Friday, April 28, 2017

Requiem (De Montfort Music)

There is an international community of young priests called The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (or The Fraternity for short) is a traditionalist Catholic society of apostolic life, which is composed of both priests and seminarians. They are headquartered in Switzerland and maintain two international seminaries. The Fraternity has been made famous by the Requiem chants that people have heard at Funeral Masses over the years. Knowing how universal the experience of death is, they decided to make their major-label debut with De Montfort Music/Sony Classical an album simply titled Requiem. It is entitled such, because it contains the music for the Requiem Mass, which was one of the most frequently celebrated Masses of the Medieval Period.

In this album, you will find twenty tracks, which include the recognizable Kyrie eleison, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and some that you won't recognize unless you are well-versed in Gregorian chant. Not all are sung in the Requiem Mass. Some are sung in the Office of Dead, which is a service of prayers for the dead that happen beside the coffin, before burial. For example, you you will here several different antiphons, responsories, and sequences, which relate to various aspects/subjects of death and dying. The chants speak on Lazarus, our sinful nature, judgment, and delivering us from eternal death into His eternal rest in Paradise.

The chant performed on this album is hauntingly beautiful. Listening to the music makes you completely stop what you are doing, as it is not the type of album you casually listen to while doing other things. Instead, you slow down, stop what you are doing, and begin to look deep within yourself, reflecting on your own mortality. This isn't something you want to do often, because it can be taxing, but it is something that you should do with some sort of regularity. The album is releasing May 12, 2017, but I invite you to pre-order a copy now. In the meantime, check out the video below for a little bit of background on The Fraternity, the album, and to hear a little bit of the music.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ars Alchimia (Tasty Minstrel Games)

One of my favorite Japanese manga/anime was Fullmetal Alchemist. The story was solid and the idea of alchemy has always been an interesting to me, even if I don't put any merit in it whatsoever. Recently, Tasty Minstrel Games released a game called Ars AlchimiaArs Alchimia is a game for 3-4 players, ages 10+. It takes approximately 100 minutes to play and retails for $40. In this game, you and your fellow overseers work at an alchemy factory. Your job is to take orders, gather resources, and transmute them. Sounds simple, but efficiency is key! Let's get to the setup:
1. Give each player a player board, one resource cube of each color, and nine workers and the point marker of their player color.
2. Place the resource cubes on their respective starting positions on your player board.
3. Place the remaining workers to the side. (Note: You can never have more than 20.)
4. Prepare the board by shuffling the order cards, shuffling the locations, shuffling the assistants, and shuffling the forges.
Game Play - The game is played over four rounds (years) with three steps in each round:
1. Start of round - Determine player order. Gain as many workers as your Factory card says. Pay the upkeep of any assistants from the previous round. If you don't want to pay, return them to the bottom of the deck.
2. Main step - Take turns placing your workers on the board. (Note: When placing workers, you must place the # of workers +1 already there.) These spots on the board consist of gathering resources, taking orders, employing assistants, and transmuting materials into items.
3. End of Round - The round ends when all players have passed due to running out of workers or not wanting to place anymore. Once everyone has passed, return all workers in play to their owners. Refresh any assistants. Shuffle the face up cards on the board by type. Then, refill the board with cards, as was done in setup.
When playing through this game, you realize that it has a lot of elements of a traditional worker placement. You deploy workers to gather resources. You use those resources to make items, which are worth points. However, there are slight differences in this game than more traditional worker-placement games. The first difference is worker escalation, or going to the same place someone else did, but using more workers than someone else used. This means that no space is entirely blocked off, and it also means that you can mess with someone by going to a spot before they can and sending a lot of workers. The second difference is a die. At some locations, you can roll a die. If you get the number on the die required, then you gain an additional resource/benefit. This can be mitigated by the amount of workers you send to a place, but it still adds a random element to the game, which can be fun or frustrating depending on your luck of the die.

The game itself is tiny in nature in terms of box, components, and footprint, which is nice for someone with a lot of games and not a lot of shelf space. Since the game saw its origins in Japan, this makes absolute sense. The artwork is also a Japanese anime/manga, which I like. The components are basic in nature (standard pawns and cubes), which is a drawback compared to some of the more recent games, but the colors are at least unique, bright and vibrant, making them pop on a somewhat busy board! I also like that you can have up to 20 workers in the game. Now, granted, you won't be taking 20 actions per round, but you feel a lot less limited in what you can do when you see that army of pawns! The last element I really like about the game is the shifting places to visit. This creates a nice in game dynamic and need to be on your toes at all times. It also adds a great replay value, because even though you will see the same cards in different games, it won't always be in the same order.

It's no surprise if you have read any of my other reviews, but I love worker placement games. This was a very fun game and had unique twist on worker placement, which you must have to differentiate yourself from the myriad of other worker placement games. If you are looking for a compact worker placement game, that packs a punch, I highly recommend Ars Alchimia.

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower (Candlewick Press)

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower tells the story of John Howland. The story is told from his viewpoint in first person narrative. He begins by telling us about London and how he liked the city (despite the smell), but is being forced to leave it because of a difference of religion. He and others must therefore escape to America. They are readying the Mayflower in secret, for fear of being caught and killed. When they finally did escape, they arrived at Holland and waited for another boat, the Speedwell, to arrive so they could sail together. The Speedwell was poorly named, because it was slow and leaky. In order for the Mayflower to continue on, they had to leave the companion boat behind and half the people decided not to venture to the New World after all. The story continues on to its famous scene of Howland falling off the boat and miraculously being rescued and surviving when so many others died on that boat. We then see their arrival at the New World, choosing of a governor, meeting of the Native Americans and Squanto, and other interesting stories. The book ends with an editor's note that tells us about Howland's marriage, ten children, and 88 grandchildren.

This was truly a fascinating read that made history come alive. It also told a different side of a familiar story that many, myself included, did not know. The illustrations are really well-done, and the overall presentation and tone of the book were spot on.

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rome: City of Marble

One of the most overused adages of all time goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." While that may be sage advice for those impatient people, some of us might indeed want to build the Eternal City in a day, or better yet an hour. Luckily, R & R Games has provided us with just such an experience in their tile-laying game Rome: City of MarbleRome: City of Marble is a game for 2-4 players, age 12+. It takes between 45 and 75 minutes to play and retails for $40. In this game, you and your opponents are prominent families in the time of Augustus. You are all trying to help build Rome into its glory and claim the title of Architect of Rome!

Board Setup
Place the board in the middle of the table and shuffle the seven Hill Tiles. Place three face-up in their spots on the board, returning the other four to the box. Shuffle the eight Bridge Tiles, number side down. Place one on each of the seven bridge spaces and return the leftover one to the box. Separate the 60 Neighborhood Tiles and 48 Imperium Tiles into stacks and place them in their spaces on the board. Form a supply of sixteen Coins, a fountain supply of ten Fountain Tiles, an aqueduct supply of 39 Aqueduct Pieces grouped by color, and a civic building supply of 48 Building Tiles.
Player Setup
Every player selects a color and receives the following of their color - Player Board, three Action Disks, three Magistrates, and sixteen Commission Cubes. They also receive one of each color of Neighborhood Tile.

Game Play - Players take two actions per turn, completing the first action before moving onto the next. Actions can be performed in any order, can be the same twice, and Imperium Tiles can provide bonus actions. The actions are as follows:
1. Draw Tiles - Draw two different Neighborhood Tiles.
2. Expand the Aqueducts - Extend one or two of the three aqueducts by adding pieces from the supply. (Note: You may expand one by two pieces or two by one piece each.)
3. Recall a Magistrate - Remove one of your Magistrates from the board and place it back on your player board. This makes him immediately available to use on your second action, if this was your first action.
4. Play a Neighborhood Tile - Play one Neighborhood Tile on the board, following placement rules. You may also place a Magistrate on this tile.

When placing Neighborhood Tiles, you will complete one of four types of construction sites (Temple, Baths, Theater, and Arena) each worth more points than the previous. The player to complete the construction site determines what is built and who has the majority of influence in its building. That player will score the points. Then, every other player who helped build it has a chance to remove one of their Magistrates and gain a tile which will give them an extra future action. Construction sites also have the potential to cover one of the bridges or build an aqueduct. This provides additional scoring opportunities. The game end triggers when three of the four stacks of Neighborhood Tiles are depleted. One more round occurs with only one action per player. Most points wins.

Rome: City of Marble is a tile-laying, area control game that I would classify as deceptively simple. You can complete two actions a turn (not counting bonus actions) and the bulk of those actions, you are drawing tiles or playing tiles. However, you have to be careful with the tiles you play and when you play them, because you might create a construction site where you don't have the majority, thus resulting in points for your opponent not you. In the simplest of comparisons, it reminds me of the pen and paper game Dots and Boxes, where you are trying to draw lines and complete boxes without setting your opponent up to complete boxes. However, if I left the comparison at that, it would not do the game justice.

With most tile-laying games, you have a tile and you have a very finite number of places you can legally place the piece and only one of those places is remotely good anyhow. This game is not like that at all. It provides lots of different places to place your tile, all equally good and equally tough in if you should place it there or wait. In a two-player game, which I played more than other player counts, there is a lot of blocking that can occur, since you can tie for majority and no one gets points. That can happen more often than not and result in a lot of feelings, of "If I can't have it, neither can you." This made for a tense and sometimes frustrating game experience, but those hurt feelings aren't there as much in a higher player count. Overall, I enjoyed the puzzle nature of the game and would recommend it.

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Wise Man from the West (Ignatius Press)

Fr. Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit priest who lived from 1552 to 1610. He was also a founding member of the Jesuit China missions. He arrived in China in 1582, and it was here that he received his name "Wise Man." Vincent Cronin, was a British writer and popular historian, who is known for his writings on famous historical figures such as Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and Catherine the Great. The fact that chose to write a book on Fr. Ricci is a testament to how important this missionary was in history. That book is entitled The Man from the West, and I would like to tell you a little bit about it.

The book begins with Fr. Ricci experiencing a call to missionary work in China. We then see their beginning time in China, getting acclimated with the land and culture, and meeting some of the government officials. We then see him preparing to meet the emperor, Wan-Li, because he believed that would help him gain ground in the missionary work. We then see the many struggles Fr. Ricci experienced in his vocation, including being held prisoner and clashing with the Buddhists. The book, naturally, ends with his death and also the death of the mission work he started as well, not because of him but because of a change in political climate mixed with a change of the evangelization method the newer missionaries used.

Fr. Ricci was a great priest and a great man. His method of evangelization was much more tolerant and open-minded, compared to others who followed after him. He didn't go into China with a mission of convert or perish. He came in with a sense of love and understanding. He tried to understand their culture and what made them who they were. He took Asian works and had them converted to Latin, and took Western works and had them converted to Chinese. This showed respect to the people, their past, and their culture. It was through this these methods and simply exuding Christ's love that he was able to succeed in a hostile situation. I really found this book to be a fascinating read and appreciated the style with which Vincent Cronin wrote as it made the history come alive and shed light on a great man in Catholic history who many might not know about. It is truly a fascinating read, and one I think you should pick up when you have a chance.

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

BeDADitudes: 8 Ways to be an Awesome Day (Ave Maria Press)

I have a challenge for you. Get out a sheet of paper and make two columns. In the first column, I want you to make a list of the top three things that you are good at. Now, on the other side of paper make a list of the top three things that are most important in your life. Compare the two lists, and see how much overlap there is, if any. I won't tell you both of my lists, but I will tell you that being a good dad was in my top three of things most important in my life. Sadly, if I am honest with myself, I don't think it would fall in the top three of things I am good at. I try to be, but I don't always take as much time with my son as I should, and I don't always have the patience with him that I should. I think a lot of dads might agree with me on wanting to be better dads. I believe that is why Greg Popcak wrote BeDADitudes: 8 Ways to be an Awesome Dad!

The book is divided into eight chapters with each chapter taking on a traditional beatitude from the Gospel of Matthew. For example, Chapter One is titled "Blessed are the dads who are poor in spirit. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven!" At the beginning of every chapter, Dr. Popcak puts into layman's terms exactly what the beatitude means, because let's be honest, these sayings never made a lot of sense with a superficial reading of the Gospel. I mean, what does it really mean to be poor in spirit? It's such an odd phrasing. After explaining the beatitude, each chapter is divided into three parts - 1. Your relationship with God, 2. Your relationship with your wife, and 3. Your relationship with your children. In addition to giving practical advice in each section, he also provides multiple questions for reflection that will not only make you think, but challenge you to be a better husband and father.

In this book, Dr. Popcak takes a Scriptural passage we are all familiar with and finds a way to focus the message to men. He shows us that the Beatitudes are not only a model for Christian life, but they can also help us to be better husbands and fathers. I recommend this book for any man, new father, experienced father, or even someone who is newly married and is going to be a father one day. It is a very valuable resource and one I plan to visit again and again.

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Royals (Arcane Wonders)

Europe is up for grabs and you are vying for control of this continent in the 17th Century. In order to do so, you must place Nobles in key cities of four countries. Royals is a game for 2-5 players, age 10+. It takes approximately one hour to play and retails for $50.
1. Have each player pick a color and give them all the Wooden Nobles (cubes) to form their Supply.
2. Place the game board in the middle of the table and have the oldest person be the starting player.
3. Place the Markers on their appropriate spaces on the board. City Bonus Markers go next to cities. Country Bonus Markers go to the left and right of each coat of arms. Noble House Bonus Markers go on the left side of the board, using fewer of them the fewer players. Period Scoring Markers go on the bottom right of the board and are divided into three groups.
4. Assemble all the Title Scoring Markers and place them to the left of the board, arranging them in ascending order from bottom to top.
5. Prepare the Country Cards, removing as many as dictated according to the number of players. Next, shuffle these cards and make a face down pile next to the board. Then, turn over the top three.
6. Shuffle the Intrigue Cards, making a separate face-down pile.
Game Play - Player take turns in clockwise order carrying out the following three actions in order:
1. Draw Cards - This is a mandatory action. On your first turn, you will only draw one or two Country Cards. All turns after that, you must draw three Country Cards or one Country Card and one Intrigue Card. (Note: You can draw face-down or face-up cards, but the face-up cards are not refilled until the end of your turn.)
2. Play Cards - This is an optional action. You may play Country Cards to claim ownership of a Noble in a City. (Note: The number of cards is indicated by the number to the left of their portrait.) When claiming a Noble, you put a cube on their portrait and another cube on the Title Scoring Marker matching their title. You are also allowed to claim a noble that an opponent claimed previously, you just must play an Intrigue Card now in addition to the Country Cards.
3. End of Turn - This is a mandatory action. Discard any excess cards in your hand. You may have no more than twelve Country Cards and four Intrigue Cards.
1. City Bonuses - The first player to claim a Noble in a City takes that City Bonus Marker.
2. Country Bonuses - If you have at least one Noble in every City of a Country, you take the highest Country Bonus Marker available.
3. Noble House Bonuses - If you have at least one Noble on every Title Scoring Marker, you take the highest available Noble House Bonus Marker available.
4. Period Scoring - The period ends when the face-down Country Card pile is exhausted. At the end of each of the three periods, Period Scoring Markers are given to the two most influential players in each of the four countries.
5. Title Scoring - Beginning with the lowest-ranking Title, the players compare the number of Wooden Nobles on each Title Scoring Marker. The player with the most Nobles on each Title, claims the title. If exactly two players are tied, the Title is divided like a puzzle-piece so that each player gets half the points. If more than two players are tied, no one claims the Title.
6. Highest score at the end of the game is the winner.

At its heart, Royals is an area control game with elements of hand management. The core mechanic of the game involves drawing cards from two separate decks of cards. Some of the cards will be visible to you providing you more information on what is available, but if they aren't of use to you, you are left drawing blind. This is very much like the popular Ticket to Ride game. Unlike, Ticket to Ride, where you have specific, secret goals that may overlap with others, you all have the same goals in Royals. You also want to accomplish them first, as the points quickly decrease and disappear. Another interesting decision you will have to make is what country do you want to focus on. Sure, you might be forced towards one country, if you keep drawing their cards, but you'll have to decide whether you want to pursue a country that provides the most points each period for first place but the fewest each period for second place, or let others fight over that country and you focus on different countries that are slightly less valuable.

I'm usually not one for area control games as I primarily play games with my wife, and two-player area control games don't have the conflict and tension you need, unless you're both very cutthroat. However, I found myself enjoying this one quite a lot. In addition to fun game play, it was also very simple to teach, because the mechanics were familiar. I felt the theme of nobles and royalty was perfect for an area control game, and I enjoyed the artwork and the components were of good quality. I really thought the puzzle piece Title markers were ingenious and hope more games that have a lot of ties in them find a way to incorporate the concept. This is the third game from Arcane Wonders Dice Tower Essentials Line, and I think they picked a winner as I would definitely agree that its a game you should have in your collection.

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Queen's Necklace (CMON Games)

Queen's Necklace is a game that was released in 2003 by Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti. It has since been re-released with updated artwork by CMON Games. The game takes place in Paris around the time of the French Revolution. You and your opponents are royal jewelers trying to craft and sell the best jewelry to the Queen and her court. The game plays 2-4 players, ages 14+. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $30.
1. Place the game board in the middle of the table.
2. Give each player a player marker of their color, and have them place it on the 0 space on the score track.
3. Shuffle the four Gem Tiles and randomly place one face-up below each Fashion position on the game board.
4. Stack the four Rarity Tiles and put them aside until the first Jewel Sale.
5. Take the deck of cards, setting aside the three Merchant cards and thoroughly shuffle the rest of the cards.
6. Deal four cards to each player.
7. Take the remaining deck and divide it into three equal stacks, placing a Merchant card at the bottom of two stacks.
8. Put the two Merchant card stacks on top of the third stack. Then, take five cards from the bottom of the newly formed deck and shuffle a Merchant card into those cards and place it back at the bottom of the deck.
9. Deal the top five cards, face-up, onto the game board, placing a cost marker on the upper right hand corner of each card.
10. Randomly pick a starting player, and you're ready to begin.
Game Play - A player's turn is divided into three mandatory phases:
1. Influence - You may play from your hand as many Influence Cards (blue) as you wish, with the only caveat being that you had to start your turn with them in your hand. The effect of the card takes place immediately.
2. Card Purchase - You have a budge of 10 pounds to purchase as many cards from the five on the game board as possible. Cost for each card is dictated by where the cost marker is on each card. Any pounds not spent on your turn are lost, and do not carry over.
3. Devaluation - Move the cost marker down on each card, making the cards cheaper for the next player to buy. If the cost marker on a card reaches the X, the card is discarded. Replace any empty spots on the board with new cards, placing a cost marker on their top most space.

Jewel Sale - Three times per game, there is a Jewel Sale. This occurs when a Merchant card is drawn. There are three steps to every Jewel Sale:
1. Displaying the Jewels - Each player may display up to four different jewels in each sale. Each individual jewel consists of one of more of a single gem type and may also contain other Sale (gray) cards, accessories, and characters. Then, all players simultaneously reveal all their cards, putting a separate jewel in each row.
2. Rarity - Count the total number of each type of gem displayed. Assign a rarity ranking to each gem with 1st Rarity being the gem with the fewest displayed, 2nd Rarity having the second fewest displayed, and so on.
3. Selling Jewels - For each individual gem type, only the player with the greatest number of gems of this type completes the sale and collects victory points based on fashion and rarity of the gem. After the sale, all displayed cards are discarded and rarity tiles are set aside for the next sale.

The game ends after the third Jewel Sale and most Victory Points wins.

Queen's Necklace is an economic and hand management game that is disguised as a jewelry making game. Within this game, you are carefully deciding which cards to buy and in effect which cards your opponents will get to buy at a discount. Since there are only three times to score points the entire game, you want to try and keep up with what jewels your opponent is buying, so you don't waste a scoring phase thinking you are going to score for a specific jewel, only for your opponent to score and you walk away with nothing.

The game has been around for over a decade, and it is a solid game in terms of mechanics, but it was in desperate need of updated artwork. This is exactly what CMON Games did, and I'm a bit torn on the artwork. It is a definite improvement over the previous artwork, but I can't decide if I like the cartoony nature of it or not. As for the player count, I found it played best with three players. At two players, there wasn't enough tension. It felt like, well if you take those two gems, I'll take the other two gems. At four players, it was a bit of chaos on what ended up happening during the jewel sales, and it felt like planning didn't matter at all.

Overall, the game is pretty fun and plays at a pretty good pace. Since you have the same amount of money each turn, it's generally an easy enough decision on which cards you are going to purchase. The biggest decisions come from which cards you want to play and at what time. I really like the period this game takes place in and it fits the theme well. Generally, I'm not a fan of economic games. because sometimes you make all these plans, thinking you are doing well, but then it blows up in your face. This game has that element, but it is light enough, plays quickly, and scores easily, so you won't mind too much if you lose.

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Proverbs Explained (EWTN Publishing)

Proverbs is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. For starters, it is 31 chapters long, so it's the perfect length for reading a chapter a day seven months out of the year. Secondly, it contains simple and straightforward wisdom for people of all walks of life. Recently EWTN Publishing released a book by Fr. Mitch Pacwa called The Proverbs Explained: A Blueprint for Christian Living, and I knew I had to have it because Fr. Pacwa writes great books. Let me tell you a little bit about it.

The book begins with an introduction, which gives the background on the book of Proverbs, explains the different types of proverbs found in this Biblical book, and lastly provides a logical division of the Biblical book based on style and form. Fr. Pacwa then divides his book into three parts - Family, Justice, and Virtue. For example, in the first part, Fr. Pacwa doesn't only provide explanations on the proverbs specifically for husbands, wives, parents, and children, but he also discusses chastity and love. In the part on justice, Fr. Pacwa focuses on the proverbs that relate to government, business, and social justice like wealth and poverty. Lastly, in the part of Virtue, he expounds on proverbs that discuss anger, pride, and humility to name a few.

When I first received this book, I thought it was going to be a verse-by-verse walkthrough of the entire book of Proverbs. That was not the case, which disappointed me at first, but I quickly got over it. This book arrived at just the right time for me, because it had so many parts that spoke to me. Yes, I gained a lot from the section on husbands and parents, but the chapter on silence and speech hit me over the head. I knew in the Epistle of James that he talked about how dangerous the tongue was, but I didn't realize it was discussed in Proverbs as well. We could all do well, myself most of all, to guard our tongues more closely and avoid not only idle talk, but hurtful talk as well. I highly recommend you pick up this book.

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SNEAK PEEK: The Story of Civilization: Volume II - The Medieval World (TAN Books)

With Easter and Spring Break right around the corner, it's that time of the year again. Time to start thinking about next year's curriculum. Today I'd like to give you a little teaser for a product I'm super excited about!

Last year TAN Books furthered their mission of providing Catholic homeschooling parents with the launch of a new history series called The Story of Civilization. Unlike other history books, this series has the belief that history should be lived and not learned. Therefore, instead of just presenting your child with dry facts and dates to remember, they will experience history in a narrative format that truly makes it come alive! The series will consist of four volumes, with one releasing every year. Last year, we saw the release of The Ancient World, a 35 lesson volume that begins with the dawn of civilization and takes your children through Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome. In addition to Old Testament stories sprinkled in, they also get to see the birth of the Catholic Church and its infancy in the first few centuries after Jesus' death.

This year they are releasing Volume II: The Medieval World, which picks up where Volume I left off. This volume is 33 lessons long and begins after the conversion of Constantine. In this volume, your children will see how Christian Europe grew from the seeds of the Early Church. They will see the Western Roman Empire end and the Eastern Roman Empire come to prominence under the Emperor Justinian. They will also meet famous Christians like Augustine, Benedict, and Boniface. We also see the Irish Missions, Crusades, Great Western Schism, Hundred Years' War, and the Fall of Constantinople.

All volumes in this series have textbooks, teacher's manuals, test books, activity books, audio CDs, streaming videos, and a timeline map. This gives your child a variety of resources, depending on the type of learner they are. You, the parent, can also choose to buy the whole set and save some money or piece together what pieces you need and forego the rest. I hope you have enjoyed this preview, and I will share more with you in the summer once I have had time to thoroughly review the program.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wild Animals of the South (Flying Eye Books)

Flying Eye Books publishes some of the most visually stunning children's books I have ever witnessed. Today, I would like to tell you about Wild Animals of the South,  the follow-up book to Wild Animals of the North. The book is about a 300 mm x 238 mm hardback book, which is illustrated by Dieter Braun. It focuses on animals found in Africa, South America, Asia, and Australia and divides the book into those four sections. Each animal is given its name, Latin genus and species, a gorgeous illustration that takes up one or two pages, and then some of the animals get an accompanying paragraph that provides an interesting fact about the specific animal. For example, "The more nourished and strong a lion is, the darker, thicker, and longer their mane appears."
Within this book, your children will meet lions and tigers, hippos and monkeys, and might even spot a flamingo or two. The detail and color with the illustrations are meticulous and jaw-dropping. I said it with the last book, and it stands true with this one as well. The book reminds me of Audubon's illustrations and transport you to the different locations these animals would be found. It will certainly capture your child's imagination, engender in them a love of wildlife, and instruct them on animals they might not ever be exposed to otherwise. I cannot recommend this two book series anymore highly, and I firmly believe this collection belongs in every child's library.
This book was provided to me for free by Flying Eye Books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sacred Heart of Jesus Prayer Book (Pauline Books and Media)

Sacred Heart of Jesus Prayer Book is another prayer book from Pauline Books and Media in their Catholic Treasury Series. Like its companion book, Holy Spirit Prayer Book, this is a small leatherette book with gold-edged pages. The book is divided into the following parts:

1. Everyday Prayers
2. Morning Prayers
3. Evening Prayers
4. Prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
5. Novena to the Sacred Heart
6. A Weekly Devotion to the Sacred Heart
7. Chaplet to the Sacred Heart
8. The Twelve Promises of Jesus to Saint Margaret
9. The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart
10. Prayers From the Saints
11. The First Friday Devotion
12. The Sacred Heart and the Holy Eucharist
13. The Sacred Heart and the Divine Mercy Devotion
14. The Sacred Heart and Precious Blood of Jesus
15. The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

The prayer book starts out like a typical prayer book with prayers that any good Catholic will recognize. The meat of the prayer book comes next with a mixture of prayer, devotion, history, and explanation. You not only learn prayers in this book, but you also learn why these prayers came into being and the promises Jesus made for having devotion to His Sacred Heart. You will also learn about the significance of the Sacred Heart in relation to the Virgin Mary's Immaculate Heart. This is a very important book that belongs in your library if you are a Catholic. Before reading through this book, I only knew the very basics about the Sacred Heart, but after reading through it I feel much more enriched. This is the perfect book to take with you to Adoration or just to pray with around the house. Highly recommended!

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Blood of an Englishman (Renegade Game Studios)

Jack and the Beanstalk is a beloved English fairy tale that has been told and retold countless times. Looney Tunes produced a version of it called Jack-Wabbit and the Beanstalk in 1943, and in 1947 Disney had Mickey and the Beanstalk, which contains one of my son's favorite animated characters - Willie the Giant. Recently, Renegade Game Studios released a two-player game with this theme called The Blood of an Englishman. The game is suitable for players age 10+, takes about 30 minutes to play, and retails for $15. In order for Jack to win, he must steal all three treasures (gold, goose, and harp). In order for the giant to win, he must catch Jack.

1. Shuffle the 50 card Play Deck (36 Beanstalk cards, 8 Giant cards, 6 Treasure cards) and deal out cards face-up to form five Castle Stacks of ten cards each. (Note: Make the stacks fanned, so that you can easily see the titles of all the cards in play.)
2. After dealing the cards, the player playing Jack may select any single card and move it to any position anywhere within the Castle Stacks. (Note: A good opening move is to move the front-most Giant card to the back of a stack.)

Game Play for Jack - Jack always goes first with play alternating between Jack and the Giant. On Jack's turn he makes three moves in one of four ways:
1. From the front of any Castle Stack to the front of any other Castle Stack.
2. From the front of any Castle Stack to the top of Jack's current Beanstalk Stack.
3. From the back of any Castle Stack to the front of the same Castle Stack.
4. From the back of any Castle Stack to the top of Jack's current Beanstalk Stack.

Completing Beanstalk Stacks is done when Jack collects six Beanstalk cards in ascending order, but not necessarily sequential order. Once a Beanstalk Stack has six Beanstalk cards on, Jack may use a move to play a Treasure card from the front or back of a Castle Stack to complete the Beanstalk Stack.

Game Play for the Giant - The Giant has three movement options:
1. Discard any single Beanstalk card from any position in any Castle Stack.
2. Move the front-most four cards in one Castle Stack as a group to the front of another Castle Stack.
3. Make two moves. Each move, he takes the front-most card of any Castle Stack and move it to front of another Castle Stack.

How to Win
The Giant can win three different ways - 1. One of each of the four different Giant cards are adjacent in a single, unbroken group in a single Castle Stack. 2. One of each of the four different Giant cards is at the front of four of the five Castle Stacks. 3. If the Giant discards enough cards that Jack cannot complete his three Beanstalk Stacks.

Jack wins only by completing three Beanstalk Stacks (as described above) with a different Treasure card at the top of each Beanstalk Stack.

The Blood of an Englishman is a beautifully illustrated game of cat and mouse. The Giant only makes one move per turn, but they are powerful and sweeping moves that can mess up Jack's Beanstalk Stack construction or slowly begin to pin Jack in with the Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum cards. Jack on the other hand is deft and nimble, making three moves per turn. He must be wise with those moves though, and not focus only on offense or defense. Instead, he must balance his moves, especially as the cards start to dwindle and the third Beanstalk starts to be built. If he doesn't, he will find himself the Giant's dinner! The game plays quickly and is very fun. It's perfect for a date night or simply a quick two-player game while you're waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. As is the recent trend, Renegade Game Studios once again knocks it out of the park!

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg (Pauline Kids)

Easter egg hunts are a tradition many families, both Christian and secular, still perform. The parents love this task, because it keeps the kids busy for a while, and the kids love this task, because the eggs usually contain candy, money, or little trinkets. But where did the tradition of Easter eggs come from? If you had asked me when I was a child, I would have told you the Easter Bunny. If you had asked me several years ago, I would have told you Mary Magdalene. Now, thanks to Pauline Books and Media, I have learned of a tradition involving Simon of Cyrene. The book is called  Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg.

The book begins with Simon of Cyrene going to the market in Jerusalem to try and sell a basket of eggs. Upon his entry in Jerusalem, Simon sees a crowd of people and a man dragging a cross. Simon doesn't recognize the man, but another man, John the Apostle, explains to Simon who Jesus is and how He is innocent. Simon is then tasked with helping Jesus carry the cross. After Jesus' Crucifixion, Simon is thanked by by Jesus' mother and invited to spend the night and rest. It is here that he learns more about Jesus and His ministry. Simon sticks around several more days and learns firsthand of the Resurrection. After the celebration at the good news, Simon had to depart for home, without selling any of his eggs. When he arrives home, he tells his family all that happened and when he opened the basket of eggs, he sees that they have been transformed in color from white to all different bright colors.

Simon of Cyrene is essentially a footnote in Sacred Scripture. However, he played a a very important part in Jesus' Passion, and is remembered in the Stations of the Cross for his role. This book expounds on his minor role by re-creating what Simon might have been thinking and feeling during Jesus' Passion. Many people don't think of Simon as someone who willingly helped Jesus and who also quickly disappeared after the fact. Instead, we get a picture of a man who was changed by his brief encounter with Jesus. At the end of the book is a brief biography of Simon and a prayer for courage and compassion. This is an excellent book and one you should pick up for your child and put in their Easter basket.

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Holy Spirit Prayer Book (Pauline Books and Media)

Prayer books are an essential part of any Catholic library. I cannot tell you how many different ones I own, but I treasure each one of them. Today, I would like to tell you about one of the latest ones from Pauline Books and Media, called Holy Spirit Prayer Book. The book is a small red leatherette book with gold trimmed pages that fits easily in a pocket. It is divided into several parts - Everyday Prayers, Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, Novena in Preparation for the Feast of Pentecost, Chaplet of the Holy Spirit, The Holy Spirit Rosary, Litany of the Holy Spirit, Praying with the Holy Spirit in Scripture, Various Prayers, and Latin Prayers and Hymns.

The everyday prayers are ones we know - the Sign of the Cross, the Morning Offering, the Angelus, the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, and other recognizable ones. This serves as a good basis for all prayers that will follow in this book. Of special interest to me was the Holy Spirit Rosary. I have been trying to pray the Rosary more during this Lent, and this version of it uses the following five mysteries:

1. Jesus is conceived of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit
2. The Spirit of the Lord descends upon Jesus at His Baptism
3. Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert and is tempted by the devil
4. The Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles
5. The Holy Spirit dwells within You

The rosary is somewhat familiar in that you will recognize a lot of the mysteries, but it is also somewhat new. That is how I felt throughout this whole book. We say a lot of prayers as Catholics, but unfortunately most of them aren't said to the Holy Spirit. As I have said time and time again, the Holy Spirit is the forgotten member of the Holy Trinity. It is easy to pray to the Father, because we understand the concept of a father. It is easy to pray to Jesus, because He became human, and we can relate to that. It is hard to understand the Holy Spirit, so that is why we have a hard time praying to Him. That's my theory at least. I invite you to pick up a copy of this book, and let's change the trend of neglect of the Holy Spirit. He is a powerful intercessor and ally to have.

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Stowaway 52 (Gamewright)

It's a rainy, miserable day where I live. I'd rather be home playing games, but instead I am at work. Given the weather today, work will be slow, so I have smuggled a tiny game to work. This is very appropriate given the name of the game - Stowaway 52Stowaway 52 is the first game in Gamewright's Cardventure series with the second one being called Jump Ship! It is a game 1+ player, age 8+. It take approximately 15 minutes to play and retails for approximately $12. In this game,  you have snuck aboard an alien ship that is trying to attack earth. Only you can stop this deadly assault. You must make careful decisions, because failure is lurking around every corner. Will you succeed or is all of humanity doomed?

1. Separate the cards into four face-up piles, according to card color.
2. Choose a pile. Pick any card within the pile to start your adventure.
3. Put this card in front of you to start your story pile.

Game Play
1.Read the card on the top of your story pile.
2. Read the two options at the bottom of the card and pick one.
3. Find the card related to the option that you chose. (Note: You can find it by color and number.)
4. This new card goes on top of your story pile, unless it is an item card. Then, it goes in a different pile.
5. The game ends when you select an option that leads to a card you already have in your story pile. Add up the points on your cards and find the ending that corresponds to your total. (Note: All endings are bad unless you get a score of 300.)
Gamewright is big on producing games that tell stories. This was true with Rory's Story Cubes and holds true with Cardventures as well. This game is essentially the equivalent of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, only its medium is a deck of cards instead of a book. With each action you take, you grow one step closer to victory and also one step closer to defeat. This game is really great for kids as it encourages creativity and critical thinking. Which decision will best help you succeed? Which will lead you to an early demise? The packing with this game is simple, yet elegant, as it has a smaller box sliding out of a sturdy sleeve, kind of like a book. The cards are of high quality and large in size and font. My son is only four years old, so he needs some help playing this game, but he loves it nonetheless, when I read him the story and he gets to make decisions on his own.

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

YOU. (Ascension Press)

Talking to teenagers is a skill that many adults lack. Despite how well-meaning adults are, they forgot somewhere along the way what it was like to be a teenager. So instead of being authentic and "real" with them, adults put on a facade that they think will make their message more appealing to their teenage audience. Unfortunately, teenagers can see through something fake in a millisecond. Then, you have lost their trust and attention, possibly forever. Two adults who I would say are the best at authentically connecting to teenagers are Jason and Crystalina Evert. I believe they are because they not only believe what they say, but they care about their audience. Today, I would like to tell you about one of their latest projects called YOU. YOU. is a DVD program from Ascension Press that presents Theology of the Body to teens. In addition to learning what authentic love is; how to navigate through difficult topics like gender, pornography, and same sex unions; and will also learn what healthy relationships look like. The program is divided as follows:

1. Created for Love
2. Naked Without Shame
3. Love Defined
4. Hope and Redemption in Christ
5. Truth and Freedom
6. Free, Total, Faithful, Fruitful
7. Language of the Body
8. Marriage
9. Priesthood, Consecrated Life, and Celibacy
10. Friendship. Dating, and Family

Lessons are divided into several steps - 1. Welcome, Icebreaker, and Opening Prayer, 2. Dive In, 3. Bridging the Gap, 4. Video Presentation, Journaling, and Small-Group Discussion, 5. To the Core, 6. Digging Deeper, 7. Take it to Prayer, 8. Session Review, 9. Live it Out, 10. Work it Out, and 11. Closing Prayer. This makes each session approximately 90 to 120 minutes long, so it is a time commitment, but it is one that is worth making. The eleven steps in each lesson are a nice blend of prayer, reading, discussions, and videos, so your teen will not get bored from doing the same activity for two hours solid.

The best part of this program is the authenticity and candidness of the material presented. As I stated earlier, it is difficult talking to teenagers. When you have to talk to them about matters of love, relationships, and sex, it gets exponentially more difficult. You either deal with awkward silence, giggling, snide comments, inappropriate jokes, or some combination of all of these. This series, however, doesn't beat around the bushes with serious topics. It presents these tough topics in an honest manner and uses examples that are real to life, not far-fetched and hard to believe. It also treats teenagers as intelligent people, which they are, and that is why they are more open to the words of this series, because they are not talked down to. Their questions are answered in a way that relates to them and makes sense, not just with a simple brush-off or "Don't do this, because the Bible says so. End of story!"

The starter pack retails for $129 and comes with a 5 DVD set, 1 Leader's Guide, 1 Parent's Guide, and 1 Student Workbook. This is a steal of a price, but of course you will want to supplement it with more student workbooks and parent's guides. After watching through this program, I am convinced that every parish needs this program for their CYO/teenage groups. With the current trajectory of the culture going more secular and over-sexualized, our teenagers need the truth now more than ever. Wouldn't you rather they learned about these important matters from the Church than society? I know I would!

This program was provided to me for free by Ascension Press in exchange for an honest review. Be sure to check out their other programs both for adults, teens, and children's as they are truly the best in the business!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Islebound (Red Raven Games)

Ryan Laukat is one of my favorite game designers. He creates the game, writes the stories, does the art, runs the company, and probably mops the floor and takes out the trash too! The man is a genius and his games are always beautiful and take you into a fanciful and evocative world. Today, I am reviewing his game IsleboundIslebound is a sea-faring game for 2 to 4 captains, ages 13+! It takes 60-120 minutes to play and retails for $50. Islebound takes place in an archipelago (group of islands in layman's terms) that has busy towns, ferocious sea monsters, and of course pirates! You will command a ship, sail to the different island towns, and increase your renown by use of force, diplomacy, or business. The captain with the most renown (wealth, buildings built, and reputation) at the end of the game is the winner.
1. Assemble the map by piecing together the four sea boards and four sea ports. The hexagonal sea boards will form a cross and the triangular sea ports will form the corners of the map. All the pieces should fit together, and each of the ports must be uniquely named.
2. Give each player the following items: one player aid card, one ship board, a ship token, 20 cubes matching the color of the ship token, seven coins, and three starting crew members. Then, have each member take one cube and place it below the "2" on the movement track of their ship board.
3. Choose a starting player to give the first-player card too. The last player in turn order (and proceeding in reverse order) picks a home port and places one of their cubes to the left of the red banner on the sea port. Their ship token also goes on their newly chosen home port.
4. Set the renown board next to the map. Shuffle the event cards into two roughly equal piles. Place them next to each other, face up above the wave symbols. Do the same for the reputation cards, placing them above the trumpet symbol. Then, take the crew with two skill symbols and shuffle them. Then, place the top three below the wave symbol. Shuffle the renown tokens and put them in the top right corner of the board.
5. Set up the building area by placing the three, two, and one book tokens in a row. Then, fill in a card underneath each of these tokens, and two additional cards after the single book token.
6. Finally, place the two event markers on the map in regions that match the two visible event cards from Step 4.
Game Play - Each turn a player must move at least one space and complete one action. They also may complete as many free actions as they want. Actions are as follows:
1. Move your ship token a number of spaces up to the speed on your ship board. (Note: If you end your movement where another player is, you must exhaust a crew member with the administrate skill.)
2. Visit a town and complete the action on the wooden sign. Unless the town is owned by the player, he must pay the entry cost (coin and/or administrate skill) to enter.
3. Attack a town with a red banner. Do this by choosing a number of pirates and/or sea serpents and rolling the dice to see if successful. If unable to defeat the town, you must lose one attacker and retreat. If you are successful, all attackers are lost, but you gain coins equal to the number on the red banner and places your cube next to the banner. You may also immediately perform a free visit action to this town.
4. Employ Diplomacy on a town with a blue-green banner. The number in the banner is the amount of influence needed to claim the town. The influence you will use is found on the cubes in the influence track. You then gain coins equal to the number on the blue-green banner and place your cube next to the banner. You may also immediately perform a free visit action to this town.
5. Hunt for Treasure by taking all the coins on the treasure map of the renown board.
6. Free actions consist of buying a building or completing an active event on the region where your ship is located.

The game end triggers when one player has a certain number of buildings (eight in a 2-3 player game and seven in a 4 player game). The game ends when everyone has had an equal number of turns. Add up your renown, and the most renown wins.
Islebound is a game that takes place in the same world as Ryan Laukat's smash hit Above and Below. Like Above and Below, there are citizens to acquire which can give you special abilities and buildings to purchase which can provide you with endgame points. Unlike Above and Below, which is a storytelling game, this one is more about area control mixed with some pickup and deliver. The artwork in this game is stunning as always, but familiar as well if you have played any of his other games. Seeing the character tiles is like seeing old friends or at least cousins of the old friends. The game board is also modular, which adds replay value to the game, because you can put different tiles in different spots to form a completely different map. You can also flip the tiles over and make for a more challenging game as well. What I like best about this game is the many paths to victory. If you like attacking and being a pirate, you have that option. If you are not the bloodthirsty type, then diplomacy is your best option. Every option is viable and I encourage you to try them all and see which one you like best, or surprise people and go the path they didn't expect you to take.

There is currently a mini-expansion out called Metropolis Expansion. This adds 40 new buildings to the game, creating even more replay value. Lastly, there is a bonus scenario called Deep Fog, which you can download and print for free or purchase if you want it printed on something more official and pretty. In that scenario, the map shrinks significantly and when the end game is triggered, players have a chance to defeat the Deep Fog monster for a hefty sum of points. Again, this adds more replay value to the game. Another nice feature of the game is the character tiles, which are double-sided. One side is used for Islebound and the other for Above and Below, so if you are a Laukat-nut like me, you add more replay value to a different game as well.

I wasn't entirely sure what to think of this game, as I had only played Above and Below before, and this was nothing like it. I found myself having a completely different experience, but one that was equally fun. With his wide-range of talents, Ryan Laukat is a renaissance man in the board gaming industry. Playing Islebound has only confirmed my original belief in his brilliance, which I originally thought after playing Above and Below. I am now not only the proud owner of two of his games, but have since purchased some of his older games, and pledged on Kickstarter for Near and Far, the next game in his fictitious and fantastical world. If you like good game play with beautiful art, then I highly encourage you to pick up Islebound or any game in the Red Raven Games catalog. You won't regret it.

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tokaido App (Funforge)

I am not one who embraces technology. I often find myself shunning it from time to time. I know that ironic, because I run a blog, but it's true. I prefer physical books to ebooks. I prefer board games to video games. In fact, I just joined the 21st Century and bought my first smartphone earlier this year. When I purchased it, I vowed to myself that I would not be one of those people who was glued to his phone at all time, looking at frivolous apps. For the most part, I have been true to my word. I am not addicted to my phone, and it hasn't changed my media habits. However, I do have one vice on my smartphone - Tokaido!
Tokaido is a board game designed by the very talented Antoine Bauza. It plays 3-5 players and takes about 45 minutes to play. In the game, you and your opponents are travelers crossing the East Sea Road. On this journey, you are competing with the other travelers to have the best journey. You can accomplish this by completing many tasks including collecting the most unique souvenirs, donating the most to the temple, and eating the best meals. There are 10 characters to choose from and each provide you with unique abilities to focus your game strategy on. It also ensures that you will have a unique experience each game play.
You can play the game offline in two ways - 1. Solo versus AI players or 2. Pass and play versus people sitting next to you. You can also play the game online versus people from around the world. I really loved the board game version of this, and this app replicates the game well. The graphics are top-notch. The game play is smooth, and it provides a very accurate representation of how the game plays. Hopefully, the app soon updates with the two expansions (Crossroads and Matsuri), so that even more game play value is unlocked.

This copy of the app was provided to me for free by Funforge in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Trials of Saint Patrick (Augustine Institute)

Radio dramas is a forgotten form of entertainment in today's age. One of the most famous ones ever was Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds, which had people truly believing that aliens had landed and were going to wipe us off the face of the earth. The BBC has made some good ones in recent times with my favorite one being The Chronicles of Narnia. Last year, Augustine Institute has utilized this medium with their Augustine Institute Radio Theatre. Their first program, which debuted last year was Brother Francis: The Barefoot Saint of Assisi. This year they released The Trials of Saint Patrick. Both are available for $30 a piece. The Trials of Saint Patrick is a 4 CD/8 part radio drama with actor John Rhys-Davies leading the billing. The episodes are as follows:

1. Abduction - Older Patrick is before a tribunal and recounts his teens where he became a slave
2. The Way Out - Patrick escapes after having been a slave for six years
3. Home - Patrick is reunited with his family
4. Preparations - Patrick studies in France and meets Tertius
5. Old Masters - Patrick begins his mission in Hibernia, but meets great resistance
6. King of Kings - Patrick displays a miracle of fire to King Laoghaire, so that he may continue preaching
7. Blood Crescent - Patrick takes on the pagans and their gods, and experiences a dark time in his life
8. Coroticus - The tribunal comes to a close, but not before Patrick is attacked for his past by someone who should be his friend

Included with the four CDs is a small discussion guide, which has several questions for each episode that are great for personal reflection or small groups. These questions reflect on Patrick's life by looking at it through the lenses of Scripture and the Catechism. Using these two pillars, we are asked to look at his life and compare it to ours. How do we respond to suffering? How can we better participate in God's plans for our life? How we can share the message of God with others?

The program was captivating to listen to, and I really appreciate that they got native-born United Kingdom actors to perform these roles. This added a level of authenticity to the program that would have been lacking if they just used American born actors. What I disliked about the program was the music. It was a bit louder at times than the spoken parts, so I felt I had to turn down the program when the music was on and turn it back up when the speaking occurred. As for the packaging, it is very beautiful, but I felt the size was unnecessary and unwieldy as it was twice the height of a normal CD. This might make it a little difficult to stock on shelves in physical stores. The sleeve was also a bit unneeded. Those quibbles aside, I think it's an excellent program that should be listened to by all Catholics. All most people know about St. Patrick is the shamrock (not mentioned in this program), that he drove all the snakes from Ireland, and that his feast day is March 17th. This program teaches you so much more about the man and saint. I highly recommend it.

This CD set was provided to me by Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Francis Drake (Eagle-Gryphon Games)

Francis Drake was an English sea captain who carried out the second circumnavigation of the world. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1581 and was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada, which made him a hero in England and a pirate in Spain. Eagle-Gryphon Games took this theme and re-created it in a worker-placement game. In this game for 3-5 players (age 14+), players will attempt to mimic his three voyages to the Spanish Main. The game takes 90-120 minutes to play, retails for $80, but you can find it most places for $50-55.
1. Place the game board on the table. Place the Plymouth Harbour Chart next to the board and populate the spaces on that board with their respective items (gold, silver, jewels, etc.).
2. Place one of each Commodity (Sugar, Tobacco, Coffee, and Indigo) on its corresponding icon at the three trade ports (San Juan, Santo Domingo, and Santiago de Cuba).
3. Shuffle the three Spanish Galleon Counters and place one face up on each of the galleon icons on the board.
4. Give each player the following in their player color - one frigate, one galleon, six mission discs, ten player discs, four player cubes, one scoring marker, and one ship log. Each player also takes a treasure chest and investor tile.
5. Place all the players ships off the board near Plymouth Harbour.
6. Have each player place one of their cubes on each of the three Types of Conquests Chart and one on their ship.
7. Have each player place their scoring marker on space 4.
8. Place the voyage marker on space 1.
9. Pick a set of location tiles determined by the number of players. Use these tiles to populate Plymouth Street.
Game Play - The game is played over three rounds (voyages) with each voyage having two phases.
Provisioning Phase:
1. Starting Order - Place the frigates in a cup or bag and randomly draw one out at a time to determine player order. Then place the ships in Homebound Docks. Give the last player one gun on voyage one, but not voyages two or three.
2. Placement and Selection - In player order, each player places one of their player discs on a circle of a location in Plymouth Street. (Note: Placement may start on the Crew Location or a subsequent location, so long as there is an empty circle to place a disc on.) Players will continue to place their discs in player order, so long as they are moving forward on the street and not placing a disc behind a previous disc. After placing your disc, take the items granted at that location and place them on your ship log. Once you feel you have enough items, you move your ship from Homebound Docks to Outbound Docks. This determines player order for the next phase.
Sailing Phase:
1. Prepare for sailing: Take four silver and place one on each of the two towns and forts. Do the same with four gold. Then, take three jewels and place them on each jewel icon near each Spanish Galleon. Whoever has the admiral counter, place one on the Spanish Frigate counters face-down. The holder of the Governor Counter places one on the Spanish Troop Counters face-down on the troop icon of each of the four forts. The holder of the Governor Counter also swaps his ship's position with the ship in position one to go first. Each player counts his supplies and places their remaining cubes on the navigation marker to determine which zones they may sail to.
2. Each player has a limited number of mission discs to show various destinations and mission order. Each player in player order places one of their mission discs face-down on the first circle at one of the destinations on the map. Play continues in player order until each player has placed all their discs. Since only two successful attacks are allowed at each destination, the order players arrive to each destination is important. All discs are flipped and placed in order from smallest to largest.
Successful attacks net you gold, silver, and victory points. Players may also perform commodity trades at trade ports. The board is then reset, so that voyage two may occur. Commodities are the only thing allowed to be kept by players. Repeat the two phases above. Then, do this again for voyage three. Players then score based on each set of different commodities. They also score based on the treasures from their treasure chests and score those as victory points too. Highest score wins.

Francis Drake is a very interesting worker placement game mainly because of the "one-way street" twist on worker placement, which is similar to Tokaido. When you are deploying your workers, you must carefully look at all the options and decide beforehand what you want to acquire, who you want to visit, what you want to accomplish, and in what order, because once you pick a spot to go, you can't go backwards on the street to claim a spot you or other players skipped. This adds a bit of tension to your decisions as well. Do you claim the next available spot, even if it's something you don't really need in hopes of grabbing something else right after this spot? Or do you jump really far ahead on the street and forego some good stuff for a really great spot? In addition to the one-way street, there's also a press your luck element to the worker placement. Do you take one more round grabbing another spot or do you end your gathering (perhaps slightly prematurely) to be the first in line to explore?

Other mechanics getting mixed with worker placement are secret deployment and set collection. The secret deployment comes from placing your mission discs out at sea in the hopes of claiming various destinations. Therefore, you have to read your situation on what you want to claim and also read your opponent on what they want to claim.

The game is very fun to play and provides a lot of interesting decisions. What I like best about the game is the components. The artwork looks era-appropriate. The ships, even though they are plastic, are of a nice weight and were made from a good mold, because they have good detail and a great fill to them. What I like best are the cardboard treasure chests, which when assembled are very cool looking and serve as the purpose of function and aesthetics. There were a couple of downsides to the game. The first one is game length. It does take about 90 minutes to 120 minutes to play and that's a little more time than my group is willing to invest in a game usually. The second downside is the player count. It plays 3 to 5 people, and my two normal player counts are 2 and 6. Thankfully, there is an expansion that fixes this exact problem. So if you are looking for a medium-weight, historical worker-placement game, consider this one!

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Christ and Our Lady (EWTN Publishing)

Today, I am reviewing another Mother Angelica title from EWTN Publishing called Christ and Our LadyChrist and Our Lady is a combination of five mini-books previously published. They are titled The Promised Woman, The Divine Personality of Jesus, The Fruits of His Love, In His Sandals, and Love is Not Loved.

The first book begins by talking about Eve, because you can't talk about Mary without first talking about Eve. Through one woman sin entered the world, and through one woman salvation entered the world. The next chapter then discusses the prophecies in the Old Testament that related to Jesus and compared and contrasted Eve and Mary. There are then several chapters walking us through the Nativity story - the Annunciation, the shepherds, the Magi, and the Presentation in the Temple. There are also chapters which talk about Jesus being found in the Temple and His later ministry. The next several books focus more heavily on Jesus and talk about the many facets of His personality, the fruits of His life and love, and the Beatitudes. The final book is a reflection on love and how no matter how much love we as people possess, it will never be even one iota of how much Jesus loves us.

Reading the words of Mother Angelica is always refreshing and uplifting. I believe she will one day be a saint, so it's also remarkable to read her words, because they contain a humble truth to them, and the pearls of wisdom are not high and lofty words that make you read several times, but words the common man can understand. What I like best about this book is that it shows that you can't think about Mary unless you're viewing her through the light/lens of Christ. Every major event in the life of Christ, she is there for, but not as one who takes the spotlight away, rather as one who points the spotlight on Him. I highly encourage you to read this book and other books of her, which Sophia Institute Press has recently reprinted.

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tiffin (Rio Grande Games)

There are a ton of overused board game themes in the hobby today - Vikings, Zombies, Cthulhu, and even recently the planet Mars. It seems like finding a unique theme grows harder by the day. Therefore, when I heard about the game Tiffin, I was intrigued. a tiffin is a meal in India that is home-cooked, sold, and transported at a rate of nearly a quarter of a million per day. Tiffin is a game for 2-4 players, age 14+. It takes 30-60 minutes to play and retails for $40.

1. Have each player pick a color and their 20 cubes (Tiffins) of the corresponding color.
2. Give each player a Player Reference card, a Shortcut card, and a Flat Tire card.
3. Place the Score Track in the center and have each player place a cube next to it.
4. Place the Competitor Track card face up next to the Score Track and a Competitor cube on space 0.
5. Sort the Tiffin Tracking cards in ascending order in a face-up pile with the 0 card on top.
6. Shuffle the ten Route cards, flipping them as you shuffle. Then, deal three of the cards under the Score Track and put the other seven next to the three to form a draw deck.
7. Lastly, shuffle the 45 Delivery cards. Deal four to each player. Then, turn six face up in a line under the Route cards, placing the remaining cards next to this line of cards to form a draw deck.
Game Play - On your turn, you take one of three actions:
1. Place a Tiffin on the leftmost open tiffin square of an un-started Route card.
2. Draft two Delivery cards from the draft pool, draw deck, or one from each.
3. Play a Delivery card from your hand to an active Route card, which will add cubes to the route progress. (Note: Delivery card color must match Route card color, except for grey, which is wild.) When you complete a Route card, you get a Delivery Fee, and the player who contributed the most to the route receives a Route Fee. (Note: Both fees are victory points.)

The Competitor also has a turn. Some Delivery cards have a Competitor symbol on, which will move his cube one space on the card. Once it reaches the space, which equals the number of players will perform a series of actions for the Competitor, which will cause him to add cubes to different Routes.

The game ends when there are no more Route cards left in the draw deck to replace a second Route. Most points wins!

At its core, Tiffin is a game of area control. You want route cards to be completed, but you want to have the majority of cubes on that card so that you score the route fee. (Ideally, you want to be the one who receives both the delivery and route fee.) What I really like about this game is that delivery cards don't just let you place cubes to the route, they also have powers depending on their rank. The component quality is of high quality, i.e., thick cardboard, good feel of cards and cubes. The game is also easy to grasp and teach, with the biggest thing to explain being the special ability cards, which can help you claim a route and/or prevent your opponent from claiming it. The game's biggest strength can also be considered its greatest weakness. Since the boards are double-sided, you don't know what color routes are going to show up. This creates variability from game to game, but also can really penalize someone who collected a lot of one color, only for it to not show up near as much as other colors. I applaud the theme for being original, but unfortunately, it wasn't one I could sink my teeth into. That's not to say it's not a good game with solid game play value, it just wasn't for me.

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