Friday, March 31, 2017

YOU. (Ascension Press)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Islebound (Red Raven Games)

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tokaido App (Funforge)

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

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Trials of Saint Patrick (Augustine Institute)

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Francis Drake (Eagle-Gryphon Games)

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Christ and Our Lady (EWTN Publishing)

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tiffin (Rio Grande Games)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Once and Future King (Penguin Galaxy)

Penguin Random House has a history of publishing some of the best and most timeless books in the business. These classics include not only the likes of Homer and Shakespeare, but modern classics like E. Nesbit and William Golding. Recently, they released Penguin Galaxy Series, which includes six iconic works of science fiction and fantasy. The titles are as follows - 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dune, Neuromancer, The Left Hand of Darkness, Stranger in a Strange Land, and my personal favorite The Once and Future King.

For those of you who don't know, The Once and Future King is T. H. White's telling of the legend of King Arthur. The first part of the book, The Sword and the Stone, is where Disney drew his inspiration for the animated classic of the same name. Even though, I personally think Walt butchered the story. The Penguin Galaxy edition of this book is a meaty hardcover, over 700 pages in length. Like the other books in the Penguin Galaxy Series, it begins with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. In this introduction, he begins by talking about reading five of the six books in this series around his twelfth birthday. He then defines the term science fiction. He then goes on to describe his personal encounters with each book. When he initially read The Sword and the Stone, he found it to be a delightful children's story, but when White re-wrote it and incorporated it into The Once and Future King, the charming story had become a bit darker and focused on human nature and government. If you are a fan of Gaiman and his work, like my wife, you will find the introduction to be an interesting look in the mind of an author. If you're like me any only casually know him, you could take it or leave it.

As for the book itself, if you have read it before, this is the story you know and love in the hardcover edition it deserves. If you don't know the story, I'll give you a brief synopsis. The Sword and the Stone involves Wart is raised by Sir Ector, tutored by Merlin, pulls the sword from the stone, and becomes King Arthur. The Queen of Air and Darkness involves Queen Morgause and King Lot opposing King Arthur. Arthur defeats him (with Merlin's help), and Morgause seduces Arthur (who is actually her brother) and gives birth to Mordred. The Ill-Made Knight finally introduces us to Lancelot and Guinevere. Arthur's life and kingdom is slipping out of control, and the knights are sent on the quest for the Holy Grail. The Candle in the Wind is when Arthur and everyone else is old and grey. Lots of killing goes on. Arthur must confront the secret truth he already knows about Lancelot and Guinevere. Mordred wants the throne, and the kingdom falls apart. Before he dies, he tells his story to a page so that hopefully the ideals can live on, and we are told the legend that Arthur will return at some point in the future, which is where we get the title for this book.

I really love this story and could read it once a year if I had time. If you are a fan of Arthurian legend at all, you need this book in your collection. It will not only expand your horizons, it will make you look at some characters in a whole new light, particularly Sir Kay. "He was not at all an unpleasant person really, but clever, quick, proud, passionate and ambitious. He was one of those people who would be neither a follower nor a leader, but only an aspiring heart, impatient in the failing body which imprisoned it."

This book was provided to me for free by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On Suffering and Burnout (EWTN Publishing)

Mother Angelica was a remarkable woman who may one day be a saint. Unfortunately for people of my generation, the bulk of her writings have long been out of print. Thankfully, Sophia Institute Press' partnered with EWTN Publishing to start reprinting hers and other out of print books. Today, I would like to tell you about her book On Suffering and Burnout.

On Suffering and Burnout is a small purple hardcover book that is actually six previously publishing mini-books that were originally published in the 1970s. The current book is divided into three sections - suffering, burnout, and consolation. Each section has two "chapters" within it. The first chapter addresses the concept of the healing power of suffering. This starts off by talking about the purpose of suffering and then leads into different types of suffering - preventative, corrective, repentant, and redemptive. The chapter then further develops redemptive suffering by talking about how Jesus suffered and what we can do to make our suffering matter instead of wasting it. The first chapter in the Burnout section talking about spiritual dryness. She explains that this dryness, though it happens to everyone, is paradoxical because it seems the more we strive to be closer to God, the further we grow apart. She then goes on to tell us that we must not become discouraged by this dryness, but use it become more patient, more humble, and learn to persevere. The chapters on consolation talk heavily on God's silent presence and how God needs us. That sounds so odd to say, but we play an important role in salvation history, so God uses us and relies on us to accomplish his mission.

As I sat reading this book recently, I kept saying to myself, "Giving this book a purple cover was brilliant." I know that's a weird thing to say, but this is the perfect book to read about halfway during Lent. Why? Because Lent can be a difficult and challenging time. We are out in the desert, sacrificing, and trying to become better people for the glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The other thought I had while reading this book is that, Mother Angelica was a very wise woman who had a powerful relationship with Jesus. I read that she wrote these mini-books while before the Blessed Sacrament, and reading through her words you definitely pick up on that. Her writing is full of truth that is both personal and universal. If you are experiencing suffering or burnout in your spiritual life, then this is a must-read book for you.

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wok on Fire (Green Couch Games)

Cooking is not something I am even remotely good at. Because of that, my wife and I have a standing agreement. She cooks. I clean. It's a pretty fair trade-off. So what would make me interested in Wok on Fire, a game about cooking? Great art, small footprint, low price, and general fun of course. Wok on Fire is a dexterity-based, set-collection game for 2-4 players, ages 7+. It takes approximately 20 minutes to play and retails for $15.
1. Give each player a Spatula Card and a Player Aid.
2. Shuffle all the Ingredient Cards together. Deal 24 face-down in a stack to create the Supply and evenly distribute the other 26 cards face-down in a circular shape to form the starting ingredients in the wok.
3. Pick a start player and get cooking!
Game Play - Each player takes the following three actions on their turn:
1. Stir Fry - Use your Spatula Card to perform two stir fry actions. (A stir fry action involves sliding your Spatula Card underneath Ingredient Card(s) and flipping the card(s) over.
2. Pick Up Ingredients - After flipping, identify which two Ingredient Cards you want to pick up, and then do your best to pick them up without disturbing the other ingredients.
3. Chop - Pick up the Supply deck and using a hacking motion with your hand, chop two Ingredient Cards into the wok.
4. When the Supply is exhausted, the end of the game is triggered with each player taking one more turn.
Arrange your claimed Ingredient Cards to form the best possible scoring combinations. For example, a noodle, meat, vegetable, and condiment combination is worth 25 points, whereas five onions are worth 35 points.

Wok on Fire is a very fun little game that is fun for families, because even though it is a card game, you get to do fun, tangible actions with the cards. Kids especially will enjoy flipping the cards over or chopping them out. To a very small degree, the game reminds me of Sushi Go and Go Nuts for Donuts, because it has food elements and you are trying to pair up the food in the best possible way to maximize your points. The game itself is vastly different as you aren't drafting cards, but carefully revealing or not revealing cards to make sure you leave your opponents with cards that won't be as beneficial to them. I especially enjoyed the artwork associated with this game. There is a little bit of personality in each of the ingredients that adds to the visual appeal of this game. If you want even more ingredients/variability with the game, there is a $5 promo pack you can pick up, which adds some beef and snap peas to the game. Green Couch Games does a good job of packing tons of flavor into their little games. Be sure to check out the rest of their catalog and also consider backing their current game, Ladder 29 on Kickstarter.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Shroud of Turin: Four Films by David Rolfe (Ignatius Press)

The Shroud of Turin is a relic whose authenticity has and continues to be hotly debated. It's the authentic burial shroud of Christ. It's an invention by a master artist. Which is it?! Ignatius Press recently released a two disc/four film set called The Shroud of Turin: Four Films by David Rolfe.

The first film is called The Silent Witness. It was released in 1978 and was groundbreaking for its time. It walks us through history and traces us on the physical journey the Shroud made to its current location at Turin. The second film, Shroud of Turin, was released in 2008. This was 20 years after the carbon-dating (C14) test cast doubt on the relic's authenticity. It compares the C14 test to other test, as well as archaeology and 3-D analysis. What was most groundbreaking about this video was that they had direct access to the Shroud, something unheard of until that time. The third film, Shroud, was released in 2010 and uses more high technology to study the Shroud. This film not only examines the historical significance of this relic, but also the religious importance. The final film, A Grave Injustice, is the shortest of the four and was released in 2015. The main purpose of this film was to show how unfairly the Shroud is judged. There is a myriad of evidence for why it is authentic, but one test, the C14, one says it was fake and that was enough to condemn its authenticity. That hardly seems fair, but is a reality that we must face and fight against.

This DVD set was very informative in its presentation of the Shroud and the different scientific tests performed throughout the decades. The fact that it took us from the 1970s to present day is what I liked best about this series, as we could see the progression of technology and how far we have come. It also helped bolster my belief in the authenticity of the Shroud. If I had to recommend who would appreciate this series, I would say Catholics who already believe in its authenticity or those who are on the fence. Unfortunately, those who think the relic is a fake will not be convinced, as they have already made up their mind. If you fall into one of the first two categories, I strongly recommend this series.

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Potion Explosion (CMON)

I think it's safe to say that many of my readers are big fans of Harry Potter, probably not as big of fans as my wife, but who is? When I heard and read about the game Potion Explosion, I thought, "This kind of sounds like Harry Potter. My wife will love this!" In Potion Explosion, you and your fellow opponents are students in Albedus Humblescore's potion's class. With only four ingredients (Unicorn Tears, Dragon Smoke, Ogre Mucus, and Fairy Dandruff), you are competing to complete the most potions and score the most points. Potion Explosion is a game for 2-4 players, ages 14+. It takes about 45 minutes to play and retails for $50.
1. Before you play the first time, assemble the Dispenser following the instructions.
2. Fill the Dispenser randomly with all the ingredients (marbles) mentioned above.
3. Give each player a Desk Board.
4. Give the Starting Player Token to the person who most recently prepared a drink.
5. Take all the Potion Tiles and remove two types either at random or by choice.
6. From the remaining Potion Tiles, each player takes two random starter tiles (marked with a gold star) and places them on their Desk Board.
7. Shuffle the remaining Potion Tiles to form five stacks.
8. Put the Skill Tokens in a stack depending on number of players, which will trigger the end of the game after everyone has the same number of turns.
Game Play
1. You must choose and take one marble from the dispenser. If this triggers an explosion (two of the same color marbles collide), you take all the connected colors of that explosion.
2. You may also ask for a little help from the professor and take one marble from the dispenser. You don't get to claim any marbles from a triggered explosion, and the little help token is worth -2 points.
3. You may also drink one of your completed potions, which gives you a special ability, such as stealing ingredients from an opponent or activate a potion you have already used once.
4. Take all the ingredients, which you gained from the previous three steps, and place them in your incomplete potion tiles, matching the color (unless you drank a potion that let you ignore color). If you complete a potion, it gets flipped over and put in your completed area. Any marbles you cannot match, are put in your ingredient pool (max of three).
5. Refill the dispenser with any leftover marbles or marbles from completed potions.
6. Draw back up to two potion tiles.
7. Claim a skill token if you completed three potions of the same kind or five unique potions.
8. When the game ends, add up your points from potions and skill tokens. Subtract any help tokens. High score wins.

Potion Explosion is a very fun game with a great feel to it. The game is very simple to learn, as it really comes down to picking a marble that produces the most chain explosions, while also matching the potions you need to complete. The theme is very tongue-in-cheek with their reference to Harry Potter, but people who aren't fans of the famous wizard will not feel in the dark when playing the game. The age rating on this game is 14+, and I think a lot of that has to do with the marbles being a choking hazard, but children as young as 8, maybe even younger can pick up this simple game. I personally consider this a great game to play with the family, young children, and non-gamers, as it provides a unique and dynamic experience that will suit these audiences well.

The components in this game are a mixed bag, which I have come to expect from games that bear the company logo Horrible Games (I'm looking at you Steam Park.). The cardboard didn't punch out as cleanly as it could have and the paint on some of the marbles was chipping right out of the box. Does this take away from game play? No, but it is disappointing from an aesthetics viewpoint. The big positive of the components is the ingredient dispenser. It is a clever use of cardboard that is not only fun in its delivery of ingredients, but it also serves as a randomizer, with the player never knowing exactly where the marbles will fall.

After the components, my biggest complaint about this game is that it only plays four people. The groups I play with are generally bigger than four, so I feel like I will never get a chance to share this game with them unless some are out of town, which is a shame, because it is really fun and seems like it should have accommodated more people without needing to buy two games. Apart from my complaints, I really enjoyed the game, and my wife did as well, so that makes this an easy recommendation for me. There is supposedly an expansion coming out later this year, so if you are a fan of this game, like me, be on the look out for it!

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Oxford Shakespeare Illustrated Dictionary (Oxford University Press)

I like to convince myself that I am a fan of Shakespeare. I've read Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello, Hamlet, and The Tempest. I've seen plays, seen movies, have kid-friendly Shakespeare books, and even have a DVD Catholic Course on Shakespeare. In reality, I don't understand as much of The Bard as I would like to. When I do read his works, some of the phrases confuse me and unless there are footnotes explaining what confuses me, I am stumped! Luckily, Oxford University Press knows there's people like me an has produced an Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary.

The book is divided out like a normal dictionary with alphabetical sections. There are then 4000+ entries of different Shakespearean words, their meanings, and a quote and reference on what play the particular entry can be found in. There are also numerous notes sprinkled throughout the pages, which talk about history, society, and insight on how Shakespeare used the language. The bulk of the illustrations are in the middle of the book and are broken out by topics like armour, weapons, clothing, animals, colours, etc.

What I found most helpful is that common words, you already associate with one definition have a warning, so that you don't just assume you know a word and skip over it. For example, scorch has nothing to do with burning something, but instead slicing it. The only drawback to this book is that it is not comprehensive, but instead covers Shakespeare's twelve most popular books. If I'm being realistic though, that is just not possible, because it would be too massive. Overall, this is a useful book for high school students, college students, teachers, and fans of Shakespeare, who wish they knew more.

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Living the Mystery of Merciful Love (Emmaus Road Publishing)

Navigating the Interior Life is one of my favorite Catholic books of recent memory. It not only introduced me to a great author in Dan Burke, but it also taught me to be a better Catholic. In addition to doing these two special things in my life, it also launched a a series, which has focused on important saints. The first two saints were St. Teresa of Avila and St. Peter of Alcantara. The most recent one focuses on St. Thérèse of Lisieux and is called Living the Mystery of Merciful Love.

Living the Mystery of Merciful Love is a 30 day retreat in book format. However, unlike other retreats, where you escape from the real world, this book encourages you to incorporate it into your daily life. The first day uses the Act of Oblation to Merciful Love as the focus. This is an important document that was penned by St. Thérèse and one that the individual will renew each day in this 30 day retreat. This oblation or act of giving oneself to God is only three pages, but it is beautiful to read, because we can see this little saints love for God and her desire to bring all souls to Him so that they may love Him as deeply as she does. The other 29 days are specific letters, which St. Thérèse wrote to her sisters. The subject for these letters include suffering, scrupulosity, love, and heaven.

Reading through these letters, you can see a woman who was wise beyond her years. Her words of wisdom contain both a love for God and her fellow man. Dan Burke and Anthony Lilles provide excellent commentary on her letters that only enhance her spiritual advice. They also provide great insight into how to apply her words to your daily life. This is a great addition to a wonderful series that continues to get better with every book published. Lent is well underway, but with this book only being 30 pages, you still have some time left to pick up this book and journey your way to Easter.

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

HOP! (Passport Game Studios)

The board game industry is at an exciting time. Hundreds of games are produced every year. This is great for players in the hobby, but tough for designers and publishers, because they have to make a game that stands out in theme, mechanics, art, etc. Today, I am going to tell you about a beautiful game called HOP! HOP! is a game for 3-6 players, age 6+. It retails for $70, but can be found for less than that depending on your retailer.
1. Construct the 3-D gameboard, placing it in the center of the table.
2. Spread the Cloud tokens around the board with the cloud side up.
3. Spread the Bird tokens around the board. It doesn't matter which side of the bird is visible.
4. Shuffle the Dare cards to form a face-down deck.
5. Place the Rainbow close to the board.
6. Give each player a Character Board, their Figurine that matches their board, 5 Balloons of the same color, a double-sided Bet token. Youngest player is the starting player.
Game Play
On your turn, you are the Hurler. You must pick a player who will be the Skewerer. The Skewerer picks an elbow and places it on the table with their index finger pointing up. The Hurler then draws a Dare card, which tells them how they must throw the Rainbow. Note: Some dares involve other players who will help you (also known as an Assister) or who will hinder you (also know as a Turbulator). Before the throw occurs, any player not participating places a bet with their Bet token. 

If the the throw is a success, the Hurler advances their Figurine one level on the board. The Skewerer and Assister each gain a cloud token, The Turbulator gains and loses nothing. Those who were correct with their bet receive a Bird token, dove side up. Those who were incorrect with their bet receive a Bird token, crow side up.

If the the throw is a failure, the Hurler loses a Balloon. The Skewerer and Assister gain and lose nothing. The Turbulator gains a cloud token Those who were correct with their bet receive a Bird token, dove side up. Those who were incorrect with their bet receive a Bird token, crow side up.

If you ever have three doves, you return them and move up a level. If you ever have three crows, you return them and lose a balloon. The game ends when someone reaches the 7th and final level on the board or when someone loses all their balloons. Score is tallied by adding the value of your cloud tokens to the value of the level of the gameboard you are on. Highest score wins.

HOP! is a very fun dexterity game with lots of different and wacky dare cards. Some examples of this are The Schoolteacher where you have to remove your glasses or wear someone else's glasses or Night Flight, where the Skewerer has to close their eyes. This makes the game silly, crazy, and unpredictable. It also is going to keep the interest of kids, because no matter what role they are assigned, they are going to be up moving around, and that is a great element for family games.

Unfortunately, the components are the game's greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. Let's start with the positive. The gameboard is 3-D, which adds a wow factor to the game when you set it up. The artwork is playful and full of vibrant colors that make the game pop! The figurines in the game are high quality, highly detailed, and honestly everything that the Tokaido miniatures should have been. So with all of these great things, I can see you scratching your head and asking, "Why is this bad?" It's bad because it's unnecessary and drives up the price exponentially! $70 for a family game is a lot of money, especially for a game with such a simple mechanic. The game does not need a 3-D game board or miniatures, and the dare cards could have been smaller in size. Your children, family, and friends could have still had a memorably fun experience without all this bloat of presentation, and I'm afraid a lot of people will pass on this game due to the high price, which is unfortunate. So while, I do recommend this game, I would recommend it only if you can find it on sale.

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Holy Spirit: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics (Our Sunday Visitor)

The Holy Spirit is the latest in a series of Bible study books from Fr. Mitch Pacwa with other topics being St. Paul, Mary, and the Eucharist. The book is divided into seven sessions:

1. The Holy Spirit in Creation
2. Authority and Power Come by the Holy Spirit
3. Prophets and the Spirit of God
4. Giver of Wisdom, Guidance, and Truth
5. Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity
6. Empowerment in the New Testament
7. The Spirit and the Spiritual Life

Within each chapter, there are multiple sections of Study, Consider, and Investigate. These sections not only give you Scripture passages to read, but also provide summaries and historical context on what you are reading. You are also encouraged to take notes in the book on certain biblical passages. At the end of each session are discussion questions and advice on how to put what you learned this session into practice. Though all the sessions are important and well written, the session which stood out to me most was the first one on Creation. In addition to focusing on Genesis 1 and John 1, we see references to creation in Psalm, Ezekiel, Judith, and Wisdom. Fr. Pacwa also provided an interesting contrast between the Creation story we know and the Babylonian creation myth. Other interesting points from the different sessions are how the Holy Spirit spoke through the Prophets, his empowering presence in New Testament figures, and the role he currently plays in our lives.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. The Holy Spirit is the overlooked and often forgotten member of the Holy Trinity. This book will open your eyes to the important role that the Holy Spirit has played throughout salvation history, but the continued role He plays in our everyday lives. As always, Fr. Pacwa does a masterful job of taking a core part of the Catholic faith and explaining it in a way that anyone can understand, without dumbing it down.

This book was provided to me for free by Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

FUSE (Renegade Game Studios)

Sometimes (read: more often than I'd like to admit), I am a bit of a snob. This is true for food, books, and sometimes even games. Why would I ever want to play a real-time cooperative game about defusing bombs? I don't care that it only takes 10 minutes to play. I have all these better games I can spend my time playing. More often than not, I am proven wrong in my snobbery, and this is one of those times. FUSE is a cooperative game for 1 to 5 players, ages 10+. It takes only ten minutes to play and retails for $30.
1. Separate the Bomb cards from the Fuse cards. (Note: Remove the five difficult Bomb cards from the deck for a simpler game.)
2. Shuffle the Bomb cards, and deal two to each player (four in a solo game). Have the players, place their Bomb cards face-up in front of them. (Note: If you get a 3, 4, or 6 point card first, then your second card has to be a 1 or 2 point card.)
3. Deal a number of Bomb cards face-down into a deck depending on number of players and difficulty level you wish to play. (Example: 4 players on Standard Level would have a deck of 22.) Place the remaining cards back in the box.
4. From this deck you just formed, deal five Bomb cards face-up in the center on the table.
5. Shuffle six Fuse cards into the remaining Bomb cards, and place the deck next to the line of Bomb cards you just formed.
6. Place all 25 dice into the bag. Hand the bag to a player, and you're ready!
Game Play
1. Start the timer for ten minutes.
2. Draw dice from the bag equal to the number of players (Exceptions: four dice in a 2-player game and three dice in a solo game), and roll the dice.
3. Each player must take one die, communicating with the other players on how to best determine who gets what die.
4. Use the die you took and match it to an icon on one of your Bomb cards. Any player that cannot play a die, most roll it. Each player (if possible) must then remove one die of matching number or color from one of their Bomb cards and put it back in the bag.
5. Once you complete a Bomb card, you remove the dice from it, and put them back in the bag. You then draw a Bomb card from the center of the table and replace the Bomb card with a new card from the deck. If you draw a Fuse card, each player (if possible) must return one die from their Bomb cards matching the color or number on the Fuse card.
6. Repeat these steps until time expires (you lose) or the last card is taken from the center of the table. (Note: Any cards in front of you do not need to be cleared. These were thankfully duds!)

FUSE is an intense 10 minute game that leaves your heart pumping and pulse racing when it is all said and done. However, after you have recovered from the bitter taste of defeat or reveled in your close win, you'll want to immediately play again. I certainly didn't go into this game thinking that a deck of cards and a bag of dice would have much theme to it, but when that clock is ticking down, and you have to return some unsuccessful dice to the bag, you really feel like the bombs are going to detonate, and your spaceship is going to explode! What really makes this game even better is the free app that not only is a timer, but also adds a bit of snark. I learned a valuable lesson about judging a game without playing it, and I can't wait for the sequel Flatline!

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mary and the Little Shepherds of Fatima

Mary and the Little Shepherds of Fatima is a hardcover children's book from Pauline Books and Media. The book tells the story of the three shepherd children Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia. Every day, they went out to tend the sheep and while they were doing so, they always prayed the Rosary. One day an angel appeared to them and encouraged the children to pray often, because Jesus and Mary are listening. Later, the angel returned to them and encouraged them to make sacrifices. Then, Our Lady appeared to them. She tried to encourage them not to tell anyone, but of course word got out. Each time they went to see Mary more people joined them, but could not see who and what the children saw. The corrupt mayor of their town tried to put them in jail to quiet them down and scare them but eventually released them. Then, one day when the children went to see Mary and more people joined them there was finally a physical sign for all the people. The sun danced that day, and everyone present witnessed the miracle.

This book does a wonderful job of introducing your children to Our Lady of Fatima and her story. At the end of the book, there is a section on how to pray the Rosary, different prayers of Fatima, and section for adults, which provides more of the context and history of this apparition. The artwork is also very warm and vibrant and will keep your children engaged the whole time they are reading the book or having it read to them. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Our God's Brother (Ignatius Press)

St. Albert Chmielowski was born in August 1845 in Poland near Krakow. His given name was Adam. His parents died at an early age, leaving his father's sister to care for them. During his education he studied engineering, but he also became interested in politics. During his youth, he fought in the nationalist uprising, and it was here that his life was changed forever. While participating in a battle in 1863, a grenade detonated near him, killing his horse and injuring his leg so severely that amputation was needed. After this, he became a popular painter for his use of religious themes in his artwork. He later gave that up too to enter the Jesuits, but ultimately he became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis. He was beatified in 1983 and canonized six years later, both by Pope John Paul II. In 1949, when Pope John Paul was still Karol Wojtyla, he wrote a play about his life called Our God's Brother. This was adapted to film in 1997 and his been released in DVD format by Ignatius Press this year.

The DVD begins by showing people arriving to the play. We are then taken backstage where we see actors backstage preparing for the play. Presented in a documentary-like format, the actors are putting on their makeup and introducing us to the roles they are playing. They speak not only of who the people are and their possible significance, but also about Karol Wotjyla. The actors also cite actual words of Brother Albert too. We then dive into the drama of the film. It actually starts off pretty gruesome. As mentioned above, Brother Albert was damaged in battle. We see the wound and the leg being sawed off. (Not suitable for the faint of heart) We also see scenes from his early life at home, but this narrow focus eventually broadens into the surroundings and world around him. The play ends with the Brother Albert actor walking off stage and delivering a closing monologue speaking on the subject of John Paul II and the canonization of Brother Albert. In keeping with the spirit of this work, the DVD is not a movie, but a play, so you have to watch it with that in mind. It definitely provided a unique experience and taught me a lot about a saint I knew nothing about. I highly recommend it.

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Roll For It: Deluxe Edition (Calliope Games)

Today, I am going to tell you about a game that plays quickly, is family friendly, and doesn't take up a lot of space on the table or on your shelf. is not as easy as you think. The game is called Roll For It: Deluxe Edition. It plays 2-8 players, ages 8+. It takes about 20 minutes to play and retails for $38, but can be found much cheaper on Amazon.

1. Give each player all six dice of one color.
2. When playing with 2 to 4 players, pick a deck (Gold or Silver). When playing with more, combine both decks.
3. Shuffle the cards, and form a face-down stack.
4. When playing with 2 to 4 players, deal 3 cards face up. When playing with more, deal four face up.
5. Have each player roll two dice of their dice. The highest total is the starting player.
Game Play
1. Roll your available dice.
2. Match the results of your dice with the images on the face up cards, if you want to.
3. If you match all the images on a face up card, you claim the card and add it to your score.
4. Play passes to the person to your left.
5. Your dice matched to the images on a card remain with that card unless someone scores that card, or you decide to take back your dice at the beginning of your next turn.
6. The game ends immediately when a player scores at least 40 points.

Roll For It: Deluxe Edition is a tiny game that doesn't skimp on presentation. The box is a nice metal tin with a flocked interior, so that you can use it for both storage and a dice tray. The dice are tiny in nature but of high quality and rich, bold colors. Unfortunately, the cards themselves are a little thin for my liking (Sleeves are your friends!), but I like that they contain recognizable Calliope Games characters. The game itself is a very simple to learn dice-management/press-your-luck game. How you assign your dice and to what cards will make or break you in this game. A lot of people will focus heavily on the big point cards, but don't neglect the small ones, as they can add up quickly. Also, do not be afraid to abandon a card, even if you are only one or two dice away from it. Sometimes, it's better to just start over and go for an easier/lower valued card, than to keep chasing that elusive six of a kind. I really enjoyed the fact that I could play this with my son (who is almost 4), and he could easily pick it up. Best of all, it can play up to eight people and won't take up much space if you want to play it on the go.

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

Greedy Claw Crane Game (Twitch Factory)

We all remember going to places like Chuck E. Cheese and playing the arcade games. You wasted tons of quarters, got hundreds of tickets, and ended up trading them in for a giant novelty comb. Every now and then, you would really press your luck and play the crane game! If you're like me, you always came so close to winning, but ended up being crushed because the item ultimately dropped back into the pile of unwinnable prizes. David Sheppard took that experience and turned it into a board game called Greedy Claw Crane Game. is a game for 2-5 players, ages 8+. It takes about 30 minutes to play and will be on Kickstarter later this year.

1. Give each player a hidden objective card.
2. Grab four random toys, placing them in a stack. Do this three more times to make a 2 x 2 grid.
3. Create stacks of three toys, surrounding the 2 x 2 grid to make a 4 x 4 grid.
4. Finally, create single stacks of toys surrounding the 4 x 4 grid to make a 6 x 6 grid.
5. Pick a corner and roll one die. Move the pawn (the claw) up that many spaces on the grid. Roll another die, and move the pawn that many spaces right. Repeat this using all six dice to get the claw's starting location.
Game Play - Roll all six dice and use at least two each turn. Re-roll any unused dice, and repeat until you can't re-roll. This results in rolling dice one to three times on your turn. A die is spent as movement or grip. You can only move in straight lines and can't cross back over a space you have already been. If your grip meets or exceeds the value on a toy, you claim it. If you pick up a toy with wings on it, you can press your luck and try to win a second toy by re-rolling your movement dice and adhering to the standard rules. The game is played over a series of rounds until a certain $ value is reached by a player.

The game has elements/mechanics of other games I love. There's dice-chucking, press your luck, set-collection, and a little bit of programming. The game itself is easy to teach and learn. It also plays pretty quickly at 2-3 players, but can slow down at 4 and 5. The only really slow/fiddly part of the game is setting up the game and all the prize tokens in the grid. Even though, I was only provided a prototype of the game, the art comes through in capturing the theme. The toys are cute and quirky.The only thing I would change is the background on the tokens, as it can be a bit distracting/busy. That complaint aside, this is a game that would be fun for the whole family. I look forward to seeing how the game components improve and what variability is added as well.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

How to Read Your Way to Heaven (Sophia Institute Press)

Reading is something I love to do, even if it feels like I have enough time for it anymore. I would go so far as to say that reading is the reason I am Catholic. A lot of people convert for different reasons, which I won't bother to dissect here. But I credit my conversion with reading and discovering the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church. Therefore, when I received the book How to Read Your Way to Heaven, I thought that this book was directed at people like me.

The book begins with an introduction by the author, Vicki Burbach, on the importance that books played in her spiritual life/journey. There are then five short chapters that provide the benefits of spiritual reading, such as arming us for battle, keeping us in check, and making us saints. The second part of the book gives us details on how a reading program works with chapters dedicated to Scripture, the Catechism, and writings of the saints throughout the ages. The final part of the book is the heart of the book and gives plans for spiritual reading with lengths of 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years, depending on how advanced you are in past reading and what you think is manageable for your schedule. After summarizing and explaining each plan, there is a checklist which has the readings listed for every day.

How to Read Your Way to Heaven is a very important book for all Christians, but especially Catholics. In it, you not only will learn why it is important to have spiritual reading in your life, but how to have spiritual reading in your life as well. With Lent just underway, I recommend picking up a copy and reading through this book during the season. Afterwards, you should have a clearer understanding and can perhaps follow her yearly plans starting in Easter.

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