Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Super Fantasy: Ugly Snouts Assault (Golden Egg Games)

Hack and Slash video games were a big part of my time in college. While other people were out partying, drinking, and going to class (the typical college experience), I was burning hours in front of a computer screen on a game called Diablo 2. Looking to bring that video game experience to board gaming, Super Fantasy: Ugly Snouts Assault was created. This cooperative game is designed for 1 to 6 players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 90 minutes to play and contains loads of different missions.
1. Choose a mission to play from the Missions Book and setup the dungeon as demonstrated in the map. (Note: If there are traps in this dungeon, shuffle them and draw them face down to put in their spots.)
2. Shuffle the magic items to form a face down pile, and then do the same for the small items.
3. Make separate piles for all the shield, wound, poisoned, stunned, frozen, and counterattack tokens.
4. Place the turns board near the dungeon. Place the heroes' turn token on space 1 and the end of the game token on the appropriate space your mission dictates.
5. Have each player a choose a character. Then give them their hero board, skill tiles, four wooden markers (placed on the 0 for experience and red circle for skills), life point tokens, and a character standee.
Game Play - Each turn is divided into two phases, the Heroes' Phase and the Monsters' Phase. During the Heroes' Phase, each person takes their turn in a decided upon order and may perform the following actions - 1. Move, 2. Open a door, 3. Bash a barrel, 4. Lock pick a chest, 5. Attack, 6. Defend, 7. Charge up, or 8. Disarm a trap. To perform this action, you must declare the action you are going to take and how many of your six dice you are going to roll to see if you succeed in your action.

During the Monsters' Phase the following four actions occur - 1. Monsters wake up in their rooms, 2. New monsters come out, 3. Monsters move and attack, and 4. Clear out tokens that weren't used this turn. If a hero ever reaches zero life, they don't die, but your number of turns to complete this mission is reduced by one.

For the missions, it is recommend you play through them in order as they ramp up in difficulty. You can also increase the difficulty of missions as well going from Normal to Heroic to Epic!

Super Fantasy: Ugly Snouts Assault is a hack and slash/dungeon crawl game that doesn't take itself too seriously. There is some tongue in cheek humor and nods to video games of this type. The six character types are traditional classes, but unlike a bard who plays a harp, the instrument of choice is an electric guitar. The art, rule book, flavor text all have some humor in them as well. Another positive for the game is the replay value. With six characters to play with, multiple missions, varying difficulty levels, and a modular board you will have plenty of opportunities to experience new game play. You could also play solo or be the ultimate villain and play against your friends as they try and take you down.

The negatives of this game are that there are so many components and mainly just little pieces of cardboard. This is to be expected for a dungeon crawl game, but it can still be overwhelming at first blush. All these pieces also create for a long setup time. The game also can be a bit random with dice rolls. Sometimes you feel like you aren't making any progress, and as the game gets closer to ending you know you are going to lose and it just can be frustrating. If dungeon crawls are your type of game, this is one that is definitely worth checking out. Be sure to also check out the sequel Super Fantasy: Night of the Badly Dead.

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

Father Benedict (Sophia Institute Press)

People of my age grew up only knowing one pope - John Paul II. He was without question a great pope. However, I converted to Catholicism in 2003, which was the tail end of his papacy. Therefore, the pope of my spiritual childhood, the one I most related to and identified with was Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict is widely considered the greatest theologian of this day and age. Even though he didn't write as many works (encyclicals and whatnot) while he was pope, the amount of works he penned as Joseph Ratzinger could fill a library. In his recent book, Father Benedict, author James Day takes the teachings of our former pope and explains them to us and how they can help the modern world.

The book begins by speaking of his resignation, how he never wanted to be pope, and the transition from Benedict to Francis. The second chapter shifts to the time immediately before and after Pope John Paul II's death. In this time, we see Cardinal Ratzinger already fighting against relativism. We then see in Ratzinger's writing his warning against personal sin, believing it to be "the source of man's pervading unhappiness and alienation from others and from God." My favorite chapter was the fifth one. In this section, the author focused on Pope Benedict's trilogy Jesus of Nazareth. "He saw it as his final literary mission to present the public a comprehensive study of Jesus that is intellectually rigorous and does not talk down to the audience." He absolutely succeeded in this regard and that series has a special place on my shelf. Other chapters break open his encyclicals, views on art, and Catholic education as well.

Father Benedict is a fine introduction to the life and writings of Pope Benedict XVI. If you are unfamiliar with him or his works, then this book is a good start for you. If you have already read a great deal of his works, then this book might be a nice refresher, but would probably present you with nothing you didn't already know. I think an appendix that listed all of his works would have been extremely helpful, but you can look that up online if you would like. The best thing about this book is that it is going to get people reading more of Pope Benedict's writings, so in that regard it is a great success.

This book was provided to me for free by Sophia Institute Press.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Duty of Delight (Image Books)

Dorothy Day was a Catholic convert and social activist. In 1933, she established the Catholic Worker Movement. These communities were aimed at helping the poor and homeless and tried to bring about social change. In addition to these communities, Dorothy Day also participated in the Civil Rights movement and nonviolent protest of World War II. Her cause for canonization has been opened, and so far she has been named a Servant of God. In my opinion, there are three important books one should read by her to better understand her. You of course want to read her autobiography The Long Loneliness, but after that you should also read All the Way to Heaven (selected letters she wrote) and The Duty of Delight (her diaries). I have already posted about her letters, but today I would like to tell you about the latter.

The book begins with an introduction describing how Dorothy Day kept a diary when she was younger. In doing so, she felt "recording happiness made it last longer," and "recording sorrow dramatized it and took away its bitterness." This habit she developed at an early age was maintained (probably with less frequency) in her adulthood as well. The introduction also tells us that her words "derived their meaning from the consistency, courage, and faithfulness of her life." The book then provides us a chronology from 1932 to 1980, which gives the reader context for the diary entries that are upcoming. The book is then divided into six parts by decades - 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980. Each part provides some further background information to give us additional context for the time period and what was going on in her life at the time. At 700 pages, this is a very thick book. I don't plan on reviewing this title, as I wouldn't want someone to review my personal diary (if I kept one). I will just say that the book is well-organized and provides us great insight into the mind and reality of this possibly soon-to-be saint. If you would like to know more about her than just what was written about her, then you should check out this book and its companion book All the Way to Heaven.

This book was provided to me for free by Image Books.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Agamemnon (Osprey Games)

We are all familiar with the story of the Iliad. In this epic by Homer, we see the final weeks of the Trojan War. Osprey Games has taken this tale and created a two-player game called Agamemnon. In Agamemnon, players will take on the roles of the Greek gods trying to influence the war and help ensure their side is victorious. The game plays two players, age 12+. It takes between 15 and 30 minutes to play and retails for $24.
1. Lay out the game board with the side up labeled Agamemnon.
2. Place all the String Tiles on the board that match their color/pattern.
3. Give each player a set of Playing Tiles, turning them all face down and mixing them up randomly, and a card labelled Greeks or Trojans.

Each circular space on the board is connected to multiple Strings of Fate (String Tiles). There are three types of String Tiles - Strength, Leadership, and Force, which are won different ways. Additionally, there are four types of Playing Tiles - Warriors, Leaders, and Weavers (which are subdivided into Warp and Weft). Each of these tiles contribute different things such as strength or rank.

Game Play
The starting player flips over one Playing Tile face up and places it on an available space on the board. After this, players flips two Playing Tiles and place them on any available spaces on the board. The final turn involves the second player placing his last Playing Tile on one of the three available spaces left. Two empty spaces will remain on the board. (Note: If you play a Weaver during your first two turns, you can replace them with another tile.)

Score each String of Fate individually. A string is considered to be any connected path of the same String Tile that hasn't been split by a blank space or a Weaver. Whichever player controls a string receives all of those String Tiles to put in their scoring pile. If there is a tie, no one get those tiles, and they are removed from the game. The player with the most Strings of Fate wins.

Agamemnon is an abstract game that relies on area majority. The game is all about tactics and trying to make sure you either have the most strength or sheer numbers. However, you also need to know when to cut a string. Since playing tiles are revealed randomly, you might feel like you don't have complete control over the game, but there is a variant where you can play with those tiles face up, but it can add to length of the game due to analysis paralysis. On the back of the game is a different board with different tiles, so this will add some variability to your game.

The unfortunate part of this game is the theme. I really enjoy the story of the Iliad, so I was excited to try this game, but the theme did not come through at all. That said, the game play is solid. It is fast playing and you can feel the tension mount as you play more tiles. There is nothing more frustrating in this game to commit some warriors to a string and then have that string taken out from under your nose the next turn. Luckily, the game plays quickly, so if you are defeated, you can quickly play another game with your opponent. Overall, this is a solid game and a decent way to introduce your kids to classic literature.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Holmes: Sherlock and Mycroft

The year is 1895 and a bomb has exploded in the House of Parliament. The man apprehended and charged with the crime was a young man named Michael Chapman. Mycroft Holmes has been tasked with proving the young man's guilt, and Sherlock Holmes has been hired by the young man's parents to prove his innocence. This is the game Holmes: Sherlock and MycroftHolmes: Sherlock and Mycroft is a 2 player game for ages 10+. It takes about 30 minutes to play and retails for $25.

1. Lay out the Game Board between the two players.
2. Place the Character Cards of Doctor Watson, Mrs. Hudson, and Inspector Lastrade in their respective spaces on the Game Board.
3. Shuffle the remaining Character Cards (not including James Moriarty and Sebastian Moran). Place the stack face down in the space under Doctor Watson, and then deal out two cards in the Day 1 spots.
4. Place the Investigation Markers in a reserve in the center of the table.
5. Determine a first player who will pick his character - Sherlock or Mycroft. Then, give each player three Action Markers of the same color and five Investigation Markers.
6. Shuffle the Clue Deck very thoroughly, and make a face down deck. Deal out four cards face-up next to the Clue Deck.
Game Play - The game takes place over seven rounds with the following three phases each round:
1. Start of the Day - Reveal a new Character Card in the appropriate day and stand up the six Action Markers. (Note: This phase is skipped in the first round.)
2. Investigation - Take one of your Action Markers that is laying down and lay it down on top of a Character Card that doesn't have any of your Action Markers. You then execute the action of that character. For example, Doctor Watson lets you use one Investigation Marker to obtain one face up Clue, and Mrs. Hudson lets you get three Investigation Markers from the reserve.
3. End of the Day - Check and see if any Character Card is occupied by an Action Marker of each character. If so, turn the Character Card face down, as they will be unavailable to land on the next round.

The game consists of nine types of clues - three cards with a value of 3, four cards with a value of 4, etc. all the way up to nine cards with a value of 9. There are also two types of special clues - wildcards and map fragments.

Since some characters allow you to hide Clue Cards you first flip these over and assign them to their appropriate value column. Wildcards are limited to one per column, i.e., you couldn't have two Wildcards represent a value of 9. You then score cards as follows: If you have two 3s and your opponent has one 3, you get one point. If you have three 4s and your opponent has one 4, you get three points. If you get all the 5s, you would get eight points (5 + 3 bonus points). You don't get bonus points, if you have Wildcards making up the total of a certain number. Map fragments score more points the more you have going -1, 1, 3, 6, and 10. Most points win!

Holmes: Sherlock and Mycroft is a game that mixes worker placement, set collection, and resource management. What makes this game different from other worker placement games is that not all the spaces are available in the first round. More unlock as time goes by, and depending on the order in which they unlock, it can create a completely different game play experience. The set collection scoring mechanism is nice too. Instead of whoever has the majority of a certain set getting all the points, the majority person only gets a difference in points. Since the random nature of the cards being dealt out, this can prevent someone from running away with the game due to mere luck of the draw.

Another positive for the game is the different ways you can tweak the game. By adding one or two villain cards, you can introduce negative elements into the game that require advance planning or else you'll be seriously hurt in terms of your set collection. You can also introduce a double-sided Holmes card that will increase the tactical nature of the game, allowing you to reserve a single card to buy it later and also keep it from your opponent.

The art in the game is solid both with the Character Cards and the Clue Cards. This is helpful, because it serves as a distraction that you are not just collecting 3s and 4s, but you are collecting clues like a fingerprint, cigarette butt, or a button. Unfortunately, even with the great art, the theme still feels a little pasted on, like you could have used in theme for this game and it would have resulted in the same game play. With Sherlock Holmes now in the public domain, I imagine we will see more than a few games dedicated to the great literary detective. I just hope that the mechanics and game play are as solid as this one.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Odin's Ravens (Osprey Games)

In Norse mythology, Odin has two pet ravens named Huginn and Muinn. Their task to travel through Midgard (Earth) and bring Odin back news on what life is like in other places. Having been assigned to this task for millennia, they have grown competitive with each other. Therefore, they've decided to make a race of it. Travelling in opposite directions, they want to be the first one to return to Odin and report their news. But what would Norse mythology be without a little "help" from Loki? This is
Odin's RavensOdin's Ravens plays two players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 20 minutes to play and retails for $25.

1. Shuffle the Land Cards and place a line of 16 cards between the two players. Each Land Card contains two spaces that will form two routes to fly down. (Note: When laying out the cards, make sure no two spaces in a row are the same.)
2. Have each player place their Raven at one end of the Land Cards in front of one route.
3. Give each player their 25 Flight Cards and 8 Loki Cards. Have them shuffle the two decks separately and place them face down.
4. Each player then draws five cards (any combination from the two decks) to form their starting hand.
Game Play
The game is a race. Once your Raven reaches one end of the Land Cards, it switches to the other side and flies back on the other route. On your turn you may take as many actions as you have the card to accomplish. The actions are as follows:
1. Flight - Play a card that shows the same Land type as the next path space in front of your Raven. If there is a path of the same Land spaces in a row, your Raven will move to the end of this path. (Note: If you have no Flight Cards that match the next space, you can play any two Flight Cards of the same type to substitute for the Flight Card you need.)
2. Trickery - Play a Loki Card. There are two of each of the four types of Loki Cards. Each card provides you two options, which the player must choose, such as moving your Raven forward one space or your opponent's Raven back one space.

The game ends when one Raven makes a complete cycle of the Land Cards.

Odin's Ravens is a simple two-player racing game that boils down to hand management. How many cards will you play this turn? How will you balance your hand with Flight and Loki Cards? Do I go for speed or do I play more Loki Cards? Should I use the Loki Cards to benefit me or hinder my opponent? The game is very easy to teach and plays so quickly that you will want to play it again immediately, win or lose. What I like best about this game is the presentation and art. The game box opens up like a book, which is a nice touch. The Raven tokens are made of laser-cut wood, but the best part is the art on the cards. They are simple scenes/backgrounds, but they are beautiful and inspired by Norse mythology. This is a worthy title to add to your two-player game collection.

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Knowing God's Love (Sophia Institute Press)

One of the fundamental questions people often ask about God is, "What is He like?" We all have our own understanding/misunderstanding of who God is, what He is like, and what He thinks of us, but what is the truth? Dr. John D. Labarbara recently penned the book Knowing God's Love, which gives us "Eight Essential Truths Every Catholic Should Know." The book is divided into three parts - The Foundational Truths, The Foundational Truths Applied Personally, and The Foundational Truths Applied Publicly.

The book begins reflecting on the first chapter of Genesis. In this chapter, we learn three things. 1. God is a "We." 2. God is a God of relationship. 3. God is love. The second chapter of the book focuses on what God thinks of, and the author again turns to the book of Genesis. As God is a "We," humanity is a "they" of man and woman. Secondly, we are made in God's image. Lastly, both sex and marriage were gifts from God to be enjoyed by spouses. In the third chapter, we learn more about the relationship with God. God wants us to love Him, but with our sin, we broke that relationship with Him. With His mercy and compassion, He continues to forgive us and call us back to Him. The remaining five chapters are application in aspects such as work, charity, social teaching, and government.

Knowing God's Love can best be described as introduction or summary to the Catechism. Within it, you will find a summary of the teachings and truths of the Catholic faith. What I liked best about this book is the bullet point summary at the end of every chapter. Sometimes, it is hard to process a lot of information in a chapter, no matter how concise it is. This helpful recap helps to crystallize everything and let it sink in. The last helpful thing I really liked in this book is that there are appropriate Scripture and Catechism references throughout the chapter where necessary. This gives credibility to the book and shows that the writings are grounded in something more than just the author's words. This is a very helpful book for both new and cradle Catholics alike.

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Irish Children's Books (Pauline Books and Media)

Two of the most recognized and beloved saints in Catholicism are St. Patrick and St. Brigid. Today, I am reviewing two children's books on these saints, available from Pauline Books and Media. The first one is called Patrick and the FirePatrick and the Fire begins with a boy named Bevan herding goats, a task he did not particularly like. While doing his job, a man named Patrick greets him and asks where to find the King. Bevan explains to him that it would not be a good day to meet the king, but Patrick insists. It is the feast day of a god named Balor, and the king must light the first fire. Patrick has an idea to light a fire first in honor of Christ's Resurrection. Doing so infuriates the king until Patrick explains to him who God is. The king is puzzled at first, but seeing Patrick's bravery and the fact that he can't extinguish Patrick's fire causes the king to reconsider. He instead grants Patrick permission to spread the Gospel through all of Ireland. This is a nice little book that gives your children a religious story mixed with history, legend, and a little bit of adventure. I really like how the book opens with the prayer to St. Patrick and closes with a brief biography on who St. Patrick was.

Brigid and the Butter tells the story of a little girl who lives on the farm with her mother. They are not a wealthy family at all and barely have enough to eat themselves, but Brigid is a cheerful girl and a hard worker. She is in charge of milking the cows and churning the butter, and she loved the taste of butter. One day Brigid heard Bishop (future Saint) Patrick preaching about Jesus feeding the hungry all because a little boy sacrificed his food so others could eat. This caused Brigid to think deeply. In the coming days, a starving woman came to her door asking for food. Brigid had no bread, only butter. She was hesitant at first to help the woman, but she remembered the words of Bishop Patrick. She gave the woman the only food she had (the butter) and after Brigid thanked God for the opportunity to help the woman, God blessed her with twice as much butter as she had sacrificed. This is a sweet story that shows children that you should joyfully help others. Like its companion book, Patrick and the Fire, it too includes a prayer to Saint Brigid and a brief biography on this saint.

These books were provided to me for free by Pauline Books and Media in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Clank! (Renegade Game Studios)

This week I am wrapping up my review of new deck-builders with one of the hottest games of 2016 - Clank! Clank! is one of the many amazing games Renegade Game Studios released in 2016. (Seriously, some game companies have hits and misses, it seemed like everything they touched last year was gold.) More than a deck-building game, it is described as a "deck-building adventure," and that doesn't even begin to describe the fun this game will bring. It plays 2-4 players, ages 13+. The playing time is 60 minutes, and it retails for $60.

1. Place the game board in the middle of the table. (Note: The blue sky is the recommend first time play, and the night sky on the back is more difficult.)
2. Give each player a Pawn, 30 Clank! Cubes of matching color, and a 10 card starting deck consisting of 6 Burgles, 2 Stumbles, 1 Sidestep, and 1 Scramble.
3. Place the seven Artificats face up on their corresponding spaces on the board.
4. Shuffle the Major Secrets and place one face-down on each corresponding space on the board.
5. Shuffle the Minor Secrets and place two face-down on each corresponding space on the board.
6. Place the Market Items (2 Master Keys, 2 Backpacks, and 3 Crowns) on the Market Area.
7. Place the 3 Monkey Idols on the Monkey Shrine room.
8. Place one Mastery Token for each player near the top left corner of the board.
9. Place the Gold tokens near the board.
10. Place the Dragon on his Rage Track space, which depends on the number of players.
11. Place the 24 Dragon Cubes in the Dragon Bag.
12. Form 4 stacks of cards - Mercenary, Explore, Secret Tome, and Goblin.
13. Shuffle the Dragon Deck and deal six cards face-up.
14. Have each player put their Pawn just outside the dungeon. Then, they will shuffle their deck and deal out five cards.
15. Finally, determine the starting player and have each player place a specified number of Clank! Cubes in the Clank! Area.
Game Play - The goal of this game is to pick up an Artifact and escape the Dragon. During your turn, you play five cards from your deck and do the following:
1. Acquire a new card by using the skill points your cards granted you.
2. Fight a monster by using the swords your cards granted you.
3. Move through tunnels by using the boot your cards granted you.
4. You can also buy from the Market, gain Gold (points), acquire Major or Minor secrets, pick up an Artifact.

Some cards will give you Clank! Cubes which will be accumulated until the Dragon attacks. When the Dragon attacks, you put all the Clank! Cubes in the bag and draw out the required number. If your cube is drawn, you lose one health. If you lose all your health you die, but could still win if you are in the top half of the board. After you have chosen your Artifact, you must now escape. Most points wins!

What I can say about this game other than WOW! This is a deck-builder on steroids. However, it is more than a deck-builder, it is also a dungeon delve. Your starting deck of ten cards is twenty percent useless and harmful to you, so you must use the other eighty percent to buy better cards, move around, and defeat monsters. While doing this you will make a lot of noise or clank, so you must and that is going to disturb the dragon. Thus, your opponents are the other players and the dragon, but you don't have to outrun the dragon you just have to outrun your slowest opponent. That means the game is also a race and an interesting study in risk and reward.

How far down in the dungeon do you want to go? Do you want to go for the highest point artifact and accumulate a lot of other points along the way? Or do you want to get the cheapest artifact you can, so you can get out quickly and speed up the game for the other players? The same strategy won't work for every game, because the Major and Minor Secrets are randomized, the cards available to buy each game are randomized, and every player will play differently too. The only negative I have about this game is the initial setup. As you can see from above, there are a lot of little steps that go into setting up the game. This may intimidate newer players, but after the first couple of times, it becomes second nature.

What I like best about this game is the replay value. There are many paths of victory to explore, and just when you think you have the game figured out, you can flip over the board and there is a more difficult challenge on the back. I also like that you can still win the game if you die. If you make it above ground but die, they'll drag you out and you'll be a hero...a dead hero, but a hero nonetheless. This game is super-hot, and it is obvious why. Renegade Game Studios is super smart, and to capitalize on the hotness of this game, they are releasing an expansion called Clank! Sunken Treasures. This will add another game board, more cards, more tokens, and a new monster. I'm excited to see how big this game will grow into, because it has a great deal of potential to get even better and better. It has not only raised the bar for all deck-building games, it has obliterated it!

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mystic Vale (Alderac Entertainment Group)

Deck-building games are easy enough to play because they all are more or less the same. Everyone starts with ten cards, plays five per turn, and is playing to get the most points at the end of the game. Because there are so many deck-building games out there, the trick to making a successful one is to improve upon the mechanic; add a new wrinkle to it! Mystic Vale has done just such a thing with what they call their "Card Crafting System." With this system, you not only build your own deck, but you build individual cards in your deck. Mystic Vale is a game for 2-4 players, ages 14+. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $45. Its expansion, Vale of Magic, retails for $30.
Game Setup
1. Before the first game, place each of the starting cards (4 identical decks of 20 cards each) into a clear plastic sleeve. Then given each player their starting deck.
2. Arrange the area known as The Commons by taking out the Fertile Soil advancements and putting them in a separate deck. Then, separate all the other advancements into decks by their level symbols.
3. Separate the Vale Cards into a level one and level two deck and turn over the first four cards of each deck.
4. Place a specific number of Victory Point tokens in a pool based on the number of players.
Game Play
You will only ever have 20 cards, and they will always be in one of four places - your Deck, your Field, your Discard Pile, and one card On-Deck,
1. Shuffle your deck and place it face-down in front of you.
2. Turn over your top card and place it on top of your deck. This is your On-Deck card.
3. Place your On-Deck card in your Field, and then turn over a new On-Deck card.
4. Repeat the third step until you have two Cursed Lands in your Field and one On-Deck.
5. Now you must decide whether you will Pass or Push.
6a. If you Pass, count up the mana and spirit symbols on the cards in your Field, score any Victory Points, and buy new vale cards and/or advancements. (Note: Vale cards just give you Victory Points.) Advancements are then sleeved into a card in your field, thus making the card more powerful.
6b. If you Push, you can keep repeating the third step until you choose to Pass or you Spoil (have four Decay symbols on the cards in your Field and the one On-Deck). If you Spoil, your turn ends immediately and you can't buy anything.
7. The game ends when the pool of Victory Point tokens is depleted. Add up your tokens and the points on your vale and advancement cards and the one with the most points wins.
I admit that I was a bit skeptical of this game based on the description. "A curse has been placed on the Valley of Life. Hearing the spirits of nature cry out for aid, clans of druids have arrived, determined to use their blessings to heal the land and rescue the spirits." The theme is a bit of a turn-off for me, with druids and all this other pagan religion. However, the theme isn't very strong in this game. Yes, you use mana to build your cards and accumulate your points, but I never felt like I was immersed in the theme. It was more just artwork painted on, and I must admit it is visually stunning artwork.

The real reason for playing this game is the mechanics. With only 20 cards in your deck at all times, you must carefully craft your path to victory. You decide how much mana you want on your cards, how much decay, and how many points. Will you take bigger rewards that have bigger risks, or will you go a slow and steady route? There is also a press-your-luck element in drawing your cards. You can get so far in your turn risk-free, but once that third spoil card is revealed, you'll have to examine the available cards to build. Will you play it safe and buy a lesser card you didn't really want? Or will you gamble and draw one more card in the hopes of buying that expensive card you really wanted?

The expansion adds more vale and advancement cards to add to your game without changing the game play at all. I like it when expansions add just cards without over-complicating matters with new tricks to learn. Unfortunately for the expansion, the name is pretty uninspiring and is a bit overpriced for what you get. I have mixed feelings for this game at the moment, so I want to see where the game goes with the second expansion.

This game was provided to me for free by Alderac Entertainment Group in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle (USAopoly)

The Harry Potter series is the greatest epic of my generation. Not only is story, well-researched and compelling, it also is responsible for so many other series (Twilight and The Hunger Games) being published. Due to the great success of this series, both in the books and the movies, other media channels have licensed Rowling's work to try and generate some level of the same success. The board game industry has given us Potter version of Uno, Clue, and Trivial Pursuit. All three of the games are fine and what you'd expect from those types of game, but the serious gamer has always wanted more. Well, wait no more! USAopoly recently released Harry Potter: Hogwarts BattleHarry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck-building game for 2-4 witches and wizards, ages 11+. It retails for $50.

The game itself is divided into boxes labeled Game 1, Game 2, etc. Each game adds more cards and other surprise elements to the game, which I won't spoil. Since each game builds on the other one, I will only tell you how to set up and play Game 1.
1. Place the game board in the center of the table.
2. Sort the Villain Control tokens, Attack tokens, and  Influence tokens into three piles.
3. Have each player pick a hero (Harry, Ron, Hermione, or Neville). Give each player a Player Board, and Health Tracker (placed on the number 10), a Turn Order card, their appropriate Hero Card, and their Starting Hero Deck consisting of ten cards.
4. Create a stack of Location Cards, placing them face up on their spot on the board.
5. Shuffle the Dark Arts Cards and place them face-down on their spot on the board.
6. Shuffle the Villain Cards. Place them face-down on their spot on the board, and then reveal one.
7. Shuffle the Hogwarts Cards. Place them face-down on their spot on the board and then reveal six.
8. Have each player shuffle their Starting Deck and deal the top five cards to themselves.
Game Play - On a player's turn they will perform the following actions until all the Villains are defeated (victory) or all the Locations have been taken over (defeat).
1. Reveal and resolve the Dark Arts Card.
2. Resolve the ability of the active Villain.
3. Play the cards from your hand in the order of your choosing. These cards will gain you both Attack and Influence. Some also have special effects.
4. After playing all your cards, assign the Attack tokens to a Villain, and use the Influence tokens to buy new Hogwarts Cards.
5. Maintenance at the end of each turn requires you checking to see if a Location Card has been captured and/or a Villain defeated. (Note: The solution for both of these is to reveal the next card if so.) You also refill any empty spots in the Hogwarts Cards area and draw back up to five cards from your personal deck.
As stated earlier, the game ends when you have defeated all the Villains, or they have gained control of all the Locations. It is a cooperative game, so you all win or lose together. If you win, you can open the box for Game 2 and combine the new cards with Game 1. If you lost, try again until you defeat Game 1.

Since this game is actually seven games into one, I will try to remain as spoiler-free as possible. The first thing I would like to discuss is the components and what you get in the box. The components in the box are very nice with sturdy game boards, thick cardboard, and loads of cards. The nicest components are the Villain Control tokens, which are of a nice solid metal. As for the graphics/artwork, the theme is just oozing from this game. The game box is a luggage chest, much like Harry used. The back of the game board is the Marauder's Map. The turn-order card is the Hogwarts Express and the back of that card is your ticket!

The game play is very much like your traditional deck-builder in that you start with ten cards and draw five per turn. However, that is where the similarities stop. Unlike other deck-builders, this one is not competitive, but cooperative. There is also a life-track that you must keep an eye on and not let drop to zero. You won't die, but you'll be stunned and lose cards and more control of the locations. You are also trying to defeat villains, not trying to just gain a lot of cards worth points. You will want good cards in your deck, but you'll also want to perhaps tailor your deck a little, like giving Hermione more spells and Ron more allies.

As for the negatives, there aren't many, but there seems to be a few discrepancies in terms of order of events. Hermione for examples starts with Crookshanks in her starting deck, but she didn't actually have that cat until the third book. Also, you defeat Professor Quirrell in the first game, but you have to keep defeating him every game. Since he died in the first book, he should be removed from the game. There are a few other little minor things, like in Game Two, they used young Tom Riddle from the sixth movie and not the second movie. All of these are minor complaints, that as a Potter fan you will either overlook or let drive you mad.

$50 seems like a steep-price for many families for a game. To that I offer two pieces of advice - 1. You will most likely find this game on sale. 2. This game has seven games inside of it, so even if you are amazing at the game and beat each one on the first try, that still averages out to $7 a game, which is hard to beat! Overall, I found the game very enjoyable. It is not without its flaws, but it is still a fun game, with solid components, and great theme. Best of all, my wife enjoys it, so that is an instant win in my book.

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hostile Witnesses (Catholic Answers)

In the world of Christianity, there are many witnesses to the truth which it holds. However, atheists and agnostics are skeptical (at best) to believe these, because they feel they are biased sources. Author Gary Machuta believes there are non-Christian witnesses to the truth of Christianity as well. He calls them "hostile witnesses," and penned a book with the same name.

Hostile Witnesses begins with an introduction that speaks of the words on the sign that hung on the Cross - "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews." Machuta explains that Pilate did not necessarily believe these words, but used them to serve as a warning that this is what happens with pretend kings. This was a hostile witness. The author then discusses how Christian apologists generally focus their attention on direct evidence to support their beliefs, such evidence as Scripture and the Early Church Fathers. However, indirect evidence can prove beneficial as well. The book then is laid out in eight parts to chronologically show an extensive list of hostile witnesses. The eight parts are as follows:

1. New Testament
2. Early Pagan
3. Early Jewish and Rabbinical
4. Later Pagan and Heretical
5. Islam and the Crusades
6. The Inquisition
7. Protestant Reformation
8. Lourdes, Fatima, and World War II

Each chapter is laid out in the same format. They begin by providing a paragraph or so of background information. For example, the chapter on Gaius Suetonious Tranquillus tells us that he was a Roman historian who wrote The Life of the Caesars. The next part of the chapter is called the Testimony. This is where we learn what recorded evidence makes reference to Christ and/or Christians. Using the same chapter, we see that it is only one line, but Suetonius wrote about Claudius' banishment of Jewish Christians from Rome. The final section of the chapter is appropriately called Hostile Witness. In this section, the author explains why this is a credible witness to Christ and/or Christianity and what this witness actually means in terms of attesting to the Truth.

This was a very fascinating read. When I first received the book, I thought that we would only be treated to ancient witnesses of Christianity. However, this book goes all the way up to World War II. That's approximately 2000 years of examples! What I took away from this book is simply that you may deny the ultimate Truth of Christ and Christianity, but try as you may, you cannot discredit it. Jesus will still get His message out both by His faithful followers as well as by those who oppose Him. I strongly recommend you picking up a copy of this book.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Padre Pio: A Personal Portrait (Servant Books)

Padre Pio: A Personal Portrait is a biography by Fr. Francesco Napolitano written within five years of Padre Pio's death. At the end of this book, Fr. Napolitano implored the case be opened for the canonization of Padre Pio. In just over 30 years, he was indeed declared a saint. In the foreword, we are told that the purpose of this book is to show us that Padre Pio's lot in life was to suffer, and suffer he did. However, his life of prayer and suffering is one we could all afford to emulate.

Like any good biography, we begin with his birth in a small farming village known as Pietrelcina. The family was poor, but full of faith. The day after his birth, they had him baptized, and they also made sure that he had a Christian education. His mother described him as a "model child," commenting that he never got any trouble and was always obedient. He apparently didn't know how to play like other children, because he didn't know how. He seemed to know early on that he wanted to be a priest, and he also knew of the struggle between God and Satan within him. World War I started and Padre Pio was forced to report for military duty. In Chapter Three, we are introduced to his stigmata. Other chapters focus on his ministry, cures, the aroma he produced, his ability to bilocate, and his sense of humor.

There have been a lot of books written about Padre Pio, and rightfully so. Not only was he a very interesting man, but he was also a very holy man and a saint. However, of all the books about Padre Pio, this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. Why? For starters, it has a lot of first hand stories and accounts. The reason for this is because the author actually knew Padre Pio. Another reason this is a great book is the amount of photographs within it. Even though they are in black and white, we can see detailed photos of his parents, him in is his youth, and the stigmata. If you are looking for a powerful and amazing read on one of the great modern saints, then this is one you will pick up and have a hard time putting down.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Oceanos (IELLO Games)

Antoine Bauza is the king of card drafting games. His genius gave birth to the supremely popular titles - 7 Wonders and 7 Wonder Duel. Now, he is back at again, but instead of visiting the ancient world, we are going deep underwater in the game OceanosOceanos is a game for 2-5 players, age 8+. It takes 40 minutes to play and retails for $40. In this game, you are the captain of a submarine. You must upgrade your submarine so that you can travel further, explore/catalog more animals, discover more coral reef, and send your diver for treasure. Just watch out for the Kraken!

1. Have each player choose a color and give them all the Submarine pieces of that color, as well as their Scuba Diver and Fuel Tokens.
2. Have each player assemble their Submarine with only level one pieces.
3. Place one Scuba Diver and one Fuel Token on their respective places of the Submarine.
4. Randomly select one Kraken Token of each size. Stack them smallest to biggest with the Kraken side visible, not the points.
5. Separate the Exploration Cards into three piles, based on their back. Shuffle each stack and put them in separate face-down piles.
6. Put all of the Treasure Tokens in the bag, and put it aside for later.
Game Play - The game plays over three rounds of five turns.
1. The Expedition Captain deals out the Exploration Cards to all players except himself, based on the number of Periscopes on their Submarine plus one.
2. Each player secretly chooses one Exploration Card and places it face down. The leftover Exploration Cards are given to the Expedition Captain.
3. All players, except the Expedition Captain, place it their card in front of them, going left to right. Cards from following rounds will be placed in a second row and third row, underneath row one and row two respectively.
4. The Expedition Captain then chooses one card from the cards given to him and follows the same placement rules.
5. The player to the left becomes the new Expedition Captain.
6. You can also do the following additional actions - A. Use a Fuel Token to play an extra card. B. Deploy a Scuba Diver on a card with a treasure chest on it. Upgrade your submarine after playing cards with crystals and a base on them.
At the end of every round, you can place your base at the end of your row and perform an upgrade if capable. You then gain two points for each unique animal, 0, 2, or 5 points depending on your propeller level, and the person with the most Kraken eyes on their cards gets the Kraken Token, which will cause them to lose points. After doing this for all three rounds, you score one point for each coral in your biggest coral reef (orthogonally adjacent) and retrieve the treasures your Scuba Diver collected. Highest score is the winner.

If there is one thing I can say about games from IELLO, it is that the artwork is something they strongly emphasize. Jérémie Fleury gives both a unique captain and unique theme to each submarine, giving each a high level of detail. The Kraken tokens also show distinct artwork, starting with a baby Kraken, moving up to an average Kraken, and ending with a full blown giant Mama (or Daddy) Kraken! The cards themselves have simple artwork, as there are a lot of symbols that too elaborate of artwork could detract from the gameplay. The animals drawn though have a little bit of style all their own.

As for the mechanics of the game, I love drafting cards. It is one of my top five mechanism I like to play with. Where this game's card drafting differs from Bauza's 7 Wonders is that you don't start with a handful of cards each round and only ever pass them left or right. You start with a few cards, and everyone passes their "junk" to the starting player, Just remember that one man's junk is another man's treasure. The starting player just might find the perfect card for him among everyone else's discards. I think this is a clever improvement on the standard card draft. In 7 Wonders, especially at a max player count, you felt you were playing two+ separate games, as you really only ever had a modicum of control over the players to your left and right, not the people further down the table. In Oceanos, your choices affect everyone.

The only knock I have against this game is the way the submarines were cut and fit together. They were cut in a jigsaw fashion, which don't all fit together as nicely as one would like. Sometimes when you are assembling your submarine pieces, you have to force pieces a little more than others. Over time, you wonder if some of the smaller interlocking pieces will break off.

The one complaint aside, I found this to be a very fun and engaging game. When comparing it to 7 Wonders, I feel it is a lighter introduction to card drafting that is useful when teaching games to children and newer gamers. However, don't mistake this lighter nature of the game for an inferior game. The mechanics are solid. The art is beautiful. And the theme is strong. Add to it that this game has its own strategy to figure out. Which cards do I keep, and which cards do I discard? When should I use my fuel token to play that extra card? Which submarine parts do I upgrade, and which victory route do I pursue? Will you have the biggest coral reef and the most unique animals cataloged? Or will you go for the best submarine and the most treasure chests? Those are decisions you'll have to make on your own, but I promise you'll have a fun time exploring the ocean's depths!

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Mystery at Midnight (Servant Books)

The Mystery at Midnight is the fourth book in the highly successful Chime Travelers' series from Lisa Hendey. In this book the protagonists, Katie and Patrick Brady, are about to celebrate their birthday. They have a family tradition of birthday parties, but they are convinced they are too old for this lame party. Part of this has to do with the influence their friends have on them. Katie's friends want to have a nail and hair party. Patrick's friends want to have an all-night pizza and video game party. This not only sounds expensive (since they are twins and would need to essentially have two different parties), but it also sounds complicated. Before they can plan out the details of their party, Vocations Day occurs. While spending time at a monastery, Katie is transported back in time (aka chime travels).

In a happy turn of events, she is transported back to Assisi in the year 1212. If you remember, this is the exact place Patrick last chime traveled to, except he was there in 1205. Instead of meeting St. Francis, like Patrick did, Katie instead meets a young woman named Clare. Those of you who know your saints know that this is none other than St. Clare of Assisi, one of St. Francis' most devoted followers. Clare is a beautiful girl whose family wants to marry her off, like was the custom in those days. Clare has other ideas though. She wants to give up everything, leave her lifestyle, and follow St. Francis. To do this, Katie and Clare must take on a dangerous escape that nearly cost them their lives. When Katie returns, she tells Patrick of her adventure, and they plan a new twist on their family tradition of a birthday. I'll leave that for you to discover.

This fourth installment of the Chime Travelers' series introduces us to another popular saint in Clare of Assisi. Lisa Hendey has done a nice job picking the saints she chooses to write about. By giving men and women equal spotlight in the first four books, she has made this a series that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Her books have a nice pace to them and have just the right amount of holiness mixed with real world kid drama/attitude. The protagonists are not perfect saints, but their willingness to learn and grow from each of their adventures shows they are on the right path, and will provide your children with good role models. For those of you who keep asking if the Brady twins will ever chime travel together, I'd like to go ahead and assure you that it does happen in Book #5 The Strangers at the Manger. If you are a parent, teacher, or librarian, you'll want this series on your bookshelves!

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sea of Clouds (IELLO Games)

You are the captain of a pirate ship, but this isn't a normal pirate ship. You are flying among the clouds. On your journey, you will need to recruit the fiercest crew, collect the most relics, drink the most rum, and have the most doubloons. Will you be the best captain at the end of the game or will some other sea dog claim that title? Let's find out in Sea of CloudsSea of Clouds is a game for 2-4 players, ages 10+. It takes about 40 minutes to play and retails for $30.

1. Place the Central Board in the middle of the game table, placing it on the correct side depending on the number of players. Place the Ship Token on the starting space.
2. Give each player a Captain Board and three Doubloons.
3. Shuffle all the Loot Cards and place them in a deck face-down next to the Central Board. Then, deal one card in each of the three spaces known as a Share of Loot.
4. The last Captain who drank rum is declared the first player. Give them the Parrot (used to break ties) and the Hat Token (used to keep track of who the first player is and make sure everyone has the same number of turns).
Game Play - On your turn you will pick up the first Share of Loot and decide one of two things:
1. Take the Share - Take all the Loot Cards and place them around your Captain Board. All cards are placed face up except for Rum and Secret Cards.
2. Leave the Share - Place the Loot Cards back on the space and put the top card from the Loot Card deck on top of it face-down. If there are already three cards on a specific space, add one Doubloon to it instead.

If you take a share, play goes to the next person clockwise. If you leave a share, go to the second share and repeat the two steps. If you leave that share, do the same for the third share. If you do not take any shares, draw the top Loot Card from the deck. Players will continue performing these actions until the end of a round with a two sword symbol on the Central Board. This is known as a Boarding Action. After each of these rounds, you determine strength of your crew by adding up value of Pirates and any Items cards. You then compare with the player to your left and right. Each winner (starting with the one with the Parrot) then applies the effect of each Pirate card.

The game ends after the final Boarding Action is resolved.Tally up your points from Relics, Items, Rum, Secret Cards, and Doubloons. The most points wins.
When I first introduced my wife to this game, she was a little hesitant about it due to it being about pirates. She figured it would have a lot of conflict (not entirely wrong) and that the theme would just not appeal to her. I reassured that these were sky pirates, like in one of her favorite movies Stardust. This was enough to get her to try it, but I had to watch Stardust again for the umpteenth time..a fair trade I suppose. The part that I thought she would hate the most would be the conflict with the pirates, but she was ruthless in games and has beaten me every game, but one, due to the fact that she went heavy on recruiting a strong pirate crew.

The game itself is very simple to learn and easy to teach. The core mechanics are press-your-luck and set collection. It also has a three round conflict resolution, similar to 7 Wonders. What I like best about the game is that not every card is going to help you immediately. Some of the relics will start out in the negatives, before they go positive, so you are taking a risk acquiring them, but the payoff will be huge if you succeed. I also like that the pirates go away after every boarding action. This prevents someone from getting a big lead in their battle strength and others from not being able to catch up in later rounds. The other aspect I liked was the artwork and the back of the cards. There are four different "suits" of cards with a variable value for each card. So when you are deciding whether or not to press your luck, you have an idea of what the cards could be, but you don't know the specifics.

I really enjoyed this game, as it is quick and fun. It's easy to set up and you can play it one or many times, and neither will take a long time. However, I found that the game experience varied depending on the number of players. Two players is a good game, but the conflict feels very direct with your opponent. Four players, you feel like you have some control over the person to your left and to your right, but there's that player right across from you that you will only affect in the most indirect way possible. Three players is where this game shines and the one I found most enjoyable. No matter your player count of 2-4, you will still find this game to be a fun experience.

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Station to Station (Loyola Press)

Any good Catholics know the Stations of the Cross. He (or she) might not pray them as often as he should, but come Lent, every Friday, there they are, in the Church following the panels/mosaics that adorn the House of God. I have to ask, though. Do you know that there is an alternate Stations of the Cross? On Good Friday of 1991, Pope John Paul II celebrated what is now known as the Scriptural Stations of the Cross, given such a name, because they draw exclusively from Sacred Scripture and not Sacred Tradition, meaning you won't find Veronica in these. Gary Jansen recently penned a book called Station to Station, which takes an Ignatian journey through the Scriptural Stations of the Cross.

Station to Station is an approximately 150 page paperback book. It is primarily divided into two parts. The first part asks the question "Why This Journey?" Simply put, we are put on this earth to love and serve God, and that is an excellent reason of why we pray the Stations of the Cross. However, Jansen doesn't settle for this simple answer. He digs deeper. He asks us to imagine if the person we loved the most went from being a person so loved to being so despised and jealous of that they were sentenced to death, clearly a metaphor for Jesus and how much we should love Him. Later on he references T.S. Eliot, talking about time past and time present being contained in time future. If this is true, then we have the opportunity to transport ourselves back to Jesus' Passion and being present for Him when almost everyone had abandoned Him. Jansen then provides us with a brief summary of what the Stations of the Cross is and how the traditional and Scriptural Stations differ. He continues by explaining how the Stations transformed him and can transform us, and goes so far as to explain that if we meditate on them regularly, each station can help shape our view on God's creation, providing specific examples for each Station.

In the second part of the book, we get to the meat of the text, the actual Stations. Each Station is laid out in systematic format. First, we are presented with a Scripture passage for the Station. Next, Jesus' Response in the specific Station. Then, we are called on to Encounter Jesus. For example. in the First Station, Jansen suggests we set an alarm for 3 PM for one week. Daily, when that alarm goes off, we should stop what we are doing, say a little prayer or simply just be in God's presence. After the Encounter, we are presented with another Scripture passage to take as prayer. Last we are going to review the experience of this Station and how it made us feel and a closing Imagine section which paints a mental image of the Station. Sprinkled throughout these Stations, Jansen also presents us with three brief conversations - 1. God the Father, 2. Mary, Jesus' Mother, and 3. Jesus on the Cross. These are opportunities presented to us to speak to them in our own words, using our emotions, not a rote prayer.

Overall, I found this book to be a a very interesting read. Jensen managed to keep a very prayerful and reverent tone is his book, but he also managed to mix in his personal experiences, some older literary references, and newer pop culture references (Frozen for example). This created a book that was not just for a specific audience but one that can appeal to a wider base. This is a book that I plan to re-visit and make use of this coming Lent, especially on Fridays.

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Whisper in the Ruins (Servant Books)

The Whisper in the Ruins is the third book in Lisa Hendey's Chime Travelers series. The book begins at St. Anne's School with the annual Pet Blessing that occurred every year on the Feast of St. Francis. The next day, while showing up for church cleaning duty, the twins (Patrick and Katie) discover that someone has thrown a brick through one of the stained glass windows. The twins have a theory on who committed the crime, and it is Peter, an overly aggressive boy in their class. Another Saturday when they are cleaning, Patrick gets transported back in time to the year 1205.

Back in time, Patrick meets a boy named Francis. At first, he wondered if it was Pope Francis, but he quickly realizes it's not. Francis give Patrick a tour of his home. He tells him that his parents want to marry him off, but Francis is more interested in a life of poverty and serving God. Also in the past, Francis enlightens Patrick on his call to restore San Damiano. When Patrick is transported back to his own time, he realizes that God is calling for repair of St. Anne's and all churches. He and Katie also come up with a plan to figure out what is actually troubling Peter and figure out how they can help him. I'll leave the rest of the story for you to discover yourself.

This was a very touching book in the Chime Travelers series. Lisa Hendey showed real talent in presenting a real problem with a real solution. This shows great depth for a children's book and is much appreciated. Too often authors dumb down books for children, but Lisa proved you don't need to do this. Her treatment of St. Francis and what he might have been like a boy was also handled well and is a great read for fans of St. Francis. I highly recommend this book.

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

What's Up (Strawberry Studio)

Late last year, I reviewed the quick, fun game 3 Wishes, which was originally published by Strawberry Studio (located in Poland) and picked up for U.S. distribution by Passport Game Studios. Today, I am reviewing the second game from Strawberry Studio's catalog called What's UpWhat's Up is a memory and set-collection game for 2-4 players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 10-20 minutes to play.

The game consists of 30 double-sided bird cards. Every bird card has 1-3 birds on it in one of the four colors of red, green, yellow, and purple. On the opposite of a card is the same number of birds only a different color OR the same color of birds only a different number. For example, a card with one red bird on one side, and on its opposite side will either have one green/yellow/purple bird or two/three red birds. To play the game, shuffle the bird cards and arrange them on a table so that no cards are covered. The recommended initial setup is a 5 x 6 grid. The youngest player is the starting player.
Game Play
The active player flips exactly one card and then may add it to their collection if it flips. Your collection has a maximum of four rows (one for each color). Birds must be added in numeric order (1, 2, and 3). If you can't add a bird to your collection, you return the card (flipped) to its position and play proceeds clockwise. The game ends one of two ways. 1. Complete 2/3/4 rows in a 4/3/2 player game. OR 2. All but three bird cards remain unclaimed or no one is able to claim a bird after eight turns. Then, the person with the most birds in their collection wins.

What's Up is a fast-paced game that is equal parts memory and luck. At about 10-20 minutes of play time, it is a good appetizer to start a serious night of gaming or a good dessert to finish a night of gaming. I especially enjoy playing it with my son as its a game that is simple enough for him to understand it, and it does a good job of teaching color recognition, number sequence, and memorization. What I really like about the game is the artwork. Each bird has their own personality. The green bird looks a little lazy, and the red bird looks a little moody. Yellow is perky, and purple is content. All four games in Strawberry Studio's catalog have art done by Magdalena Markowska, and I look forward to seeing more of her work in other games. At the moment, What's Up is not available for purchase in the U.S., but hopefully Passport Game Studios or another publisher will pick this one up soon.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Avignon: Pilgrimage (Button Shy Games)

If you know anything about me, you know my three biggest interests are religion (primarily Catholicism and Orthodoxy), reading, and playing games. When two or more of those areas intersect, it makes for a very fun experience for me. Last year, Button Shy Games released a two-player wallet game called Avignon: A Clash of Popes. Side Note: Button Shy Games specializes in wallet games. Wallet games are composed of about 20 cards and fit in a little plastic wallet for ultimate portability. This year Button Shy Games is kickstarting a standalone expansion to Avignon: A Clash of Popes called Avignon: Pilgrimage. It plays two players and takes about 20 minutes to play. The game can be yours for a pledge of $12, or you can get the original, the expansion, and several different promos for a total of $30 ($12 + $12 + $4 + $2).

1. Setup the map card between both players. The order of the map should go Avignon, Nice, Genoa, Florence, and Rome.
2. Shuffle the twelve character cards and place five face-up in a row extending from Genoa. The remaining cards form a face-down deck.
3. One player is Rome and the other player is Avignon. Rome always goes first.

Game Play - On your turn, you may perform two actions listed below, not taking the same action twice.
1. Beseech - Pull a character one space closer to you.
2. Chastise - Push a character one space away from you.
3. Excommunicate - Choose a character in play, and place it in the discard pile. Draw a new card and replace it in the exact spot as the excommunicated card.
4. Petition - Use the unique ability on a character to perform their specific action.

If any of the four actions causes a character to move past Rome or Avignon, that character enters the appropriate congregation. The game ends when someone has three characters in their congregation or specific situations revolving around the noble. If you have the noble and your opponent has the knight, you win. If you have the noble and the peasant, you lose.

The setup and game play is the same for both Avignon: A Clash of Popes and Avignon: Pilgrimage. The big difference is the characters. In the original game, you have Bishops, Cardinals. Inquisitors, Knights, Peasants, and Nobles. In the expansion, you have Vicars, Nuncios, Canonists, Courtesans, Ascetics, and Scribes. This not only adds new roles with new artwork, but new petitions which they can perform. This creates a unique game experience from the original, and some of the petitions seem to also add a bit more depth to the game concept.

There are several things I like about this game with the first thing being that the game is based on actual historical events. The Papal Schism did actually occur, and it lasted approximately 40 years. During this time, there was great contention over who the real pope was. The fact that it lasted this long, also meant that the original pope and antipope involved in this schism passed away and new ones were elected. This was definitely a black mark in the history of the Catholic Church. The next thing I like about this game is the ease of teaching and learning. The mechanics in this game are simple, but there is a subtle strategy in not only knowing what moves to make, but when to make them. Finally, the strongest point for me is the interchangeability. If you own both games, you can mix and match the characters (based on their faction) to create different versions of the game, creating an ever-changing strategy you need to develop to win. If you are a fan of history, Catholic history, and/or portable games, this is one you'll want to check out and back on Kickstarter!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Mythe (Passport Game Studios)

Any child of the 1980s and 1990s remembers The Legend of Zelda and going on an epic quest that is 8-bit in nature. It was the first video game I remember beating, and I did it on both difficulty levels. Well, imagine going on a tinier quest, but no less epic. Instead of being the hero Link, you are a little mouse. Instead of trying to save the Triforce, you are trying to save the Sacred Cheese! I present to you the board game MytheMythe is a game for 2-5 players, ages 6+. It takes about 20 minutes to play and retails for $30.
1. Open the pop-up game board and place it in the center of the table. (It is recommended to bend it a little more than necessary, to get the pop-ups to stay up, but be careful!)
2. Place the Sacred Cheese on the last place of the board and the Red Dragon in the second to last space.
3. Choose a color Mouse and take the corresponding reference sheet. Then, place all the mice in the enclosed area known as the Village.
4. Depending on the number of players, you may need to remove some cards for 3, 4, or 5, players.
Game Play - A turn consists of two phases:
1. Draw Cards - Draw one card from another player and place it face up in front of you. You may then continue to draw cards one by one, until you decide to stop and Advance on the board or you draw an Obstacle card. To Advance add up the total number on your cards and move based on the the points of each space. If you drew an Obstacle, your turn immediately ends, and you don't Advance.
2. Give Cards - Take all the cards you drew your turn and add them to your hand. Then, distribute cards, face-down, one-by-one to other players. You can distribute zero cards or all but one. The only rule is that every player must have at least one card in their hand.
3. Repeat these steps with the next player. The game ends when a player defeats the dragon. To do this, they need one of three cards (Sword, Shield, or Fairy). They must then land on the dragon's space per normal advancing rules.

This game is a masterpiece of production value in a little box. For starters, there are mice meeples and a dragon meeple. This is a nice touch over cubes or generic pawns. The Sacred Cheese is made of metal and has a nice weight to it. The board is a pop-up, which is crazy in a good way! And let's not ignore the gorgeous art on the cards, which are of a size much more substantial than playing cards. It's hard to believe that this game was designed for children ages 6 and up. With all that said, I do fear for the pop-up board and wonder how long it will last, as I have a son, who isn't that gentle at times, and with a $30 price tag, it would be a bit expensive to simply replace the game if the board was destroyed.

The game play itself is simple, but not overly simple. You press your luck in deciding how many cards to draw each round and knowing when to stop. You also strategically re-distribute the cards, so you can steer your opponent into only being able to draw certain cards from you and hopefully stacking the odds in your favor. The game has a two-player variant, but I did not find it enjoyable, as I think the game shines with at least three players and preferably four. Overall, this was a fun game for both the family and light gamers. I can't say I would pay $30 for it, but if you can pick it up for under $20, it's worth it for components, artwork, and all around fun.

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