Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Christmas Gifts Recommendations

It's probably a little late for this post, but with Amazon and 2-Day shipping, you can still pick up some good gifts for your family and friends before Christmas. I'm going to keep this short and sweet:

Book(s) For Men
Manual for Conquering Deadly Sin and/or Manual for Spiritual Warfare. Both of these are solid books that are a benefit for men and women, but I feel like they are geared toward a man and specifically a father, leading his family.

Books for Women
100 Holy Hours for Women is a book that was written for religious sisters, but great for women of any walk of life. A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms is a 52 week guide by a brilliant author I consider a friend.
Books for Kids
For the younger readers, Angel Stories from the Bible is a beautiful hardback your kids will love and the Tinyville books have books that will progress your child from infant board books to readers. For the older kids, any of the Pauline Books graphic novels are great, but there's a new one called The Life of Jesus worth checking out!

Games with a Catholic Feel to Them
Sagrada is a fun game of dice drafting and placement that has you building stained glass windows. It's between printings now, but you might find one at a local Barnes and Noble if you're lucky. Fresco is a worker-placement game that has you restoring the roof of a chapel. This comes in regular and big box version. Regular is about all you need, unless you are a seasoned gamer. Unfortunately, it looks like this is temporarily off sale, so you'd get a better deal buying the Big Box than the regular version.

Secular Games
King of Tokyo is a Yahtzee-like game of monsters battling for control of Japan. Smash some monsters and destroy your friends and family. Castle Panic is a cooperative game with 3-D element that have you defending your castle against wave after wave of monsters. Base game is great for beginners, but there are three expansions which can ramp up the difficulty quickly. Both can play up to six, so they're great for a crowd!

That's all I've got for y'all. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

New Ignatius Press Children's Books

Saint Bernadette and the Miracles of Lourdes is a children's book written and illustrated by Demi. The book begins by speaking of a miller and his wife, named Francois and Louise Soubirous. Their first child was a girl named Bernadette. Louise had an accident shortly thereafter and another woman had to care for Bernadette. Soon she had a sister named Toinette. When Bernadette was ten, her family lost their mill and Bernadette had to go live and work with the woman who cared for her. Bernadette was a shepherdess for this woman. It was this profession that would eventually change her life, as it was during this time that her devotion to the Rosary grew. One day Our Lady appeared to her in an apparition. No one believed her for the longest time despite the miracles. Bernadette was even threatened with jail time if she kept going back to the grotto where she saw Mary, but Bernadette's faith was strong. Today, Bernadette is a saint and that grotto, Lourdes, is a Catholic shrine that greets six million visitors annually. The book tells the story beautifully, making sure not to miss a single detail, and this story is vividly captured in a unique illustration style that keeps drawing your eye from page-to-page. This is an excellent book to introduce your children to St. Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes.

Angel Stories from the Bible is a children's illustrated hardcover book that contains five Biblical stories with a focus on angels. The stories included involve Jacob, Raphael, Zechariah and Mary, Joseph, and Mary Magdalene. In each of these stories, at least one angel (sometimes more in Jacob's case) appears to God's people. The people are stunned and afraid and the angel has to reassure them to not be afraid. (Understandably so, because I'm sure if I ever saw an angel, I'd be scared too!) With each story, God's messengers provide messages of hope, protection, and a path to God. The book has one of those squishy padded covers that feels good in yours or your child's hands while holding it. This pairs well with a rich and warm illustration style that will give your children a peaceful feeling while reading the words, and hopefully encourage them to rely on God and give thanks for the angels that watch over them every day.

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

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Acts of the Apostles (Holy Trinity Seminary Press)

Archbishop Averky was born in 1906 to a noble family and had a deep desire for monasticism at an early age. In 1931, he was tonsured a monk and ordained a deacon. The following year he was ordained a hieromonk. In 1951, he began teaching at Holy Trinity Seminary, and in 1960 he was elected the fourth abbot of the Holy Trinity Monastery. Two years ago, I read and reviewed a book of his titled The Four Gospels. Now, two years later, I again have a chance to review one of his works, which is a follow-up volume called The Acts of the Apostles.

The book begins by explaining that the second part of the New Testament is composed of books united under their liturgical usage of "Apostolos," which means messenger. The contents of these books are The Acts of the Apostles (historical), twenty-one Epistles (instructional in nature), and Revelation (prophecy). The next chapter gives us an overview of The Acts of the Apostles, which includes the authorship, time and place of composition, content, and significance. We then get to the meat of Archbishop Averky's work which divides the book into two parts - The Church of Christ Among the Jews and The Church of Christ Among the Gentiles. The Jewish chapters are the first twelve chapters in Acts and the Gentile chapters are the final sixteen chapters of Acts.

With each chapter in Acts, Archbishop Averky presents what could be best described as a chapter-by-chapter commentary. With each section, he looks for the natural breaks in Scripture and opens up these passages to us by referencing Old and New Testament and explaining the meaning and significance of each passage. This book, like its predecessor, proved to be an interesting and fruitful read. It was interesting reading Acts in two parts (Peter's and Paul's) and seeing how the early Church not only survived, but thrived despite the persecution they faced from all sides. I look forward to seeing the third volume of this series and reading Archbishop Averky's commentary on the Epistles.

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

From Star Wars to Superman (Sophia Institute Press)

Within Hollywood, there are so many movies that flood the big screens every year. Most of them are trash if we're being honest, and that's no surprise seeing that most of Hollywood has become a land of filth and sleaze. However, if you look at some movies close enough, you can see Christ symbology in them. Yes, you can re-read that sentence and let it sink in. It's hard to believe, but even some of the most questionable of directors, producers, actors, and actresses have done moves with this type of symbology in them. Whether or not it was intentional is not my place to say, but I do know that every man and woman has a Christ-shaped hole in their soul and only He can fill it. Recently, James Papandrea wrote called From Star Wars to Superman: Christ Figures in Science Fiction and Superhero Films.

The book is divided into the following four sections:

1. Aliens Incarnate
2. Alternate Universes
3. Time Travel as Incarnation
4. Jesus Christ, Superhero

These sections are then divided further into chapters with each chapter devoted to a specific movie or television series. Such movies/TV shows covered are Star Trek, Star Wars, Tron, Lost, The Matrix, Planet of the Apes, and a big chapter devoted to all the DC and Marvel films. The chapter on The Matrix was interesting to me, as I admit I watched the series once and was a bit confused by it. Not only did Papandrea explain that Neo is a gnostic version of Christ and talk about the theme of free will in the movies, he also explains several confusing scenes in the movie. Much appreciated! The chapters I enjoyed reading the most were on Star Wars and The Planet of the Apes. These are two series I thoroughly enjoy, and, as he pointed out, while you can see elements of a "Savior" in these movies, none of them are orthodox representations of Christ.

Overall, I found this to be an interesting book. Some of the chapters didn't speak to me, because they were series I never bothered watching (Tron, Lost, and Pleasantville), but I was enthralled by most of the other chapters. What I found most telling was the brief summary in the end. "Of the 19 characters surveyed in this book, only five (counting Superman and Wonder Woman) come out looking like reasonably orthodox analogies for Christ. The rest look more like heretical versions, with seven leaning toward the adoptionist/Arian and six leaning toward the gnostic." This is to be expected, as it is Hollywood after all, but it is disappointing. I'm glad to have read this book and would recommend it to all Christian fans of these types of movies/shows, so they don't misinterpret them and think that these figures are orthodox representations of Christ.

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

London: Second Edition (Osprey Games)

The Great Fire of London in 1666 is still fresh in our minds, and the city needs to be rebuilt. As one of the master architects, you are competing with other architects to make the city shine like it used to. This will involve using the right people, acquiring the best land, and building the most prestigious buildings. This is London: Second EditionLondon: Second Edition is the masterful republication of a classic Martin Wallace game. It is suited for ages 14+, takes about 60-90 minutes to play, and retails for $55.00.
Setup
1. Put the board in the middle of the table.
2. Give each player a score marker, placing it on the 0 space of the board.
3. Give each player 5 pounds.
4. Separate the city cards into an A, B, and C deck. Shuffle each deck separately. Then, place the A deck on top of the B deck on top of the C deck.
5. Deal each player six cards from the newly formed deck.
6. Find the three starter boroughs of City, Westminster, and Southwark & Bermondsey, placing them next to the board. Shuffle the rest of the boroughs, placing them face-down to form a borough deck.
Game Play - The goal is to have the most prestige when the city cards run out. On your first action, you must draw a city card. After that turn, you may perform one of four actions:
1. Develop your city - Play one or more of the city cards from your hand to the table one at a time.
2. Buy land - Choose a borough card from the three face-up on the table, pay its cost, and add it to your building area.
3. Running your city - Activate city cards in your building display one at a time in any order. Doing this requires you to pay the activation cost, carrying out the effect, and flipping the card face-down if necessary. After activation, you will receive poverty tokens for each stack in your building display, each 10 pound of loans, and card in your hand.
4. Draw three more city cards - Draw exactly three cards from any combination of the deck or the development board.

If the city deck is empty at the end of a player's turn, every other player gets one more turn. The player with the most prestige is the winner!
Review
Martin Wallace is a name that is famous in the gaming world. He is known for making games that are strategic, deep, and thinky. London, however, was one of his most accessible games that was published 7 years ago, and was a game I sadly never got to play. Therefore, when I heard Osprey Games was making a second edition of the game, I knew I wanted to play it! The game play in this is game is clever and unique in that you use the cards in your hand to play other cards in your hand. Then, there is the mechanic of running your city. This is where your points and other benefits come from. However, you have to be careful when running your city, and make sure you lay out your city efficiently and don't have too many cards in your hand as well. If you are inefficient, then you will get paupers which are bad for your city and clog up your hand.

What I liked best about this game was the new artwork. I have looked up images of the old artwork, and it really is night and day! This new game art enriches the theme (which my wife loved, because 1. she is an architect and 2. she loves London) and makes it stand out from other Euro games. The only thing I didn't like about the game was the box component. I know it's Osprey Games m.o. to put their games in a fold-open box that resembles a book, but this game deserved a normal game box in my opinion. That complaint aside, I am thrilled that I finally got a chance to try this game. It crunched my brain and made me think, plan, and manage carefully in order to make the best city possible. I still lost to my wife multiple times (shocker!), but I didn't mind because it was like a fun puzzle trying to figure out each game. If you are a fan of history, London, Euro games, or have just ever wanted to try a Martin Wallace game, this is the game for you!

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

Heroism and Genius (Ignatius Press)

When you look back through the history of the Catholic Church, there have been some amazing men and women who helped shape not only the Church, but society as well. The stories of their lives could fill an endless amount of volumes, and each would be a remarkable read, no doubt. Fr. William J. Slattery recently penned a book titled Heroism and Genius. In this book, he narrowed the focus to priests. The book's introduction begins with a lengthy quote from Aragorn to Boromir in The Lord of the Rings. He then summarizes the three main parts of the book. Part One explains what modern historians have concluded with the Church's role in the shaping of Western Civilization, why the book asserts that priests were the constructors of this civilization, and the milestones from from 200 A.D. to 1300 A.D. Part Two "describes the gradual shaping from A.D. 300 to A.D. 1000 of the embryo of medieval Christendom." Part Three shows the "decisive role of priests" in the building of different social, artistic, and economic institutions.

Chapter Two looks at the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Conversion of Europe. It also looks intently at something we take for granted and that is the birth of the parish and the impact it had in shaping and preserving Western Christendom. Chapter Three, a favorite of mine does some heavy lifting in that it discusses the powerhouses that are Ambrose, Augustine, Leo the Great, and Gregory the Great. Augustine gets the lion's share of Chapter Three (as is to be expected), but it was nice to see Ambrose get his dues. He famously stated, "The Emperor is in the Church, not above it," and showed us that you cannot back down from God's truths, even to someone as powerful as the emperor. Chapter Four focuses on St. Benedict and St. Columba and the amazing impact that monasteries had on Western Europe. Chapter Five focuses heavily on Charlemagne, his model of Europe, and the man who mentored him, Alcuin. That was truly a fascinating chapter and shined the light on a man many in history overlook, because he is so overshadowed by Charlemagne.

I just walked you briefly through Part Two of this book. I won't do the same for Part Three. Instead, I will close with my thoughts on why you should buy this book. The Catholic priest right now is the one of the most under-appreciated people in the Western world. Whereas, he used to be held in extremely high regard, he is now seen as just a common man, and talked about behind his back as such too. One could also even argue that the priest is an endangered species. Just for a small sample size, my archdiocese produces one priest a year (on average) with a recent high of four one year. This book explains the vital role that priests have played in Western Christendom and culture since Christ founded the Church, and it does so with history to prove it. Without priests, I shudder to think where our society would be today, or if it even would be. It is for that reason that I encourage you, no implore you, to buy this book and read it. We must appreciate our priests again, help our priests to be the best that they can be, and foster vocations for new priests.

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Flip Ships (Renegade Game Studios)

It was a calm and peaceful day. All was quiet and well...until the mother ship came... That was the day our lives changed forever. Waves of alien ships poured out of this monstrous vessel. We didn't have a chance to prepare or recruit our best fighters, but we vowed to fight it off bravely. This is Flip ShipsFlip Ships is game for 1-4 players, ages 8+. It take about 30 minutes to play and retails for $40.
Setup
1. Assemble the six Battle Zone Tiles from 0 to 20.
2. Take the Pilot Cards and shuffle the 1s, 2s, and 3s into separate decks. For each player, deal one card from each deck, lining them up to the right of the Battle Zone Tiles.
3. Each player then chooses color and takes the Ships (discs) of that color on the appropriate cards in a single column. Each player then takes two of their Level 1 Ships and places them on the table, just above their Level 3 ships, which is where they will stay until you are ready to attack with them.
4. Place the Docking Bay near the Pilot Cards.
5. Shuffle the Enemy Cards together and deal cards into a deck based on the number of players and difficulty level you desire. You will then deal Enemy Cards face-up to form two rows of Enemy Ships next to the Moon spaces furthest from the edge of the table.
6. Assemble the Mother Ship and place it above the middle Enemy Card in the back row.
7. Place the City Health Marker on Space 20 and the Mothership Health Marker on a space depending on number of players and difficulty.
Game Play - Each round is broken into four phases:
1. Flip Ships - Place a Ship so it is slightly hanging off the end of the table. Strike it upward with a finger. Leave it where it lands and do not reset any Enemy Cards that are disturbed.
2. Resolve Attacks - Discard Enemy Cards that were destroyed. Remove ships that landed in the Mother Ship or did not successfully attack Enemy Cards. (Note: If Mother Ship is hit, lower the health meter.)
3. The Enemy Marches - Straighten up any Enemy Cards that were knocked out of alignment. Then, move Enemy Cards forward a number of spaces based on what their card tells you to do. If any move past the last moon row, you lose health.
4. Cleanup - Move all Ships from Docking Bay to space above their Pilot Cards. Refill the back two rows with Enemy Cards. Rotate starting player clockwise.

The game will end in defeat when your city takes 20 damage or victory when you have defeated the Mother Ship and all Enemy Cards.
Review
Earlier this week, I reviewed Flatline (also by Kane Klenko), and I thought it would be appropriate to review another one of his this week. I would like to start by saying that it seems to me that Mr. Klenko designs games that I am horribly bad at. First, it was real-time games, now it is dexterity games. That observation aside, I did find the game to be enjoyable and difficult (for me). Those of you with a shred of coordination would probably excel at this game. However, I think I lost every game I played, much to the chagrin of my fellow pilots.

As I'm sure has been said a million times, this game reminds me of the old Atari game Space Invaders, which I also wasn't great at. The artwork in this game was the best part of the game for me. The colors and illustration style are amazingly vibrant and pop off the table, inviting you to play. As for the components, they are a mixed bag for me. With dexterity games, I like more wood than cardboard in the box, like Flick 'em Up! I'd even take plastic, like the cheaper version of Flick 'em Up! However, I understand the cost associated with wood and plastic and that by using cardboard, you can make this game more accessible to the masses.

For my final opinion, I think this would be a good game for kids and families. It has broad appeal, adjustable difficulty, and a good price point. Is it my favorite dexterity game? No, but I do see the appeal and merit of it.

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Beautiful Leatherette Volumes from TAN Books

TAN Books has been on a tear publishing beautiful leatherette books for people from all walks of life. Today, I would like to tell you about two of the more recent works - 100 Holy Hours for Women and Manual for Conquering Deadly Sin.

100 Holy Hours for Women is a small (about 6.5" x 4") blue leatherette volume with gold-edged pages that is approximately 500 pages long. The blue binding gives it a distinct Marian feel to it. It was originally published in 1985 and was composed by Mother Mary Raphael Lubowidzka. "The book was originally written as a religious sister's guide for daily adoration." Each meditation is approximately five pages long and begins with a single verse. This then leads to a two-part meditation with the first part containing profound bits of spiritual wisdom, and the second part being a personal reflection of hers and a prayer we could all emulate. For example, her first meditation explains that the angels are pure spiritual beings and were the first beings to show Jesus love and adoration. They also implore us to do the same. She then calls on the help of the angels to make her time in front of the Eucharist more focused on Christ, instead of worldly distractions.

Reading through this book was beautiful and doing so in front of the Eucharist makes it all the more special. with 100 reflections, if you went to Adoration once a week, you'd have almost enough to get you through two years. Also, don't let the name fool you, this work is spiritually beneficial for men and women alike. I plan on giving my copy to my wife for Christmas and think it would make a perfect gift for the special women in your life. Highly recommended!

Manual for Conquering Deadly Sin is a small (about 7" x 4.5") black leatherette volume with silver-edged pages that is approximately 300 pages long. The black binding gives it a serious and somber tone, and you know what you are about to read is a matter of life and death. It was written by Fr. Dennis Kolinski and two parts - The Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies and Prayers and Words of Wisdom, Warning and Encouragement in the Struggle Against Deadly Sin.

The first part begins by explaining the two types of sin - mortal and venial. It then goes on to define the seven deadly sins and their opposing virtues. These are as follows - lust:chastity, gluttony:temperance, avarice:generosity, sloth:diligence, anger:meekness, envy:generosity/kindness, and pride:humility. This essay then breaks apart each sin by giving us a reference in the Catechism on the sin and Scripture and magisterial teachings on it. Lastly, there are remedies for each sin to help us combat them. For example, with the sin of lust, he recommends guarding our eyes to what we see, prayer, daily examination of conscience, regular confession, and Eucharistic adoration. In Part Two, each sin is given copious amounts of quotes from both Scripture and the Church Fathers on fighting these sins.

This is a beautiful volume filled with great spiritual wisdom. Given the presentation, you would think it is more geared towards men than women, but I promise you every Christian would benefit from reading this work. I would go so far as to say that you should pair it with the Manual for Spiritual Warfare and fully equip yourself for the battle you will constantly be facing on your spiritual journey!

These volumes were provided to me for free by TAN Books in exchange for honest reviews.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Flatline: A FUSE Aftershock Game (Renegade Game Studios)

The bombs have finally stopped exploding. We have survived, but just barely. Unfortunately, there are a lot of injuries and it is up to us to treat them and save as many of our crew members as possible before time runs out. This is the world of Flatline: A FUSE Aftershock GameFlatline is a game for 1 to 5 players, age 13+. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $50.

Setup
1. Assemble the board by putting the four corner pieces together and Life Support Dial in the center.
2. Shuffle the Emergency Cards and place them face-down near the area of the board numbered 1 through 6. Place the Emergency Dice in the spot next to the number 1.
3. Shuffle the Patient Cards and deal a number face-down based on difficulty and player count.
4. Turn the Life Support Dial so that the connection with the diamond is lined up with the first space of one Patient Card.
5. Place a Power Cube on each Recharging Station.
6. Take the Power Meter equal to number of players, placing it on the green side for normal or red side for expert. Fill the Power Meter with the remaining eight Power Cubes.
7. Give the most experienced player the player aid tile. They are the Chief Medical Officer and are responsible for the flow of the game. Another player will be intern and in charge of sorting and redistributing dice.
8. Have each player choose a dice color and put six of them in their area, placing one die off to the side and the other back in the box.
9. Place the Cleared Tiles and Lock-Down Tiles within reach of the board.

Game Play - The goal of the game is treat all the Patient Cards before you run out of time. Each round is played as such:

Pre-Countdown
1. Lose Power - Remove the left-most Power Cube from the Power Meter.
2. Add Emergencies - Flip over a number of Emergency Cards equal to the number underneath the Power Cube just removed. Add them face-up to the board filling in empty spots on the numbers 1 through 6. If necessary, make a second row above the first row.
3. Roll the Emergency Dice - Roll the two Emergency Dice and resolve the Emergency Cards (in numeric order) based on the dice results.
4. Planning - Players can discuss a strategy now. Time is unlimited, but institute a timer if you deem necessary.

Countdown
5. Countdown - Players have one minute to place their dice. Once time expires or all dice or placed, this step is over. You must match your dice according to the icons on the Patient Cards, and follow rules accordingly, i.e., one player playing all dice or all players needing to place dice.

Resolution
6. Resolve Cards - Beginning with cards in the Stat Area and moving to Emergency Area, resolve cards. If a Stat Area card isn't cleared, it is flipped face-down and put near the red-edge of the board. (Note: Too many of these cards will cause you to lose the game.) If it is resolved, it is put near the green-edge of the board and will provide you a one-time bonus. Remove any Emergency Area cards you cleared.
7. Resolve Patient Cards and Recharging Stations - Beginning with the Patient Card connected to the diamond on the Life Support Dial, go line-by-line and see if a line on a Patient Card is fully resolved. If so, place a Cleared Tile on that line. If all lines are cleared on a Patient Card, that patient is saved and you might trigger a bonus or penalty. Next, if a Recharging Station was filled with the appropriate dice for that round, you may place a Power Cube back in the Power Meter.
8. Turn the Life Support Dial - After everything has been resolved and dice returned, turn the Life Support Dial once clockwise, so that the diamond is now on the first space of the next Patient Card.

The game ends in success if all Patient Cards are treated or failure if the last Power Cube is removed from the Power Meter or if 3 face-down cards are placed in the red-edge border of the board.

Review
If I am being completely honest, I hate real-time games. (Okay, hate is too strong of a word...it is more a strong dislike.) My game group generally like to take our time and think when playing. Add small children to the mix, and real-time games don't generally work for us. When I played FUSE, I found it a stressful 10 minutes, mixed with a low success rate, but I had fun trying, probably because it was only 10 minutes. However, it was not something I would seek out and play time and time again, mainly because it was real time. So what on earth made me want to try Flatline?

I think the biggest factor in trying another real time was that this one was micro-bursts. Unlike, FUSE, where it's 10 minutes of stress, This is one minute of stress followed by an evaluation. Then, another minute of stress followed by an evaluation. This was my kind of real-time game. I could deal with one-minute and taking time to briefly resolve and evaluate after the fact. This felt like a comfortable mix of strategy, planning, and chaos, as opposed to 10 minutes of no time to think, follow your gut, and hope for the best. Also, it being only a minute makes it a bit more friendly for gamers with kids. You can tell your kid, "Wait one minute," and they'll generally be okay. If you tell your kid, "Wait 10 minutes," your house might be in shambles when you look up from the game.

The theme is supposed to feel like a hospital or emergency room in space, but apart from the real time stress of hospitals/emergency rooms, it doesn't entirely immerse you in theme. Since it's not constant stress pounding away at you the entire time you are playing, you can spice up your game by naming the Patient Cards (sticky notes) or giving them roles, but this might make the game too real for some people. The components are top-notch and what I've come to expect from Renegade Game Studios
The cardboard is thick, and the dice are plentiful and the spinning cardboard dial adds a nice touch and feel.

After playing through this game a few times, I feel like I have finally found a real-time game that is just my speed. It provided a good balance of stress and calm, planning and frenetic execution. I still don't love real-time games, but if someone asked me to play this game, I would play it, and if someone asked me for a real-time recommendation, it would be this game. Good job, Kane Klenko! You made me like a real-time game!

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Wisdom: God's Vision for Life (Ascension Press)

When people first pick up a Bible, they think they are getting one book that they can read from cover to cover, in order, and understand everything. What they don't realize is that there are 73 books and many different "genres" within the Bible. There is Law, Historical Narrative, Allegory, Apocalyptic and Wisdom literature. While it might be wrong to pick a favorite genre, if I had to it would definitely be the Wisdom books, which are comprised of Proverbs, Wisdom, Sirach, and Ecclesiastes. There is just something about reading a chapter or even a few verses a day from these four books that puts your day on the right path and helps make you spiritually smarter. Ascension Press realizes the value of these books too, and that's why one of their latest studies focuses on them. It's called Wisdom: God's Vision for Life and features Ascension Press veteran Jeff Cavins paired with Thomas Smith. This DVD series is divided into the following eight sessions:

1. Introduction
2. Wisdom in Decision-Making
3. Wisdom in Finances
4. Wisdom in Relationships
5. Wisdom for Peace of Mind
6. Wisdom in Speech
7. Wisdom in Age
8. Wisdom in Christ

The study is done in Lectio Divina format. You will read, reflect, relate and rest. There will home preparation which you will do individually, a video presentation everyone will watch together, a small group discussion, and lastly a review of everyone's responses. In addition to focusing on the four Old Testament Wisdom books mentioned above, there are also selections from Psalms, Tobit, Philippians, 1 Timothy, Titus, and Ephesians to name a few. What I like best about this program is the practical approach it takes to wisdom literature. It would be very easy to make a series that examines one book of the Bible and go through it verse-by-verse. Instead, the creators looked for common themes found in all the books and focused on different areas where people need the most help, i.e., finances, relationships, speech, etc. So why should you or your parish invest in this program? Wisdom 7 says the following:

In Wisdom is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Not baneful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,
And pervading all spirits,
though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.
For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
For she is an aura of the might of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness.
And she, who is one, can do all things,
and renews everything while herself perduring;
And passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets.
For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom.
For she is fairer than the sun
and surpasses every constellation of the stars.
Compared to light, she takes precedence;
for that, indeed, night supplants,
but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ticket to Ride: First Journey App (Asmodee)

One of the very first games I remember playing when I was introduced to modern tabletop gaming was called Ticket to Ride. It is a modern classic by Alan R. Moon and contains elements of hand management, set collection, and route building. It also comes with cool train shaped pieces, which give a nice visual effect when claiming your routes. It was beautiful and simple and the perfect introduction for families and new gamers. Recently a children's version of this game was released called Ticket to Ride: First Journey, which is designed for children ages 6+. It simplifies the game even more and makes it accessible to children at a much younger age. As of late, Asmodee has been on a tear releasing app versions of their popular games, and this is now true of Ticket to Ride: First Journey too!
In this game, you are given route cards to complete, like regular Ticket to Ride. However, the map is smaller and routes are generally shorter. Also, unlike regular Ticket to Ride, you are not trying to complete the longest and best routes, you are just trying to be the first to complete six routes. The app plays up to four people with the ability to play either against the AI or your friends in pass and play mode. It is bright and colorful, which appeals to kids, and the graphics on it have movement and motion to them when connecting cities, which is fun and captivating. After each game you win, you also get a picture to go into your collection and collect, which is like a little trophy for kids. I will say that playing on a phone, the trains are a little hard to place due to screen size, but that is no problem when playing with a tablet. At $1.99, this game is a steal because you get this map and the Europe map if you sign up for an Asmodee account. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Space Race: Interkosmos

The more I play board games the more I realize that they are a lot like movies. There are big budget titles and indie darlings. There are ones with big names, and ones by first-timers looking to make a splash. The movies most interesting of all to me are the cult-classics. These movies are hidden gems that are underappreciated, except for their small core following. Eventually, their brilliance is discovered and the popularity explodes. Two such titles I can think of that fall into this category are The Princess Bride and The Goonies.

This got me to thinking. Are there cult classic games currently in the hobby? I think so, but I can't really prove it, because it's just kind of a gut instinct. However, if I had to provide you with some examples to back my claim I would list Vast: The Crystal Caverns and Space Race: The Card GameSpace Race is a clever little card game of space exploration for 1 to 4 players. It was a Kickstarter darling that did not see retail release, causing a lot of people to be sad they missed this project. Well, if you missed it, lucky for you, there is currently an expansion out called Interkosmos, and you can get the base game and expansion during this campaign! So what's new in Interkosmos?
The first big change to the game is the addition of a fifth Space Program (or player). In the original game, you had the U.S., Russia, Europe, and Private Sector that you could play as. With the expansion, we now have the Chinese and their Taikonauts! Not only does this make the game playable with a larger group, it adds more theme to the game as China was the third country to put astronauts in space.

Second, you will now have achievements which can be completed and range in difficulty from having two of one type of card in your agency to using two immediate actions in one round. With only five available each game, you will now have to focus on completing specific tasks while still building the best space program. However, you will have to complete these tasks more quickly than your opponents or you will risk not scoring any points for them at all.

The third big change is an influx of new cards added to the universe. We now get to see famous people such as Alan Shepard, Jeff Bezos, Yang Liwei, and Vladimir Komarov. There is technology such as Mir, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Falcon 9.There's also some fun breakthroughs like a Martian Colony and Landing on Venus. These cards expand the deck of cards dramatically and add so much more theme to the game that you can taste it!

The last and biggest change related to the game is the introduction of Scenarios! There are currently three Scenarios (with the potential for more in the form of Stretch Goals) that make the game so much more awesome. The Scenario I tried was called The Dawn of an Era. In this scenario, countries are at the start of the space race (Appropriate!) and are competing in a technological arms race to establish supremacy. This means that you won't be playing breakthrough cards like normal and will have to wait until the last round to make the best possible combinations. My wife and I really enjoyed playing this specific Scenario at two players because it made the game take on an even deeper historical context that you don't always get in the base game. I'm not sure how well this Scenario would scale beyond three players, but I'm anxious to try it and other Scenarios.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the expansion, but I was pleased with every addition to the game. Jan Soukal and Michal Mikes took an already excellent game and found a way to make the universe bigger and better. In a hobby with so many space games (99% of them 4x or alien-based), it is refreshing to see a game steeped in history, actual people, actual technology, and actual events. This is my go-to space game and one you need in your collection if you have any love of space and exploration at all. If you already own the base game, pledge for the expansion. If you don't own the base game, well you better be one of the first 1000 to pledge for the base and expansion, because you might never have a chance to own this game again! Highly recommended!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Flora of Middle-Earth (Oxford University Press)

Any fan of  J.R.R.Tolkien knows that the man was a genius, and I think even that term does not do him justice. In addition to creating a whole world (Middle-earth), he also created a language, and comprehensive (yet sadly unfinished) history of this world. What people (myself included) might not know about Tolkien is that he loved plants. He even wrote in one of his letters, "I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and always have been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals." Reading this statement and just merely thinking about some of the passages of Lord of the Rings, it is clear to see all the plant life or flora in his works. There's Kingsfoil, pipe-weed, the white trees of Gondor, and of course who could forget Treebeard and the other Ents? In a recently published book, Flora of Middle Earth, father-son duo Walter S. Judd and Graham A. Judd set out explore and explain this interesting subject. The book is approximately 400 pages long and is divided into the following chapters:

1. Introduction: The Importance of Plants in J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium
2. Plant Communities of Middle-earth
3. The Diversity of Life, with a Focus on the Green Plants
4. Introduction to Plant Morphology: Learning the Language of Plant Descriptions
5. Identification of the Plants of Middle-earth
6. Telperion and Laurelin: The Two Trees of Valinor
7. The Plants of Middle Earth
8. A Note from the Illustrator

The opening chapters provide a brief lesson on the different climate zones in Middle-earth, what exactly is a plant, what are the parts of a plant, and a key to identifying the plants of Middle-earth. This is a lot of science and botany and might bog the average reader down if they don't share as great a love for plants as the authors and Tolkien. Chapter Six is a brief but amazingly interesting chapter to read as the Two Trees of Valinor are central to the mythology of Middle-earth. They are the origin of the Sun, the Moon, great Elvish wisdom, and the white trees of Gondor. Sadly, they were destroyed by Morgoth and Ungoliant. The meat (or I guess in tree terminology, sapwood) of this book is Chapter Seven. Within this massive chapter are roughly 100 different types of plants from Middle-earth, including unidentified plants, which are plants that are merely named in in the Legendarium but little or no other information is known about them. Each identified plant is given its own subsection in the chapter and contains the following information about each plant: an excerpt from Tolkien's works, etymology, distribution and ecology, economic uses, and description. Some plants have figures/illustrations associated with each, but not all of them.

This was a truly fascinating work to read. It opened my eyes to a love of Tolkien's that I didn't even know existed within him. This is also a very dense work to read as well. Unless you truly love plants, you are not going to breeze their every page and find yourself bogged down with facts and details sometimes. What I loved best about this book is some of the sections that blew my mind on their significance in Middle-earth, and I immediately went back and read them. This is a book I see myself visiting each time I read Tolkien, so that I can better understand a botanical layer of his work that until now I didn't even know was present!

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle - The Monster Box of Monsters (USAopoly)

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle was one of the it games of 2016. It took deck-building, mixed it with a campaign style format, and used a HUGELY popular theme to make for a fun and exciting experience. I remember playing through it with friends and we loved almost everything about it. The biggest problems we found with the game were minor inaccuracies with cards appearing before they should, only having one playable female character, and a somewhat swingy experience due to villain order and glut of cards you filled your deck with. When, I heard about an expansion coming out, I was eager to try it.

The first things you notice about the expansion are the name and presentation. Called The Monster Box of Monsters, this is a clear reference to the Monster Book of Monsters used by Hagrid when he taught Care of Magical Creatures. As for the appearance, it is a miniature box decorated like a piece of luggage, which artfully ties in with the larger base game box, also decorated like a luggage trunk. As one can guess, this expansion is mainly about introducing monsters or creatures into the game. You will see familiar faces and foes like Fluffy, Norbert, and the mysterious Boggart. These get shuffled in with Villains from the base game and provide an exciting twist on a game you have already conquered. However, there's more to this box than monsters...

The expansion has introduced a fifth playable character in the form of Luna Lovegood! How can you not love the ever-positive and quirky Luna? Adding her to the box makes this game more female friendly, because it means one less woman has to play as Ron (Sorry, Rupert!) when playing this game. I personally still think it's a shame that Ginny hasn't been made into a playable character, but maybe we'll get a second expansion next year? While it would have been nice to expand the game to five players and open this game up to larger player counts, I understand that game balance would have been thrown off doing so.

The biggest difference one will notice in this box is game play. There are a couple of new "devices" added that make for a more challenging experience. First, there is an introduction of Encounter cards, which must be cleared now in addition to defeating Villains and Creatures. One such Encounter you will have to clear is Cornish Pixies. (Yes, Seamus, Cornish Pixies!) Another new "device" added to the game is Detention cards. When you gain these cards, you will clog your deck up with useless cards that provide no benefit and harm you if you discard them. To help counter these new challenges, a new benefit has been introduced called Banishing. Banishing allows you to thin cards from your deck and create a smaller more powerful deck. This is a useful mechanic that ever deck-building game needs, so I am glad to see it added.

Overall, I was pleased with this expansion. It wasn't perfect and took some getting used to with the increased difficulty, but it also added a lot of new and interesting bits and pieces to the game, while maintaining the heart and familiar feel of the game. The biggest disappointment fans of the game will face is that you should have completed the base game before incorporating any of the new material from expansions. That complaint is minor, though, as most people have already finished the game, or if not, now have extra motivation to do so. I highly recommend picking up this expansion and discovering the secrets of the four little boxes contained within. You won't regret it!

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

Beren and Lúthien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In 1916, J.R.R. Tolkien returned from France and the Battle of Somme of the First World War. Three million men fought in this battle and over one million were injured or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Knowing these statistics, it is safe to say that the battle impacted Tolkien's life. This is evidenced by the fact that he penned Beren and Lúthien, a tragic tale of an ill-fated love between a mortal man and immortal she-Elf. In fact, you can see elements of The Silmarillion and other First Age tales of Tolkien's in Beren and Lúthien. Unfortunately, for Tolkien and us, he never finished it. He constantly tweaked the work and revisited it, but it was never completed. The 2017 release of this title shows just that.

Like all of the Tolkien books that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has produced lately, the presentation value is top-notch! The book is a dust-jacketed hardcover, so it matches the formatting of the other books. Alan Lee does the illustrations for the book and after Pauline Baynes, he is my go-to Tolkien illustrator. As for the contents of the book, it is what you have come to expect from the recent Tolkien releases. This means that there is a lot of background, history, and revisions. A lot of this information and text can be found in You won't find a completed work, but instead you will find different attempts by Tolkien at completing this work. What I found interesting is that the literary style changed as well, as there are manuscripts that show this work in both poetry and prose format. Reading through the book was not only interesting because Tolkien's works are brilliant, but it is simply fascinating to enter the mind of a genius and see the evolution of a work. Looking at all the unfinished works that Tolkien left behind, it is clear that the man was a perfectionist, who was always trying to perfect his works and make them the best they could be. He reminds me of one of his characters named Niggle from Leaf by Niggle, which is another fine work of his you should read. Sadly for him (and more sadly for us), if he had given us a 75% effort and finished a work, it would probably still better than 99% of the other works out there. If you are someone who hasn't read the History of Middle Earth or are a Tolkien completionist, I recommend picking up a copy. If you are just a casual fan of his, then you'd be better served with other works of his.

This copy was provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (DeMontfort Music)

In 2013, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist released their debut album Mater Eucharistiae, which was a smash hit! 2014 saw them release their sophomore album The Rosary, and for a few years, I thought that was all they were going to release...NOPE! A few weeks ago their third album, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring was released. This gave people about a month to pick up this Christmas album. Like other albums released from DeMontfort Music, the album is a mixture of hymns and chants, as well as English and Latin selections. Included on this album are the following:

1. Christmas Proclamation
2. Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
3. Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying
4. Sleep, Little Jesus
5. Carol of the Bells
6. Emmanuel
7. Snowflakes
8. Away in a Manger
9. Angels We Have Heard on High
10. Adeste Fideles
11. Joy to the World
12. Gaudete
13. Of the Father's Love Begotten
14. Madonna's Lullaby
15. Gabriel's Message
16. We Wish You a Merry Christmas

It's said in the music business that you haven't made it until you put out a Christmas album. Well, I guess we can say that these sisters have officially made it! There are many Christmas albums that flood the market every year that completely miss the point of Christmas, so it was refreshing to see this holy album be released that focuses on the real reason for the season. On this album, you will see a lot of familiar titles, which is always refreshing because you can sing along. However, I also loved that there were titles on this album that I was unfamiliar with, as it helped broaden my catalog of great Christmas songs. Listening to this album in my car has been a relaxing endeavor, as it has helped me focus on Jesus with my commute to and from work. Unfortunately, I have to put this album away until December when Advent officially starts, because it is currently Ordinary Time and you should appreciate the season you are in. However, when December 3rd gets here, this album is going back into my car CD player and will be on loop through the beginning of next year. Pick up this album and a second one for a friend. You won't be sorry.




Monday, October 30, 2017

Agricola Expansions (WizKids)

Agricola is one of the most beloved games among modern board gamers. Uwe Rosenberg introduced this classic back in 2007 and followed it up with popular expansions and even a two-player version of the game called Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. In 2016, Mayfair Games published two different versions of Agricola, a Family version and a Revised version of the game. As you can deduce from the titles one is more for families and casual gamers and one has a bit more meat to it. What I really liked about the Revised version is that there is a separate expansion that adds the ability to play 5 or 6 players. Recently Mayfair Games partnered with WizKids to produce six expansions that effectively replace the meeples in your game with miniatures.

Pros
1. The miniatures are high quality, detailed, and really make the game pop.
2. Each set comes with 20 unique and exclusive cards (11 new occupations and 9 minor improvements) to add variety to the game.
3. You can buy as many or as few as you need to. If you play with six, you're going to want all six. If you only ever play with two, just buy two and not have four other sets you don't need.

Cons
1. Did this game really need miniatures? I say no, but I also am a sucker for making games I love look even better.
2. With the cards being exclusive to each set, people will complain that they should have just made booster decks of cards and not paired them with miniatures. See Con #3.
3. This has potential to be EXPENSIVE if you want all six sets. At a retail price of $25 per set, you're looking at $150.

I was provided a red set and a blue set to review and I have to admit they were awesome to play with. One of the red player's cards was a Trident, and it gave you some food (depending on the round you played it), which would help your people from starving. It wasn't overpowered though, because as soon as you played it, the card was passed to the next player. Thus, you had to decide when to use it to benefit you the most and your opponents the least. The blue player had a card called game trade, which effectively let you trade two sheep for one cattle and one wild boar. This improves your points and also diversifies your livestock so you don't lose points at the end of the game. In addition to serious cards, there are also some humorous cards that were included. My personal favorite of these cards was the "cube-cutter," which is just the right amount of tongue in cheek humor that I've come to expect from Uwe Rosenberg. In summation, these packs aren't essential, but if you play Agricola all the time and have the money to get them, do it!

These expansions were provided to me for free by WizKids in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 27, 2017

In God's Hands (HarperOne)

Whenever I think of October, I think of Pope John Paul II. It was when his papacy began (October 16, 1978), and it is when his Feast Day is (October 22). Though, he was one of the longest reigning popes in history, I only knew of him for a brief time as he passed away shortly after my conversion. I own almost everything he has ever written (including published works before he was Pope), so when I heard there was a new book published I was instantly intrigued. The book is entitled In God's Hands: The Spiritual Diaries of Pope Saint John Paul II.

The book is approximately 500 pages in length and contains the personal notes and reflections, primarily related to retreats and reflection days between 1962 and 2003. Some of the retreats include his arrival in Rome for Vatican II,  the anniversary of his priestly ordination, and his election to the papacy, and even a Vatican retreat given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). The format of this book tried to maintain the integrity and format of the notebooks. In doing so, we see a lot of one-line notes which we can glean deep spirituality, but the pages would benefit more highly from actually having access to retreat transcripts. What is most telling about his notes is the self-reflection questions he asks himself. For example, he questions if anything is overshadowing his single work of being a sign of Christ. In this same reflection, we know that Christ is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep. He then questions if he knows all his priests, and what can he do better? This shows a great deal of humility, self-awareness, and a desire to continuously improve.

Overall, the book was an interesting read. It is not a book that you just casually stroll through, but one that you read slow and have to dig deep into to get to the heart of the book. With that said, I was a bit conflicted reading this book. Pope John Paul II asked that his spiritual diaries be destroyed, but his secretary saw the merit in these works and preserved them for spiritual edification of others. I appreciate that, because the words of a great saint should not be destroyed, but I also understand the want to have your personal thoughts kept private and not published. You will have to ultimately decide if you feel comfortable reading this work or not.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fantasy Fantasy Baseball (CSE Games)

The first game of the World Series was last night. Thankfully, the Yankees aren't in it, but I'm realizing that a lot of people hate the Dodgers as well. Maybe, you're like me though and don't care about the World Series because your team didn't make it...again. (Thanks, Atlanta!) So what are you going to do when the season ends and you can't play fantasy baseball anymore? How about a little Fantasy Fantasy BaseballFantasy Fantasy Baseball is a game for 1 to 5 players, ages 10+. It takes between 20 and 50  minutes to play and retails for approximately $30.
Setup
1. Place the Stat Track Board and Infield Board in the middle of the playing area.
2. Give each Manager (player) a Team Card and the corresponding color of Pegs, Turn/Waive Order tokens, and Wizard miniature.
3. Randomly select a first Manager (starting player), placing that Manager's token on Waiver Order 1. Going clockwise around the table, place the other Managers in the next Waiver Order spots.
4. Shuffle the Win Cards and place them face down on the pitcher's mound on the Infield Board.
5. Separate the Character Cards into five tiers and deal each player - 3 Rookies, 1 Pro, 1 Specialist, 1 All-Star, and 1 Hall of Fame to make a hand of seven cards.
6. Each Manager then drafts their team by simultaneously picking a card from their hand and passing their hand left. Continue doing this until each Manager has seven cards.
7. Shuffle the remaining Character Cards and place them face-down to the left of the Stat Track Board.
8. Lastly, have each Manager discard one Character Card from their hand to form a discard pile to the right of the Stat Track Board.
Game Play - A game is played over three months (rounds). Follow these five steps each month:
1. Prepare - Deal out four Win Cards face up around the four bases.
2. Free Agency (skipped in the first month) - Flip Character Cards from the Character Deck equal to the number of Managers + 2. This is the Free Agency Pool. Then, going in Waiver Order, each Manager has the option with claiming a Character Card from the Free Agency Pool. If they do so, they must discard a Character Card from their hand. After all managers have had this option, discard all Character Cards in the Free Agency Pool.
3. Set Rosters - Each Manager places four Character Cards (face down) around their Team Card forming a diamond. Where you place the card next to your Team Card corresponds to the base on the Infield Board. Your remaining two Character Cards are left on the bench for their magic ability.
4. Play Ball! - All Managers reveal the 1st Base Character Card simultaneously. Then, going in reverse Waiver Order, Managers have a chance to activate a Character Card on the bench. Compare the stats of all Character Cards and highest one corresponding to the Win Card claims it. If you don't claim the Win Card, you may advance on the Stat Track Board. Repeat this step for all four bases.
5. Cleanup - Update the Waiver Order by making the Manager with the fewest Wins first in Waiver Order. Return Character Cards to the Manager and repeat these five steps if it is the end of Round One or Two. If the end of Round Three, the top two players have a best of seven series using this same format.
Review
The artwork and the components in this game are top notch. The graphics and illustration is playful, but competitive with many varied fantasy creatures to play with. If you are a fan of baseball at all, you will recognize some references to actual baseball players. For example, former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne "Ryno" Sandberg has been immortalized in bear format as Ryno Berg. As for the game play itself, it is a fairly simply and straightforward draft and hand management game. What makes the game most interesting to me is deciding which cards to play, where to play them, and when to play your bench guys. Each of these decisions is important and can result in you claiming a win or getting a loss. I also like the variable game play you can create with the event deck. This adds more replay value to the game and creates a new level of depth with the game. What I don't like about the game is the elimination of people. After three rounds, your player count drops to two players for the championship game. Everyone else playing either has to wait for the game to finish and play again or find a different game to play. That's no fun! Overall, this is a fun and inviting game and is perfect for the game and sports lover in your life. Check out future Fantasy Fantasy titles including Football and maybe Hockey soon?

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Zoo Ball (Osprey Games)

We are in the thick of sports seasons at the moment. It's that time of the year when baseball is wrapping up (World Series), basketball is starting, and football is starting to separate the contenders from the pretenders. With that in mind, it seemed like a good time to review Zoo Ball: The King of Sports! Zoo Ball is a game for 2 or 4 players, ages 8+. It takes about ten minutes to play and retails for $30.

Setup
1. Lay out the felt board and flatten is as best as possible.
2. Place your orange disc (Scorer) on the star in the circle and three white discs (Blocker) anywhere on your half of the board. Your opponent will do likewise on their half of the board.

Game Play
On your turn, you may either flick your Scorer or any/all of your three Blockers. The first player to get their Scorer completely into the other players circle (goal) scores a point and the board resets. The first player to three points is the winner. In a four player games, players start in separate corners, and must score in the corner diagonally opposite to their starting position. The first player to score is the winner, so this is more of a chaotic free-for-all in that you aren't only guarding your goal but all the other goals you don't want scored in.

Review
When I first received this game to review, I wondered if there was anything in the box honestly. It felt super-light so I was surprised upon opening it. The game board is a 30" x 30" piece of folded felt that looks like a typical sports field. It creases easily and I would have preferred a neoprene mat, but that would have raised the cost of this game dramatically. The discs have a nice weight and feel to them and slide well across the table. The stickers are well-illustrated and have a nice variety of animals on them. With eighteen white stickers and six yellow stickers, you can customize your team to suit your fancy and have some leftover. The rulebook could have been condensed to one sheet of paper, but Osprey Games added some fun theme with sports commentators talking about how to play the game. As for the game play itself, I found the game to be simple and quick. You can teach the game in about than five minutes and play it in another five (or ten if you're horrible at dexterity games like myself). It is a nice introduction to the dexterity mechanic and suitable for kids and casual gamers.

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Near and Far (Red Raven Games)

When I first entered the world of modern board gaming, one of the first games I discovered and fell in love with was Above and Below. The art was beautiful, the components were top notch, and the game play was fun and engaging. However, what made it stand out above other games I had tried was the story element. On your turn, you could explore and read from a story book that immersed you even more in the game. The more I played this game, however, the more I realized that the stories were a little biased towards doing the right thing or choosing the moral good. You could read them and realize, if I don't make the right choice this is going to hurt my reputation and potentially cost me the game. Plus, there were only so many stories, so eventually you were going to experience them all. The additional stories (Desert Labyrinth and Underforest) offered through future Kickstarter projects helped with the story selection immensely, but I still wanted more!
In July 2016, Red Raven Games launched a Kickstarter for Near and Far (the sequel to Above and Below). The game play was a little bit different, but the heart of the game, the stories were back, so of course I backed it and waited impatiently for May 2017 to arrive so I could play it. The first big difference I loved was that there were specific characters to play with. Instead of being some generic wanderer, you could play as one of eight specific characters that range from a lizardfolk to an automaton. Each of these characters had their own stories in the story book that you could explore to flesh out their backstory, which added a personal connection to who you were playing with  and made the stories take on more meaning and not just optimizing your decision for maximum points.
Another difference big difference which was a game changer for me was the campaign mode. Instead of playing on the same map over and over again, you and your friends can play on ten different maps. Each map has specific stories related to that map with each map having more stories than ability to visit each play through. In addition to that feature, some stories branch off into their own follow-up stories which reveal a deeper and richer story. Lastly, your characters could level up from map to map, acquiring talents and creating a little bit of asymmetric powers for them in future maps.
I haven't played through every map so far, but the ones I have so far have been highly enjoyable. I love the great art as always. The metal coins that came with the deluxe version have a nice weight to them and the plastic gems have a tactile feel to them as you excavate them from the mine. I especially loved the tents you placed on the map as it give a nice 3-D look to the map as it was further explored. However, there was a lot of cardboard in the box...A LOT! Now don't get me wrong, the art on the cardboard pieces was very beautiful, but from character standees to food, banners, and even pack animals, there was tons of cardboard. I understand this is to keep costs down, but a campaign game like this that you're going to play over and over again deserves more wood in it! Enter MeepleSource!
MeepleSource creates beautiful wooden pieces to upgrade your game and make it feel more deluxe. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can get replacements for the characters, banners, food, and pack animals. I personally have the characters and pack animals currently and am debating the food and banners at the moment. They really make the game pop more and I love that when it is a game that is going to see my table regularly. It is the first game I have done this for, but I can see myself doing it for future games as well, because I was very pleased with the quality and how closely the art matches the art from the game. It was a seamless integration!

In summation, my final thoughts on this game are a bit of mixed bag, but mostly positive. I love the art, the campaign, the story, and playing experience that my family and friends receive from this game. This is a worthy sequel to Above and Below, and while it won't cause me to remove Above and Below from my collection, it is one that I will play when given my choice of the two. What I didn't like about this game were a few minor game play features. In the town, there were a few places you have to visit sometimes, but you don't really want to. If I want some coins/gems or both, I have to go to the mine. Sure, I can place a tent, but it doesn't feel that rewarding. The Mystic Hut lets me collect a treasure, but I could do that on the map as well. Lastly, the Threats dealt with on the map are nice for placing a tent and getting some end game points, but I needed a balance of short and long term as well to make me want to engage them.

Well, I must not have been the only one who felt this way, because Red Raven Games has launched a Near and Far expansion on Kickstarter called Amber Mines that addresses these issues. I don't want to call them problems or fixes, because the original game wasn't broken. Each of my above niggles have modular expansion options that you can add or subtract to the game to create a new and different experience. Looking over them, I like them all and can't see myself ever playing the game without any of them (when the expansion is finally in my hands), but I think the game should be experienced as it was originally intended, before you add more to it. That's not to say don't buy the expansion. Just don't dive in head first with the expansion before playing the original as is first. So I guess what I am saying is buy this game! Buy the expansion! And if you're like me, buy those MeepleSource upgrades too! This is a game you will be playing many times over!

This game was purchased with my own money. All opinions are strictly that.