Thursday, August 17, 2017

Isle of Monsters (Mayday Games)

Somewhere in the middle of the ocean is a small isle that has long been forgotten by most. On this mysterious land, there are monsters with the power of earth, fire, and water. The locals of this island have learned to feed and train these creatures to keep outsiders away and be the Protector of the Island. This is Isle of MonstersIsle of Monsters is a game for 2-5 players, ages 10+. It takes between 20 and 45 minutes to play and retails for $30.
Setup
1. Place the Center Island Board in the middle of the table.
2. Place a Cage Board in front of each player.
3. Place an Outer Island Board between each cage board, so that each player is always adjacent to two.
4. Shuffle all the Creature Cards and remove a certain number depending on player count.
5. Deal a number of Creature Cards face-down to form a pile on each Outer Island Board.
6. Once these cards are dealt, flip each pile face-up to reveal the bottom (now top) Creature Card. Put any remaining Creature Cards not dealt near the board for future replenishment.
7. Put the Food Tokens in the Draw Bag and mix them up. Draw tokens from the bag equal to the player count and place them on the Center Island Board. Then, draw and place two Food Tokens on each of the Outer Island Boards.
8. Put all the Scare Point Tokens face-up near the play area.
9. Pick a starting player and give them a draw bag.
Game Play - The game takes place over several rounds with four phases each round:
1. Nurture Phase - Beginning with the starting player and moving clockwise, take one of three actions:
a. Capture - Take the top Creature Card on either adjacent Outer Island Board and place it in an empty cage on your Cage Board.
b. Feed - Take one Food Token from the Center Island Board or either adjacent Outer Island Board and place it on a matching feeding space of one of your Creature Cards.
c. Pass - The first player to pass takes the Draw Bag and becomes the start player next round. After all players have passed, proceed to the Mature Phase.
2. Mature Phase - All players check their Cage Boards to see if any Creature Cards are fully fed (no empty feeding spaces). Remove fully fed Creature Cards from the Cage Board, return all Food Tokens on those fully fed Creature Cards to the draw bag. Place the matured creatures face-down next to your Cage Board.
3. Scare Phase - Repeat the following three steps to score Scare Points until everyone is out or only one player has Creature Cards remaining.
a. Player Creature Cards - Take your mature Creature Cards into your hand. Everyone who has at least one Creature Card must choose a single type (water, earth, or fire) to play. Once you decide, place them face-down on the table covered by your hand. When everyone is ready, simultaneously reveal the Creature Cards.
b. Scare the Crowd - Add up the Scare Value of all the Creature Cards you just played. If you have the highest total, take a 3 point Scare Point Token. If there is a tie, players instead take 1 point Scare Point Tokens.
c. Scare Other Creatures - Take a 1 point Scare Point Token for each adjacent player with a played Creature Card type that you scare. (For example, fire scares earth.)
4. Clean-up Phase - The player with the draw bag draws Food Tokens from the bag and places an amount equal to the number of players on the Center Island Board. He also places two Food Tokens on each Outer Island Board. Next, a Creature Card is drawn and placed face-up on each Outer Island Board.

When the last Creature Card is dealt from the deck, the final round begins. The player with the most Scare Point Tokens is the winner.

Review
Isle of Monsters is a cute and clever game that is perfect for children and families. The choices you make are simple but meaningful. Which of the two creature cards will I pick? Will I pass on taking a creature in favor of feeding a creature I already have? Do I remember what types of creatures my opponents had this round, and can I play the correct type of creature that will defeat theirs? There is a little bit of randomness to the game, because you will only have access to two different decks of creatures and this might give you powerful enough creatures to capture the scare the crowd bonus. Also, you never know what type of food will come out and be available to you on the outer islands. Knowing this, it is important to see what type of food the player after you needs, so you can take it before them and prevent their creatures from maturing.

The thing I like most about this game is the artwork. It is very colorful. Each of the creatures has a number on them ranging from 1 to 9. The 1 creature is a tiny little baby monster. As you increase in numbers, you see different stages of growth of that same creature with the level 9 creature being a fully grown and "terrifying" monster. The game has a bit of a Pokemon feel to it with the collecting of creatures, feeding of creatures, and different artwork kind of like evolution of Pokemon. At least with this game, you have everything you need in the box and don't have to go out and hunt down hundreds of different cards. With eye-catching art, simple mechanics, a fast playing time, and the ability to play five, this is a family game I would strongly recommend.

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Macroscope (Mayday Games)

Party games are wildly popular in the board game hobby, because they play a larger number of people than your standard four player game, are easy to learn and quick to play, and are friendly for gamers and non-gamers alike. It's a big reason that Codenames was a smash hit and won game of the year. Mayday Games recently published what I would consider a party game or filler game called Macroscope. It plays 2-6 people (but I think could play more if you had teams) age 6+. It takes about 30 minutes to play and retails for $30.

Setup
1. Before your first game assemble the Macroscope.
2. Place the Macroscope in the center of the table.
3. Place the deck of cards in it with the pizza card on top.
4. Cover the Macroscope with its lid and place random tokens on each round window of the lid.
5. Remove the pizza card.
6. Place the round tracker next to the Macroscope with the marker on space 1.
7. Place the dice in the center of the table and give each player two yellow crystals. The remaining crystals are placed close by.
Game Play
On your turn, roll both dice. For each die, remove one token with a number that matches the die face. For each die you have without a matching token, remove a token of your choice. After each token is removed, you may either make a guess or opt not to and take a yellow token. If you guess and are correct, you receive yellow crystals for each token left on the macroscope. If someone things you are wrong, they may pay two yellow crystals and guess themselves. If you choose not to guess, another player may guess for the price of two yellow crystals. After a successful guess is made, each other player who didn't guess the picture loses as many crystals as there are tokens on the macroscope. Play passes to the next player and the game lasts 10 rounds. The player with the most points is the winner.
Review
Mayday Games tries to put out family friendly games that are easy on the budget and large on the fun meter. Sometimes they succeed and other times they miss the mark. Macroscope succeeds and hits the ball out of the park. The game plays quickly, is easy to teach, and is just a fun, little party puzzle. I particularly liked building the macroscope from cardboard, and it was a nice little element that makes a statement on the table. They could have easily just given us a sheet of paper with holes in it to cover the cards, but they didn't. Having played this game several times, I haven't made it through half of the large deck of cards. Thankfully they are double-sided so when they run out, I can just flip them over and get a new deck to play with. Like most people though, I am hoping that there will be expansion packs that are just more of these cards. The best part of this game is that I can play it with anybody. From people who game to people who don't, young children to older adults, each one has found this game to be a fun little filler. I highly recommend picking up a copy and use this as a light game to introduce people to the modern world of board games.

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Miracles (Ignatius Press)

If I asked you to define the word miracle, what would you say? Ignatius Press recently released a DVD, called Miracles, that looks at this phenomenon and attempts to define it. This 35 minute film begins with several priests, Fr. Marcus Holden and Fr. Andrew Pinsent, philosophizing on the subject. Eventually, we get a fairly concise definition.  A miracle is an extraordinary, supernatural event that happens in nature that nature could never produce by itself. However, a miracle is not something that happens just to cause people to wonder at. A miracle happens so that a change will occur in humanity, and people will turn to God.

After we have a definition, the subject turns to Scripture to look at miracles found in the Bible. Examples given from the Old Testament include the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea, and the collapse of the Walls of Jericho. Where we see the most miracles performed are in the New Testament with Jesus. The reason for this is not only because Jesus is God, but also because people then needed convincing since Jesus was founding a new religion. It is interestingly pointed out that despite these miraculous events that people witnessed first-hand, some still turned away from God, because His teachings were too difficult for them. The miracles of Christ were performed, not just to ease people's sufferings, but were for the salvation of souls.

EWTN contributors James and Joanna Bogle contribute to this film as well, and points out that miracles didn't stop when Jesus left this world. Instead, His Apostles' ministries were filled with miracles as well. As time passed, miracles became rarer, except in one situation. Anytime a new mission is established and a conversion of people is attempted, miracles seem to be more abundant. This goes back to the need for these signs to convince people and save their souls. The film goes on to talk about present day miracles, such as the many that are credited to Pope John Paul II while he was still alive and the incorruptible bodies of approximately 140 saints. Other topics covered include the Eucharist, Mary, and shrines in Europe (Fatima and Lourdes, primarily).

When I first received this DVD, I wasn't sure what to expect. Since the film was only 35 minutes long, I wasn't sure what to expect and how in-depth they could actually get. However, after watching it through, I was pleasantly surprised and wanted to immediately watch it again. It is the perfect introduction on miracles and does a masterful job of explaining exactly what miracles are, what purpose they serve, and citing examples. The main point I took away from this DVD is that miracles are not an end to themselves, but serve several purposes. "They convince us of the reality of God, help us when we need divine help, and to point to certain religious truths." This is a great DVD to pick up for small groups or religious education at your parish.

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

CVlizations (Passport Game Studios)

When I first got into the world of modern gaming, CV was one of my first experiences. It was like combining Yahtzee and The Game of Life in order to have the most well-lived life at the end. It had everything I wanted in a game - familiar mechanics, fun theme, and great artwork. The only "complaints" I had about the game were that it could only play four people and that I wish there were more cards to choose from. There was an expansion released for it called CV: Gossip, which solved the problem of more cards, but it was a little too mean for my group. However, when I heard about the sequel, CVlizations, being released, I knew I wanted to try it. In CVlizations, you are no longer trying to build the best life, but instead your a tribal leader trying to create the most advanced and prosperous civilization. CVlizations is a game for 2-5 players, ages 10+. It takes about 45 minutes to play and retails for $35.
Setup
1. Put the board in the middle of the table.
2. Put the wood, food, and stone tokens in piles on their places on the board.
3. Place the crown on the age track of the first age.
4. Put the happiness tokens near the board.
5. Sort the cards into decks according to their backs. Shuffle each deck separately and place them on their spots on the board.
6. Draw four cards from the first deck and place them face up onto the idea track on the board.
7. Give each player a set of eight order cards in their chosen color and one wood, food, and stone.
8. The last player to hold a tool is the starting player and received the leader helm token.
Game Play - The game lasts 3 ages with 3 rounds each and each round has the following 4 phases:
1. Order Phase - The starting player chooses two cards from their order cards to play. One is played face-up and the other face-down. In clockwise order, each player does the same. After all players have played, flip the face-down cards face-up.
2. Action Phase - Players resolve the orders in the following order - Thieving, Logging, Hunting, Quarrying, Cunning, Slacking, and Trading. (Note: The doubling cards doubles a player's order, and is not its own order.) When several players play the same cards, go in clockwise order. The effect of each order card is determined by the amount of people who played it. In some cases, you might get nothing for the card.
3. Development Phase - Starting with the first player, each person can use their resources to buy one idea card from those available on the board. The card is placed face-up in front of the player, and a new card replaces it on the board.
4. Cleanup Phase - Pass the starting player token clockwise. After turn 3, the first age ends. Players gather all their order cards into their deck. After turn 6, the second age ends. Players gather all their order cards into their deck. The Age I and II idea deck is no longer used, but now Age III deck is. After turn 9, the game is over.

Add up happiness tokens you received throughout the game and any happiness symbols on the idea cards you purchased. Highest score is the winner.

Review
Anyone who has ever played CV before will recognize the familiar symbology and hilarious artwork present within CVlizations too. The game mechanics, however, are vastly different. Instead of rolling dice and pressing your luck, you are practicing hand management. By reading your opponents and reading the board, you hope to gain an advantage over them. I am glad they added an option for a fifth player to this game, but now I find myself wanting a sixth player too. (A gamer is never satisfied, I guess.) Like CV, I did find myself wishing for more cards in this game. Hopefully, there will be an expansion soon that adds some to increase replay value in the game. What I like best about this game is the theme. There is nothing more satisfying in a game (to me) than to build a glorious civilization that reigns supreme over all the others. Unfortunately, most civilization building games take hours to play and my group won't play a game of that length. CVlizations is the perfect length, gives you the same satisfaction of building a civilization, has great artwork, and doesn't take itself too seriously. Highly recommended!

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Marian Option (TAN Books)

The Benedict Option was coined by Rod Dreher after same-sex marriage was approved in the United States. He stated that Christians in post-Christian America needed to adopt St. Benedict as their guide and to try to strengthen the church if they wanted it to survive. Since the publication of this book there have been many books choosing other saints or saintly figures. However, Dr. Carrie Gress is the first to realize and point out that for any renewal to take place, we must have Christ's mother Mary at the heart of the renewal. That is why she penned The Marian Option.

The book begins by talking about the persecution Christians have faced since their origin. For 2000 years, there have been many tests and trials Christians have undergone. During these times, different people responded and reacted in different ways. St. Benedict, who is covered in this first chapter, experienced a crumbling Roman society much like we are facing a crumbling American society. Dr. Gress examines him more closely and discusses why he chose to retreat to the desert. She then spends the next two chapters explaining how Mary is considered the most important woman in human history and how we she has influenced art, architecture, music, literature, etc.  The next three chapters focus on her geopolitical influence in three of her most famous apparitions - Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima. The next four chapters are the meat of the book and focus on tough issues that Catholics have to always answer and defend. How much or how little devotion is Mary due? What is her relationship with the three Persons of the Trinity? How is she our Mother and the Mother of the Church? And lastly, why is it people are so anti-Mary? The final chapters of the book provide concrete ways to have Mary at the heart of our lives including practical and simple ways for a family to do this, such as praying the Rosary, going to Mass, wearing a Brown Scapular and/or Miraculous Medal, consecrating yourself to Mary, and many other easy things.

The Marian Option is a simple but brilliant book that walks us through not only the historical and cultural significance of Mary, but also her spiritual significance as well. I particularly enjoyed the case study at the end of the book on Pope John Paul II. If anyone in recent memory has shown us how to live a life devoted to Mary, it was this great man. What makes this book stand out from other books on Mary, apart from the message inside, is the beautiful presentation on the outside. It is a beautiful, blue hardcover with gold lettering on the cover, and a dust jacket to match. It is a worthy presentation for a book that you will want to read more than once. If you can read just one book on Mary this year, I recommend it be this one.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

Quartz (Passport Game Studios)

Working in the mines is hard work, something best suited for a dwarf. They are brave, sturdy, and have a keen eye for treasure. However, with that keen eye comes greed! You and your fellow dwarves have recently discovered a new mine, which is sure to contain treasures untold. Therefore, y'all decide to make a "friendly" wager. You will each explore the mine for five days. As each day ends, you will sell any crystals you uncover. Whoever earned the most money over five days claims the mine for himself. This is QuartzQuartz is a game for 3-5 people, ages 14+. It takes approximately one hour to play and retails for $30.
Setup
1. Place the main board in the center of the table, placing the day marker on Day One.
2. Place coins and experience tokens near the main board.
3. Put all the crystals in the cloth bag, giving the bag a thorough shuffle. This represents the mine.
4. Give each player a mine cart and chest card. Both are placed face up with the mine cart showing crystal value.
5. Shuffle the mining cards and deal five to each player. These may be viewed at any time, but are kept secret from others. The remaining cards are placed near the main board to form the mining deck.
6. The player with the longest beard is starting player. If you are all unfortunate enough not to be blessed with a beard, then the shortest player goes first.
Game Play - The game takes place over five rounds (days). Each day you deal out mining cards on the main board equal to the number of players less one. Some cards require coins to be placed on them. Starting with the first player and going clockwise, each player performs one of three actions:
1. Mine a crystal - Take a crystal from the bag and put it on your cart. If you draw an obsidian, you are in danger. If you ever receive a second obsidian, your day is over. All your crystals are returned to the mine and you receive an experience token.
2. Play an action card - Play a blue background card and resolve it. Some of these cards pertain to you and mining crystals. Others target other players, and the player you target may play a purple background card to prevent you from targeting them.
3. Leave the mine - Flip your mine cart over and set your crystals to the side. Players can no longer play blue cards against you, nor can you play purple cards. If there are at least two other dwarves in the mine, you receive the first mining card on the main board (going left to right) and any coins on the card. This is your bravery bonus.

Selling crystals - When the day ends, each dwarf may decide to save two crystals on their chest card. The remaining crystals are then sold according to their value, with four different ways to earn bonus money (outlined in the rule book). When the fifth day ends, the dwarf with the most money is the winner and claims the mine.

Review
Quartz is a game of press your luck, risk management, set collection, and take that. Each time you stick your hand in the bag to pull out a crystal, you never know what you are going to end up with. To make matters worse, people are going to play cards on your turn to try and sabotage you. Yes, you will have some ability to mitigate the sabotage, but if you start accumulating a mass of wealth on one day, you will become an even bigger target. A lot of people won't like this, especially casual gamers and children, but some people this will be right in their wheelhouse. In addition to knowing who to target and when to target them, there is also a bit of strategy on which gems to save and when to cash them in to maximize the profits from the bonuses.

The components in this game are top notch. The boards and coins are a nice thick cardboard. I really like that they shaped the mine carts appropriately, instead of just giving players a square board, and the coins have a thematic look to them as well. The crystals themselves are vibrant in color and have a good weight to them. Pairing them with the rest of the glorious artwork really makes them game pop when displayed on a table.

I'm not generally a fan of games with direct conflict/take that mechanisms, and this is one of the main focuses of the game. The game plays quickly, but if you wanted to, you and a friend could target the same player round after round in this game and make their experience miserable. Now, I don't know, nor do I play with someone who would do that, but the possibility exists. Luckily, the rounds and game both play quickly enough, so it cuts down on some of the potentially negative experience. Another negative for me was a minimum of three players are needed. My gaming is either 2 player, 4 player, or 6 and unfortunately the 4 player group wouldn't enjoy this game. I think with the right group of people this could be a fun game and with the quality and price, I wanted to like this, but it was not for me.

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Benedict Up Close (Sophia Institute Press)

Paul Badde is a historian and journalist. Since 2000, he has been editor of Welt, a German newspaper, where he started as the Jerusalem correspondent, but is now The Vatican correspondent in Rome. He recently published a book entitled Benedict Up Close. The book begins with an editorial note, explaining what the book is and is not. The book is not a biography, nor was it ever intended to be. It is the articles written by Badde, which cover the approximately eight years of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy.

The book begins April 19, 2005 with the election of Pope Benedict XVI and announcement Habemus papam! The book ends on February 28, 2013 with his resignation from the papal office. Technically, there is one last article dated July 5, 2013 that talks about the encyclical Lumen Fidei, which was the encyclical that both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis had a part in writing. There are nine chapters, one for each calendar year he was in office. Each chapter's title highlights a particularly important event/decision that year in his papacy. They are as follows:

2005 - Habemus papam: Epochal Change in Rome
2006 - From Auschwitz via Regensburg to Turkey: The Minefield of Words
2007 - Dialogue in Brazil, China, and Austria - and about the Old Rite of the Tridentine Mass
2008 - An Anticipated, Initial Afterword: From Ground Zero in Manhattan to the Grotto of Massabielle at the Foot of the Pyrennes
2009 - Brouhaha about the Society of Saint Pius X, and Pilgrim in the Holy Land
2010 - Condoms, Cases of Sexual Abuse, and a Liturgical Work of Art in the United Kingdom
2011 - Ecumenism and Eclipse of God in Germany
2012 - Vatileaks, the Pope's Valet, and a Laboratory of Peace in Beirut
2013 - Farewell and Ascent on the Mountain of Prayer

Overall, I found this book to be an interesting read, even if it wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting something more story-like that had a better flow to it. Instead, I received a collection of articles with Badde reflecting on what he saw and experienced as his time as a correspondent. This covered large-scale events and happenings and also the day-to-day things that other media would have overlooked and did overlook, but Badde felt was important enough to cover. I appreciated the orderly way this book was composed, and think it was a great idea to have this compiled, so that it won't be lost as time goes on. I also appreciated his insight on different events and issues, as he saw more first-hand than common people like me, ever would.

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Magnetic Game Boxes (HABA)

HABA is a company that is known for making great products for children. This includes toys, games, blocks, and dolls. Today, I would like to tell you about two magnetic games that are aimed at children four and up, and retail for $20 each. They are called Magnetic Game Box 1, 2 Numbers and You and Magnetic Game Box ABC Expedition.
1, 2 Numbers and You comes in a heavy cardboard carrying case that opens up to make a display for your child to play with better. There are approximately 150 magnetic pieces that is comprised of numbers, operations symbols (addition, subtraction, equal signs, etc.), and objects to count (cars, apples, frogs, etc.). On the display is the image of a chalkboard that is magnetic in nature and looks like graph paper. The box also comes with two mats to put over the chalkboard. One has outlines of all the numbers and dots to count them. The other mat gives you two squares to put aforementioned objects with spaces to put the dots to count and to put the number as well. For example, you could put a pond with frogs in it and have your child count the frogs.
ABC Expedition comes in a heavy cardboard carrying case that opens up to make a display for your child to play with better. There are approximately 150 upper case magnetic letters. On the display is the image of a chalkboard that is magnetic in nature. The box also comes with two mats to put over the chalkboard. One has outlines of all the letters, so that your child can find the magnetic letters and match them to their outlines. The other mat resembles a piece of notebook paper or a worksheet. There you can place an image (mouse, ball, sun, etc.) and have your child practice spelling the word.
Overall, my son really enjoyed both of these sets, but judging by which one he plays with more, I would say he liked the number one better. He just had so much fun making pictures of cars in a parking lot or balloons and then counting them. I upped the difficulty at times, asking him to add something or take something away, and this set helped move that from an abstract concept to one that he could physically see and experience.

The components are a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I liked the cardboard carrying case that doubled as a board to work on. It made the product great for at home or on the go in the car. The magnets themselves, I was a little disappointed in. I was expecting thicker magnets, something like Melissa and Doug makes. Instead they were of a thin quality, similar to a refrigerator magnet you would get on a phone book. It was also a bit tedious punching all of those magnets. Now, I am an experienced board gamer who is used to punching a lot of items, but if you are not, set aside some time before you tell your child about this gift, because it will take some time to punch out everything.

The magnet gripe aside, these magnetic game boxes are cute, fun, and educational. My son loves them, and I like that he gets to have fun while learning too. If you end up getting both, I recommend getting some Ziploc bags to separate and store the magnets in and then combining the two boxes into one.