Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games)

Paleontology has always been an interest of mine. The idea of digging up giant bones and putting the puzzle together to re-create these massive beasts always seemed like it would be fun. Therefore, when I heard that APE Games had created a board game that lets you pretend to be a paleontologist, I knew I had to give this game a try. The Great Dinosaur Rush is a game for 2-5 players, ages 10+. It takes approximately one hour to play and retails for $50. (Note: If you order directly from the publisher, you get exclusive paleontologist and dinosaur meeples, which are always better than generic cubes!)

Setup
1. Place the game board in the middle of the table.
2. Give each player a Screen, a Paleontologist token, a Score Cube of their color, which they will place near the 1 on the score track.
3. Place five black cubes (or dinosaur meeples) on the top row of each of the Museum Categories of the game board. Place the last black cube (or dinosaur meeple) on the top "Field Phase 1" space on the game board.
4. Place all of the Notoriety tokens into the small bag.
5. Either randomly give each player a Paleontologist card or let players specifically select their card.
6. Give each player two Dinosaur Bones cards face-down.
7. Give each player starting Bones of the following amount: two red, two yellow, and three green. These go in front of the player's Screen and can never be lost.
8. Place the rest of the Bones into the large bag. Then, draw three Bones from the bag and put them on a hex space on the game board. Do this for every hex space, depending on the player count.
9. The last player who visited a museum is the starting player. He places his Paleontologist on one of the paleontologist token spaces, and then the rest of the players do in clockwise order.
Game Play - The game is played over three rounds with each round having the following three phases:
1. Field Phase (x3):
a. Collect any Bones in your dig site.
b. Move your Paleontologist to another space. You may move as many spaces as you want, as long as it is in a straight line, not through tar, and you end on a space with no other Paleontologists.
c. Publicize - Move the black cube on one of the Museum Categories up or down one space.
d. Actions - Perform a standard or notorious action as listed on the inside of the player screen. (Note: If you perform a notorious action, you must take a Notoriety token.)
After performing these four actions, play passes to the next player. The Field Phase ends after all players have executed the Field Phase three times.
2. Build Phase - Each player must use all Bones they gathered to construct a dinosaur, following the guidelines on your screen. (Example, the spine must have at least one green bone.) Ideally, you want to match bones according to your Dinosaur Bonus cards to score bonus points.
3. Exhibit Phase - Place the screens aside and score each player's dinosaur by each of the five categories (size, height, length, ferocity, and uniqueness). Ties are friendly. After scoring the five categories, players reveal and score their completed Dinosaur Bonus cards.
Review
Overall, I found this game to be an enjoyable experience, which is what I have come to expect from games designed by Scott Almes. The biggest positive I have from this game is the artwork. From the box, to the paleontologist cards, to the dinosaur bones cards, each one was a work of art and I feel like these artists went above and beyond on this game. The second thing I liked was that the game could be considered educational. Both the paleontologists and the dinosaurs in this game are all factual. I've seen a lot of games, just make up clever names to add some humor or theme to a game, but instead we get actual paleontologists, fossil hunters, illustrators, and museum directors. I didn't realize that there were so many women involved in paleontology. That was eye-opening to me.

Where I feel mixed on this game is the construction of the dinosaur. Don't get me wrong, this a very fun experience. You take your little dinosaur bones, and behind your screen, you are arranging and rearranging the pieces and trying to make the best dinosaur you can. This was a blast and crunched your brain a bit, but even with everyone doing this simultaneously, if you have one over-thinker, it will drag this phase out longer than it needs to be. The other game play element I have mixed feelings on is the take that nature in the game. You can sabotage, use dynamite, and steal from your opponents. Unlike other games, this one penalizes you with notoriety tokens. If you have the most at the end of the game, you will lose that amount in points.

The mixed feelings aside, I really did find this to be a fun game, and I look forward to playing it more times and trying out different paleontologists, as each of them have their own special ability that provide both asymmetric starting powers and variable game play.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Let There Be No Divisions Among You (Sophia Institute Press)

Let There Be No Divisions Among You is an attempt by the Rev. John MacLaughlin to explain why all Christians should be Catholic or to be more specific Roman Catholic. The book is divided into two parts - There Can Be Only One Church and Marks of the One True Church. In the first part of the book, he speaks primarily of indifferentism, which in layman's terms says that all religions are equal if you lead a good/moral life. To dispute this ridiculous notions, he gives us five examples (in five chapters) that disprove it - Reason, Revelation, the Conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10), the Council of Jerusalem, and St. Paul. This was a solid argument that was well-reasoned and gave concrete examples of how you cannot just pick whatever religion/denomination you want.

Part Two is shorter in span and attempts to show the reader what criteria makes up the one true Church. The Church is normally known for its four marks - one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Oddly, Rev. MacLaughlin choose to reduce his criteria to two - unity and universality. He then focuses on The Church of England and "The Greek-Russian Church" (better known as the Orthodox Church) to explain how they have neither have unity nor universality, unlike the Roman Catholic Church. This was an unfortunate section to read. The author seems very militant in his approach and use of words, constantly using the term schismatic when referring to these two churches. To make matters worse, he is under the impression that the Orthodox Church does not do missionary work. All I need to do is reference Alaska and St. Herman of Alaska to easily dispute that. The author also seems to only reference the Roman Catholic Church, which is is the biggest rite in the Catholic Church, but certainly not the only one.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this book, and I honestly expected to when I saw the title. As good as the first half of the book is, the second half is equally disappointing. I believe the author's intentions were good, but his execution in his message left much to be desired and could instead turn people off from converting to the Catholic Church.

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Our Lady's Message (Sophia Institute Press)

Sophia Institute Press is historically known for printing quality Catholic books for adults with occasional titles for children. Today, I would like to focus on one of their recent children's books, Our Lady's Message, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the apparition of Fatima. The books is for children with a minimum age of 7, but written in such a way that there is no maximum age that it would appeal to. The author is well-known, Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle and illustrated by Ann Engelhart, who illustrated other beautiful Catholic children's books.

The book tells about the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in a storybook format, making the message approachable and not a dry, historical summary. Each chapter then ends with a reflection or "something to think about" section, which pulls back on some key event in the chapter and asks you to apply it to your daily life. The book begins by giving a brief background on the three shepherd children, and then leads into the message of the Angel of Peace. We then see the visits from the Virgin Mary; the three secrets of Fatima; the children being put in jail; and my personal favorite, the Miracle of the Dancing Sun. The book could have ended there, and it would have been a fine children's book, but O'Boyle doesn't shy away from the story and tells of the deaths of Francisco and Jacinta and the further life and ministry of Lucia, who went on to become a religious sister. The book has a nice flow to it, and the illustrations sprinkled throughout which add to the story without dominating the words. What I really appreciated though was the appendices, which give your children prayers associated with Fatima and a guide on how to pray the Rosary.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Around the World in 80 Days (IELLO Games)

I consider myself a book snob when it comes to reading fiction. With the exception of J.K. Rowling, I won't read anything recently published and generally read the classics, J.R.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis. Some of my favorite classics authors growing up were H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Who am I kidding? They still are two of my favorites. When I heard that IELLO Games was producing a game called Around the World in 80 Days, I was intrigued. Around the World in 80 Days is a game for 2-6 players, ages 10+. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $40.

Setup
1. Place the Gameboard and the two Bag miniboards in the center of the table.
2. Sort the Pound cards by their value (1, 3, 5, 10, 15, and 30) and place them in their respective spots on the Bag miniboards.
3. Shuffle the Passepartout cards and put them face-down on their space on the Gameboard.
4. Give each player a Travel Journal, Hat Pawn, and three Rumor cards which are placed on the right side of their Travel Journal. Each player also receives a total of 80 Pound cards.
Game Play
On your turn, you either move your pawn forward or backward to an unoccupied space, unless the space you are on says otherwise. When you move forward, you pay the bank the cost in Pounds, which corresponds to the the number of spaces you are moving. (For example, it costs 1 Pound to move 1 space, but 136 Pounds to move 16 spaces.) When you move backward, you move back to the most recent Layover space, if it is empty. This move is free and you receive 10 Pounds for each space backwards you travel. The game ends when a player lands on Space 80 (London), has no rumor cards left, and has fewer than 10 Pounds in their possession.

Review
The first thing that stood out to me the most in this game was the presentation of the box. The box is not your typical box, but is presented like a hardcover book with a cardboard sleeve. This is an unusual design, but one that fits the theme well. The color is a vibrant red with the iconic hot air balloon on it. What I like about this is that the red color very closely resembles the first edition printing of this book. I'm convinced this was deliberate, and I applaud them for the attention to detail. The components are simple, but sturdy. You have a tri-fold board that looks like a felted table, with some hot tea, a pocket watch, and some other travel documents. The game relies heavily on cards, which most are mini in nature (not a favorite of mine) but understand the logistics behind it and instead of generic pawns, you get top hats instead.

As for the game play, it is very solid and intuitive, which is exactly what I would expect since the creator reinvented his classic game -  Hare and Tortoise (the first Spiel des Jahres winner in 1979). The biggest differences between this game and the original is essentially that the game board is 80 spaces instead of 64 and theme of course! What I really like about the nature of this game is the mathiness (I know that is not a word!) involved in the decision making. "I have this much money, how many spaces do I want to go forward, and what space do I want to land on?" or "Is this a good time to move backward and gain some money?" The game has a nice ebb and flow to it, which is unusual for a racing game. Usually, you want to just try and blow by your opponents as quickly as possible, but if you try that in this game, you'll run out of money quickly, and have to go backward a lot. Instead, timing is everything, and you'll have to decide when to discard rumors for optimal effect, how quickly to move, and how to time out the end game, so you have less than 10 Pounds in the end. I really loved this game and would highly recommend it!

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lost Cities: The Original Card Game (Thames and Kosmos)

Lost Cities: The Original Card Game is a game that has been around almost 20 years. It is a two-player game for ages 10+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $20. In this game, you and your opponent are rival archaeologists seeking to mount the most profitable expeditions by unearthing civilizations from long ago.

Setup
1. Lay out the game board.
2. Shuffle the 60 playing cards, comprised of five colors with each color made up of cards numbered 2 through 10 and three wager cards.
3. Give eight cards to each player face-down. Place the remaining 44 cards in a face-down draw pile next to the board.

Game Play - The goal of each player is form expedition routes that after subtracting expedition costs (20 for each expedition started) earn you the most points. On your turn, you take two actions:
1. Place a Card:
a. Place a card in one of your own columns. Each card placed in a column, must have a higher value than the previously placed card. (Note: If placing a wager card, it must be placed before you playing any numeric cards. You may also place multiple wager cards in the same column.)
b. If you don't want to or choose not to play a card in one of your columns, you must discard a card from your hand (face-up) into the corresponding color's discard pile.
2. Draw a card and place it in your hand. The card can come from the face-down draw pile or one of the five discard piles.

The game ends when the last card from the face-down draw pile has been drawn.
Scoring
Add up the value of each card in the column. Subtract the expedition costs of 20. See if a column has any wager cards in it. If one, two, or three wager cards were placed in the column, then multiple the results by 2, 3, or 4 respectively. (Example: One column is composted of two wager cards, the 8, 9, and 10. 8 + 9+ 10 = 27 - 20 = 7 x 3 = 21 points.) Do this for each column. Some columns might net you negative points. (Note: Any column with eight cards in it, gets you a bonus 20 points. Any columns with no cards in it scores zero.) Add up all five of your columns and the highest score wins. Play two more games and then sum all three of your game scores. Highest score is the winner.

Review
This game, rightfully so, is one of the best and highest rated two player games, and has been for a while. With only 5 columns of colors, you usually figure out early on which two colors you are focusing on and which two colors your opponent is focusing on. Then, you and your opponent basically fighting over that fifth color, providing just enough tension to be enjoyable without overburdening. The game play is simple enough and the game is quick enough that you can teach it to kids younger than the recommended 10. This will teach your child number sequences, risk management (wager cards), and when its better to not pursue something, over pursuing something. However, what I really liked about this game was the artwork. It's got a nice, classical archaeological feel to it. And when you arrange each set of colored cards in numeric order, they form a complete picture of what exactly it is you're on your expedition for. If you're looking for a fun two-player game that will stand the test of time, I highly recommend Lost Cities: The Original Card Game.

Monday, May 15, 2017

City of Saints (Image Books)

George Weigel is best known for his book Witness to Hope, the definitive biography of the late Pope John Paul II. He has written many other books, including Letters to a Young Catholic and Evangelical Catholicism, but the ones that always pull my interest are the ones on Pope John Paul II. Today, I am going to tell you about one such book - City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II's Krakow.

City of Saints is a travelogue through the city of Krakow by George Weigel, his son and photographer Stephen Weigel, and Dr. Carrie Gress. The book looks at the famous city through the lens of Pope John Paul II's life. The book begins by briefly mentioning Pope John Paul II's initial entry into Krakow when he was roughly 18. The book then flashes back to his childhood and time as a student. Here we see the city of Wadowice, the neighborhood of Debniki, his time in the Jagiellonian University, and how World War II not only shaped the country of Poland, but was formative in the life of Pope John Paul II's life as well. The other two sections discuss his time as priest, bishop, and pope. It is in these sections that we see Wawel Castle, St. Florian's, and Nowa Huta.

It is always interesting to me to read different perspectives on the life of Pope John Paul II, because for a while, he was the only pope I ever knew of. George Weigel is one of the definitive experts on this saint, and while he has already produced us two great works, this one provides a unique way of looking at his life. I have never been to Poland (maybe one day), but the descriptions in the book paired with the photographs (both color and black and white) provide a vivid portrait of a city and a man so closely tied together. Reading through the words in this book, your mind was transported not only to Krakow but back in time at different points of Pope John Paul II's life. This book was not only an interesting read, but it made me want to visit Poland all the more. If you are interested in travel, Poland, and/or Pope John Paul II, I recommend this book for you.

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fatima Mysteries (Ignatius Press)

Ignatius Press has printed some of the most informative and visually stunning Catholics books in recent years. Each of the books are the work of Grzegorz Gorny, a reporter, essayist, and film/television producer, and they focus on a particular devotion or mystery of the Church. Witnesses to Mystery investigates the Relics of Christ. Three Kings, Ten Mysteries examines the secrets of Christmas and Epiphany. And then, there are the volumes which examine different Marian Apparitions - Guadalupe MysteriesTrust (focusing on Divine Mercy), and the most recent one Fatima Mysteries, which was released just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparition to the little shepherds at Fatima. I would like to tell you a little bit about that book today. The book is divided into the following chapters:

1. Pope on the Brink of Death
2. The Angel of Portugal
3. Miracle of the Sun
4. Deadly Spanish Flu
5. Russia's Errors Spread Throughout the World
6. Anti-Decalogue
7. Towards Another Catastrophe
8. Between Two Totalitarianisms
9. The March of Communism
10. Neither Anathema nor Condemnation
11. Polish Pope Throws Down the Gauntlet
12. Request Granted
13. Fall of the Evil Empire
14. Third Secret

The book surprisingly doesn't begin with the apparition of Mary in 1917, but instead with the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. The reason for doing this is because the Pope was mentioned in the Fatima message ten times. In this chapter, we have a graphic and detail description of Pope John Paul's near death experience. Chapter two flashes back to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. This creates an interesting juxtaposition between the first two chapters. This was one of the leading causal factors of World War I, and the chapter details some of the effects of this war. The chapter also introduces us to the three shepherd children (Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta) and the nation of Portugal as a whole. The third chapter is by far the most interesting, as it revolved around what the children saw and what Mary told them. It also talked about Lucia's mission to spread the devotion of Mary's Immaculate Heart and consecrating Russia.

The bulk of the book then goes on to discuss all the evils that plagued the world afterwords, including the communism in Russia that resulted in martyrs for the Eastern Orthodox faith and the Second World War. Eventually, the Soviet Union fell and the book chronicles that as well. The book, of course, ends with the much speculated and over-dramatized Third Secret of Fatima. Pope John Paul II didn't see this secret as something that pointed to the end of the world. He, instead, connected this secret to his own life and the attempt made on it. He also saw it as potential new dangers that could affect the world, but not new as in never seen, new as in not seen awhile, but stemming from the same old sources.

The amount of photographs, maps, etc in this book is astounding and complement Gorny's level of investigative journalism perfectly. Gorny has once again given us a top-notch book on a crucial part of our Catholic faith. He does a masterful job of not only educating us on Fatima and the little shepherds, but he also places the apparition in its proper context, so that the reader can better understand and appreciate this miracle. He also shows us that there is still work to be done regarding Consecration to Mary's Immaculate Heart, and that just because communism was defeated, it doesn't mean the problem was instantly solved. I highly recommend this book and the others I mentioned earlier in this review. Place them on your coffee table, so that they will always be at your fingertips, and when you have guests they will perhaps thumb through them and be drawn into the Catholic faith.

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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chemistry Fluxx (Looney Labs)

Today, I am reviewing Chemistry Fluxx, another game from the educational catalog of Looney Labs. I would dub this game the sister game of Math Fluxx, as they were introduced in the same year and with the same audience in mind. Like it's sister game, Chemistry Fluxx plays 2-6 players, ages 8+. It can take 5 to 40 minutes to play and retails for $16.

Setup
1. Place the Basic Rules card in the middle of the table.
2. Remove the Meta Rules cards from the deck, unless all players agree to play with one or both of them. If so, place them next to the Basic Rules card.
3. Shuffle the deck, and deal three cards to each player. Place the remaining deck of cards face-down next to the Basic Rules card.
4. Randomly determine a start player and go!

Game Play - Fluxx, as the name implies, is a game of constant change...change in rules, goals, win conditions, etc. On your turn, you will always do four things in this order:
1. Draw the number of cards required. The Basic Rule has you drawing one, but new Rule cards can have you drawing up to five cards.
2. Play the number of cards required. The Basic Rule has you playing one, but new Rule cards can have you playing your whole hand in the order of your choice. There are four types of cards you can play:
a. New Rule - Played near the Basic Rule card, and either adds a new rule or replaces a current rule.
b. Goal - Played face up in the middle of the table, this sets the win condition for the game. New goal cards replace old Goal cards unless there is a rule stating multiple goals may be in play.
c. Keeper - Played face up in front of you, these cards win you the game by matching the current goal.
d. Action - Played face up, these cards have a one time use effect, and then are discarded. They allow you to break the rules, like drawing three extra cards or trading hands with someone.
3. Discard down to the current hand limit (if any) - If a rule is in place that says you can only have two cards in your hand at the end of your turn, then you must pare down your hand and discard cards of your choice until you reach the hand limit.
4. Discard down to the current Keeper limit (if any) - If a rule is in place that says you can only have two Keeper in front of you at the end of your turn, then you must pare down your Keepers and discard cards of your choice until you reach the Keeper limit.

The game is won immediately when someone completes a Goal, even if it is not their turn.
Review
In addition to all the normal cards you get with Fluxx, Chemistry Fluxx adds some fun new Rules to the game, each with an appropriate science theme. There's "Spontaneous Reaction," which lets you take the top card from the draw pile and play it, and there's "Compound Effect," which lets you draw two cards if you can form a compound from the Keepers you have in front of you. However, the best new rule is "Helium Effect," which makes you talk in a high-pitched voice if you the Keeper Helium in front of you. It's torture for me, because of my deep voice, but it's hilarious for everyone else, so I guess that's a win for them?

The other cards different in this game from other Fluxx games are the Keepers and Goals. The Keepers are a mixture of chemistry equipment (beaker, test tube, Bunsen burner, etc.) and common elements (Hydrogen, Helium, Carbon, Oxygen, etc.). The Goals focus primarily on combining elements with a few of them focusing on the chemistry equipment. What's great about the ones that form compounds is that it teaches your kids the name of the compound, the elements that it is composed of, and is clever in the presentation. For example, NaCl is Sodium Chloride or Salt. H2S is Hydrogen Sulfide or "Smells like Rotten Eggs."

When I compare this game to Math Fluxx, I found myself enjoying this game a bit more. I think it's a combination of subject matter preference mixed with it feeling a bit more age appropriate for myself. If I had to recommend which one to buy, I'd tell you to buy both, as they are both super-affordable and teach different subjects. If you had to force me to pick one, I'd say it depends on the age of your children. Math Fluxx is better for younger children, but Chemistry Fluxx would be more appropriate for middle school to high school aged. That said, I think your younger children would benefit from learning Chemistry basics at an early age, so again, I say, "Buy them both!"

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


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Math Fluxx (Looney Labs)

I was introduced (unknowingly) to the world of modern board gaming by my wife's cousin, who is a priest for the Archdiocese of Memphis. He brought over the card game Fluxx, taught it to us, and the rest is history. Since then, I have bought and played many games, including different versions of Fluxx, and let me tell you...there are a bunch of them! Not only has the original game evolved with each new edition (currently on the 5th), but there are also different "flavors," such as holiday, pirate, zombie, Monty Python (hilarious), and my personal favorite Oz. Recently, they have opted for educational themes with their popular card game and introduced Math and Chemistry versions. Today, I will tell you about the Math version and in a few days, I will tell you about the Chemistry one. Math Fluxx is a game for 2 to 6 players, for grades 3 to 7. It takes between 5 and 40 minutes to play and retails for $16.

Setup
1. Place the Basic Rules card in the middle of the table.
2. Remove the Meta Rules cards from the deck, unless all players agree to play with one or both of them. If so, place them next to the Basic Rules card.
3. Shuffle the deck, and deal three cards to each player. Place the remaining deck of cards face-down next to the Basic Rules card.
4. Randomly determine a start player and go!
Game Play - Fluxx, as the name implies, is a game of constant change...change in rules, goals, win conditions, etc. On your turn, you will always do four things in this order:
1. Draw the number of cards required. The Basic Rule has you drawing one, but new Rule cards can have you drawing up to five cards.
2. Play the number of cards required. The Basic Rule has you playing one, but new Rule cards can have you playing your whole hand in the order of your choice. There are four types of cards you can play:
a. New Rule - Played near the Basic Rule card, and either adds a new rule or replaces a current rule.
b. Goal - Played face up in the middle of the table, this sets the win condition for the game. New goal cards replace old Goal cards unless there is a rule stating multiple goals may be in play.
c. Keeper - Played face up in front of you, these cards win you the game by matching the current goal.
d. Action - Played face up, these cards have a one time use effect, and then are discarded. They allow you to break the rules, like drawing three extra cards or trading hands with someone.
3. Discard down to the current hand limit (if any) - If a rule is in place that says you can only have two cards in your hand at the end of your turn, then you must pare down your hand and discard cards of your choice until you reach the hand limit.
4. Discard down to the current Keeper limit (if any) - If a rule is in place that says you can only have two Keeper in front of you at the end of your turn, then you must pare down your Keepers and discard cards of your choice until you reach the Keeper limit.

The game is won immediately when someone completes a Goal, even if it is not their turn.
Review
I love Fluxx, in all variations that it exists in, and Math Fluxx is no different. Fans of the Fluxx line will see a lot that they recognize in this box, including 99% of the New Rules and Action cards. Some of the new New Rule cards incorporate the theme by use of Grafting; Addition; Multiplication; or some Combination of Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division. The Meta Rules can also put some of these New Rules into effect permanently. All the Keepers in the game are numbers from 0 to 10 and this leads to the strongest use of the theme - the Goals. There are 29 Goal cards in the game, which range from basic (Today's Date or Your Own Age) to cleverly funny (101 Spotted Dogs or Numbers Be Hungry a.k.a. 7 8 9). There are even a few goal cards that you may get, but your kids won't, such as The Speed of a Long Playing Record (33), The Speed of Time Travel (88), and The Ultimate Answer (42). So consider this game, not only a math lesson, but a culture lesson as well!

Those not familiar with Fluxx will find this game a blast to play, just because you never know when it's going to end. Some games will only last a few hands, just because of the way the game falls. Other games will be a slug-fest game of hoarding Keepers, denying your opponents Goals they need, and resetting the rules after you used the benefit, so no one else can use them. What's great about Math Fluxx is that it's not only fun to play, but it's going to teach your kids as well. The summer is quickly approaching, and you are going to want to keep your kids' brains active during the summer. This is a perfect game to do that. In addition to this being a fun game for the classroom, this game is also great for the homeschooling crowd. I especially love the background artwork on the cards that replaces a generic white with graph paper. It's a small thing, but makes it pop. With the simple game play and low price point, this game is very friendly for families on a budget. Tune in a couple of days for my review of Chemistry Fluxx.

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Vision of Fatima (Sophia Institute Press)

Our Lady of Fatima is a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic tradition. It is based on the apparitions that happened in 1917 in Portugal. During this time, she appeared to three shepherd children - Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta. This year is the 100th anniversary of the apparition and to commemorate this anniversary, there are several books being published, which speak on it. One such book is entitled Vision of Fatima, published by Sophia Institute Press.

The book is written by Fr. Thomas McGlynn, a name that is unfortunately unfamiliar to most of the Catholic world. He was born in 1906 and died in 1977, an American Dominican priest and sculptor. Why do I mention the fact that an "unknown" priest was a sculptor? He was the man who sculpted the statue of Our Lady of Fatmia, under Sr. Lucia's guidance of course. The book is divided into twenty chapters and weaves together two narratives - the creation of the statue and the apparition of Mary. Each chapter begins with Fr. McGlynn recounting his tale of meeting Sr. Lucia and the sculpting of the statue, and then the chapter dovetails off of that account to here firsthand from St. Lucia on the apparition of Mary, what she experienced, and the core message of Fatima.

I don't claim to be a Catholic expert by any stretch of the imagination. However, if I find a subject that interests me, I do like to read up on it and know as much as I can. I have read about Our Lady of Fatima before, because as a convert, this subject was highly interesting to me. This book however, opened up my eyes a bit more to the apparition, due to the firsthand accounts that Sr. Lucia provided. It was also a fascinating read to learn about the creation of the statue and how meticulously it was created. Sr. Lucia wanted everyone to be able to experience the true vision of Our Lady of Fatima, and I would say she and Fr. McGlynn succeeded. If you love Our Lady of Fatima )really why wouldn't you?), I recommend this book.

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Power of Silence (Ignatius Press)

I read a lot of books each year. Unfortunately, most of them blend together and don't have a chance to shine. Every now and then, one book stands out above the rest. In 2015, that was God or Nothing, which was a recorded conversation by Cardinal Robert Sarah and Nicholas Diat. This book was not only a beautiful exposition of faith, but it also introduced me to an important and brilliant man in the Catholic Church, I might never have heard of otherwise. Now, in 2017, there has been a second book released by these two people again, this time speaking on the subject of silence and noise. It is entitled The Power of Silence, and it too is published by Ignatius Press. The book is divided into five parts:

1. Silence versus the World's Noise
2. God Does Not Speak, but His Voice is Quite Clear
3. Silence, the Mystery, and the Sacred
4. God's Silence in the Face of Evil Unheard
5. Live a Voice Crying out in the Desert: The Meeting at the Grande Chartreuse

The first four sections is a dialogue between Nicholas Diat and Robert Cardinal Sarah. The fifth section brings a third person into the mix, Dysmas de Lassus, who is Prior General of the Carthusians. I'm not sure if it's by design or a happy coincidence, but the four parts are broken down into 365 lines, and sometimes paragraphs. This means that you could take one each day of the year and slowly work your way through the book. That is hard for someone like me to do, as I am not a "daily devotional" type of person, and I would rather read the book in one or two sittings, but I highly recommend taking your time with this book. For starters, the subject matter lends itself is on slowing down and being silent, and for another thing, you will miss so much if you read too quickly. I have already re-visited this book a few times to re-read certain points.

Silence and noise are two things I really struggle with, and I imagine that is true for all people, especially my generation and the generations after that who rely so heavily on technology. We need to learn to walk away from the noise and not be so dependent upon it. By doing this we will embrace silence and not be scared of it. This is the only way we will be able to experience God and grow closer to Him. This is an amazing and life-changing book that every Christian needs to read. Cardinal Robert Sarah pulls so much wisdom from Scripture, the Church Fathers, other saints, and even Pope Benedict XVI. There are so many great pieces of wisdom to ponder on that I would like to leave you with one, where he quotes from St. Isaac the Syrian:

Love silence above all things, because it brings you near to fruit the tongue cannot express. First let us force ourselves to be silent and then from out of this silence something is born that leads us into silence itself.... If you begin with this discipline, I know not how much light will dawn on you from it.... Great is the man who by the patience of his members achieves wondrous habits in his soul! When you put all the works of this discipline on one side and silence on the other, you will find the latter to be greater in weight.

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Imhotep (KOSMOS)

The 2016 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) was a hotly contested battle with three very fun games - Codenames, Karuba, and Imhotep. Codenames ended up winning, but the other two were equally worthy in the discussion. I have already reviewed Codenames and Karuba, so today I would like to tell you about Imhotep. In Egyptian history, Imhotep was the legendary architect responsible for creating amazing structures. In the game, named after him, you and your fellow opponents will take on the role of Egyptian architects. You will try to outsmart and outmaneuver your opponents and carefully contribute to the building of ancient structures. The game plays 2-4 players, ages 10+. It takes approximately 40 minutes to play and retails for $40.

Setup
1. Place the five Site Boards in the middle of the table, arranging them top to bottom in this order: Market, Pyramids, Temple, Burial Chamber, and Obelisks. For your first few games, put them on their A side, not their B side.
2. Place the Scoring Track Board to the right of the Site Boards.
3. Place the eight Ship Tokens next to the Site Boards.
4. Shuffle the 34 Market Cards, making a face-down pile next to the Market Board.
5. Take the seven Round Cards specific to the player count. Remove one at random, and shuffle the remainder. Place them face-down in a stack next to the Ship Tokens.
6. Have each player choose a color Stone, and give them a Supply Sled Token in that color. All the Stones are then placed in a pile to form the Stone Quarry. Have each player take one of their Stones and place it on the 0/40 space of the Scoring Track Board.
7. Randomly determine a starting player. That person gets takes two Stones of their color from the Quarry and places them on their Sled. Each subsequent player gets one additional stone, so Player Two would get three Stones. Player Three would get four Stones. And Player Four would get five Stones.
Game Play - The game is played over six rounds. At the start of each round, you flip over the top Round Card to determine what four Ship Tokens will be used. You then turn over the top four Market Cards, and place them face up on the Market Board. Players then take turns performing one of the four actions, and the round ends when all four Ship Tokens have sailed to the Site Boards.
1. Get new stones - Take three Stones of your color from the Quarry, and place them on your Sled. (Note: You may have a maximum of five Stones on your Sled.)
2. Place one stone on a ship - Take one Stone from your Sled and place it on any empty space on a Ship Token that has not sailed to a Site.
3. Sale one ship to a site board - Slide one Ship Token to a Site Board. The ship must be loaded with the minimum number of stones, which is indicated on the front of the ship. (Note: You may sail a ship that you don't have any stones on, and the site you sail to must not already have a ship located there.) You then unload the ship from front to back and follow the rules of the site you visit. The Market and Pyramid are scored immediately. The Temple is scored at the end of the round. The Burial Chamber and Obelisks are scored at the end of the game.
4. Play one blue market card - If you have a blue Market Card, you may play it and gain its benefit. These benefits allow you to break the normal rules of the game, i.e., placing two Stones on a Ship or sailing a Ship and deciding the order the Stones are unloaded.

After all four Ships have sailed, discard any remaining Market Cards on the Market Board. Flip over, the next Round Card and gather the designated four Ships. Lastly, reload the Market Board with four new Market Cards.

When the sixth round ends, the game has ended. Score the Burial Chamber and then the Obelisks. Lastly, score the Decoration and Statue Market Cards according to the chart printed on them. All unused blue Market Cards are worth one point each. The highest score is the winner.

Review
Modern board games, particularly Euros, are known for better or for worse, as cube pushers. You take a cube, which is supposed to symbolize something, and put it in a spot. The game stereotypically has little theme and bland artwork. Well, at its heart, Imhotep is a literal "cube pusher," because the cube is your main piece. However, the cube is appropriate, because it represents what it is, a building block. Also, these aren't your normal tiny cubes in other games. These are monster cubes, which have both a nice feel in your hands and make for good building pieces, because they don't fall over when stacking. As for the theme, it comes through with some of the sites, particularly the Pyramid and Obelisks, which are built as such. The other sites, you are just unloading stones, which don't bring the theme out as much.

As for the game play, it is a very simple game with a decent amount of strategy. Do you sail a ship that isn't all the way full, so that you can get the best spots at a site? Or do you maximize the ships and get as many stones to as many sites as possible, even if you don't get the best spot at every site? These are the decisions you have to make every round. If you can get to the Market, you definitely want to pick first, so you can either complete your set or get the rule-breaking cards, which help eliminate one tough decision per round.

The game seems like a simple, family-friendly game, but it can get pretty cutthroat moving ships that people have stones on where you don't or to a place they have no interest in visiting. Because of the nature of this game and the rules, I would say that the ideal player count is three players. At two players, you can basically each focus on two ships and leave the other person alone. At four players, it gets a bit chaotic, feeling like there is no strategy to stone placement, and you'll just end up where you end up. Three players adds the right amount of tension with much less chaos. This was a deserving nominee to game of the year, as it is simple without being able to master it, fun if you don't get your feelings hurt over moved ships, and has a good replay value.

This game was provided to me for free by Thames and Kosmos in exchange for an honest review.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sailing Toward Osiris (Daily Magic Games)

The Pharaoh has passed on, and is making the long journey down the Nile to his permanent resting place. Once he reaches here, he will stand before Osiris and be judged. Unfortunately for him, he produced no heir, so the local governors must build monuments to memorialize his glory. This task isn't altruistic though. The governors know that whoever pays the greatest tribute to their fallen deity will become to the new pharaoh. This is Sailing Toward OsirisSailing Toward Osiris is a game for 2-5 players, age 14+. It takes between 60 and 90 minutes to play and can be yours for a Kickstarter pledge of $56 Standard or $66 Deluxe.

Setup - For this setup, a "governor" is a player and a "regent" is the player in charge this season.
1. Lay out the board and put the resources of grain, brick and stone nearby. (To determine the number of each resource, use the formula 5x + 5, where x is the number of players.)
2. Have each governor pick a player color and give them the following in their color: one screen, one camel, four sphinxes, three obelisks, two pylons, and five boon cards. Also give them two of each resource from step one.
3. Shuffle the city cards and deal one to each governor. Then, place the remaining deck nearby.
4. Place every governor's score marker on zero. Then, place the Pharaoh's Barge on the right side of the board, where the river rapids mark separates the first two river segments.
5. Take three Master Laborer tokens (one of each color) and twelve Regular Laborer tokens (four of each color) in the bag.
6. Pick a random governor to be Regent for the first season.

Game Play - The game takes place over four seasons. In each season, the following occurs:
1. Obtain Laborers - The Regent randomly draw Laborers from the bag, (Two in 4-5 player game and three in a 2-3 player game) and place them behind their screen. The bag is passed to the next person, and this action is repeated until all governors have done so. Then, the Regent draws out all but two of the remaining Laborers and puts them in the Labor Pool Cartouche. The Regent may then look in the bag to see what is left, and therefore have knowledge this turn that other players do not have.
2. Perform Many Actions - The Regent may perform one of ten actions below. Then, play passes left. This continues until all the governors have performed as many actions as possible/desired.
a. Harvest Resources - Place a Laborer on a space and gain the resources
b. Visit a City - Place a Laborer on a city and draw two City cards. Keep one and give one to an opponent.
c. Start/Join a Caravan - Place a Laborer on a Caravan space and gain the resources. (Note: If you are first to do this at a space, you put your camel there too to signify you are the leader.) If you place a Laborer where someone is leading a Caravan, you gain the resources, but must pay one to the leader.
d. Hire an Extra Laborer - Hire a Laborer from the Labor Pool Cartouche paying any two resources.
e. Plan a Monument - Select one of the Planning Cartouches; pay the resources; and place the appropriate monument token on the Cartouche.
f. Build a Monument - Move your monument token to a valid position on the map, remembering that you can't build in a space where a Laborer is, where another monument already is, and each type of monument can only be built on terrain sections with a certain number of resource icons. (Note: If you plan to build a monument, but can't before the end of the season, no points are scored and the monument is removed from the game.)
g. Trade at the Market - Make a trade by paying one of the resource sets noted on the Market Cartouche to receive the corresponding resource set.
h. Play a City Card - Play a city card to either receive the resources or perform its special action.
i. Play a Boon Card - A governor may play one of their boon cards once per season, as long as it doesn't match another governor's boon card. At the end of the season, the cards played are removed from the game.
j. Withdraw from the Season - When you are unable or unwilling to take anymore actions, you withdraw. The first governor to withdraw is the next regent and receives a bonus from the Regent Cartouche.
3. Haggle with other Governors - A governor may haggle with another governor at any time in the game for any items in their control. It is not an action, and a promise of a future action is not enforceable.
4. The Season Ends - The current regent steps down and a new regent takes his place. Pharaoh's Barge advances to the next river segment. Camels are returned to their governors. All resources in the market and labor pool are returned to the supply. All laborers are returned to the bag. Played boon cards and planned monuments not built are removed from the game.
5. Pharaoh's Barge Reaches the Temple of Osiris - The game ends and and bonus points are awarded based on their monument configurations. Highest score wins!

Review
Daily Magic Games has a strong history of light to medium weight Kickstarter projects with great art and quality art/components. Therefore, that's exactly what I expected from this game. Well, I was wrong...in a good way. The art and component quality are still top notch (I was blown away by just the prototype!), but the game has a bit more depth and meat to it. Looking at the game play section, you have ten different actions you can take on a given turn...TEN! This creates a difficult decision every turn you take. There's a Master Laborer in the Labor Pool, do I hire him before my opponent does? What about my Boon Cards? There is one I can play this turn, but I want to do other things first, but if I do those things first someone else might play that Boon Card so I can't. ARG! And then there's the City Cards. I need a new city card, but then I have to give one to my opponent. I want both cards. Which one do I pick? I don't want to give this other card to my opponent! So many good difficult decisions can lead to analysis paralysis, but they also make for an excellent game.

Another aspect I love about this game is the way it scales. There are plenty of games out there that play two to five players. Very few of them play every player count well. This game plays just as well at two players, as it does at five players. From the starting number of resources to the amount of spaces available at different player counts, the game designer (W. David MacKenzie) has done an outstanding job to ensure that every player count not only works, but works well. The only thing I would say that doesn't work as well at a two player count would be haggling, because it feels a bit like a zero-sum game, but my game group didn't haggle much at higher player counts the first couple of games anyhow.

The last thing I would like to praise about this game is the theme. I love Egypt, and I hope to visit there one day, so with this theme, I was going to eventually want to try this game. It was just lucky for me that I got to try it early on. From the meeple shapes, to the cartouches on the board, to the actual journey that the barge made, everything immersed you into the game and also provided you a sense of history. This is a great game with a simple depth to it that will bring you back time and time again. Highly recommended!



Monday, May 1, 2017

The Complete Encyclicals, Bulls, and Apostolic Exhortations: Volume 1 (Ave Maria Press)

Jorge Maria Bergoglio became the 266th Pope in 2013 at the age of 76. He was the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, and the first from the Southern Hemisphere. He is know for his informal style, breaking of tradition (not to be confused with Tradition), and personable nature. In his four years, he has spoken a great deal on various subjects, and because of who he is, he has been misquoted more times than anyone can count. It is for that reason that I always recommend people read his words, and not just listen to sound bytes. Ave Maria Press has recently made that possible with The Complete Encyclicals, Bulls, and Apostolic Exhortations: Volume 1. The volume consists of Pope Francis' five most important writings through early 2016:

Lumen Fidei - The Light of Faith encyclical
Evangelii Gaudium - The Joy of the Gospel apostolic exhortation
Misericordiae Vultus - The Face of Mercy papal bull
Laudato Si' - Praise Be to You encyclical
Amoris Laetitia - The Joy of Love apostolic exhortation

I am not going to review each of these individual works as I have spoken on them at various times, since their publication. Instead, I will comment briefly on the book. For starters, I like that these five major works are compiled into one volume. I have all of them individually, but if I were going somewhere and wanted to read them, I'd much rather carry one book than five. That being said, I worry about the durability of the book, and wish it were a nice hardcover instead. Secondly, I like that this is labeled as Volume 1. This shows promise that there will be additional volumes. The hope is that this book sells well, and that they don't decide to leave this series hanging with only one volume. Another hope of mine is that this book might inspire them to perhaps go back and do this with previous popes, like Pope Benedict XVI or Pope John Paul II, but his might take 20+ volumes. Overall, I like this book and recommend it to anyone looking to read the words of our current pontiff.

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