Friday, July 21, 2017

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (Minion Games)

The world is on the brink of war, and many nations are jockeying for power. As the Minister of War of your nation, you have been assigned to build atomic bombs to combat rival nations. You have the technology, but we won't talk of how you acquired it. Now, you just need the right people and materials to complete this task. This is The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (TMP: Chain Reaction).  TMP Chain Reaction is game for 1-5 players, ages 12+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $15.
1. Separate the Resource cards into into piles of Yellowcake value (one, three, five).
2. Place the Landmark cards face-up in a row next to the Resource cards.
3. Place the Bomb Loaded cards in a stack next to the Landmark cards.
4. Shuffle the Bomb Plan cards and deal a number face-up equal to the number of players.
5. Shuffle the Industry cards and make a face-down deck. Then, deal each player five cards face-down.
Game Play - Every player will get the same number of turns. On your turn, you will play your cards in a linked series, with previous cards activating the next cards. Your goal is to create Bomb Plan or Bomb Loaded cards. At the end of your turn, you may keep all Yellowcake, Uranium, Bomb Plan, and Bomb Loaded cards for future turns and scoring. Draw back up to five cards, and play passes to the next player. The first player to 10 megaton of bomb points triggers the end of the game. Complete the round and the War Minister with the most power wins.

The core feature of this game is the multi-use card. Are you going to use the card for labor or for its ability to produce yellowcake, specialized people, or another ability? The chaining mechanism of these cards is a fun little puzzle that you have to try and piece together before your opponent. Will you make the optimum use of your cards quicker than your opponent? Or will you be left in a mushroom cloud of dust? The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a small scale version of The Manhattan Project. It has a tiny footprint on the table, has some take that to it (but not too much), and scratches the same itch as its big brother with a cheaper cost and quicker play time, making it a nice little filler game for family and friends. It is also a good way to introduce people to The Manhattan Project family of games.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary (Sophia Institute Press)

St. Louis de Montfort was a great man who understood one of the great "secrets" of Catholicism - the quickest way to Jesus is through Mary. However, he didn't keep this truth to himself. He shared it with everyone in his numerous writings, particularly True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. In this treatise, he gave people a 33-day program to consecrate themselves to Jesus through Mary. Recently, Sophia Institute Press published a book by Fr. Ed Broom called Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary. Drawing from de Montfort for inspiration, Fr. Broom developed this do-it-yourself retreat that uses the Mysteries of the Rosary and the Seven Sorrows of Mary as the backbone for this consecration.

The book is divided into five weeks with one week devoted to each set of Rosary mysteries (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious) and one week to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Each week is further divided into days, which focus on individual mysteries/sorrows. Since there are only five mysteries in each set, you will find that some weeks, you are asked to pick a mystery already covered and re-visit it. Each day is laid out as follows:

1. Scripture passage to read slowly and prayerfully
2. Meditation on the particular mystery/sorrow
3. Bullet points of Consideration (For example, in the Visitation, you reflect on Mary Starting her Journey, Mary's Canticle of Praise, and Mary's Three Months with Elizabeth)
4. A daily walk/conversation with Mary to properly close the mediation and apply it to your daily life

For those who have never participated in a consecration, this one was put together beautifully. Each day is laid out succinctly. It is detailed enough, so you don't have to pull from other resources that you don't need to turn to another resource when going through this book, but simple enough that you won't feel overwhelmed on your journey. If you are familiar with the Rosary already and pray it every day, then you need this book and to perform this consecration.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jump Drive (Rio Grande Games)

The jump drive is the latest technological breakthrough in space technology. With this invention, we now have the ability to travel to new worlds, develop new technologies, and build our own space empire! Jump Drive is a game for 2-4 players, age 13+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $25.

1. In the middle of the table, place Survey Team cards equal to the number of players.
2. If your first game, give each player a preset hand of five cards, labeled A, B, C, and D. Then, shuffle the remaining cards to form a draw pile. If not your first game, shuffle all the cards together, give each player seven cards, and have them choose two to discard to form a hand of five.
3. Put the Victory Point (VP) chips and Explore markers nearby.
Game Play - A game typically lasts six or seven rounds. Each round, players simultaneously place cards face down or place place Explore markers. The cards are then revealed and paid for, thus adding the card to your empire. Each player may do the following:
1. Place one Development (diamond) card. Discard one fewer card than the black number in the diamond to pay for it.
2. Place one World (black outlined circle or red outlined circle). You pay for the black outlined cards the same way as you pay for Development cards, and you conquer red outlined cards. Either way, you draw one card after placing these cards.
3. Place one Development and one World card. Pay the full cost for these cards, and do not draw a card.
4. If you choose not to place any cards, you may take an Explore marker and draw some extra cards according to the rules on the marker.
5. Check to see if anyone has a minimum of 50 VP. If not, draw as many cards as your income and begin the next round.

I love the game universe of Race for the Galaxy and the dice version Roll for the Galaxy. As someone who loves space and science fiction, there is just something satisfying in these games. The fun that comes from building your own unique space empire each game brings joy to my nerdy soul. However, not everyone wants to commit that time and energy to learning the game and the many expansions. This is where Jump Drive comes in! Jump Drive is set in the same universe and offers a quicker and simpler game play than Race and Roll. With each game lasting around 30 minutes, you have a chance to introduce people to this excellent universe and hopefully eventually get to teach them the two games that inspired this one. Alternatively, you also have a quick game that scratches the same itches that Race and Roll both do and can offering a satisfying experience if you don't have time for the other two. Highly recommended!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Mother Teresa of Kolkata: Saint Among the Poor (Pauline Kids)

It feels like it's been forever since Pauline Books and Media released a graphic novel. The first two were on St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis of Assisi, and were in an American comic book format and illustration style. The next two took a Japanese illustration style and were on St. Philip Neri and St. Teresa of Avila. Today, they go back to the American style and present us Mother Teresa of Kolkata: Saint Among the Poor.

The book starts with a few pages of the familiar nun in her habit, helping the poor and dying in India. We then go back to the very beginning her birth, family, and childhood. In comics, this is known as an origin story. We then see her time in the convent, her vows, and her job as teacher and principal. Here, she helped the people of India, but with all the people dying outside, she always felt like she should and could be doing more. Next, we see God calling her to help the people of India. She had to get permission for this though, which took a long time and had to go through a lot of channels. Finally, Pope Pius XII granted her permission for one year, to see how it would go.  She founded a house for the dying, an orphanage, and a place for lepers as well. News of her work and her ability to get things done spread worldwide. Also recorded in the book is her visit to the Vatican and her friendship with Pope John Paul II.

For being just over 50 pages long, the graphic novel does a splendid job of capturing the important parts of both Mother Teresa's life and her ministry. We see not only her successes, but also her struggles, and there is also brief glimpses of her personality, which showed a woman small in stature, but more than capable of making things happen for the Lord. This is an excellent and engaging read and one that all Catholic children should read. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bärenpark (Mayfair Games)

Phil Walker-Harding is one of my favorite game designers. Looking at my collection, I count no fewer than three of his games in my collection. The reason for this is because he makes family-friendly games that have a bit of crunch to them. These are exactly the types of games that my game group and family like, so its a perfect fit. Therefore, when I heard he had a new game (Bärenpark) coming out, I knew I had to have it. Bärenpark is a game for 2-4 players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 30-45 minutes to play and retails for $42.

1. Place the Supply Board in the middle of the playing area. This will hold all the tiles.
2. Stack the Green Areas on their designated spaces. Use all 10 Toilets and all 10 Playgrounds. Use four Food Streets and four Rivers per person. (Note: there is a typo on the Supply Board, so just follow the rule book.)
3. Select the appropriate numbered Animal Houses, depending on the player count. (Two players = 2,4,6. Three players = 2,3,4,5,6. Four players = all tiles.)
4. Place all Enclosures on their designated spaces.
5. Lay the Bear Statues next to the game board in numerical order, depending on the player count (Two players = 2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16. Three players = 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14. Four players = all tiles.)
6. Shuffle the twelve Park Areas without an Entrance, and place them in two stacks of six.
7. Give each player a random Park Area with an Entrance. Place it in front of you and orient it right side up.
8. Randomly determine a starting player. Starting player gets a Toilet. Second and third player each get a Playground. Fourth player gets a Food Street. (Note: In a three-player game, the third player would get a Food Street instead of a Playground.)
Game Play - Play goes in clockwise order, with each turn consisting of three steps:
1. Place exactly one tile from your supply in your park. If you can't place a tile, you must pass. (Note: The tile must fit within marked spaces on your Park. You cannot cover the Pit. Tiles cannot overlap, and must be orthogonally adjacent to an already placed tile. You may rotate/flip tiles if you wish.
2. Evaluate icons you covered with the newly placed tile. If you cover multiple icons, carry all actions out in any order. The four icons are as follows:
a. Green Wheelbarrow - Take a Green Area of your choice.
b. White Cement Truck - Take the top Animal House from a pile of your choice, or take a Green Area.
c. Orange Excavator - Take an Enclosure of your choice, or take a Green Area or Animal House of your choice.
d. Construction Crew - Take the top Park Area from one of the two piles. When placing the new Park Area, it must be orthogonally adjacent to another Park Area and fully align. It must be the correct orientation, and it may not be placed below your Park Area with an Entrance.
3. If you completed a Park Area, and covered all your spaces (except the Pit), take the highest valued Bear Statue and cover the Pit. (Note: You may not have more than four Park Areas.)

The end of the game is triggered when someone completes all four Park Areas. After that, everyone else gets one more turn. Tally your points. High score wins!
When Patchwork first came out, my wife and I played that game like crazy. It had a beautiful simplicity to it, and it was very fulfilling trying to complete your quilt. However, the more I played it, the more repetitive the game grew. I also felt like there was too much randomness in the game, and that if the tiles weren't lining up in your favor, then you were forever playing catch up. Therefore, I was always looking for a game with a similar feel, a bit more strategy, and one that plays more than two players. Then, along came Bärenpark.

Bärenpark takes the idea of tile-selection and tile-placement, and adds some twists to it. For starters, you aren't buying the tiles, but instead only gain them by strategic placement of your starter tile and subsequent tiles. So, while you may want all those high point tiles, you might find that they don't quite fit the way you want them to in your current park layout, so you might have to take a slightly less valuable tile. The game is also a bit of a race in that you want to complete your park areas more quickly so that you get the most valuable bear statues. Unlike Patchwork, your board is not identical to your opponents. You will each have the same icons and number of icons on your board, but they will be slightly so different, creating a bit or asymmetry and replay value, in that your park will never turn out quite the same.

The theme of this game is a bit silly, but to its credit, it doesn't shy away from that. Instead, it embraces that in both the art and the rulebook wording. Speaking of the art, I really like the artwork in this game. There are subtle artistic differences in the tiles (even the ones that are the same shape and size) that it creates a fun and whacky picture when complete. What I like best about this game though is that there are really two ways you can play this game. You can play the basic way, which is the way I have been talking about, which is great for beginners and younger people, or you can play the advanced way. The advanced way adds achievements to the game and gives people goals to shoot for, like three tiles with polar bears in your park. With ten different achievements and only three used each game, this adds a lot of replay value to the game and makes it an even thinkier puzzle to solve.

I can see this game being in my collection for a long time. It is family-friendly, gamer-friendly, can play more than two, and is just plain fun. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pope Francis Family Devotional (Our Sunday Visitor)

I have reviewed a lot of books in my four years as a reviewer...A LOT! I usually try and time the reviews around the content of the book, but I feel like I dropped the ball with the book I am reviewing today. The book is called Pope Francis Family Devotional, and as you can tell by the name, it is a one-a-day yearly devotional. The book begins with a brief introduction by the editor, Rebecca Cherico, where she explains that she compiled these pages with her own family in mind. She also tried to remember that all families are different and make this book suitable for people of various ages and at various stages of life.

The book is just shy of 400 pages long and contains a single page devotion for every day of the year, including February 29th. Few devotionals pay attention to the leap day, so this is already a plus in my book. Each page is divided into two sections - an excerpt from one of Pope Francis' addresses/audiences and a reflection by the editor. Here is a short one as an example:

There is no cross, big or small, in our life, which the Lord does not share with us.
- Address, Way of the Cross, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 26, 2013

Reflection: God is with us. And God is good - all the time. When a cross seems too strange or too great to bear, remember this. He is always with us, until the end of time.

Reading through this book is easy to do each day and one that I would recommend doing with your family. The words of Pope Francis are brief, but poignant, and the reflections are spot on! I encourage you to start your day with it and read it at breakfast time. If that doesn't work, end your day with it and read it before night time prayers. Get your children involved, learning more about their faith, and hearing the words of the Holy Father. Don't be discouraged that the year is more than half over. Pick up a copy and start the habit now, and then you can work on the book the rest of this year and all of next year.

This book was provided to me by Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Kerala (Thames and Kosmos)

Kerala is a state in the country of south India. There are over 10,000 religious festivals held here each year, which usually involve fireworks and elephants. Yes, elephants. Kerala has the largest domesticated population of Indian elephants (approximately 700), which are owned by both temples and individuals. It is for this reason that the elephant is state animal of Kerala and also the emblem of Kerala's government. Thames and Kosmos recently published a game called Kerala in which up to five players are trying to build the most elegant and colorful platform for their elephants. The game takes approximately 30 minutes to and retails for $40.

1. Have each player pick a color. Give each player two elephants and a start tile of the same color. Return any unused elephants and starting tiles to the box.
2. Each player stands their two elephants up on the starting tile. This is the beginning of your festival platform.
3. Remove a certain number of the 100 game tiles from the game, depending on the number of players (20 in a two-player game, 10 in a three-player game, and 4 in a four-player game). Note: The tiles you remove can't be any player's color. Place the remaining tiles in the fabric bag.
4. The youngest player is the starting player.
Game Play - The game is played over many rounds, until the bag of tiles is empty. On your turn, the active player draws a number of tiles from the bag equal to the number of players. The first player takes one of the drawn tiles and places it orthogonally next to the starting tile. They then move one of their elephants to the new tile. The remaining drawn tiles are passed to the next player and they perform the same action. After everyone has placed a tile, the bag passes to the next player and they perform the same action, following placement rules. (Placement rules are that you must place a tile orthogonally next to one of the two tiles you have with an elephant on it. You are allowed to place a tile over an existing tile, and you are also allowed to pass two times in a game.) There are also special tiles in the game that score bonus points, let you move one of your elephants, or move one of your tiles.

Scoring - You may only have one continuous area of each color, with the exception of your color, where you can have two continuous areas. If you have any extra areas of a color, you must remedy this by removing tiles until you have one area of each color (and two of your color). Subtract two points for each tile. For each color you are missing in your platform, lose five points. Score one point for each time you didn't pass. Score five points for each special tile you matched to its color. Score one point for each elephant symbol. High score wins.

When I first opened this box and was reading through the rule books, I thought that this was essentially Lanterns with elephants. You are placing colored tiles. You are preparing for a festival in an Asian country. On the surface, it seems very similar, but once you start playing, you realize that the game play is much different. For starters, you are not playing tiles to a communal grid. You are instead making your own grid, thus making the player interaction minimal. When the tiles come to you, you are going to look at them and then look at your board. The first decision you have to make is which colors can I place that are next to tiles I have with elephants on them. You also have choices (unless you are the last player), but some tiles will work better than others for you. If you have multiple good choices, then you can take the time and see what your opponents can optimally use and what would be a negative for them. That is the bulk of the player interaction. Other than that, it is essentially multiplayer solitaire, and I don't say that as a criticism.

What I like best about the game is the puzzle-like nature of it. Yes, you can place your tiles anywhere (as long as it is next to an elephant), but you don't always want to, because it could create multiple areas of the same color, which is bad. You then have to decide, do I want to use one of my two passes? Do I want to build over a tile I have already played and negate some points? Or am I just going to be stuck playing this tile and losing two points at the end of the game? I also really liked the special ability tiles. The game could have been very unforgiving and what you get is what you get, but instead there are two tiles that let you fix your board at multiple times throughout the game. One lets you move your elephant to a more strategic position, so he isn't color-locked. The other lets you move a tile, so that you can try and consolidate multiple areas of color into one area.

The game is frustrating to play (in a good way). You think everything is going well, and then you get a string of tiles that you don't want to play. This means each decision you make matters, and sometimes you are going to have to sacrifice a three point tile, just so you can clean up your area a little bit. I also like that the player count is five players, as opposed to four players. This means I can get the game to the table more often. Add in the simple game play and quick playing time, and you have a winner for both children and new gamers.

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Cardinal Müller Report (Ignatius Press)

In 1987, a book was released by Ignatius Press entitled The Ratzinger Report. The book discussed was frank and candid and discussed the state of the Catholic Church after Vatican II. 30 years later, Ignatius Press has once again released a state of the Catholic Church book, but this one is entitled The Cardinal Müller Report.

The book is the transcript of an interview of sorts between Gerhard Cardinal Müller and Fr. Carlos Granados. It begins with a section titled "A Report on Hope." In this section, the doctrine of Christian hope is defined and questioned. Some questions presented are 1. What are the signs of hope? 2. Is it possible to regain hope once it has been lost? and 3. Do you have to be positive/optimistic to possess Christian hope? This leads to the next section, "What can we hope for from Christ?" Jesus not only brings us eternal life, but he is also providing us a path to divinization, so that we can be more like God. The section after this asks, "What can we hope for from the Church?" This leads us to a discussion about Eucharist, the requirements for receiving the sacrament, and being fit to receive. We also get some questions and answers about the pope and expectations for him. The remaining two sections in the book talk about family and society.

At the time this book was published, Cardinal Müller was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. This was the same title that Cardinal Ratzinger had when his report was published. This is not only a high ranking office within the Vatican, but it is also one that gives the head a view on the state of the Church that others do not have. His appointment in this position has not been renewed, but this was merely a matter of Pope Francis trying to limit terms, and not the great scandal that people are making it out to be. As for the book itself, I found this to be a refreshing read. In this book, we see Cardinal Müller's love for Christ and His Church. What I liked best about this book was the lens of hope through which everything was examined. Generally when you read a book of this nature, issues are looked at from a perspective of faith. This one uses hope instead, and I found this to be an appropriate and suitable perspective given the current attitude in this day and age. I highly recommend this book and am actually interested in Ratzinger's book now to see how things have changed in 30 years.

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Characters of the Reformation (Ignatius Press)

Hilaire Belloc was a Catholic, who is considered one of the most prolific writers in Englad during the 20th Century. He collaborated with G.K. Chesterton a fair bit, and one of his most well-known books is Cautionary Tales for Children, which are basically stories to scare your kids straight. As awesomely horrible as those stories are, today I'd like to tell you about one of his historical works - Characters of the Reformation.

Characters of the Reformation begins by talking about the significance of the Reformation. Belloc says that it was "the most important thing in history since the foundation of the Catholic Church." There are also brief paragraphs in this opening chapter, which identify the key players and set the stage for the coming individual chapters that will go into greater detail. We then are presented with the 23 people Belloc believes to be the most important during the Reformation.

The first person we encounter is King Henry VIII. Belloc describes how Henry sought an annulment from Catherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. However, the annulment was not granted and sycophants encouraged him to go through with the marriage anyhow. Belloc speculates (probably correctly) that if King Henry VIII would have not followed his passions, then the Reformation would have died out in England first, followed quickly by the rest of Europe. Belloc then dedicates individual chapters to each of the two women just mentioned. Catherine was most likely abandoned by her lack of ability to produce a son, and Anne, unattractive as she was, had the ability to get men to be at her beck and call. The next two chapters contrast the two Thomases - Cromwell and More. The former was a flatterer to the King and made him a "pope" in England. The latter tried to serve as an absolute moral compass, but was not listened to, sadly. We also see the figures Pope Clement VII, Mary Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I, Descartes, and Pascal to name a few.

Each chapter in this book is more fascinating than the next. In addition, to getting a portrait of each of these important historical figures, we get an understanding of the part they played in the Reformation. What I like best about this book is that he looks at figures from both sides of the event, Catholic and Protestant. Now, granted, he has a strong Catholic bias, but that is to be expected, and if you know it going into it, you can read the book through that lens. He also omits/ignores the Eastern Orthodox Churches, when saying that if the Reformation had not occurred, there would only be the Catholic Church. Those weaknesses aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was not a dry presentation of dates and facts, but made the time come alive. If you would like to know more about the Reformation, I highly recommend this book!

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Istanbul (Alderac Entertainment Group)

The bazaar district of Istanbul is filled with a controlled chaos as merchants and their assistants scurry from one location to the next. Each one is trying to gather and deliver their goods the quickest, so that they can gather rubies faster than their opponents. Will you be the most efficient in your strategy or will rival merchants beat you to the punch? Find out in IstanbulIstanbul is a game for 2-5 players, ages 10+. It takes about an hour to play and retails for $50.
1. Lay out the 16 Place Tiles in a 4 x 4 grid. There are several suggested layouts in the back of the rule book. For your first game, try the "Short Paths" grid which uses the blue numbers on the tile.
2. Sort the Mosque Tiles by color and then by number of goods in four stacks. Place them on the two Mosques (Tiles 14 and 15).
3. Place three Wheelbarrow Extensions per player on the Wainwright.
4. Add 1 Ruby per player on each Mosque and the Wainwright. Also add Rubies to the Gemstone Dealer and Sultan's Palace, continuing until you reach the appropriate space per number of players.
5. Place the Mail Indicators in the top row of the Post Office.
6.  Shuffle the five dark Demand Tiles, and place them face up on the Large Market. Do the same with the light Demand Tiles, placing these on the Small Market.
7. Roll both dice to determine the starting place for the Governor. Repeat this for the Smuggler.
8. Shuffle the Bonus Cards and place them face-down in a stack. Also, place the coins and dice near the game board.
9. Have each player choose a color. Give them a Merchant Disc and four Assistant Discs of that color. Also give them a Wheelbarrow and four Goods Cubes, placing them on the first space of each good of their Wheelbarrow. Lastly, place a Family Member disc at the Police Station.
10. Give the starting player two coins, and give each subsequent player one additional coin. Also, give each player a Bonus Card.
Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds with the following four phases:
1. Movement - Move your Merchant stack with Assistants under him 1 or 2 Place Tiles. You then either pick up an Assistant or leave an Assistant behind. If you don't want to do either, then your turn ends.
2. Encounter with other Merchants (if any) - If there are other Merchants where you land, you must pay them each two coins. (If you can't or won't, your turn ends immediately.)
3. Action - You may carry out the action that the Place Tile provides. If you can't or don't want to, proceed to Encounters.
4. Encounters (if any) in any order with - a. Other Family Members - send them to the Police Station and gain three coins or one Bonus Card for each Family Member. b. the Governor - Draw one Bonus Card from the face-down stack. Pay two coins to keep it or discard another Bonus Card from your hand. c. the Smuggler - Gain one good of your choice, by paying two coins or another good. (Note: After encountering the Governor or Smuggler, roll both dice and move them to the Place Tile according to the value of dice.)
5. Bonus Cards - On your turn, you may play any number of Bonus Cards, which will allow you to alter the rules one time on your turn. (Example: Take five coins from the general supply.)

The end of the game is trigger when one player collects five Rubies. Complete the current round. After this occurs, each player may play any leftover Bonus Cards that provide goods or money.

In 2014, Istanbul won the game of the year award in the connoisseur category. That means that they viewed the game as more difficult and strategy driven than a regular family game. The game was wholly deserving of the win, but I would argue that it is out of the family game realm. Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve in explaining to people how to move their Merchant with the dropping an assistant off, but after a few rounds of play, it clicks. After that mechanism, the biggest thing is figuring out which routes/circuits are going to be the most efficient at getting you gems the quickest, because this game is a race. It is a true "pick up and deliver" game, where you must get various goods and exchange them for rubies. You will do this by travelling the smartest routes, cutting your opponent off from their routes, utilizing your family member, and playing bonus cards at the ideal time. I would argue that this is a gateway game, but I think someone who has played before would have an advantage over someone who doesn't.

What I like best about this game is the modular game board. This allows the game to scale in difficulty. When you are learning the game, you arrange the tiles in a beginner's setup so that you can learn the flow of the game. After everyone has gotten used to it, then there's a slightly more advanced setup that makes routes longer and more challenging. When you really want to ramp up the difficulty, you completely arrange them at random. That's when your brain really starts to burn a little as you're trying to find your best options before others can. Do I complete my wagon first? Do I focus on the Sultan's Palace before others? What do I do?! On its own, this is a great game and deserving of all the praise it receives. However, the designer decided to release two expansions to it to give you a little more to think about. The two expansions are called Mocha and Baksheesh and Letters and Seals. I have only played the first, so I'd like to tell you a little bit about it.

Mocha and Baksheesh introduces coffee and bribes to the game! These provide you new ways of getting rubies, which you will need, because you now need six rubies to win the game! In addition to these two elements of the game play, the modular board has grown larger. Instead of a 4 x 4, you are now making a 5 x 4 grid. Having these extra spaces gives you more routes to pursue and more options of winning. One of the "bad" things about the original game was if someone found the best route before you did, you would always be one step behind them. This expands both the game board and your options when gathering rubies. What I see as the biggest addition to this game is the guild cards. (I like to think of them as bonus cards on steroids.) These cards are so powerful that playing one takes your entire turn, but the benefits you get from them is huge. Pay one blue, one red, and one green to receive 20 coins. Take one free wheelbarrow extension. Do the tea house action and get double the income. It also introduces a strategy of sitting still. If you see an opponent is coming to your spot on their next turn, you can play a guild card and make them come to your spot and pay you to take their next action. This expansion really raises the bar on the game and adds more strategy and depth to an already great game!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Marian Veneration (Ignatius Press)

When I was in the process of converting to Catholicism, the biggest hangup I had was Mary. I don't know why honestly, and looking back on it, it was so stupid of me. Mary is Jesus' mother! He loved her with all His heart, why shouldn't we? It's not worship or idolatry to honor her. One of my favorite Cardinals, Francis Cardinal Arinze, recently wrote a book called Marian Veneration. I'd like to tell you about it.

The book begins with a chapter explaining two key terms - veneration and devotion. We then see Mary in Scripture in key events like the Annunciation, Visitation, Wedding Feast at Cana, and other mysteries of the Rosary. The next two chapters address her motherhood, both of God (Theotokos) and of the Church. We also have chapters, which show her place in salvation history and the Liturgy. Lastly, we see saints that had great devotion to Mary, different Marian apparitions, and various Marian societies.

The book is approximately 120 pages in length, making it the perfect introduction to Mary for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The book relies heavily on Scripture, Tradition, and history. We see references to Church Councils throughout history, as well as works from great Catholic authors. This is a book that I wish had been around 15 years ago, when I was in the process of my conversion. It would have crystallized things in my mind much more quickly, and I (hopefully) wouldn't have been as stubborn and ignorant on Christ's mother. If you know someone who struggles with Mary and her role in not only the Church, but each individual's life, I strongly recommend you get them a copy of this book!

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Way of Catechesis (Ave Maria Press)

It's only been one year, but it feels like forever since I have been a catechist. If you are a Catholic in good standing and have never been a Catechist, you should consider volunteering one or assisting one at least one year in your life. It is both a thankless and rewarding job that has equal shares of joy and frustration. You'll get kids who want to be there and kids who don't, kids whose parents are super-involved and parents you never see. But no matter the type of children you teach, you want to help them learn about Jesus and the love He has for each of them. However, there is more to catechesis than just teaching children, there are also opportunities to instruct adults as well, not only in RCIA, but in other programs as well. As difficult as you think teaching children can be, adults present their own challenges and joys. Recently, Gerard Baumbach published a book entitled The Way of Catechesis, which walks us through the history of catechesis.

The book starts in the Old Testament and is used to provide us both historical context and examples of catechesis for the Jewish people, through God's prophets. We then move to the New Testament and are presented with Jesus, the ultimate teacher and catechist. The whole book could have been written on Him, His message, and how we do and should respond to it, but the author did a fine job reducing it to one chapter. We then work our way though the centuries, starting with the Early Church, stopping in on the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and present day. Each chapter has reflection questions at the end, which can be used for individual use or small group discussion. At the end of the book are helpful books to read, copious notes, and an index, which can all be helpful for further study.

On its surface, the book is a history lesson on where the Church has been with catechesis and how it has changed through the centuries. A closer read reveals that the book is actually a mixture of history and goals/plans for the future. The old saying about you can't know where you are going unless you know where you have been summarizes this book perfectly. In this book, Baumbach shows his love for Christ and His Church. He also demonstrates how he wants discipleship within the Church to be dynamic and fruitful. This is an essential read for both pastors and directors of religious education. Normally, after reading a good book I like to keep it in my collection to reference in the future, but this is one I plan to pass on and share.

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

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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.

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.

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.