Monday, July 31, 2017

Benedict and Francis (Sophia Institute Press)

I have not been Catholic all of my life, so unlike other people my age John Paul II was not the pope I grew up with or only one I knew for most of my life. Instead, my first pope was Benedict XVI and then Francis. Sophia Institute Press recently published a book by Cardinal Gerhard Müller called Benedict and Francis, which talks about their papacies, since the two papal reigns are so closely tied to each other.

The book begins by talking about the Church and the Petrine Ministry. We then learn about the important characteristic of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy, which was his theological talent. He used his great wisdom to teach the Church, and demonstrate the hearing and understanding aspects of faith. he also talks about the six decades of scholarly works Pope Benedict XVI has contributed to the Christology, highlighting his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth. The next chapter focuses on Vatican II and the laity. The last two chapters tie more closely to Francis' papacy talking about the poor, poverty and the forgotten of society in one chapter and ecclesial and curial reform in the other.

Benedict and Francis is a quick read at 120 pages. It does a nice job of not only explaining the role of the pope, but also tying together the papacies of two very different men. If you are looking for a short summation, then this is a great place to start. I would then recommend going deeper and reading some of their actual writings, homilies, and addresses to finish filling in the picture of what these two great men believe and bring to the office of pope.

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Starving Artists (Fairway 3 Games)

I do not have a single creative bone in my body. That includes anything musical or artistic. That's not to say that I don't appreciate both, and don't enjoy going to the symphony or museum. I just know my creative limits, and they basically stop at paint-by-number. When I heard about the game Starving Artists (self-described as paint-by-cube), I knew I wanted to play this game. Starving Artists is a game for 1-4 players, ages 12+. It takes between 30-60 minutes to play and retails for $30. (Note: You can also add on a game mat for $15, which appropriately has an image of Johnannes Vermeer's work The Art of Painting.)

1. Give each player a Studio Card. This will be used to track your nutrition level, track the day, store your Paint Cubes, and remind you of the day's actions.
2. Give each player a matching set of Player Markers, placing one on the 0 of the score track, and the other on the 5 of their nutrition level.
3. Pour all the Paint Cubes into the bag and mix well. Then, have each player draw six random cubes from the bag, placing them in their studio.
4. Shuffle the Canvas Cards, and place them face-down in a stack. Form the Canvas Market by turning over three and forming a row next to the deck.
5. Give the first-player token (Carrot) to the person who most recently visited a museum.
Game Play - The game is played over several rounds with players taking one action in the morning and one in the afternoon. At night, all players have the option of selling their paintings.
1. Add four Paint Cubes from the bag to the Paint Market (center of the table).
2. Lower your nutrition level by one (except on the first day). If your nutrition drops below one, you are eliminated, and players have one more day left in the game.
3. The first player places the carrot on the morning phase of his Studio Card.
4.  On your turn, you will take two actions (one at a time) and may take one free action. The actions are as follows:
a. Buy a new canvas - Pay one to three cubes depending on where the card is in the Canvas Market.
b. Paint - Apply up to four Paint Cubes from your Studio to any number of your Canvases.
c. Work - Draw three Paint Cubes and put them in your Studio.
Free actions:
a. Trade Paint Cubes - Trade Paint Cubes from your Studio to the Paint Market, using the following ratios - 2:1, 5:2, 9:3. (Note: Trading is expensive and you can trade wild cubes back to the Market but never take them from the Market.)
b. Reset the Canvas Market - Pay two Paint Cubes to the Paint Market to discard the cards in the Canvas Market and draw three new ones.
5. Sell Paintings - In the night phase, the first player declares if they are selling paintings, how many, and which one(s). Other players do this in clockwise order. Selling paintings raises your nutrition level, scores you points, and gets you paid in Paint Cubes. (Note: Players will get paid based on who has the highest value painting sold.)

The game ends at different intervals based on number of players. 2 players = 7 paintings/16 points, 3 players = 6 paintings/14 points, and 4 players = 5 paintings/12 points.
Starving Artists is a game that is creatively simple and simply creative. The concept of taking cubes and placing them on famous artwork to complete the painting is genius and makes you wonder why no one thought of it before. Don't let the simplicity fool you. There is strategy to this game, as it's a juggling act between picking the right Canvas, acquiring the right blend of Paint Cubes, and not starving. I admit that I went hungry and lost the first time I tried playing this. Players turns can create a little downtime, but that is true with a lot of games. The only complaint I heard with the numerous people I played with is that it's a shame that it only plays four. Designer, Mike Wokasch, thought of that and created a kit you could buy that would give you the ability to play with up to six players. I am going to have to invest in this, as I regularly play more than four!

The components in this game are well thought out and produced. For starters, the paintings are very vibrant and high resolution. If it wasn't for the squares to place your cubes, you'd swear you were staring at miniature re-creations of them. The cubes themselves are translucent, which was a brilliant decision. I imagine wooden cubes would have been much more economical to produce, but the plastic translucent ones really add that extra aesthetics to the game. I normally don't buy extra game boards, but this neoprene one is a worthy investment as it serves as both a rule reminder and statement piece for the game.

With over 90 unique canvas cards, the replay value is strong in this game. You won't paint all the same canvases from game to game, and you probably won't see them all either without a couple of plays through the game. With that said, I hope to see the designer continue adding to this game, perhaps through little booster packs, but I don't know how economical it would be. My thoughts were to pick popular artists (Van Gogh, Rembrant, Picasso, etc.) and make perhaps 10 card booster packs of them. (Yes, I know these artists already have several representatives of their artwork in this game). However, if you released popular artist booster packs, you could add even more theme to the game. Let people have their own deck to draw from, and the first one to paint the required number of paintings (based on player count) wins.

What I liked best about this game was the hidden educational/cultural value. When I was in school, I took an art history class, and it was boring! It seemed like no one wanted to be there, including the teacher. This game, however, secretly teaches you and your children about great art through the centuries, as the cards show you the piece and provide an artist and time when it was painted. I thought I knew a fair bit of famous art before this game, but I was mistaken, as there were so many works in here that I did not recognize. I found myself learning without even trying to, and feel like that was an added benefit to a great game. For this reason alone, I think it is a game that belongs in the classroom and homeschool environment, in addition to on a family's game shelf!

This game was provided to me for free by Fairway 3 Games in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Letter and Spirit Volume 11: Our Beloved Brother Paul

Letter and Spirit is an outstanding yearly journal of Catholic Biblical Theology. It is published by St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and Emmaus Road Publishing. 2016 gave us Volume 11, titled Our Beloved Brother Paul. The book is just over 200 pages long and is divided into nine articles written by big names, such as Matthew Levering, Matthew Ramage, Brant Pitre, and of course Scott Hahn. The titles of the articles are as follows:

1. Partakers of Adoption: Irenaeus and His Use of Paul
2. Origen, Augustine, and "Works of Law"
3. Cyril of Alexandria's Reception of the Apostle Paul
4. Aquinas's Reception of Paul: Reading the Testaments Together
5. Aquinas's Reading of Romans: The Multiple Literal Sense and Contemporary Perspectives on Paul
6. The Old and New Law in Nicholas of Lyra's Pauline Commentaries
7. St. Paul in Matthias Scheeben: The Plenary Significance of the Incarnation
8. The Reception of St. Paul in the Works of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI
9. The Reception of Paul in the New Lectionary

Though each of the articles provided a great proved to be fruitful in their reading, I particularly enjoyed the last two articles. In article eight, Matthew Ramage begins by talking about the Pauline Year in 2008. In the opening homily by Pope Benedict XVI, he talks about how Paul is more than just a saint of the past, but he is also a teacher for us in the present day. The article then goes on to discuss key points in Paul's theology, such as justification by faith, faith or charity alone, authentic freedom in Christ, and the Mystical Body of Christ. In article nine, Brant Pitre shows how Vatican II completely reshaped the Lectionary and included many more of Paul's writings. This article is chock full of tables. The two most telling ones are the ones that show the writings of Paul in the Post-Tridentine Lectionary and the three year Ordinary Time cycle of the new Lectionary. Pitre also goes on to show how the readings flow from day to day and Sunday to Sunday. It is not a random sampling of Paul's writings, but systematic. Lastly, they serve a vital part in the seasons of the Church, particularly Advent and Lent.

The Letter and Spirit Journal series is one that I enjoy receiving and reading every year. It is one of the few books that I don't skim and rush through, because frankly I can't. The articles are a nice blend of being challenging but approachable. You walk away with a deeper understanding of your faith, not just at an academic level, but at a spiritual level too. I look forward to the next volume already, and cannot wait for it to be published it so that I may chew on the wisdom and digest what I can. This is a series I recommend for those Catholics serious about their faith and wanting to take it to a deeper, richer level.

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Stroop (Grand Gamers Guild)

When I was in college, I pursued a degree in Psychology. During that time, I worked for a professor who was studying the Stroop Effect. The Stroop Effect in a nutshell, measures the reaction time due to interference of a task. That task is usually associated with the names of colors and the color of text in those names. For example, if the word "red" is written in red font, it is easy for your brain to recognize the word "red." However, if the word "red" is written in yellow, your brain wants to think "yellow" instead of "red." Grand Gamers Guild took this frustrating psychological test and made it into a game, appropriately named StroopStroop is a game for 2-4 players. It takes approximately 15 minutes to play and retails for $18.
1. Shuffle the 65 basic cards on your first game. (Note: If experienced, shuffle 65 basic and 45 advanced cards.)
2. Deal 15 cards face-down to each player.
3. Place one card face-up in the center of the table.
Game Play Round One - Players simultaneously draw cards (one at a time) into their hand as fast as they can. (Note: There is no hand limit.) Each player is trying to play a card on top of the center card, which is described by the center card. For example, if the center card is black in color but the word is "yellow," then a legal card to play would be any card with yellow-colored text. The round ends when one player has drawn all their cards from their deck and is unable to play any remaining cards from their hand. The player says "STOP," and all players return cards in their hand back to their draw pile for Round Two. Note: If a player makes a mistake playing a card, they may take the card back with no penalty. If a player says, "STOP," but still has legal cards to play, play continues, but the mistaken player cannot play anymore cards.
Game Play Round Two - Distribute the cards in the center pile (from Round One) evenly to all players. If unable to distribute evenly, supplement from the unused cards. Each players takes their remaining cards from Round One and the re-distributed cards and shuffles them to form their personal draw pile. (Note: All players will most likely not have the same amount of cards.) Round Two is identical in game play to Round One with one exception, a card may only be played if it describes the center card. For example, if the center card is black in color but the word is "yellow," then a legal card to play would be any card that says "black" or any card with the word "six," as the word "yellow" has six letters. When one player declares, "STOP," the game ends. Players count their remaining cards in their hand and draw pile. The player with the fewest cards is the winner.

This game (even though it wasn't) seems like it was tailor-made for me to play and review. I tested scores of students on the Stroop Effect in college using a program that my professor developed. I even took the test numerous times as well, just to pass the time some days. Not to brag, but I got so good at it that I could almost beat it. Therefore, when I heard that this game was coming out, I wanted to try it, and the game did not disappoint.

For starters, it is quick to play, making it a perfect filler or game for families and new gamers. Secondly, the mechanic seems familiar to casual gamers, as it feels a bit like UNO or Skip-Bo. Third, there are two modes of game play to accommodate different levels of players. The basic version focuses mainly on color, number of letters, font size, and solid or hollow font. The advanced version adds font direction (forward or backward) to make your brain burn a little bit more when playing and adding just enough more difficulty to the the game. The last and best thing I love about this game is the scientific nature of it. The first round is like a control round. Players familiarize themselves with the game play and the basic concept of the Stroop Effect. The second round really puts your wits to the test, as you are trying to describe the card, while trying not to get tripped up due to the ease of the first round. Highly recommended for casual and experienced gamers alike!

This game was provided to me for free by Grand Gamers Guild in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (Minion Games)

The world is on the brink of war, and many nations are jockeying for power. As the Minister of War of your nation, you have been assigned to build atomic bombs to combat rival nations. You have the technology, but we won't talk of how you acquired it. Now, you just need the right people and materials to complete this task. This is The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (TMP: Chain Reaction).  TMP Chain Reaction is game for 1-5 players, ages 12+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $15.
1. Separate the Resource cards into into piles of Yellowcake value (one, three, five).
2. Place the Landmark cards face-up in a row next to the Resource cards.
3. Place the Bomb Loaded cards in a stack next to the Landmark cards.
4. Shuffle the Bomb Plan cards and deal a number face-up equal to the number of players.
5. Shuffle the Industry cards and make a face-down deck. Then, deal each player five cards face-down.
Game Play - Every player will get the same number of turns. On your turn, you will play your cards in a linked series, with previous cards activating the next cards. Your goal is to create Bomb Plan or Bomb Loaded cards. At the end of your turn, you may keep all Yellowcake, Uranium, Bomb Plan, and Bomb Loaded cards for future turns and scoring. Draw back up to five cards, and play passes to the next player. The first player to 10 megaton of bomb points triggers the end of the game. Complete the round and the War Minister with the most power wins.

The core feature of this game is the multi-use card. Are you going to use the card for labor or for its ability to produce yellowcake, specialized people, or another ability? The chaining mechanism of these cards is a fun little puzzle that you have to try and piece together before your opponent. Will you make the optimum use of your cards quicker than your opponent? Or will you be left in a mushroom cloud of dust? The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is a small scale version of The Manhattan Project. It has a tiny footprint on the table, has some take that to it (but not too much), and scratches the same itch as its big brother with a cheaper cost and quicker play time, making it a nice little filler game for family and friends. It is also a good way to introduce people to The Manhattan Project family of games.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary (Sophia Institute Press)

St. Louis de Montfort was a great man who understood one of the great "secrets" of Catholicism - the quickest way to Jesus is through Mary. However, he didn't keep this truth to himself. He shared it with everyone in his numerous writings, particularly True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. In this treatise, he gave people a 33-day program to consecrate themselves to Jesus through Mary. Recently, Sophia Institute Press published a book by Fr. Ed Broom called Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary. Drawing from de Montfort for inspiration, Fr. Broom developed this do-it-yourself retreat that uses the Mysteries of the Rosary and the Seven Sorrows of Mary as the backbone for this consecration.

The book is divided into five weeks with one week devoted to each set of Rosary mysteries (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious) and one week to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Each week is further divided into days, which focus on individual mysteries/sorrows. Since there are only five mysteries in each set, you will find that some weeks, you are asked to pick a mystery already covered and re-visit it. Each day is laid out as follows:

1. Scripture passage to read slowly and prayerfully
2. Meditation on the particular mystery/sorrow
3. Bullet points of Consideration (For example, in the Visitation, you reflect on Mary Starting her Journey, Mary's Canticle of Praise, and Mary's Three Months with Elizabeth)
4. A daily walk/conversation with Mary to properly close the mediation and apply it to your daily life

For those who have never participated in a consecration, this one was put together beautifully. Each day is laid out succinctly. It is detailed enough, so you don't have to pull from other resources that you don't need to turn to another resource when going through this book, but simple enough that you won't feel overwhelmed on your journey. If you are familiar with the Rosary already and pray it every day, then you need this book and to perform this consecration.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jump Drive (Rio Grande Games)

The jump drive is the latest technological breakthrough in space technology. With this invention, we now have the ability to travel to new worlds, develop new technologies, and build our own space empire! Jump Drive is a game for 2-4 players, age 13+. It takes approximately 30 minutes to play and retails for $25.

1. In the middle of the table, place Survey Team cards equal to the number of players.
2. If your first game, give each player a preset hand of five cards, labeled A, B, C, and D. Then, shuffle the remaining cards to form a draw pile. If not your first game, shuffle all the cards together, give each player seven cards, and have them choose two to discard to form a hand of five.
3. Put the Victory Point (VP) chips and Explore markers nearby.
Game Play - A game typically lasts six or seven rounds. Each round, players simultaneously place cards face down or place place Explore markers. The cards are then revealed and paid for, thus adding the card to your empire. Each player may do the following:
1. Place one Development (diamond) card. Discard one fewer card than the black number in the diamond to pay for it.
2. Place one World (black outlined circle or red outlined circle). You pay for the black outlined cards the same way as you pay for Development cards, and you conquer red outlined cards. Either way, you draw one card after placing these cards.
3. Place one Development and one World card. Pay the full cost for these cards, and do not draw a card.
4. If you choose not to place any cards, you may take an Explore marker and draw some extra cards according to the rules on the marker.
5. Check to see if anyone has a minimum of 50 VP. If not, draw as many cards as your income and begin the next round.

I love the game universe of Race for the Galaxy and the dice version Roll for the Galaxy. As someone who loves space and science fiction, there is just something satisfying in these games. The fun that comes from building your own unique space empire each game brings joy to my nerdy soul. However, not everyone wants to commit that time and energy to learning the game and the many expansions. This is where Jump Drive comes in! Jump Drive is set in the same universe and offers a quicker and simpler game play than Race and Roll. With each game lasting around 30 minutes, you have a chance to introduce people to this excellent universe and hopefully eventually get to teach them the two games that inspired this one. Alternatively, you also have a quick game that scratches the same itches that Race and Roll both do and can offering a satisfying experience if you don't have time for the other two. Highly recommended!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Mother Teresa of Kolkata: Saint Among the Poor (Pauline Kids)

It feels like it's been forever since Pauline Books and Media released a graphic novel. The first two were on St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis of Assisi, and were in an American comic book format and illustration style. The next two took a Japanese illustration style and were on St. Philip Neri and St. Teresa of Avila. Today, they go back to the American style and present us Mother Teresa of Kolkata: Saint Among the Poor.

The book starts with a few pages of the familiar nun in her habit, helping the poor and dying in India. We then go back to the very beginning her birth, family, and childhood. In comics, this is known as an origin story. We then see her time in the convent, her vows, and her job as teacher and principal. Here, she helped the people of India, but with all the people dying outside, she always felt like she should and could be doing more. Next, we see God calling her to help the people of India. She had to get permission for this though, which took a long time and had to go through a lot of channels. Finally, Pope Pius XII granted her permission for one year, to see how it would go.  She founded a house for the dying, an orphanage, and a place for lepers as well. News of her work and her ability to get things done spread worldwide. Also recorded in the book is her visit to the Vatican and her friendship with Pope John Paul II.

For being just over 50 pages long, the graphic novel does a splendid job of capturing the important parts of both Mother Teresa's life and her ministry. We see not only her successes, but also her struggles, and there is also brief glimpses of her personality, which showed a woman small in stature, but more than capable of making things happen for the Lord. This is an excellent and engaging read and one that all Catholic children should read. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bärenpark (Mayfair Games)

Phil Walker-Harding is one of my favorite game designers. Looking at my collection, I count no fewer than three of his games in my collection. The reason for this is because he makes family-friendly games that have a bit of crunch to them. These are exactly the types of games that my game group and family like, so its a perfect fit. Therefore, when I heard he had a new game (Bärenpark) coming out, I knew I had to have it. Bärenpark is a game for 2-4 players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 30-45 minutes to play and retails for $42.

1. Place the Supply Board in the middle of the playing area. This will hold all the tiles.
2. Stack the Green Areas on their designated spaces. Use all 10 Toilets and all 10 Playgrounds. Use four Food Streets and four Rivers per person. (Note: there is a typo on the Supply Board, so just follow the rule book.)
3. Select the appropriate numbered Animal Houses, depending on the player count. (Two players = 2,4,6. Three players = 2,3,4,5,6. Four players = all tiles.)
4. Place all Enclosures on their designated spaces.
5. Lay the Bear Statues next to the game board in numerical order, depending on the player count (Two players = 2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16. Three players = 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14. Four players = all tiles.)
6. Shuffle the twelve Park Areas without an Entrance, and place them in two stacks of six.
7. Give each player a random Park Area with an Entrance. Place it in front of you and orient it right side up.
8. Randomly determine a starting player. Starting player gets a Toilet. Second and third player each get a Playground. Fourth player gets a Food Street. (Note: In a three-player game, the third player would get a Food Street instead of a Playground.)
Game Play - Play goes in clockwise order, with each turn consisting of three steps:
1. Place exactly one tile from your supply in your park. If you can't place a tile, you must pass. (Note: The tile must fit within marked spaces on your Park. You cannot cover the Pit. Tiles cannot overlap, and must be orthogonally adjacent to an already placed tile. You may rotate/flip tiles if you wish.
2. Evaluate icons you covered with the newly placed tile. If you cover multiple icons, carry all actions out in any order. The four icons are as follows:
a. Green Wheelbarrow - Take a Green Area of your choice.
b. White Cement Truck - Take the top Animal House from a pile of your choice, or take a Green Area.
c. Orange Excavator - Take an Enclosure of your choice, or take a Green Area or Animal House of your choice.
d. Construction Crew - Take the top Park Area from one of the two piles. When placing the new Park Area, it must be orthogonally adjacent to another Park Area and fully align. It must be the correct orientation, and it may not be placed below your Park Area with an Entrance.
3. If you completed a Park Area, and covered all your spaces (except the Pit), take the highest valued Bear Statue and cover the Pit. (Note: You may not have more than four Park Areas.)

The end of the game is triggered when someone completes all four Park Areas. After that, everyone else gets one more turn. Tally your points. High score wins!
When Patchwork first came out, my wife and I played that game like crazy. It had a beautiful simplicity to it, and it was very fulfilling trying to complete your quilt. However, the more I played it, the more repetitive the game grew. I also felt like there was too much randomness in the game, and that if the tiles weren't lining up in your favor, then you were forever playing catch up. Therefore, I was always looking for a game with a similar feel, a bit more strategy, and one that plays more than two players. Then, along came Bärenpark.

Bärenpark takes the idea of tile-selection and tile-placement, and adds some twists to it. For starters, you aren't buying the tiles, but instead only gain them by strategic placement of your starter tile and subsequent tiles. So, while you may want all those high point tiles, you might find that they don't quite fit the way you want them to in your current park layout, so you might have to take a slightly less valuable tile. The game is also a bit of a race in that you want to complete your park areas more quickly so that you get the most valuable bear statues. Unlike Patchwork, your board is not identical to your opponents. You will each have the same icons and number of icons on your board, but they will be slightly so different, creating a bit or asymmetry and replay value, in that your park will never turn out quite the same.

The theme of this game is a bit silly, but to its credit, it doesn't shy away from that. Instead, it embraces that in both the art and the rulebook wording. Speaking of the art, I really like the artwork in this game. There are subtle artistic differences in the tiles (even the ones that are the same shape and size) that it creates a fun and whacky picture when complete. What I like best about this game though is that there are really two ways you can play this game. You can play the basic way, which is the way I have been talking about, which is great for beginners and younger people, or you can play the advanced way. The advanced way adds achievements to the game and gives people goals to shoot for, like three tiles with polar bears in your park. With ten different achievements and only three used each game, this adds a lot of replay value to the game and makes it an even thinkier puzzle to solve.

I can see this game being in my collection for a long time. It is family-friendly, gamer-friendly, can play more than two, and is just plain fun. Highly recommended!

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pope Francis Family Devotional (Our Sunday Visitor)

I have reviewed a lot of books in my four years as a reviewer...A LOT! I usually try and time the reviews around the content of the book, but I feel like I dropped the ball with the book I am reviewing today. The book is called Pope Francis Family Devotional, and as you can tell by the name, it is a one-a-day yearly devotional. The book begins with a brief introduction by the editor, Rebecca Cherico, where she explains that she compiled these pages with her own family in mind. She also tried to remember that all families are different and make this book suitable for people of various ages and at various stages of life.

The book is just shy of 400 pages long and contains a single page devotion for every day of the year, including February 29th. Few devotionals pay attention to the leap day, so this is already a plus in my book. Each page is divided into two sections - an excerpt from one of Pope Francis' addresses/audiences and a reflection by the editor. Here is a short one as an example:

There is no cross, big or small, in our life, which the Lord does not share with us.
- Address, Way of the Cross, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 26, 2013

Reflection: God is with us. And God is good - all the time. When a cross seems too strange or too great to bear, remember this. He is always with us, until the end of time.

Reading through this book is easy to do each day and one that I would recommend doing with your family. The words of Pope Francis are brief, but poignant, and the reflections are spot on! I encourage you to start your day with it and read it at breakfast time. If that doesn't work, end your day with it and read it before night time prayers. Get your children involved, learning more about their faith, and hearing the words of the Holy Father. Don't be discouraged that the year is more than half over. Pick up a copy and start the habit now, and then you can work on the book the rest of this year and all of next year.

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Kerala (Thames and Kosmos)

Kerala is a state in the country of south India. There are over 10,000 religious festivals held here each year, which usually involve fireworks and elephants. Yes, elephants. Kerala has the largest domesticated population of Indian elephants (approximately 700), which are owned by both temples and individuals. It is for this reason that the elephant is state animal of Kerala and also the emblem of Kerala's government. Thames and Kosmos recently published a game called Kerala in which up to five players are trying to build the most elegant and colorful platform for their elephants. The game takes approximately 30 minutes to and retails for $40.

1. Have each player pick a color. Give each player two elephants and a start tile of the same color. Return any unused elephants and starting tiles to the box.
2. Each player stands their two elephants up on the starting tile. This is the beginning of your festival platform.
3. Remove a certain number of the 100 game tiles from the game, depending on the number of players (20 in a two-player game, 10 in a three-player game, and 4 in a four-player game). Note: The tiles you remove can't be any player's color. Place the remaining tiles in the fabric bag.
4. The youngest player is the starting player.
Game Play - The game is played over many rounds, until the bag of tiles is empty. On your turn, the active player draws a number of tiles from the bag equal to the number of players. The first player takes one of the drawn tiles and places it orthogonally next to the starting tile. They then move one of their elephants to the new tile. The remaining drawn tiles are passed to the next player and they perform the same action. After everyone has placed a tile, the bag passes to the next player and they perform the same action, following placement rules. (Placement rules are that you must place a tile orthogonally next to one of the two tiles you have with an elephant on it. You are allowed to place a tile over an existing tile, and you are also allowed to pass two times in a game.) There are also special tiles in the game that score bonus points, let you move one of your elephants, or move one of your tiles.

Scoring - You may only have one continuous area of each color, with the exception of your color, where you can have two continuous areas. If you have any extra areas of a color, you must remedy this by removing tiles until you have one area of each color (and two of your color). Subtract two points for each tile. For each color you are missing in your platform, lose five points. Score one point for each time you didn't pass. Score five points for each special tile you matched to its color. Score one point for each elephant symbol. High score wins.

When I first opened this box and was reading through the rule books, I thought that this was essentially Lanterns with elephants. You are placing colored tiles. You are preparing for a festival in an Asian country. On the surface, it seems very similar, but once you start playing, you realize that the game play is much different. For starters, you are not playing tiles to a communal grid. You are instead making your own grid, thus making the player interaction minimal. When the tiles come to you, you are going to look at them and then look at your board. The first decision you have to make is which colors can I place that are next to tiles I have with elephants on them. You also have choices (unless you are the last player), but some tiles will work better than others for you. If you have multiple good choices, then you can take the time and see what your opponents can optimally use and what would be a negative for them. That is the bulk of the player interaction. Other than that, it is essentially multiplayer solitaire, and I don't say that as a criticism.

What I like best about the game is the puzzle-like nature of it. Yes, you can place your tiles anywhere (as long as it is next to an elephant), but you don't always want to, because it could create multiple areas of the same color, which is bad. You then have to decide, do I want to use one of my two passes? Do I want to build over a tile I have already played and negate some points? Or am I just going to be stuck playing this tile and losing two points at the end of the game? I also really liked the special ability tiles. The game could have been very unforgiving and what you get is what you get, but instead there are two tiles that let you fix your board at multiple times throughout the game. One lets you move your elephant to a more strategic position, so he isn't color-locked. The other lets you move a tile, so that you can try and consolidate multiple areas of color into one area.

The game is frustrating to play (in a good way). You think everything is going well, and then you get a string of tiles that you don't want to play. This means each decision you make matters, and sometimes you are going to have to sacrifice a three point tile, just so you can clean up your area a little bit. I also like that the player count is five players, as opposed to four players. This means I can get the game to the table more often. Add in the simple game play and quick playing time, and you have a winner for both children and new gamers.

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Cardinal Müller Report (Ignatius Press)

In 1987, a book was released by Ignatius Press entitled The Ratzinger Report. The book discussed was frank and candid and discussed the state of the Catholic Church after Vatican II. 30 years later, Ignatius Press has once again released a state of the Catholic Church book, but this one is entitled The Cardinal Müller Report.

The book is the transcript of an interview of sorts between Gerhard Cardinal Müller and Fr. Carlos Granados. It begins with a section titled "A Report on Hope." In this section, the doctrine of Christian hope is defined and questioned. Some questions presented are 1. What are the signs of hope? 2. Is it possible to regain hope once it has been lost? and 3. Do you have to be positive/optimistic to possess Christian hope? This leads to the next section, "What can we hope for from Christ?" Jesus not only brings us eternal life, but he is also providing us a path to divinization, so that we can be more like God. The section after this asks, "What can we hope for from the Church?" This leads us to a discussion about Eucharist, the requirements for receiving the sacrament, and being fit to receive. We also get some questions and answers about the pope and expectations for him. The remaining two sections in the book talk about family and society.

At the time this book was published, Cardinal Müller was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. This was the same title that Cardinal Ratzinger had when his report was published. This is not only a high ranking office within the Vatican, but it is also one that gives the head a view on the state of the Church that others do not have. His appointment in this position has not been renewed, but this was merely a matter of Pope Francis trying to limit terms, and not the great scandal that people are making it out to be. As for the book itself, I found this to be a refreshing read. In this book, we see Cardinal Müller's love for Christ and His Church. What I liked best about this book was the lens of hope through which everything was examined. Generally when you read a book of this nature, issues are looked at from a perspective of faith. This one uses hope instead, and I found this to be an appropriate and suitable perspective given the current attitude in this day and age. I highly recommend this book and am actually interested in Ratzinger's book now to see how things have changed in 30 years.

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