Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Adoration: Favorite Eucharistic Hymns (Pauline Books and Media)

The Daughters of St. Paul are a group of religious women who have dedicated themselves to sharing the love of Christ with the world through the use of media. If you look at their catalog and the amount of books they publish every year, it is clear that they are succeeding in their mission and vocation. I have been reviewing their books for four years, and they have books for Catholics of all ages. What I did not know about them, though, was that they had a very successful choir as well. Today, I would like to tell you about their latest CD - Adoration: Favorite Eucharistic Hymns.

Adoration is a two-disc album that previously sold 50,000+ copies as cassette. It contains 31 hymns, both instrumental and sung, in both English and Latin. Some of the songs from this album include, "I am the Bread of Life," "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire," "Here I Am, Lord," and "What Wondrous Love." Also included with this album is an online supplement the provides two hours of adoration - one entitled "Jesus the Good Shepherd," and the other "I Am With You." These provide you with prayers, readings, reflections, and tell you what tracks you can play from the album to line up with the holy hour.

The hymns are expertly picked and beautifully sung, displaying both their melodic voices and great love for Jesus. At the moment, I have only listened to this album in my car and not in the presence of our Lord. However, if you are like me and struggle in Eucharistic Adoration, you should consider getting a copy and transferring it to an iPod or something so that it is readily available to you. I think this album is perfect for Pastors, Directors of Religious Education, Retreat Leaders, and Catechists, as they can use it as a useful tool/resource. Even if you don't possess one of these titles, you will still enjoy the album and find it spiritually beneficial.

This CD was provided to me for free by Pauline Books and Media.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Strawberry Ninja (Strawberry Studio)

Strawberry Studio is the micro/filler game producing line of NSKN Games. So far in their catalog, they have produced 3 Wishes and What's Up. The third upcoming game in their catalog is Strawberry Ninja (fitting name, given the studio's name). Strawberry Ninja is a cooperative game for 1-4 players, ages 8+. It takes 20 minutes to play, and you can pledge for a copy on Kickstarter for $10. (You read that right...$10!) In this game, you and your fellow farmers notice that produce is vanishing from your garden. It's the notorious Strawberry Ninja! You must guide your brave cat towards the ninja and help him apprehend the culprit before twelve turns expire.

1. Shuffle the Strawberry Field cards together and set aside ten randomly. Add the Strawberry Ninja card to these ten cards then shuffle them together.
2. Use this deck to form a 4 x 3 face-down grid, leaving one space open.
3. Place the Kitty Pawn on one of the face-down cards.
4. Shuffle the Movement cards together and make a face-down deck.
5. Place the Round Tracker card on the table with it marked on position one.
Game Play - Each round the active player performs the following actions in order:
1. Shift a card that is adjacent to an empty space into the empty space. (Note: If you shift the card the Kitty is on, the Kitty moves too. If you shift to an open position where the Kitty is, the Kitty is placed on top of the card.)
2. Shift a different card that is adjacent to an empty space into the empty space. Same rules apply as above.
3. Reveal the last card you shifted. If the card has game text on it, resolve the text. (Example: When revealed, peek at another card without revealing it.)
4. Reveal the top card of the Movement deck, and move the Kitty according to the direction on the card. If it would move the Kitty off the grid, skip the movement. Then, move the round marker to the next position.
5. If is it the final round (Round 12), you must pounce! Otherwise, this action is optional. Reveal the card the Kitty is on. If you reveal the Strawberry Ninja, you caught him! If you reveal any other card, he escaped!
6. After pouncing, reset the game according to setup. You win if you catch the Strawberry Ninja twice, and you lose if he escapes twice.

Strawberry Ninja is a cute little cooperative game that is fun for the whole family. It is quick to play, simple to learn, and doesn't take up much shelf or table space. With the grid shifting twice per turn, a random assortment of strawberry field cards, and different resolutions on each text, each game will be just a little different. I especially like the gopher cards that act like a secret passageway to each other. I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of the artwork, which is surprising because it is the same artist as their first two games. My wife and I agree though that the eyes on the cards look a little creepy. This might be a turn-off for some kids. That niggle aside, the game play is solid, and this is a very light introduction to cooperative play for young children and people new to gaming. Strawberry Studio once again proved that they know how to get the most amount of game play from such a small set of cards (19 total). I look forward to the many games they will come out with and can't wait until we get to see Pyramid of the Sun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Food Truck Champion (Daily Magic Games)

They say that love is the universal language, and while that is all well and good, if we're being honest with ourselves, it's actually food. Food is more than just sustenance to people. It's passion, creativity, history, memories, and culture all rolled up in one. It's why people go out for dinner on first dates. It's why holidays revolve around the kitchen and the table. It's why so many people start restaurants, even if it's one of the least successful ventures out there. Recognizing people's love of food, Daily Magic Games took a popular game (Glory to Rome), re-themed it, and improved it to gives us Food Truck ChampionFood Truck Champion is game for 2-5 players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 60 minutes to play and you can own the game for a pledge of $24 on Kickstarter.

1. Give each player a Food Truck Board, their matching Owner Card, and a Starting Order Card. Place your Owner Card face-down on your player board and your Starting Order Card face-up below your Food Truck Board.
2. Shuffle the Game Cards and deal six to each player. This forms the player's starting hand and is kept secret.
3. Deal eight cards face-up in the center of the table to form the Marketplace, and place the remaining cards next to the Marketplace to form the draw deck.
4. Take two Popularity Tokens per player (valued 1 through 3) and sort them into stacks based on their value. Insert Critique Tokens into those stacks based on number of players. (Example: In a two-player game, a stack would look like this: two Popularity Tokens, one Critique Token, two Popularity Tokens, and one Critique Token.
5. Choose the starting player and give them the Active Player Card.
Game Play - On your turn, you may take one of the three actions:
1. Market Research - Draw cards from the deck equal to your draw limit. If you end up with more than six cards, discard down to six.
2. Take Charge - Pick up your Owner Card from your Food Truck Board and add it to your hand.
3. Lead a Staff Action - Choose a card from your hand to lead a staff action. Announce which one you are leading (see below) and place the card in the center of your Food Truck Board.
a. Driver: Move a card from the Marketplace to your Fridge as an Ingredient.
b. Cashier: Move a card from the Marketplace to your Plating Area as an Order Ticket.
c. Manager: Move a card from the Marketplace to your Hired Staff as a bonus staff action for future turns.
d. Prep Cook: Move a card that is an Ingredient from your Fridge to an Order Ticket in your Plating Area.
e. Executive Chef: Play a card as an Ingredient to your hand onto an Order Ticket in your Plating Area.

Note: Players may follow you, in turn order, if they play a game card with a matching Staff Action or Owner Card from their hand. They can also follow if they have a matching card in their Hired Staff.

When you complete an order by placing the last Ingredient on it, you remove the Order Ticket from your Plating Area and set it aside, turning it horizontal. You then take a Popularity Token equal to the number of ingredients required to complete the order. If a Critique Token is revealed, player review their Order Tickets and choose one for critique. Bonus points are awarded at the end of the game for each set of flavor profile ingredients you collect. The game ends when two stacks of Popularity Tokens are exhausted.

We are all familiar with games that have multi-purpose cards, the most famous being Glory to Rome. Food Truck Champion takes this mechanic, and gives it a different flavor that more people can relate to...food! Couple the theme with the art of Claire Donaldson (of the Go Nuts for Donuts fame) and you have a meaty game that is sure to have everyone coming back for seconds! I really like how each player's truck has its own personality and cooking style. The names are clever too...Sol Sisters and Herban Garden are both very punny and reflective of their signature dishes. Some examples of the food include classic fries, grandma's apple pie, sticky rice cakes, and pickled beet salad. The game requires a great deal concentration to play due to the timing involved in playing this game. You may think you have the perfect action, but since people have the ability to follow your action, they might end up having a better turn than you did. Sometimes your concentration is broken though, because these cards make you so hungry! If this sounds like a fun game to you, I highly encourage you to back it on Kickstarter. You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Agricola: Family Edition (Mayfair Games)

Agricola is a board game that has been around for over a decade and still stands the test of time. If you visit the Boardgamegeek website, you will see that it still ranks #11 out of tens of thousands of games. That says something to its longevity that despite all the hot new games released every year, it still stands the test of time. I looked into playing it one time, but when I saw the amount of expansions and decks of cards that you could add to it to make the game new/different/better, I shrunk away and said, maybe this game is not for me. Luckily for me and other newer gamers out there, Mayfair Games has released a Family Edition of this classic that streamlines the game, making setup, game play, and scoring easier! Agricola: Family Edition is a game for 1-4 players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $45.
1. Place the game board in the middle of the table with the round marker on space one.
2. Attach the appropriate game board extension depending on the number of players.
3. Place all the animals, resources, grain, stables, and food markers next to the board.
4. Also place the rooms (wood side up), pastures, begging, and substitute markers next to the board.
5. Place the windmill, basketmaker's workshop, pottery, joinery, and depot into their respective spaces on the board. All other improvements are placed above the game board.
6. Give each player a starting house (wood side up) and two meeples of their color.
7. Determine a starting player randomly. They receive the rooster and two food. All other players receive three food.
Game Play - The game is played over 14 rounds with each round having three phases:
1. Preparation - Place new goods on the game board wherever a colored arrow is pictured. (Note: The number of goods is dictated by the number to the left of the goods.)
2. Work - Players place one of their meeples on an action space on the game board, carrying out the action immediately. Proceed clockwise until all players have placed their meeples.
3. Returning Home - Take your meeples off the action spaces and place them back on your house. Then, move the round marker forward one space, which will unlock a new action space.
*4. Harvest - At the end of rounds 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14 a harvest occurs. During the harvest, you must feed your people. Your animals also breed and produce a baby if you have space on your farm to put it.

Each person is worth three points. Each begging marker loses three points. Each tile (not wood rooms), stable, grain in your field, and animal on your farm are all worth one point.

Agricola: Family Edition is a welcome and approachable edition to a classic. The board is modular, so that you can add a piece to it for each game size. The components are amazing quality, in that all the pieces are thick cardboard or wood, and it is a lot of wood! Wooden sheep, wooden cows, wood hay, wooden people,  wooden wood! These pieces feel great in your hand and make the game more appealing to a younger audience, because it makes the game more tangible. I also like that the rules, game play, and scoring are streamlined. This makes the game quick to learn, easy to teach, and an all around pleasant experience. The only negative with the game is replay value. There is not much variability with the game, because the same buildings/improvements come out at the same time every game. That's a negative for experience gamers, but a positive for kids, families, casual gamers, or people who don't want to play the game more than once a month. If you are a more serious gamer, plan on playing Agricola more often, get the recently released Revised Edition. If not, then stick with the Family Edition and you won't be disappointed.

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Meeting God in the Upper Room (Servant Books)

The Upper Room is one of the most important locations in Church history. It was in this room that the Last Supper occurred and Jesus washed His disciples' feet and gave us the Eucharist. Jesus also appeared here after His Resurrection, and this is where Pentecost occurred. Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi recently wrote a book that focuses on these events called Meeting God in the Upper Room. The book is divided into three chapters, which correspond to the three events I mentioned earlier.

The first chapter helps us prepare our Upper Room with some advice from the U.S. Catechism for Adults. It tells us to go to confession, fast, reflect on the readings before Mass, come early for Mass, and go to Eucharistic Adoration. The second chapter discusses the institution of Holy Orders and the Eucharist. Chapter Three was very interesting to me, as it talked about the different personalities present at the Last Supper. In the second part of the book we witness the institution of Penance and a portrait of Thomas. The final part of the book not only gives us a chapter on Pentecost, but one on Mary as well, which I appreciate, because many Christians tend to forget that she was there too. We tend to think that after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, she just faded away. However, she still has a prominent role in the ministry of Jesus.

This book was very well-written and shines light on a place of Christendom that we find so many of our origins. Monsignor Vaghi draws upon Scripture, the Catechism, the Second Vatican Council, and writings of some of our most recent popes to give a compelling read. This book is written with the hands of a pastor, a teacher, and thus it is beneficial for our spiritual growth. With Lent quickly approaching, I recommend picking up a copy and reading your way through it during this season.

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Stories of Hymns (EWTN Publishing)

The Stories of Hymns is a 300 page book that provides the history of "100 of Christianity's greatest hymns." Each chapter begins with the full text of the hymn. After that, there is a couple of pages giving context and history for the hymn, as well as some explanation of the hymn where necessary. Before I picked up this book, I admit that I went in a bit arrogant, thinking I would recognize 90% of these hymns. After all, I grew up Baptist, and they love to sing! And now that I am Catholic, I figured I had been exposed to most all Christian music. WRONG! In fact, I didn't recognize 90% of these hymns. This was very humbling, and I not only learned so much about the hymns that I knew, but I learned about so many other hymns. Before reading through this book, I used to flip through the hymnal and notice names and years, but not really thinking about it. After this book, I now see so much more. I know not only when these were hymns written but why they were written. If you are a lover of hymns or know someone who is, then this is a book that belongs in their life. I would definitely consider getting one for your music minister if they don't already have it, as it will be edifying for them and could lead them into an even deeper ministry, which will be good for them and the church they serve.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Champions of Midgard (Grey Fox Games)

Vikings and Norse mythology are some of my favorite fiction to read. Their mythology is more interesting to me than Greek/Roman, because it just feels so fresh and new to me. These weren't the myths we learned about in school, and that's a shame. Due to my love for vikings and Norse mythology, I tend to gravitate toward games that provide this theme, assuming it is done right and not cheesy. Ole Steiness and Grey Fox Games produced just such a game - Champions of MidgardChampions of Midgard is a worker placement game for 2-4 vikings, ages 10+. It takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to play and retails for $60. In this game you are seeking to gain the most glory by defeating trolls, fighting draugr, and slaying mythical beasts. If you do, you will become the new Jarl.
Initial Game Setup
1. Lay out the game board, placing the Round Marker on the space for Round 1.
2. Shuffle the Market Stall tiles and add them to their spot on the board, depending on number of players.
3. Place the Public Longships on the board and the appropriate number of Private Longships near the board.
4. Shuffle the seven different decks of cards independently. (Rune, Destiny, Merchant Ship, Troll, Draugr, Monster, and Journey). Then, place them face down on their corresponding board spots.
5. Place the Food, Wood, Warrior Dice, Coins, Favor tokens, and Blame tokens near the board.
6. Pick a starting player. Then have the person to the right of the first player (and proceeding counter-clockwise) pick their Viking Leader Board.
7. Give each player their Worker Meeples, and one of each of the following -  Food, Coin, Favor token, Swordsman Die, and a random Destiny Card. One Worker is then returned to the Worker Huts location on the board, for a player to buy in the game.
Round Setup - The following steps are performed before every round.
1. Place the top card from the Troll deck face-up in the Troll space on the board.
2. Place the top two cards from the Draugr deck face-up in the Draugr spaces on the board.
3. Place one Journey card face-down in each empty Journey space on the board.
4. Place one Monster card face-up in each empty Monster space on the board.
5. Place the top card from the Merchant Ship deck face up in the Merchant Ship space on the board.
6. Add one appropriate Warrior Dice to each of the Swordsmith, Hafter, and Blacksmith locations.
7. Add one Food to the Smokehouse location.

Game Play - The game takes place over eight rounds with the players using their Worker Meeples to claim spots on the board and take the action either immediately or after all workers have been placed. Some actions are as follows: Take first player, take a Warrior Dice, go hunting, visit the Merchant Ship, or fight a Troll/Draugr/Monster. After everyone has assigned their workers, those fighting assign as many Warrior Dice as they want to each action they took. (Note: If you are going to fight a Monster, you will need a ship and food to make it there and will also have to resolve any Journey penalties if so.

Round Cleanup
1. Take back all your Worker Meeples.
2. Discard Troll card if he wasn't defeated and give each player one Blame token.
3. Discard any undefeated Draugr cards.
4. Discard any revealed Journey cards.
5. Add one Coin to each undefeated Monster card.

This game takes two things that I love in games, placing workers and rolling dice, and combines them in a way that gives you controlled chaos. A lot of people compare this game to Stone Age, and that's fair. Both are worker placement games that use dice, but Stone Age is a game where experienced players can crush newer players. Champions of Midgard, though a bit more random in nature, feels like everyone (no matter their experience level) has a fighting chance at winning. So let me briefly summarize what I like, dislike, and what I'm of a mixed opinion on.

1. Strong theme - The theme in this game really comes through. I like all the references to Norse mythology in it, the proper Norse vocabulary, etc. It would have been really easy to just call the undead in this game zombies, but they call them Draugr. You also see cubs of Fenrir (the wolf child of Loki). Everything Norse in this game feels right and is really top-notch.
2. Gender equality - I play a lot of games and both my gaming groups have two women in them. It's no fun for them when there is only one female character, or worse none. In this game, there are five viking leader boards, and two of them are women.
3. Easy to learn - The game falls in the light to medium weight category, making it easy to teach to your family and new gamers.

1. Variability - It can be considered both high and low. It is high in that there are many monsters to fight and many end game goals. However, there are only five different viking leader boards.
2. Game components - The artwork on the board and cards is great. The meeples are unfortunately generic and the food and wood are just plain colored cubes. (Note: You can remedy the cube problem with an upgrade of actual meat and wood shaped pieces.)
3. Combat is unpredictable - The dice in this game have a lot of blank sides making your combat very luck dependent. I like the unpredictable nature of combat, because it's very real to life. If we knew in advance who was going to win a battle, why would we even bother fighting?

1. It only play four players. I have two game groups, one of four and one of five, so that means I can play this amazing game with one group, but never with another.
2. If you fail in combat one or two times, it's near impossible to come back. You have to commit dice (and sometimes resources) to combat. If you spend a whole turn or two building up these resources, only to fail, then it's hard to come back from that.

As it is, Champions of Midgard is a very good game, whose positives outweigh the neutrals/negatives of the game. However, they currently are running a Kickstarter campaign with two expansions.

The first expansion is called The Dark Mountains and adds the following:
1. A fifth player is added to the game!
2. A new board to fight monsters known as Bergrisar (mountain giants).
3. Archer dice!
4. A new leader board - Jorunn
5. More trolls, draugr, runes, ships, etc.

The second expansion is called Valhalla and adds the following:
1. Valhalla board
2. A new leader board - Thyra
3. Leader board abilities
4. Epic monsters
5. Valkyrie blessings
6. New dice - Leaders, Berzerkers, and Shieldwarriors
7. Sacrfice tokens for all types of warriors

With the first expansion, you mainly get an increased player count, a new challenge, and more variability/replay value. With the second expansion, you get new mechanics and resources. Your fallen warriors also serve a purpose of gaining you honor now and not just causing frustration. With this Kickstarter campaign, you can buy either or both expansions, but if you love this game, why wouldn't you buy both?!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sacred Treasures of England (Aim Higher Recordings)

Aim Higher Recordings was founded by Monica and Kevin Fitzgibbons. It is the sister label of the wildly successful DeMontfort Music and has released two Christmas albums to date - Christmas in Harvard Square and Christmastime in New Orleans. Building on these successful albums, they have recently released a third album - Sacred Treasures of EnglandSacred Treasures of England is the debut release from the London Oratory Schola Cantorum Boys Choir. You might recognize the Schola Cantorum from their feature in the The Lord of the Rings movies. The album is composed of the following fourteen tracks, which gives us sacred music from the Renaissance era:

1. Haec dies
2. Gloria
3. Credo
4. Sanctus
5. Benedictus
6. Agnus Dei
7. Salvator mundi I
8. O nata lux
9. Ave Maria
10. Ave verum corpus
11. Haec dies
12. Civitas sancti tui
13. Ave verum corpus
14. Ascendit Deus

The album is approximately one hour in length, and as you can see from the titles, the music is Latin. However, if you are a regular Mass goer, you will recognize a great majority of this music. I was stunned listening to this, because unless you knew you were listening to a boy's choir, you would think this was adults performing due to the level of perfection in their voices. It is clear that these boys practice hard at their craft and truly make it a labor of love in honor of God their creator. Nothing else would could explain the beautiful music that comes from their mouths. I have only had this album for a couple of days, but I like to listen to it in the car on the way to work or back from work, as it helps me erase the troubles of the day. This music is absolutely sublime and it is worth your time to pick up a copy of the album.

To close, I would like to share with you a video of one of the tracks, so that you can experience a taste of their talent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mottainai (Asmadi Games)

Carl Chudyk is a game designer who created one of the most popular games of all time - Glory to Rome. This game popularized the mechanic of cards with multiple uses. Unfortunately, the game is out of print and very expensive to obtain currently. Luckily, Mr. Chudyk developed another game called MottainaiMottainai means "Don't waste," or "Every little thing has a soul." The game is considered to be the "spiritual successor" to Glory to Rome in that it too uses the mechanic of multi-use cards. The game plays 2-5 players, age 13+. It  is available on Amazon for $18 and takes approximately 30 minutes to play.

1. Give each player a Temple Mat. On your temple, there are four places to use cards - Helpers, Task, Sales, and Craft Bench. Completed Works will go next to your temple in either the Gallery or the Gift Shop. (Note: The Gallery will assist your Helpers, and the Gift Shop will assist your Sales.)
2. Shuffle the deck of cards and deal five cards to each player to form their hand.
3. Deal one face-down card into each Temple's task slot.
4. First player is determined by each player drawing the top card from the deck. The earliest alphabetical card goes first.
Game Play - Your turn is divided into three parts. You take a complete turn and then play passes clockwise.
A. Morning:
1. Discard down to five cards in your hand.
2. Perform any "in the morning" effects on completed works.
3. Discard the card in your Temple's task slot to the floor.
4. You may place a new task in your Temple's task slot or take a player action later.
B. Noon:
1. Perform each opponent's task, going clockwise from yourself.
2. Perform your task. If you don't have a task, take a prayer action (drawing a card).
C. Night:
1. Perform any "at night" effects on completed works.
2. Draw the card in your waiting area into your hand.

The game ends one of two ways - 1 . A player builds a fifth work in one wing of their Temple or 2. The last card is drawn from the deck. Your score is tabulated as follows - 1. The value of your works in Gift Shop and Gallery. 2. The value of covered sales. 3. Backorders 4. Points given by card effects on completed works.

Mottainai is a game of subtle brilliance, so subtle in fact, that I would argue that you won't notice how brilliant the game is until multiple times playing through it. The first time you play it, it will take you a bit longer than normal to play the game, because you are trying to understand the rules and best explain them to others. I like that the game is quick and plays up to five players, because I generally play with five total and it's not always easy to find a game to accommodate that amount. The fact that it is quick means that we could play it several times in one night to get a better feel for it. I unfortunately have never had the opportunity to play Glory to Rome, so I can't make a head-to-head comparison, but maybe one day.

What I really like in the game is the the replay value, because I don't want to just have a game played once and then collect dust on my shelf. With the cards being multi-use, you will see different ones at different times and use them in different ways depending on the situation and stage of the game. Therefore, each game you adapt your strategy to maximize your turns and points. The only thing I don't like about this game is the theme. I can get into a lot of themes (zombies and Cthulhu excluded), but playing as a Buddhist monk was a bit strange to me. Other than that, it is a solid game and one that has an expansion coming out this year, so if you like this game, be on the lookout for Mottainai: Wutai Mountain.

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

How the Choir Converted the World (Emmaus Road Publishing)

Music is an essential part of every society. It's art. It's a distraction. It elicits emotions. It's how people express themselves. It's how history is recorded and stories are remembered. Music is also a vital part of religion. In his latest book, How the Choir Converted the World, Mike Aquilina tells us how effectively the earliest Christians used music.

The book begins by taking us back to the Old Testament. The Babylonian Exile has ended. The Temple has been rebuilt. The people have been purified. And then, we have music! Aquilina then takes us even further back and shows us who was Biblically credited with creating the first instruments (Jubal). We also see references to Miriam's song, the walls of Jericho, and the many Psalms of David. The second chapter details music as it was used with pagan sacrifice. Aquilina even goes so far as to compare ancient Roman culture with our culture and how the music and entertainment then was just as abhorrent as what passes today for music in popular culture.

The book then walks us through important figures and moments Church music history. It begins by discussing music in the times of Apostles, which leads to Ephrem, Ambrose, and Augustine. The book ends with a chapter dedicated to the Te Deum and a closing chapter about what we need to make music more central to our Church again. Aquilina firmly believes that if we utilized music the way the early Church did, then we could change the world for the better.

As with all of Mike Aquilina's books I have read, he shows a great deal of research and scholarship to argue his case effectively. I really like that he continues to focus heavily on the early Church, as it is sadly a forgotten time that more Christians could benefit from learning about. As someone who doesn't have a musical bone in his body and therefore doesn't appreciate music as much as I should, I walked away from this book a lot wiser and more informed. I normally attend an early enough Mass during the week, specifically because there is no singing. However, having learned about both the history and significance of music in the early days of the Church, I realize now that I should not avoid music, merely because I lack the ability to beautifully make it, but I should seek it out and let it transform my life. In doing so, hopefully, I can make a little difference, and slowly perhaps we can transform and convert the world.

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Yes of Jesus Christ (Crossroad Publishing

The Yes of Jesus Christ is a short book by Joseph Ratzinger that offers reflections on faith, hope, and love. In the first part, the book begins with the question, "Is faith an attitude worthy of a modern and mature human being?" The answer is an obvious yes, but Ratzinger goes on to explain that there are three elements of everyday faith. 1. Its always directed to someone who "knows" the matter at hand. 2. Trust of the majority who in their daily use of things are able to build less on the substantial knowledge that should lie behind such use. 3. A certain verification of knowledge in my everyday experience. The book then agnosticism asking if it is a viable solution (Clearly no), and pauses to reflect on true wisdom. Natural knowledge of God and supernatural faith is then examined.

The second part of the book takes us back to the 1970s to focus on "the optimism of the modern age and Christian hope." This leads to him listing three Biblical examples of the nature of Christian hope - the Prophet Jeremiah, the Revelation of John, and the Sermon on the Mount. Part Three wraps up focusing on both hope and love, because the two belong together. Therefore, he discusses the essential nature of love, love and the Cross, and agape love. The book then ends with two sermons, which tie together faith and love, the first one focusing on inheriting eternal life and the other on the feast of St. Henry. Like most of Ratzinger's works, this is not one you casually skim or breeze through. This is one that you take the time to read and digest, and then re-read it, because if you're like me you missed a bunch your first time through.

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Nerdy Inventions (Mayday Games)

Today, I'm reviewing another game published by Mayday Games called Nerdy Inventions. In Nerdy Inventions you and your opponents are inventors trying to compete to build the best inventions which can produce the most abilities and score the most points. The game plays 2-4 players, age 8+. It takes about 30 minutes to play and retails for $20.

1. Form the Invention Row by arranging the Dice Value Cards in descending value from six to one.
2. Give each player the Starting Invention Card corresponding to their player number. The card is placed face up in front of the player to form their Laboratory.
3. Every player, except the starting player, is also given a Tool Card.
4. Shuffle the Invention Cards to form the Invention Deck. Then, deal one card face-up under each Dice Value Card.
Game Play - A turn consists of three phases:
1. Roll three dice
2. Take any of four possible actions in any order as many times as you are able and wish to:
a) Build an invention
b) Use an invention
c) Charge an invention
d) Swap a card in the invention row
3. Refill the invention row

If a player uses a certain level five card ability, the game ends immediately. Otherwise, once the last card from the invention deck is dealt to the invention row, players keep taking turns until it is the start player's turn, so that everyone has the same number of turns. You then add up points on each invention and tool card in your laboratory. If you have a set of seven or more different kinds of inventions, you score bonus points.

Nerdy Inventions is a quick little filler game that focuses on dice manipulation and engine building. With each invention that you build, you unlock more powers such as increasing/decreasing dice values, re-rolling dice, swapping inventions, and even splitting up the value of a die to make two dice. The game plays quick, and it is pretty easy to both learn and teach. There is also a little bit of the luck factor, as with all dice game, but that is mitigated over time with your inventions. The artwork and inventions are steampunk in theme, which is an oft-visited theme, but not overpowering in this since. What I would have liked is the inventions to have names. Sure, you can name yourself, but it felt like the game was incomplete without them. Overall, I would recommend this game for casual gamers and families. I'm not sure I'd pay retail for it, but if it was on sale, it be worth checking out as it's quick, portable, and fun.

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

AssassinCon (Mayday Games)

Everyone loves a good convention, and if it has prizes, that makes it even better. This is true for weddings, board games, and even assassins. (Yes, you read the right). AssassinCon is a once a year event where the best assassins gather worldwide to prove who is the best. There is no actual killing, simply deception and elimination. AssassinCon is a game for 4-6 players, age 10+. It retails for $30 and takes approximately 30 minutes to play.

1. Place the game board in the middle of the table.
2. Randomly place the six Assassin Pawns onto the game board in each room marked with a star.
3. Randomly choose a player to be the Lead Assassin. In future rounds, this will rotate clockwise.
4. All players place their Status Card face-up with the #1 at the top. The player to your left is your Pursuer, and the player to your right is your Target.
5. Form six decks of Movement Cards for each color Assassin. Place that Assassin's Target card on top. Then, have everyone close their eyes while the Lead Assassin flips the decks face-down and shuffles them around. Players will then choose a deck at random.
6. Each player then gives their Target card face-down to their Pursuer, who looks at it in secret. (Note: If playing with fewer than six players, you will do this for dummy players as well, keeping Target cards secret.)
Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds with three phases each round.
1. Planning Phase - Each player selects one Movement Card from their deck and hands them face-down to the Lead Assassin. He also collects cards from any dummy players. He then shuffles the cards. (Note: Eliminated players still contribute cards.) During this phase, you are trying to spook the other players into Calling Guards. If guards are called three things can happen and then the round ends:
a. The accusation is correct and the accuser receives one point, plus all points accumulated by the Pursuer this round.
b. The accusation is incorrect and the card revealed matches an eliminated player. The eliminated player receives two points.
c. The accusation is incorrect and the card revealed matches an active or dummy player. Everyone but the accuser receives two points.
2. Movement Phase - The Lead Assassin reveals the Movement Cards one at a time and moves the pawns accordingly.
3. Elimination Phase - If a player ends up in the same room as his target, he may make an elimination by showing the color of his deck to only his Target. If successful, the Pursuer receives one point and the eliminated player gives his Target to his Pursuer. If unsuccessful, the Pursuer is eliminated and the Pursuer gives his Target to the attempted elimination.

The round ends when two or fewer assassins are remaining or players have no cards left in their hand. At the end of a round if one players has five or more points that player wins. If a tie, keep playing until there is a clear winner.

When I first read through the rule book, I was a little confused at how the game would play. I then re-read it and realized that I just needed to play the game through, and that was the best decision. The game seems very simple at its core, but there is actually more to this game than first appears. You are not just trying to eliminate your target as quickly as possible. Instead, it is more like a game of cat and mouse. You want to eliminate your opponent, but you want to do it an opportune time, when it isn't obvious what you are doing and who you are. If you are too obvious, guards will be called and you will be busted. If you are subtle enough, then you can accumulate a couple of eliminations in one round. The game plays best with more players. When you have dummy players, it takes a bit of the fun away from the game. What I like best is the quick nature of the game. Since you are only playing to five points, the game takes around 2-3 rounds to complete and then you can play the game again or move on to a different game. Lastly, the game is actually more family-friendly than I initially thought it would be, because no one really dies, they are just eliminated from the contest.

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

Manual for Marian Devotion (TAN Books)

Manual for Marian Devotion is the third book in a line of spiritual manuals published by TAN Books. The first two being Manual for Spiritual Warfare and Manual for Eucharistic Adoration. The book begins with a "How to use this Manual" section, which explains that this book is to be used "to provide Catholics with a basic framework for understanding the Church's veneration of Mary and fostering it in their own devotional lives." The reader is then encouraged to carry this book everywhere and make use of it especially during Holy Hours and other devotional times. The book is then divided into two parts - Preparing for Marian Devotion and Aids for Marian Devotion.

In Preparing for Marian Devotion, the book walks us through Mary in Scripture (both Old and New Testament), doctrines on Mary, and Marian apparitions. The second section provides us with prayers, hymns, writings of the saints, and miracles performed through Mary's intercession. These sources are both from Eastern and Western saints, which I always appreciate because it seems the Eastern saints can be forgotten and overlooked in Roman Catholicism. The part I enjoyed the most was the legends associated with Mary. Unfortunately, there weren't many of those. However, they did include an apocryphal work (The Protoevangelion) as one of their sources as well, so that was a welcome surprise.

Overall, I found this to be a very enriching and enlightening book. As a convert to Catholicism, this book would have been very helpful earlier in my conversion when I was still new to the faith. It's not that I doubted Mary or didn't appreciate her, it's just that I didn't understand her as much as I would have liked, nor loved her as deeply as I should have. In addition to the beauty within this book, the presentation format is top notch with a blue UltraSoft leather binding. I highly recommend this as a gift for Confirmation, conversion, or graduation.

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Brief Life of Christ (Angelico Press)

One of Bishop Fulton Sheen's greatest books is Life of Christ. It is a 500+ page book that contains great depth and great detail on our Lord Jesus Christ. For some, that is a daunting task to read a book of that length, which is why Bishop Sheen penned A Brief Life of Christ. The book is less than 100 pages long, but it is still as powerful as the original. The book is divided into five chapters - Early Life of Christ; Temptations; The Beatitudes; Public Life and Passion; and Death and Resurrection.

The book begins by telling us of men who claimed to be from God, such as Buddha, Mohammed, and Confucius. Christ is unique in nature for many reasons. First, His birth was predicted years in advance. Second, His coming divided history into B.C. and A.D. Third, He was born in this world to die, not to live. Lastly, He was more than a good teacher. He was either Messiah or liar. The chapter on temptation was very interesting. Sheen explains that Christ's temptations are different than ours and more than just a temptation of physical hunger or testing God. The final chapter was of course the most powerful, because this was the central ministry of Christ. In this chapter, Sheen breaks down the institution of the Eucharist, the agony He went through, and His death. We also see the Resurrection, Pentecost, and the Ascension. The book closes with the suffering and death of Christians worldwide and how their suffering and deaths are not in vain but are redemptive.

This is a short but powerful book and one that I highly recommend. Sheen has a way with words and can bring out truths and points that you have never considered before. I highly recommend this book, especially with Lent coming up. It would make an excellent read during that time (or any time for that matter). Then, after you have read this book I invite you to push yourself and challenge yourself to read Life of Christ.

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

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Castle Panic (Fireside Games)

Cooperative games are one of my favorite games to play with my family. For one, I am part of an overly competitive family, so it is a nice break from trying to crush each other and work together. And for two, it means I can let younger family members play, because even though they will need a little help, it's not like I am helping them to win at my detriment, I am helping them to win for the good of us all. With all that said, I would like to tell you about one of my favorite cooperative games - Castle PanicCastle Panic is a game for 1 to 6 players, ages 10+. It has three expansions for it - The Wizard's Tower, The Dark Titan, and Engines of War, which raises the age to 12+ but keeps the player count at 6. As opposed to telling you about the setup and game play, I want to tell you about what the base game contains and what each expansion adds to it.
Castle Panic Base Game
6 Towers
6 Walls
2 Fortify Tokens
1 Tar Token
49 Monster Tokens
49 Castle Cards
The Wizard's Tower
1 Wizard's Tower (Replaces one of the Walls from the Base game)
49 Monster Tokens (19 New Monsters, 18 Imps, and 6 Mega Bosses)
10 Castle Cards (Supplements the deck from the Base game)
22 Wizard Cards (Forms a new deck to draw cards from
12 Flame Tokens (Burn the monsters or have your Castle burned)
The Dark Titan
1 Agranok Token (Ultimate Boss)
5 Agranok Cards (Decide your difficulty level for the above boss)
3 Support Tokens (Deal damage, build walls, or draw cards)
1 Cavalier Token (Roaming piece who will fight monsters for you)
17 Monster Tokens (New monsters to kill)
5 Castle Cards (Supplements the deck even further)
Engines of War
1 Keep Token (New building placed in the center of your Towers)
1 Catapult Token (Weapon to mount on your Keep)
1 Ballista Token (Weapon to mount on your Keep)
2 Spring Trap Tokens
2 Pit Tokens
2 Barricade Tokens
1 Engineer Tile (Used to build all the goodies listed above)
16 Resource Cards (New deck to build the goodies above)
11 Monster Tokens

Game Review of the Base Game
Castle Panic by itself is a fun game for the whole family. The rules and mechanics are simple enough that kids and adults can easily pick up the game, even younger than age 10 (the recommended age). The board is also colorful and both boldly and clearly labeled, which adds to the easy learning curve. The castle and wall pieces are simple cardboard standees, but it adds an visually appealing 3-D element to the game and is devastating to watch them be destroyed and removed from the game board. What I really love about this game are the monster tokens. For starters, when you have to draw a new one, you hope you don't become overwhelmed by a powerful one or too many in one region. It is also just so much fun rotating the monster's health down to zero. Again, this is a simple mechanic, but so rewarding. I know I used the word simple a lot in my review, but I mean that as nothing but positive, because even though a game may have beautiful simplicity it can still present a challenge to defeat.

Review of the Expansions
The Wizard's Tower adds a very powerful ally to the game - Thalgar the Wizard. In exchange for one of your towers, you construct his tower instead and with it a formidable deck of spells (as long as his tower still stands). You will need all his tricks too, because in addition to a horde of low level Imps, (which can be summoned by other monsters), you have many new monsters to deal with...some of which cause fire damage. You also have six Mega Bosses added to the game (only playing with three per game), which have non-predictable movement and devastating abilities.

The Dark Titan adds the ultimate villain - Agranok. Agranok comes with several difficulty cards, so you can pick how difficult you want him to be or randomly choose and let the fates decide! There are also some support tokens and a Cavalier who will ride around to help you defeat monsters approaching your castle. As powerful as Agranok is, you also have to watch out for the Elite Monsters he brings with him. These monsters require you to roll a die before attacking them. If you roll a 1 or 2, you fail and waste the card you were going to play. Hope you have lucky dice rolls, because a one in three chance you'll fail is very high.

Lastly, Engines of War provides you with physical tools to defeat your enemies. Instead of having resources randomly mixed in your Castle Deck, you now have a very small Resource Deck and an engineer who can fortify a crumbling Castle, attach weaponry to a Keep, and lay out some strategics devices to slow and cripple your enemy. However, if you focus too heavily on the resources, you will find they quickly dwindle and you disappear, perhaps when you need them most. However, don't think that you have the upper hand now, the Monsters have their own barbaric weapons including battering rams, siege towers, and war wagons.

Final Review
The base game of Castle Panic is truly a family game. It is not winnable 100% of the time, but it is an easier game and a more forgiving game. I would describe it as the quintessential family cooperative game. Yes, there are variants - 1. Most monsters killed is ultimate winner, 2. One person plays as the monsters, and 3. Starting with fewer castles, but even with all these, it is still just a family game, and more serious gamers will bore of the game quickly. Thankfully, the expansions elevate this game to a real gamer's game. They add depth, replay value, and new difficulties. They also are great in that you can mix and match them. Want to just fight Agranok? Only add The Dark Titan. Want the full experience? Add them all and see if you can survive. Castle Panic has been around eight years, but in the past two years has added two expansions. I'm curious if this is the end of the line or if there will be more in the pipeline. Either way, it is a game that has a proud place on my shelf and one I still look forward to playing whenever someone suggests it.

The expansions were provided to me for free by Fireside Games in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Oedipus: Trapped by Destiny (TOON Books)

Most people are familiar with the term Oedipus complex and the basics of what it entails. However, if you asked people to explain where the term came from, I would wager that few could tell you much about its origins in Greek mythology. TOON Books recently released Oedipus: Trapped by Destiny. This is the third book in their Graphic Mythologies series with the first two being Theseus and the Minotaur and Orpheus in the Underworld.

Oedipus: Trapped by Destiny begins with King Laius and Queen Jocasta finding out they are pregnant. In order to find out if the child was going to be a boy, he visited the Temple of Apollo. The oracle there told him that the child would be male (Oedipus), but that the child would grow up and kill his father and marry his mother. Devastated by this news, they gave the child to their servant to leave in the wilderness to die. Oedipus was saved and grew up as royalty in Corinth. As he grew up, he had doubts about who his real parents were, so he too went to the Temple of Apollo and heard the same prophecy that King Laius had heard. Oedipus was scared of this prophecy and tried to run away from it. However, in running from his fate, he ultimately ran toward it and fulfilled what the oracle had said. This led to the death of his father, eventual death of his mother, and blinding of himself.

This is another brilliant book from Yvan Pommaux. The story is spot on in accuracy, but censors where necessary. Primarily, it doesn't explicitly show Oedipus gouging his eyes out. The graphic novel format is also very engaging as it enhances the story without distracting from it. Though the book is rated for ages 8+, given the content I would put it more age 12+. If you enjoy Greek mythology and want to introduce it to your children, I highly recommend the three from TOON Books and hope that they continue to publish more of these.

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