Thursday, December 31, 2009

Five & Dime 2009 - Hey, It's Time!

That's right, kids & kiddettes... it's time to start up those spreadsheets and/or fire up the Geek and make our your five & dime game lists for 2009. And then, of course, send 'em to your crazy ol' Uncle Mark so he can mash 'em together & turn out stuff like the 2008 Five & Dime Report.

Want more details? Go to my post on the Geek and give it a big Ebert & Siskel thumbs up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Glennz: Secret Habit

This is the T-shirt I'm wearing today... and it's one of the many VERY funny designs from Glennz Tees. (I first saw one at Doug Garrett's Bay Area gaming shindig back in 2008... and three of them ended up under the tree this year with my name on it, as well as a desktop calendar.) Here's the other two shirts I received:
By the way, they're having an end of year sale this week...

How Much Life Insurance Do You Have?

Once again, James Emery White manages to hit one out of the park... if you're a church leader, you must go right now and read his entire blog post, "How Much Life Insurance?" A short sample:

“How much life insurance do you have?”

According to a recent blog by Seth Godin, Zig Ziglar liked to say that with that one question, you could tell if someone was a successful life insurance agent. “If they’re not willing to buy it with their own money, how can they honestly persuade someone else to do so?”

Godin went on to note that if you are in the music business, but you never buy tickets or downloads, can you really empathize with the people you’re selling to?

His favorite: If you work for a non-profit and you don’t give money to charity, what exactly are you doing in this job? “And the shame of it,” Godin adds, “is that this inaction on their part keeps them from experiencing the very emotion that they try so hard to sell.”

And then he goes on to apply that to ministry and proceeds to shine a bright light into the often dark & musty corners where our motivations hide. Like I said earlier, a MUST read.

Monday, December 28, 2009

3 Things Pastors Secretly Pray For

Stuff Christians Like #676: Secretly hoping your city's NFL team stinks so people will come to church.
3. That parents with screaming kids will take them to Sunday School. Hot topic, hot topic, but pastors of the world, I got your back. Imagine if you were at work, in a cubicle and someone came over and said, “Hey, I’m going to sit my screaming 2 year old right here on your filing cabinet. He’s going to scream and throw whatever objects are within his grasp for the next 30 minutes while you work.”
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David's town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God's praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!

from Luke 2 (The Message)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stocking Stuffer Games + Amazon Prime

This weekend, I blogged a bit about Eric's stocking stuff podcast... and thought about adding a few suggestions of my own. Here's 10 really great stocking stuffer games that you can have by Christmas Eve thanks to the magic of Amazon Prime shipping. (While I do receive review copies on a regular basis from Haba & Gamewright, Amazon gives me nothing. I wish they would, of course, but they don't.)
  • Ark (Rio Grande) - not really a kid's game (despite the charming art)... this is a card placement game where you are one of Noah's helpers trying to load the ark so that the wrong animals don't get put in the same cabin. I'm a big fan of this game & think it got sadly overlooked a few years back when it was released. $14.03 is a nice price... and the Ark Extra Mix expansion is only $3.99 with Prime shipping as well! (I haven't reviewed this game... but I'd be honored to teach it to anyone who asks. You could also read Susan L's excellent review.)
  • Can You See What I See? (Gamewright) - a game for the preschoolers in your house... this is a sturdy & enjoyable bingo-ish game that has inspired deep love in my 4 year old. $15.00 is a good price. (Read my review!)
  • Dancing Dice (Mayfair) - as long as you have family members/friends who don't cheat (there's a lot of hidden actions taken in this game), this is a very fun dice game about marathon dancing that's actually more enjoyable with more players! You'll need a big stocking to fit it in, but it's a big deal at only $10! (I haven't reviewed this game - but I really like it, as does my lovely wife, Shari - the non-gamer in the family. You can read Eric V's review, though.)
  • Duck Duck Bruce (Gamewright) - originally published in Germany as "Kleine Fische", (Little Fish), this is a great push-your-luck game that works with kids as young as four & has whimsical duck/dog art to make it even more enjoyable. Well worth $9.55... and you can find this even cheaper sometimes in Target or other stores that carry Gamewright card games. (Read my review!)
  • Ka-Ching! (Gamewright) - originally released in Germany as "Combit", I like this less abstract version better. It's a two-player game of investment chicken... not so much for the kids but great for ages 10+ who like quick-moving but think-y games. The price is right, too - $8.97. (I haven't reviewed this... but I'd be happy to get a copy for Christmas! Meanwhile, read Tom Vasel's review.)
  • Keep It Steady (Haba) - better known by the German name (Zitternix), this is a very clever game of vertical Pick-Up-Stix. A favorite with adults & kids... $17.00. (I haven't reviewed Zitternix, but I'm very glad I own a copy - thanks to Dave Vander Ark for showing it to me originally!)
  • Pig Pile (R&R Games) - it's lighter than air & extremely silly (you keep score with plastic piggies!) but it's become a family favorite in the "better than Uno" light card game genre. A bit pricey at $20.54 but it can be there by Christmas! (I haven't reviewed this game - I've just been playing it consistently since it was released. Neil Thomson has a nice review of it on the Geek.)
  • Pirate's Blast (Haba) - another game possibly better known by the German title (Das Schwarze Pirat: Das Duell). Translated, that's "The Black Pirate: The Duel" and it's a two-player version of the award-winning "The Black Pirate" game. This is a dexterity game of sorts - where two players use air pumps to blow their ships about the table... and fire on them with tiny wooden cannons! This is a STEAL at $12.97! (Read my review!)
  • Pocket Battles: Celts vs. Romans (Z-Man Games) - the first in a planned series of small tile-based 30 minute wargames, this is the only stocking stuffer on the list that I haven't played. I want to - a lot - but it just came out. It would be a treat for any gamer on your list - for example, me! $15.00 is a little higher than you see it in the standard online gaming locations - but Amazon Prime = free 2 day shipping, so it pretty much evens out. (Of course, I haven't reviewed it... but Mike Siggins has.)
  • The Suitcase Detectives (Haba) - a clever & creatively designed smuggling game... can you find the stolen items?! A great deal at $14.54! (Read my review!)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stocking Stuffers & Party Games

My friend & one-time game convention roomie, Eric Burgess, has a nifty podcast about boardgaming entitled, aptly enough, Boardgame Babylon. (Get it? "Babble on." He's a card, that Eric Burgess.) We keep talking about me being a guest on the show, but I think he's too busy hobnobbing with game designers to give me the time of day. (The preceding sentence is a joke - Eric is a really nice guy!)

His latest podcast is about stocking stuffers & party games... I just wanted to make comments on the podcast & point you in his direction:
  • I really, really am tempted to buy Small World in order to buy the expansions... I have a serious expansion fever problem.
  • I'm curious - for those of us who are not fans of Ticket to Ride: Europe (but love the original game), is the 1912 expansion worth the money?
  • Didn't know that Trendy had been reprinted as Horse Fair... you should go buy this game immediately.
  • I'll 2nd & 3rd Eric's suggestion of Wits & Wagers (and Say Anything!) as great party games.
  • Eric mentioned Ring-O Flamingo... I'll be doing a review of the game later this weekend. Short preview: my review is positive.
  • Finally, where we disagree: Monopoly is NOT tedious unless the players make it that way.
Thanks for a great podcast, Eric!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Small World Christmas

It's Christmas time at Disneyland... and for the first time in 3 years, we aren't there. (This would be the appropriate time to say "thanks" to my Imagineering buddy for getting us in last year & to Klutz Publishing for making me a consultant the year before that paid for most of our trip... and to the folks @ NewLife, who are incredibly generous about vacation time for myself & the rest of the staff.)

One of the added bonuses of homeschooling our kids (in tandem with me pastoring a church) is the flexibility it allows us in taking vacations - we're not restricted to weekends, holidays & summer. In fact, weekends are pretty much out (seems the good people of NewLife Community would like me to show up on Sunday mornings & talk to 'em!). So, we go to Disneyland during the week while public school is still in session between Thanksgiving & Christmas.. meaning the crowds are low, the park is decorated beautifully & there are fireworks every night.

I really do have a spiritual point to this... hang on a minute.

The first time we went (back in 2003 - Braeden was only 2 years old!), we had a number of wonderful experiences:
  • taking pictures of Braeden & Shari riding Dumbo from the elephant in front of them - which is almost a perfect echo of a picture my dad took of my mom & me 40 years ago
  • riding Heimlich's Chew Chew Train enough times that we memorized all the dialogue... (btw, one of the downsides of low crowds - if your kid likes a ride, you're going to get to see a lot of it)
  • Braeden getting his picture taken with Mickey... and as he left, turning around & running back to hug him and tell him, "I love you, Mickey."
But the particular memory I want to focus on is standing in line for It's A Small World right around dusk. They turn off all the surrounding lights... there's some dramatic music... and then the colored lights come on all at once. There's an almost collective gasp/intake of breath at the beauty of the moment... and then people erupt into spontaneous cheers. (I've seen this a number of times now - in fact, we try to time it so that we're near Small World around dusk if we can - and it's the same response every time.)

That moment awe & wonder, that childlike delight in the lights & the music & the "magic" of Disneyland - frankly, that's just a taste of what we're meant to enjoy when we realize the meaning of the Christmas celebration. We are kneeling (physically or metaphorically) at the feet of a baby who is fully man & fully God, who will - in a short 33 years - give Himself up on the cross in order to pay for all the cruddy, evil, horrible things we've done. We are in the presence of God - it's worth a gasp of breath & an eruption of cheering & praise.

I love to turn the lights on our Christmas tree... particularly when it's dark in the living room. It reminds me - just a bit - of the amazing show Disneyland puts on each night through the holidays. I want to challenge myself (and you, by extension) to be reminded each time you see the lights wink on & the room fill with color to remember the amazing grace of God that He showed so clearly through the birth of Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

P.S. If you'd like to read more about Disneyland at Christmas, you can check out my Disney-related posts on my blog:

It's a small world... at Christmas

Picture originally uploaded by


A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes...and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1943

Fremantle Prison: The Cells Originally uploaded by garry.pettet

Kid Games Reviews: Wiggling Cow

Wiggling Cow

  • designer: Brigitte Pokornik
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2009
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/4.33
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 1-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $21.59 (

My feelings about this game have been a veritable roller coaster of highs & lows:

  • LOW (looking at the cover when Haba shipped it to me) - who in the world OK'd the English name? Maybe it's me, but it just sounds wrong. (Though not as wrong as Pocket Rockets - which actually sounds like a decent kids game but won't be entering my house because I don't want to have to keep my boys from loudly talking about their "pocket rockets" and not realize what kind of problems they're causing me & their mother.)
  • HIGH (opening the box for the first time) - the cow is very, very cute & well-made. The tiles are thick & chunky... and there's a wooden fork in here! As usual, excellent components from Haba.
  • LOW (after our first play) - did we do something wrong? Why wasn't this any fun? The idea seemed promising... but our first play left us cold.
  • HIGH (after playing with our problem "fixed") - Aha! The primary audience for this game is kids... this is a dexterity game that little guys (for example, my 4 year old) can play.
So, I'm guessing you'll want to know how we "fixed" the game... but before we get to that, I need to explain the game.

See, there's this cow, standing on a pile of hay (tiles). We (for some unexplained reason) need to get the hay without tipping the cow over. (Yes, I realize I've made subtle reference to the sport of cow tipping - now move along.) Using the wooden fork, each of us tease one (and only one!) piece out from under the cow and off the edge of the board. If you knock the cow over, you don't get a tile that turn & reset the cow for the next player. The game ends when all of the tiles are gone or (this hasn't happened yet) all of the players tip the cow over in succession. The most tiles wins.

There's a variant scoring rule which we use as a regular rule - the tiles have 1-3 flowers on each side... and some of the tiles have different amounts on opposite sides. When you take a tile, you get as many points as there are flowers on one side of the tile - whichever side you like!

And now that you understand the intricate workings & strategic depth of the game (he says, grinning), I can share with you our "fix": don't EVER put the cow on one tile. If you do, the cow will essentially "surf" on this tile while the players tease out tiles with impunity. You need to place the cow with her front legs on one tile & her back legs on another. Seriously, that took the game from "so what?" to "this is a lot of fun."

I will say that Wiggling Cow has worked best with kids or with mixed groups of adults & kids. It's not one of those "kid games that adults play when the kids are bed" kind of games... but it is a great deal of fun and very accessible even for age 4+.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kid Game Reviews: Casino Hot Dog

Casino Hot Dog
  • designer: Wolfgang Dirscherl
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2008
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/5.36
  • age: 7+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $28.79 (
Chances are pretty good you've seen a picture of dogs playing poker... you know what I'm talking about, right? I've even got a Peanuts T-shirt with Snoopy & his various relatives arranged in similar fashion. Well, when Haba decided to put bags filled with poker chips in a game about dogs racing across the yard, it's no surprise that you're reminded of the ubiquitous paintings. (The box cover art is just icing on the cake.)

BTW, these are not your average kids game poker chips - or even the nicer Hasbro/Avalon Hill chips that you find in Vegas Showdown and Axis & Allies: D-Day. These are the real deal - they've got weight/heft (or whatever poker players like to say about good chips) and are custom printed for this game. (How do I know they're custom printed? I'm guessing not too many standard poker chip sets include a dog poop chip.)

The game itself is a race game (be the first to zoom across the board) powered by a push-your-luck mechanic. The first player (which rotates each turn) rolls two dice that tell the dogs (aka "players") what the prizes will be for this round. It's either a number of spaces or a golden bone... and there are golden bones scattered along the track.

Then the players reach into their bag & grab (sight unseen) one of their chips. They are revealed... and then the game begins in earnest! The players must now decide if they will:

  • reach into their bag & fake drawing out a chip (in other words, choosing to stand with the number on their chip) OR
  • reach into their bag & draw out another chip

Those next chips (or empty hands) are revealed... and the process is repeated until all of the players have stopped drawing chips... or found their dog poop tile. (Finding doo-doo puts you in deep doo-doo, at least for that round - you're knocked out of the running.)

The two players with the highest totals will get prizes, with the highest total choosing first. If there's a tie, the player closest clockwise to the "first player" goes first.

There is one other wrinkle (which can be ignored when playing with younger children) - there is a 2x chip which multiplies the value of all your other chips. I like that simply removing this chip makes the game easily playable with kids who can do basic addition.

Press-your-luck games are always interesting with kids... just like adults, some are unable to quit drawing chips until things go wrong, while others are completely unwilling to take risks. This would be a wonderful game to train kids in judging probabilities & rate of return (though if you use those particular words in trying to teach the underlying concepts to a 6 year old, you need your examined).

My 8 year old son loves this game - and only partly because he gets to use the word "poop" when we play. He isn't perfect at judging the odds, but he's old enough to figure out his chances for himself. My 4 year old son is less enthused by it... but he's willing to play. I myself think it's good light fun - but it IS a press-your-luck game, so if you're turned off by those kind of things, run away now.And while the rules say it will work with 2 players, it's not nearly as fun as playing with 3 or 4.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lego Toy Story 3!

7596 Trash Compactor Escape Originally uploaded by fbtb

Man, my wallet is in SO much trouble next fall.

For more info, check out this page on From Bricks to Bothans.

I've Been Wearing My Santa Hat

OK, this is a short apology for not blogging more.

Well, maybe not as short as it should be, as I feel obliged to explain myself. I've been Christmas shopping (there's nothing like working your way through a crowd of irritable rain-soaked shoppers on Saturday afternoon in a Wal-Mart) and Christmas gift making and Christmas sermon writing.

I've also been playing some games:
  • Braeden & I pulled out Sub Search again, which is great fun. Our game last night was a nail-biter: both of us were down to one sub & one surface ship each... and I managed to sink his sub before he could torpedo my PT boat.
  • I also taught him to play Phantoms of the Ice... it's basically the card game "War" on steroids, but the pun-tacular names (Stu Late and Behind Hugh, for example) are right up his alley. I'm guessing we'll end up playing it again this afternoon with his best friend, Canaan.
  • And in serious "blast from the distant past" mode, Canaan & I taught him how to play Chinese Checkers. Man, I haven't played that since I was in middle school.

I've got three reviews percolating (Wiggling Cow, Casino Hot Dog & Ring-O Flamingo), so watch for them later this week. Also, I'll be putting together my "Top Ten Books of 2009" list pretty soon.

And, since my life isn't busy enough, the Five & Dime Report is waiting just around the corner.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

I Would Play 100 Times... and I Would Play 100 More

The Proclaimers are just here because (a) they're cool, (b) they make a lovely musical soundtrack for reading my blog, (c) the song reminds me of how much I love my wife, and (d) it inspired the title of this post.

So, I taught Braeden to play Carcassonne tonight... and when I entered the play into my database at the Geek, I realized that it was my 100th game of Carc. That got me wondering - what other games had I played that many times?

The list is smaller than you'd think, based on my life long obsession with board games, but I've only been tracking game play since the middle of 1998 in an over-the-top OCD-ish spreadsheet kind of way.
  • Race for the Galaxy 302 (264 using The Gathering Storm expansion) - This is a 30 minute card game that scales well from 2-6 players AND has a very addictive official solitaire version. I figure about half of those plays are multiplayer games. (Braeden is also learning how to play this - we just added the first expansion last week.)
  • StreetSoccer 136 - A lot of these game were/are online (I've got 2 going right now) at I dearly love this backgammon-ish soccer game.
  • Lost Cities 116 - At one time, Shari's favorite card game - though now she likes Lost Cities: The Board Game better (less tension).
  • The Settlers of Catan 102 - I know for certain that I've played this at least 50 more times (pre-'98) than are recorded here... and would have played it a lot more if my local group (the Fresno Gamers) wasn't pretty much burned out on it. It's still in my top ten games after all these years.
  • Carcassonne 100 - I play some of this online - but I think this tile-layer is actually more fun in person. Braeden enjoyed himself tonight & is ready for more.
There are two games which are close to 100:
  • Can't Stop 90 - great push your luck dice game... I think it is Sid Sackson's greatest work. I don't get to play it much anymore, though.
  • Memoir '44 90 - Another one of my top ten games... the Campaign Book has kicked my number of plays up big-time, for which I am very grateful. I should cross the 100 threshold sometime in early 2010.

Kid Games 100: Recap

Back in June of 2008, I decided to create my own list of the top 100 Kid Games. It took me a long time (more than a year) to get the whole thing blogged out... and I'm still in the process of copying the reviews over to the Geek. (A number of them also appear on Erik Arneson's board games site on

The following links will help you find your way to the key posts in the series... but if you want to see all 127 of them, you can use the Kid Games label link. When the Kid Games 100 was finally finished, I realized that I needed to explain why a number of games were missing... so the MIA Games posts began:

Five & Dime: 2008 Recap

Wow. I've been trying to clean up my blog site and realized I actually never put the compiler post with all the links to the Five & Dime: 2008 report. So, here it is.

I first began keeping track of the Five & Dime lists back in 1999... and here it is, 2009. Meaning I've been doing this for eleven (11) years. Either I'm very thorough or verging on OCD. (You choose.)

Here's the all the links for the 2008 Five & Dime reports.
And here's the links for graphic 'over time' comparisons of the top games, which I call Wide Angle Lens: BTW, we're only a month away from doing the 2009 Five & Dime (he says, taking a deep breath.)

Let's Keep This Simple

OK, I've got your emails. I've seen your Facebook "Cause" requests. You have made yourself heard:

"We must fight to keep Christ in Christmas!"
I just have to ask, who in the heck are "we" supposed to be fighting? Santa? His elves? Jack Skellington? The evil forces of commercialism?

And, please, AFA, claiming credit for getting the Gap to use the word "Christmas" in one of their TV ads? Re-donk-u-lous. Irate conservative Christians, despite the panic talk you hear from some liberals, are not a power group. A noisy group, yes, but not a powerful one.

I have an important suggestion. If you believe that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, then celebrate it that way. Keeping Christ in Christmas starts with you, not with some trumped-up media campaign.

I'm afraid that all people outside the Bible Bubble are hearing is "Your version of Christmas stinks & we have plans to snatch it out of your hands." Is there no way for us to be marked by what we believe in instead of what we're against?!

Sigh. photo on Flickr by mtsofan

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Behold the Lamb of God

If you live in or near any of these cities, go buy tickets NOW for this amazing & wonderful Christmas concert. Andrew Peterson is a great songwriter, performer & just a really, really nice guy with a quirky sense of humor and deep love for Jesus. (Here's the tour website.)
  • Dec. 3 Elmhurst, IL
  • Dec. 4 Lincoln, NE
  • Dec. 5 Topeka, KS
  • Dec. 9 Louisville, KY
  • Dec. 11 Cleburne, TX
  • Dec. 12 Jackson, TN
  • Dec. 13 Huntsville, AL
  • Dec. 14 Birmingham, AL
  • Dec. 16 Charlotte, NC
  • Dec. 17 Nashville, TN - Ryman
  • Dec. 18 Kokomo, IN
  • Dec. 19 Montague, MI
  • Dec. 20 Milford, OH
If, like me, you live too far away, begin weeping & wailing now. Alternately, you can buy the new 10th anniversary CD set of Behold the Lamb of God from The Rabbit Room website.