Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Children's Books About Donkeys!

Have you ever looked in the mirror and not liked what you saw? Did you ever wish that you were as attractive as one of your friends? I imagine, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us would answer yes to either/both of those questions. Donkey-Donkey has this exact problem. In the book Donkey-Donkey, we meet a donkey who is happy on a farm, well-fed, and has lots of friends. One day, however, he starts comparing his ears to those of his friend the horse. Donkey-Donkey wishes his ears were short, so he goes around asking all the other farm animals what he should do about it. Each animal gives him different advice. The dog says to wear his ears down. The sheep says to wear them to the side. The pig says to wear them over his face. An honest bird finally tells him to stop being ridiculous and accept the fact that he is a donkey and not any other type of animal and to wear his ears proudly like all other donkeys do. This is a straightforward book, with simple illustrations and an honest message. The pacing and story have a good clip and it teaches children (and adults reading it to them) to accept themselves for who they are.

Mikis and the Donkey is a roughly 100 page hardcover children's book. Mikis lives on the Greek island of Corfu. His life is pretty uneventful until his grandfather buys him a donkey. Mikis struggles to find a name for his jenny (female donkey) and finally, with the help of the donkey, settles on the name Tsaki. The grandparents intend for Tsaki to be a working animal, which isn't unreasonable at all, and that is how they treat him. Mikis, however, sees the animal as more than just a beast of burden. He treats the animal with great dignity and respect, and I would even go so far as to say that he sees Tsaki as his friend. Mikis' attitude towards Tsaki eventually convinces his grandparents and other people in the village to care for and treat all creatures with respect. This was a beautiful book with very short chapters, making it a perfect read-aloud book for your children.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Strangers at the Manger (Servant Books)

The book I am sharing with you today is breaking my rules of reviewing. For starters, I am going out of order in a series. Secondly, it could be considered a late review, but just because Christmas Day is over doesn't mean Christmas season is over. Unfortunately I didn't receive this book until Christmas Eve, so my review will be a tiny late. Enough of the preamble though! Today, I am reviewing The Strangers at the Manger, by the talented Lisa Hendey.

The Strangers at the Manger is Volume #5 in The Chime Travelers series. The book is approximately 140 pages and is a steal at $7. The story begins with the children getting ready to go on Christmas break from school. As they are dismissing, they see the parish priest welcoming a new, poorer immigrant family. The protagonists (Katie and Patrick) immediately begin to judge the family, based on both looks and smell. This was both surprising and disappointing to me. Both Katie and Patrick have been on several time traveling missions in the past to Biblical days. You figure they would have been a bit more pious after this, but I have to remind myself they are just kids, and nobody is perfect. Back to the story.

Later in the story, the children are helping to clean and decorate the church for Christmas. While doing so, they are transported back in time to just before Jesus' Nativity. They meet Joseph and Mary and accompany them on their way to Bethlehem. They help them find a cave to stay in from a kind innkeeper. They get to witness the shepherds, wise men, Jesus' presentation in the Temple, and just every day life of the Holy Family. The story ends with them going back to the present day and being kinder and more welcoming to this new family.

Lisa Hendey does a remarkable job of bringing out the true meaning of Christmas in her book. She shows us that we all have room to grow and improve of our treatment to others, and also encourages us to see Christ in everyone we meet. My favorite part of this story was her portrayal of Mary and Joseph. It would have been so easy to paint them as walking around solemn and holy with halos over their head. Instead, she shows us that they were humans just like us. The biggest difference between them and us though was their total trust in God and His plan. I highly recommend this book and the rest of the series for you and your children.

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

Three Kings Ten Mysteries (Ignatius Press)

Grzegorz Gorny has made a career of publishing beautiful books that cover the mysteries of the Church. The first one I discovered was Witnesses to Mystery, which investigated the relics of Christ. The second one was Trust and talked about St. Faustina. The third one was Guadalupe Mysteries, and the most recent one is Three Kings Ten Mysteries, which discusses Christmas and Epiphany. The book begins with a brief, one page prologue, which asks if the story of the Magi is fact or fiction. We then immediately dive into the ten mysteries:

1. The Phantom Apostle
2. The Gospel's Veracity
3. Messianic Prophecies
4. Magi or Kings?
5. The Magi's Homeland
6. Jesus' Birth Date
7. Signs in the Sky
8. Bethlehem's Secrets
9. The Case of King Herod
10. The Oldest Feast

The first chapter sets the stage for this book by telling us that the story of the Magi is only found in Matthew's Gospel. It then gives us background on who Matthew was. The second chapter focuses on the reliability of the Gospels. The third chapter deals with the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament and how many references modern day scholars have discovered. Chapter Four is a juicy chapter for me, because it tries to get to the historical root of who these three men were. Were they magi or kings? How many were there really? What was their significance? The chapter on Herod also proved to be fascinating in a tragic sense. In this chapter, I learned that Herod not only was responsible for the murder of the Holy Innocents, but he committed many other murders and atrocities due to his extreme paranoia.

Gorny's books never fail to disappoint in terms of presentation and information. It really is like having a pilgrimage at the tip of your fingers. Simply turn the pages and you are transported to these place, and when you walk away you are all the richer. The only complaint I have about this book is that it is significantly smaller in dimensions than the rest of his works. I believe that if it wasn't, this 166 page book would probably be significantly thinner and all the images would feel compressed, so I'm sure they made the right decision. It's just an idiosyncrasy of mine. If you are looking for a fascinating read the rest of this Christmas season, this is the book for you!

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Suspicion (Wonder Forge)

It's tough to be a jewel thief. Not only do you have to be good with your hands, you also have to be quick-witted. Imagine your delight when you were invited to a party at this luxurious mansion. Imagine all the jewels, you'll be able to steal. However, upon arrival, you notice familiar faces. These aren't people you've robbed from before, but fellow jewel thieves. You must not only identify these rivals, but you also steal more gems than them. This is SuspicionSuspicion is a game for 2-6 players, ages 10+. It retails for $20 at Target.

1. Lay out the game board.
2. Randomly place one Guest Mover in each of the outer ten rooms on the game board.
3. Make three stacks of gem tiles, one for each type of gem. (Note: The size of the stack depends on the number of players.)
4. Shuffle the Invitation Cards and deal one face-down to each player. This is their secret identity.
5. Shuffle the Action Cards and deal two face-down to each player.
6. Give each player a Deduction Sheet, pencil, and a Yes card and No card.

Game Play - Each turn consists of a Movement Phase and an Action Phase.
1. Movement - Roll the dice to determine which two guests you will move into an adjacent room. (Note: The ? is wild and you can pick who to move.)
2. Action - Choose one of the two Action Cards in your hand and play it face-up. Carry out both actions on the card (in any order). When done, discard the card and draw one card to replace it.
3. Play then moves to the next player.

Game End
The game ends when one of the gem stacks is empty. Each player then makes their best guess on the identities of all the other players. Players will then reveal their Invitation Card for scoring purposes.

1. Score seven points for each other player you guess correctly.
2. Score six points for each set of three types of gems.
3. Score one point for every remaining gem.

Suspicion is a nice introductory game of deduction. It is fun to play with kids and other family members as well. The length of the play and fun nature of rolling dice and moving characters makes this a game that you can play a couple of times in a row and not grow tired of its simple mechanics. The nature of the dice rolls gives you ever-moving characters, I really liked the chunky and colorful wooden dice and player pawns. They could have easily done generic pawns or cardboard and plastic standees, but they spent the extra money and made this a treat for your eyes and your hands. I can't wait until my son is just a little bit bigger, so I can play this with him.

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Really Bad Art (Wonder Forge)

In sticking with my Wonder Forge reviews this week, today I am looking at Really Bad ArtReally Bad Art is a Win, Lose, or Draw like game for 3-6 players, ages 12. It retails for $20 at Target.

1. Lay out the game board.
2. Choose a mover and take the seven guessing tokens that match your mover color.
3. Take a pencil and a few sheets of paper from the drawing pad.
4. Place all the movers on the starting space.
5. Place the timer and card box near the game board.
Game Play
1. Give every player a card face-down, but don't look at the card yet.
2. One player selects purple or orange, and that will be the clue on each player's card that they must draw.
3. Press the button on the timer. Wait for three beeps and a ding, then look at your card and start drawing. (Note: The timer only last six seconds.)
4. The player who picked the color collects all the cards (keeping them face-down) and draws one decoy card. Shuffle them together and turn them face up, putting one under each letter on the game board. Then, put all the drawings in the middle of the table.
5. Every player places their guessing tokens face-down on the drawings (including their own).
6. One by one each player turns over the tokens on their drawing to show the correct letter.

1. Players get two points for putting the correct token on a drawing (not counting their own).
2. The artist of each drawing gets one point for every player (not counting himself) who correctly identified his drawing.
3. Play ends at the end of a round when someone reaches the Finish space. If multiple players reach the Finish space in the same round, the one who made it furthest past the Finish space is the winner.

This game is a mix of Win, Lose, or Draw and Dixit. You only have six seconds, so you need to be quick to try and draw a coherent picture so that people will be able to identify your picture correctly. This will benefit not only them, but you as well. I like the party aspect of this game, because it is the easiest genre of games to teach and the one that new gamers or your extended family or most willing to play. However, I think the time given should have been a little bit longer, perhaps 10-15 seconds. Overall, this is a game my wife loved more than I did. I'm not a big fan of drawing or drawing games, but this one at least seems to level the playing field with the time limit. I would play this if asked, but it is not one that I would seek out.

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Stick Stack (Wonder Forge)

When I was a child, I remember playing Pick up Sticks a lot. It was a cheap, easy, and quick game, so it never overstayed its welcome. Recently Wonder Forge released a game that looks somewhat similar, but plays vastly different. It is called Stick StackStick Stack is a game for 2+ players, ages 8+, and retails for $17 at Target.

1. Assemble the tower by putting the post on the base and putting the cup on the post. Place the tower in the middle of the table.
2. Place all the sticks in the draw bag, so they cannot be seen.
Game Play
1. Draw one random stick from the bag or from in front of you if you have sticks from previous turns.
2. Place the stick on the tower so that all parts of the stick are touching only matching colors on the tower or other sticks. (Note: Your hand may not touch the tower or other sticks. You also may not move another stick intentionally with the stick you are placing.)
3. During your turn, if any sticks fall off the tower, you place those sticks in front of you. (Note: These count as points against you at the end of the round, if you can't get rid of them.)
4. Your turn ends when the next player draws a stick.
5. The round ends 1. When all the sticks fall off the tower or the tower itself falls over, or 2. A player can't draw a stick from the bag and has no sticks in front of them to play.

1. Score one point for each stick in front of you at the end of the round.
2. Score five points if you caused all the sticks to fall off the tower or the tower to topple.
3. If at least one player's score is 11 points or more at the end of the round, the game is over. Lowest score wins.

Stick Stack is a light dexterity game that can accommodate as many or as few of players as you have. I would best describe it as a cross between Pick up Sticks and Jenga. The components are of good, sturdy quality, and I like that the sticks are not all uniform in color distribution. There are some solid colors, some 50-50 of two colors, and some that are more skewed to 70-30 or so. The game is simple to learn and fun to play, especially with younger kids who are just learning games. It is also a good game to just bring out with your game group to kick off the night or as a game in-between two longer games to help refresh the senses and the mind. It's such a simple design, but very well-executed and I can see this staying in my collection for years to come.

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Guadalupe Mysteries (Ignatius Press)

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a major Feast Day in the Catholic Church that is celebrated on December 12th. Her image is one of the most revered symbols among Catholics in both Mexico and the United States. Recently Ignatius Press released a book that could be described as an "illustrated pilgrimage." It is entitled Guadalupe Mysteries, and I would like to tell you about it.

The book begins with a prologue on both the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the shrine. It then provides us with a timeline spanning from 1474 (the birth of Juan Diego) to 2003 (the founding of the Higher Institute for Guadalupian Studies). The first chapter tells us briefly about Talking Eagle, later known as Juan Diego and his conversion thanks to Franciscan missionaries. We then learn more about the Franciscans, their missionary work, and the Indian people they converted. This provides us an appropriate context for understanding the life of Juan Diego. The chapter then provides us with a detailed account of the Virgin Mary appearing to Juan Diego.

The second chapter, the most interesting to me by far, deals with the meaning behind all the symbols in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There are eighteen symbols in this image the specific colors and symbols each meant something specific to the Aztec people. The middle chapters discussed the history of the Aztecs and the conquest of the Europeans. The later chapters further detail how this image proved to be a challenge for science, the very cool hidden image within Our Lady's eyes, and how the tilma has proven indestructible, even though it should have decomposed after just a few years.

Guadalupe Mysteries continues the rich series of books by Grzegorz Gorny. Mr. Gorny is bringing the riches of the Church to our fingertips with his in-depth research and gorgeously illustrated books. While it is not exactly the same as going to see these relics and treasures in person, it could be considered the next best thing. I'm sure these books will find a lovely home on the coffee table of many Catholic homes, and that would be a good place to display them. But I implore you to use them for more than decoration and use them to deepen your faith. Be sure to check out his other books Witnesses to Mystery, Trust, and the newest one Three Kings, Ten Mysteries, which I will be reviewing on Friday.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Love Letter: Premium Edition (Alderac Entertainment Group)

Love Letter is one of the most popular games of recent memory. Just how popular is it? The game has several different brands including Adventure Time, Batman, Santa, and The Hobbit. The game is simple and quick to play, making it a crowd and family favorite. Recently, Alderac Entertainment Group took this popular game and gave it an upgrade in a very decadent way. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Love Letter: Premium EditionLove Letter: Premium Edition is a game for 2-8 players (up from the previous 2-4), aged 10+. It takes approximately 20 minutes to play and retails for $30. As in all Love Letter games, you are attempting to deliver your love letter into the Princess' hand, while at the same time trying to keep your opponents' letters from making it to her.

1. Shuffle the game cards. In a 2-4 player game, you will use a designated 16. In 5-8 player to game, you will use the full 32 card deck.
2. Give each player a reference card and have them flip it to the appropriate side (2-4 or 5-8)
3. Shuffle the card to form a face-down draw deck. Remove the top card from the deck and set it aside without anyone seeing it.
4. Deal each player one card to form their hand.
Game Play - Love Letter plays over a series of rounds with each round representing one day. On each player's turn, they draw the top card from the deck and add it to their hand. They must then choose one of the two cards, discard it, and apply the effect of that card, even if it hurts them. For example, the King lets you choose another player and trade hands with them. Discarded cards remain in front of the player at all times to help other players keep track of cards played. Play continues in clockwise order with players drawing a card and discarding a card. The round ends when all other players are knocked out or the deck runs out. The remaining players in the round would reveal their hands and the highest card wins the round and an Affection Token. The game ends after one player reaches a certain amount of Affection Tokens (7 tokens in a 2 player game, 5 tokens in a 3 player game, and 4 tokens in a 4+ player game).

I was first introduced to Love Letter last year. Amazon had the Santa version on sale for under $2. It seemed like a steal for a game, so I gave it a try. For $2, it was worth the price, but I wasn't a huge fan of the theme or Krampus for that matter. The game play however was solid. When I heard that a premium version was being released, I knew that I had to have this game in my collection. If I could use one word to describe Love Letter: Premium Edition, it would be decadent.

For starters, the box is a nice magnetic closing box with a red velvet like finish for a tray. The cards are big tarot-sized and they come with sleeves with the back of the sleeves designed to look like actual envelopes you would deliver to a princess. As for the affection tokens, those too got an upgrade. Goodbye little red cubes. Hello, red heart tokens. If you are any kind of fan of Love Letter, you need the premium version in your collection. If you play with a group of more than four players, you need this game in your collection. Who am I kidding? Everyone needs this game in their collection!

This game was provided to me for free by Alderac Entertainment Group in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

For Crown and Kingdom (Rio Grande Games)

Abstract strategy games are really hit or miss for me. Sometimes, they play really well and can be really fun. Other times, I start to lose my sanity after a while and question if the game will ever end. The game I am reviewing today made me feel both of those sentiments, but before I get to my review, let me tell you about the game. The game is called For Crown and Kingdom by Rio Grande Games. It plays 2-4 players, ages 14+. It takes between 30 and 60 minutes to play (depending on the player count) and retails for $40.

1. Before your first play, apply character stickers to the round discs with a male and female symbole of the same color on each disc.
2. Place the six Region Tiles in the center to form a circle. If playing with two players, there should be six large regions. If playing with three players, there should be three large and six small regions. If playing with four players, there should be twelve small regions.
3. Give each player their five Character Discs, 6 (9 or 12) Support Tokens depending on number of players, and two coins.
4. The starting player places one of his Character Discs in any region, and then the next player does the same. This continues clockwise until all players have placed all their Character Discs on the board.

Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds with step one being optional and steps two and three being required.
1. Purchase a Bribe - On your turn, there are any number of different bribes you can perform to alter a character's movement or actions.
2. Move a Character - Select one of your characters on the board. Count the number of Character Discs in that region (including your own character) and move the Character Disc that number of regions clockwise.
3. Use that Character's Ability. - Each of you different characters have a specific ability associated with them. For example, the Duke adds a support token to a region if you have a majority of characters in that region. The Thief steals coins from other players. The ability of Scholar (by far the coolest character) changes depending on what region it lands in.

The game ends when one player has a Support Token in every region.

I have very mixed feelings about this game. For starters, my wife was not a huge fan of this game. That alone caused this game to sit on my shelf longer than I am proud to admit before I got around to reviewing it. That comment aside, let me tell you what I liked and disliked about the game. For starters, I love the rondel and deciding which piece you want to move based on where the piece will land. I also liked the bribing section, which gave you little ways to break the rules and not be tied down to certain moves if you had the coins to spend. I also like the components of the game. The solid wooden discs and the board which adjusts depending on the number of players is very solid design.

As for what I didn't like, a minor issue was the theme. It felt a little pasted on there, but its abstract strategy, so probably any theme would have felt this way. It was at least a solid theme and more fun moving a Merchant to a region than moving generic disc four to a region. The other thing I didn't like about this game was higher player count. As a two-player game, this game is a solid 7 or 8 stars out of 10. There are enough tactical decisions you can plan and execute in a two-player game that you feel some semblance of control. When you move up to three players, my rating would drop to about a five. I'd play it if asked, but I wouldn't suggest it. At four players, count me out! It feels much too random and the game turns into a much longer game than I am willing to play. With all that said, if you like abstract strategy games and are looking for one that shines with two players, this one is worth checking out!

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

Catholicism: The Pivotal Players (Word on Fire)

Bishop Robert Barron is what we call a "game-changer." He and his talented team at Word on Fire have brought Catholicism, more specifically evangelization, into the 21st century with the groundbreaking Catholicism series. The follow-up program, Catholicism: The New Evangelization was a smaller and more intimate documentary. The latest release in this growing umbrella is Catholicism: The Pivotal Players.

Catholicism: The Pivotal Players is divided into two volumes, with the second volume not released yet. In the first volume, we receive individual lessons on the following figures - St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. John Henry Newman, St. Catherine of Siena, G.K. Chesterton, and Michelangelo. The second volume covers St. Irenaeus, St. Augustine, St. Benedict, St. Ignatius, and Bartolom√© de Las Casas. Each person has a specific title that reflects their contribution to the Church. For example, St. Francis is the Reformer and G.K. Chesterton is the Evangelist. The study is divided into thirteen sessions with one introductory session and then two sessions for each pivotal player. If you click here, you can see a sample lesson from the study guide on St. Catherine of Siena.

Each lesson in the book begins with an outline of the particular episode. There is then a short biography on the pivotal player as well as some context for their life. We also get a glimpse at the Church during the time this person lived to further help set the backdrop. We are then presented with Questions for Understanding, which include references to both Sacred Scripture and the Catechism. These are followed by Questions for Application, which are meant to serve as reflection questions in our own life and spur us to be more like St. Catherine or G.K. Chesterton.

As expected, the videos are masterfully done. Bishop Barron films from on scene, showing you the beauty of the global Catholic Church and again providing context for the pivotal player. He does a wonderful job presenting each player in an approachable manner. Bishop Barron's brilliance is on display as always, but he presents it in a manner that not only increases your knowledge on the subject matter, but your appreciation and hopefully devotion as well. Looking at the people selected for this series, I must say I am pleasantly surprised. We have clergy and laity, saints and not, and men and at least woman. I would have liked to seen a little more representation from the Eastern Church, and perhaps at least one more woman, but when you have the wealth of pivotal players we do, I imagine it was hard to whittle it down to the number they did. If you liked the original Catholicism, then your parish will need to get Catholicism: The Pivotal Players.

This program was provided to me for free by Word on Fire in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Celestia (Quick Simple Fun Games)

I've come to the realization that I love games more than my wife does. I could learn and play a new game every week for the rest of my life, and that would be awesome. My wife, however, does not like learning games that often, so when I teach her a game, I have to make sure it clicks on a lot of different levels if I want it to ever see the light of day again. One such game I recently played that clicked for her was Celestia from Quick Simple Fun Games (My wife loved the name of that company, so it was already off to a good start.) Celestia is a game for 2-6 players, age 8+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $30. The game takes place among the clouds. You and your fellow adventurers will embark on a journey to explore the various cities of Celestia and collect as much treasure as you can.
1. Assemble the Aircraft before you play the first time.
2. Place the nine City tiles in ascending order on the table.
3. For each City, shuffle the matching Treasure Cards and place them in a face down pile next to the City.
4. Place the Aircraft on the first City tile.
5. Have each player, choose an Adventurer tile and place their Adventurer pawn of the same color on the aircraft.
6. Shuffle all the Equipment, Power, and Turbo cards together into a single deck of cards. Deal each player a starting hand from this deck (8 cars for 2-3 players, and 6 cards for 4+ players).
Game Play - A game is played over several journeys (rounds), with each journey consisting of a number of legs. (Note: Players will take turns being Captains and Passengers.)
1. The captain rolls the number of dice on the next tile to determine what challenges must be faced to advance to the next city.
2. Each passenger chooses to stay aboard or disembark from the Aircraft. If the passenger thinks the captain has the cards to overcome the challenges, he will stay on the Aircraft. If the passenger this the captain does not have the cards to overcome the challenges, he can remove his pawn from the Aircraft and draw the top Treasure card from the current City the Aircraft is in. He is no longer a passenger for the rest of this journey.
3. The Captain must now use the required Equipment cards from his hand to overcome the challenges on the dice. This is not optional, and if the Captain has the cards to face all the challenges, he must play them. If he only has some of the cards, he does not have to play any, and the Aircraft crashes.
4. If the Aircraft did not crash, it advances to the next city, and the Passenger to the left of the Captain becomes the new Captain. Repeat steps 1 through 3 until all Passengers have abandoned ship or the Aircraft crashes.
5. When a new journey begins, place the Aircraft back on the first City tile. Return all Adventurers' pawns to the Aircraft, and each player draws one card from the Equipment deck.

Before the beginning of a new journey, if any player has reached 50 points, the game ends. The highest score is the winner.

The art in this game is very beautiful to behold, both on the front and the back of the cards. This makes playing the game even more appealing. The aircraft is also ridiculous, in a good way! It would have been simple to just have players move their pawns along the different cities by themselves. Instead, they created a gorgeous 3-D aircraft with a spinning propeller just to move pieces. Simply decadent! The game play itself is fun and keeps all players engaged throughout each turn. The game is a beautiful mix of press your luck and reading your opponents. Do you think your captain has the cards to keep the aircraft afloat, or do you think he is going to crash and you need to get off ASAP. You'll have to figure that out each turn.

The only thing I didn't like was the luck of the draw with treasure cards. Within the early cities, there are primarily values applicable to the cities. However, there is also one to two higher value cards, which you would find in later cities. Therefore, someone could get lucky for bailing out. Yes, it gives the game imperfect information on what could be in each deck, but it does add a random element, which I'm not overly keen on. I look forward to the coming expansion for this game and can't wait to see what elements it adds to it.

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Children's books that present a powerful message

I am a Bear is a hardcover, illustrated children's book that tells the story of a stuffed bear who lives on the streets. At first the bear is confused/in a state of denial, because his situation does not make any sense to him. Who ever heard of a bear living on the streets? He tries to engage people, but most people are afraid of him, act like he isn't there, or are just disgusted by him. Eventually, he gives up and resorts to eating out of trash cans at night and sleeping all day on cardboard boxes. One day a girl discovers him, talks to him, and treats him with respect. Her father, however, sees her doing so, and pulls her away, explaining to her why she should not be doing that. She shows up the next day on her way to school, and every other day after that as well, giving the bear hope and causing the bear to feel valued again. The book is illustrated very well and contains a powerful message on homelessness. The words help shed light on the thought process/stages a homeless person might go through, and the pictures add a real touch of humanity to the bear. This is a very powerful read, done through the lens of a children's book!

Moletown is a hardcover, illustrated children's book with only a few words on the first and last pages. The story begins by telling us about one mole who discovered a beautiful, green meadow and lived there by himself underground. As the story progresses, we see more moles arrive. At first it's just a few more who live in separate areas underground. Eventually, there are too many moles to count. Underground has morphed into this giant dig, with pulleys, carts of dirt being excavated, and even machinery to remove dirt faster. More mole holes pop up in the meadow, and these are emitting pollution. The few holes for other moles have turned into elaborate houses with technology absorbing their lives, and some even wishing not to be disturbed. Soon the underground is overrun with shops and so much traffic that cars can only inch along. Many generations have passed when the story ends, and the lush, green meadow is now a pile of dirt, filled with technology and pollution. However, there is still one patch of grass left, so it doesn't end on a completely hopeless note, but instead the end pages offer snippets of solutions/change. The is an interesting book that encourages a balance of progress and preservation, and does a nice job delivering the message with few words needed.

These books were provided to me by Eerdmans Publishing and NorthSouth Books, respectively, in exchange for honest reviews.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tumult Royale (Thames and Kosmos)

Press your luck games tell you a lot about the type of person you are playing with. Some people are a bit more cautious and will only take minor, well-calculated risks. Other players are a bit more daring and will take wild chances that sometimes have only a 20% chance of working. When it works, they are brilliant. When it doesn't, they lose it all. Today, I would like to tell you about a press your luck game called Tumult RoyaleTumult Royale plays 2-4 people, ages 10+. It takes approximately 40 minutes to play and retails for $40. In Tumult Royale, you and your opponents are greedy nobles trying to erect statues of yourself throughout the kingdom. To do this, you must take bread, marble, and tools from the starving peasants. However, the peasants have had enough and will only let you take so much! Take what you can, but remember the greediest of you will be punished!

Setup (For a four player game)
1. Give each player their Castle Board and 25 Statues that match their color. Have each player place their Statues at the bottom of the Castle Board in their appropriate spot.
2. Give each player a Mercy Card and place it to the left of the Castle Board. Put the card face up, where it says, "The people show no mercy."
3. Give each player an assortment of Supporters. In a four-player game, each person gets fifteen Supporters.
4. Place all the Commodity Tiles in the center of the playing area.
5. Shuffle the Nobility Tiles (King/Queen, Duke/Duchess, Prince/Princess, and Earl/Countess). Have the oldest player take the top one on the stack. Then distribute the others in a clockwise manner.
6. Assemble the Frame. Shuffle the ten Region Tiles. Put four face up in the center of the Frame and two face down on either side of the four in the center.
7. Give the oldest player the 20 second hourglass and the Tumult Spinner.
8. The lowest-ranking player (Earl/Countess) places their first statue on an unoccupied pasture field. Then, every other player in rank order, places their first statue as well.
Game Play - The game is played over several rounds with each round having seven steps.
1. Gauge the people's sentiment by spinning the Tumult Spinner. The number it lands on tells you how many of each commodity (bread, marble, and tools) must remain after you collect taxes.
2. Collect taxes - First, have each player randomly remove three Commodity Tiles. Then, each player (with only one hand) picks up one tile at a time and decides whether to keep the tile or return it to the middle. Keep doing this until the 20 seconds are up.
3. Resolve potential tumults - Flip over the remaining Commodity Tiles not taken by the players and for each commodity, see if enough remain based on the people's sentiment. If three landed on the spinner, and there are three of a commodity left, no tumult occurs. If there are less than three, the person who took the most (tie going to the highest nobility) loses three Supporters and may only keep the lowest value Commodity Tile.
4. Place statues (one, two, or three depending on where you want to build) horizontally or vertically next to your other statues by paying the cost in Commodity Tiles. (Note: You can't split tiles, and if you pay more than necessary, you receive change in the form of Supporters.) Each player gets a turn to build and then another turn to build after everyone has had a chance to build.
5. After placing statues, redistribute the Nobility Tiles based on who has the most Supporters.
6. The new king must return five Supporters to the supply. They also get to take their next statue and place it in the Royal Chronicle.
7. The player(s) who have placed the least statues receive the People's Mercy.

When you reach a point in the Royal Chronicle where there are numbers underneath. Subtract the number of statues played by the person with the most from the person with the fewest. If it is greater than that number, the game ends and the person with the most statues placed wins. If a player ever places all 25 of their statues, the game ends immediately and they win.

Tumult Royale is a fun game of controlled greed. You want to be able to take as many resources as you can so that you can build the most statues, but you also don't want to take so much that the peasants revolt and you end up losing nearly all of the resources you stole, I mean "worked so hard to get." I don't normally gravitate to games with a real time element, but the mechanic in this one was necessary and didn't feel like it dominated the game. I really liked the theme in this game too. It did not feel pasted on, and it was silly/nonsensical enough that it still makes me chuckle just thinking about it. Seriously, a race to build the most statues of yourself while stealing from your "loyal subjects?" Those peasants would burn you alive after the first handful of statues went up. You'd never be able to erect all 25! Lastly, I'd like to comment on the component quality. Of the several Thames and Kosmos games I own, the components have always been pleasantly illustrated, of good quality, and more than just generic wooden cubes. This game is no different. I really enjoyed this game and it scratches an itch I didn't know I had. I try to play this game with my regular group or family at least once a month, as it is fun and frustrating at the same time. It also teaches a good lesson to kids about risk-management and knowing when enough is enough.

This game was provided to me by Thames and Kosmos in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Peter: Keys to Following Jesus (Ignatius Press)

When it comes to important figures in Church History, St. Peter is easily in the top five. Last year Augustine Institue released a DVD program called Lectio: Peter by Dr. Tim Gray. This year Augustine Institute teamed up with Ignatius Press to release a book, also by Dr. Tim Gray titled Peter: Keys to Following Jesus. The book begins with a foreword that states the purpose in writing this book, with one of those purposes being "to impart a theology of discipleship and evangelization based on seven interactions between Jesus and Peter. Each interaction comes after a failure on the part of Peter to understand or act properly." The book is then divided into ten chapters, with the first seven referencing the aforementioned quote, one on Peter and Pentecost, one on Peter coming to Rome, and the final chapter discusses Peter's own Way of the Cross.

The seven encounters Peter had with Jesus were as follows:
1. Jesus recruiting Peter to be an Apostle after Peter was fishing all night
2. Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law and setting up "headquarters" in Capernaum
3. Peter's lack of faith when he was out at sea and the storm came and failing to walk on water
4. Peter becoming the rock on which Jesus will build His Church
5. Peter being given the keys to the Kingdom
6. Peter's increasing leadership and his presence at the Transfiguration
7. Peter's failure and denial during Jesus' Passion

Each of these chapters was very interesting and made you stop and meditate on these different episodes in the life of Peter. We see growth in Peter, but we also see him fall and fail repeatedly too. However, he doesn't stay down and defeated. He goes back to Jesus, because he knows that Jesus is the only one who can save him. The most interesting chapter to me was actually the final one in this book, which focused on Peter's own passion. This chapter relies primarily on Church Tradition, and in it we see Peter fleeing Rome, because the Christians of Rome felt he was too important to be martyred and the Church needed him. As he was fleeing, he encountered Jesus on the road, who said that He was going to Rome to be crucified again (basically implying that Peter was abandoning Rome, but Jesus would not). This opened Peter's eyes and with Jesus' help (again), Peter realized what he needed to do. He went back to Rome and strengthened God's people, even though this ultimately led to Peter being crucified too.

Peter: Keys to Following Jesus is a very important work for any Christian to read. It doesn't paint us a picture of a perfect man, but instead we see a man, like us, who is flawed in nature, but struggling to do the right thing. However, with  God's help, he was able to become a great saint and one of the pillars of the Catholic Church. If you are looking for a thoughtful and thought-provoking study on the life and ministry of Peter, I highly recommend this book to you.

This book was provided to me for free by Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Graceful Living (EWTN Publishing)

The year is winding down and people are on the lookout for good books to read this coming year. One book that I would recommend is Graceful Living by Johnnette Benkovic. Graceful Living is a hardcover daily devotional in the truest sense of the definition. It begins with an introduction on how to use the book, such as using it in your time of prayer, saying each prayer slowly, and taking the time to reflect on the questions. Each day is then a page long and contains a quote from Scripture, a prayer, or a saint. There are then some short reflection questions for you to ponder. Here is one day as a sample:

January 5th
"A man must always be ready, for death comes when and where God wills it."

If today should be the day the Lord would call me home, would I be ready? What are my outstanding sins? Whose forgiveness do I need to ask? Whom do I need to forgive? What would be the last words my loved ones would remember me saying to them?

This is a very simple, but thoughtful devotional. It only takes you a few minutes for each day to read the page, but you should definitely take your time each day, as the wisdom and moments for reflection are vital for soaking up the teaching. I also like that this book follows the Liturgical Calendar. It doesn't just say, January 1, it says "Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God," and then the reflections correspond with the particular Feast Day. There are also profiles on specific saints sprinkled throughout this book. Don't let the cover of this book fool you. The flowers put me off at first, because I thought this was a devotion for women, but it is good for women and men alike.

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Imagine (Gamewright Games)

Today, I'm finishing up my week of game reviews of party games. These are games that can be played and enjoyed by both casual gamers or your family who never plays games at all. The game I am reviewing today is Imagine from GamewrightImagine is a game for 3-8 players, ages 12+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $15.

1. Arrange all transparent cards in a large circle.
2. Put the tokens within easy reach.
3. Shuffle the Enigma cards and place them face down in a pile.

Game Play
1. Draw an Enigma card. Have a random player call a number between 1 and 8,
2. Read the Enigma's clue aloud, i.e., Movie or Object.
3. Create an image that matches the Enigma using as many transparent cards as you need. (Notes: You can hide images of the cards with your fingers, combine cards, etc. You may not make any kind of noise that would be a hint, mime, or make letters and numbers with the cards.)

The first player to guess the Enigma and the player who placed the transparent cards each earn one point and take a token in front of them. While there is no time limit, if no one guesses for a while, end the round and no points are awarded. Repeat the game play steps until each player has managed to get the other plays to correctly guess two Enigmas.

I really wanted to like this game. The transparent cards with images on them to make more images is a very clever idea. However, I felt the images on the cards were much too specific. Instead of generic lines and shapes, you are given very specific images like umbrellas, cars, trees, etc. I will be the first to admit that I am not creative in the least, so I thought maybe the game just didn't resonate with me. However, I let my wife (who oozes creativity) try the game without giving her my thoughts on it first, and she too found the images much too specific and hampering. My son is unfortunately too little to play this game as it is intended to be played, otherwise I would share his opinion as well. If you can find this game on sale and have some kids 8-12, give it a try with them. If you, just want the transparent cards for re-purposing into something else, you might also want to get this game. Otherwise, I didn't really enjoy a game that I really wanted to enjoy.

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