Monday, November 20, 2017

Flatline: A FUSE Aftershock Game (Renegade Game Studios)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ticket to Ride: First Journey App (Asmodee)

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Space Race: Interkosmos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Flora of Middle-Earth (Oxford University Press)

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

Beren and Lúthien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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

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

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

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




Monday, October 30, 2017

Agricola Expansions (WizKids)

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

In God's Hands (HarperOne)

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fantasy Fantasy Baseball (CSE Games)

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

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Zoo Ball (Osprey Games)

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Near and Far (Red Raven Games)

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Flying Inn (Ignatius Press)

G.K. Chesterton is one of the greatest Catholic authors, not just of the 20th century, but possibly ever. He wrote drama, poetry, mysteries, and theological works. Some of his most famous works include Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, and my personal favorite the Father Brown series. I was recently introduced to a work of his that I had never heard of before called The Flying Inn. It was originally published in 1914 and was reprinted by Ignatius Press.

The story takes place in England, but not the England you or I know. It takes place in future England, and is a political satire. In this future England, the Temperance Movement has allowed Progressive Islam to dominate England's political, cultural, and social landscape. Two laws were passed which effectively killed local bars and pubs. The first law made pub signs illegal, and the second made it illegal to serve alcohol in a place without a sign. You see the problem for local bar owners? Pub Owner, Humphrey Pump, and Captain Patrick Dalroy aim to right this wrong and travel the countryside with a cart, a cask of rum, a wheel of cheese, and of course the sign. They wheel the cart around, setting up makeshift bars long enough to serve a round of drinks and then hightail it before they are caught by Lord Ivywood. Each chapter is a mini and zany episode that eventually will lead to a final confrontation.

The book is hilarious in nature, especially the drinking songs/poems which are scattered throughout the book. However, behind this outlandish nature of the story is some political foreshadowing that could almost be described as prophetic. Prohibition did occur in the U.S. about six years after this book was published and like in the story the rich were able to skirt the law by buying their alcohol in the pharmacy. What's even more scary is how accurate Chesterton was about Islam's pervasiveness in Europe. At the time this book was written, the Ottoman Empire (with Islam as its religion) was on the brink of extinction. Now, all of Europe has been taken over by Islam with them going so far as to claim that they are the religion of Europe. Overall, I found this to be a fun and interesting read and one that I am glad I was exposed to.

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Great Heresies (Ignatius Press)

Hilaire Belloc was an Anglo-French Catholic writer and historian. In the early 20th century, he wrote works of many different natures including poetry, satire, and politics. It was his Catholic faith that formed his views and were reflected in his works. Recently, Ignatius Press has been re-printing some of his works including Characters of the Reformation and The Great Heresies. Today, I would like to tell you about the latter.

The Great Heresies was published in 1938. In the introduction, Belloc discusses what heresy is and how most people equate it with something from ancient Christian times. He goes on to explain that it is of high importance for anyone looking to understand European history and Christian orthodoxy. He then gives us a formal definition of the term to be a denial of an accepted Christian doctrine and something which affects not only the individual but all of society. It is heresy which shaped Europe and would have made Europe a completely different world had it succeeded. The book is divided into the following chapters:

1. The Arian Heresy
2. The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed
3. The Albigensian Attack
4. What Was the Reformation?
5. The Modern Phase

"The Arian heresy proposed to go to the very root of the Church's authority by attacking the full Divinity of her Founder." In layman's terms, it questioned the divinity of Jesus. "The Mohammedan attack threatened to kill the Christian Church by invasion rather than to undermine it from within." Belloc saw this as a heresy and not just a new religion attacking an old one. Belloc viewed the Albigensian heresy as the one that was nearly successful. This was a precursor to Protestantism and dealt with a duality of the universe, good and evil in an equal and constant battle with each other. The Protestant attacked authority and unity within the Church. Lastly, the modern phase has seen attacks of rationalism and positivism. Belloc chose these specific five, because they showed all the different directions from which the Church can be attacked. What I love best about reading Belloc's words are the truth they still hold today. It is nearly 80 years after this was first published, and his words still ring true.

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Names of Jesus (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Years ago, I used to transcribe podcasts for Ancient Faith Radio. It was an fun side-job, because I was able to trade my services for the books they published. However, in addition to that perk, I also learned a lot because, I had to listen more intently and pay closer attention. To this day, the podcasts I remember most are those of Fr. Thomas Hopko. His speaking style was brisk and brilliant. He made a subject accessible, but also was known for occasionally dropping Greek, Hebrew, and/or Aramaic words and phrases all in the same breath. One of his best known podcasts series was called The Names of Jesus. In 2010, Ancient Faith Publishing published a book by the same name. The book is divided into 53 chapters with each chapter focusing on different names and titles for Jesus in the Bible.

Some of the titles included in this book are Son of God, I AM, Last Adam, Way, Truth, and Life. The chapter that I really liked was Bread of Life. I really wanted to focus on this one when reading through the book, because the Holy Eucharist is the Mystery on which Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism stands This title comes from John 6:35. It is here that the people ask Jesus for bread, and He reveals to them that He is the Bread of Life. We recently read this passage to my son from his children's Bible, and he has stuck with him better than any other story. What stood out to me the most in this chapter was how he explained the differences between the two different feedings of the multitudes. It was truly beautiful to read his explanation on it.

There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, but in a highly approachable manner. Yes, there is a great deal of Scripture and explanations of Greek and Hebrew translations of certain passages, but this doesn't make it difficult but instead illustrates the points more clearly. With each chapter between 3 and 8 pages long, it makes for a manageable reflection length. I personally recommend reading a chapter at the beginning of each week. Then, you can go back and re-visit the chapter or reflect on it all week long. This may mean you have to read the book over the course of the year, but what a year it will be!

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Haunt the House (KTBG)

My son's favorite time of the year is Fall. It's not because of the temperature dropping or the leaves changing colors. No, it's because of Halloween. For the life of me, I can't figure out where he developed this love of Halloween, but he loves it and all things "spooky." No matter what store we shop in, he wants to go down the Halloween aisle. His favorite movie right now? Toy Story of Terror! I just don't get it... Recently, I learned of a "spooky" game called Haunt the House from Kids Table Board Gaming (KTBG for short). Haunt the House is a game for 2-4 ghouls ages 8+. It takes approximately 30-40 minutes to play and is currently on Kickstarter for a pledge of $31.
Setup
1. Shuffle the Room Tiles face down, creating a draw pile. Lay out four Room Tiles face-up (three in a 2-player game).
2. Shuffle the Ghost Hunters cards face-down, creating a draw pile. Draw one Ghost Hunter and place it face-up on each in Room Tile.
3. Make a pile of the Skull Tokens, placing them within reach of all.
4. Have each player choose a color and give them a Ghost Marker and Scare Deck in their color. Have each player shuffle their deck face-down and draw the top three Scares.
5. Shuffle the Trophy Tiles face-down, and give each player one red and one blue trophy tile. You may look at your own Trophy Tiles, but keep them secret.
6. Pick a starting player and begin!
Game Play - The game is played in turns with the end of the game triggering when a player scares their fourth Ghost Hunter (fifth in a 2-player game). On your turn you may take two actions of Yell Boo! You can take the actions in any order or the same one twice. Possible Actions are:
1. Draw to three Scares - If you have 0 or 1 Scares in your hand, you may use your first action to draw up to three Scares.
2. Play a face-down Scare - Play any one Scare from your hand face-down on a Room Tile. (Note: The Scare doesn't have to match the Scares shown on the Ghost Hunter in the Room Tile.)
3. Play a face-up Scare - Play any one Scare from your hand face-up on a Room Tile. (Note: The Scare must be one that is needed to frighten the Ghost Hunter.) Playing face-up allows you to immediately trigger the power of the Room Tile.

Yell Boo! - If you think you have the right combination of symbols on the face-up Scares, face-down Scares, and Scares in your hand, you yell BOO! Flip over the face-down Scares and discard non-matching Scares. Reward the owners of matching face-down Scares with one Skull Token. If you are not able to successfully scare the Ghost Hunter, all face-down Scares that were revealed are discarded and your turn ends. If you are able to scare the Ghost Hunter, claim them face-up in front of you. Discard the Room Tile and place a new Room Tile and Ghost Hunter on that Room Tile.

Advanced version: Add the deck of Phantom Cards to the game, shuffling them face-down. Now, instead of merely claiming a Skull Token, you can claim a Phantom, which gives you a special unique action to use in a future turn.
Review
If you decide to pledge for Haunt the House, it's like you are getting two games in one - 1. a family game suitable for playing with children and 2. a more challenging game to play with seasoned gamers. The beginner's version of this game is simple in the actions you can take, but still provides meaningful decisions. Do I play a card face-up for a beneficial action but potentially set up my opponent(s) to scare a ghost hunter? Do I play a card face-down and do some light bluffing in hopes that I can trick my opponent into doing a false Boo? With scoring tokens being squared, you also have to decide carefully which ghost hunters to maximize your opponents.

The advanced version of this game provides you with a new choice to make when rewards are earned. Are you going to take a skull token for points or are you going to draw a phantom card and get some special ability? I've noticed most of the time, you'll take the phantom unless the game is near over and you want points. These two modes of game play means you have a game that will grow with your children. As they age and grasp advanced gaming concepts, the game will scale with them.

What I like best about the game is the art, of course! The art by Apolline Etienne and Josh Cappel is eye-popping! I remember the first time I saw Cappel's art in Scoville. I was instantly a fan. Ever since purchasing that game, I now actively seek out games he illustrates. It's one of the main reasons I bought KTBG's other two games - Foodfighters and Problem Picnic. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Josh Cappel is the Leonardo da Vinci of board games, because he not only illustrates games, but designs them as well. With his talented wife Helaina, the Cappels are creating a beautiful empire made up of the next generation of family games! If I had one negative to levy against this game, I would say that it only plays four. I only have a family of three, but as a Catholic, I know many families well over the four player limit who wish this game could accommodate more. That quibble aside, I have thoroughly enjoyed this game and I can't wait to see the success this Kickstarter will experience.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Queen of Heaven: Mary's Battle for You

Recently, Saint Benedict Press released a new product called Queen of Heaven: Mary's Battle for You. In addition to it being a beautiful hardcover book, it is also a DVD series designed for parish study or small group study. The program was filmed at over a dozen global locations, such as the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land and the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington D.C. It features expert commentary from noted Catholics Tim Staples, Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, and Dr. Mary Healy to name a few. But what exactly is it about? To know that, let's look at the eight lesson titles:

1. The Battle Begins
2. The Annunciation
3. The Sorrowful Mother
4. Mother of the Church
5. Guadalupe
6. Lourdes
7. Fatima
8. The Consecration

Each lesson is approximately 30 minutes each with a follow-up 10 minute video from Fr. Patrick Winslow to crystallize the lesson. The series is very thorough, taking us back to the Old Testament when Mary was prefigured in many signs and wonders and prophesied that she would give birth to the Savior. We then move forward to the New Testament where we see her place in Jesus' early life, His ministry and Passion, and the period after He ascended where she was Mother of the Church. These lessons alone would be enough to make a thorough lesson, but it doesn't stop there. Instead, we see Mary's role in present day with the apparitions at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima - three places she left powerful messages for the modern day Church and where miracles still occur today. The lessons close focusing on Pope John Paul II, his devotion to Mary, and the Consecration to Mary's Immaculate Heart he helped introduce to the world. This is a professional and beautifully done series and one all Catholics (I would argue all Christians) need to watch. It will be airing on EWTN from October 6-13, so I encourage you to check it out, learn why Mary is such a powerful warrior for us, and then get your parish to order a copy of this amazing series!

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Crusades Controversy (Beacon Publishing)

When you look back through history, there are certain events that still evoke a visceral response from people, events that people believe are a certain way and no matter how many facts you present them with, they'll never see it any other way. The biggest event I can think of that describes the previous sentence is The Crusades. If you asked a random person on the street, they would tell you that the Crusades were an atrocity by the Catholic Church. Islamic people certainly believe this, and that has led to terrorists like bin Laden, ISIS, etc. being formed and waging war against the Christian West? But what if I told you that those people were wrong? Medieval historian, Thomas F. Madden, recently penned a short book entitled The Crusades Controversy: Setting the Record Straight.The book is a mere 50 pages in length and is divided into the following chapters:

1. Are the Crusades to Blame?
2. The Real Crusaders
3. The First Crusade: A Lone Success
4. A New Age
5. The Muslim Memory
6. Today's Struggle Between Islamists and the West

The book begins with the question, "Are the Crusades to blame for the current tension between Islam and the West?" Madden explains that it was not the Christian West that sought out and attacked Islam trying to conquer them, but instead it was quite the opposite. Islam was of the opinion that you were Muslim or not. If you were not, you must be defeated. Therefore, the Crusades were the West's response to this Islamic conquest and attempt to survive. He then goes on to explain that the Crusaders did not get rich, but on the contrary 50% died and those that returned were worse off financially than when they left. The third chapter tells of the one successful crusade, but makes note that the success was short-lived. The remaining chapters talk about how recent memory has fueled the myth of the Crusades and given the Islamic terrorist groups an excuse to go to war with the West.

This short little book packs quite a punch in terms of history and correcting of misinformation. It was interesting to note that Islam apparently cared nothing of the Crusades until recent centuries. Before that, it was largely ignored by them, because frankly they won handily and Western Christendom was just another group of infidels that were conquered. This is a book that belongs in the hands of every Christian and belongs in every history classroom. Unfortunately, it doesn't fit with a certain agenda, so the people that need to read it will largely ignore it. I, however, highly recommend it!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sheriff of Nottingham: Merry Men (Arcane Wonders)

I generally don't get to play a lot of bluffing games, and I think it's primarily because of the two gaming groups I belong too. One group is my wife and another couple, none of whom are great at bluffing, and the other group I think the bluffing would get out of hand or cause hurt feelings. However, I have found one bluffing game that works reasonably well for both groups, and that is Sheriff of Nottingham. In Sheriff of Nottingham, you are a merchant trying to bring your goods (apples, bread, cheese, and chickens) into Nottingham, and maybe smuggling in some contraband as well. It's a quick, fun, and a nice blend of playing your hand and playing your opponents. With that said, there were a couple of things I felt missing from the base game.
For starters, I sometimes wished it played more than five players. Secondly, I always wondered where Robin Hood, Little John, and the other Merry Men were. Lastly, it felt like you could make it through the game without bluffing ever (my wife) and cream your opponents, so there's no incentive to bluff. I imagine I wasn't the only one with these cons, so along came Sheriff of Nottingham: Merry MenSheriff of Nottingham: Merry Men is a small box expansion that provides five different modules to enhance game play. This is my favorite type of expansion, because you can pick and choose what you want to add and what you don't. Allow me to tell you what I think about each module.
1. 6th Player - A sixth player is added to the game and two deputies take the place of the sheriff. Instead of one person interrogating you, you now have two to deal with. They must agree and split any loot/bribes received. This was an easy and welcome expansion. I like that you now have two people shaking down the merchants, but I don't play it where it's randomly decided who the two are, because I played it with three couples. Instead I made each couple the deputies, so that favoritism couldn't be granted to spouses. The more the merrier with this game, so I would always play with this one if the player count justified it.
2. Black Market - Players are allowed to trade in three of a kind of a contraband card for a black market card. Example, you have three peppers (6 coin value each) that if you are the first to trade them in nets you a black market card worth 30 coins. This is a module I play with all the time as it encourages and rewards bluffing and smuggling. There are no more "cheap" honest all the way through wins. You are rewarded handsomely for lying and it makes doing so a viable strategy again, as you can turn 18 points into 30 points (example above).

3. Laws - 24 cards with special rules. The first round the sheriff draws three and puts two in play. Every round after, the new sheriff draws two and keeps one, which replaces an old law. Some of these laws make common goods (chickens for example) contraband. Other laws make the person with the most of one good (cheese for example) in their stall sell one to the bank. I only played with this module once and it was a little fiddly for me and added needless complications to the game. It also messed with opponents even more in a game that already had enough of that. I probably wouldn't use this module again.

4. Special Orders - 15 cards that display a legal and illegal good on each card. To claim the card, you must bring both into Nottingham on the same round. This is another module that encourages bluffing, but more specific bluffing. With everyone going for these cards, you assume that there will be more bribes and everyone's bag will be tainted with illegal goods. However, unlike the Black Market cards, I didn't find that the rewards on these cards justified the risk. For example, if you bring one chicken (value 4) and one pepper (value 6) into Nottingham on the same turn, you claim a special order card with a value of 5. 4 + 6 + 5 = 15 with a chance of the sheriff busting you and you only getting to bring one chicken in. Conversely, you could just bring three chickens in (value 12) for no risk at all. I'd play with this module, but I wouldn't seek it out.
5. Merry Men - 18 cards of Merry Men you are trying to smuggle into Nottingham. Each merchant gets two cards and picks one to put in their hand. If they smuggle the card in, they get the coin value and a special one time use ability. If you are caught trying to smuggle them in, you discard them and must smuggle contraband in on a future turn to have the ability to draw Merry Men again. Thematically, I like this one, because this game was sorely lacking these characters. I like that you get different amounts of coins for them and that you are only trying to smuggle them in one at a time. This means you can spend a turn or two establishing your credibility and honesty and then sneak one in undetected. I also really like the minor game-bending abilities you briefly gain to try and give you an edge. I would play with this module some of the time.

So in summation, I really liked two, sort-of liked one, and didn't care for the other two. For the price point of $25, I consider that a success and an expansion worth purchasing. If you're a fan of this game, I recommend picking it up and trying out the different modules for yourself. It definitely adds replay value and new paths to victory.

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sasha and the Dragon (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Being a kid can be both scary and lonely at times. What makes those feelings even worse is when you are the new kid in town. That is exactly how Sasha felt in the latest children's book from Ancient Faith Publishing entitled Sasha and the Dragon. The book is written by Laura E. Wolfe and illustrated by Nicholas Malara.

On the outside, you would think that Sasha is a boy like any other. In reality, he is a Russian born immigrant in a strange, new country called America. The children in his neighborhood laugh at him and his accent; his grandmother, whom he loves, is dying, and there is a dragon under his bed. Yes you read that right...a DRAGON under his bed. Being an intelligent boy, he deduces that there are dragons in America, because this was a young country that didn't have a rich history of saints, signs, and prayers. One night laying in bed, the dragon appears, and Sasha (rightfully so) is afraid. He has a choice to make. Does he hide under the covers for another night, or muster up what little courage he has and face the dragon? Sasha chooses the latter, but knows he can't face the dragon alone. He implores the aid of St. Michael and the icon in his room comes to life! St. Michael slayed the dragon, and the next morning Sasha discovered a golden angel feather on his floor. The events and this feather gave the boy courage and hope to face this new land. He reached out to the neighborhood children to try and befriend them and also tried to be closer with his grandmother to provide her comfort and companionship as well.

Sasha and the Dragon is more than just a story of overcoming your fears. It is a lesson in faith in God, the power of prayer, and saintly intercession. Overall, I found the story to be very well-written with the only neutral point being that the resolution felt a little rushed. I felt it could have used one more page/night of turmoil before he got up his nerve to face the dragon. The illustration style was very vivid and popped off the page. I remember children's books from when I was a kid, and these illustrations were nothing like the books I read. I would call it high definition pictures as opposed to the old analog books I read when I was younger. The light and dark were captured wonderfully and complemented the story without overpowering it. Highly recommend this book for your young children.

This book was provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. You can purchase this book directly from Ancient Faith Publishing or on Amazon.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Lost Expedition (Osprey Games)

El Dorado is the famed city of gold. For centuries, people have been searching for this city, hoping to strike it rich! Peer Sylvester took this idea, combined it with some history, and made the game The Lost ExpeditionThe Lost Expedition is a game for 1 to 5 players, age 14+. It takes between 30-50 minutes to play and retails for $30.
Setup
1. Take one Explorer card of each Expertise, putting them on the table to form your Team Area. There will always be exactly three Explorers in your team.
2. Place three Ammunition tokens and four Food tokens and place them in your Team Area.
3. Shuffle the Adventure cards, and deal four to every player. Place the remaining deck face-down. (Note: If playing with only two players, deal both players six.)
4. Decide the difficulty you want to play at - easy, normal, or hard. Use a certain number of Expedition cards and Health tokens on each Explorer depending on your difficulty level.
5. Place the Expedition cards in a row in the center of the table, ending with the Lost City card, placing a pawn on the first Expedition card.
6. Place the Morning/Evening token on Morning side and put the remaining tokens to the side to form the General Supply.
7. Choose a starting player and give them the Expedition Leader token.
Game Play - The aim of the game in to reach the Lost City card before all the Explorers die or you run out of time. There are two phases to each round:
1. Morning - Each player (starting with the leader and going clockwise) plays one card at a time face up into the middle of the table until each player has played two cards (three cards in a 2 player game). Once this is done, arrange the cards in numerical order and resolve each card one-by-one. Once the card is resolved, you either gain it for its Expertise or discard it. Once all cards are resolved, flip the Morning/Evening token from Morning to Evening and the team loses one additional Food token.
2. Evening - Evening is similar to Morning, except that the cards are not rearranged in numerical order. Once you go from Evening to Morning, you lose one additional Food token.

At the end of the round, pass the Leader token clockwise. Each player then draws back up to their hand size of four (six in a 2 player game). If the Adventure deck runs out, players lose one Food token. Shuffle the discard pile to form a new deck. If the deck runs out a second time, the game ends in a loss. Other ways to end the game include at least one Explorer making it to the Lost City and all three Explorers dying.

Review
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this game. For starters, I would like to talk about the components. The artwork on the cards is beautiful and makes it feel like a graphic adventure. The cards of also very high quality and large, to display all the beautiful art. The game box is in book format, which I could take or leave, but it seems fitting for Osprey since they are known for their historical books. As for the tokens, they are cardboard and a bit too tiny for my liking. They seem to be good quality cardboard though, so overall I would give the components a very good rating.

I have only played this game solo and with two players, so this is all I can comment on. The game play was very fun, and it felt like you were trying to solve a new puzzle each play through. There were plenty of difficult decisions to make with each game, and it was a struggle trying to balance food, health, and ammunition, mixed with difficult decisions of who was going to ultimately die for the greater good of the success of the party. Whereas this game was fun with one and two players, I can't imagine playing this with more players. It seems like instead of a civil discussion of the best course of action, it would instead turn into chaos trying to make a decision.

What I love best about this game is the historical nature of it. Peer Sylvester explains on the first page of the rulebook that this game was based on Percy Fawcett's final attempt to find the lost city of El Dorado. He took his son and son's friend with him (which is why you have a part of three in this game) and they were never seen again. I would have personally loved it if they used those three characters as the characters in the game, instead of people like Teddy Roosevelt, but there might have been legal issues with doing so, or it could have been too raw to have children dying in a game. At least all the characters are historical in nature, and you have the option to research them outside of the game and learn more about them.

In summary, the game is a fun little puzzle that I find best with one or two players. In ways, it reminds me a bit of The Grizzled, as it is a cooperative game where you can't share information about the cards in your hand. The biggest difference between the two (apart from theme) would be that you have the capability to play this one competitively as well. If you are looking for a survival game with adventure, perils, and strategy, check out The Lost Expedition!

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