Thursday, June 22, 2017

Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants (Kids Table Board Gaming)

Everyone loves a good picnic. There's something about eating outdoors on a blanket and not bolt upright at a table or vegged out on the couch. The food just tastes better and you can have fun and play outdoors while or after eating, without having to worry about making a mess. Unfortunately, we all know the one thing that ruins a picnic...ANTS! Kids Table Board Gaming has recently published a game with just this theme called Problem Picnic: Attack of the Ants. The game plays 2-4 people, ages 8+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $26.
Setup
1. Shuffle the Picnic cards into a face-up deck. Create a Picnic Area based on the number of players (five in a 2-player game, seven in a 3-player game, and 9 in a 4-player game). Make sure to leave a space between each card that is as big as the biggest die in the game. Place the Puddle card near the deck of Picnic cards and out of the way.
2. Have each player pick a color. Give them the Anthill card and six Ant Dice of their color, which are placed on their Anthill.
3. Set up a scoring area away from the Picnic Area. Place the Majority card and a random set of Scoring cards equal to the number of players plus one. Then, mix the Reward Tokens face down, randomly placing one on each Scoring card and six on the Majority card.
4. Shuffle the Round cards face-down and deal five into a pile near the Scoring cards. Lastly, place the Action Tokens (shoe, honey on a stick, etc.) near the Round cards pile.
Game Play - The game lasts six rounds with each round having the following three parts:
1. Send out the Ants - Starting with the first player and going clockwise, if you have any Ant Dice left on your Anthill, you must pick one and roll/toss it into the Picnic Area. (Note: You want your Ants to land on Picnic cards that you are trying to collect.)
2. Bring back the Food - Once all player have run out of Ant Dice, you do the following:
a. Return all Ant Dice on the Puddle and not touching any Picnic cards to their owner's Anthill.
b. Resolve each Picnic card by tallying the number of ants shown on the dice face for each player. (Ties are broken in order of most dice on the card, biggest die on the card, and then no winner.) If you lose the Picnic card your ants are returned to your Anthill. If you win the card, all your Ants(except your Soldiers are placed on the Puddle.
c. After all the Picnic cards have been resolved, add them to your colony by placing the Plate icon (located in the corner) over an ant on another Picnic card.
3. Get ready for the next round - Add new Picnic cards to the Picnic Area in the same manner as initial setup. The new starting player is the player with the fewest Picnic cards in their area. They flip the Round card over and claim it for a unique power to use later.

Once the sixth round has occurred, score the Picnic cards from step 3 in the setup. Reward Tokens are awarded to the player who achieved the goal. Tie Tokens are awarded when multiple players accomplish the goal. Highest score wins!
Review
A dexterity game that involves rolling dice... It's like everything I'm horrible at in games bundled into a cute package. With that being said, I would highly recommend this game! For starters, you have Scott Almes who designed this game. Anyone who is a fan of modern board games knows that Scott Almes is a genius who keeps producing hit after hit! Pair the awesome game design with the beautiful art of Josh Cappel and you get a game that you want, no need to have in your collection. These two men are the gold standard of the board gaming industry, and I would buy almost anything with either/both of their names on the box.

However, the game is more than just names on a box. There is solid game play that is easy enough for a child to learn but hard for even an adult to master, so the playing field is always level (or in my case skewed towards my son, because like I said earlier, horrible at this game). There is also high replay value in the game. There are six round cards with only five being used in the game, so you will never know which one is not going to show up in your game or in what order. There are also sixteen scoring cards, meaning you'll have three to five per game creating great variability by themselves, but even more so with the reward tokens.

Owning both the games from Kids Table Board Gaming, one thing I have noticed is their attention to detail. There are a lot of great games out there that I enjoy, but their components leave a lot to be desired. Problem Picnic shows game publishers how little things can go a long way. The dice could have been beautifully colored and that would have been enough, but instead they went the extra mile and made the pips ant shaped. The cardboard punch-out for the shoe could have been the same image front and back, but they actually had the top of a shoe on one side and the sole on the other side. It's nice touches like this that make the game stand out for all the right reasons. If you have kids in your household or grandkids, then you should really pick up their games, so they can continue to make more great games that are fun for the whole family.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Foodfighters (Kids Table Board Gaming)

If your mother was anything like my mother, then I'm sure you were always told not to play with your food. Perhaps it was because she didn't want us to be wasteful, or perhaps she just didn't want to clean up the potential mess. Today, I would like to introduce you to a game that does encourage you to play with your food - FoodfightersFoodfighters is a game for 2 players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 20 minutes to play and retails for approximately $21.
Setup
1. Decide who will play which team (Veggies or Meat). Give that play their nine Fighter tiles and shuffle them. Then, randomly lay out your tiles in a 3 x 3 grid.
2. Assemble the Pantry as follows - The Price Card, Dice, and Beans go in the middle. A player's three Power Cards, three Crackers, two Spoons, and one Pan are placed on their own side of the Pantry.
3. The start player is determined by who most recently ate one of the foods on their own team.
Game Play - The game goes turn-for-turn until one player loses all of their Fighter tiles. On your turn, you perform the following three actions in order:
1a. Roll for Beans - Roll the two white dice until both faces show beans on the face. Take that many Beans from the supply. OR
1b. Swap - Swap the position of two of your Fighter tiles or a Fighter tile with an empty space on the same row and take one Bean. OR
1c. Attack - Indicate which one of your Fighters is attacking which one of your opponent's Fighters. Note: The tiles must be within reach (either straight ahead or diagonally touching) and your Fighter must be have a matching thought bubble of the Fighter it is attacking. Roll the two white dice. If you get one Splat icon, you have knocked their fighter out. If you completely miss, you get the amount of Beans shown on the dice face.
2. After performing one of the actions above, you may buy one thing from your side of the Pantry. You can only buy the Bonus Die if it is available in the middle. The other items you cannot buy if you just used them your previous turn or if equipping them would put two of the same items on one Fighter tile.
3. Your opponent fills any gaps - If you knocked out any of your opponent's tiles, they must pick a Fighter from the farthest back row and fill in the gap that was created.
Review
I'm usually not a fan of two-player only games, because there's three people in my household. Now, granted my son is fairly young, so for the time being a game that plays two players is okay. However, he does love games and he can pick them up fairly quickly, so when he saw this game laid out with the dice and all the amazing wooden components, he instantly wanted to play this game! This may be Kids Table Board Gaming's first game, but Josh Cappel and his wife Helaina are no strangers to the board gaming industry. He has co-designed many successful games and his beautiful and distinct art style can be found in a personal favorite game of mine - Scoville! His art made this theme a very tasty prospect, and I think I would buy this game for my son for the art alone. However, there is a little bit of meat in the mechanics too! You have to decide when to go for the attack and when to accumulate some currency for offense, defense, and special abilities on the cards. There is also a key moment where switching your fighters will pay dividends and make your opponent reevaluate their strategy.

The game sets up and plays very quickly too, which is something you need in a kid's game. Children don't want to sit around and wait for 30 minutes while you set up a game, nor do they want to have to sit through another 30 minutes worth of rules, and an hour of game play. They will get bored and leave if you submit them to that. Instead, Foodfighters is a quick skirmish with just enough strategy and luck of the dice that your children (and you) will want to immediately play again. Where the game shines for me is in the variability of the play. The base game comes with two factions (Meat and Veggies), to play with. You and your opponent can take turns playing each faction or draft Fighters from each faction to have a mixed faction army. (There are reusable stickers in the game that allow you to alter the thought bubbles for this game play.) There are also four expansion factions which you can add to the game for even more variability - Grains, S'mores, PB&J, and Problem Picnic (the last of which is inspired on their second game with the same name). The Cappels have produced a winner with this game, and I look forward to see what they have coming out next!

Monday, June 19, 2017

ABCs of the Christian Life (Ave Maria Press)

G.K. Chesterton is probably one of the most widely read Catholics after Augustine. However, even among Catholics, he is a polarizing figure. As Peter Kreeft pointed out in the Foreword, his writings are something you either love or hate. There is no middle ground. The reason many people dislike reading him so much is because his words can strike a nerve. They get right to the heart of the matter and tell the truth without pulling any punches. If you have never read any of G.K. Chesterton, I imagine you are wondering which work should I start with, because he has written thousands upon thousands of pages. Luckily, Ave Maria Press has recently published a book that I think makes the perfect introductory work. It is entitled ABCs of the Christian Life and has excerpts from many of his famous works.

ABCs of the Christian Life is laid out like one would expect for a book with this title. There are 26 chapters with each chapter representing a letter. The book begins with chapters on asceticism, Bethlehem, and Catholicism. We then take a detour and visit Charles Dickens, which I have to admit, I didn't expect to see him mentioned in this book. Other notable figures are St. Francis, St. Joan of Arc, St. Thomas Aquinas, and another surprising entry in Queen Victoria. In addition to people, the book also touches on concepts like insanity, miracles, and negativity. At the end of the book is an index that shows you the main work from which each chapter in this book was taken from, which is extremely helpful if you want to read further from that specific work.

Overall, I found this to be a fine introduction to the thoughts and works of G.K. Chesterton. I wouldn't necessarily say the book was a quick or easy read, because if so, then it wouldn't be a Chesterton book. What I do recommend for this book is to take your time reading through it. Don't try and read it in one sitting or even one day. Instead, try and read one chapter a day and let it marinate in your head. Once you finish the book, you are then ready to take on full works of G.K. Chesterton, and I would think back on chapters I liked and read those full works to start.

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Sophia Institute Press)

Any good Christian knows the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Located in Isaiah 11, they are fear of the Lord, piety, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, understanding, and wisdom. Late last year, Sophia Institute Press published a book by Dr. Kevin Vost that examined each of these gifts through the lenses of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. There are seven chapters (one for each gift) and each chapter follows the same structure - "1. Grasping the gifts, 2. Embracing the sacraments, 3. Examining our thoughts and deeds for obstacles to the gifts, 4. Practicing prayer, 5. Cultivating virtues, beatitudes, and fruits, 6. Flying to our Mother's aid, and 7. Imitating Christ. Each chapter also concludes with three brief essays - Profile in Giftedness, Angelic Analysis, and Profile in Grace.

Most of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are pretty straightforward. Yes, people sometimes mix up wisdom for intelligence, but people generally know what each means...except for fear of the Lord. People question if they should be afraid of God or what exactly does it mean? St. Augustine said fear is the avoidance of future evil, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us about four types of fear (worldly, servile, initial, and filial) and how a Christian progresses through these stages of fear as we grow in love of God. This was very helpful on elucidating this often misunderstood gift. At the end of the book is a helpful appendix with several tables serve as a quick guides and also relate the gifts to the Lord's Prayer. Dr, Kevin Vost and Sophia Institute Press deliver another wonderful with St. Thomas Aquinas as the backbone. I look forward to the next one he writes, as he has really helped me (and I'm sure countless others) better understand Aquinas' writings.

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Covert (Renegade Games)

Children throughout the world love imaginative play. They take on a role (cop/robber, cowboy/Indian, doctor/patient) and build a whole world of scenarios and fun. Lately, my son has been pretending to be a spy/secret agent. I don't know where he came up with it, but it is awesome to see his mind at work. This got me thinking about games with a spy/secret agent theme, and the first one that popped in my head was Covert. In Covert, you are a master spy located in Europe, during the Cold War era. You must secretly collect equipment, deploy your agents, and accomplish missions to be the sole victor. The game plays 2-4 players, age 10+. It retails for $60 and takes between 45 and 90 minutes depending on player count.
Setup
1. Place the board in the middle of the table.
2. Randomly deal each player a Character Card or players can choose if everyone agrees.
3. Then, give each player a Player Screen, five Dice, three Agent Pawns, one Reroll Token, and fifteen Intel Cubes.
4. Shuffle the Agency Cards. Each player (in turn order) will draw three cards and place one Agent Pawn in the matching city on the board. After this occurs, reshuffle all the Agency Cards and deal two to each player, which are kept secret from everyone else. Then, deal six Agency Cards face-up, one at a time, in the region spaces on the edge of the board. Place the remainder in a face-down draw deck.
5. Shuffle and deal each player three Mission Cards. Each player will then keep two, placing them behind their Player Screen, and returning the extra card to the deck. Then, place that deck face-down near the board and flip the top three cards face-up next to the deck.
6. Shuffle the Code Cards and deal two to each player, which they then place behind their Player Screen. Split the deck into two approximately equal-sized stacks, placing them face-down near the board.
7. Shuffle the Cipher Tokens and randomly place them in two lines of six tiles each.
8. Place the Turn Order Tokens near the board, making sure they equal the number of players in the game.
9. Put the Special Operations Tokens into the bag, placing it near the board as well.
Game Play - The game is played over multiple rounds with each round happening in the following order:
1. Roll and place dice - Players roll their dice and arrange them in numerical order for all players to see. (Note: You can use your Reroll Token any time.) Starting with the player last in turn order the previous round and continuing clockwise, each player places one die at a time. If placing in the four Action Circles, new die placed there must be adjacent to previous dice. If you can't or don't want to place anymore dice, take a Turn Order Marker.
2. Break codes - Going in turn order (based on the tokens), each player tries to break one of their Code Cards. They may swap two adjacent Cipher Tokens. If they placed and dice on the Decoder, they may place them on top of Cipher Tokens. If they are able to break the code on their card, they flip the card up to the equipment side, and place it next to their Character Card.
3. Dice resolution - Again, starting in turn order (based on the tokens), each player performs one action on their turn, resolving one or multiple dice. Actions include taking Agency Cards, taking Mission Cards, moving Agent Pawns, and completing missions.

The game end triggers when a player completes their sixth mission and the current round is finished. There is then one final round where people may complete one last mission.
Review
Covert is a game with that takes many different mechanics, tweaks them, and gives you a lot to consider and execute. In the game you are rolling dice and locking them in place to be able to execute actions. You are managing your hand of cards and collecting the right gear (icons) to complete missions. You are moving your pawns to a certain place without tipping off your opponent of what you are trying to accomplish. The game is honestly one big, ever-evolving and ever-changing puzzle that you are trying to solve turn by turn. This is what makes the game awesome and what also make it a drag at four players. Though the game says it plays two to four players, I would say that the game plays perfectly with three. At two players, you are probably going to have hurt feelings, as you can completely block your opponent from performing certain actions. At four players, the game is going to feel like each turn is dragging as you are waiting for your turn, because like I said earlier, each turn you are putting together a mini-puzzle and that can take time to figure out.

I really enjoyed the theme of this game, as the Cold War is one that many games utilize. The rule book, the old-time images of cameras and gadgets, spy-shaped meeples, and leaving a cube behind as your presence of being in a city all added to the game's look and feel. Do you feel completely immersed in the experience? No, but it gets you a lot closer than other games do. The art, components, and game play are all solid and show that Kane Klenko and Renegade Game Studios have found a partnership that is sure to be fruitful for the coming years. Be sure to check out the following other games from them: FUSE, Flatline, and Flip Ships!

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Book of Revelation: Hope in the Midst of Persecution (Liguori Publications)

The Book of Revelation is one of the most controversial and argued about books in the whole Bible. Some people believe they can watch the news on TV and read the book of Revelation and somehow they will always sync up. Before I converted to Catholicism, I used to believe this. Since my conversion, I have a new respect and understanding for the book of Revelation, and I have enjoyed reading different commentaries and books on the subject. One such book is entitled The Book of Revelation: Hope in the Midst of Persecution.

The Book of Revelation: Hope in the Midst of Persecution is the last (sequentially) in the Liguori Catholic Bible Study series. The book starts with a description of what Lectio Divina is and how to practice it. This leads to an explanation on how to use this book, both individual and group study. The last bit of introductory material gives us information on the book of Revelation - how it was a coded message for persecuted Christians, characteristics of apocalyptic literature, and characteristics of Revelation. Then, we finally dive into the meat of the book, which is divided into the following lessons:

1. Exile on Patmos
2. The Seven Churches of Asia
3. The Seven Seals
4. The Bitter Scroll
5. The Dragon and the Beasts
6. The New Creation

The book provides a nice introduction to Revelation. It doesn't go super-deep, as most of the individual lessons cover two to four chapters each. However, the study does a nice job of putting the book in its proper context. Revelation was not written for the future generations as a prediction of the end times. No, it was written as a message of hope for persecuted Christians, both in the early Church and future generation. That is what makes this book of the Bible timeless. Persecution is and always has been a key component of Christianity, so all generations of Christians need a message of hope. I didn't get a chance to try this book with a small group, but individually I found it edifying and would recommend it to you, if you would like to read the book of Revelation through the lens of the Church.

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

32 Days (Pauline Books and Media)

If you are Catholic, then you are most likely familiar with the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Why that man is not a canonized saint is baffling to me, but this review is not the place for that platform. In an interview in 1979, he was praised for his accomplishments and lauded for the various important people he had met throughout the world. He was then asked, who he considered to be the biggest inspiration to him. In his humility, Sheen responded that he had never met his biggest inspiration, but that it was an eleven year old Chinese girl and her love for the Eucharist that inspired him most. 32 Days: A Story of Faith and Courage tells the story of that girl.

Pei was a village girl who lived in China. Like most children, she had parents, siblings, and grandparents. They worked hard and didn't have a lot, but they loved each other and loved Jesus too. Within their village, there was a Catholic Church, a priest, and a school run by a Catholic nun. Things were quiet for the most part until the Communists took over the village. Everything changed at that point. The Communists used propaganda techniques, intimidation, and fear to try and "convert" people to this change in regime. In addition to imprisoning the priest, one of their worst atrocities was destroying the Church and everything inside of it. They even desecrated the Eucharist by throwing it on the ground and stepping on it. Pei witnessed all of this and felt helpless about it, but one day she resolved to go consume the sacred hosts, as that was Jesus and she longed for Him. There were 32 hosts, so she had to sneak out at night 32 times to do this. She was almost caught several times, and sadly, on the 32nd night she was. She was martyred that night, but during that month+, she grew closer to Jesus than most of us do in our lifetime. The book was an easy read, and one that I was able to read in about an hour. The content is sad, but beautiful. I would recommend it for those in 4th-6th grade, but even older children and adults could learn a lot from it.

This book was provided to me for free by Pauline Books and Media in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games)

Any good king is not happy with the size of his kingdom and is always looking to expand it. Be it fields, lakes, or mountains, they should belong to you and not the lord next door. In Kingdomino, you have a chance to do just that. Will your kingdom be the most valuable at the end or will the rival king claim all the choice land for themselves? Kingdomino is a game for 2-4 players, age 8+. It retails for $20 and takes approximately 15 minutes to play.

Setup - (Before the first game, assemble all four castles)
1. Each player takes one King of their color, except in a two-player game where they take both Kings. Also give them a Starting Tile, and the Castle of their color.
2. Thoroughly shuffle all the Dominoes, number side up. Then, remove a certain amount depending on number of players (24 in a two-player game, 12 in a three-player game, 0 in a four-player game). Place the Dominoes back in the box to form the draw pile.
3. Draw a number of Dominoes from the draw pile equal to the number of Kings in play. Arrange them in ascending order and then flip them over so the landscape side is face-up.
4. A player takes all Kings in their hands and shuffles/shakes them out of their hand. When your King appear, place it on a Domino of your choice.
5. When all the Dominoes have been chosen form a new line of Dominoes as you previously did.

Game Play - Play is determined by the positions of the Kings on the Dominoes line. Each player in King order does the following:
1. Add the chosen Domino to the your territory, according to the connection rules. (Connect it to the Starting Tile or to a matching landscape on another Domino. You must also not exceed a 5 x 5 grid.)
2. Choose a new Domino in the new line by placing your King on it.
3. After everyone has placed (or discarded) their Domino and chosen a new Domino, a new line of Dominoes is drawn and arranged in ascending order. You continue repeating Steps 1 and 2 until all tiles run out.

Scoring - For each different landscape (You may have multiple regions of the same landscape.), take the number of squares and multiply it by the number of crowns. A region without crowns scores no points. Add up all your points from the various regions and the highest score wins.

Review
Kingdomino is nominated for the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year), and it's no wonder why. With the low price point, simple rules, familiar game play, and bright art/colors, it's an easy recommendation for families. There are meaningful decisions (Do I go for more crowns and go later on the next turn, or go for more of this landscape and go early next turn in hopes of better tiles?) Some people might find the game to be too easy, but there are additional rules you can add to up the challenge of the game. My personal favorite is "The Mighty Duel" (only playable with two player) where you can build a 7 x 7 grid. Bruno Cathala took this simple design and knocked it out of the park!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Escape from Colditz 75th Anniversary Edition (Osprey Games)

Colditz Castle is a Renaissance castle in the town of Colditz, Germany. After World War II began, the castle was converted into a POW camp for officers who had become security risks or were dangerous. Despite it being considered an impossible to escape prison, it had a high amount of successful escapes. Major Pat Reid was one of the POWs to escape Colditz Castle. He designed a board game with screenwriter Brian Degas called Escape from Colditz. Osprey Games gave the game an update to commemorate the 75th Anniversary. It plays 2-6 players, ages 12+. Play time is variable in length depending on number of players, and it retails for $65.

Setup
1. Before beginning decided upon the number of rounds. 50 is standard for new players, with 40 being used for more experienced players.
2. Decide which player will take the role of the German Security Officer. Each other player is an Escape Officer of a different nation among the allied POWs at Colditz. Give each player a number of pawns of their color based on the number of players there are.
3. Separate the Escape Equipment cards into four piles and place them face-up beside the board.
4. Give one Escape Kit to every Escape Officer.
5. Shuffle the Security and Opportunity decks and place them face-down beside the board. Then, deal one Security to the German Security Office and one Opportunity card to each Escape Officer.
6. Set up the POWs according to the starting positions in the rule book. The German Security Officer then decides where to deploy his guards. One guard for every Escape Officer must be deployed to guard posts in the inner courtyard, and between two and seven extra guards in the outer courtyard. Remaining guards are placed in the Barracks.
Game Play - Start with the Escape Officer to the left of the German Security Officer and proceed clockwise.
1. Roll both dice. The combined result gives you the total distance you can move your pawns (Guards or POWs). You can split the result as many times as you wish, but you may never move a pawn through a space with another pawn.
2. If an Escape Officer rolls doubles, he may move a POW out of solitary for the cost of one movement point. If you ever roll doubles, you may roll again adding the extra dice to your total. (Note: You may never roll more than two extra times due to rolling doubles.)
3. On your turn you may gain Equipment cards, which can be freely traded between other Escape Officers on any turn, but the German Security Officer's team.
4. Escape Kits are gathered similarly to Equipment cards, but an Escape Officer can never have more than one at a time. It takes four pieces to make and you must have one POW in each of the four room types at the same time.
5. You escape by using Equipment to get through obstacles and the Escape Kit once you reach a target on the board. A guard may make an arrest by moving into the same space as a POW. The game ends when the round counter reaches zero or two POWs from the same nation escape. There is the possibility to have multiple winners if Escape Officers pull this off on the same turn.

Review
For the most part, Escape from Colditz is a simple dice-rolling, point allocation system. It is a classic game in this sense, and it shows in some of the mechanics, like being rewarded for rolling doubles. Osprey Games is aware of this though, and let's you know they are aware. They have enough great games in their catalog that they could have easily updated the game's rules and mechanics to bring it more in line with modern gaming, but they felt it would be doing a disservice to the game and its designers, who were so closely tied to this game and the history which it represents. I applaud them for this decision.

As for the art and components, when you first open the box, you feel a bit immersed in theme. The boxes inside which hold the cards and other components feel like you are opening a kit from World War II. Yes, the player pieces are pawns, which most people look down upon, but meeples were not needed for a game like this and would distract I believe. I really liked the way the board looked too. Yes, it is a lot of individual spaces to move and absorb on initial glance, however, the color scheme has a very intuitive feel to it.

The game can play a little long (a couple of hours), but I really enjoyed the one versus many nature of it. Yes, it can be tough mentally/emotionally to play the German Security Officer, if you immerse yourself in the theme, but it is still a rewarding experience. What I really like about the game is the decisions you have to make. For example, if you have one POW close to escaping, but could be caught, you can move another of your POWs to intercept a guard, be caught, and let the other one escape. To some it might be a matter of moving pawns, but again, if you immerse yourself in the theme, it is a beautiful sacrifice that a person made for the betterment of another.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience this game provided. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be The Grizzled. It provides a tense experience that leaves you feeling drained after playing it, but in a good way. You feel like you have all the time in the world when you start with 50 rounds, but as it counts down, you get to 40 and then 30, and then 20. Suddenly, your pulses is racing and your stress level goes through the roof! This is how a game should make you feel! With that said, it is not a game I would want to play multiple times in a row, or maybe more than once a month, just because I feel like it would lessen the experience and make it more playing a game and maximizing your chances of winning, not experiencing the emotional and visceral response. However, I feel like this is a game that everyone should play at least once, and I firmly believe it belongs in every high school history classroom in the country.

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

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Story of Civilization: Volume II (TAN Books)

Memorial Day has come and gone. That means summer is officially here. If you're a parent who sends their children to school, you are probably counting down when your children will be going back to school. On the other hand, if you are a homeschooling parent, you are already plotting next year's curriculum. If you don't have a good history program in place yet, allow me to give you a brief review of The Story of Civilization: Volume II. The volume begins with an introduction explaining how history is like an epic book or movie series, i.e., The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, or Star Wars. Since history is a long period of time, it works better to divide it into manageable chunks. The first division is entitled the Ancient World and the second division is called the Medieval World. The Medieval World starts shortly after the passage of the Edict of Milan and the spread of Christianity, and this is the product I would like to tell you about.

The volume then begins where the previous one left off. With the early spread of Christianity, we also see the spread of heresies and Christendom fighting against them. In addition to heretical priests, there were also emperors trying to exert their will over the Church and steer it in their direction and not the direction of the Holy Spirit. The Western Roman Empire then falls, and all that is left is the Eastern Roman Empire with Justinian. After this we see St. Benedict and his rule, the Irish missionaries, and the rise of the Islamic world. The volume continues on to show us the Crusades, Avignon and the papal controversy, the Hundred Years War, War of the Roses, and an early glimpse at the Renaissance. Apart from the lively storytelling nature of this text, I appreciate the honesty of it. "History is written by the winners," so it would have been easy to whitewash the black marks of the Church, but this text shows us the whole picture, for better or worse.

In addition to a text book, if you buy the whole The Story of Civilization: Volume II pack, you will receive CDs, streaming lectures, an activity book, a test book, a timeline, and a teacher's manual. I have not received all of these to review, but I would like to tell you about the test book and the timeline. The test book has a test for each lesson and the questions are a mix of matching, true/false, and multiple choice. By sticking with this format, you can test a wide-range of students. You also have an objective way to score them, opposed to short answer/essays. That is not to say that you shouldn't give your children additional "tests," but the test book serves its purpose and is a good barometer to how much your child learned/retained. The timeline is a nice large laminated sheet that fits nicely on a wall. On one side is a timeline that provides you a comprehensive and sequential view of what your child is learning. This helps to crystallize the concepts for them. On the other side is a "trivia" section, which your kids might find to be a fun game. Overall, this is a great series for the homeschooling parent, and one I would gladly recommend.

This product was provided to me for free by TAN Books in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lost Woods (Poppy Jasper Games)

Some people absolutely love being outdoors. There's the sun, fresh air, nature, etc. I am not one of those people, nor is my wife, but somehow my son is. (Go figure!) For me, I'd rather be indoors without the bugs, the pollen, and the dirt. Therefore, when I heard about the game Lost Woods, I wondered if I would like this theme. After all, I have only ever been camping once, (It was miserable) and being lost in the woods and trying to escape seems like something I would hate in real life, so why would I like it in a game? However, the art drew me in and I decided to give this game a shot! Lost Woods is a game for 1-6 players, ages 12+. It takes approximately one hour to play and is currently on sale for $39.
Setup
1. Place the Camp in the middle of the table.
2. Have each player select an Adventurer Game Piece and set it in the center of the Camp.
3. Place the four decks (North, East, South, and West) of Map Cards where everyone can reach them with each card marked "Bottom of the Deck" on the bottom of their respective decks.
4. Remove D12 Weapons from the Weapons Bag, depending on the number of players.
5. Give each player a Player Mat corresponding to their Adventurer, one gold piece, and one D6 Weapon.
6. Starting player is the person who went camping most recently.
Game Play - A turn is composed of three basic steps:
1. Move - On your turn you can move 0, 1, 2, or 3 spaces in the Map that has been explored. (Note: Each face up card represents one space.) When moving, you may pick up any dropped items (Magic, Gold, Potions, and Weapons) that you move through.
2. Explore - Choose an open direction from your current location. Draw a map card in the direction you want to go, placing it in the open spot. Draw a tile from the bag. (Note: You can only have three items/potions in your inventory. If you have more than three, drop one item in the new new map card.) Move your Adventurer to the new map card.
3. Attack - If you are on the same Map Card as an enemy, you may choose to attack the enemy or not. Attacking is done by rolling a die corresponding to a Weapon or Magic you have. Attacking can have three results. Win by rolling higher than the enemy. Claim the enemy's gold value. Tie. Nothing happens. Lose by rolling lower than the enemy. If attacking with Magic, drop one Gold. If attacking with a Weapon, drop the Weapon used or one Gold. After the failed roll, you move back to Camp.

The end of the game is triggered when the Guardian (found at the bottom of one of the decks of Map Cards is revealed. The Guardian rolls three dice separately. Thus, the player battling them must defeat them in each dice roll. The game ends when someone explores or moves past the "exit" marked on the Guardian's Map Card or when there are no more places to explore. The winner is the player with the most gold at the end of the game. If there is a tie, the two Adventurers fight like they would fight an enemy.
Review
I have played a lot of tile-laying games, and this one provided a fun and unique experience. For starters, there are a lot of components in this game, which provide unique experiences each play through. Sure, you'll see the same map tiles and weapons from game to game, but the order in which you see them will be unique, and since the game primarily revolves around dice rolls. Some times the dice are in your favor and other times, it seems like you only roll 1s.

The game's theme has a nice flavor as well. I personally hate camping, but this game made it seem like an exciting experience. The artwork on the map cards is simple in that it is clear and not distracting, but there are little nods to other media at times, which make you smile when you see it. My particular favorite is the card with the wardrobe and the lamppost, which pays homage to C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Speaking of the art, I really love the weapon tiles. The art on them has a cartoonish feel to them (I say that in a good way), and the weapons themselves are equal parts thematic and silly! You have stuff you would find around a campsite (paper towel roll, flaming marshmallow, cast iron skillet, and a fishing pole) and off the wall stuff (unicorn horn, elephant gun, and nunchucks). This mixture of weapons adds theme when you need it and tension-breaking hilarity when you need that. "I defeated that monster with a smelly sock on a stick!"

The game play itself is simple to learn, making it a good choice for children and families. What is especially nice is that the game can play six players, a win for those with a large family (or large game group)! More serious gamers may not like the random feel of the game with the monsters that show up, the dice rolls, and general luck feel of the game at times, but there is a Big Map variant to the game, which increases the play time, but also adds more spells and caves to the game. This will give you a few more ways to employ some different strategy into amassing the biggest stockpile of gold. There is also a Survival cooperative variant for people that don't like to compete with others, but it can only be played with 1-3 players. Overall, I found the game to be enjoyable and appreciate the detail and care that went into the creation of this game. From the game play to the art to the components, it was clearly a labor of love. Be sure to check out the second game from Poppy Jasper Games - Gnomi, a quick little card game you can play anywhere!

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Shahrazad (Osprey Games)

In 1,001 Arabian Nights, Shahryar (the king) was married to a woman he loved. He found out that she cheated on him and had her killed. Because of her unfaithfulness, he vowed to never experience this again and marry (and kill) a new woman every day. After doing this for 1,000 nights he was introduced to Shahrazad. Each night, she would tell him a story, but not finish the story, so that he would keep her alive another night to finish the story and start another one. This went on for 1,001 nights until she was out of stories and he had fallen in love with her. Osprey Games visits this theme in the game ShahrazadShahrazad is a game for 1-2 players, ages 8+. It takes about 10 minutes to play and retails for $20.

Setup
1. Shuffle the Story Tiles.
2. Place one of the tiles face up in the middle.
3. Deal two tiles to each player, which they must keep secret from each other.
4. Place the rest of the tiles face-down in a stack.
Game Play - On your turn, you will either place a new tile or replace an existing tile. Your tiles must always be kept secret from other players, until they are revealed. After they are revealed, you may then discuss on where to best place the tile.

Placing a tile - A tile must touch at least one existing tile. When placing a tile above or below an existing tile, you must remember that a column may only have three tiles in it. When placing a tile to the left or the right of a tile, you must offset the new tile, halfway up or halfway down from the adjacent tile.

Replacing a tile - When you replace a tile, you remove one tile from the area and put it in your hand. You then put the new tile in the exact same location. After drawing a new tile, you will now have three tiles in your hand, so you must place two tiles next turn.

Scoring - Going from left to right, check each column. If any tile is touching a lower-numbered tile to its right, flip the higher-numbered tile over. Now, each face up tile should form a path from the left-most column to the right-most column. Any tiles that don't form a path are also flipped over. Now, find the largest group size for each color (red, blue, yellow, and black) and score one point for each tile in that group. Subtract one point for each face-down tile and one point for each gap. This is your score for Round One.

Round Two - Remove all face-down tiles in the game. Choose one column and keep it in play to form your starting area. Remove the rest of the tiles from the play area, re-shuffle them and play out and score Round Two, the same as Round One. Add your two scores together to get your final score and see how much the Sultan likes your story.
Review
Shahrazad is a fun little tile-laying game set in the universe of 1,001 Arabian Nights...to a degree. You take on the role of Shahrazad in that you are trying to tell a coherent tale, but the actual tiles are not tales from 1,001 Arabian Nights, I believe. Instead, you see Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, and Rapunzel, just to name a few, so that seemed a bit off to me. The component quality is high and the artwork is evocative. The game says it plays one to two players, but I would consider it best as a solo game, and then I would consider it more puzzle than game. It is fun trying to beat your previous best scores and see how good of a story you can actually tell.

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Evolution (North Star Games)

I own and play a lot of games. Some games fall to the wayside and are given away, traded, or sold. Some stay in my collection for sentimental reasons or on the off-chance that I will get to play it once a year. Others stand the test of time for game play, art, strategy, and fun. Evolution is one of those games, because in addition to checking all those boxes, it is also educational, and I'm the type of person who likes to constantly learn and grow (evolve, if you will) and also secretly teach my son, while he is just having fun and playing games. Evolution is a game for 2-6 players, age 12+. It takes about an hour to play and retails for $40.

Setup
1. Place the Watering Hole board in the middle of the table.
2. Place the Food tokens to the side to form the Food Bank.
3. Give each player a Food Screen and a player aid.
4. Shuffle the deck of Trait Cards, and place it face-down on the table.
5. Randomly determine the first player and give them the first player marker.
Game Play - The game is played over a variable number of rounds with four phases each round:
1. Deal Cards - Give a Species Board (with wooden cubes on the 1 spaces of both Population and Body Size) to any player who does not have a species. In the first round, every player gets a free species. Then, deal each player three cards, plus one card for species in front of them.
2. Select Food - The number on the bottom right of the Trait Cards represents Plant Food. Have each player secretly choose one Trait Card from their hand and place it face-down in the watering hole. The total of these cards will determine how much Plant Food is available this round.
3. Play Cards - Starting with the first player, a player can play as many Trait Cards from their hand as they want or save them for next round. Trait Cards can be used for three actions:
a. Played face-down above a Species to give your animal new traits. (Note: A Species cannot have duplicate Trait Cards or more than three Trait Cards.)
b. A player may discard a Trait Card face-up to get a new Species Board (with wooden cubes on the 1 spaces of both Population and Body Size).
c. A player may discard a Trait Card face-up to increase the Population or Body Size of one of their Species. (Note: You cannot go above 6 with Population or Body Size.)
Once all players have played their Trait Cards, they are revealed.
4. Feeding - Reveal the Trait Cards in the Watering Hole and total their food value. Add that many Food tokens to the Watering Hole. If the amount is negative, remove that many Food tokens from the Watering Hole. Starting with the first player, and going in clockwise order, each player must feed one of their hungry Species (Note: A hungry Species has less Food than its Population.) by taking a Food token from the Watering Hole. Carnivores cannot eat from the Watering Hole and must attack another Species (including one belonging to the same player) with a Body Size smaller than the carnivore's. Feeding ends when there are no more hungry Species or the Food has run out. (Note: If a Species gets less Food than its Population Size, reduce its Population to the amount of Food eaten. If a Species does not eat or a carnivore reduces another Species to 0 Population, the Species goes extinct.) Take any Food eaten by your Species and put them behind your Food Screen for end game scoring.

The end of the game is triggered when the Trait Card deck has to be shuffled. If this happens during the Deal Cards phase, this is the last round. If it happens any other time, one more round will be played. Add up your points. Each Food token and Trait Cards on a surviving Species is worth one point. Additionally each Species is worth its ending Population. Most points wins!
Review
The first thing you notice about Evolution is the art on the box and cards. To put it mildly, it is gorgeous. There are a lot of games out there with stunning artwork, and in this golden age of board games, you have to have stellar artwork. Evolution takes the cake! The watercolor paintings on the Trait Cards are vibrantly colorful and make the game and more specifically your Species come to life. Catherine Hamilton has an amazing talent, and you don't know whether you want to play the game or put it in a picture frame and hang it on the wall!

Aside from the artwork, I think what I love most about this game is the way that the game plays. A lot of games, there are tried and true methods or strategies to winning or at least performing well in. Evolution lives up to its name and requires a strategy that is ever-changing and adaptable. If you are too rigid in the way you play, you will not win. For example, if you think, "I can just create a carnivore or two and eat my opponents for an easy win." WRONG! If your opponents play some traits that bolster their defense or increase their body size, then you will quickly find that your carnivore is eating your other species or dying of hunger. There's also strategy involved in how big to make your population size and how much food to put into the Watering Hole, because if your species is small, you might want to put less or negative food in, so that some of your opponents' larger population species starve. It's beautifully cruel, but is true to life.

The best part about this game is the level of devotion and dedication that North Star Games has put into evolving (See what I did there?) the game system. This first started by adding an expansion to the game called Evolution: Flight. In addition to adding new Trait Cards, this allows your Species to now have the ability to fly. They are harder to make and even harder to maintain, but it adds an interesting new dynamic to the game without over-complicating it.

For people who want an even simpler game to play with kids and your non-gamer family and friends, there is Evolution: The Beginning (a Target exclusive). This streamlines the game and is a great affordable option to introduce people to gaming without sacrificing art or quality.

For people who want a richer and even more thematic game play, there is Evolution: Climate, which can be purchased as a stand-alone game if you don't have Evolution or as a conversion kit, if you already have the base game. If you thought the theme was great in the original game, it shines even brighter with Climate, because you not only have to account for how much food is in play and what Traits your opponents have, now you have to worry about the weather. If it gets too hot, your larger species are going to drop in population. If it gets too cold, your smaller species are going to freeze to death. The events in the game make your brain burn a little more and make you think a little deeper! (Warning: Don't mix Flight and Climate together!)

I love this game and game system that North Star Games has dedicated themselves too. It is one of those games that is simple, but deep, light but heavy, and quick but engaging. There is so much replay value in this game, because you never know how much food is going to be available, how people are going to combine traits to make species, and how those species are going to interact with other species. The game is also educational, and not just in that it will teach you strategy or risk-reward analysis, you'll actually learn some science too, i.e., adaptation and the "evolutionary arms race" between predators and prey. Look for this game to be re-released June 1, and be on the lookout for the next game in this system, which is going to focus on Oceans and aquatic species.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

New Testament and Psalms (Pauline Books and Media)

I am convinced that my postal carrier does not like me. I have never met them, and probably never will, as I am never home when they deliver, but I think they just don't like the amount of packages I receive every month. The other day I came home to a package crammed half-in and half-out of my mail box, and after getting over my initial frustration, I carefully eased it out and opened it up to discover a Bible inside. I wonder if they would have been so thoughtless had they known they were haphazardly cramming the Word of God into a slot that it didn't fit in. Today, I would like to tell you about this Bible I received to review.

Recently, Pauline Books and Media published a Bible containing the New Testament and Psalms. If they had included the book of Proverbs in it, you would think that the Gideons converted to Catholicism. :) The Bible is a 6" x 4" black leatherette with gold edges and two ribbons for marking your place. The edition used is the New American Bible: Revised Edition (NABRE), which is what you will here in Mass every Sunday. It is also approximately 1300 pages long, which I thought was pretty meaty for just the New Testament and Psalms, but when you open it up, you find a nice readable font and copious amounts of footnotes. At the beginning of each book is an introduction on the passage and an outline for each book. At the end of every book is detailed footnotes that are almost enough to be considered verse-by-verse.

This is a very attractive Bible and feels great in your hands, holding and reading it. I like that it contains just the New Testament and Psalms, as this might be more encouraging and approachable for people to actually pick up and read. The only thing I don't like about this particular version is the page thinness. I understand that pages are almost always thin in Bibles, but these seem thinner than normal and can make it a strain to read at a times as the text sometimes bleed through on the pages. If you are used to this with other Bibles, then this won't bother you at all. If you are looking for a quality New Testament at a fair price, then I encourage you to pick this one up and read from it every day.

This Bible was provided to me for free by Pauline Books and Media in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Paleontology has always been an interest of mine. The idea of digging up giant bones and putting the puzzle together to re-create these massive beasts always seemed like it would be fun. Therefore, when I heard that APE Games had created a board game that lets you pretend to be a paleontologist, I knew I had to give this game a try. The Great Dinosaur Rush is a game for 2-5 players, ages 10+. It takes approximately one hour to play and retails for $50. (Note: If you order directly from the publisher, you get exclusive paleontologist and dinosaur meeples, which are always better than generic cubes!)

Setup
1. Place the game board in the middle of the table.
2. Give each player a Screen, a Paleontologist token, a Score Cube of their color, which they will place near the 1 on the score track.
3. Place five black cubes (or dinosaur meeples) on the top row of each of the Museum Categories of the game board. Place the last black cube (or dinosaur meeple) on the top "Field Phase 1" space on the game board.
4. Place all of the Notoriety tokens into the small bag.
5. Either randomly give each player a Paleontologist card or let players specifically select their card.
6. Give each player two Dinosaur Bones cards face-down.
7. Give each player starting Bones of the following amount: two red, two yellow, and three green. These go in front of the player's Screen and can never be lost.
8. Place the rest of the Bones into the large bag. Then, draw three Bones from the bag and put them on a hex space on the game board. Do this for every hex space, depending on the player count.
9. The last player who visited a museum is the starting player. He places his Paleontologist on one of the paleontologist token spaces, and then the rest of the players do in clockwise order.
Game Play - The game is played over three rounds with each round having the following three phases:
1. Field Phase (x3):
a. Collect any Bones in your dig site.
b. Move your Paleontologist to another space. You may move as many spaces as you want, as long as it is in a straight line, not through tar, and you end on a space with no other Paleontologists.
c. Publicize - Move the black cube on one of the Museum Categories up or down one space.
d. Actions - Perform a standard or notorious action as listed on the inside of the player screen. (Note: If you perform a notorious action, you must take a Notoriety token.)
After performing these four actions, play passes to the next player. The Field Phase ends after all players have executed the Field Phase three times.
2. Build Phase - Each player must use all Bones they gathered to construct a dinosaur, following the guidelines on your screen. (Example, the spine must have at least one green bone.) Ideally, you want to match bones according to your Dinosaur Bonus cards to score bonus points.
3. Exhibit Phase - Place the screens aside and score each player's dinosaur by each of the five categories (size, height, length, ferocity, and uniqueness). Ties are friendly. After scoring the five categories, players reveal and score their completed Dinosaur Bonus cards.
Review
Overall, I found this game to be an enjoyable experience, which is what I have come to expect from games designed by Scott Almes. The biggest positive I have from this game is the artwork. From the box, to the paleontologist cards, to the dinosaur bones cards, each one was a work of art and I feel like these artists went above and beyond on this game. The second thing I liked was that the game could be considered educational. Both the paleontologists and the dinosaurs in this game are all factual. I've seen a lot of games, just make up clever names to add some humor or theme to a game, but instead we get actual paleontologists, fossil hunters, illustrators, and museum directors. I didn't realize that there were so many women involved in paleontology. That was eye-opening to me.

Where I feel mixed on this game is the construction of the dinosaur. Don't get me wrong, this a very fun experience. You take your little dinosaur bones, and behind your screen, you are arranging and rearranging the pieces and trying to make the best dinosaur you can. This was a blast and crunched your brain a bit, but even with everyone doing this simultaneously, if you have one over-thinker, it will drag this phase out longer than it needs to be. The other game play element I have mixed feelings on is the take that nature in the game. You can sabotage, use dynamite, and steal from your opponents. Unlike other games, this one penalizes you with notoriety tokens. If you have the most at the end of the game, you will lose that amount in points.

The mixed feelings aside, I really did find this to be a fun game, and I look forward to playing it more times and trying out different paleontologists, as each of them have their own special ability that provide both asymmetric starting powers and variable game play.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Let There Be No Divisions Among You (Sophia Institute Press)

Let There Be No Divisions Among You is an attempt by the Rev. John MacLaughlin to explain why all Christians should be Catholic or to be more specific Roman Catholic. The book is divided into two parts - There Can Be Only One Church and Marks of the One True Church. In the first part of the book, he speaks primarily of indifferentism, which in layman's terms says that all religions are equal if you lead a good/moral life. To dispute this ridiculous notions, he gives us five examples (in five chapters) that disprove it - Reason, Revelation, the Conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10), the Council of Jerusalem, and St. Paul. This was a solid argument that was well-reasoned and gave concrete examples of how you cannot just pick whatever religion/denomination you want.

Part Two is shorter in span and attempts to show the reader what criteria makes up the one true Church. The Church is normally known for its four marks - one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Oddly, Rev. MacLaughlin choose to reduce his criteria to two - unity and universality. He then focuses on The Church of England and "The Greek-Russian Church" (better known as the Orthodox Church) to explain how they have neither have unity nor universality, unlike the Roman Catholic Church. This was an unfortunate section to read. The author seems very militant in his approach and use of words, constantly using the term schismatic when referring to these two churches. To make matters worse, he is under the impression that the Orthodox Church does not do missionary work. All I need to do is reference Alaska and St. Herman of Alaska to easily dispute that. The author also seems to only reference the Roman Catholic Church, which is is the biggest rite in the Catholic Church, but certainly not the only one.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this book, and I honestly expected to when I saw the title. As good as the first half of the book is, the second half is equally disappointing. I believe the author's intentions were good, but his execution in his message left much to be desired and could instead turn people off from converting to the Catholic Church.

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Our Lady's Message (Sophia Institute Press)

Sophia Institute Press is historically known for printing quality Catholic books for adults with occasional titles for children. Today, I would like to focus on one of their recent children's books, Our Lady's Message, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the apparition of Fatima. The books is for children with a minimum age of 7, but written in such a way that there is no maximum age that it would appeal to. The author is well-known, Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle and illustrated by Ann Engelhart, who illustrated other beautiful Catholic children's books.

The book tells about the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in a storybook format, making the message approachable and not a dry, historical summary. Each chapter then ends with a reflection or "something to think about" section, which pulls back on some key event in the chapter and asks you to apply it to your daily life. The book begins by giving a brief background on the three shepherd children, and then leads into the message of the Angel of Peace. We then see the visits from the Virgin Mary; the three secrets of Fatima; the children being put in jail; and my personal favorite, the Miracle of the Dancing Sun. The book could have ended there, and it would have been a fine children's book, but O'Boyle doesn't shy away from the story and tells of the deaths of Francisco and Jacinta and the further life and ministry of Lucia, who went on to become a religious sister. The book has a nice flow to it, and the illustrations sprinkled throughout which add to the story without dominating the words. What I really appreciated though was the appendices, which give your children prayers associated with Fatima and a guide on how to pray the Rosary.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Around the World in 80 Days (IELLO Games)

I consider myself a book snob when it comes to reading fiction. With the exception of J.K. Rowling, I won't read anything recently published and generally read the classics, J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis. Some of my favorite classics authors growing up were H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Who am I kidding? They still are two of my favorites. When I heard that IELLO Games was producing a game called Around the World in 80 Days, I was intrigued. Around the World in 80 Days is a game for 2-6 players, ages 10+. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $40.

Setup
1. Place the Gameboard and the two Bag miniboards in the center of the table.
2. Sort the Pound cards by their value (1, 3, 5, 10, 15, and 30) and place them in their respective spots on the Bag miniboards.
3. Shuffle the Passepartout cards and put them face-down on their space on the Gameboard.
4. Give each player a Travel Journal, Hat Pawn, and three Rumor cards which are placed on the right side of their Travel Journal. Each player also receives a total of 80 Pound cards.
Game Play
On your turn, you either move your pawn forward or backward to an unoccupied space, unless the space you are on says otherwise. When you move forward, you pay the bank the cost in Pounds, which corresponds to the the number of spaces you are moving. (For example, it costs 1 Pound to move 1 space, but 136 Pounds to move 16 spaces.) When you move backward, you move back to the most recent Layover space, if it is empty. This move is free and you receive 10 Pounds for each space backwards you travel. The game ends when a player lands on Space 80 (London), has no rumor cards left, and has fewer than 10 Pounds in their possession.

Review
The first thing that stood out to me the most in this game was the presentation of the box. The box is not your typical box, but is presented like a hardcover book with a cardboard sleeve. This is an unusual design, but one that fits the theme well. The color is a vibrant red with the iconic hot air balloon on it. What I like about this is that the red color very closely resembles the first edition printing of this book. I'm convinced this was deliberate, and I applaud them for the attention to detail. The components are simple, but sturdy. You have a tri-fold board that looks like a felted table, with some hot tea, a pocket watch, and some other travel documents. The game relies heavily on cards, which most are mini in nature (not a favorite of mine) but understand the logistics behind it and instead of generic pawns, you get top hats instead.

As for the game play, it is very solid and intuitive, which is exactly what I would expect since the creator reinvented his classic game -  Hare and Tortoise (the first Spiel des Jahres winner in 1979). The biggest differences between this game and the original is essentially that the game board is 80 spaces instead of 64 and theme of course! What I really like about the nature of this game is the mathiness (I know that is not a word!) involved in the decision making. "I have this much money, how many spaces do I want to go forward, and what space do I want to land on?" or "Is this a good time to move backward and gain some money?" The game has a nice ebb and flow to it, which is unusual for a racing game. Usually, you want to just try and blow by your opponents as quickly as possible, but if you try that in this game, you'll run out of money quickly, and have to go backward a lot. Instead, timing is everything, and you'll have to decide when to discard rumors for optimal effect, how quickly to move, and how to time out the end game, so you have less than 10 Pounds in the end. I really loved this game and would highly recommend it!

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lost Cities: The Original Card Game (Thames and Kosmos)

Lost Cities: The Original Card Game is a game that has been around almost 20 years. It is a two-player game for ages 10+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $20. In this game, you and your opponent are rival archaeologists seeking to mount the most profitable expeditions by unearthing civilizations from long ago.

Setup
1. Lay out the game board.
2. Shuffle the 60 playing cards, comprised of five colors with each color made up of cards numbered 2 through 10 and three wager cards.
3. Give eight cards to each player face-down. Place the remaining 44 cards in a face-down draw pile next to the board.

Game Play - The goal of each player is form expedition routes that after subtracting expedition costs (20 for each expedition started) earn you the most points. On your turn, you take two actions:
1. Place a Card:
a. Place a card in one of your own columns. Each card placed in a column, must have a higher value than the previously placed card. (Note: If placing a wager card, it must be placed before you playing any numeric cards. You may also place multiple wager cards in the same column.)
b. If you don't want to or choose not to play a card in one of your columns, you must discard a card from your hand (face-up) into the corresponding color's discard pile.
2. Draw a card and place it in your hand. The card can come from the face-down draw pile or one of the five discard piles.

The game ends when the last card from the face-down draw pile has been drawn.
Scoring
Add up the value of each card in the column. Subtract the expedition costs of 20. See if a column has any wager cards in it. If one, two, or three wager cards were placed in the column, then multiple the results by 2, 3, or 4 respectively. (Example: One column is composted of two wager cards, the 8, 9, and 10. 8 + 9+ 10 = 27 - 20 = 7 x 3 = 21 points.) Do this for each column. Some columns might net you negative points. (Note: Any column with eight cards in it, gets you a bonus 20 points. Any columns with no cards in it scores zero.) Add up all five of your columns and the highest score wins. Play two more games and then sum all three of your game scores. Highest score is the winner.

Review
This game, rightfully so, is one of the best and highest rated two player games, and has been for a while. With only 5 columns of colors, you usually figure out early on which two colors you are focusing on and which two colors your opponent is focusing on. Then, you and your opponent basically fighting over that fifth color, providing just enough tension to be enjoyable without overburdening. The game play is simple enough and the game is quick enough that you can teach it to kids younger than the recommended 10. This will teach your child number sequences, risk management (wager cards), and when its better to not pursue something, over pursuing something. However, what I really liked about this game was the artwork. It's got a nice, classical archaeological feel to it. And when you arrange each set of colored cards in numeric order, they form a complete picture of what exactly it is you're on your expedition for. If you're looking for a fun two-player game that will stand the test of time, I highly recommend Lost Cities: The Original Card Game.