Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Spy Club (Foxtrot Games)

No matter how old you are and no matter if you are a boy or a girl, you probably grew up reading mystery literature. There was The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Boxcar Children just to name a few. Didn't like to read growing up? Well, surely you watched Scooby Doo and helped those meddling teenagers crack cases in their psychedelic van. Foxtrot Games is taking that love of the mystery genre that seems ingrained in our DNA and turning it into a board game called Spy ClubSpy Club is a game for 2 to 4 players, ages 10+. It is currently on Kickstarter for a pledge of $39. Randy Hoyt (Relic Expedition) and Jason Kingsley (Lanterns: The Emperors Gifts) are the designers and BartÅ‚omiej Kordowski (Dream Home) and Keith Pishnery (The Fox in the Forest) are the illustrators.
Unlike other mystery solving games (let's use the old standby of CLUE), you aren't playing against other players, but instead you are working together to solve the case! With double-sided clue cards in front of each player, you are taking turns manipulating the cards (flipping, drawing, or trading them) to uncover part of the solution. In order to completely crack the case, you must solve all five parts before your suspect escapes or you run out of clues! And now for the really cool part...
You can play this game in campaign mode! There is a campaign deck with 40+ modules and 150+ cards in it that ties five games together. With each game you complete, more of the story is revealed. But before you go thinking that this game is a five time only game and then you're done, you can reset the campaign upon completion. With all the different modules available and only using five each game play, you will get a ton of play out of this game. It's only the first day, but the game is currently 2/3 funded on Kickstarter and needs your help to get published. So head on over to their page and give them some love. This looks like a great family game that your kids will ask to play many times over.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Power of Daily Mass (Ave Maria Press)

Going to daily Mass is something I aspire to achieving. I know it is something I should just do, and not just hope to do, but at the moment I am unable to do so. I will say that the people I know who do attend, seem much closer to saints than I am/every hope to be, and I attribute it to their devotion to daily Eucharist. Recently, Dr. Bert Ghezzi wrote a book explaining the benefits of Daily Mass attendance called The Power of Daily Mass.

The book begins by walking us through the different seasons of the Liturgical Year. With each season, Dr. Ghezzi provides us with a brief summary of when they occur and what we can learn from each one. By going through the seasons of the Church, he demonstrates that the Church wants us to attend daily Mass and in doing so, we will be grow closer to Jesus. The second chapter follows the first, but instead of focusing on seasons, it switches to Saints. In addition to there being specific seasons celebrated at certain times throughout the year, there are certain days we celebrate the Feasts of saints. The remaining chapters focus on the benefits of Mass. It serves as a repentance for our minor/venial sins, allows us to frequently seek God's intercession, gives us our daily bread, and prepares us to go out into the world each day and serve God in words and actions.

The book makes a simple, but compelling case for why you should attend daily mass. It has a nice mix of Scripture, saintly writings, and personal experience. At the end of this book are several helpful appendices, including prayers before and after mass, the Church Calendar, Holy Days of Obligation, and Marian Feast Days. This is a book that you can read in a day, but take a lifetime to put into practice. I recommend it and hope to one day accomplish the goal of daily mass.

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Words for Our Lives: The Spiritual Words of Matthew the Poor (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Abba Matta of Egypt (or Matthew the Poor) was an Egyptian Coptic Orthodox monk and a pivotal player in the revival of Egyptian monasticism. When he was appointed to the Monastery of St. Macarius in 1969, the number of monks was a mere six. Upon his death in 2006, the community had grown to 130. He was also a very brilliant theologian who wrote nearly 200 books. Ancient Faith Publishing has printed two books by Matthew the Poor - Words for Our Time and Words for Our Lives. Back in 2013, I reviewed the former, and today I would like to tell you about the latter. Words for Our Lives is an approximately 200 page book divided into the following twelve sections:

1. Faith in the Impossible
2. How the Bible Changed My Life
3. The New Man
4. Walk in the Light
5. The Tough Road of Spirituality
6. The Meaning of the Psalms
7. The Power of the Psalms
8. The Value of the Psalms
9. The Sinful Woman
10. Holy Week
11. Feast of the Ascension
12. The Holy Spirit and Pentecost

The works were primarily composed in the 1970s with the first one being written in 1981. Topics covered include the Bible (primarily Psalms) and important Feasts throughout the Church Year. In the chapters on Psalms, Abba Matta explains that "The Psalms are given as a light to illuminate man's way to God and reveal the salvation that binds him to God." It is not to be thought of as an exercise, but instead a gift. He explains that the power of the Psalms are that you can hear God's voice in them, and by meditating on them, they can become "our personal worship, the liturgy of our lives." I particularly enjoyed the chapter on how the Bible changed his life. In this chapter, we receive a very personal account of how he struggled in the monastery initially, and that it was his discovery of the Bible that changed his life. He came to view the Bible as a personal book that was written specifically for him. This is an attitude we should all adopt before reading Sacred Scripture.

Another eye-opening chapter was "The Tough Road of Spirituality." In this chapter, he reveals that saintly people are going to have a tough life no matter where they are. Yes, you come to expect it in the secular world, because they do not understand, but he said that it happened in the monastery as well. This was shocking to me, and I'm not really sure why. We read examples of Catholic and Orthodox saints who lived a monastic life, and they were mocked by their peers, the same people who should be encouraging them, because they were "too holy." Reading these words from him was a slap in the face, and made me question if I do that in my day-to-day life.

Even though the works in this book are almost 40 years old, the words of Abba Matta still ring true today. Overall, I found this to be a very profound book and one that I would recommend all Christians read.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Caverna: Cave vs Cave (Mayfair Games)

You and your dwarf partner have just arrived at a brand new cave. Home, sweet home! Before you get too comfortable though, you realize that there is much work to be done. The cave must be carved out, rooms must be built. and wealth must be accumulated. You have a long road ahead of you and to make matters worse, your least favorite dwarf in the world has decided to settle in the cave right next to you...just great! Well, you don't want him having a nicer cave than you, so you must do better than him. This is Caverna: Cave vs CaveCaverna: Cave vs Cave is a game for two players, age 12+. It takes approximately 40 minutes to play and retails for $28.
1. Unfold the Action Board, placing it on the two-player side. Place the board between both players. 2. Place the four Action Tiles with a dwarf on the back, face-up on the four unnumbered spaces on the Action Board. (Order does not matter)
3. Shuffle the remaining Action Tiles and place them face down on their coordinating numbered spaces.
4. Give each player a Cave Board and one of each Good (Wood, Stone, Emmer, Flax, Food, and Gold). Place these goods on the "1" space of your Cave Board.
5. Sort the Rooms by Light Gray and Dark Gray backs.
6. Place the six Light Gray Rooms face-up near the Action Board.
7. Place the eighteen Dark Gray Rooms face-down. Shuffle them up and distribute randomly to the two players to place on their Cave Boards.
8. Place the additional tiles and markers nearby. Randomly pick a starting player and begin!
Game Play - The game is played over eight rounds with three phases each round.
1. New Action - Reveal the next Action Tile on the Action Board.
2. Action Phase - Choose one of the face-up Action Tiles from the Action Board and carry out the action. Turns will alternate between players until the specified number of turns for a particular round has been reached (Two turns in Rounds 1 to 3, three in Rounds 4 to 7, and four in Round 8).
3. Round End - After the specified number of turns, return any chosen Action Tiles to the Action Board and pass starting player to your opponent.

Caverna: Cave vs Cave is exactly what it promises to be. It is a two-player version of the immensely popular Caverna. The game is not a worker placement game like its "big brother," but with the action selection, it serves the same purpose as having a worker and putting them on an Action Tile. For people who have played regular Caverna before, this game will feel very familiar in terms of iconography, actions you can perform, and the general look and feel of the game and how it flows. For those unfamiliar with regular Caverna, Cave vs Cave can serve as a good introduction to the larger game or just be a welcome way to play the game 1 on 1 in a quicker and more affordable way.

With those positives, there were some negatives for my experience. The first thing I didn't like was the variability in the game, or lack thereof. With the Action Tiles, there are three "2" and four "3," so there will be a slight bit of variability in the order in which the Action Tiles are revealed from game to game, but not enough for my taste after you play the game 10+ times. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (same designer) had the same problem. It was a fun two-player version of its "big brother," but needed more variability for replay value. Thankfully, they remedied the problem with two expansions, and I suspect Caverna: Cave vs Cave will do the same thing in the future. The other thing I didn't really like was the direct interaction. I know. I know. It's a two-player game. You can't get around direct interaction, because it is just you and your opponent. Unfortunately, the direct interaction in this game was a bit too mean for my taste, because instead of making a move that was beneficial for you, you often found yourself making a move that was hurtful for your opponent, because it was the better play. Some people might like that, but as my two-person gaming partner is my wife, I don't think that would be good for me in the long run to play a game that would constantly twist the knife.

Overall, I think this is a well-made game in terms of game play, components, art, and value. However, I found that the game was ultimately not for me. If, however, you like your two-player games to be more on the cutthroat side, this is the game for you!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Saint Clare of Assisi: Runaway Rich Girl (Pauline Books and Media)

Today, I am reviewing Saint Clare of Assisi: Runaway Rich Girl, another graphic novel from Pauline Books and Media. Clare of Assisi was the oldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso. It was said that he was a wealthy man, who owned a palace in Assisi and a castle on Mount Subasio. Clare was a beautiful girl, who loved to pray. One day she heard Francis of Assisi preaching and learned that he had given up his life of luxury to live a life of poverty in devotion to God. This meeting affected her and stuck with her for some time, even if her father and others made fun of Francis. Some time later, Clare's father tried to marry her off to Lord Ranier. She thought about it for a short time, but ultimately decided that she did not want to get married. Instead, she wanted to live a life like Francis. She ran off to see Francis and give her life to God. Her family never really accepted this truth and neither did Lord Ranier at first. However, in the end Lord Ranier was a noble man and said he hopes she is happy with the life that she chose, and he was sorry for trying to force her to marry him. Eventually, Clare founded her own religious order (the Poor Clares) with their own set of rules, and Clare of course, became a saint.

Like The Legend of Saint Christopher: Quest for a King, this book is done in a graphic novel format resembling Japanese manga. However, this style of manga and storytelling is more geared towards tween/teen girls than boys. That is not to say that a tween/teen boy could not benefit from reading this as well, just that it's more likely to appeal towards girls. Apart, from the great illustrations and accuracy of the story, what I liked best about this book was how St. Francis of Assisi was both in the background and foreground at different times. Even though this story was not about him, the lives of Francis and Clare were very intertwined. We see how his holy life impacted others, and also see how the stigmata affected him. The way I look at it is this book is like a two-for-one, because your children get exposed to not one, but two great saints! Highly recommended!

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Ave Maria (Aim Higher Recordings)

Last Christmas, the world was introduced to a talented group of young men known as The Boys of St. Paul's Choir School. In conjunction with Aim Higher Recordings, they released an album entitled Christmas in Harvard Square. This year they are back with their sophomore album Ave Maria, releasing appropriately on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The CD has 18 tracks on it with names like Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, and Pergolesi and familiar verses like Kyrie, Dignus est Agnus (Worthy is the Lamb), and of course Ave Maria. Like their first album, there is also a mix of English and Latin songs.

The verses with this CD are beautifully sung, and you can tell hearing it that it is not a concert for the boys, but a prayer. Every note and chord rises up to Heaven, making a joyful noise to the Lord. Every song the boys perform transports you to a different place and a different time. With their superb talent and precision, you can close your eyes and forget that they are so young. It almost feels like you are in a monastery listening to the chants and daily rhythms.

Within classical philosophy, there are three transcendentals (categories with universal application) in the human experience that go beyond the every day. They are the good, the true, and the beautiful, and we could say that they find their origin in God. If I may be so bold, I would say that this album (in both presentation and execution) ticks all three of those boxes. I encourage you to pick up this album and allow it to fill not only your home (or car) but fill your soul. Allow it to permeate your being and transform your life into a holy sacrifice to God.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Celestia: A Little Help (Quick Simple Fun Games)

Late last year, I reviewed the fun press-your-luck game Celestia. What I liked best about the game was the simple game play and beautiful artwork. It also had a ridiculous (in a good way) 3-D aircraft, which was simply used to move the player pawns around. Unnecessary? Yes. Eye-popping? Totally! Recently, an expansion was released to this game, and it is titled A Little Help. It retails for $13.
Unlike most expansions, which give you a large box  that is mostly empty, A Little Help is merely 32 cards in a small playing-card sized box. The contents are 14 "A Little Help" cards, 8 Upgraded Equipment cards, 6 Character cards, 2 Bandit cards, and 2 Mooring Line cards. The Character cards introduces asymmetrical powers to the game and gives each player a one-time use power they can do to break the rules. The "A Little Help" cards help when you are about to crash and the Upgraded Equipment cards let you face two events of the same type, as opposed to just one. Lastly, the Power cards (Bandit and Mooring Line) introduce additional complications the captain must face and overcome.

There is a lot of bang in this little box, which is exactly what you want in an expansion. I was worried that there would be too many unnecessary rules to explain to people, but the only thing you really have to explain is at the beginning when each player gets a character. Everything else shuffles effortlessly into the decks and doesn't extend the game play a bit, as the end goal is still the same. If you are already a fan of Celestia and want to add just a little bit more complexity and depth to the game, then this is an essential expansion.

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Legend of Saint Christopher: Quest for a King (Pauline Books and Media)

There are several patron saints in the Catholic Church that people regularly pray to for God's intercession. Some of the most notable ones are St. Anthony (lost things), St. Jude (lost causes), and St. Christopher (safe travels). While this is a great practice and habit to develop, I would wager that most Catholics don't know why these great men and women are patron saints of those specific things. They just pray, which is not a bad thing, but a little knowledge goes a long way! Today, I would like to tell you about a graphic novel for tweens/teens from Pauline Books and Media called The Legend of Saint Christopher: Quest for a King.

The story begins with a Christian woman from the 3rd Century praying to the Virgin Mary every night for a child. Like Samuel's mother from the Bible, the woman promised to dedicate her child to the Lord and make sure he served God. It wasn't long before the Lord blessed them with a son. Unfortunately, her husband was a pagan, so he dedicated the child to Apollo and named him Offerus. Offerus grew up to be a giant among men. However, he was a gentle giant, who used his size and strength to help as many people as he could. Even with all the good he did in the world, he longed for a greater purpose. He wanted to serve someone bigger and stronger than himself. First, he served a worldly king, but the king was scared of the devil. After Offerus discovered this, he sought out the devil and served him. He did much evil for devil, but soon he found out that the devil was scared of Jesus. It took much searching, but he met a priest who taught him who Jesus was, baptized him, and forgave him for the sins he committed while serving the devil. He also gave him a new name (Christopher) and gave him a task of helping people cross a river that normal people couldn't cross. Christopher did this frequently, until one day he carried a child across the river who was Jesus. One day another king has Christopher captured, because Christopher was telling everyone that Jesus was the true king. Christopher ended up being martyred, but through his martyrdom the king realized that Christopher was right and Jesus was the true king.

The book is illustrated in the style of Japanese comics (also known as manga). The story is mostly serious in nature, but there are a couple of jokes/less than serious moments that are completely in character for this illustration style. The book is an easy and engaging read that will teach your children everything they ever wanted to know about St. Christopher. Be sure to check out other graphic novels from Pauline Books and Media including the recently released Saint Clare of Assisi: Runaway Rich Girl.

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