Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Spy Club (Foxtrot Games)

No matter how old you are and no matter if you are a boy or a girl, you probably grew up reading mystery literature. There was The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Boxcar Children just to name a few. Didn't like to read growing up? Well, surely you watched Scooby Doo and helped those meddling teenagers crack cases in their psychedelic van. Foxtrot Games is taking that love of the mystery genre that seems ingrained in our DNA and turning it into a board game called Spy ClubSpy Club is a game for 2 to 4 players, ages 10+. It is currently on Kickstarter for a pledge of $39. Randy Hoyt (Relic Expedition) and Jason Kingsley (Lanterns: The Emperors Gifts) are the designers and Bartłomiej Kordowski (Dream Home) and Keith Pishnery (The Fox in the Forest) are the illustrators.
Unlike other mystery solving games (let's use the old standby of CLUE), you aren't playing against other players, but instead you are working together to solve the case! With double-sided clue cards in front of each player, you are taking turns manipulating the cards (flipping, drawing, or trading them) to uncover part of the solution. In order to completely crack the case, you must solve all five parts before your suspect escapes or you run out of clues! And now for the really cool part...
You can play this game in campaign mode! There is a campaign deck with 40+ modules and 150+ cards in it that ties five games together. With each game you complete, more of the story is revealed. But before you go thinking that this game is a five time only game and then you're done, you can reset the campaign upon completion. With all the different modules available and only using five each game play, you will get a ton of play out of this game. It's only the first day, but the game is currently 2/3 funded on Kickstarter and needs your help to get published. So head on over to their page and give them some love. This looks like a great family game that your kids will ask to play many times over.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Power of Daily Mass (Ave Maria Press)

Going to daily Mass is something I aspire to achieving. I know it is something I should just do, and not just hope to do, but at the moment I am unable to do so. I will say that the people I know who do attend, seem much closer to saints than I am/every hope to be, and I attribute it to their devotion to daily Eucharist. Recently, Dr. Bert Ghezzi wrote a book explaining the benefits of Daily Mass attendance called The Power of Daily Mass.

The book begins by walking us through the different seasons of the Liturgical Year. With each season, Dr. Ghezzi provides us with a brief summary of when they occur and what we can learn from each one. By going through the seasons of the Church, he demonstrates that the Church wants us to attend daily Mass and in doing so, we will be grow closer to Jesus. The second chapter follows the first, but instead of focusing on seasons, it switches to Saints. In addition to there being specific seasons celebrated at certain times throughout the year, there are certain days we celebrate the Feasts of saints. The remaining chapters focus on the benefits of Mass. It serves as a repentance for our minor/venial sins, allows us to frequently seek God's intercession, gives us our daily bread, and prepares us to go out into the world each day and serve God in words and actions.

The book makes a simple, but compelling case for why you should attend daily mass. It has a nice mix of Scripture, saintly writings, and personal experience. At the end of this book are several helpful appendices, including prayers before and after mass, the Church Calendar, Holy Days of Obligation, and Marian Feast Days. This is a book that you can read in a day, but take a lifetime to put into practice. I recommend it and hope to one day accomplish the goal of daily mass.

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Words for Our Lives: The Spiritual Words of Matthew the Poor (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Abba Matta of Egypt (or Matthew the Poor) was an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox monk and a pivotal player in the revival of Egyptian monasticism. When he was appointed to the Monastery of St. Macarius in 1969, the number of monks was a mere six. Upon his death in 2006, the community had grown to 130. He was also a very brilliant theologian who wrote nearly 200 books. Ancient Faith Publishing has printed two books by Matthew the Poor - Words for Our Time and Words for Our Lives. Back in 2013, I reviewed the former, and today I would like to tell you about the latter. Words for Our Lives is an approximately 200 page book divided into the following twelve sections:

1. Faith in the Impossible
2. How the Bible Changed My Life
3. The New Man
4. Walk in the Light
5. The Tough Road of Spirituality
6. The Meaning of the Psalms
7. The Power of the Psalms
8. The Value of the Psalms
9. The Sinful Woman
10. Holy Week
11. Feast of the Ascension
12. The Holy Spirit and Pentecost

The works were primarily composed in the 1970s with the first one being written in 1981. Topics covered include the Bible (primarily Psalms) and important Feasts throughout the Church Year. In the chapters on Psalms, Abba Matta explains that "The Psalms are given as a light to illuminate man's way to God and reveal the salvation that binds him to God." It is not to be thought of as an exercise, but instead a gift. He explains that the power of the Psalms are that you can hear God's voice in them, and by meditating on them, they can become "our personal worship, the liturgy of our lives." I particularly enjoyed the chapter on how the Bible changed his life. In this chapter, we receive a very personal account of how he struggled in the monastery initially, and that it was his discovery of the Bible that changed his life. He came to view the Bible as a personal book that was written specifically for him. This is an attitude we should all adopt before reading Sacred Scripture.

Another eye-opening chapter was "The Tough Road of Spirituality." In this chapter, he reveals that saintly people are going to have a tough life no matter where they are. Yes, you come to expect it in the secular world, because they do not understand, but he said that it happened in the monastery as well. This was shocking to me, and I'm not really sure why. We read examples of Catholic and Orthodox saints who lived a monastic life, and they were mocked by their peers, the same people who should be encouraging them, because they were "too holy." Reading these words from him was a slap in the face, and made me question if I do that in my day-to-day life.

Even though the works in this book are almost 40 years old, the words of Abba Matta still ring true today. Overall, I found this to be a very profound book and one that I would recommend all Christians read.

This book was provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Caverna: Cave vs Cave (Mayfair Games)

You and your dwarf partner have just arrived at a brand new cave. Home, sweet home! Before you get too comfortable though, you realize that there is much work to be done. The cave must be carved out, rooms must be built. and wealth must be accumulated. You have a long road ahead of you and to make matters worse, your least favorite dwarf in the world has decided to settle in the cave right next to you...just great! Well, you don't want him having a nicer cave than you, so you must do better than him. This is Caverna: Cave vs CaveCaverna: Cave vs Cave is a game for two players, age 12+. It takes approximately 40 minutes to play and retails for $28.
Setup
1. Unfold the Action Board, placing it on the two-player side. Place the board between both players. 2. Place the four Action Tiles with a dwarf on the back, face-up on the four unnumbered spaces on the Action Board. (Order does not matter)
3. Shuffle the remaining Action Tiles and place them face down on their coordinating numbered spaces.
4. Give each player a Cave Board and one of each Good (Wood, Stone, Emmer, Flax, Food, and Gold). Place these goods on the "1" space of your Cave Board.
5. Sort the Rooms by Light Gray and Dark Gray backs.
6. Place the six Light Gray Rooms face-up near the Action Board.
7. Place the eighteen Dark Gray Rooms face-down. Shuffle them up and distribute randomly to the two players to place on their Cave Boards.
8. Place the additional tiles and markers nearby. Randomly pick a starting player and begin!
Game Play - The game is played over eight rounds with three phases each round.
1. New Action - Reveal the next Action Tile on the Action Board.
2. Action Phase - Choose one of the face-up Action Tiles from the Action Board and carry out the action. Turns will alternate between players until the specified number of turns for a particular round has been reached (Two turns in Rounds 1 to 3, three in Rounds 4 to 7, and four in Round 8).
3. Round End - After the specified number of turns, return any chosen Action Tiles to the Action Board and pass starting player to your opponent.

Review
Caverna: Cave vs Cave is exactly what it promises to be. It is a two-player version of the immensely popular Caverna. The game is not a worker placement game like its "big brother," but with the action selection, it serves the same purpose as having a worker and putting them on an Action Tile. For people who have played regular Caverna before, this game will feel very familiar in terms of iconography, actions you can perform, and the general look and feel of the game and how it flows. For those unfamiliar with regular Caverna, Cave vs Cave can serve as a good introduction to the larger game or just be a welcome way to play the game 1 on 1 in a quicker and more affordable way.

With those positives, there were some negatives for my experience. The first thing I didn't like was the variability in the game, or lack thereof. With the Action Tiles, there are three "2" and four "3," so there will be a slight bit of variability in the order in which the Action Tiles are revealed from game to game, but not enough for my taste after you play the game 10+ times. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (same designer) had the same problem. It was a fun two-player version of its "big brother," but needed more variability for replay value. Thankfully, they remedied the problem with two expansions, and I suspect Caverna: Cave vs Cave will do the same thing in the future. The other thing I didn't really like was the direct interaction. I know. I know. It's a two-player game. You can't get around direct interaction, because it is just you and your opponent. Unfortunately, the direct interaction in this game was a bit too mean for my taste, because instead of making a move that was beneficial for you, you often found yourself making a move that was hurtful for your opponent, because it was the better play. Some people might like that, but as my two-person gaming partner is my wife, I don't think that would be good for me in the long run to play a game that would constantly twist the knife.

Overall, I think this is a well-made game in terms of game play, components, art, and value. However, I found that the game was ultimately not for me. If, however, you like your two-player games to be more on the cutthroat side, this is the game for you!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Saint Clare of Assisi: Runaway Rich Girl (Pauline Books and Media)

Today, I am reviewing Saint Clare of Assisi: Runaway Rich Girl, another graphic novel from Pauline Books and Media. Clare of Assisi was the oldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso. It was said that he was a wealthy man, who owned a palace in Assisi and a castle on Mount Subasio. Clare was a beautiful girl, who loved to pray. One day she heard Francis of Assisi preaching and learned that he had given up his life of luxury to live a life of poverty in devotion to God. This meeting affected her and stuck with her for some time, even if her father and others made fun of Francis. Some time later, Clare's father tried to marry her off to Lord Ranier. She thought about it for a short time, but ultimately decided that she did not want to get married. Instead, she wanted to live a life like Francis. She ran off to see Francis and give her life to God. Her family never really accepted this truth and neither did Lord Ranier at first. However, in the end Lord Ranier was a noble man and said he hopes she is happy with the life that she chose, and he was sorry for trying to force her to marry him. Eventually, Clare founded her own religious order (the Poor Clares) with their own set of rules, and Clare of course, became a saint.

Like The Legend of Saint Christopher: Quest for a King, this book is done in a graphic novel format resembling Japanese manga. However, this style of manga and storytelling is more geared towards tween/teen girls than boys. That is not to say that a tween/teen boy could not benefit from reading this as well, just that it's more likely to appeal towards girls. Apart, from the great illustrations and accuracy of the story, what I liked best about this book was how St. Francis of Assisi was both in the background and foreground at different times. Even though this story was not about him, the lives of Francis and Clare were very intertwined. We see how his holy life impacted others, and also see how the stigmata affected him. The way I look at it is this book is like a two-for-one, because your children get exposed to not one, but two great saints! Highly recommended!

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Ave Maria (Aim Higher Recordings)

Last Christmas, the world was introduced to a talented group of young men known as The Boys of St. Paul's Choir School. In conjunction with Aim Higher Recordings, they released an album entitled Christmas in Harvard Square. This year they are back with their sophomore album Ave Maria, releasing appropriately on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The CD has 18 tracks on it with names like Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, and Pergolesi and familiar verses like Kyrie, Dignus est Agnus (Worthy is the Lamb), and of course Ave Maria. Like their first album, there is also a mix of English and Latin songs.

The verses with this CD are beautifully sung, and you can tell hearing it that it is not a concert for the boys, but a prayer. Every note and chord rises up to Heaven, making a joyful noise to the Lord. Every song the boys perform transports you to a different place and a different time. With their superb talent and precision, you can close your eyes and forget that they are so young. It almost feels like you are in a monastery listening to the chants and daily rhythms.

Within classical philosophy, there are three transcendentals (categories with universal application) in the human experience that go beyond the every day. They are the good, the true, and the beautiful, and we could say that they find their origin in God. If I may be so bold, I would say that this album (in both presentation and execution) ticks all three of those boxes. I encourage you to pick up this album and allow it to fill not only your home (or car) but fill your soul. Allow it to permeate your being and transform your life into a holy sacrifice to God.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Celestia: A Little Help (Quick Simple Fun Games)

Late last year, I reviewed the fun press-your-luck game Celestia. What I liked best about the game was the simple game play and beautiful artwork. It also had a ridiculous (in a good way) 3-D aircraft, which was simply used to move the player pawns around. Unnecessary? Yes. Eye-popping? Totally! Recently, an expansion was released to this game, and it is titled A Little Help. It retails for $13.
Review
Unlike most expansions, which give you a large box  that is mostly empty, A Little Help is merely 32 cards in a small playing-card sized box. The contents are 14 "A Little Help" cards, 8 Upgraded Equipment cards, 6 Character cards, 2 Bandit cards, and 2 Mooring Line cards. The Character cards introduces asymmetrical powers to the game and gives each player a one-time use power they can do to break the rules. The "A Little Help" cards help when you are about to crash and the Upgraded Equipment cards let you face two events of the same type, as opposed to just one. Lastly, the Power cards (Bandit and Mooring Line) introduce additional complications the captain must face and overcome.

There is a lot of bang in this little box, which is exactly what you want in an expansion. I was worried that there would be too many unnecessary rules to explain to people, but the only thing you really have to explain is at the beginning when each player gets a character. Everything else shuffles effortlessly into the decks and doesn't extend the game play a bit, as the end goal is still the same. If you are already a fan of Celestia and want to add just a little bit more complexity and depth to the game, then this is an essential expansion.

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Legend of Saint Christopher: Quest for a King (Pauline Books and Media)

There are several patron saints in the Catholic Church that people regularly pray to for God's intercession. Some of the most notable ones are St. Anthony (lost things), St. Jude (lost causes), and St. Christopher (safe travels). While this is a great practice and habit to develop, I would wager that most Catholics don't know why these great men and women are patron saints of those specific things. They just pray, which is not a bad thing, but a little knowledge goes a long way! Today, I would like to tell you about a graphic novel for tweens/teens from Pauline Books and Media called The Legend of Saint Christopher: Quest for a King.

The story begins with a Christian woman from the 3rd Century praying to the Virgin Mary every night for a child. Like Samuel's mother from the Bible, the woman promised to dedicate her child to the Lord and make sure he served God. It wasn't long before the Lord blessed them with a son. Unfortunately, her husband was a pagan, so he dedicated the child to Apollo and named him Offerus. Offerus grew up to be a giant among men. However, he was a gentle giant, who used his size and strength to help as many people as he could. Even with all the good he did in the world, he longed for a greater purpose. He wanted to serve someone bigger and stronger than himself. First, he served a worldly king, but the king was scared of the devil. After Offerus discovered this, he sought out the devil and served him. He did much evil for devil, but soon he found out that the devil was scared of Jesus. It took much searching, but he met a priest who taught him who Jesus was, baptized him, and forgave him for the sins he committed while serving the devil. He also gave him a new name (Christopher) and gave him a task of helping people cross a river that normal people couldn't cross. Christopher did this frequently, until one day he carried a child across the river who was Jesus. One day another king has Christopher captured, because Christopher was telling everyone that Jesus was the true king. Christopher ended up being martyred, but through his martyrdom the king realized that Christopher was right and Jesus was the true king.

The book is illustrated in the style of Japanese comics (also known as manga). The story is mostly serious in nature, but there are a couple of jokes/less than serious moments that are completely in character for this illustration style. The book is an easy and engaging read that will teach your children everything they ever wanted to know about St. Christopher. Be sure to check out other graphic novels from Pauline Books and Media including the recently released Saint Clare of Assisi: Runaway Rich Girl.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Complete Polly and the Wolf (New York Review of Books)

Due to their voracious appetite, wolves have a nasty reputation in children's stories. Three such examples are Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Peter and the Wolf. Recently, I was introduced to a new set of stories that followed these same plot device of hungry wolf and innocent character trying not to be eaten. It is entitled The Complete Polly and the Wolf. Allow me to tell you a little bit about it.

The Complete Polly and the Wolf is a collection of four volumes of stories - Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf, Polly and the Wolf Again, Tales of Polly and the Hungry Wolf, and Last Stories of Polly and the Wolf. The volumes were written by Dr. Catherine Storr and were originally written for her daughter who was always afraid of a wolf under her bed. There are 36 stories total in this collection, each no more than a few pages. Like most wolf stories, the wolf is the villain only thinking about his appetite and trying to eat the child Unlike most wolf stories, the wolf and the would-be victim have a running dialogue. The Wolf and Polly discuss why he wants to eat her, how he plans to catch her, and why he never succeeds. The stories start out with her very young and progress in complexity as she grows older. The game borrows from fairy tales occasionally, as the Wolf reads a lot of books, so he is trying to draw on what he has read to eventually catch her and eat her. The closing story involves the Wolf being captured and Polly coming to his aid. She defends him so that the people will not kill him, but he ends up tricking her (for once) and escaping. The stories are cute and fun and a nice twist on the traditional wolf stories. I read them to my son at night and he thinks they are both funny and silly.

This book was provided to me for free by New York Review of Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Ignatius of Loyola (Ignatius Press)

Íñigo López de Loyola was born at the castle of Loyola in the Basque Country of Spain. As a boy, he was a page to one of his relatives for the kingdom of Castile. It was here that he developed a love for military exercises and the ideas of fame, honor, and protecting a lady. When he was older, he jointed the Spanish Army which was fighting against the French. It was here that his leg was severely injured, and his life was forever changed. For a long time, he wallowed in self-pity because he could not return to the only life he knew. Eventually, he had a conversion experience and eventually became who we now know as St. Ignatius of Loyola. Recently, Ignatius Press released a film called Ignatius of Loyola: Solder, Sinner, Saint

The film itself is told in autobiographical fashion with scenes been broken down like chapters in a book. I know that St. Ignatius penned an autobiography, but I have never read it, so I can't say for sure if it draws from this work or not. The film follows very closely to key areas of his life. We see his childhood frequently, both early in the movie and often in flashbacks. We see his career as a soldier and the permanent injury he sustained. We also see his seedy past, visiting brothels and engaging with a particular woman. Most importantly, we see his conversion story and the fruits of this conversion. He goes back to the brothel and helps the woman realize that she is more than just a prostitute. She is a child of God and can do so much more with her life than this "profession." We lastly see the Order of Jesuits and all the people that he helped convert.

The movie is beautifully done in terms of cinematography and acting. Often times with religious films, you get over-the-top acting or the movie coming off as too preachy. This film does not suffer from that, but instead tells the conversion story of a man who would go on to become a great soldier for Christ. There are parts in this movie that are going to be bloody and gory (battles and injuries) and there are sexual scenes (nothing shown, but definitely implied off camera) where they visit prostitutes and employ them, so you will want to watch this before immediately showing it to your children. However, including these scenes is important, because it shows that Ignatius was a sinner and a flawed man (like we all are), who could only be saved by the grace of God. This is a very profound movie, and a worthy title to be included among the many other saints movies Ignatius Press has been publishing. Highly recommended!

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

Horizons (Daily Magic Games)

From the beginning of time, the world was all that you and your people ever knew. It was very familiar, which at times made it boring, but it was home. As time continued to pass, the world felt smaller and smaller and your people began to wonder if this was all there was? Finally, you and a group of fellow explorers decided to take the plunge and see what or who else was out there? You and your fellow explorers will compete to not only discover new planets, but colonize them as well. You'll meet alien species, ally with them, and strategically use their powers to help you advance past your fellow explorers. This is Horizons. Horizons is a game for 2-5 players, age 14+. It takes approximately 15 minutes per person to play and can be yours for a Kickstarter pledge of $.

Setup
1. Give each player a player board, a set of matching colored Colonies and Collectors, six Habitat Activation markers, an Exploration League ally card, a Scoring/Icongraphy card, one Knowledge token, two Energy tokens, and two Metal tokens.
2. Place the remaining resources (Knowledge, Energy, and Metal) within easy reach for all.
3. Shuffle the Mission cards and deal two to each player. The remainder for a face down pile.
4. Sort the Ally cards by the Action Type symbol found in the upper left corner. Shuffle each of these five stacks.
5. Place a number equal to the player count of starting Stars in the middle of the table.
6. Place the World tiles in the bag and shuffle thoroughly. Randomly determine a start player and give them the bag.
7. The first player draws a World tile from the bag and places either side face up next to any star. The first player then activates the matching Habitat Indicator of that world on their player board.
8. Repeat this step, allowing the subsequent players to activate any Habitat Indicator present in the playing area, not just of the World tile they chose. The game is now ready to begin.
Game Play - On your turn you take two actions from the list below, including taking the same action twice:
1. Explore - Draw a World tile from the bag and play it around a Star. Then, take one Knowledge token. (Note: No star may ever have more than six World tiles attached to it.)
2. Adapt - Activate a Habitat and/or take the top Ally card from any of the five stacks.
3. Build - Build a Collector or a Colony on a World tile. (Note: You may only build on World tiles that match Habitats you have activated. Also, the cost will vary depending on the World tile you are building on.)
4. Harvest - Gain one resource for each Energy and Metal collector you have built.
5. Conspire - Draw two Mission cards or one Ally and one Mission card.

The game ends immediately when one player builds their last Colony. Scores are based on completed Mission cards, Knowledge tokens, and area control surrounding each Star. Most victory points is the winner!

Review
4x games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) are a widely popular genre in both the video game world and the board game world. However, I have never played one and probably never will for two main reasons. 1. They generally take a long time to play and 2. You can eliminate a player from the game. Those two features are not something that overly appeal to me, my wife, or my general gaming group. Thankfully for me (and I'm sure others out there), Horizons has a quick playing time (15 minutes per player) and is being described as a"euro-friendly 4x game" (meaning no eXtermination)! However, the game would have to be more than that to make it stand out, so let's dive a little deeper.

For starters, the game play is reminiscent of another Daily Magic Games creation (Valeria Card Kingdoms) with it's take two actions mechanism. This ensures that turns are quick, but meaningful as you have limited choices and each is one you want to do (sometimes more than once). Do you want to discover a new world this turn or do you want to activate a habitat so you can build on previously discovered worlds? Do I need more mission cards for end-game scoring opportunities or will that ally card on the top of the stack align with the engine I am currently building?

Speaking of ally cards, they are cleverly designed two use cards with the same ability front and back, meaning the first time you use them, they flip, and the second time they are discarded. HOWEVER, what is really ingenious about them is that you can only activate them depending on which action you take. This might help steer you to performing a certain action on your turn at least once so that you can use their ability. There are five specific races (Olo, G'Yetd, Feshar, Algorin, and Dalgryn) each with five unique cards. These races in addition to having amazingly distinct art (what else would you expect from The Mico?) have a different focus. For example, the G'yeto let you use Knowledge (victory points) to bend the rules and do stuff you might not otherwise could do, like building a colony or collector. The Dalgryn, however, let you acquire and spend mission cards (potential victory points) to gain benefits and resources. The Olo are my favorite race though, because they let you acquire Knowledge and give you a direct way to turn resources into points!

I've only played through the game a handful of times, but it seems very balanced to me. There are six different types of planets and 30 tiles. With the tiles being double-sided, this results in there being 10 of each one available so you have pretty good odds of exploring one you need. There are also three which produce energy and three which produce metal, all with similar costs, so you should be able to build what you need without someone monopolizing a certain resource or planet. I especially love the act of placing the tiles around the star. It makes the universe grow and come alive and paints a beautiful picture. This is also a fun way to add area control in a game, as you want to build around a certain star, but other people might see you trying to monopolize a star and move in to your little galaxy.

Horizons clicks for me on so many different levels. I have always loved outer space so having a space-themed game in my collection is something I have tried to accomplish for a while. I could just never find the right one, until now. Secondly, the game is just bright and beautiful. Mix the Mico's art with colorful planets and neon bright tokens and the game pops. It'd probably be pretty cool to play under a black light. Lastly, the game play is smooth and easy to learn. It mixes a couple different mechanisms together, plays quickly, and provides you plenty of interesting choices to make with a near surprise winner each play when you score mission cards in the end. Highly enjoyable and one I will play whenever I'm asked!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Spoils of War (Arcane Wonders)

Vikings are a loud and boisterous bunch with pretty simple interests. They like to sail, fight, eat, drink, and gamble! Arcane Wonders recently introduced a game that focuses on their love of betting called Spoils of War. In Spoils of War, you and your fellow Vikings are rolling dice, bluffing about the results, and betting on whose right. The smartest (or luckiest) Viking will not only have the most money at the end of the game, but have the best loot as well! Spoils of War is a game 3-5 Vikings, age 14+. It takes approximately one hour to play and retails for $40.
Setup
1. Give each Viking a dice cup, screen, and betting disk.
2. The owner of the game is giving the Viking Chief marker, making them the starting player.
3. Distribute dice to each Viking depending on player count. (3 Vikings = 10 dice, 4 = 8 dice, 5 = 6 dice)
4. Choose one Viking to be the Purser (the bank). Have the Purser give each Viking 70 gold to start with. This gold is placed behind each player's screen.
5. Set up the Treasure Piles by making nine equal-sized piles. Do this by separating the cards by the number on their back (1, 2, or 3), shuffling each deck separately, and dealing out a number of cards from each deck to form a pile. (3 Vikings = 7 cards per pile, 4 = 9 cards per pile, and 5 = 11 cards per pile). Place these piles in a line so you have nine piles or three for each stage.
Game Play - The game is played over nine rounds with seven steps each round:
1. Treasure Setup - The Viking Chief takes the next Treasure Pile and spreads them out face-up so everyone can see the contents. (Note: It makes it easier to group like treasures together)
2. Roll Dice - Every Vikings rolls their dice and keeps the results secret
3. Bidding - The Viking Chief chooses who will make the first bid. That player must then announce a quantity of dice and a value of dice. For example, three 2s. (Note: You are bidding on the number of dice you think everyone has rolled, not just your own dice.) The Viking to the left either bids higher or challenges the bid. An example of a higher bid of three 2s would be three 4s or four 1s. A challenge means you think the last person who bid is wrong.
4. Place Bets - All Vikings must now bet on who they think is right and how much they are willing to bet they are correct. This is done by placing your betting disk on declarer or challenger and putting at least five coins on it. (All this is done in secret, of course.)
5. Reveal Bets - All Vikings reveal what they bet.
6. Reveal Dice - All dice are revealed and the bet is resolved.
7. Divide the Spoils - If you lose your bet, your coins are returned to the Treasury. If you win your bet, you keep your coins. The player who bet the most is the new Viking Chief. Additionally, all winning players get to take treasures from the Treasure pile starting with the Viking Chief and going down the line according to amount bet. The Viking Chief gets to pick three cards. All other winning Vikings get to take two. The remaining treasures are placed face-down in the leftover treasures pile.

After nine rounds, the game ends. The Purser gives bonus gold to Vikings if they earned any from their Treasures. Add up all gold coins you have. Add the gold value of every Treasure card you own. Highest gold value is the winner!

Review
Spoils of War is a fun game of bluffing and betting. There have been a fair amount of Viking games lately, but this one seems a bit more thematic and could only be matched perhaps by a pirate theme. To match a great theme, the game offers top-notch components with thick cardboard coins and solid plastic cups. The art is cartoonish in nature, which is a plus for me because it adds to the fun fill. However, the drawback to the art is that items of same name but different value have the same art. I feel like a broadsword worth one coin should be somewhat rusty looking compared to a broadsword worth three coins. (That is just a petty gripe of a spoiled gamer. I understand art is expensive!)

The game play is super fast and super fun. If you are the first one to bid you can play it a few different ways. For example, if you roll four 3s, you can either bid what you have or bet what you don't. Perhaps, you will say three 2s, even if you didn't roll a single 2, just to get the ball rolling and see where people are at. Then, for your next bid (assuming you get one), you bid what the number you really have because you feel confident there have to be at least six 3s between everyone. That means with every bid, you are not only planting information but you are also listening and looking for tells with the other bids thrown out. It becomes a game of not only reading your dice and playing the odds, but also reading your opponents and seeing who is bluffing and who is telling the truth.

If I had one gripe about the game, it would be the player count. For me personally, the ability to five players is generally the most I will ever need. However, there are times when I would want to play this game with more, and in a rare circumstance, this is a game where it seems like the more the merrier. There is a solution to this and it is simply buying a second copy of the game. While this is not ideal, it is at least a solution. My suggestion for those of you who need to play more than five is to buy a copy now and wait for a good sale to buy your second copy.

I am generally not a fan of games that require bluffing, not because I'm not good at it, but because my wife (my primary gaming partner) does not like them, and if she doesn't like the game, it's not getting played! This game, however, is a different animal and gives you more than just bluffing. There's also set collection and betting as well. It makes a great party and family game, because it is just light enough that you can play it with kids, extended family, and your friends who don't own any games other than Monopoly and Yahtzee. So give it a shot, you won't be disappointed!

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Peter Pan and Wendy (Sterling Illustrated Classics)

My wife and I both grew up watching Disney films. We each have our own likes and dislikes, but one that we both enjoyed and would watch anytime is Peter Pan. When I heard that Sterling Illustrated Classics was printing Peter Pan and Wendy, I knew I had to own this book. The book begins with a foreword by David Barrie, J.M. Barrie' great-great nephew. This was a brief two pages, but was very interesting. The rights to Peter Pan were left to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (in perpetuity) so that the hospital might always thrive due to this work's popularity.

The story itself begins with background on the Darling family. We learn about how Mr. Darling got Mrs. Darling to marry him, the birth of the three children, and how finances were tight with that many mouths to feed. It is also where we are introduced to the notion of Peter Pan and Neverland. Chapter Two is the famous shadow scene, where the faithful dog Nana sees Peter Pan flying about and tries to catch him, but only manages to nab his shadow! The rest of the story is very familiar, as we see mermaids, Lost Boys, pirates, Captain Hook, and Tinker Bell too! The book ends with Wendy growing up and having a daughter who goes off to Neverland. She too will have a daughter, and that daughter will have a daughter, and the cycle will continue indefinitely.

This is a quality printed, hardcover book with a dust jacket. What makes it stand out from other editions of this book is the beautiful illustrations. I have never felt anyone has done a sufficient job of capturing the true child-like nature of Peter's character, but these illustrations of him are some of the best I have seen. If you are any kind of fan of Peter Pan, you need this book in your collection. I know I will treasure this copy for years to come!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Isle of Monsters (Mayday Games)

Somewhere in the middle of the ocean is a small isle that has long been forgotten by most. On this mysterious land, there are monsters with the power of earth, fire, and water. The locals of this island have learned to feed and train these creatures to keep outsiders away and be the Protector of the Island. This is Isle of MonstersIsle of Monsters is a game for 2-5 players, ages 10+. It takes between 20 and 45 minutes to play and retails for $30.
Setup
1. Place the Center Island Board in the middle of the table.
2. Place a Cage Board in front of each player.
3. Place an Outer Island Board between each cage board, so that each player is always adjacent to two.
4. Shuffle all the Creature Cards and remove a certain number depending on player count.
5. Deal a number of Creature Cards face-down to form a pile on each Outer Island Board.
6. Once these cards are dealt, flip each pile face-up to reveal the bottom (now top) Creature Card. Put any remaining Creature Cards not dealt near the board for future replenishment.
7. Put the Food Tokens in the Draw Bag and mix them up. Draw tokens from the bag equal to the player count and place them on the Center Island Board. Then, draw and place two Food Tokens on each of the Outer Island Boards.
8. Put all the Scare Point Tokens face-up near the play area.
9. Pick a starting player and give them a draw bag.
Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds with four phases each round:
1. Nurture Phase - Beginning with the starting player and moving clockwise, take one of three actions:
a. Capture - Take the top Creature Card on either adjacent Outer Island Board and place it in an empty cage on your Cage Board.
b. Feed - Take one Food Token from the Center Island Board or either adjacent Outer Island Board and place it on a matching feeding space of one of your Creature Cards.
c. Pass - The first player to pass takes the Draw Bag and becomes the start player next round. After all players have passed, proceed to the Mature Phase.
2. Mature Phase - All players check their Cage Boards to see if any Creature Cards are fully fed (no empty feeding spaces). Remove fully fed Creature Cards from the Cage Board, return all Food Tokens on those fully fed Creature Cards to the draw bag. Place the matured creatures face-down next to your Cage Board.
3. Scare Phase - Repeat the following three steps to score Scare Points until everyone is out or only one player has Creature Cards remaining.
a. Player Creature Cards - Take your mature Creature Cards into your hand. Everyone who has at least one Creature Card must choose a single type (water, earth, or fire) to play. Once you decide, place them face-down on the table covered by your hand. When everyone is ready, simultaneously reveal the Creature Cards.
b. Scare the Crowd - Add up the Scare Value of all the Creature Cards you just played. If you have the highest total, take a 3 point Scare Point Token. If there is a tie, players instead take 1 point Scare Point Tokens.
c. Scare Other Creatures - Take a 1 point Scare Point Token for each adjacent player with a played Creature Card type that you scare. (For example, fire scares earth.)
4. Clean-up Phase - The player with the draw bag draws Food Tokens from the bag and places an amount equal to the number of players on the Center Island Board. He also places two Food Tokens on each Outer Island Board. Next, a Creature Card is drawn and placed face-up on each Outer Island Board.

When the last Creature Card is dealt from the deck, the final round begins. The player with the most Scare Point Tokens is the winner.

Review
Isle of Monsters is a cute and clever game that is perfect for children and families. The choices you make are simple but meaningful. Which of the two creature cards will I pick? Will I pass on taking a creature in favor of feeding a creature I already have? Do I remember what types of creatures my opponents had this round, and can I play the correct type of creature that will defeat theirs? There is a little bit of randomness to the game, because you will only have access to two different decks of creatures and this might give you powerful enough creatures to capture the scare the crowd bonus. Also, you never know what type of food will come out and be available to you on the outer islands. Knowing this, it is important to see what type of food the player after you needs, so you can take it before them and prevent their creatures from maturing.

The thing I like most about this game is the artwork. It is very colorful. Each of the creatures has a number on them ranging from 1 to 9. The 1 creature is a tiny little baby monster. As you increase in numbers, you see different stages of growth of that same creature with the level 9 creature being a fully grown and "terrifying" monster. The game has a bit of a Pokemon feel to it with the collecting of creatures, feeding of creatures, and different artwork kind of like evolution of Pokemon. At least with this game, you have everything you need in the box and don't have to go out and hunt down hundreds of different cards. With eye-catching art, simple mechanics, a fast playing time, and the ability to play five, this is a family game I would strongly recommend.

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Macroscope (Mayday Games)

Party games are wildly popular in the board game hobby, because they play a larger number of people than your standard four player game, are easy to learn and quick to play, and are friendly for gamers and non-gamers alike. It's a big reason that Codenames was a smash hit and won game of the year. Mayday Games recently published what I would consider a party game or filler game called Macroscope. It plays 2-6 people (but I think could play more if you had teams) age 6+. It takes about 30 minutes to play and retails for $30.

Setup
1. Before your first game assemble the Macroscope.
2. Place the Macroscope in the center of the table.
3. Place the deck of cards in it with the pizza card on top.
4. Cover the Macroscope with its lid and place random tokens on each round window of the lid.
5. Remove the pizza card.
6. Place the round tracker next to the Macroscope with the marker on space 1.
7. Place the dice in the center of the table and give each player two yellow crystals. The remaining crystals are placed close by.
Game Play
On your turn, roll both dice. For each die, remove one token with a number that matches the die face. For each die you have without a matching token, remove a token of your choice. After each token is removed, you may either make a guess or opt not to and take a yellow token. If you guess and are correct, you receive yellow crystals for each token left on the macroscope. If someone things you are wrong, they may pay two yellow crystals and guess themselves. If you choose not to guess, another player may guess for the price of two yellow crystals. After a successful guess is made, each other player who didn't guess the picture loses as many crystals as there are tokens on the macroscope. Play passes to the next player and the game lasts 10 rounds. The player with the most points is the winner.
Review
Mayday Games tries to put out family friendly games that are easy on the budget and large on the fun meter. Sometimes they succeed and other times they miss the mark. Macroscope succeeds and hits the ball out of the park. The game plays quickly, is easy to teach, and is just a fun, little party puzzle. I particularly liked building the macroscope from cardboard, and it was a nice little element that makes a statement on the table. They could have easily just given us a sheet of paper with holes in it to cover the cards, but they didn't. Having played this game several times, I haven't made it through half of the large deck of cards. Thankfully they are double-sided so when they run out, I can just flip them over and get a new deck to play with. Like most people though, I am hoping that there will be expansion packs that are just more of these cards. The best part of this game is that I can play it with anybody. From people who game to people who don't, young children to older adults, each one has found this game to be a fun little filler. I highly recommend picking up a copy and use this as a light game to introduce people to the modern world of board games.

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Miracles (Ignatius Press)

If I asked you to define the word miracle, what would you say? Ignatius Press recently released a DVD, called Miracles, that looks at this phenomenon and attempts to define it. This 35 minute film begins with several priests, Fr. Marcus Holden and Fr. Andrew Pinsent, philosophizing on the subject. Eventually, we get a fairly concise definition.  A miracle is an extraordinary, supernatural event that happens in nature that nature could never produce by itself. However, a miracle is not something that happens just to cause people to wonder at. A miracle happens so that a change will occur in humanity, and people will turn to God.

After we have a definition, the subject turns to Scripture to look at miracles found in the Bible. Examples given from the Old Testament include the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea, and the collapse of the Walls of Jericho. Where we see the most miracles performed are in the New Testament with Jesus. The reason for this is not only because Jesus is God, but also because people then needed convincing since Jesus was founding a new religion. It is interestingly pointed out that despite these miraculous events that people witnessed first-hand, some still turned away from God, because His teachings were too difficult for them. The miracles of Christ were performed, not just to ease people's sufferings, but were for the salvation of souls.

EWTN contributors James and Joanna Bogle contribute to this film as well, and points out that miracles didn't stop when Jesus left this world. Instead, His Apostles' ministries were filled with miracles as well. As time passed, miracles became rarer, except in one situation. Anytime a new mission is established and a conversion of people is attempted, miracles seem to be more abundant. This goes back to the need for these signs to convince people and save their souls. The film goes on to talk about present day miracles, such as the many that are credited to Pope John Paul II while he was still alive and the incorruptible bodies of approximately 140 saints. Other topics covered include the Eucharist, Mary, and shrines in Europe (Fatima and Lourdes, primarily).

When I first received this DVD, I wasn't sure what to expect. Since the film was only 35 minutes long, I wasn't sure what to expect and how in-depth they could actually get. However, after watching it through, I was pleasantly surprised and wanted to immediately watch it again. It is the perfect introduction on miracles and does a masterful job of explaining exactly what miracles are, what purpose they serve, and citing examples. The main point I took away from this DVD is that miracles are not an end to themselves, but serve several purposes. "They convince us of the reality of God, help us when we need divine help, and to point to certain religious truths." This is a great DVD to pick up for small groups or religious education at your parish.

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

CVlizations (Passport Game Studios)

When I first got into the world of modern gaming, CV was one of my first experiences. It was like combining Yahtzee and The Game of Life in order to have the most well-lived life at the end. It had everything I wanted in a game - familiar mechanics, fun theme, and great artwork. The only "complaints" I had about the game were that it could only play four people and that I wish there were more cards to choose from. There was an expansion released for it called CV: Gossip, which solved the problem of more cards, but it was a little too mean for my group. However, when I heard about the sequel, CVlizations, being released, I knew I wanted to try it. In CVlizations, you are no longer trying to build the best life, but instead your a tribal leader trying to create the most advanced and prosperous civilization. CVlizations is a game for 2-5 players, ages 10+. It takes about 45 minutes to play and retails for $35.
Setup
1. Put the board in the middle of the table.
2. Put the wood, food, and stone tokens in piles on their places on the board.
3. Place the crown on the age track of the first age.
4. Put the happiness tokens near the board.
5. Sort the cards into decks according to their backs. Shuffle each deck separately and place them on their spots on the board.
6. Draw four cards from the first deck and place them face up onto the idea track on the board.
7. Give each player a set of eight order cards in their chosen color and one wood, food, and stone.
8. The last player to hold a tool is the starting player and received the leader helm token.
Game Play - The game lasts 3 ages with 3 rounds each and each round has the following 4 phases:
1. Order Phase - The starting player chooses two cards from their order cards to play. One is played face-up and the other face-down. In clockwise order, each player does the same. After all players have played, flip the face-down cards face-up.
2. Action Phase - Players resolve the orders in the following order - Thieving, Logging, Hunting, Quarrying, Cunning, Slacking, and Trading. (Note: The doubling cards doubles a player's order, and is not its own order.) When several players play the same cards, go in clockwise order. The effect of each order card is determined by the amount of people who played it. In some cases, you might get nothing for the card.
3. Development Phase - Starting with the first player, each person can use their resources to buy one idea card from those available on the board. The card is placed face-up in front of the player, and a new card replaces it on the board.
4. Cleanup Phase - Pass the starting player token clockwise. After turn 3, the first age ends. Players gather all their order cards into their deck. After turn 6, the second age ends. Players gather all their order cards into their deck. The Age I and II idea deck is no longer used, but now Age III deck is. After turn 9, the game is over.

Add up happiness tokens you received throughout the game and any happiness symbols on the idea cards you purchased. Highest score is the winner.

Review
Anyone who has ever played CV before will recognize the familiar symbology and hilarious artwork present within CVlizations too. The game mechanics, however, are vastly different. Instead of rolling dice and pressing your luck, you are practicing hand management. By reading your opponents and reading the board, you hope to gain an advantage over them. I am glad they added an option for a fifth player to this game, but now I find myself wanting a sixth player too. (A gamer is never satisfied, I guess.) Like CV, I did find myself wishing for more cards in this game. Hopefully, there will be an expansion soon that adds some to increase replay value in the game. What I like best about this game is the theme. There is nothing more satisfying in a game (to me) than to build a glorious civilization that reigns supreme over all the others. Unfortunately, most civilization building games take hours to play and my group won't play a game of that length. CVlizations is the perfect length, gives you the same satisfaction of building a civilization, has great artwork, and doesn't take itself too seriously. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Marian Option (TAN Books)

The Benedict Option was coined by Rod Dreher after same-sex marriage was approved in the United States. He stated that Christians in post-Christian America needed to adopt St. Benedict as their guide and to try to strengthen the church if they wanted it to survive. Since the publication of this book there have been many books choosing other saints or saintly figures. However, Dr. Carrie Gress is the first to realize and point out that for any renewal to take place, we must have Christ's mother Mary at the heart of the renewal. That is why she penned The Marian Option.

The book begins by talking about the persecution Christians have faced since their origin. For 2000 years, there have been many tests and trials Christians have undergone. During these times, different people responded and reacted in different ways. St. Benedict, who is covered in this first chapter, experienced a crumbling Roman society much like we are facing a crumbling American society. Dr. Gress examines him more closely and discusses why he chose to retreat to the desert. She then spends the next two chapters explaining how Mary is considered the most important woman in human history and how we she has influenced art, architecture, music, literature, etc.  The next three chapters focus on her geopolitical influence in three of her most famous apparitions - Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima. The next four chapters are the meat of the book and focus on tough issues that Catholics have to always answer and defend. How much or how little devotion is Mary due? What is her relationship with the three Persons of the Trinity? How is she our Mother and the Mother of the Church? And lastly, why is it people are so anti-Mary? The final chapters of the book provide concrete ways to have Mary at the heart of our lives including practical and simple ways for a family to do this, such as praying the Rosary, going to Mass, wearing a Brown Scapular and/or Miraculous Medal, consecrating yourself to Mary, and many other easy things.

The Marian Option is a simple but brilliant book that walks us through not only the historical and cultural significance of Mary, but also her spiritual significance as well. I particularly enjoyed the case study at the end of the book on Pope John Paul II. If anyone in recent memory has shown us how to live a life devoted to Mary, it was this great man. What makes this book stand out from other books on Mary, apart from the message inside, is the beautiful presentation on the outside. It is a beautiful, blue hardcover with gold lettering on the cover, and a dust jacket to match. It is a worthy presentation for a book that you will want to read more than once. If you can read just one book on Mary this year, I recommend it be this one.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

Quartz (Passport Game Studios)

Working in the mines is hard work, something best suited for a dwarf. They are brave, sturdy, and have a keen eye for treasure. However, with that keen eye comes greed! You and your fellow dwarves have recently discovered a new mine, which is sure to contain treasures untold. Therefore, y'all decide to make a "friendly" wager. You will each explore the mine for five days. As each day ends, you will sell any crystals you uncover. Whoever earned the most money over five days claims the mine for himself. This is QuartzQuartz is a game for 3-5 people, ages 14+. It takes approximately one hour to play and retails for $30.
Setup
1. Place the main board in the center of the table, placing the day marker on Day One.
2. Place coins and experience tokens near the main board.
3. Put all the crystals in the cloth bag, giving the bag a thorough shuffle. This represents the mine.
4. Give each player a mine cart and chest card. Both are placed face up with the mine cart showing crystal value.
5. Shuffle the mining cards and deal five to each player. These may be viewed at any time, but are kept secret from others. The remaining cards are placed near the main board to form the mining deck.
6. The player with the longest beard is starting player. If you are all unfortunate enough not to be blessed with a beard, then the shortest player goes first.
Game Play - The game takes place over five rounds (days). Each day you deal out mining cards on the main board equal to the number of players less one. Some cards require coins to be placed on them. Starting with the first player and going clockwise, each player performs one of three actions:
1. Mine a crystal - Take a crystal from the bag and put it on your cart. If you draw an obsidian, you are in danger. If you ever receive a second obsidian, your day is over. All your crystals are returned to the mine and you receive an experience token.
2. Play an action card - Play a blue background card and resolve it. Some of these cards pertain to you and mining crystals. Others target other players, and the player you target may play a purple background card to prevent you from targeting them.
3. Leave the mine - Flip your mine cart over and set your crystals to the side. Players can no longer play blue cards against you, nor can you play purple cards. If there are at least two other dwarves in the mine, you receive the first mining card on the main board (going left to right) and any coins on the card. This is your bravery bonus.

Selling crystals - When the day ends, each dwarf may decide to save two crystals on their chest card. The remaining crystals are then sold according to their value, with four different ways to earn bonus money (outlined in the rule book). When the fifth day ends, the dwarf with the most money is the winner and claims the mine.

Review
Quartz is a game of press your luck, risk management, set collection, and take that. Each time you stick your hand in the bag to pull out a crystal, you never know what you are going to end up with. To make matters worse, people are going to play cards on your turn to try and sabotage you. Yes, you will have some ability to mitigate the sabotage, but if you start accumulating a mass of wealth on one day, you will become an even bigger target. A lot of people won't like this, especially casual gamers and children, but some people this will be right in their wheelhouse. In addition to knowing who to target and when to target them, there is also a bit of strategy on which gems to save and when to cash them in to maximize the profits from the bonuses.

The components in this game are top notch. The boards and coins are a nice thick cardboard. I really like that they shaped the mine carts appropriately, instead of just giving players a square board, and the coins have a thematic look to them as well. The crystals themselves are vibrant in color and have a good weight to them. Pairing them with the rest of the glorious artwork really makes them game pop when displayed on a table.

I'm not generally a fan of games with direct conflict/take that mechanisms, and this is one of the main focuses of the game. The game plays quickly, but if you wanted to, you and a friend could target the same player round after round in this game and make their experience miserable. Now, I don't know, nor do I play with someone who would do that, but the possibility exists. Luckily, the rounds and game both play quickly enough, so it cuts down on some of the potentially negative experience. Another negative for me was a minimum of three players are needed. My gaming is either 2 player, 4 player, or 6 and unfortunately the 4 player group wouldn't enjoy this game. I think with the right group of people this could be a fun game and with the quality and price, I wanted to like this, but it was not for me.

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Benedict Up Close (Sophia Institute Press)

Paul Badde is a historian and journalist. Since 2000, he has been editor of Welt, a German newspaper, where he started as the Jerusalem correspondent, but is now The Vatican correspondent in Rome. He recently published a book entitled Benedict Up Close. The book begins with an editorial note, explaining what the book is and is not. The book is not a biography, nor was it ever intended to be. It is the articles written by Badde, which cover the approximately eight years of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy.

The book begins April 19, 2005 with the election of Pope Benedict XVI and announcement Habemus papam! The book ends on February 28, 2013 with his resignation from the papal office. Technically, there is one last article dated July 5, 2013 that talks about the encyclical Lumen Fidei, which was the encyclical that both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had a part in writing. There are nine chapters, one for each calendar year he was in office. Each chapter's title highlights a particularly important event/decision that year in his papacy. They are as follows:

2005 - Habemus papam: Epochal Change in Rome
2006 - From Auschwitz via Regensburg to Turkey: The Minefield of Words
2007 - Dialogue in Brazil, China, and Austria - and about the Old Rite of the Tridentine Mass
2008 - An Anticipated, Initial Afterword: From Ground Zero in Manhattan to the Grotto of Massabielle at the Foot of the Pyrennes
2009 - Brouhaha about the Society of Saint Pius X, and Pilgrim in the Holy Land
2010 - Condoms, Cases of Sexual Abuse, and a Liturgical Work of Art in the United Kingdom
2011 - Ecumenism and Eclipse of God in Germany
2012 - Vatileaks, the Pope's Valet, and a Laboratory of Peace in Beirut
2013 - Farewell and Ascent on the Mountain of Prayer

Overall, I found this book to be an interesting read, even if it wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting something more story-like that had a better flow to it. Instead, I received a collection of articles with Badde reflecting on what he saw and experienced as his time as a correspondent. This covered large-scale events and happenings and also the day-to-day things that other media would have overlooked and did overlook, but Badde felt was important enough to cover. I appreciated the orderly way this book was composed, and think it was a great idea to have this compiled, so that it won't be lost as time goes on. I also appreciated his insight on different events and issues, as he saw more first-hand than common people like me, ever would.

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Magnetic Game Boxes (HABA)

HABA is a company that is known for making great products for children. This includes toys, games, blocks, and dolls. Today, I would like to tell you about two magnetic games that are aimed at children four and up, and retail for $20 each. They are called Magnetic Game Box 1, 2 Numbers and You and Magnetic Game Box ABC Expedition.
1, 2 Numbers and You comes in a heavy cardboard carrying case that opens up to make a display for your child to play with better. There are approximately 150 magnetic pieces that is comprised of numbers, operations symbols (addition, subtraction, equal signs, etc.), and objects to count (cars, apples, frogs, etc.). On the display is the image of a chalkboard that is magnetic in nature and looks like graph paper. The box also comes with two mats to put over the chalkboard. One has outlines of all the numbers and dots to count them. The other mat gives you two squares to put aforementioned objects with spaces to put the dots to count and to put the number as well. For example, you could put a pond with frogs in it and have your child count the frogs.
ABC Expedition comes in a heavy cardboard carrying case that opens up to make a display for your child to play with better. There are approximately 150 upper case magnetic letters. On the display is the image of a chalkboard that is magnetic in nature. The box also comes with two mats to put over the chalkboard. One has outlines of all the letters, so that your child can find the magnetic letters and match them to their outlines. The other mat resembles a piece of notebook paper or a worksheet. There you can place an image (mouse, ball, sun, etc.) and have your child practice spelling the word.
Overall, my son really enjoyed both of these sets, but judging by which one he plays with more, I would say he liked the number one better. He just had so much fun making pictures of cars in a parking lot or balloons and then counting them. I upped the difficulty at times, asking him to add something or take something away, and this set helped move that from an abstract concept to one that he could physically see and experience.

The components are a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I liked the cardboard carrying case that doubled as a board to work on. It made the product great for at home or on the go in the car. The magnets themselves, I was a little disappointed in. I was expecting thicker magnets, something like Melissa and Doug makes. Instead they were of a thin quality, similar to a refrigerator magnet you would get on a phone book. It was also a bit tedious punching all of those magnets. Now, I am an experienced board gamer who is used to punching a lot of items, but if you are not, set aside some time before you tell your child about this gift, because it will take some time to punch out everything.

The magnet gripe aside, these magnetic game boxes are cute, fun, and educational. My son loves them, and I like that he gets to have fun while learning too. If you end up getting both, I recommend getting some Ziploc bags to separate and store the magnets in and then combining the two boxes into one.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Benedict and Francis (Sophia Institute Press)

I have not been Catholic all of my life, so unlike other people my age John Paul II was not the pope I grew up with or only one I knew for most of my life. Instead, my first pope was Benedict XVI and then Francis. Sophia Institute Press recently published a book by Cardinal Gerhard Müller called Benedict and Francis, which talks about their papacies, since the two papal reigns are so closely tied to each other.

The book begins by talking about the Church and the Petrine Ministry. We then learn about the important characteristic of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy, which was his theological talent. He used his great wisdom to teach the Church, and demonstrate the hearing and understanding aspects of faith. he also talks about the six decades of scholarly works Pope Benedict XVI has contributed to the Christology, highlighting his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth. The next chapter focuses on Vatican II and the laity. The last two chapters tie more closely to Francis' papacy talking about the poor, poverty and the forgotten of society in one chapter and ecclesial and curial reform in the other.

Benedict and Francis is a quick read at 120 pages. It does a nice job of not only explaining the role of the pope, but also tying together the papacies of two very different men. If you are looking for a short summation, then this is a great place to start. I would then recommend going deeper and reading some of their actual writings, homilies, and addresses to finish filling in the picture of what these two great men believe and bring to the office of pope.

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Starving Artists (Fairway 3 Games)

I do not have a single creative bone in my body. That includes anything musical or artistic. That's not to say that I don't appreciate both, and don't enjoy going to the symphony or museum. I just know my creative limits, and they basically stop at paint-by-number. When I heard about the game Starving Artists (self-described as paint-by-cube), I knew I wanted to play this game. Starving Artists is a game for 1-4 players, ages 12+. It takes between 30-60 minutes to play and retails for $30. (Note: You can also add on a game mat for $15, which appropriately has an image of Johnannes Vermeer's work The Art of Painting.)

Setup
1. Give each player a Studio Card. This will be used to track your nutrition level, track the day, store your Paint Cubes, and remind you of the day's actions.
2. Give each player a matching set of Player Markers, placing one on the 0 of the score track, and the other on the 5 of their nutrition level.
3. Pour all the Paint Cubes into the bag and mix well. Then, have each player draw six random cubes from the bag, placing them in their studio.
4. Shuffle the Canvas Cards, and place them face-down in a stack. Form the Canvas Market by turning over three and forming a row next to the deck.
5. Give the first-player token (Carrot) to the person who most recently visited a museum.
Game Play - The game is played over several rounds with players taking one action in the morning and one in the afternoon. At night, all players have the option of selling their paintings.
1. Add four Paint Cubes from the bag to the Paint Market (center of the table).
2. Lower your nutrition level by one (except on the first day). If your nutrition drops below one, you are eliminated, and players have one more day left in the game.
3. The first player places the carrot on the morning phase of his Studio Card.
4.  On your turn, you will take two actions (one at a time) and may take one free action. The actions are as follows:
a. Buy a new canvas - Pay one to three cubes depending on where the card is in the Canvas Market.
b. Paint - Apply up to four Paint Cubes from your Studio to any number of your Canvases.
c. Work - Draw three Paint Cubes and put them in your Studio.
Free actions:
a. Trade Paint Cubes - Trade Paint Cubes from your Studio to the Paint Market, using the following ratios - 2:1, 5:2, 9:3. (Note: Trading is expensive and you can trade wild cubes back to the Market but never take them from the Market.)
b. Reset the Canvas Market - Pay two Paint Cubes to the Paint Market to discard the cards in the Canvas Market and draw three new ones.
5. Sell Paintings - In the night phase, the first player declares if they are selling paintings, how many, and which one(s). Other players do this in clockwise order. Selling paintings raises your nutrition level, scores you points, and gets you paid in Paint Cubes. (Note: Players will get paid based on who has the highest value painting sold.)

The game ends at different intervals based on number of players. 2 players = 7 paintings/16 points, 3 players = 6 paintings/14 points, and 4 players = 5 paintings/12 points.
Review
Starving Artists is a game that is creatively simple and simply creative. The concept of taking cubes and placing them on famous artwork to complete the painting is genius and makes you wonder why no one thought of it before. Don't let the simplicity fool you. There is strategy to this game, as it's a juggling act between picking the right Canvas, acquiring the right blend of Paint Cubes, and not starving. I admit that I went hungry and lost the first time I tried playing this. Players turns can create a little downtime, but that is true with a lot of games. The only complaint I heard with the numerous people I played with is that it's a shame that it only plays four. Designer, Mike Wokasch, thought of that and created a kit you could buy that would give you the ability to play with up to six players. I am going to have to invest in this, as I regularly play more than four!

The components in this game are well thought out and produced. For starters, the paintings are very vibrant and high resolution. If it wasn't for the squares to place your cubes, you'd swear you were staring at miniature re-creations of them. The cubes themselves are translucent, which was a brilliant decision. I imagine wooden cubes would have been much more economical to produce, but the plastic translucent ones really add that extra aesthetics to the game. I normally don't buy extra game boards, but this neoprene one is a worthy investment as it serves as both a rule reminder and statement piece for the game.

With over 90 unique canvas cards, the replay value is strong in this game. You won't paint all the same canvases from game to game, and you probably won't see them all either without a couple of plays through the game. With that said, I hope to see the designer continue adding to this game, perhaps through little booster packs, but I don't know how economical it would be. My thoughts were to pick popular artists (Van Gogh, Rembrant, Picasso, etc.) and make perhaps 10 card booster packs of them. (Yes, I know these artists already have several representatives of their artwork in this game). However, if you released popular artist booster packs, you could add even more theme to the game. Let people have their own deck to draw from, and the first one to paint the required number of paintings (based on player count) wins.

What I liked best about this game was the hidden educational/cultural value. When I was in school, I took an art history class, and it was boring! It seemed like no one wanted to be there, including the teacher. This game, however, secretly teaches you and your children about great art through the centuries, as the cards show you the piece and provide an artist and time when it was painted. I thought I knew a fair bit of famous art before this game, but I was mistaken, as there were so many works in here that I did not recognize. I found myself learning without even trying to, and feel like that was an added benefit to a great game. For this reason alone, I think it is a game that belongs in the classroom and homeschool environment, in addition to on a family's game shelf!

This game was provided to me for free by Fairway 3 Games in exchange for an honest review.