Monday, July 18, 2011

Ed Stetzer: "Freedom of Religion Has To Be Freedom For Everyone"

Ed Stetzer is the President of Lifeway Research... and a whole lot of other things. (His Twitter feed, btw, is a wonderful mix of theology, missiology, humor & ranting about the TSA.) He's a thoughtful, witty & wise leader in Southern Baptist life that makes me proud of my denominational heritage...

...and never more so than when he deals with stuff like comments from presidential candidate Herman Cain, who said yesterday that Americans "have the right" to ban mosques from being built in their communities. Ed responded in his blog:
In the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance, Muslims should be free to build a masjid where they live, and Christians should defend their religious freedom to do so. At the same time, Christians should be free to plant churches in places like Bhutan, the Maldives, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. No matter where we live or what religion we follow, we should not demand for ourselves that which we are unwilling to grant others--freedom from compulsion, freedom from discrimination on the basis of creed, and freedom of conscience.
Read the entire blog post (including some great historical background on tolerance & other world religions), please.

BTW, the image is my choice, not Ed's. (Though it would be interesting to seeing him as the lead singer for U2.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

First Impressions: HEROICA – LEGO does a Dungeon Crawl

This article originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website - with a very nice addendum from Andrea “Liga” Ligabue (who consults w/LEGO)... you should go there & read it.

While the official release of HEROICA™from LEGO Games happened on June 1st, somehow product began appearing at some Toys’R'Us stores on Memorial Day weekend. So, thanks to the magic of the U.S. monetary system, three of the four sets ended up in the very excited hands of, well, me. (And my boys – that’s right… I bought them for the 6 year old & the 9 year old. Just keep telling yourself that, Mark.)

What follows is not really a review but a series of first impressions & thoughts… so take it with a grain of salt.


  • Having played other LEGO games, I knew what the microfigs looked like, but they still take a bit of adjustment after years of playing with mini-figures. However, the smaller scale allows the folks at LEGO to pack a lot of gaming punch into a pretty small space.
  • The modular design of passageways & rooms is nicely done – my boys & I began creating our own adventures pretty quickly.
  • For those of you who are wondering if you could build custom rooms/dungeons for the game, the answer is a qualified “yes”. In order to do that, you’ll need a lot of what LEGO calls “Plate 2×2 W 1 Knob” (which is currently only available from LEGO in grey.)
  • I have to say that I’m kind of in love with the LEGO dice. The interchangable face element doesn’t come into play here – but the springy-edged over-sized dice are just a lot of fun to play with.


  • The game is a pretty simple roll’n'move/roll’n'fight – this system certainly isn’t advancing the technology of dungeon crawling games forward. If you move next to a monster, you have to fight it. If you move over an object (gold, potion, treasure chest), you can/should pick it up.
  • There are 6 different hero types – each with a special power that is activated by rolling a particular symbol (a shield). The monsters, OTOH, are differientiated only by the amount of damage they can do to the players.
  • The base rules to the game have the players racing to reach a particular space – acquiring potions, gold (to buy weapons) & fighting monsters in order to get there. As usual, the whole “the guy who defeats the last monster just opens the way for the next guy to win” problem rears its ugly head.
  • The battle rules (where one player controls the monsters against the players) has worked MUCH better for us. We’ve played with the heroes working as a team & so far all the games have been close.
  • The epic rules (playing multiple games & keeping gold/weapons/potions from game to game) is a good idea but isn’t very well-developed.

Game System

  • There seem to be two competing design ideas operating here – the first is that each box of HEROICA be a playable game by itself. While I haven’t played the smallest box (Draida Bay), they seemed to have accomplished that with the other three sets (Waldurk, Nathuz & Fortaan).
  • OTOH, the sets are obviously designed to fit together. (For those too dense to figure that out on their, the maps included in the Waldurk & Nathuz sets show you how to build a 4-set monster board.)
  • HEROICA has the same feature/bug (depends on how you look at it) as the rest of the LEGO Games series: by leaving wide creative space for players to customize & change the game, they’ve left pretty big holes in the rules. This is especially true when you start combining the sets.
  • As of June 9th, the HEROICA portion of the LEGO website is online – but it’s still pretty bare bones. (No new maps or rules available.)


  • Even with all my questions/concerns about the “holes” in the system, I have to say that my boys & I have had a blast playing the game. It’s fast (our 3 set dungeon took about 30 minutes to play out), it’s fun & there’s nothing quite as cool as seeing two geeky things you love (Legos & board games) work together like this.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Game Review: Say Anything Family Edition

Say Anything: Family Edition
  • Designer: Dominic Crapuchettes
  • Publisher: North Star Games
  • Ages: 8 and up
  • Players: 3-6
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • review copy provided by North Star Games
Proving once again that my superpower is Getting Random Strangers To Give Me Things (though, frankly, there are not enough Random Strangers and not enough Things Given), I just received a review copy of Northstar Games Say Anything Family. This is actually my second free game from Northstar – the first was, oddly enough, Say Anything.

In fact, let’s just cut to the chase – if you’ve played the original game, there are no surprises here. The game is essentially the same wonderful Box O’Fun with the following differences:

  • The family version of the game only supports 3-6 players… which is probably my only quibble with the new release. I don’t think it works particularly well with 3 players (though 4 – two kids & two adults – worked like a charm). I do understand that limiting the upper number of players makes picking easier for young players and answer duplication less likely.
  • The cards have only three questions on them – and while some cards lend themselves to gross answers (we had a question which managed to invoke both booger-eating & posterior-picking during one of our games), the tendency toward R-rated answers seems to be mitigated. While some might be tempted to complain about the smaller number of questions, it’s quickly obvious when playing with kids (and some adults) that this keeps the game from bogging down while the Judge chooses their question.
  • The artwork has been meeple-ized for your gaming protection – it’s very cute & the members of our family immediately had their favorites. (Due to the utter coolness of the yellow Super-Meeple, my boys end up with him & I’m left with orange Balloon-Meeple.)

The formula that makes Say Anything games work so well is extremely simple – take the rotating Judge concept from Apples to Apples, add in the answer submission system (tiny dry-erase boards & pens) from Wits & Wagers, and top it off with a kinder version of the Wits & Wagers betting system.

Players take turns being the Judge, who draws a question card & picks one of the questions to read. The rest of the players then race to scribble out answers that they think will entice/entertain or otherwise engage the Judge.

After all the answers are in (the Judge gets to decide if answers are duplicates – you can’t have those – and who got their answer down first), the Judge secretly picks the answer they like using the Select-o-Matic 5000, which sounds a lot more sophisticated than it is. (It’s a spinner that doesn’t spin very well – which is how it’s supposed to work.) Then the rest of the players quickly lay their bets (each has two betting chips) on the answer or answers they think the Judge will pick.

With the chips played, the Judge reveals their answer & points are scored – the system is designed to reward players who guess correctly without creating chances for runaway victories… in fact, the entire game is designed for maximum party enjoyment rather than maximum gamerness. (Yes, I know “gamerness” is not a word – but most of you get what I’m talking about.)

Here’s what I like about the games:

  • plays quickly – a huge plus for party games
  • nobody feels dumb – you can approach how to answer the questions in whatever form you wish: you can try to please the Judge, you can try to be the class clown & make with the silliness, you can simply try & entertain yourself…
  • the score doesn’t matter much – sure, if you’re playing a 2 hour game of El Grande, you want to know the exact score at the end, but the draw here is not the winner(s) celebrating, it’s the journey getting there
  • the rules – they are incredibly easy to explain
  • it’s got the good parts of Apples to Apples with added creativity – the free-form questions means the game doesn’t devolve into the same kinds of jokes & picks (as A2A has a tendency to do)
  • it simplifies the Wits & Wagers scoring – I love Wits & Wagers… but the betting system is tough for non-gamers to wrap their heads around. Say Anything uses the same kind of system in a way that’s friendlier to non-gamers. (Note: I have not played Wits & Wagers: Family, which evidently has much more non-gamer friendly scoring.)

Fundamentalists & S.O.B.s

To the faint of heart: the quote contains PG-rated language... which you could probably figure out from the title of the post. Consider yourself adequately warned.

This comes from philosopher Alvin Plantinga (courtesy of an excellent post on and probably should be required reading for all my friends with political and/or religious views:
I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind. Before responding, however, we must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’.
I don't have a particular ax to grind here - just a simple thought: "Wouldn't it be nice if we actually talked about what we agree & disagree on rather than tar (and feather) each other with terms straight from the land of Generica?"

Friday, July 01, 2011

Kid Game Review: Inspector Rabbit

Inspector Rabbit
  • Designer: Heinz Meister
  • Publisher: Haba
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 6+
  • Playing Time: 20 minutes
  • Review by Mark Jackson (6 plays w/a review copy provided by Haba USA)

Let others worship at the feet of Dr. Knizia or fawn over the multi-layered creations from the mind of Martin Wallace… instead, let me have a wonderful day filled with games from the genius that is Heinz Meister.

“Heinz WHO?,” you ask, wondering if I’m just longing for extra ketchup for my french fries. Ah, gentle reader, you have simply missed out on one of the more prolific & successful game designers of the last 20 years. And Inspector Rabbit is the newest addition to his rather large body of work.

In fact, chances are pretty good that you’ve played one (or more!) of his games without realizing it:

  • Hula Hippos (also known as Maus nach haus) – hard to believe you can make such an enjoyable game out of a wooden ring & 20 small bits of wood… but those simple elements are compelling enough that the game has been published successfully by two different companies
  • Igloo Pop (or its ancestor, Zapp Zerapp) – never has vigorously shaking small objects been so much fun
  • Hop Hop Hurray – a bouncing marble game that’s proven to be equally successful with kids & gamers
  • Galloping Pigs – this cute little card/racing game was one of the earliest releases by Rio Grande

You’re less likely to have played some of my favorites from (insert your own Meister/Master/Maestro pun here):

  • Die KullerbandeJust watch – words cannot describe this…
  • Zitternix – yes, it’s vertical pick-up-stix, but it works so much better than you think it would from the description
  • Strong StuffKapitan Wackelpudding for the junior set… a good enough dexterity game that it’s been published twice (once by Goldsieber & once by Haba)

So, with that glowing introduction for the designer, let’s get on to the actual review… yes, yes, I promise to actually review the game once I quit bowing & scraping.

Ahem… well, Inspector Rabbit is a push-your-luck game cleverly disguised as a memory game. This Kinderspiel des Jahres recommended game (last year) borrows the dice mechanism from Herr Meister’s classic adult game, Nur Peanuts (whose title colloquially translates as “Chump Change” and whose gameplay I’ve previously described as “Monopoly boiled down to dice & cash”) and combines it with a relatively simply memory challenge to make for a fast-playing exercise in luck management.

Seems that the Rabbit Police Force has leads on the hiding places of a number of wanted criminals… and it’s time to go out & arrest the bad guys. (Seriously, the Frog has a gun, as does the Chicken. It’s a time of extreme lawlessness.) Weirdly enough, all of the criminals are twins – really! – and therefore you must arrest both of the offenders in order to bring them to justice.

So, pairs of rabbit detective teams head into the garden, searching for the various animals on the lam. Each turn, a player has the option of rolling:

  • a d6 that generates 1-3
  • a d6 that generates 1-6
  • both dice (generating 2-9)

…and then moving one of his rabbit officers the full amount. (You may name your team anything you like: Jon & Ponch, Starsky & Hutch, Cagney & Lacey… I prefer Lenny & Rey, in honor of my favorite Law & Order detective team.) If a rabbit lands on a hiding place, he gets to flip over both of the animals hidden behind the bush.

In subsequent turns, the player must maneuver his other rabbit into position so that they both have cornered matching suspects – and then the player may claim the criminals & send them off to Animal Jail. (Or Rikers… why, yes, I’ve been watching a lot of reruns lately.)

If there are no rabbits left on a hiding place, the two criminal tokens are turned face down… and that’s the entire memory element of the game. It’s thankfully not too taxing for parents & other adults.

There’s one more wrinkle – if a rabbit lands directly on another rabbit, they can relocate them to any empty space on the board.

When one rabbit team has bagged 4 pairs of law-breakers (3 pairs in a four player game), they win.

Some thoughts on the game:

  • I like the dice mechanism a lot… you have to think carefully about where you need to go & the chances you have to get there.
  • The memory element doesn’t overwhelm the game… the dice are what drive the action.
  • Having played with 2, 3 & 4 players, I believe that the four player game is where the game is the most enjoyable (lots of jockeying for position) & the least mentally taxing (most of the hiding places were quickly revealed).
  • The rabbit relocation thing seems overpowered in a 2 player game – I’d suggest a “if you’ll land on another rabbit, move to the next empty space” variant with two players.

My six year old had a hard time with this game the first couple of times we played – it took him a bit to get the hang of choosing the dice he needed to get where he wanted to go. As well, he was really bothered by someone landing on & moving his rabbit. He’s getting better with both of those issues & really enjoyed our last playing.

The artwork is very cute – though if you’re bothered by adorable animals as criminals, this may not be the game for you. I think that the artwork helps sell the game… though I wonder if it doesn’t mislead buyers into thinking this game plays best at the younger end of the age range (ages 6-7). I actually think it works better with 9-10 year olds.

I haven’t had the opportunity to try it with gamers – it would be a light filler but still a nice bit of fun. Where I think Inspector Rabbit will be best, however, is a family game that comfortably allows kids & parents to play together.

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.