Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Spy Club (Foxtrot Games)

When I think of famous characters in children's literature, I think of such names as Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, Encyclopedia Brown, The Boxcar Children, and The Baby-Sitters Club just to name a few. What do all these names have in common? They are all detectives. Yes, when you think about it, mystery series are a staple of children's literature (and adult literature too)! Drawing on this popular genre, Foxtrot Games developed the game Spy ClubSpy Club is a cooperative game for 2-4 players, ages 10+.  It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $45. In this game, you and your fellow detectives will work together to unlock the five clues necessary to solve the case. Let's learn how to play!
1. Situate the Board and Supply - Assemble the puzzle pieces to form the Central Board. Determine the difficulty level you want (standard or advanced), and flip the Central Board to that side. Place the Escape Marker on the bottom space of the escape track of the Central Board. Place all 18 Idea Tokens (light bulbs) within reach of all players.
2. Create the Movement Deck - Take the 25 Movement Cards and divide them into 3 stacks (daytime, sunset, and nighttime). Shuffle each stack and remove one card from each stack. Form a single deck in the proper order of daytime, sunset, and nighttime and place this deck in its spot on the Central Board.
3. Create the Clue Deck - Shuffle the 54 Clue Cards, making sure to cut and flip the cards to create a thorough shuffle. Place this deck in the card tray, and place the tray next to the Central Board. Then, deal out a number of clue cards to the right of the tray, based on the number of players. These are now known as incoming clues. Place a Placard over each incoming clue according to the table in the rule book.
4. Prepare the Player Areas - Give each player two puzzle pieces to form their Player Board. Randomly determine a starting player (I usually go with the youngest!), and deal one card from the top of the clue deck over each empty slot on the players' boards, starting with the first player. This forms a player's hand. Each player places one Focus Token (magnifying glass) on their Player Board below their rightmost card. Each player also receives one Idea Token.
5. Position the Suspect - Place the Suspect Pawn over the rightmost card of the starting player.
6. Select and Name Characters - Have each player select one of the eight Character Cards. Take a blank sticker, writing the name you created for your character on it, and affix it to the lower part of the Character Card.
7. Case 1 Only - Reveal cards 3 and 4 from the Campaign Deck and set them aside. You will flip them when the instructions on the card tell you to do so.
Game Play - The game is played over a series of player turns, until an end game condition is met. On a player's turn, they will perform the following three steps:
1. Use Actions - There are four actions you can take. You may perform up to three, including the same one multiple times.
a. Investigate - Flip any of your Clue Cards (one at a time) in any order. You decide after each flip, whether you want to keep flipping or not.
b. Shift Focus - Move your Focus Token to one of your other Clue Cards. Gain one Idea Token for each Clue Card that is the same aspect (color) of your new Focus Card.
c. Confirm - Move one Clue Card from your hand to the center row. (Note: Doing this will require you to spend Focus Tokens. )
d. Scout - Draw one Clue Card from the incoming clues. (Note: Doing this will require you to spend Idea Tokens.)
*Teamwork Bonus - You may also do bonus activities such as trading cards or taking Idea Tokens from other players.
2. Refill - Fill any empty slots in your hand. Then, fill any empty slots for the incoming clues.
3. Move the Suspect - Reveal the top card of the Movement Deck, and place it face-up on the movement discard track to the right of the previous card.
a. Advance the Escape Marker - If the revealed card has an escape icon, move the escape marker one space. If the marker reaches the "Escaped" space, the case ends immediately!
b. Move the Suspect Pawn - Determine what number on the previous card is connected to the suspect icon and move the Suspect Pawn that number of spaces. An event is then triggered depending on the color of card that the Suspect Pawn ends their movement on.

You will solve aspects of the case by having five cards of the same color in the center row. Of these five cards, the solution card is identified by the symbol in the center of the most recent Movement Card. The game will end in one of five ways with only one resulting in a win. The end game possibilities are : 1 Succeed by solving all five aspects of the case. 2. The Escape Marker reaches the "Escaped" space. 3. You do not have enough ideas to remove from the game when required to do so. 4. You do not have a movement card to draw at the end of player's turn. 5. You do not have enough incoming clues to fill all players' hands.

Note: There are campaign rules where you will be required to solve five cases to win. This adds a newer wrinkle in difficulty and creates a fun way to unlock new rules, change the way you play, add story that will carry forward from one case to the next, and create a wealth of replay value!

Foxtrot Games isn't a publisher that cranks out 20 games a year. Instead, they take their time focusing on one to two games a year, and making those games excellent. This started with Relic Expedition, moved on to Lanterns, World's Fair 1893, Sundae SplitThe Fox in the Forest, and has ultimately led us to Spy Club, arguably their best game to date. Each game is thoughtfully and meticulously crafted in terms of art and game play, making the games visually appealing on your table and welcoming for players of all experience levels. I don't just dole out this praise lightly either, as I own the majority of their catalog, it is well-deserved. However, let's focus primarily on Spy Club.

Spy Club on the surface is a box of colorful double-sided cards that you are trying to match into a five of a kind set in order to solve an aspect of a case. It sounds simple enough, but you are having to manage resources to make these matches happen and also going against a timer in the form of a deck of cards that is going to frustrate you to no end your first couple of plays until you and your group get used to the various actions and bonus actions you can take to match the cards and solve the case. If you master the art of a single game, you can play five separate games to make up a game, and this is where the game really shines.

The campaign mode of Spy Club elevates this game to an 11 out 10 ranking. Yes, you read that correctly. Starting with Case 2, you will unlock new content based on which aspect of Case 1 that you recorded. This will then instruct you which card (from two giant decks of cards) to reveal, read, and alter the way you play the game. I won't go into details how, but it added new challenges to an already great game. What I like best about the campaign mode is that it is not a legacy style format, meaning that nothing you do during the campaign will destroy any cards or components. Instead, it is called a "mosaic" game, meaning that rules and elements of each case will change each time you play. There are 40 different modules and each you only use 4 each game. That means, at a minimum, it will take you 10 games to discover all the modules. In reality, it will take you more as sometimes you will face the same module more than once. That's a lot of replay and value for $45!

This is my #1 family game of the year and a game that I believe belongs on everyone's shelves. There are a lot of cooperative games out there, but they generally fall into one of two camps - 1. Very childlike with no real depth or 2. Doom, gloom, and the end of the world. Spy Club breaks the mold by creating a light and captivating theme. Once you have finished a game, you are then encouraged to make a story out of the five aspects of the case to further immerse yourself in the experience. This help foster imagination in your younger players and gives you a satisfying end to a job well done. I can think of no family game currently that offers the depth and replay that this game does for this price. And while I have not been through every module in this game, I look forward to experiencing them all and hope that there will be an expansion down the line that adds even more modules for us to unlock. Can't recommend this game enough!

Monday, August 27, 2018

First Beginnings and Mysteries of the Old Testament (Angelico Press)

Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich was an Augustinian nun who lived from 1774 to 1824. In addition to being a nun, she was also a stigmatic and ecstatic. Like a lot of saints, she grew up in a poor family. However, she was always very close to God and showed great love for Him and those of His Church, often giving everything she had, leaving her without anything for herself. What was extraordinary about Emmerich is that from an early age, she experienced visions of Old and New Testament scenes. Angelico Press has made it their mission to publish English translations that have been supplemented and revised with material never translated before. Today, I would like to tell you about two of the volumes - First Beginnings and Mysteries of the Old Testament.

First Beginnings starts by talking about angels and the fallen angels. This was equal parts intriguing and terrifying. On the one hand, we see one set of angels choosing God and another set of angels choose self. We then see Hell being created. It isn't overly descriptive, merely described as a dark disc rising from below. Some of the fallen angels remained there, and others still roam trying to lead man to eternal damnation. After this vision, we are walked through the Creation story, Paradise, Adam and Eve, the Fall, and the death of Abel. A brief section is dedicated to the name of Golgotha. This leads to Cain's descendants, Enoch, Noah,, and the construction of the ark. Other figures discussed were Nimrod, Derketo, Semiramis, Melchizedek, and Job.
Mysteries of the Old Testament begins with Joseph being sold into slavery. It talks of the jealousy of his brothers, a description of his coat of many colors, and mention of a special gift Jacob gave to Joseph, some of the bones of Adam. There is then much attention given to Asenath, Joseph's future wife. From the Old Testament, we know very little about her, but here we are given a physical description of her, learn that she is a prophetess, and also are given examples of her great intelligence. The next section details Moses, specifically the burning bush. We see the prefigurement of Mary and the Incarnation in this area. Also included are Elijah (a personal favorite), Elisha, Ezra, and Malachi. Lastly, there is a lengthy passage on the Ark of the Covenant as it related to Abraham, Moses, Mary, and Jesus. This was a truly fascinating section and worth the price of the book alone!

Publishing these volumes was no doubt a monumental effort for Angelico Press, but you can tell it was truly a labor of love. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the Old Testament writings, as I find the people and history of the Old Testament to be fascinating. The level of detail and the illustrations provided make these two books a must read for any student of the Old Testament. I also appreciated the copious amounts of footnotes that were provided, as this gives us better understanding of the visions and the illustrations as well. In addition to these two volumes of the Old Testament, there are ten other volumes in this series that cover the life of the Virgin Mary, people of the New Testament, Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich's own life, and other themes. I am going to have to investigate and read these when I have the chance to get a fuller and more complete picture of the visions Anne experienced and the remarkable life she lived.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Faith and Politics (Ignatius Press)

To say Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) is one of the greatest theologians of our generation is an understatement. He should be classified as one of the most brilliant minds of our generation. Experiencing Hitler's Nazi Germany shaped the way he thought, especially in relation to faith and politics. He wrote a great deal on how these two ideas intersect and interact with each other and Ignatius Press has recently compiled some of these works together in the appropriately named Faith and Politics.

The book begins with a sobering comparison Johann Sebastian Bach's Passion of Christ and Krzysztof Penderecki's Passion. The former details Jesus' Passion and stops before the Resurrection, whereas the latter addresses the sufferings of the people of Auschwitz. This comparison is further built upon, while also discussing the seriousness of man's sinfulness and affliction. This leads us to a section on Jesus and Pilate. In this chapter, we see the hypocrisy of the Jewish people claiming to observe ritual purity, but at the same time lacking purity in their hearts. Pilate, by choosing not to release Jesus though he found him innocent, chose political stability over truth. We then see Augustine in opposition with the politics of Rome and Christians when faced with a totalitarian regime. Ratzinger argues that Christianity killed the notion of a "divine state," and that Christian morality and good must be present in a society. The next and longest section deals with a pluralistic society and the freedom, conscience, and values of the people and the society they are living in. The book ends with a transcript of a debate between Ratzinger and Paolo Flores d'Arcais (an atheist) on the existence of God. In my opinion, the book is worth buying for that transcript alone.

Drawing on Scripture and Church Tradition, Ratzinger shows us how politics and faith intersect and intertwine. More importantly, he demonstrates that without a grounding in faith, politics and society can lose their meaning and their way. As Christians, we are called to live in this world, but not be of this world. Therefore, we must use our faith to help shape our society and not let our society shape our faith. This was a very interesting, enlightening, and sometimes challenging read by Ratzinger, like all of his works. If you are involved in politics or studying politics at school, this will be of more benefit to you than the casual reader.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Villainous (Wonder Forge)

Wonder Forge is a game company known for making great, branded family games. From Richard Scarry to Dr. Seuss to different Disney IP's such as Frozen and The Lion Guard, there is a great variety of games that your children will love! Recently, Wonder Forge released another Disney branded game called Villainous, and with this game, they made a giant splash in the family-friendly strategy level gaming world. Villainous is a game for 2-6 players, ages 10+. It takes just under an hour to play and retails for $40. In the game, you take on the role of an iconic Disney villain (Captain Hook, Jafar, Maleficent Prince John, Queen of Hearts, or Ursula) and attempt to rewrite those "Happily Ever After" endings to something more your liking. For example, Captain Hook would finally get his revenge on the boy who gave him the hook - Peter Pan! Let's learn how to play.
1. Have each player choose a Villain. Then give them their corresponding Board, Pawn, Villain Deck, Fate Deck, and Villain Guide. This is now your Realm.
2. Open your Board, and place your Pawn on the left-most location of the four locations.
3. Check to see if the right-most location has a lock-symbol in the corner, and if it does, place a Lock Token on it.
4. Shuffle your Villain Deck, and place it to the left of your board. Then, draw four cards, keeping them secret from the other Villains.
5. Shuffle your Fate Deck, and place it to the right of your board.
6. Fill the Cauldron with Power Tokens.
7. Finally, pick a starting player and distribute Power Tokens. Player One receives 0. Player Two receives 1. Players Three and Four each receive 2. Players Five and Six each receive 3.
Game Play - On your turn, you will do the following three actions:
1. Move your Villain - Move to a different location on your Board that does not have a Lock Token on it.
2. Perform Actions - Each location on your board has different actions that can be performed. You may perform any visible actions in any order you wish. (Note: All actions are optional) The various actions are:
a. Gain Power - Take Power Tokens from the Cauldron equal to the number on the symbol
b. Play a Card - Play one Card from your hand, paying the cost in Power Tokens.
c. Activate - Choose an Item or Ally in your Realm, and pay the Activation cost to perform it's ability.
d. Fate - Choose an opponent and reveal two Cards from the top of their Fate Deck. Play one and discard the other face-up.
e. Move an Item or Ally - Move one Item or one Ally to an adjacent, non-locked location.
f. Move a Hero - Move one Hero to an adjacent, non-locked location.
g. Vanquish - Defeat one Hero at any location, using Allies at that same location. Once vanquished, both the Hero and Allies are discarded to their appropriate decks.
h. Discard Cards - Discard any number of cards in your hand, you do not wish to keep.
3. Draw Cards - After performing all the Actions you can, draw back up to four Villain Cards in your hand.

Play will pass to the next person and continue going until a Villain completes their Objective on their turn. Evil has won!
Where do I start with the review portion of this post, except WOW! A lot of thought and love went into this game. Let's start with the components. It would have been easy to do cardboard standees or trendy to do miniatures, but they made gorgeous chunky pawns in shapes representative of your evil. Those pieces alone give the game a good table presence. The box is a wicked green and black that lets you know that this isn't your ordinary Disney game of good winning. On a slightly negative note, I will ask Wonder Forge to start shrink-wrapping their games and stop using those horrible stickers that leave a residue upon removal.

The art in this game is custom artwork of famous characters, items, and scenes from your favorite Disney film. Every card you draw will take you back to your childhood and watching these iconic films...or in my case last Saturday with the wife and kid. :)

With all the eye candy this game offers, where it really shines is in the game play. Though each character essentially plays the same, there are different objectives to complete in order to win. Each player has two decks of cards that are unique from any other player's deck. This adds a little bit of asymmetry to the game and makes you learn not only the character you are playing, but the other characters as well. How you move around in your realm and play your Villain cards will only get you so far in this game. You also need to be able to control your Fate and steer the Fate of others as well.

The theme comes through very well in this game. Yes, what it boils down to is your gathering power to play certain cards to win the game, but it feels like so much more. It feels like you are actually trying to rewrite the script to the movie. I think that is what I like best about this game. It would have been so easy (and lazy) to make this a game about "misunderstood" villains who aren't actually evil. No, this game you are evil and you are trying to succeed in your plot.

It may feel weird to play that role, but it is actually a blast if you let yourself relax and have fun with it. With the ability to play six players, and there being an equal number of male and female characters, this is a game that is great for anyone and everyone. I would go so far as to say that this is in my Top 2 family games of the year and belongs on every family game shelf! I will play this game anytime and anywhere, and I hope that there is a future expansion which unlocks some more villains like Cruella de Vil, Scar, Gaston, Shere Khan, etc.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Kings, Queens, and Giants (Blue Orange Games)

One of my biggest passions is tabletop games, more casually known as "board games." I hesitate to use the term "board games," because when you say that people think Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, etc. And while these were fine games for their time, there are thousands of better games out there now. All you have to do is walk into a Target, and you'll see "modern classics" like 7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride, Catan, and Carcassonne. Even these modern classics have been improved upon, and now there is so much selection, I guarantee that there is a game out there for you. Lately, I've been trying to get my son to play better games. Yes, I know that sounds snobby, but you can only Pop the Pig so many times. I've tried a couple of different games with him, and the one that has been the biggest hit is KingdominoKingdomino is a game for 2-4 players, ages 8+. It takes 15 minutes to play and retails for $20. In this game, you are a royal trying to expand your kingdom into  new lands. The object of the game is to have the highest scoring 5 x 5 grid.
1. Give each player a starting square tile, a 3-D castle and a king (pawn) of matching color. (Note: If playing with two players, you get two pawns.)
2. Shuffle the 48 dominoes, putting them back in the box so that the numbered sides are facing you.
3. Draw the first four dominoes, arranging them in numerical order, and then flip them face-up.
4. Initial player order is determined by randomly drawing the kings from a player's hand. In turn order, each player will place their king on a domino.
5. Four more dominoes are then drawn and again arranged in numerical order and flipped face-up.
Game Play - Players will always take two actions.
1. Add the previously selected domino to their kingdom. (Note: When placing a domino, you must stay within a 5 x 5 grid, and at least one of the two terrains on the domino must match one of the two terrains of another domino already in your kingdom.)
2. Select a new domino from the new line of four. After all dominoes are selected, you draw four new dominoes, arrange in numerical order, and flip face-up.

The game ends when the dominoes run out. Take each territory, count the number of connecting terrain squares and multiply that number by the total number of crowns in that territory. The highest score is the winner.
Playing through this game was an absolute delight. I wasn't sure what to expect, but despite this game being a bit light, it still has a fair bit of strategy as well. What I like best about the game is the art. Each domino is bold and vibrant in color with unique little pictures on each one. This creates a unique-looking kingdom each time you play and just creates a wonderful image to behold when you are done. The quality of the components is also very high with them using very thick cardboard, so you know the game will gold up to multiple plays. I'm not surprised this game won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) in 2017. It's is quick, fun, beautiful, and even my 5 year old son can play it and win!

With that said, no modern game would be complete without an expansion and a stand-alone expansion. Let's start with the expansion called Kingdomino: Age of Giants. With this expansion, you are now able to play Kingdomino with five people. However, it comes with a catch! There are now twelve tiles that picture Giants and Giant Footsteps. If you take a tile with a Giant on it, you are given a large wooden giant to place into your kingdom and cover one of your crowns. If you take a tile with Giant Footsteps, you remove a wooden giant from your kingdom and give it to someone else to place in their kingdom. This adds a level of interaction that a lot of people (my wife) don't like, as it means you win by sabotaging someone and not on your own merits. I didn't mind it so much, as the game plays quickly, but if this were a longer game I would agree with her.

The other feature added is Challenge Tiles. There are 17 tiles total, and each game you will pick two. These serve as end-game bonuses to aim for (complete 5x5 grid, castle in the middle of your grid, etc.) and add more replay value to the game as you'll have to adapt your strategy each game to meet these goals. I love this feature, and while that one is a little tougher for newer or younger gamers, they will get the hang of it after a few plays. I will always play with the challenge tiles, and only sometimes play with the giants!

Queendomino is a "standalone expansion" to Kingdomino. What this means is that it the game can be played by itself, or it can be combined with Kingdomino to either play with more players or allow four players to make a bigger 7 x 7 grid. This game is a step-up in difficulty from Kingdomino. Why? Because women are more complicated than men. Just kidding! In addition to building a normal kingdom, there is the introduction of knights, towers, a dragon, and a queen. There are also taxes to collect, which will aid in your construction of buildings. These buildings give you additional crowns and can score you end game points. At times, I like the extra difficulty, but sometimes nothing beats a classic. I do like that I can combine the game with Kingdomino or Age of Giants, and I am hoping that soon there will be a way to combine all three, but I wager if that is the case there will be a fourth game coming soon...perhaps Jackdomino? Time will tell!

Overall, I am a big fan and proponent of these games. You can play them with almost anyone, combine them, mix-and-match them, and it will give you a fun and rewarding experience every time. If you are looking for great family games, check out this product line and other great titles from Blue Orange Games!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Mary Mother of Jesus and I Went to Mass: What Did I See?

Mary Mother of Jesus is a cute, little board book from Pauline Books and Media. It is written by Sister Marlyn Evangelina Monge and illustrated by Mary Rojas. The book begins by introducing us to Mary and Joseph, telling us about the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. It ends by teaching us about the Assumption and Coronation of Mary and reminding us that she is not only Jesus' mother, but also ours. The writing style felt a bit stilted, as the author used the phrase "very much" a lot, but I have to remind myself that this is for children so repetition is good! The art is bright and colorful with pictures that really enforce the core concepts about Mary.  I especially like that the cover has some glitter texture, as younger children like to see and feel. I also liked that the Crucifixion and Resurrection were discussed. These are hard concepts for children, but it's never too early to introduce your children to these truths. The only thing I would change is that I wish it would have talked about Mary's parents, but I believe the aim of the book was still Jesus through the lens of Mary, which is exactly a model for her life!
I Went to Mass: What Did I See? is a lovely, hardcover book from TAN Books.  It is written by Katie Warner and illustrated by Meg Whalen. I would describe the illustrations as pencil sketches with color used sparingly to emphasize importance. The writing style is a pattern of a child saying, I went to Mass. What did I see?" We then receive the answer in the form of a holy water font, incense, the Eucharist, etc. When we are given the answer on each set of pages, that is when the black and white drawings receive their pop of color, i.e., blue for the holy water and gold for the swinging censer. The book has a great rhythm and is subtly educational without your child realizing they are learning at all. This is a beautiful book for Catholic children and one that you should get any new Catholic as it is one they can read to their little one and instill an early love of the Mass. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Pioneer Days (Tasty Minstrel Games)

On July 24th, people in Utah celebrate Pioneer Day. This day commemorates the entry of Brigham Young  and the first group of Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Due to the lack of inclusiveness for non-Mormons, a counterculture movement has created "Pie and Beer Day." With that in mind, it seemed like a good time to review Tasty Minstrel Games' latest release, appropriately entitled Pioneer Days! In Pioneer Days, you and up to three other settlers will guide your wagons along the famous Oregon Trail. Build a capable team, gather your resources and equipment, and see if you will survive the perils of this harsh trek. Pioneer Days plays 2-4 players, ages 14+. It takes approximately one hour to play and retails for $60.
1. Randomly assign the horseshoe (start player token) to a player.
2. Place the 36 Gold Tokens into the gold bag.
3. Place 1 set of dice (yellow, green, blue, red, and black) and 1 set of dice per player into the black bag.
4. Set the two game boards (main and score) side by side in the center of the table, placing each player's wagon (Scoring Marker) at the beginning of the score track.
5. Put the four Disaster Markers (yellow, green, blue, and red) at the beginning spaces on the disaster track of the main board.
6. Put the 20 Wagon Cards near the game boards.
7. There are 60 Townsfolk Cards (five sets of 12 cards). Pick two sets and shuffle them. Then, deal out six in the spaces under the main board.
8. Shuffle the 22 Town Cards and place nine in the spot indicated on the main board. Return the remaining 13 to the box. Then, flip two of the nine cards face-up in their spots on the main board.
9. Give two Player Boards to each player. From the two, they will pick one and return the other to the box. One side of each board has a standard pioneer. The other side has a unique pioneer. Take your starting resources listed on your Player Board.
10. Put the cattle, medicine, wood, damage, silver, and favor tokens near the game boards.
11. Mix the 27 Equipment Tiles face down and stack them on the General Store section of the main board. Turn one face up and an additional one for each player in the game.
Game Play - The game is played over four rounds (called Weeks) with each round being comprised of five turns (called Days). I guess they didn't have weekends in Pioneer Times! Each Day each player will select a die and use it. Each day proceeds as follows:
1. The starting player draws one die, plus one more die per player and rolls them.
2. Beginning with the starting player and going clockwise, each player will take a die and note the image on it. Check if you have a Townsfolk Card or Equipment Tile that triggers the die. (Note: You may pay three silver to change the die face.) You will then use the die to take silver, take an action, or recruit a townsfolk. Then, discard the die to the appropriate space on the board.
3. After everyone has taken a die, one die will remain. Advance the Disaster Marker on the main board of the matching color. If it is a black die, advance all the Disaster Markers. When a Disaster Marker reaches the end of its track, a disaster is triggered. (Note: Multiple disasters can be triggered.)
4. Pass the starting player token, and repeat the first three steps. After five days, the dice bag is empty and you perform the following end of the week actions (also known as visiting town). Resolve card effects. Score one victory point per cattle. Satisfy the needs of face-up town cards to earn favors.

After each week, refill the dice bag and reset the main board with two new Town Cards, new Equipment Tiles, and six new Townsfolk Cards. If it's the end of the fourth week, before visiting town, advance the Disaster Markers one more time and resolve any triggered disasters. Visit town, calculate your final score, and see who the winner is!

This game has a lot of components in the box. From tokens to tiles to cards and lots of dice, you'll definitely get your money's worth in pieces if you buy this game. But does the game play itself warrant the price? For starters, the game feels like a Tasty Minstrel Games, and that is not a bad thing. If you have ever played Harbour or Harvest, then you will be familiar with double-sided characters. On one side, everyone has the same character and on the other side, everyone has a different one. This same side gives everyone the same footing when learning the game and the different sides gives that little bit of asymmetry that will give you different games and different strategies every time! The different sides are also highly thematic and will provide you with a gambler, a tracker, a prospector, and a trader just to name four. This is a big positive!

Another big positive is the Townsfolk Cards. As I stated earlier, there are five sets, and you only use two of those sets every game. This means that there are ten possible combinations you can play with and again creates more variety in the game. In one game, you might encounter a carpenter, a doctor, and a cowboy, but in a different game you might encounter a swindler, trader, or even a bride! Knowing the cards are different each game and knowing that they will appear in different orders each game, means no two games will ever be the same and you'll have to constantly adjust your strategy.

Playing through the game was fairly quick and pretty intuitive. Turns did not take long, and there was little downtime for players. The art was cartoony but fit in well with the game and the component quality was high. As for the theme, it fell a bit flat for me. I  have seen several people compare this to the old computer game Oregon Trail, which we all know and love. I did not feel that way with this game. Sure you are travelling the Oregon Trail, but I didn't feel the sense of travel or journey with this game. It felt more like solving a puzzle of optimizing my different cards, tiles, and dice I chose. With that said, it is still a solid game and an under-represented theme in the board game world. I look forward to exploring it more, trying new strategies, and hoping there are small expansions that give us more players and townsfolk.

This game was provided to me by Tasty Minstrel Games in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Monks' Daily Bread and The Monks' Stormy Night (TAN Books)

TAN Books has been an established Catholic publisher for years, always producing quality books that are edifying to read and a pleasure to own. Here recently, they have started focusing on producing quality children's books as well, which is great news indeed, because if you want your children to grow up to be adult Catholics, you have to instill the faith in them early. Today, I would like to tell you about two books called The Monks' Daily Bread and The Monks' Stormy Night. Both of them are written by Sylvia Dorham and illustrated by Christopher Tupa.

The Monks' Daily Bread introduces us to the monks who live in the Archangel Monastery. It shows us their daily chores, schedules, and routine. However, unlike normal days at the monastery, there is no food to eat this particular day. Their leader, Father Abbot, tells them that Jesus will provide for them and insists that they all get to work since there is currently no food to eat. As the day goes by, and the monks continue to work, pray, study, and learn, they grow more and more hungry. Eventually a delivery truck with food arrives, and the monks are saved. Father Abbot reminds them how Jesus fed the multitudes, and all the monks give thanks.
In The Monks' Stormy Night, the winter season has set in at Archangel Monastery and snow is everywhere! Unfortunately, the monks again are having some drama in their lives. This time they have food to eat, but no furnace to keep them warm. The monks have to put on more clothes, but still continue about their daily routines. However, in the middle of the night, things go from bad to worse as lightning knocks over a tree and cuts out the electricity and the water pipes have frozen and burst. Eventually the sun returns, and the monks remember that God is with them in bad times and good times!

These two books are short (each approximately 30 pages) and cute in both wording and illustrations. The story has a sing-song feel to it with some simple rhyming on each page that will appeal to younger children. The illustrations have a Sunday morning comic feel to them, and I would describe them as vibrant in color and full of life and whimsy! What I like best about these books is that on the last page is a Scripture verse that related to the story. This gives your child something to memorize and take what they learned to heart. I love these books and I love TAN Books for stepping up their selection of children's books!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Catholic Comic Book Bible: The Gospel of Luke (TAN Books)

I am always on the look out for new Catholic Bibles. If I'm being honest with myself, I'm a bit of a collector. There are several translations out there (NAB, NABRE, RSVCE and Douay-Rheims), and within those translations, there are different footnotes, maps, commentaries, etc. It makes me happy just thinking about it! Lately, I've been looking for a Bible for my son. Granted, he has several already, but I haven't quite found the one I am looking for. That's why when I heard about The Catholic Comic Book Bible, I was excited to read it.

The Catholic Comic Book Bible is currently composed of two volumes - The Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. This is very fitting, because these two books actually read like one book broken into two parts. Each volume is $14.95, which can be a little steep, if this turns into a 73 volume set, but as a Bible collector/enthusiast, I wouldn't hesitate to pay it. The translation used is the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) and illustrations are done by Neely Publishing. The illustration style has a pencil-sketch feel to it and at times it comes off a little crude. However, it serves its purpose and is not so garish that it distracts from the text, which is where the real value lies.
The book does a wonderful job of creating a Bible but giving it a fresh take for younger eyes. For starters, this isn't an abridged version or paraphrase, your child will get the complete text of Luke and Acts. Your child will also be able to reference exactly where they are, as there are headings on the top of the pages, chapter breaks, and each verse is individually numbered. The text is formatted in a way that the narrative parts and the spoken parts are distinctly separate and it creates a nice flow and presentation.There are also footnotes at the bottom that give alternate translations of the text as well.

Overall, I am highly impressed with these two books. The Catholic Comic Book Bible is another example of the New Evangelization. This is a very appealing Bible for tweens and teens and perhaps even young adults. I hope to see this series continue, perhaps with some Old Testament books like Genesis or Exodus. If you have teenagers in your household and want them to read the Bible, then I recommend this series for you and them!

These books were provided to me by TAN Books in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Road to Bethlehem: Journeys Through Time and Space

As I play more games and own more games, I am beginning to become more discerning. Time, space, and funds are all limited so you have to be more discerning when separating the wheat from the chaff. Recently, I was introduced to a new and interesting game called The Road to Bethlehem. As you can probably assume by the name, The Road to Bethlehem takes place in biblical times. You and your fellow participants are TAU Time Travelers who have journeyed back 2000 years into the past to the time when Christ was born. The game plays 3 to 8 people, ages 8+. It currently retails on Amazon for $89.
How to Play
First, you will need to gather everyone around the table and pick a Game Master. Think of this role as similar to a dungeon master in Dungeons and Dragons. Unlike the fantasy game though, you will have a full book of narratives to draw from and won't have to pull from your own creativity (or lack thereof in my case). Each journey or adventure will start with an encounter with the Archangel Raphael. Raphael will ask a signature question and then distribute equipment tokens. One player draws the first Encounter Card and the Game Master will read the narrative aloud, presenting the team with a number of choices on how they wish to proceed. A team decision must then be reached, and then a challenge of some sort is given to the players to perform. These challenges can include answering questions or completing some physical task using outside materials like paper and toothpicks. Once the challenge is completed or time expires, the challenge is scored. Based on the score, players attributes can increase or decrease. This will influence how the adventure goes and eventually ends. Will you meet the Holy Family at the time Christ was born or not? If you do meet them, under what circumstances will it be?
If I am being honest, which I always try to be when I am writing a review, I have mixed feelings about this game. For starters, I always have reservations about religious games. Usually, the game play is inferior compared to other modern board games. This is one of the few exceptions. The stories in The Book of Adventures do a splendid job of leading the game master and adventurers on a multi-branching path. You will not always win and you will get frustrated at times in your failures, but this book is the heartbeat of the game.

The other big positive of this game is the component quality. The cardboard and cardstock in this game are of high quality. Other pieces feel/appear laser-cut to ensure that when you pick up pieces in this game, they will have a nice feel in your hands. Unfortunately, with this quality comes a pretty hefty price tag. At the moment, $89 is a steep price to pay for a game for most families, even one as unique as this. However, I have been told by the publisher that this game is what you would call a base game, meaning there will be additional expansions/scenarios. So what you are buying is a "system" to play with different books you can "plug in and play" to give you more replay value.  However, this price tag, I fear still might mean families won't spend that much for it, so I instead encourage you to recommend this game to your parish or school religious education program! The other note on the components is that the box doesn't come with everything you need. There are tasks you are asked to do that require random household items, like paper or toothpicks (in fairly large quantities). Most people will feel that for the price tag, everything should already be in the box. Playing through the game, my family and friends really enjoyed the experience it provided. Yes, there were some fiddly parts involved with the game play, but there was a nice tension when playing of, "Will we succeed? Will we meet the Holy Family?"
This game was provided to me for free by the creator in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Bringing the Gospel of John to Life (Our Sunday Visitor)

Today, I am reviewing Bringing the Gospel of John to Life. This is the fourth and final book of George Martin's series, with each of these thick and meaty books being published by Our Sunday Visitor. The book is a whopping 600+ pages long and is what you would call a verse-by-verse commentary. The book and some of the other chapters begin with the author providing us some orientation to the Scripture passage we are about to read. Each chapter is then broken down into sections with the Scripture passage first, followed by some cross-references to other Scripture passages. After this, each verse is given a commentary on the meaning of the passage with focus on language, symbolism, and relation to other passages in Scripture. There are also little "bonus" sections sprinkled throughout the book entitled Background which covers a wide variety of topics, including Bethany, Capernaum, Satan, etc.

This book is brilliantly written and provides a thorough exposition of the Gospel. The whole four volume set is one that belongs in any student of the Bible's library. What I like best about this book is that it includes the Scripture and the commentary. Therefore, you don't need to go back and forth between your Bible and this book, but have it all in one convenient volume. Another great thing about this book is the language used. A lot commentaries, which are great, can overwhelm you with knowledge and be just too deep for most people. This commentary, however, is straightforward and to the point. George Martin spells out the Gospel in black and white and makes it accessible for everyone. I recommend this book (or any of the other three in this series), but recommend you read through them slowly and absorb as much knowledge as you can.

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Scripture Footnotes (Our Sunday Visitor)

Have you ever wondered what it was like in the times of Jesus? I know we have the Gospels and other historical accounts, but not everyone has the time to spend doing that much research and reading. Thankfully, there were great men and women before us who did and compiled it in an easy to read format. George Martin wrote just such a book and titled it Scripture Footnotes, a clever title because footnotes are helpful text when reading something difficult and because he wants us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. For those of you unfamiliar with George Martin, he was the founding editor of the Scripture magazine God's Word Today. He also wrote one of the best series on the Gospels called Bringing the Gospel of Matthew/Mark/Luke/John to Life, all of which were published by Our Sunday Visitor. Today, however, I would just like to focus on Scripture Footnotes. The book is approximately 150 pages long and is divided into the following seven sections:

1. Daily Life in the Time of Jesus
2. The Lay of the Land: Regions and places
3. The Lay of the Land: Towns
4. The Jewish World of Jesus
5. The People in Jesus' World
6. What Comes Next?
7. Jesus

Each section is then broken down into subsections that are a paragraph or a page long. Such subsections talk about different languages - Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek; what people ate, who were the different Jewish groups, etc. Sections Two and Three, "The Lay of the Land" were the most interesting sections in this book for me. I can't tell you how many different times I have been reading a Gospel passage and wanted to pull out a map or get a better idea of the significance of the places Jesus visited. For example, in this book I learned that Tiberias was a capital city constructed by Herod Antipas. While it was being constructed, a cemetery was discovered there making it unclean for Jews to live there, and a big reason why mainly Gentiles lived there. During his time on this earth, Jesus never visited there, despite its close proximity to Capernaum. However, he did gain several followers from there, so word of Him spread there despite His never setting foot there.

This is a quick and simple read. You can sit down and just flip to the sections that pertain what you are currently reading in the Gospels or parts that interest you most, or you can sit down and read it in one sitting without meaning to like I did. After reading through this book, you will see a great increase in your knowledge of the Gospels and will want to dive deeper into your studies, re-reading the Gospels alongside this book. Highly recommended!

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

Friday, June 29, 2018

Priests - What Lies Ahead? (Ignatius Press)

Priests are one of the greatest gifts Jesus left us before ascending into Heaven. They have the ability to turn bread and wine into Christ's Body and Blood. They also have the ability to forgive sins and reconcile us back to Christ and His Church. But what exactly is a priest? A priest is Christ's representative on Earth. He is teacher, father, physician, and pastor. In the book Priests - What Lies Ahead?, author Fr. Carlos Granados interviews four other priests to discuss the four roles of priesthood. Fr. Granados believes each of these four priests exemplifies one of these roles and has a dialogue with each of them on the role they best exemplify.

We start with an interview of Archbishop Luis F. Ladaria, where they discuss the role of priest as teacher. He talks about the influence different priests have had on his life, as well as living under 6 different popes, and which one he feels had the most impact on his life. He then talks about Christ not being a teacher, but THE Teacher, and how the Sermon on the Mount and his discourse at the Last Supper define his teaching. There is then a transition to discussing the Church Fathers and what we can learn from them. The big takeaway from this chapter is that the priest nourishes his flock, not just in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but also in the the Liturgy of the Word. The next chapter discusses priestly fatherhood with George Cardinal Pell, and this was a very eye-opening chapter, because it spends some time discussing how society has been trying to kill the role of the father for a long time. They also discuss the priest as a companion on the path of the Sacraments of First Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage. The last two chapters are interviews with Monsignor Livio Melina and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. These two chapters focus heavily on the shift in society, abandonment of tradition, sexual revolution, divorce, etc. They discuss how the priest can help heal society and what we can hope for from current and future priests.

This was a very interesting book to read through. As a layperson, it is easy to see priests in a different light than other men. We might put them on too high of a pedestal or hold them to an unfair standard, if they do something we don't agree with. Even worse, we might not think about them at all and just see them once a week as the person in the front of the Church who gives us Communion. None of these are fair ways to think about these men of God. Yes a priest is alter Christus (another Christ), but they are living, breathing men who are called by God to serve Him and His Church. This book helps shed some light on a life many of us will never experience or understand and shows us just how important the priest is, not just to the Catholic Church but to the world as a whole. Highly recommended for seminarians, new priests, old priests, or anyone wanting to know more about priests.

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

Monday, June 25, 2018

Wreck Raiders (KTBG)

As my son gets older, I am trying to play more and more games with him, partly because I want him to unplug from electronics (not that I try to expose him to too much of that) and see the exciting world that games can bring you and partly because I am selfish and want another person to play games with me. We've tried various classics from my childhood and while they serve their purpose of teaching basic gaming skills, they don't seem to hold his attention throughout a whole game. Thankfully, there are great gaming companies out there who focus their catalog specifically on children and I would argue that the best one is Kids Table Board Gaming (KTBG). Presently, they have released Foodfighters, Problem Picnic, and Haunt the House, and I am the proud owner of all three. However, I am not here to tell you about those three games. Instead, I am going to tell you about their latest game currently on Kickstarter. It is called Wreck Raiders, and it plays 2-4 players ages 10+. It takes about 45 minutes to play, and it can be yours for a pledge of 38 Canadian dollars on Kickstarter! In this game, you are the leader of a team of treasure hunters exploring a lagoon for shipwrecks. You will work on creating exhibits and aquariums for the museum, but also build up your own vault as well!
1. Place the board in the middle of the table.
2. Shuffle the four Treasure Piles face down in the respective groups, and place them near their respective spots on the board.
3. Put the three types of Baubles near the beach end of the board.
4. Shuffle the Exhibits deck and reveal a number equal to one plus the number of players.
5. Shuffle the three stacks of Aquarium tiles (bottoms, middles, and tops), and create a market with three face-up tiles of each stack.
6. Give each player a Player Mat, a colored Player Marker, and a certain number of Divers in their color based on player count.
7. Pick a random start player (which in my house is usually my son).
8. Take the box lid and flip it upside down to form the Dice Pool. You will use a certain number of dice based on player count. For the first turn of the game, the starting player will roll the dice into the Dice Pool (or in my case, my son will roll them every time they need rolling). Note: When you roll the dice, roll them with gusto! If any dice end up slightly in a bauble zone (square), place the dice squarely in there, so that it is obvious to all players and can't be nudged out when someone (again my son) bumps the box lid and moves the dice by mistake.
Game Play - On your turn, you can perform up to four steps in the following order:
1. Take a Die From the Pool - Choose one of the remaining dice. If none are remaining, roll them as described above. Note: If the die is in a Bauble Zone, claim the indicated Bauble.
2. Move a Diver and Collect Rewards - Choose one of your Divers and move it to a numbered spot matching the value of the Die you claimed from step one. You may move to the beach or a wreck. You then get the appropriate Baubles or Treasures depending where your Diver went.
3. Claim One or More Exhibits (if you want to) - If one or more of your three display lines matches one of the Exhibits, you may claim it by discarding the appropriate Treasures. Note: It is possible to get bonus points by adding decorations or having Treasures in the exact order.
4. Buy One Aquarium Piece (if you want to) - Once per turn, if you have the appropriate baubles, you can claim an Aquarium tile. Note: You must start with a bottom, can have multiple middles, and only have one top.
The game will trigger when a player has a number of Exhibits equal to the number of Divers they started with. Final scores are based on Exhibits, Vaults, and Aquariums with the highest score being the winner!
Before I get into the review for this game, I'd like to say a little note about the company itself. Having played through all four games in KTBG's catalog, it has been fascinating to watch their company and their games mature. They have always aimed to publish games that kids and adults can play together, but with each subsequent game they release, they are introducing new mechanics, stretching our brains a little more, and helping us to grow as gamers. Now, onto the actual review.

1. The art and graphics in this game are phenomenal! Apolline Etienne (artist from other KTBG title Haunt the House) really knocked this one out of the park. The sea creatures are vibrant and life-like, and it's great to see the variety of creatures from puffer fish to narwhals (a personal favorite of my wife).
2. The game play is intuitive but it provides you a nice crunchy feeling in your brain, deciding which dice to take and where to place your worker. Do I place my worker next to my opponent's worker and give them a benefit too, or do I go somewhere else, so only I get the benefit?
3. There is also a nice tension of deciding what do with all the treasures and baubles you collect. Do I use my baubles to build my aquarium or for short term benefits like making a wild card or taking an extra treasure? And my treasures...oh boy, that almost feels press your luck. I get extra points for having the same colors and unique pieces on the colors, but if I grab a duplicate and can't use it to build an exhibit, then I lose some points. Lots to think about!

1. About the only neutral I have is the game box being used as a dice pool as well. I love the idea in theory, because it is done like this in another game I love - Rattle, Battle, Grab the Loot. However, there is potential for this to end poorly. If the box gets crushed, ripped, or something else, then a large portion of the game is effectively ruined as well.

1. This is a nitpitck, but the game is recommended for ages 10+, and while that's fair, I would argue not your average 10 year old. Most 10 year olds can grasp the basics and core of this game, but I can see where this game could be more geared towards a seasoned 10 year old gamer or an adult. In that regards, I would compare it to Takenoko in that it is approachable and easy to learn, but someone with more experience could crush you by optimizing their moves.

Bearing all this in mind, my family and I highly enjoyed this game. The game play is fun and engaging, the art keeps captivating you each time you play it, and the game always ends with you wishing you had just one more turn. These are the hallmarks of a great game. Highly recommended!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Epistles and The Apocalypse (Holy Trinity Seminary Press)

Archbishop Averky (Taushev) was the fourth abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. He was one of the leading teachers of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th Century and is probably best known for his exposition on the New Testament. Holy Trinity Publications has published these books in three volumes, and I have been blessed to read and review each volume. Today, I am wrapping up this series with Volume Three - The Epistles and The Apocalypse. The book is a beautiful hardcover, like the previous two volumes and is divided into four main parts:

1. The Epistles of the Holy Apostle Paul
2. The Pastoral Epistles of the Holy Apostle Paul
3. The General Epistles
4. The Apocalypse (The Book of Revelation)

Part One contains Romans to Second Thessalonians. Part Two contains First Timothy to Hebrews, which is still debated if Paul wrote or not. Part Three contains James to Jude. Part Four is strictly Revelation. With the Pauline Epistles, we have an introduction that covers the significance of his epistles and why they are difficult to study, a context for the epistles, and a fascinating section covering the life of St. Paul. Each epistle is then given its own specific introduction, which covers subjects such as purpose, place and time, authenticity, structure, and the meat of the book - a lengthy section on exegetical analysis. The section on Revelation follows the same format. However, the exegetical analysis is much more in-depth, and feels verse-by-verse, as opposed to the briefer analysis given to the epistles. I imagine this is because Revelation has been so misconstrued and misinterpreted over the years that it needed an in-depth analysis.

This book is not only beautiful in its presentation and layout, it is also beautifully written. Even though, Archbishop Averky was a wise teacher in his own right, he also drew on the writings of other saints when doing Biblical exegesis. His primary two sources of wisdom and inspiration were St. John Chrysostom and St. Theophan the Recluse. However, for the Apocalypse, he also relied heavily on St. Andrew of Caesarea, who is THE best Church Father to read when it comes to reading the book of Revelation. If you are looking for a brilliant and approachable exposition on the New Testament, I highly recommend this three volume set from Holy Trinity Publications!

This book was provided to me for free by Holy Trinity Publications.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Apostles and Their Times (Sophia Institute Press)

If you want to learn about the Early Church Fathers (and Mothers), then the author you need to read is Mike Aquilina. He has provided Catholics with countless books, which are both excellent and approachable, and I am forever grateful for each and every one of those books. Today, I am reviewing one of his newer books called The Apostles and Their Times. I consider it a prequel of sorts to his other books, because without the Apostles, we wouldn't have the Fathers.

The book begins with an introduction that defines five key terms - minister, martyr, bishop, liturgy, and Eucharist. We then begin the book with a history of the Israelites and the value they placed in Jerusalem. To the Israelites, Jerusalem was the center of their world, and from this heavenly city, they awaited for their messiah to appear. When Jesus finally does arrive, there are several branches of Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) and each of them were looking for their own version of the Messiah. Therefore, few people accepted Jesus was the Messiah, because he wasn't the messiah they were looking for. Chapter Two explains to us what an Apostle is and how the term rarely appeared in the Gospels, but cropped up numerously in Acts and the Epistles. This leads us to the chapter on Pentecost, which is where the Church was born! The book continues by talking about martyrdom, Saul's persecution, and the new importance of Rome thanks to Peter and Paul.

Within this book, we not only are are treated to portraits of who the Apostles were, but through ancient documents and recent archaeological findings, we get to see them in their cultural context. This not only gives us a clearer picture of them, but also helps humanize these saints as well. By seeing them through the lens of their time and culture, we realize these weren't superhuman people, but fallible men just like us. They had strengths and weaknesses, temptations and sins, just like us. However, they relied on God, persevered, and most all were martyred for their beliefs. It was this witness of martyrdom that helped the Church to not only survive, but grow and thrive and continue on to this very day. Highly recommend this book, and any book that Mike Aquilina writes.

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bird Books from TOON Books

TOON Books is one of the more clever publishers of children's books. The reason for this is because they have unique authors and artists and present their books in comic form. Now, not all people like reading a book with this type of graphic style, but to those who do, you'll be hard pressed to find a better publisher for children. Today, I'm looking at three of their "bird books." Each book is a 9" x 6" hardcover, which is an unusual shape on the bookshelf, but definitely stands out.
Birdsong is an unusual book inspired by the Japanese art of Kamishibai. For those unfamiliar with this form of theater, like me, there is an explanation in the back of the book. Basically, it is a series of pictures with no text, and the person with the pictures can tell whatever story they want to with these pictures. Within this book, we see two mean and cruel children who are cruel to animals. They injure a bird and continue to chase it after its injury. During their pursuit, they are transformed into monkeys and must now live a much harder life. This is an interesting book that gives your child free reign to tell their own story and let their creativity soar. However, the pictures also give us a warning on treating nature and animals with respect.
The Real Poop on Pigeons gives us a brief overview and history on pigeons, or what most people call them "rats with wings." This includes such facts as pigeons being the first airmail and being able to fly faster than a car and race without stopping. We are also given a detailed anatomy of this bird, as well as the different varieties of pigeons. I didn't know there were so many due to breeding. There is also a brief section that discusses Pablo Picasso's fascination with this unusual bird. As someone who can't really stand these birds, it was an interesting read that showed how beautiful and useful these birds can be. Your kids will love it because it has "poop" in the title and it also has funny illustrations.
A Goofy Guide to Penguins is a tongue-in-cheek book that explains everything you ever wanted to know about penguins and more. It tells how they look the same far away but not close up, why they like to stand up, and how they stay out of the wind. It also talks about how and why they catch fish, and also how they excel at swimming but not at flight. The book has hilarious illustrations that my son enjoyed, because it was taking common facts about penguins and putting a funny twist on them. We see fish showering on top of whales, using a space heater, and diving off a diving board. At the end of the book is a couple of actual facts on penguins to supplement the less than factual nature of the main book. Highly enjoyable book for kids.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fatima in Brief (Catholic Faith Alive)

The sheer amount of material written on Fatima could fill a little library. While there are some truly great books out there, there are also some not so great ones that range from misinformed to heretical. With all of these books out there, where is an uninformed person to turn to separate the good from the bad? I am not qualified to answer that question for you, but instead I can tell you what book you should start with on your quest to understanding this Marian apparition. That book is Fatima in Brief by Rev. T.G. Morrow. The book is a small paperback, only 100 pages in length. It can be purchased at Catholic Faith Alive for $6 (plus shipping).

The book is divided into thirteen chapters with each chapter being no more than twelve pages. The language is also written in a simple format so that both children and adults can understand it. The book begins by telling a story of the six year old Lucia, who desired to received the Eucharist more than anything. Unfortunately for her, the age for First Communion was ten at the time. Brokenhearted at being unable to receive, she began to cry. However, a visiting priest named Fr. Cruz heard her tears and helped her received her First Communion the following day. At the moment, the host touched her tongue, her life was forever transformed. She prayed to God that day to make her a saint, and little did she know, she was well on her way. The rest of the book takes on the journey of Lucia from the moment she encountered the Angel of Peace to her death at age 95. Remarkably, she lived long enough to see her little cousins, Francisco and Jacinta beatified. They have since been canonized by Pope Francis, and I imagine it won't be long before she is declared a saint as well. The book closes by discussing the importance of the Rosary and explaining our role in Fatima which is to pray a Daily Rosary and attend Mass on the First Saturday of every month.

I admit that I am not the most learned when it comes to Our Lady of Fatima and the history of this Marian apparition. I found this read to be a quick read that packed a punch. It was very educational in a way that anyone can understand, but it also doesn't overly simplify things and talk down to you. Instead, the reader is presented with a cohesive narrative that gives both historical facts and spiritual significance. If you are looking for a great introduction to Fatima, I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

If You Love Me (Ancient Faith Publishing)

What is the difference between Christian knowledge and Christian service? It seems like a question that doesn't need answering, but in modern times, that couldn't be further from the truth. Knowledge focuses on edifying the mind and in doing so, potentially gaining pride in the wisdom you have gained. In other words, "Look at me. I'm so smart!" Service, on the other hand, focuses on self-abandonment, mastering your desires, and surrendering to God so that you may serve Him by serving others. Matthew the Poor wrote on this subject, and Ancient Faith Publishing recently published some of these essays under the book title If You Love Me.

The book begins by telling us about love being THE criterion for Christian service. This must be a love for God, His Church, and those we are called to serve. Next, we are given the qualities of a Christian servant. Matthew the Poor lists ten such qualities, some of which are a spirit of discipleship, a battle of inner selfishness, honesty, and impartiality. Other chapters include information about the people we are called to serve, spiritual diseases they will have, stumbling blocks and joys you will encounter on your path of service. The book then ends with ways to enhance our credentials for serving the younger generation. This includes prayer, fasting, the Sacraments, and a true devotion to Christ.

If You Love Me is a beautiful and eye-opening book that every Christian should take the time to read. So many books recently published focus on the individual reading the book and how they can better or edify themselves, which is something we should strive for. And while this book touches on that, it isn't the main focus. Instead, we are invited to look at those around us and see how we can better serve them. This service will not only be physically edifying for those being served, but spiritually edifying as well, with the ultimate goal of leading them to Heaven. If you are looking for a book that causes you to shift your focus outward and look at your fellow man and not just yourself, then this is the book for you. Highly recommended for all Christians, especially pastors and spiritual leaders.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Legends of Andor (Thames and Kosmos)

I was first introduced to Role Playing Games (RPGs) when I was in college with the RPG books Vampire the Masquerade. It was only one night and the game group fizzled fairly quickly, but it was a fun experience of pretending to be someone else and uniting against a common enemy. I never tried an RPG again after that, not for lack of interest, but lack of finding a committed group and no desire to be a storyteller. Recently, I discovered the game Legends of Andor. It is technically classified as a cooperative adventure board game, but I have heard many people describe it as an RPG in a box. Therefore, I knew I had to buy it. The game plays 2-4 people, ages 10+. It takes between 60 and 90 minutes to play, and retails for $60. Normally, I'd tell you how to set up and play the game, but the manual has an introductory adventure that does that, so I'll leave that for you. Instead, I will tell you about the game in general.

The Base Game
The game takes place in a typical fantasy realm with your tried and trusty roles - a human warrior, an eleven archer, a sturdy dwarf, and a wizard from the north! There are also brutish monsters with new names - gors, skrals, trolls, and even a massive dragon. Within the box is a massive deck of cards that form five different adventures. These range from an introductory mission to familiarize yourself with the game to searching and mine and culminating in fighting a dragon. Each game you will set up the board, give people their player boards and dice, and follow the deck of cards to embark on your adventure. Unlike a traditional adventure story, where the main goal is to slash your way through your enemies as quickly as possible, this game requires a balance. You have a limited amount of time each day to perform actions and certain actions (like killing enemies) can speed up your game. Therefore, the game is like a puzzle that you must solve to prevail. You'll win some games and probably lose more than you win, but it has an epic feeling to it, and can be played with children and adults alike. What I like about it, is that it has a bit of a Tolkien-feel to it, and it gives you an experience of living out a story he could have written. Now, if this game was all that the Andor universe had to offer, I think it would be a fun place to visit with your family or friends and once you'd played the five adventures several times, move on. Thankfully, Andor has both sequels and expansions, which I will briefly touch on.
New Heroes
New Heroes is a "small box expansion" that retails for $20. Within this box are four new heroes - a guardian, a tracker, a protector of river lands, and a Taurean fighter. These four characters not only give you new ways to mix and match your adventurers from the base game, it also adds the ability to play with up to six players. There are also some twists on the game (fending off a drunken troll) and a way to increase difficulty if you find the game too easy (not a problem I have encountered). Even if you don't have six people you normally play with, this is a good buy to give you variety among adventures.

The Star Shield
The Star Shield is another "small box expansion" that retails for $20. Within this box is an adventure called The Era of the Star Shield. The story goes that all the records were lost from this time period, so there are a number of different events that could have happened including a dark temple, a siege tower, or a water monster. Therefore, this adventure is a giant deck of cards which will make up a different adventure every time you play it. You will be writing the history books of Andor and trying to save the castle from any of the aforementioned perils. This was a nice box to have and it is compatible with the New Heroes. It gives your base game and all the pieces in it a little more life and replay value.
Journey to the North
Journey to the North is a "big box expansion" and sequel to the base game that retails for $50. I classify it as both because you need the base game so you have access to heroes to play, but you also are embarking on a different journey with a different map and different monsters to face. With the exception of your faithful dwarf companion, you can use all the heroes from the base game. There was apparently a Battle for Cavern waged and Kram is the new prince of Cavern. (I'm still waiting for an official English translation of this adventure.) Never fear, he has been replaced with a Sea Warrior. The Sea Warrior is a welcome addition, because the majority of this map is made up of water. In the Journey to the North, you have a new way to travel (boat), but it comes with complications of its own. The wind will be your friend or your foe at various times, and if you want to beat the four new adventures in this game, you better properly harness it or you'll find yourself losing repeatedly. Unlike the base game, combat is a bigger deal. You will fight aboard the ship, upgrade your ship, position your people on the ship strategically, and live or die by the choices you make. This adds a fresh concept to the game and makes it a new challenge which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Other Expansions and Sequels
Recently, Thames and Kosmos released another "small box expansion," called Dark Heroes and a "stand-alone sequel" called The Last Hope, which is the finale to the Andor trilogy. Dark Heroes is going to add four more characters to play with, but I don't know what is in The Last Hope, but I am eager to find out. There are also several different single card mini-expansions you can find at the BoardGameGeek Store, which adds some more wrinkles to the game play.

I really love this game, and I can't wait for my son to get a little bit older so that I can play this with him. If you love adventure and high fantasy, this is the game for you and your family. The stories are great. The replay value is high. And the artwork is brilliant and well though out. Don't let the price tags intimidate you, as most of these boxes are generally on sale. However, don't also dive in head first, buying everything. Start with the base game, and make sure you love it enough to get everything.