Saturday, December 31, 2005

30 Questions

Blame Mark Haberman who posted this idea on his blog, Habergamer. (Mark, btw, needs to do some more blogging.) :-) Anyhoo... here's a New Year's "getting to know you" post for for 2006.

1. How long have you been gaming?

I've played board & card games as long as I can remember. Over the years, I've had forays into nearly every area of gaming:
  • classic American (the 1970's): Monopoly, Prize Property, King Oil, etc.
  • wargames (late 70's/early 80's): Wooden Ships & Iron Men, Squad Leader Third Reich, etc.
  • role-playing (early 80's): Dungeons & Dragons, Runequest, Traveller
  • Games Workshop board games (mid-late 80's): Talisman, Fury of Dracula, Dungeonquest, etc.
It was finally in the late 80's that I discovered via Games Magazine that there was another world of gaming out there: Euros. (Well, at that point, "German" games.) I bought every Ravensburger game I could find that didn't look like it was for 5 year olds.

Then, in the mid-90's, two incidents changed my gaming hobby into an obsession:
  1. buying a copy of Phantoms of the Ice from White Wind Games... bringing me into contact with Alan Moon & the rest of the White Wind line. That contact led to an invitation to the Gathering of Friends...
  2. finding Linie 1 and Modern Art in a game store in Cinncinati, OH... I spent over $100 on the two of them (highway robbery!) but I was hooked...
Within the next few years came Settlers... then an online connection with Rob Wood - which led to a friendship with Ted "Roving Reporter" Cheatham - which led to an invitation to the second Gulf Games and becoming buddies with Greg Schloesser and yadda yadda yadda.

2. What was your first "Euro" game?

I think it was Scotland Yard... though I also have an early AH copy of Adel Verpflichtet.

3. Which game sucked you in?

Which time?! :-)
  • wargames: definitely Third Reich - looking back, I'm still amazed we fought our way through the rule book
  • roleplaying: D&D - a group of us read the cover article in Games Magazine and hunted down the "blue" starter box - $10. (Wish that was all I had spent on D&D... man, what I laid out for graph paper alone would finance a small 3rd world country...)
  • Games Workshop games: Talisman
  • Euros: Scotland Yard was good, but Midnight Party is what hooked me on Ravensburger games... and it was Settlers that shifted the whole thing into overdrive.
4. What is your favorite game?

Today, it's probably Return of the Heroes/Under the Shadow of the Dragon. Over time, it's either El Grande or Settlers of Catan.

5. What is your least favorite game?

Wow. Such a long list to choose from... Devil Bunny Needs A Ham is pretty high up there (or low down there), as is Lunch Money, Munchkin (and all it's evil spawn), Wortelboer, Krieg & Fremden, and Vox Populi.

6. Open or closed holdings?

For the uninitiated, there are a number of games (most notably Acquire) that have very important information hidden from other players that is trackable if you're a good card counter. Many people prefer to play with this information open to make the game less "mean."

I like holdings open for Acquire... but I don't particularly like Acquire, so there.

7. To gamble or not to gamble?

I don't gamble for money - but I'm happy to play Poker for chips. Or M&M's... though I'm in major danger of eating my winnings.

8. How much luck do you like in your games?

It just depends... sometimes I love the wild swings of fortune and other times I want total control. What I don't want is perfect information games.

9. Last three games played?

It's December 31st... while Shari & I may play some 2-player stuff later, we played games with Braeden tonight before he went to bed: Go Away, Monster; Buddel-Wuddel & Platsch!

10. Last three games purchased?

Hmmm... Under the Shadow of the Dragon, Wings of War: Watch Your Back!, and... wow, I can't remember.

11. Pack rat or trader?

I'll trade stuff... but only if I really don't enjoy it. Otherwise it stays in the collection.

12. What game are you thinking about right now?

I really like Ark... the first play was confusing for the first 30 minutes. Then, you could almost hear an audible "click" in the room as we finished the game at twice the speed we played the first 30 minutes. I think there's a lot there to explore (how to play cards to keep other players from using "your" spaces, etc.) but I need to play it some more to make that happen.

13. What's your favorite mechanic?

I don't know that I have one... but I like it when the mechanics mesh with the theme. (Goldland is an excellent example.)

14. What is your favorite theme?

I like exploration games a whole lot.

15. Who is your favorite designer?

It's a toss-up between Klaus Teuber (Settlers, Gnadelos, Anno 1503, Entdecker, Lowenherz) and Wolfgang Riedesser (Dschungelrennen, Ausgebremst).

16. Best gaming experience?

Gulf Games... I'm hard-pressed to choose individual games, but particular highlights include:

  • Shanghai (BAD game, GREAT company) with Ted Cheatham, Greg Schloesser & Craig Berg
  • Princes of Florence with Derk, Vonda, Jon Pessano & ?... wining after Derk talked major trash about me being a fluffy gamer
  • Waldschattenspiel with Frank Branham in a darkened kitchen

And so many others... sigh.

17. Worst gaming experience?

Perpetual Notion with my Bible study group - we renamed it "The Fight Game".

18. Favorite game for 2 players?

Memoir '44... even when I lose, I enjoy the ride.

19. Favorite game for 3 players?

Schappchen Jagd... I can't spell the game, but I love to play it.

20. Favorite game for 5 players?

El Grande.

21. Favorite game for 6 players?

Entenrallye. Just as long as one of them isn't Dave Vander Ark. (Hi, Dave!)

22. Favorite party game?

Time's Up, followed closely by Smarty Party.

23. Do you value Theme or Mechanics more?

Like I said earlier, I value the meshing of the two... I want a theme that works and/or draws me in that lines up with the mechanics of the game.

24. What color do you want to use to play with?

I like being yellow, but I don't always get to do that. I'd rather not be "doody brown" (which is an option in some of my games.)

25. What is your favorite movie?

"The Princess Bride"... followed closely by "Raising Arizona" and "The Truman Show".

26. What is your favorite book?

  • Fiction: The Silver Chair (C.S. Lewis)
  • Non-Fiction: Seizing Your Divine Moment (Erwin McManus) & Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller)

27. Last three books read?

  • Faith of My Fathers (Chris Seay & family)
  • Walk On: the Spiritual Journey of U2 (Steve Stockman)
  • The Present Future (Reggie McNeal)

28. Last three movies watched?

  • Jump Tomorrow (highly recommended indie romance with a bit of magical realism and an almost total lack of cynicism)
  • King Kong 2005 (gorgeous & epic, but it's about a big ape, for crying out loud)
  • Narnia: LW& W (the kids are incredible and there are great moments, but Aslan doesn't have the power he has in the books)

29. Favorite beverage?

It used to be diet Coke... more recently it's either Snapple Apple or Starbucks Caramel Apple Cider.

30. What are the three most important people in your life?

My wife, Shari, and my two boys, Braeden & Collin. (No surprise here, right?!)

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Lion & The Monkey

Short Version:
  • Monkey beats Lion.
Longer Version:
  • Monkey is better than it's source material.
  • Lion is good, but NOT better than it's source material.
Final Thoughts:
  • I'm glad more people will be aware of Narnia, but the movie (Lion, Witch & The Wardrobe) was good but not great. (For an excellent analysis/argument about the film, check out this discussion.)
  • OTOH, though a bit long, Kong is substantially better than the 1933 movie it is based upon... and makes the 1976 version look like a bad TV movie.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Jesus Hates It When You Smoke

from Todd Rhoades blog, Monday Morning Insight and his post "What Not To Get Todd For Christmas":

Jesus, the Prince of Peace gazes balefully upwards at your approaching cigarette... How does that make you feel? 'JESUS HATES IT WHEN YOU SMOKE' reads the print inside this provocative, righteous ashtray. Sticker on bottom reads: "use of this product may be hazardous to your health and/or eternal soul". (This'd be a great soul-winning tool for those 'turn or burn' sign holders). They're a steal at just $12.00, available here.

You've got to be kidding.

Unfortunately, they're not.

Now, not that I'm a big fan of smoking and/or secondhand smoke. But for crying out loud, people, what were you thinking?! Jesus died on the cross so he could guilt you into stopping a potentially sickness producing habit? THAT'S what the Incarnation and the Atonement were all about?!

In the words of Bill the Cat: "Accck!"

Well, I need to climb off my high horse and eat some crow and a whole lot of other animal cliches... evidently this is a gag gift. (Thanks for the heads up, Jon.)

In the words of Emily Litella (SNL): "Never mind."

Saturday, December 10, 2005

If Only...

...oh, if only I could have seen this version of Titanic first. I'd have 3 hours of my life back.


thanks to Invisible Craig for showing me the light!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Greer Spring

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my sister organized an "expedition" to walk down to Greer Spring... so we left Collin with my mom & Aunt Wylma and took Braeden on an adventure. (Greer dumps into the Eleven Point River, which is a wonderful Ozark river that winds around my mom's home town of Alton.)

We had a great time hiking & throwing sticks into the white water... and even got Aunt Liz to take this great picture of the three of us. Posted by Picasa

Collin & Grandpa

My dad had a sinus infection over Thanksgiving, so he wasn't the most cheerful guy on the planet. But it's pretty obvious Collin liked hanging out with him! Posted by Picasa

Collin & Cousin

On Thanksgiving Day, we celebrated my Grandma Jenkin's 95th birthday... all of my cousins were together for the first time since 1978. Of course, this time we had a bunch of kids - our kids!

This is Collin sitting in his great-grandma's lap with his 3rd cousin (I guess, I can never keep all of that "how are we related?" stuff straight), Kammie. She is Kevin's daughter - Kevin & I were born a couple of months apart, as were Collin & Kammie.

For me, it's really cool to watch Collin & Braeden get to interact with my extended family - not just because I'm so darned proud of my boys, but because it's like watching impossible home movies of what it was like for me to do the same thing in the same places 40 years ago.Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 05, 2005

Blasts From The Past

Almost every summer, my family would take a vacation and go to Missouri - where both my mom & dad grew up. Mom grew up in a little town named Alton, and her brother & sister & mom (my grandma!) still live there.

For a child of suburbia, it was a pretty disorienting experience. (If you want to see how I grew up, watch E.T. That kinda looks like my neighborhood.) I remember having trouble sleeping the first few nights each summer, as I could hear all these different sounds (mainly bug noises). Grandma didn't have air conditioning, either - which just seemed weird to me. (Of course, I kept trying to talk my Uncle Jim into paving the gravel road from the highway down to his house... a 1/4 mile of road. I just couldn't conceive of unpaved roads as being normal.)

One of my favorite places to visit/stay in Alton was Uncle Jim & Aunt Wylma's house - not only were they fun to hang out with , but they also had a pool table & a ping pong table & a shuffleboard court in the basement!

And they had this cabinet of games left behind by my older cousins... Video Village, Broadsides, Conflict, Flintstones, The Game of Nirtz, Smack-A-Roo, Beverly Hillbillies card game, and even an Electronic Baseball. (It was kind of like Electronic Football, with the runners that moved because the game vibrated, but his was done with a magnetic ball that stuck to the outfield fence.) I spent a lot of pleasant muggy afternoons & evenings playing games with my cousins & my sister at Aunt Wylma's house.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I brought my family back to Alton to celebrate my grandma's 95th birthday. So, Braeden & I had the opportunity on Friday & Saturday to play some games... stuff I hadn't seen for 20+ years.

More of a dexterity playset than an actual game, Smack-A-Roo uses a spring-loaded shooter and marbles to play a variety of games. I don't remember playing this a lot as a kid - nor would I see myself playing much of it now. You don't have that much control over what happens once you shoot the ball - and the only interactive game in the whole thing is a baseball take-off. Braeden, however, occupied himself with it for hours.

The Bobbsey Twins Go To The Farm Game
I'm pretty sure that my brain blocked any memory of this nasty piece of work. Imagine Chutes & Ladders, only with 2 pawns per player & a longer map. Blech.

The Game of Cootie
It's no wonder Americans hate games, if this is the kind of stuff they got introduced to as kids. The only fun thing to do with Cootie is build bugs - the gameplay is simply "roll & hope you get the right number."

Video Village
I'm not old enough to remember the TV game show - but I certainly remember playing this game over & over with my sister & cousins. It's got a cool dice rolling device, plus a jail & a bridge & a series of stand-up plastic storefronts on the board. The game isn't much, but it's fast & light & a bit of fun. Braeden wasn't taken by this one, but he's too young to understand the appeal. (Or maybe he's just more "gamer" than I realize.)

I pulled out Broadsides & Conflict to look through the boxes again (I'd be happy to acquire copies of either of these games), but Braeden isn't old enough for either game yet. The Flintstones game was pretty good, as I recall, but time & weather had faded the card deck so much that it was unplayable.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Why Religious People Shouldn't Design Board Games

From a patent application:

A game board apparatus having a game board horizontally divided into two sectors representing heaven and hell. The start position is at the bottom of the hell and the finish winning position is situated at the top of the heaven. The players use playing pieces to traverse spaces in the heaven and hell sectors, the amount of advancement being dictated by indicia provided on decks of question cards and answer cards.

Read farther down in the patent proposal and it becomes clear that the game is Candyland with religious overtones. Draw a Hell Card or Heaven Card (depending on where you are on the board)... then draw a "yes/no" card - and move accordingly. As Frank Branham, who pointed this silly thing out to me, said: "Apparently, there is no free will."

And just because I can, here's a few sample cards for you to ponder:

  • Would you make a deal with Satan? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 5 spaces.
  • Do you have unclean habits? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 4 spaces.
  • Would you sell your country's defense secrets? Yes: Go back to start. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Are you a self righteous person? Yes: Remain on spot. No: Advance 2 spaces.
  • Do you have ulterior motives for whatever you do for someone? Yes: Go back 10 spaces.
  • Do you sin constantly and ask for forgiveness? Yes: Go back to hell or satan red star. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Do you honor your parents? Yes: Advance 2 heaven stars. No: Go back to start.
  • Are you a procrastinator? Yes: Go back 7 spaces. No: Advance 7 spaces.
  • Are you an atheist or communist? Yes: Go back to start. No: Advance to next heaven blue star.
  • Would you give your life in the name of Christ? Yes: Advance to gold star and enter into the kingdom of heaven. No: Go back to start.
  • Do you despise the poor? Yes: Go back to hell or satan red star. No: Advance 6 spaces.
  • Is Christ first in your life? Yes: Advance to next heaven blue star. No: Go back to hell or satan green star.

So, evidently procrastinating is worse than being self-righteous. And sinning & asking for God's grace is a bad thing. And nothing says gaming fun like being told to "go back to hell." In addition, there is a "mercy" deck, which evidently dispenses 2nd chances as well as death (immediately getting tossed out of the game) and "rapture" (immediately win the game). The guys who wrote the Left Behind series are evidently getting a cut on the profits here. Look, although I'm having fun at the design/designers' expense, that's not my real problem with this game - or any "Christian" game, for that matter. Most "religious" game designs are not only bad designs (taking the worst element of Candyland or Monopoly and layering them with moral themes) but they're bad theology as well.

If the heart of the Gospel is the grace of God - that "while we were yet sinnners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8), then the legalistic "stick & carrot"/reward & punishment designs of so many "religious" games are seriously flawed.

Perhaps the very structure of a competitive game is antithetical to communicating Bibilical theology. I dunno - I'm gonna have to think about this one some more.

Addendum: The only "successful" (and I use that word in quotes on purpose!) religious games that I know of are retreads of good basic game designs with "bathrobe pageant" trappings:

  • Ark of the Covenant (which is a Carcassonne variant)
  • Settlers of Canaan (which is a Catan variant)
  • Bible Outburst (which is, obviously, Outburst with Bible topics)

Anyone know of anything that actually is enjoyable & good game design? I'm all ears!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

My Brain's Still at DFW

This article originally appeared in the 11/30/05 edition of The Grapevine, a publication of NewLife Community Church.

The plan was for Shari, Braeden, Collin & I to return home from Missouri Tuesday afternoon. If all went according to plan, we'd land here in Fresno at 1:11 pm, Nancy would pick us up & bring us home, I'd start work on the Grapevine & some sermon notes... and then, seeing as how it's the only free night in our schedule until next Tuesday, we'd put up our Christmas tree.

Only, as you can probably guess by now, it didn't work that way.

Springfield, MO is a nice town, but the airport isn't much larger than ours here in Fresno. So when our plane had mechanical problems, we got bumped to a later flight - so much later (nearly 4 hours) that we missed our original connecting flight & had to hang out at DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth airport) for 5+ hours.

Thankfully, DFW has lots to do. In fact, the new terminal reminds me a bit of the fake airport they built for the Tom Hanks film, "The Terminal" (one sentence review: watchable but no big deal). We ate dinner, we shopped a bit, Braeden played in a sound sculpture (which was actually pretty cool). Braeden & I even rode around the airport in the new Skyline train system, which was kind of like the Monorail at Disneyland. And, of course, we topped it all off with Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

And another delay, as the plane we were supposed to fly in came in late from Phoenix. But what's another 45 minutes to our already overly-long day? Sigh.

Thankfully, we got home in one piece last night (thanks, Neil & Nancy) and crashed. The only suitcases that are open contain essentials: toiletries, underwear, Braeden's favorite stuffed animal. Otherwise, we're just happy to be here.

Heck, I'm happy to be here - in the office, back "on the job", so to speak. But my brain is majorly fuddled - so I don't think I can squeeze a coherent article out of my misfiring synapses. Instead, I'll just do a core dump of some random thoughts about life, God, and the coolness of pastoring NewLife.

- I finished reading The Present Future (by Reggie McNeal) during my week in Missouri... and promptly started reading it again. I'm convinced that it's a key set of questions for where the church (and in particular, our church) is headed in the next 20 years. (It doesn't hurt that Reggie is a Southern Baptist... though he tries mightily to give this book multi-denominational appeal, it's easy to read between the lines and hear his excitement & pain of years as an SBC pastor & denominational consultant.)

- My grandma's 95th birthday party/Thanksgiving gathering was a huge success. We figured out that the last time all of my cousins & I had been together was in 1978 for Grandma & Grandpa's 50th wedding anniversary. Of course, we were the kids back then - now, most of us have kids. (Collin wasn't the youngest - my cousin, Kevin, has a daughter a couple of months younger than him.)

It's very cool to be reminded that my relationship with Jesus Christ was fed by parents & grandparents (and extended family) who follow Jesus themselves. It's not that their faith makes mine real - each of us get to have our own relationship with God - but it's sweet to see the pool of faith that I grew up swimming in!

- Narnia's coming! The movie (The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe) premieres a week from Friday. I have two thoughts:
  1. I can't wait to see one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors come to the big screen.
  2. Oh, please, don't mess this up.

- I'm still a bit in shock from the First Fruits offering - we, with God's help, gave $43,467.00 on the first Sunday of the giving portion of Get in the Game. Wow! We serve a VERY big God.

- It's really nice to pastor a church where I can leave town for 8 days and know that things will go on without me. In other words, NewLife is not primarily about me - it's about God! (And that's a very good thing.) It doesn't hurt, of course, that we've got a great staff - thanks to Aaron & Nancy!

Well that's about all that's rattling around my head this morning. Oh, yeah, I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to get everything done today, but that's pretty much SOP (standard operating procedure) for my life. The nicest thing is that God isn't wondering - He's not surprised by delayed flights or $43,000+ offerings or my Aunt Wylma's peanut butter pie (which was, as usual, incredible).

We think we are headed toward the future. The truth is, the future is headed toward us. And it's in a hurry (we now know the universe is speeding up, not slowing down). We also generally think that the present makes sense only in light of the past. Again, we need to check our thinking. The present makes clearest sense in light of the future. We humans write history by looking at the past. God creates history ahead of time. He never forecasts. God always backcasts. He began with the end in mind. The future is always incipient in the present. Before the foundation of the world, the Lamb was slain. Calvary was anticipated in God's kiss of life into Adam. The cross gain dimension silhouetted against the empty tomb. The empty tomb confirmed the invasion of the future into the present. When Paul encountered the resurrected Jesus, he realized the future had been fast-forwarded. That changed everything.

It still does.
from The Present Future by Reggie McNeal

God is roaring back toward us from the future, not playing catch-up from Bible times. So, wherever we are, it's nice to remember that God is working in our lives in view of who we will be - who He knows we will be - and not just based on the garbage & mistakes of our past.

I'm sold on the fact that God's not going to leave you half-finished. No way. What he's doing with you is superb and he's going to have you ready for when the Liberator, Jesus, comes back.
paraphrase of Philippians 1:6 from word on the street by Rob Lacey

It's My Turn Now

Starting today... and going for the next 10-15 days, I'll be posting my "personal" Top One Hundred Games of All Time Ever. Of course, I won't be posting it here - but over at The One Hundred blogsite. Go on over & check it out!