Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tiffin (Rio Grande Games)

There are a ton of overused board game themes in the hobby today - Vikings, Zombies, Cthulhu, and even recently the planet Mars. It seems like finding a unique theme grows harder by the day. Therefore, when I heard about the game Tiffin, I was intrigued. a tiffin is a meal in India that is home-cooked, sold, and transported at a rate of nearly a quarter of a million per day. Tiffin is a game for 2-4 players, age 14+. It takes 30-60 minutes to play and retails for $40.

Setup
1. Have each player pick a color and their 20 cubes (Tiffins) of the corresponding color.
2. Give each player a Player Reference card, a Shortcut card, and a Flat Tire card.
3. Place the Score Track in the center and have each player place a cube next to it.
4. Place the Competitor Track card face up next to the Score Track and a Competitor cube on space 0.
5. Sort the Tiffin Tracking cards in ascending order in a face-up pile with the 0 card on top.
6. Shuffle the ten Route cards, flipping them as you shuffle. Then, deal three of the cards under the Score Track and put the other seven next to the three to form a draw deck.
7. Lastly, shuffle the 45 Delivery cards. Deal four to each player. Then, turn six face up in a line under the Route cards, placing the remaining cards next to this line of cards to form a draw deck.
Game Play - On your turn, you take one of three actions:
1. Place a Tiffin on the leftmost open tiffin square of an un-started Route card.
2. Draft two Delivery cards from the draft pool, draw deck, or one from each.
3. Play a Delivery card from your hand to an active Route card, which will add cubes to the route progress. (Note: Delivery card color must match Route card color, except for grey, which is wild.) When you complete a Route card, you get a Delivery Fee, and the player who contributed the most to the route receives a Route Fee. (Note: Both fees are victory points.)

The Competitor also has a turn. Some Delivery cards have a Competitor symbol on, which will move his cube one space on the card. Once it reaches the space, which equals the number of players will perform a series of actions for the Competitor, which will cause him to add cubes to different Routes.

The game ends when there are no more Route cards left in the draw deck to replace a second Route. Most points wins!

Review
At its core, Tiffin is a game of area control. You want route cards to be completed, but you want to have the majority of cubes on that card so that you score the route fee. (Ideally, you want to be the one who receives both the delivery and route fee.) What I really like about this game is that delivery cards don't just let you place cubes to the route, they also have powers depending on their rank. The component quality is of high quality, i.e., thick cardboard, good feel of cards and cubes. The game is also easy to grasp and teach, with the biggest thing to explain being the special ability cards, which can help you claim a route and/or prevent your opponent from claiming it. The game's biggest strength can also be considered its greatest weakness. Since the boards are double-sided, you don't know what color routes are going to show up. This creates variability from game to game, but also can really penalize someone who collected a lot of one color, only for it to not show up near as much as other colors. I applaud the theme for being original, but unfortunately, it wasn't one I could sink my teeth into. That's not to say it's not a good game with solid game play value, it just wasn't for me.

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Once and Future King (Penguin Galaxy)

Penguin Random House has a history of publishing some of the best and most timeless books in the business. These classics include not only the likes of Homer and Shakespeare, but modern classics like E. Nesbit and William Golding. Recently, they released Penguin Galaxy Series, which includes six iconic works of science fiction and fantasy. The titles are as follows - 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dune, Neuromancer, The Left Hand of Darkness, Stranger in a Strange Land, and my personal favorite The Once and Future King.

For those of you who don't know, The Once and Future King is T. H. White's telling of the legend of King Arthur. The first part of the book, The Sword and the Stone, is where Disney drew his inspiration for the animated classic of the same name. Even though, I personally think Walt butchered the story. The Penguin Galaxy edition of this book is a meaty hardcover, over 700 pages in length. Like the other books in the Penguin Galaxy Series, it begins with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. In this introduction, he begins by talking about reading five of the six books in this series around his twelfth birthday. He then defines the term science fiction. He then goes on to describe his personal encounters with each book. When he initially read The Sword and the Stone, he found it to be a delightful children's story, but when White re-wrote it and incorporated it into The Once and Future King, the charming story had become a bit darker and focused on human nature and government. If you are a fan of Gaiman and his work, like my wife, you will find the introduction to be an interesting look in the mind of an author. If you're like me any only casually know him, you could take it or leave it.

As for the book itself, if you have read it before, this is the story you know and love in the hardcover edition it deserves. If you don't know the story, I'll give you a brief synopsis. The Sword and the Stone involves Wart is raised by Sir Ector, tutored by Merlin, pulls the sword from the stone, and becomes King Arthur. The Queen of Air and Darkness involves Queen Morgause and King Lot opposing King Arthur. Arthur defeats him (with Merlin's help), and Morgause seduces Arthur (who is actually her brother) and gives birth to Mordred. The Ill-Made Knight finally introduces us to Lancelot and Guinevere. Arthur's life and kingdom is slipping out of control, and the knights are sent on the quest for the Holy Grail. The Candle in the Wind is when Arthur and everyone else is old and grey. Lots of killing goes on. Arthur must confront the secret truth he already knows about Lancelot and Guinevere. Mordred wants the throne, and the kingdom falls apart. Before he dies, he tells his story to a page so that hopefully the ideals can live on, and we are told the legend that Arthur will return at some point in the future, which is where we get the title for this book.

I really love this story and could read it once a year if I had time. If you are a fan of Arthurian legend at all, you need this book in your collection. It will not only expand your horizons, it will make you look at some characters in a whole new light, particularly Sir Kay. "He was not at all an unpleasant person really, but clever, quick, proud, passionate and ambitious. He was one of those people who would be neither a follower nor a leader, but only an aspiring heart, impatient in the failing body which imprisoned it."

This book was provided to me for free by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On Suffering and Burnout (EWTN Publishing)

Mother Angelica was a remarkable woman who may one day be a saint. Unfortunately for people of my generation, the bulk of her writings have long been out of print. Thankfully, Sophia Institute Press' partnered with EWTN Publishing to start reprinting hers and other out of print books. Today, I would like to tell you about her book On Suffering and Burnout.

On Suffering and Burnout is a small purple hardcover book that is actually six previously publishing mini-books that were originally published in the 1970s. The current book is divided into three sections - suffering, burnout, and consolation. Each section has two "chapters" within it. The first chapter addresses the concept of the healing power of suffering. This starts off by talking about the purpose of suffering and then leads into different types of suffering - preventative, corrective, repentant, and redemptive. The chapter then further develops redemptive suffering by talking about how Jesus suffered and what we can do to make our suffering matter instead of wasting it. The first chapter in the Burnout section talking about spiritual dryness. She explains that this dryness, though it happens to everyone, is paradoxical because it seems the more we strive to be closer to God, the further we grow apart. She then goes on to tell us that we must not become discouraged by this dryness, but use it become more patient, more humble, and learn to persevere. The chapters on consolation talk heavily on God's silent presence and how God needs us. That sounds so odd to say, but we play an important role in salvation history, so God uses us and relies on us to accomplish his mission.

As I sat reading this book recently, I kept saying to myself, "Giving this book a purple cover was brilliant." I know that's a weird thing to say, but this is the perfect book to read about halfway during Lent. Why? Because Lent can be a difficult and challenging time. We are out in the desert, sacrificing, and trying to become better people for the glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The other thought I had while reading this book is that, Mother Angelica was a very wise woman who had a powerful relationship with Jesus. I read that she wrote these mini-books while before the Blessed Sacrament, and reading through her words you definitely pick up on that. Her writing is full of truth that is both personal and universal. If you are experiencing suffering or burnout in your spiritual life, then this is a must-read book for you.

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wok on Fire (Green Couch Games)

Cooking is not something I am even remotely good at. Because of that, my wife and I have a standing agreement. She cooks. I clean. It's a pretty fair trade-off. So what would make me interested in Wok on Fire, a game about cooking? Great art, small footprint, low price, and general fun of course. Wok on Fire is a dexterity-based, set-collection game for 2-4 players, ages 7+. It takes approximately 20 minutes to play and retails for $15.
Setup
1. Give each player a Spatula Card and a Player Aid.
2. Shuffle all the Ingredient Cards together. Deal 24 face-down in a stack to create the Supply and evenly distribute the other 26 cards face-down in a circular shape to form the starting ingredients in the wok.
3. Pick a start player and get cooking!
Game Play - Each player takes the following three actions on their turn:
1. Stir Fry - Use your Spatula Card to perform two stir fry actions. (A stir fry action involves sliding your Spatula Card underneath Ingredient Card(s) and flipping the card(s) over.
2. Pick Up Ingredients - After flipping, identify which two Ingredient Cards you want to pick up, and then do your best to pick them up without disturbing the other ingredients.
3. Chop - Pick up the Supply deck and using a hacking motion with your hand, chop two Ingredient Cards into the wok.
4. When the Supply is exhausted, the end of the game is triggered with each player taking one more turn.
Scoring
Arrange your claimed Ingredient Cards to form the best possible scoring combinations. For example, a noodle, meat, vegetable, and condiment combination is worth 25 points, whereas five onions are worth 35 points.

Review
Wok on Fire is a very fun little game that is fun for families, because even though it is a card game, you get to do fun, tangible actions with the cards. Kids especially will enjoy flipping the cards over or chopping them out. To a very small degree, the game reminds me of Sushi Go and Go Nuts for Donuts, because it has food elements and you are trying to pair up the food in the best possible way to maximize your points. The game itself is vastly different as you aren't drafting cards, but carefully revealing or not revealing cards to make sure you leave your opponents with cards that won't be as beneficial to them. I especially enjoyed the artwork associated with this game. There is a little bit of personality in each of the ingredients that adds to the visual appeal of this game. If you want even more ingredients/variability with the game, there is a $5 promo pack you can pick up, which adds some beef and snap peas to the game. Green Couch Games does a good job of packing tons of flavor into their little games. Be sure to check out the rest of their catalog and also consider backing their current game, Ladder 29 on Kickstarter.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Shroud of Turin: Four Films by David Rolfe (Ignatius Press)

The Shroud of Turin is a relic whose authenticity has and continues to be hotly debated. It's the authentic burial shroud of Christ. It's an invention by a master artist. Which is it?! Ignatius Press recently released a two disc/four film set called The Shroud of Turin: Four Films by David Rolfe.

The first film is called The Silent Witness. It was released in 1978 and was groundbreaking for its time. It walks us through history and traces us on the physical journey the Shroud made to its current location at Turin. The second film, Shroud of Turin, was released in 2008. This was 20 years after the carbon-dating (C14) test cast doubt on the relic's authenticity. It compares the C14 test to other test, as well as archaeology and 3-D analysis. What was most groundbreaking about this video was that they had direct access to the Shroud, something unheard of until that time. The third film, Shroud, was released in 2010 and uses more high technology to study the Shroud. This film not only examines the historical significance of this relic, but also the religious importance. The final film, A Grave Injustice, is the shortest of the four and was released in 2015. The main purpose of this film was to show how unfairly the Shroud is judged. There is a myriad of evidence for why it is authentic, but one test, the C14, one says it was fake and that was enough to condemn its authenticity. That hardly seems fair, but is a reality that we must face and fight against.

This DVD set was very informative in its presentation of the Shroud and the different scientific tests performed throughout the decades. The fact that it took us from the 1970s to present day is what I liked best about this series, as we could see the progression of technology and how far we have come. It also helped bolster my belief in the authenticity of the Shroud. If I had to recommend who would appreciate this series, I would say Catholics who already believe in its authenticity or those who are on the fence. Unfortunately, those who think the relic is a fake will not be convinced, as they have already made up their mind. If you fall into one of the first two categories, I strongly recommend this series.

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

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Potion Explosion (CMON)

I think it's safe to say that many of my readers are big fans of Harry Potter, probably not as big of fans as my wife, but who is? When I heard and read about the game Potion Explosion, I thought, "This kind of sounds like Harry Potter. My wife will love this!" In Potion Explosion, you and your fellow opponents are students in Albedus Humblescore's potion's class. With only four ingredients (Unicorn Tears, Dragon Smoke, Ogre Mucus, and Fairy Dandruff), you are competing to complete the most potions and score the most points. Potion Explosion is a game for 2-4 players, ages 14+. It takes about 45 minutes to play and retails for $50.
Setup
1. Before you play the first time, assemble the Dispenser following the instructions.
2. Fill the Dispenser randomly with all the ingredients (marbles) mentioned above.
3. Give each player a Desk Board.
4. Give the Starting Player Token to the person who most recently prepared a drink.
5. Take all the Potion Tiles and remove two types either at random or by choice.
6. From the remaining Potion Tiles, each player takes two random starter tiles (marked with a gold star) and places them on their Desk Board.
7. Shuffle the remaining Potion Tiles to form five stacks.
8. Put the Skill Tokens in a stack depending on number of players, which will trigger the end of the game after everyone has the same number of turns.
Game Play
1. You must choose and take one marble from the dispenser. If this triggers an explosion (two of the same color marbles collide), you take all the connected colors of that explosion.
2. You may also ask for a little help from the professor and take one marble from the dispenser. You don't get to claim any marbles from a triggered explosion, and the little help token is worth -2 points.
3. You may also drink one of your completed potions, which gives you a special ability, such as stealing ingredients from an opponent or activate a potion you have already used once.
4. Take all the ingredients, which you gained from the previous three steps, and place them in your incomplete potion tiles, matching the color (unless you drank a potion that let you ignore color). If you complete a potion, it gets flipped over and put in your completed area. Any marbles you cannot match, are put in your ingredient pool (max of three).
5. Refill the dispenser with any leftover marbles or marbles from completed potions.
6. Draw back up to two potion tiles.
7. Claim a skill token if you completed three potions of the same kind or five unique potions.
8. When the game ends, add up your points from potions and skill tokens. Subtract any help tokens. High score wins.

Review
Potion Explosion is a very fun game with a great feel to it. The game is very simple to learn, as it really comes down to picking a marble that produces the most chain explosions, while also matching the potions you need to complete. The theme is very tongue-in-cheek with their reference to Harry Potter, but people who aren't fans of the famous wizard will not feel in the dark when playing the game. The age rating on this game is 14+, and I think a lot of that has to do with the marbles being a choking hazard, but children as young as 8, maybe even younger can pick up this simple game. I personally consider this a great game to play with the family, young children, and non-gamers, as it provides a unique and dynamic experience that will suit these audiences well.

The components in this game are a mixed bag, which I have come to expect from games that bear the company logo Horrible Games (I'm looking at you Steam Park.). The cardboard didn't punch out as cleanly as it could have and the paint on some of the marbles was chipping right out of the box. Does this take away from game play? No, but it is disappointing from an aesthetics viewpoint. The big positive of the components is the ingredient dispenser. It is a clever use of cardboard that is not only fun in its delivery of ingredients, but it also serves as a randomizer, with the player never knowing exactly where the marbles will fall.

After the components, my biggest complaint about this game is that it only plays four people. The groups I play with are generally bigger than four, so I feel like I will never get a chance to share this game with them unless some are out of town, which is a shame, because it is really fun and seems like it should have accommodated more people without needing to buy two games. Apart from my complaints, I really enjoyed the game, and my wife did as well, so that makes this an easy recommendation for me. There is supposedly an expansion coming out later this year, so if you are a fan of this game, like me, be on the look out for it!

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Oxford Shakespeare Illustrated Dictionary (Oxford University Press)

I like to convince myself that I am a fan of Shakespeare. I've read Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello, Hamlet, and The Tempest. I've seen plays, seen movies, have kid-friendly Shakespeare books, and even have a DVD Catholic Course on Shakespeare. In reality, I don't understand as much of The Bard as I would like to. When I do read his works, some of the phrases confuse me and unless there are footnotes explaining what confuses me, I am stumped! Luckily, Oxford University Press knows there's people like me an has produced an Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary.

The book is divided out like a normal dictionary with alphabetical sections. There are then 4000+ entries of different Shakespearean words, their meanings, and a quote and reference on what play the particular entry can be found in. There are also numerous notes sprinkled throughout the pages, which talk about history, society, and insight on how Shakespeare used the language. The bulk of the illustrations are in the middle of the book and are broken out by topics like armour, weapons, clothing, animals, colours, etc.

What I found most helpful is that common words, you already associate with one definition have a warning, so that you don't just assume you know a word and skip over it. For example, scorch has nothing to do with burning something, but instead slicing it. The only drawback to this book is that it is not comprehensive, but instead covers Shakespeare's twelve most popular books. If I'm being realistic though, that is just not possible, because it would be too massive. Overall, this is a useful book for high school students, college students, teachers, and fans of Shakespeare, who wish they knew more.

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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Living the Mystery of Merciful Love (Emmaus Road Publishing)

Navigating the Interior Life is one of my favorite Catholic books of recent memory. It not only introduced me to a great author in Dan Burke, but it also taught me to be a better Catholic. In addition to doing these two special things in my life, it also launched a a series, which has focused on important saints. The first two saints were St. Teresa of Avila and St. Peter of Alcantara. The most recent one focuses on St. Thérèse of Lisieux and is called Living the Mystery of Merciful Love.

Living the Mystery of Merciful Love is a 30 day retreat in book format. However, unlike other retreats, where you escape from the real world, this book encourages you to incorporate it into your daily life. The first day uses the Act of Oblation to Merciful Love as the focus. This is an important document that was penned by St. Thérèse and one that the individual will renew each day in this 30 day retreat. This oblation or act of giving oneself to God is only three pages, but it is beautiful to read, because we can see this little saints love for God and her desire to bring all souls to Him so that they may love Him as deeply as she does. The other 29 days are specific letters, which St. Thérèse wrote to her sisters. The subject for these letters include suffering, scrupulosity, love, and heaven.

Reading through these letters, you can see a woman who was wise beyond her years. Her words of wisdom contain both a love for God and her fellow man. Dan Burke and Anthony Lilles provide excellent commentary on her letters that only enhance her spiritual advice. They also provide great insight into how to apply her words to your daily life. This is a great addition to a wonderful series that continues to get better with every book published. Lent is well underway, but with this book only being 30 pages, you still have some time left to pick up this book and journey your way to Easter.

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

HOP! (Passport Game Studios)

The board game industry is at an exciting time. Hundreds of games are produced every year. This is great for players in the hobby, but tough for designers and publishers, because they have to make a game that stands out in theme, mechanics, art, etc. Today, I am going to tell you about a beautiful game called HOP! HOP! is a game for 3-6 players, age 6+. It retails for $70, but can be found for less than that depending on your retailer.
Setup
1. Construct the 3-D gameboard, placing it in the center of the table.
2. Spread the Cloud tokens around the board with the cloud side up.
3. Spread the Bird tokens around the board. It doesn't matter which side of the bird is visible.
4. Shuffle the Dare cards to form a face-down deck.
5. Place the Rainbow close to the board.
6. Give each player a Character Board, their Figurine that matches their board, 5 Balloons of the same color, a double-sided Bet token. Youngest player is the starting player.
Game Play
On your turn, you are the Hurler. You must pick a player who will be the Skewerer. The Skewerer picks an elbow and places it on the table with their index finger pointing up. The Hurler then draws a Dare card, which tells them how they must throw the Rainbow. Note: Some dares involve other players who will help you (also known as an Assister) or who will hinder you (also know as a Turbulator). Before the throw occurs, any player not participating places a bet with their Bet token. 

Results
If the the throw is a success, the Hurler advances their Figurine one level on the board. The Skewerer and Assister each gain a cloud token, The Turbulator gains and loses nothing. Those who were correct with their bet receive a Bird token, dove side up. Those who were incorrect with their bet receive a Bird token, crow side up.

If the the throw is a failure, the Hurler loses a Balloon. The Skewerer and Assister gain and lose nothing. The Turbulator gains a cloud token Those who were correct with their bet receive a Bird token, dove side up. Those who were incorrect with their bet receive a Bird token, crow side up.

If you ever have three doves, you return them and move up a level. If you ever have three crows, you return them and lose a balloon. The game ends when someone reaches the 7th and final level on the board or when someone loses all their balloons. Score is tallied by adding the value of your cloud tokens to the value of the level of the gameboard you are on. Highest score wins.

Review
HOP! is a very fun dexterity game with lots of different and wacky dare cards. Some examples of this are The Schoolteacher where you have to remove your glasses or wear someone else's glasses or Night Flight, where the Skewerer has to close their eyes. This makes the game silly, crazy, and unpredictable. It also is going to keep the interest of kids, because no matter what role they are assigned, they are going to be up moving around, and that is a great element for family games.

Unfortunately, the components are the game's greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. Let's start with the positive. The gameboard is 3-D, which adds a wow factor to the game when you set it up. The artwork is playful and full of vibrant colors that make the game pop! The figurines in the game are high quality, highly detailed, and honestly everything that the Tokaido miniatures should have been. So with all of these great things, I can see you scratching your head and asking, "Why is this bad?" It's bad because it's unnecessary and drives up the price exponentially! $70 for a family game is a lot of money, especially for a game with such a simple mechanic. The game does not need a 3-D game board or miniatures, and the dare cards could have been smaller in size. Your children, family, and friends could have still had a memorably fun experience without all this bloat of presentation, and I'm afraid a lot of people will pass on this game due to the high price, which is unfortunate. So while, I do recommend this game, I would recommend it only if you can find it on sale.

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Holy Spirit: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics (Our Sunday Visitor)

The Holy Spirit is the latest in a series of Bible study books from Fr. Mitch Pacwa with other topics being St. Paul, Mary, and the Eucharist. The book is divided into seven sessions:

1. The Holy Spirit in Creation
2. Authority and Power Come by the Holy Spirit
3. Prophets and the Spirit of God
4. Giver of Wisdom, Guidance, and Truth
5. Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity
6. Empowerment in the New Testament
7. The Spirit and the Spiritual Life

Within each chapter, there are multiple sections of Study, Consider, and Investigate. These sections not only give you Scripture passages to read, but also provide summaries and historical context on what you are reading. You are also encouraged to take notes in the book on certain biblical passages. At the end of each session are discussion questions and advice on how to put what you learned this session into practice. Though all the sessions are important and well written, the session which stood out to me most was the first one on Creation. In addition to focusing on Genesis 1 and John 1, we see references to creation in Psalm, Ezekiel, Judith, and Wisdom. Fr. Pacwa also provided an interesting contrast between the Creation story we know and the Babylonian creation myth. Other interesting points from the different sessions are how the Holy Spirit spoke through the Prophets, his empowering presence in New Testament figures, and the role he currently plays in our lives.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. The Holy Spirit is the overlooked and often forgotten member of the Holy Trinity. This book will open your eyes to the important role that the Holy Spirit has played throughout salvation history, but the continued role He plays in our everyday lives. As always, Fr. Pacwa does a masterful job of taking a core part of the Catholic faith and explaining it in a way that anyone can understand, without dumbing it down.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

FUSE (Renegade Game Studios)

Sometimes (read: more often than I'd like to admit), I am a bit of a snob. This is true for food, books, and sometimes even games. Why would I ever want to play a real-time cooperative game about defusing bombs? I don't care that it only takes 10 minutes to play. I have all these better games I can spend my time playing. More often than not, I am proven wrong in my snobbery, and this is one of those times. FUSE is a cooperative game for 1 to 5 players, ages 10+. It takes only ten minutes to play and retails for $30.
Setup
1. Separate the Bomb cards from the Fuse cards. (Note: Remove the five difficult Bomb cards from the deck for a simpler game.)
2. Shuffle the Bomb cards, and deal two to each player (four in a solo game). Have the players, place their Bomb cards face-up in front of them. (Note: If you get a 3, 4, or 6 point card first, then your second card has to be a 1 or 2 point card.)
3. Deal a number of Bomb cards face-down into a deck depending on number of players and difficulty level you wish to play. (Example: 4 players on Standard Level would have a deck of 22.) Place the remaining cards back in the box.
4. From this deck you just formed, deal five Bomb cards face-up in the center on the table.
5. Shuffle six Fuse cards into the remaining Bomb cards, and place the deck next to the line of Bomb cards you just formed.
6. Place all 25 dice into the bag. Hand the bag to a player, and you're ready!
Game Play
1. Start the timer for ten minutes.
2. Draw dice from the bag equal to the number of players (Exceptions: four dice in a 2-player game and three dice in a solo game), and roll the dice.
3. Each player must take one die, communicating with the other players on how to best determine who gets what die.
4. Use the die you took and match it to an icon on one of your Bomb cards. Any player that cannot play a die, most roll it. Each player (if possible) must then remove one die of matching number or color from one of their Bomb cards and put it back in the bag.
5. Once you complete a Bomb card, you remove the dice from it, and put them back in the bag. You then draw a Bomb card from the center of the table and replace the Bomb card with a new card from the deck. If you draw a Fuse card, each player (if possible) must return one die from their Bomb cards matching the color or number on the Fuse card.
6. Repeat these steps until time expires (you lose) or the last card is taken from the center of the table. (Note: Any cards in front of you do not need to be cleared. These were thankfully duds!)

Review
FUSE is an intense 10 minute game that leaves your heart pumping and pulse racing when it is all said and done. However, after you have recovered from the bitter taste of defeat or reveled in your close win, you'll want to immediately play again. I certainly didn't go into this game thinking that a deck of cards and a bag of dice would have much theme to it, but when that clock is ticking down, and you have to return some unsuccessful dice to the bag, you really feel like the bombs are going to detonate, and your spaceship is going to explode! What really makes this game even better is the free app that not only is a timer, but also adds a bit of snark. I learned a valuable lesson about judging a game without playing it, and I can't wait for the sequel Flatline!

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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mary and the Little Shepherds of Fatima

Mary and the Little Shepherds of Fatima is a hardcover children's book from Pauline Books and Media. The book tells the story of the three shepherd children Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia. Every day, they went out to tend the sheep and while they were doing so, they always prayed the Rosary. One day an angel appeared to them and encouraged the children to pray often, because Jesus and Mary are listening. Later, the angel returned to them and encouraged them to make sacrifices. Then, Our Lady appeared to them. She tried to encourage them not to tell anyone, but of course word got out. Each time they went to see Mary more people joined them, but could not see who and what the children saw. The corrupt mayor of their town tried to put them in jail to quiet them down and scare them but eventually released them. Then, one day when the children went to see Mary and more people joined them there was finally a physical sign for all the people. The sun danced that day, and everyone present witnessed the miracle.

This book does a wonderful job of introducing your children to Our Lady of Fatima and her story. At the end of the book, there is a section on how to pray the Rosary, different prayers of Fatima, and section for adults, which provides more of the context and history of this apparition. The artwork is also very warm and vibrant and will keep your children engaged the whole time they are reading the book or having it read to them. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Our God's Brother (Ignatius Press)

St. Albert Chmielowski was born in August 1845 in Poland near Krakow. His given name was Adam. His parents died at an early age, leaving his father's sister to care for them. During his education he studied engineering, but he also became interested in politics. During his youth, he fought in the nationalist uprising, and it was here that his life was changed forever. While participating in a battle in 1863, a grenade detonated near him, killing his horse and injuring his leg so severely that amputation was needed. After this, he became a popular painter for his use of religious themes in his artwork. He later gave that up too to enter the Jesuits, but ultimately he became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis. He was beatified in 1983 and canonized six years later, both by Pope John Paul II. In 1949, when Pope John Paul was still Karol Wojtyla, he wrote a play about his life called Our God's Brother. This was adapted to film in 1997 and his been released in DVD format by Ignatius Press this year.

The DVD begins by showing people arriving to the play. We are then taken backstage where we see actors backstage preparing for the play. Presented in a documentary-like format, the actors are putting on their makeup and introducing us to the roles they are playing. They speak not only of who the people are and their possible significance, but also about Karol Wotjyla. The actors also cite actual words of Brother Albert too. We then dive into the drama of the film. It actually starts off pretty gruesome. As mentioned above, Brother Albert was damaged in battle. We see the wound and the leg being sawed off. (Not suitable for the faint of heart) We also see scenes from his early life at home, but this narrow focus eventually broadens into the surroundings and world around him. The play ends with the Brother Albert actor walking off stage and delivering a closing monologue speaking on the subject of John Paul II and the canonization of Brother Albert. In keeping with the spirit of this work, the DVD is not a movie, but a play, so you have to watch it with that in mind. It definitely provided a unique experience and taught me a lot about a saint I knew nothing about. I highly recommend it.

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Roll For It: Deluxe Edition (Calliope Games)

Today, I am going to tell you about a game that plays quickly, is family friendly, and doesn't take up a lot of space on the table or on your shelf. is not as easy as you think. The game is called Roll For It: Deluxe Edition. It plays 2-8 players, ages 8+. It takes about 20 minutes to play and retails for $38, but can be found much cheaper on Amazon.

Setup
1. Give each player all six dice of one color.
2. When playing with 2 to 4 players, pick a deck (Gold or Silver). When playing with more, combine both decks.
3. Shuffle the cards, and form a face-down stack.
4. When playing with 2 to 4 players, deal 3 cards face up. When playing with more, deal four face up.
5. Have each player roll two dice of their dice. The highest total is the starting player.
Game Play
1. Roll your available dice.
2. Match the results of your dice with the images on the face up cards, if you want to.
3. If you match all the images on a face up card, you claim the card and add it to your score.
4. Play passes to the person to your left.
5. Your dice matched to the images on a card remain with that card unless someone scores that card, or you decide to take back your dice at the beginning of your next turn.
6. The game ends immediately when a player scores at least 40 points.

Review
Roll For It: Deluxe Edition is a tiny game that doesn't skimp on presentation. The box is a nice metal tin with a flocked interior, so that you can use it for both storage and a dice tray. The dice are tiny in nature but of high quality and rich, bold colors. Unfortunately, the cards themselves are a little thin for my liking (Sleeves are your friends!), but I like that they contain recognizable Calliope Games characters. The game itself is a very simple to learn dice-management/press-your-luck game. How you assign your dice and to what cards will make or break you in this game. A lot of people will focus heavily on the big point cards, but don't neglect the small ones, as they can add up quickly. Also, do not be afraid to abandon a card, even if you are only one or two dice away from it. Sometimes, it's better to just start over and go for an easier/lower valued card, than to keep chasing that elusive six of a kind. I really enjoyed the fact that I could play this with my son (who is almost 4), and he could easily pick it up. Best of all, it can play up to eight people and won't take up much space if you want to play it on the go.

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

Greedy Claw Crane Game (Twitch Factory)

We all remember going to places like Chuck E. Cheese and playing the arcade games. You wasted tons of quarters, got hundreds of tickets, and ended up trading them in for a giant novelty comb. Every now and then, you would really press your luck and play the crane game! If you're like me, you always came so close to winning, but ended up being crushed because the item ultimately dropped back into the pile of unwinnable prizes. David Sheppard took that experience and turned it into a board game called Greedy Claw Crane Game. is a game for 2-5 players, ages 8+. It takes about 30 minutes to play and will be on Kickstarter later this year.

Setup
1. Give each player a hidden objective card.
2. Grab four random toys, placing them in a stack. Do this three more times to make a 2 x 2 grid.
3. Create stacks of three toys, surrounding the 2 x 2 grid to make a 4 x 4 grid.
4. Finally, create single stacks of toys surrounding the 4 x 4 grid to make a 6 x 6 grid.
5. Pick a corner and roll one die. Move the pawn (the claw) up that many spaces on the grid. Roll another die, and move the pawn that many spaces right. Repeat this using all six dice to get the claw's starting location.
Game Play - Roll all six dice and use at least two each turn. Re-roll any unused dice, and repeat until you can't re-roll. This results in rolling dice one to three times on your turn. A die is spent as movement or grip. You can only move in straight lines and can't cross back over a space you have already been. If your grip meets or exceeds the value on a toy, you claim it. If you pick up a toy with wings on it, you can press your luck and try to win a second toy by re-rolling your movement dice and adhering to the standard rules. The game is played over a series of rounds until a certain $ value is reached by a player.

Review
The game has elements/mechanics of other games I love. There's dice-chucking, press your luck, set-collection, and a little bit of programming. The game itself is easy to teach and learn. It also plays pretty quickly at 2-3 players, but can slow down at 4 and 5. The only really slow/fiddly part of the game is setting up the game and all the prize tokens in the grid. Even though, I was only provided a prototype of the game, the art comes through in capturing the theme. The toys are cute and quirky.The only thing I would change is the background on the tokens, as it can be a bit distracting/busy. That complaint aside, this is a game that would be fun for the whole family. I look forward to seeing how the game components improve and what variability is added as well.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

How to Read Your Way to Heaven (Sophia Institute Press)

Reading is something I love to do, even if it feels like I have enough time for it anymore. I would go so far as to say that reading is the reason I am Catholic. A lot of people convert for different reasons, which I won't bother to dissect here. But I credit my conversion with reading and discovering the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church. Therefore, when I received the book How to Read Your Way to Heaven, I thought that this book was directed at people like me.

The book begins with an introduction by the author, Vicki Burbach, on the importance that books played in her spiritual life/journey. There are then five short chapters that provide the benefits of spiritual reading, such as arming us for battle, keeping us in check, and making us saints. The second part of the book gives us details on how a reading program works with chapters dedicated to Scripture, the Catechism, and writings of the saints throughout the ages. The final part of the book is the heart of the book and gives plans for spiritual reading with lengths of 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years, depending on how advanced you are in past reading and what you think is manageable for your schedule. After summarizing and explaining each plan, there is a checklist which has the readings listed for every day.

How to Read Your Way to Heaven is a very important book for all Christians, but especially Catholics. In it, you not only will learn why it is important to have spiritual reading in your life, but how to have spiritual reading in your life as well. With Lent just underway, I recommend picking up a copy and reading through this book during the season. Afterwards, you should have a clearer understanding and can perhaps follow her yearly plans starting in Easter.

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