! (Enroute Books and Media)

Dr. Kevin Vost is a professor of psychology and a prolific Catholic writer. He has written over a dozen books, but the two that I first read of his were The One-Minute Aquinas and The Seven Deadly Sins. The artwork on the cover of those books makes the deep subject matter more inviting to read. I recently discovered a new Dr. Vost book called Memorize the Mass! and it had the same inviting cover art, so I knew that I had to read this book too!

The book begins with an introduction on how the Mass and the Eucharist are at the heart of the Catholic life. Next, he tells us that the four main ends/goals are adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and prayer. He then goes on to tell us how despite having attended hundreds or even thousands of Masses, most Catholics don't know the Mass as well as they think they do. Therefore, his goal with this book is to get Catholics to better participate in Mass, and in doing so, better praise God. He concludes the introduction by explaining the "Catholic Art of Memory" and methods for memorization.

The book is then divided into two distinct parts. Part One covers the Novus Ordo Mass and Part Two covers the Traditional Latin Mass. The parts are then further divided into chapters according to large parts of the Mass (Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, Communion Rite, and Concluding Rites). Each chapter is then sub-divided into subsections. For example, the Liturgy of the Word contains First Reading, Responsorial Psalm, Second Reading, Gospel Acclamation, Gospel Dialogue, Gospel Reading, Homily, Profession of Faith, and Universal Prayer. At the end of the book are three appendices. Two of them are mnemonic tables for both Masses (Novus Ordo and Traditional Latin), and the third discusses and defends the belief of Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist.

Reading through this book was a very humbling and eye-opening experience, because it made me realize I do not know as much about the Mass as I think I do. The first part, naturally, proved the most beneficial to me, because it is the only Roman Catholic Mass I have experienced. (I have experienced other Catholic Rite Liturgies.) However, the second part proved to be the most interesting as I have never had the opportunity to attend a Traditional Latin Mass. Each subsection of the Mass contains not only the words of the prayers (where appropriate), but they also contain words of explanation and how to use his mnemonic method to memorize the Mass. I was hoping for a few more illustrations to help reinforce the mnemonic devices, but the ones that are there prove to be most useful. So no matter if you are an RCIA student, a 50 year old cradle Catholic, or a priest, you will find great value in this book, and I highly recommend it.

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pope Francis Takes the Bus, and Other Unexpected Stories (Servant Books)

It's been a while since I've read a book about Pope Francis. I was suffering what I have dubbed "Francis Fatigue." Now, don't misunderstand me. I love our Holy Father. It just seems like every other Catholic book since he was elected Pope has been about him. And while some of the books have been great, others have been lackluster. When I heard about the book Pope Francis Takes the Bus, and Other Unexpected Stories, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I thought it might be time to end my moratorium on Pope Francis books.

The book is divided into eighty unique stories and organized in a clever A-to-Z format. The only letters in the alphabet not included are X and Z. (I guess Pope Francis can't play the xylophone and doesn't like zebras.) The stories cover a large swath of Pope Francis' life. We learn about his parents and his time before being a priest. We also learn about his early time as a priest and new things he is doing as the pope, like no longer making daily Mass private. All the stories are quick and interesting, but two really jumped out to me. The first one was called "Girlfriend." Apparently, while Pope Francis was still a seminarian, he became infatuated with a girl he met at a wedding. He definitely struggled with the decision on whether to return to seminary or marry her, but we all know the ultimate decision he made. The other one was called "Emotions." It talked about how he when he experiences something very emotional, like being elected Pope, he completely freezes for a minute or two while everything is processing. I can relate to reacting like that as well.

I have read a lot of biographies on Pope Francis, and while they all contain the same basic information on his life, they are all told from a different perspective. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel they don't have time to read a full biography or worry they might get bogged down in details. Pope Francis Takes the Bus is the perfect solution for those who are biography-averse. It gives us bite-sized portions of Pope Francis' life in an easy to read format that makes you fly through the pages. I was able to read this book in a little over an hour. It painted a very human picture of a great man and is a book that is worth sharing with your family and friends.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Steam Time (Thames and Kosmos)

Transport yourself back in time. The year is 1899 and strange things are happening in monuments around the world. Powerful crystals have also been discovered that when harnessed correctly can help the user to travel through time and space. The industrialized nations of world, never one to miss an opportunity, are in a race to exploit these powers to their advantage. This is the game Steam TimeSteam Time is a worker placement game for 2 to 4 players, ages 12+. It takes 60-90 minutes to play (depending on the number of players) and sells for $40-$60 depending on the retailer you buy from. Let's set up the game for two players.
1. Take the three Game Board tiles and connect them to form the upside down L-shaped section Game Board,
2. Take the six Monument Boards labeled with the number two (for two players) and arrange them randomly in a column to complete the Game Board.
3. Separate the Upgrade Tiles by age (I-V) and shuffle them. Then, populate the Upgrade Tiles on the board in their appropriate location.
4. Shuffle each of the following three decks (Encounter CardsMission Cards, and Expedition Cards) separately, and form a separate draw pile for each. Match the cards from each deck with their appropriate locations on the board and populate those locations. (Note the Expedition Cards are arranged by age so bear this in mind when shuffling.)
5. Put the clear crystals (wild) at the top of the board, along with Mr. Time token.
6. Put the remaining colored crystals in the bag. Shake up the bag and then find the holes on the game board and put a random colored crystal in each hole.
7. Put two Alpha and three Omega Effort Cards at the top of the board in their proper location.
8. Give each player an Airship Board, three wooden Airships, and three Control Discs all of the same color. Put one Control Disc on the zero of the Esteem Track (score), one on the one Steam Track, and one on the start space of your Time Portal Track.
9. Give Player One a green, blue, black, pink, and grey crystal. Give Player Two the same amount plus an orange crystal. These will go in the first open spot in their matching colored area on your Airship Board.
10. Lastly, give each player eight coins.
Game Play - The game takes place over five rounds and you can take one of two actions.
1. Take the first player token. Convert one Steam into one clear crystal and/or Convert up to ten Steam into Esteem Points. (Note: You cannot take the first player token if you are the first player and it is your first turn.)
2. Take one of your Airships and place them on one of six different locations on the board and execute the action:
a. Green - Take the Mission Card associated with this square and place it face down next to your Airship Board.
b. Blue - Take the shown number of Encounter Cards on the square and pick one to perform.
c. Black - Buy colored crystals located in the square for two coins each and place them in your Airship Board.
d. Pink - Buy an Upgrade Tile with the proper gems designated on the Effort Card. You immediately receive the bonus listed on the tile.
e. Grey - Take the number of coins listed on the square.
f. Orange - Take the Expedition Card associated with this square and pay the proper gems designated on the Effort Card.
3. Each colored square has a bonus action associated with it that you get to perform after taking the main action. The amount of your bonus action reward depends on the number of crystals you have of that color.
a. Green - Esteem Points
b. Blue - Steam
c. Black - Clear Crystals
d. Pink - Move along the Time Portal Track, which will eventually get you Mr. Time and a free bonus action.
e. Grey - Extra coins.
f. Orange - Receive up to five additional rewards, i.e., crystals, points, steam, etc.
4. Turns alternate between players with the only placement rules being that you can't land on a spot where there is already an Airship and you have to move up on the Game Board when you place subsequent Airships.
5. After each round, the top Monument Board shifts to the bottom and pushes the other Monument Boards up a space.

Looking at recent games, it is clear that the steampunk theme is one that has grown in popularity in recent years. This was my first venture into that theme and I can see why it is so popular. There's something interesting about encountering historical figures such as Tesla, Edison, and Watt. Another popular theme employed in this game is time travel. I have played a few time travel games and while none get the idea exactly right, it is always a theme I take great pleasure in.

After looking at the themes, I examined the components more closely and I think that Thames and Kosmos did a first rate job. The game board is massive and modular, which makes for a stunning presentation. Given that there are different sides for the number of players (two, three, and four) and that the game board moves and changes, the game and your strategy must be fluid. In addition to a well-designed game board, the pieces are well made also. They aren't generic cubes, but blimp-shaped, and the little gem stones have a nice feel to them with colors (particularly the blue and green ones) that really pop!

The game, as I said earlier, is a worker placement game, and anyone familiar with the board gaming hobby is no stranger to this game mechanism. I would say that Steam Time took that mechanism and put it on steroids. In a standard worker placement game, you put your pawn on a square and no one else can take that action. This holds true in Steam Time, but there are multiple iterations of each action so someone can't completely block you from an action. The mechanism is also enhanced, because in addition to carrying out a standard action when placing your Airship, you also get a bonus action that varies in strength depending on the number of gems you have. Brilliant!

Lastly, the replay value is high in this game. The base game has enough moving parts, different cards, different upgrades, etc. that you can play this game many times over and it have a bit of a different feel each time. However, if you feel that you need something a little different to enhance the game or add a challenge, there are two optional modules you can add to it. One is called the specialist module and the other is called the sabotage module. The former can help enhance your turns even further, and the latter adds a "take that" mechanism to the game. I like the specialists, but the sabotage is a bit too cutthroat for my gaming group.

RĂ¼diger Dorn, the game's designer, is no stranger to making successful games. Looking back at his track record (Roa, Istanbul, Genoa), it is no surprise that this game plays as great as it does. If you are looking for a quality game that sneaked in under the radar in 2015, then you can't go wrong with this game!

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

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Holy Year in Rome (Sophia Institute Press)

We are approximately one year through the Jubilee Year of Mercy. How has your year been going? If we're being honest, mine could be going better. Like most new years, I started off strong, but fizzled strong as well. I am trying to re-orient and reset, and in doing so I discovered a book that has been on my unread shelf longer than it should have been. That book is called A Holy Year in Rome and it is available from Sophia Institute Press.

The book begins by explaining the history and significance of pilgrimages and shrines. Chapter Two then gives us a glossary of terms, including terms like jubilee, bishop, cathedral, holy door, etc. These definitions aren't brief one-liners. No, they provide historical examples of the terms as well. In Chapter Three, we see different jubilees throughout history, including the first one in 1300 and the most recent one of 2000 (not counting the current one in 2016, of course). Chapter Four tells us about this current Jubilee Year of Mercy and includes the letter of Pope Francis granting an indulgence and his prayer for the Jubilee. The rest of the book includes places to visit in Rome, such as the seven pilgrimage basilicas and the catacombs.

If you are planning on taking a pilgrimage to Rome, either during the Jubilee Year or some other time, this book is a fine guide and a solid starting point for doing so. If you are not planning on doing so in the near future, then this book will at least provide you with relevant information on what jubilees and pilgrimages are, as well as what makes this one important. I unfortunately fall into the latter category, but maybe one day I'll make a trek to Rome. Until then I will keep my eyes and ears open for someone heading that way and pass this book along to them.

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

Called to be the Children of God (Ignatius Press)

"The new way of life in Christ is ultimately the essence of love: for the lover is never content simply gazing upon the beloved but longs to be mutually transformed into the other, thereby becoming no longer two but one. This is the heart of love, to find one's own eternal welfare in another." This is how the introduction begins for Called to be the Children of God. Unlike many other books, which focus on the Incarnation and God becoming man, this book looks at the other side of the coin, man becoming God. As the opening lines suggest, if we truly love God, then we will not be happy simply staring at Him and all His goodness. No! We must want to be changed into His Image and become just like him.

In this book, the reader is presented with fifteen essays which systematically walk us through human deification. The first essay/chapter presents us with the Scriptural roots of human deification, both Old and New Testament. The next two chapters give us the views of the Greek Fathers and the Latin Fathers. I was pleasantly surprised that the Greek Fathers (including great men like the Apostolic Fathers and the Cappadocian Fathers to name a few) were included in this book, as we Roman Catholics have a tendency to forget about our Eastern brothers. Chapter Four addresses St. Augustine's view on the subject. And the rest of the chapters work us through various schools of thought including the what the Dominicans and Franciscans thought and how our understanding grew before and after major Councils like Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II.

One of the most interesting chapters to me was Chapter Ten - "John Henry Newman on Deification." In this essay, it talks about how he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism by reading the Eastern Church Fathers. (Side Note: It was always amazing to me that he didn't convert to Eastern Orthodoxy instead.) The essay also talks about how :Roman Catholics have been engaged in a ressourcement - a 'return to the sources' of the Christian faith represented by the writings of the Church Fathers." The East has also experienced this, perhaps to a lesser degree, as they didn't lose touch as much as we did. The author of this essay, Daniel J. Lattier, believes that this gives us hope for an ecumenical reunion.

The doctrine of human deification is not an easy one to grasp, but it is a fascinating one to study. With Fr. David Meconi as the editor of Called to be the Children of God, you know you have a solid guide on this subject.

This book 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, July 6, 2016

Onitama (Arcane Wonders)

Onitama is the second Dice Tower Essentials game released by Arcane Wonders. It is a two-player abstract strategy game with perfect information. The recommended age is 14+, but younger than that can pick up this game. The total playing time per game is 10 to 15 minutes, but it can vary depending on how long you or your opponent agonize over what moves to make. It retails for approximately $30. In this game, you are a martial arts master with four students traveling to the Shrine of Onitama. You will battle a rival master and his pupils in an attempt to defeat them. However, this tournament is like others. Within the Shrine of Onitama, you and your pupils will be imbued with animal spirits and gain their movement/abilities. Let's get to the setup.
1. Roll out the Game Mat and position it so that one player is on the red side and the other on the blue side.
2. Take the five pawns (one Master and four Students) that correspond with your color and place them on the row closest to you with the Master positioned in the middle (on the Temple Arch Square) flanked by two Students on each side.
3. Shuffle the sixteen Move Cards and deal two face up to each player.
4. Deal one more Move Card and examine the color of the icon in the bottom right corner. That color is the first player. Place this card on the right side of the board in relation to who the first player is.
5. Return the additional Move Cards to the box and set up is complete.
Game Play
1. Pick one of your two Move Cards and move one of your pawns according to the movement shown on the card. (Note: The black square on the card represents where your pawn is on the board, and the colored squares represent places on the board where your pawn can move.) Your movements are not blocked by other pawns, cannot land you off the board, and if you land on a square occupied by your opponent, you capture that piece.
2. Take the Move Card you just used and place it on the left side of the board. You then claim the Move Card located on the right of the board.
3. Play continues back and forth between players until you either capture your opponent's Master (aka The Way of the Stone) or you land on your Master lands on your opponent's Temple Arch Square (aka The Way of the Stream).
The first things I noticed about this game was the packaging presentation and components. Unlike a typical rectangular or square game box, this box unfolds and opens like a scroll. The game mat is not made of cardboard, but instead neoprene, like a mouse pad and the pawns show nice detail as well. The next thing I noticed was the theme of the game. Martial arts with different animal moves is a perfect fit and just makes sense.

After taking in all the aesthetics, I focused on the way the game plays. For obvious reasons, Onitama will draw heavy comparisons to Chess. Like Chess, this game requires both short term and long term thinking. You have to figure out your move and plan for how your opponent can counter that move. Unlike, Chess, the pieces move based on a player's two Move Cards. You can see their cards, so nothing is hidden, but these cards are constantly rotating, so you have to be constantly vigilant that the card you use and then give to your opponent will not come back to haunt you. Other aspects of the game play that I liked were the quick set up, easy explanation of the rules, and the replay value. By choosing five of sixteen cards, each game, there are thousands of different combinations you can experience, and each one will provide a slightly different game than the last. Though, I would recommend you stick with the same five cards your first couple of games while you get used to the game.

The game is billed as taking ten minutes to play, but a lifetime to master and I find it hard to disagree with that statement. You can get lost in thought on this game, but if you approach it with equal parts strategy and having fun, it won't overstay its welcome. I find this game to be a nice date night game or one you can play while waiting for the rest of your game group to show up. When I put this game up next to The Duke, another abstract strategy game I recently reviewed, my wife will pick this game every time, because it's easy to pick back up if you haven't played it recently, and it feels like you have a bit more control over your moves as opposed to luck of the draw. I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

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

Monday, July 4, 2016

Pocket RSV New Testament (Scepter Publishers)

It may sound cliched but, the Bible is my favorite book. (Even though, technically, it is a whole library of books.) I love it so much that I have several shelves of Bibles and even more shelves of commentaries. I was recently provided with the opportunity to review Scepter Publishers' Pocket RSV New Testament. It took a great deal of restraint, but I managed to decline the offer as I recently had acquired two other Bibles, and I was worried my wife would kill me if I acquired another Bible. It took several Pope Francis quotes (see below), but I was finally convinced to review the Bible, and I am glad that I did.

The Pocket RSV New Testament is 3" x 5" in size and contains approximately 700 pages in single column format. The translation is the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSV CE). It comes in Black Simulated Leather, Burgundy Simulated Leather, and for $10 more Black Leather. I have a personal preference towards the burgundy edition, but that's just me. There is a ribbon bookmark to help you easily keep your place, and a brief appendix at the end, which explains some of the nuances and differences between the RSV and the RSV CE.

This Bible reminds me of the ones that the Gideons hand out or one that you receive at First Communion. The Bible is truly pocket in nature and can fit in a breast or pants pocket easily. I enjoy this translation over the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), because this one has a more literal translation. The only knock against the Bible is that the pages are thinner than I would like. However, I feel that way about most Bibles. The bible is a great tool and greater blessing to have so readily available. I will close with what Pope Francis said about the importance of reading the Bible.

"I pose a question to you: do you read a passage of the Gospel everyday? Yes, no… yes, no… half of the time … some yes, some no. It is important! Do you read the Gospel? It is so good; it is a good thing to have a small book of the Gospel, a little one, and to carry in our pocket or in our purse and read a little passage in whatever moment presents itself during the day. In any given moment of the day I take the Gospel from my pocket and I read something, a short passage. Jesus is there and he speaks to us in the Gospel! Ponder this. It’s not difficult, nor is it necessary to have all four books: one of the Gospels, a small one, with us. Let the Gospel be with us always, because it is the Word of Jesus in order for us to be able to listen to him."

This Bible was provided to me for free by Scepter Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Eyes of Mercy (VOX DEI Productions)

About a year ago, I was permitted to read a pre-publication copy of a short story by Brian Kennelly entitled "The Parable of the Lady in Blue." At the time, he was trying to get the book published and was looking for some blurbs to put on the book. I was flattered to be ask and graciously obliged. Fast forward to now, and the story has turned into a script. The script will be made into a 20 minute movie, but only with your help by pledging tax-deductible funds through Kickstarter. All the information for the project can be found on the Kickstarter page here, but here is a brief summary:

Discover the Power of the Rosary!

A group of Catholic filmmakers from the non-profit, Vox Dei Productions, are looking for help to make a short film about the power of the Rosary.  They plan to release the film, titled Eyes of Mercy, next year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima. Eyes of Mercy will take audiences inside the soul of a man struggling from a crisis of faith, and show what happens within his soul when someone prays the Rosary for him. It will actually give a visual to how God’s grace comes to us through Mary.

Because they are releasing the film for FREE online, and due to the Catholic nature of the content, they will not be backed by a Hollywood production company. So they need the help of ordinary Catholics like you.  Check out their Kickstarter page (link) and see them on Facebook to discover how you can become a part of this project. Even if you only donate $1, it will go a long way in bringing Our Lady to the big screen.

Currently, they have Karyme Lozano playing the role of Doris and Fadik Sevin Atasoy playing the role of Mother Mary. Famous actors (Mark Wahlberg, Jim Caviezel, Joseph Fiennes, and Gary Sinise) are being considered for the role of Roy. And for the role of priest, Robert Duvall and Edward James Olmos are under consideration.

The project has approximately one month left on it and needs over $300,000 to meet the goal and make this powerful movie. Every dollar helps and is tax deductible. If you cannot give at this time, then at least share the Kickstarter page and pray for them and their success.