Friday, September 30, 2016

Striving Toward God (Holy Trinity Publications)

Anna Mikhailovna Sebriakova joined the Ust'-Medveditskii convent at the age of 17. She was tonsured with the name Arsenia and served as abbess of the monastery for 41 years. Her writings were influenced by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (author of The Arena and On the Prayer of Jesus). Holy Trinity Publications has recently translated her writings and compiled them in a book entitled Striving Toward God. The book is approximately 100 pages and is composed of the following sections:

1. The Notes of Abbess Arsenia
2. The Letters to Peter Alexandrovich Brianchaninov
3. Letters to Other Individuals

Like every Orthodox book I have ever read, the book begins with a short biography on who Abbess Arsenia was. This is a feature I wish more genres would adopt as it proves useful in setting the context of the work. Her notes then begin by speaking on humility. "Humility is the only state of the spirit through which all spiritual gifts are able to enter an individual. There is also talk of a natural yearning for goodness and being still to know God's presence. The whole section is only seven pages long, but contains a depth of wisdom.

Part Two, Letters to Peter Alexandrovich Brianchaninov, is the bulk of the book at over 50 pages and 93 letters. The letters date from 1870 to 1890. These letters cover topics such as the path to salvation, faith, prayer, etc. Her letters seem to offer him spiritual counsel and advice along the difficult journey that life can sometimes be. I would have liked to read his letters too for better frame of reference, but the letters from other people are never provided when you publish someone's letters. The last section is another set of letters, but this one being to various individuals. A lot of these letters have recipients who are only identified by initials, probably to protect their identity. Just like the other letters, we see great spiritual wisdom and depth.

I really enjoyed reading this book, as it introduced me to a holy woman I was previously unaware of. It was also spiritually edifying to read as it provided practical daily advice, which is something we all can use. Lastly, is was interesting to see how useful her advice still proved to be, even though I am in a different country and two centuries removed from her time period. It just goes to show that good spiritual wisdom is timeless.

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!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

10 Minute Heist (Daily Magic Games)

Off in the distance is an eight floor tower that casts an imposing figure in the sky. Within it dwells a Wizard with untold riches and relics...or so the legend goes. You (and other thieves) have been eyeing this castle for years, wondering if you dare enter it and try and get a share of the loot. There were rumors of one bold man breaking into the castle, but no one ever heard from him again. In fact, after he disappeared, no one ever tried to enter the tower again...until tonight. You and your fellow thieves decided to all loot the tower tonight. You aren't working with them. You just hope they'll provide enough of a distraction so that you can get out with a lion's share of the loot before the Wizard catches you. Little do you know, they have the same plans as you. Who will gain the most treasure and who will end up cursed? Find out in 10 Minute Heist: The Wizard's Tower10 Minute Heist: The Wizard's Tower is a game for 2 to 5 players, ages 14+. It takes 10 minutes to play and will be launching on Kickstarter October 4th.
1. Shuffle the Dark Deck (cards with unlit windows on the back), and then remove two cards. Return these cards to the box without looking at them.
2. Shuffle the Light Deck (cards with lit windows on the back), and then remove one card in a 4-5 player game, two cards in a 3 player game, and three cards in a 2 player game.
3. Place the Balcony Tile in the upper left corner of the playing area. Then, take the Light Deck and deal five cards face-up to form Floor 8. Do the same underneath Floor 8 to form Floor 7.
4. Take the Dark Deck and continue forming floors in the manner described in the previous step. The last card dealt on the bottom floor will be dealt face-down.
5. Place the Bridge Tile next to the face down card on the bottom floor. On it place the "1st to Exit" and "2nd to Exit" tiles. Then, display the remaining score tiles near the tower where everyone can see them.
6. Each player picks a Thief token and the starting player is the person who last won any game.
7. Take the leftover Light Deck cards and give them to the player who will go last. They select a card and place it face down in front of them to score points at the end of the game. The remaining cards are passed counter-clockwise until everyone has chosen a card. The rest of the cards are placed in the box without revealing what they are.

Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds until all players have exited the tower. On your turn, you may claim a card in the tower by moving your token along the outside wall of the floor you wish to take a card from. If the card you claim has instructions on it, you must do what they say immediately. You can skip floors if nothing appeals to you, but the most important rule is that you can only travel downward, NEVER upward. The first player to exit claims the "1st to Exit" tile and the second player to exit claims the "2nd to Exit" tile. Then, final scoring occurs.

Scoring - Have the starting player act as the moderator.
1. Treasure Suits - Players add up the value of cards they have in that category and the one with the most is awarded the tile. Example: A Player has a Book of Spells and Flamel's Formulas for a total of nine tomes.
2. Number Sets - Players count the quantity of cards with that number on it.
3. Curses - Players count the quantity of curse icons on all their cards.

If there is ever a tie for a tile among players, no one gets the tile. The person with the most points from all their scoring tiles wins. If there is a tie, the person with the fewest curses wins.

10 Minute Heist: The Wizard's Tower is a quick game of set collection and grid movement. The amount of turns vary person to person and game to game, meaning you can have as many turns as you want. Maybe, you'll take your time and collect every treasure on the floor before moving down, thinking you are outsmarting your opponent(s). Meanwhile, your opponent(s) are rapidly progressing down the tower and taking all the shiny cards you are missing out on. By the time you get done traipsing through the top floor, you might discover, they have already cleaned out Floors 7 and 6, leaving you nothing but curses. Why? Because this game is set-collection with a bit of a racing element. You want to be one of the first to exit for extra points, but you also want to grab the best loot possible. This creates a decision each turn of going for speed or going for greed. You'll have to gauge the tower and your opponents to find the right balance. Then, there's the curses... These can get you a lot of points, as they are valuable treasures, but because of their great value the Wizard has appropriately cursed these to try and tempt you toward a lesser treasure. You'll take some along the way, but don't take too many or you'll end up losing some points at the end!

Where people will have the biggest problem with the game is the theme. The game touches heavily on the supernatural with haunted items, various magical tomes, precious gems, and items from mystical beasts like unicorns, phoenixes, dragons, and basilisks. The artwork is very well done, but is has a bit of a dark feel to it as well, indicating that this was not a good wizard whose tower you broke into. This theme could be a turn off to some, but that is why the game comes with an age recommendation of 14+. You'll have to decide if the theme is good for you, your family, and/or your group or not. I for one did not like one of the treasures being Tarot cards, but it fits with the theme. Plus, it's not like you are using any of the items to perform spells or other types of magic. You merely are taking the treasures, presumably to sell on the black market.

As for the game play value, it's definitely more interesting with 3+ players. With two players, there are more cards missing and more secret information, but a lot less conflict/competition for cards, unless you're cutthroat, which my wife and I are not. I'm curious if there will be future expansions/iterations of this game. It certainly seems possible. If you're looking for a game that's quick to set up, easy to learn, and fast to play consider backing this one on Kickstarter October 4th.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Palmer Brown Books (New York Review Books)

Palmer Brown was born in Chicago in 1920 and passed away in 2012. He attended Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania. He was also an author and illustrator of five children's books - Cheerful, Hickory, Something for Christmas, Beyond the Pawpaw Trees, and The Silver Nutmeg. Each of them was published by The New York Review Children’s Collection.

Cheerful is a mouse who lives with his parents and siblings - Solemnity, Faith, and Hope. All the mice are content living in the city church, all except Cheerful. There is fun to be had and plenty of wedding cake crumbs to be had. Cheerful's mother was a country mouse, who told her children stories about her childhood in the country. These appealed greatly to Cheerful, and it made him long to live in the quiet countryside. The little mice grew up. The two girl mice (Faith and Hope) got married and went to live in a bakery and deli, respectively. Solemnity followed in his father's footsteps and became a church mouse. He finally decided to leave the church, and wound up at an old woman's house, still in the city. He was content there for a time, but eventually grew discontent there as well. One day, he wound up in a bowl that got packed up and shipped to her granddaughter. She lived in the country and Cheerful finally felt at home. This was a very simple book with delicate illustrations and is great for children to read by themselves or have read to them.

Hickory tells the story of a family of mice who live in a grandfather clock. The children, named by their mother, were called Hickory, Dickory, and Dock. Hickory liked to talk to the field-mice, and one day they convinced him to leave. His mother and father were both worried for him, as he liked to play more games than he should, but they agreed, it would help him mature. At first, he was not happy with his venture. The barn smelled of pigs and he missed the ticking of the clock. He eventually befriends some other mice and a grasshopper named Hop. Hop and Hickory are very good friends, Hickory eventually learns that Hop's time is short and she'll only be around for a season. Hickory tries to fight this reality, but eventually comes to accept this reality and spends as much time with Hop as he can. Like Brown's other stories, this is a beautifully illustrated book. The story itself is hauntingly beautiful and tells a story of friendship, love, and loss.

Something for Christmas is a very short story about a mouse and his mother. It is Christmas Eve, and he is sad because he cannot find anything to give the person he loves for Christmas. He talks about making several different gifts, but he has none of the materials/ingredients to make any of the gifts. His mother then asks if there is anything of his that he could give as a gift. He goes through his possessions, but his mother says none of those would make good gifts. It turns out the best gift he can give to the person he loves is his love. This is a very short, but touching book. It serves as a great reminder of what really matters and is worth reading not only during Christmas, but frequently throughout the year.

These books were provided to me for free by New York Review Books in exchange for honest reviews.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Unreal Estate (Grand Gamers Guild)

The tabletop hobby has been growing what seems exponentially these past few years. With this growth comes an increase in the consumer's appetite. They want bigger and better games with lots of dice, cards, miniatures, etc. Now, I'm all for getting your money's worth, but I think a lot of gamers (myself included) miss out on smaller, lesser-known projects sometimes, because of this insatiable appetite. Therefore, I'd like to take the time today to tell you about a little game currently on Kickstarter called Unreal EstateUnreal Estate is a card-drafting, set collection game for 2-4 players. It takes only 20 minutes to play and can be yours for a pledge of $18.

1. Shuffle the main deck of Building Cards (Cards with yellow banners).
2. Deal each player two of those cards.
3. Create a Scrap Pile to the side of one table. The size of the pile will be determined by the number of players - 4 cards in a two-player game, 3 cards in a three-player game, and 5 cards in four-player game. (Note: Cards should be stacked with matching cards and in a way so that you can see how many cards are in each stack.)
4. Place the Special Building Cards back in the deck of Building Cards and reshuffle the deck.

Game Play - At the start of each round, place five cards from the top of the deck face up across the center of the table to form the Proposal Board. Starting with the first player and going clockwise, you may take one of the follow three actions:
1. Drafting - Take one card from the Proposal Board and put it into your hand.
2. Play a Building Card - Play a card/cards from your hand. If it is a Special Building Card, carry out the action and then discard the card. If it is a regular Building Card, it must match a card in the Scrap Pile. Proceed to scoring.
3. Scoring - When you play a card from your hand to score, you must play all the cards of that suit. You then add up the value of your cards and multiple it by the number of matching cards in the Scrap Pile. Lastly, you discard all the cards that were used. Example: You play three Wizard's Towers, and there are two Wizard's Towers in the Scrap Pile. A Wizard Tower is worth three points, so (3+3+3) x (2) = 18 points.
4. Once all players have taken a turn, the remaining cards in the Proposal Board are moved to the Scrap Pile.

The game ends when there are no cards left in the deck to place in the Proposal Board. Each player then gets one more turn to play cards and score. Highest score is the winner.

This is a simple game to setup, learn, and play, but it is one that makes you think the entire time. The reason for this is because there is a touch of press-your-luck in deciding exactly when to play your cards to score. Do you wait one extra turn and hope that more of the cards you need show up, or do you take the points and run because they might not be there the next turn? This is the struggle you'll face every turn. I generally take the points and run, but I'm a "bird in the hand" kind of guy.

Apart from the beautiful simplicity of this game, the game itself is simply beautiful. Each card is brilliantly done and calls on different fantastical creatures, including dwarves, elves, orcs, and goblins. The artist, Corinne Roberts, has an artistic style that is Tolkien-esque. For example, the Halfling House makes you feel like you're in the Shire with Bilbo and Frodo. Each card has a unique flavor to it and an amazing amount of detail that shows special care went into the creation of each card. Both the buildings and their backdrops invite you to play the game again and again, just so you can admire the artistic creations she produced.

The game is currently on Kickstarter, is fully funded, and has unlocked a few stretch goals! However, there are some more awesome stretch goals waiting to be unlocked the more money they raise. So if you are a fan of fantasy, quick card games, and beautiful art, you'll want to go back this game!

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila Volume 2 (ICS Publications)

We are quickly approaching the Feast Day of St. Teresa of Avila, which is October 15th. Two weeks ago, I reviewed Volume One of her Collected Works and to continue my review theme, I am now going to tell you about Volume Two. This book contains two of St. Teresa's more well-known works - The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle. In addition to these two, we are also treated to Meditations on the Song of Songs. Like the first volume, the translators, Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh and Fr. Otilio Rodriguez, wrote introductions to these key works. These introductions provide us with information such as historical context, outline, and central theme.

The Way of Perfection was written while St. Teresa was a nun of the Order of our Lady of Mount Carmel. It was intended as a rule for the discalced nuns. She starts by telling the nuns why she founded this monastery. Some of the subjects she talks about are detachment from worldly things, mortification, perfect love of God, and prayer. Meditations on the Song of Songs is remarkable for several reasons. but the two primary reasons are her lack of Biblical training and the fact that she was a woman commenting on the Song of Songs. It is not a verse-by-verse commentary, but her observations are astute and show a knowledge that can best be described as mystical. The Interior Castle is my favorite work of St. Teresa's. It is hard to do justice talking about it, but in this work, she described her ideal journey of faith. Each level gets the journeyer one step closer to God. The first three mansions deal with ordinary prayer, and the final four mansions deal with contemplative prayer. She does not take any credit for progress on the journey. Instead, she gives all credit to the Sacraments and devotion to God's will.

Each time you read through the words of St. Teresa of Avila, you are treated to the words of a brilliant Doctor of the Church. I would normally say that if you are only going to own one of the volumes of her works, it would be this one. However, I think you really need Volume One as well to appreciate the context of Volume Two and respect the progression of her writings. The only problem I have with this book is the cover doesn't match Volume One and Volume Three, but that is a petty complaint at best. Be sure to check back here in two weeks when I tell you about Volume Three.

This book was provided to me for free by ICS Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The New Jerusalem Bible (Image Books)

I have read a lot of Bible translations in my 30+ years on this Earth - Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. There are MANY Protestant translations. Some are too stilted to read (I'm looking at you King James), and some are too casual to read (Sorry Good News Translation!). Catholics don't have that "luxury" of all the translations. The main versions I can think of are the Revised Standard (RSV) and New Revised (NRSV); New American (NAB) and New America Revised (NABRE); the Douay-Rheims (DR); and the Jerusalem Bible (JB) and New Jerusalem (NJB). Each translation has strengths and weaknesses, and different people have different preferences for translations. I'm not going to tell you which one to pick today, but instead just tell you about about the New Jerusalem Bible as it is one I haven't read before until recently.

The New Jerusalem Bible was published in 1985. It is a hardcover volume that is over 2100 pages long. It is single column format (rare for Bibles, but appreciated) and contains introductions to sections, i.e, the Pentateuch and specific books of the Bible. At the back of the Bible are supplements like colored maps, a chronological table, and various indices (major persons, footnotes, etc.) It has some inclusive language, but doesn't go overboard with it. The pages are somewhat see through, but not so thin that you feel like they will rip merely from turning it. There are tons of cross-references in the margins and the amount of footnotes is impressive. The margins themselves feel a little bit bigger (not much mind you) than other editions, which will give you room for notes, if you are the type of person who marks up their Bible.

Overall, I'm pleased with this version of the Bible and would say if you can get it for a reasonable price (MSRP is $50, but Amazon usually has it for $30), it is a good Bible for someone who hasn't read through the Bible before. The language is very inviting without being casual. It is not liturgical like the NABRE, and not literal like the RSV. It is somewhere in the middle, and what I would call a reading Bible. You won't go into great depth using this Bible as a study tool, but it would be useful for the first reading of a passage and then going deeper with a different translation of the Bible. I could see myself reading this one over the NABRE if I am reading for enjoyment, mainly because it flows better (to me) and the page formatting is much more appealing to the eyes. If I was picking one Bible to read for enjoyment and not in-depth study, it would be this one.

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Valley of the Kings (Alderac Entertainment Group)

While some kids grew up wanting to be a professional athlete or a fireman, I grew up wanting to be an archaeologist. Yes, I know I was (and still am) a big nerd. but I'm okay with that, and I imagine you are too if you're reading this. I used to dream that I would perform these important digs in places like Egypt, Greece, or the Holy Land and find important relics that have been lost for centuries. Fast forward thirty years, and I didn't become an archaeologist after all. Despite that, I still have not lost my love for ancient histories and cultures. So when I find a game that has some of those elements in it and it's a style of game I like, I have to give it a try.

Enough with the long preamble! Today, I am going to tell you about the game Valley of the KingsValley of the Kings is a 1 to 4 player deck-building game for players ages 14+. Though, I would argue as young as 12 can play it. It has two sequels - Valley of the Kings: Afterlife and Valley of the Kings: Last Rites. Each game retails for $19.99. In this game, you are an Egyptian noble preparing for your death and burial in the Valley of the Kings. You want your tomb to an impressive monument of your life, but so do your opponents. Therefore, you and your rival noble are competing to who leaves this world with the best cache of artifacts. Today, I will be telling you about the original game and pointing out any differences among the two sequels.
1. Give each player a Tomb card and a reference card to place in front of them.
2. Take all the Level I cards (indicated by the Roman numeral in the bottom right) and give each player four Shabtis, three Urns, two Boxes of Food, and one Offering Table. These ten cards form the players Starter Cards.
3. Have each player shuffle their Starter Cards to form their own Draw Deck. Each player then takes the top five cards off their deck to form their Hand.
4. Then, take all the Level II cards and shuffle them in a face down stack. Do the same for the Level III cards. Place the stack of Level II cards on top of the Level III cards to form the Stock.
5. Set up the Pyramid by drawing six cards from the Stock and arranging them so that three cards are on the bottom level, two on the middle level, and one on the top.
6. Lastly, set up the Boneyard (communal discard pile) by drawing the top card from the Stock and placing it face up next to the Stock.
7. The starting player is the last person to have visited a museum.
Game Play - During your turn, you must perform the following four actions in order.
1. Play Cards - With every card in your hand, you can use them for one of three purposes in any order:
a. Buy a card from the base of the Pyramid. (Note: The gold value a card provides is located on the top left of the card and the cost is located on the top right.) After you remove a card from the pyramid, the one above it crumbles down diagonally to fill its spot.
b. Execute the action listed on the card.
c. Entomb a card (once per turn). (Note: When you entomb a card, you no longer can use this card, but it does count for end game scoring).
2. Discard - When you have played all the cards from your hand that you want to play, discard those cards and any leftover in your hand to your personal discard pile.
3. Draw five cards from your Draw Deck to reform your hand for your next turn. (Note: If you don't have enough cards in your deck, shuffle your discard pile to re-form your deck.)Play then passes clockwise.

Game End
The game will take place over many rounds until both the Stock and Pyramid are out of cards and everyone has taken the same number of turns. Scoring then occurs as follows. Starter Cards are worth one point each. Unique Cards (purple) show their point total at the bottom. All other cards, you add up the the number of unique cards from each set and square it. Example: If you had three three amulets and four statues, you would score nine points for amulets (3 x 3) and sixteen points for statues (4 x 4).

Similarities and Differences Between the Three Games
Valley of the Kings has the following for cards:
Starter Cards = Shabti, Urn, Box of Food, and Offering Table
Set of 3 = Sarcophagi
Set of 4 = Canopic Jars
Set of 5 = Amulets
Set of 6 = Books
Set of 7 = Statues
Unique Cards = Six total

Valley of the Kings: Afterlife has the following for cards:
Starter Cards = Shabti, Urn, Box of Food, and Offering Table
Set of 3 = Mummification
Set of 4 = Jewelry
Set of 5 = Chambers
Set of 6 = Weapons
Set of 7 = Tomb Art
Unique Cards = Six total

Valley of the Kings: Last Rites has the following for cards:
Starter Cards = Menial, Embalmer, Kite, and Medjay
Set of 5 = Priestesses
Set of 6 = Priests
Set of 7 = Builders
Set of 8 = Artisans
Unique Cards = Four total

For only playing it a few times, Valley of the Kings has quickly become one of my favorite deck-builders. The first thing I like about it is the card buying method. With only being able to buy from the bottom of the pyramid, you have to decide carefully which cards to buy. The card you buy might lead to a better card for your opponent to buy. The second thing I like about the game is the actions on the cards that let you interact with your hand, your tomb, the pyramid, and your opponent as well. By having all these choices, it can be tempting to interact a lot, but you also don't want to interact too much, as it is still a deck-builder and you need to buy cards.

The third thing I like about the game is the way to score the game. In the base game of Dominion (the granddaddy of all deck-builders), you add up all the cards in your hand at the end of the game. Therefore, you have access to all your cards at all times. In Valley of the Kings, you must entomb your cards (and only once per turn). By doing this, you will score end game points, but you will also lose access to higher valued cards, which can be used to buy more cards and manipulate the game. It definitely creates a constant tension of, "Should I entomb this card or not?"

The fourth thing I like about this game is the ability to mix and match the three games together. Each set of cards in a game actually has two sets. That means there are actually six sarcophagi cards, two sets of the same three cards. So if you want to play with the base game and Valley of the Kings: Afterlife, you can take the duplicate set of each set out of the games and mix them together. This can create a whole new depth of scoring as you are working with ten unique sets of cards instead of just five. You could also make an even bigger game and combine all three. It requires a little Starter Deck manipulation, but it makes for an intense and fun experience!

The last, and certainly not least, thing I like about the game is the the artwork and theme! It took me a while to get to this aspect, but that's only because it's a given. The art on these cards is masterfully done and looks very authentic. Also, at the bottom of each card is some flavor text which tells you more about the card. For example, on the Brain Hook, it tells us, "Egyptians believed brains were worthless. They used a hook to remove them through the nostrils." Gross, but fascinating! Each card is like a mini cultural or history lesson, if you take the time to read it. This could make the game good for classrooms or the homeschool setting, because the best way to learn is when you don't realize you are learning at all!

A lot of people complain about the sequels, because they were expecting new twists on the base game. Why? The game plays wonderfully as is, and if something is not broke, you generally don't fix it. Overall, I am highly impressed with this trio of games. With a favorite theme, solid mechanics, good quality components, this game checks all the boxes for me. If you are looking to try your hand at deck-builders, this is one I'd highly recommend.

These games were provided to me for free by Alderac Entertainment Group in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Page-A-Day Children's Bible (Pauline Books and Media)

The Page-A-Day Children's Bible is one of the latest releases from Pauline Books and Media. It is approximately 400 pages long, is flexibound, and was written by Rhona Davies with illustrations by Marcin Piwowarski. It is specifically aimed at children ages 8-10, but depending on the child's reading level, earlier than that can appreciate it. As suggested by the title, there are 365 readings in this Bible. (Sorry Leap Year!) The first 240 chapters are from the Old Testament and the remaining 125 chapters are from the New Testament. Each chapter is approximately one page long. The pages are not full text though. They have some small soft illustrations to help keep your child's attention without distracting them from the message.

The first thing that I thought of when I received this book was that it's like an adult version of a daily devotional. Even seasoned readers, struggle with reading the Bible if they don't have a specific plan of attack. By setting up a daily schedule, and not making it too difficult to follow, children can read their daily bit of Bible when they wake up, before they go to bed, or on the way to school. The stories provide the right amount of wisdom and detail without speaking down to the children, and since they can read it on their own, they feel a sense of independence. My son is a bit below the recommended reading level, but we have been reading to him from this Bible every night before he goes to bed. We aren't going through it in order, but trying to pick out ones that we feel will catch his attention. You can never start too early when teaching your children a love for the Bible.

What I like best about this Bible is that with each chapter heading, the Scripture reference is also noted. This is especially helpful, if you want to read the same Bible section your child is, so that y'all can discuss it or maybe they'll want to hear the full passage if a particular story jumps out at them. I must confess. I haven't read through all of this Bible yet, but browsing through the chapters I did not see any stories from the deuterocanonical books (Sorry people, but we shouldn't refer to them as the apocrypha.), i.e., Baruch, Wisdom, etc. Knowing this, you could get this Bible for children who are Protestant or Orthodox. However, if you just buy it for Catholics, then this is the perfect gift for First Communion. I highly recommend this Bible for children ages 8 to 10, and I think it belongs in every house, classroom, or Sunday School if you have children in that range.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Flip City and Flip City: Reuse (Tasty Minstrel Games)

Of all the different types of games there are to play, there are some that I just inherently enjoy more than others. Deck-builders fall into that category. In a deck-builder, generally everyone starts with the same small deck of cards (usually 10). Throughout the game, you use those cards as resources/currency to purchase more cards, which allow you to buy even more cards and eventually score enough points to win the game. They are simple to learn and quick to play. Today, I would like to tell you about one from Tasty Minstrel Games called Flip City and its expansion Flip City: Reuse. In Flip City, you are using your deck of cards to build and improve the neighborhoods in Flip City, carefully balancing how quickly to build and how much to collect in taxes. The game plays 1-4 players, ages 8+. It retails for $20 for the base game and $10 for the expansion, and can take 30 minutes to an hour to play. Let's get to the setup!

Setup - All cards are double-sided, so make sure you are using the correct sides during setup.
1. Form the Starting Decks - Give each player 4 Residential Area cards, and 1 each of the following - Convenience Store, Factory, Apartment, Hospital, and Central Park. (Note: When playing with the expansion add 1 each of Plumber Shop and Flea Market.)
2. Form the General Supply - Form the following stacks of cards in the middle of the table: 12 Convenience Stores, 12 Hospitals, 8 Factories, and 8 Central Parks. You may also optionally include the 10 Offices. (Note: When playing with the expansion add 10 each of Plumber Shops and Flea Markets.)
3. Starting player is said to be whoever last flipped a table, but I prefer to just pick randomly.
Game Play - During your turn, there are two specific phases. Play then passes clockwise. The game is won when one player gains 8 points (denoted by a medal symbol).
1. Play Cards Phase - Play cards from the top of your deck onto the table one at a time. Check each card for additional rules/functions. Cards you play can provide you with cash (coin symbol), points (medal symbol), and/or unhappiness (frowny face symbol). After each card, you must decide whether to play an additional card or not. (Note: You may look at the top of your deck when deciding).
a. If your deck runs out of card, you can stop or shuffle your discard pile and continue.
b. You can have a maximum of two unhappiness. If you reach three unhappiness, your turn ends immediately and all played cards go into your discard pile.
c. If you have any cards in your discard pile with a down green arrow, you may recycle those cards by flipping them to gain their effect on the other side of the card.

2.  Building Phase - With the cash you gained from your Play Card Phase, you may choose one of the following actions.
a. Buy - Choose a card in the General Supply. Pay its cost (found in the top right corner), and put the card into your discard pile.
b. Flip - Choose a card in your discard pile. Pay its Flip Fee (found in the bottom right corner), and turn the card over to its other side. The card will remain into your Discard Pile.
c. Develop - Choose a card in the General Supply. Pay its Flip Fee to turn the card over, and put it into your discard pile.

At its core, Flip City is a typical deck-builder in that you are using cards to buy other cards to score points and win. HOWEVER, that is where the game stops being a typical deck-builder. For starters, the cards are double-sided. This means you have access to twice as many cards in half the space. It also gives you interesting choices to make, like whether you should flip a card or not. Second, you are not limited to a hand of five cards each round. You can keep playing cards until you choose to stop or are forced to stop. This is known as a "press your luck" element. I'm a bit of a chicken when it comes to this game element, but it can pay off big time, if you're lucky. Lastly, there is a "take that" element in the game, which allows you to mess with other players. This is seen slightly in the base game with the Apartment card, because you can load up your opponent's deck with Residential Areas, which produces more unhappiness for them. It can really be seen in the expansion with the Plumber Shop, especially in a three or four player game, because you can discard the top cards from their decks and make them potentially start with fewer coins or points and more unhappiness.

This is a clever little card game that tweaks your traditional deck-builder just enough to make it a fresh game mechanic. The expansion, as noted earlier, provides some more "take that" action, but also provides you with ways to generate more cash and have a little bit more control of your deck and discard pile. The cards of nice quality, which is vital in a deck-builder, because these cards are going to be shuffled...A LOT! The artwork feels a bit retro, like an NES game, but it serves its purpose without distracting from the game play. With a decent price point and a unique twist on deck-building, Flip City and its expansion Flip City: Reuse are worthy additions to the genre and worth trying if you enjoy deck-builders.

These games were provided to me for free by Tasty Minstrel Games in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Catholic Study Bible: Third Edition (Oxford University Press)

It has been ten years since Oxford University Press released the Second Edition of their Catholic Study Bible. I never had a chance to peruse this one as my wife reminds me often that I have too many Bibles (Preposterous!), and that I don't need to buy anymore. Thankfully for me, Oxford University Press provided me a complimentary copy of their Catholic Study Bible: Third Edition. The first thing I noticed about this bible was that it used the New American Bible: Revised Edition (NABRE). I appreciate the use of this translation, because this is what we hear every time we attend Mass. The copy which I received is the hardcover edition. It is approximately 2500 pages, 6.25" x 9", and thumb cut indexing for the books of the Bible.

The Catholic Study Bible: Third Edition begins with a general introduction on the Bible and the literary forms in the Bible, and reading the Bible. We are then provided with backgrounds on Biblical texts and the different periods during Biblical times, going from the time of the Patriarchs (1850 BC) to the Roman Period (100 AD). There are then sections on using this particular Bible, the role of the Bible in the Catholic life, Biblical history and archaeology, Catholic interpretation, and the Bible in the Lectionary. There is then approximately 500 pages worth of essays on each book of the Bible. I would have preferred these be before each respective book, but a minor quibble. After all of these introductions and essays, we finally arrive at Genesis! However, before each book, there is a general introduction and outline of each book. Within each book of the Bible, one will find copious footnotes on each page. Sometimes, the footnotes are more than the actual text of Scripture. There are also many cross-references in these footnotes, which are vital when studying Scripture. After Revelation, there is a glossary, index, mini concordance, Lectionary. and maps.

Like all Bibles, I found myself wishing the pages were thicker in this edition. They bend a little too easy, would probably rip if handled too roughly, and highlighting is impossible (not that I highlight). However, at 2500+ pages, this would have made the Bible even thicker than it already was. At least, the font size was nice and easy to read without straining the eyes. I appreciated the translation used and am amazed at the amount of essays and introductions included in this Bible. I haven't had a chance to read all of them, but the ones I have were of high quality. If you don't own any type of Study Bible, then this is one of a few I would consider starting with. (The other is the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, but it's still only a New Testament.) The Bible won't be the last or only resource you need for deep Biblical study, but it will provide you a good jumping off point.

This Bible was provided to me for free by Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit yes!

Friday, September 16, 2016

I Burned for Your Peace (Ignatius Press)

If you have ever been to college and taken an Introductory Philosophy class, then you are somewhat familiar with St. Augustine's Confessions. In fact, it is widely regarded as one of the great works of Western Civilization. Knowing that, well-know Catholic author and philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft recently released a book called I Burned for Your Peace. The book is intended as a commentary on some of the major points of St. Augustine's Confessions. It is not intended to be a scholarly examination of the whole work, because that would take multiple volumes to cover. If you plan on reading this book side-by-side with Confessions, Dr. Kreeft used Frank Sheed's translation, but if you don't want to buy a new copy, you'll be fine with the one you have.

Dr. Kreeft begins his book with four introductions. The first is an introduction to his book. The second and third are introductions to St. Augustine and Confessions. And the fourth is an introduction to reading Confessions. In the first chapter, we see that Augustine begins his work in dialogue with God. The next  few chapters walk us through stages of his life - infancy, childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. In these chapters, we get a glimpse of his sinful and rebellious nature. We then see part of St. Augustine's first conversion in reading Cicero and his initial reading of Scripture with him not being ready to receive it yet. This leads us St. Augustine's three big problems/obstacles to Christianity (problem of evil, problem of God, and problem of morality). The book continues by speaking of the role his mother, St. Monica, had in his conversion and eventually concludes with the theological conclusions St. Augustine discovered.

Reading through Dr. Kreeft's book, I am reminded of the first time I encountered Confessions. Going to a secular university, my professor merely glossed over it and didn't unpack of much of it as I would have liked. I believe if I had this book available then, I would have walked away much more knowledgeable of this great work. Therefore, I invite you, if you have never read Confessions or it has been a while, pick up a copy of this book to read with it. You will find a lot in the book that you missed in your initial reading and you will be a lot more appreciative.

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Go Nuts for Donuts (Daily Magic Games)

Sushi Go! is a super popular game, due to its low price-point, ease of learning, quick playtime, and cute illustration style. In a similar vein, Daily Magic Games has created a game called Go Nuts for Donuts! In this game, you are competing with your friends to eat as many donuts as you can. The game is designed for 2-6 players ages 8+. It takes about 20 minutes to play, you will be able to back it on Kickstarter on September 20th.
1. Give each player a set of Selection Cards according to the number of players. (In a two-player game, players will each receive cards 1, 2, and 3. In a three-player game, players will each receive cards 1, 2, 3, and 4. And so on)
2. Shuffle all of the Donut Cards together and place them face down in a stack to form the Donut Deck. The area to the left is the discard pile.
3. Deal out Donut Cards face up to the right of the Donut Deck equal to the number of players plus one, so in a two-player game, you would deal out three. (Note: The dealt Donut Cards order number matters, so the it would look like this Discard Pile, Donut Deck, Donut 1, Donut 2, Donut 3, etc.)
Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds, until the Donut Deck is exhausted, so that you cannot deal out enough Donut Cards for the number of players.
1. Decide which Donut Card you want and take the appropriate Selection Card from your hand and place it face down. If you want Donut 2, you would play your #2 Selection Card.
2. Once everyone has secretly played their Selection Card, everyone simultaneously flips them face up.
3. Starting with the lowest Selection Card number, players go in order and see if they get to claim their Donut Card (eat a donut). If you played a unique Selection Card, you claim the Donut Card and carry out the action on the card (if applicable). If you and any other player played the same Selection Card, the Donut Card is discarded. (Think of it as two kids fighting over a donut and their mother getting frustrated and telling them that no one gets it.)
4. Refill the Donut Cards and start a new round.
For better or for worse, Go Nuts for Donuts! is going to draw lots of comparisons to Sushi Go! At their core, they are both set collecting games, centered around food, with cute, kid-friendly graphics. However, that is where the comparisons should stop. For starters, the game mechanics are completely different. In Sushi Go, you are drafting cards from separates hands of cards and then passing the hands and going again. In Go Nuts for Donuts, everyone has access to the same cards at the same time, but you are fighting over them. You aren't just able to affect the people to your left/right, but you are able to affect the whole table. This leads to deeper strategy. Not only are you trying to figure out what you need and what your opponents need, but you are also trying to figure out if your opponent is going to pick a card they need or pick a card that you need and they don't want you to have. This leads to my next point. In Sushi Go, everyone gets a card every turn. It might not be a card they want or need, but they get one. If Go Nuts for Donuts, you don't always get a card and that might be okay due to scoring.

Speaking of scoring, there are your typical ways to score. A pair of some donuts will get you five points. Some cards scale in value depending on how many you have (1 = 1, 2 = 3, 3 = 6, 4 = 10, and 5 = 15). However, there are cards that give you negative points for the donut, but provide you with special abilities, like discarding an opponent's donut or taking a donut from the discard pile. There are even cards that give you end game goals, which makes you focus your strategy on perhaps getting more than six types of donuts or fewer than ten donuts total. If I counted correctly, there are currently twenty unique donuts, so there is ample room for many different strategies and a lot of replay value. I enjoy playing Sushi Go and using it as a gateway for other card-drafting games, but after a while it grows stale, and I also just don't like sushi. Go Nuts for Donuts on the other hand is a good gateway game, but it also provides a lot more strategy and decisions, which will appeal to the heavier gamer. Plus, who doesn't love donuts? I highly recommend this game, so be on the lookout for the Kickstarter launch September 20th and let's make this game a reality!

This prototype was provided to me by Daily Magic Games in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Golden Princess and the Moon (Angelico Press)

Fairy tales are some of the most timeless and important stories of a culture. They get passed down from generation to generation, can impart wisdom/lessons, and can even find their way into other cultures. It's a big reason the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and others still survive to this day. Sleeping Beauty is one of the more well known fairy tales as both the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault re-told this story, which actually had its origins in the 14th Century. It has since been told and re-told in popular media, most notably by Walt Disney. Recently, Angelico Press released a re-telling of this story entitled The Golden Princess and the Moon.

The book begins with a young Prince Erik crying in the woods, An old woman, named Ninny Nanny, hears him and offers give him something to eat and a place to rest. He is wary at first because he has heard that she is a witch. However, he relents to her offer after she informs him that she knew his deceased mother. Prince Erik's mother believed in magic and the old world. However, his father, the king, tried to stamp out anything magical in his land. When he goes back to Ninny Nanny's cottage, he rests for a while and has a dream about a princess. Her name is Rosa. She is a mere child and a spoiled brat at that. Prince Erik was disgusted with her but Ninny Nanny warned him that he must allow children time to grow up and mature. The rest of the book then focuses on this three characters, their maturation, their struggles, and their identities. I want to tell you more, but I don't want to spoil the book either.

It is no secret that I am not a fiction fan. For that reason, if I request to review a fiction book, I must truly believe that the book is very special or has enormous potential. This book has both. The author, Anna Maria Mendell, has an evocative writing style that draws the reader in. Her imagery and character development give us fleshed out characters, which creates a richer story as opposed to a two-dimensional plot with a predictable ending. She also steeped this story in religious symbolism without beating the reader over the head with it. Her use of faeries and magic made this book have a classic feel, but with a fresh coat of paint. I look forward to what else this author has to offer in the future and hope she decides to tackle other fairy tales with the same depth and beauty as she did this one.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

OutLawed! (Green Couch Games)

Green Couch Games is one of my favorite game companies, because their games (six so far) are small in nature but large in play value. To see my reviews of some of their other games, click here for Best Treehouse Ever and Fidelitas and here for Rocky Road a la Mode. Today, I am reviewing/previewing their soon to be next game, OutLawed! OutLawed! is a game for 2-4 players, ages 10+. It takes 15 minutes to play and the project will be live on Kickstarter on September 14th. In this game, you and your opponents are trying to fill the job of the recently vacant Deputy position in Bandit Bluff. The person with the highest total value of outlaws in their jail will be the winner. Let's get to set up!
1. Separate the Outlaw decks into four decks according to the suits (Spades, Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds) on the back of the cards.
2. Give each player one set of cards from any suit. (Note: All cards are the same in each deck.)
3a. If this is your first time playing remove any cards that don't have a badge icon in the lower left corner.
3b. If you are playing with only two-players, remove any cards that don't have the bullets icon in the lower right corner.
Game Play - The game is played over multiple rounds with three phases each round.
1. Claim Phase - Starting with the player with the Deputy Badge card (first player marker) and proceeding clockwise, each player will lay one Outlaw card from their hand face down (This card becomes the Played Outlaw.) and announce out loud which card they are playing (This card becomes the Claimed Outlaw.). During the claiming phase, you do not have to tell the truth.
2. Apprehend Phase - All players simultaneously reveal their Played Outlaw cards and read the bottom of the card to see if they met that outlaws, "Apprehend If" condition. If successful, that Outlaw is placed in your jail. If you do not meet the "Apprehend If" condition, or if you were blocked by another player, the card goes back into your hand to be used in a later round.
3. Pass Phase - Pass the Deputy Badge card clockwise to the next player and begin a new round.

Game End - The game ends when at least one player gets seven Outlaw cards in their Jail (four cards in a Beginner game). Add up the Reward Values on your cards and the highest total is the winner.

OutLawed! is a short game of bluffing, hand management, and reading your opponent. With each Outlaw having a different way of being apprehended, you are relying on your opponents to be able to apprehend your card. "Bandito" Pandito is one of the easier ones to apprehend as you just need one of your opponents to be telling the truth. However, "Stretch" Tannen is one of the harder ones to apprehend as he requires you and all your opponents to lie about who they claimed. Of all the game mechanics out there, bluffing is one of my wife's least favorites. She just doesn't see the benefit/point of lying in a game. It's why Sheriff on Nottingham doesn't see much game time in our household. While I respect her opinion, I don't completely agree with her. You can make bluffing a game mechanic, not feel like you have to lie every turn, and still keep the game fun.

Enough about the mechanics though! The game itself encompasses two hallmarks I have come to expect from Green Couch Games - clever artwork and portable size. Both the theme and character names give a wild west feel to the game, and the artwork has a nice flavor to it. As for the portable size, the game sports a small footprint and short playing time. That means the game won't take up much space on the table, and it will take about fifteen minutes to play. This combination makes the game a good gateway game or filler game, depending on the group and the situation. If you've ever played a Green Couch Games product before, you know you are getting a quality, family game. If you haven't then I encourage you to make this your first one. I guarantee that you'll have so much fun, you'll want the rest of their game library!

This prototype was provided to me for free by Green Couch Games in exchange for an honest review!

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila Volume 1 (ICS Publications)

St. Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun and mystic during the time of the Counter Reformation. Within the Carmelite Order, she was also a reformer and the initiator of the movement that eventually led to the Discalced Carmelites. She was joined in this movement by St. John of the Cross, but in reality, neither of them were alive when the Discalced Carmelites separated from the regular Carmelite Order. She died in 1582 and was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.  In 1970, she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI. Some of her best known works include The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle. However, she wrote much more than this. ICS Publications has published a three-volume set of her collected works. Today, I am going to tell you about Volume One.

The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila: Volume One is a 500+ page translation by Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh and Fr. Otilio Rodriguez. The book contains the following three works - The Book of Her Life, Spiritual Testimonies, and Soliloquies. The Book of Her Life begins with a very thorough introduction by Fr. Kavanaugh. This introduction contains background information on her, the times she lived during, her first spiritual directors, the style and nature of her book, main ideas of the book, and information on the new translation. The basic structure of the book consists of four parts - 1. Sins, graces, and vocations (10 chapters), 2. Treatise on degrees of prayer (12 chapters), 3. Mystical life (9 chapters), and Effects (9 chapters). Her autobiography is very personable and conversational in tone.

The Spiritual Testimonies are arranged chronologically and serve to complement her autobiography. In these writings, we get a glimpse into her soul and spiritual character at different points in her life. However, the section of this volume that spoke to me the most was her Soliloquies. I know I should have read through this section more slowly, but I could not put it down. This section is very intimate and focuses on topics such as separation from God, longing for God, wounds of love, and how people who withdraw from God are sick. After reading through them once, I immediately decided to slow down and read them more slowly the second time through.

Reading through the words of the saints is always an eye-opening experience. It always reveals to me how close they were to God and how far away I am. The remarkable thing is that due to their extreme humility they did not see themselves as saintly or close to God. I look forward to reading the next volume in this series.

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

Friday, September 9, 2016

On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (Pauline Books and Media)

On February 11, 1984, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter entitled On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. 30 years later, Pauline Books and Media issued an anniversary edition with commentary by Fr. Myles N. Sheehan. The actual letter is divided into the following sections:

1. Introduction
2. The World of Human Suffering
3. The Quest for an Answer to the Question of the Meaning of Suffering
4. Jesus Christ: Suffering Conquered by Love
5. Sharers in the Suffering of Christ
6. The Gospel of Suffering
7. The Good Samaritan
8. Conclusion

Pope John Paul II begins by comparing and contrasting sickness and suffering. He explains, "Suffering is something which is still wider than sickness, more complex and at the same time still more deeply rooted in humanity itself." He then goes on to cite several examples of man suffering in Sacred Scripture. He then elaborates on how the reality of suffering is closely tied to "What is evil?" Section Four focuses on Jesus and His conversation with Nicodemus. God gave us His Son Jesus to provide us with a way of salvation. This salvation is not the opposite of temporal suffering, but eternal suffering by being separated from God in eternity. This hope of salvation "throws a new light upon suffering." The rest of this letter addresses how we can share in Christ's suffering and how we can help others in their suffering, like the good Samaritan.

Like other anniversary editions of Pope John Paul II's words, this book contains the full text and reflection sections at the end of each part. These reflection sections include words to Ponder, a place to Pray, and guidance to Act on. Fr. Sheehan takes these sections very seriously though, not that other anniversary edition commentators didn't. Compared to other commentators, his Ponder sections are much longer and focus heavily on Scripture. He then concludes the Ponder section with both discussion and reflection questions. Also unlike other commentators, his Pray section isn't a personal prayer he wrote, but guidance on what to reflect and pray on. This Apostolic Letter is one that is still relevant 30 years later and the commentary on it is helpful when reading it. I highly recommend it, and I look forward to other Pope John Paul II anniversary editions that Pauline Books and Media will publish.

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

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sagrada (Floodgate Games)

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Sagrada Família for short) is a Catholic Church located in Barcelona, Spain. Translated it means Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family. Construction of it commenced in 1882, and it reached its midway building point in 2010. Yes, you read that right. It's taken 128 years to only get halfway done, but some of that can be attributed to the Spanish Civil War and relying solely on private donations for construction. It's completion date is scheduled for 2026. If/when it does finish, artistically, it will be unlike any other church building and will be an impressive feat of Gothic architecture.

Inspired by this artistic achievement, Floodgate Games has created a game called Sagrada. It is being dubbed as "A game of Dice Drafting and Window Crafting." It will seek funding on Kickstarter on September 12th. Let me tell you a little bit about the game. In Sagrada, you are an glass artisan competing with up to three other artisans to create the most beautiful stained glass windows for the Sagrada Família. You will do this by rolling dice and placing them on your Glass Window Card. The game is designed for 2-4 players, ages 13+ and takes approximately 30 minutes to play.
1. Give each player a random Glass Window Card and a Window Frame Player Board.
2. Slide the Glass Window Card into the Window Frame Player Board, and give each player the number of Favor Tokens indicated on the bottom of their Glass Window Card.
3. Put all 90 dice into the dice bag.
4. Shuffle the Tool Cards and place three of them in the center of the table.
5. Shuffle the Public Objective Cards and place two in the center of the table.
6. Shuffle the Private Objective Cards and give one to each player to keep hidden.
7. Randomly pick a start player and give them the dice bag.
Game Play - Sagrada takes place over ten rounds.
1. The starting player randomly pulls 2 dice per player plus 1 extra die out of the bag and rolls them. (2 players = 5 dice. 3 players = 7 dice. 4 players = 9 dice) This form the Draft Pool.
2. Beginning with the starting player, each player takes a turn in clockwise order and then play snakes back to the starting player. (In a four player game, it would go A - B - C - D - D - C - B - A)
3. On your turn, you may perform the following two actions (both optional) or pass.
4. Pick one die from the Draft Pool and place it in an open space on your Glass Window Card.
a. The first die you place must be placed on an edge or corner space.
b. All subsequent dice placed must touch (orthogonally or diagonally) a previous die placed.
c. The Die must match the color or shade (number) of the space you are placing it in. (Note: White spaces are wild.)
d. You can never place a dice orthogonally next to a die of the same color or shade (number).
5. Use a Tool Card - Players may spend Favor Tokens to gain a special ability from 1 Tool Card. (Note: Place one Favor Token if the Tool Card is empty, otherwise place two.)
6. Starting player is passed clockwise.
Final Scoring
1. Public Objective Cards can be scored multiple times.
2. Private Objective Cards are always a specific color. You receive one point for each pip on the dice of your color.
3. Leftover Favor Tokens score one point each.
4. You lose one point for each open space on your Glass Window Card.

As a Catholic who enjoys board games, it's both surprising and refreshing to see a game that has a religious theme without proselytizing its audience. It has a simple theme of rolling colored dice and placing them strategically so that they don't violate certain placement rules. However, Sagrada is so much more than that. It's not only a game but a work of art. I only received a prototype of the game, but the dice (both amount and colors) have left everyone in awe. Blue does seem to be the favorite, but they all are beautiful to behold and play off the light, just like a stained glass window. As you are filling in your card, the colors come to life more and more. You forget you are playing a game and really feel like you are working on your own little masterpiece.

Don't let the dice distract you or cause you to dismiss the game as too random. For such simple mechanics, each decision becomes more and more of a brain burner of which die to take and where to place it. Thankfully, the plethora of Tool Cards not only provide you with a lot of replay value, but they also serve to help mitigate some poor rolls or lack of good choices. With all the people, I have been demoing and playing the game with, I have only found one complaint so far, and that is the disappointment in it only playing four players. There are no plans for expanding the player count, but if you have a larger game group, you could always back for two copies and combine them. Bear in mind though, if you are the first player, it would take a looooong time to snake back to you for your second turn (A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H-H-G-F-E-D-C-B-A). Be sure to look for Sagrada on Kickstarter September 12th and back this project if you want a thinky and beautiful game.

This prototype was provided to me for free by Floodgate Games in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Aesop's Fables (Race Point Publishing)

Aesop's Fables are some of the best known stories in mankind's history. They have been told and re-told in many different media with one of the most famous examples being Looney Tunes. Some of the better know Fables include The Fox and the Grapes, The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, and The Hare and the Tortoise. Not all the fables come with lessons at the end, but you can pretty much infer the meaning of the story on its own. Race Point Publishing recently released a hardcover version of Aesop's Fables.

The book is complete in that it has all 284 fables included in it.
It is beautifully illustrated by Milo Winter and contains 70+ illustrations in it.

There is no Table of Contents, merely an alphabetical list of fables at the end of the book.
The pages are a little bit thin so the words and illustrations bleed through when reading it.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about it. The book is sturdy and beautiful on a shelf, but it will gather dust quickly, and unfortunately, it has the kind of cover that will catch the dust. It is complete in nature though, whereas a lot of books abridge the fables or only print the popular ones. I would give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is good, but it could have been better.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (Gamelyn Games)

Earlier this year, I shared with you a Kickstarter success story called Tiny Epic Galaxies. I found the game to be very impressive in terms of theme, quality of components, and compact nature of the game. You can read my full recap here. Today, I am pleased to announce that Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games are revisiting this game by releasing an expansion entitled Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black.
In Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black, you have expanded your galaxies as far into known space as you can, fighting bitterly with your rivals over every possible planet. It's time to find new territory, and the only way to do that is to upgrade your ships and hire pilots. The expansion is currently available on Kickstarter for a pledge of $24 (or $46 will get you both Tiny Epic Galaxies and its expansion, if you don't own the original game). Let's talk about how the expansion changes the game.

Setup - Setup is done the same as the normal game with the following additions:
1. Add Planet Cards from the expansion into the planet deck and shuffle
2. Shuffle the Secret Mission Cards from the expansion into secret mission deck.
3. Shuffle the deck of Pilot Cards, and draw two more than the number of players. Place these face up in a row, above the row of Planet Cards.
4. Give each player a Hanger Card and their four Advanced Ships in their player color.
5. Place the Exploration Mat where everyone can reach it. and shuffle and place the circular deck of Exploration Cards face down on the mat.

Game Play - Game Play is done the same as the normal game with the additional two actions.
1. Hiring Pilots - On your turn, you may activate a certain number of dice symbols (2 matching symbols depending on the ship or 3 matching symbols for any ship) to hire a Pilot and replace one of your normal Ships with an Advanced Ship.
2. Exploration - Using a Move A Ship action, you can place a ship onto the Exploration Mat to explore. You then take one of the revealed Exploration Cards and end the exploration OR take the top card from the Exploration Deck. If you take the latter action, you can keep drawing and revealing new cards until there are three face up or a red card is drawn. You then resolve the action with the card you have selected and end exploration.

The game still ends when one player reaches 21 or more points (from Planets, Empire Level, Pilot Cards, and Dwarf Planets. You then score any bonus points from Secret Missions and Exploration Badges located at the bottom of the Exploration Cards.

Expansions are a lot like sequels in that they almost never live up to the original. Thankfully, Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black breaks the mold. For starters, even though I only have a prototype of the game, I can tell that the artwork and quality did not suffer from the original game to the expansion. In fact any component upgrades the first Kickstarter campaign unlocked are automatically included in this expansion. Secondly, the expansion adds in more Planet Cards and Secret Mission Cards to add more variability to the game. Third, are the Pilot Cards. Each of them provide different abilities adding an asymmetric element to the game. It will be up to you to discover which combination of pilots works best for you from game to game. Also on the Pilot Cards and Exploration Cards are symbols which add a set collection element to the game. This brings me lastly to the Exploration Cards. With these cards, we add a press your luck element to the game.

So now in addition to area control and dice activation, we have added two fun game mechanisms to an already great game. This gives each player more options on what to do with their dice and adds even more replay value to the game. They were also smart to keep the end game trigger at 21 points. By keeping this the same, the game doesn't get bogged down and feel like it overstays its welcome. I am always amazed at the amount of strategy that Gamelyn Games is able to pack into their Tiny Epic boxes, but somehow they find a way. If you are already a fan of Tiny Epic Galaxies, you NEED this expansion. If you've never played Tiny Epic Galaxies, you'll WANT the game and expansion.

This game was provided to me for free by Gamelyn Games in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Pope Francis Speaks to the United States and Cuba (Our Sunday Visitor)

It has been almost one year since Pope Francis visited the United States and Cuba. Many people, myself included, wanted to go, but simply could not. Instead, we had to rely on media coverage, which wasn't always the best, unless you watched directly through EWTN. Thankfully, Our Sunday Visitor published a book entitled Pope Francis Speaks to the United States and Cuba. There are thirty-one sections in this book and they make up categories like transcripts of press conferences, addresses, meetings, homilies, etc. that he gave during his visit.

Pope Francis has made it his hallmark to speak off the cuff, and that was no different in his visit. One of the best talks he gave was given to priests, religious, and seminarians. In this talk, he spoke about "leaving everything to follow Jesus." Pope Francis also encouraged them to embrace poverty and detachment, like St. Ignatius did. Another unprepared talk was given to a group of students. Here, he talked about opening your heart and mind to people who are different than you. He encourages them to build social friendships with those who are different than them, and not just live in an isolated world where you are only friends with people exactly like you.

There are many books currently out, which tell us about Pope Francis and might even contain sound bytes of his words. It seems, however, that these books outnumber those which contain his actual words in full context. Is is for that reason that I am always pleased to receive books like Pope Francis Speaks to the United States and Cuba. Here we get the words of Pope Francis straight from the pontiff's mouth. It is then our choice with what to do with these words - accept them, reject them, or ignore them. So I encourage you to read this book and others like it, and don't just listen to what others (particularly the media) is telling us what Pope Francis says or believes.

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