Monday, March 30, 2009

Brother, Can You Spare A Definition?

I really, really, really don't like it when I don't know the answer to a question. I was one of those kids who loved to raise my hand in class & answer - not quite Horschak-like, but dangerously close to Lisa Simpson territory. (I also had the same scintillating social life as these two fictional characters - whoopee.)

So, when Shari asked me Saturday night what the difference was between a recession and a depression, I was kind of stunned when I realized that the only honest answer I had was, "I know they're different & that recession is better than depression, but otherwise I don't know. We'll have to look it up."

And, to the best of my limited abilities to operate Google & other web information sources, here's an answer. OK, some answers... but they don't necessarily agree with each other.
  1. Economists don't all agree on the exact definition of a recession. (reference: This, of course, would scare me if I didn't the exact same behavior with theologians (predestination & freewill) and board gamers (open & closed holdings).
  2. The standard "newspaper" definition of a recession is 2+ quarters (6 months) where the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) declines. (BTW, the GDP is the total value of all final goods & services produced in a particular economy." (reference: Wikipedia))
  3. Dave Ramsey has recently said that "the official definition of an economic recession is an economy that has negative growth, that shrinks, for six consecutive months or more." (reference: CBS News)
  4. A depression is when that decline is 10% or more... meaning the last depression we had in the U.S. was in the 1930's.

Now, depending on what numbers you look at, we are either in a recession (majority opinion) or not (Dave Ramsey & some other naysayers) but not in a depression. (We may, however, be depressed about our financial situation - that's a different issue.) I'll just let Dave speak for himself:

"The U.S has the most robust economy in the history of man, and it's the most sophisticated it's ever been; there are lots of checks and balances and safety nets," Ramsey explained.

He pointed out that, "The market dropped the same amount (relatively) when President Nixon resigned as it did during the Great Depression, but there were so many more safety nets in place in the 1970s that the drop didn't have the same effect. The markets dropped 511 points in minutes when the markets opened after 9/11, but there still was no crash or meltdown.

"By definition we are not in a recession," Ramsey said forcefully. "We have not even had one month of recession; we've had SLOW GROWTH. The economy was growing at (an annual rate of) 3.5 percent; now, it's at 1.5 percent, which is a big impact, but it's still growth."

I'm a big fan of Dave Ramsey - but listening to the back'n'forth between the "now is the perfect time... to panic!" crowd and the "there's a pony buried under here somewhere" crowd, I'm reminded of two stories:
  1. Ye Olde Parable about the blind men & the elephant
  2. The wisdom of Homer Simpson: “Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.”
I'm also reminded of one of my favorite passages from the Bible:
Though the fig tree does not bud

and there is no fruit on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will triumph in the LORD;

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!

Yahweh my Lord is my strength;

He makes my feet like those of a deer

and enables me to walk on mountain heights!

(Habakkuk 3:17-19, HCSB)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Keep Your Godless Commie Pinko Hands Off My Candy!

Last night, perusing the candy selection at our local Walgreens, I noticed that the new King Size Chunky wrapper has the words "Great to Share" emblazoned on it. Now, I've put up with the whole "Tear'n'Share" nonsense from M&M's for quite a while now, but I can no longer sit idly by and watch this insidious brainwashing spread.
If I wanted you to have some candy, I'd have bought you your own. Keep your hands off my chocolate!

The picture of the M&M wrapper with this post comes from which is an amazing site you should check out. Seriously, it's proof positive that anyone's obsession can become a Web page.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Little More Than A HO Scale Oval

When I was very young, my dad wanted to build a model railroad set. He originally was collecting HO size stock, but decided to go smaller & began buying N scale stock. I was always fascinated by the magazines & books, going so far as drawing out a couple of small layouts on graph paper. (This skill came in handy when I DM'd a D&D campaign in high school.)

Sadly, life started moving faster than could support a model railroad habit - Dad's business grew & I got heavily involved in theater... so the layouts never got built.

But in my head, this is what it would have looked like!

OK, maybe not, but it gives me yet another reason (besides the
Internationalen Spieltage SPIEL in Essen) to visit Germany. It's the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg... and you need to watch the whole video - it's amazing!

Note: my vision did not include what the narrator euphemistically calls "houses with bad reputation", the couple canoodling in the flowers or the scene that looks CSI's Miniature Killer is on the staff.

Thanks to Alf Seegert for pointing this out.

Town Hall for Hope

That makes it 5 pm here on the West Coast... and, if I can iron out the technical details, we'll be hosting this event here @ NewLife. That's Thursday night, April 23rd... mark your calendar.

Find out more at!

#23: Pop Belly

Pop Belly/Fette Bauche
  • designer: Klaus Teuber
  • publisher: Klee/SimplyFun
  • date: 1999
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 3902/5.71
  • age: 4+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $27.00 (SimplyFun)
The original name of the game (in English, "Full Bellies"), is a little less cute than the pun, Pop Belly - but the underlying game theme & mechanic remain the same: pigs eat too much & explode.

Yes, campers, you heard me correct... it's a game about overfeeding "the other white meat." Players take turns loading their colored food chips into five different pigs (two pigs per turn/2-5 chips) based on a dice roll, hoping not to cause them to pop their bellies. (As someone so beautifully put it in the BGG overview of the game, "this is not considered good pig farming technique.") The biggest decisions you face in the game are:
  • which pig gets the chips first? and
  • how many chips?
When a belly pops, everyone but the player who caused the pork grenade to go off gets as many victory points as they had chips in the tummy of the twisty-tailed Monty Python routine. ("It's only wafer-thin.")

You may be wondering, "Mark, since I can tell from the picture that all the pigs are the same size, how in the world is there any suspense in the game?" I'm happy to report that the designer, Klaus "I Invented Settlers of Catan" Teuber, created a nifty way to keep everyone guessing - the plugs for each of these mini-piggybanks has a different capacity.

Hard to believe you can tease a wonderful game out of such ridiculous subject matter, but it's accomplished with style & flair. The game runs an almost perfect length - long enough to even out a bit of the luck, but not so long that the fun runs out. It plays well with 2, 3 or 4 players... and the age recommendation is perfect.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

News From The Front

Yes, I may be "hip deep in the big muddy" of the Kid Games 100 and the Five & Dime reports, but that hasn't kept me from playing a good bit of Memoir '44, which is very possibly my favorite "war game." (I can hear all of you serious grognards now, wincing & whining that I called Memoir '44 a war game and somehow sullied the clipped counter purity of your lovingly preserved copy of War in the East. Sorry 'bout that.)

Still speaking to the wargamers out there: yes, I like Command & Colors: Ancients, but not as much as Memoir '44, Battlelore or Battle Cry. (They're all part of a family of games called Command & Colors, designed by Richard Borg, for those of you who don't recognize any of the names.) I often wonder if the reason wargamers like C&C: Ancients so much is that it has charts & doesn't have minis. (OK, I'll admit I'm trolling a bit with that last statement.)

Attack on Normandy

Braeden & I are three battles into our first Grand Campaign, thanks to the new Campaign book. He's the Allies (currently British troops) trying to flank Caen in order to punch an exit out of the immediate area around the D-Day beaches. I (playing the Axis) am currently holding him back... but it's still early in the battle - there are nearly 20 scenarios here.
  • Securing the Flank (#1): Axis 6 - Allies 1 (an ugly blowout involving a huge tank attack on my part)
  • Capturing the Crossing (#2): Axis 6 - Allies 5 (a slugfest that finally came down to a last ditch surge)
  • Withdrawal from Hill 112 (#3): Axis 6 - Allies 3 (another tank-led blitz pushed him back)

If all goes well, we'll be fighting Hill 112 (#4) tonight. While he can't make up the points for this section of the campaign, every medal counts for the Grand Campaign.

Tigers in the Snow

Days of Wonder has just announced that they'll be releasing another Battle Map set for the Overlord (multi-player) version of the game that will feature a Russian/German tank battle on one side & an Operation: Market Garden scenario on the other. It'll also have 6 Tiger tank figs & 2 extra "regular" scenarios.

Yep, they know how to pick my pocket. (Seriously... after playing Hedgerow Hell back in January, I'm sold on the battle maps & the Overlord expansion box. It was easy to set up & easy to bring new players into the game.)

New Recruits

Speaking of new recruits, my best friend from college (and best man at my wedding!), Tim Formby & his son, Nathan, have recently been drafted into the Memoir '44 forces.

Nathan - don't let your dad play his silly waiting/defensive game - go out there & attack him with wild & crazy near-suicide attacks. You won't always win, but you're guaranteed to make him crazy - it certainly worked when I did it to him in Conquest of the Empire all those years ago!

50 Questions For Old Folks Like Me

A regular reader of this blog, Nord himself, posted this to his Facebook page. While I refuse to admit that 44 is old (it's not! it's not!), I will say that these questions fit my life a bit better. (BTW, Jeremy "Nord" Nordmoe can use your financial support & prayers - he's going on staff with Wycliffe Bible Translators... their account number is #200553.)

Tired of all of those surveys made up by high school kids? Here are 50 questions for the people who are a little older...

Copy and paste into your own note and answer the questions. Then tag your friends (including me, please!)

Consider yourself tagged, Nord!

  1. What bill do you hate paying the most? PG&E (aka electric bill... it's OUTrageous here in California)
  2. Do you miss being a child? I miss the free-form nature of life, but I don't miss being bullied or feeling lost
  3. Chore you hate the most? yard work of any kind
  4. Where was the last place you had a romantic dinner? Max's Bistro
  5. If you could go back and change one thing what would it be? following through with DramaWorks - a summer touring group we envisioned for the summer after we graduated from college... it never happened
  6. Name of your first grade teacher? I don't remember... one of my 2nd grade teachers was Mrs. Hibbard, and she was majorly cool
  7. What do you really want to be doing right now? taking a 2-3 day vacation with my beautiful wife
  8. What did you want to be when you grew up? age 5: construction worker; age 7: architect; age 10: lawyer; age 14: actor (I'm 0 for 4!)
  9. How many colleges did you attend? one - Baylor University
  10. Why did you choose the shirt that you have on right now? it was clean & fits comfortably
  11. What are your thoughts on gas prices? the flexibility of the price (over $2 in range over the last 18 months) says that there's more play in the system than the government and/or corporations are willing to admit - stop taxing it so high & stop gouging the price already
  12. First thought when the alarm went off this morning? the alarm has a name - "Collin" - and the first thought was "too early"
  13. Last thought before going to sleep last night? gotta get up early to pick up the car keys from Anna so I can pick up Canaan tomorrow
  14. With what famous person would you like to have dinner? Charlie Peacock... I love the way his mind works
  15. Have you ever crashed your vehicle? yes - one fender-bender in O.C., one fender-tree fiasco in Waco, and one rear-ending (with me doing the lion's share of the "work") here in Fresno
  16. If you didn't have to work, would you volunteer? Yes.
  17. Get up early or sleep in? I'd love to sleep in, but I have a 3 yr old & a 7 yr old.
  18. What is your favorite cartoon character? Sam the Sheep Dog (Looney Tunes)
  19. Favorite thing to do at night with a guy/girl? at this point I reference the Biblical passage know as the Song of Songs
  20. When did you first start feeling old? 30 - the year my body fell apart
  21. Favorite lunch meat? ham
  22. What do you get every time you go into Wal-Mart? candy
  23. Do you think marriage is an outdated ritual? absolutely not!
  24. Favorite movie you wouldn't want anyone to find out about? I really like the High School Musical series, esp. #3
  25. What's your favorite drink? Non-diet: Snapple Apple; diet: Coke Zero
  26. Who from high school would you like to run into? Larry DiPinto
  27. What radio station is your car radio tuned to right now? either NPR or Jack-FM
  28. Sopranos or Desperate Housewives? read a book?
  29. Worst relationship mistake that you wish you could take back? I dated a girl once simply because she liked me and I liked being liked... not because I had any meaningful feelings for her. It was rude & callous & selfish & destructive of me.
  30. Do you like the person that sits directly across from you at work? No one sits directly across from me... but my secretary/office manager is in the next room and our youth pastor is down the hall, and I like both of them a lot!
  31. Have you ever had to use a fire extinguisher for its intended purposes? Yes & No... I've NEEDED a fire extinguisher, attempted to use it and found out it wasn't charged up. (This is part of the infamous "brakes on fire on the Pig Trail" story - ask me about it sometime.)
  32. Last book you read? I'm currently reading a number of books... the last one I was reading is Nelson Searcy's Fusion on connecting people to a local church
  33. Do you have a teddy bear? Not any more...
  34. Strangest place you have ever brushed your teeth? not sure what you're asking here - I pretty much stick to using a sink
  35. Do you go to church? Yes
  36. How old are you? 44

OK, maybe I copied it wrong... but there are only 36 questions here!

Slick Streets & Funny Money

Is it my imagination or is Fresno local news worse than other places? A couple of examples for your consideration...

Dangerous Weather!

Horrific snowstorms blanketed the Midwest & Northeast last Christmas. Like every other self-respecting news station, our local news was showing clips of cars piled up, trees bent over with ice, snowplows running, etc. There was commentary about potential deaths from the freezing tempratures.

And then the weatherman said, "Here in the Central Valley, we have our own weather-related emergency." The video then shifted to LIVE footage of an empty street wet from rain.

That's right... those folks shoveling their way out of 10 foot snowbanks have nothing on us. We've got wet streets! Don't go out unless it is absolutely necessary!

We're in the Money

Monday, amidst the daily drumbeat of depressing economic news, our local Fox affiliate was touting an upcoming news story on the Fresno city government and their local stimulus plan. Nothing wrong with that - I'd like to know where my sales tax dollars are going.

In this case, it's the visual they chose to pair with the voice-over: a close-up of money being printed at one of the U.S. Mints. Which begs the question: does our "stimulus plan" involve counterfeiting?!

#24: Secrets of the Deep

  • designer: Wolfgang Riedesser
  • publisher: Ravensburger
  • date: 1991
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.02
  • age: 7+
  • # of players: 2-5
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: there is at least one copy available for trade on BGG...
I bought this game because of the company who made it - at that point in my game collecting (some 17 years ago), the English releases from Ravensburger had a stellar track record. We're talking stuff like Scotland Yard, Flying Carpet, Hare & Tortoise, etc. So, sight unseen, I grabbed this off the high-end toy store shelf & plunked down my hard-earned cash to add it to my collection.

Over time, it's become one of my favorite games to play with kids. It's probably too fast for gamers - there's really no time to develop any kind of strategic plan - but it tells a story, has lots of adventure and a good bit of tension, esp. if other players are working to keep you from getting back to the boat.

The board is a side view of an underwater treasure trove, with 3 different sized chests (made from molded plastic) at the bottom of the board and a boat (which even has felt on the reverse so it slides easily across the board) at the top. There's also a captain's wheel spinner permanently attached to the board & a deck of event cards. (BTW, the game insert works like a charm - when the board is folded up, the spinner fits into one of the depressions in the insert.)

In turn, each player spins the spinner - which can move you 1, 2, or 3 spaces... or cause you to draw an event card. You then can add one of your dive tanks to the spin and make your move off the boat and down to the treasure.

Let me explain the dive tanks. Each player has 4 (or 5, if more players are playing) tokens, which add to your move or allow you to move one of the non-player dolphin pieces. They also limit the amount of time underwater. When you use them, you flip them over. If you run out of air (tokens) on a particular dive, you must surface without a treasure. Regardless of how you got back to the boat, you replenish your air (flip all the tokens back right side up) and move the boat forward to the next step.

So, you've got to manage your air, avoid the other divers (you can't move through them), use the dolphins (there are 2 of them) to your advantage - as they can push divers, and watch the time... when the boat reaches the far side of the board, the game is over.

Then comes the "let's test your eyesight" part of the game. Each of the treasure chests has a point value in the indentation on the underside: 2-4 points for the easiest to reach chests, 3-5 points for the medium chests, and 4-6 points for the treasure chests at the bottom of the sea. Points are added together and the player with the most is the winner.

A game-savvy 6 year old can easily play this - though there is a bit of reading (due to the event cards) which probably pushes it older when playing without an adult. I like it best with 3 players - you can mess with each other but the game moves at the right pace. 5 players is probably too many.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

#25: Viva Topo!

Viva Topo
  • designer: Manfred Ludwig
  • publisher: Selecta/Rio Grande
  • date: 2002
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 813/7.06
  • age: 4+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $27.86 (Boards & Bits)
Let's start with Bob the Tomato:
"I like Mouse Trap. You roll your dice... You move your mice... nobody gets hurt."
Bob is simply expressing a bedrock truth - one of the time-honored themes of kid gaming is cats chasing mice: Cat & Mouse (there at least 5 different games w/this name in the BGG database), Pounce!, Cheese Chasers, Mouse Trap: The Card Game, So Ein Kase, Mause-Rallye, and the ever popular Mush Mouse & Punkin Puss Game. (OK, it's not ever-popular... but it was published the year I was born, so that oughta count for something.)

OTOH, Bob is not talking specifically about Viva Topo, a game where you do roll your dice & move your mice - but somebody is gonna get hurt, 'cuz the big orange cat is on the prowl.

Each turn, players roll the die & and move one of their 4 mice (5 mice w/2 players) out of their burrow & around the track. 2 sides of the die have a 1 and a cat on them - when you roll these, you move one of your mice a single space and then advance the cat along his track.

When the cat makes it three quarters of the way around the track, he picks up speed & begins moving two spaces per turn - and every mouse he passes and/or lands on is "captured" (aka: "eaten").

Meanwhile, the mice are scurrying along, trying to get to the various cheese storehouses along the route. The earlier to jump to safety & grab a cheese, the less it will be worth. For those mice who are fleet of foot (read: roll high), they can even reach Cheese Paradise, where their reward is an entire wheel of cheese. (Since this is a kids game, the mice are not given wine or pretentious conversation to go along with their cheese.)

There's a nice balance between kid friendliness & game tension here - the cat comes on like a steamroller in the late game, but if you can position your mice where they can make a leap to safety. Scores tend to be close, unless kids make crazy "run one mouse & leave the other three behind" decisions... but they only do that one time.

The components are, as is common with Selecta games, top-notch. The mice & cats have felt ears... and the mice get string tails as well. This is simply a pleasure to play - and it's wonderful that Rio Grande is importing the game so it's available at a very reasonable price.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Only the Sticky Part's Left

Not saying that's a bad thing... check this out. Caramel ice cream, swirls of caramel & fudge, seeded with fudge-covered chunks of, yes, you guessed it, caramel.

That's right, kids - it's an ice cream that's works like Crazy Glue for your mouth.

Extra points to those who can identify the source of the post title.

Kid Games 100: 75% Finished

With the posting of Maus nach Haus/Hula Hippos, we've finally finished three quarters of the distance I set for myself to cover last June. In other words, we're about to get to the cream of the crop, the top 25 games.

Sorry it's been such a long, strange trip, with the emphasis on the word "long." Thanks for your patience!

#26: Maus nach Haus

Maus nach Haus
  • designer: Heinz Meister
  • publisher: Haba/Gamewright
  • date: 2005
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 1386/6.60
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print as Hula Hippos
  • cost: $8.50 (Time Well Spent)
24 small wood chips in the shape of a mouse (or, now, a hippo) and a polished wooden ring... that's it. That's all that you find a box of Maus nach Haus (Mouse in the House - the version from Haba) or Hula Hippos (the more recent reprint by Gamewright). OK, there's rules in there, too... but that hardly counts.

And yet, Heinz Meister (he's my hero!) milks more fun out of those simple game components than many games whose boxes are stuffed full of boards & bits.

One player spins the wooden ring... then all the players simultaneously flick their mice into the center of the table, trying to get their pieces trapped in or under the ring when it falls. All trapped pieces are removed from the game and then you go again. When you run out of mice, you win.

This is yet another flicking game that works with kids, because
  • it's pretty random where the ring hits, so kids don't get frustrated when they miss
  • there's lots of suspense as the ring falls - and then the requisite celebrating and/or "whining" depending on the results... it's a game that produces a lot of emotion but none of it lasts because you've got another chance 30 seconds later
  • each mouse is only flicked on time, so there's no "positioning" involved

It also works well with adults... it's a great filler while you're waiting for someone else to join in a game or to bring out with non-gaming adults at a party.

My three year old is able to play (not well) but he can participate. I'd say that "age 5+ recommendation is about right for decent play. The game does scale well - it works with 2-4 players, though is best with a full complement at the table.

Dispatches from the Cultural Frontier

Cool title - which is code for "Mark wants to write about a bunch of little things & just shoved 'em into a single post". Read on!

Tait + Taylor - Furler = Who Knows?!

Michael Tait is the new lead singer for the Newsboys... wow. Well, it's not like they haven't switched lineups & lead singers before - but bringing Tait onboard is an interesting twist. According to Wikipedia, they've got a new album coming out in May that Steve Taylor had a hand in, writing several songs & even singing on one of them.

If you don't know who I'm talking about, it's the CCM equivalent of George Michael taking over the lead vocal duties of Genesis from Phil Collins - who took them over from Peter Gabriel back in the day... and then having the love child of Weird Al & The Clash come and work on your new record. If you do know who I'm talking about, discuss how good my analogy is in the comments - yes, I'm talking to you, Zionred & Nord.

Rebel is...

My prediction: on Heroes, Rebel is Micah Sanders - the technology kid.

And here's my reasons why:

  1. We haven't seen him for a long time.
  2. There's the whole "I can manipulate tech" superpower.
  3. His mom's not around anymore to do stupid things that could endanger his life.
  4. He's got a cousin who can protect him while he's all wrapped up in the cyberworld.
  5. The only other character I can think of that might fit is Hana, and according to the webcomic she no longer has an actual body.

Rhino Is My Hero

The kids saw Bolt again at the "cheap" theater on Friday. (BTW, didn't these used to be called "dollar theaters"? It was $3/person, which is decent compared to getting yammed by the regular-priced theaters.) It comes out on DVD tomorrow. "(It's) beyond awesome! (it's)... be-awesome!"

Best quote... a network suit gives the Truman Show-esque director of Bolt's TV show a dose of reality: "The show's too predictable. The girl's in danger, the dog saves her from the creepy english guy, we get it. There's always a happy ending. And our focus groups tell us 18 to 35 year olds are unhappy. They're not happy with happy." Ahem... can anyone say, "This explains why comic books read like they do right now?!"

Must... Read... Rules... Closer...

Found two different games this last week that I've been playing incorrectly... and I'm the one who read/taught the rules:

  1. Strozzi: didn't catch the exception that you can't park more than one boat per player per port - makes the game tighter.
  2. Der Schwarze Pirat - Das Duell: made a bad assumption that ships are returned to the harbor when they're hit... they aren't. The way we played it when I screwed it up made the game last just short of forever. The right rules make it a lot of fun - portable The Black Pirat with the added bonus of firing a tiny wooden air cannon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#27: Daddy Cool

Daddy Cool
  • designer: Heinz Meister
  • publisher: Huch & Friends
  • date: 2004
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2772/6.44
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-6
  • print status: in print
  • cost: 14.95 Euro ( - roughly $21)
Imagine if Sid Sackson's classic game, Can't Stop, actually had a theme... and the theme was polar bear cubs covered in paint (from helping the Inuits paint their igloos) trying to get across the ice floes to the bathtub so they can be the first to get cleaned up. OK, you can stop imagining - that's Daddy Cool in a nutshell.

This belongs to a family of games known as "push your luck" games - where your advancement (either in points or in a race) is based on properly balancing the risk of failure with the risk of not taking enough chances. In other words, you roll the dice and get to move forward until you stop or bust (have a roll that doesn't move you forward).

That's where the titular "Daddy Cool" comes in - see, polar bears (at least according to the game) are good dads and go ahead to check out the safety of the ice so their young don't go for an unexpected dip in frigid waters. After you start your turn by rolling the 6 custom dice (3 sides have ice floes on them, 3 sides are blank), you move Daddy Cool forward as many spaces as floes on the dice. You then set those dice aside (the ones that helped you move) and make the decision whether you want to roll again or stop. If you stop, you move your polar bear cub up to the floe that Daddy is on. Rolling again means you keep moving him forward and setting aside dice.

There are a couple of complications:
  1. There are two ice floes which are already cracked (they have a "Danger!" sign on them). If Daddy Cool ends a move on one of these spaces, you must roll again.
  2. When the last place cub has 2 (or more) floes behind him, one of them is taken out of the game and the rest of them are added to the front of the track.

I think what takes this game into the edge of kid gaming perfection is the components... the chunky tiles, the custom dice & the cool bear tokens. And, for once, a game that has a backstory that explains why the animals come in DayGlo colors. (Though, come to think of it, you got ask some questions about Inuits that are looking to paint their homes in the same color scheme as Toontown.)

A couple of notes about age & number of players: I've had good success with younger players in a mixed group (adults & kids) - my 3 year old can play this with some help. But although the box says 2-6 players, the game works much better with 3 or more.

Soundtrack of My Life: Andrew Peterson

Of all of the artists on this list (the Soundtrack of My Life list I created some time back), I've probably been aware of Andrew Peterson the least amount of time. Shane & Steve Oakley are good friends of ours in Nashville who have an inside track on the music scene... since Shane & her sister recorded 3 albums under the name State of Mind back in the mid-late 90's. (Shari, my lovely wife, is actually in the "thank you's" on their final album, as she helped babysit Shane's daughter while they recorded vocals.)

Anyway, I remember Shane talking about going to see Andrew Peterson's Christmas concert every year... that he brought a veritable who's who of Nashville session players & singer/songwriters together to perform Christmas carols. Then, after a short break, they would come back & perform pieces of a Christmas musical/cantata/whatever that Andrew wrote over a number of years. Sadly, we never went to see these shows when they were so readily available.

Fast forward to 2004... when Shane burned Shari a CD of songs to as an encouragement gift. (Our transition here to Fresno was pretty rough - to go from a place where we were surrounded by close friends who were raising kids our age to a small town where we didn't have any connections except those provided by the good folks of our church.) The cut she included from Andrew Peterson was "Just As I Am" from his Love & Thunder album.

It's the fear that I've failed one too many times

It's the fear that His love is no better than mine

Something about the song chewed at my heart - enough so that Shari & I went out and bought the whole album - only to discover songs like "Let There Be Light" and "Family Man" and "After the Last Tear Falls". Here was a guy who combined literate writing with a Nashvillian singer/songwriter vibe musically to craft exquisite songs that wind themselves around your heart & your head.

We bought his first two albums as well -
Clear to Venus & Carried Along. (Well, actually, there was another album before that - Walk - but I've never actually seen a copy.) They were good but nothing stood out like Love & Thunder.

Then, in 2004, he finally finished the Christmas musical and released a CD of it -
Behold the Lamb of God. I'll talk about it more in a minute, because I didn't know this album existed until Christmas 2006.

Instead, my next experience with Andrew's music was the haunting album,
The Far Country. The lyrics are a series of musings on "longing for Heaven" (the Far Country of the title)... and songs like "The Havens Grey" and "Little Boy Heart Alive" sound like echoes from deep within my soul.

Come to the Father

Come to the deeper well

Drink of the water

And come to live a tale to tell

Pages are turning now

This is abundant life

The joy in the journey

Is enough to make grown man cry

It was another year or so before I found Behold the Lamb of God, which is absolutely the best Christmas album I own. It tells the story of Jesus' birth from beginning (the Passover) to end (his sacrificial death on the cross)... and the incredible music is complemented by thoughtful lyrics & wonderful performances by Andrew and some guests, including another favorite of mine, Derek Webb. It's become my favorite Christmas album - "So Long, Moses" is almost guaranteed to leave me in tears every time I hear the bridge:
"He'll bear no beauty or glory

Rejected, despised

A man of such sorrow

We'll cover our eyes

He'll take up our sickness

Carry our tears

For his people

He will be pierced

He'll be crushed for our evils

Our punishment feel

By his wounds

We will be healed."

I got Andrew's newest album for Christmas - Resurrection Letters, Vol. 2... then had the privilege of hosting him for an album release concert at my church last month. It was delightful to hear him share about the origin of the different songs - Braeden fell in love with "Rocket" and I found myself floored by the personal nature of "The Good Confession (I Believe)."

You need to know as well that he's written songs for Veggietales (the ballad from the Wizard of Ha's is from his album for kids entitled Slugs, Bugs & Lullabies... and the song, "You Can Always Come Home" will make you weep like a baby if you're a parent and/or take the story of the Prodigal Son seriously) as well as started authoring a series of fantasy novels, beginning with On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

When I hear Andrew's music, I hear echoes of the Truth... he weaves together the stuff of my life (a longing for adventure, a love for the writings of C.S. Lewis, delight in being a husband & a father, desire to follow Jesus) and his music carries me further up & further in. Give it a listen.

Just Because I Haven't Played It...

...doesn't mean I can't say nice things about it.

And whenever Haba manages to publish a game about elephants grabbing tree trunks that uses party noisemakers (the ones with the long paper tube that rolls out when you blow on it) and a spinnning cardboard tree, I think it's my civic duty to alert you to the existence of said game.

BTW, Trotofant (aka Trump Ephants) is on sale right now at for $26.60.

#28: Dschungelschatz

Dschungelschatz/Jungle Treasure
  • designer: Robert Fraga
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2006
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/7.19
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $15.99 (
Robert Fraga is a little nutty about speed/reaction games - this is the same guy who designed Squad Seven, Dancing Eggs (Eiertanz), Gamewright's Pounce!, Time is Money, & Trotofant. Jungle Treasure packs all of this kind of silliness into a small box for your enjoyment... and the enjoyment of your kids.

The theme is pretty simple - the players are jungle explorers, searching for treasure in Mayan temples. Fighting through the jungle involves a variety of tasks: rebuilding ancient ruins, finding needed supplies and/or dangers, reassembling jeweled masks, and rushing to the help of other adventurers. (There's also a "throw a gem in the air & catch it" task that I just can't come up with a thematic reason for... but who cares?)

On your turn, another player flips the (roughly) 1 minute timer over and hides it behind his hand as you pick a gem out of the bag - they come in three colors: red, green & yellow.
  • if you draw a red, you must complete two tasks
  • if you draw a green, you must complete one task
  • if you draw a yellow, you don't have to do anything

Once you finish your assigned tasks, you can pull another gem or call "Stop!" - of course, if you don't call "Stop!" before the time runs out, you get no treasure (points) for this turn. (Ouch.)

The tasks are a variety of speed, dexterity & recognition "games":

  • flipping one tile at a time, find a specific item shown on the card (worth 2 treasure)
  • throw a gem up in the air & catch it with one hand (worth 1 treasure)
  • build a building out of 6 wooden blocks as shown on the card (worth 2 treasure)
  • complete a jeweled mask as shown on the card using gems from the bag (worth 3 treasure)
  • grab the adventurer figure first (worth 1 treasure, but can be grabbed by non-active players during your turn!)

Each player gets three turns... the person with the most treasure at the end of the game wins.

Sounds simple, eh? It is... and that's part of what makes it such a good little game. It's blindingly simple to teach - once you explain the timer, you take the first turn & they'll figure most of the game out. Kids love the frenetic activity and the mystery timer mechanic (borrowed from his earlier game, Time Is Money - this, btw, is the better game)... but don't count adults out. I've tried this with numerous groups of adults only, always with success.

Fraga recently released Treasure, Ready, Go! (also published by Haba) which is very similar to this game with a slightly younger (age 5+) range, a larger box/component size & sillier art. I haven't had the chance to play it yet, but I want to! (You can pick it up from for $34.99.)

Pagans & Tax Collectors & Pastors

Yesterday, I filled y'all in on the BGG-related background of this & gave you my nickel tour of Matthew 18:15-17. (It was thrilling reading - if you missed it, take a minute & go check it out.)

Anyway, I closed by raising the question: "Do Matthew 18 & the other passages on church discipline apply to those in positions of spiritual authority - pastors, priests, elders, etc?"

Short answer:

You better believe it, bucko.

Long(er) answer:

Yes, with a slight (and I do mean slight) qualification to take into account 1 Timothy 5:19 (NAS):
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
In practical terms, anyone can have a problem with me as a pastor, due to my behavior or their perception of my behavior. They have a responsibility to confront me as a brother in Christ about things that are wrong. If I'm unwilling to deal with it, they are able to bring others into the situation in order to resolve it. In order to accuse me of wrongdoing & unrepentant behavior, there needs to be 2+ people who have witnessed this... which will happen as a part of the Matthew 18 process.

Please don't take this as me posting an "Rabbit Hunting Season" sign on the office door of your pastor. At the same time, this should be a bucket of cold water dumped on the crappy theological dodge of ministers waving around "touch not the Lord's anointed" as a cover for sin. (BTW, Psalm 105:15 must be set in context to be properly read - the psalmist is writing about how God has been & is protective of the Jewish people!)

Lego is Ahead of the Curve... in Taking Money Out of My Wallet

Announced for an August 2009 release, a series of build'n'play Lego games by award-winning game designer, Reiner Knizia. Here's some definite info about the first game:

Building, playing, changing, redesigning: Lego has transferred its core competencies to a board game for the first time. In Ramses Pyramid, the mummy king Ramses threatens to conquer Egypt. The only person who can stop him is the one who collects the most magic crystals, skilfully avoids the mummies and is the first to climb the pyramid.

The playing fun is at several levels, but the board and even the dice have to be built first. The players can change and adapt the board, dice and rules as they wish. (from

Boardgamenews (an EXCELLENT site for board game news) is reporting that the other games will be named Lava Dragon, Minotaurus, Lunar Command and Pirate Code... and that they will retail for 10 - 35 Euros each (which is roughly $15-$53 American).

There is currently no plans to release them in the U.S., so that means I'll be working or other sources come the end of summer. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lego is Ahead of the Curve

My buddy, Keith Monaghan (marketing guru, former D&D player, groomsman at my wedding) Twittered this earlier today from boing boing (which is supposedly the chronicle of the cutting edge of technology):

It ended up being simply one more reminder of how cool Lego (and Legoland) are - since they've been doing this to people for a couple of years now.

Pagans & Tax Collectors: Matthew 18 for the Theologically Challenged

This all started last August because a pastor made some guys stop playing Race for the Galaxy - really. For those of you who don't know what Race for the Galaxy is, a short aside: it's a difficult to learn but quick-playing (30 minutes or so) science fiction card game that is, once you get the hang of it, extremely addicting. OK, we're done with the gaming-related content for today.

Anyhow, that incident triggered a debate about how to deal with someone who had hurt and/or offended you - with particular application to how to deal with a figure in spiritual authority (in this case, a pastor at his church) who was the "problem child". The debate started out relatively civil (for the Internet) but soon degenerated into questioning of motives & finger-pointing that overwhelmed the original conversation.

One of the guys decided he had some real questions he wanted to ask... so he started a second thread entitled
Treating Your Pastor Like... - and it's the stuff that got raised in that (much more civil) discussion that I want to deal with today.

Let's start with the key passage in the discussion - Matthew 18:15-17 (quoted here from the NIV):
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
This is one of those "easy to understand, difficult to live" passages in the Scripture - which, btw, contains a lot more of those than we want to acknowledge. (It's much easier to act like the book is obtuse & difficult to follow... cuz then you don't have to follow it!) Let me break it into bite-sized pieces:
  • "brother" = follower of Jesus NOT someone who doesn't claim a relationship with Christ
  • "sins against you" indicates that the sin involves you personally... and that it really is a sin and not simple a disagreement over cultural preferences
  • "just between the two of you" means exactly what it says
  • a refusal to listen allows you to crank the process up a notch & invite 1 or 2 other people to help you in resolving the situation
  • only if all of these attempts fail should the issue be brought to the attention of the church

The sticking point in the discussion was the final phrase: "if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." What does that mean?

This is where having some historical context is helpful - while we here in the 3rd millennium are not big fans of the IRS, we don't think they are corrupt minions of the evil overlords... which is a pretty decent picture of how 1st century Jews looked at them. Rabbinical writings of the time often used the pairing of "robbers & tax collectors" while Roman writers (such as Chrysostom) let ring with the pungent "brothel keepers & tax collectors."

Various translations use the words "pagan" and "Gentile" (people who are religiously & ethnically not Jewish) interchangeably. Gentiles were ritually unclean and so were to be avoided by devout Jews... so, we've got Jesus telling folks that the church has the right/obligation to ostracize habitually sinning people who claim to be followers of Jesus.

Some of Paul's writings help clarify what that is going to look like "when the rubber hits the road":

  • This process applies ONLY to people who claim to follow Jesus.
But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:11-13, NIV)
  • The ultimate end of any kind of church discipline is restoration.
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NIV)

Next time out, I'll deal with the question: "Are there different rules for those in positions in spiritual authority?"

#29: Mäuse-Rallye

Mäuse-Rallye/Mice Rally
  • designer: Gunter Baars
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2001
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2852/6.51
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP, according to some online stores, but still listed on Haba USA's site
  • cost: I can't find any for sale right now... hmmm.
Flicking games are tricky with small children... the fine motor skills required to play Carabande well don't kick at age 4 or 5. (A great game, btw, now republished as Pitchcar - but still better suited to the 8 & up crowd.) But your average little kid LOVES to flick stuff - they just need a confined play space in which to do it.

Which is where Mice Rally comes in - each player has a flat wooden stick & three very detailed mouse heads which they bat about the track in turn, trying to avoid the holes & the cat (more on him in a minute). Each completed lap is worth a wooden piece of cheese.

Players only race one mouse at a time - if their current racer falls or is bumped into a hole in the floor, they start a new racer on the next turn. When you run out of mice, you take control of the cat, a larger piece (he won't fall down the holes) that can travel against normal flow of traffic and work to chase the other mice into the holes.

When only one player has mice remaining OR the cheese runs out, you total up your number of cheese + your surviving mice to see who has the most. (There's also a "first player to 10 cheese" way to play, but we don't use it much.)

These small wooden pieces ricochet around the inside of the box in very satisfactory ways - but their mouse shape (they have ears!) means that those ways aren't necessarily predictable. When you're playing with young kids, that randomness makes it easier for adults & kids play together.

We often use a variant (the person who posted it on the Geek is Jason Matthews, one of the designers of Twilight Struggle & 1960: The Making of a President, no less!) to get the cat into play more quickly - the first person to lose a mouse becomes a cat. When another person loses a mouse, he becomes the cat and the first cat player starts a new mouse.

The recommended age range is pretty good - though younger kids can play (and enjoy just knocking the pieces around), age 5 is about the time that kids can begin to play with some skill.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Man, I love Pixar... get a taste of their UPcoming film via some UPisodes at the Apple movie trailer site.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I've finally caught up with Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, thanks to, and I'm not sure what I think of the show.

On one hand, it's nicely crafted (as are all of Mr. Whedon's creations) with a sense of place & style that immediately mark it as a cousin to Buffy, Angel & Firefly. It's good to see Amy Adams & Eliza Dushku again (both had big roles in the Buffyverse). The plots don't always go in the direction you'd expect and there are Whedon-esque moments of humor.

On the other hand, it's a show about wiping people's personalities & hiring them out to do darn near anything, legal and illegal. There are some pretty heavy duty ethical, philosophical & theological problems raised - which, to their credit, the writers & creators are attempting to grapple with in small, bite-sized pieces. As I'll refer to at the end of this post, I'm not sure they're going to be given the time to work through all of that - which makes the show feel more exploitative than their intentions.

For long-time fans of Joss Whedon, a lot of this is familiar territory. The Dollhouse reminds me of a cross between Angel's hotel and the offices of Wolfram & Hart, while the cast mix of butt-kicking central character surrounded by a variety of supporting characters with a multitude of agendas plus someone on the outside searching for that central character feels like an echo (ha! unintended show reference) of earlier Whedon works:
  • River & the crew of the Firefly + the Alliance bounty hunters
  • Angel & the crew of Angel Investigations + Wolfram & Hart/Daniel Holtz/etc.
  • Buffy & the Scoobies + any number of "Big Bad"s

Is this a bad thing? I don't think so. The reason Whedon returns over & over to this formulation is that it allows for a wide variety of story angles & arcs. He can flesh out both good & bad characters, allowing for gradations of motives & actions that give an unreal situation real resonance.

The problem for Dollhouse is that the mythology is developing too slowly for people to give it a chance... back in the day (see: the first couple of seasons of the X-Files), off-beat shows were given appropriate time to grow & flower. But when shows as wonderful as Firefly or Pushing Daisies get bumped off the air and/or relegated to crappy time slots (like 9 pm on Friday nights, where Dollhouse lives), it's unlikely that this newest show will be given the opportunity to shine.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

#30: Pathfinder

  • designer: Edith Grein-Bottcher & Mark Berger
  • publisher: Milton Bradley
  • date: 1977
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2578/6.03
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2 players
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: variable (there are 3 copies available on BGG right now in good condition for $10-$15)
Pretty much every boy in the U.S. has played Battleship at one time or another... and, at first, it's a pretty cool experience. There's some thrills involved in "seeing"your enemy's torpedoes splash harmlessly next to your boat... and who can forget this?

Of course, after you play it a few times, the new wears off & you realize that the game is either a total crapshoot or a methodical exercise in working a search grid pattern. Either way, the game continues on way past the point where the fun ends...

And that's why I'm putting Pathfinder on my Kid Games 100. It has all of the good parts of Battleship (hidden goals to find, hiding things from the enemy, the tension of blundering about in the dark) with none of the boredom.

The game comes packaged (at least here in the U.S. - I haven't seen the European editions, though I know they exist) in a plastic case that holds the maze boards for each player as well as the pieces. The cover neatly fits between the boards to provide a screen for the players.

To start, each player designs a maze and places a small yellow pawn in it as the target. Targets can not be moved - they are the object of the game! If you find the other players' target, you win!

Then players enter from the left side of the 6x6 gridded board, called coordinates as they go. If you run into a wall, your turn is over... but if you can move, you can take another turn. Players also get to track their moves on a search board.

Because of the smaller grid and the easier to visualize objective (searching a maze), this game started working well with my son when he was 5. It took a couple of plays for him to get the hang of it, but the game plays quickly enough that it didn't discourage him.

This is worth finding... keep your eyes peeled at thrift stores, as this occasionally surfaces. And avoid ebay on this one, where people charge insane prices for it.

#31: Scene-It Disney

Scene-It? Disney
  • designer: uncredited
  • publisher: Mattel
  • date: 2004
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 3972/5.63
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4 players or teams
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $14.99 (Boardgame Revolution... this is for the Deluxe [2 DVD] 1st edition)
We're pretty big Disney movie fans here at the Jackson house... I'm sure that I have most of the Pixar films memorized (from my boys watching them over & over & over & over) and I can pretty much sing the soundtracks of The Jungle Book, Mary Poppins & The Aristocats verbatim, thanks to listening to the story/music records (does anyone else remember those?!) 1000 times when I was a kid myself. Which makes us the perfect audience for this particular version of Scene-It?, the DVD pop culture trivia game that swept the nation a few years back.

Look, this is no "You Don't Know Jack" (though wouldn't that be a cool DVD game?!)... but it is a very enjoyable trivia game that works with a wide variety of ages. There are "younger" & "older" (aka "kid" & "adult") question cards in each set, so kids as young as 5 or 6 (with a decent knowledge of Disney films) can do pretty well. There are some "Wheel of Fortune"-like questions that favor adults, but those can be skipped using your DVD remote.

There are multiple editions of the game - and it's not as simple as 1st edition & 2nd edition. Both editions have "deluxe" versions that come in metal tins with a 2nd DVD that contains enough clips for approx. 6 more games. If you can find the deluxe editions for a good price (as listed above), they're worth finding.

Replayability is always an issue with games like these - and that's addressed both with preset games and with multiple questions per clip. We managed to play the 1st edition about 50 times, and have logged 20+ plays on the 2nd edition. Think about it - that's 70+ plays off of two games - and that means (a) it holds up pretty well to repeat play, and (b) my kids keep asking to play it again!

Note: we play that you roll the dice, do the activity (My Play, All Play, trivia question, action card), then get to roll again for movement only if you answer correctly... then it is the next players' turn. This keeps pawns moving (no one is stuck at the start), shortens playing time, and keeps any one player from dominating the game with a string of turns. I recommend this method for all of the various Scene-It? games.

There are other kid-friendly versions of the game (Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, etc.) but since we don't have cable, they aren't Jackson-family friendly and so I can't comment on them. I will, however, let you know that Friends Scene-It? and Movie Scene-It? are both a lot of fun... the underlying game system is solid.