Friday, May 24, 2013

Biblical Trifecta

As part of my time in Scripture this morning, I was reading Psalm 18 and came across...
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet [able to stand firmly or make progress on the dangerous heights of testing and trouble]; He sets me securely upon my high places.
    Psalm 18:33 (Amplified)
 Which tripped a mental switch - as the "hind's feet" and "high places" are key elements of the passage I consider my life verse, Habakkuk 3:17-19...
The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!
     Habakkuk 3:19 (Amplified)
 And with a little research, I found that the identical phrase from Psalm 18 also shows up in a much longer psalm (song) hidden away in 2nd Samuel...
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.

     2nd Samuel 22:34 (NIV)
So, the promised trifecta of the blog post title... a reminder in triplicate that God is with me/us even when things are hard.

And on a day like today, water to my dry & dusty soul.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Classic: Mom is Cool

I wrote this post back in 2009... four years later, it still does a great job of saying how much respect I have for my incredible mom. 

I'm especially aware of Mothers Day this year as my Grandma Jenkins (my mom's mom) passed away early this week. She was 102 years old. 

I realize that one of the things my grandma handed down to my mom was a real & meaningful faith. I have a strong memory of sitting in Grandma's living as a kid, watching her cry. My grandpa was a farmer and it had been a couple of tough years with drought conditions. I distinctly remember her saying, "I don't know what we're gonna do, but I know God is going to take care of us"... through tears

There was a period in my life when I would not have titled a post about my mom in this manner. My mom was many things: educator, housewife, nanny, disciplinarian, Dad's wife, Sunday School teacher, WMU President, etc... but I would not have said my mom was cool.

That started to change as our relationship changed - as I left home to go to college & then seminary and the conversations we had on the phone or on holidays began to deepen. She talked more comfortably about spiritual things and how to deal with life. My mom even became one of the earliest adopters of Apple computers - she turned my old room into her "computer" room. (She still has more up-to-date gear than I do - in fact, some of my best stuff is hand-me-downs from Mom!)

I found out there was a lot more to my mom's life than just being the lady who told me to pick up my room (unsuccessfully!), forced to me learn cursive writing by doing workbooks during the summer, and fixed our meals. She'd been a cheerleader in high school... which weirds me out a little bit. (I've seen pictures and I still have trouble wrapping my head around it.) She didn't learn how to swim until college.

And although she never dreamed of it growing up, she's had the privilege to travel a number of different places around the world: the Far East, Europe, most of the U.S. and Canada... and right now, she & my sister are in Israel on a Kay Arthur study tour. That's pretty amazing considering she thought she was going to be a schoolteacher and settle down in the Ozarks where she grew up.

My mom has shown incredible courage in facing an illness that she's fought for 30 plus years that leaves her worn out if she pushes just the smallest bit over the line of her endurance. She helped my dad take care of Grandpa in his final years... and she's taken care of Dad for nearly half a century. (At this point, I tried a couple of times to make a snarky yet heartwarming comment about how hard it is to take care of my dad, but it either came out too mean or too syrupy-sweet... you get what I was going for, right?)

She managed to raise both my sister & I to be people who love Jesus with all of our lives... and though we've both given her grey hairs & crows feet from the tension our actions have caused, we both have a great relationship with her.

She's also been a wonderful grandmother to Braeden & Collin, her only grand kids. She reminds me of my Grandma Jackson, who would get down in the floor & play with us... and would listen to us babble on & on about stuff I'm sure she had no interest in whatsoever except that we were interested in it. I've watched Mom do that with my boys, and it makes me love her more.

Four years ago, my Mother's Day sermon was about parenting with hope... I thought then & I think now that my mom is an incredible example of what I was trying to say: that the best hope we have for our kids is to be individuals who imitate Christ. That's what my mom has done, and I'm thankful for it. 

My mom is cool.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Classic: My Musical History

One of my better Grapevine articles on "how to do church"... and, as a bonus, you get to read me yammering on about John Denver & 8-track tapes.

I promise that there's a point to all this rambling today - but you'll need to read the whole thing to get there. It's not like you have anything else to do, right?

Growing up in L.A./Orange County in the 70's with parents who didn't listen to rock'n'roll, I was pretty musically sheltered. Dad loved jazz (Dave Brubeck, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain), Mom liked easy listening (Johnny Mathis, Jim Nabors, Roger Williams) and show tunes (Unsinkable Molly Brown, Mary Poppins, Sound of Music). Both of them thought it was important my sister & I "get" classical music, so there was tons of that in the house, too. Not to mention a high-end Marantz turntable, a JVC amp & very big speakers, thanks to my dad, the technology nut.

My first exposure to most rock music came from friends and/or friends with older siblings. The guy across the street (who was at that point was a high school loser and now is an excellent husband/dad & productive member of society) was majorly into three bands: Led Zepplin, Kiss & The Beach Boys. One of the guys who worked 
for my dad would give me old singles he didn't listen to much anymore - so I had doses of Steve Miller Band and Lynrd Skynrd. My best friend got turned onto Rick Wakeman and Yes by his sister, so one of the first rock'n'roll albums I purchased was Rick Wakeman's Journey To The Center of The Earth. My first "girlfriend" loved the Beatles, so I ended up getting the two greatest hits 8-tracks and The White Album... some 10 years after it was released. (Some of you reading this don't remember 8-tracks... just imagine big, clunky cassettes that made a "ka-chunk" noise between each of the four sections of the tape.)

Which brings me back to my point. I wasn't into the Beatles because they were cool... "cool" in junior high was the soundtracks from Saturday Night Fever & Grease. "Cool" was disco and punk and, weirdly enough, the Urban Cowboy fad. I got to listen to the music AS MUSIC and appreciated it not because it was cutting edge or hip or what everyone else was listening to... but because it was good music. (I realize that some of you reading this don't begin to identify with what I'm calling "good music" -  that's OK. Just take it on faith that it is good and I can get on with my rambling story.)

Being out of the cultural loop (the only non-Christian rock'n'roll concert - and I use the phrase rock'n'roll loosely - that I attended prior to leaving home was Dan Fogelberg) allowed me to choose my music because I liked it. I didn't care that liking John Denver was the equivalent of branding "dorky nerd" on my forehead, I really enjoyed his music (especially the song "Forest Lawn".) ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) wasn't ever really "in", but I loved then (and still love now) the odd blending of orchestral wildness and 4/4 rock'n'roll.

The first band I was into at the same time as everyone else was Styx. (And, though we were all johnny-come-lately's to Pink Floyd, The Wall seemed like the deepest thing we'd ever heard as sophomores in high school... but, while still an amazing work, it's not nearly as "awesome" as we thought it was when we were 15 & "deep". Ah, the hubris of youth.)

My only claim to being an early adopter was U2... thanks to a Christian teen magazine called Campus Life, who was talking about Bono & the boys back in the Boy/October/War days. I still love that music.

So what does all of this have to do with church? Or my walk with God?


In pursuing God as a church, the ONLY thing that matters is "Is it Biblical? Is it 'good'?" Even if every other church is doing it (whether that's 40 Days of Purpose or WMU or small groups or Sunday School), we can not choose to do something because it "works" or it "sounds cool" or it's "the happening thing." We have to choose who we are and what we do on the basis of what God has called the church to do: to share the faith, to serve others, to join together as a church family, to grow deeper with God, and to worship  Him with passionate love. If a program that's "hip" in church circles can help us do that, great. But we will never choose to do something "because other churches are doing it".

In pursuing God as individuals, the same thing is true. Your Christian walk does NOT have to look like anyone else's walk with God - it just has to look like Jesus.

And, if we as individuals and as a church are going to make our life decisions based on chasing the good/chasing God, then we're going to have to do just that. We're going to have to pray, expecting Him to lead us. We're going to have to read the Bible, expecting to hear from Him. We're going to have to spend time with each other, expecting God to move in amazing ways through the teaching & advice of others.

As long as we let other people dictate the nature of our beliefs... as long as we choose to "do church" like everyone else, we are going to miss out on some great stuff. We are going to miss out on the work of God in our lives.

And sad as it would be if I hadn't learned to enjoy the Beatles, it would be so much worse to miss Jesus.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Classic: Tidal Wave - Part Deux

I asked for help with translating "tsunami" in my Tidal Wave post back in early 2004... and I got it. Time has not diminished the truth of this post - nor the hope of Christ I see in our post-Christian world.

Thanks to Bob Gregory & Keith Monaghan (hi, guys!), I now have two conflicting (sigh) translations of the word "tsunami". While's Bob's definition sounds a whole lot more scientific, the one I was "remembering" last week was the one Keith sent. (BTW, for those who need a program to keep all these names straight, Keith is one of my closest long-time friends, who now lives in Portland, Oregon. He has many stories about me as a high school student which he knows to keep to himself as I have a number of stories on him!)

Anyway, here's what Keith sent:

TSUNAMI = "earthquake wave"
 Having grown up in the Los Angeles area, I'm pretty familiar with the whole earthquake thing. You know, stand in a doorway when you feel shaking, expect aftershocks, it's only a matter of time before San Francisco disappears into the ocean, yadda yadda yadda. (If you live around them long enough, you get kind of blasé about the whole thing.)

But the idea of a wave with that kind of power just scares me to death. I'm not much of an ocean person (don't like sand in my shoes, don't like swallowing salt water, and so on) so the thought of a something I don't like becoming destructive sends chills up & down my spine.

Interestingly enough, I know that a lot of us are feeling that way about the direction our culture/nation is going. It's an "earthquake wave" and nothing seems to be standing against on the onrushing tide of change. Institutions and people we've trusted have crumbled, overwhelmed by the onslaught. We're not a "Christian Nation" anymore... granted, that assumes that we ever were a Christian nation, which I question. (We were "Christianized"... but that's a topic for another day.)

You know, you may think I'm nuts, but I'm pretty sure that this "earthquake wave" in our culture is a good thing. We are now in a situation more like the time of the early church than ever before. Rather than in a "favored" position (as Christian churches had through most of the history of the U.S.), we are now simply one of many religious/spiritual choices available to people.

"Have you lost your mind?" (Yes, I can hear some of you thinking that.) No, not really. Our "favored" position gave us some privileges in society but had a tendency to mute our ability to speak truth about the culture. Our "favored" position caused us to get lazy about explaining our faith in terms non-churched people could understand. Our "favored" position let us get away with "build it (a church building) and they will come" rather live out the "go!" command from Matthew 28.

Like I said a minute ago, we're living in the same kind of time as the early church - and remember what kind of impact the church made in the book of Acts.

That day about 3000 took [Peter] at his word, were baptized and signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

Everyone around was in awe - all those wonders & signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met.

They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant & joyful, as they praised God. People  in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
     Acts 2:41-47 (The Message)
I want that kind of impact for us here in the evangelical church - call it our own "earthquake wave" to transform the lives of the people. And with the power of God, it can happen.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Classic: Tidal Wave

It's an odd (and enjoyable) footnote of my time at NewLife Community Church that I took kids to the State Youth Conference (called Tsunami - which explains my initial reference) by myself the first year... and then took youth by myself (again!) to STRAM Camp in my last year. The following Grapevine article was my reaction to that trip as I tried to process what I felt like God was teaching me.

I wish I could say that I was "done" with this particular issue, but that would be lying. God used a book called Gracewalk late last year to bring it home again to Shari & I.

"Tidal Wave" is not the literal definition of 'tsunami', but it's the one I'm going to use for now. (Somewhere in the back of my head, I can hear a small voice saying that there's something cool about the literal translation from Japanese, but I can't bring that memory to the front of my mind right now. Guess it got stuck in behind the line of other thoughts that are fighting for attention, including "take out the garbage" and "don't forget to clean up your game room.". BTW, if anyone does know the literal translation of tsunami, e-mail me!)

Anyway... the last three days of 2003 were a tidal wave for me. 10 hours of driving (Fresno - Anaheim in a borrowed Suburban + a stop on the Rose Parade parade route on New Year's Eve to drop off a couple of youth.) 4 huge general sessions with some amazing speaking from David Nasser. 3 hot topic classes. Feeding 6 teenagers... which included a quick trip for pizzas, of course. Some great conversations. Getting to know some of the very cool youth we have here at NewLife. Very little sleep.

Sorting all of this out is going to take a few days... but I wanted to share one of my personal highlights of the week with you.

God has been hammering home some theological truths in my life for the last few months. (I don't know how you experience this, but for me, God has this amazing tendency to coordinate everything in my life - the books I read, the sermons I listen to, the conversations I get in - to reinforce what He wants me to learn.) So, over the late fall & early winter, I've been hearing about the grace of God & the dangers of legalism from what seems like a hundred different sources.

I wouldn't have told you I was a legalist. I'm a Baptist who dances (OK, not very well, and mostly not in public, but I have been known to "bust a move" on occasion. We'll take a short pause here for those of you who need to roll on the floor laughing, as you've seen me "dance" before.) The church I pastored before NewLife was a laid-back coffeehouse of a church. I chose not to boycott Disney when the Southern Baptist Convention voted to do so a few years back (and I'd be happy to explain my reasoning to you, but that's not a rabbit I want to chase right now.)

Like I said, I didn't consider myself a legalist. In fact, I still have a hard time using the word to describe myself - everything that's in me screams "But I'm not a Pharisee!" and wants to pretend that this whole conversation isn't happening.

God, however, has kept pointing out that legalism isn't simply creating a set of rules... it's turning my relationship with Him into a performance game. It's score-keeping with God... trying desperately to earn the salvation I was freely given by doing stuff to make God happy. It's mentally & emotionally throwing my personal performance (Bible study, prayer, pastoring, service, giving, etc.) on a metaphorical altar in front of God as if that will (a) appease Him if He's ticked off at me, or (b) buy His favor so I can have a happy/peaceful life.

And, by that definition, I'm a card-carrying legalist. I want to think that my actions can purchase the blessing of God... that I can clean myself up enough to be "worth" the gift of my salvation. And, as God keeps reminding me, that's nonsense.

I don't deserve my salvation. Nothing I do - as a pastor or simply as a believer - will earn me the love of God.

I've already got it.

God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatsoever to him.
     Romans 5:8 (The Message)
To quote David Nasser, the guy who spoke at Tsunami, "I'm as righteous as I'll ever need to be." (Yep, as a card-carrying legalist, that statement makes me flinch. But the more I look at the Scripture, the more I think it's true.)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
     Galatians 2:20-21 (NIV)
In other words, Christianity is not about trying to live our lives FOR Jesus. (Take a look at that Galatians passage again: if we could be good enough - "gain righteousness" - through doing the right thing, then Christ didn't need to die! Wow.) Christianity is about Jesus living our lives WITH us. ("Christ lives in me!")

To get back to this week... David Nasser said something this week in one of his messages that reinforced all of this one more time. (Repetition IS the power of learning.) He said, "We do stuff for God because we HAVE God's favor... not to GET God's favor."

My first response: "Ouch." (I've spent way too long on the ol' Hamster Wheel of Performance for that not to sting a bit.) My second response: "Cool." My third response: "Thank you, Jesus."

Quote of the Week

Stop trying to impress God.
     David Nasser
Look, I could have picked a lot of other quotes on the grace of God... but this stopped me cold when he said it Tuesday night. If God is really God - creator of the universe, savior of mankind, the essence of love & goodness & holiness & all that... how in thee heck am I supposed to impress Him?! I can serve Him, love Him, honor Him, and so on - but impressing Him is about trying to perform/tap-dance my way into his good graces... which, like I said a minute ago, is unnecessary. In Christ, I am LITERALLY in His good grace(s).

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Classic: Moro Rock

This post originally appeared in the Grapevine e-newsletter of NewLife Community Church back in the fall of 2003... and as far as I can tell, I've never put it up on the blog before. Enjoy! (The first photo is by Lucas Maystre.)

It's a big honkin' chunk of rock perched on the edge of a beautiful series of canyons & valleys in Sequoia National Park... and some lunatic decided to build a trail to the top. (Has anyone figured out yet that I'm scared of heights?) Over 400 steps & a football field worth of rise in elevation (over 300 ft) make it quite a climb, even for "normal" adults, let alone "I'm scared I'm gonna fall off" guys like me.

And yesterday, when we took Shari's mom & dad & grandma up there for a day trip, I made the climb for a second time in my life, this time with my 2 1/2 year old son leading the way.

It's amazing - it's like genetics didn't work. He never expressed a bit of fear about the heights - in fact, I'm not even sure he understood how high up he was. I'm huffing & puffing (OK, that part was more about being out of shape) and getting aberrant brain messages like "run down the mountain screaming at the top of your lungs" and "see that nice cleft in the rock? Hide there and don't move". Meanwhile, he's yelling for Papa (his grandpa, who was climbing up ahead of us) and encouraging his mom to "come on!" (For those of you in panic mode about Shari & I letting Braeden run up the trail unmolested, please know that he & I held hands the entire way. I'm not sure who was more comforted by this.)

Even with my fear of heights, the view from the top is spectacular. Braeden and I sat down and looked out at the Sierras. I had the wonderful opportunity of getting to tell him that it was God who made the trees and the mountains and the sky.

And then we took pictures of Papa and Braeden and I standing on top of Moro Rock... a survivor of inoperable cancer (who said to Shari & I  that "if you'd told me I'd get to do this two years ago, I'd have laughed at you"), a nearly freaked-out scared-of-heights city boy (that's me), and a 2 year old who was enjoying himself immensely.

Sometimes, I think we're too smart for own good. My brain works overtime about all the things that can go wrong while climbing a tall object and it makes it almost impossible for me to enjoy the incredible view.

It can be the same way with God - we spend so much time worrying about "what comes next?" or "how we will ever make it work?" when He reminds us over and over to slow down and appreciate what He's done & what He's doing. The journey of life can be scary - no arguing that. But when we focus on our fears, we miss the wonder & goodness of God.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important

than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
     Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)

Friday, May 03, 2013

Good Games & Great Friends: The Gathering 2013

The original version of this report appeared last week on the Opinionated Gamers blog... what you're about to see here is "the director's cut" with some extra pictures and a few more choice words of commentary. (That's your special prize for reading my blog!)

Set the Wayback Machine For 2002

Puerto Rico - the Gathering 2002
My first Gathering of Friends was back in 2002 and even though I’d been in the hobby for a long time, it was an overwhelming experience. Puerto Rico had just been released… and multiple copies were in play almost constantly throughout the week. (I myself played 4 times in the first 48 hours.) It was a real pleasure to be discovering a gem of a game and exploring the intricacies of it together with friends old & new. (Picture note: James Miller - my good friend & Gathering roommate - and I both had a lot more hair back then.)

In fact, what Alan Moon has created over the 20+ years of its existence is a 10 day long gaming party… where experiences can vary from being present at the coming-out party of a gaming classic to the comfortable joys of sitting down to an old favorite with old friends – and where long meals and sightseeing trips fit comfortably with long games and epic Loopin’ Louie battles. (Hats off to you, Mr. Moon… and thanks for inviting me all those years ago.)

Classic Games & Classic Experiences

I'm driving the Stanley Steamer in 3rd place...
The Gathering 2013 didn’t have a Puerto Rico. This year was memorable not so much for any breakout game – though I did find some very good games (more about that in a paragraph or two). The real highlights were a combination of classic games & classy friends:

  • I enjoyed three different plays of one of my top ten games, Fast Food Franchise… Not only did I get to teach Stephen Glenn to play, but I also participated in an epic 4 player game that saw the map almost completely fill up with franchises.
  • I managed a better showing in the yearly tradition of playing DTM Motorsportspiel after the prize table on a brutal track (Bruno) that saw experienced players crash & burn. I started in 3rd position (out of 10) and managed to finish 3rd place – which I count as a victory!
  • I had to take a phone call while playing Wurfel Bingo with some wonderful friends… Who wrote down the numbers rolled in order so I could catch up when I got back. (I still lost… but a man with friends like that never really loses.)
  • Years ago, Frank Branham strongly suggested I try Hour of Glory, a mash-up of miniatures combat & board game from England that does a fine job of getting the feel of a WW2 spy movie condensed into a playable gaming experience. However, the price kept me from ever having the opportunity – until last week when James & Sheila Davis taught me how to play using the Frank Branham-friendly “Die Zombies” expansion. Sheila & I managed to grab the plans from the secret bunker and kill off the Nazi guards controlled by James (with a great deal of help from the zombies) – but I had to sacrifice my Russian spy in order for Sheila’s American spy to escape the zombie horde with documents vital to the war effort.
  • At the invitation of Ted Alspach, I ran a rather twisted version of Werewolf one night entitled “Werewolf Upon Werewolf”… which included what might be best described as “Chairs: the LARP”. (My pictures aren't particularly good - but evidently there's some great video of this out there somewhere.)
  • I finally got to play some classics that I’d never played before: Auf Fotosafari in Ombagassa (thumbs up for this hard-to-find but very cool “kids” game), Hotel Life (which was fun but certainly not worth the insane prices it goes for), The Game of Politics – 1935 edition (another thumbs up – the enjoyment was increased by Kevin Whitmore’s excellent Southern campaign speeches), and Wildlife Adventure (I actually made the finals in the tournament!).
  • I didn’t do all that well in the Loopin’ Louie tournament… but my one win was over the eventual winner, so I’ll claim that as a minor victory!

"Werewolf Upon Werewolf"

Day By Day By Day

I didn’t feel like there was one big “hit” this week. I did see a certain eclectic group of games get a lot of table time:

  • Coup benefitted from being (a) short, (b) able to handle 6 players well, and (c) actually a pretty good little bluffing game. I played it four times and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
  • on the heavier side, there was plenty of Bora Bora, Terra Mystica, and various versions of 18xx in play each day. Those of you who know me well realize that I didn’t play any of these. (I will note that I want to try Terra Mystica… but the timing was never quite right.)
  • Augustus started slow… but once a couple of early mis-taught rules were cleared up, I noticed lots of people playing it. My pithy & possibly quotable review: it’s “Roman gamer bingo” or “Cosmic Bingo” – essentially, Bingo with special powers and various scoring goals. I’d happily play it again after two plays last week.
  • My biggest surprise was how many different times I saw Sentinels of the Multiverse played. While I’m enjoying it a lot with my boys at home, I was stunned to see it out on a daily basis at the Gathering.

Roach Coach in action!
Mark Jackson: Demo Monkey

Another Gathering first for me was placing a prototype with a publisher. I had the privilege of showing Jeff Myer’s Roach Coach – and having it taken for testing.

Some Random Thoughts on Stuff I Played for the First Time

The title of this section pretty much says it all.

  • Like Dice (published by Adlung) is a very clever speed math game… and while I’m not all that great at math, I am pretty good at adding up dice pips. I could happily add a copy to my collection after playing it three times.
  • I’ll be writing a full review of Arctic Scavengers in the next couple of weeks – suffice it to say that I played it four times at the Gathering and liked the way it managed to use deck-building to create a narrative story arc.
  • Trains has had a lot of hype – a deck-builder with board play – and I think that having an English language edition with better graphics will be a real plus. I found that I enjoyed it more on the second play where I better understood the interaction between card & board play.
  • I have big questions about the long-term viability of Rondo. Both games I played were won by the last player (this is a game with equal rounds) – and I’m wondering if the way the game works doesn’t encourage that kind of ending. It's pretty light but not particularly compelling.
  • Clubs is just about the right weight for me – the guy who doesn’t particularly like Tichu. Tichu lovers need not apply.
  • La Boca would have seen more play if there had been more copies there… it’s a speed puzzle game done in pairs with a partnership mechanic similar to the one in Monster-Falle. I agree with our Fearless Leader – I think this goes on the short list to win the Spiel des Jahres.
  • Targi is a very good two-player game with interesting placement choices, a defined time limit, and tough resource management issues… but you need an English translation to make it easily playable. Luckily, one is on the way.
  • Two games I had high hopes fell flat for me – both by the usually solid publisher, Alea: Las Vegas and Saint Malo. Both are perfectly decent dice games, but neither captured my fancy.
  • Stephen Glenn's reboot of a personal favorite (Balloon Cup) arrived while we there - and Pinata is a simpler/more family-friendly version of the game, complete w/cute wooden candies. That said, it has some tougher choices (there are limits on playing cards off on the opposing side) and it's a great game. (Stephen told me that this version is closer to his original prototype.)

Looking Ahead

One of the privileges of attending the Gathering is getting to play prototypes. Granted, one of the drawbacks of attending the Gathering is getting roped into playing prototypes. Pick your poison.

I just want to quickly mention a few that I particularly enjoyed and am looking forward to:

  • Rampage already has an entry up on BGG… it’s probably my favorite “Japanese monster movie game” ever – even over the long OOP The Creature That Ate Sheboygan
  • I had the opportunity to play the Alien Orb version of the upcoming Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts expansion… and now can say with confidence that I enjoy both ways to play the game.
  • Brian Yu (brother of the Grand Poobah & Chief Bottlewasher of the Opinionated Gamers, Dale Yu) has a great family-friendly cooperative game coming out this fall called Treasure Hunters.
  • The Suburbia expansion is very cool – and it’s not just a few new tiles. (Some details may change as we get closer to Essen 2013, but I really liked it. It adds some interesting decisions & play space without bogging down a game I already love.)
  • I played two Firefly-themed prototypes: one that is still under consideration and one that is a “go” for this summer… a cooperative card game entitled Firefly: Out of the Black. A strong sense of theme permeates this quick-moving co-op.
  • The big surprise for me was how much I liked Gluck Auf (from Kramer & Kiesling… to be published by Eggertspiele). Not sure what I’m allowed to say, so I’ll simply let you know that I’m looking forward to having my own copy and that it isn’t a sci-fi or fantasy game!

Big Finish

My last four games of the Gathering were the Can’t Stop tournament. I won my first two rounds, then squeaked forward in the semifinal with a second place finish over my arch-nemesis (and good friend) Larry Levy. (There were two semifinal games with 3 players each – the first two players to complete 3 columns advanced to the final.)

Daryl Andrews & I fight for the win!
So, I found myself in the final against Daryl, Rebecca, and the designer of two of my favorite games: Tom Lehmann. I quickly shot up the board & claimed the 6 and the 8… but it took what seemed like forever (thanks to a couple of near-misses) for me to finally nail down a 3rd column and the win!

That win means I get first pick off the amazing prize table next year… yowsa! (If I’d have had first pick this year, I would have picked up a copy of Mice & Mystics with painted minis and beautiful clay pieces to replace the tokens.)