Friday, September 28, 2007

Swarm of the Marro

Thanks to Frank Branham's frank review (frank review, get it? he he... hey, these are the jokes, people!), I decided to go ahead & pick up the newest addition to Heroscape, Swarm of the Marro. As evidenced by earlier posts here, here & here, I'm a pretty big fan of Heroscape, as is Braeden. (Let me clarify - for those of you who speak HS, I own 2 RotV, 1 SofM, 2 RttFF, 2 VW, 1 TT, 1 FotA, all of the regular figures (+ some extra Drones, Vipers, Snipers, Orcs & Romans), and all of the special figures (except Sir Hawthorne & the Master)... I'm not sure if "pretty big fan" really covers it, do you?!)

We began playing the campaign last night - the first scenario is a really straightforward "midnight run" kind of deal, with the Marro player trying to kill off one of the three heroes (Raelin, Drake, or the new elf) before they can reach the other end of a long, narrow board. Braeden managed to get the elf down to a single wound before Drake sliced & diced his warriors for the win.

The second scenario - a "kill or be killed" brawl - ended with Braeden's Marro chewing up both Shiori (who he had surrounded at the beginning of the scenario) and Raelin (who I moved too close to the action.) Braeden won the scenario... and the campaign, since I didn't have enough heroes to continue.

Here's a quickie "Mark's reaction" list to the new set:
  • terrain: the swamp water is cool (it's water you can walk on) & there's plenty of it, but otherwise there isn't much terrain - only 2 of the large boards. And there's 8 water hexes... but they aren't sparkly like all my other water hexes. (I do have a crazy idea: what if those hexes are "deep water" and you can't land on 'em?!)
  • the Marro Hive: an incredibly detailed piece of terrain that also has some serious game properties - nifty! It spawns more Marro... so "it must be killed." (He he he...)
  • heroes & squads: they're all new to the game, except for the souped-up versions of Sgt. Drake (he has a gun) and Raelin (her power is weaker but has a larger range & she has whirlwind attack). Most of the powers of the new units are interesting, too. There are 6 Marro squads (Stingers, Drudges & Nagrubs), one freaky Marro Giant, the aforementioned souped-up heroes, a new Soulborg (Major Q10), a new elf (w/a pet baby dragon), and Shiori, a ninja.
  • scenarios: except for the campaign scenarios, they don't look like anything special... a lot of that has to do with the limited amount of terrain
  • glyphs: there are 7-8 new glyphs, all of which do some crazy stuff. (There's even a pit trap - I feel like I'm playing D&D.)
  • other stuff: the game comes with 4 sets of order markers (in swamp green this time), 12 dice (combined attack/defense dice like in the Crest sets), and a baggie full of plastic markers.
My overall reaction: I think it's a great expansion to the Heroscape system. Like Frank said in his review, in some ways it'll make the game much easier to introduce new players to... but if I was just starting out, I'd much rather have the 1st master set. (Actually, having both sets would be a really cool way to start.)

Later today, Braeden & I plan on playing a scenario with the Hive... ooooo. (I'll let you know what happens.)

The picture is from Boardgamegeek... "gollum" does really nice work, eh?!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sumo/Counter Hall of Fame

For those not steeped in boardgaming culture, the name of the post may be a bit misleading. We're not talking about Japanese wrestlers & those little clicker things that they use at the entrance to sporting events... Sumo & Counter are gaming magazines.

Sumo is long gone (sigh) but you can still read the archives of many of the articles at The Game Cabinet. (The Game Cabinet was the Boardgamegeek of it's day - back 10 years ago. As far as I know, it was the first really serious website about what are now called "eurogames" or "designer games".) Sumo was primarily the baby of Mike Siggins, who is still one of the best writers about boardgames out there.

Counter is still alive & kicking... it's a very well-done "fanzine" chockful of reviews, commentary & discussion about boardgaming.

In a number of ways, Counter has tried to pick up where Sumo left off... and one of those ways is the Hall of Fame. It's a listing of modern classic games - which means less than 50 years old. Here's the status of the Hall as of 2006:
  • 1829/30 (owned & played)
  • Acquire (own & played)
  • Airlines/Union Pacific (own & played)
  • Bluff/Liars Dice (own & played)
  • Bohnanza (own & played)
  • Can't Stop (own & played)
  • Carcassonne (own & played)
  • Civilization (owned & played)
  • Cosmic Encounter (played)
  • Crude/McMulti (played)
  • The Princes of Florence (own & played)
  • Die Macher
  • The Settlers of Catan (own & played)
  • Diplomacy (own & played)
  • Dungeon & Dragons (owned & played)
  • Through the Desert (own & played)
  • Elfenroads (I own & have played Elfenland, the successor to Elfenroads)
  • El Grande (own & played)
  • Euphrat & Tigris (played)
  • Funkenschlag/Power Grid (played)
  • Hare and Tortoise (own & played)
  • History of the World (own & played)
  • Lost Cities (own & played)
  • Magic: the Gathering (played)
  • Medici (own & played)
  • Modern Art (owned & played)
  • Ra (own & played)
  • Railway Rivals (played)
  • Win, Place & Show (own & played)

If you'd like to vote on this year's two entries to the Hall of Fame, you can go to the voting site on Mik Svellov's Brett & Board. (Mik, btw, is a delight to game with...)

I guess I ought to finally break down & play Die Macher... it's the only one on the list I haven't played. And looking over the list reminds me that I need to bring Win, Place & Show to the table some night when we have 5-6 players.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Meanwhile, Back At The Vineyard...

Collin is busy here at a friend's home in the middle of a vineyard - he & his best buddy, Evie, are cruising the mean streets in search of action... and mud puddles. (Sadly, I didn't have my camera out when they decided splash in a mud puddle until they were completely covered in dirty water.)

Post #400: "The Future of Football"

The guy with the beard is not winning this game of Battleball... in fact, Braeden beat me 2-0. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Crackpipe Remote Returns

The new TV season has begun... and I want to jump in early with some quick thoughts & comments:


  • I'm not sure how you'd figure out what was going on unless you've watched the previous season (not only is darn near everyone back - oh, we haven't seen Niki or her son or Sylar yet, but it's just a matter of time - but they're adding new characters left & right)... but they've cranked up a number of very intriguing plotlines & they have a history of paying off their storylines quickly.
  • If you're Heroes-obsessed, you should check out the Yamagato Fellowship website for the inside scoop on the Kenzei legend... and then a connnection to something else (which I haven't had time to explore yet.)

Prison Break

  • Sadly, it looked like more of the same to me... I couldn't get excited about it after the first week, so I'll probably just rent this one on DVD when it shows up next summer.

Survivor: China

  • One tribe looks a whole lot stronger (read: able to work together in a way that won't induce starvation & lots of challenge losing) than the other.
  • In spite of myself, I like the Christian radio talk show host lady so far... she has the whole "I talk mainly to Christians" sound, which came off a little weird when she walked out of the Buddhist temple during the "welcoming ceremony", but her gentleness & sage advice with James (the gravedigger) was a cool example of what people who love Jesus can look like.
  • About the "welcoming ceremony": while I don't think that CBS or the Buddhist monks were trying to pull a fast one & do Buddha worship without telling people, I would have had the same levels of "uncomfortable" that she did... any ceremony which involves me bowing (a sign of subservience) before a room full of statues of a non-Christian religion would cause me to ask some serious questions if I'm not messing over a couple of the 10 Commandments.
  • My pick to go next week: P.G.
  • My picks to win: the surfer dude or the gravedigger.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Unofficial Guide To Catan, Part 1

After the post on Catan earlier this week, I got a comment asking my opinion about a particular Catan stand-alone game... so I decided to offer my ALL of my opinions about Catan as a short guidebook.

The Settlers of Catan

This is the base game of the series... if you enjoy games at all, you should probably own a copy of this. It works well with 3 players but really shines with 4.

There are now four different ways to buy the base game:
  • Mayfair Games is the publisher of the American version of The Settlers of Catan... their 3rd edition version has been in print for nearly 7 years (I think.) If you go to a game store right now, this is the copy you'd pick up.
  • If you wait until early November, Mayfair is re-launching the Catan line with new art, component design & rulebooks. If you have some patience, this is probably your best choice.
  • SimplyFun Games, a MLM "party" model marketing company, publishes an introductory version of Settlers called Simply Catan. I haven't played it, but it's a very good-looking production.
  • Finally, you can do what I did and buy German copies of the game. Except for the Development card deck, there are no language specific components. (I'll write more about why I went w/the German set in a little bit.)

The Expansions

There are 2 big box expansions in English:
  • Seafarers of Catan, which adds ships, a pirate ship and variable boards with islands & land masses
  • Cities & Knights of Catan, which adds a complex system of development cards along with 3 new resources, knight pieces that move, and invading barbarians
The base game, along with both Seafarers and Cities & Knights, each have 5-6 player expansion sets that allow the games to be played with, you guessed it, 5 or 6 players. Here's some reasons you might (or might not) want these particular expansions:
  • Seafarers is, IMHO, a necessary addition to the game. The extra tiles offer a lot of variety to the game... and the added use of sheep (to build ships) helps balance out the die rolls a bit. (Though, in all fairness, one should always be aware that "sheep = cheap" and use the two sheep ports accordingly.)
  • Cities & Knights is much more complicated... and has a much longer (2.5+ hours) playing time. However, if you'd like to be able to mess around with other players more than in the basic game, this is the expansion for you.
  • I don't think the 5-6 player expansions are really required for anyone... the game bogs down a bit with the extra players. OTOH, the extra tiles are great for creating some larger scenarios.
There are a number of expansions published in German that have not be re-published in English:
  • There are two Historical Scenario boxes (Historische Szenarian in German) - the first with Cheops (a scenario set in ancient Egypt) and Alexander the Great (an auction-based scenario themed around the eastern conquests of Alexander); the other with the Great Wall of China (complete with invading Huns) and the Trojan War (where players take sides!) Each of these boxes contains a double-sided mounted board + components to play the scenarios included.
  • Das Buch is a hardbound book of Settlers scenarios & variants (all of which have been translated into English) along with the components to play those scenarios. They vary wildly in quality but there are 12+ scenarios & 20+ variants, so you've got plenty to work with.
  • The most recent large box expansion is Handler & Barbarian (which means "Merchants & Barbarians") which contains some previously published small "giveaway" expansions - Fishermen of Catan, The Great River, The Caravan, the Event Deck - as well as some other expansion scenarios that include new tiles. (Note: I haven't actually seen this one yet.)
  • There is also an Atlantis box set which includes many of the variants found in Das Buch.
  • There are a number of smaller box expansions printed by 999 Games (from The Netherlands) that look like they have "official" versions of some of the Das Buch scenarios.
  • Finally, there are some maps & scenarios that have been created for special occasions: one example found at BGG is Saggsden Gaden.

I'm glad I own the German expansions that I have - in fact, compatibility with all of the published expansions is the primary reason for owning an all-German set of Catan. The ones with the most bang for the buck (that I've played the most relative to their cost) are the two boxes of Historical Scenarios. For groups that like to tweak the rules a bit more than I do, Das Buch is an excellent choice. (And, here in a few months, I'll let you know about Saggsden Gaden, because I'm buying a copy even as I type.)

The Stand-Alone Games

There are also some stand-alone versions of Catan... all of which contain components to play the game.

  • Die Siedler von Nurnberg uses two maps - one of the city itself & one of the surrounding countryside - to involve players in the development of Nurnberg. This version uses a dice deck rather than dice to generate resources.
  • Settlers of Canaan & Settlers of Zarahelma are two religious themed stand-alone games. Canaan uses Old Testament ideas & feels very similar to the Cheops scenario from the Historical box, while Zarahelma uses Mormon lore to act as a backdrop for another temple building scenario. (Zarahelma has a strip board like Simply Catan rather than a fixed board.)
  • The Settlers of the Stone Age uses the Catan engine to play a game of expansion by prehistoric tribes across a map of the world.
  • The Struggle for Rome uses the Catan engine to simulate the rise & fall of various Roman generals.

In all fairness, I haven't played Zarahelma or Struggle for Rome - but it's important to note that I don't own any of these stand-alone games. I find that the base game & expansions give me all that I want Catan-wise. (There is a same-ness to the fixed board games that makes them less likely to see multiple plays.)

Next time, in The Unofficial Guide to Catan, Part 2, I'll talk about the spin-off games...


Jefe: We have many beautiful pinatas for your birthday celebration, each one filled with little surprises!

El Guapo: How many pinatas?

Jefe: Many pinatas, many!

El Guapo: Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?

Jefe: A what?

El Guapo: A *plethora*.

Jefe: Oh yes, El Guapo. You have a plethora.

El Guapo: Jefe, what is a plethora?

Jefe: Why, El Guapo?

El Guapo: Well, you just told me that I had a plethora, and I would just like to know if you know what it means to have a plethora. I would not like to think that someone would tell someone else he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has *no idea* what it means to have a plethora.

Jefe: El Guapo, I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education, but could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me? (from The Three Amigos)
I have a plethora of thoughts. And here they are:
  • Survivor: China starts tonight... and I'm excited. I've grown to love the "game" part of it - and it amazes me how lost some people get when playing, doing stuff that doesn't help them & in fact completely sabotages their chances of winning and/or being able to respect themselves when they get back to "real life." (Of course, this happens during your average board game as well, so I don't know why I'm surprised.)
  • Braeden & I are playing 2 player Starfarers of Catan again - he smacked me 15-9 (with a combination of alien friends & fame rings) in our first game. We've upped the winning point total to 18 for our 2nd game & it's already affecting how we are chasing down points.
  • Money's really tight at NewLife Community Church right now - so I struggle with the balance between wisely cutting expenses & devolving into "survival" mode. At the same time, I have to fight the temptation to try & preach the $ out of people's pockets... while at the same time, acknowledging our need & the responsibility of folks in our church family to give generously.
  • My gall bladder (or where it used to be) seems to be healing just fine... I still hurt, but not enough to use the pain pills. Which, btw, is a good thing - they have some side effects I didn't complete realize that involve stuff I don't really want to talk about. Suffice it to say that Mr. Blue is seeing some serious action right now (that's for those of you who've met me at various gaming events.)
  • Thanks to Steve Case (ironcates on the Geek), I'm getting to read a lot of comic book series that I've missed over the past few years. DC's Infinite Crisis stuff is, well, OK... I know the universe/mythology so well that's it is kind of fun to play catch-up, but the writing is only so-so. OTOH, there's a Marvel series he lended me that was fantastic but I can't remember the name of it. (The Avengers broke up - again - so that doesn't help much in identifying it.)
  • Also in comic book world, I want to highly recommend DC: The New Frontier... it explores the transistion from the J.S.A. to the J.L.A. and sets it in the historical context of the 50's & 60's. Very cool.
  • Other recent reading: Alamo in the Ardennes (the story of the first four days of the Battle of the Bulge), Son of a Preacher Man (Jay Bakker's autobiography - he's the son of Jim & Tammy Faye). I'd recommend Alamo to anyone interested in WW2... while I'm not sure what I feel about Jay's book. His basic message (the need to preach & live the gospel of grace) I'm totally on board with, but I think his view of what happened with PTL is clouded by his proximity to it all.
  • Speaking of WW2, I'm really looking forward to seeing Ken Burns' documentary, The War, which starts airing on PBS on Sunday night. Thanks to the magic of DVD, I'll probably wait for it to come out in that format.
  • More WW2 news: Days of Wonder has given a solid shipping date for the Memoir '44 Air Pack, which (finally!) adds all sorts of nifty stuff to my favorite "lite" wargame.
  • Finally, a quote from the most recent book I've been reading, Kevin Graham Ford's Transforming Church:

That's when it hit us: The problem side of each indicator (of church health) correlates directly to a dysfunction in modern Western culture. Our culture is all too often characterized as a collection of individuals disconnected from one another, drifting without an overarching story or unifying values, expecting someone else to solve our problems, largely self-serving, and resistant to change. The parallels between these symptoms and the problem sides of unhealthy churches were too striking to ignore.

The church desires to change the surrounding culture. The truth, however, is that the church has been infected by the very culture it seeks to transform.

And this reality begs a question or three. How can we engage the culture without being co-opted? What would it look like to actually transform our culture rather than to simply talk about it? And what exactly constitutes meaningful change anyway?

So, Jefe, would you say I have a plethora of thoughts?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Monster At The End of the Book

Braeden reading to Collin at bedtime... and the book he's reading is a classic: The Monster At The End of the Book. (Thanks again, Paul, for bringing it into our lives!) If you do not own this book and you have children, you are making a horrible mistake...

Open Mic: The New World Slang

How do I tell my friends about Christ in "the new world slang" when they take church as just singing & just a "sunday thing"?

There's a couple of threads tied together in this question... let's try & pull 'em apart so we can craft a meaningful answer.

  1. How do I tell my friends about Jesus in a way that doesn't sound "church-y"?
  2. Why do people dismiss church as "just a Sunday thing"?


This isn't the first time someone has tried to figure out how best to communicate God's truth to a culture that didn't grow up going to Sunday School at the local Baptist church...
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' Acts 17:22-28 (NIV)
Notice that Paul hadn't walled himself off into some "Christian" corner of Athens - instead, he had looked around the city & made it a point to find out what the people believed. He was ready to quote their poets in order to communicate clearly the grace of Jesus Christ. He was even willing to concede that they are "very religious" - in part because he didn't think much of religion, esp. for "a good Jewish boy" (Philippians 3:2-11).

In fact, he wrote his "game plan" in his first letter to the Corinthian church:
Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (MSG)
Put those two passages together & you come up with the main reasons people who love Jesus start talking about Him and sound like they've been dipped in "church batter" & lightly fried:
  • rather than wander around Athens (or whatever the corner of the world God puts us in) and get to know the culture, we stick our fingers in our ears and chant the spiritualized equivalent of "Nah, nah, nah... can't hear you!" until the world around learns to stay the heck away from the crazy people who say they're Christians
  • rather than try to see things from someone else's POV, we put on blinders & assume that the best way to show people truth is to insist that they reject everything & drink the Kool-Aid with us
  • rather than go out & serve people with the love of Jesus Christ, we expect them to come to us & join in "doing it the way we've always done it"
So, what should we do instead?
  • get to know the culture around us... not so we can be the hippest kid on the block but so we can speak truth into the conversation that's already going on
  • listen to others as they talk about spirituality & God... not so we can slam their answers down to the mat but so we can hear where Jesus is moving in their lives & respond appropriately
  • serve people outside the walls of church buildings... not as a gimmick but because that's what Jesus did

Which leads naturally to the second question - why is it so easy for people to dismiss "church" as a bunch of people singing & attempting to sit through yet another "exciting" sermon from the pastor? Frankly, it's because we've made a mess of the word, "church" - which never refers to a building in the Bible - instead, it refers to the people. The churches that Paul writes are not quaint little buildings with steeples - they are the ekklesia (Gk. for "called out"), the people drawn to Jesus who've committed to live for Jesus.
You can't "have church". You can't "go to church". We are the church. That's the whole problem. We have turned "church" into this event, this place, this controlled program that people come to like a movie or a theater. We have redefined church to be something so foreign to the New Testament church that in some cases it seems almost unrecognizable. We have taken the mission of the church and turned into a self-focused, self-serving corporation instead of teaching that the church is worshippers of Jesus on a mission together. Dan Kimball (in an interview at Church Planting Village)
The point of inviting people to attend a worship service with us is NOT to get them to "go to church." (As Keith Green aptly noted so many years ago, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian, any more than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger.") We invite people to join us in worship so they can experience the presence & power of Jesus Christ.

And when we are loving each other with the love of Jesus, when our meetings are powered not by our denominational preferences but our devotion to God, when what we do on Sunday lines up with how we live the rest of the week (and is culturally applicable to our 24/7 life), then people will hear about Jesus in a way that is compelling & life-changing... and, by His grace, respond.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Missing the Land of Catan

My first try at writing this post devolved into a long-winded explanation of the The Settlers of Catan... which, frankly, who cares? If you've never heard of the game, go read this excellent review by Merric Blackman; if you already know about the game, you could have nodded off, struck your head on your monitor & called a personal injury lawyer to divest me of my earthly possessions - that's just how scintillating my game summary was. (Sigh.)

Anyway, that wasn't the purpose of the post.

See, I've been missing Catan lately... despite the guesstimate of Klaus Teuber's site,, that over 15 million people worldwide play Settlers, evidently very few of those inhabit the Central Valley of California. I averaged 11-12 games a year of Catan (and the various expansions) when I lived in Nashville, TN; since I've moved to Fresno, the average is closer to 4-5 times a year.

Yes, it's possible to burn out on the game - but I own nearly all of the available expansions, so it's not like variety is a problem:
  • 5-6 player expansion
  • Seafarers expansion (+ 5-6 player Seafarers)
  • Cities & Knights expansion (+ 5-6 player Cities & Knights)
  • Das Buch (a book of scenarios & game components - in German)
  • both Historical Scenarios boxes (also in German)
  • numerous small expansions, including The Fishermen of Catan, The Great River & The Event Cards
And that doesn't even count all of the Catan-connected games which aren't part of the original system. (Double sigh.) While I have an active gaming group (hi, guys!), we just don't play Catan much. Which brings me to the real reason for posting this... hint, hint.

Knock Knock Knockin... Not So Much

found at The Best Article Every Day

Also equally uninspired:
  • "Where is God in all of this? " "Oh, He's up there. Somewhere..." (from the film, What Dreams May Come)
  • "Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company. (Mark Twain)
  • “They say there's a heaven for those who will wait. Some say it's better, but I say it ain't. I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. Sinners are much more fun...” (Billy Joel, from the album The Stranger)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Big Brother At Work

Braeden teaching Collin about soccer this morning at his game... what a great brother he is!

3,285 Days of Gaming

I started tracking what games I played the first week of July 1998... and through the end of 2006, I did it via a spreadsheet in ClarisWorks (which became AppleWorks) that I finally switched over to Excel. Starting in 2007, I began using the tracking system on BoardGameGeek, which has actually made it easier to keep current.

Of course, I had to input all the data I had in my spreadsheet... and over the last 9 months, that's what I've been doing with dribs & drabs of my spare (ha!) time. I just finished this afternoon... 1,227 different games that I played from '98-'06.

I was really curious to see what games I'd played the most... so, here are the top thirty games of the last nine years!
  1. Lost Cities 106
  2. Settlers of Catan, The 96
  3. Carcassonne 89
  4. Can't Stop 87
  5. StreetSoccer 74
  6. TransAmerica 70
  7. Ticket to Ride 66
  8. Loopin' Louie 65
  9. Liar's Dice 64
  10. Fill or Bust 62
  11. Café International 55
  12. Smarty Party! 51
  13. Memoir '44 49
  14. Ra 49
  15. Funny Bunny 46
  16. Web of Power 46
  17. Carabande 44
  18. Skip-bo 43
  19. Maskenball der Käfer 42
  20. Puerto Rico 42
  21. Lord of the Rings 41
  22. Zirkus Flohcati 40
  23. Tally Ho! 40
  24. Jungle Speed 39
  25. Pig Pile 39
  26. Time's Up! 39
  27. Flowerpower 36
  28. Ab die Post 35
  29. Attacke 35
  30. Café International - Das Kartenspiel 35
  • I was surprised that only two true kid's games got in there (Funny Bunny & Maskenball der Kafer).
  • If you eliminate the games that appear because of online gaming, Setttlers is #1 by a wide margin... and I haven't played much of it in the last couple of years. (Man, I miss Catan... but more on that in another post.)
  • Loopin' Louie is tracked by sessions, not games... I'd be at least double the number if I tracked individual games by "tournament" rules.
If you'd like to check out my collection, you can look me up on the Geek under the username gamemark... or click on the whole list to see all the games in playing order.

Soccer Season Starts Anew

Although I'm still on Injured Reserve (and don't get to see it), Braeden is ready to go for his first "Under 8's" soccer game. His team is the American Union Eagles & he was doing a great job in practice on Thursday. He likes playing goalie - and does pretty well at it as long as he pays attention to the game.

Collin is still doing the "pacifier" thing, as you can see. He's only supposed to have it in bed, but it (and he!) escape with it every once in a while.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Marbles Have Left The Building

I'm home, I'm hurting & I have this yellow gunk all over my belly. (Ewww...) But they've given me a prescription for Vicodin, so I'm relatively peaceful about the whole thing. Thanks for the kind thoughts & prayers.

Losing My Marbles

alternate post title: Mitigated Gall

Within six hours (or so), I'll be one organ lighter... I'm having my gall bladder removed today. It's laprascopic surgery (meaning they don't have to cut me open stem to stern); instead, they poke 4 holes in me & and blow up my abdomen like a balloon.

Either way, it'll be nice to finally have a relief to the painful gall stone episodes.

Prayers are greatly appreciated.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


"Them's fightin' words, mister," says the cowboy as he spits a thin line of 'bacca juice into the dirt of the dusty street and shifts his gunbelt.

And that's what happens when you start slinging around the word "self-righteous."

According to WordNet, the correct definition of self-righteous is:
  • holier-than-thou: excessively or hypocritically pious gives two definitions:

  1. Piously sure of one's own righteousness; moralistic.
  2. Exhibiting pious self-assurance: self-righteous remarks.

So, when a discussion about board games & plagarism drifted into ruminations on the morality of various actions, the "self-righteous" grenade got tossed into the middle of the crowd. What follows is my slightly edited response.

There is nothing self-righteous about trying to stake out a personal moral position. In doing so, you automatically are placing a value not only on your position but also on other people's positions - and that's not self-righteous. It sounds like what you want is for people who disagree with you to roll over & play dead - in other words, "shut up & let me enjoy what I want to enjoy."In a web-based world where freedom of speech is a "sacred value", that sounds awfully... well, self-righteous.

"Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up..."

  • Choosing a moral position & defending it is not self-righteous... it may irritate others to the point of wanting to stuff a used gym sock in your mouth, but the advocacy of a particular view of morality is not inherently self-righteous.
  • The very act of choosing one moral position over another infers that you are using some criteria in order to make this decision - and that criteria shows clearly that you value one position more than you value other positions. This, too, is not self-righteous.

In conclusion:

  • If I say, "I think you're incorrect when you say that decisions about plagarism & copyright have no moral implications; on the contrary, they have profound moral & ethical resonance and I'm stunned that you would think otherwise," I'm merely advocating a moral position.
  • If I say, "I think you're incorrect when you say that decisions about plagarism & copyright have no moral implications; on the contrary, they have profound moral & ethical resonance... and the fact that you disagree with me shows that you're obviously a degenerate reprobate who's mind is corrupted beyond hope of repair," then I'm being a self-righteous prig.

Let's use our words carefully, please.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dude, Do You Actually Play Games Anymore?

Well, yes.

But not as much as I want.

And I'm certainly not writing about them as much as I'd like.

Here's an overview of what I'm wanting to write and/or finish but just haven't gotten around to yet:
  • a review of Columbus (the Schmidt game, not the Ravensburger one by Kramer)... my plan is to release this on Columbus Day (1492... ocean blue... oh yeah, I grew up in the USA.)
  • a piece entitled "Beat the Games" on cooperative board & card games
  • some thoughts on running a game night at the church
  • a stat-heavy post on my nine (9) years of tracking what games I've played
  • a gushing "look what's coming" post about Memoir '44
  • a plaintive cry entitled "Missing The Land of Catan"

See, you've got lots to look forward to... in the meantime, you can keep wading through all these posts about spiritual stuff.

And, of course, we're only a week or so away from the new TV season, which means I'll be picking up my crackpipe remote again & talking about that stuff, too.

Dreams & Talking Veggies

Just then, something happened that could go down in history as one of those pivotal moments - those providential, existential occurences that hold winthin them the potential to change the course of humanity: My wife walked by. She walked by the spare bedroom, looked in, noticed her husband playing with a computer-generated candy bar, and uttered thos immortal, life-giving words: "You know, moms are going to be mad if you make their kids fall in love with a candy bar."

That's what she said. Divine wisdom had dripped from her lips like honey. She spoke the truth. Then she headed off with the laundry.

"Good heavens," I thought, "she's right!" I couldn't make characters that were unhealthy! That would go against everything I was trying to accomplish! I needed something good for kids! I needed something that would make moms rise up & call me blessed! Something that would make them say, "Oh, thank you, Phil Vischer, for making my kids fall in love with ------!"

With what?

The next image that popped into my head was a cucumber.
I love behind-the-scenes stuff, as evidenced by my total addiction to VH1's Behind The Music when we had cable. So, when I saw Phil Vischer's book Me, Myself & Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God & Talking Vegetables at the library, I scooped it up, looking forward to an interesting read about how VeggieTales got started.

Phil's life (as written here with his trademark humor) has some great stories & a substantial amount of Walt Disney "worship." Bu what I didn't expect was to read a book that contained a large chunk of soul-searching and a spiritual epiphany that echoed in my own life.

What does it mean when God gives you a dream, and he shows up in it and the dream comes to life, and then, without warning, the dream dies? What does that mean?
Maybe that's your question, too... it certainly resonates with me. 5 years ago this month, I shuttered the doors on my dream, the church @ hickory hollow.

Last night, reading this book late into the darkness, I got a glimpse of what God might be doing, not only in Phil Vischer, but in me.
If God gives you a dream, and the dream comes to life and God shows up in it, and then the dream dies, it may be that God wants to see what is more important to you - the dream or him. And once he's seen that, you may get your dream back. Or you may not, and you may live the rest of your life without it. But that will be okay, because you'll have God.
I'm still wrestling with this... but it feels a little like all my feelings about tc@hh were shut up in a dark basement & Phil reached in and clicked on the light.

Suffice it to say, I'd recommend this book highly.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Shaky Line Falling Away

6 years ago today, Shari & I woke up to the phone ringing... a friend called to tell us that planes had slammed into the World Trade Center.

Honestly, my response was to dismiss this as rumor & hype - but we went downstairs & turned the TV on... just a few minutes after the 2nd plane hit the WTC. For the next 16-18 hours, we left the TV on, keeping Braeden (who was just a few months old) in another room so we wouldn't feed those images of horror to him.

Today, I read a blog post from a reporter (which I found, thanks to GetReligion) that captures so much of what that day felt like: Graphing the end of a world.

A prayer for today:

Jesus, it still brings tears to my eyes to think about the suffering & horror of that day... watching bodies fall, then the towers themselves. Waiting & hoping for people to be found alive - and so few stories like that. God, I know You were there and that You are here - but that's more intellectual than emotional.

And yet, as I look back, I see Your reflection in people who gave their lives, their bodies, their time & their energy to rescue, to search, to comfort & to support. I am amazed that the casualty were wrong by so much - that so many people didn't end up in the smoking piles of rubble.

Help me never forget so short life can be... and how good You are, even in the midst of tragedy.

in Your Holy name,


Games & the Bible

A couple of years ago, Jay Bloodworth asked me a really good question:

I'm doing a combination bible study/game night with some young teenagers tonight. Do you have suggestions for passages/themes relevant to gaming or competition I might discuss. I was planning on talking about Ecclesiastes 9:11, but I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have.

Wow... good question.

The first one that springs to mind is Psalm 33:3 - "Play skillfully with a shout of joy." It actually refers to singing praise to God, but the principle applies quite nicely to gaming - do your best & have fun.

1st Corinthians 9:24-27 says: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." I use this (along with Hebrews 12:1) to talk about the difference between healthy competition and unhealthy competition.

  1. Competition is not prohibited in the Bible. It's clear that Paul (and the writer of Hebrews) use sports images without condemning sports.
  2. We are encouraged to live to the best of our abilities - and the same goes for playing games. "Do your best" can sound terribly corny, but it makes sense.
  3. Hebrews 12:2 shows that our focus should be on Jesus, the "author & perfector of our faith." By the same token, we should play games (or anything) keeping our focus on Christ.

The guys at the New Games Foundation had it right - their mantra was"Play Hard, Play Fair, Nobody Hurt", which is a good way to live & play.

  • Play Hard: Psalm 33:3, 1 Cor. 9:24
  • Play Fair: 2nd Cor. 10:3 (The Message) - "The world is unprincipled. It's dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn't fight fair. But we don't live or fight our battles that way--never have and never will."
  • Nobody Hurt: 1st Cor 13

Monday, September 10, 2007

Open Mic: All Day Singin' & Dinner on the Grounds

This time around, we'll deal with a more "church-y" kind of questions... as always, if you'd like to see all of the Open Mic questions, you can check them out here.

Some background is necessary for this question: the selection of congregational music is an issue for almost every church - regardless of whether they are liturgical/high church or a bunch of "holy rollers" meeting in a storefront. At the church I pastor, we've been transitioning from a "classic" Southern Baptist style (mostly hymns sung from a hymnbook with piano) to a more "contemporary" style (with a variety of choruses, hymns & songs sung backed up by a band.)

For those of you without church background, consider this a peek behind the curtain. (The Great Oz has spoken... he he.) The discussions that occur are not dissimilar to discussions about the relative merits of FLGS vs online stores or (shudder) space operas & "hard" sci-fi.

Why can't we sing some of the old gospel songs out of the hymn book?

This answer is going to sound a bit flippant - but it's not meant that way.

There is nothing stopping you from singing & enjoying whatever kind of worship music you like. Thanks to CDs and video, you can listen to any style of music that is meaningful to you. You just may not get to sing the music you like during every NewLife Community worship service.

Again, I don't mean to sound snide or flippant in that response - you see, the music we do on Sunday morning is not my preferred worship style, either. (The best worship band I've ever experienced was at The Origins Experience in 2004... they played a blend of funk, rock, and R&B with solidly Scriptural lyrics that absolutely spoke to my soul.) I play CD's in my office during the week that resonate spiritually & musically with me.

My first suggestion for anyone who's a part of NewLife is that they should find ways to hear the music that ministers to them, whether or not that happens during the worship service they attend.

But the heart of the question is, I think, "Why don't we sing the songs that I connect with on Sunday morning?" Which, honestly, is a very good question.

The music that Aaron choooses (under my leadership) is chosen with three things in mind:
  • lyrics that honor God & reflect the truth of Scripture
  • accesibilty to non-Christians & new believers (can they understand what we're singing about and is it in a style that appeals to them?... keep in mind that the median age of our congregation is 29.)
  • connection with the theme of the message for that morning
When a hymn out of the hymnal does those things, we're more than happy to use it. I'm equally happy to use something offbeat than no one has ever heard of IF it will help people connect with Scriptural truth.

Aaron & I are emphatically NOT "anti-hymn" - every Sunday morning during Senior Adult Sunday School, I enjoy singing hymns with the folks. We've also done Hymnsing services - where we've spent 90 minutes (or more!) enjoying those older songs together. They are important parts of our heritage of faith.
My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary... Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us. Martin Luther
But, long before most of us were alive, they were the "flashy new songs" that were replacing the "good old songs" of the faith. (In our denominational background, the vast majority of what we call "hymns" are actually "revival songs", written in the late 19th & early 20th century. ) We need to sing with hearts turned toward Christ... whether it's the latest song of praise (like "Blessed Be Your Name") or the oldest hymn (like my personal favorite, "A Mighty Fortress is our God".)

Heck, just read Psalm 150.

Open Mic: Knock, Knock, Knockin...

There is only one thing I know am going to do in my life. I don't know if I'll be a success, a failure, married, single - but I do know that sooner or later, I'm going to die. The finality of that is kind of like God's little joke. No matter how cool you think you are, you will decompose. Most people live most of their lives ignoring death. Anything that will remind us, we remove from sight. This obsession with immortality is a bizarre thing. What that tells me, though, is we must be immortal. Rich Mullins, quoted in An Arrow Pointed To Heaven
For this edition of "answering the Open Mic questions", we talk about Heaven. (You can see all of the questions at the comments on the original post here online...)

I know that this post is going to be tough going for those of you who are skeptical about Christianity and/or the afterlife. I welcome your questions...

Are there different levels in heaven?

The idea of multiple levels of Heaven:
  • a "super-Christian" level for Billy Graham, Mother Teresa & pastors who are not addicted to board games (wink, wink)
  • a "regular Christian" level for your average, everyday follower of Jesus
  • a "skin of your teeth" level for thos who declared their faith in Christ but then lived like they'd never heard of the Bible (this is probably where board-game obsessed pastors go...)

...shows up in a lot of places. Interestingly enough, it's not Biblical.

The single passage that might be interpeted to suggest a "leveled" Heaven (why do I feel like I'm talking about D&D or World of Warcraft right now?!) is from one of Paul's letters:

I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don't know-only God knows. 2 Corinthians 12:2 (NLT)

It's important to note that Paul is probably referring to a common way of denoting "the heavens" during ancient times:

  • the first heaven (terrestrial) - the skies
  • the second heaven (telestial) - outer space
  • the third heaven (celestial) - spiritual Heaven

Please don't mistake the use of the words in parantheses for agreement with Mormon thought on these issues. (My theological disagreements with the LDS church will have to wait for another day - but suffice it to say that they use those words very differently than I do.)

Are there Hostess Twinkies and other wonderfully fattening things in Heaven?

Unless we work really hard to over-spiritualize the multiple references to feasts in heaven (Isaiah 25:6, Luke 22:18, Matthew 8:11, Revelation 19:9, Luke 14:15, etc.), we're going to be enjoying food & drink in Heaven.

Obviously, I can't answer with absolute certainty about Twinkies - but 1 Timothy 6:17 tells us that God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." I'm leaning toward a pro-Twinkie (and pro-ice cream!) Heaven.

I heard this saying: all kids go to heaven. Why or why not?

In this short space, I don't think I can do a discussion of the "age of accountability" justice. Instead, let me simply state that I believe that people who are mentally unable to comprehend what it means to follow Jesus Christ with their entire lives are given the grace of God because, well, He's gracious. No act by the child or their guardians is required - if it was, that would interfere with the whole Ephesians 2:8-9 "not of works" thing, right?!

I want to recommend two excellent books to you on the subject:

  • Heaven (Randy Alcorn) - which, frankly, is the best book on Heaven I've ever read
  • safe in the arms of God (John MacArthur) - which deals specifically with children & death

What will our relationships with other be like in heaven? Will we know others as we did on earth? (i.e. husbands & wives)

This is probably one of the toughest questions to answer - for a couple of reasons:

  1. The answer is based, primarily, on one passage of Scripture... I try, as much as possible, to not base my theology off of isolated verses.
  2. I don't think the answer I have to give is completely satisfying - to me or to many other folks. I think it's true, but it doesn't answer the question exactly the way I want it to.

But let's get one thing out of the way first - despite some folks teaching otherwise, we will know each other in Heaven. I'll recognize my grandfather & my uncle who died long before I was born & all sorts of other. (Man, I can not wait to hug Arly Ruth & Bro. Beach...) You can check out Isaiah 66:22 and Matthew 26:29 to see this in action.

Of course, there's really two questions when we talk about husbands & wives, right?!:

  1. Will there be marriage in Heaven?
  2. Will there be sex in Heaven?

The answer to the first question is going to sound a little weird - I believe there will be marriage in Heaven, but it will be the marriage between Christ & his bride - the church.

For this reason a man will leave his father & mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32 (NIV)

To quote Randy Alcorn in his excellent book, Heaven: "The one-flesh union we know on Earth is a signpost pointing to our relationship with Christ as our bridegroom. Once we reach the destination, the signpost becomes unnecessary. That one marriage - our marriage to Christ - will be so completely satisfying that even the most wonderful earthly marriage couldn't be as fulfilling."

Now, it's easy for me to type those words... but I have a pretty wonderful marriage right here & right now. I am deeply, crazily, hopelessly in love with my wife. It's difficult for me to imagine what life would be like without her as my most important relationship... and yet, if I really believe in the existence of God, it seems right that my marriage to Shari would pale in comparison with knowing Him completely.

Like I said earlier, this isn't a teaching I'm particularly fond of... but you have to deal with the what's in the Bible rather than just censor out the parts you don't like. So, whatever answer we come up with has to deal with what Jesus said in some form or fashion.

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Matthew 22:30 (NIV)

The second question - the "sexy" question - I'll just let my hero, C.S. Lewis, answer:

I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer "No," he might regard the absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don't bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. from C.S. Lewis' book, Miracles

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"I Found Jesus"

"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player... I take full responsibility for my actions... not for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I've done... I'm upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that's the right thing to do as of right now... Once again, I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to." excerpts from the AP transcript of Michael Vick's statement following his guilty plea in U.S. District Court to a dog fighting conspiracy charge
A friend of mine called me last week & asked me what I thought about Michael Vick "finding Jesus"... my first reaction, not having heard the press conference, was two-fold:
  • The reality of any conversion experience is only completely clear between God & the person who is surrendering to God - so, no matter how cynical I feel about someone who just entered a guilty plea saying that he "found Jesus", I am not the final arbiter of who gets to follow God & who doesn't. In other words, only Michael Vick really knows if he was blowin' smoke or confessing faith (Romans 10:9-10) earlier this week.
  • I'm not sure Michael Vick understands what he's gotten himself into by claiming Christ. At its best, Christianity calls us to be be accountable to each other... up to & including the quality of our behavior.
I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn't make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous. I didn't mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort. Or with crooks, whether blue or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter. You'd have to leave the world entirely to do that! But I am saying that you shouldn't act as if everything is just fine when a friend who claims to be a Christian is promiscuous or crooked, is flip with God or rude to friends, gets drunk or becomes greedy and predatory. You can't just go along with this, treating it as acceptable behavior. I'm not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers? God decides on the outsiders, but we need to decide when our brothers and sisters are out of line and, if necessary, clean house. 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (The Message)
Of course, once I had the opportunity to read the transcript of the press conference, some other things stood out:
  • The guy owned his own junk - say what you will, but that's pretty weird in our "my parents/teacher/posse/etc. made me do it" culture.
  • On the other hand, the "I will redeem myself" line is a little worrisome - it sounds as if he plans to earn his way back into the goodwill of the public...and possibly God.
Please understand: I don't know this guy. While I've admired his football playing skills, I've never been a big fan of Michael Vick. Anything I'm writing today is based solely on what I've read & seen on TV.

As one commentator (Mark Bradley) put it, it's easy to dismiss his stated faith in Christ because "a disproportionate number of religious conversions occur when the convert is about to become a convict." That's the pull I feel in my heart - a nagging desire to write this guy off, not simply because of his criminal behavior, but because of my own cynical reaction to a public declaration of faith in a difficult time.

But Jesus calls me (and the rest of us) to something deeper - to pray for Michael Vick & his faith in Christ, to refuse to gossip & backbite & slander, to hope for the best rather than imagine the worst. That doesn't preclude us calling him on the carpet for being "out of line", of course.

And if that's true for the way we treat a football superstar, it should be the same for the guy who lives down the street from us.

You must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. Jude 22-23 (New Living Translation)

This article originally appeared in the 9/02/07 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day c/o Seth

Thanks to Anne Jackson & her blog over at Mad Church Disease, I got a chance to read an incredible post by Seth Godin today entitled Labor Day. Man, this thing has got stuff to say to anyone who's "taking what they're giving" (hi, Huey!)... and it particularly resonates with me as a pastor, since risk-aversion is a common malady in my line of work. Go read it, already!
None of the people who are racking up amazing success stories and creating cool stuff are doing it just by working more hours than you are. And I hate to say it, but they're not smarter than you either. They're succeeding by doing hard work.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

13 Things

Earl Creps is an interesting guy - and an insightful dude as well. He lives in Springfield, MO, which gives him instant street cred in my life, as my mom & dad met at SMS before it was MSU or even SMSU. He's both a consultant/professor specializing in the emerging church and a dyed-in-wool Assemblies of God guy... which means we speak similar languages but don't necessarily "do church" the same way.

With all that said, he writes a mean blog... and his book, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, is on my "must-read" list.

So when Earl decides to say nice things about the denomination I grew up & live in, it's a weird & wonderful experience. For all of you "recovering Southern Baptists" (hi, Jim Hancock!), here's an encouraging from Senor Creps: 13 Things I Like About The Southern Baptist Convention.

A short excerpt:
9. Southern Baptists believe in the Bible: they just never let up about this Bible thing. They teach it, preach it, put people in small groups to learn about it together, and put a huge effort into making the scriptures the center of life transformation.