Monday, October 30, 2017

Agricola Expansions (WizKids)

Agricola is one of the most beloved games among modern board gamers. Uwe Rosenberg introduced this classic back in 2007 and followed it up with popular expansions and even a two-player version of the game called Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. In 2016, Mayfair Games published two different versions of Agricola, a Family version and a Revised version of the game. As you can deduce from the titles one is more for families and casual gamers and one has a bit more meat to it. What I really liked about the Revised version is that there is a separate expansion that adds the ability to play 5 or 6 players. Recently Mayfair Games partnered with WizKids to produce six expansions that effectively replace the meeples in your game with miniatures.

1. The miniatures are high quality, detailed, and really make the game pop.
2. Each set comes with 20 unique and exclusive cards (11 new occupations and 9 minor improvements) to add variety to the game.
3. You can buy as many or as few as you need to. If you play with six, you're going to want all six. If you only ever play with two, just buy two and not have four other sets you don't need.

1. Did this game really need miniatures? I say no, but I also am a sucker for making games I love look even better.
2. With the cards being exclusive to each set, people will complain that they should have just made booster decks of cards and not paired them with miniatures. See Con #3.
3. This has potential to be EXPENSIVE if you want all six sets. At a retail price of $25 per set, you're looking at $150.

I was provided a red set and a blue set to review and I have to admit they were awesome to play with. One of the red player's cards was a Trident, and it gave you some food (depending on the round you played it), which would help your people from starving. It wasn't overpowered though, because as soon as you played it, the card was passed to the next player. Thus, you had to decide when to use it to benefit you the most and your opponents the least. The blue player had a card called game trade, which effectively let you trade two sheep for one cattle and one wild boar. This improves your points and also diversifies your livestock so you don't lose points at the end of the game. In addition to serious cards, there are also some humorous cards that were included. My personal favorite of these cards was the "cube-cutter," which is just the right amount of tongue in cheek humor that I've come to expect from Uwe Rosenberg. In summation, these packs aren't essential, but if you play Agricola all the time and have the money to get them, do it!

These expansions were provided to me for free by WizKids in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 27, 2017

In God's Hands (HarperOne)

Whenever I think of October, I think of Pope John Paul II. It was when his papacy began (October 16, 1978), and it is when his Feast Day is (October 22). Though, he was one of the longest reigning popes in history, I only knew of him for a brief time as he passed away shortly after my conversion. I own almost everything he has ever written (including published works before he was Pope), so when I heard there was a new book published I was instantly intrigued. The book is entitled In God's Hands: The Spiritual Diaries of Pope Saint John Paul II.

The book is approximately 500 pages in length and contains the personal notes and reflections, primarily related to retreats and reflection days between 1962 and 2003. Some of the retreats include his arrival in Rome for Vatican II,  the anniversary of his priestly ordination, and his election to the papacy, and even a Vatican retreat given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). The format of this book tried to maintain the integrity and format of the notebooks. In doing so, we see a lot of one-line notes which we can glean deep spirituality, but the pages would benefit more highly from actually having access to retreat transcripts. What is most telling about his notes is the self-reflection questions he asks himself. For example, he questions if anything is overshadowing his single work of being a sign of Christ. In this same reflection, we know that Christ is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep. He then questions if he knows all his priests, and what can he do better? This shows a great deal of humility, self-awareness, and a desire to continuously improve.

Overall, the book was an interesting read. It is not a book that you just casually stroll through, but one that you read slow and have to dig deep into to get to the heart of the book. With that said, I was a bit conflicted reading this book. Pope John Paul II asked that his spiritual diaries be destroyed, but his secretary saw the merit in these works and preserved them for spiritual edification of others. I appreciate that, because the words of a great saint should not be destroyed, but I also understand the want to have your personal thoughts kept private and not published. You will have to ultimately decide if you feel comfortable reading this work or not.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fantasy Fantasy Baseball (CSE Games)

The first game of the World Series was last night. Thankfully, the Yankees aren't in it, but I'm realizing that a lot of people hate the Dodgers as well. Maybe, you're like me though and don't care about the World Series because your team didn't make it...again. (Thanks, Atlanta!) So what are you going to do when the season ends and you can't play fantasy baseball anymore? How about a little Fantasy Fantasy BaseballFantasy Fantasy Baseball is a game for 1 to 5 players, ages 10+. It takes between 20 and 50  minutes to play and retails for approximately $30.
1. Place the Stat Track Board and Infield Board in the middle of the playing area.
2. Give each Manager (player) a Team Card and the corresponding color of Pegs, Turn/Waive Order tokens, and Wizard miniature.
3. Randomly select a first Manager (starting player), placing that Manager's token on Waiver Order 1. Going clockwise around the table, place the other Managers in the next Waiver Order spots.
4. Shuffle the Win Cards and place them face down on the pitcher's mound on the Infield Board.
5. Separate the Character Cards into five tiers and deal each player - 3 Rookies, 1 Pro, 1 Specialist, 1 All-Star, and 1 Hall of Fame to make a hand of seven cards.
6. Each Manager then drafts their team by simultaneously picking a card from their hand and passing their hand left. Continue doing this until each Manager has seven cards.
7. Shuffle the remaining Character Cards and place them face-down to the left of the Stat Track Board.
8. Lastly, have each Manager discard one Character Card from their hand to form a discard pile to the right of the Stat Track Board.
Game Play - A game is played over three months (rounds). Follow these five steps each month:
1. Prepare - Deal out four Win Cards face up around the four bases.
2. Free Agency (skipped in the first month) - Flip Character Cards from the Character Deck equal to the number of Managers + 2. This is the Free Agency Pool. Then, going in Waiver Order, each Manager has the option with claiming a Character Card from the Free Agency Pool. If they do so, they must discard a Character Card from their hand. After all managers have had this option, discard all Character Cards in the Free Agency Pool.
3. Set Rosters - Each Manager places four Character Cards (face down) around their Team Card forming a diamond. Where you place the card next to your Team Card corresponds to the base on the Infield Board. Your remaining two Character Cards are left on the bench for their magic ability.
4. Play Ball! - All Managers reveal the 1st Base Character Card simultaneously. Then, going in reverse Waiver Order, Managers have a chance to activate a Character Card on the bench. Compare the stats of all Character Cards and highest one corresponding to the Win Card claims it. If you don't claim the Win Card, you may advance on the Stat Track Board. Repeat this step for all four bases.
5. Cleanup - Update the Waiver Order by making the Manager with the fewest Wins first in Waiver Order. Return Character Cards to the Manager and repeat these five steps if it is the end of Round One or Two. If the end of Round Three, the top two players have a best of seven series using this same format.
The artwork and the components in this game are top notch. The graphics and illustration is playful, but competitive with many varied fantasy creatures to play with. If you are a fan of baseball at all, you will recognize some references to actual baseball players. For example, former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne "Ryno" Sandberg has been immortalized in bear format as Ryno Berg. As for the game play itself, it is a fairly simply and straightforward draft and hand management game. What makes the game most interesting to me is deciding which cards to play, where to play them, and when to play your bench guys. Each of these decisions is important and can result in you claiming a win or getting a loss. I also like the variable game play you can create with the event deck. This adds more replay value to the game and creates a new level of depth with the game. What I don't like about the game is the elimination of people. After three rounds, your player count drops to two players for the championship game. Everyone else playing either has to wait for the game to finish and play again or find a different game to play. That's no fun! Overall, this is a fun and inviting game and is perfect for the game and sports lover in your life. Check out future Fantasy Fantasy titles including Football and maybe Hockey soon?

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Zoo Ball (Osprey Games)

We are in the thick of sports seasons at the moment. It's that time of the year when baseball is wrapping up (World Series), basketball is starting, and football is starting to separate the contenders from the pretenders. With that in mind, it seemed like a good time to review Zoo Ball: The King of Sports! Zoo Ball is a game for 2 or 4 players, ages 8+. It takes about ten minutes to play and retails for $30.

1. Lay out the felt board and flatten is as best as possible.
2. Place your orange disc (Scorer) on the star in the circle and three white discs (Blocker) anywhere on your half of the board. Your opponent will do likewise on their half of the board.

Game Play
On your turn, you may either flick your Scorer or any/all of your three Blockers. The first player to get their Scorer completely into the other players circle (goal) scores a point and the board resets. The first player to three points is the winner. In a four player games, players start in separate corners, and must score in the corner diagonally opposite to their starting position. The first player to score is the winner, so this is more of a chaotic free-for-all in that you aren't only guarding your goal but all the other goals you don't want scored in.

When I first received this game to review, I wondered if there was anything in the box honestly. It felt super-light so I was surprised upon opening it. The game board is a 30" x 30" piece of folded felt that looks like a typical sports field. It creases easily and I would have preferred a neoprene mat, but that would have raised the cost of this game dramatically. The discs have a nice weight and feel to them and slide well across the table. The stickers are well-illustrated and have a nice variety of animals on them. With eighteen white stickers and six yellow stickers, you can customize your team to suit your fancy and have some leftover. The rulebook could have been condensed to one sheet of paper, but Osprey Games added some fun theme with sports commentators talking about how to play the game. As for the game play itself, I found the game to be simple and quick. You can teach the game in about than five minutes and play it in another five (or ten if you're horrible at dexterity games like myself). It is a nice introduction to the dexterity mechanic and suitable for kids and casual gamers.

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

Near and Far (Red Raven Games)

When I first entered the world of modern board gaming, one of the first games I discovered and fell in love with was Above and Below. The art was beautiful, the components were top notch, and the game play was fun and engaging. However, what made it stand out above other games I had tried was the story element. On your turn, you could explore and read from a story book that immersed you even more in the game. The more I played this game, however, the more I realized that the stories were a little biased towards doing the right thing or choosing the moral good. You could read them and realize, if I don't make the right choice this is going to hurt my reputation and potentially cost me the game. Plus, there were only so many stories, so eventually you were going to experience them all. The additional stories (Desert Labyrinth and Underforest) offered through future Kickstarter projects helped with the story selection immensely, but I still wanted more!
In July 2016, Red Raven Games launched a Kickstarter for Near and Far (the sequel to Above and Below). The game play was a little bit different, but the heart of the game, the stories were back, so of course I backed it and waited impatiently for May 2017 to arrive so I could play it. The first big difference I loved was that there were specific characters to play with. Instead of being some generic wanderer, you could play as one of eight specific characters that range from a lizardfolk to an automaton. Each of these characters had their own stories in the story book that you could explore to flesh out their backstory, which added a personal connection to who you were playing with  and made the stories take on more meaning and not just optimizing your decision for maximum points.
Another difference big difference which was a game changer for me was the campaign mode. Instead of playing on the same map over and over again, you and your friends can play on ten different maps. Each map has specific stories related to that map with each map having more stories than ability to visit each play through. In addition to that feature, some stories branch off into their own follow-up stories which reveal a deeper and richer story. Lastly, your characters could level up from map to map, acquiring talents and creating a little bit of asymmetric powers for them in future maps.
I haven't played through every map so far, but the ones I have so far have been highly enjoyable. I love the great art as always. The metal coins that came with the deluxe version have a nice weight to them and the plastic gems have a tactile feel to them as you excavate them from the mine. I especially loved the tents you placed on the map as it give a nice 3-D look to the map as it was further explored. However, there was a lot of cardboard in the box...A LOT! Now don't get me wrong, the art on the cardboard pieces was very beautiful, but from character standees to food, banners, and even pack animals, there was tons of cardboard. I understand this is to keep costs down, but a campaign game like this that you're going to play over and over again deserves more wood in it! Enter MeepleSource!
MeepleSource creates beautiful wooden pieces to upgrade your game and make it feel more deluxe. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can get replacements for the characters, banners, food, and pack animals. I personally have the characters and pack animals currently and am debating the food and banners at the moment. They really make the game pop more and I love that when it is a game that is going to see my table regularly. It is the first game I have done this for, but I can see myself doing it for future games as well, because I was very pleased with the quality and how closely the art matches the art from the game. It was a seamless integration!

In summation, my final thoughts on this game are a bit of mixed bag, but mostly positive. I love the art, the campaign, the story, and playing experience that my family and friends receive from this game. This is a worthy sequel to Above and Below, and while it won't cause me to remove Above and Below from my collection, it is one that I will play when given my choice of the two. What I didn't like about this game were a few minor game play features. In the town, there were a few places you have to visit sometimes, but you don't really want to. If I want some coins/gems or both, I have to go to the mine. Sure, I can place a tent, but it doesn't feel that rewarding. The Mystic Hut lets me collect a treasure, but I could do that on the map as well. Lastly, the Threats dealt with on the map are nice for placing a tent and getting some end game points, but I needed a balance of short and long term as well to make me want to engage them.

Well, I must not have been the only one who felt this way, because Red Raven Games has launched a Near and Far expansion on Kickstarter called Amber Mines that addresses these issues. I don't want to call them problems or fixes, because the original game wasn't broken. Each of my above niggles have modular expansion options that you can add or subtract to the game to create a new and different experience. Looking over them, I like them all and can't see myself ever playing the game without any of them (when the expansion is finally in my hands), but I think the game should be experienced as it was originally intended, before you add more to it. That's not to say don't buy the expansion. Just don't dive in head first with the expansion before playing the original as is first. So I guess what I am saying is buy this game! Buy the expansion! And if you're like me, buy those MeepleSource upgrades too! This is a game you will be playing many times over!

This game was purchased with my own money. All opinions are strictly that.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Flying Inn (Ignatius Press)

G.K. Chesterton is one of the greatest Catholic authors, not just of the 20th century, but possibly ever. He wrote drama, poetry, mysteries, and theological works. Some of his most famous works include Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, and my personal favorite the Father Brown series. I was recently introduced to a work of his that I had never heard of before called The Flying Inn. It was originally published in 1914 and was reprinted by Ignatius Press.

The story takes place in England, but not the England you or I know. It takes place in future England, and is a political satire. In this future England, the Temperance Movement has allowed Progressive Islam to dominate England's political, cultural, and social landscape. Two laws were passed which effectively killed local bars and pubs. The first law made pub signs illegal, and the second made it illegal to serve alcohol in a place without a sign. You see the problem for local bar owners? Pub Owner, Humphrey Pump, and Captain Patrick Dalroy aim to right this wrong and travel the countryside with a cart, a cask of rum, a wheel of cheese, and of course the sign. They wheel the cart around, setting up makeshift bars long enough to serve a round of drinks and then hightail it before they are caught by Lord Ivywood. Each chapter is a mini and zany episode that eventually will lead to a final confrontation.

The book is hilarious in nature, especially the drinking songs/poems which are scattered throughout the book. However, behind this outlandish nature of the story is some political foreshadowing that could almost be described as prophetic. Prohibition did occur in the U.S. about six years after this book was published and like in the story the rich were able to skirt the law by buying their alcohol in the pharmacy. What's even more scary is how accurate Chesterton was about Islam's pervasiveness in Europe. At the time this book was written, the Ottoman Empire (with Islam as its religion) was on the brink of extinction. Now, all of Europe has been taken over by Islam with them going so far as to claim that they are the religion of Europe. Overall, I found this to be a fun and interesting read and one that I am glad I was exposed to.

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Great Heresies (Ignatius Press)

Hilaire Belloc was an Anglo-French Catholic writer and historian. In the early 20th century, he wrote works of many different natures including poetry, satire, and politics. It was his Catholic faith that formed his views and were reflected in his works. Recently, Ignatius Press has been re-printing some of his works including Characters of the Reformation and The Great Heresies. Today, I would like to tell you about the latter.

The Great Heresies was published in 1938. In the introduction, Belloc discusses what heresy is and how most people equate it with something from ancient Christian times. He goes on to explain that it is of high importance for anyone looking to understand European history and Christian orthodoxy. He then gives us a formal definition of the term to be a denial of an accepted Christian doctrine and something which affects not only the individual but all of society. It is heresy which shaped Europe and would have made Europe a completely different world had it succeeded. The book is divided into the following chapters:

1. The Arian Heresy
2. The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed
3. The Albigensian Attack
4. What Was the Reformation?
5. The Modern Phase

"The Arian heresy proposed to go to the very root of the Church's authority by attacking the full Divinity of her Founder." In layman's terms, it questioned the divinity of Jesus. "The Mohammedan attack threatened to kill the Christian Church by invasion rather than to undermine it from within." Belloc saw this as a heresy and not just a new religion attacking an old one. Belloc viewed the Albigensian heresy as the one that was nearly successful. This was a precursor to Protestantism and dealt with a duality of the universe, good and evil in an equal and constant battle with each other. The Protestant attacked authority and unity within the Church. Lastly, the modern phase has seen attacks of rationalism and positivism. Belloc chose these specific five, because they showed all the different directions from which the Church can be attacked. What I love best about reading Belloc's words are the truth they still hold today. It is nearly 80 years after this was first published, and his words still ring true.

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Names of Jesus (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Years ago, I used to transcribe podcasts for Ancient Faith Radio. It was an fun side-job, because I was able to trade my services for the books they published. However, in addition to that perk, I also learned a lot because, I had to listen more intently and pay closer attention. To this day, the podcasts I remember most are those of Fr. Thomas Hopko. His speaking style was brisk and brilliant. He made a subject accessible, but also was known for occasionally dropping Greek, Hebrew, and/or Aramaic words and phrases all in the same breath. One of his best known podcasts series was called The Names of Jesus. In 2010, Ancient Faith Publishing published a book by the same name. The book is divided into 53 chapters with each chapter focusing on different names and titles for Jesus in the Bible.

Some of the titles included in this book are Son of God, I AM, Last Adam, Way, Truth, and Life. The chapter that I really liked was Bread of Life. I really wanted to focus on this one when reading through the book, because the Holy Eucharist is the Mystery on which Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism stands This title comes from John 6:35. It is here that the people ask Jesus for bread, and He reveals to them that He is the Bread of Life. We recently read this passage to my son from his children's Bible, and he has stuck with him better than any other story. What stood out to me the most in this chapter was how he explained the differences between the two different feedings of the multitudes. It was truly beautiful to read his explanation on it.

There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, but in a highly approachable manner. Yes, there is a great deal of Scripture and explanations of Greek and Hebrew translations of certain passages, but this doesn't make it difficult but instead illustrates the points more clearly. With each chapter between 3 and 8 pages long, it makes for a manageable reflection length. I personally recommend reading a chapter at the beginning of each week. Then, you can go back and re-visit the chapter or reflect on it all week long. This may mean you have to read the book over the course of the year, but what a year it will be!

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Haunt the House (KTBG)

My son's favorite time of the year is Fall. It's not because of the temperature dropping or the leaves changing colors. No, it's because of Halloween. For the life of me, I can't figure out where he developed this love of Halloween, but he loves it and all things "spooky." No matter what store we shop in, he wants to go down the Halloween aisle. His favorite movie right now? Toy Story of Terror! I just don't get it... Recently, I learned of a "spooky" game called Haunt the House from Kids Table Board Gaming (KTBG for short). Haunt the House is a game for 2-4 ghouls ages 8+. It takes approximately 30-40 minutes to play and is currently on Kickstarter for a pledge of $31.
1. Shuffle the Room Tiles face down, creating a draw pile. Lay out four Room Tiles face-up (three in a 2-player game).
2. Shuffle the Ghost Hunters cards face-down, creating a draw pile. Draw one Ghost Hunter and place it face-up on each in Room Tile.
3. Make a pile of the Skull Tokens, placing them within reach of all.
4. Have each player choose a color and give them a Ghost Marker and Scare Deck in their color. Have each player shuffle their deck face-down and draw the top three Scares.
5. Shuffle the Trophy Tiles face-down, and give each player one red and one blue trophy tile. You may look at your own Trophy Tiles, but keep them secret.
6. Pick a starting player and begin!
Game Play - The game is played in turns with the end of the game triggering when a player scares their fourth Ghost Hunter (fifth in a 2-player game). On your turn you may take two actions of Yell Boo! You can take the actions in any order or the same one twice. Possible Actions are:
1. Draw to three Scares - If you have 0 or 1 Scares in your hand, you may use your first action to draw up to three Scares.
2. Play a face-down Scare - Play any one Scare from your hand face-down on a Room Tile. (Note: The Scare doesn't have to match the Scares shown on the Ghost Hunter in the Room Tile.)
3. Play a face-up Scare - Play any one Scare from your hand face-up on a Room Tile. (Note: The Scare must be one that is needed to frighten the Ghost Hunter.) Playing face-up allows you to immediately trigger the power of the Room Tile.

Yell Boo! - If you think you have the right combination of symbols on the face-up Scares, face-down Scares, and Scares in your hand, you yell BOO! Flip over the face-down Scares and discard non-matching Scares. Reward the owners of matching face-down Scares with one Skull Token. If you are not able to successfully scare the Ghost Hunter, all face-down Scares that were revealed are discarded and your turn ends. If you are able to scare the Ghost Hunter, claim them face-up in front of you. Discard the Room Tile and place a new Room Tile and Ghost Hunter on that Room Tile.

Advanced version: Add the deck of Phantom Cards to the game, shuffling them face-down. Now, instead of merely claiming a Skull Token, you can claim a Phantom, which gives you a special unique action to use in a future turn.
If you decide to pledge for Haunt the House, it's like you are getting two games in one - 1. a family game suitable for playing with children and 2. a more challenging game to play with seasoned gamers. The beginner's version of this game is simple in the actions you can take, but still provides meaningful decisions. Do I play a card face-up for a beneficial action but potentially set up my opponent(s) to scare a ghost hunter? Do I play a card face-down and do some light bluffing in hopes that I can trick my opponent into doing a false Boo? With scoring tokens being squared, you also have to decide carefully which ghost hunters to maximize your opponents.

The advanced version of this game provides you with a new choice to make when rewards are earned. Are you going to take a skull token for points or are you going to draw a phantom card and get some special ability? I've noticed most of the time, you'll take the phantom unless the game is near over and you want points. These two modes of game play means you have a game that will grow with your children. As they age and grasp advanced gaming concepts, the game will scale with them.

What I like best about the game is the art, of course! The art by Apolline Etienne and Josh Cappel is eye-popping! I remember the first time I saw Cappel's art in Scoville. I was instantly a fan. Ever since purchasing that game, I now actively seek out games he illustrates. It's one of the main reasons I bought KTBG's other two games - Foodfighters and Problem Picnic. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Josh Cappel is the Leonardo da Vinci of board games, because he not only illustrates games, but designs them as well. With his talented wife Helaina, the Cappels are creating a beautiful empire made up of the next generation of family games! If I had one negative to levy against this game, I would say that it only plays four. I only have a family of three, but as a Catholic, I know many families well over the four player limit who wish this game could accommodate more. That quibble aside, I have thoroughly enjoyed this game and I can't wait to see the success this Kickstarter will experience.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Queen of Heaven: Mary's Battle for You

Recently, Saint Benedict Press released a new product called Queen of Heaven: Mary's Battle for You. In addition to it being a beautiful hardcover book, it is also a DVD series designed for parish study or small group study. The program was filmed at over a dozen global locations, such as the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land and the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington D.C. It features expert commentary from noted Catholics Tim Staples, Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, and Dr. Mary Healy to name a few. But what exactly is it about? To know that, let's look at the eight lesson titles:

1. The Battle Begins
2. The Annunciation
3. The Sorrowful Mother
4. Mother of the Church
5. Guadalupe
6. Lourdes
7. Fatima
8. The Consecration

Each lesson is approximately 30 minutes each with a follow-up 10 minute video from Fr. Patrick Winslow to crystallize the lesson. The series is very thorough, taking us back to the Old Testament when Mary was prefigured in many signs and wonders and prophesied that she would give birth to the Savior. We then move forward to the New Testament where we see her place in Jesus' early life, His ministry and Passion, and the period after He ascended where she was Mother of the Church. These lessons alone would be enough to make a thorough lesson, but it doesn't stop there. Instead, we see Mary's role in present day with the apparitions at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima - three places she left powerful messages for the modern day Church and where miracles still occur today. The lessons close focusing on Pope John Paul II, his devotion to Mary, and the Consecration to Mary's Immaculate Heart he helped introduce to the world. This is a professional and beautifully done series and one all Catholics (I would argue all Christians) need to watch. It will be airing on EWTN from October 6-13, so I encourage you to check it out, learn why Mary is such a powerful warrior for us, and then get your parish to order a copy of this amazing series!

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Crusades Controversy (Beacon Publishing)

When you look back through history, there are certain events that still evoke a visceral response from people, events that people believe are a certain way and no matter how many facts you present them with, they'll never see it any other way. The biggest event I can think of that describes the previous sentence is The Crusades. If you asked a random person on the street, they would tell you that the Crusades were an atrocity by the Catholic Church. Islamic people certainly believe this, and that has led to terrorists like bin Laden, ISIS, etc. being formed and waging war against the Christian West? But what if I told you that those people were wrong? Medieval historian, Thomas F. Madden, recently penned a short book entitled The Crusades Controversy: Setting the Record Straight.The book is a mere 50 pages in length and is divided into the following chapters:

1. Are the Crusades to Blame?
2. The Real Crusaders
3. The First Crusade: A Lone Success
4. A New Age
5. The Muslim Memory
6. Today's Struggle Between Islamists and the West

The book begins with the question, "Are the Crusades to blame for the current tension between Islam and the West?" Madden explains that it was not the Christian West that sought out and attacked Islam trying to conquer them, but instead it was quite the opposite. Islam was of the opinion that you were Muslim or not. If you were not, you must be defeated. Therefore, the Crusades were the West's response to this Islamic conquest and attempt to survive. He then goes on to explain that the Crusaders did not get rich, but on the contrary 50% died and those that returned were worse off financially than when they left. The third chapter tells of the one successful crusade, but makes note that the success was short-lived. The remaining chapters talk about how recent memory has fueled the myth of the Crusades and given the Islamic terrorist groups an excuse to go to war with the West.

This short little book packs quite a punch in terms of history and correcting of misinformation. It was interesting to note that Islam apparently cared nothing of the Crusades until recent centuries. Before that, it was largely ignored by them, because frankly they won handily and Western Christendom was just another group of infidels that were conquered. This is a book that belongs in the hands of every Christian and belongs in every history classroom. Unfortunately, it doesn't fit with a certain agenda, so the people that need to read it will largely ignore it. I, however, highly recommend it!