Monday, March 13, 2017

Minister's Kids 101

"...whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6 ESV)
My original title for this post was "An Open Letter to Church Members About PKs"... then I realized:
  • Some part of my audience wouldn't know that PK is "church talk" for pastor's kid. 
  • Another part of my audience was unlikely to realize that the PK stereotype affects kids whose parent is a ministerial staff member (but not the lead pastor).
  • Pretty much all of my audience would think - as I do now - that the title I came up with is pretentious and preach-y.
So, new title. But the same basic content - a list of admonitions and advice for church members in dealing with the kids of ministerial staff.
  • It is not your job, mission, vocation, calling and/or sacred duty to parent the pastor's kids.
  • A simple rule: if you wouldn't butt into the parenting decisions of a non-ministerial family, don't do it to your pastor and his family.
    • If you are the type that chooses to butt in, it's time to carefully examine your motives. Are you motivated by pride in your own parenting skills and success? Are you looking for more "dirt" to hold against your pastor?
  • Treat PKs like you would treat any other kid in your church
    • Don't single them out for discipline because of their role in church life. 
    • Don't fawn over them in an attempt to build a conduit to get to the pastor.
  • Your church hired/called the staff member... not his/her kids. (And not their spouse - of course, that's a similar rant I'll get to on another day.) 
    • The ministerial family is not an extension of the staff member's ministry - and they are not "freebies". They are children of God with their own spiritual walk and identity.
  • Do not force PK's to be junior pastors, spiritual examples or model church citizens.
    • Kids develop spiritually in different ways and at different speeds. Forcing them to put on a mask of spiritual maturity and/or obedient compliance that they are still growing into is manipulative and wrong. "Fake it till you make it" does serious damage to nurturing a genuine relationship with God.
  • PKs are not all the same: they are individuals with varying temperaments, gifts, interests, struggles and needs.
    • Don't straitjacket them with your preconceived stereotypes of PKs and PK behavior.
Note: the only church I served as pastor while I was also a parent was actually very good to both of my boys. This post is in response to conversations I've had recently with adult PKs. The issues in here did not reflect the majority of our experiences as a family.

Friday, March 10, 2017

La Granja: No Siesta! (An Opinionated Game Review)

  • Designers: Andreas “ode” Odendahl
  • Publishers: Stronghold Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Ages: 10+
  • Times Played: 5 (with review copy provided by Stronghold Games)

I wanted to start this review by making some kind of sweeping pronouncement about the nature of dice games versus games that merely use dice… and then I realized that:

  1. I was about to go down the metaphorical gamer rabbit hole, take a giant swig of “Drink Me” and end up being chased around by playing cards with lances
  2. I could not possibly sound more pompous and self-important if I tried.

So, instead, you get a relatively straightforward review of La Granja: No Siesta (The Dice Game) from someone who (gasp!) has never actually played the well-liked Euro “parent”, La Granja. (That’s right – never played. Wouldn’t turn down a game if it showed up at the table, but I’m much more likely to end up playing The Dragon & Flagon or Sentinels of the Multiverse.)

By the way, I’m going to call the game No Siesta from here on out… the full name of the game is a bit unwieldy for blogging purposes.


I never understood the popularity of Farmville on Facebook… then again, I never understood the popularity of badgering your friends to support your online gaming addiction. And while I’m a huge fan of Uwe Rosenberg’s Agricola, I’ve always been kind of flabbergasted at the popularity of a game about medieval farming… or farming of any kind, for that matter. (For the record, part of the genius of Agricola is how well the theme of the game meshes with the design of the game.)

No Siesta is a farming game… and once again, I’m blown away that I’m actually interested in roofing my barn and getting my produce to market. Similar to Agricola, the gameplay is easily explained in terms of the theme, making it easier to teach to new players.

There are seven possible resources:

  • Olives
  • Grain
  • Grapes
  • Silver
  • Pigs
  • Donkeys
  • Hats (yes, I know, a hat is not strictly a resource – but I take it to mean “hard work”)

Those seven resources are used to do six different things

  • Finish roofing your barn
  • Send your goods off-island (we’re on Majorca) for sale
  • Cart your goods to the nearby market
  • Hire helpers
  • Store up resources in your warehouse and stable
  • Advance your marker on the siesta track

As I pointed out earlier, all of that makes sense – and that melding of theme & game mechanic(ism) is a real plus in my book.

It’s Getting Drafty In Here

No Siesta itself is simple in structure – the active player (who is given a lovely little wooden pig meeple and a set of resource dice) rolls those dice (but not the pig) to generate a set of resources. Each player chooses one resource and marks it on his resource board. When all players have chosen one resource, the active player picks up the remaining dice and rolls them again. There is another round of drafting resources. After this, there will be a single die remaining, which is rolled by the active player – and all players mark the resource rolled.

Now players use their resources to fill in the various areas of their farm. (This can be done in turn order or simultaneously with more experienced players.) Resources are spent left to right and offer various benefits as objectives are completed.

  • Roofs cost silver – and when finished provides both victory points and a one-use bonus of resources, resource manipulation or another victory point.
  • Hiring helpers costs a various resources – and when finished allow players to recruit a helper tile that provides additional powers for manipulating and obtaining resources.
  • Shipping good off-island requires a set of three identical resources (once per resource per game) – and when finished provides both victory points and a commodity (a wild resource that is marked on your resource board).
  • Carting your goods to market costs a variety of resources assembled in order as well as the appropriate number of donkeys to pull the cart – and when finished gives victory points in a manner similar to Roll through the Ages monuments. It also gives a commodity and allows a player to lay claim to a market bonus scoring objective on the market board.
  • Storing resources in your warehouse or stable provides a victory point for each complete set (olive/grain/grape or donkey/pig) at the end of the game.
  • Advancing your marker on the siesta track costs hats – and each step on that track is worth a victory point. In addition, there are three spaces on the track that give a player an additional resource disk. Finally, reaching the end of the siesta track triggers the end of the game.

Players can save a single unspent resource on their resource board.

Honestly, that description makes No Siesta sound dry as unbuttered toast… but in practice, it’s a very enjoyable game that runs about 15 minutes per player.

Multiplayer Solitaire?!

I personally enjoy playing board games solo – especially if the designer/publisher has given a meaningful solitaire mode in the rules. (Excellent examples: the solitaire engine in the first arc of Race for the Galaxy expansions, the solo mode for the aforementioned Agricola, and the single player version of The Pursuit of Happiness.)

However, there is a tendency on the part of some players to assume that providing a solitaire mode means that the game is “multiplayer solitaire.” (To get the full effect, you need to say “multiplayer solitaire” in the most dismissive tone possible, as if you were talking to a small petulant child.) I’m here to tell you that, despite the solo mode provided for by the components and the rulebook, No Siesta is NOT multiplayer solitaire.

There are a variety of ways you can impede the progress of the other players…

  • Draft to Deny: Take resources in the draft that can assist other players. The most obvious use of this is keeping hats out of the hands of a player who is pushing the timer (see below).
  • Push the Timer: Some of the longer-term strategies (shipping goods & taking carts to market) can be made less effective by a player pushing the siesta timer and hastening the end of the game. This must be done in tandem with some other way of gathering points (roof building, filling the warehouse & stable, etc.)
  • Finishing Carts First: It can be worth it to sacrifice efficiency for speed in order to finish carts before other players. Not only does it maximize points, it also give you the first shot at the market bonuses.
  • Choosing Market Options Wisely: While you can select bonus options to maximize points for yourself, you can also choose a slightly less attractive option if it will deny your opponent the ability to earn those points.
  • Selecting Helpers: The advanced rules of the game have a common pool of helpers for all players, which can lead to drafting helpers not only for their value to you but the denial of that value to another player.

Variety is the Spice of Life (And Games)

No Siesta offers three different play “modes”:

  • the base game for 2-4 players… each player had their own identical set of 6 helpers to recruit
  • the advanced game… which adds 6 new helpers and uses a common pool of helpers for recruiting
  • the solitaire game

We played both the base & advanced game – and found the advanced game to move slightly faster (due to the easier availability of hats for players that focused on those helpers). We’ve found that a number of different approaches to winning seem viable, which is always a good sign.

Another observation: the supply of helpers is “tighter” in 2 and 4 player games… meaning the friendliest version of the game is 3 player advanced.

Resource Manipulation Can Be Fun!

The rural heartbeat of No Siesta is about manipulating stuff to achieve your objectives. It’s a game about priorities and (mild) risk… and my boys and I found it be enjoyable and fast-moving. It’s not a particularly complicated game – I put it in the same difficulty zone as two other dice game adaptions: Roll for the Galaxy and Nations: The Dice Game. (I will note that Roll is much more difficult to teach.)

One final point: it’s a great game for your travel bag… you can reduce the size down from the not-overly-large box into a zip-lock baggie for easy transport.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Top 200 Games: #190 - #181

#190: Animal Upon Animal (2005)

I own 4 different versions of this game... and enjoy all of them. It's possibly the best balancing/dexterity game for non-gamer families out there. My review of Animal Upon Animal: Balancing Bridge is here; my review of Animal Upon Animal: The Duel is here.

#189: The Secret Door (1991)

Speaking of family games, this may have weak production but the memory/cooperative gameplay is very, very good. My entry for my Kid Games 100 is here.

 #188: Lotus (2016)

A stunningly beautiful card game that manages to subvert the "don't help the guy on your left" problem by giving you an incentive to help him when it helps you.

#187: Smash Up (2012)

Sometimes the "take that" nature of the game gets under my skin, but the splicing together of factions and the card combos that ensue can make it a lot of fun. I do not recommend playing with 4 players - the downtime is too much for the weight of the game.

#186: FITS (2009)

Tetris as a board game... and since I like Tetris, this works for me.

#185: Kayanak (1999)

I'm not sure it's a great game - but I have a great time playing it. The ice-fishing mechanic(ism) at the heart of the game is just cool. My entry for my Kid Games 100 is here.

#184: Zoff im Hühnerhof (2006)

Another great dexterity game from HABA... silly but fun. And there's nothing quite like it - thematically (flinging chicken feed) or structurally. My entry for my Kid Games 100 is here.

#183: Patchwork (2014)

It’s clever, it’s pretty to look at, and the subtle interaction between players is flat out delicious. I'm reminded of another shared favorite – Flowerpower… not so much because they are the same game mechanically but the feeling you get when playing it and building your tableau.

#182: Klunker (1999)

Uwe Rosenberg creates yet another "wacky use of cards" card game. It doesn't hit the table often, but it's still a brain-twister when it does. My Game Central Station article on the game is here; my 2010 Top 100 entry is here.

#181: Small World (2009)

This has fallen a long way - I still like it better than Vinci, but I'm not playing it very often. It remains an excellent bridge game to take non-gamers into gamer territory. My review of some expansions is here; my 2014 Top 100 entry is here.

A trio of editorial notes:

  • The BoardGameGeek entry for the game is linked through the date of publication.
  • When appropriate, I've linked to content I've written about the game. 
  • For #200-#101, I'm only going to post pictures of the highest ranked game in each set.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Top 200 Games: #200 - #191

#200: Impulse (2013)

One more weird (and enjoyable) Carl Chudyk game where the cards do multiple things - this time in space.

#199: Dastardly Dirigibles (2016)

A pleasant set-collecting game that's easy to introduce to non-gamers... with a nicely realized steampunk theme. My review is here.

 #198: Epic PVP: Fantasy (2015)

The boys & I enjoy this one enough that we've bought both the expansions to increase the variety of combinations. Balancing your hand size and ability to play cards is tricky.

#197: Olympia 2000 (v. Chr.) (1994)

A nearly 25 year old classic game from Stefan Dorra... it's a light simultaneous selection game with a cute theme.

#196: Tiny Epic Kingdoms (2014)

The first game of what has become a Kickstarter juggernaut... I like the small footprint of the game. I think it's a decent game with just the base game that is improved by the addition of the expansion. My preview of the KS is here.

#195: Machi Koro (2012)

It's bloated with both expansions in... but the base game is a good little city-building dice game with some nice twists.

#194: Batik (1997)

I'm not sure whether to call it a dexterity game or an abstract game - but it's the game I keep on my desk at work. (It was a gift from Stephen Glenn...)

#193: Mole in the Hole (1995)

A Ravensburger game that was marketed to kids but actually has some nifty tactical considerations and an innovative multiple level board.

#192: Blöder Sack (2014)

It's "use dice to claim cards" - but the way you place dice to win majorities and the ability to push out someone else's dice makes it fun. The drawstring bag makes it portable.

#191: Im Reich der Jadegöttin (2007)

The first of a planned trio of Entdecker-based games... sadly, only two of the three were published. This is the more family-friendly of the pair that saw the light of day.

A trio of editorial notes:

  • The BoardGameGeek entry for the game is linked through the date of publication.
  • When appropriate, I've linked to content I've written about the game. 
  • For #200-#101, I'm only going to post pictures of the highest ranked game in each set.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mark's Top 200 Games 2017... Twenty by Ten

Later this week, I'll start posting my top 200 games in sets of ten (thus, the 20 by 10 reference in the title.) I chose to do 200 rather than 100 because

a) I'm a glutton for punishment.
b) I was curious.
c) I like a lot of games and wanted to make sure more of them got some recognition.

I'm using the same basic process I used to make my 2014 top 100 list.
  • Since I rate pretty every game/expansion I play on BGG (here's a link to my collection), I chose to download all of those games I rated 7 or better. That gave me a list of over 1000 games & expansions.
  • After removing all of the expansions, I was left with 665 games.
  • I "shuffled" the games and began pitting one game against another...
    • "Which of these games do I want to play more?"
  • That created two piles:
    • like
    • not as much
  • I then shuffled the 'not as much' pile and pitted those games against each other, putting the positive response games into the 'like' pile and creating a new 'not so much' pile.
  • When finished, I once again shuffled the 'not so much' pile and ran the process one final time.
  • The games that ended up in the final 'not so much' are dropped from the system...
  • And then it starts all over again...
Here are the parameters:
  • Unlike previous top 100 lists, this DID include what I lovingly call "kid games". (If you're interested in kid games, my Kid Games 100 would be some great reading material.)
  • The list was actually compiled in November of 2016 - when we get to the end, I'll do a post about the games I've played since then that I think would probably have made it on here.
  • It's not the "best games ever made" - it's my list of the two hundred games I most enjoy playing right now.
  • With that said, there's a lot of flex in the list. Don't invest too much in any individual ranking - if I'd sorted the list on a different day, many of them could be in a different order.
You are welcome - no, encouraged! - to comment, kibitz and/or vehemently disagree... that's part of the fun! The first set will show up very soon!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The World You Want (aka "Welcome to 2017")

I'm kickin' up the pieces
I'm trying out adhesives
I'm trying to fix a place that feels broken
All my words they fail me
My voices don't avail me
I'm trying to say the hope that's unspoken

Is this the world you want?
Is this the world you want?
You're making it
Every day you're alive
Is this the world you want?
Is this the world you want?
You're making it

The world feels so malicious
With all our hits and misses
Feels like we're in the business of rust
It's when I stop to listen
All the moments I've been missing
I finally hear a voice I can trust

You change the world
You change the world
You change the world
Every day you're alive
You change the world
Honey, you change the world
You change my world

You start to look like what you believe
You float through time like a stream
If the waters of time are made up by you and I
If you change the world for you, you change it for me

What you say is your religion
How you say it's your religion
Who you love is your religion
How you love is your religion
All your science, your religion
All your hatred, your religion
All your wars are your religion
Every breath is your religion yea

Written by Jon Foreman • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, The Bicycle Music Company

Note: I received this album for Christmas... and was listening to it New Years Day as I drove to be part of the set-up/tear-down team at church. This song floored me.

Yes, I know that Switchfoot is no longer the cool, young, hip band. Their big hit album (The Beautiful Letdown) was released 14 years ago... and I've been listening to them since their first album (The Legend of Chin) back in 1997. That's right, 20 years ago. 

I'm not cool or hip - now or two decades back. (I was younger.)

But regardless of my personal status as a oh-so-trendy setter of trends, the song is what I needed to hear as I face the personal circumstances of my life and the larger issues that face me as both a citizen of the U.S. and a citizen of heaven.

Give it a listen.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Brothers & Fools

We must learn to live together as brothers
or perish together as fools.
Commencement Address for Oberlin College
By Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
June 1965, Oberlin Ohio