Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Most Important Room In The House

Braeden started school this week... homeschool. (Yes, Virigina, we'll discuss this development in a later blog post. Chances are pretty good that some of you now are wondering if I'm a right-wing survivalist nut with 2 years of food in my basement & an "enemies list" which includes the president of the local PTA. I'll give you a hint: we don't have a basement & the only thing I'm stockpiling is Pop-Tarts.)

Anyway, one of the books Shari is reading on teaching basic skills is The Three R's by Ruth Beechick. The following passage is from the section entitled Real-Life Arithmetic:

GAME AREA: Is this your family room, kitchen table, or living room rug? Wherever it's located, you must have this. We list the game area first, so you will read it even if you don't take the time to read the rest of the list. We cannot overemphasize the importance of games for growing children. Much arithmetic is learned as children count moves, compute scores, take turns. but that is only a fraction of the benefits. Numerous thinking skills are developed as children learn to operate within various kinds of rules, plan strategy, and so forth. Sportsmanship & other social skills gradually develop. When children later learn that rules don't have to be rigid, they can develop new twists and live by their own agreed-upon rules. One fifth grader develped an insurance system to accompany Monopoly. He calculated the chances of a player landing on Park Place with a hotel on it, and other expensive events, and balanced this against money he could collect as players pass Go. Then he sold insurance against expensive contingencies. Players could purchase various kinds of policies and make installment payments each time they passed Go. This is complex for young children, of course, but the point to notice here is that years of game experience lead to advanced thinking skills & creativity.

I think Ruth Beechick is one very cool lady... and it's great to hear someone acknowledge clearly that the educational power of games goes beyond teaching facts & practicing math skills.

Plus, it's a great excuse for having a dedicated game room & a growing game collection, right?!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

I am a sucker for Aaron Sorkin’s work. He’s got a very distinct, unique voice. On the two previous TV shows he worked on (Sports Night and The West Wing), he wrote most of the scripts. He’s famous for his dialogue — both quality and quantity.

If you’ve watched his shows you probably had one of two reactions: a) God, I wish I was as smart and funny as these people, or b) What the *%&$ planet are these babbling idiots from?

The Pop View

The newest show from Aaron Sorkin is Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a one hour dramedy (drama + comedy) that goes behind the scenes of a SNL-like sketch comedy show.

You can tell NBC feels pretty positive about this show - they've released the pilot (which won't air until September 18th) for rent through Netflix... and that's how Shari & I watched it earlier today.

I found it enjoyable to watch... and a bit intriguing, as one of the characters is a committed Christian who, at least in the pilot, didn't come off as an insipid drip. (I've always appreciated Aaron Sorkin for writing/creating characters who had some kind of meaningful faith... the Jewish characters on Sports Night - who even hosted a seder that closed out an episode - or President Bartlett's struggles with God on The West Wing. Most of Hollywood just ignores religious faith.)

With that said, I need to warn you that the show will air at 10 pm PST for a reason - it's PG-13 in content & language.

Still, I'll be revving up the ol' VCR every Monday night... there really is nothing quite like Aaron Sorkin's writing.

Dan: Is this one of those times when you say you don't want to talk about it, but you really do?

Casey: No, but it's shaping up to be one of those times when I say I don't want to talk about it, but we end up talking about it anyway.

Sports Night

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Apples Project Blog

Those of you who've been involved in the online boardgaming community for 4+ years may well fondly remember The Apples Project - a rather large adventure I undertook, trying along with 30+ of my closest friends to figure out what the best games were for a set of 40+ categories.

Those of you who are new to the hobby may have no idea what I'm talking about - in that case, you need to head over to The Apples Project stat.

Either way, please pick up the RSS feed for the brand-spankin' new Apples Project Blog. I promise you it will be worth the bandwidth.

Mama Doesn't Have To Buy You A Mockingbird

One of my favorite "new" singer/songwriters is Derek Webb, formerly of Caedmon's Call. His rough-edged sound makes a perfect backdrop for piercing lyrics about the state of the church & living a life centered on Christ.

His music isn't terribly radio-friendly (well, at least CCM radio) as he has this odd tendency to use biblical phrases like "harlot" & "whore" and write biting songs like "T-Shirts" and "Nobody Loves Me" that don't inspire lots of folks who are safe & secure in the Christian bubble to think happy thoughts. Me, I like it just fine.

And if you want to hear more of his stuff, here's the perfect opportunity... starting September 1st, he's giving away his last album, "Mockingbird". That's right - giving it away. If you're interested, check out Free Derek Webb.

Note: while I like this album (esp. the cuts "A New Law", "Please, Before I Go", & "I Hate Everything (But You)"), it's actually my least favorite. "She Must & Shall Go Free" (his first album) is an incredible wake-up call/love song to the church... and "I See Everything Upside Down" deals more with our own individual journeys with Jesus. (His live recordings, "The House Show" & the DVD "How To Kill and Be Killed" are also excellent.) Still, it's a free Derek Webb album, which is always a good thing.

Second note: the content of "Mockingbird" is sometimes political in nature - it's like Derek decided to start a bar fight & just went right ahead and mixed religion and politics. Whether you agree with him or not (and I don't on all points), I think it's very cool that he's writing & performing music that deals with real issues and isn't simply one more "rah rah Jesus you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Jesus" song.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


By the time you read this, Shari & the boys & I will have been on vacation for nearly 4 days. Chances are good that something interesting/silly has happened to us that I'll write about when I get home - and chances are excellent that I'll have at least one new message illustration, courtesy of either Braeden, Collin or driving 1000+ miles.

But for now... a bit of a glimpse into a conversation we had on the way home from Me-n-Ed's that helped me get some perspective on an important issue for my own life... and for NewLife.

I was talking with Shari yesterday afternoon about our dreams/hopes/vision for NewLife - and one of things that came up was a desire to call the people of NewLife to pray. The hard part, as Shari so wisely pointed out, is that God doesn't "guarantee" prayer - in other words, He calls us to come to Him, promising that He will listen & that He will answer... but chooses how & when to answer in ways that are often bewildering, confusing and/or frustrating. (If you don't believe me, check out the book of Job... or a chunk of the Psalms... or the prophetic writings of Habakkuk.)

Shari went on to talk about that we should pray to open the door to God working in our community - not to twist His arm so that He has no choice but do what we want. (Which, if we're honest, is a very easy way to approach prayer... treating God like a cosmic Santa Claus who is obligated to give us everything on our Christmas list if we've been good.) And if prayer is a conversation - with us not only bringing our requests to Jesus but also listening to Him as He speaks to us - then we approach Him with the same respect & warmth that we would a best friend or a spouse. (Do we expect a loved one to kowtow to every request on our timetable... running to & fro at our beck & call? Sadly, we treat Jesus that way with so many of our prayers.)

It struck me - this was a new thought for me, courtesy of God - that prayer is an indicator of which way our heart is leaning... a spiritual "level", if you will. (For those of you as inept as I am at handyman stuff, a level looks like a ruler with a bubble tube in the middle of it... when you place it on a surface, the bubble should be in the exact middle of the tube to indicate that the surface is vertically or horizontally level. Now, back to my point...) Our desire to pray indicates that our hearts are soft towards God... that we desire meeting Him. Our disdain for prayer indicates that our hearts have calcified... that we desire Him to "come through" and "fix it" more than we want to know & love Him.

The dream for NewLife (or any other church, for that matter) is NOT that we have a lot of people praying for God to "hurry up & show up." The dream is to have an ever-growing number of people who want to meet, know & love Jesus with everything they've got... in conversation with a holy & gracious God, wanting what He wants so bad they can taste it. When people "roll that way", we will still ask God to heal the sick, comfort the grieving, save the lost & provide for our needs as individuals & as a church - but we will do so "leveled" out by an abiding relationship with Jesus. We'll have first things first (loving God) and everything else coming in second.

And then... can you even imagine what would happen to NewLife? Wow.

So, where do you go with all this? I'd start simply by asking God for the desire to pray... something like:

Jesus, prayer is tough for me. When I think about it, all I get is visions of sitting in an old-school prayer meeting, listening to somebody share the details about Great-aunt Minnie's inflamed bunions. When I try to pray, my mind goes a hundred different places. I feel like a loser & a fraud & a hypocrite all rolled into one.

I want to want to pray - to be in conversation with You. I want to want what You want. I want be "leveled" by an intimate personal knowledge of Your presence, Your power & Your grace. But even as I pray that, I feel myself drifting. I feel the urge to slap my "honey-do" list down on the table for you, fold my arms & wait impatiently for you to pony up.

So I just throw myself into your arms - my sad excuse for a "prayer life", my messed-up desires, my fears of being found out to be "less spiritual" than I appear. I submit my heart & life to You - and ask you to break away the hardened gunk around my heart so that I can run to you.

I love you, Jesus. Help me love you more.


Soundtrack for this post: "All I Can Say" (David Crowder)

This article originally appeared in the 8/10/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Vacation Update #4

This is the last post before we take off from my folks' home & head south. We'll drive to Yreka, CA, on Friday - then on into Fresno on Saturday.

Still, before I go, a couple of more highlights:
  • WEDNESDAY - We got to play Ark - this time with my mom, Shari & Braeden, and me.
  • THURSDAY - We took it easy today - going out for pizza, stopping by Northwest Rods & Restoration, stopping by the river to throw rocks in the water & watch a big cargo ship go by.
Those may not sound like highlights... but it's with the boys & Shari & my mom and dad. Basically ANYTHING is a highlight.

Games played in the last two days: Ark, Insel der Schmuggler, Snap!, Superman Returns Memory (from the Life cereal boxes) Zwergen Ziehen, and Pokemon Sorry (x2).

Three Geeks... er, Caballeros

This is the first time that Jim (well, now known to the world at large at James) Trerise, Keith Monaghan & I have been together since the late 80's. What a wild, cool surprise it was to have Jim (er, James!) answer the door at Keith's place.

I'm the guy on the left in gamer gear (my Heroscape t-shirt)... and I'm actually much shorter than the other two guys. Shari was just kind in the angle she chose for the picture. James (ha! got it right) is in the middle, looking all professorial (he teaches English here in Oregon.) Keith is on the right - he's been grey-haired since he was in his mid-20's, but that didn't stop him from being cool & attracting lovely young women. (He finally hooked Melissa, his lovely wife, in the early 90's... I had the privilege of officiating at their wedding.)

Of course, no matter how good we look now, it's humorous to realize that in high school, we were not only into RPG's & boardgames (Jim & I played many games of Wooden Ships & Iron Men and Rise & Decline of the 3rd Reich), but we were also in theater (we all three were in You Can't Take It With You together - Jim was the grandfather, I was the dad, & Keith was the loopy guy who printed anarchist statements and put them into candy boxes)... and we all loved to read books. It's a miracle any of us ever got a date.

Can I Draw Something For You? Please?

Collin at the "Arts & Eats Festival" (tag line on the signs: Release Your Inner Bohemian)... he's working on his career as a street artist.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Vacation Update #3

Still more trip highlights:
  • SATURDAY - Mom wasn't feeling 100%, so instead of going to Mount St. Helens, we went to St. Helens, OR, which is a little town not too far from Mom & Dad. They were having an "Arts & Eats" festival downtown... Braeden got to make recycled art & have his face painted... and Dad & his partners won 1st place in their division of the car show.
  • SUNDAY - Shari & I left the boys with Mom, Dad & Liz and drove to Ocean Shores, WA, for a night away. We ate some very good seafood. The weather wasn't very nice (it's was cold & foggy most of the time we were there) but we still got to walk on the beach & even found some sand dollars on Monday morning.
  • MONDAY - As we were coming home, we stopped at the Christian Outlet store in Centralia, WA, and found some great stuff cheap. In a bit of publishing weirdness, I managed to buy a copy of a as-yet-unreleased book by a major author - it was a proof copy. (I hate to be so cryptic, but I've inquired w/the publisher about how to proceed - I'd like to review the book but I don't want to screw up their release schedule.)
  • TUESDAY - We visited with Shari's cousin, Rachel, & her daughter, Josie. (Well, Shari & Braeden visited - Collin & I went shopping for Grandpa's birthday.
  • WEDNESDAY - We went to visit my best friend from high school (hi, Keith!) and the guy who answered the door looked strangely familiar... which is as it should be, because he was another very close friend from high school (and elementary school), Jim Trerise! A wonderful surprise... I'll post more about it later.
Liz flew back to Denver today, but not before we got to celebrate Dad's 69th birthday together. Very cool. The plans for tomorrow are to go to Mount St. Helens if the weather is good. Then we'll leave for California on Friday morning, trying to reach Yreka by nightfall. Saturday will be driving the rest of the way in! And, yes, I have to preach on Sunday.

Games played in the last two days: Insel der Schmuggler (now with the correct dice pips, thanks to Alfred - the game works even better this way!), Secrets of the Deep (x2), Snap!, Ice Cream (x2), Dish It Up, Ark, Schnecken Rennen, Daddy Cool, Zwergen Ziehen, Animal Olympics, and Pokemon Sorry (x3).

Monday, August 14, 2006

It's A Privilege Just To Be Nominated

The IGA (International Gamers Awards) finalists have just been announced - so let me share the nominees with you... and, of course, make a couple of comments.

General Strategy Games (Multi-Player)
  • ANTIKE - I've only played this once (and that game ended prematurely), but I really liked the rondel mechanic.
  • BLUE MOON CITY - haven't played it
  • CAYLUS - haven't played it... I'm afraid that it's going win, though.
  • DAS ENDE DES TRIUMVIRATS - haven't played it
  • HACIENDA - liked my one playing of this, but it wasn't compelling enough for me to buy it
  • INDONESIA - haven't played it
  • JENSEITS VON THEBEN - I've played this twice and would gladly buy a copy if I could afford it... an amazing design that fully captures the them... this is my personal pick that I'd like to win (it probably won't).
  • MYKERINOS - haven't played it
  • RAILROAD TYCOON - haven't played it
  • THURN & TAXIS - my one playing left me impressed - I'd like to play it again. (Short review: a gamer-y Ticket To Ride.)
  • UM KRONE & KRAGEN - nifty game that crosses M:tG and dice rolling... I don't think this one has a snowball's chance, though.
General Strategy Games (two player)
  • ATON - haven't played... looks VERY abstract
  • BLOKUS DUO (also called Travel Blokus) - a really nice 2 player version of Blokus... won't win.
  • PUNCT - haven't played
  • TWILIGHT STRUGGLE - haven't played... has a good chance at winning as it takes the We The People card-driven wargame system and layers on the Cold War theme. (A shorter playing time doesn't hurt, either.)
  • WAR OF THE RING: BATTLES OF THE THIRD AGE - it's an expansion to a game I haven't played
I won't talk about the wargame nominees... since I know diddley about them.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Vacation Update #2

More trip highlights:
  • THURSDAY - Braeden & I got to hang out at Dad's new shop/business... Northwest Rods & Restorations. Marty, one of Dad's partners, gave Braeden the royal treatment - he got to go into the paint booth, see how the metal roller/cutter worked, and even sit in Marty's speedboat. And Marty & Raymond replaced the bumper on the Honda - it looks perfect.
  • THURSDAY - picked up Liz from the airport, then went shopping for replacement makeup & haircare products. (Liz was caught in the carry-on rules change following the terrorist threats in England.)
  • FRIDAY -w drove over to the Columbia Gorge & looked at waterfalls - Wahkeena Falls is esp. beautiful.
  • FRIDAY - Braeden & I hiked from Wahkeena Falls to Multnomah Falls (about a 1/2 mile) on our own... it was a great father/son adventure. We found a waterfall & a cave... and we saw 2 trains go by on the tracks next to the trail, which was pretty cool.
Big plans for the next couple of days - we may be headed to Mount St. Helens today. Tomorrow, Shari & I head for the Washington coast for a night away with "just us parents". Mom, Dad & Aunt Liz will have to keep up with the boys!

Games played in the last two days: Insel der Schmuggler, Secrets of the Deep, and Pokemon Sorry (x2). Evidently, Braeden's turning into an obsessive gamer - in a few years, this will be 10+ games of the Settlers of Catan.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wherefore Art Thou, Geek?

The Geek (that's BoardGameGeek to you non-gamer types) has been down since Wednesday morning. While it isn't the end of the world as we know it, it has slowed down a couple of projects I've been working on:
  • The Apples Project - that's right, kids, the "Son of Apples Project" is getting ready to get underway. I'll be blogging my way through the results starting in mid-September. (BTW, Rick Thornquist, if you're reading this, e-mail me already, eh?!) But with the Geek down, it's a bit tougher to compile the nomination lists for the participants.
  • My Gulf Games reports - because I like linking to game names & so on, I'm on hold with finishing my Gulf Games posts. So you guys will just have to wait a little longer.
  • Information About Insel der Schmuggler - Now THIS is what the Geek is for... Braeden & I bought this Haba game on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the game was missing what the component list called "a white smuggler's die". Based on descriptions in the rules & pictures on the box, I think the missing die is a 1-1-2-2-3-3 die... but there's no way to check easily without the Geek. (It is important to note that Haba customer service responded to my e-mail asking for a die within 3-4 hours - EXCELLENT!)
Well, until the Geek shows back up from it's midsummer nights dream, here's hoping Aldie's day is a just a little bit less hassle-filled than yesterday.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Vacation Update #1

I'll blog in more detail (well, maybe I will, maybe I won't - you'll just have to check back & see) when we get home... but for now, some highlights of the trip so far:
  • MONDAY - having the pool to ourselves at the hotel... Collin is now jumping off the edge of the pool from a standing position!
  • MONDAY - eating at Luigi's Pizza & Pasta in Red Bluff, CA, for dinner... excellent greasy/gooey pizza & out of this world fried cheese. Shari compared it to Mama's Pizza in Ft Worth, TX, which is a high compliment.
  • TUESDAY - hiking around Lassen Volcanic National Park... best moment (which I didn't see): Braeden slipped on the snow, then knocked Shari Jo down
  • TUESDAY - shopping at the Funagain Games storefront in Ashland, OR. Prices are discounted by 20%, you don't have to pay shipping, and there's no sales tax. Amazingly enough, all we bought was the Haba game INSEL DER SCHMUGGLER (which is a lot of fun)
  • WEDNESDAY - Braeden & I played GlowGolf (indoor golf under black lights) at the Gateway Mall in Eugene.
  • WEDNESDAY - seeing my mom & dad... it's great to be with them
Big plans for today - going down to Dad's shop (Northwest Rods & Restoration) to get the bumper on our Honda Odyssey replaced, picking my sister up from the airport (and taking her to Bath & Bodyworks to replace all the haircare products she had to dump in the Denver airport this morning), and just generally hanging around with family.

Games played so far this vacation: Insel der Schmuggler (x2), Pokemon Sorry, Zwergen Ziehen, Cows Can't Dance & Secrets of the Deep.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Going To Oregon (aka Vacation)

By this time tomorrow, we hope to be splashing about in the hotel pool in Red Bluff, CA... that is, if the circus that is packing up myself, my lovely wife, Braeden (age 5) and Collin (age 1) goes smoothly.

It's vacation time for the Jackson family - we're headed north! Final destination: Columbia City, Oregon, where my parents live. On the way, we plan to see Lassen Volcanic National Park and, in true gamer fashion, stop & pay homage at Funagain Games in Ashland, OR.

While there, Mom's talking about us going to Silver Falls State Park (or maybe the Columbia Gorge), heading out to Mt. St. Helens if there's a clear day, and taking the boys to the zoo.

Sometime in here, we'll drive down to Beaverton to hang out with my best friend from high school and his family.

And in the middle of all this fun, Shari & I are headed to the coast for a night... without the boys! (Thanks, grandparents & aunt Liz!)

Then, a slightly faster drive home (2 days instead of 3) and we're back. Whew!

I do plan to blog a bit while I'm gone, thanks to the fact that my mom has better technology than I do. Hopefully I can post some pix of our trip while we're still on it!

What the Mel?

There's been a LOT of coverage of Mel Gibson's DUI arrest out here in InternetLand - and evidently on the TV as well, though since we don't have cable, I've missed that part of the coverage. Depending on who you're reading/listening to, it sounds a bit like:
  • a. two teenage girls gossping about who did what Saturday night
  • b. the "Kill the Beast!" scene from Beauty & the Beast... or, if your tastes run more to old Hollywood, the villagers pursuing Frankenstein's monster into the windmill
  • c. one more chance to dredge up the anti-Semitic brouha that surrounded the release of The Passion of the Christ
  • d. all of the above
To balance that a bit, I want to give you some links to check out for yourself... and then you can come back here & I'll let you know what I've been thinking.

So... welcome back. Let me break down what I've been thinking into easy to argue with bite-size pieces.

DUI (Driving Under the Influence)

I can not adequately express to you how much I hate drunk people driving. When I was in high school theater, one of the best actors I've ever met managed to ruin not only his own life but the life of his best friend in a drunk driving hood-surfing stunt. I've got a family member who is lucky he didn't kill himself (or someone else) last fall when he crashed into a highway median. The son of one of my church members is currently facing real jail time for a DUI accident that put someone else in the hospital.

So Mel does NOT get a pass on the drunk driving charge with me. The man is wealthy enough to have someone drive him around - yank his license. You lose the right to operate a motor vehicle when you do so under the influence of a substance that impairs your ability to operate said vehicle safely - in other words, when you threaten the safety of the rest of the community with the ripple effect of your own choices.

(For those interested, I've talked more about my Biblical perspective on alcohol in the post Say it With Me: "Non-Binding Resolution.)

Words Mean Something

Language has power - it helps define the tone & direction of a conversation. The words you choose frame the terms of a debate & predispose your listeners to a particular mindset. (Not to open a second can of worms, but take the difference between the use of "anti-abortion" and "pro-life" in newspaper coverage - same position, wildly different connotations. Try using "anti-fetus" instead of "pro-choice" and see what happens in the editorial column. I repeat: I'm not trying to start an abortion debate here... simply pointing out the power of the rightly or wrongly chosen word.)

Thus, to make racist statements (regardless of what race they impugn) is not simply to be morally wrong, but also carries with it the devastating power of language. If you are able to define your opponent in crass & dehumanizing terms (example: the tendency of white Southerners to call all African-American men "boy", no matter what their age), you take an important step toward marginalizing them.

So, Mel's outburst is not only Biblically wrong (1 Peter 3:10) but also brings the danger of redefining the role of a racial minority in our society. Be it the drunken ravings of a Hollywood director, the overwrought speechs of a neo-Nazi hatemonger, or the late-night bull session musings of a college student, you are fooling with powerful junk when you stereotype a group of people.

BTW, I've focused here on the racial nature of Mr. Gibson's remarks - but he also managed to make lewd & sexist comments as well. Much of the same logic applies...

Owning Your Own Crap

With all that said, I want to be very clear that I am amazed, stunned, and a bit in awe of the response from Mel Gibson. In a world where victimization & blame are commonplace, someone who says:

I am a public person, and when I say something, either articulated and thought out, or blurted out in a moment of insanity, my words carry weight in the public arena. As a result, I must assume personal responsibility for my words and apologize directly to those who have been hurt and offended by those words. either seriously over the edge - or, just maybe, is walking to the beat of a different drummer. Just maybe, what Mel says he believes (a devout Catholic faith) and how he deals with his addictions & stupidity are connected.

Let me say this once again, in case some of you haven't been reading carefully - no apology/plea for forgiveness should take away the legal consequences of Mel Gibson's actions. In the same vein, however, no series of actions, no matter how stupid and/or reprehensible, should take away the possibility of forgiveness & grace.

Forgiving someone does not mean you ignore their sin against you; it does not mean that you pretend they never did anything wrong. It is not a whitewash or a cover-up. It does not mean that you agree with and/or tolerate the actions of the person you forgive. But it does mean that you choose to go beyond the hurt, past the incident(s), and see each person as created by God & in need of grace.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting... A wounded person cannot--indeed, should not--think that a faded memory can provide an expiation of the past. To forgive, one must remember the past, put it into perspective, and move beyond it. Without remembrance, no wound can be transcended." Beverly Flanigan

So What?

I end most of my sermons with a final point - "So what? Why should all of this stuff I've said this morning concern us at all?" (This is a particularly important question in church, where some of us have gotten used to intaking information rather than asking God for transformation.)

For my friends who are religiously and/or culturally Jewish, I ask you to forgive in a way that honors your faith. What Mr. Gibson ranted about is hurtful & wrong... and specifically aimed at your cultural/ethnic background. I do not in any way want to minimize the pain... yet I don't want you to minimize the tradition you come from, either - the tradition that is at the root of my own Christian faith.

For my friends who are female, Mr. Gibson's remarks are no surprise to you. You have endured years of leers, catcalls, and outright lewd remarks. If not, you live on a deserted island alone(yes, thank you, Dept. of Redundancy Department.) I urge you to forgive as well - not just Mel Gibson, but others who choose to objectify you. At the same time, please remember that forgiveness does not require you to just "stand there & take it" - you are created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27) and do not deserve to be treated as the sum total of your body parts.

For my friends who are followers of Christ, we need to process our emotions Biblically & thoughtfully. In the process of acknowledging repentance, we should not undercut justice. In the process of calling for justice, we should not ignore mercy.

A lot of deep thoughts spent on the guy who made Lethal Weapon 3, right?!

A final note: I am leaving on vacation tomorrow - and will not actually see the blog and/or the comments until Wednesday. Please keep the discussion civil & on-topic. (I feel like I'm "Dad-in-training"... "Don't make me come back there!" He he he...)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Gulf Games 18: Friday (Part 1)

It was still pretty easy to pop out of bed on Friday morning, despite the late game of Dynasty League Baseball the night before... because Friday was the scheduled day for Descent: Journeys in the Dark!

But before we reach that sublime playing experience, gentle reader, we must not gloss over the game that proceeded it: Darkness Falls in Sevinpold. Six of us (James, Earl, Michelle, Kevin Nunn, Greg, & myself) set out to find the Scepter of Power & the Living Throne... opposed by "the darkness" (aka Ted). Alas, while the artwork & bits for the game are quite nice, the gameplay is backgammon crossed with action cards. In the game's favor, it does play quickly with a large number of players, making it an odd but usable filler. OTOH, it's too convoluted to appeal to non-gamer families, while not meaty enough to appeal to gamers. Sigh. Anyway, we managed to get the both of the items & win the game. Darkness is defeated in thirty minutes - woo hoo.

Now, from one end of the fantasy game scale (ridiculous) to the other (spectacular)... we taught Greg Schloesser to play Descent: Journeys in the Dark. (How, you ask, did I manage to convince Greg into playing a game which is legendary for running 4-6 hours? Simple - I told him it would only take 2 hours. Of course, many of you are now asking, "Mark, you are not only a follower of Jesus Christ but also a pastor. How could you lie like that, breaking at least one commandment in the process?" Here's the rub: I didn't lie.)

That's right - we finished a quest (well, the Overlord - that's me -won) in right at two hours. It didn't hurt that Greg was playing with three experienced players (Kyle Berg, Kevin Rozmiarek & Alan Moon)... but the fan-built scenario "The Rescue" is the primary reason we finished on schedule. (For those who've played the game, it's a small scenario with only two treasure chests & no glyphs.)

Things were difficult for me (the Overlord) early on - no spawn cards (which allow me to add monsters to the dungeon) meant I spent a lot of time hoarding threat tokens. They used "Lug" (our nickname for Kevin's bruiser character) to bulldoze into the first room... but then they let him stay behind a bit to kill something. And that's when I started drawing spawn cards. I kept Lug awash in spiders, which couldn't really hurt him, but blocked him from joining the rest of the party. Then, when they opened the wrong door, a heap of hurt triangulated on Alan & blew his character off the map for 4 points. Killing Greg a couple of turns later for 2 points ended the game.

We had a blast - Descent has all the good stuff about your typical dungeon crawl, packaged in a gorgeous & very clean format. I'm still fighting with myself about owning a copy. (And hoping that someone from FFG is reading this blog & thinking, "Gosh, if this guy is such a fan, why don't send him review copies of the expansions?" Not likely - but I can still dream, can't I?)

OK, back to your regularly scheduled Gulf Games coverage.

A herd of mice joined in to play Haba's Hasch Mich! (man, Haba likes those exclamation points, don't they?) - which is essentially a wooden version of the classic game, Pounce. (No, there is no wooden plunger... instead, you have a wooden bowl you slap down on the mice.) It's actually more of an activity rather than a game (there is a point system in the variants to give it some substance) - it's mainly a chance to scream & holler & slam a wooden bowl into a table or scream & holler & yank a mouse so hard it hits you in the face (as it did Robbie Wood). Joining Robbie in this masochistic excerise in noise-making was Anye Sellers, Robbie's dad (hi, Rob!), Emma Samuelson, Kim Berg & Collin McCarthy. The younger mice had such a grand time that they wanted to play again - the adults opted out.

In my case, that meant dragging out an old favorite to play with Ted Cheatham & Rob Wood - Nizza.

Before we get to the game, some background on Rob & Ted's role in my life. Rob was the first gamer I met over the Internet - and I was sufficiently nervous about the whole "could I be inviting an axe murderer into my home?" thing that I actually had him to come to my church... and made sure I had two good friends with me. (Hi, Chris & Buster!) He turned out OK, even if he did make us play Die Hanse.

Rob & I kept getting together to play games - at his home on the far west side of Nashville, at a gaming club I started on my side of town, etc. And then, one evening out at his place, he invited another guy to join us who was visiting in Nashville for business - Ted Cheatham. This was also the night he announced he'd found a much better job with a longer commute - in Tucson, AZ. So, Ted & I exchanged phone numbers... and the next time Ted was in town, we got together for some gaming. (Tikal, if I remember correctly.) Anyhoo, long story short, after about a year of this, Ted invited me to Gulf Games 2. And the rest is history.

Back to your regularly schedule Gulf Games coverage. (Again.)

So, before I dithered off into ancient gaming history, Rob & Ted & I were sitting down to play the much-maligned Kramer game, Nizza. I believe, btw, I've finally figured out why it has such a bad rep. Most people have played it with 4-6 players. Yes, my friends, it's another one of those games that "technically" works with more players (it has enough pieces provided and so on) but actually should be restricted to 2-3 players.

And with that number, we had a good time. Nizza is a game about being a jewel thief in a small European coastal town (Herr Kramer had watched To Catch A Thief one time many times on AMC when he came up with this one). It has a couple of nice mechanics - first, movement is determined using a ladder & "ropes" (which swing from chimneys in the board) rather than moving on some kind of grid. Second, you get to use the various forms of movement and/or grab the loot and/or push your opponent into the water by a Yahtzee-like dice rolling system. If you've avoided this game over the years because it's bad reputation (or because you've never heard of it), I'd suggest giving it a try with 2 or 3 players (but NO MORE than 4!) - you may find a hidden gem.

Ted got ahead of Rob & I late in the game, managing to jump to the boat & climb the ladder into the waiting helicopter to make good his escape. Sigh.

Being a crook was the theme for this part of the afternoon, as Ted & I moved on to play a game high up on my "need to try" list, Ca$h & Gun$. Honestly, I make a pathetic "bad guy" - not only was I unable to reign in Ted's cat burglar tendencies in Nizza, but I also managed to get myself killed in this wild & wooly game of divvying up the loot while pointing guns at each other. (Ted didn't win, though - he was outfoxed by the dynamic duo of Andy Hembee & Tim McCarthy. Joining me in the morgue was Leon Hembee & Anye Sellers.)

And not just imaginary guns, mind you, or finger guns - big, chunky black foam guns. Nothing says "I want you to back off and leave the money on the table" like a pointing a foam gun at someone. (There's even an "expansion" set with a foam shotgun... too funny.)

The game itself is pretty simple - it's a bluffing game with great props. Sad to say that this nifty game will set you back 30+ Euros (more than $40 US w/shipping) - yikes! That dollar threshold is really all that keeps me from getting a copy, as I can imagine this one seeing a lot of play.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gulf Games 18: Dice Box of Mystery ANSWERS

I posted some Dice Box of Mystery pictures earlier this week - here's the answers.

  • die w/hand grasping token - A TO Z
  • die w/dog & moles who look like they have mop-top haircuts - BUDDEL BANDE
  • multi-colored 10 sided die - CRANIUM HOOPLA
  • long black die w/pink circle - DROPS & CO (it's supposed to be a licorice stick, thematically)
  • die w/cloud & flying carpet guy - FLYING CARPET (duh!)
  • die w/X and what looks like a fraction - FURY OF DRACULA (this one was esp. tricky)
  • die w/bat wing - IN TEUFEL'S KUCHE
  • die w/identical blobs that look vaguely like a fat guy preaching - MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY
  • die w/briefcase, walking person & person holding rope - NIZZA
  • 8-sided die with a not-so-Hidden Mickey - DISNEY SCENE-IT
  • die w/castles & ship - SETTLERS: CITIES & KNIGHTS

Thanks for playing... how'd you do?

The Geekies

They've been threatening to do it for years - and it's finally happened: the first official BoardGameGeek Awards (aka - the Geekies.) And, yes, it's a stupid nickname, but it beats the heck out of calling them "the Derkies", right?

Anyway, voting is open to supporting members of the site or someone who's willing to plunk down 20 GeekGold (the currency of the site). Nominations are being taken in 6 categories over the next month, to be followed by voting using some method called "ranked pairs" in September. (The image I get when I hear that phrase is a pair of twin brothers who do LARP's and have trouble remembering to shower - but that's my problem.) The games nominated must be published in 2005 or 2006... and you can nominate games in more than one category.

I won't try & influence your vote - oh, who am I kidding? If I can sway some of you... ok, a couple of you... ok, one of you! - then my existence will be justified for the next fifteen minutes or so.

Here's the games I'm nominating:

Gamers' Game [1 slot left]

  • Antike - I liked my one playing of this thoughtful Civ-lite game.
  • Aqua Romana - A very good blending of Metro tile-laying & Traumfabrik scoring with enough "look-ahead" to give you some room to plan.
  • Beowulf - The Legend - Chris Farrell has convinced me.
  • China - I'm a huge fan of Web of Power... and was surprised at how the changes actually seem to work pretty well.
  • Cleopatra and the Society of Architects - Stunning production (probably the best this year) and interesting gameplay... I think this one will be respected more in 18 months than it is now.
  • Descent: Journeys in the Dark - I'm not sure which category to put this one in... it's not exactly a "family game" but I don't see it having a snowball's chance in a very warm place of winning this category, either. Still, it needs to be nominated & recognized.
  • Elasund: The First City of Catan - Simply put, Catan for people who've always wanted to be able to tear down the other guy's stuff.
  • Fury of Dracula - Excellent re-imagining of a classic GW game.
  • Nexus Ops - A Risk-like multiplayer wargame that doesn't actually encourage "turtling" (the practice of players amassing huge armies without attacking anyone else, waiting for somebody else to start the battle royale... in many of these games, the first person to attack will lose the game)
  • Palazzo - A very nice auction game that I think was unfairly overlooked.
  • Shadows over Camelot - It's losing a bit of the shine after 4-5 playings, but it is still a nifty semi-cooperative game concept with great production.
  • Thurn and Taxis - Winner of the German Game of the Year (Spiel des Jahres) for 2006... a gamer-y Ticket To Ride-ish romp with some nice moments.
  • Um Krone und Kragen - Short review... Magic: the Gathering with dice. The game Knights wanted to be.
  • Vegas Showdown - Take an American theme (Las Vegas casino building) and add elements from Amun-Re and The Princes of Florence... shake well and enjoy.

2 Player (Non-wargame) [6 slots left]

  • Attacktix Battle Figure Game (Star Wars) - Yeah, this is probably a stretch... it can be played multiplayer & it has the word "battle" in the title. But I just want to make sure someone takes note of this brilliant kids toy/game.
  • Descent: Journeys in the Dark - While I haven't played it 2 player, it would work just fine that way.
  • Elasund: The First City of Catan - Remember, this is Catan for people who want to be mean to each other... even if it's just the two of you.
  • Fjords - I'm not sure why I can see the way the pieces fit together easier than other people, but I can. A nice Carcassonne-ish tile-layer with a different (Nim-like) scoring system.
  • Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation: Deluxe Edition - The original game was great and the new version has niftier production & lots of added ways to play.
  • Pizza Box Football - Beer & pretzels football game that is ergonomically well-designed & loads of fun to play.
  • Travel Blokus - Blokus was unwieldy as a 2 player game - not any more. This works like a charm.
  • Um Krone und Kragen - M:tG w/dice, remember? Revs up nicely with 2 players.
  • Zig-Zag - A real-time memory racing game that will play with more players but is quite fun with just two.

Wargame [11 slots left]

Light/Party [5 slots left]

  • Ca$h'n Gun$ - A hoot of a game that's simple enough for non-gamers, esp. those who loved heist movies.
  • Diamant - It may take 2 minutes to explain the rules to this very simple push-your-luck game... and it will play with up to 8 people.
  • Du Balai - Probably a stretch for this category - but it works best with more players.
  • Maus nach Haus - Silly "let's get this party started" flicking game - supposedly for children but beloved by adults.
  • Nacht der Magier - Another "let's get this party started" game... added bonus: you can play it in the dark!
  • Parlay - Poker meets word game... fun ensues.
  • That's Life! - Dice game that is easier to teach while playing... and is at it's best with 5-6 players.
  • Tsuro - Like Metro, except that it only takes 10 minutes to play and wil play with 8 people.
  • You Must Be an Idiot! - The only trivia game on the list... best played with people who don't know you (if you're good at Trivial Pursuit).
  • Zig-Zag - Another stretch... but could work as a "let's get started" filler.

Kids' Game [7 slots left]

  • Attacktix Battle Figure Game (Star Wars) - Basically, I considered games for this category if my 5 year old son likes them... and Attacktix totally qualifies.
  • Cranium Bumparena - Well-designed pachinko-ish game that's cheaper than you'd expect for all the stuff you get in the box.
  • Du Balai - French memory/real-time/racing game that comes packaged in a box that looks like a book.
  • Giro Galoppo - A mean racing game with nice wooden bits from Selecta... was nominated for Kinderspiel SdJ 2006.
  • Hide & Seek Safari - An electronic version of the old game "Hot & Cold"... strangely addictive to small children.
  • Maus nach Haus - Who'd have thought you get this much game out of a wooden ring & 16 wooden mice?
  • Nacht der Magier - It glows in the dark - nuff said. (Also nominated for Kinderspiel SdJ 2006.)
  • Tier auf Tier - A stacking game for kids - stack wooden animals on the back of a wooden crocodile.

Family Game [0 slots left]

  • Aqua Romana - It has some meat on it... but is simple enough to teach your mom.
  • Ark - Great card placement game that needs player aids but is quite enjoyable to play.
  • Ca$h'n Gun$ - Well, it depends on your family, but it's light & funny & fast.
  • Clue DVD Game - For my money, the best implementation of Clue ever.
  • Control Nut! - A smart trick-taking game self-published by James Miller.
  • Diamant - Easy enough for kids, fun enough for adults.
  • Dragonriders - A botched up English rules translation, underweight pieces & provision for 6 players (when the game should be limited to 2-4 players) sadly have doomed this very good game to the compost heap. It deserves much better press than it's received. (Try weighting the bases with stick-on magnetic stuff... and check out the rules corrections on the Geek... this is a neat game!)
  • Ice Cream - Impossible to explain the rules to non-gamers... but they figure it out just fine after one round. Braeden can play and have fun with adults... and the adults have fun, too. A really nice design from my friend, Joe Huber.
  • Nottingham - I'd heard iffy responses to the newest Uwe Rosenberg game... but we had great fun with it at Gulf Games. As usual for Uwe, it's a card game that doesn't work quite like any other card game you've played.
  • Parlay - Let's review: Poker + word game = fun.
  • Pickomino - A simple dice game that non-gamers love... which has a lot more probability calculations in it than any of them realize.
  • Rum & Pirates - Another unfairly maligned game - needs to be played with a lightness of spirit & a willingness to risk. (Still, there are good tactical decisions to be made admist all the singing of "Yo Ho Yo Ho" and the incessant cry of "Arrgghh!")
  • That's Life! - Another push-your-luck dice game that is insanely easy to teach to new players.
  • Um Krone und Kragen - Great for husbands & wives... as you never get a roll you can't use in some way.
  • Vegas Showdown - It's a training game for meatier auction & tile placement games.

Chances are you disagreed with me on something... or have a suggestion for something I missed. Fire away - but just don't ask me to nominate Caylus... I haven't played it yet!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gulf Games 18: Dice Box Of Mystery

Once before (back at the Gulf Games in Orlando in spring 2001 - wow, that was a long time ago) I created a contest - a box full of dice that players had to identify to win fame & semi-fabulous prizes.

I decided to create another version of the Dice Box Of Mystery for Gulf Games 18... players were faced with a clear tackle box with 27 dice. Thanks to an answer sheet with the first letter of each answer in alphabetical order, it wasn't an impossible task.

8 players competed... with the top three scores moving on to the "live" finals during the Saturday night festivities. Craig Berg (21 correct), Ed Rozmiarek (16 correct) and David Vander Ark (also 16 correct) then faced 8 dice projected on the big screen - with 15 seconds or so to identify the dice and write down their answer. David earned a 3-1 win over Craig, while Ed did some impressive charades and moaning (in one case, he'd played the game only a week or two before, but couldn't bring it up out of long-term memory).

Here's your chance to play along - the following 11 dice pictures were either answered correctly by only one of the finalists or managed to stump them all. I'll post the answers at the end of the week. (Hey - no fair looking 'em up on the Geek!)