Monday, May 30, 2016

Northwest Passage and Canadian Railroad Trilogy

It's been a while since I've reviewed children's books, so today I thought I'd give you two. They are titled Northwest Passage and Canadian Railroad Trilogy, and both are published by Groundwood Books.

Northwest Passage is a 12 x 9 hardcover children's book that is illustrated by Matt James. Mr. James drew his inspiration for his book from the song "Northwest Passage," written by Canadian singer Stan Rogers. The song tells the story of Mr. Rogers longing to take the Northwest Passage (a route that started in Canada's section of the Arctic Ocean, went through the Pacific Ocean and ended in Asia). This was apparently a perilous journey that many men search and died for until it was finally completed in 1906 by Roald Amundsen. In this book we see Rogers driving a bus around and reflecting on his life and comparing it to the men who sought this passage before him. The illustration style in the book is not necessarily my favorite as it comes off a bit juvenile at times. The main flow of the book is also interrupted several times to give pages of background/history in tiny font. At the end of the book is Rogers song set to verse and a gallery of the Passage explorers, which I found most interesting of all. It's a clever book, but unless you are familiar with the song or the importance of the Northwest Passage, this book probably isn't for you.

Canadian Railroad Trilogy is a 12 x 9 hardcover children's book that is illustrated by Ian Wallace. The book and art in it is inspired by Gordon Lightfoot's song with the same name as the book title. The song itself was commissioned in 1967 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Canada. The song describes how the Canadian Pacific Railroad was built. Each page is fully and lavishly illustrated with images that bring the song to life. The book does not censor the song, as it talks about drinking whiskey and pays mention to those who passed away building this railroad. At the end of the book is the song's sheet music and a small thumbnail of each image with a description of the significance of each image written by Mr. Wallace. As someone who loves trains and utilizes them everyday in my job, I found this book a joy to read and it is one I will share with my son in a few years when he gets just a little bit older!

These books were provided to me for free by Groundwood Books in exchange for honest reviews.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Catholic Encyclopedia for Children (Our Sunday Visitor)

Through the years, Our Sunday Visitor has had a successful history of publishing encyclopedia for the faithful Catholic. Such topics of these encyclopedias include Catholic History, U.S. Catholic History, the Saints, and Mary. I own and have reviewed at least three of these books, if not all four. Well, Our Sunday Visitor has recently released a kid-friendly encyclopedia, appropriately called Catholic Encyclopedia for Children. The book is divided into six sections:

1. In the Beginning
2. The Life of Jesus
3. The Church Begins to Grow
4. The Church Covers Europe
5. The Church in the New World
6. This We Believe

The first two chapters of the book rely heavily on the Old and New Testament. The sections covered in the Old Testament are Genesis, Exodus, and 1st Samuel. The New Testament takes us from the beginning of the Gospels to Pentecost in Acts 1 and 2. It also covers the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Chapter Three is very brief and spends a few pages detailing how the Apostles spread the Church as Jesus instructed them to do so. Chapters Four and Five talk about the grown and spread of the Church through the centuries. We see saintly examples in Benedict, Francis, Juan Diego, and Kateri Tekawitha to name a few. The last chapters covers tenets of our Faith, such as the Pope, the Church, the Mass, the Creed, the Sacraments, and the Communion of Saints. Again, more saints serve as examples for your children.

The first thing that stands out about this book is that it's a paperback. When I think of encyclopedias, I think of a hardcover, not a softcover. The second thing I noticed about this book is that there aren't individual entries. For the most part, the book is a series of Bible summaries, saint biographies, and illustrations on every page. The book is well-written, faithful to Church teachings, and written in a manner that is engaging and accessible for children. It would be great for parents, teachers, and catechists to have in their library. However, I don't think I'd call it an encyclopedia, at least not in the traditional sense.

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

CV and CV: Gossip (Passport Game Studios)

It's been a long time coming, but today I am finally going to review one of my wife's favorite games - CVCV is card and dice game for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up. It takes approximately 60 minutes to play and retails for $35. The expansion for this game CV: Gossip retails for $20.

For anyone who has ever had a job, you know that CV stands for curriculum vitae. In this game, you will be rolling dice and matching the symbols with cards off the game board to see what kind of life you end up living. Will you have a lot of different jobs? Will you value possessions more than friends? Only you and the dice will decide. Let's get to setup.

1. Lay out the game board.
2. Deal 1 card from the Life Goal deck to each player. Then, place several more face up on the board equal to the number of players minus one. (In a two player game, it'd be one card.)
3. Take the Childhood cards (yellow back with a baby carriage icon) and set aside enough cards so that each person gets three (In a two player game, that would be six). One of these cards has the bicycle card as that indicates who will go first.
4. Deal three Childhood cards to each player and then do a standard card draft. (Pick one and pass the remainder to your left. Repeat this action until you have three cards).
5. Shuffle each deck of cards - Early Adulthood (green back with motorcycle icon), Middle Age (blue back with car icon) and Old Age (pink back with glasses icon) and place each pile on its respective spot on the board.
6. If you are playing with the CV: Gossip, you will shuffle the Gossip cards into those decks as well. 7. You will also shuffle the Fate cards and put two face up near the board with the remainder in a face down deck.
8. Deal out five cards in their respective spots on the board (going left to right) from the Early Adulthood deck of cards.

Game Play
1. The player with the bicycle card from the Childhood cards lays the card down face up and goes first. He will roll four dice up to a maximum of three times (Yahtzee rules) and try to match the symbols on the dice with symbols on the cards on the game board. The symbols on the dice are a plus sign (Health), a light bulb (Knowledge), two people (Relationship), a dollar sign (Money), a smiley face (Good Luck), and a frowny face (Bad Luck).
2. You can lock in dice at any time during your roll, but you don't have to unless you roll a Bad Luck symbol. If you roll a Bad Luck symbol, the die is automatically locked in place and cannot be re-rolled. If you roll three Bad Luck symbols, you lose a card you previously acquired.
3. After you have rolled three times or decided to stop rolling because you like your results, you can purchase a maximum of two cards from the game board, and place them in your player area.
4. The seven types of cards are Event (Grey), Work (Blue), Possession (Yellow), Health (Orange), Knowledge (Green), Relationship (Purple), Gossip (Pink), and Fate (Also Blue). The last two cards are only found in the CV: Gossip expansion. Event cards are one time use only. Work, Possession, Gossip, and Fate cards must go on the top when placing them in your area. The other types of cards (Health, Knowledge, and Possession) can go on top or behind similar cards in your player area, depending on which card bonus you want to benefit from).
5. Shift cards from right to left and reload the empty spaces from the current age's deck. Also, reload any Fate cards if you are playing with the expansion and play passes to the next player.
6. Continue taking turns until all three decks run out, and the player with the most points wins!

I'm sure it's been said before, but this game is like a mixture of Yahtzee and The Game of Life. Instead of going for 5 of a kind or a Full House, you are trying to get the right combination of light bulbs, dollar signs, etc. to grab a card and improve your life. For example, if you want a job as a Freelancer, you need a relationship, a light bulb, a smiley face, and a dollar sign. If you can get all those symbols, then each turn you are rewarded with a smiley face, dollar sign, and relationship. Or what do you need to have a child? A relationship and dollar sign, of course! But beware, a child will provide you with a relationship and smiley face every turn, but it will also cost you a dollar sign every turn. And therein is the beauty of the game, the cards just make sense thematically and in real life. Not to mention that the artwork in this game is very unique and makes you laugh every time you look at it.

As for the expansion, I thought it brought two new things to the game. First, the Fate cards can be bought with smiley and frowny face dice rolls, so it gives you a mechanism to negate bad rolls and avoid losing cards you previously acquired, which is a HUGE plus! The Gossip cards add a nice "take-that" element to the game in that you can give one to your opponent (or yourself) and make it harder for them to acquire cards. However, don't give them too many as each Gossip card is worth two points at the end of the game and can add up quickly. In a two-player game, my wife hated the Gossip cards, because they either lingered on the board too long, or it just felt like one person (me) kept buying them and giving them to the other person (her). However, if you are playing with more players the Gossip "love" is spread around and generally no one person gets picked on. Hopefully! I personally don't mind them, but if you aren't the type to attack your opponent, you probably won't like them either.

This game hits all the right notes. It is quick to set-up, easy to learn, and simple to score. There is a bit of strategy mixed with luck of the dice and a press your luck element as well. It is inviting enough for people new to the hobby, but will also appeal to the seasoned gamer. My wife and I have already played this game scores of times with friends, family, and just ourselves. It is a game that will remain in our collection and one that we will introduce to our son when he is slightly older. I cannot recommend this game enough, and I hope that there is another expansion or simply just more new cards added to the game!

These games were provided to me for free by Passport Game Studios in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Risen (Affirm Films)

Today, I am continuing Carmel Communications blog tour to promote the film Risen, which is being released on DVD and Blu Ray tomorrow May 24th. Since this blog was created to review, that is exactly what I am going to do today.

The film Risen is a flashback told through the eyes of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) a tribune of Pontius Pilate. It begins with Clavius recounting a Zealot revolution led by none other than Barabbas, the very man that Pilate set free instead of Jesus. I will go ahead and warn you. It is pretty barbaric and bloody, and this is part of the reason the film is rated PG-13. After squashing this rebellion, Clavius is summoned by Pilate to go to the scene of the Crucifixion. This is the other scene that caused this PG-13 rating. However, as bloody as these scenes were, they still paled in comparison to Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. In addition to overseeing the end of the Crucifixion, Clavius is given a new right hand man, who is the son of one of Pilate's friend. His name is Lucius, and he is played by Tom Felton. (Yes, you read that right Draco Malfoy is answering to the brother of Lord Voldemort. Back to the review though!)

At the Crucifixion, we see different people who were affected and how they responded to it. We see the anguish of Jesus' Mother Mary. We see the doubt of the centurion at Jesus' death and his wondering if they killed an innocent man. We even see how it troubles Clavius and Lucius at the death of this man called Yeshua (Jesus Christ). The body is removed by Joseph of Arimathea and sealed in the tomb. The Resurrection occurs and the city is abuzz. Did Yeshua really rise from the dead? Was the body stolen? What really happened? This leads to the central plot of the movie. Clavius and Lucius are tasked with solving this mystery. In this movie, you will see the change and growth of Clavius and his search for the Ultimate Truth.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie honestly. Christian films generally go one of two ways in Hollywood. They are either overly preachy with less than stellar actors (Facing Giants and  Facing the Giants), or they have big name actors which are so far from the truth, you wonder why they even bothered (Noah). This movie, thankfully, did not go to either of those extremes. It managed to convey Biblical truths while adapting a little bit of creative license with some of the story. What impressed me most is that a movie called Risen managed to keep Jesus at the center without Him being the main character. Instead, we put ourselves in the searching shoes of Clavius. About the only thing I didn't like about the movie was the character of Pilate. I confess I admit that I am a bit of a Pilate apologist and feel like he is not as much a villain as he is made out to be. Could he have stopped the Crucifixion? Yes, but others could have as well. Some Christian traditions (not many mind you) think he later converted. I like to hope he did, but its impossible to prove. 

Back to the movie review. The main two messages of this movie are one of searching and one of conversion. Just like Clavius, all of mankind is searching for the Truth. Some people will never find the Truth. Others, if they are humble and honest with themselves, will eventually find it in Jesus and experience true conversion. If you are looking for a brilliantly acted religious movie that is historical but timeless, then pre-order a copy of Risen!

This movie was provided to me for free by Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review. If you would like to see a preview of the movie, check out the video below.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Story of Kullervo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The Story of Kullervo is the most recent release from the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. It is considered one of his earliest works and was never published until very recently. The book is approximately 200 pages long, but the actual story is only 40 pages. The remainder of the book is a lengthy introduction, notes and commentary, two different essays on "The Kalevala, and an essay on Tolkien and "Kullervo" by the editor Verlyn Flieger.

The actual "Story of Kullervo" was one of Tolkien's darker tales. His uncle was evil and murdered his father, before Kullervo was born, which sounds a bit like Hamlet to me. To make matters worse, his older siblings are also wicked towards Kullervo and try and kill him as well. In typical hero fashion, Kullervo plans revenge, but before he can exact that revenge, he is sold off and again horribly mistreated. Unfortunately, Kullervo is no hero. The story doesn't finish, but we are left with notes on the conclusion of the story. In a nutshell, Kullervo becomes more evil than his uncle ever was. There is a lot of killing, and Kullervo finally takes his own life "and finds the death he sought for."

You can definitely see elements of Tolkien in this writing, but reading through the story itself, you can see why it was never finished and took so long to be published. The essays by Tolkien and Flieger are something that should be read before reading the actual story. It provides background and context that will make you appreciate the story more. So should you buy this book? If you are a hardcore Tolkien fan who wants to own everything of his, then you'll buy this book regardless of what I say. If you are merely a semi-casual fan, wait until the book is around $15 (like it currently is on Amazon), because the book is not worth the list price of $25. Overall, I am glad I own this book, and I recommend it with reservations, but I am left wondering how many more unfinished stories of Tolkien we are going to see after this one.

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dale of Merchants 2 (Snowdale Design)

Dale of Merchants 2 is a stand-alone expansion to the popular game Dale of Merchants. It is currently on Kickstarter with a little over one week left in the campaign. The game is designed for 2 - 4 players, ages 10 and up. It takes about 20 minutes to play and costs $27 for just Dale of Merchants 2 or you can go for the Catch-Up Pledge and get 1 and 2 for $47 total. The game is a deck builder in which players take on the role of Animalfolk Merchants trying to build Merchant Stalls and becoming the city's new Trade Master.
In the original game there were six decks of Animalfolk - Snappy Scarlet Macaws, Dealing Giant Pandas, Thieving Northern Racoons, Hoarding Flying Squirrels, Lucky Ocelots, and Adapting Veiled Chameleons. The expansion has added the following seven Animalfolk decks - Experimenting Platypuses, Diligent Pale-Throated Sloths, Intimidating Dwarf Crocodiles, Friendly Fennec Foxes, Restless Marbled Polecats, Observant Snowy Owls, and Planning Eurasian Beavers. If enough money is raised, an eighth deck (Connected Emperor Penguins) will be added. Each Animalfolk has a unique deck of cards that reflect their personality a bit. For example, the crocodiles hinder their competitors a bit, and the beavers are careful planners.
1. Choose as many Animalfolk Decks as players, plus one deck and return the remaining decks to the box.
2. Build each player's deck by giving them each a Value One card from each of the chosen Animalfolk Decks and enough Junk Cards until their starting deck has 10 cards total. (In a two player game, each player would have three unique Animalfolk Cards and seven Junk Cards.) 3. After building each player's deck, put the remaining Junk Cards near the playing area to form the Junk Pile and the remaining Value One Animalfolk Cards back in the box.
4. Shuffle the remaining Animalfolk Cards. This becomes the Market Deck.
5. Place the Market Board next to the Market Deck and deal five cards from the Market Deck onto the Market Board to form the Market. (You will notice that going from right to left, each card in the Market costs one more to buy than the previous one.)
6. Each player draws five cards from their deck to form their starting hand, and the player who woke up earliest is granted first player.
Game Play - Game play is divided into two phases Action and Clean-Up.
The Action Phase allows you to perform one of the following four actions:
1. Market Action - Purchase a card from the Market using the value of the cards in your hand as currency.
2. Technique Action - Play a Technique Card by revealing an Animalfolk Card and performing the action on it. If the card has a plus sign on it, you may take another action.
3. Stall Action - Choose any number of cards from one Animalfolk set (only Beavers or only Foxes for example) and place them in front of you in your Merchant Stall. Your Merchant Stall will have eight stacks of cards with ascending value, must be built in order, and the value of each stall must be exact. (On one turn, you could build Stall One with Beavers and on another turn you could build Stall Two with Foxes).
4. Inventory Action - Discard as many cards from your hand as you wish.

The Clean-Up Phase happens after the core action and possible bonus actions.
1. Fill your hand back to five cards by drawing cards from your deck. If your deck is out of cards, shuffle your discard pile and re-form your deck. If you still do not have enough cards to have five cards in your hand, draw the appropriate number of Junk Cards from the Junk Pile.
2. Fill the empty Market slots by first shifting all cards right to the next empty slot (if possible) and drawing new cards to fill the empty slots until there are five cards in the Market.

The winner of the game is the player who builds their eighth Merchant Stall.

The artwork in the game is the first thing that will catch your eye and draw you to the game. With the mixture of colors and cute animals, it is going to attract both children and adults alike. I personally liked the Foxes the most as I tend to a little underhandedness. With the Foxes, you give the impression that you are helping others (which you are), but you are actually helping yourself more. My wife leaned more towards the Platypuses, because it was easier to build your Merchant Stall.

When it comes to deck building games, all new games will always be compared to Dominion, fair or not. It's an unpopular opinion, but I'm not a fan of  Dominion. The theme feels pasted on and there are just too many expansions. Dale of Merchants 1 and 2 scratches the same game mechanic itch with a better theme and more replay value. In the first game, you get six decks, and in the expansion, you get another seven (potentially) eight decks. In a two-player game, that means you'll only use three of the fourteen decks. This means the next game you have eleven different ones to choose from or you can use one from the first time you play and two different ones. Either way you're going to get a completely different game because Animalfolk Decks will interact with each other differently and give you a unique feel. You can go for a random amalgamation by blindly picking decks, or you can specifically pick and choose your decks. Why would you specifically choose? Well, some of the Animalfolk Decks are a little more nasty towards your neighbor, so if you are playing with a child or someone who doesn't like direct conflict, you might want to pick some of the nicer Animalfolk.

So whether you are looking to try your first deck building game or looking to replace that copy of Dominion that you can never convince people to play, in Dale of Merchants 2 you will find a game that is a menagerie of fun! The game is currently funded on Kickstarter, so all that can happen now is additional funding to make the game better by unlocking those adorable Connected Emperor Penguins. Please consider backing if you think this is a game you would enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

Today is the third and final review for this month that will focus on Joy Davidman. The previous two reviews were for Yet One More Spring and A Naked Tree, and they dealt primarily with her poetry. Today, I am reviewing Out of My Bone, which like the other two titles, is also from William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Instead of focusing on her poetry, this book contains personal letters she wrote.

The book begins with a brief introduction on who Joy Davidman is, which I imagine you already know if you are interested in the book, and the context for the different periods of letters. There is also a brief chronology of Joy's life. I've read about her, but I didn't realize that she died at age 45. The first section of letters takes place from 1936 to 1946. The next section is primarily 1948, which is shortly after her conversion to Christianity. The most famous section in this book is "The Longest Way Round," which is an autobiographical essay. We then see letters after her divorce from William Gresham, and lastly there are the letters to C.S. Lewis, which are probably the main reason people would by this book.

I've read other books before that are a compilation of letters, and it always amazes me the amount of work that goes into tracking down and compiling these letters. It's a daunting enough task when the person is famous and people go to great pain to save the letters, but for someone less well-known, like Davidman, it's all the more impressive. Like other books of people's letters, I found myself wishing for the full correspondence. It's nice to read what Davidman wrote, but you wish you could read the letters she was replying to for more context. Reading through someone's letters is a very personal glimpse into their soul. You see them raw and as they were at their best and worst. Davidman's letters were not always flattering and didn't always paint her in the best light, but they were authentic. I always feel a bit conflicted reading someone's letters, because I don't think I would want people to read my letters or emails. However, if that doesn't bother you and you are a fan of Davidman and C.S. Lewis, then this is a book you will want to read. It's certainly not the best book on Davidman I have read (her poetry book was much better), but it serves its purpose and has its place.

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Come and See Catholic Bible Studies (Emmaus Road Publishing)

There are many different Bible study programs out there, and I have read, watched, and used many of them. However, until recently, I have not had the opportunity to try Emmaus Road Publishing's Come and See Bible Study programs. That has been remedied, and I would like to tell you about two of their recent study programs.

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel is a DVD and workbook program that covers the Old Testament books of Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2nd Kings, 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah. It is divided into 21 lessons with each lesson covering approximately 10-15 chapters of one of the above mentioned books. The program covers a period of time that is approximately 600 years in length (1208 B.C. to 587 B.C.) The study begins by examining Joshua the man, the significance of his name, and his ultimate task of leading his people into the Promised Land. We then progress to the time of the Judges with specific emphasis given to Gideon and Samson. The books of Chronicles begin to focus on the King Saul, King David, and King Solomon and the building of Jerusalem. We then enter a time of the prophets, like Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea. The study then ends with chapters devoted to the lesser known kings and Jeremiah's message during the fall of Israel.

The Gospel of Luke is another DVD and workbook Bible Study program. However, unlike others that tend to focus on multiple books of the Bible, this one focuses solely on Luke. It is divided into 21 lessons, which is nearly as many chapters as there are in Luke's Gospel. With this many lessons, you get a deeper and richer study, which is necessary, because Luke has some pretty long chapters. Subjects covered include the Annunciations (John the Baptist and Jesus); the Nativity; Jesus' ministry, parables, and miracles; and His Passion and Resurrection. This study highlights key aspects of Luke that make his Gospel different from the other three. For starters, his formal education, meant he used method like research and firsthand accounts. He also emphasized prayer, the importance of women, and the poor.

I cannot speak for the DVDs as I only studied the books, but these study programs are solid in message and delivery. In addition to using the Scripture you are studying, these programs pull from the Catechism, Church Fathers, and other related Scripture passages to provide you with a fully orthodox and fully comprehensive lesson. As someone who has led Bible studies in the past, one of the worst things is coming up with questions to spur conversation. The Come and See Bible Study programs provide you ample questions as well as other study tools, like outlining what you read, prayers, and helpful tables and charts. Working through these workbooks, I gained wisdom on Scripture passages that I have read multiple times, but overlooked or just didn't understand. There are many programs in this series and even several designed for kids, so find a subject that interests you and start studying!

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Space Race: The Card Game

Today, I am reviewing another Kickstarter game called Space Race: The Card Game. The game was created by Jan Soukal and Marek Loskot. It is designed for 2-4 players, ages 13 and up. It takes roughly 40 minutes to play and costs approximately $33. The game takes place during the Cold War. You are the director of a new space agency with the goal of building the most successful space agency in the world. You will accomplish this by playing various Space Race Cards that score you victory points. The game itself takes place over seven turns (or decades), and the player with the most victory points on theirs cards at the end of the game is the winner.

1. Give each player a set of the same twelve Control Cards. This twelve cards consist of a 1, 3, and 6 value of the three following categories - PropagandaTechnologySpace Program, and Breakthrough.
2. Create the Universe by shuffling all the Space Race Cards and placing them in the central play area. Deal out 4, 5, or 6 Space Race Cards (depending on the number of players - 2, 3, and 4) and arrange them by the four categories above. Put two more cars from the deck face down next to the other cards.
3. Each player then draws Space Race Cards (Player 1 = 3 cards. Player 2 = 4 cards. Players 3 and 4 = 5 cards). This is the player's hand and represents resources obtained from the government or a sponsorship.

Game Play
1. Looking at the cards in the Universe and the player's hand, players simultaneously play one of their Control Cards face down. This is like placing a bid. Face down cards from the Universe are flipped over and players' bid Control Cards are also flipped over.
2. Action is then resolved in the order of PropagandaTechnologySpace Program, and Breakthrough. If two or more players, play the same type of Control Card, then the person with the highest bid (1, 3, or 6 plus any cards in your Space Agency) goes first. If it's a tie, then the first player goes first and turn proceeds in player order. Any Bureaucracy is then resolved in player order again.
3. You then prepare the next decade by moving player order, seeding the Universe (Each player gets to add cards from their hand face down into the Universe), and then flipping one of those cards over for a 2 player game (or 2 cards for a 3-4 player game).
The game is all about building combos and finding synergies. Since you only have seven turns and twelve Control Cards, you will have to pick certain routes to, i.e., focusing more on Propaganda instead of Technology, and adjust your strategy based on what cards come out and how well you can read your opponent and what you think they might be focusing on. If you make a great move, you can chain together several actions in one move. For example, you can put a card in your Agency from the Universe, which then lets you draw more cards, which then lets you take a card from your hand to place in your Agency. These game mechanics are very unique and not like any game I have ever played before.

I also like all the themed cards. Instead of going for generic people, shuttles, etc., we see a nice mixture of U.S. and Russian people and technology. There are both astronauts and cosmonauts. There is Hubble, and there is Lunokhod. We also see Area 51 and the hunt for UFOs. However, where this game really leaves you speechless is in the artwork. Artwork can really make or break a game. It either draws you in or turns you off. A game can be the best and most clever you have ever played, but if it is lacking in art appeal, you may not ever play it. This game has artwork that is out of this world! I have only played a print and play version of this game, but I can't wait for it to become a real game and get to play the game with all the finished artwork.

This game is already funded on Kickstarter, but your pledge can help make this game even better by adding more artwork and cards. You have less than a week though, so don't dawdle because a game like this doesn't come around often!

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Naked Tree (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

Last week I reviewed Yet One More Spring  from William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and after reading through that book I decided to review A Naked Tree, I read The Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis back in 2015, so I knew that at some point I should read the poetry of his wife, if for nothing more than comparison's sake. Well, I finally have so let me tell you a little bit about the book.

A Naked Tree is subtitled "Love Sonnets to C.S. Lewis and Other Poems." However, this subtitle is misleading and used for name recognition to help the book sell more copies. The book is in fact 300 pages long with only 40 of those pages devoted to the Love Sonnets. The book is organized chronologically and starts with poetry as early as 1929, when Joy Davidman would have been only 14 years of age. I remember poetry I wrote at that age, and it was nowhere near as composed as her poetry. Here is a sample:

What spur of gold is this that pricks the dawn
To further flaming of its fierce desire
Of glory? On the eager winds of morn
Comes bowing down the soul-devouring fire
That keenly lashes the mad spirit higher
And higher yet; the dry hot fever of fame,
The far bright crown to which all slaves aspire-
Need most imperative, to which the name
Of fondest love shows but a flickering flame.

After her early poetry, the complete "Letter to a Comrade" is included in this anthology, and this section is followed by "Poems 1939-1940" and "Poems 1941-1952." Looking at just the length of these sections, it seems that Davidman did a bulk of her poetry writing from 1938 ("Letter to a Comrade" poetry) to 1940, as these two sections/three years comprised 125 of the 300 pages. When you finally do arrive at the love sonnets, it feels like arriving home after a long journey. Her poetry up until that point felt like she wasn't sure who she was and that she was searching. The sonnets to C.S. Lewis, it is like she has finally found what she is looking for, not just C.S. Lewis, but God as well.

Reading through this book, I can safely say two things. First, Joy Davidman was a much better poet than her husband C.S. Lewis. Second, Davidman was much less appreciated and acknowledged that C.S. Lewis. If you want to understand not just Joy Davidman, but also C.S. Lewis, then this is a book that you should take the time to read. Once again, Don W. King demonstrates his impeccable research and brings us an important book on Lewis and Davidman. If you have an interest in either/both of these authors, pick up a copy of this book for your personal library.

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

In No Strange Land (Angelico Press)

Strangely enough, I first learned of St. Philip Neri from a children's book entitled Philip Neri: The Laughing Saint. In this book I learned about his joker personality when he was a child, but I also learned about what a great mystic he was. After reading this book, I was inspired to learn more about this great saint. Therefore. I knew I had to read the book In No Strange Land when Angelico Press published it.

The book begins with a lengthy introduction on the subject of mysticism and how it can be a misunderstood and intimidating term. It continues by describing the mystical states of consciousness. Other topics broached in the introduction were Thomas Aquinas and "The Weight of God." The book then gives us a background on St. Philip Neri and the world he grew up in. Both time and place were great influences on his life and his spirituality. We also learn of the great influence the Dominicans had oh his education. In fact the whole first part of the book is about how Florence shaped Philip and what effect this had on his spirituality and mysticism. Part Two focuses on his time with his uncle in San Germano and Part Three focuses on his time in Rome after his ordination.

The central theme of this book focuses on the three stages of spiritual growth. Different saints through the ages have different viewpoints for what these three stages are, but essentially they deal with beginning the journey, making progress on the journey, and arriving at the journey (or perfection). The three divisions of this book and the three divisions of St. Philip Neri's life reflect the central theme of this book. With this purposeful division of his book, the author (Fr. Jonathan Robinson) masterfully weaves biography, history, and Catholic spirituality into readable chunks. Reading through this book, I feel like I have a better understanding and appreciation for Philip Neri the man and Philip Neri the saint. Fr. Robinson also managed to make mysticism more approachable by using a concrete example of one man. Instead of presenting an overall abstract definition of mysticism, he presented Philip's life to us and showed us that mysticism is attainable. If you would like to learn more about this saint, his life, and Catholic spirituality, you will want a copy of this book.

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Bottom of the 9th (Greater Than Games)

Baseball season is underway, so I thought today would be a perfect time to share with you a review of Bottom of the 9thBottom of the 9th is a 2 player dice and card game for ages 13 and up. It plays anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes and retails for $20. In the game, it is the bottom of the 9th inning with the score tied. The home team has a chance to win it all, but they must battle the best closing pitcher in the league. One player controls the Batter and the other player controls the Pitcher.
1. Place the Field (game board) between the two players with home plate pointing toward the batter.
2. The Batter then selects six batter cards to form his team and arranges them in the order of his choice to form a line up. (You can tell which cards are batters by the icon on the bottom left of the back of the card.) The Batter must pick six different positions (meaning they can't have two catchers).
3. The Batter also receives, the 'At-Bat' Stick of Gum (used to track pitch count), 5 Pitch Count Tokens (3 white for balls and 2 red for strikes), 4 Base Runner Meeples, 2 Pitch Tokens (1 red and 1 white), and the Swing Die (red).
4. The Pitcher picks two pitcher cards (one serves as a substitute if needed in the game).
5. The Pitcher also receives, 3 Out Tokens, 2 Pitch Tokens (1 red and 1 white), 6. Pitcher's Dice (white) and 2 Fatigue Tokens. The Fatigue Tokens are placed on the Field Fatigue Track and matched according to what the pitcher Ace Pitch is, i.e., Low and Inside.
Game Play - The game is played over a series of rounds with each round having five phases.
1. Stare-Down - Each player takes their two Pitch Tokens and secretly selects a direction (Inside or Away) and location (High or Low). The Batter receives one or both Pitch Tokens if he guessed correctly what the Pitcher chose, and the Pitcher receives whatever Pitch Tokens the Batter guessed incorrectly. These tokens will correspond to the Pitcher and Batter abilities on the back of the card.
2. The Pitch - The Pitcher rolls both of their dice and may apply any abilities/penalties from their Traits and Stare-Down results.
3. The Swing - The Batter rolls their single die and may apply any abilities/penalties from their Traits and Stare-Down results. You then reference the table in the rule book to see if it's a ball, strike, or contact. If contact, proceed to the Run! phase.
4. Run! - Both players pick up their numbered die and rapidly roll them until either player gets a five or six. If the Batter gets this result first, he yells "Safe!" and places his Base Runner Meeple on first base, advancing any other meeples if necessary. If the Pitcher gets this result first, he yells "Out!" and no meeples advance. If it's a tie, tie goes to the Batter.
5. Clean Up - Between batters, the Pitcher can move their Fatigue Tokens up depending on the number of empty bases.
6. The winner of this game is the Pitcher if three outs are recorded or the Batter if one Base Runner Meeple crosses home plate.

Overall, I would give this game a 7 out of 10. At its core this is a bluffing/deduction game. The Batter and Pitcher simultaneously decide their actions, trying to outwit the other one. I didn't think I would like this mechanic initially, but it grew on me. If you play with the same person enough, you might learn their habits/tells, so be sure to keep changing your strategy. There are several big positives of the game. First, it's compact in size. The box and footprint for this game are very tiny, so you can play it in a lot of places and on the go without having to find a large folding table for everything. Secondly. it plays really quickly, but only if you want it to. As I stated earlier, you can play it in 5-20 minutes, because you're basically playing half an inning. However, there is a way to play a much longer game if that's something that interests you.

The components I found to be 95% positive, with the glaring exception being the player cards. Instead of printing the cards with a linen finish and rounded corners, they were printed on cardboard (like old baseball cards) and have sharp corners, which means if you want to keep this game looking good, you'll have to sleeve your cards. Other than that negative, the rest of the components were solidly made, and the presentation of these components was stunning. The meeples were shaped like baserunners. The cards even came in a pack with a "stick of gum." This made for a very thematic feel and immersed you in the game just by unpacking it out of its box.

Lastly, I would like to talk about the replay value of the game. Some games, especially shorter ones like this one, suffer from replay fatigue. However, this game has enough cards to create many different lineups. There are also several mini-expansions Big League Support Pack and Sentinels of the Ninth, which each retail for about $5 and will add another dozen players each to add even more variety for you game. There is a larger expansion for this game currently on Kickstarter called Bottom of the 9th: Clubhouse Expansion. It's in its final week, but well funded with several stretch goals unlocked. In addition to new players and new cards with equipment, the game also comes with cardboard Peanut tokens, which add more mechanics to the game and increase replay value. If you already own the base game, $24 will get you this expansion, but if you're brand new and want the base game, Clubhouse expansion, and every other mini-expansion mentioned above, it will cost you $54.

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

Monday, May 2, 2016

Yet One More Spring (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

The number of books written about C.S. Lewis are too numerous to count. Just when you think we have reached the limit of facets we can explore about him or his writings, a new book comes out with a new way of looking at him or his writings. Today, however, we will not be looking at a book about C.S. Lewis. Instead, we will look at a book about his wife, Joy Davidman. Davidman was an equally talented writer who did not get near the attention that Lewis did, and she still doesn't get that attention. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. has sought to rectify that and released two books about/by her. They are titled Yet One More Spring and A Naked Tree, and they complement their 2009 release Out of My Bone. Today, we will be looking at Yet One More Spring.

Yet One More Spring is not a biography of Joy Davidman, but a study of her works. It was written by Don W. King, who has edited numerous works of both Davidman and C.S. Lewis. There is a brief introduction, which discusses how she was an award-winning poet and the many places her poetry was published. King then explains his method in writing this book, why he chose to approach her work chronologically, and his aim for this book. In summary, he hopes this book will expose more to her writings and get her recognized as one of the great American writers of the 20th Century.

The first chapter is devoted to her early writings, and by early I mean her writings from age 14 to 23. The next chapter solely focuses on her work "Letter to a Comrade," which was very political in nature. This leads to the next chapter of this book and her life, where she switched gears from fiction to nonfiction by writing reviews (film, book, theater) for the American Communist Party (CPUSA).She also served as a poetry editor for a young American Communist who died early of tuberculosis. Chapter Four discusses her move to Hollywood and working for MGM studio. This ultimately proved to be one of her biggest career mistakes, as she ultimately rejected the culture of Hollywood and everything it stood for. This chronology continues until we reach her love sonnets to C.S. Lewis and the final chapter, which talks about all the works she continued to develop well after her last published work.

Reading through this work provided an interesting literary history of an author/writer/poet, who I only ever knew of by name. It's no surprise that her life was reflected in her writings, but it was refreshing that her history was not whitewashed, and we got to see her work develop with the many life experiences that shaped her. I particularly liked the chapter which touched on her love sonnets to C.S. Lewis, and I have decided to tackle reading those in the book A Naked Tree. If you are looking to learn more about a great writer who was more than just the wife of C.S. Lewis, then I recommend you pick up a copy of Yet One More Spring.

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