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.