Monday, October 31, 2016

Luke: The Gospel of Mercy (Catholic Scripture Study)

If you had to use one word to describe Pope Francis' papacy thus far, it would be mercy. The man is a living embodiment of this word, and believes in it so much that he declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year with the focus being on mercy. Since the beginning of his papacy, numerous books and even a Bible Study (Doors of Mercy) have been written on him and the subject. Recently, Saint Benedict Press and Catholic Scripture Study released a Bible Study program called Luke: The Gospel of Mercy, which I don't believe to be a mere coincidence. I would like to tell you a little bit about that study program today. The program begins with a guide on how to use your study guide book, an overview of what a typical group session should look like, and a personal checklist of benefits you will receive from this study.

The program is then divided into eighteen lessons - An Introduction to Luke; Annunciation and Visitation; Birth and Childhood; Baptism and Temptation; Mission of Mercy; Call of the Apostles; The Sinful Woman; Child, Arise!; The Good Samaritan; The Rich Fool; The Cure on the Sabbath; The Prodigal Son; Lazarus and the Rich Man; The Pharisee and the Tax Collector; Zacchaeus; The New Covenant; The Good Thief; and the Road to Emmaus. The lessons are a blend of self and group study, and as you can see, not everything from The Gospel of Luke is covered, just the parts that focus heavily on mercy.

Each session is masterfully laid out and flows in a way that keeps the participants engaged and not just sitting idly, watching someone talk. They begin with an introduction and a prayer to give the participants context and firm grounding. There is then a section of study notes to help understand and reflect on the Scriptural passage. These notes are copious in amount, but are divided nicely to prevent confusion. There are then video prompts and question and answer portions for the video selections. The section closes with practical tips on how to live the Gospel, a glossary of words to know, and a closing prayer.

Overall, I found this program to be a very rich and fulfilling study of Luke, specifically the parables of Jesus. The commentary level was extensive, without being overwhelming. The videos were presented in an engaging manner and invited you deeper into the Gospel. I really liked the videos, which were shot in Rome and Assisi, as those are places I have never been but hope to go some day. What I like best about the program is that it doesn't let you be a passive observer. It invites and challenges you to change your life for the better. I have done Bible Study programs before from Saint Benedict Press and Catholic Scripture Study and they have always been solid in content but needed a little help in presentation. They have stepped up their presentation level with this study (both videos and workbook), without sacrificing content, and have given us a definitive study on the Gospel of Luke.

This program was provided to me for free by Saint Benedict Press and Catholic Scripture Study in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Office of Primate and the Authority of Councils Volume One (SVS Press)

The Office of Primate and the Authority of Councils is the first volume in a series of books entitled Primacy in the Church. The book begins with a Foreword by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and an Introduction by John Chryssavgis. In both of these  sections, they stress the importance of the primacy issue, not only for the Orthodox Church but ecumenism, specifically with the Catholic Church. The book is then divided into five parts:

1. Insights from the Early Church
2. Primacy and Councils
3. Theological and Liturgical Developments
4. Contemporary Evolution and Assessment
5. Select Sources from the Recent Past

As evidenced by the topics, it is clear to see that this book is going to take a chronological approach to the issue of papal primacy. Within each of these parts are individual essays written by some major names in Orthodoxy - Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, John Chryssavgis, John Behr, Alexander Schmemann, and John Meyendorff to name a few. Refreshingly, the Catholic and Anglican voices are also represented by Paul McPartlan and Paul Valliere respectively.

As a Roman Catholic, I of course enjoyed reading Paul McPartlan's Catholic perspective. I knew that the recent Popes were making a more ecumenical effort both with the titles with which they referred to themselves as and in the joint-meetings they have had with the recent Ecumenical Patriarchs. What I did not know was that this effort extended as far back as Vatican II and Pope Paul VI. After that I enjoyed reading on Primacy, Collegiality, and the People of God. Perhaps, this is because I am admittedly biased toward Metropolitan Kallistos, but all the times I have heard him speak, the knowledge, holiness, and respectful tone of this sensitive subject just permeates his every being. Overall, I would say that the section which spoke to me the most had to do with the Early Church. It is in these pages where the term "Primacies of Honor" was more fleshed out as well as the Apostolic Tradition and the Early Church Fathers. Near the end of the book, the Ravenna Document is included, which is essential reading for this topic, so I am glad that they chose to include it in the book, rather than make the reader find it independently.

Overall, I found this volume to be a very thorough, objective, and respectful look at the issue of Primacy within the Church. The essays were historical accurate and proved to be a challenging read at times, but after making your way through them, you felt spiritually enriched. I look forward to reading Volume Two of this series and seeing the progression in this topic from one of history and development of the idea of Primacy to a more contemporary nature of the Church and current practices. If this is a topic you have an interest in, like myself, then I highly recommend this book to you.

This book was provided to me for free by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Elizabeth of the Trinity: A Life of Praise to God (Sophia Institute Press)

Pop quiz! Who was the Elizabeth of the Trinity? What is her Feast Day? What pope considered her influential on his spiritual life? Time's up! Elizabeth of the Trinity was a French Discalced Carmelite religious, mystic, and saint as of October 16, 2016. Her Feast Day is November 8th, and Pope John Paul II (the pope who beatified her) was the Pope who drew spiritual inspiration from her. St. Elizabeth of the Trinity is what I like to refer to as a forgotten saint. Given the thousands of saints in the Roman Catholic Church, she is not alone in being "forgotten." Fortunately, we live in an age where we can readily learn about these lesser-known saints. Today, I would like to tell you about a book published by Sophia Institute Press and entitled Elizabeth of the Trinity: A Life of Praise to God.

Elizabeth of the Trinity is a short 100-page book that begins with a brief introduction on the world and culture she grew up in. It was 1880 and merely ten years after the fall of Napoleon's empire. At the same time that France was secularizing their schools, French Catholicism was experiencing a rebirth. The first chapter discusses her simple life and childhood. In addition to learning about her parents, we learn about her personality, which described as a strong character with an iron will. It is also said that she lived like most girls from a good, middle-class family. She went on vacations to places like the Alps, Switzerland, Lourdes, and Paris. She first encountered the sisters of Carmel at the age of 11, on the day of her First Communion. Her mother consented to enter Carmel when she turned 21. The remaining first chapter takes all the way through her life up to her beatification.

The next two chapters highlight the themes of her spirituality, such as "the presence of the Trinity within her being, conformity to Christ, and the making of her existence into a praise of the glory of God. We also learn about her contemplative mysticism which too was rooted in the Trinity. The final chapter provides us with examples on how her life and spirituality is still relevant today. Elizabeth of the Trinity is a quick read, but a vital introduction to a great saint. After reading through this book, I encourage you to find some of her works and read them for yourself. If her works were good enough to inspire Pope John Paul II, then they are certainly good enough for you.

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Missal for Toddlers and My Little Catechism (Ignatius Press)

Ignatius Press has recently released several new books for children, and today I would like to tell you about two of them, entitled A Missal for Toddlers and My Little Catechism.

A Missal for Toddlers is a 22 page board book, designed for children ages 3 to 5. The book is designed to walk your little one(s) through the important parts of the Mass. It starts with the Church bells ringing, the Sign of the Cross, the Gloria, the Liturgy of the Word, the Alleluia, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Concluding Rites. The illustration style is very inviting for young readers, and they do a nice job of illustrating what a child should be doing at all parts of the Mass. Since this book is a board book, it will last a bit longer and hold up to a little more abuse. I think is a great book to bring to Mass to help train your children and keep them focused on what's going on around them and not what the people in the pew next to them are doing. My son is recently three, so this came at the perfect time for me, and I don't plan on going to Mass without it in the foreseeable future.

My Little Catechism is a 100+ page paperback book designed for children ages 7+. It begins with an introduction which answers what a catechism is, how we can know Jesus, what the Bible is, and what the Creed is. The book is then divided into three major parts - The Father Creator, Jesus the Savior, and The Holy Spirit in the Church. Within each of these major parts are chapters which answer questions your child will most likely have. Some questions are as follows: Does God exist? What is sin? What was Jesus' childhood like? What is a sacrament? What is eternal life? With each chapter is an answer to the question and sections on what the Bible says, what we believe, a way to put it into practice, a prayer, and a little way to test yourself.

This book uses the Apostles Creed as a skeleton for its contents. I like the question and answer format, because it reminds me a bit of the Baltimore Catechism, only with more detail. I also like that this book is another title from the Magnificat Children's Books "series." Other books in this series and in the same style are The Catholic Bible for Children and Catholic Saints for Children. All books have the same style illustrations and cover art and make for a great set of books to put in your family library or as an aid in the classroom and parish. If you are looking for a way to better explain the faith to your children or let them read the answers on their own, I highly recommend this book!

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Grizzled: At Your Orders (Cool Mini or Not)

It is April 4, 1916, and the war is still waging. Each day brings new difficulties and new hardships. However, you and your band of friends are still persevering. There seems to be something occurring that is different than the past two years. The higher ups keep sending you on missions, some more challenging than others. This is The Grizzled: At Your OrdersThe Grizzled: At Your Orders is the much anticipated expansion to The Grizzled. It is designed for 3-5 players (with 1 and 2-player variants), ages 14+. It retails for $14.99 and takes approximately 30 minutes to play. Normally, I would tell you how to set up the game and the game play, but you can read about that in my previous review. Instead, I am just going to tell you about what's changed and what I think of the changes.
What's New in the Expansion
The first thing I noticed in the box was cardboard cutouts of every character. I like this, because it adds more theme and makes you feel like an actual soldier and not just a card. It also serves to remind your fellow soldiers when you are in a mission and when you are out.

The biggest changes are the Missions cards. There are 40 Missions cards in the box. (13 easy, 13, medium, 13 hard, and 1 Final Assault/Last Stand) Before the game, you decide your difficulty level and seed the Missions deck. The active player then draws two Missions cards, picks one, and puts the other back on the top of the deck. These cards tell you how many Trials cards each player gets, a bonus or a penalty for this mission, and how to get rid of the Mission card. I really like these Missions, because it gives you ways to tone down or amp up the difficulty. The Final Assault/Last Stand card really drips with theme, as its an optional final turn to end it all. You either win, lose, or win but die in the process.
Other nice, little changes in the game are as follows:
1. Speeches don't go away once used.
2. Support tokens always give you your Good Luck Charm back and can remove Hard Knocks.
3. The first player may perform a Strategic Withdrawal which lets him take one card from his hand and put it on top of the Trials pile.

Apart from a few things in the rule book that could have been clearer, I am finding very little to complain about with this expansion. It adds new mechanics and a little more immersive theme. There's also just enough tweaks to the rules to make a very good game even better. Lastly, you can fit both of them into one box, so you don't have to carry around both boxes. I can't imagine teaching or playing The Grizzled without this expansion.

This expansion was provided to me for free by Cool Mini or Not in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Valeria Card Kingdoms: Flames and Frost (Daily Magic Games)

Welcome to the Kingdom of Valeria! It used to be a quiet area with a noble king and many loyal dukes. However, the king has grown weak in his old age and monsters started showing up and taking over! It is now up to you and your fellow Dukes to save the Kingdom of Valeria. The Duke who is most successful at recruiting citizens to defeat these monsters and building domains to fortify Valeria will claim the throne. This is Valeria Card KingdomsValeria Card Kingdoms was one of the IT games on Kickstarter in 2015. Since their success with this game, they have had two sequels (Villages of Valeria and Quests of Valeria). and have recently launched an expansion on Kickstarter called Flames and Frost. Today, I am going to tell you about both the base game and the expansion, and tell you how the expansion improves the base game. Let's start with the stats though. The game plays 1-5 players, ages 13+, though I'd say 10+. It takes 30-45 minutes to play, depending on how many players you have. You can get the base game, Flames and Frost, mini-booster/expansion packs for a pledge of $79 ($88 after shipping) or if you already have the base game, the expansion will cost you $24 ($28 after shipping).

(Note: This setup and game play will be for the base game and expansion and cover 2-4 players. The one for 5 players is slightly different, so you need to remove any cards with the 5-player icon.)
1. Pick five groups of Monsters and arrange them face-up in five columns. Each stack of monsters must be sorted from lowest to highest Strength.
2. Pick one of each type of Citizen for based on their activation number and deal out their group face-up in two rows of five columns. (For example, in the base game, your 3 activation card could be an Alchemist or a Mercenary, and the expansion adds the option of a Sorceress.)
3. Shuffle all the Domain cards together. Deal two face-down and one-face-up in each of the five columns.
4. Shuffle all the Agent cards together. Put the stack face-down over the top-left Monster stack. Then, deal out one card face-up over each other Monster stack.
5. Take two Exhausted cards per player and place them next to the Agent stack.
6. Give each player one Starter Peasant, one Starter Knight, and one Reference Card.
7. Also give each player two Gold tokens and one Magic token. (Note: This along with the Strength tokens are the currency for all actions in the game.)
8. Lastly, shuffle all the Duke cards, and give each player one randomly. This is their own personal secret goal.

Game Play - The game is played in a series of turns, divided into the following four phases:
1. Roll Phase - The Active Player rolls the dice.
2. Harvest Phase - All players receive Resources (Gold, Strength, or Magic) based on what was rolled and the cards they have. For example, if you roll a 3 and 4, if you have a Citizen card with a 3, 4, or 7, you collect Resources. Active players gets the Resources on the left of the card. All other players get Resources on the right of the card.
3. Action Phase - The Active Player may perform any two of the four actions, including the same action twice:
a. Slay a Monster.
b. Recruit a Citizen.
c. Gain a Resource of their choice.
d. Build a Domain.
4. End Phase - The Active Player passes the dice to their left.

Game End
The game ends if all the Monsters are slain, all the Domains are built, or all the Exhausted cards are placed. (Note: Whenever you empty any stack (Monsters, Citizens, or Domains), you place an Exhausted card in place of that stack.) Add up your Victory Points achieved from tokens, killing Monsters, building Domains, and your secret Duke card.

Valeria Card Kingdoms (VCK) is already a great game. For starters, the art is fantastic. The Mico has a very distinct and recognizable illustration style, and I am glad that two of my favorite game series use his art. Secondly, the game play is engaging with little down time for any player. Lastly, the game is just plain fun! If there were no other content ever added to this game, it would be a solid 9 out of 10, and be a game that I would play as often as I could. However, the expansion, Flames and Frost (VCK:FF), and other added booster packs crank this game to an 11! How you ask? Two things - Replay Value and Choice.

The Replay Value was already pretty high for VCK with the amount of Dukes, Citizens, Monsters, and Domains. VCK:FF adds five new Dukes, eight new Citizen stacks, five new Monster areas, and fifteen new domains for an exponentially larger amount of replay. There is also a new booster pack, which add Agents to the game. Two big knocks against the base game is that you accumulated more Resources than you could ever use and there wasn't enough player interaction. Agents give you the ability to convert Resources to Victory Points or to hit your opponent with a "take that" action. Problems fixed!

As for the concept of Choice, the new cards introduce Wild resources (where you choose what you need and aren't handcuffed into a resource you have more than enough of) and the option of taking Victory Points as a reward, in lieu of Resources. This presents the interesting decision of do I take the Points now or get more Resources to build a stronger tableau and eventually get the points then? You'll have to figure out that balance for yourself. I really am loving this new expansion, and I can't imagine ever playing the game without it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties (Catholic Answers)

When it comes to Christianity, one of the most common complaints atheists, agnostics, and sometimes even Christians have is the Bible. People like to make claims that it contradicts itself, or that God is ruthless and bloodthirsty in the Old Testament. Trent Horn, in his latest book Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties, takes a look at some of the toughest passages in Scripture. He then presents the Catholic perspective on them to help with understanding and acceptance.

The book begins with an introductory chapter on the Catholic view of Scripture. Such topics covered in this chapter include inspiration, canon, interpretation, and inerrancy. The remainder of the book is composed of 23 chapters divided into the following three sections - External Difficulties, Internal Difficulties, and Moral Difficulties. Such chapter titles include "Darwin Refutes Genesis?", "1001 Bible Contradictions"?, and "Bizarre Laws and Cruel Punishments?". Each chapter begins with a claim that people make against Christianity. One such example says, "A modern person cannot trust what is written in a two-thousand-year old book whose authors were illiterate shepherds who thought the earth was flat." Trent Horn then refutes the claim with clear, well-thought out arguments that easily dissolve the erroneous claim. The book then closes with 60 pages of endnotes, in case you want to dive even deeper into the arguments.

On its surface, the book looks to be intimidating. After all, it is a 400+ page hardcover book. However, the old adage about judging a book by its cover rings true here. The claims that Trent Horn refutes in his book are not scholarly arguments the average person would be unfamiliar with, but instead everyday arguments that you probably here from co-workers, friends, and maybe even family. What I really like about this book, is that you don't have to read it in order. Instead, find some arguments that you are used to hearing and read those chapters first. Then, take the time to work your way through the rest of the book at a steady pace. This is the type of book that belongs in every Catholic's home and parish library, and I cannot recommend it enough.

This book was provided to me for free by Catholic Answers in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Marrakech (Gigamic)

In sticking with my reviews of Gigamic games, today I am going to review Marrakech. In Marrakech, you and your opponents are rug salesmen trying to have the most rugs visible in the marketplace and the most coins in their pocket. The game is for 2-4 players, ages 8+. It takes 20 minutes to play and retails for about $35.

1. Lay out the game board in the center of the table. This is the Rug Market Square.
2. Place Assam in the center of the Rug Market Square.
3. Each player receives a value of 30 Dirhams (coins).
4. Each player receives a certain number of Rugs depending on the number of players. (Four players = 12 Rugs. Three players = 15 Rugs. Two players = 24 Rugs of two different colors.

Game Play - On your turn, each player must perform the following three actions:
1. Move Assam - Choose the direction you want to move Assam. You may leave him pointed in his current direction or rotate him 90 degrees either way. (Note: He may never be rotated 180 degrees.) Then roll the die, and the number of slippers on the die indicate the number of squares Assam moves in a straight line. 
2. Pay opponent (if necessary) - If you land on an opposing player's rug, you owe your opponent one Dirham per connected square with rugs of the same color.
3. Lay your own Rug - Lay one of your Rugs in a square next to where Assam landed following these placement rules. A rug can be placed on two empty squares, an empty square and half a Rug, two halves of different Rugs. You may never completely cover a single Rug with another single Rug.
Game End
The game ends when the last rug is played. Score is then tallied with each Dirham counting as one point and each visible half of a rug also counting as one point. The most points wins. If there is a tie, the player with the most Dirham wins.

At its core, Marrakech is a simple area control game. You want to be the one with the most visible rugs, so that your opponents land on them and have to pay you for them. However, there is a bit of luck involved with this game as well. Yes, you get to dictate which way to orient Assam before you move, but it's all luck of the roll how far he will move. There are two main things I like about this game. The first one is the simplicity of the game. The setup is quick and the way each turn plays out is three little things. The box says it is for ages 8+, but I can see younger kids being able to understand the basics of this game. With that said, there is still a bit of strategy to this game, so it's not all just dumb luck on who wins.

The other thing I love about this game are the components. Assam, the die, and the coins are all nice, chunky wooden pieces, which feel good in your hands and like they will be long-lasting. And the rugs are actual fabric bits! It would have been so easy (and probably cheaper too) to just have paper squares represent the rugs, but having actual fabric makes the game feel more thematic and it engages not just your sense of sight, but sense of touch as well. I can't wait for my son to get a little bit older, so I can play this game with him. Until then, my wife and I will keep enjoying this game and teaching the area control mechanic to our friends who are new to the gaming world.

This game was provided to me by Gigamic in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories (New York Review Books)

The first time I read anything by William Shakespeare was 9th grade. I didn't understand it. I don't think my teacher understood. And it didn't ignite a spark in me to read more of his works. I would like to say as my high school years passed I got progressively better, but it wasn't until I read Hamlet that I developed a true interest in Shakespeare. As I have grown older, I have read many different works on Shakespeare, including Catholic interpretations of his works and children's books that make his works more accessible and approachable to a younger audience. Today, I would like to tell you about Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories.

The book has twenty-one of Shakespeare's works including Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar to name a few. Each work is approximately 20-30 pages long and is told in prose, not poetry. However, the actual lines from Shakespeare's plays are quoted. The language is simple and straightforward without sacrificing the beauty of the Bard. The book itself is a sturdy hardcover, which is much appreciated, and of a manageable size. The only elements I feel are missing from this book is an introduction, more illustrations, and I would have liked for each story to be broken into acts, like the actual plays were. Overall, I found this book to be the perfect introduction to Shakespeare for children in middle school or perhaps younger, if they are avid readers. In fact, I used the book as jumping off point for some of Shakespeare's plays that I have never read before, so there is a usefulness in this book for adults as well. I would much rather read this work and then the actual play, as opposed to Cliff's Notes. So if you are looking for a book to get your child, tween, or teen with Shakespeare, I can recommend no better book than this one.

This book was provided to me for free by New York Review Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Colorpop (Gigamic)

Gigamic is a game company that was founded in 1991 by three brothers from France. That means they are currently celebrating their 25th anniversary as a company. That is an impressive feat no matter what industry you are in. To celebrate their anniversary, they are trying to re-introduce their brand to the United States. So what makes a game a Gigamic? Short Explanation of rules, Fast Playing Time, and Quality Components. My wife jumped for joy when she heard that those were their three tenets, as those align with her beliefs on what a game should be as well. Plus, that triumvirate ultimately means the games will be family-friendly. This week I would like to introduce you to two games from their impressive catalog. The game today is called ColorpopColorpop is a game for 1 to 5 players, ages 8+, but it can be played as young as 6. It takes between 10 and 20 minutes to play and retails for approximately $35.

1. Connect the two legs to the back of the game board.
2. Take the ten slide trays and randomly fill them up with ten tokens each.
3. Place the slide trays in the game board.
4. Take the five secret color tokens and have each player pick one randomly, keeping it a secret throughout the game.
Game Play
Pick a random first player, or in our household the youngest. That player then finds a group of at least two tokens of the same color and pops them out. All other players do this in turn order. The goal of the game is to be the first one to have all of your secret color (chosen earlier) popped out. The game ends immediately when one person has had all of their colors removed from the game. In the event this becomes impossible, the player with the fewest tokens left on the board wins. In the event of a tie, the player who popped out the least of their secret color wins.

If you play any games on the computer, I'm sure you've seen a version of this game online. The most famous one I can think of is Poppit! from Pogo. What makes Colorpop different is the game is now multi-player, and instead of trying to eliminate all the colors, you are only trying to eliminate your color, which is kept secret from others. A few things to remember is that when it is your turn to pop, you don't have to pop your color. In fact, you'll have to pop other colors to 1. throw your opponent off the scent and 2. to try and connect your single pieces together. My wife really likes this game, which is a huge selling point for me. The pieces themselves are of a high quality and almost resemble Spree candy. The way the board looks before the first piece is popped is very colorful! The only negative of this game is the setup time. It takes a while for one person to pop all 100 pieces back in the game board, but if you have a couple of people doing it, it's not so bad. Overall, I found this game to be a quick, fun game for the whole family.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Follow Me (Ascension Press)

The Gospel of John is arguably the toughest of the four Gospels to study. The reason for this is because it is so much more different than the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). There is no Nativity, no temptation, no Transfiguration, and no Sermon on the Mount. Instead, we are treated to a Gospel that is a bit higher in theology than the other three. Because of the uniqueness of this Gospel, there have been many books written on it to try and help us understand it. Ascension Press has joined the mix by creating a Bible Study DVD program called Follow Me: Meeting Jesus in the Gospel of JohnFollow Me is an eight-session program led by Dr. Edward Sri. The lessons are as follows:

1. "In the Beginning": Jesus at the Center
2. "Come and See": Becoming Disciples
3. At the Well: Our Deepest Thirst
4. "Believe in Me": Trust and Surrender
5. Encountering Mercy
6. The Law of Self-Giving
7. The New Commandment and Life in the Spirit
8. "It is Finished": A Dying and Rising Love

The last session is obviously the most powerful one, as it deals with the Passion, the Crucifixion, and Resurrection. The session begins with the betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane and ends with Jesus questioning Peter after the Resurrection. In this session, we see Jesus' self-sacrificing love, which was freely given. Despite this being the most powerful session, Session Three was the one that spoke to me the most. In this session, we encounter two people that Jesus not only encountered, but changed forever. Those people are Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well. In this lesson, we learn several important lessons. The first one is that only God can satisfy the longing in our heart, a lesson it took some time for St. Augustine to learn.The second lesson is that God will always seek us out, no matter how far away from Him we have ran, and He will always forgive us too, if we but ask.

Like all of the Study Programs from Ascension PressFollow Me is high quality. Dr. Edward Sri is a top-notch teacher and brilliant man when it comes to Scripture. The material is inviting enough for the newest Bible student, but profound enough to challenge the experienced student. The entire presentation of materials is of high quality as well, from the professional videos all the way to the full-color leader guide and student workbooks. Here's the kicker can get the whole set of materials for $100! For all that you get, that is a steal of a price. With all these factors, Ascension Press continues to prove that it is the leader for Catholic Study Programs. If you would like to lead a program, consider this one or one of many others. Share this company with your pastor and DRE as well, because they have great programs for adults and children as well.

This program was provided to me for free by Ascension Press in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Answering the Questions of Jesus (EWTN Publishing)

Answering the Questions of Jesus is a 120 page book that reflects on many of the questions Jesus asked in the Gospels. The book is divided into twelve chapters, each of which is one of the questions of Jesus. "Did You Know That I Must Be In My Father's House?" "Woman, What Concern Is That To You And Me?" "Could You Not Watch With Me One Hour?" These are just a few of the questions Jesus presented to people He met and that Fr. Andrew Apostoli tackles. Each chapter provides a summation of the Scripture passage where the question is found. Fr. Apostoli then has sections that deal with where we can find Jesus, trusting Jesus, finding strength in Jesus, and staying with Jesus. Each chapter then concludes with questions for both reflection and discussion. The book is a very easy read and one that I was able to tackle within an hour the first read through. However, it is a book you should read through more than once, as it will speak to you the more you dive into the book. Personally, I think the book is best read in a small-group format, so that you can share the gift of this book with others. While this book is aimed at Catholics, any Christian denomination would benefit from this book. and I highly recommend it.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Oh My Goods! (Mayfair Games)

Transport yourself back in time to the Middle Ages. You are a European craftsman, trying to make the best goods possible. This is Oh My Goods! Oh My Goods! is a card game for 2-4 players, ages 10+. It takes about 30 minutes to play and retails for $15.00.

1. Separate the Charburner cards (light blue border) from the rest of the cards, and give each player one at random. Also, give each player a random Worker card (brown background). Then, remove the remaining Charburner and Worker cards from the game.
2. In the center of the table, place a number of  Assistant cards (light gray background) equal to double the number of players. Randomly pick a side for each card, and then remove the remaining Assistant cards from the game.
3. Thoroughly shuffle the remaining cards together. Deal each player five cards to form their hand, and then place another seven cards face-down and sideways on top of each player's Charburner. (Note: Cards can be used as a Resource, the depicted Building, or face-down on a Building to represent Goods produced.)
Game Play - The game is played over several rounds with each round consisting of four phases:
1. New Hand Cards - Each player decides whether to keep or discard all cards from their hand. If they choose to discard, they gain an equal number of cards from the draw pile. The starting player then deals each player two cards.
2. Sunrise - The active player turns over cards from the draw pile to form the Market Display. He continues doing this until there is a Half Sun visible on two different cards. Each player then simultaneously decides the following things:
a. Working - Take your Worker card and place it on the Building you chose to work in. You must decide whether you want to work efficiently or sloppily.
b. Building - You can place a card from your hand face down. This is the Building you are going to build this round.
3. Sunset - The active player turns over cards from the draw pile in a second row in the Market Display. He continues doing this until there is a Half Sun visible on two different cards. The market is now closed.
4. Production and Building - Going in turn order, you produce goods, depending on where you put your Worker. You can then build a Building or hire an Assistant. Place a number of cards face down on the Building equal to to number of goods you produced (two if working efficiently and one if working sloppily or using an Assistant). You may also use the Production Chain (found in the bottom right of the Building card) to produce more goods on a Building that produced good this round. This is done by using Resource cards from your hand or production cards from other buildings.

Game End
The game ends when any player has eight buildings in front of them including the Charburner. Finish the current round. Then, play another round. Total all victory points from Buildings and Assistants. You also score one victory point for every five coins worth of Goods remaining on the Buildings.
Within this tiny game box are 110 cards. That's it! There's something beautiful about a game that is only cards, but cards that serve multiple purposes. When you have a card has multiple purposes, it creates a struggle each turn on what you should use the card for. Another great aspect of the game is the "engine-building" aspect. The game feels like a puzzle at times, in that you are trying to piece together the right cards to chain actions together and produce the best score. I also like that the cards in the Market Display are communal, but non-depleting. This means that just because your opponent uses cards, they don't take the cards away to prevent you from using them.

As for the negatives of the game, there are a couple. The first one is a petty complaint, but the name is a bit cheesy. Originally the game was called Royal Goods, which is a solid name, but it was changed. I'm not sure why, but my best guess is that it too closely resembled another game by Alexander Pfister - Port Royal. The bigger complaint I have is the ability to teach the game. On the surface, it seems like this should be a simple game to teach. However, I have tried a couple times, and I usually get blank stares when explaining the way the game is played. At that point, I stop explaining and tell them that we'll play a couple of example rounds. That's when it clicks for most players, but a lot of people don't like the idea of playing blind/at a disadvantage to the person explaining the game.

These complaints aside, I find the game to be very enjoyable. It has hand management, worker placement, press your luck, and all of this from only 110 cards! With a portable size, quick play time, and low price point, this is a good game to have in your collection. I forgot to add that the cards text is in German and English. This might distract some people, but I took five years of German in school, so it's like a refresher course when I play a game. I look forward to playing this game more and more and trying to unlock the best possible combination chains possible. I also can't wait for the expansion to be printed in the U.S., because it looks like it adds a story element to the game.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Elder Edda (Penguin Classics)

The Elder Edda is the second book in the Penguin Classics series Legends from the Ancient North. This work, like the others in this series have two things in common. The author is anonymous, and the works inspired the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. This edition of the book begins with a twenty page introduction by the author, which tells us about the Icelandic history of the Codex Regius and the contents. There are also notes on spelling, pronunciation, and translation, which will be helpful to serious students of Norse literature. There are also several pages of further reading that will prove interesting to both the casual and serious reader.

The book is divided into three sections - The Mythological Poems of the Codex Regius, The Heroic Poems of the Codex Regius, and an appendix which has Some Eddic Poems Not Contained in the Codex Regius. The mythological poems are my favorite, as I'm a sucker for myths from most cultures. These poems cover characters like Odin, Loki, Grimnir, and Hymir. Some of the Heoric Poems have a mix of prose and poetry, and some read like a play with speaking parts for different characters. At the end of the book are approximately 100 pages of abbreviations, glossary, and most helpful notes on each poem. Overall, this was an interesting read and one I'd recommend if you are a fan of Norse literature/mythology like myself.

This book was provided to me for free by Penguin Classics in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Lotus (Renegade Games)

I am not the type of person who stops and smells the roses. I generally plow through life, and I don't slow down to admire all the beauty around me. It also doesn't help that I am not an outside person at all. So because of these factors, I won't always notice newly bloomed flowers or all the colors in nature all around me. The designers of the card game Lotus must have had people like me in mind when they created it, because a game might be one of the only ways I'd take the time to slow down and observe the flowers. Lotus is a game for 2-4 players, ages 8+. It takes about 30 minutes to play and retails for $30.

1. Have each player select a Guardian/color - Yellow Butterfly, Green Caterpillar, Red Ladybug, and Blue Dragonfly
2. Prepare the Petal Cards (Player Decks). In a two-player game, you use the full deck. In a three-player game, you remove one of each type of Petal Card, making sure the cards removed only have one stamp. And in a four-player game, you remove two of each type of Petal Card, again making sure the cards removed only have one stamp. Then, have each player thoroughly shuffle their player deck.
3. Take the Wildflower Deck, shuffle it, and place it face down. Then draw the top four cards and display them face up in the center of the table.
4. Give each player two Guardians in their selected colors.
5. Set aside all of the silver-colored Elder Guardians, Scoring Tokens, and Special Power Tokens. (Note: Divide the Special Power Tokens into types to form three stacks.)
Game Play - Each player draws four cards. Then, the starting player must perform two of the following actions. (Note: You can perform the same action twice, and perform these actions in any order.)
1. Play Petal Cards - Play one or two Petal Cards from your hand on a single flower in the Lotus Garden.
2. Exchange Petal Cards - Exchange one or two Petal Cards from your hand, placing them on the bottom of your player deck. Draw a matching number of cards from the top of your player deck.
3. Move a Guardian - Move one of your Guardians to any incomplete flower in the Lotus Garden. (Note: This move can occur from your personal supply or from another flower.)

At the end of your turn, you must draw back up to four cards, but you can draw cards from your Player Deck, the visible cards from the Wildflower Deck, or some combination of both.

Once a flower reaches its number of petals (indicated in the upper left of the Petal Cards), players determine who has control of the flower. This is done by adding the Guardian symbols on the Petal Cards and the Guardians placed on the flower. The player with control may either take a Scoring Token, which is worth five points, or a Special Power Token, which will provide the player with a power for the rest of the game. (Note: You may only have one of each of the three Special Power Tokens.) The player who completed the flower, collects all the Petal Cards, which will be worth one point each at the end of the game. The last round of the game is triggered when a player draws the last card of their player deck. Everyone (including the person who triggered the last round) gets one final turn. Incomplete flowers are claimed by whoever has control of each flower, and final scores are tallied.
Lotus is a very pretty card game that takes the simple action of playing cards/Guardians to create a somewhat meaty decisions of hand-management and area control. The decisions don't seem like they would be that complex, but you have to carefully decide which cards to play each turn. Do you play one or two petals to a flower, and risk your opponent completing the flower and getting all the petal points? Do you complete a flower you don't have majority control, foregoing a bonus token or scoring token, just so you can deny your opponent majority and completion points? These are decisions you will constantly be running through your head.

Apart from the simple and inviting nature of the rules and game play, two things make this game very family-friendly. The first thing is the artwork. The colors on these cards pop, and the flowers themselves are so life-like. After a few turns with people playing cards, it will look like the flowers are actually blooming on the table. The little wooden meeples are cute and tiny as well, which is something you don't normally say about bug-shaped items. The second thing which makes this a good family game is that you can pay it competitively or cooperatively. Sometimes, you feel like a game where it's every man for himself, and sometimes you feel like playing a game where you can work in tandem with a partner. This game provides both options, and the cooperative variant is a good way to teach both new and younger players.

I wasn't sure I was going to like this game at first, as it doesn't seem like it would be my cup of tea. However, after a few plays, the game really grew on me. (Pun intended) If you are looking for a breathtakingly beautiful game that is fun for kids, adults, new gamers, and experienced gamers, then you'll want to pick up a copy of Lotus!

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila: Volume 3 (ICS Publications)

The Feast Day of St. Teresa of Avila is October 15th. Today, I wrap up my review of her three-volume collected works, available from ICS Publications, by telling you about the third volume. Within this volume, we have her major work - The Book of Her Foundations and several of her minor works - The Constitutions, On Making the VisitationA Satirical Critique, and Response to a Spiritual Challenge. We also have 27 of her poems printed in this work. Like the other two volumes, the translators are Fr. Kieran Kavanaugh and Fr. Otilio Rodriguez.

The Book of Her Foundations is one of St. Teresa of Avila's lesser-known and lesser-read works. The main reason for this is that a lot of people view it as a non-spiritual work. While it may not be one in the strictest sense, we can see St. Teresa of Avila growing in holiness through her persecutions, which were plentiful. She encountered gossip, lawsuits, unethical businessmen, and general bureaucracy. In this work, we see that it is possible to grow in holiness in all aspects of your life. The Constitutions can be viewed as her rule. In this minor work, St. Teresa of Avila gives instruction on spiritual matters, receiving Communion, fasting, taking care of the sick, etc. The other minor works in this book show her obedience in On Making the Visitation, her personality in A Satirical Critique, and her spirituality in Response to a Spiritual Challenge. The poems show a level of beauty in writing that one would expect from St. Teresa of Avila. What is really nice about them is that the original language and translation are side-by-side. This isn't beneficial for me, but those who speak Spanish will probably be able to find more beauty in the original poems, as translations (especially of poetry) are always lacking.

This was not my favorite volume of her three-volume set, but it is essential reading for any serious student of St. Teresa of Avila. When it comes to writings of the saints, you do yourself a disservice if you merely cherry-pick what works of theirs you want to read. If you find a saint, who you admire, and whose works you have read some, I encourage you to read through as much of their works as are available for you to read. In addition to her complete works, ICS Publications also had made available a two-volume set of her collected letters, as well as about ten other works of great minds who help unpack the beauty in her tougher works. This publisher has clearly set themselves apart as the expert on St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and other Carmelites. I encourage you to always turn to them first if you are ever looking for works by these saints or companion volumes for their writings.

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

Friday, October 7, 2016

Pier Giorgio Frassati: A Hero for our Times (Ignatius Press)

Pier Giorgio Frassati is only considered Blessed in the eyes of the Church, but he is one of the modern days saints whose appeal, particularly young men, nearly 100 years after his death. Today, I would like to share with you one of the many biographies written about him. This one is entitled Pier Giorgio Frassati: A Hero for our Times, and it is published by Ignatius Press.

The book begins where most stories do, with Pier Giorgio's birth. He was born in Turin to prominent parents - Alfredo and Adelaide Frassati. Their first child was a little girl, who had died two years prior to his birth at the age of eight months. His father was agnostic, and his mother was Catholic. Due to this unequally yoked marriage, his mother was nervous about having a boy and wanted another girl. This was because she felt she would have a better chance of keeping a daughter Catholic than a son (with an agnostic father).

The second chapter tells us more of his sister, who it is said did not really understand and appreciate him until after his death. It also tells us of their childhood, which was described by his sister as without flowers and without fire. That means there was no life, and there was no warmth. The rest of the book tells us further of his life, his family struggles, the difficulties he had with school. We also get to see his heavy involvement various Catholic movements and associations. This level of involvement was not mere zeal that quickly faded, but it showed a great and enduring love for Christ and also laid the groundwork for his future involvement in various social action. Most importantly in this book, we can see the impact he had on everyone he encountered, particularly the poor and overlooked.

I have read one other biography on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, so I was familiar with his story. What made this book stand out from the one I read was the heavy use of primary sources that Cristina Siccardi relied on and quoted in the book. This not only gives the book more credibility, but demonstrates it to be a more scholarly biography. The author also mixes in Italian history (focusing on Turin) which helps provide the backdrop for the world which Frassati grew up in. This may seem like an obvious thing to include in a biography, but it is often overlooked. After reading through this book, I would argue that Pier Giorgio Frassati: A Hero for our Times is the definitive biography for this Blessed man. Continue to seek his intercession, and this saintly man will be canonized.

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!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Masters Gallery (Eagle-Gryphon Games)

When it comes to art, I admit that I am a bit of a snob, and have very particular tastes. I don't like modern art, maybe because I don't get it, and I don't see the appeal of Warhol, probably again, because I don't get it. When I heard that there was an older game (2009) that utilized works of famous artists (Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Degas and Vermeer), and that it was designed by Reiner Knizia, I knew I wanted to give it a try. The game is called Masters Gallery.  It is designed for 2-5 players, ages 8+, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It is produced by Eagle-Gryphon Games, and retails for $25.99. In this game, you are an art critic/gallery owner. You have your favorite artist, but your opinion can be changed depending on how the market changes. Your goal is to have the most valuable collection of art in your gallery.

1. Display the five Artist Cards in the middle of the table in the following order: Vermeer (17), Degas (18), Monet (19), Renoir (20), and Van Gogh (21). (Note: These numbers indicate how many Masterpiece cards there are for each artist.)
2. Place all the Value and Award Tokens to one side of the playing area.
3. Shuffle the Masterpiece Cards, and deal each player a hand of 13 cards.
4. Place the remaining Masterpiece Cards in a face-down deck to the right of the Artist Cards. Reveal an "extra card" from the top of the deck and put it face-up to the right of the deck.

Game Play - The game is played over four rounds. A round ends when when all players combined have played a total of six Masterpiece Cards of one artist. (Note: This includes the "extra card.") On a player's turn, he selects one Masterpiece Card from his hand displays it face-up in front of him, grouping by individual artist. If the card played shows a symbol, you follow the directions below:

Solid Black Square - Draw one card from the deck and add it to your hand.
Double Black Lines - Play a second card face up of the same artist. (Note: You ignore the symbol on the second card.)
One Gray Line and One Black Line - Play a second card face down. (Note: It does not have to be the same artist as the first card you played)
Four Small Squares - All players select one card from their hand. Players reveal the cards simultaneously and ignore the symbol on these cards.
Black Circle with Gold 2 - Take one Award Token and place it on an Artist Card of your choice.

The game is very simple to learn. All you do each turn is play one card. Those cards might give you a special ability, but that's it. However, the strategy in this game is deeper than it appears. With four rounds and no guarantee of when each round will end, you need to carefully choose which cards to play and which cards to keep. Add to that, you start with 13 cards, and as the rounds go on, you will have fewer and fewer cards at your disposal. The award tokens also stick around at the conclusion of each round, making this game more marathon than sprint.

Though the simplicity is a big selling point, I think what I like best about this game are the components, which are merely a deck of cards and some cardboard tokens. On the cards are famous works of art of five famous painters. This makes this an educational game, a family game, a strategic game, and a bit of a classy party game. You can learn about great art, while playing a game and having fun too, and if you get beat soundly your first time, the game is quick enough that you can simply play again and tweak your strategy.

On a final note, I would like to point out one of the few negatives of the game and that is "luck of the draw." The game is not random, because there is strategy to it, but at the end of the day, you can only play the hand you are dealt. If someone gets more of the cards with special powers on them, then they have a better shot at winning than someone who does not. This isn't as noticeable in lower player count, but in a high player count, it can make the game feel a bit more random and chance-driven. That complaint aside, I think this is a fun game and one that any art-lover needs.

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age (Eagle-Gryphon Games)

The Bronze Age occurred began in the 3000s B.C. It was characterized by the use of bronze, early writing systems, and the early features of urban civilization. The Bronze Age is considered the second major period of the three age system (Stone, Bronze, and Iron). Matt Leacock (Pandemic master) took this concept and created the game Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age. This is the second game in Eagle-Gryphon Games "Bookshelf Series." This series of games stand up on your shelf and look like one of those nice hardcover books you used to buy through the mail. This specific game is designed for 1-4 players, ages 8+. It takes 30-45 minutes to play, and it retails for $39.99.

1. Give each player a score sheet, peg board, six pegs (one of each color), and a pencil.
2. Each player sets his food peg to 3 and the five other pegs to 0.
3. Randomly determine a start player, and have that person put a star on their score sheet, so you can keep track of who gets the last turn in the game.
Game Play - The game is played over a series of rounds, with every player taking a turn each round. On your turn, you may perform all of the following steps, if your dice roll permits you:
1. Roll Dice and Collect Goods or Food - Roll 1 die for each city you possess. (Note: You start with three cities.) In Yahtzee style, you may roll your dice up to three times, but if you ever roll a skull, that die is locked and you cannot re-roll it. After your rolls, you collect goods and food by moving pegs, according to the table in the rule book/on the score sheet.
2. Feed Cities and Resolve Disasters - Each city requires 1 food, so you must subtract 1 food on your pegboard per city. If you can't feed your people, that counts as a disaster and is checked on your score sheet. If your dice show more than 1 skull,  you then resolve this according to the disaster table in the rule book/on your score sheet.
3. Build Cities and/or Monuments - For each worker on your dice, check off a box in a city or a monument. Once you have checked off all the boxes of a particular city, you unlock an extra die/mouth to feed. If you are the first to finish a monument, you get the larger point value for it. For example, the Great Pyramid would be worth 12 to you and 6 to everyone else.
4. Buy a Development - You may purchase one development per turn by spending coins (each coin on the die is worth 7) and/or goods equal to greater than the cost on the score sheet. If you use goods, you have to use all of the goods, not just move the peg back one or two. Also, no change will be given when buying.
5. Discard Goods in Excess of 6 and Pass the Dice - You may only keep six goods total. Example: At the end of your turn, if you are 4 pegs up on wood, 3 on stone, and 1 on pottery for 8 total, you have to bump some combination of your pegs down 2 spots. Play then passes clockwise.

Game End - The game is over at the end of the round (meaning everyone gets the same number of turns) when someone has built five developments or each monument has been built at least once by any of the players.

Scoring - Add points for every development and monument. If you bought Architecture, add 1 point per monument. If you bought Empire, add 1 point per City. Subtract every box checked in the Disasters section. Highest score wins.

This is a very fun civilization building game that uses dice as your tools. The game has an old-time feel to it, because the components are wooden pegboards. This makes the box and the game heavy, but not unwieldy. Because it's a pegboard and there are no cards, you'll have to use your imagination a bit if you are the type who needs art and theme to make a game come to life.

The game play is very simple to learn, teach, and play, but there is a level of strategy and push your luck involved with every roll of the dice. Do you go for extra food this turn or try and build a city to get an extra die to roll? Be careful getting too many cities too quickly, because you're going to have to feed them. I personally prefer to buy building developments for those added bonuses and the protection they provide against disasters. I'm not very lucky with dice rolls, so if there is an ability I can buy that will mitigate bad rolls, you know I'll buy it! Speaking of disasters, it's not all bad news for you if the dice don't fall your way. If you roll three disasters, it will leave you alone and only mess with your opponents. Therefore, if you roll two disasters, it might behoove you to aim for three. You just better hope you don't end up with four.

The biggest complaints about this game are the downtime, lack of player interaction, and a a feeling that the games start to feel the same after so many times playing it. Luckily, there is an expansion, which you can buy for $5 or download for free here. It is called The Late Bronze Ages, and it adds four new developments; makes trading between players a base rule; and puts all the monuments in play no matter how many players there are. These changes took a very good game, and made it into a great game. If you're interested in a civilization-building game with a Yahtzee-style game mechanic, then this is a game, you'll want to check out. Be sure to check out the sequel Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age.

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Play Me (Cool Mini or Not)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are two of Lewis Carroll's best known works. Walt Disney thought so highly of the books that he made an animated film out of it in 1951. Disney was not the first to adapt this book though, as it has been made into numerous films, comics, live performances, music, etc. One of the latest products to draw inspiration from Carroll is a game called Play Me from Cool Mini or NotPlay Me is a real-time, dice-rolling game for 2-6 players, ages 14+. It retails for $24.99 and takes approximately 10 minutes to play.

1. Give each player a double-sided character card, and have them place the card Wonder side up. (Note: The Wonder side is the positive side and is the more vibrantly colored side. The Madness side is the negative side and is a more washed out color.)
2. Give each player six dice in their character color.
3. Place the round token in the middle of the table with the White Rabbit side facing up. (Note: The reverse side shows the Jabberwocky.)
Game Play - The goal of the game is to make a straight (1 through 6) of all your dice. This is a real time game, so there are no turns. Everyone rolls their dice at the same time and may take one of the following actions per roll if possible:
1. Advance - Take one (and only one) die from your roll and place it in your row of dice. You must start with the number one and go in increasing order. You also cannot skip numbers and fill them in later.
2. Block - You may take one of your dice and block another player's row if it shows the next number in order. Example: If your opponent is up to three and you roll a four, you can place your die in their row to block them. (Note: You cannot block someone already blocked.)
3. Unblock - To clear a Block, you must roll the same number that you have being blocked. Both you and your opponent take their die back to re-roll.

The round ends when someone gets a straight. That person then flips their character card from Wonder side to Madness side. The first person to win two rounds wins. If everyone has flipped their cards to the Madness side (meaning everyone only wn one round), the White Rabbit is flipped over to the Jabberwocky and takes the square Jabberwocky card. The players flip their cards back to Wonder side and must now decide if they are going to battle the Jabberwocky as a team or solo. When the Jabberwocky wins a round, he picks a player to flip their card to Madness, and he wins when all other players have gone mad. The players win if they win a number of rounds equal to the number of players or an individual wins if they win two rounds.

Real time games are hit or miss with people. Some people like them because they can make quick, accurate decisions and a real time gives them an advantage. Other people like to take their time and carefully follow a strategy. Luckily, you can play this game either way. Instead of everyone rapidly rolling, you could just have everyone roll at the same time, make a decision simultaneously, and then everyone re-roll. Doing it this way helps level the playing field along ages as well. Overall, I like the theme of this game and the simplicity of learning and playing the game. The game also provides a bit of asymmetry as everyone has different advantages and disadvantages to their character. This creates a different game play experience, especially if you rotate the characters around and test them all.

The game is portable, which I like, and the components are of good quality. The price is a little high, though, and it feels like it should only sell for $15, not $25.  Unfortunately, what I liked the least was the artwork. It was a little too dark for my taste. I get that they wanted to make this game appeal to a bit of an older audience and not make it feel like a child's toy, but I think they missed the boat. They could have made good artwork that would appeal to kids and adults without it being creepy, like this art is. I could seen teens and young adults liking this artwork though, so if you have teens in the household, give the game a whirl. They'll learn about literature, while playing a game!

This game was provided to me for free by Cool Mini or Not in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Letter and Spirit Volume 10: Christ Our Passover (Emmaus Road Publishing)

It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology started the Letter and Spirit series. I still remember buying the first couple of volumes and was excited that a Biblical journal was not only available to the public, but that I would be able to own all the volumes and future volumes, unlike other journals which have been around decades and have issues long out of print. The tenth volume is entitled Christ Our Passover and has the following essays in it:

1. Getting Perspective on Recent Discussions of Paul
2. "Confirmed to the Image of His Son": Participation in Christ as Divine Sonship in Romans 8
3. "All Israel Will Be Saved": The Restoration of the Twelve Tribes in Romans 9-11
4. Israel in the Outline of Romans 9-11
5. Passover Imagery in First Corinthians 5:7
6. Anthropic Temple and Nuptial Symbolism in First Corinthians
7. There is One Body: Reconciliation and the Unity of the Church in Paul
8. Beyond Words by Means of Words: Paul's Experience and Expression of the Divine Mercy

Merely looking at the contents, one can see that this volume is focusing on the writings of St. Paul in two books of the Bible. The first essay begins by giving us timelines of Paul's life and his writings. The author of this essay, Pablo T. Gadenz, then breaks down the different perspectives on Paul, i.e., the Old Perspective (also known as "Lutheran Paul"), the Post-New Perspective, and "Catholic" Paul. We also are treated to Paul's background and his theology. This essay is the perfect introduction to this volume and sets the stage well for the upcoming essays.

The essay which I was most interested in read was "All Israel Will Be Saved." I am a former Protestant, so this is a passage I have seen referenced many times over, as Southern Baptists are very focused on the end times. As this was an essay by Dr, Scott Hahn, I knew I would have to be prepared to dive deep, and I was correct. The first point discussed in this essay is what is meant by "all Israel." There are three schools of thought - 1. Descendants of Jacob (Ethnic Israelism), 2. the Church composed of both Jews and Greeks (Ecclesial Israelism), and 3. a remnant of the descendants of Isarel who were chosen by God (Elect Israelism). Dr. Hahn then guides us through each of the three main viewpoints, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments. In addition to referencing Sacred Scripture, Dr. Hahn also draws from Second Temple Literature; the Dead Sea Scrolls; and other sources, such as 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, and Psalms of Solomon. In the end, Dr. Hahn proposes a new way of understanding the passage where "all Israel" refers to a representative body of the Twelve Tribes that will be saved by means incoming Gentiles. By synthesizing the three views together, Dr. Hahn has aligned Paul's eschatology with the rest of New Testament eschatology.

If you are a serious student of Biblical study, then picking up this volume is a no-brainer. The content is challenging at times, but not unapproachable. The most important thing about this book is that it is orthodox.That should be a given with Catholic books, but unfortunately, it isn't. Thankfully, we have great Catholics like Dr. Hahn who continue to publish solid Catholic works for all intellectual levels of Catholics. He not only does a masterful job as editor of this series, but as a regular contributor as well. Every year I look forward to these coming out and Volume 11: "Our Beloved Brother Paul" was just released as well. Be sure to check out that one as well as the first nine in this remarkable series.

This book was provided to me for free by Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for an honest review.