Monday, June 25, 2018

When I'm Right



I knew I was in the right
I was right
And that rightness gave me boldness

To do wrong
To treat another person
To treat someone created in God’s image
With callous disregard

I poured out my righteous anger
I let my frustration boil over
I made choices
Choices to spew hatred
Choices to belittle and demean

But I was right
And isn’t that enough?
Isn’t that permission
No, obligation
To use
Any means necessary?

Image bearers be damned
I was right
The Golden Rule
Can be brushed away
When I’m right

My actions are justified
They would have done the same
Or worse
I am vindicated

Or am I?
What if in my rightness
I did wrong?

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Five Years

Little did I know when I stood up
Lego Hero Factory figure in hand
My Bible open and my notes beside
That this would be it

I thought I knew what God was doing
I thought I knew what God should do
I was wrong
On both counts

Knowing I’m in the right place now
Doesn’t make the loss any smaller
I miss preaching
I miss teaching

But Jesus is still here
In the middle of my struggles
I am not alone
I am not alone

My primary identity is not
Invested in a paid ministry role
Or a title of respect
Or time behind a pulpit

I am a child of God
I am a minister of the Gospel
In my office cubical
Or playing a board game

Jesus is still here
In the midst of my questions
I am not alone
I am not alone 

The last time I preached a sermon was Feb. 10, 2013 at Easton Presbyterian Church. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Prayer - Remembering tc@hh

20 years ago today, a group of 7 of us held the first public service of the church @ hickory hollow (otherwise known as tc@hh). Not quite five years later, we closed the doors on this wonderful experiment/experience of faith.

Lakeview Elementary School (pictured here) was our home for the majority of the five years. Our bigger "home" was South Gate Baptist Church, who supported us and loved us.

The prayer that follows was written by Dennis Mills and was shared as a part of the closing celebration service on September 21st, 2002.


Father,

This evening, as we celebrate the church @ hickory hollow,
we celebrate You because

You made it possible for us to have authentic Biblical community.
You gave the original vision for a church of this kind in Nashville.
You enabled this church to begin and take root, even though we had little more than a direction to go and an urgency to go there.
You brought together people like me who were tired of hiding behind masks and longed to know more of You.
You gave us a safe place to express how we hurt and struggle.
You gave us each other to carry our burdens, to share our hopes, and to celebrate our joys.

But most of all You drew us closer to You, to live more fully and to grow more deeply than we've ever dared before.

We've seen You do so much in and through the people of this church;
Which makes us all the more perplexed why You seem to see fit that this church should disband.
We don't understand. 
We don't know what lies ahead for us.

Calm us, Father, because sometimes we grow anxious and worry.
Steady us when our faith wavers.
Strengthen our hearts, because when things are uncertain it's easier to doubt and fear than to trust.
Father, protect our tender roots as You replant us into new soil.
Hold each one of us close to You. Let no one be forgotten or neglected.
Help us to tune out the noise in our lives so we can hear Your soft, gentle voice.

We can't see where You're leading us, but we count on You to take us there.

Thank You for Your undying love for us.
Thank You for community and for families that model our love relationship with You.
Thank You for forgiveness and for restoration.
Thank You for giving our lives meaning and purpose.
Thank You for the promise of eternal life.

Help us to share the hope of restored life today and eternal life after death with those who do not yet know You.

God, You are our everything.
We thank You
And we praise You
In Your Son's name,
Amen


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Flamme Rouge & Peloton (Board Game Review)


  • Designer: Asger Harding Granerud
  • Publishers: Lautapelit.fi & Stronghold Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Ages: 8+
  • Games Played: 12 with the base game, 4 with the Peloton expansion (with review copies provided by Stronghold Games)

My ability to speak French is nicht sehr guht. Yes, I know that’s German, because that’s a language which I can (barely) speak/read. Which leads me to the beginning of this review.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to say the name of this game.

I’ve been calling if “flaw-may rouge”… but then I hear Stephen Buonocore (the English publisher) call it “flaw-mmm rouge”… and as I noted a couple of paragraphs above, I don’t know enough about French to hazard a guess which is correct. I feel like a tourist that doesn’t know how to find los baño. (And that’s Spanish – which my vast knowledge of consists primarily of curse words and food items.)

Regardless of how you say the name, Flamme Rouge is an excellent game that occupies a particular niche in my game collection: sports games that capture the feel of the sport without being simulations.

“Three – is a magic number.”

My personal theory is that there are three basic types of sports games:

Simulations – games that use real-life player/team statistics to simulate classic sporting contests, entire seasons, and/or “what if?” match-ups. Some games that fit into this bucket include:

  • Dynasty League Baseball/Pursue the Pennant
  • Decathlon (Avalon Hill)
  • Bowl Bound and Paydirt

Representations – games that use some level of statistics, strategies and history of the sport in question to create (or re-create) games and/or seasons. Some game that fit into this bucket include:

  • March Madness
  • Soccer Tactics
  • Pizza Box Football
  • 1st & Goal

“Feel All the Feels” – games that manage to capture the feeling of the sport without relying on statistic-based simulation… or sometimes even a clear representation of the actual sporting event. Some games that fit into this bucket include:

  • Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball
  • StreetSoccer
  • En Garde (Knizia)

It will be no surprise to my gentle readers that I’m a big fan of Bucket #3. (For the record, I’d throw Snow Tails, DownForce and Winner’s Circle into de derde emmer – Dutch for “the third bucket”. I’m a veritable linguist today.)

But a great sports game experience can come from any of the three types – one of my favorite gaming memories is playing Dynasty League Baseball and Pizza Box Football on the same night with a crew of sports/board game fans at Gulf Games.

Still, when I’m choosing a sports game to play, more often than not I’ll choose something simple yet evocative… like Flamme Rouge.

“I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I Want To Ride My Bike…”


One of the first games I bought from directly from Germany back in the late ‘90s was the 1992 Spiel des Jahres winner, Um Reifenbreite (which loosely translates as “By the Width of a Tire”).

The description on The Game Cabinet (which was the landing page for board game geeks before BGG appeared) had me practically salivating… so I ponied up the big bucks to have the team from Funagain Games scour the used game stalls at Essen to find me a copy. And, true to their word, they did.

Um Reifenbreite uses a combination of roll’n’move with card play (to simulate pushes to the front or climbing ability) along with a random event card to evoke the feel of team cycling. Each player has four cyclists and they can draft off other riders as they race around the board. The board design allows for four different races (two shorter, two longer) that can be chained together into a series of stages for a “Tour de Spelrum”. (The last phrase – “Tour de Game Room” – is brought to you by the mashup of French & Swedish – let’s call it Swench. Or Frendish. You pick.)

I have few complaints about Um Reifenbreite – it’s been in my top 20 games for nearly two decades. Probably my own concern is how difficult it is to get to the table – due in part to the cartoonish French art style and the roll’n’move nature of the game.

“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.”


Fast forward to Essen 2016… and the nice folks from Lautapelit.fi in Finland released Flamme Rouge. (Ok, kids, say Terveydeksi! to our Nordic friends…) Seeing pictures (and positive reviews) from the folks across the briny blue just made me want to play Um Reifenbreite again.

That is, until I had the opportunity to play Flamme Rouge – and suddenly all of the “thumbs up” noise began to make sense.

The game itself is a model of streamlined design – the rules only take four pages, and that includes the cover & components list. Players start by choosing a track from a selection of six different tracks and then build it in the center of the table. (You can, of course, build it on the edge of the table… heck, march to the beat of a different drummer. But if you’re playing at my house, it goes in the center of the table.) The track itself is a series of double-sided straights, gentle curves and right angle curves.

After placing their two riders in the starting grid, the race begins. Players have two decks of cards, one for each racer – a rouleur (I call him “mountain guy”) and a sprinter. Simultaneously, players choose one of their two decks and draw a hand of four movement cards – then they choose one and place the other three under that deck face up. Then the player does the same with the other deck, leaving them with two cards ready to play.

When all players are ready, they turn over their cards and resolve movement in order from the front to the back of the racers. Cyclists may move through other riders but cannot stop on a full space (one with two riders). After all the riders have moved, drafting is calculated, starting at the back of the pack and moving forward – any group of cyclists who have exactly one space between them and the next group slide up a space to close the gap. When all movement and drafting are taken care of, the lead cyclists in each group have to take an exhaustion card and add it to their discards at the bottom of your deck.

There are a couple of twists – there is no drafting when going uphill (and your maximum speed is 5). By the same token, your minimum speed if you start on a downhill slope is 5, regardless of which card you play.

The first rider to cross the finish line wins the game for his team. If multiple riders cross in the same turn, the one who goes the farthest first wins.

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”

As I finish typing up this description, I’m reminded of one of the many reasons I love this game: it is unbelievably easy to teach. While folks have varied in their ability to figure out winning tactics, no one has come away frustrated that the game was too difficult to comprehend.


Another element I love is the way in which these simple rules create a game that “feels” like team cycling. I’ll admit I was skeptical – what with my deep love for Um Reifenbreite – about a team cycling game with only two cyclists… but much like StreetSoccer’s five player game of fußball, Flamme Rouge manages to capture the ethos without getting bogged down by fleshing out a full cycling team. There are attempts to break from the pack, lagging to conserve energy, blocking to hold back leaders, slow starts, fast starts, breakdowns due to exhaustion… it’s all there.

Flamme Rouge is also a quick game – once everyone has a game under their collective belts, races should clock in at about 30 minutes. There is an unofficial iOS app that allows groups to create stage race series if you want to link races together – but the game works just fine playing stand-alone races.

“Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”

Flamme Rouge is best with 4 players, though it works very well with 3. Two players is fine – but you really need more riders on the track to get the full feel of the game.


The Peloton expansion was released last month at Essen and it adds the ability to play with 5 or 6 players… something I’m looking forward to greatly. (Stronghold Games will be bringing the expansion over in early 2018.)
Special content just for readers of aka pastor guy: Since I wrote this review in late 2017, I was sent a copy of the Peloton expansion and have been able to play it 4 times. It not only adds riders for 5 or 6 players, but also includes ways to create "dummy" teams, adds cobblestones, supply zones & additional track layouts, and even includes suggestions for playing with up to 12 players! 
We've enjoyed it immensely - the game runs slightly longer with more players but it is still has the same quick-playing cycling feel. The cobblestone sections are evil... very tight and tough to pass. Decisions on when to strike out for the front are even more important since the track can get clogged.  
We now return you to the previously published review of Flamme Rouge... note: a full review of Peloton is in the works!
We’ve played all of the official track configurations in the game – and the only one we’re unlikely to play again is La Haut Montagne. (Reason: it ends with an uphill climb – which is would be fine in a stage race situation but is a little anti-climactic when you’re playing one-off races.)

“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.”

While Flamme Rouge has not replaced Um Reifenbreite in my collection, it has hit the table over and over throughout 2017. The short playing time is certainly a factor – and as we get to add the Peloton expansion, it will be suitable for a wider variety of player counts. So with the attractive production (we love the cyclist pawns), the variable tracks, the easy-to-learn rules and the excellent fit between theme and gameplay, this is a winner – a maillot jaune. (I couldn’t end this review without one more linguistic bon mot – ok, make it two.)



Quote References (in order of appearance)

  • Schoolhouse Rock, “3 is a Magic Number”
  • Queen, “Bicycle Race”
  • H.G. Wells
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Charles M. Schultz
  • Mark Twain

A Trio of Extra Cycling Quotes for Your Enjoyment

  • “Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.” — James E. Starrs, US book editor
  • “The bicycle is the noblest invention of mankind.” — William Saroyan, Nobel prize winner
  • “Bicycles are almost as good as guitars for meeting girls.” — Bob Weir, Grateful Dead singer, songwriter and guitarist
A version of this review was originally posted on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Delve: Here's a Game, Let's Review It

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website - and I should have shared it with you here a while back. But this blog has been dormant for six months due to work, life and the pursuit of happiness. 





  • Designer: Richard Launius & Pete Shirey
  • Publishers: Indie Board & Card Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Ages: 14+ (my 12 year old does just fine)
  • Games Played: 4 (with a review copy provided by Indie Board & Card Games)

There’s A Dungeon - Let’s Crawl Through It

We are all treasure-hungry clans of adventurers, seeking to loot a dungeon filled to the brim with gold and magical goodies. I’d make fun of this unbelievably overworked storyline… except I have (by my count) 15+ games in my personal collection that are some variation on that exact theme. He who lives in glass dungeons should not throw stones.

The game structure of Delve is pretty straightforward (and leans heavily on the Carcassonne model). Players (ahem, adventurers!) take turns playing a tile from a hand of 3 tiles to the board to create rooms and corridors. They may place one of their five heroes on the tile they just placed. If a room or corridor with heroes in it is completely closed, it is resolved to see who gets the gold & precious objects. The only things that must match during tile placement are corridors, which makes it easier to sculpt the dungeon in ways that help you close off rooms.

If there are heroes from more than one clan (aka “player”) on a closed room, they dice off to determine who gets a share of the treasure. (The dice are custom dice and have both swords for fighting & coins for gathering extra loot.) If a single clan is present, they instead have to work their way through a card from a “choose your own adventure” deck to see what they manage to acquire.

The game goes on until (a) a certain number of tiles with sun symbols are played, or (b) when the gold deck runs out. The clan with the most gold wins!

The Seafood Gumbo Game Design Paradigm

I had the privilege of living in SE Texas for a year… right on the edge of the bayous and Cajun country. I learned to love boudin, etouffee, and gumbo. All of them involve the mixing together of a bunch of different ingredients/flavors to make something spicy and delicious.

The same design paradigm is common in board games - examples include Lisboa, The King of Frontier, and Walnut Grove. The recipe is similar: take 2 or more design elements and bolt them together to build a playable game. (My good friend and fellow OG writer Jeff Myers calls them “Frankenstein” games - hence my use of the word ‘bolt’ earlier has even more resonance.)

Delve is very much in this school. You’ve got:

  • tile-laying that is very similar to Carcassonne: The Castle
  • “Choose your own adventure” cards that are similar to Runebound (and other adventure games)
  • Dice-resolved combat (see pretty much every adventure game ever published)

There’s a Dungeon - Let’s Expand It

This will come as no surprise to any gamer who’s ever seen a classic fantasy adventure game - there’s already an expansion. Delve: Perils Awaits adds more adventure cards and more treasures to the game - which is actually a nice to expand replayability and variety without adding any problematic new design elements to the game.

The Trouble with Quibbles


I’ll get to my reaction to the game as a whole in a minute - but I do have a couple of component issues that need to be mentioned.

First, the player pieces are nice plastic squares with a sticker on them denote the particular dice that they roll. However, they are too large to fit comfortably in the majority of the rooms that are created by laying tiles. This problem is worse when you’re attempting to claim a corridor.

I’m not sure there’s a good solution for this - but the size of the pieces caused confusion a couple of times in our games… and the “it doesn’t look right” thing bothered me every time I played.

My second issue is the odd color choices made for the custom dice and the player piece stickers. In less than perfect lighting conditions, I have a very difficult time telling the blue & purple icons apart.

Different Strokes

So, with those quibbles out of the way, we get to the 64,000 gold piece question: what did I think of the game?

I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into Delve and the combination of the various elements… the game works. I think there’s a tug of war in the design between the controllable elements (the hand of tiles, the choice of which tile to play, the placement of clan members) and the random elements (the tile draws, the dice combat/adventure resolution) - and that tension is exacerbated with more players and the subsequent loss of player control that is inherent in any multi-player game. No surprise - I like it best with 2 players. (Note: I feel the same way about Carcassonne.)

Delve is a perfectly playable game - the design functions as promised and there are actual decisions to be made. That said, it’s one of those games that falls into the “won’t refuse to play but probably wouldn’t suggest it” category.

For me.

On the other hand, my 12 year old gamer son finds it exhilarating and enjoyable. He’s asked to play multiple times. He likes the “choose your own adventure” aspect of the game, which is more prominent in 2 player games.

Your mileage may vary.

Monday, January 01, 2018

It's Still Personal: My Five & Dime Game Lists for 2017

Hey, campers... I may have stopped collecting the Five & Dime stats for everyone else - but I haven't stopped collecting my own!

Here's my own personal Five & Dime list (the games I played 5+ and 10+ times in 2017).

As always, I include only face-to-face games and games played with human opponents over apps/online.

Games with an asterisk [*] were on my Five & Dime list last year, games with two asterisks [**] have been on my list for the past two years, games with three asterisks [***] have been there for three years, games with four asterisks [****] have been there for 4 years, games with a plus [+] have been there 5 years, games with a plus and an asterisk [+*] have been there 6 years... and games with a plus and an asterisk [+**] have been there (wait for it) for the past 7 years!

Quarters
  • Jump Drive 40
  • Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure 32
  • DC Comics Deck-Building Game (includes Teen Titans & Forever Evil): 26 ***
  • Port Royal 20


Dimes
  • Star Realms 17 ***
  • Runebound (3rd edition) 14
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse 14 +
  • DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Rivals - Batman vs The Joker 13 *
  • The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game 13
  • 7 Wonders Duel 12 *
  • 7 Wonders 11 **
  • Android Netrunner 10
  • Hotshots 10
  • Pandemic: The Cure 10


Nickels
  • Adrenaline 9
  • Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters 9
  • Sushi Go Party! 8
  • Mole Rats in Space 8
  • Space Cadets: Away Missions 8
  • Flamme Rouge 8
  • Trains 8
  • Fabled Fruit 7 
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle 7
  • Skip-Bo 7 *
  • Bang! The Dice Game 6
  • Clank! In! Space! 6
  • Family Business 6
  • Habitats 6
  • New York Slice 6
  • Armageddon 5
  • Zirkus Flohcati 5
  • Codenames 5 *
  • Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd edition) 5 *
  • Pandemic Legacy (Season Two) 5
  • Galaxy Trucker 5
  • Fast Forward: Fear 5
  • Race for the Galaxy 5 +**
  • Roll for the Galaxy 5 *
  • Summoner Wars 5 +*
  • Ticket to Ride 5

Just Missed (with 4 plays)

A caret [^] denotes that they were on the Five & Dime list last year... and a pound sign [#] marks games I'm pretty sure will return in 2018.
  • 51st State: Master Set
  • Chariot Race
  • Colony ^ #
  • DC Deck-Building Game: Confrontations #
  • Fast Food Franchise #
  • Favor of the Pharaoh ^ #
  • Fields of Green
  • Hop Hop Hooray!
  • Karuba #
  • Liar's Dice
  • Numeri
  • Quantum
  • Quarriors! ^
  • Rhino Hero: Super Battle #
  • Snow Tails ^
  • Smash Up
  • The Pursuit of Happiness ^ #

After All These Years

These are game that fell off the list... after years of repeated play. I felt compelled to say a few words at their passing.
  • The City ****
    • Mostly replaced by Jump Drive... but it still comes out every once in a while.
  • Fast Food Franchise ****
    • Missed making the list by one play - it'll be back.
  • Machi Koro **
    • The bloom is finally off the rose on this one. I need to strip it back to the base box - the expansions have more variety but make it less fun to play.
  • Catan *
    • It is a fight every year now to get this to the table - I still love the game, but there are a couple of folks in my gaming group who detest it and my oldest son won't touch it with a ten foot pole. Sigh.
  • Pandemic Legacy (Season One) *
    • We finished Season One - so no surprise this disappeared.
  • GUBS: A Game of Wit & Luck *
    • My youngest son still loves this game - it could make a return as it's a good 15-20 luckfest he will play before calling it a night.
  • Can't Stop **
    • This will come back... it always does. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wretch Like Me


Amazing grace! How sweet the soundThat saved a wretch like me!I once was lost, but now am found;Was blind, but now I see.

John Newton, “Amazing Grace” 
One of my favorite Bible stories is the multiple chapter epic that is the life of Joseph. In the latter part of the book of Genesis, the writer lays out a story with sibling rivalries, dysfunctional parenting, murderous intent, false forensic evidence and human trafficking. Joseph’s life covers multiple kingdoms as well as success at business, a false rape accusation, unwarranted imprisonment, the interpretation of dreams, a surprise meeting with the Pharaoh and promotion to one of the highest offices in Egypt. His family re-enters the story due to famine and we see the temptation for revenge, the planting of evidence, and the tearful reunion when Joseph reveals himself. Honestly, I’m surprised that Netflix isn’t developing a mini-series… it’s got all the right elements.
Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...Grandson: Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try and stay awake.Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

The Princess Bride (film)
Joseph makes a pretty amazing hero. You’ve got to admit, anyone who can survive being sold to slave traders and getting thrown in prison unjustly and still not bring down the mighty wrath of the Egyptian kingdom on the brothers who traded him away and faked his death has got “white hat” written all over him.

Here’s the problem, though - that’s not the whole story. The first time we see Joseph, he’s ratting out his brothers to his dad. Just a couple of lines later Dad is giving him the fabled “coat of many colors”, otherwise known as the “I love you more than any of my other children” coat.

One wonders if young Joseph is wearing the coat when he decides to tell his brothers about his dreams - dreams where he is the center of attention and they bow down to him. (Important safety tip: just because you have a dream doesn’t mean you have to share the contents with everyone around you.) This is one tone-deaf privileged teenager.

And the fateful trip where Joseph was thrown down a well while his brothers decided whether to murder him or to sell him off for beer money is because he was doing his father’s bidding and once again setting up to “bring a report” on his siblings.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,Prone to leave the God I love

“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 
Joseph is, in the words of the famous hymn, a wretch like me.

I don’t like the word “wretch” - I’d prefer to be “conflicted with various moral and ethical problems” or “working through dysfunctional family issues” or “tragically misunderstood.” But the painful reality is that I’m responsible for my own choices… and those choices tend towards selfishness, towards pridefulness, towards assuming that the world revolves around me.

I have a lot more in common with Yertle the Turtle and the star-bellied Sneetches than I do with Horton or the Lorax. Though I’m loath to admit it, an honest read of my heart would have the Sorting Hat put me in Slytherin. I’m more like Draco than I am Harry.
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.  
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
With all that said, it’s encouraging to see that Joseph struggles with the same things that I do. His sinfulness and his subsequent faithfulness remind me that my story isn’t determined by my worst choices… instead, it’s profoundly shaped by the most gracious choice ever made - Christ’s death and resurrection. His payment for sin - my sin - makes it possible for me to be draw close to God, to make wise choices, to be a hero in the epic story of the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13).
But the practical side
Said the question was still
When you grow up what will you be?
I wanna be a hero
Steve Taylor, “Hero”