Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Small Soldiers Big Battle

Movie tie-in games are usually not very good. Some of them stink. (Reference the Milton Bradley game, Congo: The Movie, which is so incredibly bad that it is actually worse than the horrible film it was based on.) Too many of them are simply re-themed classics: Madagascar Sorry, Lord of the Rings Risk, Star Wars Monopoly. There are some exceptions - I'm a big fan of four of the Star Wars games:
  • The Queen's Gambit - a big box full of plastic minis & a three-tier board system that takes most of a six foot table to set up... and, amazingly, a really good game is in there with all that stuff.
  • Epic Duels - a card-based multi-player combat system that is loaded with Star Wars flavor... you can choose to mix Episodes & characters!
  • Clash of the Lightsabers - a two player dueling card game with nifty pewter figs and interesting gameplay.
  • Attacktix - miniatures combat with not-so-minature figures... with spring-loaded guns & lightsabers!
But, I really wasn't intending to write about Star Wars... I wanted to write about one of Braeden's favorite games. (For those of you who don't pay good attention to the rest of the blog, Braeden is my 4.5 year old son.)

Currently, that's Small Soldiers Big Battle, which ties in (of course) with the film, Small Soldiers. (Note: I haven't seen Small Soldiers - any capsule reviews in the comments section of the blog would be highly appreciated.) We played 7 times this weekend - and Braeden won five of them. Any surprise that this is his favorite game?

Anyway, it's a simple "capture the flag" game using plastic minatures (about 3-4 inches tall). The pieces are copies of the characters from the film - meaning you have one player using army men and another player using monsters. On your turn you spin the spinner, which can result in:

  • moving a character 1-4 hexes (in the 'advanced' rules, you can split your move between pieces)
  • drawing a card (most of which are power-ups... which add speed or strength to a character)
  • recruit a character from the toy store (the toy store backdrop is where "killed" characters go)
  • If you are adjacent to an enemy figure, you can fight. Both players roll a die, apply modifiers, and the highest number wins. Repeat this process until one player manages to land on the opposing flag.

There are some wrinkles:

  • recruited characters MUST appear on a certain space - if that space is blocked by another piece (friendly or otherwise), you can't recruit
  • one of the cards (well, there are two of them) is a Globotech Recall - I'm not sure where it fits thematically, but it means you get to throw one opposing figure into the toy store
  • a number of cards in the deck allow you to use the catapult - which is a skateboard with a flyswatter that throws a golf ball with bolts in it... any figures which are knocked over are put in the toy store
  • powerups are good only until the next battle you're in - once you fight (win or lose), the powerup goes on the discard pile

And that's pretty much it. The box says it's for 5 years & up, but Braeden has no problem handling the game, and he's only four. (Granted, Braeden has been playing games since he was 2, so your mileage may vary.)

So why would I write about this game, instead of jumping on the "Gosh, isn't Caylus the coolest thing since sliced bread?" bandwagon?

  • It's actually fun to play - it's not going to eclipse Memoir '44 as my favorite battle game any time soon, but I don't hate playing it (as opposed to Candyland or Adopt a Dog)
  • there is some room for intelligent decisions - who do I give powerups to? should I rush foward or wait for the other player to come to me? how do I use what I've got to win?
  • it's great training for other games - as far as I can remember, this is Braeden's first hex-based game. It's also doing a great job of teaching him die roll modifiers and tactical movement. (Since there aren't any ZOC's, we don't have to worry about that quite yet. Of course, since he's unlikely to ever play 70's/80's AH and SPI games, he may NEVER figure out that ZOC means Zone of Control.)
  • I haven't played Caylus, which makes lavishing praise on it difficult
A final note: whoever wrote the description on the Geek doesn't have children and/or has some major extra time on his hands - why in the world would you PAINT these figures? In the words of Pepe the King Prawn, "Un-bee-leev-able."

The Far Side of Evangelism

What We Say To Dogs
"Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!"
What They Hear
"blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah..."
from The Far Side by Gary Larson ( I love The Far Side. Gary Larson was/is a genius - ok, maybe a bit warped, but still a genius. And the classic "what we say to dogs" cartoon is one of my favorites. It wasn't even difficult to find: type "far side" and "ginger" to Google, and there it was.

Sadly, though, what caused me to hunt down the cartoon was the decidedly uncartoon-like reality of doing church. I'm beginning to believe that much of what we do in order to reach people for Jesus communicates about as clearly as Ginger's owner communicates with her. To use another pop culture reference, we sound a lot like Miss Othmar, Charlie Brown's teacher. (Weird bit of trivia: originally, Miss Othmar's voice was played by a trombone.)

Why is that?! I mean, we've got the most incredible message in the world...

God's so passionate about the planet that he donates his one and only Son. Whoever invests their life in his Son doesn't die, but gets given this limitless life. D'you think God sends his Son to slam people down? No! He sends his Son to liberate people. No one's written off if they're convinced about Jesus.
paraphrase of John 3:16-18 from word on the street by Rob Lacey

So, why does it come out sounding like "Get right or get left" or "Where will you spend eternity: smoking or non-smoking?" (Yes, I've actually seen these on church signs.)

I'm starting to think that we may have reduced evangelism to a clean-up project - a spiritual "extreme makeover" that is more interested in making people acceptable to us rather than seeing them transformed into radical followers of Jesus Christ.

Evangelism in this worldview is about churching the unchurched, not connecting people to Jesus. It focuses on cleaning people up, changing their behavior so Christians (translation: church people) can be more comfortable around them.
from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

Frankly, unchurched people don't care about being made in our image... because we've spent way too much time shaving off the rough corners of our lives & drenching ourselves in the cheap perfume of self-righteousness. We haven't shown them anything worth giving up their Sunday mornings for, let alone their lives.

Occasionally when I do consulting for congregations I insist that the church leaders meet off-campus in a restaurant during Sunday church time. I ask the group to look around and then pose the question to them: "Do you think these people struggled with a decision this morning of whether to attend church or to go out for a sausage biscuit?" Are you kidding? The church is not even on their screen.
from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

So, how do we change this? How do we cut out the "blah blah blah SINNER blah blah" and really make an impact on this community?

Honestly, that's a bigger question than I can answer in a single e-mail article... so, for today, I'm just going to give you a personal starting point, a jumping off place for a journey with God into the great adventure He has planned for us. Here's the four-step plan:
  1. Write down your 10 closest friends/acquaintances. They can be co-workers, guys you golf with, people you get together with each weekend, whatever. Just write their names down on a piece of paper. (See, easy so far, right? As long as you can hold a pencil and write semi-legibly, you're good to go on this one.)
  2. Beside each name, make a note of what you know about their spiritual condition. In other words, do they go to church? Are they a follower of Christ? (BTW, "go to church" and "follower of Christ" are NOT the same thing.) What evidence of God's grace do you see in their lives?
  3. Think about the list you just made. Hey, too often in church we do these kind of exercises like homework and don't actually take time to think through the implications for our life. (There's a reason for that: it's called "avoiding pain." Sigh.) You may find that you don't know very much about the spiritual lives of your friends... or that all of your friends are churched believers. Or maybe you've got a lot of friends who are connected with churches but wouldn't recognize Jesus if He showed wearing a T-shirt with "Messiah" in hot pink Day-Glo lettering on the front. Whatever you find, ask yourself the tough questions: Do I really spend relational time with people who need Jesus, or is my life lived out in the rose-colored bubble of "churchianity"? Why don't I talk more about spiritual issues with my friends? (Note: I didn't say "why don't I witness more?" - so much of what we've been trained/guilted into witnessing-wise is Miss Othmar-ish "dump the Gospel & run" instead of living out our belief in Jesus 24-7. We don't need more drive-by Gospel sharing, we need more people whose love for Jesus bubbles up in their everyday lives & conversations.)
  4. Ask God for wisdom & direction. The temptation is to go into "Mr. Fix-It" mode when you're confronted with stuff like this... don't. Start right now, today, wherever you're reading this, by going to God and asking, "What now? How do I share the truth that changed my life with people who need to see it lived out and hear it spoken?"

There's nothing magic about this process - but there's something amazing & supernatural about our God. He is on a mission to redeem the world... and He wants us to join Him. Hopefully, with a bit more clarity... less "blah blah", more:

You live and breathe to profile and celebrate the one who picked you up out of your dark grovelings and stood you up in his brilliant light... Let your lifestyle be like a magnet for the locals. Let them charge you, try and sue you, but in court the jury will see a rare thing - a prosecution lawyer lost for words. And the papers'll write the headlines: "God turns up to take the credit."
paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:9, 11-12 from word on the street by Rob Lacey

This article originally appeared in 11/8/05 edition of The Grapevine, the e-newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I Feel This Way On Mondays...

...thankfully, not every Monday. Now, here's hoping our new worship & youth pastor doesn't take this wrong. (He he he... hi, Aaron!)

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Not-So-Amazing Race

Shari & I became hooked on The Amazing Race a couple of years ago... couples racing around the world, traveling, running, doing crazy stuff. So we were intrigued when they announced the Family edition this summer.

Unfortunately, the newest season hasn't been nearly as enjoyable as previous seasons... lots of the tasks seem pointless and there's a greater reliance on completely random elements to determine who wins a particular leg of the race. Sigh.

In addition, one of the families is very forward about their Christianity. Now, normally, I'd think that was a good thing - I'm kind of partial to people who love Jesus enough to talk about Him and live their life according to His principles - but the Weaver family? Double sigh. (In all fairness, you need to know that this family is made up of a mom & three teenage kids - Dad was killed in a racing accident a couple of years back.)

What follows are quotes from one of my favorite websites,
Television Without Pity. Let's listen to someone who isn't "inside the Christian bubble" and see how they perceive these Christians.

In maybe the creepiest off-the-mat talk ever, one of the girls explains, "We've been raised since we were born not to trust other people, but to trust your family and to trust God." Wow. Not to trust other people? I mean, I would have gotten it if she said they were raised not to worry about what other people think, but to have a girl that age saying she's been raised not to trust anyone outside the family is unhappy thing. It explains why they relate to other people in a manner reminiscent of the Coneheads, but it feels sad. Anyway, there is more talk about how they can't control other teams talking about them, and then the other daughter, I think, adds, "We're all Christians, and we're above that." Well, I can't argue with that. Jesus did speak extensively about the importance of crowing and placing oneself above others. I think that's what all the stuff about how you're more important than the birds of the air and the lilies of the field was about. It's like I finally understand the Book of Matthew...

Oh, and then Rachel prays, adding at the end, "And let us beat the other people if it's your will." My sense is that she wants to pray for God to make her win money, but some part of her is conscious of how cheap it sounds. She sort of wants to hedge her bets because maybe God and anyone watching might be offended by her asking for straight-up monetary gain at other people's expense, but she holds out hope that maybe God will make her win if she asks and won't make her win if she doesn't ask. Just in case it's an order-fulfillment system like getting books off Amazon, she doesn't want to miss her shot. So you get that (ironically) a**-covering prayer where we ask to win, but only if God wants us to win. Ick...

Back at the Yield, the Weavers are still b***ing. Mama explains that they're "responsible to a higher authority." (God: "[Looking around.] Me? Oh, don't bring me into this....")

The Yield sand runs out in the Weaver hourglass, so they are into the coffee bean Roadblock, where Tammy still has no bean. Boo! Rachel goes, starts into her pile of beans, and is ordered by her mother to begin praying. Gross. I'm sure they only want their bean if it's God's will. Boo, boo!...

My two cents: you can read this snark-y recap as an attack on Christianity & Christians - you know, "Look how persecuted we are." But I think you'd be missing the point.

We are our own worst enemy. When we casually toss God-language and God-behavior around without following it up with authentic Christ-lives, the stink causes people to recoil in horror. If we're supposed to "let our light shine before all men" (Matthew 5:16), then we could certainly do with a little more shining & a little less pointing at how nifty our light is.

And it's not just about the Weavers - as if them being eliminated from the race would somehow advance the cause of Christ. It's about each one of us - where are we "the ugly Christians"?

Look, I'm not talking about perfection. None of us, follower of Christ or not, can stand up to 24-7 scrutiny without breaking down. But there is a graciousness & contentment that bubbles up in people who've genuinely experienced the grace of God that echoes throughout their lives - both through the good behavior and the "I wish I could take that back" kind of stuff.

So, what's bubbling up out of you?

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45 (NIV)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Far Away But Weirdly Close

I didn't know Kyle well... I met him when Shari & I visited UBC in Waco, TX back in 1997. I'd talked to him a couple of times at emergent church leader gatherings. But that doesn't change that it was freaky to hear that he'd died as a result of being electrocuted in the baptistry of the church during a worship service Sunday morning. (You can read the basic story at Baptist Press. For the church's reaction/response, you can see their website.) A flurry of reactions have gone through my head/heart over the last few days:
  • Man, I hurt for his wife & kids.
  • What in the world are the folks in the church thinking? They just watched their pastor die.
  • Note to self: Don't EVER touch anything electrical while you're baptizing.
  • I wish I had an easy answer for the question "Why does God allow stuff like this to happen?"
  • Remember to pray for the rest of the staff - you've been through the loss of a pastor (due to his adulterous affair, in my case) and you know how traumatic it can be for those left behind.
  • I've been to that church - it feels weirdly close to me.
  • Ditto because I graduated from Baylor - and this was Homecoming Weekend.
For another take on this story, check out Dan Kimball's blog, Vintage Faith.

The One Hundred

Nearly a year ago, my friend, Stephen Glenn, came up with this wild-eyed idea. He'd poll a private mailing list of rabid game players that he & I both belong to about their favorite games... and come up with a Rolling Stone-like list of The Top 100 Games of All Time.

I volunteered to put the list up on my website - and the work began. After much starting & stopping (Stephen opened a game store, Shari & I had Collin, etc.), we finally were ready to go in early August.

And then something went horribly wrong with the software (Freeway Express) and computer (aging iMac) that I use to upload to Game Central Station. Insert immense sigh of frustration here - I have this huge update (which includes much more than just The One Hundred) that I have been unable to upload.

Anyway, after much futzing around, I suggested we create a blog to publish the material. Stephen agreed, and that blog just went live this morning (Thursday, November 3rd). It may or may not be of interest to you - some of you don't read this blog for the games - others of you are pretty ambivalent about the 'spiritual' part of this monster - but if you are interested, you can find it at

The One Hundred

Over the next three weeks, we'll be counting down the games from #100 to #1. Might make a nice Christmas list for someone in your family. :-)

BTW, Stephen is not just a nice guy, he's also the designer of the Spiel des Jahres nominated game, Balloon Cup, which you need to play at some point!