Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

The boys & I were watching Muppets on YouTube and came across this... which reminded me of this. Ah, Nashville - home of Rotiers & Pancake Pantry & Fat Mo's... I miss you. (Note: I also miss actual people in TN, but I didn't eat much for lunch and it's nearing dinner time, so I'm pretty well fixated on food right now.)

Getting To Know You: 2008

Jimbo sent me this in e-mail form & I thought I'd port it over into the blog. Join in at your own blog and/or Facebook page and link back to me.
  1. What time did you get up this morning? 7:15 am (Shari let me sleep in)
  2. Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds (but I look better in understated silver... he)
  3. The last film you saw at the cinema? Wall*E (which deserves a Best Picture nod)
  4. What is your favorite TV show? Wow... there are (as those of you who've read this blog for a while know) so many - I'll narrow it to four: Lost, Heroes, 24 & Survivor
  5. What do you usually have for breakfast? a Coke Zero & a Prilosec OTC
  6. What is your middle name? Allen
  7. What food do you dislike? lima beans are high on this list, along with boiled okra & sushi
  8. What is your favorite CD at the moment? I just dug out Magdallan's "Big Bang" and What If's self-titled debut album (on cassette, no less) and am having an 80's party in my office
  9. What kind of car do you drive? a Honda Odyessey (and I do so without whining that driving a minivan has someone sapped the vitality of my manhood)
  10. Favorite sandwich? thinly sliced black forest ham with "high-end" swiss cheese; add fresh lettuce & tomato with some dijon mustard and put it on a ciabatta roll
  11. What characteristic do you despise? playing fast & loose with the truth (aka liar)
  12. Favorite item of clothing? it's a toss-up between my IncrediSlacks (which are made of some wonderful fabric blend that doesn't wrinkle & is amazingly comfortable) and what Shari calls my Uniform Shirt (which is a red & blue striped golf shirt that also does not wrinkle and is the utility fielder in my wardrobe when I have to look nice on short notice)
  13. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go right now? if I get to take my wife & leave the boys with family, Hawaii (or something South Sea-ish)... OTOH, if we're going as a family, give us an RV, $ for gas, and a National Park pass & let us loose in the Western U.S.! (If this was October, I'd say Essen, Germany... soo-prise, soo-prise)
  14. Favorite brand of clothing? Old Navy - it fits well, I look good in it, and the price is decent if you watch the sales
  15. Where would you retire to? Over the years, a number of us have joked about creating an assisted living facility for gamers... that doesn't sound like such a bad idea to me. Let's put it close to pretty stuff - say, Denver.
  16. What was your most recent memorable birthday? 30... that's the year that Chris, Buster & their evil monkey henchmen moved the entire contents of my office into the foyer of the church and set it up there. It's also the year that my body fell apart, but that's a story for another day.
  17. Farthest place you are sending this? My blog is read around the world... which still weirds me out. I'm guessing South Korea or Finland is the farthest point from Fresno. (Hi, Tom & Mikko!)
  18. Person you expect to send it back first? Nashbabe - who has fun with stuff like this... or maybe Zion Red.
  19. When is your birthday? June 27, 1964
  20. Are you a morning person or a night person? Ha... obviously, if you're asking this question, you've not tried to have a conversation with me just after I woke up. In other words, night.
  21. What is your shoe size? My feet are getting bigger in the last few years - maybe my weight is causing them to spread out. (Now, that's a depressing thought.) I was an 8 1/2 but now I'm a 9.
  22. Number of Pets? None - we are not "pet people."
  23. Any new and exciting news you'd like to share with us? We had 16 people at Fresno Gamers last night... the more the merrier!
  24. What did you want to be when you were little kid? At first, it was a construction worker... then a lawyer... then an actor.
  25. How are you today? Tired but doing well... I'm a little nervous about the camping trip this weekend - we're novice campers - but I'm excited about finding a way for our family to enjoy vacation time without killing our budget.
  26. What is your favorite candy? Just one?! Ah, well... 100 Grand.
  27. What is your favorite flower? Pretty ones... I'm useless when it comes to horticulture.
  28. What is a day on the calendar you are looking forward to? We are still nailing it down - but Shari & I are getting to go to FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember in November.
  29. What is your full name? Mark Allen Jackson
  30. What are you listening to right now? still Magdallan's "Big Bang" - the title track, which along with the song "Dome of the Rock" just define 80's hair metal pop (Yay, Ken Tamplin!)
  31. What was the last thing you ate? Shari made some very yummy cinammon toast this morning
  32. Do you wish on stars? Only at Disneyland
  33. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Orange
  34. How is the weather right now? It's Fresno, dude - it's hot & dry. (Ask me again in a month - the answer will be the same.)
  35. Last person you spoke to on the phone? Jack Bauer... well, that's what he said his name was. (I'm serious.)
  36. Favorite soft drink? Coke Zero
  37. Favorite restaurant? Walk up: Hog Heaven here in Easton (used to be Dave's)... gimme a ranchburger; BBQ: Doghouse Grill in Fresno (best tri-trip sandwhich ever); classy: Max's Bistro here in Fresno; out of town: Cafe Tu Tu Tango
  38. Hair color? brown with a touch of red in my beard and grey moving in wherever it can find a foothold
  39. What was your favorite toy as a child? Legos, of course - it still is! (I got Indiana Jones Legos for my birthday... yes, I'm the poster child for arrested development)
  40. Summer or winter? Winter - particuarly if it's an actual winter with snow & cold.
  41. Hugs or kisses? At the same time, please.
  42. Chocolate or Vanilla? Vanilla... preferably with something mixed into it (chocolate chips, cookie dough, etc.) Ben & Jerry are geniuses, I tell you -but I still haven't forgiven them for retiring Holy Cannoli to the Flavor Graveyard.
  43. Coffee or tea? If it's hot out, sweet tea.
  44. Do you want your friends to email you back? No, I prefer a hermit-like existence where I rant & rave on the Internet without receiving any responses. I particularly enjoy the sound of my voice. (That, btw, was sarcasm.)
  45. When was the last time you cried? Trying to tell Shari about the weightlifter from Germany who won the gold medal & held up a picture of his wife who was killed in a car accident last year
  46. What is under your bed? Nothing - we have our box springs sitting on the floor... anything underneath it is squished
  47. What did you do last night? played board games at our regular Fresno Gamers meeting - Galaxy Trucker, Dungeonquest, Agricola and a number of other kid games
  48. What are you afraid of? being irrelevant
  49. Salty or sweet? Sweet
  50. How many keys on your key ring? I have two key rings - the "family" key ring has 2 and the "church" key ring has 11.
  51. How many years at your current job? A little over 5 years
  52. Favorite day of the week? Whichever day I get to hang with Shari & the boys
  53. How many towns have you lived in? 15 cities, 9 states... in order: Seattle, WA; San Francisco, CA; Beaverton, OR; Placentia, CA; Waco, TX; Rogersville, AL; Castle Rock, CO; Ft. Worth, TX; Silsbee, TX; Arlington, TX; New Albany, MS; North Richland Hills, TX; Fordyce, AR; Nashville, TN; Easton, CA.
  54. Do you make friends easily? I'm friendly, but I don't make close friends easily.
  55. How many people will you send this to? The current blog readership is about 1,500 people per month.
  56. How many will respond? At least two or three will do it on their own blogs - who knows how many of you will write something cute and/or snarky in the comments section?
  57. Who sent this email to you? Jim "Jimbo" Christiensen, who still needs to give me back my LOTR DVD set & my copy of History of the World, as well as bring me that carpet sample

If you read this far, I'm impressed by your interest in me and/or your complete boredom with the rest of your surroundings. Have a great day!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Organizing the Small Church

Earlier today, I dropped a long e-mail about this subject to a small group of like-minded friends... and I figure I'd share some of the meatier tidbits with y'all & add a few thoughts to connect it back together.

"Hi, my name is Mark & I'm the pastor of a small church."

"Hi, Mark!"

Your average small church pastor (there is no such thing, really, but let me wax rhetorical for a minute) is a little like the guy who used to show up on the Ed Sullivan show & spin plates on long slender poles. He looks calm & collected as he starts spinning the first few... but soon he's running around like a chicken with his head cut off (ooo - bad metaphor based on some Personnel Committee meetings I've been in) trying to keep anything from falling.

Chances are excellent that he was given sub-standard training in church administration in seminary (I certainly was)... and that the lay folks (that's pastorspeak for "congregation members who aren't paid for their services") in his church have even less training/gifting in that area than he does. Now, no pastor worth his salt is going to argue (seriously) that the church shouldn't be organized - and if he is, direct him to Jethro & Moses and/or Paul's pastoral letters. What they are likely to do is drag their feet in creating or revising the organization of the church because
  • they aren't good at it
  • they don't know how to fix it
  • and they're threatened by what could/might happen if they did.
The problems at the church we're discussing:
  • money being tight
  • ministries w/inadequate publicity that flop w/out sustained leadership
  • a small core of people (20%?) doing most of the work (80%?)
are common to small churches. It is my personal experience that smaller churches must decide what God has gifted them to do & then do it... rather than attempt to be a mom'n'pop version of the "big box" church across town. (Let me flesh that out a bit - small churches don't have the resources to do a lot of things well; so instead, they should spend their resources on the things that are strong in order to make them God-honoringly excellent... instead of trying to offer as much and/or more than the church down the street.)

That involves a really tough shift in thinking, esp. for older SBC churches who were trained to do what was called "five star" church (ask around - some of your older members will be able to quote this stuff right back to you - they put it in the water like fluoride):
  • a great church has a great Sunday School program (age-graded w/teachers, secretaries, class leaders, etc.)
  • a great church has a great music program (age-graded choirs & ensembles)
  • a great church has a great Discipleship Training program (again, age-graded - this was not small groups but another teaching time to deal with doctrine & practice)
  • a great church has a great Brotherhood ministry (this was an age-graded program for boys [Royal Ambassadors] to men [Brotherhood] that was missions focused - Brotherhood, btw, is completely defunct as a SBC program organization)
  • a great church has a great WMU ministry (this is the Women's Missionary Union - also age-graded [from Mission Friends to G.A.'s to Acteens to W.M.U] women's program that was, for many years, the backbone of missions support in the SBC)
Think about it - if you grew up thinking that the above five points were what made a successful church, you ingested a serious case of "programitis" - believing that the Kingdom of God advanced through the creation of programs for all ages. And if you believe that, then regardless of the size of the church, you had 4 hours of "class time" per person to support with money, leaders & church space - because if you didn't, you weren't being all that the church could be.

And now, even though most of those things don't/can't happen in the average small church, the church feels the pull to do that kind of thing. Couple that with the drumbeat of "why don't we have a Beth Moore study?" or "why don't our men have a prayer breakfast?" or "our teenagers should have small groups in addition to their weekly meeting!" or "we should have as good a children's church program as the Methodists" or "why don't we have Awanas here?" and it is nearly impossible for churches not to do the binge & purge method of creating/killing programs:

  1. hear the need (which, please understand, I believe are real - youth do need small groups; adults need deeper Bible study; kids programs should be excellent)
  2. flail about looking for someone to lead this new ministry/program
  3. grab someone who is already overworked but easily feels guilt
  4. do a horrific job of planning for the ministry and/or recruiting other leaders
  5. launch without doing good publicity to the community or the congregation
  6. initial success is followed almost immediately by decline in attendance, rationalizing about why it's not working, and a vow to continue despite obvious problems (which are ignored for "spiritual" reasons)
  7. depending on the church, either a staff person or a prominent lay person comes in to take over leadership as the program falters
  8. the program becomes dependent on artificial life support from the key leadership person - if they step out, the program dies
  9. due to the key leadership person and a fear of killing programs/hurting people's feelings, the program continues on LONG beyond its useful lifespan
No, I'm not cynical. I've just watched this cycle happen over & over & over in my own ministry and in churches I've served. Breaking the cycle requires smaller churches to realistically assess what they're good at/what their lay leadership is passionate about... and then pour their resources (financial, people, building space, staff time, etc.) into those things. Then the tough part - the church (and particularly the pastor) has to learn to say "No" or "Wait" to very good ministries that don't fit their gifts & strengths.

Not letting the good get in the way of the best is difficult if you don't have some kind of way to evaluate the effectiveness of your plans & programs. BTW, a business meeting is a lousy forum for this. In fact, chances are pretty good there isn't a good forum for this - most church people are afraid to say "this isn't working" because you're going to hurt someones feelings. (In some cases, you're going to besmirch the good name of Sister So-and-So, who started the program years ago & did such a great job & HAS BEEN FACE TO FACE WITH JESUS FOR TEN PLUS YEARS and is hollering from Heaven to "kill it already and get on with building the Kingdom, for crying out loud!") You need to carefully & prayerfully figure out what the best venue is for healthy evaluation of where the church is... and then get the pastor's buy-in to be supportive of that evaluation.

A reminder: evaluation isn't magic. You can evaluate the heck out of something yet choose not to deal with what you learn - and now you've wasted the time you spent evaluating as well as the resources necessary to continue the program in a crippled state. Blech. Evaluation that doesn't lead to change/improvement will quickly teach people to sit down & shut up.

This isn't going to happen because you copy another church's set of documents or you plot the perfect path to organizational health. A pastor can't preach wise administration into existence any more than he can preach 100% of the church into tithing. Anything that happens in the structure of a church (large or small) happens because we trust God with it - because we talk to Him about it (prayer), look at Biblical examples (Bible study), and talk to others who've made the same kinds of changes (wise counsel).

Monday, August 18, 2008

#69: Hullabaloo

  • designer: Forrest-Pruzan Creative
  • publisher: Cranium
  • date: 2003
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 3485/5.69
  • age: 4+
  • # of players: 2-6
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $24.99 (Amazon... but I've found it MUCH cheaper than this)
If you're looking for a game to teach the competitive spirit to your children, you're in the wrong place. OTOH, if you want a Twister-like game for the preschool set with a delightful sense of whimsy, have I got a game for you.

Set-up is simple enough for a 3 year old: throw the little plastic mats out on the floor, push the "on" button on the bottom of the talking Hullabaloo machine - and then follow the instructions. You'll be jumping, running, skipping, flying & any other manner of cavorting as you bounce from mat to mat. At some random moment, the game will declare that the person standing on the "X" mat is the winner (usually after about 1-2 minutes) and give the winner a command. ("Winner, take a bow!" "Winner, do a victory dance!")

Children are encouraged to share mats (more than one person can be on the same mat at the same time) and any game where you have multiple winners in 10 minutes is obviously not trying to hone someone's killer instinct. But that's not the point - the point of Hullabaloo is unadulterated fun... and it delivers that by the truckload.

This game works with kids as young as 3 years old & is a great game for families to play together - the silliness makes for wonderful bonding moments. Again, the Cranium folks are making up for the debt of badness they incurred by releasing the Cranium game on the world by putting out a really great kids game.

Against All Odds We're Living Separate Lives

This story begins in the 80's, as all good stories should.

Once upon a time, there was a young man who loved the music of a band named
Genesis (thanks to Keith for giving me my first Genesis album, Duke) and esp. liked the song stylings of their 2nd lead singer, Phil Collins. In fact, he liked Phil's songs so much that when he & his roommate (hi, Tim!) converted the empty laundry room/closet in their apartment into a place for his keyboards & computer, he posted the name on the door: "Stu-Stu-Studio." (Yes, it's been 20 years & the high cheese factor still permeates the air of the long-since vacated apartment.)

Then the boy grew up & became a pastor & a married guy & a dad of two young boys who have no idea why their father likes to listen to hook-laden synth-pop with gated drum effects sung by one of the least attractive lead singers in rock'n'roll. (The younger son, to his credit, likes to groove on the beat.)

So, earlier this morning while our hero was working in his office, he slapped (ahem, gently placed) his Phil Collins: Hits CD into the boombox and let the tuneage fly. A number of thoughts flew through his head while he listened:
  • Cyndi Lauper did a much better job with "True Colors" than Phil did.
  • Phil's adventures into faux '60's R&B have not held up well - shudder.
  • Wait a minute - a lot of these songs are musical expressions of the stuff he was talking about last night in his message!

Maybe we better stop & explain: our pastor/husband/dad has been preaching & teaching all summer about soul cravings (thank you, Erwin McManus!) and last night did a summary message on how all of this stuff affects telling people about the love & grace of Jesus Christ.

So when he started hearing lyrics like:

Well I held on to let you go

And if you lost your love for me, well you never let it show

There was no way to compromise

So now we’re living

Separate lives

Ooh, it’s so typical, love leads to isolation

So you build that wall (build that wall)

Yes, you build that wall (build that wall)

And you make it stronger


How can you just walk away from me, when all I can do is watch you leave

Cos we've shared the laughter and the pain, and even shared the tears

You're the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, 'cos there's just an empty space

And there's nothing left here to remind me, just the memory of your face

Take a look at me now, 'cos there's just an empty space

And you coming back to me is against all odds and that's what I've got to face

And suddenly, songs that once simply reminded our hero of watching MTV in his college apartment or silly movies about dancers defecting while doing tap dance & ballet felt like a lighthouse in the fog - if we don't deal with our real soul craving for intimacy in a healthy way, this is where we end up.

There's more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, "The two become one." Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never "become one." There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for "becoming one" with another. Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. (1 Corinthians 6:16-20, MSG)

And the reality of all that made him very sad... tinged with the hope that someone else might realize that giving away their body and/or their soul to another person will never buy them the community, the love, the care that they long for.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Now The Trick Is Converting That Into Cold Hard Cash

My blog is worth $5,080.86. How much is your blog worth?

Thanks to Brian Bankler for pointing this out.

The Good, the Mediocre & the Ones With A Nice Personality

See, I played a lot of new games a couple of weekends ago, thanks to West Coast Meeplefest, and I wanted to inform my loyal blog readers of my impressions of those games... and so, I came up with the title, because I didn't really play any out-&-out jaw-droppingly bad games.

Games I Liked Enough To Try & Figure Out A Way To Purchase My Own Copy

Galaxy Trucker: I actually played this for the first time about ten days ago with Doug & Shelley Garrett, but my Friday morning adventure across the wilds of intergalactic space with Paul Tevis & friends confirmed my opinion - this is a brilliantly designed game with graphics that enhance gameplay & rules that convey the essentials while still making me laugh.

For those who haven't tried it, a capsule description... the first 1/2 of each space journey (there are 3 in a game) has players building their spaceships in real time, grabbing pieces from a pile in the middle of the table. You add crew quarters, batteries, lasers, engines, life support for alien gunners & engineers and cargo space to your "space truck"... and then, in the second 1/2 of each journey, you watch the game (via a deck of encounter cards) attempt to tear your ship to pieces.

It's a bit like dressing up
Dungeonquest in a space suit & crossing it with Carcassonne, dressed up as an alien... then adding a timer to the mix. (Some of you just threw up a little bit in your mouth - and for that I'm profoundly sorry - but it does feel that way to me.) I love it.

Games I Liked Enough To Attempt To Trade For A Copy

Toledo: The game seemed to garner positive reactions this weekend... but the blurbs I'd read about the game prior to this were lukewarm. I don't understand. I played it twice this weekend and enjoyed both games, though they took very different paths.

Toledo is about making swords and giving them to the king - which requires you to collect steel & gems to create the swords as well as moving your minions through the city to the palace. There's a bit of dueling involved (when players compete for spaces) but the focus is gaining resources & converting them into swords (points).

The key element in the game is the wise use of the currency, movement cards - they are used not only for movement but also to pay other players for the right to use their shops. There's a bit of a Ticket To Ride element in how you collect sets of cards (you can play the same number multiple times in a turn) and budget cards for payment or for later movement.

The variability of the game seems high, as well, since the players place their shops onto the board, configuring both the difficulty of movement (and the likelihood of duels) along with the availability of certain resources. All in all, very nice.

The one comment made to me that I rather liked was that Toledo "sounded like Martin Wallace had found a professional developer." (I assume the reference was to the constrained number of choices you could make each turn... rather than his normal "100 things to do and only experience being able to tell you which might be helpful" way of designing larger games.

Wie Verhext: This is the newest Alea game and it came out of the Gathering of Friends with some mixed reviews as well. The theme is the creation of potions, using a variety of sketchy looking characters to help collect the ingredients, boil the potions, work some magic, gather some cash & a couple of folks who just find ways to beg and/or steal stuff from other players.

Of course, it's an inventive little game design that takes a popular game mechanic (role selection - Citadels, Puerto Rico, Meuterer, etc.) and twists it a bit. Each turn, players choose 5 roles out of the possible 12 (each player has an identical deck). The start player chooses one of the roles from his hand of 5 and plays it - then each player in turn either passes (they didn't choose that role) or plays their identical card, deciding whether they will use the weaker secondary power (which happens immediately) or "take over" from the initial player with the stronger primary power (which is resolved after all the players lay down that role).

If you don't like "read other players' minds" games, start running now - you will NOT like this game. OTOH, if you enjoy that kind of stuff, this one was a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to seeing it published in English - the game in German is playable but would be off-putting for folks not used to lots of German text on cards.

Anno 1701 Board Game: This is the game that I wanted Anno 1503 + the expansion to be.

Let me explain - I'm a huge fan of Teuber's Anno 1503, but I could find very little to like in the expansion. While it adds some depth to the game, it also adds huge chunks of time (nearly doubling play length) - and the added decisions & chrome just aren't worth the hassle.

Anno 1701 uses some of the same concepts as Anno 1503: individual player boards, exploration of a central island board, two types of resources (those available at the start & those only available later in the game), multiple paths to victory, and random events that tax your financial resources. But Teuber also added a variable building system (where players can pay to have their choice of three buildings, each with special powers, to add to their island), simple & coherent ways to deal with pirate combat & exploration, as well as the re-introduction of trading resources into the system (absent in Anno 1503).

The result is an odd hybrid of Settlers of Catan & Anno 1503 that works really nicely... but if you're not a fan of Settlers and/or Anno 1503, you're not going to be a fan of this one - it's more of the same with some nifty new twists. For those who are fans, it may be tough to decide if you need one more Catan-ish game... let me make one argument in favor of purchase. Unlike most of the stand-alone expansions to Catan (Canaan, Stone Age, Struggle for Rome, etc.), the game has built-in variablity in set-up and choosing your path(s) to victory.

The whole "multiple ways to win" thing was clear in our game - I focused on exploration/warfare & happiness (happy warrior people!), grabbing sails & cannons in order to go whizzing across the exploration board. Others at the table grabbed lots of cash (Lorna, I mean you!) while Candy worked at improving her people (each worth a vp) and James built an Opera House. Candy won, btw, but I can see how each player trying different strategies along with the random board set-up would make each game "feel" different.

Anyone got a copy they're willing to part with?!

Games I'm Glad I Tried & Would Be Willing To Play Again... But Don't Need A Copy Of My Own

Ubongo: Das Duell: This is Ubongo for 2 players... no fancy scoring (the first player to finish wins the round; win six rounds & win the game) this time. You've got a big pile of puzzle sheets (glossy finish paper) with 20 different sets of pieces on them. Each player takes a sheet, one player rolls the die, you find your pieces & off you go, trying to fit them all in.

And that's it. It was fun (and Greg Parker should not play spatial speed games, esp. late in the evening) but nothing I have to own myself.

Keltis: Doug has already received a decent amount of razzing for messing up the rules... in his defense, the English translation has one of those weird two-sentence instructions that read something like "Place all the tiles face-down yadda yadda yadda" then later state "Now turn those tiles face-up." (Wouldn't it be easier to say "randomly place the tiles face-up on the dark spaces"?)

I played three times - twice with the tiles face down & once with them (correctly) face up. I'm not sure that there is actually that much more control with the face-up tiles. While you might be able to string together some nice plays using the extra move tiles, you're at the mercy of your card draw & the order of the tiles. If the lines you're getting cards for are all blarney stones, then you've got to go ahead & play the cards, even if you have to leave gaps... but if you don't get any of those cards, there's no way to make it happen. Yes, there's the multiple discard piles from Lost Cities, but time is so short in the game that unless everyone is trading cards around, it's questionable to do so yourself.

I'm not saying I don't like the game... I do. It was fun to play & made a great filler. But that's what it is - a nicely produced abstract filler game for 2-4 players. (For once, no groaning about Knizia & pasted-on themes... this one has Celtic symbols and that pretty much covers the theming. After playing Thebes earlier in the weekend, it's like the difference between Splash Mountain at Disneyland and a log ride at the Fresno County Fair. Both get you wet; only one feels like a story took place.)

Games I Played Which I Need To Try One More Time

Der Goldene Kompass: Just a short note here, as we played with the rules incorrect & I think I need to give it a fair shake with the right rules. As it was, it felt too long & convoluted to be a good family game, but too random to be a good gamer game.

Games I Played Which I Don't Feel The Need To Play Again

Tinner's Trail: This was the more Martin Wallace-y of the two Martin Wallace games I played... it's an auction/action game. (My favorite auction/action game is Princes of Florence - this has some similarities but I don't think liking one will automatically predict that you'll like the other.)

I agree with Chris Farrell's assessment - at least, I think these are Chris' thoughts; that's the way my (often faulty) memory has it. The game has two bugs and/or features, depending on your point of view:
  1. The value of one of the commodities (orange cubes, which shows you how much I got into the "theme" of the game) is widely variable, which causes some weird things as far as scoring goes - if I can get a lot of it at the right time, I do well. If the price tanks, no amount of clever play can make up for not getting in on it at the "right" time... and I have NO influence on whether it's the right time or not.
  2. Money is converting into victory points on a descending scale - money is worth less & less as the game goes on. This means that streaky and/or odd flukes of luck early will doom the later half of the game to a meaningless trudge through the system.
I didn't hate it, btw - I had a lot of fun playing it with Andrew & Greg Parker. But I think I pretty much got any need to play it again out of my system.

Liebe & Intrige: Anyone who wants to complain about German games & their lack of theme has met their match (ha!) in this game of Jane Austen-ish courting & marrying off daughters. The objective is simple: do stuff to make your current eldest unmarried daughter more eligible and send her out to "encounter" gentlemen suitors. The first family to marry off three daughters ends the game & then you score for how worthy your son-in-laws are & how educated, beautiful & reputable your family is.

What strikes me as I think back on the game is how "old school" this one feels... there's a "take that" deck of event cards you can use to hit other players or advance your own fortunes. The eligibility of the daughters is in three characteristics (brains, beauty & reputation) which work like pretty much any RPG board game. There's a lot of dice rolling (though I haven't ever rolled a Casanova die before) and it's all pretty processional.

I had a lot of fun playing this with Shelley, Doug & Greg Wilzbach... but you know it's a bad sign when the players in the game are trying to figure out how to shorten the game while they are playing it.

Lascaux: Take No Thanks!/Geschenkt. Make it more complicated & more difficult to figure out who is winning. Make it longer. Make it go away.

#70: Rüsselbande

  • designer: Alex Randolph
  • publisher: Drei Magier Spiele
  • date: 2000
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2454/6.04
  • age: 4+
  • # of players: 2-7
  • print status: in print?
  • cost: $23.99 (Amazon)
This is not just any pig racing game - oh no. These are acrobatic circus pigs who are racing around the variable board... and that makes all the difference. Really.

The wooden pig pieces stack - and while it's an important part of the game, it's also makes this, in the words of SNL, "a floor wax & a desert topping." Stacking the pigs in intricate formations (having nothing to do with the actual race game) is encouraged by a sheet of potential stacking combos that you can try. (I think a couple of them are impossible without the help of Crazy Glue, but I don't usually do real well at stacking games.)

The game itself is a simplified version of Die Heisse Schlacht im Kalten Buffet and/or Monster Fressen (both by Alex Randolph as well): pigs lower on a stack carry all the pigs above them along as they make their move. There are some rules for rolling again (the dice is custom made for the game) and for extending the pathway (each player can do it once per game) but it's really just a race game with delightful bits and, here it is again, the stacking.

There are three big selling points here:
  1. This is a great game for young children & adults... it plays quickly & easily. It's also not uncommon to have ties (due to the stacking).
  2. The stackable piggies sell themselves - almost any time I've brought the game out, at least one person tried to put the acrobatic circus pigs through their paces after the game was over.
  3. It will play with up to 7 players without any noticeable extra downtime.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mental Pinball & the Hamster Wheel

I've been watching a lot of TV lately... ok, I've been watching the Olympics every night. That's how I ended up standing on our coffee table late Sunday, yelling & cheering at the TV as the U.S. 4x100 freestyle swim relay team defeated the favored French team in world record time. (And when I say "world record time", I'm not kidding - the fifth place team broke the world record.)

A side note (and, btw, this post/article is gonna be full of side notes & rabbit-chasing... you might as well get used to it): my excitement about beating the French team is not so much a product of anti-French sentiment (I really like Du Balai & Droles de Zebres, even if I can't pronounce them) as it loving when people brag ("We're going to smash the Americans") and then have to eat their words.

So, when you watch this much sports television, you learn some important life lessons:
  • Beer is magic: it makes horses act like Rocky & abnormally beautiful women make goo-goo eyes at you (or at least at the camera).
  • I know that computer company is trying to make a point, but all I think about every time I see their "lost data" ad is "Man, a little person with a fruit basket is a whole lot more than I got when my laptop's hard drive shattered."
  • Budweiser actually has an ad in which the essential message is "I believe in beer." (Which, because my mind is bouncing around like a pachincko ball, reminds me of that old wheezer of a joke: "Everybody ought to believe in something... I believe I'll have another beer."
  • It doesn't matter that Visa has co-opted the Derek Redmond story to sell credit cards - it still makes me tear up when I see his dad run out onto the track.
  • It's August & I'm already tired of political ads... what will I be like in late October?
  • I like McD's Southern Chicken sandwhich - well, at least until the REAL THING gets here when they finished converting the dead Krispy Kreme at Riverpark into a Chick-Fil-A later this year - but their ads are oopidstay.

Anyway, there's one other ad that's been running which is the whole point of this game of mental pinball. The University of Phoenix has a series of commercials with purposeful looking people and pithy taglines on the screen. (I don't know much about the University of Phoenix except that one of the two Andrew Jones' I know - not the emergent Kiwi church planter but instead one of my former youth group members - used to work for them. Of course, in the words of the film Airplane, "That's not important right now.")

One of those taglines blew me away:

I am not a hamster and life is not a wheel.

The first time I saw that, I wanted to jump up on the coffee table and cheer... I know they're trying to sell you on self-improvement & higher education, but whatever marketing firm they hired ended up reminding me of Biblical truth: people are valuable (Genesis 1:27; Romans 5:8) and we are not doomed to remain the same (Galatians 2:20; Deuteronomy 30:15-20) - we are not hamsters & life is a not a wheel. Thank you, Jesus.

Another side note: for the Calvinists out there in blog-reading land, please be careful not to toss out parts of Scripture as you rightly defend the sovereignty of God... allowing people freedom does not undercut His lordship.

And if the guys from U. of P. are right (and I think they are), then we have some big, wonderful, crazy stuff ahead of us. What we do (or don't do) matters. A lot.

Sadly, we've let the traditions & rituals of religious behavior talk us into a very weak way of living this out. (Yet another side note: all you prideful evangelical folks should be real careful about looking down your collective noses at liturgical churches at this point... my own denomination has enough rituals & traditions to drown an elephant.) Erwin McManus says it well in his book, Seizing Your Divine Moment (now republished under the title Chasing Daylight.)
You would think that having unlimited options would be the platform for freedom, but that is often not the case. We have put so much emphasis on avoiding evil that we have become virtually blind to the endless opportunities for doing good. We have defined holiness through what we separate ourselves from rather than what we give ourselves to. I am convinced the great tragedy is not the sins we commit, bu the life we fail to live.

You cannot follow God in neutral. God has created you to do something. It is not enough to stop the wrong and then be paralyzed when it comes to the right. God created you to do good. And doing this requires initiative. There is a subtle danger of hiding apathy behind piety. Getting rid of sin in your life? Great. Now it's time to do something.
If we aren't hamsters, we can get out of the plastic ball of our lives & go free-range... we can touch people's lives, go to the ends of the earth, talk about what we believe and love with abandon. If we aren't on a wheel, we can follow God wherever He leads (Jeremiah 29:11-13) rather than huff & puff on some religious Stairmaster in a vain attempt to look spiritually fit & trim.

Everybody ought to believe in something... I believe I'll chase God with all my heart, soul, mind & strength. Join me, won't you? (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Facebook & Blog Networks

First, if you're on Facebook, so am I. (If you're not on Facebook, I still am. So there.) Hunt me down and make me your friend.

Second, check out the Blog Networks app and become a fan of this blog. Please... it's not like I win money or anything, but I do like to attract new readers.

Third, do I sound, well... let's use a favorite line from the TV show, Friends:
Chandler : You don't think that makes me seem a little...

Ross : ...desperate, needy, pathetic?

Chandler : Ah, you obviously saw my personal ad.
Well, do I?

#71: Die Ritter von der Haselnuss

Die Ritter von der Haselnuss

  • designer: Klaus Teuber
  • publisher: Goldsieber
  • date: 1997
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2866/6.11
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print?
  • cost: EUR 10,49 (, about $17.00)
Back in the day (OK, back in the late '90's), Goldsieber was known for making games with lavish production values (examples include Mississippi Queen, Africa & Goldland) as well as producing a splendid line of kid games under their "Minibox" label. (You've already seen 4 of them in the Kid Games 100 - and there are more to come.) Team that kind of production team up with the designer of Settlers of Catan and what you end up with is a tricky little memory game called "The Knights of the Hazelnut."

Players take the role of armor-clad squirrels (the plastic pieces are delightful) who are moving about the forest, picking hazelnuts to be stored for the winter & defending their territory against Leo the Lynx, Max the Marmot & Fritz the Fox. The board has pathways that lead to various trees as well as two "castles" where players can store/score their hazelnuts.

On your turn, you roll the dice & move in either direction - landing most of the time at the base of a tree. You pick up the top card & look at it - if it's a hazelnut, it's yours. If it's a predator, you replace on top of the stack face-down, trying to memorize which animal it is & where it's located.

Now, when another player lands on that particular tree, if you're the first to shout out the correct name (example: "Leo!"), you defeat the predator & earn two victory points. If you're wrong, you lose two victory points. You also get points for taking hazelnuts to one of the castles - the more hazelnuts you're carrying, the more points you get (it's exponential)... however, you can lose your hard-worn winter snacks if you get caught by a predator (another player yelling out the correct name when you arrive at a tree).

The game ends when either two trees are without cards or one of the players has gained enough victory points to reach the coat of arms at the end of the scoring track.

This is one of the few games on the list where I'll say that the recommended age may be slightly optimistic. While there are a few younger children who can look at a hidden card without inadvertently revealing the picture to other players (either by showing the card or blurting out the answer), their tribe is not large. We've had better luck with this game as my oldest son has gotten, well, older.

Once your kids reach the point where they can play, however, it's a lot of fun to play, esp. with the full contingent of 4 players. (More players means more chances for catching predators, which is the point.)

Agricola in 25 Words or Less

Please note I've only played the solo game so far (4 times in 3 days!), but I'll give it a shot anyway:

Agricola is a high-wire balancing act between starvation & forward momentum that can only get better when you add other players to the mix...

Hey, I managed to do that on the first draft - well, sort of. I had to change my original "the game" to "Agricola" to stay inside the 25 word limit, but other than that I'm pretty darn impressed with myself.

High score so far (w/cards) is 52... I think I'm getting too fixated on the minor improvements.

Censurious Prudes: A Response

I'm a big fan of Shannon A's board game reviews over on RPGnet and have enjoyed following the adventures of his life as a writer on his blog. I even had the privilege of playing games with him a year or so ago when I was in the Bay Area... we spent a delightful afternoon with Runebound & then he taught me Fairy Tale at Endgame before I had to head out to the airport.

This morning, he posted a very angry post that I felt compelled to respond to. What follows is his post, edited so that it won't jam up some of my readers spam filters. (Yes, I realize the irony of editing the coarse language out of a post that is about censorship, but I want to make sure you can fully understand what I'm responding to... if you'd like to read the post unedited, it's right here.)

Shannon wrote:
I've been reading a library copy of The Vanished by Bill Pronzini, and was aghast to find that some little s**t had defaced the book because they disagreed with the content.

It's a 1973 mystery novel, and it went into the collection of the Berkeley Public Library back in 1973, so I can at least presume that someone defaced the book a long time ago. But, nonetheless, they did. They thoroughly crossed out all the "blasphemy" in the book. I first noted it when I saw the word "g*dd**n" crossed out and then a few pages later when a "Christ" (used as an expletive) got crossed out.

I guess I'm always astounded to believe that there are such self-centered censurious prudes in the world, especially in Berkeley. That someone crosses out words in a public book because they offend their personal beliefs, with no regard for anyone else who might read the book (and probably purposefully, because they think other people shouldn't read those words) just shows off to me one of the big aspects of what's wrong with religion: that people believe everyone else should abide by their personal morals.

So g*dd**n you, you little self-centered piece of crap, and g*dd**n the people who brought you up in that way, be they parents or priests.

I'm bothered that you made the (il)logical leap that someone who was offended by the language in a book and chose the stupid & insensitive way of dealing with that (crossing out the offensive words) somehow makes the case that "religion" automatically demands that everyone else should abide by their personal morals choices.

While I understand your anger, you've allowed it to cloud your thinking. You are bound up in a number of assumptions:
  1. that someone who crosses out references they consider blasphemous is personally religous or has some religious background (granted, this assumption is probably correct... but it is still an assumption)
  2. that someone who crosses out references they consider blasphemous is doing to so to purposefully keep others from reading those words (a bigger stretch, as you have no way of knowing their motive)
  3. that, even granting the first two assumptions (I'm feeling charitable this morning), their particular action leads automatically to the assumption that religion in general demands adherence to a particular moral code not only of its followers but also of the entire society
There are people & religious (and or irreligious) systems who have chosen to do just what you imply... they have made it their mission to enforce their particular beliefs upon societies - certain chapters in the history of the Roman Catholic church spring to mind, as well as the Taliban and the communist governments of the U.S.S.R. and Red China. We would all agree (or at least most of us would) that those were & are bad things.

But the graceless & destructive behavior of some in no way means that you can paint all religious adherents with the same brush. It's like me saying that those who believe that Christianity is a crock are all as antagonistic & combative as Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. That's a weak argument... and as smart a guy as you are, you know it.

Finally, you end that portion of your post with an invective-laced tirade, using words that you (by implication) don't even believe have power but know will offend someone who does find them blasphemous. Shannon, you're a better writer and a more intelligent person than that... you've allowed your anger to overwhelm both your writing & reasoning skills.

Please consider stating what you believe in a way that doesn't undermine your very point.


mark jackson

Saturday, August 09, 2008


That's the word that kept coming out of my mouth last night as we watched the opening ceremonies of the 29th modern Olympiad. Here's hoping that the sports live up to the artistic triumph. (If you want to see some amazing pictures, check out

Shari & I are Olympics junkies... something about the competition and the hopes/dreams of the athletes and the profound respect paid to effort & sacrifice touch my heart. Like this...

Anyway... if we don't answer the phone for a few days, you'll know why.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

#72: Kiki Ricky

Kiki Ricky
  • designer: Gunter Baars
  • publisher: Ravensburger
  • date: 2006
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/5.52
  • age: 4+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: EUR 16.95 (, about $26.00)
Games can often be described in terms of "classic" games that kids play: Liar's Dice has a number of similarities with I Doubt It (sometimes known as Donkey or other less-family friendly initials) and any number of games are essentially sophisticated games of Chicken (Taj Mahal, anyone?!). In the case of Kiki Ricky, you're literally playing a game of King of the Mountain.

Mind you, it's a game of King of the Mountain where you main opposition is a maniacal rooster who showers eggs down at your chickens while you climb the 3-D board in order to reach his... back? Yep, that's right - the finish line is the rooster's back.

Each player has 3 chickens, each with a distinctive bit of headgear (baseball cap, football helmet or pith helmet) that start at the bottom of the mountain. On your turn, you roll the two dice and move a chicken up one level for each headgear symbol rolled. There are no pathways - you can place your chicken on any empty space on the level - some of the spots have things to hide behind!

If you roll an egg toss, you get to use the "rooster shooter" to send an eccentrically shaped egg crashing down the mountain. All pieces that are knocked down are "played where they lay" - for good (if you just tipped over) or for bad (if you rolled to the bottom of the mountain.)

And that's it. It moves pretty quickly, even with four players, which is a plus. Aiming the egg is difficult, which can lead inadvertent errors (hitting your own guy) which is endlessly entertaining... for the other players. It's plastic-y 3-D fun - what's not to like?!

One warning: don't let your child drop the egg directly in the bucket (one of the obstacles on the board). It took me some very careful surgery to extricate it - it fits perfectly. Well, too perfectly, since it doesn't belong there.

All Things Bookish

Nashbabe mentioned this... and I thought I'd pass it along.

My friend Mel had this interesting tidbit on her blog. Looks like I have a little reading to do, especially after successfully convincing kiddo that the book is always better than the movie.

The story is that apparently the National Endowment for the Arts estimates that the average adult has only read six of these books. Here are the markup guidelines:
  1. Look at the list and bold those you have read.
  2. Italicize those you intend to read.
  3. Mark in red the books you LOVE.
  4. Reprint this list in your blog
The List:
  1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkein
  3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
  4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  6. The Bible
  7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
  8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
  9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
  10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
  11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
  12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
  13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
  14. The complete works of Shakespeare -- I was an English major...
  15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
  16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
  17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
  18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
  19. The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
  21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
  22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
  24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
  25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
  26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
  27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
  29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
  30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
  31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
  33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
  34. Emma - Jane Austen
  35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
  36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
  37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
  38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
  39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
  40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
  41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
  42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
  43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  44. A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
  45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
  46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
  47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
  49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
  51. Life of Pi - Yann Marte
  52. Dune - Frank Herbert
  53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
  54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
  55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
  56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
  58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
  59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
  60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
  62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
  63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
  64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
  65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
  67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
  68. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
  69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
  71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
  72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
  73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
  74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
  75. Ulysses - James Joyce
  76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
  78. Germinal - Emile Zola
  79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
  80. Possession - AS Byatt
  81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
  82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
  83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
  85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
  86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
  87. Charlotte’s Web - EB White
  88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
  89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  90. The Faraway Tree Collection
  91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
  92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
  94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
  95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
  96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
  97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
  98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
  99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
  100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Garrett's Games & Geekiness 125

I had to pick Shari up from the San Jose airport... so while I waited, I hung out with Doug & Shelley and played a couple of games. Of course, Doug brought out the podcasting equipment at the end of the evening and what follows is my personal show notes for the broadcast. (You can hear it at Garrett's Games & Geekiness.)
  • Yes, that's right - no hands-free phone. There's really two reasons for that: (1) we're cheap. (2) Shari doesn't like us talking on the phone while driving. (As the last & worst accident I've had happened while I was talking to my aunt on a cell phone, I think she has a point.)
  • Shelley was VERY nice about playing Galaxy Trucker... because she REALLY doesn't enjoy it.
  • Meld puzzle-building with random events and you've got Galaxy Trucker... but you need to understand how brilliant the production is (it's gorgeous) and how silly the gameplay is (it's a "hoot & holler" game). I'm in love.
  • I mentioned Dungeonquest... if you haven't tried it, you need to. (Let me once again say that Fantasy Flight needs to give DQ the Fury of Dracula treatment.) If you don't mind the randomness of Galaxy Trucker, you'll do just fine with DQ.
  • I also mentioned Downfall of Pompeii - which is another game where you're fighting other players AND the game system.
  • Can someone send Doug a set of loaded dice? (Not that it will help... my guess is that Doug will roll badly EVEN with loaded dice.)
  • I still think that this is better than Pillars of the Earth...
  • I've modified my opinion of Stone Age a bit since we recorded... I'd like to play again and see if it's one that needs to be in my collection.
  • I didn't end up playing Monastery... but I did play Tinner's Trail.
  • I also talked about Manoeuvre... which I'm still willing to try again.
  • Braeden and I are STILL playing the Heroscape battle I mentioned... battle results will come later.
  • Seriously, Doug is a VERY good cook.
  • Finally, NO tag? Doug... you disappoint me.

As always, thanks to Doug for letting me play with the microphones!