Wednesday, August 31, 2011

#80: Tobago

Tobago
  • designer: Bruce Allen
  • publisher: Zoch/Rio Grande
  • date: 2009
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 184/7.25
  • position on my top 100 in 2005: did not appear
  • age: 10+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: out of print (which surprises me!)
  • cost: used copies are not difficult to find through BGG
It's a treasure hunt on an island populated by Easter Island heads... and some of the buried treasure has been cursed. How can anyone not immediately engage with that theme?!

I certainly did. And the amazing bits (the aforementioned statues, the wooden palm trees & huts, the gorgeously illustrated 3-piece multi-sided board) only added to my enjoyment of this innovative family game.

That's right: it's a family game. Yes, there are things you can do to better your position. (Strategy tip #1 - make sure you're helping to locate all of the treasures - don't put all your eggs in one basket - ahem, treasure chest.) But the treasure dividing process has a lovely push-your-luck/luck of the draw whimsy about it that can cause your plans to"gang aft agley" (in the words of Robert Burns).

The creative method by which you find the treasures (players add to the map by narrowing the location of a treasure with card play) has a similar effect on the game - you can exert some control but you're often at the mercy of the actions of the other players.

Those who insist on treating Tobago as if it were yet another Tikal (a game with a similar theme but much more gamer-y gameplay) are going to be sorely disappointed. The rest of us will enjoy the mad dash to build the treasure maps & race for the treasure.

#81: Richelieu

Richelieu
  • designer: Michael Schacht
  • publisher: Ravensburger
  • date: 2003
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 791/6.75
  • position on my top 100 in 2005: did not appear
  • age: 12+
  • # of players: 2
  • print status: out of print
  • cost: you can occasionally find copies for sale - but the good news is that the designer has a print & play version of the game available on his website!
I'm not usually a fan of abstract games - but on occasion, I find that an intriguing game mechanic can overcome my aversion... and in some cases, completely win me over. Richelieu is one of those cases.

While there's a (very) thin layer of theme pasted onto the game involving Dumas' The Three Musketeers, the game is actually a reboot of a previous DTP card game by Michael Schacht,
Kardinal & K├Ânig: Das Kartenspiel, which in turn is a reimplementation of Michael's wonderful board game, Web of Power (which you'll see much later here in my Top 100 countdown.) K&K: DsK was a multi-player set collection game with some interesting special powers... a good little game that didn't see much table time due to the lower-end quality of the components.

Michael evidently managed to sell the idea to Ravensburger, who had him monkey with the design a bit to make it fit into their Fun for 2 line... and in the process, created a game I really, really enjoy.

Players take turns picking up tiles that symbolize influence in the Musketeer-era France... you are competing both for shields in a number of different suits as well as three different symbols that are scattered throughout the suits. The tiles are in a tableau with four rows and players are limited to taking tiles from the edges of the display.

There are some hidden special action tokens as well as a tile-claiming mechanic that lets you reserve plays for later in the game... which can still be taken away if the other player is willing to sacrifice.

Typical of Michael Schacht designs, scoring is simple & ingenious: whoever has more shields of a color (or symbols) gets the amount of their shields/symbols as points... and there's a 5 point penalty for a player who doesn't get any of a particular item.

The game is fast, portable... and a lot of fun. (BTW, I recommend playing the "advanced" variant of the game where you simply play until 3 of the 4 rows run out - it shortens the game & makes the endgame much more interesting.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sondheim! A Birthday Celebration

Watch the full episode. See more Great Performances.

I watched the Sondheim! Birthday Concert earlier this summer on Netflix streaming - and while this isn't really supposed to be a review, it was too long for a Facebook status post, so I shifted it over here & expanded it. The concert was filled with amazing performances of some of Stephen Sondheim's best music by top Broadway stars.

I know that a number of the folks who follow my blog probably don't know Stephen Sondheim from a hole in a wall - so, here's some bullet points just for you:
  • Unless you're a musical theater devotee, you probably haven't heard much of his music - except for a bunch of insipid re-recordings of "Send in the Clowns"... a song that doesn't make much sense yanked from the context of the musical it was written for, A Little Night Music. (He also wrote much of the lyrics for West Side Story - but didn't write the music.)
  • Oddly enough, A Little Night Music is the only Sondheim musical I've ever seen in a theater.
  • He is probably the most influential living Broadway composer... even though most of his shows had short runs in their original productions (Merrily We Roll Along - a personal favorite - was only on Broadway two weeks).
  • On the other hand, his shows are revived over & over - and often in productions of amazing quality.
Now, the following details won't mean much unless you're a fan of the American musical theater and/or Mr. Sondheim...

There was a LOT of Follies - though I could do without watching E. Stritch & "I'm Still Here", as it seems to show up on every Sondheim tribute. OTOH, having John McMartin (the original Ben from Follies) sing "The Road You Didn't Take" - wow.

Note: if you haven't heard Sondheim before, don't come expecting a hoe-down. (obligatory Sports Night reference) The music is sophisticated, the lyrics are intelligent... but the stories they serve are often dark. And when I say dark, I mean that they can be downright depressing.

Performances on the video (I've bolded the ones I really enjoyed):

  • "America" (Dancers, West Side Story)
  • "Something's Coming" (Alexander Gemingnani, West Side Story)
  • "We're Gonna Be Alright" (Marin Mazzie, Jason Danieley, Do I Hear a Waltz?)
  • "Don't Laugh" (Victoria Clark, Hot Spot)
  • "Johanna"(Nathan Gunn, Sweeney Todd)
  • "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" and "Love Will See Us Through" (Matt Cavenaugh, Jenn Colella, Laura Osnes, Bobby Steggert, Follies)
  • "Too Many Mornings" (Nathan Gunn, Audra McDonald, Follies)
  • "The Road You Didn't Take" (John McMartin, Follies)
  • "It Takes Two" (Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien, Into the Woods)
  • "Growing Up" (Jim Walton, Merrily We Roll Along)
  • "Finishing the Hat" (Mandy Patinkin, Sunday in the Park with George)
  • "Move On" (Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Sunday in the Park with George)
  • "Pretty Women" (Michael Cerveris, George Hearn, Sweeney Todd)
  • "A Little Priest" (Michael Cerveris, George Hearn, Patti LuPone, Sweeney Todd)
  • "Theme from Reds" with Pas De Deux (NY Philharmonic, Two ABT Dancers Maria and Blaine)
  • "So Many People" (Laura Benanti, Saturday Night)
  • "Beautiful Girls" (David Hyde Pierce, Follies)
  • "Ladies Who Lunch" (Patti LuPone, Company)
  • "Losing My Mind" (Marin Mazzie, Follies)
  • "The Glamorous Life" (Audra McDonald, A Little Night Music)
  • "Could I Leave You?" (Donna Murphy, Follies)
  • "Not a Day Goes By" (Bernadette Peters, Merrily We Roll Along)
  • "I'm Still Here" (Elaine Stritch, Follies)
  • "Sunday" (Broadway Chorus, Sunday in the Park with George)
  • "Happy Birthday" (All Cast)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kid Game Reviews: A Quartet of Mini-Reviews

OK, these are not new games (well, with the exception of the Magic Labyrinth expansion)… but they’re new to me. And, more importantly, they’re new to my kids.

Zooloretto Mini

The first time I played Zooloretto (the original game that won the Spiel des Jahres), I was underwhelmed. It was nice to look at, it worked just fine… but somehow it just didn’t grab me.

But I was willing to try a second play – and that was enough to get me to buy a copy… and then track down the multiple little expansions. And then Michael Schacht got serious about expanding the game: XXL, Exotic, Boss & the sequel/sister game, Aquaretto.

For the record, I’m a huge fan now – esp. when using Exotic & Boss together. (If you’d like to know more about my opinions of the plethora of expansions, check out my blog post Renovating Your Zoo(loretto).)

I managed to get Zooloretto Mini from my gamer ‘brother from another mother’ (Mark Johnson of the Boardgames to Go podcast)… primarily because I thought that having the new animals would be kind of cool. (And, yes, there was a bit of the whole “I want to own everything Zooloretto-ish/I’m a collector” bug involved.)

Surprisingly, there’s more… well, less AND more in the box. By stripping out the money element of the game, the designer (Michael Schacht) has managed to make a version of Zooloretto that plays quickly and is simple enough for my six-year old son to enjoy. Yet there are enough interesting decisions to make it an involving 30 minute filler for gamers.

Monster 4

The Lego Games series debuted to much anticipation… and then an equal amount of groaning & complaining from gamers who were miffed that Lego, a toy company, wasn’t making games for adults. Seriously, I mean, who do they think their target market is? Adults males who spend 5+ hours a week on BGG, right?

Well, no. It’s kids – and by that measure, Monster 4 (which is a dice-y variant on tic-tac-toe) is a success. Players have a set of four monster pawns which they place on a 4×4 grid of “graves”. The die roll tells you where you can place your pawns… or if you get to add a skeleton (wild pawn) to the board… or if you can send the giant spider to clear off a section of the graveyard. The first to get four in a row wins.

The game is quick – quick enough that we typically play 3-4 rounds in about 15 minutes. It’s not going to set the gaming world on fire, but both my boys (10 & 6) enjoy the theme, the cool Lego pieces and the speed at which it plays.

Note: like I’ve said before, the Lego Games series has one major same feature and/or bug (depends on how you look at it): by leaving wide creative space for players to customize & change the games, they’ve left pretty big holes in the rule sets. For their intended audience, I think this is actually a good idea – but it’s pretty much guaranteed to make adult gamers a little nutso.

Kinder Bunnies: Their First Adventure

What can you say about the Bunnies that hasn’t already been said? It’s Gamer Uno… and that’s damning Uno with faint praise.

Kinder Bunnies: Their First Adventure is less violent & less complicated… but with no more game than the original Killer Bunnies. It’s still too easy to get shut out of the game because you’ve been shut out of bunnies (which power all of the “good” cards in the deck). The game still ends with a lottery – if you have the one magic carrot, it doesn’t matter how the rest of the game went. It’s an exercise in futility for any adult with a half a brain. OK, I exaggerate – a quarter of a brain would suffice.

At the same time, my six-year old son (who is reading pretty well) absolutely adores the game – and not just for playing by the rules. He arranges & rearranges the cards, inventing his own (very possibly better) games with the components.

I can not recommend the game – it’s a chaotic mess of a “take that” card game that nearly drove my wife to throw the cards across the table during her one play. But that doesn’t mean your kid will agree with me.

Das magische Labyrinth: Erweiterung (The Magic Labyrinth: Expansion)

The Magic Labyrinth won the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Childrens Game of the Year) in 2009 – and it deserved it. It’s the first truly functional hidden labyrinth game (yes, I know & love Magical Maze/Goblin’s Gold, but it has some problems as a game) that works for 2-4 players. The design rewards players who pay attention not only to their own moves but also the moves of others as they create a mental map of the hidden walls.

Obviously, a review of the expansion is aimed at those folks who already own the game – so, what does this long thin box contain?
  • a set of eight “magic walls” – which, due to their construction, act like one-way doors. You can pass through going one way but are stopped going the other.
  • a set of four “magical hats” (made of felt) – once per game, you can cause another player to lose his turn
  • a set of four magic wands (wooden) – once per game, you can discard the tile you’re searching for & draw a new tile
  • a set of four potion bottles (wooden) – once per game, you can move without rolling the dice… moving as far as you want (until you hit a wall)
We’ve found that all of the elements in the expansion make the original game even more enjoyable without drastically changing the game. My one worry is the long-term viability of the “magic walls” (the design looks a little flimsy) but so far they’ve done just fine.

Sadly, while the original game is now easily available in the U.S., the expansion is (so far) more difficult to track down. I got my copy from amazon.de.

This article originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website. And although I do receive review copies of some games, all of the games here were purchased by me personally.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Green Album

Thanks to the kind folks over at NPR, I had a chance to listen this morning to the new tribute/cover album, Muppets: The Green Album... and I thought I'd share some quick impressions with my faithful readers.
  • It's actually a pretty good "cover" album - on par with one of my other favorites of the genre, Schoolhouse Rocks. (BTW, the cover of "Mr. Morton" on that album is cool with a capital C.)
  • Some real highlights include Weezer's take on "The Rainbow Connection", Alkaline Trio's rockin' run through "Movin' Right Along" & Andrew Bird's thoughtful "Bein' Green."
  • I don't recognize some of the songs - I wonder if they're from Sesame Street rather than The Muppet Show.
  • I did not like OK Go's version of the theme song or Rachael Yamagata's overly-breathy rendition of "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday"... and as nice a job as Matt Nathanson did with "I Hope That Something Better Comes Along", it just makes me want to hear Kermit & Rowlf sing it - including the lovely tag line, "I've never seen a guy that green have the blues that bad."
If you want to listen for yourself, go to NPR's First Listen ASAP.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Addicted To Something Other Than Love

One of my ministry heroes, Ed Stetzer, has been blogging about The Pornification of American Culture recently. So far, he's posted three articles: Of course, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I've written a good bit about this myself... so I decided to not only link to his (excellent) articles but also give you a recap from a 3-year old post, Dear Person Who Googled Porn...
It helps me, as a recovering addict to pornography, to make a couple of things clear to folks:
  1. the word addiction explains the compulsive hamster wheel cycle of suck that is porn - it doesn't excuse the way it hurt my wife or my churches, even when they didn't know what was going on
  2. talking about porn without talking about masturbation is like discussing peace in the Middle East without discussing religion - which makes it INSANELY difficult to talk about in your typical church setting.
So you don't have to do too much searching, here's the direct links to those articles I've written:
Porn Addiction in America

Monday, August 08, 2011

Thinking With Your Heart

They're just sitting there in the fridge, calling your name.. the last couple of pieces of pan pizza. It tasted so good a couple of hours ago.

If you're really honest with yourself, you're not that hungry. Actually, you're stuffed. But with all that tasty goodness waiting for you just a few feet away, it's easy to ignore the "No Vacancy" sign in your stomach.

And if you allow yourself a rare moment of gut-level honesty, you realize that someone else in the house (roommate, spouse, kids, rodents of unusual size, whatever) will eat it later if you don't eat it now - and you won't get any. You'll be cheated of the greasy cheesy pepperoni-covered yumminess.

So you make a decision to eat that ends up with your best friend being a couple of extra-strength Tums.

We've all done it at one time or another - made a decision based solely on our emotions rather than any kind of rational thought. Whether it was a couple of slices or choosing the wrong girl to date or blowing off studying for a test, we all can look back at moments in our lives and acknowledge that IF we were thinking, we were simply thinking with our hearts.

We live in a culture that enshrines our desires as the ultimate judge of morality & ethics - where our wants act as the rudder for our decisions. And it doesn't take much effort for us to fall in line, regardless of what we believe that the Bible teaches.

Now, you're probably expecting me to make some kind of personal application about turning to Christ or using our God-given wisdom rather than allowing our feelings to drag us around by our hair. That would be a really great article, by the way - but it's not where I'm headed today.

Yesterday morning, I taught about a biblical response to universalism - the belief that every person will be saved, regardless of their relationship to Jesus Christ here on this earth. I have to admit that universalism is an attractive idea - it feels right. While it's almost impossible to argue convincingly from Scripture, it's not difficult to build a case based on the nature of God.

But those arguments break down in the light of the Bible & a full-bodied picture of Jesus - and yet it still feels like universalism is a good idea. I mean, who wants to see people separated from God? Who wants to try & talk about an eternity in hell?

Yet if those two pieces of pizza (or the ex-girlfriend) has taught us anything, it's that just because something feels right doesn't make it good or true. The winsomeness of a belief system - in other words, how much I like the sound of it - has nothing to do with the objective truth of that system.

So, as you think about & struggle with "Part Two" (what happens after we die), I'm asking you to prayerfully engage the Bible and these ideas based not on your feelings but on a deep desire to know truth... even if it makes you shudder & cringe.