Wednesday, March 28, 2007

You've Got Your Insipid Reality Show In My Geeky Gaming Hobby...

...hey, you've got your geeky gaming hobby in my insipid reality show! (It's two great tastes that taste great together.)

Here's my idea... what would happen if you made an American Idol game (or an Amazing Race game, for that matter) based on Titan: The Arena (currently in print as Colossal Arena from Fantasy Flight games)?

Think about it: both involve elimination of the weakest player in a given round, which may or may not be the weakest player in the actual event.

I thought of this while driving home from the Pizza Hut with dinner (gosh, I'm a great cook) and listening to The Dice Tower podcast (#89) where Moritz riffed on hybrid games. (BTW, whatever you think about Tom Vasel, he's done the hobby a great service by introducing us to the musings of Moritz Eggert, the comic stylings of Eric Summerer & the delightful personality of Mary Prasad.)

Pummeling Mr. Ed

Sometimes, in the church circles I run in, certain individuals talk about a piece of music or a particular event "speaking to them". Well, this bit of Dilbert spoke to me big-time about a number of areas of my life:

  • Gaming: I am so very, very tired of the whole "Ameritrash/Eurosnoot" thing...
  • Church: This goes double for the whole "private prayer language"/"beverage alcohol" snipe hunt some of the leadership in my denomination seem to think is more important than Christ-like character or actual reading of the Bible... (btw, if this doesn't make sense to you, don't sweat it. This is one of the those moments where Ira Glass is, sadly, wrong.)
  • American Idol: If a faux-hawk made out of ponytails can't convince people to stop voting for Sanjaya, nothing can.

This American Life

I found the following quote from Ira Glass, host of This American Life (now on Showtime, which just seems weird to me, seeing as it's probably the coolest radio show ever) on I knew I liked the guy & his show, but to hear such perceptive thoughts from him that dovetail with my own thinking just makes me wanna get up & do the happy dance:

Christians are actually, to me, anyway, as a Jew, much more interesting in America. And weirdly, much more misunderstood. Evangelical Christians are the most incompetently portrayed group in America, in TV, in fiction, in the news. When Christians say that the media gets them wrong, Christians are absolutely right. Christian life in this country is really horribly documented, and way more interesting than is done. Generally, in the media, very religious Christians are portrayed as hardheaded doctrinaire knuckleheads. But in fact, from my experience, the most religious Christians I know tend to be incredibly thoughtful, complicated, generous to a fault, very principled and not knuckleheads. Actually, they're sort of weirdly the opposite of the stereotype, and that includes people from the hardcore fundamentalist faiths.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Disneyland Resort: Christmas 2003 (Tuesday)

Our first full day in the parks...

Cinnamon Roll: The bakery on Main Street serves these "Really Big Cinnamon Rolls", which are incredibly yummy. We ought to know - the family shared one. (Braeden and Dad had their fair share, even though we'd both eaten a Pop Tart at the hotel before coming over to the park.)

Peter Pan: This was just a bad idea... Braeden had a tough time going to sleep the night before and was operating at less than 100%. But, Mom & Dad both love this ride and thought he would, too. Nope... so far, the only ride he's cried even partway through. Guess we'll have to wait a few years. (The idea of riding in a pirate ship seemed cool to him, but then it went in the dark...)

Dumbo: A second ride on Dumbo... more fun for Dad & Braeden. Again, we kept noticing Monstro... and other things this time, as seeing things spin around in the daytime was a blast.

Mad Tea Party: Braeden asked... and Dad "took the bullet" (as neither Mom or Dad like spinning rides). He had a wonderful time... he got to sit in the tea cup he wanted and he just grinned as we spun around and around. He turned the wheel a bit in the center - but thankfully for Dad's stomach, most of the motion was just from the turntable.

Meeting Belle: On our way to ride Pooh again, we ran into Belle (from Beauty & the Beast). Suddenly, Mr. "I Want to Hug the Characters" turned into Mr. Shy. He wouldn't look at her. She asked his name and then called him Prince Braeden, but that didn't seem to change anything. No mattter whether Daddy or Mommy were close, he wanted nothing to do with her.

Winnie the Pooh (& the Characters): We rode Pooh again, this time with a more relaxed young rider - and he had a good time (as expected). As we got off the ride, Dad spied Pooh taking pictures with kids... so we went over & got pictures with Pooh. And then Tigger, who was right there as well. And then Eeyore, who was just down the way. Talk about a happy Braeden - and a happy Mom & Dad. He's so cute with the furry characters... hugging them, giving them high-fives... even rubbing noses with some of them. It's adorable.

Indiana Jones Adventure: Next stop - a big people ride. The line for this one tends to run 1 hour plus, but because we were "baby-swapping" (one of us ride while the other holds Braeden, then switch), we were allowed to go into the exit and work our way back to the loading area. Please note: the loading area is about 5 minutes of tunnels & passages away from the actual exit... Braeden did pretty well until Dad got onto his vehicle and drove away. (And the ride isn't short... he cried about 1/2 the time I was gone, evidently.) When we swapped with Mom, Braeden & Dad walked down to the part of the line where we could see the Jungle Cruise boats go by... and waved at the people. Of course, the skippers all ended up commenting on the two of us, Braeden sitting on my shoulders: "Look, the 7 foot man has escaped," "Watch out for the pygmies - they like to sit on each other's shoulders. The cute one's are the most dangerous."

Jungle Cruise: Of course, we then actually needed to ride the Jungle Cruise. Braeden was pretty subdued through the whole thing - he saw the animals but I'm not sure exactly what he was thinking/feeling. Our skipper was very funny - but not in a kid sort of way.

Meeting Ariel: On our way back over to Small World, we stopped by Ariel's Grotto (it's where the old Monsanto house used to be) and tried once again to see if he'd talk to a "face" character... no luck. This time, Ariel even saw that he was carrying a Nemo (fish) happy meal toy, and told Braeden that Nemo was one of her best friends. All to no avail... he was NOT going to talk to her.

It's A Small World: A second ride at "the doll's house" - this time much more relaxed and ready to enjoy the fun. This was the first time he got to sit on one side of the boat and spend most of his time choosing what to look at. (It was this trip that Shari & I both noticed that the mermaids had left a plate of fish for Santa.)

Donald's Boat: A place to play in Toontown... essentially just a big boat/climbing area. Our time here was marked by two things: Braeden getting huffy about whose turn it was to "steer" the boat with another little boy and Dad whacking his head HARD on the child-sized opening to the wheelhouse. Braeden did enjoy it, though, and asked to go back again.

Chip'n'Dale's Treehouse: Each house took a bit to get Braeden into... this one was no exception. There actually wasn't much up there, but Braeden was happy to go see "Chip'nJail's" house, as he called them.

Autopia: We knew Braeden would enjoy this, but we didn't realize how much. He didn't understand, of course, that he wasn't controlling the speed of the car... but he got to steer, and that was great fun. (Depends on who you ask... his favorite thing about Autopia was "bonkin'" whoever he was riding with. In adult English, what that means is that he steered in such a way so that the car bonked against the center rail, throwing everyone in the car about... and causing him to laugh.)

Fire Engine: All three of us were tired, and got the opportunity to ride on the Fire Engine back down Main Street. Nothing much sticks out in my mind about this - except that this was probably the least friendly Cast Member we met. (He was very ticky about our umbrella stroller.)

After an afternoon Lunchable (ah, the joy of having an in-room fridge) and a nap, we went back over to Disneyland for the evening.

King Arthur's Carrousel: While Mom nailed down our spot for the parade, Braeden & Dad went to ride Dumbo. Except Dumbo was so crowded, we opted instead for another ride on King Arthur's Carrousel. We got to ride on Ol' Blue & Christmas... but this time, Braeden didn't have anyone standing next to him - he rode by himself! (It's pretty cool watching your son do stuff on his own.)

Christmas Fantasy Parade: The parade was great... we had "candy cotton", as Braeden calls it, and popcorn, while the floats & dancers went by. Again, Braeden really liked the toy soldiers; I (Dad) didn't realize that the soldiers are actually playing their drums & trumpets - pretty cool. As earlier in the day, he was most interested in the "stuffed" characters... much more than the princesses.

Astro-Orbiter: As soon as the parade finished passing us, we (well, I) took off running with Braeden in the stroller, trying to wind our way through the crowds in order to get somewhere that was NOT Fantasyland. I freaked Shari out a bit as Braeden & I had our own homegrown version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride through the Castle & up to the Astro-Orbiter. As this is just a taller/cooler version of Dumbo, Braeden loved it. (It was fun for me, too - I don't think I'd ever ridden these before in my many years of visting Disneyland.)

Autopia: We stood in line (again!) for the opportunity to let Braeden send us to the chiropracter on the Autopia cars. I will say that it's more fun at night, when the lighting & atmosphere is primo.

Main Street Cinema: As the park was closing down, Braeden & I popped in here while Shari was looking in one of the shops - nothing has changed from my youth. It's a big dark room with a variety of old-school (20's & 30's) Disney cartoons playing on various screens. It didn't hold our attention for long.

Final note... there were no fireworks tonight or the night before - high winds forced them to call it off.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Peanut Butter & Karo Syrup

Pa Grape: I hear it's flowing with milk and honey

Jimmy: Sounds sticky!

"The Promised Land" from the Veggietales video Josh & the Big Wall

My dad taught me many things:

  • how to change the oil on my car (which I don't do because I don't like being covered in stuff that looks like it came straight out of an X-Files rerun)
  • how to comparison shop for electronics (a skill I still use)
  • some basic dating skills (best bit of advice: "Ask for the second date at the end of the first date... while you're still both having a good time." It worked with Shari - and we'll be married 17 years this June!)
  • how to clean things thoroughly (a skill I don't use as much as I should)
  • how to think like a CEO (something he did very well and I hope I've figured out how to apply that stuff wisely to church life)
  • the incredible grace of giving generously

And the list goes on...

But one of my favorite things he taught me is how to mix chunky peanut butter & light Karo syrup to make a gooey substance that is best on scooped & eaten with graham crackers. Of course, there's some "art" involved in getting the balance of peanut butter & syrup right - too much syrup & the sticky goodness drips all over the place; too much peanut butter & you can't scrape it off the plate with a knife, let alone a graham cracker.

We have to maintain that same delicate balance in our lives as people who are followers of Jesus Christ. We need to safeguard ourselves from sin & grow deeper in our individual relationship with God (metaphorically, we'll call that peanut butter). At the same time, we need to "go everywhere" (Acts 1:8) as witnesses of what Jesus has done in our lives (we'll call that Karo).

Too much Karo and we end causing a mess - sharing a faith without substance or depth that is more about putting convert notches on our spiritual gun belt than about seeing people become fully devoted followers of Christ.

On the other hand, too much peanut butter & we find our stuck to our spiritual plates - so addicted to church life & the Christian bubble that we have no influence on a lost world who desperately needs Jesus. We become whiny Christians whose demand for "deeper teaching" is a mask for our fear of the way that non-believers might challenge us.

Ah, but when the mix is right... when we long to know Jesus more as well as see people come to know Him, we are a little slice of heaven... on a graham cracker.

I'm not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. John 17:15-18 (New Living Translation)

You've probably figured it out by now, but a simple note: I was really hungry when I wrote this.

This article originally appeared in the 3/26/07 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My Eldest Son, The Theologian

This conversation occurred the other night at bedtime between Shari & Braeden. (For those of you who've just joined us, Braeden is the cute redheaded kid that keeps showing up in the pictures here... he'll be 6 years old in June. Shari is the most wonderful wife in the entire universe - thankfully, she's my wife.)

Shari: The most important gift you can give me is to be safe & be filled with God's love.

Braeden: Nothing is bigger than God's love.

Shari: That's right...

Braeden: Not even cereal.

Shari: [pause to avoid laughing] That's right.

Braeden: Not even Colossal Fruit Loops. [pause] Actually, they're quite tiny.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The "Problem" With Toolkit Games

It's pretty simple, really... all those lovely delectable options are intoxicating. If you're not careful, you can take a relatively elegant game & turn it into an overchromed monster.

It was our Monday night game of Epic Battlelore that helped coalesce my thoughts on this... you can read my detailed response about that game over on BoardgameGeek. I won't go into that here.

I just want to take a minute to comment on the whole "greatest strength/greatest weakness" dichotomy when it comes to certain game systems. And just so I'm not too vague here, I'm referring to some of my favorite games: Memoir '44, Battlelore & Heroscape. (I think it's probably true of Descent: Journeys in the Dark as well, but I still don't own the game, so I'll refrain from comment.)

All of these systems have, at their core, a very simple combat system and a variety of unit types. (So far, so good.) Each game also has different types of terrain & objectives, depending on the scenario. (Still good.) These terrain types, unit types, various objectives & other rules can be combined in nearly limitless ways to create a stunning array of game experiences. (Excellent.) Hence, the moniker "toolkit games".

Yet it's at exactly this point that the wheels come off the proverbial apple cart... because far too often, we (and yes, I'm including myself here) become so enamored of all the special features that we want to make sure all of them are included in the same scenario. So you get Heroscape boards with lava & ice & castles & trees & roads & umpteen glyphs... or Memoir '44 scenarios with mountains & dams & mines & snipers & 10 different terrain types... or Battlelore battles with high-pointed War Councils & hordes of figures. Just because the options are there does not mean that they should all be included at once.

For me, the best way to avoid this tendency is to play primarily with playtested scenarios. For all three of the aforementioned games, there is a great online community with ample resources of playtested scenarios.

So, whadda you think?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Game Expert For Hire: Have Dice, Will Travel

I just posted to the forums over on BoardGameGeek about an important recent development in my life - and I figured you guys might be interested.

I've been working for Klutz Press as a consultant on a new edition of their board games book - pretty cool, huh?!

Here's what the post says:

Klutz Press (yeah, the people who taught me how to juggle) is working on a new edition of The Book of Classic Board Games, originally published in 1991, and they've asked me to advise them. The original book contained instructions for 15 classic board games, the boards to play them on, 64 markers (32 black and 32 white), and dice. Sid Sackson helped select the games for the first edition... yes, I'm a bit humbled to be following in his footsteps.

For the new edition, the editor at Klutz is looking for games that will work for kids as young as 7, but also be interesting for adults. The trim size of the book is 10"X10", so the games have to be able to work on a small board. The original book was entirely abstract strategy games, and they are looking to include other sorts of games in this edition.

The original book was all classic, non-proprietary games. In this edition, they are considering the possibility of licensing some games. Klutz plans to add to the components included in the original book—but ideally any components that they add will be used in more than one game.

Here's where you guys come in... any suggestions for games that fit these parameters (small game board, limited components) and that you'd like to see available in a very portable form?

If you're interested in joining the conversation, just throw your reply on this thread at the Geek.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

In Memoriam: "Anchor Deep, say a prayer & hang on!"

Back in 1992, Shari & I went to Nashville, TN, where I became the minister of youth at Dalewood Baptist Church. I was following in the footsteps of Debbie Harned, a tremendous youth minister upon whose work in leadership development & discipleship of kids I built the majority of my ministry at Dalewood.

Debbie passed away yesterday from cancer. (Thank you to Nashville Uproar for the blog comment that let me know what was going on.) My prayers & thoughts are with her husband, Kelly, and her son, Alan.

I've written about Debbie before (in the post
How in the Heck Did I Get Here, Part II: Dalewood Baptist) but I wanted to make sure some other memories got set down before I lost them.
  • Debbie was underpaid and underappreciated at Dalewood - not least of which because she was a woman. I said it above and I mean it - the survival of my youth ministry in the dark days that followed our pastor's adulterous affair were directly affected by the high quality of work she did in creating a volunteer staff who loved Jesus & loved kids.
  • Debbie was kind & thoughtful with me... taking time to meet with me and answer MOST of my questions when I came on staff at Dalewood. (She was careful not to poison the well with current staff members, even though she & I ended up having difficulty with the same person.) Instead of scaring me away from kids, she encouraged me to develop my own relationships with them - owning that someone else might be better at reaching them than her.
  • Debbie & I saw each other off & on through our work at Lifeway for Youth Discipleship Training. (For the non-SBCer's in the audience, Lifeway is the publishing house affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.) She was always gracious & funny.
  • I also appreciated the ministry of encouragement she started, Anchor Deep Ministries. Her letters & prayers were always welcome.
  • Finally, as I was writing this I realized that 2 of the 7 folks that helped start the church @ hickory hollow were "graduates" of her youth ministry - Michelle & Allen were & are credits to Debbie's willingness to live out Jesus.

I lost contact with Debbie when I started church planting... so it's probably been 10 years since we've talked. I do look forward to seeing her again, though - cuz our anchors are set against the same Rock.