Thursday, February 23, 2006

Heard It On/In The Grapevine

"the Grapevine" is the name of the (nearly) weekly e-newsletter at NewLife Community Church, the church I pastor in Easton, CA. (Easton is just south of Fresno.)

The articles here are not every one of my Grapevine articles - I only publish the ones here on the blog that I think will connect with my diverse audience.

Or, in some cases, that I like. So who gives a hoot if you guys don't?! :-)

Pod People - The Games

In a previous post, Pod People, I gave you some of the highlights of my trip to Santa Clarita in January. Now I want to take a minute to give you my impressions of some of the games I played.


This was my first time to play Tsuro... I'd heard nice things about it, but I hadn't given it a try. At it's heart, it's a simpler, quicker cousin to Metro/Iron Horse. It'll be easier to teach & and to rope non-gamers into - and it plays with up to 8 players. All is good here...

...except for the goofy Dragon tile rule, which none of us could make heads or tails of. Once I get that figured out, I'd like to own a copy of the game.


Ark was one of my Christmas presents, and I'd had a great time playing one game with my wife & family. So, I volunteered to teach Dave, Erin & Nikki (sp?). We made it through 3-4 rounds of turns before Ryan "Rain On Fluff Daddy's Pitiful Parade" Wheeler walked in and asked what we were doing.

Seems I'd managed to blow a key rule: you get to draw cards OR play, not both. (BTW, the game works my wrong way... sigh.) I think I blew another rule... but I don't remember what it was. (Yes, when I can finally update my website sometime later this spring, it'll go on the
Lost & Found rules page.)

Jenseit von Thebes

All the positive buzz about Jenseit von Thebes had me intriguied... the first printing sold out in 2004, the second printing sold out in 2005, it's hard to find and well-thought-of by a number of folks I like (Mark Johnson, Joe Huber, etc.)

And I was not disappointed. This is an exploration/archaeology game that manages to have enough decisions to feel some control while enough luck to really feel like an exploration game. I thoroughly enjoyed the four player game we played - of course, it didn't hurt that I won.

The one glitch in our game is that the exhibitions came out at weird times - 7 of them in the first year (3 before any of us could gather artifacts) and 1 in the last year (that came too late for any of us to attend). On playing again, I would probably use some kind of variant that kept the exhibitions out of the top of the deck. (Ryan Davis suggested 3 cards per player, which seems about right... maybe 4.)

Now, my hope & dream is that a game company like Goldsieber decides to pick this one up and give it the "Goldland" treatment... imagine it! 5 bags with chunky round tiles for each of the dig sites, a Franz V. board, archaeologist pawns, better art & better quality cards... sigh. I'd buy a copy in a heartbeat.


One of Braeden's Christmas presents was the Haba game, Akaba - and I got to play it twice this last weekend. Both times there was lots of hooting & hollering... this game manages to be great fun for adults & kids.

For those who haven't seen it, Akaba is a race/memory game... but the way you move your flying carpet pieces is with puffs of air from a squeeze bulb. Nifty!


This was the "discovery" of the weekend for me, as I had the opportunity to play this with Dave Arnott & Mark Johnson on Saturday afternoon. It's a very different kind of bidding game (you're actually lowballing rather than "winning" a bid) and there are some tricky ways to manipulate the labor market. Zahltag is fast (30 minutes or so) and a lot of fun.

I did really lousy at it, but I enjoyed it immensely. If anyone wants to get rid of a copy, I'm looking for it!

Reef Encounter

I have since played Reef Encounter a 2nd time, but it's important to note my initial impression... I felt like I was manipulating bits rather than immersed in a game. After a second playing, I can "see" the game better, but I'm not sure I'm going to like it any more because of that.

Trump Tricks Game!

Yet another trick-taking game, saved only by the fact that I played it with Dave & Mark. Otherwise, just more of the same. (I'd rather be playing Victory & Honor or Control Nut.)v

Route 66

After the insanely lukewarm reception this game got with the Fresno Gamers, I brought it out with trepdiation... but Dave & Mark (and I!) enjoyed ourselves immensely. It's a "take that" game with an odd race design - you want to get from Chicago to L.A. as fast as possible, then take your sweet time on the return trip (you get credit for sightseeing). I think it's a great "once a year" game from Wolfgang Riedesser, who is a designing hero of mine.

Hochst Verdachtig

Dave drove me back to Fresno and got a quickie introduction to the joys of kid gaming. First up was this game of detectives chasing a crook, powered by a tilting board. As usual, the Haba bits are scrumptious and the gameplay is good. This could be played without the random elements (die roll for number of moves, varied values on the victory point cards) but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

Rein Damit

We also played Haba's Rein Damit (which is NOT actually a cuss word!) - it's a game about feeding the animals in the zoo that uses the same basic mechanism as Bounce It In. Take a ball and bounce it into the grid at the spot you need. I like this one enough that we have enlarged copies of the artwork on the walls of our nursery.

Louis XIV

I'm sure it's better with more players (we played with 2) but I didn't find Louis XIV particularly compelling. It's Alladin's Dragons with some added depth. Since I'm not a big fan of AD, I didn't fall deeply in love with this one, either.


One of my favorite exploration games - it's great with 2 players!


I've come to realize that I like Fjords for the same reason I like Carcassonne - I like building the board with tiles AND I can "see" the game really well. That translates into great fun for me. Fjords is shorter, but with less variety than Carc.

Kardinal & Konig: Das Duell

A two player variant for Web of Power created by Michael Schacht, I think it works like a charm, though it works best with 2 experienced players.


Any game where you poke holes through paper "ice" in order to fish for ball bearings with a magnet is time well spent in my book.

Industrial Waste (x2)

Two games of two player Industrial Waste convinced both Dave & I that the game is broken with 2 players... while the system works, there is no way to come back when you fall behind.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Random Memory Dump

Just finished re-reading the last two Harry Potter novels (Order of the Phoenix & The Half-Blood Prince)... they were both much better the second time around, probably because I wasn't expecting them to be like The Goblet of Fire, which is my favorite of the series. It's also good to read them back-to-back, because there is a great deal of "flow" between the two novels.

Monday night was "where'd everybody go?!" night at Fresno Gamers, so John & I ended up playing Queen's Gambit and St Petersburg, both games I enjoy a great deal and don't get to play nearly enough. My attitude about the evening isn't hurt by the fact that I won both games, either - as the Trade Federation, I managed a Darth Maul duel victory while Anakin evidently stopped for a 7 course meal on his way to the control ship... and in St Petersburg, I out-built John, buying both theaters + a number of other high point thingees.

This is an "easy" week at NewLife, as we have a guest speaker for the Sunday morning service. That means I've been able to help Shari Jo prep for the women's retreat she's leading this weekend - mainly by taking care of Braeden & Collin.

Speaking of Collin, he's in that "woodchuck" stage right now, where EVERYTHING looks edible to him. Braeden never really did this, but left to his own devices, Collin will attempt to chew the binding off of a board book.

The guest speaker, btw, is Allen Troxler (well, DOCTOR Allen Troxler, now)... who was the first associate pastor of the church @ hickory hollow. Spending time with him is always fun - and since he's a brilliant teacher, I end up learning a chunk whenever he does stuff like this.

Newest book in the reading queue: Sundown Towns by James Loewen. It's about the vast American heritage of towns/suburbs that practiced "racial exclusion" - in other words, these are the places that put up those "N----r, don't let the sun go down on you in ________" signs. Where my mom & dad grew up (the Ozarks), this happened in many places - and in a weird "haven't heard the name of my hometown in THAT context", he even mentions Placentia while talking about Brea's sundown status. Of course, Placentia didn't become a sundown town because it was a "Mexican" place. Again, weird. (BTW, Loewen has written two other books that ought to be required reading: Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America.)

Anyone else having odd flashbacks to the days when watching the Olympics was more like a Western movie, what with the white hats (Americans, or if we stunk in a particular sport, Australians or West Germans) and the black hats (Soviets, East Germans & Chinese)? I don't want those days back, mind you - but this is the first time it's really struck me about how much has changed in the last 30 years internationally.

One last Olympic-related comment: the new figure skating scoring system has made the pairs & men's competitions less interesting, but it's done WONDERS for ice dancing. (Hi, Charles, my ice-dancing, Settlers-winning buddy... you said you were going to call me back!)

Broken Glass

The church I planted/pastored in Nashville (the church @ hickory hollow) was just a few weeks old when we asked Jason Bullion to come & be artistic. (This wasn't a stretch for Jason - he was an art major!) While I spoke about the creativity of God and His dreams for the church, Jason painted an impressionistic work of a stained glass window.

Interestingly enough, the stained glass window looked like someone had thrown a rock through it... but the place where the glass was missing formed a jagged but still recognizable cross with white light streaming through the opening.

That cross became the symbol/icon for our church - a rag-tag group of people burned by more traditional churches who wanted to throw some rocks through the practices & beliefs we thought were enslaving us and let the light of Jesus illuminate everything we did & said.

In the end, we were probably better at breaking things than we were at letting light in. There was, at times, an attitude for all of us that reminds me of one of David Letterman's old stand-by jokes - throw something out the window and see how it explodes when it hits the ground. When I'm honest with myself, some of my desire to sledgehammer church tradition was out of frustration & anger rather than following the leadership of God.

And yet, even with the problems, I think we were onto something. Too often, we do church life (and the rest of our lives, for that matter) based solely on what has gone on before. We get so focused on keeping programs alive and keeping up with the Joneses (i.e.. the church down the street, across town, whatever) that the light of Christ grows dim behind our ever-thickening panes of stained glass.

So, the painting still hangs in my office.

And the spirit of the painting? It's still around, too.

Which brings me to Sunday nights here at NewLife. For the time being, we will not be having Sunday night activities for adults or children on Sunday evenings. (The youth, under Aaron's leadership, may still meet on Sunday evenings.)

There are a number of reasons why: wide age range of children to take care of coupled wit inconsistent attendance, a declining interest from the majority of our adults in participating in studies & classes, the need for more workers to adequately staff Sunday evenings - set against the need for workers for Sunday School and Children's Church...

...but at the heart of it, there's really only one reason to set these programs aside. We were doing Sunday night activities because we'd always done something on Sunday nights, not because we had a clear leading from God that we needed to do something.

I realized a few weeks ago that while we've done some good stuff on Sunday nights, we've primarily been working to find curriculum & leaders to "fill space" - to make sure that we have some kind of spiritual activity in a particular time slot. No wonder we had trouble getting people to come!

So, this spring, we're going to throw a rock through this stained glass window...

Now, that doesn't preclude us doing things with our Sunday evenings. I know of at least one life group (small group Bible study) that is about to begin meeting on Sunday evenings. This Sunday night, Dr. Allen Troxler will be teaching our Winter Bible Study. Later in the spring, we're going to use this time slot for "pilot" versions of our second "emergent" service. This decision simply means we won't be creating activities for the sole purpose of activity. Oddly enough, we'll try & be purpose-driven... for more than just 40 days. :-)

One Sabbath, Jesus was strolling with his disciples through a field of ripe grain. Hungry, the disciples were pulling off the heads of grain and munching on them. Some Pharisees reported them to Jesus: "Your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!"

Jesus said, "Really? Didn't you ever read what David and his companions did when they were hungry, how they entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? And didn't you ever read in God's Law that priests carrying out their Temple duties break Sabbath rules all the time and it's not held against them?

"There is far more at stake here than religion. If you had any idea what this Scripture meant--"I prefer a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual'--you wouldn't be nitpicking like this. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath; he's in charge." Matthew 12:1-8 (The Message)

This article originally appeared in the 2/21/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Five & Dime: 2005 Recap

I first began keeping track of the Five & Dime lists back in 1999... and here it is, 2006. Eight years... wow. Here's the all the links for the 2005 Five & Dime reports. And here's the links for graphic 'over time' comparisons of the top games, which I call Wide Angle Lens:

Friday, February 17, 2006

Five & Dime: Wide Angle Lens (Four Year Pix)

These graphs cover 2005 (top bar) through 2002 (bottom bar). The bar is the percentage of players reporting who played the game 5+ times in the given year. The games here first appeared on the Five & Dime lists in 2002.

Alles im Eimer/The Bucket King
Bang! (includes expansions)
Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers
Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
Power Grid (includes Funkenschlag & expansions)
Puerto Rico
Street Soccer
TransAmerica (includes TransEuropa)
Trendy (includes Crazy Race)

Five & Dime: Wide Angle Lens (Five Year Pix)

These graphs cover 2005 (top bar) through 2001 (bottom bar). The bar is the percentage of players reporting who played the game 5+ times in the given year. The games here first appeared on the Five & Dime lists in 2001.

Catch Phrase
Hick Hack im Gackelwack
Royal Turf
San Marco
Wyatt Earp

Five & Dime: Wide Angle Lens (Six Year Pix)

These graphs cover 2005 (top bar) through 2000 (bottom bar). The bar is the percentage of players reporting who played the game 5+ times in the given year. The games here first appeared on the Five & Dime lists in 2000.

Battle Cry (AH)
Carcassonne (includes expansions but not stand-alone "cousins")
Lord of the Rings (includes expansions)
Princes of Florence
Taj Mahal
Web of Power (includes China)

Five & Dime: Wide Angle Lens (Seven Year Pix)

These graphs cover 2005 (top bar) through 1999 (bottom bar). The bar is the percentage of players reporting who played the game 5+ times in the given year. The games here first appeared on the first Five & Dime list in 1999.

Apples to Apples
Loopin' Louie
Lost Cities
Mamma Mia (includes Sole Mio)
Ricochet Robot(s)
Union Pacific
Zirkus Flohcati

Five & Dime: Wide Angle Lens (Eight Year Pix)

These graphs cover 2005 (top bar) through 1999 (bottom bar). The bar is the percentage of players reporting who played the game 5+ times in the given year. The games here first appeared on the first Five & Dime list in 1998, though many of them were released before that.

Bohnanza (includes expansions)
Can't Stop
Carabande (includes Pitchcar)
El Grande
Euphrat & Tigris
For Sale
Formula De (includes Formula De Mini)
Liar's Dice (includes Perudo)
Metro (includes Iron Horse)
Mu & Mehr
Schnappchen Jagd
Settlers of Catan (includes expansions but not stand-alone "cousins")
Settlers of Catan Card Game
Showmanager (includes Atlantic Star)
Take 6
Take It Easy
Through the Desert

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Oym Hunt

Here's a new time waster for all of you computer solitaire nerds out there - you know who you are. (Yes, you with 1000+ games of Free Cell played on your Windows machine.)

Anyway, allow me to introduce you to Oym Hunt... an addictive bit of insanity created by Frank Nestel. And, yes, this is the "Frank" in Doris & Frank, the game company that brought you Ursuppe/Primordial Soup. (My favorite older D&F game is actually Tante Tarantel.)

I found the Oym Hunt thanks to D&F's newest card game, Ark. (Which, btw, is a lot of fun. It requires one full play to understand how all the cards interact, then you get to enjoy playing the wonderful little game.) One of the cards is the Oym... and kindly includes the web address so you can find the Oym Hunt.

Of course, I thought an Oym was something like a Jewish hamster - "Mazeltov, Rabbi - how is your oym doing in his new Habitrail?". Or perhaps a Yiddish expression of frustration? - "Oym... I wish you'd stop putting the robber on 6 ore hex, you schlemiel."

Five & Dime 2005: Joining the "In" Crowd

These are games that have appeared on the Five & Dime lists before... and have risen in overall playing percentages.

Gamepercentage gain from 2004
For Sale+23.54%
Around the World in 80 Days (Kosmos)+12.32%
Fairy Tale+10.71%
Titan: The Arena/Colossal Arena+4.55%
Reef Encounter+4.14%
Settlers of Catan+3.43%

There are two main reasons that games appear on this list:
  1. They were reprinted this year (For Sale, Fairy Tale, Titan the Arena, RoboRally, Torres, Reef Encounter, Battleline)
  2. They were "Essen" games... they were released late in 2003 in Germany and were only played 5+ times by a couple of folks in 2003 (Around the World in 80 Days, Jambo, Niagara, Reef Encounter)

The interesting games here are the ones that can not be explained by these reasons:

  • Why the sudden interest in Samurai? (Great game, btw...)
  • Settlers of Catan is just reclaiming some ground - it's been a solid contender on the Five & Dime lists since I started collecting them. It's also probably affected by the larger sample of gamers this year.)
  • Blokus is growing in popularity each year - is this a "classic" in the making?
  • Where in the heck did Boggle & Hamsterrolle come from?! (Again, both great games.)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Five & Dime 2005: Lo, How The Mighty Have Fallen

These are games that have appeared on the Five & Dime lists before... and have fallen in overall playing percentages.

Gamepercentage loss from 2004
St Petersburg-32.22%
Ticket To Ride-29.19%
San Juan-24.24%
Liar's Dice/Bluff/Perudo-16.46%
10 Days/Europa Tour-15.66%
King's Breakfast-15.45%
Puerto Rico-15.35%
Power Grid/Funkenschlag-13.94%
Flaschenteufel/Bottle Imp-12.02%

Note that many of these games are still highly rated on the overall and/or five/dime lists... this year, with the much larger sampling group, high percentages common to the top games (60%+) completely disappeared. So, Ticket To Ride, San Juan & Puerto Rico can all take pretty big hits in number of players... and still end up in the top ten of the overall five & dime lists.

Here's what I wrote last year:

Likely to be here next year: Ticket To Ride (which will combine natural attrition plus the release of T2R: Europe to take a bit of a fall), Goa (which will succumb to the "gamer-d out" syndrome along with Saint Petersburg), and Tonigaki (which is South Sea Islander for "jumped the shark last spring".)

It's always nice when your predictions are right on the money - contributes to your ego and all that. :-)

In 2006, it'll be Ticket To Ride: Europe (what with the new version & all), Louis XIV (suffering the same fate as Goa) and For Sale (which will drop back down again following it's rerelease) that'll end up here on the "fallen" list.

I'm not sure what to predict about Ingenious, Blokus, & Memoir '44. All three have managed to hold (Memoir '44) or gain over time (Ingenious, Blokus), which confounds the normal patterns for the five & dime lists.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Five & Dime 2005: Fresh Faces

These are games that appeared on the Five & Dime lists for the first time... in some cases, they may be older games that just hadn't reached a particular play threshold.

Ticket To Ride: Europe35527.78%
Shadows Over Camelot32527.78%
Louis XIV19515.15%
That's Life16011.11%
Tower of Babel10510.10%
Easy Come, Easy Go705.05%
Havoc: The 100 Years War504.55%
Walk the Dogs503.54%

Comments to come later.

OK, one comment for now... no game dominated the numbers like Ticket To Ride or Puerto Rico or Carcassonne in previous years. Is this an indication that the hobby is growing and/or is indicative of having nearly 200 people participate?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Five & Dime 2005: Nickels (5-9 Played Games)

Shadows Over Camelot22.73%newnewnew
Ticket To Ride: Europe19.70%newnewnew
San Juan18.18%17.27%newnew
Ticket To Ride17.68%21.82%newnew
For Sale15.66%4.55%7.89%7.69%
Take 614.14%9.09%15.79%13.85%
Lost Cities13.64%13.64%17.11%18.46%
Settlers of Catan13.64%6.36%13.16%20.00%
St Petersburg13.64%22.73%newnew
Power Grid11.62%22.73%5.26%10.77%
Puerto Rico11.62%19.09%27.63%26.15%
Louis XIV10.61%newnewnew
Liar's Dice10.10%23.64%10.53%12.31%
Through the Desert10.10%10.00%6.58%9.23%
Comments to come later... for now, I just needed to get this published before I went out of town. Also, the "comparitive" lists (Fresh Faces, Joining the "In" Crowd, and Lo, How The Mighty Have Fallen) will be published next week.