Tuesday, September 30, 2008

#56: Small Soldiers Big Battle Game

Small Soldiers Big Battle Game
  • designer: uncredited
  • publisher: Milton Bradley
  • date: 1998
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.04
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $45.00 (almost new copy through Amazon seller; beat-up copies show up on eBay often)
I've written about this one before - the best short summary is "an introductory wargame for kids with awesome plastic minis & a skateboard catapult." What's not to like?!
I wanted to write about one of Braeden's favorite games...

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

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

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

There are some wrinkles:

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

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

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

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

#57: Pyramidos

  • designer: Jens-Peter Schliemann & Kirsten Becker
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2003
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.42
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $38.00 (ThoughtHammer)
Egypt has always been a good theme for games - the whole "build the pyramids" vibe is really appealing to lots of folks. Whether it's the auction goodness of Ra or the first of the Settlers historical variants (Cheops)... or even the Carabande/Acquire hybrid of Cairo, gamers can't seem to get enough of the theme.

Of course, historical accuracy is not the key - in Cairo, you're flicking building blocks off a boat in the river Nile. In Ra, you're bidding for monuments (as well as a lot of other stuff). And in Pyramidos, you're flicking round building blocks (seems structurally unsound to me) down the river, past waiting crocodiles (those are some mighty big crocs with some pretty strange appetites) to build King Tut's tomb.

This game's "parent" game, I think, is actually Piratenbilliards - which you need to go check out, both on the Geek & in person. (Don't rush out & buy a copy - they are VERY expensive.) As in Piratenbilliards, the players in Pyramidos move their marbles by flicking them from underneath the board... however, you use your finger rather than a long wooden mallet. You can keep flicking until you land in the reeds (near the edge of the multi-layered board) or get swallowed by a crocodile (in holes big enough to eat the marble & drop it to the netting below the board) or fall off the board or reach the building site.

The first four marbles to get to the building site get 1 point each... and then, the really tricky part begins. The last marble has to be flicked on top of the other four to form a pyramid - and it's worth 2 pts, which is at it should be, because that level of control does NOT happen the first time you play this game.

Kids LOVE this game... it looks cool, it's fun to flick the marbles, and the theme is appealing. The problem is that you must practice in order to (a) cut down the playing time and (b) be competitive. The game gets shorter (and better) with some experience... so if you do decide to plop down the dollars to buy it, push past the initial "wow, this is hard" feeling & go for the fun!


Two hundred posts in one year - and I've still got three months left. Wow.

According to the Source Of All Knowledge (aka Wikipedia), "200" is the smallest base 10 unprimeable number - "it can not be turned into a prime number by changing just one of its digits to any other digit." It's also a Harshad number & part of the Padovan sequence. (Yes, it sounds like gobbledy-gook to me, too... who comes up with this stuff? And why?! It's like "open vs closed holdings" for guys with slide rules & graphing calculators.)

Since I've got more than 50 posts left in the Kid Games 100 series (and I want to finish that in time for Christmas), I figure I'll close in on 300 by the end of the year.

Mark Jackson, Pastor By Day, Cheerleader By Night

People/teams I'm rooting for:

The Tennessee Titans... we're actually 4-0. I don't know how long it will last, but I'm happy that hearing Titans scores doesn't make me want to cuss like a sailor. (This has been a problem some years... and don't get me started on how we lost the Super Bowl by about 1/2 a yard - seriously, don't get me started.)

The big problem, of course, is that living in the Central Valley I literally NEVER get to see the Titans play. Instead, I get to watch the Raiders & the 49ers, both teams which would fold like origami against a mediocre Texas high school team.

Bob from Survivor: Gabon... a 57 year old high school physics teacher who's way cooler than the Professor on Gilligan's Island. (I also like Paloma - who seems to be befriending Bob... for once, people I like in an alliance? Nah - probably won't happen.)

The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable - you've got your requisite buff studs, your two types of reality show women (flirty & useless and ornery & useful), and some other assorted folks who won't last long enough for me to be interested. Like I said before, it's nice that they're not doing the typical "stuck on a beach" thing - and it's cool that elephants are wandering right around their camp. Here's hoping they're smart enough this time around not to create challenges that are veiled attempts to KILL contestants. (Yes, Fans vs. Favorites season, I'm talking to you.)

Baylor Bears football - hey, even though we're 2-2 in non-conference play AND we have to play Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Texas A&M, I still believe. Where's Grant Teaff when we need him most?

OK, lots of you have no idea who Grant Teaff is... when I was a student at Baylor (yes, many many moons ago), Grant was the head football coach. He had a real gift for taking B level players & turning them into an A level team... or, at least, a whole lot better than they were supposed to be as individuals. He produced not just good players but good guys - Mike Singletary is a product of the Grant Teaff years.

Mark & Bill from The Amazing Race... hey, they're comic book/gaming geeks! And they actually look like they'll do pretty well at this. (At one point, they referred to the race as a game played on a really large game board.) They look like they'd fit in real well at Origins - but they haven't been specific about what kind of gaming that they do. (They showed 'em playing chess at one point during their intro bio, but most of those are staged. For all I know, they could be Eurogamers.)

Now, except for the Siblings, I'm not a big fan of any of the other teams - good grief, why would anyone in their right mind go on a race around the world to decide whether to get or stay married?! OK, I liked the Beekeepers, but they were pretty much toast from the beginning.

Monday, September 29, 2008

#58: Insel der Schmuggler

Insel der Schmuggler
  • designer: Anja Wrede
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2004
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.12
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print?
  • cost: $28.99 (FunAgain)
The island of the smugglers awaits - there are illicit goods ready for transport - and the only thing between you & the 7 items you need for a win is Luke the lighthouse keeper. Unfortunately, Luke has this bad habit of shining his light exactly where you're going & forces you to throw your cargo overboard.

This is another beautifully made/designed game from Haba - the wooden lighthouse fits into a clear plastic section inside the board & turns as players roll the die to shine the light around the reef. The chits are chunky with great illustrations... and there's even 3 extra islands to add a variant to the game. (More islands = tougher game.)

This is a pick up & deliver game for kids... you take a chit from the harbor your boat is in and take it to the harbor with the symbol(s) on the back of the chit. There's some rules for pushing other players as well as dumping cargo, but it's simple enough to teach in 3 minutes or so and has been a hit with adults & kids every time I've brought it out.

#59: Fat Cats

Fat Cats
  • designer: Wolfgang Riedesser
  • publisher: Ravensburger
  • date: 1993
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/5.5
  • age: 10+
  • # of players: 3-6
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: I could not find a copy for sale online from a reputable source (sorry!)
See, there's this old abandoned house that the cats use their clubhouse - they meet nightly to share the food they've scavenged from the neighborhood garbage cans & fight over who gets the best pillow to sit on. But the house is actually a haunted house - so they have to watch out for ghosts as well! (In my more cynical moments, I think the ghost is the Spinster Cat Lady who lived in the house with her 200 cats... but, then again, I'm not really an animal person.)

The theme may a bit out there (of course, not compared to some other oddball Eurokid games) but the gameplay is pure simultaneous action selection. There are four food cards in the middle of the table (really - there's a table on the game board!) with a varying number of food items on them. In Survivor, "fire represents life"; in Fat Cats, "food represents movement points." Players secretly choose which food they'll attempt to eat - and if they are the only player that chooses it, they get to move that many spaces forward. If more than one player chooses an item, nobody gets it AND those players can't choose that item in the next round.

The only wrinkle is the ghost(s) - after a few cards that are "safe", every time you pick up a card you turn it over & see if there is a ghost on the back. If there is, you must move back that many spaces. However, each player starts the game with a silver platter which he can use to "serve up" the ghost food to another (more deserving?!) player. The receiving player must move backwards - but he gets to keep the platter for later use.

It's a simple race game that teaches the basics of reading "groupthink" to young gamers (and their parents)... and it moves very quickly. I do not understand the 10+ age recommendation - in a mixed adult/kid group, my 3 year old son has played this and had fun. (Note: he didn't play well - but he can do secret action selection.)

#60: Ab die Post

Ab die Post
  • designer: Hermann & Helga Huber
  • publisher: Goldsieber
  • date: 1996
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 4302/5.2
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 3-6
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: 19.50 Euros (BoardGameGeek Marketplace - used copy in Germany - approx. $30)
Climb in your biplane, load up the mail, and head over the mountains... of course, you get "paid" by beating the other mail planes (or even possibly by picking up a passenger), so you'd better hurry. Watch out for storms, though - they can damage your plane & even force you to land!

OK, that's the Mark Jackson version of the box back blurb - let me put it in "gamer" terms. This is a freaky cross of Blackjack & a race game. You can spend your turn taking on "parts" (cards numbered 1, 2 or 3 in value) or you can shake the Cloud (a plastic goodie with colored beads inside) and find out how far you can move - or IF you can move.

If you shake a black bead into the clear plastic window, then an "Orkan" (storm) has happened and each player must pay parts to stay aloft - 8 if you're on the inside, 4 if you're in the middle lane & 2 if you're going to the outside.

The game is all about pushing your luck - will you take more parts cards or risk losing all your "3's" because you drew a 3rd engine? Will you fly with a minimal amount of spare parts and chance crashing? Will you go to the inside to get ahead of the pack, hoping no storms will sideline you?

The low ratings on the Geek are due to "Big Box Expectations" - this came in the Lowenherz/Goldland-sized Goldsieber box - when it easily could have fit in a box 1/2 this size. The other factor in lowering the rating is that this is, at it's heart, a game for adults & kids together. There are decisions to make - though they're not very big decisions & you are still subject to the randomness of the Cloud.

I personally like how well it plays with 5-6 players... and am happy to play it with adults, as long as they can still get in touch with their childlike side. Overly serious people need not apply.

According To Quantified

The fine folks at Quantified say that this blog reaches over 570 monthly people, of which 399 (70%) are in the U.S. The blog is popular among a very slightly male biased audience.

  • Male (53%)
  • Middle Aged (34% age 18-34, 32% age 35-49)
  • Caucasians - There are more Caucasians here than average. (83%)
  • No Kids - Children Aged 6-17 in Household (68% w/out kids)
  • Less Affluent (21% - $0-$30K Total Household Income, 29% -$30K-$60K Total Household Income)
  • College graduates - There is a high index of College graduates here. (46% - College, 16% - Grad School)

So, we're a bunch of well-educated white guys not making much money. No surprise that "Board Games" is the most popular category, eh?!

OTOH, it could be that all of you are English majors - that would explain the high number of college degrees & the poverty level pay grade.

Church History 101

Back when I was still in youth ministry (yes, yes, I know - prior to Y2K and my current fascination w/reality TV), I managed to run into a cartoonist named Rob Suggs. Well, Rob & I never actually met face-to-face... but somehow we connected (thanks to a short-lived humor newsletter he published) and exchanged snail mail.

Because Rob had a sense of humor, I felt comfortable telling him that one of my youth (hello, Kyle - weird that you're a responsible adult now) had nicknamed me the "Mack Daddy" because, I guess, I was always hugging & kissing Shari Jo. (That or he was being sarcastic - as I like Kyle & enjoy a certain personal ignorance about how I'm perceived by others, I'm going to go with the positive "I love my wife & I don't care who knows it" spin.) Rob began addressing all of his letters to me to the "Reverend Mack Daddy Jackson," which always caused some raised eyebrows from our secretarial staff.

I always thought it was cool that I had a "personal relationship" with Rob... since I'd been reading his cartoons since my college years, thanks to HIS magazine. (An aside: Relevant Magazine is really well done and is the spiritual heir of two great magazines - HIS, published by InterVarsity, and Cornerstone, published by JPUSA.)

One of the things I thought was really nifty was his Church History 101 series, in which he attempted to condense a couple of semesters of seminary classes into 7 pages of densely drawn & written "highlight reels". For the most part, I think he was successful... and so, when I found that these 20+ year old pages were available on Rob's website, I decided you needed to see them! (These were originally published in the aforementioned HIS magazine over the course of a school year.)

I'll let our resident church historian (hi, Scott!) comment on these... but for most of you, this will be the most painless way to get a decent glimpse at the history of the Christian church with as little pain as possible.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Well, They're Not Advertising Race for the Galaxy, But It's A Start

Two different times (on two different TV networks), I saw prime time game ads this week:
  • during the Heroes premiere, they advertised the new Clue game (go, Rob Daviau, go!)
  • during the Survivor season opener, they advertised Monopoly: Here & Now - World Edition

Like I said in the header, it's not like Z-Man or Rio Grande bought ad time, but it's still nice to see.

They Have An Excellent Point

The following is from an interview with Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) and Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report) in Entertainment Weekly - agree or disagree with their politics or their willingness to use "colorful" languge - but they've got this next bit exactly right:

EW: You guys regularly make a mockery of the 24-hour news networks. Do you see anything good about the format?

JON STEWART: It's Muzak now. You ever walk into a clothing store in New York City and they're not playing music? And you go, ''What's going on here? Did a virus hit? This doesn't seem right.'' Twenty-four-hour news now is this weird companion to my life.

STEPHEN COLBERT: There's not more news now than there was when we were kids. There's the same amount from when it was just Cronkite. And the easiest way to fill it is to have someone's opinion on it. Then you have an opposite opinion, and then you have a mishmash of fact and opinion, and you leave it the least informed you can possibly be.

STEWART: We've got three financial networks on all day. The bottom falls out of the credit market, and they were all running around. On CNBC I saw a guy talking to eight people in [eight different onscreen] boxes, and they were all like, ''I don't know!'' It'd be like if Hurricane Ike hit, and you put on the Weather Channel, and they were yelling, ''I don't know what the f--- is going on! I'm getting wet and it's windy and I don't know why and it's making me sad! Maybe the president could come down and put up some sort of windscreen?'' By being on 24 hours a day, you begin to not be able to tell what's salient anymore.

Friday, September 26, 2008

aka labelmaker

It took a bit of playing around with the template (always scary - it's like working on one of those TV show bombs with the red & green wires - I'm always afraid I'm going to cut the wrong one & my blog will blow up) but I've finally managed to create a category cloud! It's down below the blog archives in the right hand column.

This week, I've also been re-editing (for missing formatting & spelling) the archives... and while I was at it, I also re-categorized a lot of the posts.

Now it's a whole lot easier to read through a particular kind of post you're looking for - just scroll down to "aka labelmaker" and click on the category you want to dig into!

As we say when playing Fill 'Er Up: "Happy to help you!"

Thursday, September 25, 2008


What started this:
  • "You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god... The plain fact is religion must die for man to live." Bill Maher, who's about to release a "documentary" attacking religion entitled Religulous (thanks to Jeffery Overstreet & Peter Chattaway for pointing an excellent Wall Street Journal article by Mollie Hemingway entitled Look Who's Irrational Now - you need to read the whole thing!)
  • The upcoming new U.S. movie "Religulous" was created to "destroy the whole system" of organized religion worldwide, director Larry Charles says. Charles said at a recent news conference that the intent behind his documentary-style film was not to debunk any religious beliefs, but rather take an all-out assault on organized religion, The Observer reported Sunday. "I don't think 'debunk' is the right word," the "Borat" director said. "I want to destroy more than debunk, just destroy the whole system." (taken from a UPI wire story)

Maybe it's just me... but isn't it difficult to have a reasonable ethical/moral/philosophical discussion with folks who start the conversation by saying, "I want to wipe you & your kind off the map"? Yes, I know that the best way to attract people to a film about religious questions is to make it controversial - thus the over-the-top pull quotes... but it sounds like these two just went out & had fun setting straw men on fire.

I'm curious - I know I've got some blog readers who don't share my religious faith. What are you guys thinking about this upcoming film?

Earth's Last Eden

Since Michelle Corbin was so nice to me over on Facebook & didn't make fun of me for being all giddy-like that Survivor starts a new season tonight, I figured I'd write a bit more about it. (Again, like the Heroes post earlier this week, many of you can stop reading right now, cuz I'm wasting your precious time/bandwidth/whatever with talk of reality TV... I promise more kid games & theology later this week.)
  • The PR folks over at CBS need to dial down the Hyperbole-O-Meter a bit - "Earth's Last Eden" was, according to Genesis, actually the Garden of Eden. This is Gabon, a very pretty country that is happy to have Survivor shooting there so people will think about being eco-tourists.
  • Linda Holmes, blogger/writer/lawyer/funny lady (things what things, Monkey See, The Law in Real Life) has written a delightfully snarky cast preview entitled New Survivor Cast, Eeeeeee! which should be required reading for Survivor fans. (Also required reading: Linda's wonderous recaps of the show from her years at TWOP - Television Without Pity. She recapped Seasons 7-15... go back & read 'em if you're a fan... they're really, really good.)
  • Speaking of TWOP - here's their photo gallery/predictions for who will thrive, survive & some other word that ends in "ive".
  • MSNBC has a photo gallery of the players as well, but they're not nearly as good at the snark. (All hail the snark!)

Let the backstabbing begin!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


If you love Heroes but haven't watched last night's season premiere, you need to stop reading NOW. If you don't care about Heroes, you've already stopped reading.

What follows is my quick & dirty reaction to the beginning of volume 3:
  • They should NOT have shown Malcolm McDowell in the pre-show... took a bit away from his appearance later in the show.
  • I really liked the stuntcasting of William Katt (The Greatest American Hero).
  • In the words of Chandler Bing, "Could Mohinder BE any more of an idiot?" (Dr. Suresh wins the award for "Character Most Likely To Get Whiplash From How The Writers Keep Using Him To Steer The Mythology Around".)
  • Sylar is still truly creepy - and with the added power boost (talk about your "don't eat snacks while watching" kind of scene) is frightening at a whole new level.
  • Not Hiro's brightest moment - but Daphne is a great new character.
  • Mama Petrelli is a very bad woman. Bad. (Watched the Season 1 opener with my wife after the Season 3 premiere - she wanted to see where it started - and even Mama's shoplifting takes on a sinister tint in light of what's happened... I figure she was just doing it to push Nathan into Linderman's arms.)
  • In the "I'm not dead yet" dept.: we've got one villain inside somebody's head (maybe?!), Claire unable to die - ever!, Sylar - the same, Adam/Takezo in a coffin waiting for his "last wife" (see the online graphic novels), Nikki/Jessica/L.A. party girl/Tracy - now w/the ability to freeze-dry veggies & other stuff... now, what's gonna happen to D.L. or to Bob?
  • In the "where are they?" dept: where's Claude (the invisible man), Micah, Molly (whose power is really cool if she was given a decent storyline), the Haitian & Lyle? (OK, I don't really care about Lyle.)
  • Most exciting plotlines: Elle on her own, Hiro chasing Daphne w/Ando, Present Peter (aka Weevil) and the Level 5 gang, HRG & Sylar as partners?! (hinted at in the previews)
  • Plotlines most likely to irritate me: Mohinder the Fly, Maya & her whining, Mohinder & Maya together, Parkman's spiritwalk

Saturday, September 20, 2008

#61: Willy Waschbär

Willy Waschbär
  • designer: Heinz Meister
  • publisher: Goldsieber
  • date: 2001
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.05
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $17.00 (Games Surplus - they do not have it in stock but they are still willing to try & find a copy)
The raccoons are busily gathering food... by playing some kind of whacked-out game that's a cross between soccer, billiards & sumo wrestling. Yes, campers, it's another blissfully odd game from the genius that is Heinz Meister.

The soccer part is provided by the players as they flick any raccoon disc they wish, attempting to knock off other raccoons or food. The billiards part is making wise decisions about how the wooden discs will carrom off the board. The sumo wrestling part? We'll get to that in a minute.

First, I need to rewind a bit & explain that the game starts with all of the raccoons (3 each in four colors) and all of the food (14 of 'em) are scattered across the board. Each player is secretly given 3 cardboard chits which match three of the raccoons - and those are "his team" for the round.

On your turn, you flick any raccoon (regardless of whether you "own" it) and attempt to knock discs off the board:
  • if you knock off only food, you get to keep all the food
  • if you knock off only raccoons, those raccoons are eliminated from the round (there's the sumo wrestling part)
  • if you knock off a mixture, he can either take all the food or eliminate all the raccoons, but not both
There are a couple of limitations - knocking the shooter raccoon off the board means everything goes back on the board. Also, you can't knock pieces outside the rope line - they are also returned to the board.

The round ends when either all of the food is gone or one player has all his raccoons eliminated. Players score 1 point for each food (unless they were eliminated, in which case they score zero). The best score over four rounds wins.

It's a fast-moving flicking game with a nice bluffing element... esp. in the later rounds when a clear leader emerges & you need to target him. 6 year olds can play the game... but it takes a little more age to develop the requisite sneakiness.

Mark Jackson, Pastor By Day, Web Surfer By Nite

Shari was watching a DVD (Ever After, if you must know) so I decided to poke around a bit & dig up some stuff on the Web. Here's my reactions:
  • The trailer for Watchmen is pretty darn spectacular... though I'm still unsure they can capture the majestic sweep of the 12 issue miniseries in 2.5 hours.
  • From the "Come eat me, I'm a delicious pizza" files: Microsoft's "I'm a PC" campaign actually produced on Macs. (Thanks to Will Mitchell for pointing this out.)
  • I want to see Miracle at St. Anna - I've always enjoyed Spike Lee's direction when he's given some money & a decent script (Malcolm X, Inside Man).
  • Somebody's doing a Monopoly documentary with the punny title of "Under the Boardwalk."
  • Andrew Peterson's yet to be released album, Resurrection Letters, Part II, is available to listen to online. It's got the sound/feel of his Christmas album, Behold the Lamb of God, without the Christmas-y-ness.
  • I've been thinking about High School Musical 3 - which I fully realize is a giant ATM for the Disney Corporation. On one hand, it's a giant opportunity for synergistic marketing. On the other hand, it's a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland "let's put on a show" movie updated for the 21st century. (And, I'd much rather have this generation of kids grow up on a film whose primary message is "be yourself" rather than the one that defined my generation - Grease. Yep, while we all did the Hand Jive, we were ingesting the lovely, life-affirming message that "changing who you are for the sake of keeping a girlfriend/boyfriend is a good thing." Blech.)
  • And in the find of the night, somebody has been putting some "ol' skool" CCM videos up on YouTube - Crumbacher, Daniel Amos & in esp. good new for me, Prodigal! Here's a sample... (note: this is a video produced by a band back in 1986, before major money went into video production for CCM. Ignore the shoddy production values & enjoy the creativity and the music.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

#62: Geisterwäldchen

  • designer: Michelle Schanen
  • publisher: Drei Magier Spiele
  • date: 2005
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2248/6.5
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-6
  • print status: in print
  • cost: 23.89 Euros (spiele-offensive - about $38)
This is the Spiderman 2/The Empire Strikes Back of kid games... a game sequel that is much better than the game that gave it a chance at existence. In this case, the game that proceeded it is the 2004 Kinderspiel-winning Geistertreppe (Ghost Stairs), which I thought was an OK memory game that was likely (among equal players) to degenerate into a kingmaker situation. (The magnetic ghost thingee, however, was nifty.)

Wait a year or so, capitalize on the good SdJ buzz, and here comes Geisterwäldchen (Ghost Wood), which uses a different magnet system. The children (small wooden pawns) are magnetically attracted to the giant dwarf (large wooden figure... and yes, an oxymoron). The giant dwarf keeps the children safe as they go through the wood filled with ghosts.

OK, he only sorta keeps 'em safe - if you roll a ghost, you may place one of two wooden ghosts over another players pawn, thus keeping him from moving. If you manage to connect with the giant dwarf, he moves everyone next to him along with him... except, of course, for the ghost kids, who don't magnetically connect with him.

There are some other small rules to the game involving the narrow log & the sunlit clearing, but the game is pretty much roll & take your best move. (Those rules, btw, work to keep the game close.) The winner is the child and/or children who reach the safety of the village with the giant dwarf - you can win with others or on your own.

The game is best with 4-6 players, though it is playable with 2 or 3. It's simple enough that a 4 year old can easily join in, though the potential for hosage (getting turned into a ghost) or kingmaking (whose piece is chosen to move when yours is ghosted) can sometimes be emotionally overwhelming for little guys.

#63: Beppo der Bock

Beppo der Bock
  • designer: Klaus Zoch & Peter Schackert
  • publisher: Huch & Friends
  • date: 2007
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2693/6.37
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $42.50 (Boards & Bits)
I went through three phases with my acquistion of Beppo der Bock:
  1. The WOWSA phase - where you open the box, start playing with the basic mechanic (the magnet/steel ball/wooden goat shooter) and are blown away by how powerful the magnet is and how much fun it is to shoot the little balsa wood goat around the board
  2. The THAT'S IT? phase - where you realize that the mechanic is pretty much all there is to the game - otherwise, it's just a simple roll'n'move, albeit with a goat & some wooden refugees from the Weeble factory who never had their bottoms rounded off
  3. The AH, NOW I GET IT phase - where it becomes clear that the virtues of the game (plays in 5-10 minutes, does reward experience with the shooter device, is attractive to & playable by kids as young as 3 with adult help) outweigh the phase 2 reaction
It won Spiel des Jahres Kinderspiel in 2007... which I think was more about the coolness of the mechanic than the sheer fun of playing. (I realize that this review sounds like I'm damning with faint praise - please understand, my boys love this game, which is the primary reason I've ranked it so high.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

#64: Jewels in the Attic

Jewels in the Attic
  • designer: uncredited
  • publisher: Discovery Toys
  • date: 1992
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not rated/6.5
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-18 (this is NOT a typo)
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: I could not find a copy for sale from a trusted online source
I've written about Jewels in the Attic before on this blog - it was the featured game at Braeden's sixth birthday party. (The picture with this post is me helping the kids take a turn.) What follows is copied (and slightly edited) from that post.

We played Jewels in the Attic, a game published by Discovery Toys back in the early '90s. It's a little difficult to describe, but it's essentially a cooperative text adventure without a lot of text. Using circle-shaped "tools", the players attempt to find the best item among them to help solve the problem - whether that be avoiding a swarm of bees or trying to get out of an overstuffed chair. The notch on the tool card is lined up with the notch on the "problem" card and a small hole in the tool card reveals a letter - which corresponds to a result on the problem card. Many times, you defeat the card & get to claim a reward (which is a more powerful tool, usually)... though sometimes the problem causes the group some trouble. (Most of the group ended up asleep on the floor at one point; another time, they were all stuck to the walls of the room they were in.)

Eventually, you have enough purple (reward) cards in order to try & enter the Attic to defeat the Jewelkeeper... which, of course, requires you to defeat his minions first. (I didn't mention at the start that the game is played in five rooms: a Main Hall - denoted by a large placard - and four rooms - denoted by door hangers with the room name & description.) We played at the church gym - the intrepid band of adventurers (and their guide, me) ran through "the Main Hall" on our way to "The Library" (which was actually our senior adult Sunday School classroom.)

The game works very well with ages 4-8 with an adult guide... part of the secret of making something like this really "sing" is to get the kids involved in making spooky background noises, roleplaying the various troubles, and helping them celebrate their victories. This was, according to the kids & parents I talked to today, the highlight of the party for most of the kids.

I apologize for touting a game which is pretty much unavailable... however, I have a suggestion. If you know someone who's been selling Discovery Toys since the mid-90's, chances are really good that they own a copy of this and would be willing to get rid of it.

#65: Monkey Mission

  • designer: Gunter Baars
  • publisher: Ravensburger
  • date: 2003
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not rated/5.53
  • age: 7+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $18.99 (Canadian E-bay)
The whole "game plays in the box" thing is a lot of fun - and you'll see that again on Kid Games 100 list. It works esp. well for Monkey Mission, what with the slowly turning stone doors that drop down into the floor & the 3-D cavern outlines in genuine molded plastic - I feel like I'm back in the early 80's again.

But for all the Indiana Jones trappings & theme, this is really a push-your-luck game that rewards a good memory & a willingness to take appropriate risks. In turn, each player rolls the die & moves the adventurer (a shared piece) to one of the cave openings. Each cave contains little plastic monkeys (OK - thematically, they're made of precious substances, but they're actually plastic) and a stone door, which is a plastic wheel set into the game board with 12 notches. The player then chooses to turn the wheel 1, 2, or 3 notches, announces that choice & then turns the wheel.

If the wheel drops, the player receives the monkey & the "objective card" (visible to all the players) that specifies a monkey color that's worth an extra point. The value of the monkey is also noted on the card - if you got the monkey by announcing a 1 notch move, he's worth 3 pts; 2 notches = 2 pts; and 3 notches = 1 point. So, you can open doors quickly but risk getting lower points... or go slow for the big points but risk being left in the dust by the quicker players.

There are also snakes in the objective card deck - if one is turned up, players in turn choose a wheel to turn one notch. When a player makes a wheel drop, he gets the snake - which is worth -1 point at the end of the game. (Yes, it's Hot Potato with plastic wheels.)

Players also receive 4 "power sticks" - they allow you to move the adventurer more or less than you roll for each stick spent... or to move a wheel one notch per stick spent. You've only got four of them - so use them wisely! (The "power sticks" are the one bad design element in the game - they are rounded sticks, which means they don't sit still on the table unless it's perfectly level. Name the last time you saw a perfectly level table.)

The game ends when a player gets X number of monkeys (X depends on the number of players.)

Children as young as 4 can play this with adult supervision - I think the age rating is for unsupervised play.

I'm glad I found a copy of this - it's fun to play & has some tactical decisions to make, as well as rewarding players who're paying attention.


We can argue extensively about how to interpret various passages of the Bible - but there's a lot of stuff in there that really doesn't need much explanation and/or interpretation:
  • He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. (Proverbs 10:18)
  • Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)
  • But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Colossians 3:8)
  • Brothers, do not slander one another. (James 4:11)
  • Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. (1 Peter 2:1)
Just in case you're unclear on the definition of slander:
  • words falsely spoken that damage the reputation of another
  • Anything spoken about an individual that is false and malicious that ridicules them or damages their reputation.
  • Abusive language, accusation, character assassination; the speaking of false and malicious words concerning another, whereby injury results to a person's reputation.
Now, we come to the really important part of Biblical interpretation - application. And as far as I can see, the political landscape is littered with folks who either completely ignore the ethical obligation to avoid slander and/or excuse it as "part of the process" or "the way things are done." It's the same ol' "break few eggs to make an omelet" garbage rhetoric.

And - no surprise - it's on both sides. There are a number of Christians who need to take advantage of 1 John 1:9 for the way they've forwarded rumors & innuendos in order to damage Senator Obama's campaign. At the same time, there are other Christians who've exalted in flaying Governor Palin as she's entered the campaign, accusing her of base motives and, in one very odd case of overreaching in political rhetoric, of pretending to be a woman.

All four of the main players in the presidential election come from Christian churches - one Roman Catholic (Joe Biden) & three Protestant (Barack Obama - United Churches of Christ, John McCain - Episcopal/Southern Baptist, Sarah Palin - Assemblies of God). So it's especially funny (funny ironic, not funny ha-ha) that the most common slander against these candidates is done by connecting them to Islam:
  • the last survey I saw indicated that 12% of Americans believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim
  • an article on Salon.com likened Governor Palin's beliefs to a Muslim fundamentalist
It's time for this to stop. I realize I'm spitting into the wind, but I appeal to all people of Biblical faith to take God's word seriously and apply it to the way you behave & speak in this political season. (I'd like for you to do this 24/7, but for right now I'm just lathered up about the campaign.)

For those of you not of Biblical faith, you still need to deal with the moral & ethical implications of slander... and acknowledge that whatever you think about the Bible, it makes good sense here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

#66: Ringel Rangel

Ringel Rangel
  • designer: Geni Wyss
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 1993
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not rated/6.14
  • age: 4+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: at least 16.50 Euros (ciao.de - about $23)
This is one of the those games that fell into my lap. (BTW, that happens the more you collect & trade games - because you have some rudimentary knowledge & "feel" for what will be a good game, you take chances that help lead you to something wonderful.) In this case, I had listed it as a part of the Kublacon math trade - but it fell outside the loop. Instead, the seller contacted me afterwards to let me know she'd sell it for $15 & deliver it to Kublacon as well.

Now, I'd never seen Ringel Rangel - just a picture or two on the Geek along with a play description that emphasized "dexterity" and "chunky wooden pieces." And that, along with the Spiel des Jahres Kinderspiel (German game of the year for children) award and the publisher (Haba) was enough to convince me.

It was a good call... Ringel Rangel is one of those wonderful "good with adults & kids together" games, since the basic skill needed (moving the turtles slowly with one finger) is pretty well within the ability of everyone 5+ or more. (Note: the box says 4+, but we've found that kids that age get frustrated when the pieces keep falling off.)

I'm still not clear on the theme - there are turtles and there are beach balls and large pieces of driftwood (I guess?!) and you're trying to get the turtles safely to their nests without bumping any turtles or beach balls off the... beach?! The beach (playing board) is actually about 1/2 an inch thick - which is nice because it's obvious when a beach ball or turtle falls off the board.

In turn, players pick the top turtle of one of two stacks. The turtles come in six colors, and each of them has their own starting area (on one side of the board) and nest (far away from the starting area). They place the turtle on the board & move him with ONE finger... nudging other objects out of the way in an attempt to cleanly (w/out knocking other pieces off) to their nest. A "clean" run gives you the right to put a previously knocked off beach ball back on the board - but not of your color - you have to hang onto those. (You also have to hang onto turtles you knock off.)

The driftwood is the ingenious way that's used to ramp up the difficulty based on the age of the players. There are three small holes in the board & three pieces of driftwood which can be anchored in those holes. When they're added to the board, it gets even more difficult to predict the chain reactions that come as you work your way toward your nest.

The player with the least stuff (beach balls & turtles) in front of him when the last turtle arrives at his nest wins the game.

I'm guessing this will be one of the most difficult games on this list to locate - but it's a great game both for kids & for adults, with or without the other age group involved.

For My Lucky Friends Who Live To The East of Me


Stray Thoughts

Here... let me round up some stray thoughts for you:
  • Just finished watching the first season of Burn Notice on DVD Saturday night - a reader of this blog described it as "Simon & Simon but w/3 ex-spies". That isn't a perfect description, but it does get the blend of action & smart-aleck-y tone, along with the whole family dynamic.
  • I also watched the premiere episode of Fringe - it's definitely got an X-Files vibe going for it, along with nice production values & some great performances, esp. from the guy playing the (literally) mad scientist.
  • Which reminds me... a couple of years back, Braeden was invited to a birthday party where the entertainment was a "mad scientist" who showed the kids cool science experiments. Before he started, he asked the kids if they had any questions - and the birthday boy piped up: "Why are you angry?" (Wait for it - it'll come to you in a minute.)
  • It's amazing what God can do in spite of my bad attitude - I fought all day with being irritated by every little thing that went wrong at church. And then God obviously worked in our services to draw people to Him. (Be nice to see what it would look/feel like if I had a good attitude & enjoyed it in the moment, eh?)
  • I really want to play Settlers of Catan again... and Carcassonne. Hard to believe that my group plays both of these seldom if ever.
  • Of course, those will both have to wait until I can beat Richard in Pizza Box Football... which may mean I never get to play them.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Camping At Limekiln

Here's the crew (that's the Jackson & Edgar families) hiking away from Limekiln Falls - it gives you an idea of how amazing this hike was... for more information about Limekiln State Park, check out the "official" website and/or the Redwood Hikes website.

The park is named for the four limekilns that are at the end of a 3/4 mile trail... for a few years in the late part of the 19th century, this was a money-making operation. In the 1960's, this was (according to the guitar-playing record producer who camped not too far from us) Ground Zero for hippies & all that entailed. Now it's a state park where part of the campground is almost on the beach and part of it is in a coastal redwood forest.

Collin had spent some time showing me the map... and now he's in a hurry to catch up with everyone else.

It's very hard to get a good "serious" picture of Braeden - this is the best of a number I tried to take during our trip. He had a blast, adventuring with his friend Matthew. They waded in the surf, got wet in the creek behind our campsite & even played Poohsticks with Matthew's little sister, Meghan.

Collin was a little left out at Limekiln Falls - he's still not great at balancing and the older kids were heading across some pretty slippery rocks in the creek - so he & I went down the creek just a bit & sat together. I've got some pictures where we're looking at the camera... but I like this one best - it seems the most natural. (BTW, Limekiln Falls is very difficult to photograph... it spills 100 feet down a limestone face at the end of a very thin canyon. It's beautiful but tough to capture.)

Out at the beach, Collin made a stingray. See if you can find it!

Both boys (and Dad!) did a lot of rock climbing on the beach... the same creek that ran behind our campsite pours into the ocean through these boulders. Pretty cool, eh?!

Speaking of our campsite, this is the view of the back side of it from the bridge over the creek. The green & white tent in the left of the photo is ours. (It was wonderful to fall asleep to the water splashing over the rocks.)

This final picture was taken on the way home at Ragged Point, CA... while Shari rested in the car (she does NOT like driving on Hwy 1, esp. when she's fighting some kind of flu bug!), the boys & I went exploring. A nice lady took our picture in the wedding gazebo. Yes, we look ragged (Ragged Pt, get it?!) - but by this time we'd all been 2+ days without a shower. A final note or three:
  • The Edgar Family (Kirt, Vickie, Matthew & Meghan) were wonderful folks to go camping with... we somehow managed to combined good eating, time to play (the Edgar kids taught me Sleeping Queens), extensive discussions of theology & music & parenting & (whadda ya know!) John Steinbeck along with hiking, playing in the surf & pounding tent stakes into pretzels. When some of you ask me about why we homeschool, people like the Edgar family are a big reason for that!
  • I can't recommend Limekiln State Park highly enough for a camping getaway... but know that the campground fills up on weekends - which, btw, is another good reason for homeschooling. (Better scheduling for vacations/field trips!) The campgrounds have showers & restrooms (Mark is NOT a fan of pit toilets) but no electricity at the sites. The sites are not large (they vary in size) but would work well for one family. We really liked #18 (where we were) and thought the creekside sites in the upper redwood area would have been nice, too.
  • The only caveat for Limekiln is it's location: if you do not like curvy roads, this is not the trip for you. It's about 1/2 way between San Simeon & Carmel, which means coming from north or south you've got to traverse the twisty parts of Highway 1. I love that kind of drive - it makes Shari ill.

Product Placement

Looks like he's shilling for Capri Sun, eh?

More camping pictures from Big Sur later.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Revenge of the Crackpipe Remote

If you don't get the title, check out this or this or even this.

For those of you who know where I'm headed, here's what I think will be my viewing/taping schedule for the fall:

  • America's Funniest Videos (for Braeden, though I do enjoy a good pratfall myself)
  • The Amazing Race (after taking last season off, I want to try again... as I've really enjoyed this show in previous seasons)
  • Chuck (I'm not sure it will survive a full season, but I do love the "Computer Nerd meets Super Spy" vibe. Shari & I found this show charming last year.)
  • Heroes (all the advance word from ComiCon looks like they figured out how they messed up season 2... and are working to live up to their hype)
  • Fringe (the guy who brought us Alias & Lost takes a shot at doing a X-Files-ish show... I'm in for the opening tonight & then we'll see from there)
  • Pushing Daisies (for those who like their TV watching with a heavy dose of whimsy & magic reality - Shari's favorite new show from last year)
  • Survivor: Gabon (it's back to Africa... and for the first time in forever, no coral reef shots)
  • both Life on Mars & Eleventh Hour look interesting... but I'll probably wait to see how they do
  • Life (one of the few shows where the protaganist's spirituality actually affects the story... granted, he's a "pop Buddhist", but I still find myself intrigued)
  • College football (of course)
Coming This Spring
  • Lost (I'm so hooked - the last season was STUNNING, esp. when you realize they had to ditch 3 episodes)
  • 24 (I've come this far... might as well go all the way - of course, Kim is returning... go, mtn lion, go!)
  • Dollhouse (Joss Whedon = wild creativity & almost certain early cancellation)

ax*i*om [ak-see-uh]

There's a tendency in evangelical circles to minimize Willow Creek Community Church (calling it "WillowWorld", for example) and the work of the founding pastor, Bill Hybels... or instead, to worship their methodology & their success. And, by extension, to prop Hybels up as some kind of church guru - what he calls an "Obi-Wan Kenobi" in his chapter on mentoring in this little book.

Neither response is appropriate - obviously. Willow (and Bill) have made their share of mistakes (which they are candid about) as well as their stunning successes in advancing the Kingdom of God. What Bill is esp. good at is leadership - and inspiring other leaders to lead well.

Which is the point of axiom: powerful leadership proverbs. There are 76 different leadership proverbs (well, pithy sayings) that are each covered in 1-4 pages - everything from "vision leaks" (boy, howdy, does it ever!) to "The Tunnel of Chaos" (which, surprisingly, isn't about your marriage). As usual, Hybels does a great job of explaining his point, illustrating it with a real-life situation, and encouraging you to "go for it".

If you'd read Courageous Leadership or Rediscovering Church or Holy Discontent, you've read a lot of this before. (And if, like me, you've been a part of the Willow Creek Association, you've heard a lot of it before through the Defining Moments series.) The point, however, isn't to say lots of new stuff - it's to put "old stuff" down on the bottom shelf where leaders can grab onto it and use it.

Here's a few of the "proverbs" I'm going to be wrestling with during this season of leadership:
  • making the big ask
  • take a flyer
  • speed of the leader, speed of the team
  • give me an A, B, or C
  • pay now, play later
If you'd like to read the first chapter, you can download a PDF of it right here.

Monday, September 08, 2008

#67: Der Plumpsack geht an

Der Plumpsack geht an
  • designer: Reinhard Staupe
  • publisher: Amigo
  • date: 1999
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 1357/6.53
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-5
  • print status: in print under the name Sherlock
  • cost: $8.00 (Amazon)
Yeah, it's probably easier to sell a game named "Sherlock" - but I'm still in love with the absolutely trippiness of "The Awkward Bag Turns On" as a game title. BTW, that's the Plumpsack in red near the top of the picture - happy little fellow, ain't he?

Of course, he's probably happier than the players, as this is one of the most infuriating memory games I know of. (OK, it's not as evil as Freche Frösche - the wickedest memory game packaged for kids but too insanely hard for humans.) The problem here is that you have to remember where six to eight item are hidden, but as players are correct, items are taken & new items put in their place.

Kids actually do pretty well at this... as do some card-counting adults. (Hi, Ryan & Aaron N...) The rest of us just muddle along.

Camping Pix

On Labor Day weekend, we went camping up at Shaver Lake. (To be precise, we were on a group campsite at Camp Edison with 55 of our church folks from NewLife Community Church.) I'll write more about it later (well, maybe - I've promised to write about a lot of things) but for now here's some pictures of the trip.

Here's my beautiful bride, Shari, standing in front of our brand-new 8 person. (For those of you who haven't dealt with tent sizes, it's a little like high fashion: an 8 person tent is comfortable for about 4 people, a 4 person is comfortable for 2, and a 2 person tent is barely big enough for one person unless they are vertically challenged.)

The next morning, you can see Braeden on Collin's air mattress and Collin - yes, that's right - Collin is sleeping on the tent floor.

Later on day two, Collin shows us that (a) he can wear himself completely out, and (b) what he's really good at is getting dirty.

Early on day three (Sunday), Collin shows off his muscles.

That afternoon, we enjoyed riding a Wave Runner, thanks to T. Benzler. (No, Braeden & his buddy, Canaan, did not take it out by themselves. They both rode with Peter & Kelly!)

In fact, here's Kelly & Peter taking Collin out. (Both of the boys LOVED it.)

Finally, a really sweet picture of Braeden on the last morning, sitting up on a rock & thinking to himself. It's hard to get a good picture of Braeden - I got this one with the camera fully zoomed out.